Two months of isolation

Today marks two months of COVID19 self-isolation for me. Two months! Wherever has the time gone? It seems like only yesterday that I was marking one month of isolation.

As I said before, I have been isolating slightly longer than most people, having entered a self-imposed lockdown shortly after returning from my relaxing holiday in Cambridge. It was about 10 days later that the UK Government’s lockdown was put in place. So, what can I say? I am a trend-setter!!

My first month of isolation was a fairly easy experience and I felt quite motivated and productive for much of it. And as I entered my second month, I was confident that it, too, would be a positive experience. I even began Month Two with more COVID crafting in the form of crocheting my own little coronavirus! But as I got further into Month Two, I found that my motivation had waned. I was sleeping more and running less. I was sulking more and working less. And I was missing Paul more. (Not helped by the fact that halfway through Month Two I marked Year Eleven of widowhood!)

It hasn’t helped that half-way through Month Two my internet connection began acting up, and it has only gotten worse as the days have gone on. I am now at the point where I have almost no connectivity, which has been quite challenging for my mental and emotional well-being. More so because the poor internet connection means that I am struggling to do my job properly.

More than that, the conversations about re-opening campus have changed from “maybe May or June” to “September, at the earliest”. So now I am faced with on-going isolation for the whole of the summer which only adds to the stress about not having a decent internet connection – not to mention the additional time I will spend alone.

Don’t get me wrong: Month Two hasn’t been all bad. It’s just that I have been feeling a bit bored and lonely, which are feelings I am used to after the aforementioned decade-plus of widowhood. Only now, I can’t meet up with friends or take myself off on an adventure as a way of distracting myself from my reality.

But you know me: I like to try to think positively (even if I am only faking it).

To help shake myself out of this slump, I have spent time increasing my running distances with the aim to run a half marathon by the end of May. My first “long” run was 7 miles at the start of Month Two. I managed to run that much faster than expected so a couple of days ago I knocked out an invigorating 8.5-mile run, and I’ll head out for a 10+ mile run in a couple of days followed by a 12-mile run the next weekend.

This extra running has made me feel confident and (physically) strong which seems to be helping. And knowing that I have long run to look forward to on the weekends is a good feeling, too. It means that I have plans – even if the plan is more alone time. But at least it gives me something fun to share on Facebook, right?

I have also been trying to get out into nature as much as possible – even if it is just a gentle walk around the estate. And as the weather warms up, that will be easier to do.

So yeah, two months of isolation. And Month Three starts tomorrow. I don’t know what the next few weeks will bring, but I am trying to find ways to make them as enjoyable as possible. More running, more crafting, and more living… even if in isolation.

I hope that all of you are coping. And if you’re struggling, please reach out. You are not in this alone!

Checking my privilege

I have long been aware of the privileges I have in this world simply because I am a white, Christian, American. That’s not to say I haven’t had struggles; it’s not to suggest that those things make my life easy. But I am aware that those things help shield me from some of life’s struggles, some of which can be caused by people’s biases and prejudices (whether those are unconscious or deliberate). I have also been aware of how my education and chosen profession – and even my chosen country of residence – provide me with privileges that not everyone has.

But now that we are in the midst of the COVID19 pandemic and the social distancing and self-isolation practices that go along with it, I am becoming more aware of how many more privileges I experience in this world – some of which put me in a better position than even people who are “higher” up the socio-economic scale than I am. And I have been thinking a lot about those privileges lately.

As others have noted: We may be navigating the same storm, but we are not all in the same boat. Indeed, some of us don’t even have the luxury of a boat in the first instance.

My boat? It’s not super swish, but it is stable and is likely to get me through the storm. Yes, I might be a bit battered by the time the storm passes, but I expect that I will have decent resources waiting for me when I reach dry land. (And with that, I am leaving the storm and boat analogy behind.)

I have realised that I have four broad areas of privilege that will help me survive the side effects of this pandemic (as in the non-health effects). These are my financial health, physical location, practical logistics, and my mental and emotional wellbeing. I’m outlining them below (from my perspective) as a way of documenting my own understanding of the COVID19 pandemic.

Financially, I began the lockdown with a bit of money in my savings account. Not a lot of money, but enough to get by. I also “lucked into a job offer” just before the lockdown which has meant that my savings has been growing – especially as I don’t have the expenditures of commuting costs or treating myself to shop-bought lunches. Not to mention the savings of not popping into the Morningside charity shops every few days to pick up deals on second-hand frocks.

Indeed, my personal finances have improved to the point that I am able to “pick up the slack” to cover my housemate’s loss of income due to the pandemic*. As a taxi driver, the lockdown has meant that his trade has all but crumbled but, thankfully, he’s managed to pick up work at a local garage whilst we wait it out.

My physical location and the space that it provides only adds to the luxury of my “boat”. I live in a country cottage with a nice little garden. The cottage is located on a rural, 250-acre estate that is made up of woodlands, meadows, and trails/paths, with a lovely little duck pond. Adjacent to me is another 250-acre estate (although it’s not quite as wild, it’s still a wonderful place for running). That means that I have ample space to run, wander, or explore outdoors without worrying about being able to keep a social distance from anyone who decides to come to the estate for fresh air. (That’s as close to a description as I can give in a public forum, but the point is that I have loads of people-free outdoor space.)

Inside the cottage, there are three bedrooms, a good-sized kitchen, a lovely living room with a wood stove, a hallway, and a bathroom with a large tub and a shower. I have full run of the place, except for my housemate’s bedroom which I have no need or desire to enter. Of the other two bedrooms, one is my bedroom and the other is my home office.

Yes. I have a home office**. A dedicated room for my work desk where I have set up extra screens, a docking station, and everything else I need to be productive during the working day. (There’s even a couch, should I wish to be productive in a more relaxing fashion!) That dedicated working space means that I can compartmentalise my “personal life” from my “working life” by simply closing the door to the office when I am done working for the day. Out of sight, out of mind!

There are also the practical logistics of lockdown to consider because money and space aren’t the whole story. Indeed, I know people on better incomes than me (mine is enough but is still modest) and who have larger houses than I do. But in some ways, my lack of family and childcare responsibilities gives me the edge***.

Whilst this sad fact has its own emotional struggles, it allows me to work more consistently than others. I can work when I want without having to worry about sharing workspace or taking care of children. I don’t have to schedule meetings and deadlines around other responsibilities, and I can easily work a standard working week.

Not only that, but I have a dedicated shopper and errand-runner. That means that I can stay safe and not worry about my food supply. I also have the funds to pay for grocery deliveries and to have specialty deliveries for some of my favourite luxury foods.

It’s all great to have the funds, the space, and the logistics in place to help me through. But I have something else in my lockdown armoury: I have experience!

Yes, I have a great deal of experience with social isolation and solitude “thanks” to 11 years of widowhood. And that is key to maintaining my mental and emotional wellbeing. Again, this has its own struggles, but the experiences of isolation mean that loneliness is something I am used to, so I don’t have to navigate those emotions as much as others might need to.

Indeed, one of the things I keep hearing about is how much my family and friends – as well as people around the globe – are struggling with social distancing and self-isolation. Most people in this world (yes, even the introverts) are used to having regular interactions with other human beings, and generally with humans outside of their household. People get those interactions by meeting with friends, chatting with co-workers, serving customers, or any number of ways****. Now that those interactions have decreased or, in some cases, been eliminated altogether, people are finding it hard to cope. And that breaks my heart more than you may know.

But back to me: I was accustomed to spending days or weeks at a time without face-to-face interactions before the lockdowns came into effect. Sure, it was extremely difficult at first. I can’t tell you the number of hours, days, and weeks that I have lost in tears due to loneliness and isolation. In the early days of widowhood, I dreaded nights and weekends because I knew I would be alone. But as the years passed by, I learned how to cope; I learned how to find peace in my solitude. And I even learned to embrace the loneliness. In fact, I think I embraced it too much because I do have slight moments of panic when I must socialise with others. (Mostly: There are a couple of friends that I actively look forward to seeing!)

People who know me or who follow me here on JustFrances or on my other social media channels will know that I have developed silly rituals to keep myself company. I have learned how to entertain myself in a way that I find other people to be a disturbance in my life. And so, I am thriving (mostly) in lockdown because I get to have my silly little adventures on my own terms without worrying about anyone other than me.

Oh sure, I still get lonely and I am a bit bored with my own company at this point. But because I have already experienced the process of coming to terms with isolation and solitude, I am ahead of the game over most people.

So, that’s a snapshot of my pandemic privileges.

As I watch other people struggle with the economic and emotional fallout, I am even more aware of how incredibly lucky I am to be facing this pandemic with the privileges I have. I am not sharing this as a way of “bragging” because there isn’t anything to brag about. In fact, in some ways, I feel guilt at being in what must be an enviable situation for some people.

I am doing what I can to help others along the way. I am interacting more with people I know to be struggling with isolation. I am helping a couple of people with small bills, and even made a couple of purchases for people who were struggling to buy things. I am trying to share upbeat and positive posts on my social media accounts. And I am trying my best to be grateful and kind to everyone who is struggling (and even those who aren’t struggling).

Whilst I know that I have worked hard in this life to have the things I have, I also know that good luck and blessed timings have helped me to get to this exact place at this exact time – despite all of the bad luck and cursed timings that have gone along with it. I hope that by being aware of my privilege, I will be able to notice the struggles that others might be facing right now. And I will do my best to use those privileges to help others. Because I don’t want to live in a world where the strong don’t help the weak. And right now, today, I have some strengths.

As for you, I know it can be hard to think about our lives in this way, but I urge you to think about the blessings and privileges you have right now. And if those blessings or privileges allow you to help someone else along the way, use them! After all, what better time than a global pandemic that to display your generosity and compassion – traits that we all possess in this world!

Be safe and stay healthy, my friends!

* This is only fair, as I did not pay rent during the first couple years of my PhD studies. And I only paid a pittance during the second couple of years. So, we’re just evening out the books now!
** It’s not dedicated office space. This room also serves as a guest room (fold-out couch), a home gym, and a storage area. But the clutter bit is behind me, and I am positioned looking out the window into the front garden.
*** That’s not to say that I am “lucky” or happy to not have a husband and children. Indeed, that is a fact that causes me great sadness. But when it comes to productivity and time management, my lack of a family means I can prioritise my work at this crazy time. (Although I would rather the struggle of finding balance!)
**** Isolation is not a new thing. Many people have suffered from social isolation long before now – especially the elderly and disabled. My hope is that society becomes more aware of this issue in a post-COVID19 world because my fear has long been that I will remain isolated for the rest of my life. These 11 years have been hard, and I dread to think how much worse it will get as I age… alone. (This is why I always talk to people at the bus stop: It might be my only conversation of the day, but it might also be their only conversation!)

A pilgrimage by proxy

Today marks 11 years since my beloved husband, Paul, passed away so unexpectedly. His death has impacted my life more than I ever could have imagined, and so this day remains a day of great pain for me.

To help me through the day, I like to take the time to visit with Paul. In the previous 10 years, I marked this date with a sad yet cathartic journey to his grave. But I had been thinking about changing the way I mark his passing moving forward. The first 10 years were spent visiting him at his place of rest, so I thought that the next 10 years might be taking him (in my heart and in my memories) to places that hold meaning to me.

Which is why this year was meant to be a “pilgrimage” to the Isle of Iona. That is where the St Martin’s Cross stands, and it is that cross that I had replicated (in a smaller size) for Paul’s headstone. It was a place we always spoke of going together, in part because of the cross and the island’s role in Britain’s Christian conversion. It just felt like the right place to be this year.

I started looking at bookings in January with the plan to book in mid-March. But at the beginning of March, I began to realise that might not be possible because of the COVID19 pandemic. And by the end of March, I knew it was out of the question. That realisation hurt more than I would have imagined.

As April began, I found myself feeling slightly anxious about the looming anniversary – even more so because I didn’t know how I would be able to mark the day when we are on lockdown. I knew that I would have to stay in the local area because I don’t have access to a car and public transportation is running on the barest of bare bones right now. That left me with very few options to choose from.

In the end, I decided to walk up to a small cemetery that sits halfway between my cottage and the nearby village of Roslin. The cemetery was once used as a resting place for people who lived and worked on the estate and is now used for families from a couple of nearby villages. Importantly, it is a place that I could get to with my own two feet – and not have to worry about how to maintain social distancing and self-isolation practices.

And so, this year’s pilgrimage was done by proxy.

I brought with me a photo of my beloved Paul and a miniature replica of the cross that my brother-in-law brought me after his own visit to the Isle of Iona a couple of years ago. And I sat there thinking about Paul; talking with Paul; crying for Paul.

I also spent some time taking photos of some of the headstones to add to Find a Grave. There were only 14 monuments listed and I have decided that I will adopt this cemetery so that I can ensure that all of the monuments are documented. After all, there could be someone else who can’t get to their loved one’s grave and they might one day find comfort knowing they won’t be forgotten. But I digress…

I don’t know what will happen next year, but I know that I will mark the day somehow. After all, the most meaningful relationship I’ve ever had is my relationship with Paul. He brought my soul to life and he showed me what romantic love is. He made me a better person. He made me feel confident in just being me. And when someone has had that kind of positive impact on your life, I can’t see how it would be possible to not be keenly aware of the moment their life ended; the moment their future ceased to exist.

Paul, you may be gone but you will never, ever be forgotten. I luv ya, luv.

COVID19 crafting: The making of a virus

I don’t know about you, but I find that humour and a bit of silliness help me to cope with the stress of life. And I find that keeping myself busy helps me to cope with the anxiety and fear that comes with loneliness. And when faced with a massive COVID19 pandemic and the UK Government’s lockdown measures, I found that keeping busy with silliness is a great way to cope. (One month down, with no end in sight!)

I have decided to use this time to catch up on projects that I have yet to start or yet to complete, as well as time spent on my swirl drawings. But I have also realised that this is a good opportunity to get creative with new crafts and projects, especially those that use up some of my hoarded supplies that have no specific purpose. (That’s how the plague mask came to be: using up odds and ends that I had no plans for.)

Earlier this week, I had the “brilliant” idea to make a coronavirus. I thought about making a pinata that I could smash to bits or maybe a bit of yard art. But when searching for inspiration online, I came across several crocheted viruses, which seemed like the best option by far.

The problem was that I am a self-taught left-handed crocheter and have never had the patience to figure out how to do anything more than basic rows stitched together to make scarves and blankets. But I decided that this was as good of a time as ever to try to learn new skills within the craft.

I began by scouring the internet for patterns that looked “easy enough” for my skill level. I then started looking on YouTube to find tips on how best to manage different stitches. It took a bit of back-and-forth-ing before I found the pattern that would work best with my new-found skillsets and, in the end, I took the visual lessons I learned from YouTube and returned to the simplest written instructions I found.

Of course, it wasn’t quite as easy as that and there were still lessons to be learned. So, after making my first ball, I returned to YouTube to see if there were better ways. That’s when I learned about an “invisible decrease” which helped to fix the biggest “flaw” in my work. I then worked on improving my stitches for the spike proteins and the overall look of the virus.

My hope is that this is as close as I get to this horrible little virus. And if when my parents and siblings make it through this horrible pandemic safely, I might present them each with a small (inactive) virus as their 2020 Christmas ornaments as a reminder of one of the craziest years world has seen in recorded history.

As long as the social distancing and self-isolation practices continue, I will need to keep myself busy and distracted. That means that I plan to do more crafting as the lockdown continues, although not everything will be related to COVID19. Stay tuned to find out what other silly things I get up to during the lockdown!

A month of isolation

Today marks one month of COVID19 self-isolation for me. My isolation began shortly after returning from my relaxing holiday in Cambridge and about 10 days before the UK Government’s lockdown was put in place. And, I am pleased to say, I am managing with relative ease.

I have been isolating because I am a vulnerable person due to my spleen-less state, and to a lesser extent due to my kidney disease and blood disorder. I have been avoiding as much human contact and interactions with the outside world as possible. I have been living in my own little bubble, in my own little world. Of course, it is easier to do because so many people are doing it, too. So, in a way, I don’t feel as isolated as I normally feel.

It has been a strange month, but I haven’t struggled with the isolation because I have been living a relatively isolated life for so long now that this feels mostly normal to me. I also live in the countryside where my cottage is surrounded by 250 acres of woodlands and fields. (I will leave the description at that, to keep my personal safety in check.) This means that I can easily get out into the fresh air for walks and runs, without navigating the crowds that seem to be common in more urban locations. I’ve also done quite a bit of working from home over the years, so I haven’t had to learn how to do that.

The differences over this past month are that I am not going out grocery shopping. Instead, my healthy housemate is doing my shopping for me. That way I can avoid the crowds to stay as healthy as possible for as long as possible. He is also taking extra precautions to stay safe, as he knows that I am high risk.

Another difference is that everyone is staying home right now. Where my loneliness and isolation are normally highlighted by watching (seemingly) happy families and couples interacting with joy and ease, it feels that we are all feeling sadness and isolation now – even those people who are isolating with others. And because we are all feeling this, I don’t feel that I am alone in the world; I am sharing this experience with everyone else.

Of course, not everyone is used to living like this. And that means that I am watching my extrovert family and friends struggle through living as introverts. As I said before, that has led to a bit of overstimulation for me. But I think that people are getting used to it, and I have found ways to cope with the noise of isolation so that I can isolate “alone” a bit better.

Also, having started a new job two weeks ago means that I don’t have the time to get (overly) bored. Instead, I am keeping myself busy by working a (generally) standard Monday through Friday, 9-5 workday. That way I only need to find ways to fill my time at the weekends. And filling my time on the weekends is quite similar to life before social distancing and self-isolation practices became the norm. That means I’ve been running, walking around the estate, and doing a variety of craft projects.

There is talk that the university campus might be closed down through May or June, and plans are being put in place to support a shutdown that lasts until the autumn. That means that I might be here at the cottage in (near) isolation for some time to come, which makes it that much better as I am (mostly) comfortable with living an isolated life.

And now, as I settle down for on the eve of my second month of isolation, I am feeling mentally and emotionally strong. Or at least strong enough to face another month or two of isolation. Much like the ways in which I create detailed plans and structures to help me survive the extreme loneliness of spending the Christmas holidays alone, I have been working on building some routines that I hope will help me to survive this, too. I never would have thought of “experienced lonely person” would be a survival skill. But there you have it!

I hope that all of you are coping, too. And if you’re struggling, please reach out. You are not in this alone!

Making masks for the COVID19 plague

Like many people trying to survive during the COVID19 pandemic, I have been doing everything I can to keep myself safe and healthy. And, like many people, that includes making masks.

Of course, unlike many others, I don’t need a mask to keep myself (and others) safe when I am at work or out shopping. That’s because I have been isolating at home for nearly a month, with no plans to venture into The Real World anytime soon!

So, why a mask? Well, part of my plans to stay safe and healthy include keeping myself busy to stave off the loneliness that can come when I am alone and idle. After nearly 11 years of widowhood, I have learned that the best way to keep myself on a positive keel is to be silly and ridiculous on (regular) occasion. (This is not strictly a post-widowhood way of life. No, my late husband and I regularly practiced silliness and ridiculousness!)

Anyhow, because I don’t need a mask that will provide me with some level of germ barrier, I decided that mask-making would be one of this weekend’s silly things.

And that means a proper plague doctor mask was in order!

I wanted to use materials I already had on hand, so knew that I would most likely need to tweak any instructions I found online. My first task was to review my craft boxes so that I could remind myself of the various odds-and-ends I have to work with. After that, I reviewed several how-to pages (many of which were for steampunk cosplay) to determine the best way to tackle the project. That then led me to salvage a few items from the recycle bin to add to my pile of potential materials.

Once I had a feel for the process, I returned to two specific sets of instructions to use as my base guides. The primary templates came from Storm the Castle, I then tweaked some of those pieces based on a set of instructions I found on Instructables. The two resources were then used for inspiration for the best way to put it all together.

I used some light-weight craft foam for my base and covered that with brown parcel paper that was crumpled to give it a (really poor quality) leathery look. I then stitched the edges using white cotton yarn. The yarn was a light-weight 6-ply that I pulled apart to create a 3-ply. For the goggles, I wrapped four circles of craft foam with heavy grey yarn, and sandwiched a piece of clear plastic from a yoghurt lid in between each set of two for the “glass”. And, of course, I added buttons as “rivets”. (I stitched the two on the temple as I through that would add a bit of stability to the mask; the ones at the head strap are only glued on.)

Once I finished the mask, I went out to take a few photos around the estate. I chose to do them around a crumbling old building to give a post-apocalyptic feel.

In the end, the mask didn’t turn out as “plague doctor” as I had wanted. But I think it looks fairly decent and, importantly, I had a fun time with the silly project.

Oh! And I even made masks for my friends, Tiger, Randolph, and Hamish. I’ve got to keep the gang safe, you know!!

As the social distancing and self-isolation practices continue, I am sure I will be doing a few more silly crafts to keep myself busy. So, stay tuned to see how I’m wasting my time!

 

Dress for success

I have just finished my first week at my new job, which was a bit odd as I’m working from home right now. I decided at the start of the week that I would dress for work each day as if I was going into the office. Which, in a way, is what I was doing. It’s just that my office is in my cottage, instead of at the University of Aberdeen.

Normally when I work from home, I work in my pyjamas (mostly) and spend most of the day working from the couch on my laptop. That’s because I am normally working on a very specific task that allows me to do that. But right now, my days are filled with the (almost) full range of tasks and the best way to do that is to recreate an office environment.

Because of this, I have realised that, if I am going to succeed at working from home long-term, I need to treat my home office as if it is the office. That means that I need to keep to standard office hours in my actual home office, not on the couch. Just as I would if I were going into the “real” office. It is especially important for video meetings, as I want to make a good (virtual) first impression with my new colleagues.

Of course, I also know how easy it is to fall into bad habits. Which is why I decided that I would share photos of my work wardrobe on Facebook each day. By doing that, I managed to create a ritual and an almost expectation that I will share a photo, which means that I have had to get dressed.

And so, I have dressed for success all week. I do admit that I wore leggings under my dresses and big fluffy slippers to keep warm, but other than that I was dressed as I would have been for the real office – including lipstick and jewellery! I further admit that I did change out of my office wear a bit earlier than 5pm on the first couple of days because I was a tad too cold. (I will make changes to my office and wardrobe choices to address those issues next week.)

I shared several days ago that I have to put a couple of my 2020 goals on hold, which makes dressing for the home office more important. You see, one of my “soft goals” is to “dress for success” and I don’t want to have yet another delayed or deleted goal for the year. Because this is a soft goal, I don’t have any clear benchmarks to work towards. But I think that getting dressed every most days during the COVID19 lockdown. is a good step towards that goal.

Importantly, I have heard from others that they have enjoyed my week’s fashion parade. I had mentioned that I didn’t want to “bore” anyone with daily dress-up pictures, but one Facebook friend from The Homeland replied that everyone is home right now and that they need a bit of entertainment. So, I will do more Facebook fashion shows as time goes on. But not every day as my wardrobe isn’t that extensive! (I will be back at the charity shops searching for bargains as soon as it is safe to leave the social distancing and self-isolation practices behind.)

If you want to see what my first week’s office wear looked like, check out the photo gallery below!

Stepping up my game

Today is a bit of a celebration day for me as I mark six straight months of taking (at least) 10,000 steps a day. This is especially happy for me because one of my (many) goals for 2020 is to take a minimum of 4,000,000 steps over the course of the year. That means I will need about 11,000 steps a day for 366 days.

My current streak began at the end of September. But if I count only the full months (October through March), I have managed 1,992,203 steps which is just shy of an average of 10,890 steps per day. That is not quite at my daily average requirements but, much like my running goals, I am sure that I will improve on that average as the weather improves.

When my current step-streak began, I was not really expecting to manage so many days in a row of 10,000+ steps. But I know that I get a new Garmin Badge each time I manage a 60-day step-streak, so I have been motivated onwards through the gamification of fitness. And now, even though I don’t get an additional badge for on-going streaks or the number of consecutive 60-day badges in a row, I am motivated by my own pure stubbornness to keep going.

Of course, my obsessive personality means that I get quite anxious when I think I might not make my steps. Sometimes, that means going out for an evening walk or dancing around the cottage a bit before bed. (Yes, I am that crazy about this!)

In fact, I had a bit of a depressing mood crash related to my step-streak in February. When I went to bed on the 23rd, I had more than 10,200 steps on my watch. I had noticed before closing my eyes that it hadn’t synced with my Garmin Connect app, but I was sure it would synch overnight, so I didn’t worry about it. Only when I woke up on the 24th, I found that it hadn’t synched, and turning my watch off and back on again reverted my count to about 9,750. I was gutted, as that meant that instead of having a streak of 147 days, I was back down to zero!

But despite my grief, I tweeted about my dilemma. I didn’t tweet for anything other than a bit of feigned sympathy (and maybe to gently mock my obsession) but their customer support team replied and put me in touch with their tech team who were able to fix the glitch. Which means I got my streak back! Yay!

Sure, I would have known that I had achieved a longer streak than what the system said, but I wanted the digital artefact, too; I wanted the points. I wanted needed that gamified motivation to keep going!

And now, thanks to that quick save by Garmin, I can now boast six months in a row of taking 10,000+ steps a day. And if I can keep this up, along with several a lot of days where I rack up far more than 10,000 steps, I will smash my 2020 goal of 4,000,000 steps with (relative) ease.

Stats for the record:
* Most steps in a day during this 6-month period = 20,541 (1 January 2020)
* Most steps in a day ever = 54,218 (27 September 2015, from my last Loch Ness Marathon and the first full day of Garmin ownership)
* Most steps in a day not including a marathon race = 26,736 (4 May 2019)

Anyhow, it feels really good to have this streak, and I am hoping that I can stay healthy enough to keep it going for a bit longer. As I am planning to run quite a bit more this year, it should be easy to get the steps in most days… I just need to keep putting one foot in front of the other!

A happy new job announcement

I started a new job at the University of Aberdeen (Scotland) today and am extremely excited about it! The new job means that my visa can be renewed, which means that I do not have to carry the stress and anxiety of wondering “what next”. Which is good, as it means I can keep all my stress and anxiety focused on worries about COVID19.

I am keenly aware that my good news comes at a time when others are experiencing extreme financial hardship. That makes it difficult to be too cheerful about my good fortunes, but I am also pleased that this new job means that I can take care of all of the finances at my home for a while, as my housemate (a taxi driver) is one of those people whose job has gone to the wayside due to the social distancing and self-isolation practices. I am overjoyed that this new job will allow me to help him!

But, let’s talk more about the job!!

The new job is a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Aberdeen where I am working in the School of Natural and Computing Science as part of an interdisciplinary, EPSRC-funded project called RAInS (Realising Accountable Intelligent Systems). My primary responsibilities for the next two years will be to investigate issues of trust and accountability in intelligent systems (AI) using qualitative research methods to answer questions surrounding the accountability of systems related to specific use cases.

For the non-AI folks, you can think of this (very, very simply) as looking at who/what is “responsible” when a self-driving car goes rouge or when AI-based hiring decisions are racist/sexiest.

The research was originally planned as a series of hands-on co-design workshops, but given the current state of the world (COVID19), we might need to re-think how best to proceed. I have been thinking about potential (digital) methods over the last couple of weeks and I am sure that we will have a few conversations about how to proceed in the next couple of weeks.

For now, I am just getting myself up to speed. I have several documents and literature to review to provide me a good overview of the project from background literature and proposals to research summaries and workshop artefacts from other research partners. I am hoping that by the time I get through those files we will have a better idea of how to proceed.

It is a bit of a strange start, given that we are on lockdown orders as part of the UK’s COVID19 response. This means that my work will be done remotely for the foreseeable future. Thankfully, I live in a fair-sized cottage and I have a separate office that overlooks the garden where I will be able to work during this time. I just hope that it will not be long until I can move into my office on campus and to start meeting my new colleagues face-to-face. In the meantime, thank goodness for technology!

Normally, such news would also include starting to make solid plans for a holiday to The Homeland. But that will have to wait until we know when leisure travel will be allowed (and safe) again. But I’ll be home as soon as I can… and if any of my Homeland Readers are around, we can have a drink or two and celebrate life!

Note: Keen readers may have connected this story to my 20th February post titled “Aberdeen: Looking up!“. That was the day I travelled up for my interview. I received a job offer right after my holiday to Cambridge

Putting my goals on hold

Yesterday was a monumental day here in the UK when the Prime Minister put the nation on (essentially) a full lockdown. It wasn’t really unexpected, given the social distancing and self-isolation practices measures that were already in place. But it does make things clearer as to the length of time we can expect this to continue. And that clarity means that it’s time to be realistic about my ability to achieve some of my 2020 goals which is a sad realisation for me.

Now, I do realise that there are far greater challenges that others are facing because of this horrible pandemic. And I know that I may face far greater challenges before this period of tribulation is over. However, these are still micro-losses for me and even the smallest losses can compound over time to negatively impact someone’s world.

Indeed, many of my goals and ambitions are designed to motivate me in my daily life. Not so that I can “be productive” or “be amazing”. Instead, I use my goals to motivate me to live. If not for my goals, I would run the risk of sitting at home feeling sorry for myself. And that would increase my feelings of isolation and loneliness. And that would increase my risk for situational depression, which can lead to clinical depression if left to fester for too long. And whilst I have never experienced clinical depression, I know enough about it to know that I want to avoid it at all costs.

Hence, the importance of setting goals and working towards achieving them.

The primary goals that have been put on hold (cancelled?) are those related to running races and travel. But I have also put my “digital free” days on hold, as this seems like a challenging time to not be in touch with my folks – even for just a day. Some of my “soft goals” are going to be harder to work on at this point, too. For example, dressing up for the office will be a little hard when I won’t be going into the office!

I was due to run a half-marathon on Easter weekend and had started looking at other half-marathons to run in the spring. These races were going to help to motivate me for a marathon (or two?) in the autumn. Thankfully, my Easter weekend half has been rescheduled until September. Now, just must hope that others are rescheduled, too. And, of course, I hope the lockdowns don’t delay things even further and I hope I don’t get sick, preventing me from running on my own!

I think that setting aside my travel ambitions is the hardest delayed goal to face. That’s because many of my travel plans were connected to Paul; to the ongoing process of moving forward in my journey of widowhood.

The plans I had for the spring and summer were to visit places that we travelled to together, but that I’ve not been back to since his death. I hoped to visit Bath, where we took our first mini-break together, marking the first time we were in each other’s company for a full 24 hours. (We survived and enjoyed the experience.) I hoped to visit Amsterdam, where we enjoyed our first international trip together. And I planned to visit Venice, where Paul proposed to me way back in 2004. All these trips are now on hold.

I also had plans to visit Iona in April. Whilst it is not a place we went together, it is a place of great significance and is home to the St Martin’s Cross, which is the cross Paul’s headstone was based on. I marked 10 years since Paul’s death last year, with visits to his grave each year and I thought that maybe this year I would change my tradition by going somewhere else to remember him. And where better to begin than to visit the place that holds the inspiration for his headstone? Of course, Iona was also on our list of places to visit, giving it extra meaning.

But now, I won’t be travelling for the foreseeable future. And whilst I can still run without the races, I can’t really travel without the world returning to (some form of) normal. I will try to think of ways to incorporate the spirit of travel into my days and weeks of isolation though.

Yes, it is very frustrating. But I am doing my best to focus on the positive things in my life. Whilst I am losing out on opportunities to travel and to participate in (expensive) races, others are losing their livelihoods (and worse, their lives!). I am part of the “privileged middle class” which means that my life is (comparably) quite stable and easy in the best of times and my personal situation (from professional industry to place of abode) means that I am able to maintain that stability and “ease” whilst others are facing upheaval for the first time in their lives.

So, please know that I am not whinging about my lot in life without a realisation that so many people have it far, far, far worse than I do at the best of times and are not teetering on destruction during this horribly turbulent time in our society. But, as I’ve said on many occasions, this blog is a record and reflection of my life, not a place for commentary on the very real struggles and pains of society.

As I work towards accepting the delay of my goals, I am working to find new things to focus on. That includes focusing on other parts of my 2020 goals, specifically working to be a stronger and more confident version of myself. It is my hope that I can use this time and these experiences to help me with that. I hope that I can use this time of great uncertainty to find positive opportunities amongst the angst. I hope that I can come through this with more compassion, more empathy, and more love. (And then, I can go travel the world running races!)

