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!)

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

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!

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

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!

Hushed hooking

I started a new crochet project back in January. But I couldn’t tell you about it because it was for my friend’s birthday present. And she’s such a good friend that she reads my blog all the time. And I knew that even if I tried to talk about it without saying what or who it was for, it would ruin the surprise.

But, it’s done now and it’s been delivered. So now I can tell you about the lovely blue throw blanket that I made for the lovely Rebecca’s birthday.

Oh yeah! That’s another thing: Rebecca gets a birthday this year. In fact, she gets a birthday tomorrow. Yep, she’s a Leap Day Baby!

Happy birthday, Rebecca! I hope that you have an amazing day! (And make the most of it, since you don’t get another birthday for four years!)

The other birthday girl

I share the title of Middle Sister with my younger sister, Celeste; there are two older than me and two younger than her. I also share my birth month with her. I’m nice like that.

Over the years, we’ve shared a bedroom; we’ve shared clothes; and we’ve shared meals. We’ve shared secrets and dreams; we’ve shared hopes and fears; and we’ve shared laughter and tears.

And since today is her day, I’m going to share some of my blog space with her, too!

So, happy birthday, Celeste. I hope you have a fabby-dabby day!

 

A birthday in Crieff, not grief

It’s here! It’s here! The start of my 38th year of life is here! (Translation: Yay! It’s my 38th birthday!)

My birthday, if I’m honest, has rarely been a day of great excitement and celebration for me. For many reasons, it’s just a day of stress and upset. And, it would seem, a day when bad things seem to happen! Of course, since Paul died, the day is even more stressful. (For a history lesson, read about my 36th birthday and pre-birthday spa day or my 37th birthday wishes!)

But, as you may recall, I decided to take myself away for my birthday this year, in the hopes of distracting myself from my birthday and in an effort to fall in love with solo travelling again. Yes, I opted for a trip to Crieff to stave off the birthday-triggered grief!

Of course, you may know that the entire reason for this trip was that someone had told me about a sweetie shop that is hailed as the No. 1 sweetie shop in all of Scotland—Gordon and Durward’s, home of the Sugared Mice—and by now you probably know that I love candy. A lot. And when I got there, well, I was like a kid in a candy shop! It was like a little corner of heaven made just for me! And I got to see them making fudge, which was neat. I did manage some self control (I set a budget before I walked through the door) but I also did manage to get a bag full of goodies: Pick-n-mix gummy sweets, three flavours of fudge, a couple candy necklaces, and four sugared mice (I’d have bought five mice, but they were out of green).

After that sweet little visit, I wandered across the road to have lunch at The Lounge. I hadn’t really planned to talk about my lunch, but it was so fantastic that I have to sing some praises. You see, I ordered the Cesar salad because it was advertised as coming with calamari, which is different, and therefore interesting. But what I really enjoyed was that there were whole anchovies on top of the salad! So many places don’t do that anymore. In fact, the last time I had anchovies on my Cesar salad I was in my very early 20s! So, great big kudos to The Lounge! If I lived locally, I’d be back!

When I was done with lunch, I made my way back to the hotel where I treated myself to a spa treatment before settling into my room for a couple hours’ of nothingness. Ah, nothingness! And thanks to television and a WiFi connection, I managed a lot of nothingness! (Oh, and I managed to paint my fingernails, too!)

Next, it was time for dinner. I chose to eat in the formal dining room (a great excuse to wear my pretty red dress!) and am so pleased that I did! Fancy pigeon breasts for a starter; filet steak for my main; and Guinness cheddar on rustic bread for dessert. All enjoyed with a rich red wine and a lovely glass of bubbles.

And now I’m back in my room; I’ve changed into my comfy pyjamas to enjoy a bit of television; and I’m getting ready to enjoy a fluffy lemon cupcake I purchased when in town earlier. (Yum!)

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Has it been a day of complete joy and laughter? No. But it’s been a pretty good day and a nice way to start my 38th year.

Oh! And an interesting tid bit for you: When I booked my room, it was the only room available (a single). Other than that, the hotel was completely booked out. Why? Well, because tomorrow is the World Indoor Tug of War Championships, hosted by the Scottish Tug of War Association. Really.

A winning announcement

As promised, today is the day that I’m announcing the winner of my anniversary contest. (But you have to read a bit of a ramble first. And more of a ramble when the announcement is over. I offer no apologies for that.)

Pre-announcement ramble: Wow! This was really hard. All of the entries were entertaining and all of them brought me a smile and a bit of joy. I found myself agonising over who to pick as the winner. For a while, I thought I’d select someone randomly. But that didn’t seem fair. Then I found myself wanting to let everyone be a winner because it makes me feel bad to have someone walk away empty handed.

In the end, I decided to choose one entry. And I chose that entry based on the amount of entertainment it provided, as well as the sort of entertainment. And that entry was made by Ephemera.

I chose Ephemera because I had to work for their post. I had to Google ‘F.M.R.L.’ to see what that stood for (I never did find out) and ‘Ozymandias’ (a sonnet, apparently). In fact, I Googled much of their post to see if it was all part of a poem. And all of those Google searches lead me down loads of winding paths of entertainment and information.

Yes, I chose Ephemera because their post piqued my desire for knowledge. So, I guess now I need to send them an email to see what colours they want for their swirl!

Post-announcement ramble: So, we know who’s getting the prize, but I can’t leave it at that because I loved all of the entries!

Amy: I laughed! I laughed so very much! You couldn’t have known it, but there’s been a bit of a bunny joke going on around here for a few months (I’m merely on the fringe of the joke) and after your post, I started seeing bunnies everywhere. It made me laugh so much. Really, honestly.

Mathew (mm): It made me smile to know that your daughter enjoys the Frances books so much. I read them as a child and really wish I had a set of them again. Such great books and Frances was just amazing with her awesome songs sung in cosy little hiding places. Your post rekindled happy childhood memories!

Debbie: I love Shel Silverstein! I own all of his books and quite often think of his poems when I’m writing. An excellent artist for sure! I was pleased to see your post and to learn that you found me through Frances 3.0. (Though I’m sad to hear that you had a reason to find the site.) I hope your cousin and her children continue to heal!

Rebecca: I still have trouble picturing you as chubby, but if you say so… Your post did entertain me! Partly because I enjoyed reading a memory from your childhood, but partly (sorry to say) because it took me down a winding YouTube path of funny ballet/dancing videos! Of course, your second post entertained me, too. But for different reasons!

ANT Elizabeth: I enjoyed your ramble very much! I vaguely remember your friend Joy—I just don’t know if that’s because I’ve met her or remember stories you’ve told about her. And as for liking ‘teen’ shows, I have a confession to make, too: I love teen romantic comedies! They are a hoot, and no matter how predictable the story is, they make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside!

