To date, or not to date?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New year; new hopes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So long, 2012!

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

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

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

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

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

Only in my dreams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Only In My Dreams
by Just Frances

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

A successful failure

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

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

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

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

Failure to launch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Digital Diaries: Constructing and managing online identities through blog therapy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Packing up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The dating game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Sing a song

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

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

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

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

I know—my lyrics leave something to be desired!

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

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

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

Yes, I am that kind of crazy.

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

Gadget Girl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Gadget Day, everyone!

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

First flowers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The cruelty of random memories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dissertation Month Update:

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

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

Tomorrow’s task list:

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

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

Welcome to dissertation month!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tomorrow’s task list:

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

They’re braver

A friend of mine sent me a link to a fellow widow’s blog this weekend and I had a wee peek around to see what she had to say. It’s not the first ‘Widow Blog’ I’ve read, and it certainly won’t be the last, but it’s made me realise several things about how un-brave I am at times.

I can rant on and on about what drives me mad about [some] Widow Blogs—and I almost did until I deleted a couple of paragraphs—but today I want to talk about what makes me realise that I’m not as brave as other widows out there. And I suppose that bravery comparison extends beyond fellow widows. I mean, there are loads of bloggers out there who make me feel like a scaredy-cat.

When I started my first post-Paul blog, I did so with a specific aim to blog about my grief. And that really helped, but I wasn’t brave enough to really put my name to it. I wasn’t brave enough to share the link (or posts) with my friends and family. I mean, I shared it with a couple of them, but I was very guarded about it. And, I suppose I was guarded about what I wrote. Yes, it was a bit raw at times, but I wasn’t able to share all of my thoughts, feelings, and emotions because I was afraid of offending people, but also because I was afraid to admit some of those things personally.

With Just Frances, I’ve actively shared the link with family and friends, and that means that I’m even more guarded about what I share. In some cases, I’m not sharing my anger. Other times, I’m not sharing my fears. Sometimes, I don’t share my adventures, because I don’t think it’s fair to blog about friends who aren’t really into the whole online life thing. And then there are the times when I don’t share anything.

But I read some of these blogs and I am amazed at how brave the writers’ are. They share the most intimate details of their lives not only with strangers, but with their family and friends. (I know that sounds backwards, but the anonymity that blogging allows means some people share with the ethers without the knowledge of their ‘real’ world.) These bloggers talk about depression and suicidal thoughts and anger and fights with friends and dating and everything in between. But not just in passing, vague terms—they go into details. They spill out this raw emotion for all to see.

And that, Dear Reader, is oh-so brave.

I don’t know how many times I’ve written down such raw emotion only to delete it before it I even open up my blog’s content management system. I’m just afraid to share some things. I’m afraid of what others will think. I’m afraid of being judged but those who don’t understand. I’m afraid that sharing some things might force me to actually face them.

I know I share. And I know that some people think I share too much. But I guess that I’m forever aware that I don’t share everything. I don’t even share most things. And when there’s not a real person next to me on the couch to share things with from time-to-time, it can seem a bit crowded in my mind.

So, yeah. Sometimes, I feel like a great big scaredy-cat when it comes to sharing things on my blog. But, then, I don’t suppose I’ve ever shared everything with anyone. (I shared 99.9% of everything with Paul. I still do, but it’s just not the same.)

I don’t really know what the point if this post is, other than to say I feel like an inadequate blogger at times. But I guess that’s OK.

As for that rant about Widow Blogs, maybe I’ll bore you with that in a day or two. (I know, you’re totally on the edge of your seat waiting for that post!)

Toenails

I went back-and-forth about what I should post today and for a brief moment, I even thought that I might not post at all. But then I remembered that I promised I’d post more—in part to prevent myself from withdrawing from society all together. So, I’m posting about my toenails.

So, here’s the deal. I’m a runner. I’ve been a runner since I was in high school. And for years and years and years I had people tell me about how they’ve lost toenails from running too much. Apparently, it really is a problem with distance runners. But it was never a problem I had.

Until after I ran the Inaugural Homeland Half last May. Yep, a few weeks after that run, I lost a toenail—my pointer-finger equivalent on my right foot. Really. My toenail was so damaged that it lifted away and eventually fell off. It was so weird. I blamed it on the fact that I’d not trimmed my toenails prior to the run, rather than the distance I ran.

And then, I ran the Loch Ness Marathon. And after that, I noticed that the pointer-finger equivalent on my left foot was a bit loose—but unlike that first toenail, this one had a new nail growing underneath. Of course, at the time I had dark red nail polish, so didn’t also notice it was also slightly darker than normal. But when I took off the polish, I noticed that not only was that toenail dark, but my big toe on my right foot had a massive black spot on it, too.

Eventually, the nail on my left foot fell off, giving way to the new (but not yet completely formed) nail. But the big toenail on my right foot just sat there with its dark spot. And sat, and sat. Then, after a while, I noticed there was a ridge on top of the toenail which I soon filed down to even out the surface.

Now, there is a new toenail growing underneath, but the old toenail is still firmly attached. And this means that I have a dual-layer toenail on my big right toe. It seems that I have about ¼ inch of old toenail to grow out before this rectifies itself. But as my toenails tend to grow very slowly, it might not be back to normal until my next marathon. Which means, I risk going through this whole toenail trauma all over again.

And that’s basically today’s post: An overshare about the condition of my toenails because of my running insanity. I guess the good side, however, is that 1) no one but me really sees my toenails; 2) my red polish habit masks any deformities; and 3) I’m not likely to talk about this topic again.

(Admit it: Sometimes you wish you never stopped by to see what I had to share!)

I dreamt a dream

I wrote this poem a few weeks ago, when life was going great and my future was filled with hope: job prospects; PhD funding opportunities; and more! When I wrote it, I did so bracing myself for disappointment (hence the second part) but the hope kept coming and I actually began to think that maybe—just maybe—my dreams were starting to come true.

Alas, things began to crumble (or is that that my eggs began to crack?) and I’ve been left in a bit of despair.

I am, Dear Reader, struggling to find a bit of hope these days. I’m working on Plan B—which is the ultimate ‘I give up’ plan—but I can’t quite bring myself to put it into motion. I’d like to think that’s because I have a small sliver of hope left in my life, but (said with my newly-acquired defeatist attitude) I fear it’s just wishful thinking.

Anyhow, I am continuing to search for a job (several application deadlines this week!) and am still searching for that golden PhD funding egg. And a couple of friends are doing what they can to help with those things. I am trying to keep the dream alive. I really am. It just seems like it’s becoming a nightmare sometimes…

I dreamt a dream whilst still awake
by Just Frances

I dreamt a dream whilst still awake;
I savoured every moment.
With eyes wide open, I smiled;
I imagined all of the joy the dream could bring.
My heart was happy;
Filled with hope and anticipation.
I thought of the future and all of its possibilities.

I dreamt a dream whilst still awake;
And cried when it began to fade.
Reality’s light brought sorrow;
The joy would never be mine.
My heart was heavy;
Filled with longing and disappointment.
I thought of a future without hope or possibilities.

[I’ll try for a happier poem next time. I promise!]

Getting back into the [blogging] game

You may have noticed that I’ve been rather quiet these past few weeks. Maybe you’ve found that refreshing or maybe you’ve been wondering where I’ve been and if I’m still alive. So, I guess I should tell you!

First of all, I’m still alive. (In case you really did wonder.) As for where I’ve been, well, I’ve been in my flat most of the time. Really.

Life has been a bit crazy lately. For much of May, I was so busy with school and happy happenings that I didn’t really have the time to post. There was a whisky festival, a wedding reception, a half-marathon, a couple of out-of-town visits with friends, and plenty of other joyous things to occupy my time.

Then toward the end of May, I was jolted from my joy with the news of a friend’s suicide. A couple of days later I found myself in an irreparable falling-out with another friend followed by a failed attempt at entering the dating world. And all of those things, coupled with my so-far failing job and PhD funding searches, threw me into a spiral of despair and self-pity. And tears. Lots and lots and lots of tears.

And all of that means that I have spent every day of the month upset. I’ve been sulking and hiding away from the world. I’ve been, quite honestly, a mess. And I’ve not really felt like sharing everything here because I’m sure that I would sound like a whiney little cry baby.

But, I am pleased to say, I’ve been feeling a little better the past couple of days. In fact, I’ve been out of bed before 9.30 a.m. every day this week. And I’ve cooked proper meals every day this week. (Tonight will be teriyaki chicken with rice and carrots. Yum.) And I’ve hardly cried at all this week!

Over the next few weeks, I will be extremely busy with my dissertation and I will be filling out as many job applications as I can find. But I’m going to try to post more often. In fact, I might even try to post 3-4 times a week or more—eventually working back up to near-daily posts.

Oh! And I’m thinking about maybe possibly considering selling some of my swirls (reproductions as opposed to originals) on Esty or something. Maybe as note cards? I don’t know. What do you think? (The swirl with this story is my latest one, and the first black/grey one I’ve attempted.)

Expiry dates

I’m a little bit crazy most days. Always have been; always will be. But widowhood seems to have increased my insanity. In fact, it seems to have created new forms of crazy all together!

I thought about sharing a little window into that craziness last week, but decided against it because I don’t really want to bore you with these things. But tonight I had a bit of a meltdown so figured maybe saying it all ‘out loud’ might help me work through it. (Or not. We’ll see.)

Here’s the deal: I can’t buy things with an expiry date of April 26. I just can’t do it. Two years ago, I was out shopping and grabbed a tub of yoghurt. As always, I checked the expiry date and it was April 26. It was days before the first anniversary of Paul’s death (which is April 26 if you haven’t sussed that yet) and I panicked. I put the tub back and started searching for one with a later date. But they were all dated April 26. So I didn’t get any yoghurt. Same thing last year: I couldn’t buy anything with an April 26 expiry date.

So, a few days ago I found myself grabbing a few groceries to tide me over until my next online shop. As I picked up a pack of fresh cheese, I noticed the expiry date (yes, April 26) and realised that there was no way I could do an online shop until after that date, for fear of having something delivered with that dreaded date imprinted on the packaging.

Anyhow, tonight I decided I’d make a nice salad for dinner. I grabbed a bottle of Ranch dressing that I’d bought a few months ago. After putting the salad together, I opened the bottle and noticed the date as I started pouring it—April 26. I froze. I didn’t know what to do. Do I throw it out? Do I force myself to move past this silly block? I didn’t know. I don’t know how long I stood there staring at the salad before deciding that I needed to eat it.

I grabbed a fork, picked up the salad, and went to sit on the couch. But I couldn’t bring myself to eat the salad. Instead, I found myself sobbing uncontrollably over a stupid date. I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t. And with that, I went back to the kitchen and threw it out—the salad and the rest of the dressing.

Then I cried some more. I am, after all, completely insane.

I don’t know what will happen next year. I just know that, apparently, this year I’m still not ready to buy or eat food with an expiry date of April 26. As I said, widowhood has created new kinds of crazy for me!

Without regret

OK, I’m going to answer another question from when I asked what you wanted me to write about. The second question was if I believed in having regrets. So, here’s my take on the issue!

For 38 years, I’ve made decisions to act or not act on thoughts and impulses. I’ve messed up; I’ve made mistakes; I’ve taken wrong turns.

I decided not to attend university after high school because I couldn’t afford it. In my early 20s, I found myself in my first-ever relationship—mostly due to peer pressure. In my mid-20s, I opted to go into massive amounts of debt to [finally] attend university. In my late-20s, I increased my debt by going to Scotland for a year’s study. Then, I decided to put my master’s degree on hold.

In the past three years, I’ve made countless decisions. I made hasty decisions about funeral plans and long-thought-out decisions about headstones. I decided to open my home to a lovely foster child. I quit my job. I said goodbye to my house. I moved to Scotland. I started grad school. I’ve done stupid things and silly things and (maybe) even irresponsible things since Paul died.

My life today is a crazy, jumbled, emotional mess. I don’t own a home or a car. I have very little money in the bank and no job to replenish what is there. I’m stressed out about money; I’m stressed out about my future; I’m stressed out about my mental health. I cry. A lot.

And now, I am 38 years old and I don’t have children. I don’t have a husband. I don’t any of those things that society seems to judge success by. Yes, my life is pretty much a great big fail these days.

But do I have regrets? Not really. I mean, I regret any pain that my decisions may have caused others, but I don’t regret my life’s course. I don’t regret the bad stuff or the shameful stuff or the embarrassing stuff. Because all of those things combine together to make me who I am. All of those things combined together to make the next thing possible. And some of those next things were pretty awesome.

If I had gone to university right after high school, I may never have met Paul.

If I hadn’t dated Loser Boy, I may not have found myself going to university. And I may never have met Paul.

If I hadn’t decided to go to university—and to study abroad—I may never have met Paul.

And who knows how many decisions were made and turns were taken throughout my youth that might have changed my path. And then I may never have met Paul.

I haven’t lived a perfect life but I haven’t lived a life of [out-of-the-ordinary] sin and crime either. But for a moment my life seemed perfect, and that was because I met Paul. And that brief moment of perfection may not have happened if one little decision had been different.

Regrets? No. How can I regret a string of events that brought me countless experiences and friendships and memories? How can I regret a string of decisions that brought me the love of a foster daughter and the love of a husband? No, I have no regrets for the life I’ve lived and the lessons I’ve learned.

A weighty issue

I’m fat. No, that’s not true. That’s so far from the truth that it’s laughable. Heck, I’m not even overweight. Still, I feel ‘fat’(ish).

Here’s the problem: After my marathon I stopped partaking in a normal running routine. And as the days turned to cold, wet, wintery weather, I stopped partaking in most exercise all together. I became rather sedentary, but I continued eating the same volume of food.

Add to all of that, my school schedule means that I have a lot of time on my hands. I don’t have an eight-hour office job to go to, and I’m certainly not spending a full eight hours on campus or at the library. And that means more time for eating out of boredom.

And worse, a long struggle with being sad over the holidays meant that I was less inclined to cook healthy meals and actually got into a habit of eating lots of high-fat, sodium-laden foods.

Combine all of those bad habits together and you get a gooey Frances.

Now, I really do know that I’m not fat. I still fit into my clothes and I can still button my jeans. The problem is that where once there was a super-flat, firm tummy and thighs and a back-side that didn’t jiggle too much, there is now a flabby tummy and wiggly-jiggly bum and thighs.

And it’s making me sad. I feel really mad at myself for letting my body get so out of control. I’m out of shape, I’m not drinking enough water, and I’m jiggling where once I didn’t jiggle.

How sad (and frustrated and desperate) am I? Well, I’ve found myself Googling terms like ‘fast weight loss’ and ‘weight loss food’. I’ve even looked at appetite suppressants. I just looked, but there was a little voice in my head that was saying: ‘Come on. Two weeks on that and you’ll be back to normal!’ No, that’s not a good thing for my mind to be saying to my body. In fact, that’s a stupid thing!

So, the solution: Well, for starters I need to run more. I’ve got my race-a-month challenge, but I need to get more training runs in not only for that, but for my overall health. I also need to eat less. I don’t mean starve myself; I mean cutting out the habit of eating a large bag of crisps in one sitting, or eating half my weight in olives and cheese after dinner every night. I need to drink more water (lots more!). And, I need to start eating healthier foods again—fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats.

I’m not fat. And I’m certainly not suffering from body dysmorphic disorder. I don’t know what I weight and I don’t care. Still, I want to be back to my normal. Which isn’t fat or skinny. It’s more average and toned maybe.

I’m not sharing this bit of information with the hope for advice or tips. I’m sharing it because saying it out loud will make me more accountable to myself to fix it. I’m sharing it because admitting my flaws makes me more determined to fix them.

And I promise that I’ll fix this slowly and without the aid of pills and potions. Good, old-fashioned exercise and healthy eating will set me straight—and will probably help my race times, too!

Break-less spring break

It’s been nearly a week since spring break started, but it’s been anything but a break! Still, this is what I signed up for so I’m not complaining.

I got off to a very productive start, but I admit that I’ve not managed to update you on my progress as promised. Further, I admit that I’ve not managed to get as much running in as I’d hoped for so I won’t be hitting my goal of 30 total miles over the break. Oh, and my taxes might get delayed, since my folks decided to take a last-minute road trip to see some of the glorious waterfalls around Washington State (like this one!) which means that they’re not home to search for a couple of documents I need.

But the rest of my to-do list is going pretty well. No, really. It is!

In fact, today was spent reading (a lot) and writing for my dissertation and working on a job application for a job that I really want, but that I’m not too convinced I’ll even get an interview for. [Enter prayers and an extra dose of hopeful thoughts here.]

Tomorrow is another reading, writing, and applying day. And hopefully by Saturday I’ll be caught up enough to manage a run, too.

Busy, busy, busy…

Out of place

As I walked into town this afternoon, I noticed a dandelion growing in a wall along the pavement. It was sticking out brightly against the grey stone as if to say ‘Hello! I’m here! I belong!’ even though it wasn’t really meant to be there; even though it risked someone removing it or spraying it with deadly chemicals.

And, as sometimes happens when I see things that I wasn’t expecting to see, this little out of place flower (weed?) got me thinking a bit about my own life.

You might recall last week’s post about my struggles to keep it together. Well, without getting into too many details, part of those struggles stemmed from my tenuous future here in Scotland. You see, much like the dandelion, I’m trying to put down roots somewhere that isn’t my natural home. I’m trying to put down roots and live a life of joy, but I’m doing it with the constant fear that someone will walk along and pluck me out and toss me aside—like a weed growing where it doesn’t belong.

Yes, I know—it’s a really cornball analogy. But I hope you get the point.

(And I’m trying not to think about the analogy where the dandelion (me) causes the wall (Scotland) to weaken and crumble because of the foreign matter edging in (immigration). No, let’s not think about that analogy!)