The noise of isolation

Towards the end of last week, people around the UK and the USA were beginning to increase their social distancing and self-isolation practices, with many people moving to remote working. It all increased again this week so that by Friday most of the people I know who do office-based work were home. In fact, offices around the two countries were basically telling their people to stay home. Work, but stay home. After all, it’s the best way we have at the moment to slow the spread of COVID19.

All that isolation and remote working means that people are adopting new-to-them technologies to stay in touch with colleagues, family, and friends. People are trying out so many new communications tools that my entire world seems to be filled with pings and dings and bells and whistles. They’re going off all day, every day, and it’s driving me a bit crazy! (And don’t get me started on people who are using the tools “incorrectly”. Here’s hoping they learn quickly!)

To be clear, I am excited to see people reaching out through technology. I mean let’s face it: My entire academic career has been built on online communications and social media use! It is so nice to see how technology is helping to bring people closer together and to help people to collaborate in new and exciting ways.

But I am starting to get overwhelmed by the noise of isolation now.

After nearly 11 years of widowhood, I have learned to live a fairly isolated and quiet life. I have learned how to cope with days and days of near-silence, and I can go 2-3 weeks without face-to-face human interactions. It was hard at first, but over the years silence became a big part of my life. And I have (mostly) accepted this, despite the loneliness that the silence can cause at times.

Because I have grown so accustomed to silence, I now need it. Not all the time, but I do find that I must have a bit of silence each week. Ideally, I will have a bit of silence every day, but at the very least I like to have a day or two all to myself.

Right now, however, the silence is hard to find. And I think that’s because all of those people who are used to having daily, face-to-face interactions with other humans are now struggling to cope. Some of them are worried about loneliness. Some are worried about boredom and some might be worried about the effects of isolation on their mental health. Which means that people are reaching out to others. A lot. They’re messaging and videoing and social media-ing and just generally communicating as much as they can.

And the noise is deafening!

For the first few days, I tried to participate as much as possible because I could see that others were struggling, and I thought that maybe I would find a bit of solace in the increased human interaction. But what I have found instead is that I am overwhelmed because I haven’t had a day’s silence; I haven’t had time to just sit and be alone.

In fact, today I was so overwhelmed that I have been making excuses for why I can’t join this chat or that chat or the next chat. It’s almost like all of the excuses I used to have for why I couldn’t attend this pub night or that party…

I am hoping that the noise dies down a bit over the coming days, especially as people begin to get used to this new way of living. But I am also very aware of how painful silence can be, more so for people who are living alone or are already experiencing feelings of isolation. So, I will be reaching out to people over the next few weeks and I will be here for anyone who wants to talk. Even if that means I must take on some extra noise.

But for now, I am turning off all the alerts for the evening and I am going to relax so that I can revel in the silence that I have learned to love.

An anxious expat

Whilst I was in Cambridge last week, things were starting to accelerate with the spread of the Coronavirus that causes COVID19. News from America and in the UK was just starting to get worrying and people were beginning to panic buy supplies to be prepared for the unknown. But even then, it didn’t really seem “real” or as if it would have a real impact on life here in the UK or at home in America. But by the time I settled in back at my cottage outside of Edinburgh, universities around the world were starting to cancel classes and people were beginning to work from home in droves.

And now, social distancing has become a thing. Isolation has become a thing. And in many ways, fear has become a thing. Fear. Anxiety. Stress. All these things have become part of my daily life in recent days.

I think that my biggest worry is “what should I do?” You know, the one where I start to wonder if I should run to my parents to help and protect them or stay where I am to help and protect myself. And there really is no way to know what the right choice is because both choices would have long-term, potentially life-long, consequences (good and bad, I imagine).

As an expat living 6,000 miles away from home, away from my parents whom I miss and love very much, I quite often feel the painful struggle of having one heart torn between two homes. I have lost track of the number of times when I have wondered about my long-term future and the best place to settle down. And now… well, now that the world is shutting down to hide from this deadly virus, I am feeling overwhelmed with the struggle and all the related emotions.

As I (try to) do most Sundays, I had a Skype chat with my folks this evening. I let them know that I was conflicted and that I didn’t know what to do. And they, in their wisdom, told me what I probably knew all along: The best thing for me to do is to stay where I am. That’s not the easiest thing, but yeah, it’s probably the best thing; the safest thing; the smartest thing.

I am best to stay here because that will be the best option for job opportunities (there’s something in the works here, where I’d be unemployed if I returned). If I return, I will have no health insurance. If I return, I will be returning to a place that is a “hotbed” for COVID19 at the moment – not to mention the risks of mass public transport at this time. Where if I stay here, I can isolate; I can protect myself.

But that’s hard because that means I can’t be there to make sure they are safe. (Give me a break, they are both US Marines, each with more than 70 years’ life experience. They don’t need a young whippersnapper like me coddling them!) It’s hard because there is a very real risk that I will not get to say goodbye if the worst were to happen (a risk that I am always well aware I face as an expat!).

And so, I will stay. I will stay here in the (hopeful) safety of my rural cottage, relying on technology to keep me connected to my parents and the rest of my family and friends around the world. I will stay, and I will do my best to overcome the anxiety that this frightening time has brought to my heart and soul.

I think I will have to speak with my folks a bit more often over the next several weeks… and I will just have to hope that they don’t get tired of me video chatting. But it will help me to feel better about our distance, and hopefully, it will help them feel better about it, too.

And I will pray that this is all behind us soon so that I can plan a holiday to the Homeland, and to the arms of my parents. I will pray that it is not long before I can be with them again. I will pray that we all get through this scary time with as little heartache as possible.

Stay safe and stay healthy, Dear Readers. And stay in touch with the people you love!

Relaxing in Cambridge

I have just returned home after an enjoyable, and much-needed mini-break to Cambridge (with a brief stint in London) and I am feeling well-rested and rejuvenated. It’s the first time I’ve been to Cambridge in a few years and was the first time that I really had time to explore the city.

My visit was prompted by my desire to unwind after the end of my post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Dundee, which lined up well with my friend Ernie’s plans. He was in the area for work and wanted someone to pal around with for a few days, and I was more than happy to oblige. After all, when a fellow geek wants to spend a few days visiting libraries, museums, and institutions of knowledge and culture, it would be silly to decline!

I made my way to London on Wednesday afternoon where I settled into a hotel room near King’s Cross station for the evening. It was a bit rainy, so I opted to simply relax, knowing that the days to follow would require a great deal of walking – and even more brainpower! Then on Thursday morning, I woke up and gave myself a facial and a manicure before heading out to meet my friend who was arriving that morning.

I had a late check-out for my room, which meant that Ernie was able to freshen up after his travels and we could leave our luggage behind whilst we explored the local area a bit. As we are both kind of geeks, out first stop as the British Library. I am embarrassed to say that, despite it being so near to King’s Cross, I have never been to visit. I am so pleased that I finally got there!

After the library, we decided to walk up to St Pancreas Old Kirk. It was a bit rainy, but we were hopeful that we would be able to dry off in the church for a bit. Once we arrived, we were greeted with an unexpected cello recital. It was the last in a series of lunch-time recitals and we were both quite excited by the treat. Indeed, when we left, we were sent on our way with lots of cake (and declined offers of tea and coffee) for the train to Cambridge. Bonus!

Of course, because of the unexpected musical treat, we had to rush back to my hotel so that I could check out on time. Then we made our way to the train station where we found some sandwiches to enjoy along with the cakes for a nice little train picnic on the journey to Cambridge.

Once in Cambridge, we settled into our hotel rooms then met up for a walk around the city to orient ourselves for the rest of the trip. Thankfully, the rain let up as was walked, making for a pleasant evening of wandering around the city. In fact, we enjoyed enough of the city that I had a daily step count of 19,268 – nearly double my daily goal!

After a good night’s sleep, I met Ernie in the lobby for a full day’s sightseeing. Thanks to our reconnaissance walk around the city the night before, we knew the best way to get to where we wanted to be. In fact, we found a great short cut on our recon-wander which meant that we were able to start the day with a visit to the Pembroke College Chapel where we got to admire the Cross of the Migrants.

Then it was onto the Fitzwilliam Museum where we enjoyed their temporary exhibit called “Feast and Fast: The art of food in Europe, 1500—1800”, in addition to their permanent displays. I was especially impressed with the elaborate sugar sculptures, as shown in the photo gallery.

From the museum, we made our way to the Mathematical Bridge at Queens’ College before making our way to King’s College Chapel where we marvelled at the design and the displays telling the history of the building.

The rest of the day was spent wandering around the city, popping into the different colleges (where we were allowed) to enjoy the chapels and gardens. And at the end of the day, we went to a lecture at the Darwin College as part of their Enigmas 2020 lecture series. The speaker was Dr Albert Yu-Min Lin on the topic of Archaeological Mysteries [you can watch the lecture here]. (I did say we were geeks!)

After the lecture, we went out for a big bowl of Pho before heading back to the hotel where I was able to relax and read for a bit before bed. All told, I managed 20,046 steps for the day which made me incredibly happy.

On Saturday, I started the day with a morning run on the treadmill before meeting Ernie for our final day in the city. Where Thursday and Friday seemed relatively low-key and uncrowded, Saturday was quite busy with crowds milling around everywhere. In fact, it was even busy at our first stop, the Scott Polar Research Institute. (That location was not my choice, but Ernie seemed keen on it, so I happily went along.)

After the polar museum, we made our way back to Queens’ College Chapel for an afternoon organ recital, performed by Christopher Baczkowski. I always enjoy listening to music in churches and was pleased to have yet another opportunity to do so!

From the concert, we made our way to the river for a punting tour along the River Cam. It was a wonderful way to relax and take in the views of the different colleges that make up the larger University of Cambridge system. Plus, it was nice to not have to walk for a while! Although, the walking wasn’t completely done for the day!

After punting on the river, we walked around a bit more, stopping into a couple of small churches and galleries along the way. Then we made our way back to King’s College so that we could enjoy the Evensongs. It was a real delight to hear the choral voices filling the ancient chapel, and I was so pleased to have had yet another opportunity for listening to music in a church!

I will admit that I was extremely tired by the end of the day, but I did manage enough energy for a nice dinner before heading back to my room for the evening. Between the morning run and the walking around, I managed 18,331 steps – which is probably why I had such a good night’s sleep!

After waking up on Sunday morning, I packed my bags and got ready for my journey back up to Scotland. I met Ernie in the lobby, and we made our way to the train station where he left for London to continue his travels. I then took the time to find a couple of geocaches before catching my train home.

It felt like an exceptionally long journey home, but I did manage to get back to the cottage before 6pm – which made it easy to get an early night’s sleep. It was harder to get my steps in for the day, with a final count of a measly 10,236. Which, in fairness, is about normal for me. But I got so used to all the extra holiday steps!

Anyhow, it was good to see Ernie and to pal around for a few days. I hope that we will be able to meet up soon for more adventures! It was also good to unwind for a bit to mark the end of my job and the stress of looking for a new one! And since you, Dear Reader, missed out on the fun, here are some photos from my travels for you to enjoy.

Ramping up my running

I have some pretty ambitious (for me) running goals for 2020 and now that the weather is warming up, it’s time to ramp up my running so that I can meet all of them! And if I can keep the momentum going, I might even manage to beat all of them, instead of simply meeting them.

My foundational aim is to run 700+ miles, spread out over at least 175 running activities. Of course, if I am to meet or exceed the rest of my running goals, I will end up with more miles and (potentially) more activities. At this time, I am slightly behind meeting those goals because of the winter weather. But I feel confident that I will be able to make up the difference as the weather improves. I will also work to bank up mileage and activities in anticipation of more bad weather come November and December.

My other running goals are time-related. I have set goals to run new personal best times for all of my distances, from a super-fast (for me) 1-mile run to shaving a few minutes off my half- and full-marathon times (and everything in between). In many ways, those goals will be harder to meet than my mileage goals because each one requires keeping a different pace and I will need to work on interval training, hill running, and tempo runs with more dedication than I normally give to such things.

I am cautiously optimistic that I will be in “running” shape to run the inaugural Declaration Half Marathon in Arbroath next month. The race celebrates the 700th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Arbroath and is a tad over a half marathon, at 13.20 miles to mark the signing in 1320. Is should be a small competition field, which will make for a relaxing return to racing.

I am starting to think ahead to other races, too. Including the Loch Ness Marathon in the autumn and maybe even a race during my (yet-to-be-planned) Homeland Holidays. I haven’t participated in a race since before I broke my ankle, so I am trying to get back into the swing of things. And I am really looking forward to it.

It feels good to finally have the time and the energy for running more regularly, so I want to do everything I can to beat all of my running goals! My hope is that I can get at least 40 miles this month, building on my 18+ miles in January and 24+ in February. Then, I hope to increase my mileage each month through September or October.

Yep, I am feeling pretty good about my 2020 running goals. It’s going to be a great year for smashing goals!

Deleting goals: Beannachd leat, Gàidhlig

I did something today that I (almost) never do. I gave up on a goal. More than that, I gave up on a learning goal!

In late-December, I decided that I would start learning to speak Scottish Gaelic. I thought that it would be a good goal to add to my 2020 ambitions. Duolingo was offering the language on their language platform and it just seemed like the perfect time to learn.

For the first few days, I was enjoying the challenge. Each day, I did one or two lessons on the mobile app and I was looking forward to learning more and more as I went along. But by the end of January, I realised that it was becoming a chore; I was not enjoying the language and I was not enjoying the lessons. Instead of feeling like a fun adventure, learning Gaelic felt like a real drudge.

Generally speaking, I am not one to give up on goals. I have a stubborn streak that I’ve long relied upon to keep me going until I reach success. And once I say I’m going to do something, I do it. I do it because my ego demands it. I do it because my integrity demands it. I take pride in my follow-through.

So why quit? Because the goal was set with the view of enjoying myself and learning a fun new skill. Only I realised that I wouldn’t have a chance to really use the skill. And it was causing me great misery each day. And so, I have prioritised my own happiness and joy.

The good thing about this decision is that I can now concentrate on the language that I really want to learn: Scots! And that’s a language that is used quite regularly mixed in with everyday conversations. So, I think it will be easier and more enjoyable to learn.

And so, beannachd leat, Gàidhlig! (Good bye, Gaelic.)

Aberdeen: Looking up

I made a trip to Aberdeen today for a meeting and found myself looking up. In fact, I found myself looking up a lot more than I would have expected because I was enjoying the contrast of the grey-slabbed buildings against the bright blue skies.

It was a bit surprising to me in a way because I’ve been to Aberdeen many times of the years but this is the first time that I’ve really noticed or paid attention to the spires reaching upwards into the sky.

Of course, this was also my first time in Aberdeen on my own, as every other trip has been with colleagues for meetings or conferences. In fact, my first trip to Aberdeen was with a colleague from my days working at Universities Scotland way, way back in 2003 when we took a taxi to and from the train station to our meetings meaning I didn’t get to see the city at all.

Today’s visit was relatively quick. But train times were such that I had more than an hour before and after my meeting. And whilst it was quite cold, the skies were dry and blue which meant that I was able to walk the mile and a half from the train station with more than enough time to stop for photos.

And that’s the purpose of this post: Not the meeting, not the train journey, but the photos! Photos that you can enjoy without the kink in your neck from all the looking up!

Coming soon…

2013.01.06.coming-soonRegular Just Frances readers might know that the ‘real’ site has been down since mid-October, with my last post happening on October 5. When the decision was made to take the site down for much-needed upgrades, I think everyone involved (i.e.: me and my awesome Web Guru) thought it would be a short-lived disruption.

But, as happens, life got in the way and it’s taken a bit longer than expected.

However, the time has been good for me because it’s allowed me to focus in a bit on why I write; on who I’m really writing for. It’s also given me a bit of time to think about how I want to manage Just Frances moving forward. (As my Web Guru said: It will be about the content. And it will be spectacular.)

Anyhow, this is just a wee post to let you know that the design is done. And it’s lovely. And simple.

And, most importantly: It’s coming soon!

So thanks for bearing with me… I hope to have the new site up soon and hope that you like it!

A happy me

2013.01.05.a-happy-meI think that one of the things I struggle with is being happy with me. For a million little reasons, I’ve always found it difficult to be kind to myself; to take care of myself on a spiritual well-being level.

I, like many people, tend to feel sorry for myself when I’m alone too much. And that makes me unhappy, which means that I feel even more sorry for myself. And then I’m in this little world of misery and unhappiness and I find it difficult to take care of me; I find it difficult to care about being good to myself.

I’d like to say that I’ve ‘seen the light’ and that, from now on, I will always be kind to myself. But that would be a lie.

However, I have had a pretty good few days where I have been kind to myself. I’ve gone out running, I’ve been eating a bit better, and I’ve even been sleeping a bit more soundly.

In fact, yesterday I managed to get my eyebrows waxed and my hair cut. Both of which make me feel good about myself. And I even managed to take myself out for dinner—which is often scary, but also enjoyable if done right.

I also treated myself to a rejuvenating facial this afternoon. It was peaceful and relaxing and has really helped to boost my mood.

Yes, I am a happy me right now. And I like that. But I admit that I am bracing myself for stress and misery, too. I am so sceptical about life that I can’t believe that my mood will continue on this high path.

Still, I’m happy now and I’m going to accept that. And I’m going to work to keep that mood going for as long as I can. After all, being happy is one of my life’s goal!

A first Friday tradition?

2013.01.04.first-friday-diningIt’s the first Friday of January, therefore the first Friday of the New Year. And a new year is an opportunity for a new start. So, I’ve decided to take advantage of this fact and start a new tradition for myself, since my partner-in-crime has moved away, thus ending the Friday Night Cocktails tradition.

The new tradition? Dinner out. Either alone or with friends. (Alone this time. But maybe some will join me in February.)

I hate dining alone—I always have—but I realise that I am alone now and I have to get used to that fact. Yes, I could just stay home and hide away from the world, but sometimes I feel that I need to face the world with bravery—despite my solitude. It was a bit awkward at first, as dining alone often is, but I was prepared with a positive attitude and a fully charged Kindle—complete with a trashy novel that I found for free on Amazon.

I think the hardest part of the evening was deciding where to go. I’d thought about going to a really nice place for a bit of fine dining, but that would have been the most difficult choice—especially since that’s where the happy, lovey-dovey couples were most likely to be. And I thought about going to a family dining place or maybe out for a nice curry, but that seemed a bit weird, too.

In the end, I decided to go to The City Walls. Its friendly atmosphere with little nooks-and-crannies seemed like the perfect place for my first foray into First Friday dinners. And it was OK. I sat in a wee corner—in a comfy chair near the fire—and I read my book whilst drinking a pint of Belhaven Best and munching on a plate of nachos. And I enjoyed myself.

More importantly, I didn’t feel awkward or out of place; which means that I’ll be more likely to go out for dinner on the first Friday in February, too. And I imagine that I might spend most of these dinners alone, but I hope that I can talk friends into joining me sometimes, too.

How about you? Are you starting any new traditions this year?

To date, or not to date?

2011.08.30.bit_of_a_wanderTwo weeks before Paul died, we had a conversation about our futures, should one of us die—a conversation sparked because it was the anniversary of my very dear friend’s death. And it seemed that Paul and I both agreed: We would want the surviving partner to carry on and live life; to be happy; to date or re-marry. Not the week after the funeral, obviously, but eventually.

So, I promised that if anything ever happened to him, I would date again. But never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that just two weeks later I would be faced with living up to my promise.

It’s been more than three and a half years since Paul died and I am still alone. I haven’t found someone new and there are no prospects on the horizon. In fairness, I did attempt at ‘finding love online’ a little over a year ago—which only served to bruise my ego. And about six months ago I went on a first date—which didn’t work out because the guy was an idiot. And, though embarrassing to admit, I even thought that there might be a connection with someone I knew, but it turns out that I misread our friendship and his intentions were less-than-honourable. (A lucky escape for me, I suppose.)

Now I find myself in a hard position. I’m confused and scared about the idea of dating. I’m afraid of getting hurt. I’m afraid of falling in love again. And I’m afraid of having someone I love die too soon.

At the same time, I feel guilty for not dating. I feel as if I’m letting Paul down. I feel as if he would be telling me to stop being alone and lonely—and start finding someone new to love.

But I don’t want to try online dating again. And I haven’t had luck with asking friends to introduce me to (decent) single guys. And I don’t have the kind of social life that puts me in a position to meet new people—let alone single guys.

So how does a woman in her very late 30s find a man when she doesn’t have a social life and doesn’t want to find someone online? And do I really need to find someone? Is it possible to just live the rest of my life alone?

I don’t know the answer to any of these questions, Dear Reader, but I hope to find them. And I hope that the journey to discovery isn’t too painful. And I hope that, if I do end up dating again, I am able to find someone perfect for me. And not someone to replace Paul (he’s irreplaceable) but someone to complement my life. Someone who can make me laugh and make my heart skip a beat. Someone like the (single) man in my dreams.

Challenge 2013: A race a month

2013.01.02.running-challengeI failed ever-so-slightly in my 2012 Race a Month Challenge, but I enjoyed it so much that I’m challenging myself to the same feat for 2013. It’s not really my resolution for the year—which is to continue hoping for good things—it’s more of a lifestyle choice. And because it’s meant to be a bit of a challenge, I will try to increase the number of marathons or half marathons I participate in.

As it stands today, my first intended race will be the Buchlyvie 10K in Buchlyvie, Scotland. It was my first race of 2012, and I am desperately hoping it goes better this year! Of course, as my race partner (and race transportation provider) has moved to Wales, figuring out how to get there will be half the challenge!

I am also thinking about doing the Alloa Half Marathon in March and the Edinburgh (full) Marathon in May—if I can wrangle an entry, as they’re already sold out. And, of course, I’m thinking about running the Loch Ness Marathon again.

Oh! I’m even going to attempt at more—and better—training this year. Oh yes, I am!

If anyone is a runner and wishes to join me at a race—or if you’re not a runner but want to come cheer me on—please do get in touch. Running is, after all, a very social sport for being such a solitary one.

Happy running!

New year; new hopes

2013.01.01.new-year-new-hopesI like to start each year with a bright, fresh outlook; with a renewed hope for joy and happiness. But I must admit that I hadn’t planned to start 2013 that way. In fact, the post that I wrote over the past few days was one of despair. It was one of disillusionment laced with bitterness—and one that promised a year not of hoping, but rather a year of expecting disappointment so that I didn’t end up let down when joy didn’t arrive.

I did, however, include a disclaimer that I didn’t think I’d be capable of being that miserable; of being that hostile and angry toward the world. After all, I truly do believe that…with all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world….

So, instead of resolving to be miserable and give into the pain, I am resolving to keep hoping for something better. Instead of giving up because 2012 was a rather disappointing year, I am resolving to continue seeking out the good in people, even when they cause me pain and misery—sometimes with intentional malice.

I ended 2012 by going for a run then cleaning my flat and doing laundry so that my first day of 2013 could start fresh and bright. And it worked. I woke up with the sun this morning and opened all the curtains—for the first time in ages. Then I enjoyed a quiet walk into town, soaking up the sun and enjoying the fairly mild day.

Today isn’t what I would have dreamt it to be, but it’s not a bad day. And I know this year won’t be what I would have dreamt, but I’m confident that it will have some goodness and light in it.

And to start it off right, I will be working on my PhD research proposals and academic applications. I will also continue running and looking after myself in the hopes of finding blissful happiness in this world.

As for Just Frances, well, I hope to continue blogging—and I hope that you continue reading. Your support has been invaluable to me, it really has.

I wish every last one of you all of the joy, happiness, and blessings that you can manage this year. Happy 2013!

So long, 2012!

2010.09.20.sometimesIf I am honest, I would have to say that 2012 has been a pretty unhappy year. I think it’s been even worse because I had such high hopes for it; I suppose that hoping for happiness only served to set me up for greater disappointments. And it really has been a disappointing year on so many levels.

But despite the disappointments I faced, there were good things, too. And those are the memories I will try to take away from 2012. So, here are a few of the year’s high notes:

I also have to give special acknowledgement to a group of women who became my virtual ears when I was really struggle a couple of months ago. And further acknowledgement to two amazing friends who’ve been working to bring Just Frances back up to speed so that we can scrap this temporary blog and move full-speed ahead into a bright 2013.

So, goodbye 2012. I will remember the good times. And for you, 2013, I hope you bring me the joy I so desperately want and need!

(Want more year-end reviews: Here’s 2010 and 2011!)

Only in my dreams

2012.12.29.only-in-my-dreamsThere is a man who appears in my dreams who isn’t Paul. In my dreams, we’re madly in love. And much like the widow dreams I still have, these dreams are different each time. Sometimes happy; sometimes sad. But always a dream; never a reality.

Sometimes, he’s all mine in those dreams; we’re a couple and we’re oh-so-happy. Sometimes we’re married. Sometimes we have children. Sometimes we’re on a first date. And sometimes we’re good friends who are just becoming more than that.

I like those dreams. I never want to wake up when I’m having them. They make my heart so happy all day long—even though I know it was only a dream that will never come true.

But sometimes in those dreams, he belongs to another and we are merely caught in the misfortunate place of wishing things were different. Sometimes I try to push him away but he continues to pursue me. Sometimes we acknowledge that we can’t be together and we part in tears. And sometimes I ask him to make a choice between me and his partner—and his response varies.

Those are the dreams that make me sad. I’m sad because I’ve dreamt of spending time with another woman’s partner. I’m sad because—even in my dreams—I can’t have the love I want. I’m sad because those feelings stick with me all day long. I feel guilty for having shared emotions with a man who’s already spoken for.

The worst thing is that these dreams break my heart. Over and over again, when I realise that they are only dreams and the man is only a shadow who visits me when I sleep, I am sad. I am sad that he’s not really here. I am sad that I can’t pick up the phone and call him. I’m sad that I only know him when I’m asleep.

And sometimes, when I’m out at the shops, I find myself wishing he would walk through the door. I find myself wishing he’d come and whisper in my ear, just like he does in my dreams.

I’m sure this puts me somewhere on the crazy scale. But certainly I can’t be the only person out there who dreams of a man who fills her heart with joy. And, who knows, sometimes dreams come true …

Only In My Dreams
by Just Frances

He walks in the room; my heart skips a beat
He glances at me; I blush and look away
His smile is infectious as he walks toward me
The gentle kiss he greets me with sends shivers down my spine
He brushes my hair off my face; I blush again
Our fingers entwined; we gaze into each other’s eyes
The conversation is easy; the laughter is flowing
He whispers in my ear; I blush some more
Hand in hand, we begin to leave; and I wake up
And he’s not there; he was only in my dreams

A successful failure

2012.12.27.a-successful-failureI suppose it’s time I acknowledge that my 2012 Race a Month Challenge wasn’t as successful as I’d hoped. However, I am still calling it a success because I truly did have the best of intentions.

So, I guess I’ll start with the fact that I didn’t manage to run a race in November or December. Yes, I failed two months in a row! Now, in my defence, I was very sick in November with a low platelet count which meant that I couldn’t participate in either of the races I’d planned to run. Of course, I felt the need to make up for that by running an extra race in December. Only the December 2 race was cancelled due to icy conditions. So I planned to make up for it with a Park Run the following weekend but that, too, was cancelled due to icy. And the race I planned to do for my actual December run was in the States, but I didn’t make it home for Christmas because I had to send of my passport for my visa application.

I know it sounds like a load of excuses, and I am sorry for that. But I have made it up to my body by doing lots of training runs over the Christmas break. I hope that you’ll forgive me my failure on this. After all, thanks to running three races in September, I did manage a full 12 races in 2012! And here’s the recap:

So that’s my kind of successful failure. But I’m going for it again for 2013 so maybe I’ll have more success the next time. In fact, I already have a list of races to get me started. And—just for fun—I might do two full marathons next year. Because I can!

Survived

2011.07.15.was_a_homeI managed to survive Christmas alone. I won’t lie and say that it was easy. In fact, it was so very hard. My broken heart ached all day long as I watched my Facebook feed fill up with photos of happy families and statuses about the perfect gift from the perfect spouse. Things that my own Facebook wall should have been filled with.

I’ll be honest and admit that I was jealous of all of those people with their seemingly wonderful lives. I was jealous that everyone else seemed to be so happy whilst I was all alone. By choice, but alone never-the-less.

I spent the day on the couch watching television and sulking. I stood and looked out the window from time-to-time, envious of the families out for a Christmas walk. And I cried as I remembered how happy my last Christmas with Paul was. And toward the end of the day, I had a nice video Skype chat with my parents.

But I couldn’t bring myself to cook my Christmas feast. As much as I had wanted to be strong and brave and cook a lovely meal to enjoy by candlelight at the table, my heart hurt too much to allow it. So instead, I nibbled on cheese and crackers throughout the day—and a bit of fresh fruit. Then I cooked my Christmas ham and some roast potatoes for Boxing Day instead.

No, yesterday wasn’t the Christmas I wanted, or even the Christmas I planned. And today wasn’t the Boxing Day that it should have been. But I survived both days. Somehow.

Maybe next year will be better. Maybe next year I will have met someone wonderful to spend Christmas with; or maybe I’ll just be more adept at spending time alone. After all, I’m getting a lot of practice!

I hope that you had a lovely Christmas and that your day was filled with the love of family, friends, and Christ.

[Photo is of my last Christmas with Paul. It was such a magical, beautiful day and I wish I could re-live it one more time.]

Preparing for alone

2012.12.22.preparing-for-aloneI’ve decided to spend Christmas alone this year. I know that sounds silly to some people, but it seems like the right thing to do for me; for my heart. It’s not that I’ve not been invited to spend the day with others; it’s just that it’s hard to spend such a special day in someone else’s home. I would be left feeling like an outsider; like I was there because someone took pity on me.

I know that the people who’ve invited me wouldn’t feel that way, but I would. And I’m afraid that would be hard on my heart, so I’ve declined the invitations in favour of spending the day alone.

Part of me knows that the best way to make it through the day alone is to pretend that the day isn’t happening but, at the same time, I know that my heart and soul will know what day it is no matter how much my brain tries to ignore it.

So, I’ve decided that I will enjoy a Christmas feast, just like I would do if I had someone to spend the day with. Only, I had a bit of a melt-down in the shops today when I tried to buy groceries (seeing those happy couples still hurts!) so I have to go back and try again tomorrow.

But, thanks to a co-worker, I do have a copy of the Christmas Radio Times so I can start planning out my Christmas day viewing. Doctor Who and EastEnders are already circled!

Yes, I’ll be alone for Christmas, but I will survive it. Just like I’ve managed to survive every other day. And hopefully, I’ll survive without too many tears. After all, I have to carry on, and this won’t be my last holiday alone. So I might as well figure out how to manage.

Bonus!

2012.12.20.bonusBack in August when I started my new job, the biggest bonus was that my employer was actually willing to sponsor me for a work visa. Those of you who’ve attempted to live in a country other than your native one will understand what a tremendous bonus this is.

Of course, because I work for a small, government-funded programme, I realised that pay increases and bonuses would not be in my future. But that’s OK because I enjoy the job—and I make enough to live on so I don’t need a salary increase. (Though I’d happily take!)

So with that in mind, the last thing I expected to receive today was a bonus. But it seems that someone felt we all deserved a little something extra so they dipped into their own pocket to deliver everyone a generous gift certificate to the local shopping centre. (Please note that this was given with private funds, not government money—no tax money was used for this gift.)

Anyhow, just this morning I stood there looking at my latest accumulation of spare change and I told myself that I would use it to purchase a new tablet in the new year—as soon as there was enough of it. Well, it seems to me that this unexpected bonus could be used to help me get there a little bit faster, which means that between the £60 I had in coins and the £100 on the gift card, it’s time to start researching my next gadget!

Of course, by the time I finally get around to cashing in the coins, I’ll have enough for an even better gadget. I can’t wait!

And now we wait

2012.12.19.now-we-waitI have finally managed to get all of my visa stuff sent off to the UK Border Agency. There was a bit of a hiccup in the process which means that I will have a bit of time to wring my fingers in worried anticipation whilst I wait to hear the outcome of my application. But at least it’s in progress now.

I made my application online and carefully put all of my documents in an envelope post off for review. All of my important documents: My passport, originals of my birth certificate and marriage certificate, letters from financial institutions, and my original master’s degree certificate.

Unfortunately, this means that I am without my passport and can’t go back to the Homeland for Christmas. But it also means that I am a step closer to obtaining a work visa that will allow me to remain in my beloved Scotland. Well, to remain for the duration of the job, at least.