OK, one more quick ramble. And that’s to say that I think future contests will be easier. I was maybe asking too much for everyone to write more than a line or two. So, next time maybe I’ll just ask for a favourite quote, song title, or joke. Something short and sweet. What do you think?

Oh! And maybe I’ll have to do a ‘progress post’ on the winning swirl drawing. Yes, that might be fun!

Random thoughts: Challenging things

Random thoughts—Week 2: Write a list of 10 challenges you’ve faced in the last three months. Pick one and write about it.

Wow. Ten challenges in three months? I guess that means I’m going to have to define challenges a little more loosely than I normally would. But let’s see where I get, huh? My list will be done in chronological order and I’ll write about the last one. (Though I’ll link to previous ones if there is a story to pair with it.)

  1. Getting through another Thanksgiving and Paul’s birthday without Paul
  2. Finishing final papers and exams for my first semester of graduate school
  3. Surviving (and enjoying) Christmas
  4. Surviving (and enjoying) New Year’s Eve (despite the sadness and grief that hit the first bit of the New Year)
  5. Finding the energy to participate in life after a difficult start to the New Year
  6. Competing in my first race since my marathon
  7. Teaching myself how to edit videos
  8. Finding the courage to book myself a night away (on my own!) for my birthday
  9. Overcoming my mental block toward making Sunday roasts
  10. Getting through another Valentine-less Valentine’s Day

OK, so how did I manage to get through the challenge of another Valentine-less Valentine’s Day? Well, to be honest I holed up in my flat all day. Not really in an effort to avoid the day, but just because I felt that I had enough to occupy myself with here on my own.

Valentine’s Day is one of those days I dread now. It’s silly, I know, because it’s ‘just another day’, but it’s also a day when it becomes even more obvious that I’m alone now. I guess that the real challenge of this day is to not let the sadness encompass me.

I know the day’s not over yet, but I think I’ve won the challenge. Yes, there have been a few moments of sadness (and tears) but I’ve not been consumed with those things. Instead, it’s just been a normal day with some reading for school, some crafty stuff for a soon-to-be shared project I’m working on, and lots of cooking and eating of food.

Oh, and as I reflect on my list of challenges from the past three months, I have to say that I really am blessed. Money is tight these days; my future seems scary and uncertain at times; I’m sad and lonely some days; and I desperately miss Paul. But my challenges aren’t bad. They don’t include things like searching for a warm place to sleep or scrounging for scraps of food. My challenges don’t include fighting (or fearing) for my life or struggles to keep my family together. Yes, I am blessed to have such frivolous challenges to face!

And as for this writing challenge, I really feel sorry for Rebecca this week. I mean, my challenge was to list some challenges, but her challenge is to write a story about tap dancing cockroaches. So be sure to check in on her to see how she gets on with her ick-worthy topic.

The little red dress

Twelve years ago, I purchased a lovely silky red dress that I just loved. Form-fitting and sexy, I loved finding excuses to wear it. The only ‘flaw’ was that I needed to add a bit more help to the upper portion—more than I normally need to add. (Sorry, this is my blog and I can talk about my less-than-endowed form if I want.)

Ten years ago, I brought it to Scotland with me hoping that I’d have a chance to wear it. Then I met Paul and I figured I’d get the chance. And I did. And he loved it. And over the years, I’ve pulled it out again for special occasions.

The last time I wore it was Easter 2009—just two weeks before Paul died. I remember standing there wondering what to wear for church, and he pulled that little red dress out. After all, he said, with a light sweater it would be more than appropriate for Sunday Mass. And when we got home and began making our Sunday lunch, he told me how beautiful I was in that dress.

So, when I packed my bags to return to Scotland last summer, I couldn’t help but to pack the dress; even though I didn’t know if I’d ever get a chance to wear it. And, to be honest, I’ve felt a bit soft and gooey the last several weeks, having not been running but still eating as if I’m training for a marathon!

Anyhow, I wanted to wear something pretty for my birthday later this month and I thought about that dress. And, well, I tried it on with a bit of trepidation because I knew that if it was too snug I’d be upset.

But it fit rather nicely. In fact, I could eat a few extra meals in between now and my birthday and it would still fit! (Though I will still need to add a bit of help to the upper portion; some things never change!)

I am very happy about this little victory. And I know that I’ve just bragged about how a dress that I bought when I was 26 years old still fits me today—just days shy of being 38—but I run and try to stay quite active. (And if this was a pair of jeans, it would be a different story. Dresses are just more forgiving for bum-and-thigh weight gain!)

Now… what am I going to do about shoes and an evening handbag? I guess I’ll need to see what sort of fun stuff they have at the charity shops!

Booking courage

OK, so you know how I said I was going to treat myself to a wee trip for my birthday this year? The idea really came to me out of the blue. I was thinking about my birthday and realised that I couldn’t bear the thought of being alone on it yet again. At the same time, I didn’t want a party or a fuss or anything else.

So I decided that I needed to ‘run away’ for the day. I needed to make plans for myself so that I had an excuse for not doing anything else. And that’s when I remembered that there was this sweetie shop in Crieff that I’ve long wanted to visit. A few Google searches later and I started to think I could stitch a quick trip together.

At first, I wasn’t going to say anything to anyone. I was just going to be gone on my birthday. But then I started to panic. I started to get a lump in my throat at the idea of being alone on my birthday. I panicked at the idea of checking into a hotel alone and dining alone and just wandering around alone.

But I knew I needed to do it. Which led to an announcement on Facebook. And once I’d made the announcement there, I started to really come around to the idea. Which is when I told you, Dear Reader, about my plans. You see, once I say I’m going to do something, I have to do it. My ego would feel bruised otherwise. So, now I have to do it!

Here’s the plan: I’m going to take a coach from Stirling to Crieff the morning of my birthday, where I will stay at the Crieff Hydo Hotel. Once I drop my bag off at the hotel, I will wander into town to visit Gordon and Durward’s Sweet Shop. (Oh yes, I’m going to spend my birthday being a kid in a candy shop!) From there, I will head over to the Glenturret distillery for a wee whisky tour and tasting session. (I must book that tour soon!)

Then it will be back to the hotel for dinner. I haven’t decided what I’ll wear (I will dress up though) but, thanks to online menus, I have decided what I’ll eat. Yes, I’ll be having the salmon starter, a steak dinner, and the cheese plate for afters. I think I’ll get myself a little cake and one of those small bottles of bubbles for back in my room, too.

Of course, saying I’m going to do it doesn’t mean anything until I start booking my journey, right? And so, I’ve just booked my hotel. And I guess that means I’m really going to do it! Yes, I’m sure that I will panic a few times in between now and then—I might even panic when I’m there—but I will go and I will enjoy myself. After all, the Old Frances used to really enjoy solo travel. And since the New Frances is a solo person, she’d best get used to doing thing solo once again!

Birthday annoucement

This will be a short post (lucky you!) and serves two purposes: 1) To get me back in the habit of regular posts and 2) To announce that I think I’ve made plans for my birthday.

