A year later

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!]

Swirl research

As you know, I like to swirl. It’s a relaxing pastime and I find it extremely helpful when I need to unwind for a spell.

I’ve been sharing my completed swirls with family and friends on Facebook and I’ve been amazed at how many people tell me that they really like them. In fact, I’ve been amazed at how often it’s been suggested that I try to sell them.

And so, I’ve decided to try that in the form of swirl note cards. Which means I’ve prepared a stack of samples to send off to family and friends in the hope of receiving some honest feedback about the quality as well as their thoughts on pricing.

It’s weird because this is the first time I’ve seriously thought about selling something I’ve made. And even weirder because I still can’t understand why everyone likes my swirls so much. I mean, they’re just scribbles that I do when I’m bored or stressed. Still, I like to please my public whenever I can!

What does this mean for you? Well, it means that in the next few weeks you might be able to buy a set of swirl cards from me. But please know that I’m not going to push that on anyone! When they’re ready, I’ll let you know. Buy them; don’t buy them. Totally up to you!

Wow. I feel like a little entrepreneur all of the sudden. (I hope Hallmark is ready for this awesome bit of competition!)

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.)

Quiet-ness

I’ve been quiet again. (Still?) So I feel that I should pop in and say hello, since so often I’m quiet when life is hard and I’m feeling down. But that’s not the case right now. Well, mostly not the case.

The past two weeks have been… interesting. In fact, this past week it got even more interesting! I’ve had a lot going on and have been mulling over all sorts of things. Some good; some not-so good; some potentially good but yet undetermined. But nothing life threatening. (Life altering, maybe.)

I’m being vague. I know. And I’m sure that there are a few people who may think they know what I’m talking about. But they don’t. (I know! More vague-ery. Is that a word?)

Anyhow, since I’m not really in a position to share the interesting-ness of the last couple of weeks (yet) I’m just checking in to say that life is mostly good right now. I am busy working on my dissertation and am filling out job applications like a mad woman.

But since I’m being vague, I’ll at least share a few highlights:

  • I finished a swirl drawing for my lovely [former] foster daughter. (I must get it in the post next week!)
  • I had a platelet count last week and the results came back at 164. Yes folks, that’s in the normal range. Awesome!
  • I am running the Edinburgh Half Marathon tomorrow. Only I didn’t get registered in time, which means I’m running as someone else, since they kindly sacrificed their entry for me.

Anyhow, I expect that the next couple of weeks will be weird and filled with more mulling. (And job applications.) But I’ll try not to be too quiet.

[Photo is the swirl drawing I’m sending to the kid. She is, after all, one of my biggest swirl fans!]

Swirls for Amy

I recently finished another swirl drawing and I thought that I’d share it with you. (But you have to read to the end to see it!) This was more than just a drawing though. You see, my swirls began as a way to occupy my mind and my thoughts, and have actually become a great way of relaxing and meditating for me. So I decided that I would use this project to focus my mind on the recipient—and it was a wonderful experience! As I swirled, I thought about my good friend, Amy, and what her friendship means to me. And it was wonderful. Really.

It was so nice to reflect on our friendship—from meeting in elementary school to high school plays (and band!) to re-connecting through Facebook and our blogs as adults. We were never close friends in school but in the past couple of years I think we’ve developed a stronger bond and friendship than we ever could have imagined.

I documented my progress as I went along so that you can see it all come together. That may or may not be of interest to you, but, it’s there if you want to see it. (It’s less than 30 seconds if that helps.)

So, what can I tell you about Amy? Well, I can tell you that she is a wonderful person who is full of inspiration and joy. She is beautiful and has an amazing smile. She is a loving, nurturing, and fun Mom to six lovely children and perfect Wife to a very lucky man. She is thoughtful, caring, and compassionate. And she is my friend. And for that, I am blessed.

And now, you can see the lovely swirl that the lovely Amy now has hanging in her lovely entryway.

The Desiderata way of life

It’s time to answer another of your questions so I’m going back to the first request to write about a poem that has stirred great emotions for me. (Don’t worry—I’m working on a couple of family history posts for that question, too!)

My favourite poem is The Desiderata by Max Ehrmann. The poem was written in 1927, and has an interesting history including a misconception about the dates and a fun little bit of copyright law. Now, these are not the reasons I love the poem so much, but fun histories do make me happy! Though I digress…

I first read The Desiderata in high school and it instantly touched my spirit. There was something about it that spoke to me in a way that I never could fully explain, but over time I forgot about it. Then, shortly after Paul died, one of my brothers-in-law sent me a letter quoting a bit of the poem. And that prompted me to re-read it.

That first reading as a teenager touched my spirit but that first re-reading as a grieving widow spoke to my soul. All of the sudden, the words seemed more meaningful. All of the sudden, there was a reminder that despite my grief there could be joy in my life.

Since then, I’ve used the ideas from the poem as my guide. I know it’s silly and maybe even a bit trite, but it’s the reminder I need so that I can see the hope that lies behind shattered dreams.

The Desiderata
by Max Ehrmann

Go placidly amid the noise and the haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible, without surrender,
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even to the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons;
they are vexatious to the spirit.

If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain or bitter,
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs,
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals,
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love,
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment,
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life,
keep peace in your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

A productive start

Spring break started on Friday, and by Saturday morning I had created a bit of a to-do list of all of the things I want to accomplish during my week+ break from classes.

And, I’m pleased to say, I am actually making pretty decent progress!

To keep myself accountable, I’m going to share my list here—and I will try to give little updates in any posts in between now and my return to school. So, here goes!

And, in addition to my to-do list, I am going to work on fixing some bad habits I’ve gotten into. To that, I will aim to:

  • Drink more water—much, much more water!
  • Go to bed before 11 p.m. every night (unless I am socialising in a face-to-face setting)
  • Get out of bed before 9 a.m. every morning
  • Eat at least 5 servings of fresh fruits and vegetables every day
  • Get out of the flat for at least an hour every day (in addition to time spent running)

I am pleased to say that I am making progress with both lists. My swirl drawing (shown above) is coming along nicely. I ran nearly 5 miles yesterday and will run the same route again tomorrow. I have organised my tax documents and will call my bank to sort out the last documents tomorrow evening (delayed because of time zones). I have completed one job application and have an internship application in progress; I have also sent emails in regards to a couple other applications. And I have books ready for me to pick up at the library for my dissertation.

Also, I’ve managed to be in and out of bed by my new deadlines—and have been drinking lots of water and enjoying lots of fresh produce. And, I’ve been outside enjoying the lovely spring weather.

Yes, I’ve been a busy little bee, and I hope that it helps to lift my mood and my self confidence. After all, spring break is no time to sit around and sulk!

I’ll get by

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Swirls, old and new

Back in August I was finishing up a swirl drawing at my folks’ house. I had left my work-in-progress on the coffee table and whilst I was out, my 14-year-old niece, Ivanna, stopped by to visit her grandparents. When I returned my parents told me how Ivanna was mesmerised by the drawing, studying it intensely. She even mentioned that it would make a good tattoo.

I finished the drawing the day before I left for Scotland, and wrote a letter to Ivanna on the back. I asked Dad to scan it for me before passing it on, but he forgot. And that meant I didn’t have a copy of the finished piece, which was a bit of a bummer. But I knew that Ivanna was happy to own it (an excited email told me so!), so I decided that was more important than anything else.

But I asked Dad to scan some tax documents for me yesterday and he decided that since he was scanning, he may as well grab the drawing and scan that, too.

So, here it is for your enjoyment!

Oh! And here’s a new one I’m working on. It’s the butterfly swirl I mentioned before and is going to be the swirl I use for the winner from my anniversary contest. (More on that later!)

An ode to my platelets

Once again, I’ve found myself with a lower-than-ideal platelet count. Well, it was very low last week (13!) and I had them re-tested today. Hopefully when the results come in later this week, they’ll be better. In the mean time, I have been referred to a haematologist again. Not that they can fix me, as this silly little condition seems to be sticking around.

But it got me thinking about my poor little platelets and how much I love them. I mean, first of all, my bone marrow is a bit stingy with its output of the little guys. So they’ve already started out life at a disadvantage for their required job. And if that’s not bad enough, my immune system bullies them to death. Literally.

So when you hear me complain about a low count, it’s not the platelets I’m angry with—no, they’re fighting the good fight and they’re doing it with a super-small army and are up against the rest of my body. I love those little guys. They’re my friends. And so I’ve decided to write them a poem. (I hope my prose isn’t so bad that they in turn commit suicide!)

An ode to my platelets
by Just Frances

Oh platelets, my platelets
You circulate with grace
You plug, you clot, you scab
You are constantly under attack
By my over zealot immune system
But you fight to help spare my life

Oh platelets, my platelets
How I love you so
You are few in numbers
But still you rush
To fix my cuts and scrapes
Your dedication means the world to me

Swirl-flies

So I spent the past weekend on the couch dying of the common cold. OK, I wasn’t dying, but I wasn’t feeling too great, either. However, all that time convalescing meant time spent swirling!

I’ve got a couple of swirls on the go at the moment—including a blue one that [finally] nearing completion and one for the winner of my anniversary contest who asked that I donate the finished piece. (You have to wait for details on that, sorry!) And I will soon be starting a new swirl for an amazingly awesome woman I know.

But all this swirling got me thinking that I wanted to expand my abilities a bit. I still want to do swirls; I just want to make them a bit more… I don’t know… something. So I’ve decided to create a butterfly swirl.

Generally, I completely free-hand my swirls, but I felt that I needed to pre-sketch the butterfly to make sure each side was even. The next step will be to colour in the swirls of the butterfly before free-hand swirling the rest of the piece.

I am a little bit concerned that a symmetrical focal point surrounded by random swirls might make it a bit unbalanced, but it might work. And if it doesn’t, that’s OK because I have a couple of other ideas on how to incorporate butterflies into the swirls.

Oh yeah, I also spent quite a bit of time reading and doing academic-y stuff. I’m a good girl like that.

Random thoughts: The wisdom of age

Random thoughts—Week 4: Write a story about letting go, where the main character is a factory worker and a locket is a key object in the story. Set your story in an apartment.