Anyhow, I am still worried. I am still struggling with the fears of an uncertain future and I am still trying to figure out what my next steps will be. But whilst I’m worrying, I’m also trying to find solutions. And I’m trying to be gentle with myself, recognising that even if all of my worries and fears play out to completion, it just means that I have an opportunity to start over again—whether I want to or not.

So, I am still feeling a bit down and stressed and overwhelmed, but a little less than I did last week. Yes, I am surviving. And with luck, my friend the dandelion will survive, too!

I’ll get by

It’s been a week since I last shared my mundane life with you here on Just Frances. And it’s been nearly that long since I [temporarily?] deactivated my Facebook account.

Yes, I admit it: I’m having a pretty crappy time right now. No one thing is catastrophic, but it seems that when I put all of my stress and worries together just now, they’re a bit more than my little self can handle. And my answer [rightly or wrongly] has been to hide away from the world. It’s a strange thing, because I rely so heavily on Facebook and this blog to connect me to the world and to give my life a little bit of emotional stability. But, ironically, sometimes those things can’t be the solution—and may even add to the stress.

I have received several messages through Just Frances in the past couple of days asking about my whereabouts. And a couple of emails to my personal accounts. And even a couple of text messages. Some from people wondering if they’d offended me, causing me to defriended them on Facebook, and some from people just checking in to see how I am.

So, first off, I’d like to thank all of those who’ve been in touch. I appreciate your care and concern for me—and I think I’ve replied to everyone. If not, I’m sorry and please feel free to write and tell me that you’re still feeling neglected so that I can let you know that I care! (No, really. Because if you’ve not heard back from me, it really is an oversight on my part.)

And secondly, I’d like to let you all know that I’m OK. Ish. I have a lot on my mind and am feeling a bit overwhelmed, but it’s nothing serious and nothing that some good old peace and personal contemplation can’t fix. But please know that I have an amazingly awesome friend who is keeping me straight. So I’m not really struggling on my own—no, I have an innocent victim to listen to me whine and cry.

I realise I sound a bit vague and cryptic just now, but that’s because I’m not really ready or willing (I may never be!) to share my current insanity with the entire world—or rather, with the handful of people who stop by Just Frances from time-to-time.

But, because I like to end on a high note, I’ll share some happy things with you:

  1. I’m running a 10K road race tomorrow. (Race 3 in my 2012 Race a Month Challenge!)
  2. I’ve been accepted as a Technorati blogger. (It’s just that this current mood has prevented me from sending in my first contribution!)
  3. I am going to be a card-carrying member of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. (As soon as I wear my friend down a bit more so that they include me as an additional [and therefore less expensive] member on their account; the difference of which I’d pay.)

That’s all for now. I will try to post a bit more regularly in the next few days, but if you don’t hear from me, please know that I’m managing. Yep, I’ll get by, with a little help from my friends.

My shattered ego

­I’ve gone back and forth over if I would share a specific sliver of my life with you or not. And I almost chose not. But the issue came to light again over the past couple of days and I suppose I feel a bit compelled to share it now. (I don’t know why, because it’s rather humiliating.)

First, the back story: Nearly two years ago, a couple of ‘helpful’ women in my life decided that I needed to start dating. It had been, after all, a year since my husband died and was therefore time to find a new relationship. They ‘assisted’ by setting up three online dating profiles without my knowledge—and corresponding with a couple of guys they thought would be perfect for me! This didn’t go over very well when I found out, and in fact caused a lot of stress and upset for all sides. (I was being ungrateful and stubborn, or so I was told. We’ve since reconciled but, sadly, there is still a scar on our relationships.)

After I was given the login information, I closed out all but one of accounts they’d created for me. The one that I didn’t close, I made inactive. I don’t know why; hopeful curiosity I suppose. A few months ago, and for reasons I still don’t understand, I decided to check out the site. I logged in, had a wee look, and then logged out. Only logging in meant that my account was no longer inactive. And that meant that someone saw my profile and sent me a message.

When the message came in, I panicked. A lot. But I decided that maybe I’d update the profile and see what happened. I included a quick and cheeky little ‘about me’ section and filled out the rest of the little tick-boxes. What I didn’t do was include public photos, deciding that I would just share photos with men who contacted me and who I was interested in getting to know a bit.

Anyhow, in the weeks to follow four people responded to my profile. And in each instance, we corresponded back-and-forth a couple of times before they requested to see a photo—a request which I obliged. But each of the potential suitors went silent as soon as I did that. Well, that’s not true—one did respond saying I wasn’t what he was looking for.

Ouch.

The experience was very hurtful, and I responded by once again deactivating my profile. Obviously, there is something about my photos that seemed to be turning men away and that really stung my ego in ways that I never imagined.

But, curiosity got the better of me again, so I logged in over the weekend to have a peek. And that meant my account was active again. And you know what? One of those four guys from before sent me a message! He said that he just read my profile and I seemed very interesting, but felt that we’d corresponded before. I replied that I thought we had, but couldn’t be 100% certain. (I lied; I knew for certain that we’d written.)

I decided to give the guy the benefit of the doubt. I mean, maybe he didn’t reply when I’d shared the photo in the past because he was busy. Or maybe he didn’t reply because he lost his computer. Or because he had to go out of town. Or because he was doing that ‘wait a week’ thing and by the time he was ready to respond, I’d deactivated my account.

So, for a couple of days, we wrote back-and-forth. Not a lot, just 2 messages. Then he asked if I had a photo. And I sent one. Only this time he didn’t go silent. This time, he replied. And his reply was ‘I really don’t think we click. I hope you find someone though.’

Ouch. Again.

So, it seems that I am not attractive enough for online dating. (Or maybe I’m too attractive and guys run when they see my photo because they’re intimidated by my beauty?) I suppose not being cut out for online dating is OK though because I wasn’t comfortable about it in the first place.

It’s funny, I’m not really desperate to date. I’m actually rather freaked out at the idea of dating again. I mean, I never imagined I’d have to do that again! But I also have to admit that I like the idea of a nice boy asking me out. I like the idea of sharing a nice meal with someone who makes me laugh. I even like the idea of someone holding my hand as we walk down the street. But I don’t need those things. And if I’m going to meet someone, I’d rather meet them the old fashioned way, like how I met Paul.

Anyhow, I don’t know why I’m sharing this with you because, as I said, it’s a bit humiliating and embarrassing. But, I guess that it makes up for all the times that I share stories about how amazingly awesome I am, too. Kind of an ego-neutraliser of sorts!

Running on empty

Today was Race Two in my goal of running a race a month throughout 2012. (A joint goal with my partner-in-crime, Rebecca.) We couldn’t find a February race within a reasonable distance, so instead we participated in the Falkirk Park Run, a weekly timed event with 150+ runners or so. (And it was free!)

But I screwed up. Really, really screwed up. You see, since it was ‘just’ a 5K, and since it wasn’t a ‘real’ race, I didn’t take it as seriously as I should have. I didn’t go to bed until midnight, after having two glasses of wine. Worse, I neglected to eat breakfast. Yes, I was running on an empty stomach! I didn’t really realise it until I’d been at it for about seven minutes—and then I realised that I didn’t have the energy to run hard. In fact, there were several moments when I thought I could kick it up, but then the pangs of hunger hit and I knew I needed to slow down or I’d never finish.

I finished in 32 minutes and 27 seconds, which is a respectable time for a 5K but I could have/should have done better. And instead of feeling invigorated, I felt weak and dizzy. And I felt silly and stupid because I should know better than to run on empty!

And now, because I’m hoping that most of you have stopped reading by now, I’m going to make some further food confessions. You see, it seems that I’ve been running on empty quite a lot these past few months. Running on empty, walking on empty, going to class and shopping and sleeping on empty… you get the point. Yes, I have been a bad food eater!

Now, it’s not that I have some weird body image thing and am trying to lose weight or anything (though I admit to feeling flabby, but that’s an issue of toning, not weight loss). It’s just that I’ve not been in a good routine for a very long time. If I’m further honest, these poor eating habits have been with me since Paul died—so way, way, way too long.

I rarely eat breakfast and I rarely eat lunch. So by the time I do eat, I am so hungry that I can’t eat very much or I gorge myself on all sorts of unhealthy, salty, fatty foods. And if I’m further honest, part of the problem is that I can’t be bothered to cook for myself most days. I mean, I try to do it, but it’s really hard (i.e.: sad, lonely, and pathetic) to cook for one.

I’m trying to fix this, but I’ve been saying that for more than a year now! But I’m slowly getting better. I’ve been trying to make out a week’s menu ahead of time and I’m making some nice, hearty meals that freeze well for days when I don’t feel like cooking. In fact, as I’m typing I have some chicken and potatoes in the oven and some fresh spinach ready to cook up. But I can’t promise that tomorrow’s dinner won’t be a jumbo-sized bag of crisps!

So, the goal is simple: Cook more, eat more, and be better nourished before going for a run.

Speaking of cooking and eating, it’s time to start on that spinach now. Yum!

And don’t forget to enter my anniversary competition. I’ve really enjoyed the entries so far and would love to be entertained with a few more! (Don’t be shy!)

The little red dress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

31 happy things

The last couple of months have been a real struggle for me emotionally. I don’t know why; I don’t know what triggered it. (Well, I think I know some of the why and what, but I’d rather not talk about it just yet.) But, the struggles have left me feeling bleak and weak and teetering on surrender.

Yes, I admit it: There have been days when I’ve felt that giving up and giving into the sadness was all I could do. Further to that, I’ve even thought on several occasions that if I were to scrap my current hopes and dreams and cash in my bank accounts, I could live the life of a rover—living on the road, taking part-time, temporary jobs at restaurants or hotels. I could just disappear from the world I know; the world that seems to be so painful some times.

Anyhow, I’ve spent the last month thinking about all of the dreadful things that my future might hold. That’s right, for each of the 31 days of the year so far, I have thought about failing, giving up, abandoning hope, and letting the misery take over.

So, to make up for it, I’ve decided to give some thought to the happy things that could be waiting for me—many of which I can only realise if I don’t let the negative thoughts win. And here they are for you to read! (I won’t share all of the less-than-happy thoughts from before with you because they don’t deserve the blog space!)

31 Happy Things to Look Forward To

  1. The completion of my master’s degree
  2. A fun-tastic weekend in Cambridge
  3. A sweet birthday excursion
  4. Running a race a month for 2012
  5. Laughing so hard that my belly aches the next day
  6. Cooking a Cinco de Mayo feast for friends
  7. My mom’s visit to Scotland
  8. My next visit to the Homeland
  9. The excitement (and frustration) of the 2012 Presidential Election
  10. Finding (and buying) the perfect shade of red tights
  11. Mani-pedis
  12. Martinis with friends at The Junk Rooms
  13. Flirting with cute boys
  14. Fish and chips at Seaton Carew
  15. McGuire Specials from McKean’s
  16. Dancing
  17. Meeting new people
  18. Starting on my PhD
  19. The thrill of completing my second marathon
  20. Getting a UK drivers’ licence
  21. Getting British citizenship
  22. Publishing a book
  23. Selling one of my swirl drawings
  24. Going on a date (which is equally something I dread the idea of)
  25. Falling in love again (which is equally something I dread the idea of)
  26. Spontaneous weekend trips to some great new place
  27. Passing on wisdom to my nieces and nephews
  28. Becoming a well-known authority in the world of social media
  29. Owning my own home again
  30. Having a disposable income again
  31. Being mostly happy again

OK, that was hard. I know that some of those things can be accomplished even if I were to listen to all the voices telling me to flee, but the ones I want most are the things I can only have if I ignore the insecurities and fight off the doom and gloom that seems to visit a bit too often these days. But I know that the more battles I win against the bad thoughts, the more of this list I can see accomplished!

Tomorrow starts a new month and a new chance at a happy future. I can’t promise that I’ll be 100% happy, but I will try to find more joyful things to share with you!

Birthday annoucement

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

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

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

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

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

A random letter

Today, I decided to let the Internet decide what my post would be. So, I went to Creative Writing Prompts to pick a topic. But I wanted it to be a bit more random than that, so I visited Random.org to pick my topic number. And that number was 109. The prompt is to write a letter to someone I feel I need to spend more time with.

I went back and forth over who to write to, because I spend as much time as I can (or want) with most of the people in my life. (Well, geography gets in the way sometimes, unfortunately.) I finally decided to write to someone I really do miss; someone I really do wish I could spend more time with; someone I really need to spend more time with.

So, here goes!

Dear Happy Frances,

You have been on my mind a lot lately, and with each passing day I realise just how much I miss you. I remember when we were inseparable; when we spent nearly every hour of every day together. But now, it just seems that we’ve been too busy to hang out.

I know that the last couple of years have been hectic, and that for a while we weren’t even on speaking terms, but I guess I thought we were growing closer again. Only now it seems that we’re letting the busyness and craziness of life get in the way of our friendship again.

But the thing is, I don’t want our friendship to fizzle. I want us to grow close again. I want us to be inseparable again. I want you to spend more time with my other friends, too, because I know that they love you just as much as I do.

So, if you’re up for it—and I think you are!—I’d love to talk about how to find more time for each other. What do you say?

Lots of love,
Frances

Catching up

I can’t believe that it’s been more than a week since I last blogged. I’m not exactly off to the best start this year, am I? So, this post will serve as a quick catch up for everyone—including me!

As I mentioned in my last post, I made a trip down to England to visit my in-laws last week; though I actually made the trip a day later than planned because of heavy winds that closed the road. But I made it, and enjoyed two nights at my sister-in-law, Ann’s, house in Wakefield. In fact, my brother-in-law, John, made the trip up from Telford for the second night, which was a nice added bonus to family time!

On Friday, I made my way to Billingham to spend the weekend with my sister-in-law, Liz. That night I participated in her girls’ night out group (I’ve joined them before—what a great group of women!) then the following morning we went to Starbucks where I got to meet my newest great nephew, Salem. Oh—and later that day we made a trip to Seaton Carew for fish and chips. (I know, that’s not surprising.)

Sunday was ‘going home’ day, but not before a nice long lunch with another sister-in-law, Elizabeth, and her daughter, Jack. All the visiting made for a busy week, so by the time they took me to the train station I was ready to go home. But it also made me happy to know that I’m only ever a couple hours away from a wonderful family. (And there are already plans to see everyone in February for a reunion.)

Anyhow, Rebecca proved once again that she’s a fantastically amazing friend by picking me up at the train station and giving me a lift home that night. It was nice to sit and relax with a cup of tea and a chat before unpacking. (Which I did before I went to bed because I don’t like to leave it until the next day.)

So, yesterday I finally dragged myself out for a run. It was my first run of the year—and my first run in more than two months! But I feel good for having done it. Well, except for the slightly sore leg muscles today!

And that’s my week in review. I have to admit that it’s been a hard week. In fact, it’s been a hard start to the year. I’ve been feeling a bit blah and unmotivated and can’t seem to shake it. To be completely honest, I sometimes wonder if it’s some sort of mild depression, but I don’t feel hopeless or helpless—I just feel blah and unmotivated. And sometimes sad and lonely. However, I’m trying to convince myself that it’s because I’m bored and inactive. I’m on break from school and I don’t have a job which means I don’t have a schedule to keep me busy. I’ve also been sitting in the flat instead of going out running. In part because of the weather, but in part because of the lack of motivation that comes from no schedule.

But, as I like to end on a positive note, I am trying to get re-motivated. The weather is nice (or at least dry) which means I will be able to get a few training runs in this month and I’ve already committed to running a 10K in a week and a half. I also have a couple of small projects to work on for Boxed Cat Media and am already thinking excitedly about school starting back in February. And I’m doing more of my swirl drawings, too. So it’s not all doom and gloom. I will shift this sulky mood soon. I promise!

(Do you like how I snuck the sad bits in at the end, hoping that most people never read that far? But honestly, I am OK. Just a little crazy. But that’s normal for me.)

A slow start

It’s nearly midnight on January 2nd and I’m finally getting around to writing my first post of the year. I meant to write yesterday and I’ve been meaning to write today, but life got in the way.

Sadly, yesterday’s lack of writing was due to the sad parts of life. Everything is OK, but I think that a bit too much Champaign the night before led to a sulky-feel-sorry-for-myself kinda day. Yes, I was pretty pathetic to be honest. Got out of bed around 8 but was too upset and teary to face the world so I went back to bed until nearly noon. Then I finally got up and sat on the couch sulking all day.

I know it sounds like a miserable start to the new year, but sometimes my mind goes into sulky mode and I just can’t bring myself out of it. On the plus side, however, I did manage to roast a chicken for an early dinner and even managed to boil up the leftovers for a big pot of soup. So at least it was a semi-productive day!

But today was better. Today I actually got up and took a shower and left the flat. In fact, I was out for longer than I’d expected! And it was a nice day. I went up to the Wallace Monument with a couple of friends, then we had lunch in Bridge of Allen, stopped by Doune Castle (you know, the one from Monty Python and the Holy Grail), and finally made it back to Stirling for a couple pints of beer and a football game.

And when I got home I swirled. And I packed a small suitcase. Because I’m heading to England tomorrow to see my in-laws for a few days.

So, this post is really to let you know I’m alive and to also let you know that if you don’t hear from me for a few days, it’s because I’m down south doing fun things. Which will be even better since my sulky mood has passed.

I hope your new year is off to a less-sulky start than mine!

One down

Well, today marks the end of my first semester as a postgraduate student. It’s been a crazy and hectic journey to get to this point, but I got here and I’m alive to tell the story!

I admit that there was a time I worried that I would never even start on my master’s degree. Paul’s death shook me to the core and even though I know that this is what he would want for me, I just couldn’t find the motivation to apply to schools. And even then, I didn’t know how I would pay for it. But, I applied and I got accepted and I figured out a way to pay for it all. And even though it means I am living on a very tight budget, this is a very positive step.

The school year got off to a good start, but then a few weeks ago the stress of the holidays and a low platelet count, Paul’s would-be birthday, and a couple other personal conflicts distracted me. Yes, I got myself into such an emotional state that I actually began to doubt my abilities and wondered if this whole adventure was a mistake.