On the regular posting side, this will make four days in a row. Which isn’t a record for me by any means, but since I’ve been a bit remiss in posting, it’s one of the best runs I’ve had in a while.

On the birthday side, I’ve decided to take myself out of town for my birthday. I generally hate my birthday and try to just ignore it all together. I also feel a bit lonely and depressed when travelling solo these days. So, I’ve decided to try to break both of those cycles this year.

I’ll fill you in on my celebration plans later, but I wanted to make the announcement now so that I can’t back out. Which means that I am now under obligation to go and enjoy myself (and blog about it) so that I don’t let you down. (And that will serve as my motivation if my insecurities start creeping in.)

Oh! And tomorrow is Burns’ Night. And that means a food post can be expected. (Well, maybe that will wait until the next day. Depends on how many toasts to Rabbie are made!)

A lesson in carols

Being a guest in someone’s home at Christmas means the joy of participating in the traditions of the family. It’s a chance to experience new things and to learn new lessons. In fact, today’s tradition shared was a lesson, indeed. A lesson in carols, that is.

A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols is a radio programme recorded at the King’s College Chapel in Cambridge. It has run since 1918 and is the traditional start to Christmas for Rebecca’s family. As I sat there curled up in a chair, the fire crackling on the other side of the room, I listened with joy as the readings were read and the carols were sung. I don’t know if future Christmases will include a lesson in carols, but I am glad to have had the opportunity to participate in what is obviously an important part of someone’s Christmas tradition today.

Then, after the programme we enjoyed a light Christmas Even meal before Rebecca and I headed off to Midnight Mass (held at 8 o’clock, funnily enough) where we got to do some carol singing of our own. Because, after all, as a Good Catholic Girl, I can’t pass on my tradition of Christmas Eve Mass.

So, how about you? Are there any new traditions you’re participating in this year?

More than gifts

It’s Christmas Eve already. Wow! It seems to have jumped up out of nowhere. But, I am pleased to say that I have all of my shopping done. And I’m pleased to say that a couple of unsuspected gifts have arrived for me from America, too.

Yesterday was spent shopping and wrapping and truffle making—with a bit of time devoted to drinking mulled wine. And now, today, I am nearly ready for tomorrow. I just need to drizzle some white chocolate on the truffles.

But it’s not just about the shopping and the truffles and the wine and the gifts. No, Christmas is more than that. It’s a time to celebrate the birth of my Saviour, Jesus Christ. This is a very important time of year for me, and even though I may not speak of it often, I am humbled to walk through this life with Christ by my side.

I wish you all the merriest of Christmases—whether you’re celebrating the birth of Christ or just the gathering of family and friends. I hope your hearts are filed with joy!

For a child is born to us, a son is given us…
~ Isaiah 9:5

A thankful weekend

Well, my Scottish Thanksgiving weekend has come to a close. Yes, the original planning process was difficult, and I found myself having to make do with all sorts of things to pull it off, but I think I can fairly call it a success.

The weekend began on Friday with some food prep followed by dinner and drinks with Rebecca. Then Saturday saw me waking early to get the meal ready. I chopped and sliced and diced and mixed for quite some time before it was all ready to go. In fact, by the time Rebecca showed up to help, I was nearly done which meant that we got to sit around and chat instead of run around and cook.

Our additional guests showed up within a few minutes of each other—Martin first followed by Paul and Eleanor with their wee girl. It was one of those wonderful moments where a home goes from quiet to filled with laughter as Rebecca and Martin greeting Paul and Eleanor for the first time in 20 years. (It was my first time meeting them.)

It was a fun-filled evening as I shared my Thanksgiving with my guests—their first Thanksgiving. And, I’m pleased to say, everyone seemed to genuinely enjoy themselves.

By the time this morning came around, my mood went from elevated to deflated as I marked what should have been My Paul’s 50th birthday. But I was cheered on and distracted by a visit from Rebecca this morning (who also did the lion’s share of the clean-up whilst I sat in the living room drinking my coffee) followed by an afternoon trip to The Burgh Coffeehouse.

Now I’m sitting here for these final few hours of the weekend working on an essay for school and revelling in the high points of the weekend.

And now you can see some of those high points! I admit it’s not a full photo account of the weekend because I was having too much fun to think about taking constant photos, but I hope this selection helps to show you what a fab weekend it was.

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Fifty years ago

Fifty years ago, a great man was born. Today is a guarded celebration of that fact; guarded, because Paul’s not here to join in the merriment. There is no cake. There are no balloons. There isn’t a stack of cards or a pile of presents. But there are happy memories of the years we shared in amongst the tears I’ve shed over the years we lost. He may be gone, but he’ll never be forgotten.

Even on the days I cry for you, I still remember all of the laughter we shared. I love ya, luv. x

He’s getting younger

Today is my Daddy’s 67th birthday. And you may not believe it (unless you know him) but he just keeps getting younger and younger every year. Or maybe it’s that as each year goes by he realises that life is for living so he goes and lives it.

He’s an inspiration. And the bestest Daddy a girl could ask for.

Happy birthday, Dad. I hope that you have an amazingly-childish year!

A cunning plan

Sometimes, no matter how much thought goes into plans, things don’t work out. From Daedalus and Icarus’ attempt at building wings to escape from Crete to Windows Vista, history is full of failed attempts—despite the extreme cunningness of the plans.

In my own life, there have been countless failed plans. My plans to join the United States Marine Corps were scuppered by kidney disease. My plans to be happily married with a couple of kids in tow were destroyed by widowhood. My plans to be financially comfortable were ruined (temporarily?) by a self-inflicted change of plans that included quitting my job, moving to Scotland, and going to graduate school. And my plans to rule the world have yet to really get off the ground at all.

But despite knowing that plans don’t always work out, I still find myself planning. Planning—and hoping for the best. Even though I know I should be planning and hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst.

The last couple of weeks have seen me rather upset over plans that haven’t quite worked out. In fact, the last couple of weeks have seen multiple attempts for the same general plan fail. You see, I had hoped to host a full-on Thanksgiving dinner in my new flat for some people I know. But the first round of invitees had to cancel (which they did in plenty of time) so I had to re-think my plans. Which meant another invitation to some friends from out of town, but they were unable to make it. And other people I thought of inviting already had plans, too. (Totally understandable.)

The realisation that Thanksgiving was going to be a shadow of the holiday I hoped for meant a slightly upset conversation with my friend, Rebecca, where I mentioned just not doing anything at all, but it also meant that she helped me come up with a new plan—and a back-up plan for if the new plan failed. Sadly, by yesterday, I realised that the new plan was going to fail, too, which meant that poor Rebecca got to listen to me cry and cry over how I’m actually dreading next weekend because my most favoured holiday isn’t going to be anything like what I wanted it to be.

