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!)

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.

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!

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.

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!

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.

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!

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!

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.

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

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!

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!

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.

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.

 

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.

%%wppa%% %%slide=32%%

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

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.

Freedom of the City

My day started out pretty lazy and I didn’t have plans of leaving the flat until early afternoon. But then I learned that there was a military pipe and drum band making their way through town. Which meant that I needed to get dressed and get a move on my day. And I’m so glad that I did!

The reason for the parade was that the Royal Regiment of Scotland was given the the honour of The Freedom of the City of Stirling. [Read the BBC’s story about the event here.] And since you weren’t able to be there to see it (or were you there and I missed you?) I’m sharing the video I made of the event. Yay!

After the parade finished, I made my way through the Stirling Farmers’ Market to pick up some fresh produce, buffalo steaks, and a bit of smoked cheddar. I even ran into someone from one of my classes and had a nice chat. It’s always nice to run into people I know!

So, now I guess I need to return to my weekend of rest. Yep, it would seem that I have a low platelet count after last weekend’s cold. For those counting, the count was 13. But don’t worry, I’m sure they’re on the upswing again.

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 Lenten poem

I’ve written about Lent and my beliefs in the past (2010; 2011) but try as I may, this year I couldn’t come up with the words. Not because of a lack of faith, but rather because I don’t know what more I can add to the discussion.

And so, I’ve found a poem to share instead, as a way of celebrating this very important day in my spiritual life. I hope that you all have a blessed Lenten season, full of the love and peace, and the salvation of Christ.

A Poem about Lent
by Elena dal Friuli

Jesus prayed and fasted for forty days
In the desert long time ago.
He showed endurance and restraint
With temptation as His foe.

The length of Lent is forty days
For us a time of preparation.
It starts on Wednesday we call Ash
And it ends with Easter’s celebration.

We follow Lent to follow Him
A time of sacrifice and prayer
We give up something we desire
That His example we might share.

By giving up some things in life
During this time of preparation
We show Him that we too are willing
To overcome our own temptation.

Oh, what joy that Lent will bring
At the end of the forty days
When Sunday’s bells will ring
With Resurrection’s praise.

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!)

%%wppa%% %%slide=31%%

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!

An anniversary contest

Two years ago, JustFrances.com entered the blogosphere. Can you believe it!? In that time there have been 572 posts, the writing of which have provided me with great deal of enjoyment and comfort—and have hopefully provided you with some entertainment, too.

As my life continues to change and my readership continues to grow, so has this site. It can be difficult knowing what to write at times because it’s no longer ‘just about me’—there’s an actual audience to consider, too. And more and more, that group is consisting of people I’ve never met. So, I created a short survey to see what people liked and what they wanted more of. The results so far have been positive and encouraging which is awesome! The survey is still active (through February 17), so please feel free to add your input if you haven’t already.

And to show that I’m listening (and to celebrate my second anniversary!) I’m holding a fun contest. The winner of this amazing contest will receive an original swirl drawing, custom made by me for you. Yay!

Here are some samples of the swirls. Click on the thumbnails to see larger versions.

  

  

Entering the contest is as easy as plopping some words into the comment section below as a ‘mini blog post’ for my entertainment. You can share a joke or some inspirational quotes; a short story or memory about your childhood or some silly thing we got up to together; a rant (or rave) about work or life; or just about anything else you think will make a good blog post. As you can see from this blog, the style and tempo of your post can be anything you want!

[If you’re a blogger, you can write a post on your site (but it must be obvious that it’s been written for my entertainment!) then share the link with me in the comments below.]

Now for the fine print. (Sorry, can’t miss that part!)

  1. Entries can be up to 500 words.
  2. The deadline is midnight GMT on February 19, 2012.
  3. One entry per person; you don’t need to use your real name, but you do need to use a valid email address.
  4. If you are using someone else’s work (quotes, jokes, etc.), please be sure to give credit where credit is due!
  5. The winner will be announced on Just Frances the morning of my birthday (February 21) and will be contacted through the email address used to enter. (I promise not to spam you!)
  6. The winner will have the option of choosing one (1) 5.5” x 8.5” drawing or two (2) 3.5” x 5” note cards. (Further details of your options will be explained to the winner in the email.)
  7. If your comment is caught by my spam filters or is deemed by me to be spam or inappropriate (profanity and/or anti-social comments will not be accepted) your entry will be automatically disqualified.
  8. If you are my Mom or Dad, your name will not be entered into the drawing because you can have a swirl drawing anytime you want (just ask) so it’s not fair for you to win. But you can still entertain me with a post!

So that’s it I think. You are welcome to tell your friends about the contest or to link to this on your blog or Facebook or Twitter or whatever. I mean, it would be great to have more than three people participating!

Just Frances continues to be a place of enjoyment for me. I know that posts may be a bit sad and reflective at times, but it’s helpful for me to get those thoughts out there. And the act of getting those sad thoughts out there releases my soul  a bit so that I can enjoy life—and therefore have happy posts.

And, of course, knowing that there are people out there reading—and supporting me—helps. Thanks for all of your support over the past two years! And happy blogging to you!

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.

Great chieftain o’ the puddin-race

Oh, what a happy belly I have, all thanks to the lovely Burns’ Supper that Rebecca prepared.

Whilst Rebecca made the final preparations, we chatted over a nice glass of wine.

Then it was yummy Scottish salmon and a bit of healthy green stuff for starters.

Haggis, neeps*, and tatties for the main course—with whisky, of course.

And cranachan for dessert.

And did I mention the whisky?

But, best of all, there was me and the amazing Rebecca. I don’t have a photo of that, but that’s OK because I know that it’s because we were too busy laughing and chatting to take a photo of ourselves. Yay!

[Confused about the title? Check out the full Address to a Haggis here.]

* Actually, instead of neeps, it was mashed carrots and parsnips. Still, it was the right colour and it was yummy!

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!)

Another year passes

As 2011 winds to an end, I find myself reflecting on the year’s joys (and sorrows). It’s funny the way we do that—the way we compartmentalise our years as if the changing of the date will truly make an impact on our lives. But I suppose we need to have hope that ‘things will be better’ next year—just like we have hope that with each tomorrow life will improve.

It’s been a bitter-sweet year for me. Bitter because I said goodbye to my home—a place where dreams were dreamt and love was shared. Bitter because I found myself in created for myself a financial situation that leaves me pinching pennies once again. Bitter because I spent the entire year without my beloved Paul by my side.

But sweet because I returned to my beloved Scotland, where my heart sings with joy. Sweet because I’ve started working toward my master’s degree and other life goals. And sweet because I’ve found a true friend who is there to console me on the bitter days—and to help me celebrate on the sweet days.

2012 will be here before I know it, and I have such great hopes that with it will come great joy. I don’t expect the year to be nothing but sunshine and happiness, but I know that there will be laughter and love. There will be adventures and opportunities. And there will be family and friends to share it all with!

Home(ish) for Christmas

Well, I suppose now that Christmas is over, I should tell you a bit about my lovely Christmas weekend! And it really was a lovely weekend! I went through to Aberdour with my friend, Rebecca, to spend Christmas with her parents. And whilst I wasn’t with my own family, I was made to feel like family indeed!

It was a wonderful weekend with loads of laughter and new traditions. I enjoyed my first-ever Christmas goose (I hope it’s not my last) and managed lots of relaxation in between scrumptious meals prepared by Rebecca’s mum.

Oh! And I got gifts for Christmas, too! A lovely cashmere scarf, a French press, some home made jams, lots of candy and chocolates, fresh coffee, and even a worry stone. (And more!)

Yes, it was a wonderful Christmas! So wonderful, in fact, that I didn’t manage to take as many photos as I normally would have. But you can see the few I did manage!

%%wppa%% %%slide=26%%

Oh! And you know those bugs from the photo gallery can be seen on the video below. My bug (yellow) won. But Rebecca will tell you that her sissy pink bug did.

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 spirit found

I’ve been struggling to find my Christmas Spirit since the season began and was starting to wonder if it would be found in time. I haven’t had the energy or the inclination for baking Christmas cookies or writing Christmas cards. Yes, I’ve been feeling deflated and sad and lonely and tearful.

But it’s nearly Christmas so I’m not going to whinge on and on about the sadness and tears. Instead, I’m going to tell you about my renewed joy!

You see, I went through to Edinburgh yesterday to spend some time with my friend, Joanne, and her family. And when Joanne picked me up at my bus stop, I was greeted with excitement not only from her, but from her 4-year-old daughter, Miss E, who was in the back seat full smiles. When we got to the house, I smiled as I watched the baby running around with smiles of her own, and laughed when Joanne’s 7-year-old son told me stories of his day at his friend’s house.

This morning I hid in the guest room until the kids made their way to school (no sense in me interrupting their morning routine!) then I enjoyed a nice coffee and chat with Joanne. Yes, I was feeling myself cheer up with each passing moment.

However, it was when Miss E was finished with nursery school that my Christmas Spirit made a solid appearance. You see, Miss E brought home all sorts of Christmas crafts—including a stocking just for me! And then, when Joanne went upstairs to tend to the baby, Miss E and I made some homemade cranberry bread whilst we talked about America. (A place that Miss E is quite fond of!)

After baking cranberry bread, there was drawing to be done. And I’ll just say I was very honoured (and flattered) that Miss E wanted to draw the exact same thing as me!!
Yeah, it was a bit sad to say goodbye to everyone late this afternoon, but I’m so pleased to have found my Christmas Spirit again! And with just enough time, too, since I need to make some truffles tomorrow so that I can get ready to head out of town for Christmas. (Don’t worry, I’ll tell you more about my Christmas adventures later!)

You know what? I think I need to make more of an effort to visit Joanne and her family more often. I know it’s an hour’s train journey, plus a car or bus ride from the station, but I always feel so happy once I’ve been for a visit. Yes, maybe regular visits with friends should be part of my New Year’s Resolution!

(Oh! And now that I’ve found my Christmas Spirit, maybe it’s time I enjoy some mulled wine?)

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.

%%wppa%% %%slide=14%%

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

Making do

Tomorrow, I will be hosting Thanksgiving for the first time since Paul died*. It won’t be as big of a crowd as our last Thanksgiving together, but I find myself just as nervous about the preparations.