In fact, at the height of my turmoil, I had two major essays to write for two different modules. One was 50 percent of my overall mark—the other was 100 percent of my grade for that module. With each paper, I turned them in with regret. I honestly feared that I may have failed—or came near to failure.

I got the grade for the first paper late last week with a very good mark. In fact, I double checked because I didn’t think I read it correctly. And since I also had an exam for that module (which would be the remaining 50 percent of my grade) that mark made me less apprehensive about the exam.

The other paper was marked and ready for collection yesterday, but I opted to pick it up today after my exam (the one mentioned above). In fact, I decided to pick it up after the exam because I was so worried that the mark would completely deflate me and that it would affect my ability to sit the exam.

But at the last moment I decided to pick up the paper before the exam. And I was so, so, so, so pleased to see that I got a mark of distinction. Yes! On a paper that I was certain would be below average or even—dare I say?—a failure mark. A distinction. Really. And let me just say that I beamed. It was such a moment of joy for me that all of my worries and fears about the pending exam went away. All of the sudden, nothing else mattered. I was smart—and I had a marked essay to prove it!

In the end, I think I did pretty well on my exam. I didn’t ace it, but I didn’t fail it. And that’s OK. Because I got great marks on all my papers (a distinction on one, if you didn’t catch that earlier) and I am feeling confident about my abilities once again.

So, my first semester is done. Teaching resumes for spring semester in mid-February then my dissertation is due in August. I’m excited about the winter break, but I’m more excited about next semester and my dissertation. In fact, you can guarantee that I will be doing some reading for next semester over the break. And I’ve already started to give some real thought to that dissertation.

And all of this means that, in about a year’s time, you might get to read about my excitement of completing my first semester as a PhD student.

(Oh, and did I mention that I got a distinction on one of my essays today?)

Wants versus needs

Once again, I wanted to spend the day inside, hiding away from the world. I wanted to sit in and sulk and cry and feel sorry for myself. I don’t know why I feel this way, but I imagine that it has a lot to do with the sadness of facing another holiday season without Paul. I imagine it has a lot to do with the loneliness I feel when there’s no one to share my life with; no one to share my dreams with.

But as much as I wanted to sit inside and pretend that the world wasn’t out there waiting for me, I knew that I needed to go and participate in life today.

And I did. I managed to get out of bed and brush my teeth. I managed to make a cup of coffee and take a shower. And I managed to walk into town to meet Rebecca for a cup of coffee and a natter.

In fact, I even managed to make my way further into town to buy a couple of Christmas gifts for my [former] foster daughter back in America. And I managed to treat myself to some fresh olives from the farmers’ market on the way home.

But I did it all without the true joy and excitement the activities deserved. I did it all with a touch of apathy. And now I’m sitting in my living room once again.

I want to put on my PJs and sulk on the couch. I want to block out the world and be miserable. I want to go to bed early and cry myself to sleep.

But I know that I need to stop thinking about those wants. I need to put on my shoes and put on a smile and go out again. After all, it’s Cocktail Night and I need to be at The Junk Rooms for Cocktail Night. I need to be there because it will remind me that there is a world outside of my flat. A world that’s filled with friends and laughter and smiles.

Forced out

This morning I realised that I haven’t been outside since Monday. I spent Tuesday and Wednesday holed up inside working on my dissertation proposal—and only showered and changed out of my PJs on Wednesday because Rebecca was coming over for dinner. I had planned to go out yesterday to turn in my proposal, but was informed that, because of the weather, I could just turn in my electronic copy yesterday and bring in the hard copy on Monday. So, I stayed in my PJs all day.

When I woke up this morning, I did so with all intentions of going out to survey the damage from yesterday’s storm. Only I found myself just sitting there, unable—and unwilling—to move. It happens sometimes and I hate it. Sometimes I manage to get myself into this sulky, unmotivated place where I don’t want to do anything. I don’t want to see people or leave the house. I don’t want to participate in the world.

So I sat there at the table looking at the (relatively short) list of things I want to get done in the next few days and I couldn’t bring myself to do any of them. I couldn’t bring myself to eat breakfast or write Christmas cards to my nieces and nephews. I couldn’t even bring myself to get out of the chair to go slump on the couch.

But sometime around 1 o’clock I decided that I really did need to get out into the fresh air. So I decided I would walk into town to get some milk so that I could make a batch of No-Bake Cookies. And I’m not kidding you that it took another hour to actually make myself get dressed. And once I was dressed, it took another half an hour to motivate myself to leave the flat.

Once I got into town, I managed to wander around a couple of shops, but it wasn’t done with true enjoyment. It was just done because I was out and about. But I did manage to get some milk—and even treated myself to a pack of sweeties—so at least it was a productive outing!

And now I’m home again. The cookies have been made and my PJs have been re-donned. There’s some peppy music on the iPod and I’m trying to motivate myself to think about making dinner.

I really hate these days. They’re the days when I feel lonely and miserable and I can’t figure out a way to turn off those feelings. I hate these days where I just lose all motivation and start wishing my life was different. I guess the good thing is that I know these days are far and few between now, but I still hate them when they come.

I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but I’m determined to make it a better day. I’m determined to spend more time enjoying the world and the fresh air. I’m determined to make tomorrow happy. One way or another!

Scholarly doubts

Today has been quite a day; a day full of reminders that I meant to be a scholar. Meant to be a scholar. But I must admit I don’t feel very scholarly at the moment.

I think I’m going to tell this tale in reverse order for a bit now, though I retain the right to jump around between points. (Yes, not a very scholarly way to write, is it?)

This evening, I was a guest of The Scottish Government for a reception welcoming Scotland’s Saltire Scholars. (Oh yeah, have I ever mentioned I’m one of those?) Well, the room was filled with a 100+ people—Scottish government officials, university representatives, and scholars. Everyone was eager and excited and confident. And intelligent. Like, really intelligent. And I felt like an out-of-place small-town redneck playing make believe. I mean, I managed the conversations just fine and knew what questions to ask others about their studies or jobs to sound all intelligent myself, but I just felt like such a fraud being there. I felt like I just wasn’t clever enough to be part of this group.

But before tonight, it was two essay assignments that have had me questioning my scholarly ability.

In fairness, the essays were ‘easy enough’ and my marks for past work have been respectable. But I really failed to put my best foot forward for these last two assignments. I don’t know if it’s because I failed to manage my time or if I just couldn’t find the motivation for them. But I know that I did not do my best work.

To be honest, I think I’ve let my life get in the way of my scholastic endeavours. I’ve been feeling a bit down because of my lower-than-ideal platelet count and I was feeling a bit down about Thanksgiving and Paul’s birthday. And that’s all in addition to other personal stresses I’ve been feeling recently.

And now I’m feeling very negative about myself. I feel as if I’ve let myself down and I’m questioning if I’ve made the right choice to do my master’s degree in the first place. I mean, I’ve always been the ‘stupid kid’ and now I’m feeling a bit of truth to the label.

Maybe I’m crazy and my marks for these last two assignments will be fine. But I don’t feel that will be true. My ego is hurting these days and it’s bringing me down!

I’m not thinking about quitting nor do I think I’m on the verge of failing my way out the door. I’m just feeling stressed and frightened and that makes me feel insecure and uncertain and that makes me angry with myself.

I’m sorry for dumping this on you; I know you can’t fix it for me. And I’m not asking for praise and ego building. I just need to share my insecurities sometimes, and when there’s no one on the couch next to me to sob to, you get it all!

I have another paper due next Monday and I’m feeling pretty confident about it. So maybe that will help my mood. And I guess tomorrow will be a library day. Maybe that will help me feel a bit more scholarly again …

Connect the dots

Confession: I have 292 Facebook friends. At least 46 of them are people I’ve never met. 25 or so are people I’ve only met once. 93 are former classmates. 64 are family of one description or another. And (not including family) I’ve only seen 18 of them in real life in the past 12 months.

Further confession: Two of those connections are animals (one cat; one dog).

Of course, I say that I have 292 Facebook friends, but most of them aren’t friends so much as they are a virtual network of acquaintances, former school mates, and family. This isn’t to say I don’t value my Facebook friends, because I do. I really, really do. But the truth is that I (like most adults) only have a handful of friends—you know, real friends as opposed to people I’m friendly with. Thought I must admit that Facebook was the tool that helped to create two of my closest real-life friendships.

The thing I like best about Facebook is the way everything connects. For me, Facebook began with me connecting with my virtual friends—people I ‘knew’ from online forums and newsgroups. Then I began to connect with my family and former school mates as they joined Facebook. And now, I’m connected with people who are connected with people who know me, even though I don’t know the person I’m connected to. (Does that make sense?)

It’s funny the way it works; it’s funny what prompts people to connect. I mean, before Paul died, I was only friends with one of his university friends—a woman I’d met in ‘real life’ years before. A day or two after he died, I received a friend request from another woman he went to uni with, but someone I’d only met once before. After his funeral, several more of his friends ‘friended’ me. Some I’d met, some I’d not met at the time. And still others whom I’ve still never met!

Even funnier still is how people I know from different parts of my life are now overlapping. It seems that as my ‘real life’ friends and ‘virtual’ friends have been connecting with me on my Facebook posts, those sets of people have found common ground and have friended each other. So now my sister is friends with some of my virtual friends. And even different groups of real life friends have found each other—either because they’ve connected virtually or because they’ve met in real life as my US and UK worlds have collided.

But the funniest of all is when I notice the ever-so-faint dots that connect two of my friends when they’re not connected to each other. Example 1: Last year a friend suggestion popped up noting that I had two friends in common with someone I’d never met. But those two friends (one real, one virtual) didn’t know each other, either. It just so happened that my real life friend was an old classmate of a virtual friend’s work colleague. Example 2: A virtual friend of mine is the real life friend of a couple of my husband’s university friends, even though he never met my husband. And it turns out that the same virtual friend is friends in real life and on Facebook with the friends of one of my classmates, who doesn’t know the guy but was very surprised to see that his real life friends had a friend in common with me. (Again, did you follow that?)

You could argue that these arbitrary connections to random strangers around the world are silly and pointless, but it entertains me. Plus that, many of those strangers have been a great social outlet for me when I needed it most. So when I start connecting the virtual dots, I can see a real life network of support.

I’m sure that over time my Facebook friend list will grow even more. And I’m sure that as the networking tool changes to adapt to society (or as society adapts to the tool?) we will change the way we define friends. But that’s OK, because you can never have too many friends. Right?

Secret smiles

There is something to be said about a smile. People who smile are more approachable. They seem friendlier. They seem carefree. They seem happier.

For me, I’ve found that I smile when I’m happy. And when I’m happy I have a spring in my step. And when I have a spring in my step it makes everything brighter. And I’ve found that when I’m stressed or sad, I don’t smile. But I’ve also found that if I fake a smile, I can turn a not-so-happy day into a better one (sometimes).

There was a time when I was that happy person who smiled all the time—and rarely was I faking it. Oh yes, I was that overly chirpy person who always saw the good in everything and everyone. People would comment about how bright and cheery and happy I was. (Oh, and I hummed. A lot. In public. And I didn’t care. And I skipped at times, too.)

But widowhood stole that part of my world away. No, really. Since Paul died I’ve lost that naturally occurring joy. For more than two years now, I’ve struggled to be happy and cheery. I mean, it’s not like I’m never happy and cheery, it’s just that I’m not that person all the time like I once was.

Of course, I’ve been trying to re-claim that person for quite a while now. In fact, my 2010 resolution was ‘Finding Joy’—which helped me to see a glimpse of Old Frances. And that glimpse reminded me that I need to get back to that person all together.

For the longest time, I’ve struggled to find my smile. But now that I’m back in Scotland, plunging head-first into my future and my dreams, it’s time to put the search for my smile at the top of my list because I don’t want to be the girl who always hears “Cheer up, love” from strangers as she walks down the road. No, I want to be the one who always hears “You have a lovely smile” from strangers as she walks down the road.

But how do I do that? Well, I guess that I need to fake it. I need to plaster a fake smile on my face and walk out the door with fake confidence.

So that’s what I’ve been doing for the past week. I’ve been reminding myself to smile when I’m walking down the street or when I’m waiting for the bus. I’m even smiling when I’m cooking dinner or sitting on the couch. Now, I don’t know if I’m in a better mood because of these forced smiles, but I do know that I have been feeling a bit peppy. (Maybe that’s the excitement of a new flat?)

Of course, this means that I’m walking down the street with a smile plastered on my face. Everywhere I go I’m aware that I have an ever-so-slight smile. A Mona Lisa-like half smile—you know, the sort of smile that you can see but you don’t know why it’s there. No one knows why it’s there because it’s a secret. And it’s a secret because I daren’t let anyone know it’s fake. (Well, other than you, obviously.)

And as I walk around with my smile, secretly knowing that it’s a smile for no other reason than to smile, I’m finding that I have a little spring in my step. And I’ve even caught myself humming as I walk down the street or singing along to the music in the shops. And it’s making me happy. It’s making me smile without thinking about it—without forcing it.

So I guess that the secret to being a happy, smiley person is to just smile. It’s that simple. Just smile. (And if you’re faking it, that can be a secret!)

Budgeting

Before I graduated from university money was tight. My adult life, until shortly before I got married, was spent not spending money. No, really. Money was so tight that a $5 banking error could have meant complete destruction. I relied on the good will (and good cooking) of family and friends to pad out my grocery budget (I rarely turned down a free meal!). On more than one occasion, I had to call the power company to get my electricity turned back on. I had to cancel my phone. I didn’t have cable TV. I didn’t own a car for a while.

Or, to put it another way, I lived on such a meagre income that there wasn’t even enough money to make a budget, let alone live by one!

But the lessons I learned about pinching pennies and denying myself luxuries like haircuts, clothes, and shoes meant that when I finally had a healthy income, I had more money than I knew what to do with. And that meant that my savings account grew, and that my spending increased. Oh yes, I had disposable income. And I used it!

And when I decided to quit my job and return to Scotland for graduate school, I used those early penny pinching skills to pad out my savings account. Of course, now I’m back in scarily familiar territory again: I’m poor! I have no income and I have a limited budget. So, once again, I have to pinch pennies and deny myself luxuries.

Thankfully, I’m prepared. For nearly two years I’ve prepared myself emotionally and financially for this adventure. But I fear that no amount of preparation will stave off the fears I have about things not working out the way I want them to.

I am constantly fearful that I’ve done the maths wrong or that I’m kidding myself about how much things will cost. I am also aware that, with no income, the money I spend will not be replenished and I fear that watching my bank balance decrease over the next several months will cause me to be a little over cautious with my money. Yes, I fear that I will start denying myself too many things, in an effort to hold on to as much of my money as I can!

All of that said, I am not broke. I can afford this adventure. And if everything does go wrong, I have the option of moving back to my parents with my tail between my legs.

And so, I’ve managed to work out a new budget for the next year. And I’ve done it in part by looking at emotional triggers. Like I knew that living in a squalid rat trap would make me sad, so I’ve put a bit more money towards my housing budget than I originally planned. And I know that I like some of the finer foods, so I’ve increased my food budget so that I can have fresh salmon and quality steaks for dinner from time-to-time.

But those higher budgets mean that I have to sacrifice a bit elsewhere. I will have to scrimp on things like weekend city breaks. My clothing budget has been slashed (not that it was ever that high in the first place). My booze budget is almost gone—no more fine wines, premium beers, expensive Scotch (sorry, whisky), or fine Cognacs.

It’s not really a complaint. I mean, I’m the one who chose this path. I’m the one who made the decision to give up her middle class lifestyle. I’m the one who decided to take this adventure out of the dreaming stage and into reality. And I’m mostly excited about it. I just need to re-learn what it’s like to be on a strict budget. And I need to try not to let it make me sad!

As I said, I’m not really broke nor will I be forced to eat rotting food ‘salvaged’ from back-alley Dumpsters. It’s just that I can’t decide—on a whim—to buy the latest-and-greatest gadget or that really pretty green dress that’s not even on the sale rack.  And I will be looking for occasional work to help my budget—and to allow me splurges from time-to-time. [I’ll put in a quick plug for my freelance gig. You know, just in case you have someone to recommend me to!]

So, now that I’m just over a week away from moving into my new flat, I need to really remember to stick to that new budget! And that’s where you come in! I’d love to hear any great ideas for living on a budget—including ideas for entertainment and home decorating. And great ideas for recipes for cheap food that looks and tastes expensive!

Yeah, I’m looking forward to having a proper income again so that I can splurge on things like name brand shampoo!

Solo

I arrived in Scotland nearly two months ago, and am now on my own for the first time. In fact, I am on my own for the first time since July when I left the home I shared with Paul to stay with my parents for a few weeks before my move. I knew that I’d be on my own again at some point, so at least it’s not so unexpected!

My current solo-ness comes because the friend I’m staying with, Rebecca, left for her holiday to Italy this morning. (That’s a photo of her heading for her first leg of the journey.) But the solo-ness won’t end when she returns in two weeks, because the day after she gets home, I will be moving into my new flat. Which means that today is the beginning of solo-living for both of us!

I’ll be honest and say that I have mixed feelings about the solo-ness of it all! I mean, I am looking forward to living on my own again (not because I don’t like living with Rebecca, but rather because I like to have my own space—as does Rebecca, I’m sure!). But at the same time, I am dreading it. I am dreading living in silence. I am dreading the reminder that I am no longer a happily married woman. And I am dreading the loneliness that comes with that.

But I am looking forward to having my own space, too. I am looking forward to making a new home for myself where my new future can thrive. And I’m looking forward to re-learning how to be happy with my own company.

Of course, I am lucky because for the next two weeks of solo life, I have plans to spent time with ‘real life’ people and I have the excitement of packing for my new flat to keep me occupied.

And in two weeks’ time when Rebecca’s home and I’m in my new flat, she’ll be just around the corner for visits! After all, I’ll need a social life and Rebecca is a blast to socialise with!