My tears were only made worse because it also happens to be ‘what would have been’ Paul’s 50th birthday weekend. And I honestly don’t know how I’m going to keep my sanity and composure knowing that he’s not around to share in the celebration of Thanksgiving (a holiday that he learned to love, despite being British and a vegetarian!) or his birthday.

Now, in fairness, another one of my friends was planning to be there and even made several complicated arrangements to ensure his availability. And he wasn’t too happy when I said that I might scrap the plans all together because it seemed silly to make a full-on Thanksgiving feast for three people—especially when two weren’t even American and one would be making an extremely large effort to be there. So it’s not like no one wanted to come and celebrate with me.

And so, after having a good cry that resulted in soggy sleeves because God forbid I carry a handkerchief when I actually need one, Rebecca and I came up with a new plan—a plan that includes a nice dinner out next Friday for the two of us and a ‘Silly Thanksgiving’ for the Saturday for anyone who might be able to show up. We won’t do a full-on meal, but all the important things will be there. You know, like olives for everyone’s fingers. Less pressure (maybe) and (hopefully) a good distraction for me. Well, that’s the plan anyhow …

I know that my emotional response is less about the plans not working out and more about the grief that comes from knowing that Paul isn’t here to celebrate with me, but that doesn’t make it easier to put those emotions in a box. They’re there haunting me. But I also know that even if the latest set of plans don’t work out the way I hope, that it’s OK for me to be upset and emotional. Now if I could just come up with a cunning plan for getting past those sad emotions and going straight to the happy ones.

Not quite the answer

Today is my eldest sister’s birthday. Yep. The big something-or-other. I’ll give you a hint: She’s a year shy of being the answer to life, the universe, and everything. (More hints can be found here.)

I don’t know if it’s fair for me to post a happy birthday message to her since I’ve neglected to do so for three of the other four this year, but who said life was fair? Maybe next year I will succeed in public birthday greetings for all of my sisters. Stick around to find out.

Happy birthday, Veronica!

(And apologies for stealing this photo from your Facebook page, but it made me smile.)

Music lessons; take three

When my foster daughter first came to stay with me, we fell into a habit of listening to the radio on the drives to and from town, about 30 miles away. We both liked country, so it worked for us. Then in the evenings I would put some jazz or a bit of Christy Moore or Mary Black on the Bose. The kid didn’t care for the jazz but seemed to like the Irish tunes so that became our pattern.

Then one day in October I brought my “The Best Scottish Album in the World…Ever” CD out to the car and we discovered that she loved much of that music.

Soon, we were listening to The Paperboys and The Waterboys. Then we added The Clumsy Lovers and The Saw Doctors. And she loved it all. Really, really loved it.

So when I started thinking about what to get her for her birthday in July, it was an easy decision: An iPod filled with her new favourite tunes.

I gave her the gift a couple of days ago because she is leaving for her new home on the east coast tomorrow morning and I won’t get to see her on her birthday. And it would be fair to say that she loved the gift—especially the engraving on the back that says “[Name] is 100% awesome.”

It’s really going to be hard to say goodbye tomorrow, but I hope that she’ll think of me with happy thoughts when she hears the music she was introduced to during our time together. I know that I will never think of The Paperboys without thinking of the kid, that’s for sure!

I do love teaching kids about music! See what I taught my niece, Flik, here or check out her brother, Haden’s, music lesson!

Something-9

Today is my baby sister’s 29th birthday. And in about a month’s time my second-eldest sister will turn 39.

And it makes me realise that women (men, too?) work so hard to avoid their 30th and 40th birthdays—well, most decade birthdays past 20 I imagine. But if you think about it, being 29 or 39 or 49 (etc) really sucks because no one will believe you. People think you’re a liar when you say you are something-9 years old.

Here’s how it works:

Someone says: ‘Hey! Happy birthday, Royann! How old are you today?’

She says: ‘I’m 29!’

And they think: ‘Yeah, yeah. 29 and holding… I wonder how many years she’s been 29!?’

And it works like that because of people like our eldest sister (and others; please know this isn’t just a Cook Girl thing) claimed that she stopped aging at 29. Yep, Veronica denied (with pride) turning 30—and kept the 29 number going for a few years. Certainly she knew that everyone knew she was lying, but it’s a socially acceptable lie so she kept telling it. (To confirm: She turned 40 last year. I don’t know if she has admitted that publically or not, but it’s true.)

When I turned 29 I hated telling people how old I was. I hated it because I just know that people were thinking ‘Yeah, right!’. I was so relieved to be 30. (Which helped because I could have still passed as mid- to late-20s if I wanted to.)

So poor Royann (29) and Claudia (nearly 39) will for the next year be thought of as liars when they tell someone how old they are. Bummer.

Even worse is knowing that I’ll have that agony soon, too. But I think that in two years’ time, when I’m meant to be turning 39, I’ll just skip that year and go straight to 40. Much easier that way I think.

Oh! And if you wondered, Celeste is now 35 and Jessica is now 33. I figure if I’m going to be in trouble for telling you how old some sisters are, I may as well jump fully into the flames with all of their ages!

But here’s the thing: Us Cook Girls are so incredibly beautiful and youthful looking that if we admit our actual ages people will say: ‘Oh, my! You look so young! So beautiful. So youthful. I wish I could be as gorgeous as a Cook Girl!’ (Or something like that…)

(Happy birthday, Royann! I really will believe you when you say you’re 29. Well, for the next year anyhow.)

[Photo credits to Royann.]

Her Majesty’s big day

It’s Friday, April 29, 2011. It’s a date that will be remembered around the world as a commoner weds a prince in a faraway land.

But, more importantly, it’s my mommy’s birthday. And because I don’t really mind my age being shared with the world, I will go out on a limb here and tell you that it’s her 64th birthday.

Now, I think it would be fair to say that Mom is very, very [censored] off that her day has been overshadowed by the royal nuptials. I can’t really blame her for that, since I’m a bit sick of hearing about the wedding, too.

To make up for her spoiled day, I’m sending a big shout-out for the whole world to read. Well, the extremely small portion of the world that reads my blog anyhow.

Happy birthday, Mom!

(I should note here that I’ve failed to post Mom’s birthday card. So it will be late. Sadly, my nephew, Adrian, turns 12 tomorrow and his card hasn’t been posted either. I’m really slacking!!)

With this ring

The last thing I expected from Paul when we took a mini-break to Venice back in spring 2004 was an engagement ring. I mean, I thought we were heading that way, but I didn’t expect the question right then. (But I said yes without skipping a beat!)

I remember the feeling of pride looking at that ring in the year in between our engagement and our wedding. And I remember the immense feelings of joy when my engagement ring was joined with a wedding band.

Paul and I would sit curled up on the couch together sometimes just looking at our rings. We would smile when we’d hold hands and our bands would clink together. Sometimes, we’d just clink them together for the sound—and we’d giggle and beam with joy. (I know: Extremely sappy! Funnily, we’d have mocked others for doing the same thing; which is why we only did it in the privacy of our own home.)