The wisdom of age

Sylvia sat on the floor of the empty flat, tears streaming down her face as she stared at the silver locket in her hands. She looked around at the bare walls and thought of the photos that hung there just a short while ago. There had been so many of them, each filled with more memories than their simple frames could possibly have held. She thought about all of those picture hooks in the walls and allowed herself a crooked smile as she realised that the deposit would be lost because of them. But, she rationalised, that was a small price to pay for the smiles those photos encouraged over the years.

She would miss coming here to visit her neighbour, an octogenarian widow with no children; no family. Over the years they’d bonded. The old woman told her stories about her travels and adventures; she offered an ear and advice for the younger woman who was far from home and hoping to find her own way in the world. The old woman felt Sylvia was wasting her time working in a factory—a job she hated and that didn’t allow her to take time to travel. The old woman was so full of kindness and wisdom and Sylvia would miss her. Yes, she would miss her friend for the rest of her life.

The will was simple: Sell or donate everything—except for one item of Sylvia’s choice. And then, stop wishing and planning for adventures and go find them! Sylvia was the sole beneficiary. When she was first told of the will, she imagined there would be just enough money to pay for expenses, and maybe a spa weekend. The old woman had lived very meagrely. It looked as if all of her furniture—and probably her clothes—were found at charity shops and flea markets.

She allowed herself another smile as she looked down at the silver locket again. The old woman wore it every day and often touched it, telling her that it contained photos of the people she cared for most in the world. It was only after the old woman died that she knew who those people were: They were the woman’s husband and Sylvia. It was all Sylvia needed to convince herself to make a change.

Sylvia stood and walked across the room with determination. She picked up the phone and called her boss at the factory. She beamed from ear-to-ear as she informed the person on the other end that she was tendering her resignation. She was tired of working for peanuts; tired of working in a dead end job. The old woman was right: If you aren’t following your hopes and dreams, you’re not really living.

A few hours later, Sylvia was in the attorney’s office. He informed her that the estate auction had done better than expected. But, more than that, he informed her of the life insurance that was left—and the stocks and bonds. It would seem that the old woman left more than Sylvia ever could have dreamed.

Sylvia rose slowly, touching the locket that now hung from her neck. The old woman told her that life always had a funny way of working out. Yes, Sylvia thought, life was funny. She would miss her friend; the friend who taught her about what was important in life.

And now, she was letting go of her fears and worries; she was letting go of the uncertainties that had kept her from following her dreams for too long. She was letting go and moving on. She was, after all, the sole beneficiary of a secret millionaire and she had a promise to keep; a promise to find adventures of her own.

A winning announcement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An anniversary contest

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

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

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

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

  

  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thankful swirls

As you probably know by now, I’ve found a lot of solace in creating swirls. There’s something relaxing and peaceful about them. I have to admit that my first-ever swirl drawing was rubbish. No, really, it was. But from the time I realised that swirls were my sunflowers, my skills have improved. [See more evidence here, here, here, and here.]

Of course, the problem with enjoying something so much is that I want to draw lots of swirls. But I really don’t have that much use for a ga-zillion drawings of swirls. So last summer, when I completed a swirl drawing that my niece was admiring whilst in-progress (she thought it would make a great tattoo!), I wrote a letter to her on the backside. I understand that she’s since hung it up in her bedroom.

Since then, I’ve used swirls to illustrate a blog post and even made a swirl drawing to wrap a friend’s birthday present. And after Christmas, I used some blank greeting cards to make swirl thank you cards for some friends. And now I’m working on a special swirl for a friend’s baby girl.

So, I guess that I’m thankful for my swirls because of the enjoyment I get from them, but I’m also thankful that my skills have improved enough to use them as gifts and cards for people I love. Otherwise, I’d be lost in stacks upon stacks of therapeutic swirls!

Got milk?

If you’re American, you may not realise that milk is a very important part of British culture. From the 1946 School Milk Act (an addendum to the Education Act 1944) to Margaret Thatcher, Milk Snatcher and from breast milk ice cream to the order in which one adds tea and milk to a mug, milk seems to be more than just another beverage.

Which is what this post is about: Tea. Or rather, milky tea.

In the states, coffee tends to be the hot beverage of choice. And not that instant stuff, either. Tea drinkers are a minority group. And then, they’re more likely to want honey and lemon than milk. Oh, and if people do want to lighten/whiten up their coffee or tea, they’re more likely to use half-and-half, not milk. (And then there’s the non-dairy creamer group, but this isn’t about what Americans do, so we’ll just ‘skim’ over that. Skim. Get it? No? Oh, well. Never mind …)

In the UK, however, tea is the winning beverage. It’s very much a part of the culture (more so, I think, that coffee is part of American culture) and it seems that more people use milk here than don’t. I don’t; I drink my coffee strong and black with no sugar and I drink my tea medium and black with no sugar.

And here’s the problem: Since I don’t use milk (with the rare exception of baking or a splurge purchase of sugary breakfast cereal) I never have the stuff in my fridge. Which is OK until someone comes into my home. You see, as part of the UK’s tea obsession, it is customary to offer guests in your home a cuppa. And I’m pretty good at doing that. But the moment I say ‘Would you like a cup of tea?’ I find myself remembering that I can’t offer them milk for that tea.

The first time it happened, I was lucky because the friend in question (whilst a bit confused as to my lack of milk) was happy to have Earl Grey tea instead—which apparently doesn’t require milk as vocally as black tea does. The next time it happened, I was lucky enough to have the smallest little drip of milk left over from something I baked the day before. And when everyone came over for Thanksgiving, I made certain that I had milk on hand. Of course, I was then a bit cheeky and let my guests add their own milk and sugar so that I didn’t over (or under) do it.

Which brings me to today. I’ve been having a bit of trouble with the hot water in my flat, so a workman came around to fix it. Now, I don’t know if you’re meant to offer workmen tea, but it seemed rude not to, so I did—since I was making myself a cup of coffee anyhow. And the moment I asked I regretted it because then I had to follow that up with ‘Oh, but I don’t have any milk.’

And my no milk meant that he changed his order to a cup of coffee instead—black; two sugars. I didn’t think it was fair to keep him waiting whilst I made a cafetier of coffee, so I grabbed the instant stuff (that’s not an insult here as it is in America) and fixed a cup for him. With no milk.

I wonder if it’s socially acceptable to offer guests shelf-stable milk for their tea?

So, tell me how you take your tea or coffee. Or better still, tell me what your views are in regards to serving tea or coffee to company!

Getting better

For a few days now, I’ve been feeling the dreaded claws of illness tightening their grip on my immune system. In fact, by yesterday I wondered if illness was winning, as I found myself suffering on the couch with a fever of 39.1°c (102+° f) and a niggly headache. But—12 hours of sleep later—today I seem to be winning.

I am still fighting off whatever this may be, and am still hoping that it doesn’t develop into a full-on cold (or other illness). But at least I’m feeling better today that I did yesterday.

Of course, being a tad ill has not helped me to get over the down in the dumps feelings I’ve been dealing with since New Year’s Day, but at least it’s not made it worse. In fact, in some ways it’s made me feel better because I get to sit around and sulk in my pyjamas without feeling bad about it!

And, in an effort to get over (or stave off) being sick, I’ve gotten myself some supplies: Crisps and dip and cookies and orange juice and fresh fruits and veggies. Oh, and some pretty daffodils to look at. Or at least I hope they’ll be pretty once they bloom.

So, now I’m just sitting on the couch eating yummy food, hydrating lots and lots, watching whatever looks interesting on iPlayer, and swirling. I hope by the end of the weekend I’ll have not only finally won the battle of this cold, but that I manage to win the battle of the sadness, too!

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!

Another year passes

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

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

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

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

Apologies for the delay

I don’t know why I feel the need to apologise for the delay in posting a story about my Christmas weekend, but I feel bad for not having shared with you yet, so… Sorry for the delay!

Anyhow, you’ll [maybe] be glad to know that the story is ready (complete with exciting YouTube video!) and will be posted at some point tomorrow. The delay is one of photos. But I’m nearly done putting a photo gallery together for the story (so don’t worry, Mom!) and will post as soon as that’s done.

And since I don’t have a Christmas story to share with you (yet) I’m sharing a little teaser of today’s swirl drawings. When I’m done (next week?) I’ll share the finished product!

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas!

A spirit found

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Countdown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paranoia

Last week I finally got around to seeing my new doctor and this week I’m regretting it just that little bit. You see, on the outside I look like a perfectly healthy, 37-year-old woman. (Though some people think I look younger than that, which is cool.) On the outside, no one would ever guess that on the inside my body is not-so-healthy.

Of course, the problem with looking healthy and (mostly) feeling healthy is that I sometimes forget that I’m not as healthy as I appear. And when I neglect to go to the doctor’s office for checkups, I can forget a lot easier. (Kind of.)

Anyhow, back to the story: Last week I went to meet my new doctor and he promptly had me schedule an appointment for blood work—a standard procedure for someone with ITP. So, on Friday afternoon I went back for labs and was told I’d have the results in about a week. And when the phone rang Monday morning and the person on the other end introduced herself as someone from the clinic, my heart sank. It’s never a good thing when you get a call…

And so, yesterday I learned that my platelet count is 50. (Normal range is 150-400.)

Now, that’s not a really bad number (I’m normally around 70-80) but it’s always a bit worrying because I never know if a lower-than-my-normal number is because it was really low and is now climbing up, or if it’s on its way down. Which means stress and worry and paranoia.

The doctor wants me to go back in on Monday for another blood draw to see where I am. I’m hoping that it’s climbing up because I’ll be a little (maybe even a lot) sad if it goes lower.

And that means that for the next few days I will be obsessed with ITP and platelets. I will worry about this, that, and the next thing. I will have irrational fears that it’s getting worse. I will dream about cutting my finger and bleeding forever. I will second guess every niggly little twinge (Yikes! Is that spontaneous internal bleeding?) and will panic at the smallest bruise. I will be afraid to exert too much energy and I will worry that I’m pushing myself too hard. I will wonder if I’m tired because I’ve just spent a day running errands or if it’s ITP-induced fatigue.

I’m always careful and aware of my condition(s), but it seems that my carefulness goes into overdrive when I know that my counts are low. You see, this is why I shouldn’t have gone to the doctor. It I hadn’t gone, I would never have known, and I could have carried on pretending that I’m just a normal, every-day, healthy 37-year-old woman.