The next step is to have my biometrics taken, which will happen once I receive a letter from the UKBA, then I wait some more. And hopefully I will be sharing a picture of my new visa with you soon!

Failure to launch

2012.04.13.beautiful_things_paper_heartWay back in May, I had a failed attempt at re-entering the dating world—and that was after my ego had already been shattered! At the time, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to share the story here or not. But it seems to me that the story should be shared because I keep reflecting on it, so it’s obviously something that’s been bothering me.

It should be noted that I don’t plan to share every detail of every date I ever go on, but as this was my first date since Paul died, I guess it’s significant. So, here goes!

I was very apprehensive about the thought of meeting another man for lunch. I mean, I know it’s not cheating and I know that Paul would be more than happy for me to be dating, but it’s still weird. I mean, how can I go on a date with someone who wasn’t my husband?

After a slightly awkward greeting, we walked up the road to a nice little place where we could chat over lunch. The conversation was easy enough, but I never fully relaxed into it. Part of that was likely typical ‘first date jitters’ but I’m sure part of it was ‘first date after widowhood weirdness’ which is another layer of complication.

At the end of lunch, we parted ways as awkwardly as we’d met, and I made my way home. I was uncertain about the date and uncertain if I wanted to see the man again. He was very kind, but I didn’t feel a strong connection. However, I chalked that up to the conflicting feelings I had about dating a man who wasn’t my husband.

When I was asked if I’d be interested in a second date, I found myself agreeing to meet the man for dinner. After all, the first date wasn’t a disaster; it just wasn’t a spark-filled fairytale.

But, in the end, the second date didn’t happen. And here’s why:

The man called a couple of days before the date to make arrangements for where and when we would meet. It was then that he mentioned the possibility of another date later that month. Only I said I couldn’t because I was going to England for my brother-in-law’s birthday. And he said he thought my family all lived in the States. And I said that my in-laws were in England. And he was very adamant that it wasn’t right for me to be spending time with my ‘ex in-laws’.

Yes, this man felt that my late husband’s family were my ‘ex’ in-laws and that I need to cut them out of my life. He felt that it was wrong for me to have anything to do with them because, after all, I was no longer married and therefore I had no obligation to them.

He, apparently, is on rather bitter terms with his ex-wife and her family, and he felt that widowhood and divorce was the same thing where in-laws are concerned and that it was completely inappropriate for me to have anything to do with them.

Anyhow, he gave me a choice: Him or them. And I didn’t need to think about it, because I knew instantly that it was my in-laws. My family. The people who have been there for me even though they don’t have to be.

The entire situation hurt me very badly and I was rather angry that I was told to choose. I wasn’t upset at the idea that this man wasn’t the one; I was upset that someone would tell me that I had to walk away from my family. Sadly, a read around the World Wide Web shows that I’m not the only widow(er) who has been asked to choose. I don’t know if it’s ignorance or insecurity on the part of the ultimatum-maker, but it’s hurtful either way.

So, there you go. My first date story. Let’s hope that one day I have happier, more succesful dating stories to share!

It’s an onomatopoeic day

2012.12.14.onomatopoeiaI do love a bit of onomatopoeia. But I don’t like experiencing it first-hand. Achoo!

Of course, since I’m home, snuggled under my duvet, experiencing the agony of a cold, there is a lot of onomatopoeia going on.

I’m sneezing: Achoo!

I have a runny nose: Sniff, sniff

I’m drinking soup: Slurp

I’m cat-napping: Zzzz

And I’m complaining: Grumble

But I’m sure that I’ll be better soon. And then I’ll be laughing (haha) once again.

Visa hiccups

2012.08.12.visaIt would seem that I am being challenged on my visa journey this time around. And it is so very frustrating!

As you may know, I have been trying to switch my visa from a Tier 4 (Student) to a Tier 2 (General Work). But to do that, my employer needed to apply to the UKBA to become a sponsor.

For the past few months, there have been various back-and-forths on this, that, and the next thing to get everything lined up so that I can apply for my visa before my current one expires in mid-January.

And—finally!—everything came together.

The plan was simple: Make my application online and pay the extra £300 for the premium service which would include an in-person interview and a decision within 24 hours.

The hope was that I could get an interview for the next week so that I could have my passport back in time to travel to the Homeland for Christmas—realising that the last-minute ticket would cost a small fortune.

So I filled out the online application. Only there aren’t any available appointments before Christmas. In fact, there aren’t any available appointments before my current visa expires!

What does this mean?

Well, first of all it means that I will have to send off my application by post (which means I don’t have to pay the extra money). Along with my application I have to send my passport and other supporting documents. And since it can take six weeks—or more!—to get everything back, it means I can’t go home for Christmas.

It also means that I have to talk to the HR folks at work to make sure that they realise that once I apply, my current visa automatically extends until my application is decided. Because if they don’t clearly understand that, they may not let me work (or pay me!) until the new visa arrives.

So whilst this isn’t ‘good’ visa news, it’s certainly not bad visa news. (And let’s hope it doesn’t transcend into bad news!)

Of course, now I need to figure out a Plan B for Christmas. That’s going to be hard!

Downgraded

2012.11.30.downgradedRemember when I told you that I moved into a lovely new flat? And how I went on about how massive the place is?

Well, massive is great in the summer, but in the cold of the winter it means heating a lot of space. Which on its own isn’t bad, but when you’re sleeping in a cavernous bedroom with high(ish) ceilings and loads of space, it means that it takes a bit to heat up.

And that got me thinking: Why do I need to spend all of that money heating up the largest bedroom in the flat when it’s just little ol’ me. Wouldn’t it make more sense to move into the small bedroom?

OK, the large bedroom has a double bed where the small one only has a twin but, again, it’s just little ol’ me and I tend not to toss and turn so a twin bed is plenty big enough.

With this in mind, last night I switched the radiator off in the large room and on in the small one, then snuggled into the twin bed and went to sleep.

And I was toasty warm the whole night through. No, I was a bit too warm. Which meant that I didn’t need to use the second duvet. It was so very nice!

So, I have downgraded my sleeping arrangements for the winter. Or maybe in a sense it’s an upgrade since it’s a warmer and more comfortable sleeping situation.

Oh! And that means that I now have a spare double bedroom for guests. So if any married (or otherwise coupled) friends want to visit, there’s loads of space! Don’t worry—I’ll turn the radiator back on for you!

To the birthday boy

Another year, another birthday. Only he’s still not here to celebrate. My Paul would be 51 years old today, but instead he will forever be 47. It’s a day of hurt and sadness for me and I find myself missing Paul more than ever when his birthday comes around.

He’s not here to celebrate, but I wish him the happiest of birthdays in Heaven above.

I carry you with me every day, Paul, in my heart and in my memories. I only wish you were in my arms just one more time. I love ya, luv. xx

The master

The day you’ve all been waiting for has arrived! Today is the day that I completed one of my life goals. Yes, today is the day that I graduated—with distinction!—from the University of Stirling with a Master of Letters in Media and Culture.

It’s been a long journey with lots of twists and turns, and I am now officially ‘a master’. (You don’t have to bow, but you may if you’d like.)

I admit that I was sad because I couldn’t share the day with Paul, but I could feel his presence with me throughout the celebrations. And I know that he’s still in the wings supporting me and cheering me on as I consider continuing on to a PhD.

But despite having that little bit of sadness with me, I have been filled with giddy excitement all day long. From the moment I put on my gown to the moment I left the pub after celebrating with my friends, it’s been a day of joy and laughter.

So that’s it. I’m a master now. And that means that I need to find a new goal to focus on. I guess I should get busy with that …

Thanksgiving expertise

Today is Thanksgiving and, once again, I have so much to be thankful for. Of course, it’s always a little awkward being overseas on the holiday, since it’s not only not celebrated here, but it’s also not understood. So when my good friend, a primary school teacher, invited me into her classroom to talk with a group of 30+ eight year olds on the topic, I didn’t hesitate to say yes!

And so, I did what most Americans do for Thanksgiving, and took the day off from work. (And I’m taking tomorrow off for graduation, too!)

When I got to the classroom, I was introduced to the children as Mrs Ryan, and was soon swarmed with children wanting to tell me that they’ve been to America or that they know people who’ve been to America. So it was easy to see that I would have a fairly interested audience.

Anyhow, the day was spent reading the children a book about the first Thanksgiving and explaining to them who the Pilgrims were. Then we talked about the feast and how similar it is to a Christmas dinner. And then we talked about the important part of the holiday: Being thankful.

Soon, the children were back at their desks busily writing down a few sentences about what they were most thankful for.

As I watched them write, I knew that I was thankful for being there. I was thankful that I was able to share one of my favourite holidays with a group of eager children.

Of course, later I was thankful for my sister-in-law, Liz, and brother-in-law, John, who had travelled up from England to celebrate my graduation tomorrow. And for our Thanksgiving feast? A nice Indian curry at one of my favourite places in Stirling.

Yes, I have much to be thankful for.

(Want my Thankful stories from past years? Here are links for 2008, 2009, 2010, 2010 again, and 2011!)

New leaves

Graduation is on Friday and I’m really dreading looking forward to it.

Oops, did you catch that error?

Well, if I’m honest I’m not looking forward to it as much as I should. I suppose that it’s yet another reminder that Paul isn’t here to share in my joy. It’s even harder because when I think back to how I always imagined my graduation, Paul and the kids we were meant to adopt were always in the stands.

But life changes. Whether we like it or not, it changes.

So, instead of having Paul in the stands, my sister-in-law, Liz, and brother-in-law, John, are coming up from England to help me celebrate. And after the ceremony, I’ll meet some friends in the pub to celebrate some more.

Of course, all of this celebration means a new dress. Only I couldn’t find one I liked. And so I’m wearing the simple black dress that I wore for Paul’s funeral, with the hope that it will help to give the dress a happy memory.

And since I’m wearing an old dress, it’s only right that I wear a new necklace with it. And maybe it’s fitting that the one I found is a grouping of silver leaves. After all, after graduation I will be turning over a new leaf, re-starting my life as a master’s graduate.

Peachy-keen

As you probably know by now, I like to swirl. It’s relaxing and rather enjoyable (and maybe a bit addicting at times). In addition to swirling for my own inner peace, I really like to swirl for my friends and family—and am always up for swirling away at custom pieces when requested.

So, when my dear friend, ‘Peach’, said she wanted a peach-coloured swirl, I just couldn’t say no. (I didn’t want to say no!) I mean, Peach has been such an amazing friend to me over the years* and I really, really wanted to do something to repay the kindness she’s always given me.

I started this swirl in July 2012 using three Prismacolor Premier Verithin coloured pencils (Light Peach, 757; Deco Pink, 743; Process Red, 743½). It’s not the first time I’ve done a monochromatic swirl, but it is the first time that I’ve used colours that I don’t like using. And that’s actually made this a very difficult swirl for me.

You see, the two lighter colours (757 and 743) are difficult to see when I’m swirling. I really have to press hard to make the colour transfer to the paper, and really need to have natural daylight to make it visible when I’m swirling. Thankfully, the colours are easy to see when it’s done, and they transfer beautifully when I scan the image to the computer. Because of the difficulty I’ve had with seeing the colours as I’m working, I had a hard time getting into the creation of this swirl.

Since July it’s spent more time un-touched than touched. But then something happened and I became a bit more attached to the piece. I think it’s to do with the fact that I recently reached out to Peach for emotional support, which made me more excited to create this for me. And it also has to do with the fact that she was directly impacted by Hurricane Sandy, which means that I’m thinking about her more than ever these days—and as I find that my swirls are more enjoyable when I’m thinking about the recipient, it means this one finally got done!

Now, I wish that I didn’t need that emotional support and that my friend hadn’t been in the hurricane’s path, but we can’t prevent all of the bad things from happening. But since the bad did happen, I suppose I’ll take the good that can be garnered from it, and that’s the opportunity to reflect on a friendship. A friendship that I feel blessed to have found!

And now I guess I can start on another swirl. I wonder what it will look like when I’m done …

* Peach is one of my ‘make believe’  friends, and whilst I’ve never met her in person she has become a strong pillar of support in my life. She is part of my core virtual support network and her friendship is very precious to me.

The distinguished lady

You’ve slogged through post after post of me going on and on about my goal to earn my master’s degree. You’ve listened to me whine about how I had to write loads and loads of words for my dissertation. You kept reading when I claimed the month of July to be Dissertation Month—despite the boring, droning nature of it all. You listened patiently when I doubted my abilities and feared that I might fail my course. And you’ve waited (on tenterhooks?) to hear what happened after I finally turned in my dissertation.

And now it’s time I finally share with you my happy news:

I will be graduating next Friday with a Master of Letters in Media and Culture from the University of Stirling—with full distinction!

Yes, I managed to not only earn a distinction on my dissertation, but on the degree as a whole—an achievement made by only one other person since the degree began however many years ago. My ego is well-and-truly swelled. I honestly didn’t think that I would get such an amazing mark on my dissertation—let alone my entire degree. But I have. So I must brag about it.

Graduation is next Friday here in Stirling and I am looking forward to celebrating my achievement with my sister-in-law, Liz, and brother-in-law, John, who are travelling up from England to help me mark the occasion. (If you would like, you can watch the live-streamed ceremony. It starts at 12:30.) I will also share some photos and stories from graduation here when the time comes.

And I’ll give you a fair warning: I am now keener than ever to research PhD opportunities. So I am sorry, but this isn’t the end of boring academic posts!

Oh! And I great big thank you to you, Dear Reader, for all of the support you’ve given me on this journey. It is appreciate more than you may ever know!

Low, but lucky

I’ve been a bit low lately and reached out to a friend for a bit of company. When I’d first mentioned that I was stressed and needed to get out of the flat, I imagined that we’d meet up for a wee walk somewhere so that I had a bit of human interaction.

What I didn’t expect was that we’d spend eight hours together chatting, walking, and eating. But that’s what our visit turned out to be. And it was just what I needed.

Yep, last Saturday I made my way to Edinburgh to meet with Adrian, who took me on a fantastic walk through the Penicuik House Estate. There was something so wonderful about walking through the wooded estate, looking over Midlothian as we trekked across the sodden and muddy ground with his dog, Holly.

Of course, poor Adrian got to listen to me moan a bit about my life’s stresses, and he got to hear a bit about things that have led to my current state of stress and woe, so it might not have been as enjoyable for him. But he tolerated me—and even cooked me dinner and drove me back to the train station when we were done walking.

So, yes. I’ve been a bit low lately. But I keep finding all of these wonderful reminders about all of the wonderful people who are out there supporting me. I am a lucky woman because I have friends. And with luck and friendship, I’m sure this low mood will give way to a high mood soon enough.

October: The missing month

I’ve thought long and hard about how to handle the month of October for my blog. You know, since I only posted twice before the site went down for essential maintenance.

I thought about writing posts off-line, then adding them to the site when it was back up. But that would mean loads of back-reading for my (small) readership.

I thought about forgetting the month all-together. But that would mean not talking about a few things that happened that I want to include in my digital diary.

I even thought about writing one really, really long post that gave all the details of everything. But that would mean one really, really long post that no one would want to read.

So, instead, you get a bulleted list of some of the highlights from my October:

  • My Mum spent most of the month here on holiday. We toured all over the UK (with her having a week without me in England with my in-laws) and really did have an amazing time.
  • I ran the Beat Beethoven 5.5K race in Stirling with my friend, Joanne. We both beat the maestro, which was awesome, and it means that I got my October race out of the way for my 2012 Race a Month Challenge.
  • I received notification that I not only passed my dissertation with a distinction, but that I passed my entire master’s course with distinction—a rare honour and one that I will blog about separately very soon.
  • I managed to secure a two-month extension on my Tier 4 student visa, giving me a bit of breathing room whilst I sort out my Tier 2 work visa. (There is still stress around that topic.)
  • I made two major decisions about my future in Scotland: 1) I really do want to research PhD opportunities and 2) I really do want to get a car.

Lots more stuff happened throughout the month, but those are the ones that jump out at me. If I’m completely honest, most of the month was spent in tears though. It was a very stressful month that saw me fearing for my future because of visa issues and concern over how I did on my dissertation. I’m sure that the visa stresses will return with vigour, but at least I’ve learned that I’m a smart cookie.

But for now, here’s October in a nut shell. And as I’m nearly half-way through November, I’ll just concentrate on keeping up with that!

Temporarily yours

Hello and welcome to this amazingly awesome Just Frances temporary blog.

If you’re a regular Just Frances reader, you may have noticed that I’ve not posted since the first week of October. Further, you may have noticed that I took down the site’s content in mid-October, leaving you with nothing more than a placeholder page.

At the time, I had thought I’d be back up-and-running before the end of October, but life gets in the way sometimes so that just hasn’t happened. And I’m not really sure when the site will be back online, so I’ve decided to create a wee stop-gap blog to get me through because I actually find life more enjoyable when I have an audience to write for—even though I don’t know who my audience is, or even if there is an audience!

Because this is only a temporary blog, I will not be spending much (any?) time trying to make it look pretty. I have pulled in all of the text content (including comments) from my main blog, but I am not going to pull over the images. Further, I am not going to update links and such which means that (for posts made prior to November 2012) any links to my own materials will not actually link through (sorry about that).

But, something is better than nothing. Right? And to that, here’s something.

Normal service will return soon(ish).

Warming up with a faded flag

It’s starting to get cold outside and that means cuddling up on the couch with a cosy blanket. And for a double-dose of warmth, I like to crochet one blanket whilst cuddled under another.

So, I’m putting some of the fabulous wool (that’s yarn in American speak) that was left behind with all the beads when I moved in.

I chose to use the three large spools of basic wool for my new project since they are all the same weight and will look nice together.

I kind of think that they look like faded flag colours. What do you think?

Oh! And if you want to crochet along with me, here’s the pattern I’m using:

Start with Ch 108 (I’m doubling mine, using hook size ‘N’/9mm) then:

Row 1: 2 dc in 3dr ch from hook, *skip 2 ch, 1 sc and 2 dc in next ch; rep from * across, ending with skip 2 ch, 1 sc ch in last ch. Ch 2, turn.

Row 2: 2 dc in first sc, *skip 2 dc, 1 sc and 2 dc in next sc; rep from * across, ending with 1 sc in top of t-ch. Ch 2, turn. Rep Row 2 for pat.

Anyhow, I’m sure you’ll get to see the project as I progress and again when I finish. My hope is to finish it before Christmas. Wish me luck!

Three cheers for the cheerers

Well, that’s the Loch Ness Marathon done, and I am pleased to say that I improved my time over last year. The weather was pretty decent (could have been warmer for my liking) and the high I got from putting myself through the torture—and crossing the finish line!—was amazing.

Frustratingly, my knee gave up sometime after the 16-mile mark and there were a couple of times that I nearly crashed to the ground because of it, but it saw me through—just. But despite the physical pain my body was in, I never ‘hit the wall’ and was raring to go the entire race, which was nice since I was emotionally unprepared in the days leading up to it. And, thankfully, I’m not nearly as sore today as I was the day after the race last year. (Yay!)

But I don’t want to talk about me any more. (Shock!) Instead, I want to talk about the people who cheer from the sidelines. These people are amazing. They stand there for hours cheering everyone on as they run (or walk or hobble) past. They are full of encouragement for the participants and they always bring a smile to my face.

For some, they’ve had their lives disrupted as the roads to-and-from their homes (or businesses) are closed. They can’t come-and-go as they please and (inevitably) they end up with loads of empty water bottles and energy gel packs littering their gardens. Yet they stand there. Rain or shine. Clapping. Picking up rubbish. Giving words of encouragement and praise. And not just for the elite runners—for every runner.

It warms my heart and it powers me on. And when I can, I high-five the kids who stand there with their hands out for the slapping. And when my lungs allow it, I say thank you. At the very least, I try to nod or smile so that this amazing cheering section knows that they are appreciated. Because, in all honesty, their outpouring of encouragement and support really does keep me going. And for that, they deserve to be acknowledged and thanked.

So, thank you, random people in the random crowds. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

Now back to me for a brief moment: My goal was to run the race in less than 5:30:00, based on last year’s 5:37:42. And I’m happy to report that I beat my goal by nearly 12 minutes with a time of 5:18:37—nearly 20 minutes better than last year. Maybe I should strive for a sub-5:00:00 for my next marathon!

As always, you can see more of my running photos and times in the Run, Frances, Run! gallery.

Heading to the start

In about 24 hours, I will be running my second marathon. I know I’d said I was only ever doing one, but I was kind of challenged (dared?) by a friend and I can’t resist a good challenge.

I wish I could say I’m excited about it, but I’m not. I haven’t really trained, I spend last week battling a cold, and (in all honesty) I’ve been in a sulky, feeling-sorry-for-myself mood for the past week, which means I’m less than excited about everything let alone running 26.2 miles.

But, I’m doing it. I’ve committed myself to it and I can’t back out now.

I’ll be heading to the train station in a short while so that I can make my way to Inverness for tomorrow’s Loch Ness Marathon.

I hope the weather improves. I hope my mood improves. And, of course, I hope my time improves.

Stay tuned for a post-race re-cap! (And feel free to send me some good running thoughts and prayers!)

Writer’s cramp

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Today is Day 3 of Social Media Week, so I thought I’d talk about correspondence. You see, for all of the wonderfulness of social media, it has a lot to answer for in regards to the breakdown of communication. Email, instant messaging, and social networking sites have almost completely replaced birthday cards, letters, and other hand-written messages. Yes, it’s great that we can stay in touch through electronic mail, and, yes, it’s great that it means messages are sent and received in moments, but I still like getting real mail through the post. Don’t you?

I mean, what would bring you the most joy? A birthday greeting on Facebook, an e-card sent to your email account, or a real, paper card sent through the post? I think that most people would agree that there is something fabulous about the paper card. Right?

Those of you who know me know that I’ve always been a fan of ‘real’ mail. My family and close friends get ‘real’ birthday and Christmas cards. And they get postcards, too. And not just some random card, no, I spend time thinking about the right card for each person. (Well, Christmas cards are generally a mass-mailing to be honest.) If you get a birthday card or postcard from me, you can bet that I chose it in the shop with you in mind, rather than buying a stack then addressing them willy-nilly.

But I digress…

The point is this: In the past five days, I’ve written five letters to various loved ones, the last of which will be posted tomorrow. My writing surge was prompted after receiving a letter from my cousin, which brought me so much enjoyment. Not just because of the words on paper (which were heart warming) but because it was evidence that someone not only thought of me, but took the time to write a letter, address it, slap some stamps on the sucker, and send it off. I mean, in this day and age, that’s a big deal.

Despite the fact that 4 of the 5 recipients for my letters are people I interact with on social media regularly, I felt the need to hand-write something. I hope that they feel the same joy when the letters arrive as I do when I get personal correspondence. And I hope that it spurs them to write a letter or card to someone else.

More importantly, however, is my hope that you Dear Reader, take this as yet another challenge to write a letter to someone you know. You can write a letter of thanks to an old teacher, send a random memory to an old friend, or just drop a quick hello in the post for someone who needs the cheering up.

Social media is great and all, but a personal letter is better!

Digital Diaries: Constructing and managing online identities through blog therapy

To celebrate Social Media Week, I have decided to share a paper I wrote a few months ago about digital diaries and online identities. It was a difficult paper to write because I needed to balance sharing my ‘personal’ life with the academic side of the equation, but it was a good exercise. And, certainly, it’s an area that could easily be expanded upon—both personally and academically.

This paper was written in May 2012 and received a first class distinction mark. (Yay, me!) It’s a bit awkward to share it here, but that’s just my own insecurities showing! So, without any further ado …

Digital Diaries: Constructing and managing online identities through blog therapy
By Frances VC Ryan, University of Stirling, Masters Candidate

Blog: A Website that contains an online personal journal with reflections, comments, and often hyperlinks provided by the writer (Merriam-Webster Online, 2012).

Journal therapy: The purposeful and intentional use of a written record of one’s own thoughts or feelings to further psychological healing and personal growth (eNotes, 2012).

José van Dijck said ‘Blogging itself becomes a real-life experience, a construction of self that is mediated by tools for reflection and communication. In the life of the bloggers, the medium is not the message but the medium is the experience.’ (2007, p. 75). For the purpose of this paper, I will consider how van Dijck’s statement can be applied the idea of blog therapy—or the practice of journal therapy using blogs rather than paper as the chosen medium. As an example, I will reflect on my personal experience in the construction of self and identity through blogging—as well as the role blogging plays in the creation of my personal digital archives and memory.

Constructing a sense of self and identity through recording personal reflections and thoughts isn’t a new idea, and the practice of keeping journals and written records has existed for centuries. In a modern context, Dr Ira Progoff is considered the originator of ‘journal therapy’ (Wright, 2002, p. 287) since his development of workshops in the late 1960s based on his ‘Intensive Journaling Method’. Through his workshops and subsequent books, the idea of journaling as a therapeutic method was popularised in the western world and counsellors began to encourage patients to write down their thoughts and emotions, some writings of which would be discussed in future therapy sessions. In fact, research has shown that journaling can be a valuable therapeutic tool to combat ‘emotional distress and promoting well-being’ (Boniel-Nissim & Barak, 2011, p. 1). As technology advancements have been made, some mental health providers have begun to offer journal therapy via email or other online channels, eliminating the distance barriers that could prevent face-to-face meetings (Wright, 2002, p. 290).

On the blogging frontier, when Justin Hall created what was considered one of the world’s first blogs in 1994, he and his fellow ‘early bloggers’ had to hand-code their blogs using HTML code or editing software such as Dreamweaver, but by late-1998 several free tools became available for users as a simple way of publishing to the Web. After that, other blog-specific tools became available for general use and by 2004, Merriam-Webster announced ‘blog’ as their word of the year, stating that it was that year’s most searched-for word on their online dictionary (Walker Rettberg, 2008, pp. 23-29).

Between the growing demand for both journal therapy and blogging, it seems to be expected that people would begin to take to the Web for self-help journal therapy. According to WordPress.com, a leading free blogging platform, there are more than 73 million WordPress sites in the world today (WordPress, 2012). Further, Technorati estimates that 60 per cent of all blogs (WordPress, Blogger, or otherwise) are maintained by hobbyist bloggers—those who are blogging for fun, to express personal musings, or as a form of journal therapy. With the anonymous nature of the blogosphere, it is unknown how many of those are blogging as their true selves (Technorati, 2012) and in fact some blogs, such as PostSecret, exist solely for the purpose of anonymous contributions. The popular blog, started by Frank Warren, began as a community art project but now continues as a way for people to share their secrets with no one and everyone all at once by submitting a secret on the back of a postcard. PostSecret only publishes 20 secrets each week, but emails received from contributors assure Warren that just the act of sharing the secret is therapeutic for some of his contributors (Banks, 2008, pp. 61-77).

For people who want to share more than a secret on the back of a postcard, sites such as Fearless Blogging allow users to post ‘thoughts, feelings, and rants anonymously and still have a job/girlfriend/friends when you wake up tomorrow morning’ (Fearless Blogging, 2012). Fearless Blogging also allows users to rate and comment on the posts of others. Whilst users of these anonymous sites may find solace in the act of writing as therapy, they are not gaining the advantage of an online persona or personal archive; instead, they are populating someone else’s blog with content and information.

However, the creation and contribution to one’s own blog has been found to aid in the creation of self-awareness and self-consciousness as the blogger finds their ‘voice’ on both personal and interpersonal levels. Further, the interaction gained through online journaling techniques could serve as a source of support whilst strengthening feelings of belonging (Boniel-Nissim & Barak, 2011, pp. 2-3). This feeling of belonging is a strong sentiment for many hobbyist bloggers, and several online groups have emerged which help self-help bloggers find each other based on topics and locations. These groups encourage bloggers to link to each other’s blogs, furthering their reach and potential support networks, and share words of encouragement and support with each other through comments. Additionally, several sites offer writing prompts to assist bloggers in finding inspiration (Creative Writing Prompts) or to prompt them to address specific emotions or thoughts (Journaling Prompts).

In my own experience, I began keeping paper diaries and journals when I turned seven. By the time I turned 18 in 1992, my regular journaling habits had shifted to a combination of hand-written musings and digital diaries kept on my personal computer—habits that continue to this day. In 1999, I shared my first blog post on LiveJournal under a pseudonym, and for the next 10 years, I anonymously authored several short-lived blogs that served as mediums for sharing opinions and musings on politics and current events, but these blogs never served as personal accounts of emotions or actions, preferring to keep my personal journaling activities private. However, when personal tragedy struck three years ago—the death of my husband—I found myself turning to the art of blogging as a form of personal therapy. In addition, I began to put my real name to my online writings for the first time. Since then, I’ve continued to maintain my private, hand-written and electronic journals whilst continuing to maintain my public blogging persona. The act of blogging as me—instead of as an anonymous individual—has changed the way in which I record my thoughts as well as the way in which I archive them.

My personal writings (hand-written or electronic) are raw emotions and thoughts written in haste or extreme distress and are intended only for my eyes during my lifetime. In the days after my husband’s death, my leather-bound journal became an outlet for my grief—but also a useful tool to reflect on the day’s events as the stress of grief prevented me from recalling even the simplest of actions. As a young widow, I was unable to reach out to my peers for understanding because my situation was unique within my social circle, meaning my journal became even more important. However, I soon found myself in need of the support from others in my situation, which led me to search out blogs written by other young widows. As my first foray into virtual support networks, I was amazed at the number of active blogs on the subject of widowhood. But I soon realised that I needed to share my own experiences and feelings, as well as read those of others. This realisation prompted me to start my first publically-authored blog, Frances 3.0: Still in Beta.

The act of sharing my personal thoughts and emotions with a world-wide audience immediately changed the way I composed my thoughts. Despite the fact that I wasn’t actively sharing the link to what I refer to as my ‘grief blog’, I feared sharing certain emotions might upset my family and friends—especially feelings of isolation and loneliness. This realisation meant that my self-identity on my blog was immediately different than that which I displayed in my private writings or in communications on social networking sites. Further, as noted by van Dijck, I was able to ‘produce tentative texts, provisional versions of thoughts, forever amenable to changes of mind’ (van Dijck, 2004, para. 17). My process was to write my thoughts in a Word document and edit the content the next day after I was able to think about my emotions a bit more. This delayed-publication gave me the ability to think of potential solutions to my emotions or situation and to discuss with my unknown audience of peers and supporters what my next steps would be in regards to that issue.

Additionally, receiving feedback through the blog’s comment system provided me with words of support and encouragement from others who have been in similar situations. It also opened up the ability for me to offer words of advice to other new widows who were only beginning their grief journeys. The idea of helping others whilst participating in my personal quest for blog therapy gave me further feelings of self-worth and identity—I was no longer just a blogger, I was a source of information and solace for others.

The levels of comfort and emotional healing I felt through blogging—and the interaction that the comments allowed me—are not specific to my own experience. When studying the therapeutic value of blogging versus hand-written, private diaries, Boniel-Nissim and Barak determined that those subjects keeping blogs found their levels of distress were lower than of those keeping private diaries—and even lower still for those who had comments enabled on their blogs (Boniel-Nissim & Barak, 2011, pp. 8-10).

As my self-realisation and identity changed through the healing process of blog therapy, I began to feel constrained by the idea of authoring a grief-related blog. However, the persona I was sharing on Frances 3.0 was one of a grieving widow—and one that I wasn’t prepared to share explicitly with my family and friends. This realisation prompted me to start a second blog, Just Frances, where I could share my daily life with family and friends whilst maintaining my persona as a grieving widow with others. But maintaining two personas became difficult and began to make me question my online identities, which eventually led to the decision to cease maintaining Frances 3.0 and concentrate on Just Frances—which also meant bringing some of my grief into my daily writings for family and friends, as that grief was part of my true identity and needed to be addressed through my online persona (Ryan, 2011). However, Frances 3.0 remains live and accessible to others and is often reflected on by me—and sometimes linked or referred to on Just Frances.