I imagine that the next two weeks will be filled with mixed emotions as I re-adjust to life on my own once again. And I imagine my posts may be a mixture of emotions because of it. So, I apologize in advance for any sadness (though I’m sure there’ll be happiness to share, too).

Oh! And if you’re looking for fun and adventure, be sure to check out Rebecca’s blog because she’s sure to be sharing her travel stories with the ethos! (Have I ever mentioned how much I admire her for taking these amazing solo holidays? No? Well, I do. A lot!)

So, here’s to solo-ness! And a reminder to me (and everyone else) that solo doesn’t have to mean lonely and sad. Solo can be happy and empowering, too!

When sadness comes

Life is mostly good these days. It’s mostly happy and mostly bright and mostly cheerful. Mostly. Of course, the problem with mostly is that mostly isn’t always.

Sometimes, the sadness comes and I don’t know why. Sometimes, the sadness comes and it’s a real, legitimate cause. And sometimes, the sadness comes and it’s a silly little reason that I shouldn’t let get to me—it’s something that I should know better about getting upset over. But, sometimes, sadness has a will all of its own.

Today, if you haven’t guessed, the sadness came. It came and I knew why. It came because I let it though the door when I let a bit of laughter in. It came and I could have prevented it but I didn’t. I didn’t because I need to learn how to live in this world without letting silly things make me sad.

Knowing that this sadness is temporary helps. Knowing that the days are mostly good and happy and bright and cheerful helps. And I’m too cheap to buy a ticket for the entire journey, so at least I know there are smiles waiting for me when I alight.

The wings of sadness will lift you off the ground without warning. What of it? Don’t pay for your ticket and you will be returned to the ground safely.
~ Nipun Mehta

Widow dreams

For more than two years now, my nights have been haunted with horrible dreams. I call them ‘widow dreams’ and I understand from other widow(er)s that they are very common.

It started the first time I finally slept after Paul died. That first dream was a re-enactment of the horrors of watching him die whist I desperately performed CPR. For the next couple of weeks, every time I closed my eyes I would witness Paul dying all over again. Not always in exactly the same way, but always with me trying to help him—or with me trying to scream for help but I’d lost my voice.

After a while, those dreams changed. I would dream that we’d just learned his head was loose and we needed to be careful it didn’t fall off killing him instantly. I would dream that he had cancer or that if he ate broccoli he’d have a heart attack and die on the spot. Or I would dream of a million other things that meant we needed to be careful because one wrong move and Paul would die.

In between the dying dreams were the abandonment dreams. Those are the awful dreams where we would be sitting on the couch all lovey-dovey and out of the blue he’d tell me he wanted a divorce. Or I’d come home early and he’d be with another woman. Or we’d be in the grocery store and his girlfriend would show up and he’d tell me he was leaving me for her. Or a million other similar dreams that all ended in Paul leaving me for another woman. (These dreams are extremely common with widow(er)s I guess. I hate them most of all!)

Then there are the dreams where Paul comes back. Yep, he just waltzes in and acts like nothing happened and I’m so excited but also so angry with him. Those are the dreams I have been having more and more often of late. In fact, since leaving the home we shared together and moving in with my parents in preparation for my move to Scotland, I’ve been having them non-stop. And let me just say that Paul is not happy that he went home and saw it cleared out! Sometimes, I dream that I arrive in Scotland and he’s there to pick me up because he didn’t die; he’d just forgotten to tell me he was moving over ahead of me to get our home ready (much to my anger and delight).

And sometimes, the dreams are just plain old dreams. No dying, no abandonment, no coming back. Paul’s just there and we’re together doing normal things. And sometimes the kids we were meant to adopt are with us too. I like those dreams because for that brief time my dreams aren’t shattered and my life is so happy. But those dreams are also the ones that cause me to roll over and snuggle with Paul when I wake up. Only he’s not there to be snuggled.

The worst thing about these dreams is that some of them haunt me for hours after I wake up. Some of them are just so real and so vivid that I can’t shake them. Mostly, the ones I can’t shake are the bad/sad ones, but sometimes it’s the happy family ones that haunt me.

I don’t know how long these dreams will be with me, but I expect them to come and go as my life changes and as I hit major turning points in my journey. In the mean time, I suppose that I should be happy that I can still see Paul in my dreams, since I can’t see him in my waking hours.

[This post is illustrated with my most recent swirls-in-progress drawing—something I like to work on to take my mind off the dreams.]

Running into excuses

So I’m training for this marathon. Only I’m not doing that great at the moment. Last week I was pretty pleased with myself: four miles on Monday; six miles on Wednesday; then 10 miles at the ocean on Saturday. And I made pretty good time with all three runs.

This week, I planned to do six miles on Wednesday and 10 miles on Friday (today) followed by a 14-mile run on Monday or Tuesday. But it’s all gone a bit wrong. You see, on my Wednesday run I was really pleased with how it was all going and was excited to see that my time was 3+ minutes better than the same run last Wednesday. And as I finished, I saw Dad’s bike parked out front, all loaded up for his overnight trip. So I grabbed one of the water bottles to quench my thirst. Only it wasn’t water, but rather white gas for his camp stove! Thankfully, I realised just as I was going to drink so whilst I did get a mouthful, I didn’t swallow. Also thankfully, there really was water in the other bottle to rinse my mouth with.

Then that night, my lower legs and feet were extremely swollen. Like really, really swollen. Now, I don’t know if the white gas incident had anything to do with it or if it was a combination of the run, the heat, and my lack of water intake. But last night my feet were a bit swollen, too. Again, I stopped to wonder if that was a white gas leftover, the heat, or a lack of water again.

Anyhow, today’s run was meant to be 10 miles, but I opted to turn a mile early for an eight mile run instead. And several things made me do that: 1) I hadn’t slept well the night before thanks to ‘Widow dreams’ (more on that tomorrow maybe); 2) my running clothes seemed to be ill-fitting, likely because they’d been going through the tumble dryer (will now air dry running gear); 3) my feet seemed unhappy; 4) the sun was beating down like mad; and 5) the winds were really strong on the return.

I think that everything combined made my determination waiver a bit. And when my mind was processing the previous night’s dreams, it just made the run even more miserable. So I’m two miles behind on my training now, but I know that I can catch up and will still get my 14-mile run in before my flight leaves.

And as to not leave with just excuses for a shorter-than-planned run, here are some solutions:

  • I am working to increase my water intake again. It’s really fallen since I stopped working.
  • I am looking into some better running clothes. I noticed today that it was too hot for the jacket I had (which is actually a golf jacket and not a proper running one) but the wind on my sweaty arms made it too cold not to have long sleeves. So a proper running coat and/or long sleeved top is needed!
  • I am going to try to get up earlier for my longer runs—like before the sun gets so hot. (Though I did start before 7:30 this morning, so maybe that won’t matter.)
  • I am going to get some new, more motivational music on my running iPod. The stuff I have is good, but I need new tunes!
  • I am going to just try harder!

I’m taking the weekend off since tonight and tomorrow night is class reunion stuff (my 20th is next year, but with such a small school we often combine a few years, since we all know each other so well!) and tomorrow morning I’m having a yard sale to try to get rid of some more stuff before my move. Oh, and Sunday is lunch with a friend in North Bend—about half a mile from the Nike store where I plan to get a new jacket and even look at new running shoes.

Then I suppose Monday I’ll have to pound pavement again… Yay for running!

Frances 3.0: Still in Beta

Let me [re]introduce myself: I am Frances—version 3.x. And, much like all of us, I am still in beta. And now you may be wondering what the heck I’m on about! Let me see if I can clear things up.

A couple of months after Paul died, I started Frances 3.0: Still in Beta to help me deal with my grief. [Here’s the introduction post that explains the versions a bit.] Frances 3.0 was my way of releasing some of my grief to the ethers and it really helped me to work through a few emotions that I couldn’t pinpoint until I attempted to write about them.

About six months after I started that blog, I realised that I needed an outlet for my mundane—and even happy—thoughts, too. And that’s when I started Just Frances. One blog for grief; one blog for my Fake It ’Til You Make It attitude reserved for family and friends. But then, slowly, the grief started to creep into Just Frances. After all, grief is part of my reality now—it’s part and parcel with the widowhood thing—so how could it not be included in the blog I post to almost every day?

As I became more comfortable sharing my grief here with you, I began sharing less and less over at Frances 3.0. Not because I’d ‘healed’ or ‘moved on’, but because I decided that if my family and friends were not comfortable with reading about my grief alongside my joys, they could just stop reading. (I know—how selfish of me!)

Anyhow, today I [most likely] posted for the last time over at Frances 3.0, and in doing so I invited my readers there to join me here. And it just seems fair that I publically invite folks here to go and read there, too. You know, in case you need a good cry and want to see some of the process I went through in those early days of grieving.

I don’t know if the merging of these two online worlds will mean I post more sad stuff here, but it might. Or I might not. Stick around and find out …

The dressing room

The thing I hate most about buying clothes (second only to parting with money) is trying on clothes. I hate trying on clothes. I hate it so much that if I don’t have success with my first trip to the dressing room, I will often call off my shopping trip and leave. But if I manage the (rare) treat of loving the first thing I try on, I can be encouraged to try on more stuff.

This hatred of trying on clothes is why I own so much old stuff. It fits, I know it fits, it’s comfortable, so I keep wearing it—despite current trends and styles.

But (as is a common theme of this blog lately) I need to start getting rid of stuff. And that means going through all of my clothes and trying stuff on. All of it. After all, there’s no point in transporting something 6,000 miles only to find out it doesn’t fit quite right anymore.

Anyhow, I spent a few hours trying on clothes today. Lots and lots and lots of clothes. And what I’ve found is that I have a lot of clothes that I can ditch without concern. But there’s also a lot of clothes that I can’t seem to part with because I like them and I wear them—despite my owning them for more than a decade. But thanks to Facebook and a digital camera, I am able to get feedback on some things from my friends, which means that the ‘ditch’ pile has grown! (Which is OK.)

As an added bonus, I’ve made my foster daughter go through her clothes, too. I mean, she’s been growing like a weed since her arrival last August and she’ll be moving on to her permanent home soon. It would be unfair of me to send her there with ill-fitting rags. Right?

I made her get rid of jeans that were waaayyy too tight and ones with holes in the britches so she hates me now because she wanted to keep them. And I am evil for making her try on clothes. Bad foster mommy. Bad!

On the plus side, I’ve told her I’d take her shopping since her wardrobe has dwindled considerably because of the chore. She’s happy about that.

I suppose that I should confess at this point that I have yet to go through Paul’s clothes. I know it’s been more than two years, but I haven’t wanted to do it. A friend had [kind of] planned to come out and help, but it never happened so I have to do it alone. I’ve gotten as far as knowing that there are a couple of things I want to keep for myself and I’ve decided that I’ll offer up ties to nephews (and nieces) but I’m at a loss as to how to handle the rest of his clothes. But I’d best figure it out soon! Or maybe I just need to pack it away in storage bins. We’ll see…

Anyhow, it seems I have a lot of extra space in my closet now. And it seems that I’ll have a bit more space in my luggage for important things like gadgets and cough syrup. So that’s cool!

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.]

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.

Choices

I’m sure you’ve gleaned by now that I’m very anxious and frightened about my future. And I bet some people wonder why I’m putting myself through this major life change when I’m faced with so much uncertainty. You’d be forgiven for thinking that, especially if you don’t know the whole story.

You see, the truth is that my choices are not: A) Stay here on the Palouse with my lovely house and my great job and try to muddle my way through to a happy(ish) ending or B) Return to Scotland and hope that this great plan of mine works out and I’m able to be happy again.

No, the truth is that I am well and truly failing here on the Palouse. I am miserable and depressed and unhappy and stressed and lonely and isolated and I feel hopeless.

Our move to the Palouse was deliberate. I was offered a job where I would be able to work on my master’s degree part time (and for free). We planned to purchase a family home (which we succeeded in) and to adopt a couple of cute kids (which was in the works). And once my degree was done and the adoptions were finalised, we planned to return to Scotland. I can’t tell you a solid timeline because it would have depended on my coursework, but we were hoping for about five years—so 2014 or so.

When Paul died, all of those plans and dreams died along with him; which meant that the Palouse went from a place where dreams happen to a place of nightmares. The Palouse stopped being a happy place for me and became my very own personal hell.

To be honest, I believe that if I chose to stay on the Palouse I would continue to fail—if I didn’t have this new plan, I may have failed already. I feared from the start that staying here would eventually cause my complete and total collapse—mentally, emotionally, and physically—which would eventually mean I’d lose my job and my house and my ability to care for my basic needs.

You see the truth is that my choices are: A) Stay here on the Palouse until my mental, emotional, and physical health failed to the point of me being institutionalised (really) or B) Flee this place of shattered dreams in the hopes of fixing myself and reclaiming a bit of joy and happiness in my life.

OK, some of my posts may seem filled of doubt and uncertainty, but that doesn’t mean I think I’m making a mistake. I know I’ve made the right choice—I just know that the right choice is filled with a myriad of trials and tribulations of their own. And those things get to me from time to time and that makes me doubt myself even more.

Yes, I am frightened and uncertain about my future but at least I have a certain amount of control over my future at this point. If I had chosen to stay here, my choices would have [eventually] been limited to lime or cherry Jell-O at Western State.

And that means that despite the fact that sometimes I sound miserable—and sometimes I really am miserable—I am not as miserable as I would be if I wasn’t putting myself through this. I guess this is the lesser of two miseries for me!

So please bear with me whilst I’m going through these tremendous ups and downs. I’m confident that the ups will outnumber the downs in a few more months. (Though I can’t promise it will all be ups even after I move—that wouldn’t be realistic!)

Visa changes: A rambling rant

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned before what a massive gamble this new adventure of mine is. I’m leaving my job during one of the worst economic times in recent history; I’m saying goodbye to my house, my car, and most of my worldly possessions; and I’m destroying my finances and depleting my savings account all for the hope that I’m walking into a brighter, happier future.

If everything goes according to plan, my world will be pretty awesome for the first time in nearly two years. But, as I learned nearly two years ago, plans change—in the blink of an eye. I know that there’s a chance that things won’t go according to plan, but that they’ll still turn out just as good—or better—than planned. But I also know that there’s a chance that everything will fall apart and I’ll be left broken beyond repair.

As I creep closer and closer to saying goodbye to my house and my ‘stuff’ I’m finding myself very stressed and panicked. I’m going from a 4-bedroom house where I can have as much ‘stuff’ as I want and an income that [slightly] exceeds my monthly spending and bills to an unknown living situation where I expect to struggle to purchase groceries let alone drop $500 on a new mobile phone without thinking about it.

I’m upset because I’ve realised that I probably can’t take my golf clubs or bike because I don’t know where I’ll store them—nor can I rationalise the additional costs for baggage. I can’t take my über-gadget scanner because I don’t know if there will be space in my flat [which may or may not be furnished and rat-free] and I can’t take all of my clothes and handbags for the same reason. I’m sad because I’m going to have to take public transportation everywhere because I won’t be able to afford a car—and as a proper redneck American, my car is part of my freedom.

But as much as those material things (and the loss of my comfortable income) upset me, they’re not what’s getting me down today because I know I can store my ‘things’ with family in America or replace them with new ‘things’. What’s upset me today is that I’ve just learned that the most recent changes at the UK’s border agency means the end of the post-study work visa—which played heavily into my future plans because I intended to apply for said visa upon completing my master’s degree so that I could stay on in Scotland if I so chose.

OK, there are still other options including a company-sponsored post-study work visa or going straight onto my Ph.D. studies (which is the ultimate goal anyhow) but one isn’t a ‘sure thing’ and the other is an expensive thing! And I know I shouldn’t think too far ahead and I know that I should be upbeat and positive and I know that things will happen the way they’re meant to happen and blah, blah, blah. But some days, it’s hard.

I want to be positive. I want to be that little Pollyanna person spewing gladness and faith at every junction. But some days I can’t even fake it. Some days, all of the fear and the worries and the grief just gang up on me and make the rainbows and unicorns go into hiding. Today is one of those days. And I really hate those days. And it seems like the closer I get to The Big Move, the more these fears and insecurities come out of the wood work.

To summarise: I’m stressed and unhappy. But I’m sure the Pollyanna attitude with return soon. (I hope?) And thanks for listening to my emotional rant…

April

April is upon us again and if I’m honest I’m dreading the entire month.

I remember two years ago when April Fools’ Day rolled around—Paul and I both played practical jokes on each other and we were so pleased that we’d managed to succeed in our trickery. Then came Easter. Then came a lot of work-related events and projects that kept me stressed. Then came the call we were waiting for regarding a couple of kids we planned to adopt. Then came an unexpected one-week foster care placement. Then came an enjoyable Saturday afternoon followed by a wonderful Saturday evening with a nice meal before curling up on the couch for a movie. Then came our last ever kiss good night. Only we didn’t know it at the time…

As April approached last year, I could feel the stress and pressure of my world closing in. And because my work calendar mimicked the same patterns as the year before, it just added stress. With each day, I became more and more upset and fragile. I was so afraid because I didn’t know what to expect for that dreaded ‘anniversary’ that I spent more time crying and worrying than anything else.

But when April 26 came around, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I was a mess. But I managed to keep myself out of the mental asylum so that was a success in my mind.

And now I’m approaching that two-year mark and I can feel the pressure building again. As I look at my work calendar I can’t help but notice that—once again—the same meetings and events are taking place leading up to that dreadful day.

All of the same flowers are blooming, too—the ones we planted right after moving in and were anxious to see bloom for the first time. Two years ago Paul and I were so excited about seeing our tulips bloom and I cried when they bloomed after his death. And I cried last year, too, because once again the flowers that we planted bloomed without him ever seeing them. And now, I’m sad that this spring will be the last time I ever see them bloom.