However, it’s OK. I’m OK. Everything will be OK. So please don’t worry about me. I’m not in any danger; I’m not sick and dying. I just have a lower platelet count than I want.

It’s days like this when I really miss Paul. I mean, he would be just as obsessed as I am about my counts and would commiserate or celebrate with me when the numbers came in. And, of course, if they were lower than I’d hoped, Paul could be counted on to wait on me hand-and-foot and completely fuss over me with his ‘A woman in your condition…’ line. And even though I didn’t need to be fussed over, it was nice.

But now the real question is how I can spin this so that I can get my friends to fuss and take pity on me and come over to clean my flat. You know, because I shouldn’t stress myself out just now. You know, in case it has an adverse effect on next week’s counts. I mean, a woman in my condition… (No? No volunteers? Darn!)

[Note: That’s a picture of my platelets from last year. So, those 10 guys are like the ancestors of the 50 I have now.]

My life is made up of seconds

My life is made up of seconds. And I’m spending the next 600 hundred on a free-writing exercise. And you get to read all about it because I’ve taken a free-write challenge to write for 10 minutes using the title of this post as my prompt. (Actually, it was a 20-minute challenge, but I’m only doing 10.) So, here goes.

Seconds; they pass by faster than we know. They pass by faster than we realise and faster than we’d like on a good day; slower than we plead for on a bad day. Time is funny that way—you know, the way we wish for more of it whilst wishing it would hurry up.

I don’t know how many seconds a day I waste wishing my life was different. Too many, I imagine. And what a waste that is. I’d like to say that I value every moment of my life on this planet and that I treasure all of those seconds, but I’d be lying. I’d like to say that life’s lessons have taught me to live for every moment of time we’re given, but sometimes I can’t bring myself to be thankful for every moment.

Sometimes, I find myself wishing the moments would fast forward to some great unknown. Sometimes, I find myself wishing the moments would reverse to a better time. But, thankfully, sometimes I find myself enjoying the seconds as they pass by. I like those seconds. I like those moments. And I wish I had more of them.

Time goes by in years and months and weeks and days. It goes by in hours and minutes and seconds. And we lose track. We forget what we’ve done with times past, and we forget what we dreamt of for times future.

How many of my seconds have been lost by taking my world for granted? By taking my family and friends and my own life for granted? I wish there was a way to get those moments back, but they’re gone forever. And I wish I could say I will never waste another one of my precious seconds by taking those I love for granted again, but I’m human and imperfect.

My seconds are valuable. My moments are valuable. My hours and days and weeks and years are valuable. I need to remind myself of that more often. I need to spend some of my seconds being thankful and grateful for the love I’ve given and received over the span of my life—and I need to use some of those seconds to love others more.

[Note: As with other free-writing exercises I’ve done, I am sharing this to you with only spelling edits, so please forgive the clunky-ness of the text. Thoughts don’t always flow with grammar and sentence structure intact!]

A cunning plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?

The race is on

If you aren’t already aware of it, tomorrow is Election Day in America. And as we all know (or should know!) one of the most vital parts in a democratic society is to go out and vote.

For me, voting is now done by email. So when I received my ballot from the Kittitas County Auditor’s Office a few weeks ago, I happily printed it out, filled it in, scanned it as a PDF, then emailed it back. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.

Of course, this election will likely have an appallingly small voter turnout. (Heck, even the presidential elections do, in my mind.) This is ‘just’ a local election. My ballot had the mayoral election (one candidate running for re-election, unopposed) and several county-level races (again, mostly people running unopposed) as well as a handful of state initiates. And you may think those things aren’t important, but I think that local and state elections are by far the most important elections you can participate in.

But this election also signals the start of the Big Race. Yes, folks, this time next year we will be voting in the Presidential Election. In fact, we’re already hearing the rumblings of primary races—rumblings that will get louder as we head into the primaries.

As an independent voter, I get pretty excited about elections because they signal an opportunity for change. Mostly, I get excited about the opportunity for the creation of a strong third party in the American political system. But as a citizen of the great United States of America I just get excited about the opportunity to vote.

I’ve made it a point to not get overly political or issue-based here, and I will try to stick to that, but I’ll make no apologies if I do get a bit overly excited about the Big Race coming up.

And if you’re in America—remember to get out and VOTE tomorrow.

Times, they are a-changin’

Ah, yes. It’s that magical time of year when the clocks fall back an hour as you sleep. I always liked clock-changing times as a child, though I don’t really know why. Of course, as an adult it’s been a bit of a pain because it means remembering to run all over the house (and cars changing various clocks.

But this year is different. This year I don’t own any clocks (yet) and my computers and mobile phone are all super smart and have managed to update themselves without any assistance from me. And when I first moved into my flat on Monday the clock on the boiler (that’s like a furnace in American speak) was off by 20 minutes so I had to re-set it—and I set it to the soon-to-be correct time so that I didn’t need to remember it today.

Yep. I’ve had a super easy time this go around.

And do you want to know the best part? Of course you do! Well, the best part is that whilst the UK changes times today, the USA doesn’t change until next weekend. And that means that—for the next week—I am an hour closer to my family. (Aw, isn’t that sweet!)

So—Hello family! We’re only seven hours apart at the moment. Yay!!

Chalk it up to intelligence

Since the beginning of June, I’ve been a bit remiss about organising my digital files. I think I got a bit crazy with my foster daughter moving, followed by quitting my job, leaving my house, moving to Scotland, starting school, and well, just life in general!

But the point is this: Tonight I got around to looking at some of the photos that I’ve taken over the past few months* and I found one of the sidewalk chalk drawing my foster daughter made for me a couple of days before she left. She was so excited to drag me out of the house to see it and I was so excited to see her so excited about it!

Yes, the kid thought I was pretty awesome. When we’d go into town, she insisted on introducing me to everyone as her ‘awesome foster mom’. She failed to acknowledge, however, that I couldn’t have been an awesome foster mom without having such an awesome foster kid.

Anyhow, I just thought I’d share the kid’s artwork. I miss seeing her drawings every day (I miss seeing her every day!), but at least I know she’s still happily drawing away in her new home. In fact, when we spoke on the phone last week, I asked if she needed/wanted anything and her only request was a new sketch book with the Loch Ness Monster or a Scottish flag on it.

I wonder what I’ll find the next time I flip through my photos …

* Don’t worry! I’m not one of those people who keep photos on the camera for months and months at a time. I’ve been transferring to my computer and backup drive; I’ve just not filed all of them in their respective folders.

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

Three more sleeps

Oh my goodness! Do you realise that there are only three more sleeps until the Loch Ness Marathon? Well, restless sleeps would be my guess, but I’m sure I’ll get a bit of sleep in between now and then.

I know I’ve not talked much about my training lately, and I suppose that’s because I’ve not managed to get as much training is as I should and I’m really feeling quite guilty about that. Then last weekend I thought I might be coming down with a cold so I feared I’d not be able to do the run at all. (Have no fear—I think it was a case of mild exhaustion, not a cold, and I’m feeling much better now. Thanks for asking.)

Anyhow, I am now in hydration mode. Yep, I’m drinking water like mad and am trying to eat loads of good training-type foods in an effort to be ready for the big race. Not that someone of my meagre skills can see an improvement in ability that way. But still, I’m being a good girl and eating my veggies. (And fruits and carbs and stuff.)

So that’s it for today really. I’ve had all the water I can handle for the day and am now heading off to bed.

Oh! And did you notice the swirl drawing? Well, that’s one I started working on a while back but I haven’t had time to complete it. And since I just got a groovy new printer/scanner combo for school this afternoon, I thought I may as well test it out by sharing more swirls with you! I hope you like them!

Nighty night!

Classy lady

It’s here! My first week of classes has finally happened! After a long journey of ups and downs and a false start or two, I am finally a postgraduate student. And here’s the promised update on that very topic!

First, the long journey condensed: I had planned to go on to my master’s degree and PhD after my undergraduate degree but then I met Paul and the decision was made to hold off on the postgraduate stuff for a couple of years. Then, with Paul as my strongest supporter, I planned to begin my master’s on a part time basis in the states—but Paul died a few months before I was meant to start and I didn’t have the energy to grieve and study. So it was put on hold again. Then, with family and friends around the world as my strongest supporters, I finally took my dream out of its holding pattern and put it into full gear.

Next, the degree: I am now working toward a Master of Letters in Media and Culture at the University of Stirling, Scotland. [As described on the course website: This degree explores such aspects of contemporary media culture, offering modules which explore areas such as digital cultures, creative industries, cultural theory, media economics, screen studies, and media rights and intellectual property.] The degree will be a lot of hard work and will require a 12,000 word dissertation at the end (expect more on that later, as I’m super excited about my possible topic!). Eventually, I hope to roll it into a PhD, though funding will determine if I need to take a break from studies before I do that.

And, finally, the fun stuff: Classes! I am taking four modules this semester: Two on Mondays and one each on Thursdays and Fridays. Which means I get Tuesdays and Wednesdays as an extra weekend. Er, I mean, as study days. So here’s a bit about the modules:

Media Economics: This isn’t the course I wanted, but since only two of us had signed up for that class (Interpreting News), I had to pick something different. I was afraid to choose this one because of the word ‘economics’ but the module description didn’t sound too scary so I’m going for it. We will spend the semester looking at the economic issues in the media industry and toward the end of the course I will have written an essay on a yet-to-be-assigned topic. (Oh! And there will be an exam at the end. This is my only class with an exam, and I hope it doesn’t get too economic-y or math-y for me.)

Research Methods: This is a core module taken by all postgrad students and is meant as a stepping stone to my dissertation. Throughout the course I will work on fine-tuning my topic which will lead to my dissertation proposal. I am feeling confident about the class and am excited to see my proposal come together. (OK, I’ll give you a teaser: It will relate to the relationships between social media and the news.)

The Practice of Cultural Theory: Wow. This is going to be an interesting class. In it, we will look at the works of ‘the great thinkers’ in the area of cultural theory. If I’m honest, much of it seems a bit too philosophical to me, but I am excited none-the-less because the readings are interesting and because the course assignments seem as if they will be great exercises for my dissertation writing. I am a little intimidated by the amount of reading that needs to be done each week, but I am also excited because many of the online resources are the sorts of things I’d read for pure entertainment!