My identity on Just Frances is as close to the ‘real me’ as I am willing to display publically, and has been shaped considerably because of the medium. The construction of self has been determined by my audience as well as by my own fears of vulnerability. My audience consists of family and friends as well as strangers from around the world. Surprisingly, the blog is accessed daily by an average of 75 unique IP addresses. Nearly half of those entries have come from search engines and more than 80 per cent remain on the site for at least three minutes, often accessing multiple pages. Search term analysis and casual surveys of readers—as well as page hits and comments—helps me to know what type of things my readers want to see my writing but, more than that, there is a growing feeling of ‘need’ to write to satisfy my readers. As my life changes, so do the topics I cover—and the frequency in which I post. I am aware that if I don’t post for several days, or if I am regularly posting about being sad, stressed, or lonely, I create an atmosphere of worry my audience—as evidenced by comments or emails sent through the site’s contact page. This knowledge prompts me to 1) post something if I’ve not posted in three or more days, even if that something is just a note letting everyone know I am alive and 2) include a positive end to my posts, even if the main post is taking about emotional challenges I am facing. In a sense, I am being less-than honest with my readers because I want my self identity to be one of strength, conveying an overall idea that life is full of hope despite any grief and sadness it also contains.

In addition to the construction of self and the improved self-worth and overall self identity blogging as provided me, it has created an electronic memory archive that I can access when needed. This ability to reflect on my past feelings and emotions allows me to see how far I’ve come in the grieving process since the death of my husband, which is beneficial on days when I feel I’ve lost my way. It also gives me the ability to recall my own social timeline when I want to remember an event I participated in. However, those archives are also accessible to others and I do, at times, fear being judged by others based on struggles with grief in the past. Further, I worry that people I meet today will form opinions on who I am based on my feelings or activities from the past. Additionally, the ability for others to access my digital archive can lead to awkward moments when casual acquaintances or people I’ve only recently met are familiar with my life history.

The availability and use of digital archives through blogging has created a platform for people to not only create new identities of self, but to create and manage multiple identities for different audiences. Whilst constructing multiple personas can be a confusing charade for some people, the overall benefits gained from experiencing the medium of blogging can be witnessed by the sheer number of bloggers who share their messages—and their lives—online. Without a doubt, the experience of the blogging medium has helped to develop my own construction of self and sense of identity.

References:

Banks, M.A. (2008). Blogging Heroes: Interviews with 30 of the World’s Top Bloggers. Indianapolis: Wiley Publishing, Inc.

Boniel-Nissim, M., & Barak, A. (2011). The Therapeutic Value of Adolescents’ Blogging About Social–Emotional Difficulties. Psychological Services. Doi: 10.1037/a0026664.

eNotes. (2012). eNotes Journal Therapy (Encyclopedia of Nursing & Allied Health). Retrieved 06/05, 2012, from http://www.enotes.com/journal-therapy-reference/journal-therapy-172111

Fearless Blogging. (2012). Fearless Blogging homepage. Retrieved 06/05, 2012, from http://fearlessblogging.com/

Merriam-Webster. (2012). Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Retrieved 06/05, 2012, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/blog

Ryan, F. (2011). Frances 3.0: Still in Beta, Just Frances. Retrieved 06/05, 2012, from http://francesv3.wordpress.com/2011/06/02/just-frances/

Technorati. (2012). State of the Blogosphere 2011: Introduction and Methodology. Retrieved 06/05. 2012, from http://technorati.com/social-media/article/state-of-the-blogosphere-2011-introduction/

van Dijck, J. (2004). Composing the Self: Of Diaries and Lifelogs. The Fibreculture Journal, Issue 3. Retrieved 01/05, 2012, from http://three.fibreculturejournal.org/fcj-012-composing-the-self-of-diaries-and-lifelogs/

van Dijck, J. (2007). Mediated Memories in the Digital Age, Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Walker Rettberg, J. (2008). Blogging: Digital Media and Society Series, Cambridge: Polity Press.

WordPress. (2012). WordPress Statistics. Retrieved 08/05, 2012, from http://en.wordpress.com/stats/

Wright, J. (2002). Online counselling: Learning from writing therapy. British Journal of Guidance & Counselling, 30:3, 285-298. Dio: 10.1080/030698802100002326.

A case for the interrobang

2012.09.24.interrobangToday is National Punctuation Day in America—a day to celebrate the amazingness of punctuation. Today also marks the start of Social Media Week—a world-wide event looking at social media’s impact on modern-day society. To that, I’ve decided to combine both celebrations into one post by making a case for a very social media-ish bit of punctuation: the interrobang. I mean, who wouldn’t want to read a post about the interrobang‽

An interrobang is a non-standard form of punctuation that combines a question mark and exclamation point all in one adorable little bundle. It was first conceived by Martin Speckter in the 1960s for use in advertisements, but it never caught on. The idea was that it could be used when asking a question in an excited manner, expressing excitement or disbelief in the form of a question, or asking a rhetorical question.

As I’m sure many users of social media—and social networking sites in particular—have seen, the use of multiple question marks and exclamation points at the end of comments and posts is standard all over the Internet. And whilst exclamation points are often overused these days (guilty!), they do help to convey a bit of emotion and meaning when communicating electronically. And when you’re trying to convey disbelief or sarcasm, sometimes it becomes necessary to use two bits of punctuation at once. Right‽

At the same time, social networking sites—specifically Twitter—limit the number of characters allowed for posts, meaning that brevity must be used. But with brevity, meaning can sometimes be lost.

When you combine the need for multiple punctuation marks to convey meaning and the need for brevity, it only makes sense to double-up on punctuation. You agree, right‽

And so, I make the case for the interrobang. I think we need to celebrate this little guy and give it the revival it deserves. We need to embrace its aesthetics. We need to revel in its ability to convey meaning and intent. And why not start today‽

To use it, you can enter the codes or you can copy-and-paste from here [ ‽ ] or your computer’s character map. Just make sure you use it!

Now, go spread the word, OK‽

To bead or not to bead

When I moved into my new flat last weekend, I was excited to see that the previous tenant (and my good friend!) left behind a large pile of crafty stuff for me. I took a quick peek at the time and was excited to see that there were skeins and skeins of yarn and loads and loads of beads—in addition to other crafty bits-and-bobs.

Anyhow, I finally got around to going through the treasures with a bit more attention and can’t believe the amount of goodies that have been left behind.

In addition to the yarn and general craft supplies, there are beads and beads and more beads. There are beading pliers and other such tools. There are various bits of jewellery wires and hooks and doodads. And there are loads of other bits and pieces that I don’t even recognise.

Best of all—there is a box of books and magazines all about beading. Which means I might actually be able to make something with all of these goodies.

And, as those of you who knew me back in the day will recall, I do love making my own jewellery. So, um yeah, this could be fun!

Tasty tater tot casserole

Tater tot casserole has got to be one of the world’s most yummiest, tastiest comfort foods—ever! I love it. I crave it. I gobble it up at warp-speed! But they don’t really have tater tots in the UK, so it’s a hard dish to make.

I can hear you asking now: What? No tater tots? I thought the UK was a first-world nation?!

Yeah, well, not when it comes to pre-formed frozen potato treats. Or, at least not when it comes to tater tots, since they do have other forms of pre-formed frozen potato treats. And it seems that the low-end, discount freezer stores tend to have a variety of potato treats that—whilst not perfect—come pretty close to tater tots. At least close enough to work for tater tot casserole.

And since I stumbled upon a bag of such treats at Iceland yesterday—with bits of bacon in them, no less!—I figured it was a good excuse to have some yummy comfort food.

Oh, and if you’re from the UK and don’t know what I’m talking about—or if you’re from the States and have led a sad, sad, sheltered life—here’s a recipe for you!

Tater tot casserole

Begin cooking the tater tots as per the bags instructions. At the same time, defrost and partially heat the vegetables (drain if needed) and brown the beef.

When the tots are nearly cooked, reserved 12-20 to the side then mix all ingredients together in a casserole dish. Place remaining tots on top, then return casserole to oven (at the same temperature as the tots) for 15-30 minutes—or until heated through.

Now, go and enjoy! And then make it again and again and enjoy it again and again!

Forty-nine days

My visa expires in 49 days. My employer is working on getting sponsorship approval for me so that I can apply for a new visa, but I don’t know if it will all happen before my current visa expires. I might be entitled to a two-month extension, giving me a bit of breathing room to apply for the work visa, but I’ve not heard back from the Home Office to confirm that.

I have just moved into a new flat with a six-month lease. I have spent nearly all of my savings. If my visa doesn’t go through, I have no job, no money, and no legal right to stay in Scotland—but I will still owe the balance of my lease (and my two-year mobile phone contract). I will be destroyed financially—and emotionally.

I am stressed. I am worried. I am frightened. I worry that my mental health and emotional well-being will be on dangerous ground if my gamble doesn’t pay off. I am fearful that losing this dream will turn my life into a spiralling nightmare.

I have to be honest and say that my world is consumed with the stresses of WhatIfs these days. I’m trying not to be doom and gloom, but I really am afraid. I know you can’t fix it. I know that there is very little I can do about it at this point. But I’m trying to stay positive and I’m trying to be upbeat. It’s just hard some days. And the closer I get to November 11 without a visa solution, the harder life will be. Oh, and if I don’t get a visa, I can’t even attend my own graduation ceremony, which isn’t until November 23!

So, yeah. That’s what’s going through my mind these days. I must find a happy outlet …

Inspirations; Part 8

It’s been more than a year since I’ve shared some bits of inspiration and since I’m really feeling the need for some positive thinking, I thought I’d share some this evening.

A conflicted heart feeds on doubt and confusion.
~ Emily Thorne; Revenge

Even if happiness forgets you a little bit, never completely forget about it.
~ Jacques Prévert

Don’t let the fear of striking out hold you back.
~ Babe Ruth

Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr

A successful man is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks others have thrown at him.
~ David Brinkley

ITP Awareness Month: My story

September is ITP Awareness Month, so I thought I’d share my ITP story with you.

First, some key bits of information so that you know why it’s such a big deal:

  • ITP stands for idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura which is, essentially, a very low platelet count. A normal count is 150,000-400,000 (generally said as 150-400).
  • The lower the number, the higher your risk of bruising and prolonged bleeding/healing—or at the extreme, spontaneous internal bleeding and haemorrhaging (‘brain bleeds’ and such).
  • It is classified as a rare autoimmune disease.

This story is about my personal journey. If you want more information on ITP, check out the following links:

Right. Now let’s get this story going!

My story begins in late 1995 when I was just 21 years old. My energy levels were sapped and I could barely drag myself out of bed most days. My arms and legs were covered with bruises; my gums bled when I brushed my teeth; cuts took ages to stop bleeding and even longer to heal. It took a while for me to fully realise that something was wrong, at which time I went to the local clinic to be checked out. By this time it was January 1996.

It was only an hour later that I was called back into the clinic for more blood work because my platelet count was in the single digits and they thought it might be wrong. A subsequent draw gave similar results. Then there was a bit of panic with the nurses and doctors who were making loads of phone calls before prescribing me some prednisone and asking me to come back the following day.

In the days to follow, I had my blood drawn almost every day. I also began to experience the evil side effects of the steroids. But despite the medication, my platelet counts never rose above 30. I was frightened, to say the least.

Soon, my rural family doctor made an appointment for me with a haematologist in Seattle. I didn’t have anyone to take with me, so I made my way on my own and found that the haematologist’s office was in the Oncology Unit. You know, like cancer! As I sat there in the waiting room, watching cancer patients come and go, I began to cry. I was even more frightened by this time and there was no one there to hold my hand.

Meeting with the haematologist was strange. She talked to me about the possible causes including leukaemia. She also talked to me about the various tests she needed to run—some of which required bone marrow aspirations. As I left the hospital, I was shaking. I was still no closer to knowing what was wrong with me, but I was increasingly frightened that it was the worst case scenario. (The side effects from the evil prednisone didn’t help.)

Eventually, it was decided that I had ITP and that they would do a splenectomy to ‘cure’ me—a decision I felt I was bullied into at the time and one that I regret to this day. My surgery was April 1996 and by June of that year my counts had stabilised to a ‘normal’ count of around 160, though they would drop to the 80s when I had a cold or other illness.

Unfortunately, by February 2002 my body decided that stable wasn’t good enough and my counts took a drastic nosedive—with a count of six (yes, 6) on my birthday. Once again, I found myself back on the prednisone. And, once again, I found myself frightened. But because the prednisone wasn’t working this time, they put me on azathioprine as well.

It took several months for my body to regulate itself again, only this time it stabilised at an average count of 70-80. Which meant that getting sick means drops of 40 or below.

Today, my average counts are still around 80, but I have had a couple of 150-180 counts, too. (Which makes me happy.) But, sadly, I still get low counts (my last low was 13 back in March).

What does this mean for my life? Well, it means that I have to listen to my body. It means that I have to be careful and pay attention to any new bruise. It means I have to keep an eye out for signs of a low count (fatigue, petechiae, nose/gum bleeds). It means that when I get a cold, I get a double-whammy of a low count. It means I have to be careful around things that can lower my counts (chemicals, certain foods). And, frustratingly, it means that I have to argue with people who think that I need to be treated like an invalid.

But I can still live my life. I can still run and play and do things. Yes, I have to be careful and I have to use common sense, but that doesn’t mean I don’t get to enjoy life.

So, that’s my story. It’s not interesting or anything, but at least I’m alive to tell it!

[That’s a picture of my platelets that I drew when I had a count of 10 in January 2011.]

A bloody Stirling day

Today was fabulous—even as I sit here with aching muscles and feel completely wrecked. The day started off well, after a fantastic night’s sleep in my new bed, and even though it’s only early evening, I think it’s going to end pretty well, too.

So, why was it such a fabulous day? Well for starters, I ran the Stirling 10K today. OK, I was slow (1:02:12) because my legs were so tired from yesterday’s move, but this marks the first time I’ve repeated a race in Scotland. Sadly, the slow time means I didn’t beat last year’s race, but I’m still pleased with myself for doing it. More than that, I’m pleased with myself for running it without a running partner—or a support team. (The latter of which meant walking nearly 2 miles home after the race; I cheated and took a taxi to the start line though.)

[All of my race photos and times can be found in the Run, Frances, Run gallery.]

And continuing on the solo theme, I decided to take myself back out into town today to catch the last event at Bloody Scotland. The final event was a dramatic reading of The Red-Headed League (which was a hoot!) followed by a wee awards ceremony. I wasn’t certain if I wanted to go on my own because I knew that there was someone there (who I don’t know) that I didn’t want to bump into (a friend of a friend) and I was afraid that I might accidently end up in one of those awkward situations where you don’t want to introduce yourself. (I decided before hand that I’d give a fake name.) But I digress…

The topping on my Stirling day, however, was when I popped into M&S on my way home and I saw someone I know! Now, I know this doesn’t seem like a big deal, but I don’t really have any friends here and it’s such a big city (to me) that I often feel a bit glum walking around namelessly. So when someone recognises me and I get to have a wee chat in the middle of the shops, it makes me happy; it makes me feel like I belong. (Now that I think about it, someone recognised me yesterday, too, and struck up a wee conversation. That was nice.)

So now I’m sitting on the couch, completely drained. It’s been a long, busy weekend, but a fun and positive one. Next week will be spent unpacking and settling into my new flat… and maybe doing some training for my next race!

Bloody Scotland; bloody fabulous

There is a fabulous literary festival in Stirling this weekend, and I’ve managed to catch a bit of it today. Bloody Scotland celebrates the amazing crime writers in Scotland and (for what little I’ve seen) it’s bloody fabulous!

It’s the kind of event that I’d love to spend an entire weekend enjoying, but between moving into my new flat today and a 10K road race tomorrow, I’ve only been able to manage one event—Deadlier than the Male. I wasn’t quite certain what to expect because—to be honest—I haven’t read any books by the panel. But after hearing Karin Fossum and Val McDermid speak, I have decided what my next Kindle purchases will be!

I think that my favourite part about the talk, however, was the motivation it’s given me to get back into my own writing. Hearing the authors speak with so much energy about the process was invigorating. Further, hearing them talk about the time and dedication you have to be willing to commit to the process made me realise that I’ve been a bit lazy at doing that. (Well, in fairness, I think much of that has been because I’ve been busy with my dissertation.)

Of course, because I was too chicken to go alone, I ended up tagging along with a woman I’ve met through another friend—and she invited me to go along to a wee reception as well (it’s nice to know people who rub elbows with people I want to rub elbows with!). Anyhow, the reception meant that I got to speak with a couple of people about the creation of the event, which was kind of cool.

I have a 10K race in the morning, but I am now thinking that I need to go back up to the festival when I’m done so that I can try to see another event or two—assuming there are tickets remaining. Of course, that’s also assuming I have the energy since I’m a bit exhausted from the weekend’s events already.

And, with that, I suppose I’ll head off to bed so that I can be up in time for tomorrow’s race.

New digs

Today is moving day! Which means I’m kind of busy. Which means just a short post to share a video tour of the new digs. I had meant to do that last night, since I did a walk through of the place after work yesterday, but video editing issues meant that I didn’t get around to it. Video editing issues also mean that you don’t get a tour of the master bedroom, but I figured that’s OK since that’s my personal space.

But, I have to go haul stuff down to the car now. Talk to you soon!

Packing up

I alluded to a big step toward a happier future the other day, but also said I wouldn’t share the big(ish) news just yet. Only I’ve changed my mind because I realised that the little steps needed for the big step are a bit more stressful than I thought, and writing about my stresses often helps to ease my mind.

So, I guess I’ll go ahead and tell you that I’m packing up my belongings so that I can move into a new flat this weekend. I am actually really excited about the new flat. It’s a fantastic place with loads of space for me (and guests!) and even has a private garden and off-street parking. It’s so much nicer (and bigger!) than where I am now and is really a place that I can turn into a home—even if only temporarily so.

But I’ve been really upset every time I start boxing things away. And since the majority of today has been spent packing—and making calls to transfer various utilities and such—I’ve been pretty much upset all day long.

I hate that I’m upset about packing because I should be happy since it’s such a positive step. But I suppose that it reminds me of the last time I packed up my home, and all of the tearful and painful feelings that came along with that move.

At the same time, I imagine that some of the stress about packing up is that I am not 100% certain what my visa status is—or how long I’ll be able to remain in the UK. I guess I’m kind of gambling with that stuff at the moment and am just hoping and wishing for the best! (Work visas are being applied for, it’s just a matter of hoping everything falls in place!)

Anyhow, I guess the good things about packing up is that I’m finally getting rid of some of the clothes I’ve had slated for the charity shops. And I’ve finally taken the old photos and other mementos of Paul’s down to my in-laws (not all of them—but I wanted to make sure I was sharing!). Oh, and I’ve finally gotten around to getting Paul’s old race t-shirts ready to have made into a quilt (more on that later).

So, there you have it. My big news a bit earlier than planned. And sometime after I get the keys to my new place, I’ll give you a tour just like I did when I moved into my current flat!

Yellow-sticker snacks

If you asked me what I thought of Marks and Spenser Food Halls 10 years ago, I’d have turned my nose up and tsked a bit about the up-market feel to the place: the perfectly-parcelled apples, the ready-meals designed for two; and own-brand packaged poncy treats. Actually, I think I would have given the same response just one year ago.

But then I found myself living in Stirling without a car and the most convenient place for groceries—unless I’m having them delivered—is M&S. And do you know what? I’ve found that (whilst still poncy and up-market) the food is a fair price (if you’re not buying ready-meals) and you can actually feed yourself from their small, city centre shops without much hassle. (Though you also lack a bit of variety, but that’s what grocery deliveries are for!)

More importantly, I’ve learned that M&S yellow stickers are amazing! Near the end of the trading day (the shop closes at 6 p.m.) they start marking down fresh foods marked with a best-by date of that day. But we all know that it’s still good for a day or two (most of the time) and even then you can pop it in the freezer.

I’ve found myself popping in on my way home from work—just to see what kind of yummies have yellow stickers! I now have a fine selection of salmon pâté and nibbles in the freezer for my efforts.

And now, I have a delicious selection of goodies for tomorrow’s road trip to England—two packs of sushi, a pack of prawns with chilli sauce, and two bottles of fresh juice. £6.50 worth of food for £2.80! I do love a good bargain!

(So, now that you know I’m heading out for a wee road trip, don’t be surprised if you don’t hear from me for a couple of days. And let’s hope it’s because I’m having fun with my in-laws, and not because I’ve gotten sick from eating discount sushi after its best-by date!)

A step toward the future

I’m working on a big step toward a happier future. Well, I’m working on several big steps at the moment, but there’s only one that’s a certainty at this moment.

And in this bag is a little something to celebrate that step. It’s from my amazing friend, Rebecca, and I can’t wait until I get to take it out of the bag and admire it.

But what is it and when do you get to see it? Well, I can’t tell you what it is (or what the step is) but I can tell you both of those things on September 14. Deal?

In the mean time, isn’t it a pretty bag? And it’s flocked, too.

Now… back to preparing for that next big step because there are lots and lots of little steps in between now and September 14!

A great run

Today was Race Number Nine in my 2012 Race a Month Challenge and I’m pretty excited about it. It was the Great Scottish Run ½ Marathon in Glasgow (that’s 13.1 miles, if you wondered) and I finished under goal time! But, as always, you’ll have to get to the end to find out what that time is…

First up, however, is a big public thanks to my friend, John, who not only drove me to the race (and back home—a total of nearly 100 miles) but who stood around with me for an hour and a half before the race started; sat in his car reading for two hours before heading to the finish line; then met me at the finish with my bag containing comfy shoes and crisps.

Now, on to the race. I am really pleased with my time and even more pleased that I ran the majority of it. Where I took a few longer walk breaks in Edinburgh, this race saw me running solid for the first eight or so miles then I just took 15-30 second walk breaks. I suppose that has something to do with getting a bit more training in, but I must confess that I’ve still not done enough training—especially when I know I have a marathon in four weeks’ time!

Of course, the best part about the race was seeing everyone cheering each other on. I know I’ve said it before, but I really do love the non-competitive nature of running. We’re all running for our own reasons; we’re all fighting our own demons. And, inevitably, everyone helps each other and offers words of encouragement to the people around them.

Today, I witnessed two younger men slow down to help physically support a man in his 60s who was wavering around mile 11. Other runners around them shared their energy gels and water with him, and it sounded like the young men were planning to take a slower time in order to keep the older man going. (I hope they all managed to finish!)

For my own found inspiration, a woman caught up to me around mile 12 to say that she was using my pace (and bright shorts!) as her motivation and she helped me to pick up my pace for that last mile. And I’m thankful to her for it because it helped me shave a minute or two off my final time—which was already going to be less than my goal time of ‘under 2:30’.

And with that, my official time: 2:16:57. Yeah, wow! I’m very pleased as this is my fastest ½ marathon time in about 20 years and was a full 17 minutes and 39 seconds faster than Edinburgh back in May.

I have two more races to get through for September: The Stirling 10K and the Loch Ness Marathon. And I think I have two races for October: The Great Edinburgh Run (10K) and the Beat Beethoven (5.5K in Stirling). Now I just need to sort my November and December races for the rest of my Race a Month goal!

Oh! And you can see more race photos at my Run, Frances, Run gallery, too!

[Photo credits to my friend, John.]

August under budget

At the start of August, I shared with you my plans to develop a strict grocery budget of £200 per month. And now I’m pleased to say I’ve come in under budget by £20! The best part about it, however, is that I’ve still eaten really well. No, wait. The best part is that I’m starting September with a freezer full of food leftover from August, meaning I’m on track for another under-budget month!

And not only did I eat really well, but I shared several of my meals with others because I love to have people over for dinner! And as I look at all the food that’s still in the cupboards and freezer, I can see how I could stretch it to feed a family of four on about the same budget. Of course, if I put beer, wine, and spirits on a different budget line, I’d be able to feed a family of four without worries.

Some of the things I did to keep my budget down was to shop about an hour before Marks & Spencer’s Food Hall closed, then I’d seek out the coveted ‘yellow discount’ stickers so that I could design cheap meals. I also worked really hard to use up leftovers right away, which meant cooking up pots of soup or pasta dishes that went directly into the freezer. It really did make a difference on the amount of food waste I created, too. And happily, it made for some pretty good throw-together concoctions!

So, what happens with the leftover £20? Well, £10 will go into my savings account and £10 will get added to my September entertainment budget. And who knows, maybe I’ll have an even bigger savings at the end of this month!

Boxes from home

I’ve written in the past about foods I miss from the Homeland, and I’ve shared tales of the amazing boxes I’ve received from family and friends back home. And, well, it’s time to tell those tales again! Only this time, the boxes have really stacked up! But I want to make sure that I’m sharing the joy because I want to make sure that everyone knows how very much I appreciate their kindness.

First up is a box from my baby sister, Royann. It’s not the first one she’s sent, and my guess is that it won’t be the last. I know that she doesn’t have a ridiculous amount of spare cash, and that makes me appreciate her generosity that much more.

Plus, it’s kind of cool that her boys always send little notes along in the parcels!

So, from Royann I got:

Next was a box from my parents. They are great at sending parcels out every-so-often and I’m always surprised at the extra little somethings that are included. From news clippings to old cocktail sticks, there is always an extra little something to make me smile!

The folks are also really good at including goodies for my amazingly-awesome friend, Rebecca.

The latest box from them included:

And lastly, a large box from my friends, Sarah and Martin. This one is extremely special to me because these are a couple of my ‘virtual’ friends and they were very insistent about sending me goodies from home and wouldn’t take no for an answer. It just warms my heart that people I’ve never met ‘in real life’ want to do nice things for me.

Even more is that they sent way, way, way more stuff than I expected. (Well, I didn’t expect anything, let alone as much as they sent!)

What did they send? Well:

And let’s not forget a box of goodies my Uncle Fred and Aunt Becky sent (with Root Beer lollies!) and a parcel sent by my friend, Ramona, a few months back. (No photos of those, sorry.)

Yes, I am loved. And, yes, I need to get to the post office at the weekend to send some love off to others!

Do you want to help?

Hello, Just Frances readers! I’ve been thinking about updating the ‘look and feel’ of Just Frances for a few months now, and now that I’m done with my dissertation I figured it was a good time to make it happen.

But, as I’ve often said, I want my readers to be happy little campers, so I’m asking for input from a few of you.

The task is simple: Look at a couple of mock-ups and tell me what you think. You will be asked a couple of direct questions (Do you like x?) and will also be given a chance to tell me what you don’t like. (Or even what you’d like to see.)

You do not need to know me ‘in real life’. You do not need to be a Facebook friend or Twitter follower. You do not need to be someone who comments on my posts. You just need to be someone who visits Just Frances on a regular basis. Because, let’s face it, it’s those regular visitors who will be impacted by the changes the most!

To volunteer, please get in touch with the contact form. Then, in a week or two when I have the test site all ready, I’ll send you an email with the link and you can let me know what you think.

So… here’s your chance to affect Just Frances!

Payday treats

Today is payday! I’m so excited because it’s my first payday in more than a year and it’s so fantastic to see my bank balance to up for a change, after watching it steadily decline over the last year.

I’m lucky in that I haven’t needed a pay cheque because I worked so hard at saving up for this crazy year of postgraduate study, but those savings weren’t going to last forever—or even for the rest of 2012! So, I’m very thankful to have found a wonderful job that can help re-build my bank balance.

Of course, a first pay cheque deserves a celebratory purchase, so I’ll have to sort that out soon, too. I’d seen a fabulous, funky set of vintage late-1960s dishes at a charity shop about a month ago and told myself that if they were still there on payday that would be my treat. But they were gone when I went back so now I need a new plan. I don’t know what that will be yet, but it will be some sort of a little treat. I am happy to take suggestions for ways to treat myself so feel free to share your thoughts!

I know it’s not much money, but it’s another step toward my future and that makes me happy.

The dating game

Sometimes I think about dating. Only it’s a confusing topic for me. Not the dating part; I know how to do that. It’s more the mental and emotional part that has me uncertain. And not uncertain in an ‘Am I ready?’ way; uncertain in an ‘I am a mad woman’ way.

Worse, it’s more than one concern. So, I’m going to share them here and maybe the act of writing it down will help.

First, there’s the question of why I want to date. Is it because I’m lonely, bored, or restless? Is it because I don’t want to be alone? Is it because I feel a bit of social pressure? Is it because I actually feel that I’m ready to share my life with someone? Is it because I want to have someone to go to the movies with? Or is it because I want someone to curl up on the couch with?

I suppose it could be for all of those reasons. But if I don’t know why I want to date, then how do I know that I should be doing it?

Then, there’s the question of ‘What if I like him?’ I wonder if I would know why? I mean, if I meet some guy and he’s nice and I find myself liking him, how do I know that it’s him I like and not just the idea of him answering/solving the questions I asked about why I want to date? Is he really all that funny? Is he really all that nice? Or am I like the thirsty man who drinks sand in the desert?

But there’s also the question of ‘What if I don’t like him?’ Is it really that I don’t like him? Or am I just afraid and therefore finding flaws in flawless things? Or maybe I’m so confused that I can’t recognise the ‘spark’ that you feel when you meet someone new? Is it because somewhere in my mind he’s not Paul and that makes me feel guilty and so I run? Is it because I’m afraid that others will judge me for dating, so I’m avoiding it? Is it because I’m afraid that if I date, Paul’s family and friends will be hurt?

Of course, there’s also the fear of my legitimate dislike (or maybe just a disinterest) in a guy and when I voice that feeling the guy (or others around me) may think that it’s because I’m holding a candle for someone else and that I’m ‘damaged by widowhood’ or something. And whilst I admit that the concerns above are very much fears based on my marital status, I also know that—sometimes—I will just not like someone and that it has nothing to do with Paul.

Anyhow, there are millions of other questions and concerns that float through my head as I start to think about re-entering the dating world. And—believe it or not—some are even crazier than the ones I’ve shared.

So, I don’t know. Between bad experiences with dating sites and these confusing questions and realisations that keep popping into my head, maybe I ought to just start looking at getting a dozen cats instead

A 10K and a curry

Today was the Drymen 10K in, well, Drymen, Scotland. It was also race Number 8 in my 2012 Race a Month Challenge. It was also my first time out with my friend, David, who will be starting the Loch Ness Marathon with me this year. (I say starting with me, because I’m quite certain he’ll finish well before me!)

My time was shockingly slow but (she says yet again) I didn’t train for it so that’s no real surprise. I finished in 1:06:11 but it felt good to get out there.

Next up is next Sunday: The Great Scottish Run ½ Marathon in Glasgow. I’m not in shape to run a ½ marathon, but I need to suck it up since the full marathon is just 5 weeks away! (As always, more race photos can be found in my race gallery.)

So, that’s the 10K bit. Now on to the curry but.

This evening was a farewell dinner with a group of friends from university. None of them were from my course, but we had some classes together and got on quite well. We went to my new favourite Indian restaurant, The Green Gates, and it was amazing! I’m sure that it helped that 4 people in our group were from India and one of them had actually worked there in the past!

It’s weird because I feel that I may never see most of them again, but thanks to the wonders of the Internet (Facebook, anyone?) I know that we will always be in touch. It’s also weird because saying goodbye means that I’m done with my master’s degree. (Wow!) Oh, wait. Not totally done because there’s still graduation in November. And since most of my friends are travelling back for that, I guess I will see them again!

Anyhow, it’s been a lovely day of running and eating with friends. Yes, I am blessed. But I’m also beat tired so… Until next time!

Virtually friends

Last week, I sent a panicked message to my Facebook friends when I learned that there were issues with Just Frances that meant the site needed to be taken down for a spell. I was panicked and stressed and, quite frankly, in a bit of hysterics because this site means so much to me and has been such an important part of my grief process—my healing process.

Minutes after that panicked plea for help, I found myself overloaded with volunteers. In fact, I had to turn people away because there were so many people helping. One woman walked to her neighbour’s house to have him contact me. Another woman had her husband ‘friend’ me on Facebook so that he could help. And another woman was in touch to say she’d be back to help as soon as her husband was safely at the airport. And several other people got in touch by Facebook message, email, text message, and phone calls. All willing and able to help. And I have never met 95% of them ‘in real life’.

In the end, the ‘new Facebook friend’ and the woman with the travelling husband became my personal Web Gurus. They reviewed the files on Just Frances. They wrote emails to the hosting company. They spent precious time helping me—despite having real jobs and real families demanding their time. They fit me in. And they followed up. Any they helped. Freely and happily and selflessly.

And the woman (and her now-back-home husband) are still helping out by monitoring the site to make sure we’ve got everything fixed. More time. More effort. All for me. Someone they’ve never met.

I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to repay these amazing people for their time, efforts, and—most of all—kindness. I am humbled and eternally grateful for them and only hope that I’m able to show the same level of kindness to others.

And I remind you—it wasn’t just the two who did the heavy lifting. Several people volunteered to help, and they deserve heartfelt kudos, too.