In fact, it’s even worse this time around because I’m finding it hard to not think about my last Thanksgiving with Paul. But also because this time around I’m not in a huge house with a massive collection of cooking implements and serving dishes! Oh, and I’m not in America so it’s been a bit difficult to get all of the stuff I need for a traditional American Thanksgiving.

But I’m making do with what I have—and with what I can borrow.

For example, I am borrowing a CrockPot from Rebecca for the stuffing. But since I don’t have a large enough mixing bowl for it, I’m using my new (never used so not cross-contaminated) dish washing basin to mix it all in. (After which the basin will be used as a basin.) I’m also borrowing extra dishes and cutlery, since it seems silly to buy more stuff for a one-off meal.

And since I’m on a budget and I don’t really know how long I’ll be here past this first year, I’ve opted to not buy an expensive rolling pin. Instead, I’ve re-purposed an empty (but clean) wine bottle to roll the pastry for my pumpkin pie. (It seemed to work just fine.) And since I couldn’t find a proper pie pan, I’m using a cake tin for it.

And since they don’t seem to get Washington State wines here, I’ve found an Australian Rosé to serve with the turkey.

Oh, and if any of my guests want a Martini tomorrow, I’ve got a mustard jar (a home warming gift from one of Rebecca’s co-workers) to use a cocktail shaker.

Yes, there are a lot of things I have to make do with right now. But what I don’t need to make do with is friends. No, I have proper ones of those, no making do necessary! And some of them will even be here tomorrow to see just how much food you can prepare when you just have to make do.

*I was in England visiting family and friends the first year after he died, and last year, if you remember, was a bit of an interesting turn of events!

Countdown

As I write this post, people are counting down to Christmas. Really. I mean, it’s not even Thanksgiving and they’re already counting down to Christmas. And I have to say, it makes me a little sad.

I remember when I was a kid and the month of October was dedicated to Halloween. Then in November, we went full-on Thanksgiving. And then—the day after Thanksgiving—it would be time to think about Christmas. Back then (in my memories, at least) we didn’t get Christmas shoved down our throats in the lead-up to Halloween. Maybe—maybe—some places would start in on Christmas before Thanksgiving, but it wasn’t a given.

But now it seems that the Christmas season starts in October, and that just seems crazy to me.

Here’s what I would like to propose: At the start of October, you can start getting (publically) excited about Halloween. You can start decorating a week (maybe two weeks) before Halloween. Then, after you’ve cleared away your Halloween decorations, you can start to get ready for Thanksgiving. And then, after Thanksgiving is over, Christmas preparations can begin.

Now, I understand that people who need to travel great distances need to make plans and arrangements for the next holiday before the current one is over, and that’s OK. And it’s OK to do menu planning and even extend invitations early, if needed. But let’s keep it at that, shall we?

I just feel like we’re so busy thinking about the next big thing that we’re forgetting to take time to enjoy the current big thing.

So, I will not be planning for Christmas until after Thanksgiving is done—which for me is Saturday this year, since it’s not a Scottish holiday so I’ve had to plan dinner around the weekend so that my friends could attend. But come Sunday, I will be in full-on Christmas mode. Well, not too full-on since that is Paul’s birthday and he (not growing up with Thanksgiving) always felt that Christmas needed to wait until after his birthday.

And that means that I am counting down until Thanksgiving right now—not Christmas. After all, Thanksgiving in my favourite holiday of the year. It’s a time for people to reflect on the things they are thankful for in this world—family, friends, good health, and a plentiful harvest.

This year, I will celebrate Thanksgiving on Saturday with a small group of Scottish friends. It may not be a holiday of much meaning to them, and they may not be counting down with the same excitement as I am, but I’m so very thankful to have people to share my favourite holiday with. And hopefully, they’ll learn to like my favourite holiday, too. After all, who doesn’t enjoy an opportunity to be thankful?

And if you’re counting—it’s only three more sleeps until [my] Thanksgiving dinner!

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!

Warming up

I’ve been upset about Thanksgiving for a while now. Like really, really upset. I know it’s silly, but that’s the way it’s been. (As I’ve said.)

But all of the sudden, it’s getting better. It seems that there has been a late-comer (or two or three) to the party and Thanksgiving will maybe feel a little less like just having two friends over for dinner (not that having two friends over for dinner isn’t something to be thankful for) and a little more like a proper Thanksgiving. Well, as close to it as you can get when you’re not in America.

So now I’m getting all warmed up and I’m trying to figure out just how to get it all done. I’ve got pies to bake (will anyone like pumpkin pie?) and bread to rip (you know, for the stuffing). And I’ve got dill pickles to find and serving dishes to sort. In addition to regular dishes and chairs and stuff.

Oh, and drinks. Must figure out drinks. And I should decide what vegetables to serve. And I should try to find fresh cranberries so that I can make sauce.

But don’t worry—I have the olives (all the way from America!) and even noticed today that they’re jumbo-sized so they’ll fit on adult fingers. Because you have to put olives on your fingers for Thanksgiving.

Oh! And to add to my renewed interest in Thanksgiving, I’m totally pleased that Das Gute Essen linked to my bladenda post in their Thanksgiving post today. Yay, yay, and yay again!

[The picture with this post is of our Thanksgiving table from 2008. What a wonderful memory that day has left for me!]

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.

Guy’s night

Last night was Guy’s night. Guy Fawkes’ Night, that is. (Well, it’s more often called Bonfire Night in Scotland, but that doesn’t make for as fun of a post title!) And to celebrate, Rebecca and I went to the Bridge of Allen fireworks show.

It was, by far, the largest bonfire I’ve even been to. Both in the size of the fire and the size of the crowd.

It was a fantastic firework show, too!

Oh, and in an effort to support the local economy, we had to swing by The Junk Rooms on the way home. (I know it wasn’t a Friday, but I think that’s OK.)

So, yeah, girls can have fun on Guy’s night, too!

Sugar high

OK, if you’ve been paying attention, you might know that I like candy. No, that’s not true. I love candy. I mean, let’s face it: This is a typical candy stash for me!

You may also know that I love Halloween. Like, I really, really, really love it. I admit that I struggled with Halloween last year, but was pleased that the day turned out OK. And I admit that I fear I’ll never have a Halloween as fantastic as the last one I celebrated with Paul, but I am pleased to say that this year was a good one for me. No, it really was!

You see, this year I got to celebrate Halloween in my new flat with my awesome friend, Rebecca. Sadly, there were no trick-or treaters (unless you count Rebecca, who did show up in costume!) but that’s not the end of the world.

So, we spent the evening eating olives and hummus and drinking wine before breaking out the candy. We started with the yummy American stuff that my folks and my aunt had sent, and then we tucked into the yummy British candies Rebecca brought. And, it would seem, Rebecca wasn’t impressed with my American candy. Which was OK by me because then I don’t have to share! Only, then she tried the candy corn—which she did like. (This could be a problem!)

I’m happy that Halloween was a fun day, and I am hopeful that the rest of the holiday season will be better than it’s been the last couple of years. Of course, I still miss Paul and wish he was here to share these celebrations with me, but I know that he’ll be happy to know that I’m learning how to enjoy them again.

Next up in the holiday calendar: Bonfire Night. Then I really must find a fresh turkey for Thanksgiving!

Coming home

I got the keys to my new flat this morning and have spent the day traipsing up and down several flights of stairs to get my belongs moved in—and more trips up and down to get groceries and bedding and a few other bits-and-bobs in.

There’s still lots and lots of unpacking to do. And there is still lots and lots of stuff to buy to make this place a home. But I’m sure it will be fun getting it all put together.

It’s a bit strange being in my own place now, but I think it’s going to be OK. Of course, since Rebecca is just around the corner, it’s not like I’ll be living in isolation!

I am going to resist the urge to write a long and boring description of my new flat. Instead, I’m just going to let you see it for yourself! And whilst you’re doing that, I’m going to pour myself a glass of wine to celebrate coming home.

Trick of the treats

Oh, what a sweet day it is! I arrived home to see that the postman brought me a parcel all the way from America. Oh yes—a parcel filled with yummy candies from the homeland.

Inside the parcel was a selection of some of my favourite American candies—and a sampling of candies I requested for Rebecca, after having a conversation last month about them. (I mean, if my Scottish friends are so kind as to introduce me to their cultural yummies, it’s only fair that I introduce them to mine. Right?)

So, here’s what my wonderful Mommy and Daddy sent me (all the miniature trick-or-treat versions):

These are all great candies that I can’t (seemingly) get in the UK. The 3 Musketeers and Butterfinger bars are great because those have always been my go-to choice for candy bars. The Milk Duds and Whoppers are my ‘nice to have at the movies with a big container of popcorn’ treats. The Smarties and Jolly Ranchers fall into my love of chalky sweets and sucky hard candies. And the Hot Tamales and Mike and Ikes* (whilst also on my go-to list of sweets to buy) are ones that I’m excited to share with Rebecca.

Of course, I did have to laugh since there were no Candy Corns in the parcel. No, Mom forgot to put them in. Or is it that they got eaten before she made a trip to the post office … ? Either way, I’m very thankful to my awesome parents for sending me candy.

Now the trick is going to be not eating the treats until Halloween.

(And if you’re looking for a way to get rid of your leftover Halloween candy, give me a shout and I’ll send you my address… she says only half jokingly…)

* It seems that you can, in fact, get Mike and Ike Tropical flavour here, just not the originals, and since Rebecca likes the tropical ones, I thought she should try the others. And, if you don’t already know, Hot Tamales are actually a secondary product. They are made by re-melting all of the ill-formed Mike and Ikes then they add loads of cinnamon flavour to mask the mis-match of flavours from all of the other candies. Really.

Job done!

I am now officially a marathon finisher! Can you believe it? No, neither can I. Today’s feat went much, much better than I expected. And now you get to hear all about it!

The morning started about 5:30 with a bit of feeding and hydration, then we walked up to the finish line where busses were waiting to take the runners to the start line—an hour’s drive away. Sadly, the walk was across a soggy, grassy field, which meant wet shoes and socks before we even got to the busses. (More on soggy feet later.)

Once at the start line, we waited around for a short while for the race to begin. Sadly, the rain came as we were waiting, And we got drenched. But our spirits were high. In fact, the rain didn’t let up for the first 3+ miles of the race and by then my shoes, socks, and feet were sodden. (More on this later.) Of course, that wasn’t enough because at mile 4 we got a small hail storm. Really. Eventually, the skies stopped falling and the weather turned quite nice drying my jacket and my hair. (But not the shoes, socks, and feet—yet.)