I’ve been feeling the weight of the world the last few days and I have to be honest and say that I fear I will be stressed the entire month once again—waiting, just waiting, for the memories of my final moments with Paul.

I’ve managed to convince myself that next year will be easier because I won’t have the same environmental reminders laughing in my face. And I’ve managed to convince myself that next year will be easier because I’ll be in a happier place—mentally and emotionally as well as physically. And, of course, I’ve managed to convince myself that next year will be easier because I will be that much more adept at dealing with my grief. After all, time heals all wounds. After all, time makes you learn how to deal with the gaping wounds of grief with more composure.

I will not have a mental break down this April. I will not have a mental break down this April. I will not have a mental break down this April. I will not have a mental break down this April. I will not have a mental break down this April. I will not have a mental break down this April. I will not have a mental break down this April…

Struggling with apathy

I have these conversations in my head where I shout at myself for being so stressed and unhappy and apathetic, then I tell myself to just stick it out because I will snap out of it as soon as I’m done working and I’ve moved to Scotland. But as much as I want to believe that, I sometimes fear that I’m lying to myself.

There is no doubt in my mind that I am absolutely miserable right now. I can’t seem to function the way I did two years ago. I’ve lost all of my passion for life. I can’t bring myself to care about my diet the way I used to. I can’t bring myself to care about running the way I used to. I can’t bring myself to enjoy anything the way I used to.

I get through most days telling myself that it will get better as soon as I’m done working. I tell myself it will get better as soon as am away from these reminders of the hopes and dreams I had with Paul. And I tell myself that it will get better as soon as I can start concentrating on my new future in my new home.

I’m convinced that when I get to Scotland I will laugh again; when I get to Scotland life will be OK again. I will walk more; run more; eat better; sleep better.

But lately I’ve also started to worry that I will be just as miserable there as I am here. And I suppose that in some ways, it will be more stressful than the life I have now because there are so many unknowns.

There are certain things I know to be true: I am extremely unhappy where I am now and I don’t want to stay here—where I build dreams with Paul—without Paul. If I remain where I am now—living the life I’m living now—I will soon go into full-on depression and end up institutionalised. I feel at peace and at home in Scotland and have always been happy there. I have a passion for higher education and actually look forward to studying and being in the classroom again.

I think I’m doing the right thing. I really do. But I guess that I’m afraid that I’m totally screwing up. I wish I had a crystal ball so that I knew if it all worked out or not.

Oh well, I guess there’s only one way to find out.

And as your reward for reading my mindless ramble, here’s a pretty picture I made for you when fiddling around with Photoshop today. Yay!

Laughter from above

I think Paul laughed at me today. No, I’m certain he rolled on the floors of Heaven with extreme belly laughs. I think that he did some tisking under his breath and all. Why? Well let me tell you a little story…

After a long weekend in the homeland, I stopped up at the cemetery to visit with Paul before making the long drive home. I pulled through the gates, turned left, and parked. Just like I always do. Then I reached down to the passenger side floorboards for my winter boots to trek through the snow. I opened the door then bent over to put on my boots then I grabbed my umbrella because it was raining.

Another look at the snow made me decide to leave the keys behind so that they didn’t drop in the deep snow forcing me to dig around for them. So I hit the unlock button so that I didn’t accidently lock myself out then I set the keys on the passenger seat.

Then I stood up to exit the car, instinctively hit the lock button, and shut the door.

I stopped short of cursing as I looked through the window at the keys sitting there next to my $500 mobile phone and my handbag—that uncharacteristically had $500+ in cash as well as my camera in it.

I took a moment to berate myself and feel sorry for myself then I walked over to Paul’s grave and told him I’d be right back. Then I started walking toward town. (Thankfully, sometime after I left town in 2001 they built a gas station near the interchange, so it wouldn’t be too far of a walk.)

At this point, I was very happy to have my boots and umbrella!

On the short walk to the station I worried not about my expensive phone and money sitting there in plain view (this is Cle Elum, after all) but about walking into the gas station to ask for help and not knowing the person behind the counter.

But on walking in I was greeted by Margie of all people! I’d not even closed the door when she exclaimed: “Frances! How are you!?”

And I gave her my sob story. And she gave me a big hug. Then she called the locksmith.

As I waited for the locksmith (less than 10 minutes) I chatted with Margie and the mother of two old classmates. Then I got a ride back to the cemetery with John the locksmith. (It was George when I was in town. I wonder what happened to him…?)

Ten minutes later John had the car open and I was finally ready to visit with Paul. Who I think had just about finished laughing at me by that time.

I blame this all on Paul, of course. After all, it’s his fault I was at the cemetery in the first place.

Dr. Martin's Mix

Earlier today I wrote an email to a friend and decided to share a new revelation in my life: I don’t like cooked celery. I don’t hate it; I just have decided that I don’t really care for it. And that revelation really stood out as I enjoyed a nice big bowl of Dr. Martin’s Mix late last week and picked around the celery.

Well, as I typed that email, the thought of Dr. Martin’s Mix made me laugh out loud for reasons of my own amusement. So I’ve decided to share the recipe and its ‘story’ with you. And depending on how well you know me and my friends, the story at the end of the recipe may make you laugh out loud, too.

Dr. Martin’s Mix

From page 20 of Peg Bracken’s The I Hate to Cook Book, copyright 1960

(It takes about seven minutes to put this together. Dr. Martin is a busy man.)

Crumble 1 to 1½ pounds of pork sausage (hamburger will do, but pork is better) into a skillet and brown it. Pour off a little of the fat. Then add:

1 green pepper, chopped
2 green onions, (also called scallions) chopped
2 or 3 celery stalks, chopped
2 cups chicken consommé or bouillon
1 cup raw rice
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
½ teaspoon salt

Dr. Martin then puts the lid on and lets it simmer at the lowest possible heat while he goes out and sets a fracture. When he comes back in about an hour, his dinner is ready.

(Sorry. I’m still giggling to myself over the entire thing!)

Dr. Martin’s Mix

Earlier today I wrote an email to a friend and decided to share a new revelation in my life: I don’t like cooked celery. I don’t hate it; I just have decided that I don’t really care for it. And that revelation really stood out as I enjoyed a nice big bowl of Dr. Martin’s Mix late last week and picked around the celery.

Well, as I typed that email, the thought of Dr. Martin’s Mix made me laugh out loud for reasons of my own amusement. So I’ve decided to share the recipe and its ‘story’ with you. And depending on how well you know me and my friends, the story at the end of the recipe may make you laugh out loud, too.

Dr. Martin’s Mix

From page 20 of Peg Bracken’s The I Hate to Cook Book, copyright 1960

(It takes about seven minutes to put this together. Dr. Martin is a busy man.)

Crumble 1 to 1½ pounds of pork sausage (hamburger will do, but pork is better) into a skillet and brown it. Pour off a little of the fat. Then add:

1 green pepper, chopped
2 green onions, (also called scallions) chopped
2 or 3 celery stalks, chopped
2 cups chicken consommé or bouillon
1 cup raw rice
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
½ teaspoon salt

Dr. Martin then puts the lid on and lets it simmer at the lowest possible heat while he goes out and sets a fracture. When he comes back in about an hour, his dinner is ready.

(Sorry. I’m still giggling to myself over the entire thing!)

Sharpies and Bics and Uni-Balls—Oh my!

I promised myself that I would go through junk every week so that by the time I’m ready to start packing, I’ve rid myself of most of the un-needed clutter. A couple of weeks ago, I went through my card and stationery supplies, last weekend I began the process of sorting through some clutter stored under the eaves, and today it was the drawers on left-hand side of my desk.

I thought the biggest hurdle would be the bottom drawer because that’s where I’ve been shoving un-opened mail for the last year. So I emptied the contents onto the coffee table, grabbed my letter opener, and started sorting. And it was actually quite easy since most of the envelopes were just old bank statements and bills that I paid online. When I was done, I had a huge pile of rubbish to shred and a stack of envelopes for the recycle bin. The smallest pile was maybe ¼ inch thick and consisted of things that I needed to file away.

Easy peasy, lemon squeezy!!

The middle drawer was up next. It was fairly simple in part because it contained the previously-sorted stationery and in part because it is only ½ as deep as the bottom drawer so there wasn’t too much clutter in there!

Finally, I opened the top drawer. This is the drawer where I store the majority of my pens as well as some Post-Its and note paper and random bits-and-bobs that I’ve shuffled away ‘for later’.

First, I shuffled the Post-Its to a new location (to be sorted later) then I sorted the random bits-and-bobs. That was the easy part.

Next, I sorted through the pens tossing out those that were dried up and passing on those that I never liked to my foster daughter (who actually did need pens). But I realised that even with that process done, I have way more pens that I can ever use between now and August when I head to Scotland.

Then the panicked insanity began.

The thoughts going through my head were things like:

  • Frances—you really need to keep all of these pens and markers and highlighters because you will be going to school in Scotland and you’ll need them.
  • But, Frances, remember that you have a limited amount of luggage space and you’ll want to bring your reference books and gadgets and maybe even some clothes with you.
  • And remember—you can buy new pens and stuff when you get to Scotland.
  • But, wait! You’ll have a very limited budget so should you really use it to buy things that you already have?
  • Besides, your folks and friends can bring more stuff for you when they come and visit.
  • So go ahead, Frances, keep those pens and markers and highlighters. It’s the right thing to do!

Honestly, the thought of parting with these silly things freaks me out. It’s not because I’m transposing my emotions onto them—it’s because I am an office supply junkie.

I am frightened at the prospect of sorting through my Post-Its and note pads. And the idea of parting with my paper clips and tape dispensers? Oh my! I may need to change my monthly grief counselling appointments to weekly packrat counselling sessions!!

Emotional screens

It’s been a bit of a crazy month as I cope with a gazillion emotions swarming around my heart and soul. Then tonight, I sat down with my markers and sketch pad to doodle and—without planning—I came up with what reminds me of one of those beaded screen thingys from the 1970s.

And that prompted me to think about all of those emotions that I keep partially hidden behind my own screen. And that prompted me to write a poem. But the poem was so bad that I can’t even share it here. So instead, I’ll give you the gist of it all.

Since Paul died, many people in my life have given their opinions on my grieving process. Some have had the courage to give their opinions directly to me, others have passed them on through the local gossip mills or other sources, and others have had conversations about me without realising (or caring?) that I was in earshot.

If I’m happy, I must not have loved him. If I’m sad, I must be suffering from depression. If I laugh, I must not have cared. If I cry, I’m grieving too hard.

But the truth is that I’m often happy; and I love him still. I’m often sad; and I don’t need pills to fix it. When I laugh, it’s because I’m trying to live my life. When I cry, it’s because I’m living my life without him.

Anyhow, I’ve realised for a while now that I’m hiding my emotions. I’m outwardly displaying a neutral expression even if I’m laughing or crying inside. Only it’s no longer intentional, it’s just become the way of my world.

I started to realise that I was extremely apathetic at work and thought it had something to do with keeping my big life plans to myself at the office for so long—which prompted me to let work know I was leaving considerably sooner than planned. (And, oh, did that lift a lot of stress in my world!)

But I’ve also realised that I’ve been keeping emotions from others in my life, too—emotions of anger and resentment as well as joy and affection. (Sadly, all of those emotions at once for at least one person in my life!)

I know that much of these emotional barriers will fade away when I’m at a place of peace within my life. And whilst I hope know that I will be at peace in my soul when I return to Scotland in August, I’m hoping that the process of finding some calm will start sooner than that.

In the mean time, I’m going to try to allow myself to honestly feel however I feel. And I’m going to try not to care if my laughter or tears seem wrong to someone else.

So, how do I feel today? If I’m honest, I’m feeling anxious and nervous and jealous and hurt over a few maybe big, maybe little things. I’m sure those emotions will carry on for a while, but I’m going to make room for some happiness and laughter, too. And I’m not going to be ashamed to show it!!

And with that, I’m going to bed. Yes, I know it’s barely 9:30 on a Friday night, but it’s been an emotionally exhausting week and I need to recharge so that I can find my happy juice tomorrow!

The laughter woke me

I don’t think I’ve slept through the night since Paul died. I’ve become a very light sleeper and am woken easily by common household sounds or by a dream that just seems all too real.

Being woken by dreams is far worse than being woken by noises because the dreams are normally bad and I wake up in a terrible fright, or they are surreal and I wake up confused or worried about some strange symbolism.

Last night was different though. Last night I was having a slightly surreal dream where I’d just moved into a new house and was excitedly decorating the interior. Then one of the new neighbours stopped by to start complaining about the way I’d displayed the house number and about some of my flower choices in the front garden.

All of the sudden it dawned on me that I was living in one of those terrible communities that has covenants!!

I explained to this new neighbour that I hadn’t realised that was the case and he was very disgusted by the thought that I wouldn’t want my house to look exactly like all of the other houses.

Well, that got me thinking out loud about all of the lovely things I wanted to do to the house and that I was certain I’d be able to get a waiver or community approval for some of my fantastic ideas. And as I continued I could see the look on this horrible man’s face turn to fear. So I kept making my ideas more outrageous which got me giggling.

At some point in the dream, everyone but this man was giggling which got me giggling so much that I actually woke up laughing. Yes, my laughter in my dream woke me up!

It was weird because I’ve never woken up by laughing before. Crying, shouting, and screaming—yes. But laughing? That’s a new one. But I suppose if you’re going to have a restless night, you may as well laugh about it!!

The making of a bad day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

100 random things

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

100 Random Things about Just Frances

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

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

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

Pick a card

I’m in clutter-clearing mode and today’s task is my stationery drawer. The drawer is well-past its clear-out date, especially since it’s been difficult to close for nearly two years!

In the drawer are stacks and stacks of cards that I’ve owned for years and years but have no intention of ever using. There are also fantastic cards that I’ve acquired in recent years (and months and weeks) that get used quite quickly. And, of course, there is stationery—nice stuff that I use, as well as stuff I don’t use but I’ve had for years and just keep.

There are wax seals and golden sticker seals. There are wax sticks and matches. There are fun stickers and air mail stickers. And there are even stamps.

Of course, there is no point in packing these things up and taking them to Scotland with me if I won’t use them so I am getting ready to part with much of the stuff.

Of the 130+ cards, I am keeping about 30. And of those cards, I will probably use 10-15 before I move. (I’ll be buying more over the next few months for birthdays, too, but they get sent immediately.)

Of the stationery, I am keeping the parchment and cotton papers as well as my favourite hand-made papers. The stuff with embossed yellow roses and matching envelopes? Gone!

I’m keeping the wax and a couple of the wax seals as well as the gold seals, but will ditch most of the stickers. As for the stamps, well, I’ll be using most of them before I leave.

The rest of the stuff I’m giving to my foster daughter. I think she’ll like it and I know she’ll use it. Oh, and because I love to get mail, I will be giving her my UK address and a stack of international-use stamps so that she can write any time she wants!

The best part about this exercise in de-cluttering is that I’m now in letter-writing mode. As some of my friends may attest, I enjoy sending random cards and letters to the people I care about, because everyone likes to get mail that isn’t a bill.

And now a public service announcement: Write to your mother! Or your sister or father or brother or former teacher or even a long-lost friend you want to reconnect with. It will make you smile—and I bet it will make the recipient smile, too!

Too much

Sometimes I try to do too much all at once. And sometimes, that means that my coffee table suffers and becomes covered in half-finished projects.

Currently, it is straining under the weight of my nail file kit (I love French Connection UK!); a stack of note cards that I’m sorting through; my drawing supplies; an on-going practice page for my swirl drawings; a couple of journals and notebooks; my embroidery floss case and partially-finished friendship bracelets; yarn and the half-finished afghan it goes to; and all sorts of other bits-and-bobs—only half of which actually belong on top of the coffee table.

Thankfully, my sister and nephew are coming over for the weekend so that my nephew and I can participate in the Partners in Pain 5K. Company means I will put stuff away, which is a good thing. Though if I wouldn’t try to do too much at once, it would never get this bad in the first place.

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…

Just two minutes

I used to be able to sit in complete silence and just be at peace with myself. I used to be able to curl up with a book and focus on only the story I was reading. I used to be able to listen to music and not think of anything other than the sounds coming from the speakers.

But when Paul died, I found that I was no longer at peace with myself, nor could I focus on a single task. I needed constant stimulation to get through the day: TV, music, Facebook, real books—you name it. And often, I had them all on the go at once. It was the only way to stave off the sadness and tears long enough to get me from one hour to the next.

And now, I’ve found that I don’t need constant stimulation to hide from my grief anymore—I need it because it’s become a part of my routine. I no longer know how to function without a constant stream of noise and distraction.

Which is why one of my goals for the new year is to focus my mind. I’m working on the art of single-tasking. This means that when I take my shower, I am only thinking about my shower—not planning my day. When I’m driving down the road, I am only thinking about the feel of the wheel, the curve of the road, the pressure of my foot on the gas pedal—not rehashing a conversation in my head.

Sound easy? It’s not. I fail at single-tasking all the time. But I’m getting better.

Well, I say I’m getting better but I can’t manage to do nothing for two minutes. And that frustrates me.

But I’m not one to give up. So once I post this, I’m going to turn off all the noise in the house then I’m going to sign out of my email and Facebook accounts, and then I’m going to attempt at doing nothing for two minutes. And once I succeed at that, I’m going to shut down the computer (without re-checking emails or Facebook) and I’m going to go to bed—where I plan to single-task my way to a peaceful night’s sleep.*

How about you? Do you think that you can manage to do nothing for two minutes?

* On-going insomnia will likely prevent me from that task, but I am going to try. Another goal for the year is to finally start sleeping through the night again. It’s been nearly two years since I’ve had a full night’s sleep, and my soul could really use the rest!

Food woes

I’ve been noticing in recent weeks that I’m not eating enough and I need to work on that.

Before Paul died my diet and exercise routine was fantastic. I mean, I ate my share of junk food, but 95% of my diet was comprised of healthy, whole foods that were low in sodium and fat. Almost nothing came from a box or a can.