My world has been made so much brighter by my virtual friends; these supportive people I’ve never met—even more so over the last three years—and I am reminded on a regular basis how very much they mean to me.

So, thank you, Dear Virtual Readers. Thank you, Dear Virtual Friends. You may not realise it, but you are important to me.

That dissertation? Done.

First, an apology for my absence the last week. I’ve had some Website glitches and had to enlist the help of some amazing friends who are fluent in Web Geek (I am merely conversational at best). Anyhow, the site is still under observation and I may be absent again—but I will tell you all about that later.

Now, to the important announcement:

My dissertation has been handed in—a full 24 hours and 20 minutes before it was due. (Yay me!) I now have to sit around and wait until sometime in October to find out how I did. So if you’re lucky, you won’t hear about it again until that time. But since you are here, I’ll chat a bit more about the process of turning in the most important piece of academic writing I’ve ever done!

I am so excited about having completed 12,108 words, plus another 2,000 or so for the appendices, abstract, acknowledgments, and other bits and bobs. When I printed everything off last night, I was beaming.

But then, as I walked through town on my way to campus, I couldn’t help but think about the ‘old plan’ where I was meant to do my master’s degree part time whilst my husband and kids supported me from home. Up until that life change, I’d always imagined celebrating this moment with Paul. I don’t know how we would have celebrated, but we would have done something.

Instead, I turned in my dissertation then went to work. And when I got home this evening, I looked around the flat—now empty of its former stacks of library books—and wondered what I would do with my life next.

There have been no celebrations, only reflections on what life ‘should have’ been and the long struggle to get to where I am now. And as I start to realise that there may not be anyone in the stands for my graduation in November, I’m struck at just how very alone I feel some days. (I know I’m not alone, and the comments and interactions from my Facebook friends tell me very much that I am loved and supported.)

So. Now what? What do I do? Where do I go? What does my future look like now? I wish I could answer some of those questions for you now, but I can’t. Maybe soon though. In the mean time, I will keep holding on to hope and faith and I will take the days one at a time.

Oh! And did I tell you that I turned in my master’s dissertation today? Well, I did!

Please bear with me…

Oh no. Don’t you hate it when your Website goes all wonky and you have to mess around with it to get it back on even keel?

Yeah, me too.

I’m not certain what’s happening with Just Frances, but it seems that there have been some error scripts or some other fancy-schmancy webby terminology going on. I am working with a couple of very clever friends to fix it, but have decided to limit some of the site’s functionality whilst I do that.

This means no photo galleries for the time being. It also means no scrolling ‘recent posts’ section, no Twitter feed, and no rotating quotes. I’ve done these things so that the main site could be re-established.

Sadly, I’ve also had to limit a few IP addresses until I figure it out. (If you’re one of those people, you might not be reading this. Yikes!)

Please, please, please feel free to get in touch with questions or comments if you want. Otherwise, please know that I will try to get the site up as fast as possible.

Thank you for your understanding–and for your support in general!

A year later

Today marks one year since I hit the reset button on my future. Yes, it’s been one year since I moved back to my beautiful, beloved Scotland.

If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know that the road leading up to my flight across the pond was a troubled one and that the entire adventure was sparked by a personal tragedy. Or, rather, it was accelerated since our hope was to return to Scotland one day.

Regular readers may also be aware that life didn’t magically ‘get better’ with my move and that I have had a few emotional ups-and-downs over the past year. Most of which can be attributed to the stress and uncertainty I’ve faced with questions about what happens when my current visa expires, and other worries about the next steps for my new future. (I knew this move wouldn’t make life perfect and had expected the ups-and-downs; though I’d hoped for fewer downs than there were!)

But, as I write this, I can feel the road levelling out a bit. There are still a few questions and uncertainties (mostly with visas and jobs!), but things are starting to look a bit brighter at the moment. I admit that if things should fall apart, my mental and emotional health might fall along with everything else, but I’m trying to be hopeful and optimistic.

I don’t know where I will be in another year’s time and that’s a bit scary to me because it means I still don’t have the stability that my heart, mind, and soul so desperately crave. I’m afraid to make plans and I’m afraid of the ‘whatifs’ that haunt my thoughts.

However, I am here in Scotland for now and I’m going to hold onto that for as long as I can because life is happier here than it was the last two years I was in the States. This is home. I just hope that, one day, the Home Office lets me make that permanent!

Tasty tortillas

Today we’re going to have a wee cooking lesson. But it’s also a lesson in budgeting and in ridding ourselves of un-needed preservatives. And as the topic of tortillas has come up a few times in the last week, that’s what we’re going to play with today.

First, let’s look at the nutritional side of things, using Old El Paso flour tortillas as our guide. The back of the pack claims the following ingredients: Wheat Flour, Water, Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil, Stabiliser: Glycerol, Salt, Raising Agents: E450a, E500, Dextrose, Emulsifier: E471, Preservative: E202, Flour Treatment Agent: E920.

[Note for American readers: ‘E Numbers’ are how preservatives and additives are labelled in the EU/UK. Find out more here.]

Now, compare those ingredients to my recipe: Flour, water, olive oil, baking powder, and salt.

(Do you see where I’m going here?)

Then, let’s look at the cost. A pack of tortillas will cost you anywhere from £1.20-£3.00 in the UK and, what, about $1.00-$4.00 in the States, depending on the brand and the number/size in the pack. After you add up the cost of a 5-pound bag of flour, 16-ounce (or so) bottle of olive oil, and the negligible cost of salt and baking powder,  you’re looking at less-than £1.00 ($1.00) for a batch of 8-10 tortillas. And yes, I realise that time and electricity/gas for cooking plays into this, too, but I still think homemade is a bargain!

But, more importantly, homemade just tastes better. The texture and the flavour are a vast improvement over store-bought. And you can use whole wheat and/or gluten-free flours if you want.

So, on to the next part: A wee how-to video to show you just how easy it is! (And because I haven’t made a video in a while.) Recipe will follow the video.

Tasty Tortillas

  • 3 cups plain flour (375 g)
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3-4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup water (8 oz / 250 ml)
Once you’ve gathered your ingredients, you’re ready to make some tortillas!
  • Mix flour, baking powder, salt, and oil
  • Add water a bit at a time and mix with hands until it forms a nice, doughy ball (you may not need all of the water!)
  • Form into large ball and let sit (covered with towel) for 15 minutes
  • Divide into 8-10 smaller balls
  • Flour work space
  • Roll each ball flat with rolling pin (or a wine bottle!)
  • Cook on very hot, un-greased pan or griddle for a few seconds on each side—just enough to get pretty little brown spots

These can be enjoyed as a taco wrap, or for a bread substitute for almost any kind of sandwich. I like to spread them with cream cheese or salmon pate and enjoy with a few olives. Yummy!

Braving it alone

Tonight, I decided to brave it alone and took myself to the theatre (sorry, to the cinema) to see Brave. And why not? Friday nights are great nights for going to the cinema, and what better date is there than myself?

This is going to be a slightly different post because I’m going to break it down into three bits: The me bit, the venue bit, and the movie bit. So you can take your pick of those sections of read the whole thing. You call. So let’s get started!

The Me Bit:
This is only the third time I’ve gone to the movies alone. The first time I was 12 or 13 years old and the friend I planned to go with had to cancel. I decided to go to the matinee showing at the Roslyn Theatre alone and had my Daddy drop me off. Only when I got there, some of my older sister’s friends were there and they were quite cruel about me not having any friends. I can’t remember if I walked home or called for a ride, but I remember trying not to cry and feel sorry for myself.

The next time I went I was 27 years old and living in Edinburgh. It was over the winter holidays and I really wanted to see The Princess Diaries but didn’t have anyone to go with, so I went alone. (I hadn’t met Paul at the time.) I was really nervous about it and a bit freaked out, to be honest, so I wore a ball cap so that I could ‘hide’ from everyone else. I don’t know if I was the only solo-viewer that day, but it seemed like I was. It was my first successful trip to the movies alone, and I always watch The Princess Diaries when I see it on television now because it reminds me of that little victory.

Then there was today. I’ve thought about going to the movies alone several times since Paul died, but just couldn’t bring myself to do it. But I didn’t have any luck in finding a movie partner—and really, really wanted to see Brave in the cinema—so I had to ‘brave it alone’. And do you know what? It was OK. Yes, I would have preferred to have someone there with me, but I didn’t feel awkward or out-of-place. So I guess that’s a good thing. Almost like a battle won.

But enough about the me bit, let’s move on!

The Venue Bit:
OK, this is where I feel let down. I went to the Vue Stirling Cinema—part of a big national chain—and was very underwhelmed by the experience. In fairness, much of this is because I grew up going to a small, ‘mom-and-pop’ theatre in my hometown where it’s like going to a friend’s house to watch a flik. Still, it was a bit ‘meh’.

First, the place didn’t smell like fresh-popped popcorn. It smelled like stale popcorn. (And it looked like stale popcorn.) So, I opted for crisps and sweets instead. Which was OK since I like crisps and sweets.

Next, there were 34 minutes worth of previews and adverts before the opening credits of the movies. Yes, really. Thirty-four minutes. That, in my opinion, is ridiculous.

Then, there was the inevitable end bit where everyone started to leave the moment the credits began to roll. And the cleaners swept (pun intended) in to start getting ready for the next showing. They looked a bit irked that I was sitting, watching the end credits. (It was worth it. Wait for the movie review section!)

The saving grace, however, was the seats. I upgraded to a VIP seat (£9.15 with my student ID) which meant that I got to curl up with my legs underneath me and I had two cushy arm rests and a cup holder. So, that was pretty awesome.

I can’t give you a ‘thumbs up’ rating for the venue because it was very unremarkable. But I’d go back. Only I’d smuggle in my own snacks. (I know, shame on me!)

The Movie Bit:
Brave was awesome. Awe-SOME! Really, it’s a must-see. The animation was fabulous and the story was funny, heart-warming, and entertaining all at once. The ‘acting’ (if you can call it that” was amazing. I could feel the emotions.

At the start, when Merida is dancing and twirling near the top of a waterfall, I could feel her joy and excitement. I wanted to dance and twirl with her! Throughout the movie, I could feel her sorrow and frustration and energy. It was so well done.

Some of the younger kids in attendance were taken out after the movie started getting a bit exciting (spoiler: there are bears growling and fighting and doing bear stuff) but I think that most of the kids enjoyed it as much as the adults did. (There was lots of laughing from viewers of all ages!)

And, in true Just Frances fashion, I stayed for the credits. All of them. (Someone worked hard to put them together, and I like to honour that by watching.) As always, near the end was a list of production babies. And, there is a little something to reward those who stay to the end. And it made me laugh. And everyone else missed it. So, if you’ve not seen the movie yet, stay until the end. It’s worth the smile.

And that’s it. (Finally.) Sorry it’s so long. But the summary is this: I braved watching Brave alone and it was an excellent movie! (Yay!)

[Image copyright Disney Pixar; republished with good intent under the Fair Use Doctrine.]

Found things

I like shiny things and pretty things and interesting things. And often, as I’m walking down the road, I’ll stop to pick these little things up. In fact, when I’m on an outing or holiday, I almost dedicate myself to finding something shiny or pretty or interesting. Then, when I get home, I pile them all up in a pretty container.

I began collecting little tid-bits when I arrived back in Scotland last summer and kept them neatly pilled on a dresser in my bedroom until I found a bowl that would work to hold them all.

The bowl doesn’t have much in it at the moment: A couple of marbles I’ve found when out-and-about; some sea glass from Aberdour; a shell from Seaton Carew; a couple of pebbles from my recent visit to the Highlands; and a couple other random finds.

By the time the bowl is full, I imagine I won’t remember the story behind every little pretty thing. But that’s OK because I’ll still be able to look at the overflowing contents and I’ll know that each of those things brought me a bit of joy once, and together they’ll serve as a reminder that—no matter how grumpy or sad I may be at times—I’ve led a pretty happy life, filled with moments of joy.

Each pebble, shell, marble, or random tid-bit represents a bit if joy. And it makes me happy to know that I have a bowl that is slowly filling up with more and more moments of joy; joy that was found when I didn’t even know I was looking for it.

A favoured snack

I have been a good girl all day. I had an oat bar and grapes for breakfast; leftover chicken and potatoes for lunch; and a big, healthy Caesar salad for dinner. Yes—loads of good-for-you foods. And I even had lots and lots of water (and only one cup of coffee) throughout the day.

But I’ve gone and ruined all of that healthiness by making one of my favourite snacks (and pouring a glass of wine). Worse, I’ve had more than my fair share of the snack. (But only one glass of wine.)

The snack is Chicken in a Biskit crackers smeared with cream cheese and topped with pimento-stuffed green olives. And they are delicious!*

The recipe (if you can call it that) was first introduced to our family by my second-eldest sister, Claudia, who learned of the snack from someone she used to babysit for. I was in my early teens, but it quickly became a favourite. I mean, it helped that I already liked all three ingredients separately, so putting them together seemed like a good idea to me!

Anyhow, it’s one of those snacks that I like to have from time-to-time. Sometimes when I’m sick and just want yummy snacks, and other times it’s just because I like them. But you can’t get Chicken in a Biskit crackers in the UK. So when my baby sister, Royann, asked what she could send me, they were on the list!**

So, now I get to have one of my favourite snacks. And I suppose I need to have them every evening until I’m out of crackers now, since they’ll go stale now that the box has been opened. (Oh, life is hard some days!)

I’ve also just realised that my snack doesn’t have a name. I just call them Chicken in a Biskit crackers with cream cheese and olives. And that means that I’m going to open up the topic for discussion and ask you what you think the snack should be called!

* I used to use a whole olive on each cracker (cut in half) but now I slice the olives into 3 (1 olive = 1.5 crackers) so that I have a little bit less sodium. One day, I may need to start cutting them into 4!

** I will re-visit the topic of stuff Royann sent me soon, so stay tuned to find out how awesome she is!

Cheap eats

I like setting budgets for myself because it keeps me accountable to, well, me. And, because I used to have to budget every penny or risk bounced checks, I’m pretty good at it. Better, because I like to come in under budget, it makes me spend less!

For the last year I’ve had a loose budget of £200 (approximately $310 US) per month to spend on groceries. Sometimes I’d go over that, but most times I would be under. But I’ve never been consistent with it. So, I’m going to start holding myself accountable, which means you get to read about my grocery budget from time-to-time!

Budget: £200 per month

In addition to food-based groceries, the following items will be included in the total:

  • Loo roll and cleaning products—but not personal care products
  • Wine, beer, and spirits
  • Lunches bought at work
  • Take-aways or delivery meals
  • Delivery or taxi charges to get the groceries home

Dinner or drinks out with friends do not count as they are in the entertainment budget and any money left over from one month cannot be rolled into the next month. Instead, remaining monies will be split between savings and my entertainment budget.

The idea is that a strict budget will force me to eat healthier—and wiser. I will be forced to think about my meals and plan them out a bit. I will be encouraged to take lunches to the office (often made from yummy leftovers) and I will make things that I like but that I’m generally too lazy to make.

Oh! And it means that I will get to talk about my homemade this-and-that a bit more. Maybe I’ll even get to share some more recipes with you. Or ‘how to’ YouTube videos! Yes, that will be fun!

And since you’re here, I can share with you that, so far, I’ve £68 for the month of August. Which is scary since it’s only the first week, but that included lots of staple items—including a bottle of vodka for my RyanCentric Martinis. Well, that is if you can call vodka a staple.

Stay tuned to find out if I’ve managed to stay within budget for the month! (If you care.)

Sing a song

For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved to sing—or hum or whistle or la-de-da. Now, I’m not saying I’m any good at it, I’m just saying I love to do it. And, often, I find myself doing it without even thinking about it. Yes, I just break out into a tune. (In a very out-of-tune kind of way.)

I sing in the shower. I hum as I type. I whistle as I walk down the road. Sometimes I sing, hum, or whistle a song, other times I just make it up as I go along. (But since my new job is in an open-plan office, I need to be very careful not to break into song at my desk!)

Most people talk to themselves; I sing to myself. A song when I’m alone in my flat might go something like this:

Oh, oh, oh. I think I might be hungry.
La-de-da. I wonder what’s in the fridge.
Oh! Look at that! There are lovely, lovely grapes.
Washy-washy lovely grapes.
How I love you, lovely grapes.

I know—my lyrics leave something to be desired!

I used to sing conversations with my foster daughter, too. She quickly learned that the more she complained that I was embarrassing her, the more I’d sing! (And the louder, too!)

I sing when I run. Or at least I try.

And I sing as I walk to town. Only I’m well-aware that I might look crazy, so I am sure to peek over my shoulder every-so-often to make sure no one is within ear shot. I hum as I walk through the shops (as softly as possible) and I la-de-da or whistle in the shops, too. And most of the time, I don’t even realise I’m doing it!

Yes, I am that kind of crazy.

But I wonder if I’m alone. Do you sing/hum/whistle in public? And are you always aware that you’re doing it?

(K)impossible

This is Kim. Kim Possible, to use her full name. She began her life as a McDonald’s Happy Meal toy way back in 2003 and has been serving as my office power back-up since August 2004.

You see, in August 2004 I started working in a Downtown Seattle skyscraper—on the top floor. And my then-five-year-old nephew, Adrian, was concerned about my ability to get out of the building in the event of a power failure. Anyhow, he felt that Kim would be a useful tool for me because her jetpack lights up giving off a little red glow.

So, in his five-year-old wisdom, if the power went out and it was dark, I could use Kim’s glowing jetpack to find my way to the elevators to get downstairs. You know, because the elevators would still work in his mind. Yes, he was a very sweet kid to have given me his toy. Heck, eight years later and he’s still a very sweet kid!

Anyhow, since leaving my job in the States last year, Kim has hung out on a window sill at home, watching over me as I worked on my master’s degree. But today, she made her way to her new home on the desk at my new job. I’m sure she’ll like it there!

Heigh-ho, heigh-ho

Today, I woke up at 6.30 and began getting ready for the day. I cleaned my teeth, took a shower, put on a dress, drank some coffee, ate some food, and then made my way to my office.

Yes. You read that correctly: I made my way to my office. As in, I have a job now.

What’s that? You didn’t hear me? Let me try that again:

I HAVE A JOB!

I wasn’t quite sure if I’d share the news here—or how soon I would share it if I did—but I decided that since Just Frances readers are subjected to my lows, they should also get to share in my highs. After all, I really do appreciate the support you’ve all given me over the years.

And since I’ve decided to share my news, I suppose I should tell you a bit about the job. My apologies in advance if it seems a little vague; I just like to keep a bit of separation between my personal and professional lives. I’m sure you understand.

So, I am now working as the Communications Manager for an organisation in Stirling, Scotland. The organisation itself is rather small, but they (sorry, we) work with a wide variety of external partners and organisations. And that means meeting lots of new people and learning all sorts of new things.

Sadly, it is operating on a project-funded basis which will most likely come to an end in March, at which time I will once again be unemployed. Of course, there is also the chance that there will be visa hiccups before then that force me into unemployment earlier than that.

(Oops! I went all ‘glass is half empty’ there. Sorry about that. I really am trying to be positive though. Really. Honestly!)

But regardless of visa-related stresses and worries, it’s a fantastic job with amazing opportunities—and it helps that it seems to be a very pleasant working environment.

So what does this mean for you? Well, it means that you will see a considerably happier Just Frances for starters.

And it means that you can expect posts on things such as:

  • Purchases for my new (or vintage but new-to-me) work wardrobe
  • Weekend trips and adventures (you know, because I can afford them again!)
  • Great new meal plans that include quick-and-easy dinners (that provide me with excellent left-over lunches!)

What it doesn’t mean is that I will:

  • Moan and groan about work woes
  • Bore you with stories about my work life
  • Stop blogging

Anyhow, I’m pretty excited about this new adventure and I am hoping that it leads to great and wonderful things—including the possibility for me to stay on here in Scotland for the long haul.

Of course, I’m also pretty tired and exhausted. I know it’s ‘just office work’ but it’s really exhausting when you’re trying to learn a new job; so exhausting, in fact, that I can’t even bring myself to pour a celebratory glass of wine. That will just have to wait for the weekend, I guess!

Summer holidays

I don’t know if it’s fair to say that I’ve been on my summer holidays, since I’ve been an unemployed student for the last year+, but calling this past week my summer holidays is a great excuse to share a bit of Cliff Richard, so there you go!

Anyhow, if you’re still with me after that, I’ll tell you a bit about the last part of my holiday week. But I’ll start with a quick recap of the first part of the week: I went to the Scottish Poetry Library, I bought a new phone, I spent my spare change, and I went to the Hermitage in Perth.

So, now it’s time to bore you with the rest of my holidays! (Of course, it was anything but boring for me!)

On Sunday, I hopped on the train to Inverness to visit some friends in the Highlands. I was met at the station by Emma and her children before being whisked away to a little village a few miles away where David was waiting for us.

Sunday saw us visiting Urquhart Castle along the shores of Loch Ness before heading back to the house for a nice meal of roast lamb’s leg (jealous, Mom?) and a late-night chatting and visiting session.

On Monday, we loaded the rig for a long (but fun!) day that saw us driving along a single track road to Oldshoremore on the West Coast where we frolicked on the beach for a bit, before heading to Loch-Something-Or-Other for a bit of ice cream. To round out the day, we stopped off at Ullapool for fish-n-chips before stopping at the Corrieshalloch Gorge which was oh-so-amazing that I can’t even find the words to describe it!

Needless to say, after all of that activity it was an early night last night and a lazy day today. Yes, it was a short visit, but we managed to pack a lot of fun into those 48 hours! And it also must be said that I had a lovely time, that my hosts were fantastic, and that I have truly been emotionally energised by the entire trip!

And now, I’m settled in my flat, curled up in my PJs, and looking forward to an early night because tomorrow will be a busy day. After all, my holidays are now over so it’s time this unemployed bum gets a job!

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Escaping to the hermitage

Sometimes I wonder if I could become a reluctant hermit, living in my own little hermitage, hiding away from society, and sulking away my life one day at a time. But, thankfully, I have just enough of a desire for company to save myself from myself!

To make sure I didn’t spend my entire week’s holiday alone, I sent a message out to my friends on Facebook letting them know that I was up for activities. And one of my friends, John, quickly sent me a message to arrange a trip to Perthshire to see—of all things!—the Hermitage!

When it was first suggested, I had to Google the place. But, apparently, it’s quite a popular destination for hikes and picnics and stuff. Of course, one destination wasn’t enough for us, so we also visited the Pitlochry Power Station and Fish Ladder, took a wee wander through Pitlochry, and stopped at a couple of whisky distilleries. Not bad for a day’s activities!

And as he was kind enough to suggest the activity—and do the driving—I thought it was only fair that I provided a nice picnic lunch for the two of us. So, I whipped up some pasta salad (with salami—yum!) and a few sandwiches, cleaned some grapes, and grabbed a bag of crisps.

And now, it’s time to bore you with photos from my day! (Honestly, it was just so lovely that I wanted to let you see it!)

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Of course, John wasn’t the only one to answer my call for activities, so tomorrow morning I will make my way up north to the Highlands of Scotland for a couple of days. Yay!

Spent pennies

As you may know, I like to save all of my ‘spare’ change so that I can cash it in for something fun and frivolous. So when I am out shopping, I never give the cashier exact change, I keep those jingly-jangly coins to feed my coin jar! (And if you’ve ever wondered, that’s where the pennies I pinch from the pavement end up, too!)

Anyhow, after nearly a year of collecting, I cashed in £94 worth of coins today. (That’s about $148, if you wondered.) And there’s still about £15 left in the jar as a starter fund, since there weren’t enough to bag up in all the right denominations*.

After heading to the bank to deposit the coins, I made my way to Falkirk so that I could spend my money! (That was the first £3.50 of my money spent!)

The rest of the money was spent as follows:

A new paper cutter for making my swirl cards: £19.99 (sub-total: £23.49)

Three bottles of Washington State wines from Chateau Ste Michelle: £9.99×3=£29.97 (sub-total: £53.46)

Two pretty new dresses from the 50% off sale rack: £20 and £21 (sub-total: £94.46)

OK! You got me: I went 46p over budget. But I’m going to let that slide since the dresses aren’t really frivolous. They are a practical purchase and will be put to use starting once this week’s holiday is over. (Are you starting to feel a theme to my sometimes-cryptic posts?)

Oh! And you could also argue that the paper cutter isn’t frivolous, since I hope to put that to use for making and selling cards.

The wine, however, is purely for fun.

* In the UK they use little plastic baggies for coins instead of the paper rolls we use in the States. It makes it harder to keep them tidy, but it’s a heck of a lot easier to bag than it is to roll! 

Gadget Girl

Yep, that’s me: Gadget Girl. OK, I admit that I’m not the most gadgety of all gadget girls, but I’m certainly the first place contender in my little bit of the world. And I would guess that if I had the income to support it, I would probably be a contender for the world as a whole. Because gadgets are just cool.

My first gadget was a calculator watch that I got for Christmas 1983. I remember the year because I remember going back to school in January 1984 and showing it to my 4th grade teacher, Mrs Vetter—who quickly informed me it couldn’t be used for maths tests. Oh, but it was awesome! It had an alarm clock and a small address book. I wore it all the time. In fact, I wore it so much that I remember taking if off for baths and it being rather slimy and manky underneath. It was disgusting, really.

I don’t recall how it broke—or when—but I remember always wishing I had another watch as cool as it was. Though my next digital watch was pretty neat-o with its blue glow button thingy to see the time in the dark. Again, my insistence to wear it all the time meant it got pretty icky pretty quickly. (Seriously, who wears a watch to bed?)

Anyhow, about a year or so after that first calculator watch, I got my first Walkman. I would use it when I walked around delivering newspapers—and I’d sing along. It was great! And a year or so after that, I got my first electric typewriter. In fact, I used that typewriter to make up little notes to deliver with my papers when I first took over a new route—little notes introducing myself and giving my customers my name and number in case they had any problems or questions. (Yeah, I was am a geek.)

Over the years, my gadget collection grew and I slowly became an early adopter—and a vocal gadget advocate! And, do you know what? I feel good when I have the best gadget in the room. I know it’s silly and a bit vain, but I really do get an amazing ego boost when my gadgets are better than those of everyone around me.

Sadly, since leaving my job last year in favour of being an unemployed student has meant that I’ve been neglecting my gadgety ways. But that all changed today when I picked up a brand new phone. Yay!

Yes, boys and girls, I am now the proud owner of a beautiful, blue Samsung Galaxy S3. It’s the latest-and-greatest Android phone on the market and I own one!

It took me a while to take the plunge because it required a two-year contract and my visa expires on November 11, but I am throwing caution to the wind and will just hope and pray that I get a job that allows me to extend that visa for the entire length of my phone contract—and more! Otherwise, I guess I have to pay a bit of money to cancel the contract. And I hate parting with money so—come on, job!

So, not a bad way to start the second day of my holidays! And now I have something to play with when I’m on the train to Inverness on Sunday.

Happy Gadget Day, everyone!

(And not that I’m a geek or anything, but you’ll maybe notice that I have HAL as the wallpaper on one of my laptops!)

A poetic starter

Since I turned in my dissertation draft yesterday, I’ve decided that I am going to take a week’s holiday to rest and unwind before I have to start working on edits for the final version. So, in between now and July 31, I am on holiday! Which basically just means I’m going to go and do fun things for the next week.

And that started today with a trip to Edinburgh.

Way back in May, my cousin Rita was in Scotland as part of a tour group and we spent a day in Edinburgh together. Only two of the things on her list of ‘things to see’ weren’t open (or planted) that day. So I promised her I would return on her behalf. And I decided to start my holidays by following through with that promise!

The first stop was the Scottish Poetry Library. Rita is a librarian, and had been excited about the idea of seeing the place. I don’t know if I would have gone without her prompting, but I’m glad I did because it’s always fun (and educational!) to do new things.

If I’m completely honest, I’m not really ‘into’ poetry, but there are a few poems and poets that I like—mostly because they make me giggle. (Yes, Shel Silverstein—I’m talking about you!) So, today’s goal was to randomly(ish) find something I liked. To do that, I picked out books the piqued my interest—either by their title or typeset—then I flicked through them.

And just as I was about to give up, I tried one last book and I finally found what I was looking for! I know it’s short, but it made me smile very much, and that’s what poetry should do!

A Cat Called Slumber
by Adrian Mitchell (found in ‘Blue Coffee’, pg 63)

In the middle of the night appears
My day-shy tabby with collapsable ears
And I stroke her ears so those ears collapse
And she purrs to say that she loves me, perhaps…

After the library, I wandered over to Princes Street Gardens to have a look at the Floral Clock which was being planted when Rita was visiting. But, I’m pleased to say, it was fully planted—and fully working—when I arrived today. Apparently, the theme is London 2012.

Anyhow, it was a successful trip into the city. And the weather was fabulous which just added to the enjoyment of the day. In fact, the weather was so fabulous that I left the house without an umbrella or a jacket and didn’t regret it once! And better than that, it was so fabulous that I bought an ice cream and sat in the gardens for a spell before catching the train home. Bliss!

I wonder what the rest of my holiday week will hold …

Dissertation month update; Part 5

Wow. I guess that’s Dissertation Month pretty much over. I mean, I know it’s not been a full calendar month, but the month’s main project—completing my full draft to turn in for my supervisor’s review—has been completed. So now I just have to sit back and wait for my supervisor’s comments and suggestions so that I can make necessary edits for the final document.

So, what happens next? Well, I have a few days before I get feedback, so nothing for a wee while. But after that, I suppose it will be back to dissertation work. But the next round should be easier than this last month because I now have a full document that I will be working with.

Anyhow, the final document is due on August 21. And that means that you can probably expect a couple more posts about the progress of final edits—and maybe even the last-minute madness of getting it all printed and bound. Then after August 21 you’ll get to hear about my final course grade and then probably a bit about graduation and stuff like that.

So if you were thinking that the end of Dissertation Month meant that you wouldn’t have to hear about my dissertation again, you were wrong. (Sorry.)

But, if I’m lucky and things go according to plan, you might even get to hear news about jobs and positive future stuff! Heck, if you’re lucky (if I’m lucky!) you won’t even have to wait until the dissertation is done and dusted for those happy stories. (But let’s not crack the bubbles just yet!)

So here are the stats:

Current word count: 11,110 (Not including references, appendices, and other bits-and-bobs)

Task list for the next few days:

  • Relax.
  • Relax.
  • Relax.

Seven for seven

Today was race number seven in my 2012 Race a Month Challenge. And if you didn’t guess it from the title of this post, it was a seven-mile race. (And the seventh month of the year, but that’s kind of obvious since it is the seventh month of the challenge, hence it being race number seven. But I digress…)

So, today’s race was the Donkey Brae race and was part of the Aberdour Festival in—you guessed it!—Aberdour, my friend Rebecca’s hometown. It was a bit of a carry-on to get there, but it was so worth it because I needed to push myself on a longer run. And this one came complete with hills and off-road trails!

I won’t go into mile-by-mile details of the race, but I will tell you that I knew early on that I would beat my goal of a 1.30 finish time. And I will tell you that the scenery was fantastic! The route took us past the water, past lovely old falling down buildings like St Bridget’s Kirk, and along Dalgety Bay before bringing us back into Aberdour where the last little bit was running (well, I walked quickly) up the Donkey Brae.

Oh, and special thanks and acknowledgement to Rebecca’s parents who opened their home to me for not only pre-race relaxation but a post-race shower and feeding!

My final time? 1.14.44. That’s under an 11-minute mile which was under my goal of a 12-minute mile. Yay!!

And as always, more race photos and stuff can be found in the Run, Frances, Run gallery!

First flowers

Every once in a while, my mind wanders back to the first time a boy gave me flowers. Or, rather, the first time a boy tried to give me flowers. And each time I recall that moment in time, I feel bad and I wonder if the boy remembers it, too.

I was five or six years old and was in Kindergarten. A boy in my class came up to me one morning holding a hand-picked bouquet of dandelions. He handed me the flowers and told me that he liked me.

I was so embarrassed. I don’t know why. Back then there were no divisions of ‘cool kids’ and ‘not-cool kids’ so it wasn’t a peer pressure thing. I think the attention was just a bit uncomfortable.

So I handed the flowers back to him and told him I was allergic. I saw a look of sadness (embarrassment?) in his eyes and immediately felt bad. Still, I couldn’t tell him I lied about being allergic to flowers. And I did like him. So I invited him to play on the swings with me instead.