For the first eight miles or so, Rebecca and I kept pace with each other, but then I managed to get ahead and stayed ahead for several miles. But as I pulled ahead, I noticed that my feet had become all wrinkly from the water and were quite sore because of it. I think that the sore feet changed by gait a bit because more sore bits were to come! (OK, that’s pretty much the soggy feet story.)

At mile 10, I forced myself to walk for five minutes because I told myself I would do that. But I was making very good time and was really enjoying myself. In fact, for a brief moment I thought I could totally do another marathon. But then I started to run again and shortly after mile 13 (half way—yay!) my knee began to ache terribly. I was actually in pain and each time my foot landed I winced. So I started to walk again thinking it just needed a break. But then when I’d run again it hurt again. Which meant that much of miles 17-22 were spent walking.

But wait! Around mile 21 Rebecca caught up with me again! I was so happy to see her! We spent the next mile or so walking together but then I just needed to run. Which I did for most of the remaining course with occasional walk breaks. But each time I ran I was in pain. Lots and lots of pain.

Of course, when I passed mile 26 and knew I had only a fraction of a mile to go, I was spurred on and my pace quickened. Then Emma and David Knox were there with their two children and a massive banner cheering me on so I kicked it up even more. And I’m pleased to say that I finished in under goal time! (Goal: 6 hours. Finish time: 5:37:42.)

So I felt good. I didn’t hit the wall, but I was in physical pain for the last half of the race. I felt happy and energised and cheered on the entire time. I really did. Though I was actually expecting to be quite emotional because of why I was running. But I like to think that Paul was there with me in spirit, and that his presence is what kept me going.

And, no, I will never do another marathon again. My body can’t take it. But a half marathon? You’re on! That’s a distance I enjoy and that I can do well.

Also at this point, it needs to be said that I couldn’t have done this without Rebecca. She got on board with the marathon idea early on and was a great motivator to me. Just having her there on the course with me was so wonderful because I know that she was supporting me all the way—as I was her—even when we weren’t running together. I am so lucky to have such a great friend, and am so pleased for her accomplishments today. An accomplishment that included raising more than £600 for charity!

And thanks to everyone else who supported me along the way. Dad and Haden were great running aids when I was in the homeland, riding bikes alongside me and cheering me on. My Mom was always there with encouragement and my sisters were full of inspiration, too. As were my various nieces, nephews, aunts, and uncles. And my friends around the world who cheered me from virtual worlds by Facebook, email, and this very blog. I felt your love today, really.

And Paul, I hope I made you proud. You would have loved the course and would have made my time look horrid. Thank you for being there with me in spirit. I love ya, luv! x

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.)

Boom! Bang!

Today is the 235th birthday of my beloved America. I always get a bit weepy on Independence Day because my patriotism always gets the better of me. Of course, today I realised that next year I won’t be in America for the big celebration, and whilst I’m happy that I’ll be in my adopted home of Scotland, I’m a bit sad knowing I won’t be here to celebrate my heritage. But don’t worry—I will always be proud to be an American!

But on to the rest of the story…

I decided to kidnap my 12-year-old nephew, Haden, for a few days. I figured that since I still had a couple of days left on my four-day weekend and since my folks would be arriving on Wednesday to help with packing, it would be nice to have the company and the extra set of hands.

Of course, once we got to my house I realised that I wasn’t prepared—I mean, there were no fireworks at the house! At first I wasn’t worried about it because I knew that we could watch the other fireworks going off, but I quickly noticed that Haden was looking a bit sad. So I went across to the neighbours’ to see if they had things to blow up. And it turns out that they had loads and loads and loads of firecrackers on hand.

When I returned to tell Haden that I had a plan, his face lit up! Once we arrived on the neighbours’ deck, his face lit up even more—I don’t know if he’s ever seen so many firecrackers in his life! So, with the supervision of four adults, Haden spent the evening throwing firecrackers off the deck whilst we all watched the most amazing small-town firework display I’ve ever seen!

I’m sad to know that I’ll never see another firework show on the Palouse, but I’m pleased that I had such a fun-filled 4th of July with my wonderful neighbours. I just wish Paul could have been here with us.

Tomorrow Haden and I will go for a three-mile run before dying our hair green. Then we’ll be busy packing. Haden knows I’ll spend a bit of time crying but I think he’s OK with that. In a way, I think that Haden’s sad, too. He knows that this is [likely] his last trip to the Palouse and he knows that I’m leaving soon—and I think he’ll miss me, just as I’ll miss him.

But at least he’ll remember that his second (and hopefully not last) 4th of July at Aunt Frances’ was a banging good time!

Happy birthday, America!

[That’s a photo of Haden throwing a firecracker, if you wondered.]

The last long weekend

I’m in the homeland enjoying a four-day weekend before the start of my final (three-day) work week. And as it happens to be Pioneer Days Weekend (in celebration of Independence Day) there is lots going on!

Yesterday was an annual barbeque at my eldest sister, Veronica’s, house—made so much better because it was the day after my 15-year-old niece, Krystyne’s, last radiation treatment! I can’t tell you how happy I am that my favourite Bug is cancer-free!

Then today I ran the Runner Stumbles 10K with my 12-year-old nephew, Haden, whilst my sister, Celeste, and 14-year-old niece, Flik, did the 5K. It was a bit of a hard race for me since I’d not run at all (bad girl!) since the half-marathon distance I did just over a month ago, coupled with the fact that I’m not long out of a two-week battle with an upper respiratory infection—which meant I did a lot of coughing on the route!!

But still, Haden and I managed to run the entire race. And whilst I was disappointed with my slower-than-desired time, I was so proud of Haden for coming in first in his age group (under 14). He’s a bit bummed that he was the only person in his group, but I reminded him that whilst loads of kids his age did the 5K route, he was the only one who had the courage and determination to do the 10K. And he ran the whole thing. A feat to be proud of for sure!

[See more of my races here.]

Then this evening, I grabbed Flik and Haden to head out to the old South Cle Elum train depot where my 16-year-old nephew, Nick, was playing with his band, The Blast-Ended Skrewts. The band has been together for about eight years and really do rock! (The YouTube video below should serve as proof to that statement!)

I’ll head home tomorrow and will hopefully find some nice local fireworks to watch. Then on Tuesday I will head out of a quick training run on the last day of my four-day weekend. A day that I’m also realising will be my last day off work—since you can’t count it as a day off work when you’re unemployed. Which I will be as of 5:01 p.m. on Friday, July 8.

Wow! I’m beat just thinking about all the activity of the weekend and coming week!

Schrodie lives!!

It was just before 4 a.m. when the screaming howls of cats outside my bedroom window woke me with a start. I ran toward the back door to rescue my cat, only on opening the door I heard the sounds of an animal running into the cedar trees. I called out for Schrodie, but she didn’t answer.

I panicked running back into the house to check for her. She wasn’t on the couch or on my bed. She didn’t come when I shook her food container.

I grabbed the flashlight and started walking toward the cedars—crying and shaking. As my light flashed on Schrodie’s collar and a trailing of fur along the edge of the trees, I broke down as I realised that my cat might just be gone.

My sister, Celeste, was with me for the weekend so I got her out of bed to assist in the search—she too had been awoken by the sounds of angry cats. And when we both realised that, yes, Schrodie was gone, I broke down on the pavement in a way that was oddly similar to my breakdown on hearing the news of Paul’s death.

Laying in bed, all I could think of was how horrible this place was and how awful the world would be without Schrodie. I was planning to one day bring her to Scotland with me and now I would never see her again. I kept thinking that maybe it wasn’t Schrodie—the fur seemed lighter than hers, but maybe it was just lighter because it was spread out on the dampened lawn.

Eventually, I started to think about how I would convince my sister that she needed to gather up the collar and the fur so that we could bury them with Paul. And I started to wonder how I would tell my foster daughter, who was at a friend’s house for the night. And I started to wonder how I would manage my last few weeks in this house without Schrodie.

Then—three hours later—a miracle happened. Schrodie came bounding into my room and pounced on my chest. She was alive! And was clever enough to know that if she bashed her head hard enough on the sensor-activated cat door (the activation unit is on her collar) she could gain entry into the house.

The house is filled with jubilation as we celebrate the fact that Schrodie, who is named for Erwin Schrodinger, was dead for three hours—but actually was alive. Alive!!!

Sadly, something died in the early hours this morning. But that something was trespassing so my cat had to defend our home. I just hope that something wasn’t a child’s beloved pet…

Oh! Another thought: Cat’s have nine lives, mine has eight left.

And just look at that cat! This photo was taken this morning. She’s loving the attention but I think she wonders what the big deal is…

For love of country

This weekend, families around America will gather for barbeques and picnics. Campgrounds and parks will be filled to capacity. Parties will be held; laughter will be had. Yes, Memorial Day Weekend has become synonymous with the start of the summer season!

But let’s take some time to remember why we won’t be at the office on Monday. Let’s remember why the schools and banks and post offices will be closed. Let’s remember why the flags will fly at half-mast and why cemeteries will be blanketed with mums.

It’s not because of the barbeques or the picnics or the camping and hiking and dancing and laughing.

It’s because of all of the men and women who fought and died to keep our nation safe and free. It’s because of the men and women who fought and died to ensure our rights—and the rights of all of those residing in the great United States of America.

They fought and died so that we could safely and freely barbeque and picnic and camp and hike and dance and laugh. So please, enjoy the weekend. Please enjoy your family. Please enjoy your freedoms.

And please, take a moment to remember all of those brave men and women who made those freedoms possible.

For love of country they accepted death, and thus resolved all doubts, and made immortal their patriotism and their virtue.
~ James Abram Garfield

[Photo is close-up of the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial in Olympia, Washington. Photo credits to the amazing Missy Humphreys. Missy’s husband, an Englishman by birth and an American by choice, is currently serving in the United States Army. Thank you, Missy, for the photo. And thank you Neil, for serving and protecting our great nation!]

Should be

Today should be my sixth wedding anniversary. It’s the ‘candy’ anniversary, so I should be on a sugar high by now. And Paul should be in a chocolate coma. We should be getting ready to go out for a fancy dinner, too.

Should be. But not.

I guess I have to console myself with the knowledge that the three anniversaries we got were wonderful. But some days it’s hard to do that because he should be here with me.