After Paul died I pretty much stopped eating. When I finally got around to feeding myself it was rubbish junk food—canned soups and raviolis, TV dinners, and salty snacks. I couldn’t be bothered to cook. Eventually I found myself back in the kitchen cooking mostly OK foods a couple of times a week. Then when I took a foster care placement in August, it forced me to start cooking even more and I tried to cook on the healthy end of the spectrum. But I never got back to eating the way I did before Paul died.

Then sometime in October I started to feel the stress of life and noticed I was eating less and less. And it’s not gotten better. On the nights that my foster daughter visits her Mom, I don’t eat at all. On the nights we’re home together for dinner, I’m eating extremely small portions or not at all. At lunch in the office, I’m picking at this and that, or when I go and get a meal, I’m only eating half of it. And breakfast? Well, that seems to have been forgotten about again.

I don’t have body issues; I don’t think I need to lose weight. And at this point, I’m not underweight. But I am certainly under eating and if it continues I will be at risk of being underweight.

But even though I know that I am not consuming enough calories (and when I do, they’re not the healthiest calories!) I still want to exercise. I still want to run. I still want to be active.

I know that some of my eating is that I can’t eat when I’m upset, stressed, or sad. When these emotions get to me, just the thought of eating makes my tummy upset.

But some of it is that I’m just too lazy to leave my office to get lunch, and I’ve gotten out of the routine of bringing breakfast and lunch to the office with me. And once I’ve gone nearly all day without eating, I am too hungry to know what I want to eat when I get home.

Now that I’ve acknowledge it, I need to fix it. I am aware that it’s a problem and I don’t want it to become a larger problem.

To start, I am going to begin a food journal and will include my mood and stress level in the journal. I think that seeing it written down will help me to know where my problem points are.

I’m also going to do what I don’t really want to do, but think I need to for a while: I’m going to get some store-bought granola bars and frozen meals to keep in the office kitchen. That way, when my reason for not eating is that I’m too lazy to wander over to the union building to get lunch, at least I can eat something.

Of course, I also know that I need to work on lessening the stress and sadness in my life so that I actually care about food again. And I’m working on that; though it seems slow-going at times. I also know that, ultimately, I need to get back to the eating habits I had before Paul died because I was at my healthiest then and I know it had a lot to do with my diet. (Of course, it also had a lot to do with the health benefits that come from a joyful and happy marriage, but I can’t get that back, so will just concentrate on the food part.)

I’d rather not be yelled at about how I really should start eating because, as you can see, I know that and I am now trying to fix it. But I’d love to hear some ideas of how to get my eating back on track. I’m open to hearing your suggestions for quick-and-easy ways to get three meals a day, even when I’m too upset or stressed to eat.

Thoughts or ideas to share?

Seeing spots

Somewhere in the midst of this cold I was hit with chills and pains. My whole body ached. My head was pounding. And I had an 11-year-old foster daughter to take care of so I couldn’t do what I’d normally do, which is to go to bed and stay there.

But I couldn’t function with the pain so I took an extra-strength Tylenol. In fact, I took an extra-strength Tylenol a couple of times; just one at a time, even though the dose is two. Yes; I’m a light weight. But it really did help the pain.

Of course, what I feared might happen happened: The dreaded petechiae.

You see, I have an annoying little ‘blood disease’* called idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura. Which basically means that my body is on self-destruct mode on two levels: 1) My bone marrow doesn’t adequately produce platelets and 2) my immune system thinks that platelets are evil and kills them. (Yay! It’s like my own internal civil war!)

When I’m sick, my immune system goes into overdrive and my platelet counts generally drop even lower than they normally are. But the petechiae don’t show up until my counts are ‘really’ low.

And guess what? Some medications—yes, even ones as ‘harmless’ as Tylenol—can lower platelet counts.** But I took the risk the other day because I couldn’t function without it.

When I went to bed last night there were two or three little guys on my right leg. When I woke up this morning there were dozens and dozens and dozens of them on both legs. Thankfully, as I write this post there are only a handful of ‘new guys’ since this morning.

And so, I guess I need to go have my blood work done first thing tomorrow morning. And I guess that I won’t be running full-speed at the Freeze Your Fanny race in a week and a half’s time. (Not that I would have with my poorly coccyx anyhow.) And I guess that I have now shared more about my medical maladies than you may care to know. But now you know. Sorry about that.

Oh! And it seems that today is now the day that I am knocking into coffee tables and doorways. I have watched three small bruises form on my lower extremities today due to my clumsiness (aided, of course, by the low platelet count). I think I’ll just stay put here on the couch until bed time now.

But on the happy side: I returned to work today. I’m not completely over the cold (or the cough!) but I was pleased to feel well enough to make it to the office—even if I did leave two hours early because I was so tired. Yay! for back to work though. Right?

* I used quotations here because whilst it is classified as a disease, I actually hate to call it that because saying you have a blood disease freaks people out.
** DON’T PANIC! Whilst there are dozens and dozens of things that can cause a depletion of platelets, if you have a normal platelet count you will not be adversely affected by a small drop in the numbers.

Coccydynia

Remember how I told you I went cross country skiing last week and didn’t fall once? Well, I wish I had fallen once, because it was the second fall that caused current state of coccydynia.

The first two days after my coccyx injury were spent driving; often on compact snow and ice making for a very bumpy—and sore—journey home from my holidays. The next two days were spent relaxing at home. Still sore, but not as sore as I’d been. And slowly, I began to forget about my injury.

But the problem now is that I am mostly pain free. Which means I forget about my poorly tail. Which means I keep standing up without thinking about it. Which means that I am causing myself more pain.

I’d planned to go for a training run this week to prepare not only for my marathon but for the Freeze Your Fanny 5K. But now, instead of worrying about freezing my fanny, I’m complaining about a pain in it.

Yes, this post is all about the pain in my arse.

And that picture, if you wondered, is me pointing to my fanny the first time I ran the Freeze Your Fanny 5K in 2008.

Saving cash; depleting clutter

Like many of you, I have a habit of taking home soaps and other toiletries from hotels. And, like I’m sure some of you, I never actually use them. Yet, still, I take them.

The stuff I get from cheapy hotels sits in a plastic bag. That stuff smells bad. Well, not bad, but like perfume. (Ick.)

The stuff I get from fancy hotels sits in a nice wicker basket. That stuff smells nice. And it’s actually name-brand products from around the globe. But, still, I never use it.

But, I’m trying to pinch pennies. And I’m trying to de-clutter. So now the stuff is going to get used.

My foster daughter actually likes smelly stuff, so as soon as she’s out of her stinky body wash gel, she will be handed a bar of Motel 6 soap. And later Holiday Inn and Sheraton* soaps. Same thing when she’s out of shampoo, conditioner, and lotion. And only once all the free stuff is gone will we buy new stuff.

I will be using the fancy soaps—L’Occitane, Neutrogena, Bath & Body Works. A couple of them are lightly-scented, but not perfumey. And I will be using the fancy hair stuff, too—John Frieda, Pantene, Bath & Body Works. Again, not too smelly.

I even have some dental floss, tooth paste, and deodorant. As well as a few other bits-and-bobs. And several free sewing kits, of which I think I’ll give one to a friend because I recall him needing—yet not having—a needle and thread once.**

Now, I cannot promise that I will not add more free stuff to the mix, and I cannot promise that I won’t buy new stuff from time-to-time, but at least I’ll be saving money and clearing out some clutter.

* OK, Sheraton hotels are not really on the cheap end of the spectrum, but they do use smelly products so their toiletries get tossed in with the cheap stuff.
** I know it sounds cheap to give free stuff to friends, but it’s not like it’s a proper gift and it’s not like it’s really a gift so much as a gesture of goodwill.

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!

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!!

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!)

Fashion-less

I don’t know a thing about fashion, nor do I care. And this is how bad I am:

Today, I bought a pretty sweater because I love the colour. A colour Paul would have hated! (Bile green, he’d have called it.) It was on sale though, and I liked it. And it was buy one, get one 50% off, so I bought another one, too. (But a different colour and one that Paul may have approved of.)

But the sweaters are too snug for regular jeans which are lumpy with loops and buttons and pockets, so I decided I’d wear them with my bargain £10 jeggins I got at Primark last year.

And the only shoes I have for my jeggins are a pair of fake Prada’s that I got on sale a couple of years ago. Only the black plastic ‘pleather’ stuff is peeling off the heels. And I can’t find my black electrical tape, so I am colouring in the cheap white plastic underneath with a black marker.

And for all of this, the only name brand item—and one I’ll have paid full price for—is the Sharpie. Yes folks, only name brand office supplies for this geek!

I know I will probably look ridiculous in my get-up, but if it’s comfortable, I don’t care. And if you don’t like it, just don’t look at me.

11¢

It was dark, rainy, and wet when I walked out of the office a little after 5 this evening. But that didn’t stop me from spotting a dime and a penny on the sidewalk in front of me. I had to look twice because it was so hard to see, but that was certainly 11¢ laying there.

I felt no shame as I bent down in my business casual work outfit to pick up what seems to most as worthless. And I felt no shame as my eyes darted around to see if there were more precious coins laying about in search of someone to love them. (I didn’t see any, but will pay close attention on my way into the office tomorrow when I have the light of day to aid my search.)

Why would a woman with a comfortable (though modest) income bother to pick up such a pittance? Because I’m cheap. Because I’m frugal. Because I hate waste. Because I like money. And—most importantly—because I can’t actually afford to go to graduate school so I need save every penny I can. Even if it’s a penny scrounged from a puddle of water outside my office door.

Yay! I’m 11¢ closer to my £10,000+ tuition bill!

The hard days

The thing about grief is that sometimes it just hits you out of nowhere. Yesterday was such a great day. I really enjoyed spending time in my sister’s kitchen making blagenda. It was a happy day full of laughter. I thought about Paul throughout the day, but I always do. I know it’s been a year and a half since he died but he’s always on my mind on some level. Thankfully, it’s mostly happy memories these days.

My bad day started this morning, though it started good. No, it started great! You see, my friend’s husband heard that I was going for a morning run and had his wife ask if he could join me. (Since I had only met him for about three seconds once over the summer, I was surprised for the ask, but more than happy to oblige.)

I left my sister’s house and ran about three blocks to pick up my running partner then the two of us continued on a five-mile run—chatting along the way. It was enjoyable and it reminded me of the runs Paul and I would do around my homeland. After leaving my running partner at his doorstep, I ran the three blocks back to my sister’s. At some point, it dawned on me that today was the first time I’d run with another adult since Paul died.

That fact didn’t bother me for the first few minutes, but all of the sudden it was making me sad. But it wasn’t enough to ruin my day.

Then, I went up to the cemetery to leave some potted roses for Paul and my grandparents. As I pulled up I could feel myself getting more emotional than normal. I put it down to the time of year. With Thanksgiving just around the corner and what would have been Paul’s 49th birthday two days later, I am certainly missing him more right now.

And then I noticed that the cards I’d left for Paul in a little flower box were gone. There should have been three cards: Last year’s birthday card, a Christmas card, and a Valentine’s Day card. But they were gone. And I lost it. I just couldn’t imagine that someone would take Paul’s card. I mean, the sea shell I brought back from Seaton Carew last month was still there, but the cards were gone. They weren’t in the way and in fact were nestled and almost hidden in the little flower box. But now they’re gone.

Anyhow, seeing that completely ruined my day. I sat there sobbing and had the hardest time regaining composure. When I was finally ready to return to the car, the tears came again. I just wanted to sit and cry forever but I had to go pick up my foster daughter for our four-hour drive home. And it was such a hard drive because I was still upset but I couldn’t show it.

And I’m still upset now. Only I don’t know if it’s actually the cards or something else. I just know that it’s made me so very sad. And it came so out of the blue.

Yes, I hate days like this. I hate that I can be floating along in a good-enough state for days and then I crash. And I don’t know what will trigger it and I don’t know how to make it stop.

I guess the good side is that days like this are becoming fewer and there are more good days in between.

Now I find myself wondering if there is somewhere else I can stash cards for Paul because I can’t not give him a birthday card…

Food foibles

So I think I’m a mild food hoarder. Or that I have some weird food obsessions. Or both. I’ve known it for years but mostly lived alone as an adult which made it easier to deal with.

When I [finally] settled down and got married, I found that I had to work to overcome some of my food foibles. Well, actually I didn’t have to overcome them—Paul accepted them and just played my little games.

(All the while, Paul would point out how crazy I was being and remind me that we can just buy/make more of whatever food I wanted.)

Basically, my deal is that I will panic if I think that I’m not getting my fair share—or more. A normal meal of normal food won’t trigger panic, nor will going out to a traditional restaurant where I order my own meal. No, panic situations for me are buffets, pot lucks, and parties with hors d’oeuvres; shared foods like pizza, chips, and buckets of popcorn; and divided foods like a slice of cake or pie.

I really do panic if I think there won’t be enough of something for me. To solve the problem of panic, Paul would always give me the bigger half of whatever we were splitting and we’d have separate containers of popcorn. Now, almost always I would eat what I wanted then give the rest to Paul—meaning he still got more—but if he got the bigger piece to start with I would have felt panicked.

I hoard food, too. Not proper food, but junk food. I have candy and junk food stashes everywhere: In the kitchen and living rooms at home; in my office; in my car; and even in my handbag. As long as my supplies are well-stocked, I’m OK. But when they start to dwindle I really do panic. I’m afraid that I’ll never get another Love Heart again. I worry that I may want pretzels and not have access to them. But if they are there and available to me, I won’t necessarily eat them. No, just the knowledge that they are there and that I can have them any time I want is enough to give me peace of mind.

I will fantasize for days if I know that there is a food event coming up. I salivate as I wonder what great nibbles will be at a holiday party. When going to the movies, I think for hours about my snack choices before the movie–and I’ve been known to watch a movie I’m not too keen on seeing just because I want the popcorn. I get really excited when I get to go for fish-n-chips–and even more excited when I know I’m going to a sweets shops. It’s bad. Really, really bad.

I realized that I had a problem when Paul and I went through our adoption training a few years ago. Apparently, food hoarding and other issues are very common in children in the foster care system and is often directly related to neglect and the instability of a food supply at some time in their lives.

I was never starved as a child—despite my insistence ½ hour before dinner that I was dying of hunger and really needed a snack. I was well-fed and never worried that a meal wouldn’t happen. BUT, there was a fight for food growing up in that the ‘best’ foods were gone fast. Everyone got a first helping of everything on the table, but with eight people around the dinner table, sometimes there wasn’t enough for a second helping of the favourite foods for everyone. Which to a kid is complete abuse!

Also, we rarely got desserts and snacks and candy. So when we did, we made the most of it. Looking back I know that we were raised with an extremely good, balanced, and nutritious menu. But I can also see how my food obsessions may have started.

I must have snacky foods available at all times now. When I fly to the UK I have a special check list of snack foods to take with me (sweet and savoury, chewy and crunchy) even though they’ll feed me on the plane. In fact—I almost never eat the food that I take with me, but the one time I didn’t take it I was a bit freaked out over it, so Paul insisted that I pack food no matter where we were going and how long we’d be gone.

A tip to friends and family: Always offer me the last chip. I will most likely decline, but being asked will make me feel secure. Also, be prepared to have separate buckets of popcorn if we go to the movies. And don’t ask for some of my candy, but don’t be surprised if I want some of yours. In fact, I will probably pick a candy that I know you hate just to be safe.

Yes, you knew I was weird and a little lot obsessive-compulsive, but I bet you didn’t know that I was completely off my rocker when it came to food!

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!)

Today I will…

Photo credits to Windy Tevlin; Tevlin PhotographyToday’s writing prompt was to write for ten minutes starting with the words “Today I will…”. So when lunch came around I grabbed my laptop and a cup of tea, set a timer, and wrote.

What you see below is just what came out—I’ve not done any editing of any sort. So please forgive me for any errors or confusing thoughts.

[Side note: Whilst I say that I will do these things today, I have to also acknowledge that many of them are just too difficult right now. Some will be achieved today and others will be achieved over time and some will remain attitudes to strive for throughout my life. Blah, blah, blah…]

Today I will…

Today I will be happy. I will think about good things and try not to dwell on the sad.

Today I will help someone who needs help and I will try to remember that it’s OK to ask for help when I need it, too.

Today I will be creative. I will take time to draw and color.

Today I will think about my future in positive tones and I won’t think about the possibility of failure.

Today I will smile more and cry less.

Today I will think about a friend who means the world to me but I’m mad at. But I probably won’t speak to them because I’m too stubborn.

Today I will forgive myself for not being perfect. But I will still expect perfection and will cause myself much grief over it.

Today I will take a few minutes to just relax and do nothing.

Today I will enjoy my own company and I will remind myself that being alone is OK.

Today I take time to think about happy memories and less about sad ones.

Today I will be gentle with myself and not demand more than I can reasonably do.

Today I will not get mad at myself for being afraid.

Today I will pay more attention to my surroundings and be thankful for the gift of sight when I see the sun setting over the Palouse hills.

Today I will be more patient when others upset me, because they probably don’t even know that their actions are causing me grief.

Today I will remember that it’s OK to be mad and that it’s OK to be grumpy. But that I can’t take those emotions out on innocent people who only mean well.

Today I will remember that I have friends around the world who care for me even if I never hear from them.

Today I will remember that my life is not as bad as I think it is and that I have a bright future ahead of me even if I can’t see it.

Today I will remember that I am in control of my life and my destiny.

Today I will remember to love myself.

Today I will remember to pray.

Bad desk; good desk

I don’t know how it happens, but I will go weeks and weeks with my desk being nice and clean then all of the sudden things start to accumulate. It’s not as if I don’t have space to store things. It’s not even as if I have to go far to put things away – I mean, 80 percent of the stuff that ends up on top of my desk actually belongs in one of the desk drawers or on the bookshelves right next to the desk.