We were going to wear our rings forever—until death do us part and all that. And we were young(ish) and healthy and planned to live a very, very long time. So you can imagine the heartbreak when less than four years later Paul’s ring was removed from his finger in the funeral home. When it was handed to me, I slipped it onto my finger where it remained until yesterday.

In the beginning, I told myself that I would wear all three rings forever. I felt a connection of sorts with them there together. The diamond setting on my engagement ring kept Paul’s wedding band securely in place, but because it was so much bigger than my finger, the ring would clink and clank around when I moved my hand. I found a bit of morbid comfort in that sound.

But, also from the beginning, I knew that my wearing his ring made others uncomfortable. Some people even made comments about it being time to remove my rings—and after the ‘one year mark’ a couple people were quite adamant that it was time to do so. But I wasn’t ready. (I wanted to ask them how long they’d worn their rings after losing their spouse, but I didn’t think that they’d see the ironic humour in the question, since their spouses were still living.)

Later, I decided that maybe it was time I set aside the rings—despite the fact that I wasn’t ready. I thought that maybe it would be symbolic or something. So I started looking at ‘widow rings’ since I’d been hearing so much about them. But the thought of setting my wedding rings aside for a black diamond to symbolize the end of my marriage seemed wrong. Very, very wrong.

So instead I started to research nice claddagh bands. Something that would be meaningful to me, but not [hopefully] elicit questions like a black diamond on my wedding finger would cause. Something substantial that could replace all three rings. But nothing seemed good enough.

The urgency to find a new ring became clear a couple of months ago when I noticed that the rings were starting to get a bit worn because they were clinking together all the time. I became concerned that it would soon ruin the setting on my engagement ring, or potentially the diamond itself. And I could already see how the platinum was wearing.

Then a couple of weeks ago—after a considerable amount of research and soul-searching—I finally ordered a new ring. A simple band with a claddagh engraved in the metal. I decided that it would be my birthday gift to myself.

But when it came in the post a few days ago, I realised that I wasn’t actually ready or willing to give up wearing my rings. So I tried on the new ring with my wedding set and felt that I could live with that. But I wasn’t ready to make the commitment just yet, so I put the new band away and put Paul’s ring back on my finger.

Yesterday morning when I woke up, I opened the box with the new ring once again and stared at it, wondering if I could actually bring myself to remove Paul’s ring for good. I felt so torn, but I knew that I needed to put this new ring on my finger. So I placed it in between Paul’s ring and mine and wore it that way for a couple of hours.

Finally, after I’d taken my foster daughter to day care, I thought I’d give it a shot without Paul’s ring. I removed all of the rings and placed Paul’s on top of his jewellery box before putting the new ring and my wedding rings back on. Then I went to take a shower. And I cried and cried and cried.

It dawned on me that we put so much ceremony into placing an engagement ring or wedding ring on our fingers, but there isn’t a ceremony to mark their removal. After all, there is nothing to celebrate, is there?

I don’t know how I really feel about removing Paul’s ring. I know it doesn’t feel good, but I also don’t feel completely hysterical about it, either. I also can’t promise that next week I won’t put Paul’s ring back on my finger. I suppose that I’ll just do whatever feels right.

As for my own wedding rings, I don’t know how long I’ll wear them. When I first put them on I had all intentions of wearing them for the rest of my life. And maybe I will. Or maybe I won’t. But for now, I can’t bear the thought of being without them. After all, in my heart I am still very much married.

Who knew that a simple piece of jewellery could cause so much thought and so much grief!?

Thirty-seven birthday wishes

Today is my 37th birthday. And the birthday girl gets to make wishes. And I don’t believe in the whole “if you tell anyone your wish it won’t come true” malarkey, so I’m sharing my birthday wishes with you—all 37 of them.

I am truly blessed because I know that I have family and friends around the world who will help make so many of my birthday wishes come true. Thank you, everyone, for being part of my life!

I wish for:

  • A year where I am happy and carefree
  • Good health
  • Good health for my family and friends
  • My nieces and nephews to have all of their dreams come true
  • Schrodie to be happy with Flik, my amazing niece who will [hopefully] be taking over service to the cat when I leave for Scotland
  • The confidence to know that I’m making the right decisions in my life
  • The strength to carry on when things seem hopeless
  • The ability to forgive others graciously
  • Composure when I’m facing upsetting situations
  • Laughter when I can’t stop crying
  • Laughter for no reason at all
  • Friends who support me
  • Friends who allow me to support them
  • The ability to laugh at my mistakes
  • More empathy and sympathy when dealing with the struggles of others
  • My foster daughter to have a bright and happy future filled with love and security
  • Children around the world to be safe and secure, without fear of abandonment or starvation
  • The ability to be kind even to the cruelest of people
  • Patience and understanding in all situations
  • An end to wars and strife and struggles around the world
  • A world filled with love and acceptance
  • The courage to always do what is right, even when it’s not popular
  • The enthusiasm needed to succeed in school
  • The knowledge and intelligence needed to succeed in school
  • The humility to accept my faults
  • The esteem to love myself despite my faults
  • The acceptance to love others despite their faults
  • The health to complete my first [and last?] marathon in October
  • The good sense to not make myself ill by pushing myself too hard
  • The faith to remember that God is there beside me even when I feel abandoned
  • Good fortunes in love and happiness for my family and friends
  • Good fortunes in employment and wealth for my family and friends
  • My days to be filled with child-like wonderment and laughter
  • Days where I laugh so hard that my sides ache
  • Good friends to celebrate my joys with
  • Good friends to commiserate my sorrows with
  • And a windfall of money so that I don’t have to stress about my finances for the next year (Come on, you didn’t think all of my wishes were going to be for sunshine and happiness, did you?)

The making of a bad day

It’s Friday night and the start of my three-day birthday weekend. But I’m anything but happy about it. I have to admit that it’s been a bit of a crummy day.

The bad day started this morning when the massage appointment I’d scheduled for my birthday was cancelled, which wouldn’t have been too bad if it weren’t for the fact that the birthday appointments I’d made for a manicure, pedicure, and facial were all cancelled yesterday.

Then I went to meet with an accountant to take care of my taxes. I knew going in that it would be upsetting, but it was worse than I thought. First, I had to file as single. Single. That in itself was heartbreaking. And because I only had my foster daughter for five months of the tax year, I can’t claim her, which is OK since I’m reimbursed from the state so it’s not like I’m out of pocket for her care on top of it all.

But what it ends up meaning is that I am filing as a single, childless woman with a middle-class income. And that means I pay a lot of taxes! (Thanks to a higher pay check deduction I will get a small refund—but it’s very small!)

I can’t begin to explain the blow to my entire being to be filing as a single, childless woman when I know that if my life went according to plan I would be ticking the box “Married filing jointly” and putting a “2” in for the number of dependants.