The Media Environment: This is going to be a fun class and I’m going to enjoy writing the essay for it. We will spend the semester looking at the relationships between the media and society. The major assignment for the course is a 3,000 word essay and I was so excited to see one of my favourite subjects is one of the essay options. (Yes, more social media stuff!) In fact, because I’ve had the course information for nearly two weeks now, I’ve already been thinking about an angle for my paper!

So, there you have it. I’m a student again. Yay!!

Olives

I love olives. They are very much a part of my life. Olives for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Olives for tacos and nachos and pizza. Olives for tuna noodle casserole and olives for eating all on their own. Oh, and olives for martinis, of course. Only the world of olives in Scotland is not the same as the world of olives in my part of America.

To start with, there are black olives. You know, the ones that you get in a can (sorry, in a tin) in the states. They are in a mild salt brine and are very mild in flavour because of it. These are the olives that children put on their fingers for Thanksgiving and Christmas and are what we use for tacos, nachos, and pizza. Only where you have several options in the states (small, medium, large, extra large, whole, sliced, chopped, diced, and more) in Scotland you’re lucky to find them on the shelf. No, instead you need to search them out. (I did find some that are ‘close enough’ at the farmers’ market in Stirling—they are simply black olives in oil, and they’ll do until I find the ‘right’ ones.)

Then there are green olives. You know, the ones in glass jars with red pimentos—standard green olives. Growing up, there was always a jar of these in the fridge and, again, when you went to the grocery store you had a wide selection of green olives to choose from. And, of course, every bar in America has an ample supply of these lovely little guys on hand for drinks. Dirty martini with extra olives? No problem! But, again, that’s not the way of the world here. I first noticed it a couple of years ago when I was handed a martini with Kalamata olives instead of green ones, but it was a modern-y fusion-y place so I thought they were just being pretentious. (Of course, you could argue that ordering a dirty vodka martini is pretty pretentious, too.)

But I’ve been here just long enough now to realise that my sort of green olives aren’t as easily found here as they are in the homeland. In fact, a week ago I went out to dinner with Rebecca and ordered a dirty vodka martini, but then was told there were no green olives, meaning I had a mojito instead. Then last night we went back to the same place and I ordered my favoured drink again. Only—you guessed it!—no green olives! So I had a margarita. (OK, I had three. It was a Friday night, after all!)

Now, in fairness, Scotland does have an ample supply of all of the other sorts of olives that I love. So it’s not like I can’t get olives here—it’s just that the world of olives is different here. And this means that I will have to work harder to find my mild black olives. But it also means that the next time Rebecca and I go into that fabby little olive-less place for dinner and/or drinks, we will bring a jar of olives. Just in case!

And if you want to offer tips as to how to find those little black olives that I love so much, I’d appreciate it. After all, I’m hosting Thanksgiving and my guests will need olives for their fingers in order to partake in the full-on American experience!

Potentially home

Earlier today I mentioned that there was some good news in my search for a flat and I have been asked by a couple of friends over the past few days about my progress, so here’s the update: I think I’ve found a new flat!

I checked out a place Monday morning that is very near where I’m staying now and is only about a ten minutes’ walk to the city centre. It is £25 more per month and slightly smaller than my second choice flat, but choice #2 is five minutes further from the centre, is a bit rough around the edges, sits just off a main road, and has a very dingy, small kitchen that would be horrendous to cook in. Choice #1 is modern and clean with a very well-fitted (though still small) kitchen. There isn’t as much storage, but realistically I don’t need that much storage anyhow!

The flat is a fully furnished property (with very well maintained and nice furnishings) and has a double bedroom with wardrobe, living room, separate kitchen, and full bathroom—in addition to two small storage cupboards in the entry hall. (Is this sounding like a sales pitch yet?) It also has a reserved parking spot for me (despite my not having a car) and plenty of guest parking (despite the fact that I don’t plan to have many guests). And, carrying on with the pitch, it has a security entrance, gas central heating, and double glazing throughout.

The down side? Well, it’s small—at least when compared to the massive four bedroom family home I left behind in the states. And it’s at the top end of my budget which means I’ll have to be a bit more mindful of my pennies. Oh, and it’s on the top floor of a four storey building with no lift. Which isn’t a problem for me since I’m fairly fit, but I don’t think Mom is going to like it when she comes to visit!

Of course, it’s not mine yet. As of now, I’ve said I want it and the agent has sent me a letter outlining the next steps. So, the next step is for me to pay a deposit then they’ll issue the contracts. After that, I just have to wait until the end of October to move in. That’s going to be the hard part—waiting for more than a month to move in after having found something I love!

So there you have it—an update on my potential new home. I know that things can change in between now and my moving, but I do feel quite comfortable with the process so far. Oh! And my connections tell me that the letting agent for this property is probably one of the most reputable ones in town, which is encouraging! (I will give a full rave once I move in, of course!)

I wonder how soon I can start planning my flat warming party … ?

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.]

Subtracted

Last August I wrote a post titled Plus One, and for the months between then and now my life was thrown into this weird world of foster mommyhood, with a side of grief and widowhood for good measure. It was a time filled with so many mixed emotions. In the first few weeks I wondered if I’d made a mistake. I mean, it was really hard to have this little person in my home because it was a constant reminder that Paul wasn’t there—nor were the two little people we’d planned to adopt before he died.

But, somehow, we made it work. Her existence in my world meant that I needed to get up off the couch and cook healthy meals again. Her existence meant I couldn’t just sit around on the couch from the time I got home from work until I went to bed wallowing in self pity. No, with her around I needed to make it look like I was a productive, happy, healthy grownup.

And so I found myself [finally] completing my applications to graduate school. And I found myself [finally] eating better and exercising more. And I found myself getting to the office early all of the sudden, since she needed to be at school 20 minutes before I was meant to be at my desk.

Of course, there were loads of hard things I had to deal with, too. I couldn’t just ignore the holidays—no matter how hard I tried. I couldn’t just shut out the world—no matter how much I wanted to.

And slowly, we became a family. A weird, slightly awkward family, but a family none the less.

And now she’s gone and I’m alone in my house once again; a house that was bought with the sole purpose of raising a family with my husband. And I’m lost all over again.

Of course, as I was preparing my foster daughter for her move with family back east, I was also preparing myself for my move to Scotland. So over the next few weeks I will be finishing up the task of packing up my home—closing the doors behind me as I leave knowing that some of my dreams will be staying behind.

Saying goodbye is never easy. And no matter how much you prepare yourself for the inevitable, the tears flow. But I know that as I type this, my lovely [former] foster daughter is in her new home some 3,000 miles away. I imagine she’s excited and nervous about these big life changes, but I know that she’s embarking on an adventure that will lead to an amazing future.

And I hope that, one day, we meet again…

Pieces of noon

Once again, I’ve become lax in my efforts to reclaim my lunch hour. In fact, the last time I made a deliberate effort to do so was back in March! OK, in fairness I have taken a couple of lunch-time trips to Moscow for optical appointments but that’s just not the same. But I digress…

Last week I noticed that the WSU Museum of Art had listed a few summer concerts, so I decided to put them on my calendar right away so that I could be free to take the five minute walk and get out of the office. I’d completely forgotten about it, but then my handy-dandy gadgets started beeping and flashing reminding me that I had a noon appointment—one that I almost cancelled because I wasn’t really in the mood. But then I realised that not being in the mood to relax was exactly why I needed to go and relax.

So, it was off to listen to the WSU faculty jazz ensemble, Nighthawk, and look at the pretty art stuff. After all, what can be more relaxing than a bit of jazz and art on a late-spring afternoon?

And now comes the part I know you’re all waiting for: My impressions of some of the art! But don’t worry, I’m only going to give my thoughts on four of the many pieces I saw.

First up, I was drawn to an Andy Warhol painting called Siberian Tiger (1983). Now, please forgive me for my first thoughts about this painting, but it reminded me of the tigers and lions we used to draw as children. Well, the outline part at least—the rest of it was very much outside of my ability! The colouring and texture on the tiger’s eyes and facial features was beautiful. Truly the work of an artist and not that of my childhood drawings! But, the memories it brought me of my now-passed thoughts that I could be a famous artist made me smile.

The next piece that struck me was an untitled piece by Cheryl Laemmle. It was oil on canvas painted in 1978 depicting a monkey and a horse in an outdoor scene. (Where else would a monkey and horse be, right?) The overall piece wasn’t something that spoke to me, but I was so taken in by how realistic the fur on the animals looked. The white fur on the horse was especially realistic and I had to resist the urge to feel it. On looking up close, I could see the individual brush strokes that made the fur, but even after that, it still looked all 3-D(ish) when I stepped back again. So, yeah, this piece made me smile, too.

The third piece that made me stop for a closer look was probably the most pretentious one in the place. (Yes, I always try to pick out the one I think is the most pretentious.) Anyhow, it was by Nancy Burson and was titled O.I.C. (1980; screen print) It was in a simple, minimalist brushed silver frame with a white matte. And inside the white matte was a white square screen-printed on white paper. If you looked very closely, you could see the faintest pencil-scrawled signature. (I would have been embarrassed to sign my name to it as it seems as silly as signing a blank cheque if you ask me. But what do I know about art?)

Finally, I was struck by a piece by Joseph Goldberg titled Pieces of Noon (1986; encaustic on linen over wood). The overall piece looked rather distressed and flaky and consisted of several ill-fitted bits of something-or-other stacked on each other—with a very tenuous looking base and a more stable looking top bit.

And now I’m going to get all self-reflected and stuff because it’s my blog and it’s all about me and that last piece made me all reflective and stuff so: I found it amusing that, in an effort to reclaim my lunch hour, I found enjoyment in a bit of art called Pieces of Noon. Further, I enjoyed the symbolism* in the piece being distressed and flaky—just like I’ve been feeling lately. And I found it interesting that—despite the tenuous-looking base—the overall image seemed stable and solid. Almost as if the weight of the top bits were stabilising the rest of the stack. (Yeah, I’m not the best at interpreting art, but these were my thoughts and this is my blog so that’s OK.)

Oh! And one more thing! As I sat there scribbling my notes with one of my Just Frances pens, a member of the museum’s staff approached me to let me know that using ink pens was not allowed. He requested that I use a pencil instead (and kindly handed me one). I have never heard of an ink prohibition in a museum before and from the sounds of it, neither have my Facebook friends. Have you? Or was this just a one-off little quirk?