So, instead of spending the day celebrating my marriage, I’ve spent it preparing for my move. Specifically, I’ve been going through old paper files and shredding like a mad woman.

And nestled in a pile of Paul’s files I found a detailed receipt from the gift he got me for our first wedding anniversary. It was the ‘paper’ anniversary so his gift to me was an enlarged, stylised photo from our wedding day. We joked about putting it above the fireplace, but decided against furthering the belief that we were one of those sappy, happily married couples who hung over-sized wedding photos of themselves above the fireplace. So instead, we hung it in the hall. (After all, we were a sappy, happily married couple so it needed to go some place!)

His gift from me was a small file box labelled ‘important paperwork’ that contained 365 bits of paper with memories of our courtship, facts about love and marriage, and various other romantic notions and crap. And every day for the next year, Paul would read one out loud then we’d share a sappy hug and kiss. One day, I might read them again. But not today…

So, Paul, since I know you’re watching and listening every day:
Happy anniversary; I love ya, luv.

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!!)

God save the Queen

If you know me, you probably know that I am very sickened by all of this “Royal Wedding” mania. And I bet that you’ve maybe even come to the conclusion that I am an anti-monarchist. But I’m not. I am actually a bit of a royalist.*

I love the idea of a royal family. I love the fairytaleness of it all. I love the tradition of it all.

And, if you believe some people, there is a great [?] economic boon to the state because of 1) tourist pounds (that’s like dollars, only more expensive, to my American readers) and 2) the great trade/arms deals that are said to follow on the heels of a royal visit.

But do I think that the entire royal family should be supported by the state? No. Do I think that minor royals need body guards and state-paid accommodation? No.

Actually, I don’t really have a formal opinion on which royals should get what state-paid services, so I’ll just stop there.

So then, if I’m all “Yay for the Queen!” what’s my problem?

Well, my problem is that it seems that 1) in a time of economic upheaval around the globe, way too much money is being thrown at the wedding and 2) the media and society are going crazy over this non-event.

Two people met and fell in love and are now getting hitched. That is certainly something to celebrate—for the families of those involved. I just don’t understand why I need to have it forced down my throat! (And, yes, if you post every detail of your wedding plans on Facebook, I’m probably going to need a sick bag, too!)

So, yay for Prince William and his bride. It’s a wonderful thing when people dedicate their lives to each other through marriage. I wish you both a future of joy and happiness. And may your first child be a masculine child. (Sorry, can’t resist a good Godfather quote when talking about weddings!)

But for the media and the people who are going insane over a wedding that they’re not even invited to: Please, let’s enjoy some real news.

You know, important stuff like:

* This is being said by a woman who doesn’t fully understand the issues surrounding the constitutional monarchy.

Why today is awesome

St. Patrick’s Day is awesome because everyone one wears my favourite colour and that makes the world really pretty.

And St. Patrick’s Day is awesome because of all the yummy corned beef and cabbage which also means lovely Rueben sandwiches with the leftover meat.

And St. Patrick’s Day is awesome because of the yummy Guinness and Irish whiskey and green beer that flow freely.

And, of course, St. Patrick’s Day is awesome because it’s a great excuse to eat green-frosted graham crackers and watch my favourite Sean Connery movie, Darby O’Gill and the Little People.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you!!

National Grammar Day

It’s National Grammar Day here in the fantastic United States of America. Are you as excited about that as I am? No? Well, I suppose I didn’t expect you to be. But I am super-duper excited!

I thought long and hard about what to write about for this celebratory day but I couldn’t find the right angle. So instead, I’ll just share some random thoughts.

To start with, you’ve maybe noticed that Just Frances is not written in my best ‘grammar-ific’ style. I try to keep it all very conversational here—and that means run-on sentences as well as incomplete ones. It also means that I start sentences with conjunctions and end them with prepositions. And I don’t care!

My decision to write in such an informal manner came as I thought about my audience. Not that I think my audience can’t handle full-on formal writing, but because my audience is family and friends so ‘casual conversation’ just seemed more fitting. Plus that, I’ve been accused of being a language and grammar snob for quite some time, so I thought I’d leave that to my professional life and my linguist forums and blogs where people love my wordsnobbery.

Of course, the awesome thing about being oh-so-casual-and-conversational here is that I can say things like ‘wordsnobbery’. Which is cool. (See, I did more of that casual stuff by starting a sentence with which. This is fun!)

[A note about my professional life for those who care: I am a communications professional and get paid to write and edit. Yes, believe it or not, I really do! I love my job and I love linguistics in general. But this, as I said, is my personal blog so I’m keepin’ it casual. Yay!]

Blah, blah, blah… Let’s move on now.

For a while, I thought about writing about the differences between American and British English. But then I realized that no one who reads my blog probably cares about the differences. So then I thought that, at the very least, I should point out that I’ve decided to work toward[s] incorporating more and more British English into Just Frances—in the form of spelling, grammar, and punctuation, as well as idioms and word usage. Of course, this just means that I probably seem quite illiterate to some folks. And that’s OK. (My decision to do that is so that I can brush up on the language before I move back over this summer.)

Oh! And I guess that I should devote a paragraph to my mantra about English being a living language. The basic idea is that the rules for grammar, spelling, and punctuation that we use now are not what we used 100 years ago and aren’t what we’ll use in another 100 years. Our language has evolved—and will continue to evolve—forever.

At best, our language is a theory. However, there are certainly rules and best practices in place that should be adhered to. But you can fudge that, too. I mean, I don’t follow all of the rules here and that’s OK. But I wouldn’t dare write like this at work or for any official business. There’s a time and a place to break the rules, after all. So, txt spk on the net all u wnt. However, please refrain from the use of non-standard English when preparing your monthly reports for your manager.

And now, I’m sure you have a stack of sentences you want to diagram and infinitives you want to split, so I’ll leave you with a couple of quick thoughts:

The old rule ‘I before E except after C’ is a lie. There are too many exceptions for it to be a rule. So please stop teaching it to your children.

It is acceptable to use an Oxford comma (also called a serial comma). You just need to use it consistently and in accordance to the style guide approved by your industry or organisation.

And finally, check out some fun language books such as:

Happy National Grammar Day to you!

A valentine-less Valentine’s Day

I’ve always been a bit put off with Valentine’s Day. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that I was never the girl who got the boy in school. I was the weird one, a Tom boy, and a loner and frankly got a bit disgusted with the whole process as a child. After all, it was never me who got the special cards from the cute boys.

In my early- to mid-20s I dated casually but never had a boyfriend so didn’t care too much for the day then, either. Certainly by then there were lots of cute boys giving me attention and wanting me to be their Valentine (it helps that I’d learned how to use soap and wash my hair by then) but I wasn’t interested in them. So, Valentine’s Day remained a day of apathy for me.

A few days after meeting Paul, he invited me to a Gene Pitney concert which just happened to be on Valentine’s Day. It was strange being on a Valentine’s Day date with a man I’d only gone on my first date with about a week before, but we both acknowledged that it wasn’t a romantic outing—just a concert.

Future Valentine’s Days saw us staying home and enjoying a nice meal—just the two of us—with a Gene Pitney CD playing in the background. We’d exchange cards but there were no flowers and jewellery. We preferred to stay home and enjoy each others’ company rather than go out to watch people do the forced-romance dance at a crowded restaurant.

Before meeting Paul I didn’t care about the day. Then, when we were together, we both enjoyed mocking those people who put too much effort and stress into the day. And now that he’s gone, well, the apathy and mocking has been replaced with sadness.

So, here I am on Valentine’s Day without my valentine. But still very much in love. Yeah, no matter how happy I am about finally making steps toward a new future, sometimes I can’t help but be so very sad about losing the old future.

Frosting and graham crackers

Growing up, I used to love it when we had frosting and graham crackers as part of our school lunches. It was awesome! And the lunch ladies normally mixed food colouring in with the frosting so that we’d have green frosting on St. Patrick’s Day, pink on Valentine’s Day, and whatever random colour they wanted to use other times.

Now that I’m a grownup, I can’t be bothered with silly things like mixing food colouring with my frosting. So I just eat my graham crackers with plain, white frosting.

Of course, sometimes I can’t be bothered to spread frosting on graham crackers. When that happens, I just eat the frosting with a spoon—unless I can’t be bothered with that, either; in which case I just use my finger.

Oh, and just in case you ever come to visit and you see an open container of frosting in the fridge, just know that at some point I’ve stood there with the fridge door open eating frosting with my finger. And I double dip. And I’m not ashamed of it.

Yum. I think I’ll go have another serving now…

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!

%%wppa%% %%slide=13%%

And check out some fun videos from the weekend below!

Insanity descends

Oh my, oh my, oh my! My normally quiet home has transcended into a mad house! But it’s a happy mad house.

Yep, the house is chock-a-block with parents and aunts and uncles and siblings and nieces and nephews and friends as we all gear up for the 2nd Annual Freeze Your Fanny and Burns’ Supper Extravaganza. (See the story and photos from the inaugural event here.)

The family began arriving around 2:00 this afternoon and it wasn’t long before the house was filled with laughter and chatter. In fact, the laughter and chatter was still going at nearly 1:00 a.m.—well past my normal bed time. But as my bedroom is the living room couch, I was forced to participate. (Happily so.)

Tomorrow will start bright-and-early for those of us travelling to Lewiston for the Freeze Your Fanny 5K. This will be my 11-year-old nephew, Haden’s, second time running the race (last year’s race was his first-ever race) and will be my 11-year-old nephew, Adrian’s, first-ever race of all time. Unbelievably, this will be my 4th entry in the race. Though, with the aforementioned illness, I’ll now be taking it slow.

Whilst we’re running, Dad and my niece, Flik, will meet in the living room for a Scrabble re-match as Flik tries to de-throne Daddy. There are loads of games and puzzles—and a few hula hoops—for everyone to play with, too.

Schrodie is not happy about the influx of people, but I think she’ll get over it.

Oh, and that photo, if you wondered, is a load of Scottish treats (Tunnock’s!!!) that my Uncle Fred brought with him from Portland, Oregon. If you look closely, you’ll notice the Scotch tape and the napkins—with an Argyle pattern, of course. (His socks were Argyle for the occasion, too, if you wondered.)