Thankfully, when I realize I’ve become a slob I’m able to find the energy to fix the problem. And then I’m able to keep things neat and tidy for quite some time. Now, if I could just stop letting things accumulate in the first place…

Before = Bad Desk

After = Good Desk

Learning to cope [?]

It’s been nearly a month since I posted about being stressed and unhappy and I hate to admit that not much has changed. I’ve had happy moments in between now and then and I’ve laughed and enjoyed life, but it’s all been marred by the sadness I’m feeling—and much of that joy was being faked if I’m completely honest.

According to the professionals, I’m not ‘depressed’ I’m just extremely stressed and when added to the fact that I’m still grieving, it makes it difficult to cope. This is nice to know since I don’t believe that I’m suffering from depression, but it basically means that I am too stressed and I don’t have an outlet for that stress. And the grief? Well, by some accounts that will be with me for the rest of my life, it’s just a matter of degrees. (No, you don’t ‘snap out of it’ on the year mark. Really. Despite what you may have read. But that rant is not for this post…)

When I lost Paul I lost my confidant; my biggest supporter; the one person who could make all of life’s stresses seem insignificant. Of course, since Paul died there are so many new stresses in my life. That irony is well noted.

And now I need to find a way to cope on my own. And it’s really, really hard! But, I’m stubborn and determined and I’ll figure out a way to manage if it kills me!

Ideally, I would have that amazing friend like they have in Hollywood movies. You know—the best friend who is a solid rock; the friend who is just there and just sorts you out. They know what you need even if you don’t and they’re not afraid to just bulldoze their way in when you build a wall. I don’t know if that person exists off screen or not, but they don’t exist for me.

[Side note: I do have friends and they are wonderful, but I don’t have that amazingly-close friend who just ‘gets me’ and maybe that’s because I am extremely weird and (as one friend puts it) so different than everyone else and no one will ever get me. Heck, I don’t think Paul ever totally understood me. But really, I love my friends!]

So, I need to be my own best friend. I need to be my biggest supporter, my biggest cheering section, and my own life-sorter-outer.*

How does one do that? I just don’t know. I’m experimenting with several things though.

I’m writing down my thoughts and feelings and emotions and other sappy rubbish. Some in the form of (bad) poems; some in the form of letters to people that never get sent (including letters to me); some in the form of journal entries; and some in a free-flowing ‘non-form’ form.

I’m being all creative and crap. I’m drawing and sketching; I’m doing arts and crafts; and I’m working on crochet projects—new and old.

I’m taking time for me. I’ve gotten rid of the cable so that I can concentrate on relaxing and reading; I’m (mostly) taking back my lunch time; and I’m trying to pamper myself.

I’m trying to be healthier. I’m getting a bit more exercise (still not enough); I’m eating healthier foods; I’m drinking more water; and I’m getting more sleep.

Overall, I’m just trying to find the connection I used to have with my heart, mind, body, and soul. I’m trying to reclaim the peace and happiness I once felt. I’m trying to re-establish my self-esteem and my identity.

I’ve convinced myself that all of these fears and stresses and unhappy feelings will go away if I get accepted to grad school but then I start to worry about what will happen to my remaining shred of sanity if I’m not accepted. And then I remember that those thoughts are exactly what I’m supposed to avoid in order to find peace in my world. So instead of thinking about that, I think I’ll go turn on some soft music and read a book for a while.

Sorry for whining again…

* This reminds me of that Friends episode where the girls read a book called Be Your Own Windkeeper.

Coronation candy

Today I had a permanent crown placed on a poorly tooth that’s been bothering me since early May. So, in honour of my coronation, I thought I would share a guilty little secret about what’s in my stash drawer. (Well, I say secret, but I’m sure everyone knows that I have a soft spot for candy.)

So, here are the contents of my favourite drawer:

  • 11 packs of Love Hears
  • 6 rolls of Refreshers
  • 1 large box of Sweethearts
  • 1 small box of Conversation Hearts
  • 20 Refresher lollies
  • 3 Double Lollies
  • 3 Drumstick lollies
  • 4 Tootsie Roll Pops
  • 1 large Sugar Daddy
  • 1 Ring Pop
  • 1 pack of Giant Chewy Sweet Tarts
  • A 1-pound bag of Jelly Bellies
  • 2 packs of Starbursts
  • 3 regular candy canes
  • 1 jumbo candy cane
  • 8 small packs of Parma Violets
  • 2 large tubes of Smarties
  • 6 Crunchy bars
  • 2 packs of Bubblicious gum
  • 2 tins of Altoid mints
  • ½ pack of Twizzlers
  • 2 322.5g bags of Bassett’s Allsorts
  • 1 250g bag of Murray Mints
  • 1 small pack of Murray Mints
  • 3 sticks of rock candy
  • 1 200g bag of mini Wham bars
  • 1 210g bag of Swizzels Matlow Sweets (which means more Love Hearts!)
  • 10 Tootsie Rolls
  • And a few random bits-and-bobs

Oh, and in addition to the candy drawer, I have a crystal candy dish filled with Murray Mints and Life Savers. There are also a few lollypops in my handbag. Then there’s the supply in the glove box of the car. And don’t forget my stash of Love Hearts and Refreshers in my office desk. And like any other hoarder, I’m sure there are stashes of sweets I’ve forgotten about. Or that I’m too embarrassed to acknowledge publically.

Yeah, it’s a shocker that I’m not sporting a full set of dentures, huh?

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…

Handbag packrat

Ack! It’s happened again! I’ve become a handbag packrat. You know, those women who carry these massive bags around all the time that are loaded with rubbish they don’t need. And the reason they do that is simple: As inhabitants of the western world, we fill the space we have to capacity. (And if that’s still not enough, we just rent a storage unit somewhere on the outskirts of town!)

I am not generally a handbag packratter though. For three main reasons: I don’t wear makeup; I carry smaller, vintage bags most of the time; and I swap out my bags often.

But when I go on holiday I generally carry a shoulder bag so that I can toss my camera and any small purchases into the bag and my hands are free.

Anyhow, when I went to England at the start of the month, I grabbed a larger handbag so that I could have various bits and bobs with me on the plane. And when I got back I entered straight into a crazy world of work and foster mommy-ing and I never had time to switch my bag back over. Which meant that I did what inhabitants of the western world do and I filled the space to capacity.

Well, I’ve had enough and am now cleaning house. Or, rather, cleaning bag!

So, what was in the bag? Well…

  • Money floating loosely: £4.05 in coins; $3.25 in coins; and $6 in cash
  • Two iPods; 1 iPod headphone; and 1 iPod cable
  • A smart phone; a wireless mouse/pointer; and three thumb drives (total storage: 22 GB)
  • Two sets of keys
  • A pack of gum (four pieces of which were out of pack floating loose); a pack of Love Hearts; a pack of Giant SweetTarts; two tins of mints; three lollypops; a tea bag; and an apple
  • Three handkerchiefs; a nail file; a pocket mirror; a pack of secret girly things; and two chap sticks
  • A silver ring; two tooth pick flossy things; five safety pins; and a small container of hand lotion
  • A seashell from Seaton and one teaspoon worth of sand, grit, and coal bits that must have come from the shell floating at the bottom of the bag
  • A large note book; a small Moleskin; two novels; a check book; and a filled check register
  • Fifteen envelopes filled with new bank cards, bank statements, bills, and a fun new art project
  • Four pens; a business card holder; and seven loose business cards
  • Eleven ponytail holders
  • Two empty gum wrappers and a partial wrapper from a pack of Mentos
  • A camera
  • A wallet with: Nine receipts that need to be reconciled; six business cards; a pack of domestic stamps; three international use stamps; eight bits of plastic for banks, identification, and insurance purposes; $11 in cash; and $2.95 in coins

And now, I’ve cleared out the mess and transferred junk into one of my favourite vintage bags: A 1960s wicker bag with teal lining and brass handles and closures. This is a fun bag that I purchased when out shopping with my mommy shortly before I got married.

And its contents are:

  • A smart phone; a 16 GB thumb drive; and one iPod with headphones
  • Two sets of keys
  • A pack of gum; a pack of Love Hearts; a tin of mints; and three lollypops
  • One handkerchief; a nail file; a pocket mirror; a pack of secret girly things; and two chap sticks
  • A tooth pick flossy thing and a small container of hand lotion
  • A seashell from Seaton (I’m taking it to Paul’s grave at the weekend, otherwise I wouldn’t still be carrying it—promise!)
  • A small Moleskin and a check book
  • Four pens and a business card holder
  • Two ponytail holders
  • A wallet with: A pack of domestic stamps; three international use stamps; four bits of plastic for banks, identification, and insurance purposes and $17 in cash

Ah… that’s better. Still a bit too much clutter but much, much less than before! I wonder what bag I’ll pick to use next week… ?

Unhappily stressed

I’m really struggling this week. Actually, I’ve been struggling for a couple of weeks now. I’m sad and I feel quite helpless about it. I’m trying to cheer myself up but I can’t seem to manage it. I am pretty certain it’s just stress and worry; not depression. But I’m having trouble getting past it because it seems so many stresses have been accumulating and I don’t have an outlet for my stress these days.

However, writing down my thoughts and feelings help. And sadly that means you have to suffer my blue mood. (Alternatively, you can hit the back button on your browser in search of happier rubbish to read.)

First, the stresses:

I’m worried that I won’t get accepted to school (even though I’ve not yet sent in my applications) because that’s my only plan right now and if that falls apart I don’t know what I’ll have to anchor my future to.

I’m worried that if I do get accepted I won’t be able to afford it. I worry that I will completely destroy my finances and the excellent credit rating that I worked so hard to build.

That worry means that my brain has kicked into hyper-sensitive money mode and I’m finding myself constantly thinking about money and how much I can save between now and then. I’m making mental notes of my belongings and wondering what I can bring myself to part with and what I’d be able to sell. (Don’t worry; I won’t be selling off my prized junk until I have a firm letter of acceptance in hand.)

I’ve lost my ‘me’ time. I mean, I had way too much before, but now I don’t have any. I wake up and am in instant mommy-mode. Then I go to work where I’m in work-mode. Then I pick up the kid and I’m in mommy-mode again until about an hour before I go to bed. There is no time for me. I can’t go for a run before work because I can’t leave the kid at home whilst I run and I can’t drop her off at school early enough for me to hit the gym before going to the office and I can’t go to the spa because there’s no one I can just drop the kid off with.

Since my brother-in-law passed away three weeks ago, I’ve not had time to process it all—and maybe I never will. But his death has really upset me because I lost such an amazing person in my life, and because it reminds me about the pain of losing Paul (not that I’ve forgotten the pain, it just makes it a bit more obvious). But mostly, I’m upset because I hate that my sister-in-law has to go through such an intensely-painful process and I can’t do anything to ease her pain.

Of course on top of it all, work is crazy. More so than normal. But I suppose that’s a common stress world-wide.

Most of the stresses above are with me throughout the average week. It’s just that they are all with me right now and I don’t have an outlet. There isn’t someone at home when I get in to whine to about my day. There wasn’t anyone there to complain to when some jerk in a Land Rover made an illegal maneuver to cut me off and take my parking spot. There wasn’t anyone to mix me a Martini when I got home after a particularly rough day at the office. (Though on that day, there was a good friend at the end of the phone which helped very much.)

What’s really hard is that I can’t come home and just be an emotional wreck because I have to pretend to be strong for my foster daughter who requires a stable environment—not a home where the primary caregiver screams and cries (and drinks) to vent her fears and frustrations. I’m sure part of my problem is that I am keeping it all trapped inside at the moment.

I know I can whine here and on Facebook and Twitter, but I really do like to at least pretend to be a mostly cheerful person and I think it would be a turn-off if I always posted these miserable and whiney posts.

I am trying to be happy. Really I am. I’m taking time each day to be silly. I’m trying to identify a bit of joy each day. I’m finding inspirational quotes to bolster my moods. I’m doing arts and crafts. And I’m even trying to take back some of my mid-day personal time.

Maybe what’s getting me down isn’t so much life’s stresses, but the uncertainty of my future. For nearly a year and a half my future has been hazy and I don’t like it. Maybe once it’s a bit more clear, my mood will improve.

I am certain that this little mood will pass, and in the mean time I will keep faking it because one way or another, it will make me feel a bit better.

• • • • •

Well, reader, I meant for this to post last night when I was feeling really down. And then my neighbor came by and we had a drink and a long gossip about nothing and everything (and I got her to do a silliness worksheet). Which cheered me up considerably.

I am still feeling unhappy and stressed, but am glad to have had a couple hours’ respite from my condition. And I think that the night’s laughter has carried over into today because I feel a bit happier today already than I did yesterday. Of course, it is the weekend which may have something to do with it.

I promise to have a happier post soon! In the mean time, thanks for letting me get it off my chest!

x

[NOTE: If you’re wondering how the picture relates to the post, it’s one of the silly things I drew on the couch just trying to unwind and relax. I think it helps to scribble a bit. Maybe…]

Sometimes I want to…

Sometimes I want to scream at the top of my lungs. I want to yell. I want to shout. I want to wail about how unfair everything seems at times.

Sometimes I want to sob hysterically. I want to cry. I want to sulk. I want to curl up into a ball and never leave my bed and just think about how lovely the world used to be.

Sometimes I want to break something. I want to smash a plate. I want to slam a door. I want to punch a wall something soft just to release the energy that seems to build up.

Sometimes I want to flee. I want to run as fast as I can. I want to drive until I run out of gas. I want to catch a Greyhound going anywhere but here then I can pretend that I’m someone else; that my life is completely different than what it is.

Those sometimes seem to come less frequently these days, but they come so out of the blue when I thought that those sometimes were almost gone forever. Those sometimes catch me off guard when they come that way!

Thankfully, in between those sometimes I laugh and enjoy life.

In between those sometimes I can look at my past and smile at the memories.

In between those sometimes I can look toward the horizon and see a future that is bright and full of joy.

In between those sometimes I know how lucky I am to have my family and friends—no matter how far away they live.

In between those sometimes I have my faith to keep me strong.

And in between those sometimes I know that I will be mostly happy despite the days when sometimes creeps up on me so unexpectedly.

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!

Stick it ‘n lick it

I really like candy. Especially candy that comes on a stick. Candy on a stick is great fun because of the added bonus of using your hands to eat – a feeding style that is dear to my heart. You name it, I love it! Suckers, lollipops, Tootsie Pops, Dum·Dum·Pops, Drumsticks, Chupa Chups, Sugar Daddies… oh, the list goes on and on!

Before getting to the main point, though, let’s just get the Tootsie Pop stuff dealt with. First: How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop? Well, it’s either three or ‘the world may never know’ – depending on which answer from the 1980s-era commercial you want to believe. Second: The whole Indian shooting a star on the wrapper legend. But I’ve already written about that one, and you can read about it here.

OK? Ready to move on? Great!

I want to talk about the “Eww Factor.” Yes, that’s right, this post is really all about the eww factor.

Am I the only one who finds it a bit odd that there is an exception to the rule that says to keep your food in your mouth? Instead, we find it acceptable to carry on a conversation whilst holding a saliva-covered piece of confection in our hand. And at some point, let’s be honest, some of them get pretty icky looking – especially the ones with ooey, gooey fillings.

I mean, no one would tolerate me removing a chunk of half-masticated steak from my mouth then holding it on my fork for all to see during a conversation. So why is it acceptable to do it with a Tootsie Pop?

I don’t know if there is a real point to this post, but I would love your views on why it’s acceptable – or even your views on why it’s not acceptable.

Thoughts?

NOTE: No matter how disgusting I think it is, I will continue to suck on my lollipops – in public or not – because I can. Until Emily Post tells me otherwise at least.

An illegitimate, homeless transient

I was born as a homeless transient, living in hotel rooms on the road for the first couple weeks of my life. Added to that early start, in the 1980s it was discovered that I was actually an illegitimately-born child. In fact, most of my sisters were illegitimate, as well.

That is a completely factual statement, however misleading it may be.

My father’s new post in the United States Marine Corps saw the family leaving California for Texas. Between the time that the family’s home in California was vacated and I was born, my parents and my two older siblings (for obvious reasons, not my younger siblings) took up residence in a long-stay hotel. Shortly after my birth at Camp Pendleton,* we vacated the California hotel and hit the road for Texas.

That answers the homeless transient part of the statement. Now on to my illigitimate birth.

My parents were married at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Cle Elum, Washington, in June 1969 (the same church I was married in nearly 36 years later). Their wedding was performed by Mom’s cousin, a Catholic priest. Their first-born daughter entered the world about 15 months later. About every two years another daughter was born. But here’s the catch: Mom’s cousin didn’t actually file the paperwork with the county until the sometime in the late 1970s, after their fifth daughter was born.** Meaning that, technically, they weren’t married.

And there you have it. From an illegitimate, homeless transient to a successful, university-educated world-traveler. Who knew!?

(Did I mention that I work in the public relations industry? Yep, it’s all about the spin, babe!)

* It should be noted that shortly after my birth the hospital was demolished. I like to think that it’s because they realized that never again would the building see the birth of such an amazing individual. And being as the building would never be able to top such an event, they decided to build a new hospital. It was the right choice.

** The timing may be a little off so whilst it is known that their sixth (and final) daughter was legitimately born, there is still a question as to if their penultimate daughter was born before or after their marriage certificate was filed.

Rainbows

This is one of those funny posts for me. It started because I had a thought about rainbows, which then led me down a path of remembering the first time I felt joy and sorrow simultaneously (on a trip to Edinburgh), which then led me to a statement declaring I would give a friend money for having not fessed up that I’d already been through a ‘scary’ tourist trap that he wanted to take me through. I think the moment I realized I was going to part with my money was the moment I realized that I needed to get back on topic.

So… back to the topic of rainbows.