[The image with this post is my own rough sketch of the Pieces of Noon piece. It’s not nearly as good as the original, but I’m not really an artist so that’d OK!]

* Symbolism, much like horoscopes, makes me laugh in cynicism often because we can all interpret whatever we want out of things. It’s all about the spin. But, as I said, this is my blog and this is my interpretation! You are, of course, welcome to share your own interpretations in the comment section.

Three cheers for Monday!

To make up for my last few sad(ish) posts, here’s a happy one for you (times three)!

Happy #1: I sent off the forms and documents for my visa today. It’s scary to place my passports in an envelope, but it’s a necessary task to get the visa. Which I need if I’m going to move to Scotland. Which I need to do if I’m going to attend the University of Stirling. Which I need to do if I’m going to find a bit of joy in my life again. So: Hip Hip Hooray for posting visa stuff!

Happy #2: I sent off my application for a Saltire Scholarship today. It’s sponsored by the British government specifically for international students and will be a great little addition to my living and tuition expenses if I get it. I won’t find out if I’ve been chosen to get one of the £2,000 awards until July, but I feel happy just knowing I’ve applied. So: Hip Hip Hooray for scholarship applications!

Happy #3: I have managed to sell my washer and dryer, a small student desk, a clothes drying rack, and an outdoor table and chair set today. OK, I haven’t seen any money yet, but I’ve made the deals and will be meeting with folks to sell stuff this week and next. Yes, there’s a little bit of counting chickens before they hatch, but I’m very confident with at least the washer and dryer sale—and they offered nearly double what I’d planned to sell them for, so that’s awesome! (That sale is thanks to a work colleague who knows I’m moving and had friends seeking just what I was selling!) So: Hip Hip Hooray for selling stuff that I never thought would sell!

Oh, come on! This deserves another shout so:

Three cheers for Monday!
Hip Hip Hooray! Hip Hip Hooray! Hip Hip Hooray!

And look! To celebrate the happiness, I’ve made a pretty blobby thingy for you to look at!

The counting begins

I am counting down the days until The Big Move takes place. Not in exact days mind you, because I won’t buy my ticket until I have my visa in hand. But in some form or another, I’ve been counting down since I got my acceptance email from the University of Stirling way back in November 2010. Of course, the first stage of my countdown was done in secrecy because I was counting down the weeks before I could give notice at work. Which I did about two months before I’d planned to because I just couldn’t handle the stress of the secret!

But now that work knows I’m outta here, I can count it all down out loud. And here’s the breakdown:

  • Days until I’m an unemployed bum: 37
  • Days left in the office: 25
  • Number of office Mondays remaining: 4
  • Days before classes start: 102
  • Days until I move home to Scotland: 70 (or thereabouts)

Of course, for excited as I am about these numbers, I also have to remember that it’s only 37 days until I am without an income—expendable or otherwise. And it’s only about 70 days until I have to say goodbye to my parents and nieces and nephews and siblings and my beloved Schrodie—and my friends and my life here in America.

I’m sure that once I arrive in Scotland I will start counting down the days until I can return to the homeland for a visit. Or maybe I’ll be counting down the days until my family come to visit me in Scotland. Or maybe I’ll be counting down the days until I have my PhD…

You know, for someone who hates maths, I sure do enjoy countdowns!

Who am I really talking to?

My lovely foster daughter is getting ready for a major life change and I’m amazed at how well she’s handling it. (Or how well she’s pretending to handle it?) After living with me since mid-August, she is now preparing to move on to her permanent home—far, far away from where she grew up. And I get to help her with this transition.

Part of the move means going through all of her worldly possessions and deciding what she wants to keep. And part of the move means saying goodbye to loved ones, friends, and a school that she’s known her entire life. All of her known world will soon be a reflection in the rear view mirror. (Well, since she’s flying there probably won’t be a rear view mirror, but you get the point.)

Of course, this is a positive transition; one that will see her happily settled with loving family members. She’s really looking forward to it. But at the same time, she has to leave loving family members behind.

We’ve talked about needing to downsize and part with loved possessions because of space limits—and the high cost of shipping or storing things. We’ve talked about what things are worth keeping at any cost versus what things can be given to friends, sold, or donated to charity. We’ve even taken photos of some of those items so that she can remember them.

We’ve talked about how this new world she’s moving to will have different cultural and social expectations—even though it’s still the same country. We’ve talked about how exciting it is to have a fresh start, but also about how sad it is to be leaving her old life behind. We’ve talked about how exciting it is to think of starting 7th grade as the new kid—and about how much of a letdown the reality of that situation might be.

We’ve talked about how happy she is about her bright new future, and about how much she has to give up in order for it to happen. We’ve talked about how sad it will be to leave her old world behind. And we’ve talked about how she’s allowed to be happy and sad all at once and how being happy about her future doesn’t mean that she has to be happy about saying goodbye to her life here.

We’ve talked about how many struggles she’s had here, and how a fresh start won’t mean an end to life’s struggles—it will just mean different struggles. And we’ve talked about how it’s OK for her to miss here when she’s there.

We’ve talked about how her fresh start doesn’t erase the sadness—or the happiness—of her past; it just gives her new opportunities for a bright future. A future that will always include elements from her past. Because, after all, just because she’s in foster care doesn’t mean that she doesn’t have wonderful memories of a wonderful life.

Oh, and we’ve talked about what it’s going to be like to fly, as this will be her first plane journey. And we’ve talked about how we’ll stay in touch and what sorts of cool things she wants me to send her when I move to Scotland. (Pencils and t-shirts: Yes. Candy and stuffed animals (not including Nessie, of course): No.)

It’s funny because these conversations aren’t all about her. When we talk, we talk about how we’re both on these major life-changing journeys and how we’ve both had a lot of sadness in our lives that have been the impetus for our new futures. It’s funny because it’s easier for her to part with her stuff when she sees me doing the same thing. It’s not just her getting rid of ill-fitting clothing in preparation for a move; I’m doing it, too. We’re both downsizing. We’re both filled with emotions of joy and sadness as we look toward our futures and behind to our pasts.

I’m often told what a blessing it is that I’m in the kid’s life, helping her through this time of transition. But you know what? She’s helping me just as much as I’m helping her. Some days I feel that taking on an 11-year-old foster kid whilst I was in the process of grieving for my husband was a bad idea. But most days, I realise that it was the best thing I could have done for both of us.

Anyhow, it just struck me today that all of the assurances I’m giving her to ease her fears and insecurities are the same assurances I need to be giving myself!

And I suppose that you may get to hear a bit more about her transition over the next couple of weeks because it really is a bit of a grieving process for both of us. Luckily, I can blog it out. Sadly, she’s taking it out like any nearly-12-year-old girl would do—lots of hysterical tears and fits over nothing. (Oh, wait! I do that on occasion, too.)

[Original artwork by my foster daughter, October 2010.]

Logo-ing

The last couple of nights have been rather fun for me as I’ve started to gear up for life as an unemployed bum. And part of that life—I hope—will include a bit of freelance writing and communications work.

So, I’m getting ready to create a website to hawk my wares, which means a logo. And at the same time, I’m working on a couple of projects for other people—again, website and logo stuff. My creative juices are flowing and I’m having a blast.

But I can’t actually share my work with you yet, which is why you only get to see my pen-and-pencil-obscured doodles and sketches. Though I’ve included a pretty swirl drawing for you, too. You know, because I know how much you love my swirls.*

Gosh, I wish I could tell you more about it all, but I can’t do that just yet. But stick around for the big unveiling once that unemployed status officially kicks in this summer!

* I’m sorry if you’re sick of swirls. But I enjoy them and they make me happy and so I will keep creating them. But I won’t share all of them here. Oh! And someone asked me about getting a journal with a swirl drawing. So I’m looking into that. Just Frances branded swirl journals and sketch books? Sure… Why not?

Monday swirls

It has been an emotionally and physically exhausting couple of days. From an out-of-the-blue emotional crash on Friday, to marking the anniversary of my marriage on Saturday, to a long day of preparing for The Big Move on Sunday, I’ve just been feeling battered.

Then, I spent much of this Monday in meetings, meetings, and more bloody meetings.

So when I got home from work—to a peacefully quiet house, thanks to my foster daughter’s burgeoning social life—I took the opportunity to swirl a bit. In fact, I managed so many swirls (and dots!) that I finally finished this piece that I started way back in January!

Oh! And I also spent a bit of time this evening on Facebook brainstorming some awesome names for a potential freelance communications endeavour I’m considering. That was fun and I hope to have more to share with you on that sometime this summer…

And now, I’m off to read in bed for a bit before I call it quits for the night. Nighty-night!

From happy to crash

It’s been a bad day. It started good, but then something happened that caused me to come crashing down. I could tell you what that something was, but it’s so silly and makes me look completely and totally insane and unstable which hurts my ego which just makes the crash so much worse, so let’s just say it was something and leave it at that.

You see, I am so excited about my future. I’m [mostly] happy for the first time in two years. I have something to look forward to. I have plans that [I hope] will help me to be a strong, secure, and confident woman once again.

But somewhere in the back of my mind is this constant reminder that I had ‘It All’ before and that it was all taken away in the blink of an eye. And I’m constantly frightened that my world might crumble again and I don’t know that I can survive another re-build.

Yesterday, I was so excited to have looked over my finances again only to determine that I might actually have enough money to make the next year a success. Of course, I won’t be living the life style I’m used to now, but what I’ll be lacking in money I’m sure I’ll make up for in laughter and happiness. Today started out with more confidence-filled thoughts, too.

Then it dawned on me that part of my plan for the next year relies heavily on support from family and friends in the UK. And I started to worry that maybe I’ve played it all up a bit too much in my head; maybe I’ve convinced myself that my connections there are stronger than they are in reality.

What if I get to Scotland and find out that my friends don’t have time for me? What if I get there and we don’t have anything in common? What if they don’t like me? What if I’m too crazy for them in large doses when I’m actually there in person on the same continent all the time? What if… well, the list goes on.

Yes, I know how crazy this all sounds. I mean, I know that I will have loads of support when I arrive. I know that everyone wants to help. I know that people love me and care for me and blah blah blah. But sometimes, I just feel so alone and vulnerable and fragile and it doesn’t matter that I know I’m wrong. Sometimes, my mind just jumps to worst-case scenarios and when that happens, sometimes I can’t stop the spiral no matter how hard I try.