I’m [not] Scottish

I am American, born and bred to American parents. My ancestors are Germans from Russia. This means that I am not, contrary to the insistence of some, Scottish. (But I hope to be one day!)

But I have a great affinity for Scotland because it’s the one place in the entire world I’ve ever felt truly settled—the one place I’ve ever felt that I truly belong. Paul wasn’t Scottish, either. No, contrary to popular belief, he was English. (From the North East, if you wondered.) But Paul shared a passion for Scotland and when he moved there for university he stayed put until we settled in America. Because of our shared love for Scotland, we incorporated the traditions of our adopted home into our lives. After all, home is where the heart is.

But now I have a foster daughter who knows several things to be true: I speak with a funny accent; I lived in Scotland; I want to return to Scotland; I have lots of friends in Scotland (and family in England); and that I think Scotland is the greatest place in the world.

She also assumes several things and just won’t believe me when I tell her otherwise. Mainly that I am Scottish. I’m not; but she just shrugs her shoulders and says I seem Scottish to her.

Well, now that I’m in the midst of planning Burns’ Supper, my foster daughter is learning loads of great things about Scotland and Robert Burns. And she’s even more insistent that I am Scottish.

So today when she was in the computer lab at school, she saw a link on one of the school-sanctioned websites about Robert Burns. She clicked it and started reading everything about the man then recognized a link as a song we listened to on New Year’s Eve, so she printed out the lyrics to Auld Lang Syne. Then she had to explain to her teacher why she was wasting resources.

Apparently, the teacher is familiar with Burns’ Night and was very excited to hear about how the kid’s ‘Scottish foster mom’ is having a big Burns’ Supper complete with haggis, neeps, and tatties.

You know how they say if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em? Well, I can’t seem to beat this Scottish wrap, so I may as well just brogue up and break out my Harris Tweed and shortbread!

New year hopes

Photo credits to Windy Tevlin; Tevlin PhotographyYay! It’s 2011! Part of me dreads entering yet another new year because it reminds me of where I thought my life would be by this point in time, but part of me is excited because I am certain that the new year will give me new hope for a brighter, happier future.

My 2010 resolution was to find a bit of joy each day. I managed it, but it was difficult. Finding joyful things when you’re grieving can be a challenge. But I really do think that it helped me to be more comfortable with my grief. It helped to remind me that I can be happy even when there is sadness in my heart. More importantly, focusing on the joyful things made the sadness seem less painful.

I haven’t made a resolution for 2011. And to tell the truth, I don’t plan to make one this year. Instead, I just plan to continue on the path I’m already travelling. I plan to spend the year planning for my future and getting used to being Just Frances—a path that I’m still finding difficult, but one that is easier to travel knowing I have support along the way.

In a year’s time, I hope that I am well on my way to reaching my goals and that I am a happier person than I am today. (Which is a happier person than I was a year ago.)

I know I am being a bit vague and I apologize for that, but I am afraid of plans these days and am not quite ready to share my biggest dreams and plans here. Please know that I am very excited about the new year though, and about all of the greatness it has in store for me.

I hope that 2011 is filled with joy, peace, and happiness and all of the love and passion you can hold!

Reflections of 2010

As 2010 draws to a close, I find myself reflecting on the past year. And if I’m honest, I have to admit that it was a very difficult year and one that I am very glad to put behind me.

I think that one of the most difficult things was that it was an entire year without Paul. I spent the year in this strange holding pattern—in a weird Widow’s Limbo if you will. I feel that I haven’t accomplished anything with my life; I haven’t moved forward with some great plan for some great new future. I am pretty much where I was a year ago—only with a few less tears and better coping mechanisms for my grief.

That’s not to say that it’s been a completely miserable year. In fact, as part of my 2010 New Year’s resolution to find a bit of joy each day, I was forced to look at things in a positive light. And even without that resolution, there would have been joy.

In fact, there was a bit of joy every month!

January: I hosted a fun-filled Burns’ Supper weekend at my home and re-discovered a love for running.

February: I spent a relaxing day at the spa and took a trip to the UK with my Mom.

March: I spent a weekend wine tasting with my Aunt and Uncle in Walla Walla.

April: I re-discovered Kamiak Butte.

May: I watched my eldest niece play softball in the state championship play-offs and met some old friends at my hometown burger joint to re-visit our youth.

June: I started reading an excellent book series.

July: I enjoyed a week with my nephew and niece and attended my first-ever girls’ weekend.

August: I made pickles with my family and I became a foster mommy!

September: I went fishing and I was silly.

October: I did papier-mâché and played in a corn maze with my foster daughter.

November: I made blagenda with my family and realised how blessed I am to have such wonderful neighbours.

December: I started training for a marathon and I travelled to Canada to visit with friends.

But most importantly, in 2010 I began to find the focus needed to start working on a plan for the future. The plans are still in the works, but I am certain that 2011 will have good things in store for me. I am certain that I will find my way out of this frustrating limbo. And I am certain that I will begin to live my life with purpose and confidence once again.

I know there will be tears. I know there will be challenges and sad times as I work toward my future. I know that I will want to give up hope. And I know that I will wish I had my old life back. But I also know that I have an amazing support network of family and friends around the globe who will be there for me. I know that I am not facing these trials and tribulations alone. And I know that there will be joy and laughter and friendship throughout the year.

So, stay tuned for the excitement of 2011. And I promise, it will be full of excitement!

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

Truffles!!

Now that all the truffles are rolled and dipped and drizzled and wrapped, it’s time to share the recipes.

First, to credit the inspiration: My recipes are adaptations from my Better Homes & Gardens cook book. But, like most of my culinary masterpieces, I only use the book as a guide and make my own tweaks along the way. (Sometimes this tactic sets me up for failure, sadly.)

Second, a confession: When these are done they look all fancy and pretty and yummy. The drizzle-effect makes people think that they also look like those expensive chocolates you get in the fancy shops which equates to difficult to make in the minds of some folk. But here’s the thing: These are so simple to make! Really! I think it’s harder to make chocolate chip cookies. But people just rave about these so I keep making them.

[Side note: So, if you’re raving about my truffles to be nice and really don’t like them—STOP! Because I’ll just keep making them for you because I like to make easy things that people love.]

And without any further ado, here are the recipes:

Chocolate Truffles

12 ounces milk chocolate pieces
1/3 cup whipping cream
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
8-12 ounces chocolate pieces (milk or dark)
1 white chocolate candy bar

  • In a heavy sauce pan, cook the milk chocolate and whipping cream until it all melts together and is nice and melty (stir often)
  • Remove from heat and cool slightly then stir in almond extract
  • Mix for a couple of minutes until all smooth and delicious looking
  • Cover and cool in refrigerator for about an hour; it should be set but not rock-hard so that you can work it for the next step
  • Line a cookie sheet with wax paper
  • Shape chocolate mixture into balls with the palm of your hand (up-to 1-inch; I make mine smaller) then place on wax paper
  • Freeze balls for about 30 minutes
  • When balls are about ready to come out of the freezer, begin melting additional chocolate for dipping (I add a small amount of shortening because someone once told me that helps it harden; I don’t know if that’s true)
  • Dip balls into melted chocolate then remove with a fork and slide onto wax paper
  • Once dried, drizzle white chocolate on top

Peanut Butter Truffles

1/2 cup peanut butter
3 tablespoons softened butter
1 cup sifted powdered sugar
8-12 ounces white chocolate pieces
1 milk or dark chocolate bar

  • Mix peanut butter and butter together until smooth and creamy
  • Slowly add in sugar, mixing well
  • Shape mixture into balls with the palm of your hand (up-to 1-inch; I make mine smaller) then place on wax paper
  • Let balls dry for about 20 minutes
  • Melt white chocolate for dipping (I add a small amount of shortening because someone once told me that helps it harden; I don’t know if that’s true)
  • Dip balls into melted chocolate then remove with a fork and slide onto wax paper
  • Once dried, drizzle milk or dark chocolate on top

Notes:
I like to change it up sometimes and swap peppermint extract for almond then dip in melted peppermint chips to finish. I suppose some sort of butterscotch combo might be nice, too!

I tend to make these at the same time, starting with the peanut butter ones. That way, I can use the left-over dipping chocolates for drizzling.

Each batch makes 30-40 truffles.

Store in cool, dry place. Or eat really fast and skip the storage!

Enjoy!!

No sleep for the artist

My foster daughter has just brought me a lovely drawing that she made last night when she couldn’t sleep. She proudly proclaimed that she hid her signature underneath some of the sketching so that I could scan it and share it online (because she knows I won’t use her name on my blog).

As always, the kid has some real talent!

Of course, after admiring her art work I started to worry that she wasn’t sleeping but was instead up all hours of the night drawing. (No wonder she’s tired this morning!) Her insomnia worried me for a few minutes, then I remembered that she had a Christmas visit with her Mom last night—a visit that included loads of sugary treats and fizzy drinks. Which would explain her inability to sleep. And maybe even her slightly sore belly today. (I’ll note here that I’m all about the sugary treats and fizzy drinks for special occasions!)

But, I digress…

Here’s The Kid’s amazing drawing for you to enjoy!

Christmas goodies

I’ve spent the day making Christmas goodies for family and friends. I thought it would put me in the Christmas mood, but it’s really just reminded me of the last time I spent the day making Christmas goodies—about two years ago.

I decided against making cookies and just stuck to truffles and fudge. And I ran out of sugar so only made one batch of fudge. But I managed lots and lots of truffles, so that will make up for it.

I haven’t made up pretty plates yet, but here’s a picture of the peanut butter and white chocolate truffles on the tray to make you wish you were here.

Everybody hurts, sometimes

I’ve really been struggling through this holiday season—much more than last year when I was still in a bit of shock and disbelief over the fact that I no longer had Paul to share Christmas mornings with. The loneliness and sadness just seems so much worse this year. Much, much worse.

I’m trying my best to muddle through for my foster daughter, but it’s difficult some days. I don’t have the excitement that I should have for buying gifts and making candies and singing carols. I just hurt too much to think about it this year.

But for all of the pain and hurt and sadness and depression [?] I’m feeling right now, I am keeping R.E.M. in mind and I’m hanging on, and taking comfort in my friends.

When you think you’ve had too much of this life, well hang on;
‘Cause everybody hurts. Take comfort in your friends.
~ R.E.M.