After that, he always sat next to me when we were doing art projects. And he always made sure that the classroom’s only pair of left-handed scissors made their way to me—despite one of the mean kids (a right-hander, no less!) always trying to use them so that I couldn’t.

I never saw him again after Kindergarten; I think his family moved away. But I think of him whenever I see dandelions and whenever I think about someone giving me flowers. And I wonder if he remembers that day. I wonder if he is afraid of rejection each time he goes to give another girl flowers. I hope not. After all, most girls aren’t so embarrassed about receiving a bit of attention from boys.

If I could go back in time to that moment, I would accept the flowers with a smile and a thank you. And then I would invite him to play on the swings. After all, it’s not every day that a girl is given a bouquet of hand-picked flowers for no reason other than that a boy likes her!

Dissertation month update; Part 4

Dissertation Month is nearly over! Can you believe it? I mean, it’s just been a mad blur of writing and writing and writing!

As you may recall, I have to have a full draft of my dissertation turned into my supervisor by noon on Tuesday, July 24. That means that I have three full days left to finish it up—plus a bit more tonight and a bit on Tuesday morning. But let’s be honest—I’m not getting anything else done tonight and I won’t realistically get anything done on Tuesday. So, I have Saturday, Sunday, and Monday to finish it up.

But that’s OK because I am so very nearly there now! In fact, I’m so nearly there that I’ve decided to mix myself a wee RyanCentric Martini to celebrate!

So here are the stats:

Current word count: 9,476 (Only 2,524 to go! And if I take the ‘+/- 10%’ to heart, I can stop in another 1,324 words!)

Tomorrow’s task list:

  • Print out Findings section for a hand-written review
  • Clean up Findings section, adding in academic references where required and moving sub-sections as needed
  • Begin a solid draft of the Conclusion section

Yay! Yay! Yay! I really feel as if this sucker is coming together now!

I broke it!

Yikes! Were you on Just Frances yesterday? Well, if you were you may have noticed a 12+ hour period where the site was broken. The main page worked (mostly) but all of the other pages were kicking up an error.

Well, I have it fixed now. It took a bit of head scratching and a conversation via Facebook with some guy I’ve never met but whom I’ve kind of been introduced to by other Facebook friends I’ve never met (but have ‘known’ for years!).

Sadly, that friend wasn’t able to help in a direct way but his thought process—and a comment made by my awesome host—led me to an idea when I woke up this morning.

Anyhow, it’s fixed now. Unfortunately, I had to uninstall a plugin that I really liked to make it work. (I then re-installed to see if that was really the problem, and it was.) I’m not going to call them out just now because I’ll wait to see how they respond to my email—and hopefully they can fix the bug on their end.

But! I’m back now and that’s all that matters.

And how’s that dissertation coming along? Well, yesterday—despite the Just Frances drama!—was a productive day that saw me writing 2,300 words! So, here’s the status:

Current word count: 8,094 (only 3,906 to go!)

Today’s task list:

  • Head up to campus a bit of library time
  • Work on findings section
  • Start putting together my conclusion

And your task list? Simple! Just have an awesome day!

[Photo note: That’s my old, old phone that I broke at the Edinburgh Castle way back in March 2010. You can read the story here if you want to laugh at me retrospectively.]

The cruelty of random memories

There is something ever-so-cruel about random memories. OK, not always. In fact, most of the time random memories are happy moments. But sometimes, like today, they’re just reminders of a future that was stolen from me.

For the past few days, life has been rather exciting and positive for me. There’s been a lot of progress made on my dissertation and I’ve even made a bit of progress in my job search—and I’ve been getting lots (OK, some) training in for my next marathon. And all of those things combined make me excited for my future. And excitement about my future meant that I wandered into town today to look at new gadgets and gizmos for my kitchen and at shoes and jackets and a few other things I’d like to buy.

So there I was, in this fabby little kitchen shop looking at slow cookers, when I was flooded with memories of the day before Paul died. We’d gone into town shopping and we looked at slow cookers and debated which one to get. In the end, we decided we’d hold off and get one the following weekend when we were in the Big City—but we went ahead and bought a chain saw, new additions for our Fiesta Ware collection, and new work shoes for me. (And instead of shopping in the Big City the next weekend, I was at Paul’s funeral.)

As I stood there trying to shake the memory, all I could think of was the conversations we’d had that day. Conversations about the kids we were getting ready to adopt; about the chores we had in for the garden the next day; about making plans for Thanksgiving and Christmas—with our future kids! And all of the sudden I was reminded that, even though I am excited about my future, I really miss my old life; I really miss Paul.

I slowly made my way around the kitchen shop, and even managed to browse through some clothing shops, but my mood was deflated and I couldn’t bring myself to buy anything. I couldn’t bring myself to celebrate my new future because I was too upset about the memories of my old dreams; the dreams I lost when I lost Paul. And as I walked home, I couldn’t keep the tears away. Which meant that by the time I got to my flat I couldn’t help but sob.

I feel so silly when these things happen because I should be happy right now. It really has been a good and positive week and there are so many things that should be making me laugh and smile. Yet still, I cried.

I’m feeling a tad less sorry for myself now though and I’m sure that I’ll be able to concentrate on the happy stuff soon enough. Today was just a momentary blip, all caused because of those cruel little random memories.

But enough of that; let’s talk about some of those positive future-y things, shall we? Specifically, the goal of earning my master’s degree!

Dissertation Month Update:

Current word count: 4,200 (only 7,800 to go!)

Again, that doesn’t seem like much, especially compared to what I had for my last update, but I’m nowhere near done writing for the day and I have about 400+ words scribbled down in a notebook that I wrote on the train the other day. So once those are added in—and I add a few bits to other sections—I may break 5,000 before I go to bed. In fact, maybe that will be my goal!

Tomorrow’s task list:

  • 4+ mile training run
  • Work party with classmate (again)
  • Finish literature review

[Image is my most recent swirl-in-progress. It’s been helping me relax in between fits of dissertation writing!]

Dissertation month update; Part 3

In less than two weeks’ time, I have to have a full draft of my dissertation ready to turn into my supervisor for his review. (After which, I will have a couple of weeks to make final edits before it’s due.) It seems that Dissertation Month is going by so quickly!

So, what does that mean? Well, that means I am going to be writing like a mad woman for the next several days. In fact, I need to write 600-700 words a day in between now and July 24. Yikes! I just saw that and freaked out a little!

But it’s not as bad as it sounds! No, really! You see, I have all of my interview findings in separate documents. Fourteen documents to be exact and that’s more than 19,000 words. Of course, once I narrow those down to the important—or, rather, relevant—words, I shouldn’t be more than 8,000 words. Which means I’d best get busy whittling words and rearranging them into meaningful information.

Anyhow, today was a work party day with a friend from my course. I know we didn’t get much accomplished with our word counts, but I think we both found it useful to bounce ideas off each other for our projects as a whole. We’ll be getting together again over the weekend and hopefully we’ll both be further along by then!

Below is my progress-to-date, but I’m nowhere near done for the night. I plan to finish up a few more sections that I was editing today and will add in a few bits of detail that deserve to be included. It’s my hope that I can add another 200 words tonight, but I need an early night so may have to stop before I get to that point so that I’m not up until the sun rises!

Current word count: 3,425 (only 8,755 to go!)

Tomorrow’s task list:

  • Head up to campus for a meeting and a bit of library time
  • Edit down all interviews to the ‘relevant’ bits in preparation for adding to dissertation
  • Review current book lists, reference lists, and literature review section to ensure nothing has been missed out

Hair today

Today I’m going to give a bit of a rave. It’s kind of about how awesome my hair looks, but really it’s more about how it got looking this awesome.

Those who know me know that I rarely get my hair cut more than once a year. Not because I’m against having it done, it’s just that I don’t really think about it. I mean, it’s just hair. Right? But I’ve (almost) always gotten my hair cut before a holiday or other big happenings.

Anyhow, I don’t have any holidays planned, but I do have a big happening planned. And this big happening is something that I want to look fabulous for. No, I’m not talking about a date. And no, I’m not going to tell you about my big happening. But I will tell you soon enough. How’s that for a cliff hanger?

So, I made an appointment at Two’s Company Hairdressing to have Malcolm make me look pretty (contact details below). And, as he did when I was there back in February, he did!

Only this time I was more impressed than the first time. Not because it was a better cut, but because—despite the fact that it had been six months since my last visit—he remembered me and the fact that I was a master’s student and a runner. And it’s a bit nice to be remembered, especially when you feel like a small town redneck lost in the big city.

And not only that, but he was nice and chatty and when I told him about my big happening, he was keen to make sure my hair would be fab for it. Oh! And because my hair is rather long and thick, he enlisted a second stylist to help dry it before he put it up in Velcro rollers for a spell. I felt like such a celebrity having two people working on my hair!

The results were gorgeous—and educational as Malcolm took the time to give me tips on how to set my hair in rollers, since I’ve been failing in my own attempts. Even better is that he thinks that (as long as I don’t go for a run!) my hair might last until my big happening!

Now, I fully admit that my lack of skill means that it won’t look this fabby again (well, until I get it cut next) but I can already tell that it’s going to look great even when I don’t do anything to it!

Yay! for pretty hair!

Two’s Company Hairdressers is located in Stirling at 1A Livilands Gate. If you’re local, give them a shout! (UK: 01786 461610)

Note: I have not received anything in exchange for this post. I am just a happy client and felt that they deserved a public kudos.

And now for a wee Dissertation Month update:

Current word count: 3,244 (only 8,756 to go and I’m not done for the day!)

Tomorrow’s task list:

  • Write, write, write! (A friend from my course is coming over for a work party.)
  • Review current Ofcom and Pew Research stats on Internet use
  • Get ready for my big happening

Swirl sets

I almost wasn’t going to post anything today, but then I remembered my promise to post more often so I thought I’d best post something. And so, I thought I’d post my first ‘series’ of swirls for you.

This is the first time I’ve done swirls as a set, and I actually did these with the sights to use them for a set of three note cards for when I get my shop up-and-running. (Which won’t be for a few more weeks—stay tuned!)

These are different for me in that I’ve used rounded ends for the swirls instead of my normal pointy ends. Also, the colours are much more monotone than others. Oh, and I’ve not pushed out to the very edge of the margins and I’ve added little circles-in-circles to these.

So, what do you think?

Dissertation month update; Part 2

Dissertation month continues! As does my progress. The biggest part of this week’s work has been transcribing and re-reading interview materials, but I’ve also managed to complete my methodology section and to expand upon my literature review. Importantly, I’ve also managed to create my chapter outline this week.

Now, you would think that an outline is something that should have happened early on—and you’d be correct. And, in fact, I did create a basic outline several months ago which I’ve been working from all along. However, some of the sub-sections within chapters couldn’t be determined until I got to the analysing portion of the project. And I’m there now!

But for all of the work I’ve done, I am not much further along the path to 12,000 words! It seems that I’ve managed to clean up quite a bit of text, making it more precise, but that also means making it less wordy. (Obviously not something I can do here on my blog!)

I am excited to say, however, that I’ve managed to get some more work done on my introduction and—thankfully!—I now have a better understanding of the main body of the project, my findings.

So, where am I now?

Current word count: 2,971 (only 9,029 to go!)

Tomorrow’s task list:

  • Go for a 4+ mile run
  • Back to the library, again!
  • Complete literature review section
  • Expand on findings section

Oh! And a very, very happy 13th birthday to my lovely former foster daughter!

Words about me

I am participating in an online thing where a few people are getting together to chat through a moderated forum run by a grief counsellor. It’s kind of an experimental thing run by the niece of a woman I used to know, and when the moderator went looking for participants, this woman suggested me.

Anyhow, the first ‘meeting’ was just a brief introduction of each other so that we knew why we were participating. And for the next meeting, we were asked to find out how others view us.

I thought about asking one or two friends to really talk to me about who they think I am, but in the end I decided to take it to Facebook. Which I did. And I asked everyone to give me a few words they’d use if they had to describe me to a friend.

The results, I must say, are interesting. And if you’re not familiar with word clouds, I’ll give you a hint and tell you that the more times a word is used, the larger the image of that word is. So, I guess that means that, ultimately, my friends think I’m quirky, strong, brave, and grammatical. (And loads of other things.)

Just Frances in Just Words

Anyhow, it was really interesting to me to see the sort of things people said. Quirky was expected as were grammar-related comments. I suppose runner, determined, and loving were not a surprise, either. But compassionate, inspiring/inspirational, and introspective weren’t. And, of course, some just made me smile. Like green and granola. All in all, I guess it’s a pretty fair description of me. Mostly the quirky bit, apparently.

Patriotism abroad

Today is Independence Day in America. It is the day when the nation celebrates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. As a proud American, this is one of my favourite holidays (tying with Thanksgiving). It is a day when we, as a nation, celebrate what it means to be American. We celebrate our independence from the United Kingdom, but mostly we celebrate our freedoms and our rights.

All across the land people hold parades and have barbeques. They set off fireworks and they gather to honour those who fought and died to ensure our independence—and those who continue to fight and die to ensure our freedoms remain intact.

This is my first time being outside of America for Independence Day. And it’s weird. It feels as if the day isn’t really happening, even though in my heart I know it is. To be honest, I was a little sad that the day was passing without acknowledgement (well, I did get two text messages wishing me a happy day). But then Rebecca showed up for a quick visit on her way home from work—with an American flag and a pack of flag napkins. So, I did spend a bit of time being a flag-waving American.

Yes, I am a patriotic American. Despite choosing to be an expat. Despite loving Scotland and wanting to live here for the foreseeable future. Despite my occasional disagreement with the way my home country is run. I am an American and I am proud of it.

And now, as promised as part of Dissertation Month, here’s a wee update:

Current word count: 2,843 (only 9,157 to go!)

That’s right, no increase in the word count. It was a busy day with reading though, and I managed to create my library list for tomorrow, too! (And I managed a 4.67 mile run. Yay!)

Tomorrow’s task list:

  • Go to the library for more books
  • Expand literature review section
  • Make an appointment for a hair cut

Dissertation month update; Part 1

Just a quick dissertation update for you today, since I did promise that this would be Dissertation Month.

First, a look at the tasks I had set for yesterday:

I am pleased to say that the first task was a complete success and that I got all of my email responses sorted. (Now I just need to make sense of them all!)

The second task, expanding the methodology section, was also a success. I had a goal to finish that section today and I think I did. But I feel it’s inadequate after looking at a couple of sample dissertations. You see, mine is only 844 words and the samples I’ve seen are 1,000-1,300 words. But, sometimes less is more. And I can always review and expand later if needed. So, I guess for now, I can say that section is done. (Yay! That’s a mini-goal reached!)

And the last task, well, I made it half-way. It just happened to be raining yesterday—all day long!—and that meant that about two miles was all I could manage. But I managed, so that’s cool. And I’ve added a new routine to my training. It’s the push-sit plan and I am just trying to make it a habit right now so it means 10 sit-ups and 10 push-ups before I go to bed at night and again when I wake up in the morning. Once it becomes a habit, I will start increasing the number of each. (Must get fit for this marathon!)

Anyhow, I also spent much of today transcribing the last of my interviews (my longest one by far!) and have even had a couple of great moments of inspiration that led me to add to the skeleton of my dissertation. OK, nothing more than sub-headers, but it’s all part of the process.

So, where am I now?

Current word count: 2,843 (only 9,157 to go!)

Yes, I know that’s not much of an increase for two days’ work, but I completely re-worked a couple of sections so the words that are there are better words. And that’s important.

Tomorrow’s task list:

  • Complete the last interview transcription
  • Expand literature review section
  • Create a library list for a Thursday trip to the university library
  • Run 4+ miles (let’s hope the weather cooperates!)

Welcome to dissertation month!

OK folks, it’s time to get serious about this dissertation. Like really, really serious! (Actually, I should have been really, really serious about it for the past few months but, well…) So I am claiming July to be Dissertation Month. Which means that you may be faced with several dissertation-themed posts and rants—or at least updates on my progress within most of my posts.

But, even with such a major deadline looming, I am totally lacking motivation. So, I am asking you, Dear Reader, to help me out there. Encouragement, prayers, and good writing vibes are needed!

And, for my part, I will share with you an honest update on my progress. Starting today!

For those in need of a refresher, my dissertation is looking at the role of social networking (specifically Facebook) in news reading/sharing. (It’s less Facebook-y than it sounds.) The final, final printed dissertation is due August 21 and needs to be 12,000 words (+/- 10%). But I have a major deadline looming at the end of July, when I need to have a full draft ready for my dissertation supervisor. Which means I have about three and a half weeks to write this thing!

As it stands now, I have my introduction and literature review sections nearly done and I am now done with interviews. In fact, much of today has been spent transcribing the last of my spoken interviews. Which means that I didn’t get the 1,000 words written for the dissertation itself like I’d hoped, but it was/is a big-and-important part of the process so that’s OK. And the day’s not over, so I might manage to get some more work done. I wonder if a glass of wine would help or hinder that process…

Current word count: 2,732 (only 9,268 to go!)

Tomorrow’s task list:

  • Review emailed responses and enter into a nice, clean Word document
  • Expand research methodology section (goal to complete section by Wednesday)
  • Run 4+ miles (exercise is vital to keeping the mind sharp!)

Half way

It’s June 30; the last day of the first half of 2012 and the half-way point for my 2012 Race a Month Challenge.

Of course, today’s race was a bit of a challenge itself. Well, not the race so much as getting there! You see, this was the first time since my arrival in Scotland that I’ve had to make my way to a race alone. And without private transportation. But I managed, so I guess I should be pleased with myself and I should probably also give a nod to the wonders of public transport. (Though, honestly, I think I need to consider getting a car—assuming I manage to get a job!)

The race wasn’t a proper, full-on race; it was one of the Park Runs I’ve told you about in the past. There were no viable races this month, so it was that or nothing. And for a while I wondered if it would be nothing because it just seemed so daunting to try and make it all the way to Falkirk for a race. Still, I made it. And that means I’m still on task for my race goal!

My time was rather slow at 32.23, but I can chalk that up to the fact that—yet again—I haven’t done any training. I am trying to get better with that though, and since I’ve signed up for the Loch Ness Marathon again, I really need to get serious. (Which will help with the gooey belly I’m now sporting. Bonus!)

Anyhow, I suppose it’s time to find races for July and August now so that I don’t end up leaving them to the last minute, either!

Listening for the phone

When I was in high school, my sister (I think?*) wrote a poem that went something like this:

Lonely, all alone
by Celeste Mills*

Lonely, all alone
Listens for the phone
Listens for a call
From anyone at all
Listens for a ring
Saying anything
Lonely, all alone
Listens for the phone

Anyhow, I’m not sitting around in some desperate ‘please someone call me because I’m all alone’ kind of mood, but I am desperately wishing that my phone would ring.

In fact, for the past month I have been checking my landline to make sure that 1) it’s still working and 2) I haven’t missed a call. And I keep checking my mobile for the same reasons. And, if I’m completely honest, I may have called one from the other a couple of times just to be sure.

Yep, I’m desperate for my phone to ring. Mostly about jobs and interviews and stuff (mostly). But it’s been ever-so silent. So, here I sit. Listening for the phone. Even though I know that I’m not getting a call about a job interview on a Friday night.

* I keep forgetting to ask my sister if, in fact, it is her poem and I couldn’t get in touch with her today when I decided to write this post. And I’ve tried to search for it online to see if it belongs to someone else but can’t find it. If you know who wrote it please let me know so that I can give credit where it’s due (and so that I can apologise for this blatant act of copyright infringement).

Swirl research

As you know, I like to swirl. It’s a relaxing pastime and I find it extremely helpful when I need to unwind for a spell.

I’ve been sharing my completed swirls with family and friends on Facebook and I’ve been amazed at how many people tell me that they really like them. In fact, I’ve been amazed at how often it’s been suggested that I try to sell them.

And so, I’ve decided to try that in the form of swirl note cards. Which means I’ve prepared a stack of samples to send off to family and friends in the hope of receiving some honest feedback about the quality as well as their thoughts on pricing.

It’s weird because this is the first time I’ve seriously thought about selling something I’ve made. And even weirder because I still can’t understand why everyone likes my swirls so much. I mean, they’re just scribbles that I do when I’m bored or stressed. Still, I like to please my public whenever I can!

What does this mean for you? Well, it means that in the next few weeks you might be able to buy a set of swirl cards from me. But please know that I’m not going to push that on anyone! When they’re ready, I’ll let you know. Buy them; don’t buy them. Totally up to you!

Wow. I feel like a little entrepreneur all of the sudden. (I hope Hallmark is ready for this awesome bit of competition!)

A door to nature

Over the past few months, I have realised just how much I miss having my very own front door; a door that I can open up to the great outdoors.

You see, for most of my life I’ve lived in detached, single-family homes. Homes where external doors opened to nature—not a stair case that led you down a flight (or more!) of stairs to yet another door. For most of my life, I’ve been able to walk out my front door and sit down on the porch or in the garden and soak in the sun. I could sit there sipping my coffee in the mornings—or my cocktail in the evenings—whilst surrounded by Mother Nature’s design.

But now, I only have windows to open to nature. If I want to sit outside and enjoy my morning coffee, I have to walk down several flights of stairs. And even then, I don’t have a private garden; I’d have to sit on the front steps of my building.

It is actually a hard adjustment to make. Much harder than I would have thought. In fact, I think that not having that easy access to nature has added to my feelings of gloom at times. I mean, there is something that lifts my spirits when I’m outside and when I’m feeling low and can’t find the energy to go into town, I miss out on the fresh air nature would provide. Certainly, I don’t think that a door to nature is the cure for all that ails me, but I do think that it would help. At least a little bit.

This realisation has led me to the decision that, if I find a job and get to stay on in Scotland, I will need to find a new place to live. Somewhere with a private garden. Somewhere with a door that takes me directly to nature. Somewhere that I can sit outside and relax after a hard day’s work—or cool down after a long run. Now, I just need to find a job so that I can start looking for a new flat!

Yes, a door to nature. That’s what I want. And a job.

Loch Ness; Take two

Do you remember when I told you that I was going to run the Loch Ness Marathon in honour of Paul? And how after I ran it, I told you I was never going to run another marathon?

Well, I was wrong. In fact, I really wanted to do another one just moments after finishing the first. And that feeling never went away. It was just so exhilarating!

So, today I’ve finally signed up to run the Loch Ness Marathon for the second time. Oh yes, I have! Only this time I’m not running for Paul. This time I’m running for me!

What does this mean for you? Well, at the moment nothing other than the occasional mention of marathon training. And maybe later I’ll give a shout out for fundraising—if I can decide to do that. Which I’m thinking I might. So, I don’t know. Stay tuned for that.

In the mean time, however, feel free to give all of those ‘I told you so’ comments for those who thought the marathon bug might take hold of my soul (and soles!). Because it has!

They’re braver

A friend of mine sent me a link to a fellow widow’s blog this weekend and I had a wee peek around to see what she had to say. It’s not the first ‘Widow Blog’ I’ve read, and it certainly won’t be the last, but it’s made me realise several things about how un-brave I am at times.

I can rant on and on about what drives me mad about [some] Widow Blogs—and I almost did until I deleted a couple of paragraphs—but today I want to talk about what makes me realise that I’m not as brave as other widows out there. And I suppose that bravery comparison extends beyond fellow widows. I mean, there are loads of bloggers out there who make me feel like a scaredy-cat.

When I started my first post-Paul blog, I did so with a specific aim to blog about my grief. And that really helped, but I wasn’t brave enough to really put my name to it. I wasn’t brave enough to share the link (or posts) with my friends and family. I mean, I shared it with a couple of them, but I was very guarded about it. And, I suppose I was guarded about what I wrote. Yes, it was a bit raw at times, but I wasn’t able to share all of my thoughts, feelings, and emotions because I was afraid of offending people, but also because I was afraid to admit some of those things personally.

With Just Frances, I’ve actively shared the link with family and friends, and that means that I’m even more guarded about what I share. In some cases, I’m not sharing my anger. Other times, I’m not sharing my fears. Sometimes, I don’t share my adventures, because I don’t think it’s fair to blog about friends who aren’t really into the whole online life thing. And then there are the times when I don’t share anything.

But I read some of these blogs and I am amazed at how brave the writers’ are. They share the most intimate details of their lives not only with strangers, but with their family and friends. (I know that sounds backwards, but the anonymity that blogging allows means some people share with the ethers without the knowledge of their ‘real’ world.) These bloggers talk about depression and suicidal thoughts and anger and fights with friends and dating and everything in between. But not just in passing, vague terms—they go into details. They spill out this raw emotion for all to see.

And that, Dear Reader, is oh-so brave.

I don’t know how many times I’ve written down such raw emotion only to delete it before it I even open up my blog’s content management system. I’m just afraid to share some things. I’m afraid of what others will think. I’m afraid of being judged but those who don’t understand. I’m afraid that sharing some things might force me to actually face them.

I know I share. And I know that some people think I share too much. But I guess that I’m forever aware that I don’t share everything. I don’t even share most things. And when there’s not a real person next to me on the couch to share things with from time-to-time, it can seem a bit crowded in my mind.

So, yeah. Sometimes, I feel like a great big scaredy-cat when it comes to sharing things on my blog. But, then, I don’t suppose I’ve ever shared everything with anyone. (I shared 99.9% of everything with Paul. I still do, but it’s just not the same.)

I don’t really know what the point if this post is, other than to say I feel like an inadequate blogger at times. But I guess that’s OK.

As for that rant about Widow Blogs, maybe I’ll bore you with that in a day or two. (I know, you’re totally on the edge of your seat waiting for that post!)

I can open doors

There is a debate that I have with one of my sisters quite often, and since it came up on Facebook again, I’m going to have my rant here. So, you’ve been warned.

The debate is essentially about chivalrous behaviours by men toward women. Celeste (and some of my other sisters and friends) believes that a man should always open a door for a woman. And he should carry her bags. And he should stand when she is arriving at or leaving the table.

Now, I don’t know exactly how far Celeste’s views go, so I’ll end the ‘she thinks’ things there. But there are other views on chivalry held by other women I know. They include things like a man should always pay. Always. They should pump gas (petrol) for a woman. They should walk on the outside, closest to traffic.

As I think about the possibility of dating again, I realise that these are all things I’m going to have to contend with. And, to be honest, I worry that with my age I’ll be stuck (?) dating men who’ve gone through a divorce and I fear that they may over compensate by trying to woo me with these chivalrous acts. And, well, that’s just going to make me fume.

I mean, it’s not that I don’t like a man to be kind and polite. It’s that I don’t want a man to treat me as if I’m a helpless woman.

My view is one of equality: He (or she!) who reaches the door first opens it for the other person. If there are four bags, each person can carry two—or the task can be shared based on weight rather than quantity*. If both people can afford to pay, then turns can be taken**.

Basically, everyone should be treated fairly and with respect and equality—regardless of their gender. I don’t necessarily believe in a 50/50 split of everything, either. Rather, I believe in the idea of everyone contributing to their strengths and weaknesses. So, if my arms are loaded with boxes and I get to the door first, then of course I’d expect some man (or woman!) to be kind and open the door for me.

Women have worked far too hard to be treated equally for some ‘helpless’ woman to go around demanding they be treated differently just because they’re a woman.

And don’t get me started on ‘romantic’ gestures like flowers and chocolates!!

And that, Dear Reader, is an abbreviated version of my chivalry rant.

So, I’d really love to hear your thoughts on the issue. Really. What do you think?

* Less than two weeks after Paul and I started dating, we went to the shops to get fixings for him to make my birthday dinner. On leaving the store, I grabbed one of the two bags, only Paul insisted on carrying both. He was very adamant and this upset me. I made a mental note to be aware of any other controlling behaviour. But there weren’t any, and he was generally happy for me to ‘carry my own weight’. It just happens that on that day, he had just picked me up after being released from hospital and didn’t feel that a ‘sicky’ should be carrying anything.

** When Paul and I started dating, I was a poor student so we made the deal that he would pay when we went for meals and such, and I would pay when we went for coffee. Now, as a starving student again, I find it hard to let friends pay my way, but I do let them when they offer because I know that it’s just a temporary thing.

Big noise means big fun

I had big fun tonight at The Big Noise’s Big Concert in Raploch. OK, I got wet and cold because it is summer time in Scotland and that means wind and rain—I mean really, really wet. But the music more than made up for the weather. Thankfully, the rain let up for the second half which meant that I dried out a bit and it really did make for an enjoyable ending to a great evening.

But I don’t want to talk about tonight; I want to talk about The Big Noise because they are doing big things and I’m very excited about it!

Here’s the deal:

Big Noise is an orchestra programme that aims to use music making to foster confidence, teamwork, pride and aspiration in the children taking part – and across their wider community. It is based on the methods of Venezuela’s “El Sistema” movement and is run by the charity Sistema Scotland.
[Text from Big Noise’s website.]

So, basically, they take a load of kids who live in economically depressed areas (in this case, Raploch) and they give them an amazing opportunity to transform their lives through music. And, in fact, an opportunity to transform a community through music. And it’s working. It’s really, really working. In fact, it’s working so well that there are more groups in the works for other bits of Scotland and the Raploch group is working with the Stirling Council to ensure continued funding.

More than that, it’s working so well that 450 children ranging from pre-school to 13 are finding passion through music. They are working together and the community is behind them with support and energy—as evident by the massive crowd that showed up tonight and braved the horrid weather to listen to these amazing kids play.

Wow! I am just in awe over the dedication shown by everyone involved!

Oh! And a special shout-out today for my parents who are celebrating 43 years of marriage. Wow! I am just in awe over their dedication to each other!

Toenails

I went back-and-forth about what I should post today and for a brief moment, I even thought that I might not post at all. But then I remembered that I promised I’d post more—in part to prevent myself from withdrawing from society all together. So, I’m posting about my toenails.

So, here’s the deal. I’m a runner. I’ve been a runner since I was in high school. And for years and years and years I had people tell me about how they’ve lost toenails from running too much. Apparently, it really is a problem with distance runners. But it was never a problem I had.

Until after I ran the Inaugural Homeland Half last May. Yep, a few weeks after that run, I lost a toenail—my pointer-finger equivalent on my right foot. Really. My toenail was so damaged that it lifted away and eventually fell off. It was so weird. I blamed it on the fact that I’d not trimmed my toenails prior to the run, rather than the distance I ran.

And then, I ran the Loch Ness Marathon. And after that, I noticed that the pointer-finger equivalent on my left foot was a bit loose—but unlike that first toenail, this one had a new nail growing underneath. Of course, at the time I had dark red nail polish, so didn’t also notice it was also slightly darker than normal. But when I took off the polish, I noticed that not only was that toenail dark, but my big toe on my right foot had a massive black spot on it, too.

Eventually, the nail on my left foot fell off, giving way to the new (but not yet completely formed) nail. But the big toenail on my right foot just sat there with its dark spot. And sat, and sat. Then, after a while, I noticed there was a ridge on top of the toenail which I soon filed down to even out the surface.

Now, there is a new toenail growing underneath, but the old toenail is still firmly attached. And this means that I have a dual-layer toenail on my big right toe. It seems that I have about ¼ inch of old toenail to grow out before this rectifies itself. But as my toenails tend to grow very slowly, it might not be back to normal until my next marathon. Which means, I risk going through this whole toenail trauma all over again.

And that’s basically today’s post: An overshare about the condition of my toenails because of my running insanity. I guess the good side, however, is that 1) no one but me really sees my toenails; 2) my red polish habit masks any deformities; and 3) I’m not likely to talk about this topic again.

(Admit it: Sometimes you wish you never stopped by to see what I had to share!)

The bestest Daddy

I didn’t have the perfect childhood. I didn’t have perfect parents. I didn’t grow up with money or material possession that caused envy of those around me. But I did have a childhood filled with love and laughter. OK, there were tears and stress, too, but even during the bad times I always felt loved; if not slightly lost and forgotten in such a large family.

But even though life wasn’t perfect growing up, I honestly believe that I had (and still have!) the bestest Daddy in the whole wide world!

Growing up, he was a wealth of knowledge. As we’d drive along the highway for some fantastic road trip, he’d point out sites along the route and tell us about this, that, or the next amazing thing we were looking at. He just knew things. And not in a know-it-all kind of way—he really knew things. His mind was (is!) a sponge.

He was perfectly happy to make a fool of himself and play with us girls. I remember one family sing-song night when he got up and sang Rock Around the Clock—complete with dance moves! I can’t hear that song without thinking of my Daddy now.