I feel better when I check out forums and blogs by other crazy widows because at least it seems that these insecurities and seemingly-unprovoked crying and sobbing fits are normal. And, I have to admit that my emotions may be a bit more tender than normal not only because I’m in the midst of preparing to leave the house I shared with Paul, but because tomorrow marks six years since we got married and there won’t be a card from him on the mantle place tomorrow morning to remind me of that fact…

I promise I will try to cheer up soon. After all, things are mostly happy these days and there really is a bright future waiting for me—I just can’t see it through the blur of the tears some days.

[To distract myself, I worked on one of my swirly drawings a bit. So at least my crash means I’ve broken out the drawing stuff again!]

Post it

This isn’t the post I planned to share tonight. No, that post was a bit sad and reflective of my (sometimes) miserable lot in life and I went on and on about how isolated and alone I feel most days.

This is the picture I was going to share with that post. It was just a little something I drew on a Post-It Note whilst waiting for my foster daughter to finally finish her breakfast this morning.

But why did I decide not to post the sad stuff? Well, partly because I reminded myself that no matter how isolated and alone I feel most days, I will be living in a city again soon—and in my favourite country in the whole world.

And partly because I checked the post on my way home from work today and there was a card waiting for me reminding me that no matter how isolated and alone I feel, I have amazing friends all around the world who care and who are there for me.

I’m still a bit sad and reflective, but at least now the light of hope that shines on my future is a little bit brighter.

See! I keep telling you guys that a simple card can make all the difference in someone’s day. Maybe we should all make a point of sending a note to someone we care about this week. Maybe a thank you note to an old math teacher or a letter to a friend’s mom letting them know what a great job they did raising their child?

Wallpaper?

I was meant to be scanning old newspaper clippings this evening. But then I got sidetracked playing with Photoshop. So, I guess I’ll need to scan stuff at the weekend. And my procrastination means you get to look at a weird 70s-ish flower thingy. (Wouldn’t this make an awesome wallpaper pattern?)

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!

The trouble with Bob and Dave

Bob and Dave* are my kidneys. Bob to my left; Dave to my right. Both are riddled with cysts and are considerably larger than normal kidneys. Bob is nearly double the average kidney size; Dave is a big’un, too, though slightly smaller than Bob.

Bob and Dave are the silent sufferers of polycystic kidney disease (PKD). I’ve known about the condition since I was five years old and am just one of several people in my family with the genetic disease. But I’ve always been lucky in that I’ve not had significant problems with my kidneys. In fact, if it weren’t for the cysts which are present in ultrasounds, you’d never know I had kidney disease at all!

From time to time I will get a kidney infection or a cyst will cause me a bit of pain. But my blood pressure is in the normal range and my microalbumin creatinine levels have always been awesomely normal. Which isn’t normal for someone with kidney disease—especially as they move further and further away from their first birthday—but I’ve never been normal, right?

I’ve long prided myself for my healthy diet and my exercise patterns. And my doctors have all agreed that those lifestyle habits have helped me to maintain my kidney function, blood pressure, and overall health for all of these years.

But then Paul died. And my diet went downhill. And I wasn’t getting any exercise. After all, cooking for two is more enjoyable than cooking for one—that’s what TV dinners are for. And running without your favourite running partner just sucks.

And that means that for nearly two years I’ve just not had my once-healthy lifestyle. I mean, it’s not been completely rubbish, but it’s not been as good as it once was. So it shouldn’t have come as too big a surprise when I was called back to my doctor’s office to discuss the results of my lab work from earlier this week.

Long story short: My Bob and Dave are no longer giving 100% to their task of keeping me healthy. They’ve started to look toward retirement, and it’s really making me sad.

OK, in fairness, I am not in kidney failure—nor do I expect to be in kidney failure in the near future. But for the first time in my life, my microalbumin levels are elevated. And that means that it’s time I realise that I’m not immortal. It’s time I realise that I do, in fact, have a progressive, genetic kidney disease and that I am, in fact, a sicky.

I’m trying not to blame myself for Bob and Dave’s lack of work effort. I mean, they are genetically pre-disposed for part-time work and early retirement. I tried to give them incentives to work hard for 35 years, but for the last two years I’ve not been the best manager. So of course they’re staging a bit of a work slowdown now.

I’ve been trying meaning to get better about managing my health for the last year, and I suppose that now I really do need to grow up and stop pouting. I must get back to my pre-widowed eating and exercise habits before the crew completely walks out on me.

But just in case they up and quit, I’ll give a quick plug for organ donation:**
If you’re not an organ donor already, consider signing up to give the gift of life because, despite the pretty picture I’ve drawn to accompany this story, kidneys do not actually grow on trees.

Now I’m signing off to go feel sorry for myself for a while. But I promise I will snap out of it soon. After all, depression isn’t good for your health!

* Thank you to Layla for providing my kidneys with names. It’s not something I’d considered in the past.
** I don’t need a kidney transplant at this time and likely won’t need one for years and years so please don’t feel the need to offer yours up. I’m naively optimistic that when if I do go into renal failure, they’ll have come up with a fantastically-awesome robot kidney solution! (Robo-Frances at your service!)

Hopscotch

Like most kids, I played Hopscotch growing up. It was a great game and really only required a piece of chalk. And since they used blackboards in schools back then, chalk was an easy commodity to come by!

I think we mostly used rocks as our markers. But for a while Chinese Jacks were in style and we used them. They were lighter than the rocks and they didn’t tend to tumble around which was cool.

Anyhow, I don’t know about you but I can’t resist a Hopscotch court. It doesn’t matter if I’m in casual gear and sneakers or in a suit and heels—I hop.

And hopping makes me happy. So I’m putting a piece of chalk in my handbag and I’m going to start making Hopscotch courts when no one is looking because I bet that I’m not the only grownup who must hop.

And I bet that most grownups would smile if they saw a Hopscotch court appear outside of their office—even if they didn’t hop.

I wonder where I’ll put my first piece of graffiti…?

Where flowers grow

Somewhere in the Central Cascades is a small, rural village nestled in the trees. Through the centre of the community is the main street, home to a grocery store, a handful of small shops, a couple of gas stations, and an unfeasibly large number of taverns and bars.

To the north of the main street are churches and single family homes. The sounds of children laughing as they play in the middle of the seldom-travelled side streets echo through the otherwise quiet town.

Here, boys grow strong and take on the trades of their fathers. Girls grow beautiful and wise and take on the responsibilities of their world.

In this fertile land where crops are grown and trees are felled, the next generation flourishes and the nutrient-rich ground allows for children to grow as flowers do—with pride and honour.

Here, where the flowers grow, people are happy. Their lives are fulfilled by love and community. Their roots grow deep into the soil of their homeland.

And here, from time to time, a thistle sprouts among the flowers. But here, thistles are weeds no matter how beautiful they appear to some.

And sometimes the winds rise and the seeds of the thistle are blown to faraway lands where they find new soil—soil fit for the survival of a thistle.

And in that faraway land, the thistles grow strong. For there, thistles aren’t weeds but are flowers. Yes there, thistles are the flowers that cause a nation sing.

[Note: This was a five-minute free-writing exercise. The prompt was to describe the town where I grew up but I had no desire to describe my homeland. I mean, I love it and all, but it’s where I’m from, not where I belong. So I decided to get a bit poetic. I did not alter this much from its draft form at all. You can view the original hand-written piece here if you’d like to see the rough draft.]

A blue Monday

Mondays are generally very important to me. As the first day of the new work week, Monday has the ability to set the tone for the following days. No matter what stresses you dealt with the week prior, Monday brings a new week—a fresh start!

I woke up excited about the day ahead of me. I was excited to say goodbye to February—a month that has been rather difficult on me emotionally—and was excited to greet the new week.

The day was going OK. Sadly, only OK and not fabulous as I really wanted, but OK was pretty good after last week’s stresses (some self-induced, I admit).

Then it happened. One little conversation and I was deflated; the wind knocked out of my sails.

I tried to make like everything was OK and that I wasn’t offended and hurt, though I don’t know if the other person would have been bothered either way. The worst thing is that I couldn’t quite read their motives so I don’t know if they were trying to inflict pain or if they were, in fact, acting out of frustration with something going on in their world. (Maybe a bit of both?)

The rest of my day was spent pretending that I was still having a good day. And honestly, I tried to have a good day, but it was hard. I guess that the good side is that I didn’t have a terrible day; just a grumpy one.

Luckily for me, tomorrow is the first day of a new month, which means that tomorrow brings a fresh opportunity to have a fantastic month!

And March is bound to be a fantastic month because there are so many awesome things happening! (Even if I have to create the awesome things for myself!)

Swirly tree Ts

Right! Remember how I posted a couple of weeks ago about a project I was working on for His Majesty? Well, I can talk about it now. Yay!

Firstly, His Majesty is my Uncle King. (Uncle Joe to my sisters, but for some reason I started calling him Uncle King as a child and I am his Princess. But I digress.)

We’re having an awesome Eberle family reunion in July and one of the cousins posted something about shirts on Facebook so I offered my design services if they were needed/wanted. As I’m not one of the family elders, I’m not in on the planning, so hadn’t realised that Uncle King was already working on something. But, the cousins mentioned to him that I should be working on them so he asked me to design something.

Of course, by then he’d already come up with a design with the help of his friend. So he sent that to me as a starting place.

This was the starting place:

Now, it’s not that I’m a snob, but this is not a shirt that I would wear. So I tossed together two basic designs for Uncle King to see if he liked them—telling him that it was perfectly OK if he wanted to stick with the one he already had.

These were my first two designs for him:

I was a bit surprised when he seemed to like the tree, and was more than happy to re-do the tree with the family names. Please note that the tree is hand-drawn. (Yes, I have an ego and I’m very pleased with my swirly tree!)

So, this was the next design I sent:

A couple of tweaks later, and this was the final design:

I also created a couple of simple ones, just in case:

Oh, and I used green for the background on my designs because, well, I like green. But the actual shirts will be blue. I know you’re anxious to see photos of all of us Awesome Eberles wearing our shirts at the reunion, so I’ll share those later this summer. Yay!!