In fact, to end on a happy note so that you don’t think I’m completely hopeless, whilst I’m completely dreading Christmas, I am extremely excited about the following day when I will travel to Canada to spend time with friends. Those happy thoughts are keeping me strong and will help me through. (Yay! for Canada!)

I miss dinner parties

Shortly after we got married Paul and I started a new tradition of monthly dinner parties. Parties to which we were the only guests. It began with Paul’s birthday when I asked where he wanted to go for dinner. And he requested a five-course meal at home. I think he was shocked that I agreed to it, since it was a lot of work, but I was happy to oblige.

That first dinner (if memory serves correctly) included a nice insalata caprese; French onion soup (with vegetable stock, of course); broiled portabella mushrooms with fresh mozzarella, tomato, and basil, served with asparagus and red potatoes; melon and port; and a cheese and fruit platter. We will have started with a cocktail then paired wines with each course. The entire meal took more than four hours to enjoy.

The next month we enjoyed a Christmas feast. In January we had a fancy Burns’ Supper. Then in February we had a five-course Valentine’s dinner. After enjoying fancy dinners four months in a row, we decided that we’d keep it up. And we always dressed for the occasion—me in a fancy dress and him in a shirt and tie.

After a while, we gave each dinner a theme. We’d have French food one evening and Greek food—complete with Ouzo—the next time. It was a great way to try new recipes; which could be tricky since Paul was a vegetarian, but I love a good challenge—and good food! And whilst I did the cooking, Paul would sort out a great selection of music and light the candles.

Yes, we were oh-so-la-de-da. But we enjoyed our special evenings.

Our last fancy dinner was Easter 2009; just two weeks before Paul died. My last fancy dinner was November 2009 when I went to his university reunion; which made me smile because when he first suggested a fancy dinner for his November birthday four years earlier, he used those university dinners as his inspiration.

Anyhow, I miss those evenings of too much food and too much drink; those evenings where we just relaxed and had fun and enjoyed each others’ company. But I’m glad that I have the happy memories to look back on.

There’s no real point to this, sorry to say. But if you’re looking for someone to join you at your next dinner party, just drop me a line!

Not finished!

Yesterday I shared the finished scarf for my foster daughter’s Christmas present. Today, I’m sharing the unfinished afghan!

Thankfully, she is off mucking out stalls in a neighbour’s horse barn right now. (Really.) I’m taking advantage of the free time to get a few rows done. At this rate, the afghan will be bigger than the scarf by Christmas morning.

Yay!

How hokey!

I think it was Celeste’s wedding when we started the tradition of doing the Hokey Pokey at Cook Girl weddings. I remember all of us girls standing in line together for a photo and one or two of us started goofing around. Which got a couple others goofing around; which meant most of us were in on it.

We laughed and giggled as we danced. Except for the eldest Cook Girl who was far too mature for such silliness.

And at the next few weddings we did it again. And at the last wedding (mine) we did it for a final time. Only this time, some of my friends joined in. But still, the eldest was a stick-in-the-mud and wouldn’t play. (She doesn’t know it yet, but when her daughters get married, I’m totally going to get them in on the tradition. And they’ll do it because they totally love their Awesome Aunt Frances.)

Here’s a fun video of us dancing around from Jessica’s wedding. Sadly, I don’t think I got video of us dancing at mine. Oh well, I have the memories …

2010 Christmas card and letter

I sent out my holiday Christmas cards on Monday and, as promised, am sharing the card and letter with all of you. After all, just because you’re not on my mailing list doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get the fun of a Christmas card and letter. Right? So, without further ado …

Dear Family and Friends

As I sat to write my 2010 Christmas letter, I struggled with how to start it. It’s difficult to write a letter about all of the wonderful things I’ve experienced the past year when all of those wonderful things were shadowed with grief. But still, there were wonderful things to share.

The year got off to a slow start as I’d taken ill on Christmas and wasn’t feeling better until mid-way through January. But by the end of the month, I was running the “Freeze Your Fanny 5K” with my then 10-year-old nephew, Haden. It was my first race since Paul died and Haden’s presence made it much easier for me. (This was Haden’s first-ever race.) That same day, I hosted a Burns’ Supper at my house—complete with haggis, neeps, and tatties. And proper Scotch, of course.

In late-February and early-March, my Mom and I took a trip to the UK. Our first stop was England where we attended the Ryan Family Reunion. We then drove up to Scotland making several stops along the way. It was Mom’s first trip overseas and I was so pleased to be showing her around. I think the she understands a bit more why I feel so at home in Scotland now that she’s experienced it.

April and May, if I’m honest, were blurs as I marked the anniversary of Paul’s death as well as what would have been our 5th wedding anniversary. But, like the months before and after, I managed to make it through with the support and love of my family and friends.

Over the summer I spent time running and playing golf, reading and writing, and working—a lot. I also managed to attend my first-ever girls’ weekend at one point at The Beach House near Vantage, Washington, and ran in my hometown’s Runner Stumbles 5K over Fourth of July Weekend. (And whilst it wasn’t in the summer, my new running partner wouldn’t forgive me if I didn’t say it: Haden and I also ran in the Spokane, Washington, 10K on 10-10-10.)

Of course, one of the biggest changes in the last year is that I’ve become a foster mom to an 11-year-old girl. [The Kid] came to stay with me in mid-August and will be with me [until she’s not with me anymore]. She is a great kid; full of energy and very artistic. She is intelligent and funny and has this sceptical little look about her when I’m telling hilarious jokes. (She doesn’t think they’re as funny as I do.)

So there you have it: 2010 in a nutshell. If this little update wasn’t enough for you, please feel free to check out my awesome blog (www.JustFrances.com) for loads of up-to-date exciting happenings with my boring life!

I am looking forward to 2011 and am certain it will have great things in store for me. It won’t be the same without Paul to share it with, but I am blessed to have all of you to help celebrate life with me. Your support and love has been amazing. I hope that the past year has been good to you, and that the year to come brings you all of the joy and happiness you deserve.

Merry Christmas!
Just Frances

A cartridge in a bare tree

Growing up, one of my favourite Christmas decorations was a small twiggy, leafless branch, planted in a little pot and standing 6-8” tall. Hanging from one of the little stick-limbs was a spent bullet casing.

Very obviously, this was a “Cartridge in a Bare Tree”.

It made me giggle as a child and it makes me giggle as a grown up.

I wonder if my parents still have that silly little tree.

And I wonder if I can find one for myself.

Wait! What am I saying? I’m a redneck hick chick from Small Town America. I’ll just go shoot a gun, pick up the spent shells, snap a twig from a tree, and make my own!

Yes, that sounds like a fun weekend art project. But maybe not one my foster daughter should assist with …

Image courtesy of The Forestry Forum

Tree time

With less than two weeks before Christmas, I am trying to get into the spirit. I’ll admit it’s difficult, but I am trying.

I had planned to bring out all of my decorations this morning but when it came right down to it, I guess I’m not ready to display those memories this year. So, this afternoon I loaded the kid up and we went to town to buy a new tree.

We decided that we would get a small tree that could go on the plant stand and were pleased to find one that had pinecones and fake berries already on the tree. That meant we just needed to get a small package of bobbles and some pretty garland to finish it off.

The kid made a lovely star to top the tree and did all the decorating herself. (After I tied string onto the bobbles.) She was extremely pleased with the tree—and even more pleased to know that it’s her tree that she can take with her when she decides she’s sick of living with me.

I know it’s not a big, traditional tree, but we decided it works for us. Plus, the kid liked the idea that because it’s her tree (and more importantly, doesn’t have my precious ornaments from my childhood) she can re-arrange it as often as she wants. She’s just not allowed to touch the presents under it!

Oh! And for those wondering, I have managed enough Christmas spirit to make cards and write my annual letter this year. (Can I call it an annual letter, having missed last year’s?) Anyhow, if you’re on my list, expect it in the post soon because I’m heading out to mail them tomorrow.

If you’re not on my list, please know that it’s nothing personal and I still think you’re awesome! (And it’s really just a re-hash of things you’ve read here, so you’re not missing anything!) BUT, I will post a picture of the card later for all of my curious readers!

So tree and cards are sorted. Now I suppose I’d best go buy some gifts, since I’ve yet to even think about that!

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

Tearful but thankful

Well, it would seem that I wasn’t meant to have a proper Thanksgiving this year. I wished for one, and even invited family and friends to join me, but no one was able to come. So instead, I decided that I would make the trip to my homeland to share a traditional turkey dinner with my parents and one of my sisters and her family. (Though between us we’d decided that our ‘traditional’ dinner would be eaten out at a nice restaurant in town followed by desserts at my sister’s.)

Whilst I’d really wanted to host dinner this year, I was happy with the plan because it would mean that I could run in a local 5K race with my nephew on Friday and, more importantly, that I would be able to visit Paul’s grave on Saturday for what would have been his birthday.

We tried to make it, but once I finally got to I-90, the roads were just too slick for safe travel. It’s funny that the rural farm roads I’d been on for nearly 60 miles—which were covered in drifting snow so bad that you couldn’t actually see the road—was a more pleasurable experience than the freeway! So I had to make the difficult call to turn around and return home. Back home where food would need to be scrounged because we’d eaten the fresh stuff in the days before; anticipating being away for a few days.

My foster daughter seemed to handle the disappointment OK. Maybe that’s because upon returning home she instantly went out sledding with her friend; which worked well for me because I needed to be a complete sobbing mess for a while and I couldn’t do it in front of her. And I sobbed a lot after she went out to play. But thankfully I regained my composure and came up with an alternative plan for us before she returned.

When the kid arrived back home we got into our jammies and I started to prepare a feast of grilled cheese sandwiches, saltines with peanut butter, oranges, microwave popcorn, and stale peanut butter cookies for dessert. All to be enjoyed whilst curled up in front of the fire place watching Stuart Little.

But just as the pans for grilling the sandwiches were ready, there was a knock at the door. It seems the neighbours noticed my car was home and knew that meant I didn’t make it to the homeland after all. So they brought loads of food for us—apologising for not noticing sooner or they’d have had us over for a proper meal! An invitation for a post-feeding visit was extended, which we happily accepted.

So, as we sat down to our lovely meal of ham and turkey—with a big plate of desserts tucked away in the kitchen—we sat to reflect on how our miserable Thanksgiving was a day to be thankful for, indeed!