Of course, because things tend to come in threes, part of my misery is thanks to a self-inflicted friend conflict. Or is that ex-friend conflict because I am the one who suggested to my friend that we stop being friends the other day? Either way, the stress is getting to me because I’m so torn over the entire situation.*

I expect tomorrow to be a hard day because I’m sorting through some of Paul’s things. But I’m hoping that Sunday is OK. As for Monday, well, I’ve never had good luck with my birthdays so I’m not going to hold my breath, but I’ll still hold out hope that my 37th year begins with more joy than my 36th year seems to be ending with …

* I have to wonder if I’m super upset about the dissolution of the friendship because of all of the other stresses I’m feeling or if I’ve caused the dissolution of the friendship because of my inability to handle other stresses. I guess it may always be a sort of chicken-and-egg thing.

100 random things

My friend posted a list of 100 random things her daughter wrote about herself out of boredom and I thought I’d give it a shot and create my own list. So, if you’re not already bored, this should help…

100 Random Things about Just Frances

  1. I am the preantepenultimate Cook Girl.
  2. I enjoy showing off my vocabulary skills.
  3. I cringe when I see incorrect grammar, spelling, and punctuation. But I only correct errors when I’m being paid to do so. [To clarify: I generally correct the errors in my mind, but only tell people of the errors when I’m paid or otherwise requested to do so.]
  4. I think that demonstrating the ability to change a vehicle’s tires and oil should be a compulsory part of passing a drivers’ license test.
  5. I wear glasses and will never get eye surgery because I like that the glasses obscure the fact that I don’t wear makeup.
  6. I’m a distance runner. (Well, I dabble in the sport at least.)
  7. I am Catholic.
  8. I joined the school cross country team because the coach asked me after church in front of my dad and the priest. How could I say no?
  9. I have never felt at home in my hometown.
  10. I am proud of my small town red neck roots.
  11. I found my true place of belonging in Scotland nearly 10 years ago.
  12. I am returning to Scotland later this year!!
  13. I am rubbish at math[s] and I don’t care.
  14. I am correct handed (also known as left handed).
  15. I believe that there is a conspiracy in the works by right-handers who are jealous of us amazing lefties. Even pens are made with righties in mind! (But not all of them!)
  16. I have hazel eyes that are more on the green end of the spectrum, but wish that I had truly green eyes.
  17. I pretend to be happy even when I’m sad.
  18. I can’t fake tears; I’ve tried.
  19. I am dyslexic. (Yet I edit things for a living. Ironic!)
  20. I had speech therapy as a child.
  21. I am the co-inventor of the term SUBS Syndrome and hope that one day the term is widely used to describe the condition of sudden, uncontrollable bursts of sarcasm.
  22. I honestly believe that the media is helping to perpetuate ignorance in our society. The biggest culprit being the “news” media.
  23. My master’s degree will be in media and culture, so I’ll get to do a lot of research on this very issue!
  24. I once sang on stage with Pat Benatar who was opening at the Gorge Amphitheatre for the Steve Miller Band. Really. True story.
  25. I’m a little bit country and a little bit rock-n-roll all at once.
  26. I like candy, but I could live without chocolate.
  27. I love to fly!
  28. I prefer the aisle seat on airplanes.
  29. I say a prayer asking God to guide the hands of the crew and to keep us safe in our journey; and I ask that if His plans don’t include our survival that He comfort our loved ones. I do this for every take off and landing because something compels me to.
  30. I try to order low-sodium meals on the plane and drink lots of water so that I’m refreshed and non-puffy when I arrive. I even wash my face 2-3 times on long flights to/from the UK. I think it helps the jetlag. But that might not be true.
  31. I can’t decide which movies I like better: The Godfather series or the Monty Python movies.
  32. I have polycystic kidney disease. It’s a genetic condition with no cure. But some smart people are working to find a cure!
  33. I have a blood disease called idiopathic thrombocytopenia purpura. Even the haematologists who study it don’t know much about it. Which sucks for me.
  34. Despite my medical maladies, I think I’m mostly healthy.
  35. I dream that my doctor will one day say “To live a long and healthy life you must eat lots of good steak and salty, deep-fried foods, drink lots of wine, and smoke.” Of course, if I hear those words I know it’s time to find a new doctor.
  36. I cry myself to sleep at least once a week.
  37. I recently ended a friendship that I didn’t want to end. I’m sure it will be one of the reasons I cry myself to sleep over the next few weeks.
  38. I haven’t slept through the night since Paul died.
  39. I sometimes wonder if I’ll ever sleep well again.
  40. I thought that I was ugly growing up because one of my sisters told me over and over again that I was. (Funny, we all look alike!)
  41. I thought that I was stupid growing up because a couple of my teachers said I was.
  42. As an adult, I’ve learned to love myself and know that I’m good looking and intelligent.
  43. One of my Paul’s friends told me that I’m a great person and I’ll find someone new when I’m ready—but that I’d have better luck if I’d dumb it down a bit. (Said person has likely never been married for a reason.)
  44. Several of Paul’s friends have become my friends and I don’t think I could have survived the world without him without them.
  45. I didn’t go on my first date until I was 20 years old.
  46. I married my first true love.
  47. We were a month shy of our 4th anniversary when he died.
  48. I try to be happy and enjoy life because I know it’s what Paul wants for me.
  49. I sometimes think that I’ll meet someone new and fall in love and get married again and I know that Paul would be OK with that. But I can’t be bothered to date because no one is good enough for me.
  50. Thinking that no one was good enough for me is what gave me a reputation for being an overly-picky dater in my 20s.
  51. Being an overly-picky dater meant that when I did land a man, I got the best one on the market!
  52. A stupid woman once told me that the reason I can’t have kids is that God thinks I’d be a bad mom.
  53. I have been a foster mom for a little over six months now—so at least the State of Washington thinks I’d be a good mom!
  54. Paul and I planned to adopt two adorable children before he died.
  55. Sometimes I’m heartbroken that I may never get to be someone’s mom.
  56. I have 17 nieces and nephews and 2 great nephews.
  57. It irritates some of my sisters that their children want to be so much like me.
  58. I’ve had green hair. And pink, purple, blue, yellow, orange, jet-black, and bleach-blonde. Sometimes multiple colours all at once!
  59. My favourite colour is green.
  60. My first car was a 1978 Ford Granada.
  61. My friends and I sanded it down, primed it black, and then painted a big yellow smiley face on the hood and flowers and peace signs all over the body. It was awesome.
  62. I passed my driving test on the first try.
  63. I taught Paul how to drive.
  64. I’ve taught some of my nieces and nephews how to shift gears. (But please don’t tell their moms!)
  65. I have a fascination with butterflies and have since I was a young child.
  66. I have a butterfly tattoo.
  67. I played clarinet in the school band.
  68. I am training for the Loch Ness Marathon.
  69. I am a Pisces.
  70. I was born in the Year of the Tiger.
  71. I don’t believe in astrology stuff.
  72. I will be 37 years old on Monday.
  73. I don’t really like to make a fuss about my birthday.
  74. I have read dictionaries and encyclopaedias for entertainment since I was in junior high.
  75. I don’t like romance novels because they make me uncomfortable.
  76. My friends think I am a prude.
  77. I try never to use profanity because I think it’s vulgar and shows a lack of respect. (But sometimes it slips out in a heated moment of upset.)
  78. I taught myself how to knit and crochet but can only make basic things like scarves and afghans.
  79. I like root beer.
  80. I don’t really care for Coke or Pepsi.
  81. When I was in my late-teens and early-20s, I’d hang out at the local 24-hour diner with my friends drinking coffee and eating cheesy fries with ranch dressing. It was awesome!
  82. I am considered a computer and gadget geek by my family and friends.
  83. I love Doctor Who, but I hate SciFi.
  84. I define SciFi as anything I don’t like.
  85. I always like to have the best gadgets in the room. Sadly, some of my new friends are gadget geeks with better incomes so this is hard to do now.
  86. I love my family.
  87. I am going to miss my cat, Schrodie, so much when I move to Scotland.
  88. I am going to miss my family so much when I move to Scotland.
  89. I used to have Mork & Mindy suspenders (braces) when I was a kid and I wish I still had them now.
  90. I loved Weebles as a child. They were awesome they way they weebled and wobbled but didn’t fall down!
  91. I always wanted tassels on my handlebars when I was a kid. But not so much that I got them as an adult.
  92. My favourite toys growing up were a telescope, a microscope, a rocket kit, and an electric circuit board kit.
  93. I don’t like gold-coloured jewellery.
  94. I like dirty martinis with extra olives.
  95. I drink my coffee strong and black with no sugar.
  96. I am excited about starting grad school in September.
  97. I am afraid that I am ruining myself financially by going to grad school.
  98. I am convinced that going to grad school will fix me emotionally and mentally.
  99. I am excited about my future for the first time since Paul died.
  100. I feel guilty for being happy about this new life, even though I know Paul would be happy for me.