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 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.

Swirls by commission

I am working on a secret project, which means that by Royal Decree, I am unable to tell you what it is. Or even that I’m working on it. However, I don’t think that this picture will give enough away to cause my banishment from the kingdom.

I shall unveil the entire scope of this awesome thing I’ve been asked to create as soon as HRH gives his blessing.

A valentine-less Valentine’s Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

The big announcement

Today I gave my official notice at work and my last day will be July 8.

This is a celebratory moment because it means that I can now publicly share my happy, happy news.

So, here’s the BIG announcement:

I am moving back to Scotland to attend the University of Stirling for my postgraduate studies where I will earn my Master of Letters in Media and Culture. YAY!!

Wow! It feels great to say that so publicly. So great, in fact, that I’m going to say it again—only louder!

I am moving back to Scotland to attend the University of Stirling for my postgraduate studies where I will earn my Master of Letters in Media and Culture. YAY!!

OK, this isn’t news to everyone, I know. But it’s news to some people. And since I’ve officially told work, I can now talk about it. Which I guess is the real news.

The bummer for all of you reading is that now that I can talk about it, I will. So you can look forward to blog posts about the last few weeks at work, about selling up my belongings, about packing up my treasures, and about the stresses and worries I’m facing as I move on to the next phase of my life.

And now for a quick disclaimer about that first announcement: Please know that my excitement about giving notice at work isn’t meant as a negative statement about my job, my place of employment, or my co-workers. No, the excitement about giving notice isn’t about saying goodbye to a job, it’s about taking a giant leap toward my future—a future that I know will bring me some of the joy and happiness I lost when I lost Paul.

Oh, and did I also mention that I’m moving back to Scotland to attend the University of Stirling for my postgraduate studies where I will earn my Master of Letters in Media and Culture? YAY!!

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.

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!

Swirls are my sunflowers

This post started out as a long ramble about how my [hopefully temporary] malaise got the better of me and I gave up on my silly worksheets and sketchbook project. And, as sometime happens, my long ramble brought me around to a solution to my artistic mental block.

In fact, the long ramble stopped the moment I realised that I was comparing myself and my desire to draw similar things over and over again to Van Gogh and his sunflowers.

At that point, I decided to stop writing about how my depressed mood was preventing me from completing structured creative work and instead picked up my markers and got busy doing what I enjoy: Drawing swirls.

So, OK, the structured creative work still needs to be completed because I have to finish what I started. But since I started it as an outlet for my grief/depression/sadness/whatever, and it is now adding stress to my life because I feel bad for not working on it, I’ve decided to stop and take a break.

Which means that you can bet I’ll be doing a lot of doodle drawings but less assigned drawing—but that’s OK because it makes me happy.

And I’m sharing tonight’s ‘work in progress’ with you now. Yay!

We forgot the camera

I almost never go into the upstairs of the house these days because the only things up there are two guest rooms and storage. But I’ve decided to bring the desk down from the small guest room for my foster daughter to use, so I went up this morning to measure it so that I know where to put it when it comes downstairs next weekend.

When I opened the top drawer I smiled as I saw a stack of drawings that my now 13-year-old niece has left behind. But when I un-folded one in particular, I laughed.

Here’s why:
A few months after Paul died, my niece and nephew came out to visit. It was my first time having company since his death and I knew it was going to be difficult. Thankfully, Flik and Haden understood how hard it would be for me and were not terribly uncomfortable when I was upset. I’m sure it was hard on them, too, since it was the first time they were in my home without their Uncle Paul around to tell them jokes and teach them to juggle.

One of the things we did was take a hike up Kamiak Butte. It was my first time tackling the hill without Paul. And once we got to the top, I took my first post-Paul ‘we forgot the tripod’ shot—something that was actually more difficult than I imagined it would be.

And I laughed at that specific picture because it was a ‘we forgot the camera’ drawing of the three of us at the top of the butte.

So now I have our tripod-less photo of the trip, a shot of the three of us that another hiker took, and a camera-less drawing that Flik did.

The art of rest

I am nearing the end of my second full day of proper rest. It’s really hard because I can’t allow myself to do even one simple task because that will lead me to another and another and another. Giving me a task is kind of like giving a mouse a cookie.

But whilst yesterday was a complete sit around day, causing me complete boredom, at least today I managed to mix it up a bit by soaking in the tub and creating a new online photo gallery for my drawings. (Yay!)

And I drew a new picture for the gallery, too. (Double Yay!!)

I know it’s not the best picture of a tree (could you tell it was a tree?) but it has actually inspired me to draw a detailed tree that will incorporate a poem I’m composing in my head.

One more day of total rest then I’m going to the office. I know work isn’t really rest, but it’s an office job so I’m going to cheat. It’s that or go completely bonkers. And being half bonkers is bad enough. I’m not quite ready for full-on insanity!

Ten

Following up on yesterday’s spotty confession, I had a blood test today and had a platelet count of 10.* This means that I am officially on rest orders.

It also means that I am officially sad. I mean, I’m used to my counts being low, but 10 is lower than low. Ten is a dangerously low number that reminds me of the constant risk I face since I don’t always know what my counts are from one day to the next. Ten is a number that reminds me that no matter how well I feel, my body is constantly fighting a war with itself.

In the old days Paul and I would have commiserated together. Just as we would have celebrated a count of 80+. (A normal count is 150-400.) It’s not that I want to throw myself a pity party or anything, but sometimes it feels good to rant and cry and complain about it to someone who sort of understands.

Oh well. I guess I’ll just think about the good things about having a dangerously low platelet count:

  • It’s a great excuse to make my guests do all the work when I have a house full of people over for Burns’ Supper in a week’s time
  • It’s a great excuse for not beating my 11-year-old nephews in the Freeze Your Fanny 5K (because you know I’d kick their fannies otherwise!)
  • It’s a great excuse to sit on the couch eating junk food for the up-coming three-day weekend (that’s following rest orders, right?)

And, of course, because there were so few platelets I was able to draw a picture of them for you. I stopped short of naming them, but please feel free to offer name suggestions if you feel so inclined.

* Counts are actually in the 1,000s so a count of 10 = 10,000, meaning the normal range is 150,000 – 400,000.

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.

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!

No sleep for the artist

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

As always, the kid has some real talent!

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

But, I digress…

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

2010 Christmas card and letter

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

Dear Family and Friends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merry Christmas!
Just Frances

It’s all about the unicorns

My foster daughter has this habit of saying “Guess what?” without giving any further clues or context. In the beginning, I would ask for hints or detail, but she would just demand that I guess. And there is no way I’d ever come close so I started to just make up guesses.

So when she says “Guess what?” I reply with things like:

You were on your way out to the playground at recess when this herd of pink unicorns came careening down out of the lentil fields right toward you and your friends. And just moments before they impaled you with their silvery horns, flying monkeys swooped down and picked you up with their teeth then flew you to a rainbow where you could sit safely whilst the herd passed by. Afterward, you were able to slide down the rainbow and land safely on a bed of marshmallows.

Or:

You were sleeping soundly when all of the sudden a troll with purple hair woke you with hushed tones and told you to hop on to his unicorn so that he could ride you to safety because there was a dragon outside your bedroom window who was going to kidnap you and take you to the Land of the Firebreathers where you would be forced to repair all of the broken claws and scales that the dragons got when they were fighting the evil orgs who ruled Swamp Kingdom.

And she just rolls her eyes and lets me know that the thing I was supposed to guess was that some kid at school broke their fingernail or something.

But it won’t end there. No, after she tells me what I was meant to guess, she then lets me know that, in fact, there are no pink unicorns (don’t be silly!) and that dragons don’t need someone to repair their claws and scales because (of course) they have special regeneration powers that mean they fix themselves.

Anyhow, my unicorn-based guesses are getting more creative. But they are also turning up in my adult conversations these days. Oh well. Folks already knew I was crazy, believing in unicorns fits right in with my current residency in La-La-Land.

I’m thankful for…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The good, the bad, and the uncertain

I have a lot on my mind right now. The good, the bad, and the uncertain. I’m not willing or emotionally able to share the bad and uncertain and the good would all be memories, dreams, or made-up rubbish.

So instead of words today, you get art. And a couple of quotes that seem fitting for the thoughts weighing on my mind. (Sorry that the art is rubbish. But a lot of art is.)

If you wait to do everything until you’re sure it’s right, you’ll probably never do much of anything.
~ Win Borden

A ship is safe in harbour, but that’s not what ships are for.
~ William Shedd

YayDay! countdown

Yay! It’s just 89 days until YayDay!!

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

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

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

Yay!

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

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

Feeling dotty

I’m still struggling with the sadness that came over me yesterday. Not in an “I’m still sad” way but in a “Big episodes of grief really wipe me out” way. So I decided I’d take it easy and doodle for a bit after dinner.

The evening’s doodles are really more dottles; which is about right since I’m feeling a bit dotty today.

Which makes me smile because dotty is a British slang term for mentally unbalanced, eccentric, or amusingly absurd—all terms that could be used to describe me most days.

Just a doodlin’

I love to doodle. So today, as I sat waiting for a meeting that took forever to get started, I found myself doodling a bit. The meeting’s theme of social media use seems to have come across in my doodle, too.

Of course, thinking about doodling makes me think of one of my favourite songs from childhood, The Doodlin’ Song by the Statler Brothers. So I’m sharing the song with you. Yay!

Blue hearts

So there is was a great big, blue 2,800-pound bronze heart sculpture on campus that I totally love. I noticed it on my first trip to WSU for a job interview and was instantly drawn to it. But it wasn’t long until I started to hear about the great controversy surrounding it. Apparently, my love for the challenging sculpture is a minority opinion.

Anyhow, I began a new type of journal the other day where I will combine traditional journal entries with poems and prose as well as drawings and whatever else I feel I need to add to work through some thoughts and emotions I’m dealing with right now. My first drawing? You guessed it! The big blue heart! It just seemed fitting with the journal entry I’d just written.

Well, less than 24 hours after my creative release, the heart was removed from campus! But (yay!) it will return next year. It seems that the controversial piece will be on loan to the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, Mich., until next year as part of a Jim Dine retrospective.

Maybe I’ll manage to sort out my thoughts and emotions before its return to campus. Wow. Maybe if I draw a big picture of stress, that will be taken away in 24 hours, too … ?