And after partaking in delicious desserts that our wonderful neighbours brought, we wandered through the snow over to their house for a visit. The kid played with the kids; I sat and shared a bottle of wine with the Mrs.; and the Mr. kept the kids in line and the fire stoked.

I’m still very sad that I didn’t make it to the homeland and suppose that it’s partly because I can’t be there to take flowers to Paul on his birthday now. But still, I am thankful today.

I am thankful that despite the bad roads I made it safely home.

I am thankful that my neighbours, whom I barely know, were so kind and thoughtful and not only shared their food but opened their home to us to share in the evening.

I am thankful to be warm and toasty in my own home as the kid sleeps soundly in her bed.

I am thankful that even when everything seems so sad and low, things always seem to work out with the grace of God.

And I am thankful that today, all the way in England, my great-nephew, Travis, was born. A Thanksgiving baby is always something to be thankful for.

I’m thankful for…

This Thanksgiving I have much to be thankful for. I have amazing parents; five sisters who’ve supplied me with loads and loads of fantastic nieces and nephews; wonderful in-laws; and terrific friends. I have my health. I have a job. I have a nice house. I have a car that runs well. And I have the best memories of the best husband in the whole wide world.

But there’s a special group of people that I want to thank today, because they have been such good friends to me for many years, even though I’ve never met them.

Yes, I want to say thank you to my ‘make believe’ friends. They’re a special group of people whom I’ve only ever met online—mostly through online forums for expats and repats or linguist snobs.

From the start, these friends have been good friends. Yes, our relationships are not typical and, yes, our relationships are not fully-formed, but some of those forum-folks are just amazing! We have so much in common yet we’re so very different.

There are teachers and airplane engineers; flight attendants and professional athletes; book editors and web designers; unemployed bums and retirees. They’re rich; they’re poor. They’re well-educated; they’re high school drop-outs. They’re married and moms and dads; they’re habitually single and childless.

We have nothing in common and everything in common all at once.

But I’m not thankful for those traits or those commonalities. I’m thankful for that subset of my forum friends who are real friends, too. Many of us found our way to FaceBook from our forums and have regular contact there. We read each others’ blogs. We review each others’ resumes. We help each other with anything we can.

Long before Paul died they were there. But what has meant the most to me is that the moment my sister sent an email about Paul’s death to the group on my behalf, their love and support started to flow in. And it hasn’t stopped.

This group of make believe friends are there for me every day. They cheer for me. They root for me. They care for me. And they support me. Emails, text messages, phone calls, Skype and FaceBook chats, real cards and real letters in the post. All from people I’ve never met.

I try to tell them when replying to posts and emails how much they mean to me, but this is my public announcement of that fact.

To my amazing ‘make believe’ friends: You’ve all meant so much to me over the years and I honestly don’t know how well I would have fared without your love and support.

Thank you, my ‘make believe’ friends! And have an amazingly happy Thanksgiving!!

YayDay! countdown

Yay! It’s just 89 days until YayDay!!

YayDay! is one of my favourite days on the modern calendar. It’s a self-created holiday that I’ve been celebrating since I first began working proper office hours. (Which was better in Scotland where my day ended at 4:30 instead of the typical American 5 o’clock stopping time I have now.)

But what you really want to know is what YayDay! is all about.

Well, YayDay! is the cold, dreary winter day when the sun doesn’t set until after 5. And this winter, that day is Monday, February 7, when the sun will set at 5:01 p.m.—one minute after my work day is over. (Which is just two weeks before my birthday, when sunset will be at 5:22 p.m., if you wondered.)

Yay!

I don’t know what I’ll do to celebrate this year. In the past, celebrations have included going out for dinner, enjoying a bottle of Champaign at home, or heading out to the pub. Last year I wasn’t really in a celebratory mood so simply marked the day by remembering past celebrations with Paul. I’m open to suggestions—no matter how silly!

Your YayDay! might not be the same as mine because your location will determine your sunset times. So check out the US Naval Oceanography Portal’s website to find your magic YayDay! [Not in the USA? Check out this site instead.]

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.

Boo!

A few weeks ago I wrote of my apprehension about Halloween’s approach and wondered how I would manage to get through what was once a favoured holiday. And then it dawned on me that I would manage by inviting the kid’s mom to come and participate in the day with us. I’d known that there would come a time when we’d invite her over for dinner and it just seemed to me that this could be a solution for everyone—me because I wasn’t emotionally prepared to take the kid trick-or-treating and them because mom-and-daughter time is awesome!

After a lazy sleep in, the kid and I got up and started to get ready for our company. It was a bit hard to motivate the kid to clean her room, but once she realized that she couldn’t put on her costume until her chores were done, the cleaning went a lot faster. And as she cleaned, I started to get everything ready for a Halloween feast. Creepy-named foods and all!

When 3 o’clock came around, the kid anxiously waited outside for her mom and godfather, who’d volunteered to do the driving. She then gave them the grand tour of the house before we all sat down to visit before dinner.

Just as we finished eating, the first group of trick-or-treaters knocked on the door. Which prompted the kid to put on her mask, grab her sword, and rush for the door to partake in the night’s begging activities—reminding her mom and godfather to remain in the car when she went up to houses. (This is a standard demand from my understanding—though I still can’t believe that it’s become the ‘norm’ for kids to be driven around trick-or-treating!)

When the kid returned her bag was filled to the brim with candy—three and a half pounds’ worth! She even got a couple of full-sized candy treats, glow-in-the-dark stick thingies, and an awesome plastic cup. The kid’s evening ended with a yummy slice of Crazy Cake before our guests departed and I’m now relaxing on the couch where I’ll wait a bit longer for the last of the kids who are still out enjoying All Hallows’ Eve…

Sadly, I wasn’t able to muster the same enthusiasm I once had for the holiday, but I think I managed to fake it well enough so that others couldn’t tell. Heck, I even managed to squeeze in a Halloween corn maze and a fun pumpkin-making activity!

And on the whole, this year was easier than last year so I have hope that one day I will enjoy the holidays with as much excitement as I once did. Until then, I’ll keep faking it because it seems to work!

Oh, and if you wondered, on the menu was:

  • Devilled eyeballs (Devilled eggs)
  • Dragon scales and monster mucus (Chips and dip)
  • Lizard brains (Cherry tomatoes)
  • Bloody guts served over a bed of worms (Spaghetti with meat sauce)
  • Witches’ fingers (Cooked carrot sticks)
  • Wilted brains (Salad)
  • Dragon blood (Cranberry juice)
  • Graveyard dirt (Crazy cake)

It was yummy! Don’t you wish you could have joined us?

Hooked

I work full time. I parent an 11-year-old foster kid. I have a house that requires my care and attention. I have applications to complete for entrance to a postgraduate program. I have this amazing blog to keep up with. And I have the full-time occupation of being completely awesome. (And there are loads of other tasks and responsibilities I’ve not listed, like the chore of being extremely modest all the time…)

Oh, and I have a queen-sized afghan and a baby blanket that I’m busy crocheting.

So, you’d think that I’d recognize that I have enough on my plate, right?

Wrong!

On a trip to the big city yesterday I purchased yarn for two new projects. Both of which I need to finish by Christmas. One is a purple scarf (started last night) and the other is a twin-sized purple and green ripple afghan. I know it seems silly, but the kid just loves the queen-sized afghan I’m working on and has also admired my hand-crocheted scarves.

Well, I guess I’m just a sucker because now I’m busy making Christmas pressies for the kid after she goes to bed. I hope she likes them. I really, really hope she does! (And don’t worry, she’ll get proper, store-bought rubbish, too!)

Papier-mâché pumpkins; Part 2

Yay! One week later and our fabulous papier-mâché pumpkins are done! This was a fun and inexpensive project and requires absolutely no talent what-so-ever. Plus, most of the supplies are probably things you already have in your home which makes it even easier. (Supply list below.)

The kid ran the camera for most of the project, including the video segments, so check out the step-by-step photo gallery to see 1) how you can make your own pumpkins and 2) what an amazing talent the kid has with a camera.

(In the photo: My pumpkin is on the left; the kid’s is on the right. And that’s Schrodie sniffin’ around.)

Here’s another video for your enjoyment. And if you missed the first set of videos you can check them out here or visit my YouTube channel. Yay!

Supply list for two pumpkins:

  • Newspaper
  • Cardboard
  • 2 cereal boxes (or similar weight material)
  • 1 paper towel cardboard roll thingy
  • Stapler and staples
  • Duct tape
  • Masking tape
  • Flour
  • Water
  • Paint
  • Paint brush
  • A fun CD of your choosing
  • A fun attitude! (This can be faked to start out if needed and at some point in the project, it will become genuine!)

Papier-mâché pumpkins; Part 1

Yay! We’ve been busy making papier-mâché pumpkins for two days now. I’m using a new technique (no balloons for this gal!) and it seems to be working out pretty well. I had to buy some orange paint, but other than that everything is either recycled materials or general household junk (staples, duct tape, flour, etc) which is pretty cool!

The kid is running the camera for this project (mostly) and has decided that we should share the videos of our pumpkins in progress right away, instead of waiting for the whole thing to be done.

So, here are some fun little videos for you. Check back next week for step-by-step photos of the whole project so that you can make your very own Papier-mâché pumpkin! [[UPDATE: See the photo gallery here!]]

Making the goop:

Pumpkin building:

The kid’s turn:

Scarily unexcited

Halloween is less than four weeks away and I am anything but excited about it. In fact, there is this niggling feeling of apprehension about what once was a favorite holiday. If I had my way, the day wouldn’t happen; the kid wouldn’t trick-or-treat and I would turn off the house lights so that no one came to the house for treats, either. Yes, I know how sad that all sounds.

Two years ago I was giddy with excitement. I was busy planning and creating costumes for Paul and my niece. I was decorating the house and the yard. I was buying candy. I was planning a ‘scary’ dinner menu of witches’ fingers, bloody eyeballs, mummy brains, and (of course) bloody Marys to wash it all down.

Two years ago Paul and I spoke excitedly about the following year and about how he would get to take the kids we planned to adopt trick-or-treating whilst I stayed home to hand out candy to kids coming to the house. We were both excited about that future.

But instead of the plans Paul and I had for last year, I turned off the lights and drove to Spokane to spend Halloween with my aunt and her friends who were all going out to dinner. The only way I knew it was Halloween was that everyone (including me) was dressed up. I wasn’t excited about Halloween, but I did enjoy it for what it was—a night away from reality.