Wow! That was hard! Are you still reading? You deserve an award for that!!

Edited to add: Since folks have been asking where/what their award is, I feel it’s fair (OK, not fair but cheap) for me to say the award is knowing me that little bit better. Sorry it’s so lame! (But thanks for reading!)

Fannies and haggis

The second annual “Freeze Your Fanny and Burns’ Supper Extravaganza” weekend is officially over and I think it was a great success! There were 18 of us for dinner all together and everyone seemed to enjoy the haggis!

I realize that there is so much to say about such a fun-filled weekend, but rather than a big story, I’ll just give some of the highlights then you can check out the photo gallery and YouTube videos for more details. So, here’s how the weekend went:

  • Most everyone arrived Friday evening and we had a blast playing games and visiting.
  • My 11-year-old nephews, Haden and Adrian, and I ran the Freeze Your Fanny 5K on Saturday morning where Haden took 2nd place in his age group and Adrian took 3rd. This was Haden’s second time running the race and Adrian’s first-ever race. (Final times: Haden: 30:04; Adrian: 33:04; Me: 36:50, which isn’t bad since I’d just come off bed rest and took it easy.)
  • Flik and Dad had a Scrabble re-match where, though Daddy won, Flik showed a vast improvement to her skills. (Final score: 226 – 281)
  • Various sisters, uncles, and nieces hiked Kamiak Butte on Saturday and Sunday.
  • Celeste, believe it or not, hiked Kamiak twice in one day!
  • Jessica won the Hula Hoop competition.
  • With all of the food served throughout the weekend, I didn’t wash a single dish! (Thanks to my awesome sisters!)
  • I also didn’t peel any neeps or tatties!
  • Everyone tried the haggis and most had at least a second serving if not a third. In fact, many people even had fried haggis for breakfast on Sunday!
  • Saturday’s dinner ended with Flik playing Auld Lang Syne on her trumpet.
  • Sunday ended with my foster daughter very upset over saying goodbye to her new best friend, my niece Cassandra. (They’ll meet again, for sure!)
  • We laughed and laughed and laughed and had a lot and a lot and a lot of fun all weekend long! (Except for the goodbye tears.)

Check out photos from the weekend here!

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And check out some fun videos from the weekend below!

Merry Christmas

Today I celebrate the birth of My Lord, My Saviour; Jesus Christ.

May the joy of the season be with you today and throughout the year.

Silent Night
by Joseph Mohr

Silent night, holy night
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon Virgin Mother and Child
Holy Infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace

Silent night, holy night!
Shepherds quake at the sight
Glories stream from heaven afar
Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!
Christ, the Saviour is born
Christ, the Saviour is born

Silent night, holy night
Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth

No-bake cookies

I remember the first time I made no-bake cookies for Paul. He came home from work, looked at the plate of cookies on the kitchen counter and made sounds of disgust. Those sounds were louder when I told him what was in them.

Later that evening we sat on the couch watching a movie and I brought a cookie through for me. I begged him to just try one bite, which he reluctantly did. Then he asked for another and another until he’d eaten more than half of my cookie.

By the end of the evening, Paul was feeling a bit ill because he’d eaten about five of the things!

Soon, no-bake cookies were a regular request.

I didn’t feel like baking a cake today, but wanted to make something nice to enjoy as I toast Paul’s birthday later this evening. It’s going to be strange not having to fight Paul for the last one. (Though I always let him win that fight.)

No-Bake Cookies

½ cup butter (115g)
2 cups sugar (450g)
½ cup milk (120ml)

Boil for two minutes

Add:
¼ cup peanut butter (65g)
6 tablespoons cocoa powder (4 tablespoons)
3 cups oats (270g)
1 teaspoon vanilla (5ml)

Mix together then spoon mixture onto wax paper to cool

Enjoy!

A birthday remembered

Today isn’t what it’s meant to be. Instead of me baking a cake for Paul’s 49th birthday, I’m stuck remembering that he only made it as far as 47. Instead of him opening cards and presents with the excitement of a small child, I’m left wondering what I would have gotten for him if he was here.

Happy birthday doesn’t seem like the right sentiment today and a celebration isn’t right, either. So, I’m left just to remember how amazing Paul was. And he really, really was an amazing man.

I love ya, luv. And I miss you much; today and every day. xx

Happy 235th birthday, USMC!

Since 1775, the United States Marine Corps has been winning battles and defending our nation.

On what marks the 235th birthday of the Corps, I want to say that I am proud to be the daughter of two amazing Marines. I am proud of my amazing niece who is serving our country today. I am proud of all my family and friends who’ve served in the past and who will serve in the future.

Thank you for your service and thank you for protecting my freedoms.

God bless the USA

On July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress of the United States of America signed the Declaration of Independence, announcing their departure from the rule of Great Britain.