Trees

Just for you, some pretty trees that I drew this evening. Yay!

Trees
by Joyce Kilmer (1886-1918)

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

Copy bird

In the evenings, you will quite often find me and the kid in the living room not talking*: Her on the love seat reading or drawing; me on the couch crocheting, blogging, or—most recently—sketching and drawing. And you can bet that at some point she will come over and start snooping at what I’m doing with great curiosity.

After she goes to bed, I will sit and continue my evening’s project for a couple of hours and by the time I wake up the next morning, I’ve almost forgotten what I was working on the night before. But not the kid. No, the kid will ask several times as we’re getting ready to leave the house if she can see what I’ve been working on. And when she finally gets to (after, of course, she gets ready for school) she is full of enthusiasm for what is, at best, mediocrity at its most average.

I’m always so pleased that she enjoys my creative outputs, but it never truly dawned on me how much impact I have on her until this weekend. As I sat working on my silliness coursework she came and looked over my shoulder and commented with awe at my water painting before asking if she could break out her watercolours and do some painting of her own.

To the left is my painting. To the right is the kid’s.

  

I am flattered and humbled. And a little afraid to think that there is another child who’s life is being impacted by me. (I think I do OK. I’ve yet to completely screw up any of my nieces and nephews at least…)

* It sounds like we just ignore each other, but we don’t. By this time, we’ve endured a 30-mile drive from town home where we chat, chat, chat. Then we enjoy a nice, home-cooked dinner at the table where we chat, chat, chat some more. Then, we chat when she goes to bed, right before our prayers. So we talk. Just not at this point in the evening.

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.

200

I can’t believe that I’ve had so much useless rubbish to share with the world since I started Just Frances!

I’ve found writing here to be relaxing, peaceful, and therapeutic. And whilst my writings may be sad at times, I think of this as my happy place; as a place where I can feel vulnerable and safe at the same time.

For me, Just Frances is a release of energy and ideas. It is a place where I can be me: The happy me; the sad me; the wacky and crazy me. It’s a place where my ego can frolic and play. It’s a place where my fears can be displayed. And it’s a place where I can share my joys and successes and happy moments.

For my 200th post, I want to thank you—because your support means the world to me. You may not know it, but just the act of checking in tells me that you care. (Or that you’re voyeuristic, but that’s OK, too.)

So, thank you, dear reader. From the bottom of my heart.

Bonus! My 200th post has been brought to you in just 200 words! And I made a picture for you, too!

Working weekend

Wow! What a great weekend! And you want to know why? Well, it’s because I spent most of it in the homeland working toward three of my goals.

And because I know you want to know, here’s what I accomplished!

Goal #1: To be blissfully happy

Toward this goal I:

  • Socialized with real people in the real world (What? Facebook isn’t the real world?!)
  • Did some drawing and writing and relaxing and stuff
  • Went on a 5-mile training run with my nephew

Goal #2: To earn my master’s degree

Toward this goal I:

  • Worked on my personal statements for my applications
  • Sent a current draft of my statement to new reviewers in the hopes of a fresh reference point
  • Visited with one of my undergraduate professors who will act as a reference for my applications (which is a double score because she’s also a friend and I got to have a lovely visit with her!)

Goal #3: To publish a book

Toward this goal I:

  • Gave some thought to a collaborative writing project I’m (meant to be) working on
  • Scribbled notes about characters for a potential book I want to take off the back burner
  • Had lunch with with my old (as in former, not elderly) high school English teacher who helped to further spark my desire to get back into writing (but she may not know she did that!)

So, Yay! for me! I feel as if I’ve accomplished so much which is great because I had a fun time doing it. But now I’m tired. Very, very tired.

When I was a kid I thought…

When I was a kid I thought that the horses just off the west interchange in Ellensburg were wild and I dreamt that I when I was a grown-up I would capture and tame them for my own farm.

When I was a kid I thought that “The Coast” was such an amazingly awesome—and scary—place where all of the good things happened.*

When I was a kid and I saw interracial couples (is it OK to use that term?) with children, I would dream that, one day, we would all be the same ethnic race and we would all have lovely tanned skin all year long because of it.**

When I was a kid and we got to the place in Sunday Mass where we’d all shake hands, I thought we were saying “Pleased to meet you” which didn’t make sense, because in our small town everyone knew each other already.***

When I was a kid I thought that almonds came from peaches and nectarines, because the seed inside the seed (if you see what I mean) looks just like an almond.

When I was a kid I thought I could invent a car that ran on water.

When I was a kid I was going to be a famous writer living in Paris or Europe. Or I was going to be President of the United States of America. Or I was going to be a big-shot attorney. Or an artist. Or… (But I never dreamed I would be a wife or a mom. Go figure!)

When I was a kid I thought being a grown-up was going to be the most funnest and most exciting thing ever and life was going to be great and I was always going to be happy.

Yeah, life was simple back then. Some days, I want to be a kid again and think all those silly things and dream all those impossible dreams.

So, what did you think when you were a kid?

* “The Coast” is anything west of the Cascade Mountain pass along I-90 (you know, Seattle). And people from “The Other Side” were known simply as Coasties or 206-ers.
** I don’t know that I realized they were different races, I think I just thought they looked different than one another; which, I think, says something positive about the way my parents raised me to not think about race.
*** What we were actually (meant to be) saying was “Peace be with you”.

Relearning the art of childhood

A while back I picked up a piece of bond paper and a box of crayons to illustrate a silly little image to go along with my goals posting. A few days after that I grabbed a couple more sheets of paper from the printer then borrowed my foster daughter’s colored pencils to illustrate each individual goal. By the time I was done I realized how much I missed drawing and coloring—despite the fact that I’m not the artist I imagine I am.

That enjoyment led me to purchase some nice drawing paper and a set of 72 colored pencils and a little carrying case for all of my new art supplies. Since then, I’ve found a lot of pleasure in sitting on the couch drawing and coloring. And in recent days, I’ve been drawing and coloring even more thanks to the way-fun silliness course I’m participating in.

All of this has made me realize that I really like to be artistic and has made me start to think about all the other forms of artsy stuff I used to do as a child. Which brings me to the point of the post: Today I purchased an inexpensive set of water color paints and a cheap little box of modeling clay. My first attempt at a water color painting is really quite rubbish, but I enjoyed re-learning how to use the paints and am excited to do some more.

With a bit more practice, I’ll be ready to go out and paint the amazing sunsets on the Palouse. In fairness you might not be able to identify the painting as a sunset when I’m done, but as long as I’m enjoying my childish fun, it doesn’t matter what the end result looks like.

So I’m still feeling a bit down, but at least I can multitask by being miserable and happy at the same time.

Yay for painting!

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…]

Punctuate this!

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

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

WooHoo!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Art?

I wish I was an artist. You know—a really good one. I wish I could draw things with ease and make them look pretty. In my mind I can see myself standing there with a paint palette creating these amazingly-beautiful landscapes or amazingly-accurate portraits. But in reality, I’m actually quite rubbish. Not only that, but it takes a lot of time to create that rubbish*!

But I enjoy using crayons and colored pencils, so I tend to just kick back on the couch and draw swirly things. And even they aren’t all that great, as you can see below. Now mostly I like this, but the top center(ish)-right-hand side has a really out-of-place looking swirl that I feel ruins the whole thing. However, creating this little piece of art kept me entertained for two evenings, and now I’m sharing the results with you! Yay!

(Sorry, this is what happens when you have no cable, a load of colored pencils and paper, and a state-of-the-art color scanner. Expect more silliness in the future. Especially since I’m going to take an online class on The Art of Silliness2! Yay!)

* I know I draw “OK” things and am not looking to have my ego bolstered here. I’m not embarrassed or ashamed of my ability, it’s just that my imagination has a very different appearance than reality!

The cost of vanity

For more than a year I’ve been telling myself to get some really nice, quality face moisturizer because grief can really take a toll on your skin. Between the constant crying, the lack of sleep, and the absolutely rubbish diet, my once-smooth skin began to age in triple-time shortly after Paul died. I’m now crying considerably less and sleeping a little bit more – so much of the swollen eye issues are subsiding. But still, I’ve been feeling less than happy with my skin’s appearance, and whilst I know part of this is my poor diet of late, part of it is also the fact that I’m no longer in my early-20s. (I know. Hard to believe!)

Anyhow, knowing that having nice skin would make me happy, I put buying a nice lotion on my task list for my life goal of being blissfully happy. Well, the day after I posted the tasks for that goal, a friend commented about products that she uses and that a friend of hers uses. Which got me searching for other things available.

So when I was given the opportunity to drop my foster daughter off at her friend’s house for a couple of hours, I headed to the cosmetics counter at Macy*s. I was immediately pounced upon by the sales staff. (This was my first trip to a cosmetics counter. It was a bit scary and intimidating.) Thankfully, I’d read a bit about the various products online before heading out so I sort of kind of knew what I wanted because those girls started yakking on and on about this and that and totally lost me!

There were two brands I was interested in, and I chose based on the free gifts – which I know is silly, but as they’re both major international brands with excellent reputations, I didn’t figure I had much to lose. Brand #1’s free gift was makeup, which if you’ve read past posts, you’d know that doesn’t interest me. Brand #2’s free gift was six travel/trial-sized containers of other products, and a little toiletry bag – all of which I could get some use out of.

And so, I’ve gone from my (very good) Olay products (a night cream and a day cream – about $20 for both) to the (supposedly) superior Lancôme products. I paid nearly $75 for a nice night cream then got three small containers of day creams, a small eye cream, and two small containers of serum (I don’t really know what that means yet) along with a nice little bag to carry them in. Yay!

The best part? I get to mark something off of my task list! That deserves another ‘Yay’!

Goals update

Nearly three weeks ago, I posted my goals and promised that I would soon update each goal with a list of tasks required to accomplish them. Well, I’ve finally gotten the initial task lists posted – along with hand-drawn images because I was a bit bored last night. (Cutting off the cable will do that to you!)

Support and encouragement is always welcome! Please feel free to check in to watch my progress, but also feel free to offer support or assistance where you can. If you think you can help with any of my tasks, please give a shout!

Goal #1: To be blissfully happy

Goal #2: To earn my master’s degree

Goal #3: To publish a book

Goal #4: To rule the world