I can never decide if rainbows make me happy or sad. I can never decide if the dreams that they hold make up for the fact that they are merely an illusion. It makes me smile to look at them, but it’s so frustrating that – try as I may – I can never catch one. I can never hold one. I can never feel the array of colors in my hands. And there certainly isn’t a pot of gold at the end of one – as much as I want to believe there is. As a child, I knew it was there. And there was once a time that I allowed my adult self to imagine that maybe, just maybe, it’s there – hiding behind the mask of grown-up cynicism.

I guess that the truth is that I struggle some days. I struggle to find the energy to believe that there might just be a pot of gold at the end of that rainbow. But I want to believe that the illusion is real. I want to believe that one day I will be walking along and all of the sudden a rainbow appears in all of it’s Roy G. Biv greatness and I’ll be able to reach out and touch it. I’ll be able to feel it’s glow. And I’ll have a wee chat with the leprechaun charged with protecting that pot of gold.

As part of my goal to be blissfully happy, I am going to start giving rainbows a chance. I am going to work to find that innocent joy in the simplicity of nature’s gift. And I’m going to find more reasons to be happy about rainbows than sad about them.

I know, it’s sort of a nonsense post today. I blame it on Kermit.

Cutting the cord

I am cutting the cord. Or rather, I am cutting the cable. I’m not replacing cable with satellite and in my rural neck of the woods there is no such thing as aerial reception. So, basically, no more television for this gal!*

I’m more than a year late in doing this. Paul and I got cable a few months after moving into our new home for two reasons: 1) It was during the 2008 presidential campaign and I wanted to watch the debates and 2) my family was coming out for Thanksgiving and it would have caused problems if we couldn’t have the football game on during the day.

By the time spring rolled around, we decided it was time to get rid of the cable because we were spending too much time on the couch zoning out instead of talking to each other. So the decision was made that I would cancel it when I paid May’s bill. But Paul died before that happened and I didn’t have the energy to brush my teeth let alone call the cable company.

It was great having cable this past year. A real saving grace in some ways because it meant voices in an otherwise silent house. I could sit on the couch and zone out to whatever was on TV and not have to think about anything else. But now I find myself zoning out on shows that I’m not really interested in whilst neglecting my once-enjoyed hobbies and activities. I sit on the couch from the time I get home until I go to bed. That’s about four hours of mindless television and commercials “entertaining” me every night. And I’ve had enough!

So what will I do without TV?
I will start reading my ever-growing stack of great books and I will listen to my favorite CDs on the Bose. I will go out for walks and hikes and bike rides – after all, I live in an amazingly-beautiful area with loads of outdoor recreation opportunities. I will write. I will crochet and knit. I will sit outside in the evening sun and take in the sounds of nature. I will take time to cook nice meals and I will take the time to enjoy them at the table instead of wolfing my food down on the couch in front of the telly.

Certainly, it will be difficult getting used to not having an endless supply of rubbish programming spread out over nearly 50 channels, but once I remember how much I used to enjoy the simplicity of my own company, I’m sure I will be celebrating the severed cords!

As of the 1st of August, I will be cable-less. Stay tuned for a post about the insanity it causes me when I realize how boring life is without the time-sucking television vortex!

Of course, it hasn’t escaped my mind that I will be saving $49.67 each month. That’s $596.04 a year! Yep, that will be a nice little addition to my very meager savings account.

* I will continue to get my favorite shows on the Internet because I just can’t live without EastEnders. I’ve also subscribed to NetFlix so that I can watch old TV shows or movies from time-to-time. (I know that seems silly as I’m talking about cutting the cable, but I still want a little bit of entertainment.)

Spare change

Faithful readers of Just Frances may recall that I blogged about my spare change about four months ago. They may also recall me blogging about my inability to complete simple tasks these days. So, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I never did get around to cashing in those coins to buy some fantastically-wonderful, unneeded thing.

Instead, my collection of coins has grown by $18.19 since March, meaning I now have $83.13 to spend on something. Well, actually, I have $43.13 to spend because I’ve decided to put $40 into savings for my master’s degree fund.* (Donations to said fund are always appreciated.**)

And the rest of the money? I’ve decided that I’m going to use it all for music. After all, how else am I going to meet my goal to collect 40,000 songs for my iPod?

Tomorrow’s goal: Cash in the coins!

* I know I said before that I liked to use spare coins for things that were wanted, but not needed, so it may seem wrong to put it toward savings, but I ‘want’ a master’s, I don’t ‘need’ one. So this counts in my book.
** I don’t really need donations, but I would be extremely grateful if anyone knows of scholarships that I can apply for!

To train and listen

I am one of those people who pushes herself a little (a lot?) too hard when there’s a goal to be met. But I’m trying to listen to my body a little more so that I don’t push to the point of illness or injury.

My 11-year-old nephew and I are currently training for a 10K race on 10/10/10 and decided to use today as a chance to get a run in on the Bill Chipman Trail. The four-mile run would be his longest – ever – and the furthest I’ve run in more than a year. Oh, and it was a hot, hot, hot day!

As we got going, I told the kid we’d be taking it slow. He was happy to go along with that plan. As we neared the two-mile marker I was pleased to see that it was actually about a quarter mile closer than I’d remembered, which gave me a bit of a (much needed) energy kick.

But as we neared mile three I could feel myself weakening. I’d not eaten breakfast (bad!) and I’d not had nearly enough water over the past few days (also bad!). Part of my brain said to keep going – after all, it was only another mile – but the other part couldn’t help but remember the dream I’d had the night before where I collapsed and was unable to call out for help.

It was a hard decision to make, but I decided to walk the last mile. And as I walked I reminded myself that I’ve not been training much, I have two ‘major medical’ obstacles to deal with, and I’m no longer the high school cross country star. (What? I’m not a teenager anymore? Oh no!)

I can accept that my nephew will get a better time at the race in October, but I can’t accept that I won’t be able to finish the race. So, I’ve promised myself that I will make a strong effort to eat better, stay hydrated, keep training, and (most importantly) listen to my body!

Yep, time to get ready to run!

Chili cheese dogs

I love food. Expensive food, cheap food, homemade food, and overly-processed food-like substances. The last is a group that I don’t get to enjoy often, partly because having kidney disease means I need to watch my sodium intake and partly because I’m too cheap to buy a lot of processed food. (It really is cheaper, healthier, and quicker to cook from scratch!)

Sometimes I find myself thinking a particular “processed food meal” sounds good but then I realize that it’s not easy to justify when cooking for one. But when an old friend from high school posted on Facebook that he was making chili cheese dogs for dinner for his family, it got me thinking that I really, really wanted one, too.

Sadly, hotdogs are sold in packs of eight, as are hotdog buns. And I’m only going to eat one – maybe two – then I’m stuck with loads of extra dogs and buns. Oh, and the rest of a can of chili con carne, but at least that can be used for a lunch later in the week.

Because of my “eating for one” dilemma, I find myself taking advantage of times when there are people around to share food with. And since my 11-year-old nephew is here with me all week whilst attending a fun and adventuresome week of day camp at the university, I’m taking the opportunity to cook all of those wonderfully-delicious meals that I’ve longed for – and that every growing boy loves!

Tonight’s dinner? Those chili cheese dogs I’ve been thinking about for two weeks!

Tomorrow we’ll have a picnic dinner at the top of Kamiak Butte and Wednesday we’ll have tacos. We’ve not decided what to do for the rest of the week, but you can bet baked tofu, curried cous cous, and arugula with low-fat goats’ cheese won’t be on the menu!

It’s a good thing the kid’s only here for a week or I’d be running the risk of high blood pressure, kidney failure, and extreme weight gain!

SUBS syndrome

This is something I posted on RyanCentric years ago, but as it’s been mentioned by a few “old” friends recently it made me realize that most of my “new” friends won’t know that I suffer from SUBS. Well, they may know, but they don’t realize there’s a name for it. So, I’m re-posting!
———————

I would like to introduce myself as one who suffers from SUBS syndrome. Well, I guess I don’t really suffer from it, but the people around me sure suffer from my affliction at times.

SUBS is a condition first named with the help of my friend more than a decade ago. We’ve had it all our lives; we just never knew what it was. Though our findings are not published, and would likely never be recognized by any professional journals, many people have been self-diagnosed since our first announcement of the condition.

But just what is SUBS?

SUBS: Sudden Uncontrollable Bursts of Sarcasm
SUBS is a generally genetic condition but is often highly contagious. Those who are not affected are often times left in a stunned condition, as they have no clue what is being said around them, nor do they understand the reason for laughter. At times, they may feel as if they are being teased or picked on by SUBS carriers, though that is rarely the case.

At the present time, there is no known cure for SUBS. Some people are able to control their outbreaks when the situation calls for it; some are able to go into remission for hours or even days at a time. But SUBS is one of those things that are simply ingrained in the inter-workings of the mind.

I am a member of the SUBS community with a genetic disposition to the condition. The genetic line runs heavily through my family on both my maternal and paternal sides. As with most cases, SUBS affects every member in my family. Even my young nieces and nephews are showing signs of the condition. There is no getting through a conversation without someone’s SUBS showing through.

Thankfully, most of the people I know suffer from SUBS, as well. In fact, SUBS is how I met Paul while I was living in Scotland. Him being British and all, he never expected that he would meet an American who could understand sarcasm and wit. If only he knew what he was getting himself into!

I am not ashamed of my condition. No, in fact, I am very proud of it. I get the jokes. I get the puns, and I totally get British sitcoms (well, almost). I love a funny little one-line zinger. Even more so when most people around don’t understand what was said.

Don’t be ashamed if you, too, are afflicted with SUBS. Share the laughter! Share the joy! Maybe your little bit of sarcasm will infect someone else. Oh what a happy day it will be when the whole world is dripping with satire, repartee, and irony!

Bathing Bexy

Bexy has gotten her first non-rain-induced bath for the first time in more than a year. Paul and I used to wash her every 2-4 weeks but I just haven’t had the inclination. The poor dear was covered in bugs and dirt and filth and grime.

So, in an effort to support the local high school baseball team, I stopped to get her washed when I was out and about running errands today.

Yay for clean cars!

When you live alone; Part 1

When you live alone, especially after sharing your life with someone for so long, things change. Little things. Shoe storage locations are one of those things.

I noticed several months ago that shoes began to accumulate under the vanity in my bedroom. It didn’t really bother me much – probably because the housekeeper would place them neatly in the closet each week when she was in.

With the warmer weather, I’ve noticed that summer “slip-on” shoes have been accumulating under the coffee table in the living room. But again, the housekeeper puts them away to the closet every week.

My bad habit of leaving shoes where they don’t belong hit home tonight though. After work I took a shower and prettied myself up for an outdoor photo shoot. As part of the pretty-up process, I tried on several pairs of shoes in front of the hallway mirror to decide which ones to wear. After the decision was made, I sat to relax for about an hour before it was photo time.

When I returned home, I went into my bedroom to change – but not before walking past a pile of shoes in the hall. I had to laugh. Mostly because those damn shoes wouldn’t have sat there for 10 minutes if Paul was here. His first question would have been: “And are we storing shoes in the hall now?” And I would have sheepishly put them away where they belonged.

Yes, when you live alone you become a lazy slob. Thank goodness I had the clarity of mind to hire a housekeeper two months after Paul died. Otherwise, you can bet the house would have been condemned by now!

Cookie confessional

Not for the first time, I’ve purchased a box of frozen cookie dough from one of my nephews as part of a school fund raiser. And not for the first time, I’ve yet to actually bake a cookie, but am almost out of dough. I don’t know what my obsession with frozen, raw dough is, but it exists.

Yum. And yuck. All at once.

Right on red

I like to think of myself as a calm driver; defensive but certainly not aggressive. Though maybe I’m a bit passive-aggressive at times. The whole “right on red” thing gets me riled up at times, causing those passive-aggressive tendencies to come out and play.

First, to answer the question you may be asking yourself, a “right on red” is a traffic law that allows a driver to make a right-hand turn on a red light after first coming to a full stop – if it is safe to do so and there are no signs prohibiting it at that light.* (Think turning left on a red light in the UK.)

This is an option, not a mandatory maneuver. And an option I really like. However, I err on the side of caution and only proceed when there is a very clear path. I feel that it’s rude for me to take a quick right on red if it means that other cars proceeding through the intersection on a green light would have to break or slow down in any manner.

But from time-to-time I get someone behind me who will start honking their horn, flashing their lights, or gesturing frantically for me to take that right turn. This hurried attitude makes me decide that I will wait. And wait. And wait. Until the light turns green. Because that’s what passive-aggressive people do. And I do it with a smug smile on my face.

It is my right to forgo the option of turning right on red. And if you want to see just how stubborn I can be, test me on this. Or ride my tail when I’m already going 5 miles an hour over the speed limit and see just how close to the speed limit I can get without going under.

Rant over. For now.

*See the Washington State drivers’ guide for clarity. Not all states allow this maneuver.

Building strong bones

Growing up I was told to drink my milk because it was good for building strong bones. I attempted that at the weekend by purchasing a half-gallon of 2%* to enjoy with a box of Cap’n Crunch Berries. (Yes, I intended to eat the entire box over the course of the day. Do you have a problem with that?) Sadly, by the time I went to get the milk from the fridge, I realized the fridge might be on its last leg as it wasn’t as cold as it should have been.

The contents of the fridge were all cool at best, and not wanting to risk anything because of underlying health issues, I threw out most of the lovely food I’d purchased the day before: Fresh chicken, salmon, steak, eggs, and the milk. Hard cheeses and beer got a reprieve and I cranked the thermostat to super cold in the hopes of giving the ancient appliance a few more weeks until her inevitable death.

So, no milk to grow those strong bones… What will I do now?

Wait! Have no fear! I’ve found a solution!

Whilst reading The Scotsman online this morning, I found an interesting article on recent research conducted at the University of California claiming that beer – yes, beer! – may possess bone-strengthening properties due to high levels of malted barley and hops, which are rich in silicon.

Now, not wanting to be one of those people who think that you can build strong bones without calcium, I decided that drinking beer alone would be a silly way to attempt at staving off osteoporosis. No, I would certainly need a combination of beer and calcium.

This is why tonight’s dinner is pepperoni pizza** and beer: It’s a healthy living thing.

*2% milk in America is about half-way between “Whole” and “Semi-Skimmed” in the UK, if you wanted to know that useless bit of information.
**You could argue that eating meat actually increases your risk of osteoporosis, but these claims have yet to be scientifically proven and are still being debated by several legitimate research groups.

The great clean out

I don’t “do” makeup. It’s too much of a hassle and I just can’t be arsed to mess with the junk. However, I do own a small amount of the stuff. Mostly old stuff; mostly seldom used. This isn’t a secret, and several friends (who have more makeup in their handbags than I own all together) have let me know on several occasions that it’s not OK to keep the stuff so long. Apparently, makeup has expiry dates just like eggs and milk. Who knew?

In an effort to de-clutter, I’ve decided to finally clear out all of that old makeup once and for all. And, because I’m sure you care, I’m going to let you know just what sort of makeup I’m talking about! (Yay!)

  • Cover Girl powder stuff
    Given to me in 2001 by my Aunt Stephanie, and never used. Not even once.
    Recommended shelf life: Two years
  • Almay Intense i-Color eye shadow trio (Color: “Trio for Greens”)
    Purchased in 1995; Last used: November 28, 2009
    Recommended shelf life: Up-to three years
  • Cover Girl eye shadow (Color: “Plum Fairy”)
    Purchased in 1994; Last used: Your guess is as good as mine.
    Recommended shelf life: Up-to three years
  • Garden Botanica lip crayon (Color: “Amethyst”)
    Purchased in 1992 and used regularly. The company is no longer in business and I’ve been searching for years to find a comparable product.
    Recommended shelf life: One-two years
  • Trish McEvoy lip crayon (Color: “Nude”)
    Purchased in 2006; Last used: November 28, 2009
    Recommended shelf life: One-two years
  • Burt’s Bee lipstick (Color: “Honesty”)
    Purchased in 1999; Last used: Your guess is as good as mine. The company no longer makes this product. I wonder when they stopped.
    Recommended shelf life: One-two years
  • Burt’s Bees Beeswax Lip Balm
    Purchased sometime in 2009; Last used: Within the last hour
    Recommended shelf life: 18-24 months
  • Burt’s Bees Lip Shimmer (Color: “Fig”)
    Purchased February 2010; Last used: Within the last week
    Recommended shelf life: 18-24 months
  • Burt’s Bees Lip Shimmer (Color: “Watermelon”)
    Purchased Summer 2001; Last used: Last summer
    Recommended shelf life: 18-24 months
  • Sister Moon Spa’s Cucumber Melon lip balm
    A gift received in February 2010; Last used: Last week
    Recommended shelf life: 18-24 months

Now that I’ve tossed the old stuff, I own the following:

  • Garden Botanica lip crayon (Color: “Amethyst”)
  • Burt’s Bees Beeswax Lip Balm
  • Burt’s Bees Lip Shimmer (Color: “Fig”)
  • Sister Moon Spa’s Cucumber Melon lip balm

 

I don’t know if I need more than that, but I might look for a new eye shadow set one day. After all, that’s something that I’ll wear once or twice a year… If I can be bothered.

Are you sorry that you started reading this entry? What a snooze-fest, huh?

Jeggings confession

I have a guilty confession to make. When I was on my holidays in the UK, I let my niece convince me that “jeggings” and a trendy shirt looked good on me. The sale price convinced me to make the purchase. But I think I secretly thought I’d never actually wear the new outfit. After all, at 36 years old, I’m certainly too old for such a silly trend – especially since I lived though similar trends in the ’80s and ’90s.

But, today I found myself putting on those skin-tight leggings – made to have the appearance of jeans – and the barely-there top that I bought at the same time. And not only did I put them on, but I went out in public wearing them. (And a coat, so the only thing visible was the lower half of the jeggings.)

The real confession is this: I actually kind of liked them. (::bows head in shame::)

I don’t know that I will wear them again because I felt a little silly in them, but the top will certainly get more use!