As a child, he fixed my (many) cuts and scrapes—and encouraged me to go back out and collect a few more. After all, bruises heal and kids need to play! When I was a teenager, he taught me to drive—and didn’t get mad when I turned too wide and scraped the car on the guardrail. When I was in my mid-20s and decided to go to university, he supported my decision and cheered me on.

When I got married in my early-30s, he walked me down the aisle, and soon after acted as a reference for our adoption application. A couple of years later, he held my hand and comforted me as I planned my husband’s funeral.

When I became a foster mom, he happily became a grandpa—treating my little friend just as he would have if she was blood. When I was training for my marathon, he was there showing his support by riding along on my longer runs to supply me with water. (And waking up very early to do so!)

When I decided to return to Scotland, he was there supporting me all the way. And he’s still there with words of support and encouragement—and acts as my personal assistant, opening my US-based mail and sorting my banking needs as required.

Now, I know that these are just the things that Daddies are meant to do, but he’s managed to make me feel like his favourite and most important daughter in the whole wide world—even when there are six of us. And I would venture to guess, that he’s made all of my sisters feel as if they are the favourite and most important daughter. Because my Daddy has so much love to share that he’s never had to skimp on it with any of us girls. And that is what makes my Daddy the bestest in the world.

Happy Father’s Day!

Oh yeah, and it’s my sister Claudia’s 40th birthday today. Yay for her! I hope that she has a year filled with all of the joys and blessings that she deserves!

I dreamt a dream

I wrote this poem a few weeks ago, when life was going great and my future was filled with hope: job prospects; PhD funding opportunities; and more! When I wrote it, I did so bracing myself for disappointment (hence the second part) but the hope kept coming and I actually began to think that maybe—just maybe—my dreams were starting to come true.

Alas, things began to crumble (or is that that my eggs began to crack?) and I’ve been left in a bit of despair.

I am, Dear Reader, struggling to find a bit of hope these days. I’m working on Plan B—which is the ultimate ‘I give up’ plan—but I can’t quite bring myself to put it into motion. I’d like to think that’s because I have a small sliver of hope left in my life, but (said with my newly-acquired defeatist attitude) I fear it’s just wishful thinking.

Anyhow, I am continuing to search for a job (several application deadlines this week!) and am still searching for that golden PhD funding egg. And a couple of friends are doing what they can to help with those things. I am trying to keep the dream alive. I really am. It just seems like it’s becoming a nightmare sometimes…

I dreamt a dream whilst still awake
by Just Frances

I dreamt a dream whilst still awake;
I savoured every moment.
With eyes wide open, I smiled;
I imagined all of the joy the dream could bring.
My heart was happy;
Filled with hope and anticipation.
I thought of the future and all of its possibilities.

I dreamt a dream whilst still awake;
And cried when it began to fade.
Reality’s light brought sorrow;
The joy would never be mine.
My heart was heavy;
Filled with longing and disappointment.
I thought of a future without hope or possibilities.

[I’ll try for a happier poem next time. I promise!]

Getting back into the [blogging] game

You may have noticed that I’ve been rather quiet these past few weeks. Maybe you’ve found that refreshing or maybe you’ve been wondering where I’ve been and if I’m still alive. So, I guess I should tell you!

First of all, I’m still alive. (In case you really did wonder.) As for where I’ve been, well, I’ve been in my flat most of the time. Really.

Life has been a bit crazy lately. For much of May, I was so busy with school and happy happenings that I didn’t really have the time to post. There was a whisky festival, a wedding reception, a half-marathon, a couple of out-of-town visits with friends, and plenty of other joyous things to occupy my time.

Then toward the end of May, I was jolted from my joy with the news of a friend’s suicide. A couple of days later I found myself in an irreparable falling-out with another friend followed by a failed attempt at entering the dating world. And all of those things, coupled with my so-far failing job and PhD funding searches, threw me into a spiral of despair and self-pity. And tears. Lots and lots and lots of tears.

And all of that means that I have spent every day of the month upset. I’ve been sulking and hiding away from the world. I’ve been, quite honestly, a mess. And I’ve not really felt like sharing everything here because I’m sure that I would sound like a whiney little cry baby.

But, I am pleased to say, I’ve been feeling a little better the past couple of days. In fact, I’ve been out of bed before 9.30 a.m. every day this week. And I’ve cooked proper meals every day this week. (Tonight will be teriyaki chicken with rice and carrots. Yum.) And I’ve hardly cried at all this week!

Over the next few weeks, I will be extremely busy with my dissertation and I will be filling out as many job applications as I can find. But I’m going to try to post more often. In fact, I might even try to post 3-4 times a week or more—eventually working back up to near-daily posts.

Oh! And I’m thinking about maybe possibly considering selling some of my swirls (reproductions as opposed to originals) on Esty or something. Maybe as note cards? I don’t know. What do you think? (The swirl with this story is my latest one, and the first black/grey one I’ve attempted.)

Counting my chickens

A couple of weeks ago, I sat looking at my eggs. They were held in separate baskets and they looked so pretty; so promising. And, as I do, I began to count them.

Now, I am old enough—and should be wise enough—to know that I’m not really meant to count those eggs as chickens, but I still counted. I mean, I didn’t figure they’d all hatch, but I’d hoped for one successful chicken out of each basket of eggs. More than that from any one basket would have been too much to handle anyhow.

But then something happened and the eggs began to fall out of the baskets; one after the other. (OK, I tossed a few out, too, because they weren’t the sort of egg that I liked.) And before I knew it, all of my baskets were empty and I was left with nothing but a pile of broken eggs at my feet.

I’ll admit that I cried over some of those eggs like they were spilt milk. And I even considered calling in all of the king’s horses and all the king’s men to help repair one of them, but it seemed like a fruitless task. So, now I guess it’s time to grate some cheese and chop some mushrooms so that I can attempt at making an omelette with all of these broken eggs.

There’s a farmers’ market in town tomorrow. Maybe I’ll stop by and get some duck eggs since chicken eggs don’t seem to work well for me.

Half done

I completed my second half marathon today. Well, that’s if you can count last year’s Inaugural Homeland Memorial Half Marathon. Which I do. Only today’s half wasn’t in the homeland (though it was on Memorial Weekend). No, today’s race was in my adopted home country of Scotland—the Edinburgh Half Marathon. (And I’m pleased to say my time has improved since last year!)

It really was a great race. My heart, mind, and soul were geared up and excited for the entire race—and could have carried me on further. However, my legs gave up around mile 9 or so. Yeah, maybe that’s because I haven’t actually run—at all—since my last race five weeks ago.

Still, I enjoyed the entire race. Really.

The weather was fab, too. This was my first Scottish race run in shorts and a tank top—and was a nice change from the driving rain I’ve had to deal with for some of my races. Even better, the course followed the seaside for a good distance, so the fresh sea air gave me a bit of enjoyment.

As I ran this, my 5th race in my 2012 ‘Race a Month’ challenge, it struck me that my motivations have changed. Or, rather, changed back. You see, before Paul died I always ran for me. I ran because I enjoyed running. But after he died, I began running so that I could train for a marathon in his honour. And that was wonderful and I am pleased that I did it. But that’s done now, and without even realising my motivation has switched back to me and my own personal enjoyment. Certainly, I still think about Paul when I run—but I think of loads of other things, too.

Yes, running has once again become a time to clear my own mind. Part of me feels sad because it’s almost like a lost connection but at the same time, I still know that he’s there running with me. He is, after all, always with me—even when I’m not aware of it.

Oh, and another thing that struck me today was that I do have a bit of self control. I mean, at mile 4 when I saw the two pence coin in the road, I didn’t stop to pick it up because I knew it would trip up other runners. Just before mile 8 I passed up a 50 pence piece and further along the route were two separate pennies that I left behind. And if you’re a regular reader, you might know how much of a challenge that was to me!

Anyhow, it was a good race; it was a good day. And, since you’ve read this far, I’ll tell you my time: 2.34.36. Slow, yes. But remember… I haven’t trained. (Maybe I should do that before the next race?)

And, as always, you can see photos from all of my races here!

Quiet-ness

I’ve been quiet again. (Still?) So I feel that I should pop in and say hello, since so often I’m quiet when life is hard and I’m feeling down. But that’s not the case right now. Well, mostly not the case.

The past two weeks have been… interesting. In fact, this past week it got even more interesting! I’ve had a lot going on and have been mulling over all sorts of things. Some good; some not-so good; some potentially good but yet undetermined. But nothing life threatening. (Life altering, maybe.)

I’m being vague. I know. And I’m sure that there are a few people who may think they know what I’m talking about. But they don’t. (I know! More vague-ery. Is that a word?)

Anyhow, since I’m not really in a position to share the interesting-ness of the last couple of weeks (yet) I’m just checking in to say that life is mostly good right now. I am busy working on my dissertation and am filling out job applications like a mad woman.

But since I’m being vague, I’ll at least share a few highlights:

  • I finished a swirl drawing for my lovely [former] foster daughter. (I must get it in the post next week!)
  • I had a platelet count last week and the results came back at 164. Yes folks, that’s in the normal range. Awesome!
  • I am running the Edinburgh Half Marathon tomorrow. Only I didn’t get registered in time, which means I’m running as someone else, since they kindly sacrificed their entry for me.

Anyhow, I expect that the next couple of weeks will be weird and filled with more mulling. (And job applications.) But I’ll try not to be too quiet.

[Photo is the swirl drawing I’m sending to the kid. She is, after all, one of my biggest swirl fans!]

Sunny days

The sun is shining brightly in Scotland today. And I am so thankful for it because it’s made me realise how happy I am right now.

Yes, I admit that I spend a couple of tearful days cooped up at home feeling sorry for myself. But even as I did that, I was well-aware that life is mostly good these days.

In fact, despite the anniversary-related tears and a couple of days last week that were filled with literal rain, it’s been a pretty sunshine-and-happiness couple of weeks.

I know it may not last. I know that life’s challenges may bring me more tears and that Mother Nature may bring me more rain. But for today, I’m happy; for today, it’s sunny.

And that means smiles and laughter and picnics in the park. (Picnics overlooking a cemetery near the castle, but cemeteries can be places for smiles, laughter, and picnics, too.)

Yay! for sunny days!

Seven years

I started a post yesterday, but couldn’t bring myself to finish it through the tears. You see, yesterday was my 7th wedding anniversary—and the 4th one I’ve spent as a widow. And it really hurts to realise that, which means that the past couple of days have been filled with tears and sorrow.

But I couldn’t let the fact that I had a wedding anniversary go un-acknowledged, so here I am acknowledging it.

May 21, 2005 was the happiest day of my life. I never would have imagined then the pain I’d be in now, but I would do it all again in a heartbeat. After all, you have to grab love and happiness when you can get it—and if you’re lucky, that love will be so strong that it carries on for eternity.

I love you, Paul.

A mini-reunion and a catch-up

Oh dear, it’s been more than a week since I last posted. Sorry about that. It’s not that I’ve been sitting at home sulking though. No, I’ve been sitting at home writing essays like a mad woman! So, let me get you up to speed!

School: The past week, as I mentioned, was spent working on final essays for this past semester. The last of them was finished yesterday and turned in—with a bit of time to spare. I’m not feeling too confident about a couple of them, but I’m sure I did OK. I am pleased to brag, however, that I have received a few marks over the past week—all distinctions! Yeah, that’s nice for the ego.

So, the semester is done and that means no more classes. But I do have that dissertation to work on, so this probably won’t be my last school update.

Whisky: On Saturday, I went to the Spirit of Stirling Whisky Festival with a friend, his friend, and his friend’s friend. (Did you catch that?) It was an absolutely fantastic day, and one that probably deserves a story of its own. But, it was a late night with too much whisky and I was in no condition to even think about whisky the next day, so the story has gotten downgraded to an update. (Which shouldn’t be taken as a negative commentary; it was a day of great fun, great whisky, and great company.)

Edinburgh (Or: The Mini Eberle Reunion): After turning in my essays yesterday, I hopped on a train to Edinburgh to meet up with my cousin Rita and her friend, who are in Scotland as part of an organised tour. They had the afternoon free to tour on their own, so I was invited through as a personal tour guide. And since they’d already done the castle thing with the group, I got to show them a few other highlights.

We met along Princes Street then grabbed a coffee (well, I had mint tea) to catch up and chat about what we wanted to do, then we went to see the city. Our first stop—The Scott Monument—was easy enough, especially since we opted to not walk to the top. Then we wandered back toward the Floral Clock. Which we kind of saw in that the workings were sticking out of the ground, but it was in the process of being planted so if you didn’t know it was meant to be a clock you’d have missed it.

Next, we wandered through Princes Street Gardens on our way to Moray Place so that Rita could get a photo of a friend’s first house (No 28, if you wondered) before heading up Heriot Row to see the childhood home of Robert Louis Stevenson. The Queen Street Gardens across from the house were later used as inspiration for Treasure Island. (Apparently.)

From there, we wandered through the New Town on our way back to Princes Street Gardens where we sat to visit whilst Rita enjoyed (or at least took a sip of) Scotland’s number-one selling beverage, Irn Bru. I pointed out buildings and landmarks, explained how The Mound was formed and the Nor Loch drained, and even got to bore my captives with the story of how Paul and I met—and (when we’d made our way to The Royal Mile) I got to point out where we met, too!

Up on The Royal Mile, we attempted to visit The Writers’ Museum (we were 15 minutes too late!) before going in to see St Giles’ Cathedral. Then, it was back to the train station for me.

Of course, since one of the things Rita had on her list was closed (The Poetry Library) I’ve promised to go back and see it (and report back) for her. I’ll even have to stop by the Floral Clock on her behalf.

It was an absolutely fantastic afternoon and I am so pleased that I was invited to be part of Rita’s holidays. We’ve decided we’re going to have to do it again—maybe Rome next time with a private audience with the Pope.

[Photo is of RLS’s house, No 17 Heriot Row. Yes, we’re that kind of tourist!]

No more teachers; lots more books

Today was my last day of classes. And that means no more teachers. No more admissions-determined schedules. No more sitting through lectures and seminars. No more compulsory interaction with other students. Wow. It seems like only yesterday I was telling you about my first few days. Time, it seems, has flown by.

Though just because classes are over doesn’t mean the work is! No, I have four essays due in between now and next Monday, and I still have that dissertation to work on over the summer. And that means that the library will be my stomping grounds for the next couple of months!

But do you know something? I’m really sad about classes being done. I’m really sad that another chapter of this new life is coming to an end. But worse than that—and what’s really making me sad—is that I don’t know what happens next.

I haven’t had luck in finding a way to pay for Ph.D. studies, so have resigned myself to the knowledge that this degree is as far as my academic world will go. And I haven’t had any luck in finding a job—or even getting to the interview stage!—so I am starting to worry that this degree is also as far as my life in Scotland will go.

And that means that I am once again facing a future that is unknown and frightening. I’m facing the ever-increasing realisation that I can’t have the life I want; that I might have to start all over yet again. Only I don’t know if I have the strength to make another start.

I’ve not completely given up and will continue to look at both Ph.D. and work possibilities here in the UK, but I have to start making contingency plans now, too. Whether I want to or not.

But, I still have a bit of work to do before I can put any new plans in action because just because those essays and that dissertation won’t write themselves!

I’m sorry if this post seems a bit sad, but to be honest, I am a bit sad. I never thought that this would be a flawless journey filled with nothing but joy and happiness, but I suppose I had hoped that I would have a bit more clarity about my future by now. And it’s that uncertainty that I am struggling with right now.

And since I like to leave my posts on a high note whenever possible, I’ll say that I am looking forward to meeting up with one of my many cousins in a few days’ time. She’s in the UK on holidays and will be in Edinburgh as part of her travels so we’ll be meeting up. How exciting is that?!

Swirls for Amy

I recently finished another swirl drawing and I thought that I’d share it with you. (But you have to read to the end to see it!) This was more than just a drawing though. You see, my swirls began as a way to occupy my mind and my thoughts, and have actually become a great way of relaxing and meditating for me. So I decided that I would use this project to focus my mind on the recipient—and it was a wonderful experience! As I swirled, I thought about my good friend, Amy, and what her friendship means to me. And it was wonderful. Really.

It was so nice to reflect on our friendship—from meeting in elementary school to high school plays (and band!) to re-connecting through Facebook and our blogs as adults. We were never close friends in school but in the past couple of years I think we’ve developed a stronger bond and friendship than we ever could have imagined.

I documented my progress as I went along so that you can see it all come together. That may or may not be of interest to you, but, it’s there if you want to see it. (It’s less than 30 seconds if that helps.)

So, what can I tell you about Amy? Well, I can tell you that she is a wonderful person who is full of inspiration and joy. She is beautiful and has an amazing smile. She is a loving, nurturing, and fun Mom to six lovely children and perfect Wife to a very lucky man. She is thoughtful, caring, and compassionate. And she is my friend. And for that, I am blessed.

And now, you can see the lovely swirl that the lovely Amy now has hanging in her lovely entryway.

Memory sparks

Triboluminescence is awesome! It used to entertain me as a child and it still entertains me as an adult. Or, to translate into Plain English: It’s awesome when you crunch on a Wint-O-Green Life Savers and it makes sparks!

That sounds like a random statement, doesn’t it? So let me back up so that you know how I got here.

Several weeks ago I bought a pack of minty Polos from a vending machine. As I popped the first one into my mouth, I was instantly reminded of how we used to enjoy WoG Life Savers as children because of the sparks.

So I posted my random memory on Facebook and enjoyed the back-and-forth comments from friends who 1) always thought it was an urban myth; 2) recalled with joy making sparks of their own; or 3) asked what Life Savers were (they’re America’s answer to Polos).

And then Mom offered to send me some.

And they arrived with an Easter parcel a few weeks ago.

And tonight, I finally broke the bag open.

And I went into the bathroom and closed the door (with the lights off).

And I chomped on a Life Savers.

And I smiled. A lot.

Now the challenge will be to not eat them all so that I can share them with my friends who never had the joy of making Life Saver sparks as children. But I bet they’ll enjoy making them as grownups!

How about you? Do you remember making Life Savers sparks when you were a kid?

Dusty books

A couple of years ago, a friend took me to Glasgow for a surprise that would really excite my ‘geeky side’. As we made our way to this secret place, I wondered what it could be. My friend knew of my love of books and printing and typography history, so I thought we might be going somewhere to see an old printing press or a collection of ancient manuscripts.

Wrong. He was taking me to a Doctor Who exhibit. Which I must say, was really awesome and cool and it did appeal to my geeky side. But it wasn’t a pile of dusty old books.

However, I travelled to Manchester for a wedding yesterday and this morning was whisked away by a couple of friends to show me The John Rylands University Library. And do you know what they have there? Well, they have old printing presses and a massive collection of ancient manuscripts and books.

It seems that when they’d visited the library previously, they instantly knew it was a place I’d love. And they were oh-so right!

I don’t know what to tell you about the place. It was all just so perfect. The original building opened to the public on 1 January 1900 and has since undergone refurbishments—including the addition of a modern section that houses a visitors’ information centre. The two sections have been paired so wonderfully, and the old and new work so well together. I couldn’t help but look at the fine details of the original building as I wandered down the halls.

There were a couple of old printing presses on display in the massive hallways, too. They were beautifully presented and I was easily able to sneak around the back of one to get a good look at the entire piece. (I don’t know if you’re meant to do that, but there wasn’t a sign saying I couldn’t so…)

Oh! And there was a great display with some fragments from ancient copies of the Old and New Testaments. Wow. Talk about impressive. There were several other bibles and science texts open behind cases to view, too.

But once I got into the reading room I was truly in awe. Down the centre corridor there were displays of ancient (and not-so-ancient but still old) books showing different binding styles. I was so excited to see the quality of goatskin-bound books with finely tooled lettering. Equally impressive were some of the vellum-, silk-, and wood-bound books. I mean—Wow!—what beautiful pieces of art.

In the rest of the reading room were standard glass-fronted display shelves filled with books from the library’s various collections. I honestly don’t know how I can give the collection the praise it deserves. It was amazing. The only thing I didn’t like was that I couldn’t touch or smell the books. That would have been heaven for sure!

Yes, another trip is needed. Only next time, I’m going to go with a letter of reference so that I can attempt to get my hands on some of the books. Maybe a Gutenberg Bible. The library has one of only 21 surviving complete copies. Oh yes, that would be amazing.

 

Three years gone

It’s been three years since Paul died so suddenly; so unexpectedly. Some days I can’t believe that he’s gone. Some days I struggle with comprehending the fact that I lost the most important person in my life. It just seems so unfair; so wrong.

I still struggle with grief some days. The loneliness and sadness encompasses me and I can’t move for the pain. Though, thankfully, those days don’t come as often as they once did and I have learned how to manage my grief; how to survive it.

I am now in a place where I can imagine a happy future most days. I can imagine laughing and smiling; feeling safe and secure; and even feeling good about myself again. (And often times I don’t need to imagine because I am actually happy quite often and I laugh and smile most days, too!)

But, no matter how happy I am, or I can imagine myself being, I still miss Paul. I miss his smile and his laugh. I miss conversations (and fights) with him. I miss curling up on the couch with him in the evenings and waking up next to him in the mornings. I miss holding his hand. I miss the kisses and the hugs. I miss having to hide the chocolate (and the peanut butter) and I miss checking ingredient lists for contraband (he was a vegetarian). I even miss him getting frustrated with me for not making mashed potatoes the right way.

Really, I just miss Paul. All of him. I always will…

Expiry dates

I’m a little bit crazy most days. Always have been; always will be. But widowhood seems to have increased my insanity. In fact, it seems to have created new forms of crazy all together!

I thought about sharing a little window into that craziness last week, but decided against it because I don’t really want to bore you with these things. But tonight I had a bit of a meltdown so figured maybe saying it all ‘out loud’ might help me work through it. (Or not. We’ll see.)

Here’s the deal: I can’t buy things with an expiry date of April 26. I just can’t do it. Two years ago, I was out shopping and grabbed a tub of yoghurt. As always, I checked the expiry date and it was April 26. It was days before the first anniversary of Paul’s death (which is April 26 if you haven’t sussed that yet) and I panicked. I put the tub back and started searching for one with a later date. But they were all dated April 26. So I didn’t get any yoghurt. Same thing last year: I couldn’t buy anything with an April 26 expiry date.

So, a few days ago I found myself grabbing a few groceries to tide me over until my next online shop. As I picked up a pack of fresh cheese, I noticed the expiry date (yes, April 26) and realised that there was no way I could do an online shop until after that date, for fear of having something delivered with that dreaded date imprinted on the packaging.

Anyhow, tonight I decided I’d make a nice salad for dinner. I grabbed a bottle of Ranch dressing that I’d bought a few months ago. After putting the salad together, I opened the bottle and noticed the date as I started pouring it—April 26. I froze. I didn’t know what to do. Do I throw it out? Do I force myself to move past this silly block? I didn’t know. I don’t know how long I stood there staring at the salad before deciding that I needed to eat it.

I grabbed a fork, picked up the salad, and went to sit on the couch. But I couldn’t bring myself to eat the salad. Instead, I found myself sobbing uncontrollably over a stupid date. I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t. And with that, I went back to the kitchen and threw it out—the salad and the rest of the dressing.

Then I cried some more. I am, after all, completely insane.

I don’t know what will happen next year. I just know that, apparently, this year I’m still not ready to buy or eat food with an expiry date of April 26. As I said, widowhood has created new kinds of crazy for me!

The Desiderata way of life

It’s time to answer another of your questions so I’m going back to the first request to write about a poem that has stirred great emotions for me. (Don’t worry—I’m working on a couple of family history posts for that question, too!)

My favourite poem is The Desiderata by Max Ehrmann. The poem was written in 1927, and has an interesting history including a misconception about the dates and a fun little bit of copyright law. Now, these are not the reasons I love the poem so much, but fun histories do make me happy! Though I digress…

I first read The Desiderata in high school and it instantly touched my spirit. There was something about it that spoke to me in a way that I never could fully explain, but over time I forgot about it. Then, shortly after Paul died, one of my brothers-in-law sent me a letter quoting a bit of the poem. And that prompted me to re-read it.

That first reading as a teenager touched my spirit but that first re-reading as a grieving widow spoke to my soul. All of the sudden, the words seemed more meaningful. All of the sudden, there was a reminder that despite my grief there could be joy in my life.

Since then, I’ve used the ideas from the poem as my guide. I know it’s silly and maybe even a bit trite, but it’s the reminder I need so that I can see the hope that lies behind shattered dreams.

The Desiderata
by Max Ehrmann

Go placidly amid the noise and the haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible, without surrender,
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even to the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons;
they are vexatious to the spirit.

If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain or bitter,
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs,
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals,
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love,
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment,
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life,
keep peace in your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

Running round the mulberry bush

Today was another race day as part of my Race a Month goal I set this year with the ever-amazing Rebecca. And, as often happens post-race, I feel great! (Worn out and tired, but great!)

The Mulberry Bush Balfron 10K took place in (you guessed it!) Balfron. It was a very hilly course, but the scenery more than made up for it! Hilly, as in there was a hill toward the end that is comparable to the grudging misery of Doomsday Hill near the end of Spokane’s Bloomsday 12K. Really.

As I started up the hill I was feeling pretty good, but as it went on and on and on, I began to wonder if I’d be able to run up the entire thing. In fact, I debated in my mind for quite a while before deciding that I wouldn’t take a walk break. (Happily, I didn’t take any walk breaks today. Yay!)

But, hills aside, it really was a good race. Once again, I’ve not put in as much training as I should (and I’m still working to sort out my rubbish eating habits!) though I did managed to finish more than three minutes under goal. (Unofficial time: 1:03:42)

My next race is up in the air, as I didn’t manage to get registered in time. Still, I’m holding out hope that I can wrangle an entry. (Watch this space!)

And, as always, you can see photos from all of my races here!

Without regret

OK, I’m going to answer another question from when I asked what you wanted me to write about. The second question was if I believed in having regrets. So, here’s my take on the issue!

For 38 years, I’ve made decisions to act or not act on thoughts and impulses. I’ve messed up; I’ve made mistakes; I’ve taken wrong turns.

I decided not to attend university after high school because I couldn’t afford it. In my early 20s, I found myself in my first-ever relationship—mostly due to peer pressure. In my mid-20s, I opted to go into massive amounts of debt to [finally] attend university. In my late-20s, I increased my debt by going to Scotland for a year’s study. Then, I decided to put my master’s degree on hold.

In the past three years, I’ve made countless decisions. I made hasty decisions about funeral plans and long-thought-out decisions about headstones. I decided to open my home to a lovely foster child. I quit my job. I said goodbye to my house. I moved to Scotland. I started grad school. I’ve done stupid things and silly things and (maybe) even irresponsible things since Paul died.

My life today is a crazy, jumbled, emotional mess. I don’t own a home or a car. I have very little money in the bank and no job to replenish what is there. I’m stressed out about money; I’m stressed out about my future; I’m stressed out about my mental health. I cry. A lot.

And now, I am 38 years old and I don’t have children. I don’t have a husband. I don’t any of those things that society seems to judge success by. Yes, my life is pretty much a great big fail these days.

But do I have regrets? Not really. I mean, I regret any pain that my decisions may have caused others, but I don’t regret my life’s course. I don’t regret the bad stuff or the shameful stuff or the embarrassing stuff. Because all of those things combine together to make me who I am. All of those things combined together to make the next thing possible. And some of those next things were pretty awesome.

If I had gone to university right after high school, I may never have met Paul.

If I hadn’t dated Loser Boy, I may not have found myself going to university. And I may never have met Paul.

If I hadn’t decided to go to university—and to study abroad—I may never have met Paul.

And who knows how many decisions were made and turns were taken throughout my youth that might have changed my path. And then I may never have met Paul.

I haven’t lived a perfect life but I haven’t lived a life of [out-of-the-ordinary] sin and crime either. But for a moment my life seemed perfect, and that was because I met Paul. And that brief moment of perfection may not have happened if one little decision had been different.

Regrets? No. How can I regret a string of events that brought me countless experiences and friendships and memories? How can I regret a string of decisions that brought me the love of a foster daughter and the love of a husband? No, I have no regrets for the life I’ve lived and the lessons I’ve learned.

Heirloom tear drops

Growing up, I always loved to borrow my Mom’s clothing and accessories—the old stuff. I loved her funky dresses and jewellery from the 1960s and 70s, and often dreamed of one day owning it all.

I was elated when, as a teenager, she finally gave me an old handbag of hers from when she was in high school. It was the first bag in my vintage collection and remains a favourite to this day. I wore her flowing gowns (more often than she may know!) and flashed my bedazzled fingers that were loaded with funky rings. And the bracelets and necklaces—oh my! I even wore her wedding dress when I got married!

Slowly but surely, I’ve become the owner of some of these bits and bobs. So today I thought I’d share one of my favourites with you! And it goes beyond Mom, too, which is cool.

So, here’s the story as told in the letter that I got when I received this amazing set:

Frances,

‘Tis the year for re-gifting! Actually, this is a piece of history. Your grandmother had this necklace and earring set in high school. She wore it several times as I was growing up. In 1970, I had a new lace outfit for the Marine Corps Ball and needed a blue necklace to compliment it. I requested to borrow this set and Mom sent it to me. She told me I could keep it because she didn’t use it anymore. I have now chosen to give it to you. I know you’ll use and cherish this set.

Enjoy!

Love,
Mom

I have worn the set on several occasions over the past few years. The last time I wore it was for the last professional portraits Paul and I had taken together. I love them so much and hope that I’m able to find an occasion to wear them again. (Anyone want to take me out for a nice dinner?)

Oh, and Mom, I can still fit into that lace outfit you wore in 1970. You and I both know that I will give it a good and loving home. You know my address when you’re ready to pass it along …

Say no to bunny boilers!

There is a new campaign against stalking starting in the UK today and I thought it was a perfect opportunity to talk about stalking on Just Frances. The National Campaign Against Stalking aims to talk about stalking and to educate people on what stalking is and the rights that victims of this (in my view) act of psychological terror.

So, today I’m going to do my part to bring the conversation into the open so that we can eliminate some of the stigma (and misunderstanding) about the issue. First, it’s important to know that, whilst we joke about it, stalking isn’t a joke. It is a frightening experience for the person being stalked.

Second, it’s important to know everything you can about the laws in your region and what you can do to protect yourself. Every country is different; every state different. So educate yourself. There is no way that I can go into all of the information here, but some great starting points for your information gathering are at the end of this post. But if you’re truly in fear at this moment in time—contact your local police. It’s better safe than sorry. Or dead.

I can’t tell you the number of times each week I hear (or make) jokes about stalking my friends online. I’m sure you can relate to this. We tell people we know that we’ve had a good look around their Facebook page and we ‘feel like a stalker’ all of the sudden. We Google people we know (or used to know) to see what they’re doing now. We search for information, and in the case of social networking platforms, we’re freely given information from our friends and acquaintances. This is (generally) not stalking.

Stalking is unwanted harassment. It’s unwanted attention. It’s unwanted contact. And most of the time, it’s done by someone the victim knows. (Find more information here.)

If you find yourself in a situation where you are receiving unwanted contact, tell the person to leave you alone. Tell them NO in no uncertain terms. And then ignore them. But keep records of each and every time they attempt to make contact. Yeah, sounds easy, doesn’t it? But take it from me, that first NO can be difficult, especially if it’s someone you know. And that’s where I’ll segue into my own story of being stalked.

Stalker Sam (madey-uppy name) and I started out as friends. But he wanted more than that. And I wasn’t forceful enough in saying no because I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. So I still agreed to meet him for coffee ‘as friends’ because I thought he would learn to be OK with that. Instead, he became more adamant that I would change my mind.

And that’s when the gifts started to appear. That’s when the flowers started to arrive. And that’s when the phone calls and text messages and letters (soaked in his cologne) started to increase. He would track my car down and leave cards on the windshield when I was out running errands. He even gave gifts to my parents and my sisters.

I took the advice of lawyer and law enforcement friends and told him NO one last time. I told him to stop contacting me—full stop. And then I began to ignore him, whilst keeping a record of every contact he made.

Then one day, he cornered me after Church to tell me that God told him that I loved him and that we were meant to be together—I was just playing hard to get.

I was frightened and also embarrassed because I wondered if it was my fault. Maybe I should have been more forceful in saying no. Maybe I should have been kinder to him and tried to maintain a friendship. Maybe I said NO in a way that could have been interpreted as YES. (Wrong! No means no and this was not my fault!)