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…

It was an act of disobedience; an act of war. Some would say war against an absent king; some would say war against ourselves.

It was an act of bravery; an act of independence. It was the first step in the creation of the truly great United States of America. And today, across the nation, we celebrate our freedoms.

In the words of the great Lee Greenwood:

And I’m proud to be an American
where at least I know I’m free,
And I won’t forget the men who died
who gave that right to me,
And I gladly stand up next to you
and defend her still today,
‘Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land
God Bless the USA

Have a happy and safe Independence Day!

American pride

As I was getting ready to head to the homeland for 4th of July weekend, I realized it was high time I switched out handbags. As I’d need to bring my camera and my iPod and loads of candy for the nieces and nephews, I knew it would need to be a slightly larger bag. Opening my handbag closet (yes, I have one) I knew in an instant which one it would need to be.

I got this bag at a funky little shop right next to Fopp on Cockburn Street in Edinburgh. (That’s Co-Burn for my fellow Americans who feel the need to say it out loud – unless you want to be laughed at. Trust me.) It’s one of my “holiday” bags – which is a selection of bags that will carry more than my normal, minimal amount of junk. That way I can put little souvenirs in as I’m wandering around whatever great place I’m visiting and don’t have to worry about my hands getting full.

When I switch out bags, I will often leave little bits in the old one that aren’t needed. I often smile as I go through that rubbish months later because it’s a bit of a history lesson. In this case, I can be pretty certain that the last time I used this bag was late-November or early-December 2008. I know this because there are hand-written notes that I took whilst speaking with our social worker about a couple of young kids that were ready for adoption (sadly, we were not the right match for them).

Of course, I also found a small handful of peppermint candies. So they get to stay in the bag and maybe they’ll finally get eaten!

Yep, another pointless post. To make up for it, here’s a fantastic video to get you in the mood for America’s birthday tomorrow!

It’s a party for your head

In honor of the lovely Flik’s 13th birthday tomorrow, I am holding a party for my head* this evening. Oh yes, I am! And I dared – or rather,  DOUBLE-DOG dared – the young (er, I mean, nearly-adult) Flik to do the same.

Flik and her friends, being good sports and loving a good party, took the dare. (It should be noted that Flik doesn’t like to wear her hair any way other than down and in her face. Otherwise, the dare wouldn’t have been needed.)

Happy birthday, Flik! I love ya, luv!

*It is a well-known fact that pigtails are just about as much fun your hair can possibly have. So much fun, in fact, that it’s like a party for your head!

NOTE: After writing this piece I decided to check out one of my favorite word-geek sites and was humored by the last paragraph on the entry explaining the etymology behind double-dog dare.

Aunt Frances

Sixteen years ago I became an aunt when my eldest sister had her first child. I can’t believe that my sister has a kid old enough to drive! Wow! I’m sure it’s more of a shock to that sister, especially as she is still convinced that she’s only 29. (But for those who enjoy a bit of math, I am 36; she’s four years older than me.)

Anyhow, since that first niece entered the world on March 16, 1994, I’ve added several more nieces and nephews to the ranks and am now a proud aunt to 17 nieces and nephews – and one great nephew! (In fairness, nearly half of those are related by marriage.)

This number doesn’t include my little niece who walks with Jesus nor does it include the many kids who call me Aunt Frances – that number would see a Woman Marine added to the ranks, as well as another great niece, and more! (And just because JohnnyO calls me Aunt Frannie doesn’t mean I count him in any of those numbers…)

One of the best things about being an aunt is that several of my nieces and nephews really look up to me and really want to grow up to be like me. (One of my nieces calls me Aunt Awesome! How cool is that?) But better than having those kids look at me as a role model is the knowledge that some of their parents HATE that fact.

I wonder if some of them want to be like me just because they know how much it makes their parents cringe…

Happy birthday to my lovely niece, Vg!

Happy birthday to me

Today is my 36th birthday and to celebrate, I’ve opened a bottle of bubbly and I’m feasting on caviar, wild salmon, and Alaskan king crab. The house is empty, save for me and the cat. There is soft jazz playing in the background and I’m admiring the way the light glistens off of the lovely ring I’m wearing; a birthday present I purchased for myself at Macy*s.

It seems that the last year went by so quickly. On my 35th birthday, I sat right here in this very living room with Paul. It’s strange to think that I only had Paul with me for about two months of my 35th year. And it’s sad to think that I won’t have him at all for my 36th. If he were here, he’d have left a card on the mantle place for me to open when I woke up and he would have bought me the perfect gift – he always did. We would have argued over what to do for the day. I would have wanted to stay home and cook a nice meal; he would have wanted to go out somewhere to celebrate. “I’m not having my wife cook on her birthday,” he would argue.

I had all intentions of sitting around the house doing “nothing” all day but had a last-minute change of heart and instead went to Moscow Wild at Art to decorate some pottery. This was a positive decision for several reasons: 1) It’s not good to sit around and sulk on your birthday; 2) Arts and crafts are great therapy; 3) Spending at least part of your birthday with other humans is always a good idea; and 4) The delay in popping the cork on the bubbly means there won’t be as many Mimosas (Buck’s Fizzes) throughout the day, which means less of a headache tomorrow.

Of course, since my pottery piece of choice was a cat food bowl, and I did a really lousy job at it, Schrodie will not be too pleased that I went and did something. (Goodness, the last time I painted pottery was more than 20 years ago. I feel so old!)

Up next: I’m going to put on my jammies and curl up on the couch for a six-hour EastEnders marathon, enjoyed with a gorgeous piece of mascarpone cheesecake and maybe a big bowl of popcorn. Because it’s my birthday and I can do whatever I want on my birthday.

A day at the spa

I’ve just returned home after enjoying my first-ever spa day. It was pure heaven and I can’t believe that in my nearly 36 years of life I’ve never done it before. In fact, other than haircuts and a couple of years when I had fake nails in my 20s, I never had any treatments at a spa or salon until about two years ago when I got my first facial. My second facial didn’t happen for more than a year after the first. But who cares about then? This is about today…

Can I just say “WOW!”? I started off with a full body treatment (which is essentially head-to-toe exfoliation) and a massage. Then I had my eyebrows shaped (for you men, that’s code for waxed) before having a full-on facial. All of this (except for the eyebrow part) was calming and relaxing. I was able to just rest there in a state of calming bliss while someone else worked to make me beautiful.

Finally, it was time for my manicure and pedicure. These are two treats I’ve been receiving regularly since Paul died. It started because I couldn’t manage the simple task of self-grooming in the early days, but continued because I always feel so wonderfully happy and de-stressed after spending an hour or two being pampered by the lovely Nichelle.

Now I’m home and enjoying a relaxing evening on the couch with Schrodie and feeling beautiful. I’ve rewarded myself with Mimosas and caviar; after all, I was very well behaved all day. I really must treat myself to these little pleasures more often; I deserve it!