This year, I just can’t get excited.  I’m trying to, really I am. But I can’t. So I’m trying to fake it. I’m trying to pretend that I’m excited about costumes. I’m trying to pretend that I’m excited about decorating the house. I’m trying to pretend that I’m excited about trick-or-treating. And I’m trying to pretend that I’m OK with doing all of this without Paul. I’m trying to pretend that I don’t mind living this new future that is so very different than my old future.

I’m afraid that if this is how I feel for something as simple as Halloween that it will be even harder when Thanksgiving and Christmas roll around. I’m afraid that my sorrow will ruin the holidays for the kid, who deserves a happy and cheerful holiday season. I’m afraid that I may never really enjoy the holidays again—that I’ll have to slap on a fake smile and pretend for the rest of my life.

In an effort to not worry about too much at once, and because Paul always said you have to finish one holiday before planning for the next, I will hold off on other holiday stresses until after the ghouls and goblins have finished begging for candy.

In an effort to keep faking it, I am planning a way-fun papier-mâché pumpkin-making project with the kid and am even thinking about possible costumes for me. And if all else fails, I will just keep reminding myself that I get to eat all the left-over Halloween candy.

I just hope that I’m able to fake it well enough so that the kid doesn’t know its all smoke and mirrors…

Punctuate this!

Yay! Today is National Punctuation Day. And if you know me at all you know that this is a day I love to celebrate.

So here’s to the proper use of those amazing little marks and their ever-important jobs of clarifying meaning by indicating the separation of words into sentences, clauses, and phrases.

WooHoo!

Apostrophe: Predominately used to indicate the omission of one or more letters (contraction) or for the marking of possessives.

Brackets and parenthesis: Used as matched sets to set apart or interject other or supplementary text.

Colon: As a general rule, a colon informs the reader that the following proves, explains, or simply provides elements of what is referred to before.

Comma: Used to indicate a separation of ideas or of elements within the structure of a sentence.
(And let us not forget the awesomeness of the Oxford comma!)

Dash: (of which there are two primary types: en dash and em dash; not to be confused with a hyphen)
En dash: Used to show a range of values, relationships and connections, compound adjectives, and to relate parenthetical expressions.
Em dash: Often used for the demarcation of parenthetical thoughts or similar interpolation but also used to indicate an unfinished sentence when a quoted speaker is interrupted.

Ellipsis: Usually indicates an intentional omission of a word in original text but can also be used to indicate a pause in speech or an unfinished thought.

Exclamation mark: Generally used after an interjection or exclamation to indicate strong feelings or high volume, and often marks the end of a sentence.

Hyphen: Used to join words or to separate the syllables in a single word.

Kissend*: A common way to sign off on a message (hand-written or electronic) in the UK – though without the same lovey-dovey connotation it would carry in the USA. x

Period (full stop): Used as the concluding punctuation to most sentences but can also be used to mark initialisms or abbreviations.

Question mark: A mark most often found at the end of a sentence or phrase to indicate a direct question.

Quotation marks: Used primarily to mark the beginning and end of a passage attributed to another and repeated word for word.

Semicolon: Used to connect independent clauses and indicating a closer relationship between the clauses than a period.

* OK, I made up the name for that bit of punctuation, but it’s a punctuation mark that I like and I decided that it needed a name so there you have it: A kissend. x

Falling into autumn

I used to enjoy the confluence of seasons; the awkward meeting between weather patterns—one anxious to begin its reign whilst the other tries in vain to retain its glory. Summer will soon lose the battle and fade to the changing colors of the trees and the crisp morning air that belong so adamantly to autumn. Despite my once-strong enjoyment of this seasonal change, for a second year in a row I find myself quite down over the start of the fall.

I recall the start of the cooler weather last year and the odd feeling that came over me. I should have been excited about shopping for new school clothes and supplies for the kids Paul and I were planning to adopt; excited about attending parent-teacher conferences and school concerts; excited about taking kids trick-or-treating. As I looked out the windows last year, I could see excited children walking to school with their backpacks slung over one shoulder laughing and giggling as they kicked at the fallen leaves. And there I was in an empty house.

The raw pain of last year has subsided, but there is still a bit of grief with the shift of seasons. Maybe it’s because I know that the dream of starting a family with Paul and participating in the joy of the first days of school is a distant memory. Maybe it’s because the fall means the start of the holidays—Halloween is just around the corner followed quickly by Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, and even Burns’ Night—or maybe it’s because some days I’m crazier than others.

Side note: I realize that I now have a foster child to care for and that she’s doing the whole “back to school” thing—and more, she’s starting middle school—but it’s not the same. I’m happy to be sharing this time with her, and I think she’s happy to be spending it with me, but we’re not creating a permanent family. We both know it’s temporary—we just don’t know how long temporary will be. If I’m honest, I don’t know if her presence makes me sadder about the changing of the seasons or if it’s making the changes easier on me. I may never know. (This is all said without regret. I really am pleased to have the kid here with me. Really.) But I digress…

Much like last year, I really do want to be excited about the changing seasons. I want to be excited about Halloween and Thanksgiving. And I really want to be excited about chopping wood for the fire place and getting the house ready for the cold of winter. But I’m not.

I wonder if my apathy toward the changing seasons is because I can’t see where my future is going. With each changing season I’m witnessing the future I once dreamt of creep further and further away—but I still can’t imagine the new future that will take its place. It seems that the world is changing and that time is marching on, but I’m standing still.

I know that I’m thinking about the future and trying to re-shape it but the part that I’m trying to shape is still so up-in-the-air that I suppose I’m too frightened to believe it may happen. (Is there irony in the fact that some kids dread the start of fall because it means going back to school and that I dread the start of next fall because I fear I won’t be going back to school?)

Anyhow, that’s me today. A bit sad and melancholy about a season that once saw me giddy and excited about school supplies, Halloween costumes, and Thanksgiving feasts.

Note to self: Snap out of it already, you whiny little cry baby!

Remember yesterday

Woke up to the sound of pouring rain; the wind would whisper and I’d think of you. And all the tears you cried, that called my name; and when you needed me I came through.

Oh yeah, I’m totally remembering yesterday* today. It started with a text message from my 13-year-old niece who has found that she loves my music collection. Her text was letting me know that one of her new-found songs from my past put her ‘in high spirits’. The song was Good Love by Poison.

Well, that text made me set my iPod to play Poison. But then I felt the need for a total Hair Band** Fest.

So, I set up my “Hair Band” play list (yes, I have one) and hit play. (What a way to spend a Friday at the office!) Then I let my Facebook public know about my celebration of Hair Band Friday. And they quickly made posts of their own about the new celebration. (Yay! I love being a trend-setter!)

And because I know you’re dying for this information, my Hair Band play list includes:

Yay for music! And yay for Friday Hair Band Fests everywhere!

* The title and opening quote are from Skid Row’s “I Remember You” – in case you didn’t get the reference.
** What I call Hair Band, Paul called Poodle Rock. The ever-knowing
Wikipedia calls it Glam Metal.

Correct-handed

Today is International Left-Handers’ Day. Yay! A whole day set aside to celebrate the awesomeness of being a lefty!

So, for my part of the celebration, I’ve made another ridiculous YouTube video. It’s a bit long (nearly eight minutes), but check it out to learn all about my prized left-handed possessions!

Wasn’t that fun? But, moving on…

Some interesting things to ponder:

  • Estimates vary on the percentage of left-handers in the world from a low of 5 percent to a high of 15 percent
  • Left-handers are made with 100% pure awesomeness
  • Left-handers are thought to have a higher likelihood of being dyslexic or of stuttering
  • Most left-handers draw figures facing to the right
  • Twenty percent of all Mensa members are left-handed
  • Left-handers are 100% beautiful
  • As seen from the North Pole, the Earth rotates to the left, counterclockwise, and proceeds to the left around the sun
  • International Left Hander’s Day was first celebrated on August 13, 1976
  • Everyone is born right handed, and only the greatest overcome it
  • Left-handers are made with 100% pure awesomeness (that fact deserved repeating)

Wanna purchase left-handed things? Here are some great resources to check out*:

Oh, and since it’s my blog, I have to give a shout out to some of my favorite lefties!

  • My Daddy, who taught me how to use my correct hand;
  • My bestest friend, Rachel;
  • My really cool nephew, Adrian;
  • My really cool nephew, Stephen;
  • My maternal uncles Fred and Joe;
  • And my favorite lefty ever, my amazingly-awesome husband, Paul, who loved how excited I got about this day every year!
  • (Oh, and a special mention to Ned Flanders and Kermit, too!)

So, again, Happy International Left-Handers’ Day!!

* I am merely providing links and cannot offer an endorsement on any of these outlets. I’ve never used them; I don’t receive any benefits from you using them. These were all found my searching the terms “left-handed products” in Google.

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!

Going green

Across America, people are going green. Not in an effort to be more sensitive to the environment but rather in an effort to get in touch with their inner-Irish. Regardless of family ancestry (mine being Germans from Russia) every American is Irish today. Or is that Oirish?

Traditionally a Catholic holiday and feast day, St. Patrick’s Day, like many other holidays, has been overly commercialized and Americanized in recent years. Our “Irish” traditions are very different than those celebrated by natives of Ireland, living in Ireland, but they were probably loosely based on some village traditions brought over by Irish immigrants then morphed as other cultures began to participate in the hype.

From parades and municipality-sponsored events to pub crawls with green beer and Baileys there are events for everyone! School children wear green to protect themselves from being pinched; families feast on corned beef and cabbage.

Me? I totally get into it! I have special socks and a selection of fun and funky hats and headbands. I wear green clothes and green jewelry. I eat Irish-themed foods (or dye them green if I can’t spin it Irish any other way). This was all very much a culture shock to Paul – the son of an Irishman who grew up in England – but he went along with it because his kookie American wife was going to be Irish on March 17 whether he played along or not.

Of course, as it’s Just Frances now, I didn’t have anyone to buy a St. Patrick’s Day card for. And I didn’t feel like making a big corned beef. And, well, being alone on these holidays just reminds me that I’m alone every day, so this year I scaled back the celebration. I still wore the socks and green clothes of course; I just didn’t go all crazy in my normal style.

But I did need dinner. Potatoes are very Irish, so chips were on the menu. And beer. Green beer. It’s the Oirish in me that insisted on that one…