Eventually, his contact waned (helped by the fact that I returned to Scotland) but every once in a while he gets in touch again. Like right before my wedding. Like right after my husband’s death. Like when he started a Facebook account. And each contact has been ignored then recorded in my Stalker Sam journal.

I’m not as afraid of Stalker Sam now because I like to think he’s moved on and is no longer a threat to me. But when I’m in the homeland and I see him, I panic. If I see a car that looks like one he used to drive (I don’t know what he drives right now) or if I smell his cologne, I panic. If I see someone out of the corner of my eye with his build and hair colour/style, I panic. Even though I am thousands of miles away from him.

Was I ever in ‘real’ danger from Stalker Sam? I don’t know. I don’t know what would have happened if I’d done things differently; I don’t know if he was capable of causing me physical harm. But what I do know is that he scared me and that his actions were wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

OK. I’ve gone on for a bit here. But I hope that my rambling helps you to become more aware of stalking. Don’t do it. It’s not nice. And if you feel that you’re a victim, reach out to someone for help. Below is a list of links to help you find more information—because information and knowledge are powerful tools!

Blackberries and bridges

I asked what you wanted me to write about, and the first request was to write about the emotions I’ve felt when engaging with different types of art—books, music, paintings, etc. It’s too much to cover in one post though, so I’m going to break it down into bits; starting with books. So, Jessica W., this is for you!

There are two books that always stick out in my mind when I think about books with a great impact on my life. They are not great works of literary genius by contemporary standard, but they are the two books that I reflect on over and over again.

The first book is A Taste of Blackberries by Doris Buchanan Smith. It’s the story of two young boys who enjoy all sorts of exploits—including picking blackberries. They are so excited to be invited into the garden of a crotchety old lady who lives in town (children are generally forbidden on her property) to pick her berries. But, tragically, one of the boys dies after suffering an allergic reaction to bee stings when they find a nest on her property.

The story talks about the surviving boy’s grief—as well as the guilt felt by the old woman—and eventually ends with all of the neighbourhood children being granted a free pass to enjoy the old woman’s garden. It is geared for pre-teen kids and whilst I was a pre-teen when I first read it, I enjoy re-reading it from time-to-time from my very battered well-loved copy.

Thirty years after I first read the book, I always pause when I think of blackberries. And when I’m out picking blackberries, I think about youthful friendships and the enjoyment and simplicity of childhood summers. Despite the book being sad, it makes me happy to reflect on the positive message about friendship and carrying on that the book attempts to instil in its young readers. (I have tried to get my young nieces and nephews to read it, but have yet to have success with that!)

The second book is If I Should Die Before I Wake by Lurlene McDaniel. Another ‘death’ book, the story follows that of a young woman who volunteers on the cancer ward of a children’s hospital. A bit of a loner, she finds a friend in one of the patients—and, as in any book for the early-teen audience—they fall in love. But his terminal illness means that they’re relationship is short-lived.

It’s funny that what I remember and reflect on about the book isn’t the love story or the tragedy of a young man’s death—it’s a conversation she had with her grandfather that touches me and that I reflect on often.

The conversation is about her grandfather’s job building bridges during the Great Depression. Jobs were scarce and everyone was desperate for the opportunity to work. At some point during a job, he was caught making a handprint and writing his name in the concrete support of a bridge they’d just completed—an act that saw him losing his job. The girl was very shocked by this and declared that it was ‘just one hand print’ and wondered what the big deal was. So the grandfather explained that if everyone on the job put their handprints and names on every bridge, they’d be completely covered with such markings. Later in the book, we read that the girl has gone to find the bridge. The foliage has grown up around the base, but once she clears away the grass and soil, her grandfather’s handprint is exposed and she smiles as she places her hand in the print.

Now, when I think about leaving my mark somewhere—or when I think about taking ‘just one’ rock from an ancient wall—I stop to remember that my ‘just one’ would be part of a bigger problem if everyone did the same. So it keeps me from unintentionally ruining something for future generations.

OK, these might not be the books you expected me to write about, but these really are the two most impactful books I’ve ever read. Well, except for encyclopædias and dictionaries, which I still read for entertainment and enjoyment.

Blocked: How you can help!

I have loads of things I want to write about. But I can’t. Some of them need to wait until ‘the right moment’ and others need more refinement in my head. Others are just these random things that I kind of want to share but I don’t really know if they warrant sharing.

But I want to write something for you. Partly because writing makes me happy and sharing my thoughts with the ethers really is a great ego boost. (I’ve always been up front about the fact that this blog serves to boost my ego!) Of course, I also want to write something for you because I think that some of you really do want to read what I have to say. I don’t quite know why, because most of what I have to say is a bit silly. However, our relationship is that I write; you read. That’s how this thing works.

And so, I need your help! I want to know what you want me to write about in the coming days. To that, I’m soliciting your opinions and questions. This is your opportunity to ask me anything you want. (Overly personal or insulting questions may not be answered.) You can ask me to give my opinion on a specific subject or to write a list of my top [however many whatevers]. You can ask me to write a poem about your favourite [blank] or to follow up on a post from the past. You can even set a challenge for me to do and blog about.

Basically, any reasonable topic request will be granted.

So, let’s hear from you: What do you want to hear from me?

A weighty issue

I’m fat. No, that’s not true. That’s so far from the truth that it’s laughable. Heck, I’m not even overweight. Still, I feel ‘fat’(ish).

Here’s the problem: After my marathon I stopped partaking in a normal running routine. And as the days turned to cold, wet, wintery weather, I stopped partaking in most exercise all together. I became rather sedentary, but I continued eating the same volume of food.

Add to all of that, my school schedule means that I have a lot of time on my hands. I don’t have an eight-hour office job to go to, and I’m certainly not spending a full eight hours on campus or at the library. And that means more time for eating out of boredom.

And worse, a long struggle with being sad over the holidays meant that I was less inclined to cook healthy meals and actually got into a habit of eating lots of high-fat, sodium-laden foods.

Combine all of those bad habits together and you get a gooey Frances.

Now, I really do know that I’m not fat. I still fit into my clothes and I can still button my jeans. The problem is that where once there was a super-flat, firm tummy and thighs and a back-side that didn’t jiggle too much, there is now a flabby tummy and wiggly-jiggly bum and thighs.

And it’s making me sad. I feel really mad at myself for letting my body get so out of control. I’m out of shape, I’m not drinking enough water, and I’m jiggling where once I didn’t jiggle.

How sad (and frustrated and desperate) am I? Well, I’ve found myself Googling terms like ‘fast weight loss’ and ‘weight loss food’. I’ve even looked at appetite suppressants. I just looked, but there was a little voice in my head that was saying: ‘Come on. Two weeks on that and you’ll be back to normal!’ No, that’s not a good thing for my mind to be saying to my body. In fact, that’s a stupid thing!

So, the solution: Well, for starters I need to run more. I’ve got my race-a-month challenge, but I need to get more training runs in not only for that, but for my overall health. I also need to eat less. I don’t mean starve myself; I mean cutting out the habit of eating a large bag of crisps in one sitting, or eating half my weight in olives and cheese after dinner every night. I need to drink more water (lots more!). And, I need to start eating healthier foods again—fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats.

I’m not fat. And I’m certainly not suffering from body dysmorphic disorder. I don’t know what I weight and I don’t care. Still, I want to be back to my normal. Which isn’t fat or skinny. It’s more average and toned maybe.

I’m not sharing this bit of information with the hope for advice or tips. I’m sharing it because saying it out loud will make me more accountable to myself to fix it. I’m sharing it because admitting my flaws makes me more determined to fix them.

And I promise that I’ll fix this slowly and without the aid of pills and potions. Good, old-fashioned exercise and healthy eating will set me straight—and will probably help my race times, too!

The world is filled with beautiful things

It’s a poetry day again. I don’t know if this is any good, and I may play with it a bit before calling it final, but at least this is a good start. Well, maybe it’s a good start. [Enter humble and embarrassed apology about how sorry I am for torturing you with my poetry here.]

The world is filled with beautiful things
by Just Frances

The world is filled with beautiful things;
If only we’d pause to notice them.
A broken branch, where a butterfly sits;
A muddy puddle, where a robin splashes.

The world is filled with joyful things;
If only we’d open our hearts.
A gentle breeze that lifts our spirits;
The sun’s rays that warm our souls.

The world is filled with happy things;
If only we’d stop and listen.
Chimes from an ice cream van,
…..as children scream with joy;
Bells from a church steeple,
…..as a new marriage begins.

The world is filled with possibilities;
If only we’d let ourselves believe.

Believe in the beauty the springs from ashes.
…..Believe in the love hidden behind the tears.
……….Believe in the joy that has yet to be realised.

Because the world is filled with beauty.
…..With love.
……….With joy.
……………With peace.

• • •

[Photo is a small heart-shaped scrap of paper that has sat nestled in the lawn in front of my flat for a couple of months now. Through wind and rain and snow—and thankfully a bit of sunshine. I leave it there because it makes me smile to see it there every day; it reminds me that love is everywhere and can weather anything!]

Applying myself

With less than six weeks of classes left—and less than 20 weeks until my dissertation is due—it’s time to start thinking about the future again. And that means getting a job!

Of course, it’s not as easy as just getting a job when you’re a foreign national who requires a visa for work. Then again, with the current levels of unemployment in the UK skyrocketing, it’s even more difficult!

So, I’m applying to jobs. Lots of them. Some are right up my alley and others would be a step backward but a job is a job. Plus, all of them would give me the opportunity to stay on here in Scotland if I was offered the job.

Sadly, I’ve yet to have success. I’ve not even made it to the interview stage yet. But I keep looking and I keep applying. Because eventually someone is going to see my application and realise that I am the best person for the job.

I have another round of applications going out this week, and at least one of the jobs is one that I really, really want. Your good thoughts and prayers are appreciated! And in return, I promise to keep you posted about the job search.

Work in progress; Part 1

Yippee! I’ve just completed another chunk of my dissertation—and I managed to finish it more than 12 hours before it was due!

I admit it was a little harder than it should have been, but not because I can’t do the work—rather, I’ve made a bit of a change to the overall scope of the project. It seems, in doing my research, that there are other questions that I feel need to be asked before I try to ask about gauging legitimacy. But I’m very excited about the new direction I’m taking and, to be honest, it’s not that far from the original plan. And, as I’ve learned, sometimes plans change.

So, I’m a step closer to that master’s degree now.

The next steps are to meet with my supervisor to discus my changes and to talk about a timeline for completion. I need to finish up my question for interview subjects, too. Oh, and I need to find my interview subjects!

Busy, busy, busy! But oh-so-happy, too!

An Easter reflection

Easter Sunday is rolling to a close and I’m sitting here thinking about how wonderful my life is because of my Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. I truly am blessed to have the love of Jesus in my heart and in my soul. He has been a constant in my life and my faith in Him and the salvation He offers has kept me going these past few years.

I know, I know: I don’t normally go all Alleluia! and stuff, but it really is there in my heart and soul every day. And it really has saved me from myself since Paul died. That faith has kept me going and given me the hope to continue each day—even when I don’t want to continue; even when I feel like I can’t continue. That faith has given me the hope that life will get better and that, one day, life will be wonderful again.

In the mean time, I’ll pray. And I’ll hope. And I’ll look to the future. And I’ll survive.

As for my Easter, it was OK. It’s the first Easter since Paul died that I made a nice meal. The first Easter after he died, I took a hike to distract myself and last Easter I had my foster daughter for a distraction. I guess I just felt that making a big meal would make the day easier, so I enjoyed a nice meal of baked ham, au gratin potatoes, and roasted asparagus—and a couple glasses of Champagne. Was it the way I wanted to spend the day? Not really, but it beats spending the day sulking around the house. And thanks to an unexpected phone call from my good friend, Joanne, I even enjoyed a wee chat.

And now, it’s back to school work and job applications. Not very Easter-y, but I’ve got to keep focused on the future because I can pray all I want but I doubt Jesus is going to come down and write my dissertation for me!

Happy Easter, everyone. He is risen; let us rejoice!

Egg-teastic!

I’ve had an eggteastic day making Easter tea eggs. (Get it? Eggteastic. Like eggtastic only tea instead of ta. No? OK, moving on…)

So, about these Easter tea eggs: I have wanted to attempt making tea eggs for a couple of years now but haven’t managed until now. I decided that Easter was a good time to attempt them since I wanted some eggs for the holiday but I felt that dying boiled eggs on my own—and with no one to hide them for—might be a bit sad.

I did a bit of research and found several recipes that I felt I could follow, but since I don’t really follow recipes, I just used the others as guides. (This one served as my main guide, if you’re wondering.) Below is a wee photo guide for my version of tea eggs. I started simple this time, but will add spices next time.

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Over the next couple of days I will use these for devilled eggs and potato salad. I’m egg-cited (get it?) to see how the added flavour enhances some of my favourite egg dishes.

My Good Friday

Today is Good Friday, a day of great importance for many Christians—including me. It’s also a day of fasting for Catholics (and maybe other religions?). So, I’m fasting. I’m not starving, but I’m certainly fasting.

Still, it’s been a good day. I had a wee sleep in this morning and when I finally managed to drag myself out of bed (I won’t confess the time) I took a bit of time to work on my butterfly swirl and catch up on emails. Eventually, I made my way to the shower before taking some time to get more school work done.

Then, I did something I shouldn’t have done: I went to town for groceries. Yes, whilst fasting—whist hungry—I went to the shops for food. But I rationalised it because I was afraid that if I didn’t go today there wouldn’t be a ham left for my Easter dinner on Sunday. Thankfully, a grocery list kept me from buying too much more than I needed. And even then, my hunger-driven impulse buys weren’t too bad: A package of strawberries, a bottle of wine, and a pack of crisps. None of which got eaten today. (Good girl points for me!)

Yes, I’ve had a good Good Friday. I hope you have, too. It won’t be long until we’re celebrating the resurrection of my Saviour, Jesus Christ. Oh, what a wonderful thing to celebrate!

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.
~ John 3:16

Break-less spring break

It’s been nearly a week since spring break started, but it’s been anything but a break! Still, this is what I signed up for so I’m not complaining.

I got off to a very productive start, but I admit that I’ve not managed to update you on my progress as promised. Further, I admit that I’ve not managed to get as much running in as I’d hoped for so I won’t be hitting my goal of 30 total miles over the break. Oh, and my taxes might get delayed, since my folks decided to take a last-minute road trip to see some of the glorious waterfalls around Washington State (like this one!) which means that they’re not home to search for a couple of documents I need.

But the rest of my to-do list is going pretty well. No, really. It is!

In fact, today was spent reading (a lot) and writing for my dissertation and working on a job application for a job that I really want, but that I’m not too convinced I’ll even get an interview for. [Enter prayers and an extra dose of hopeful thoughts here.]

Tomorrow is another reading, writing, and applying day. And hopefully by Saturday I’ll be caught up enough to manage a run, too.

Busy, busy, busy…

Paper bird of happiness

When I boarded the bus today, I was met by a pretty little origami crane that was perched on the seat next to me. It had been made with someone’s bus ticket and it looked very much like it was there for someone to find.

I picked it up and held it in my hand, marvelling at not only how well it was made, but at how such a silly, simple little thing could bring me so much happiness. I wanted to take it away with me but I felt that someone else might enjoy a smile, too. Then I thought that I’d take it to the library with me and leave it for someone to find there. (Even though I really wanted to keep it for myself.)

As I sat admiring the little bird, a very pregnant woman and her wee boy boarded the bus and sat behind me. The boy was in a bit of a fussy mood and his mum was trying her best to brighten his day. So I turned around and showed him the pretty bird and asked if he’d like to have it. His face beamed when his mum said that would be OK.

Of course, that meant that I was left without a bird. But, thanks to the wonders of the Internet, I was able to find instructions to make my own. Maybe I’ll practice a bit and one day I’ll be good enough to leave pretty birds behind for others to enjoy.

Whisky hearts

Normally, an empty whisky bottle means a cork without a job. But not today. No, today I decided to rescue the cork from my empty bottle of Glenmorangie and carve it up a bit with my pocket knife. (A tool that every good redneck always has on hand.)

I didn’t have any ink pads (sadly, my craft supplies couldn’t make the journey to Scotland with me) but I had some cheap markers that I thought would work as a pigment, and I think the results are a success.

OK, I know it’s a bit silly and childish, but it entertained me. And it means that I have a pretty little heart-shaped stamp to add to my slowly-growing craft box. I think I’ll save up a few more corks to make some other shapes, too—stars, dots, horse shoes, etc. I don’t know what I’ll do with them all, but they’ll be a bit of rainy day entertainment at the very least.

(Other ideas for cheap and easy craft ideas are always welcome!)

Your challenge: Write a letter!

One of the best joys in my life is personal mail. Letters, cards, postcards, parcels. I just love getting something in the post that doesn’t say I owe money. Not only do I enjoy receiving letters, I enjoy sending them. However, letter writing seems to be a dying art.

Oh, there are people who still write letters—and in fact, I regularly correspond with a friend from the homeland. (He refuses to use computers, so it’s the only way to keep up. But that’s OK!) Less often, I write random letters or send unexpected cards to other friends. And I always send birthday cards to the nieces and nephews.

When I write cards and letters, I like to make them special. I like to make sure that the recipient feels loved and thought of. I even try to make the envelope special by using wax seals or stickers.

I know that it sounds a bit shallow to say this next part, but I like sending cards and letters to people I care about because it makes me feel happy. (Is that selfish?)

And since I want you to feel happy, too, I am challenging everyone to write a letter or send a card to someone. You can write a letter to an old teacher, letting them know how they impacted your life. You can write to your best friend’s mum to say thank you for all of those meals they cooked when you were over visiting. Or maybe you can write to a sibling or cousin to share a memory of the two of you growing up. You can even write a letter to the local fire department to thank them for their service. Yes, you can write to anyone about anything! (Just make it a positive one!)

Need some inspiration? Check out the blog Letters from Lauren. She’s not updated the site since last August, but her letters are fab and might be a great help to get you started! Or Googleletter writing blog’ to find more great ideas for how to get started.

So, the challenge has been made. Go out and brighten someone’s day with a letter. Even a postcard will do! (And feel free to tell me about it in the comments below!)

Happy writing!

A productive start

Spring break started on Friday, and by Saturday morning I had created a bit of a to-do list of all of the things I want to accomplish during my week+ break from classes.

And, I’m pleased to say, I am actually making pretty decent progress!

To keep myself accountable, I’m going to share my list here—and I will try to give little updates in any posts in between now and my return to school. So, here goes!

And, in addition to my to-do list, I am going to work on fixing some bad habits I’ve gotten into. To that, I will aim to:

  • Drink more water—much, much more water!
  • Go to bed before 11 p.m. every night (unless I am socialising in a face-to-face setting)
  • Get out of bed before 9 a.m. every morning
  • Eat at least 5 servings of fresh fruits and vegetables every day
  • Get out of the flat for at least an hour every day (in addition to time spent running)

I am pleased to say that I am making progress with both lists. My swirl drawing (shown above) is coming along nicely. I ran nearly 5 miles yesterday and will run the same route again tomorrow. I have organised my tax documents and will call my bank to sort out the last documents tomorrow evening (delayed because of time zones). I have completed one job application and have an internship application in progress; I have also sent emails in regards to a couple other applications. And I have books ready for me to pick up at the library for my dissertation.

Also, I’ve managed to be in and out of bed by my new deadlines—and have been drinking lots of water and enjoying lots of fresh produce. And, I’ve been outside enjoying the lovely spring weather.

Yes, I’ve been a busy little bee, and I hope that it helps to lift my mood and my self confidence. After all, spring break is no time to sit around and sulk!

Out of place

As I walked into town this afternoon, I noticed a dandelion growing in a wall along the pavement. It was sticking out brightly against the grey stone as if to say ‘Hello! I’m here! I belong!’ even though it wasn’t really meant to be there; even though it risked someone removing it or spraying it with deadly chemicals.

And, as sometimes happens when I see things that I wasn’t expecting to see, this little out of place flower (weed?) got me thinking a bit about my own life.

You might recall last week’s post about my struggles to keep it together. Well, without getting into too many details, part of those struggles stemmed from my tenuous future here in Scotland. You see, much like the dandelion, I’m trying to put down roots somewhere that isn’t my natural home. I’m trying to put down roots and live a life of joy, but I’m doing it with the constant fear that someone will walk along and pluck me out and toss me aside—like a weed growing where it doesn’t belong.

Yes, I know—it’s a really cornball analogy. But I hope you get the point.

(And I’m trying not to think about the analogy where the dandelion (me) causes the wall (Scotland) to weaken and crumble because of the foreign matter edging in (immigration). No, let’s not think about that analogy!)

Anyhow, I am still worried. I am still struggling with the fears of an uncertain future and I am still trying to figure out what my next steps will be. But whilst I’m worrying, I’m also trying to find solutions. And I’m trying to be gentle with myself, recognising that even if all of my worries and fears play out to completion, it just means that I have an opportunity to start over again—whether I want to or not.

So, I am still feeling a bit down and stressed and overwhelmed, but a little less than I did last week. Yes, I am surviving. And with luck, my friend the dandelion will survive, too!

Spring break

Well, as of 4:00 p.m. I am officially on spring break. Only, that really just means that I’m not going to classes for a week. And, actually, since there aren’t classes on Easter Monday, and I don’t have classes on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, I’m really out of class for nearly two weeks. Yay!

But that doesn’t mean I won’t be busy. Really, really busy.

During my time off, I will be working on my dissertation (I have a big chunk due April 10). I will also be doing my taxes and working on several job applications in the hopes to find a position that will allow me to stay on in Scotland after graduation.

I know that most students look forward to spring break because of the parties and travelling opportunities, but I’m looking forward to it so that I can concentrate on my much-neglected to-do list, and so that I can really ramp up my training. (I must start running more so that my legs and tummy look great for summer shorts weather!)

But, since all work and no play is a silly way to live life, I am going to begin my spring break in style—at The Junk Rooms. Which means I should stop blogging and get myself to town to meet Rebecca.

Happy spring break, everyone!

Chinese jacks

Today’s post is a random memory and a bit of a musing about Chinese jacks. So, let’s go!

Chinese jacks, for those who don’t know, are these awesome little plastic ring things that kids would clip together in the 1980s for playing, well, Chinese jacks. But we’d also use them for Hopscotch markers and necklaces or other bits of jewellery.

They were fun and bright and silly. All of the sorts of things I love. We had loads and loads of them when we were kids. Some were pastel, others were bright, and others were neon. There were even translucent ones. I remember sitting there clipping them together in little sets, or stringing them together as chains and bracelets. But what I don’t remember is what happened to them. Where did they all go? Have they been thrown away after all of this time, or are they somewhere at my folks’ house, stashed away in a box?

I guess that’s it. I don’t really have much more to say about them, I just thought that I’d let you know I was thinking about them.

[Note: This video is not meant as an endorsement. I have no relationship with the company portrayed and am not in a position comment on them or their products.]

Of course, this all reminds me of those plastic charm necklaces we had back in the 80s, too. Yeah, they were, like, so awesome. Like, you know, totally radical, dude.

I wonder what today’s kids will reflect on when they’re my age…

Journalist? Blogger? Writer.

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks working on a paper that asked if there should be regulations or laws to distinguish between what professional journalists and ordinary citizens can write. And that led me down all sorts of paths, thinking about issues of blogging, journalism, and the media’s general place in society.

I’m not going to bore you with all of the arguments and conclusions from my paper or with my thoughts on the state of modern-day information sharing. Instead, I’ll just give a little bit of insight to the topic for those who want to know some of the things I think about when I’m doing academic snobbery stuff.

If you really want to hear my views, we can discuss them over a pint of ale—your treat, of course, because I’m a starving student.

So, here goes!

Unless you’ve been living under a rock (or maybe if you’re living in America) you’ve probably heard about the Leveson Inquiry here in the UK. The inquiry was prompted by the phone-hacking scandal by the News of the World and will have (already has had?) a drastic impact on the future of news reporting throughout the UK—and maybe even a knock-on effect for other nations around the globe.

As a blogger who is also a trained communications professional with experience as a freelance journalist, I find the question of ‘who is and isn’t a journalist’ pretty interesting. I mean, am I a journalist? Or am a just a blogger who once was a journalist? What about other bloggers? Are they journalists? Can they be? Should they be?

Right now, there are debates happening around the world—and around the World Wide Web—about the differences between bloggers and journalists, and whether or not someone would need special training and a license to be a journalist. There are further debates around the idea of creating regulations or laws distinguishing between what journalists and ordinary citizens can write (i.e.: bloggers, users of social networking sites, those commenting on blogs and news sites).

I’m sure it seems like a bit of a boring topic to some people, but any regulations or laws that are created around these issues can be far-reaching. They can change the way news and information is presented to you, but they can also change the way in which you are able to share information. And each time we make a law that restricts an ordinary citizen’s ability to receive or share information, we move further away from the ideals of a free press—and of free speech.

But, back to me. Am I a journalist? No, not really. Even if I end up doing more freelance writing for news outlets, I don’t know that I’d feel like a journalist. But I like to think that I hold myself to the ideals of journalistic ethics. And I like to think that my readers find me to be trustworthy. Of course, that’s easy to do when I just write silly rubbish about my own life—my integrity and trustworthiness might be questioned if I attempted to become an investigative blogger.

Me? I’m a just a writer. Not a famous one, and probably not a very good one, but a writer none-the-less. (OK, I’m a blogger, too, but first-and-foremost, a writer.)

Summer is near

Summer is near. Very, very, near. And that’s awesome because it means that my jacket is getting a break from service.

And it means that I get to spend lazy evenings sitting on the patio with friends whilst we barbeque burgers and sausages (and drink beer and cider) whilst listening to the kids running around the garden.

And it means spending lazy afternoons sitting around at a friend’s mum’s place eating more burgers and sipping on glasses of juice.

And, sadly, it also means my arms have turned ever-so-slightly pink. But that’s OK because summer is near.

Did you hear that? Summer is near! Summer is near! Yay, yay, yay for summer!!

Running around

Yay! Today was my third race in my 2012 Race a Month Challenge. I don’t know how I survived it, but I did!

The Round the Houses 10K (sponsored by the Falkirk Victoria Harriers) took place in Grangemouth, Scotland, and was attended by a good 700 runners (Maybe more? Sorry, I’m rubbish at crowd counts!). And, thankfully, the weather was fantastic! Though if I knew it was going to be that fantastic, I’d have worn shorts and skipped the jacket.

It was a bit of a struggle for me, but I managed it. I’m sure I’ve mentioned my lack of exercise and training over the past few months and that, coupled with my recent bought of the lurgy and subsequent drop in my platelets, meant that I really wasn’t ready for the race. In fact, there was a point in the second half where I was getting rather upset that I wasn’t able to run faster. And being upset about that reminded me that I’m still sulking and upset about things from the past week. And that meant that I started thinking about that stuff. Which got me even more upset. It’s such a terrible cycle!

But, just shy of the 8K mark I took a quick walk break. And it was then that another runner caught me (also on a walk break) and we encouraged each other the rest of the way. In fact, we got each other so encouraged that we managed a nice little sprint over the finish line. Ah, that made me feel better!

My end-of-race running partner also made me remember what I love most about running—it’s an individual sport but we’re all cheering each other on. It’s amazing how everyone is out there fighting their own demons and medical ailments, but we all encourage each other to keep going. Because in running (unless you are destined to be in the top three) we’re not competing against each other—we’re only competing against ourselves.

I have another 10K toward the end of April, then a half marathon in May already scheduled. I suppose I should really get my training schedule sorted out now, because I can’t keep running races if I don’t get in better shape!

Oh! My [unofficial time] was 1:07:17. Rebecca, my awesome running sidekick, did better than that. And that means that of the three races we’ve run this year, she’s beat me three times. I’m not [too] bitter. (Honestly, I’m happy for her. Really.)

Oh! Again! I have to add a quick ‘Thank you’ to my ride home from the race. Rebecca was heading to see her parents after the race (in the opposite direction from home) so I arranged to have my friend make the drive all the way to Grangemouth to pick me up and take me to Stirling. So, a great big thank you to John. Because I know he’ll want the public accolades. Even though he doesn’t read my blog.

And if you’d like, you can see more of my race photos here!

I’ll get by

It’s been a week since I last shared my mundane life with you here on Just Frances. And it’s been nearly that long since I [temporarily?] deactivated my Facebook account.

Yes, I admit it: I’m having a pretty crappy time right now. No one thing is catastrophic, but it seems that when I put all of my stress and worries together just now, they’re a bit more than my little self can handle. And my answer [rightly or wrongly] has been to hide away from the world. It’s a strange thing, because I rely so heavily on Facebook and this blog to connect me to the world and to give my life a little bit of emotional stability. But, ironically, sometimes those things can’t be the solution—and may even add to the stress.

I have received several messages through Just Frances in the past couple of days asking about my whereabouts. And a couple of emails to my personal accounts. And even a couple of text messages. Some from people wondering if they’d offended me, causing me to defriended them on Facebook, and some from people just checking in to see how I am.

So, first off, I’d like to thank all of those who’ve been in touch. I appreciate your care and concern for me—and I think I’ve replied to everyone. If not, I’m sorry and please feel free to write and tell me that you’re still feeling neglected so that I can let you know that I care! (No, really. Because if you’ve not heard back from me, it really is an oversight on my part.)

And secondly, I’d like to let you all know that I’m OK. Ish. I have a lot on my mind and am feeling a bit overwhelmed, but it’s nothing serious and nothing that some good old peace and personal contemplation can’t fix. But please know that I have an amazingly awesome friend who is keeping me straight. So I’m not really struggling on my own—no, I have an innocent victim to listen to me whine and cry.

I realise I sound a bit vague and cryptic just now, but that’s because I’m not really ready or willing (I may never be!) to share my current insanity with the entire world—or rather, with the handful of people who stop by Just Frances from time-to-time.

But, because I like to end on a high note, I’ll share some happy things with you:

  1. I’m running a 10K road race tomorrow. (Race 3 in my 2012 Race a Month Challenge!)
  2. I’ve been accepted as a Technorati blogger. (It’s just that this current mood has prevented me from sending in my first contribution!)
  3. I am going to be a card-carrying member of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. (As soon as I wear my friend down a bit more so that they include me as an additional [and therefore less expensive] member on their account; the difference of which I’d pay.)

That’s all for now. I will try to post a bit more regularly in the next few days, but if you don’t hear from me, please know that I’m managing. Yep, I’ll get by, with a little help from my friends.

Swirls, old and new

Back in August I was finishing up a swirl drawing at my folks’ house. I had left my work-in-progress on the coffee table and whilst I was out, my 14-year-old niece, Ivanna, stopped by to visit her grandparents. When I returned my parents told me how Ivanna was mesmerised by the drawing, studying it intensely. She even mentioned that it would make a good tattoo.

I finished the drawing the day before I left for Scotland, and wrote a letter to Ivanna on the back. I asked Dad to scan it for me before passing it on, but he forgot. And that meant I didn’t have a copy of the finished piece, which was a bit of a bummer. But I knew that Ivanna was happy to own it (an excited email told me so!), so I decided that was more important than anything else.

But I asked Dad to scan some tax documents for me yesterday and he decided that since he was scanning, he may as well grab the drawing and scan that, too.

So, here it is for your enjoyment!

Oh! And here’s a new one I’m working on. It’s the butterfly swirl I mentioned before and is going to be the swirl I use for the winner from my anniversary contest. (More on that later!)

Ode to a St Patrick’s Day Martini

What’s that? The Martinis! Facebook page is running a poetry competition? Well, how can I resist that?

The entry request was simple: “Let’s see who pays attention… Comment on this status with an original St. Patrick’s Day poem about Martinis!, and we’ll pick three winners to post as our status from now until Saturday. The poem status that gets the most likes will win 3 mini shooters! GO!” [See the full thread here.]

And I entered. And just so that I have more proof than Facebook that I’m the original author (you know, for when this poem becomes famous) I’m sharing it here, too! (Yay!)

Ode to a St Patrick’s Day Martini
by Just Frances

Martini.
Vodka.
Dirty.
Filthy, really.
You bring me joy.
You warm my heart.
I love you.
And your olives.
They’re green, you know.
And that fills the bill.
So long, green beer.
Hello, my lovely,
Deliciously dirty,
St Patrick’s Day Martini.