To date, or not to date?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The master

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

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

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

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

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

The distinguished lady

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three cheers for the cheerers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heading to the start

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

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

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

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

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

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

Digital Diaries: Constructing and managing online identities through blog therapy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A bloody Stirling day

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

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

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

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

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

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

A great run

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Photo credits to my friend, John.]

The dating game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A 10K and a curry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heigh-ho, heigh-ho

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

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

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

I HAVE A JOB!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What it doesn’t mean is that I will:

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

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

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

Gadget Girl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Gadget Day, everyone!

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

Seven for seven

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

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

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

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

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

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

First flowers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hair today

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yay! for pretty hair!

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

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

And now for a wee Dissertation Month update:

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

Tomorrow’s task list:

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

Words about me

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

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

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

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

Just Frances in Just Words

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

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!)

Loch Ness; Take two

Do you remember when I told you that I was going to run the Loch Ness Marathon in honour of Paul? And how after I ran it, I told you I was never going to run another marathon?

Well, I was wrong. In fact, I really wanted to do another one just moments after finishing the first. And that feeling never went away. It was just so exhilarating!

So, today I’ve finally signed up to run the Loch Ness Marathon for the second time. Oh yes, I have! Only this time I’m not running for Paul. This time I’m running for me!

What does this mean for you? Well, at the moment nothing other than the occasional mention of marathon training. And maybe later I’ll give a shout out for fundraising—if I can decide to do that. Which I’m thinking I might. So, I don’t know. Stay tuned for that.

In the mean time, however, feel free to give all of those ‘I told you so’ comments for those who thought the marathon bug might take hold of my soul (and soles!). Because it has!

They’re braver

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I can open doors

There is a debate that I have with one of my sisters quite often, and since it came up on Facebook again, I’m going to have my rant here. So, you’ve been warned.

The debate is essentially about chivalrous behaviours by men toward women. Celeste (and some of my other sisters and friends) believes that a man should always open a door for a woman. And he should carry her bags. And he should stand when she is arriving at or leaving the table.

Now, I don’t know exactly how far Celeste’s views go, so I’ll end the ‘she thinks’ things there. But there are other views on chivalry held by other women I know. They include things like a man should always pay. Always. They should pump gas (petrol) for a woman. They should walk on the outside, closest to traffic.

As I think about the possibility of dating again, I realise that these are all things I’m going to have to contend with. And, to be honest, I worry that with my age I’ll be stuck (?) dating men who’ve gone through a divorce and I fear that they may over compensate by trying to woo me with these chivalrous acts. And, well, that’s just going to make me fume.

I mean, it’s not that I don’t like a man to be kind and polite. It’s that I don’t want a man to treat me as if I’m a helpless woman.

My view is one of equality: He (or she!) who reaches the door first opens it for the other person. If there are four bags, each person can carry two—or the task can be shared based on weight rather than quantity*. If both people can afford to pay, then turns can be taken**.

Basically, everyone should be treated fairly and with respect and equality—regardless of their gender. I don’t necessarily believe in a 50/50 split of everything, either. Rather, I believe in the idea of everyone contributing to their strengths and weaknesses. So, if my arms are loaded with boxes and I get to the door first, then of course I’d expect some man (or woman!) to be kind and open the door for me.

Women have worked far too hard to be treated equally for some ‘helpless’ woman to go around demanding they be treated differently just because they’re a woman.

And don’t get me started on ‘romantic’ gestures like flowers and chocolates!!

And that, Dear Reader, is an abbreviated version of my chivalry rant.

So, I’d really love to hear your thoughts on the issue. Really. What do you think?

* Less than two weeks after Paul and I started dating, we went to the shops to get fixings for him to make my birthday dinner. On leaving the store, I grabbed one of the two bags, only Paul insisted on carrying both. He was very adamant and this upset me. I made a mental note to be aware of any other controlling behaviour. But there weren’t any, and he was generally happy for me to ‘carry my own weight’. It just happens that on that day, he had just picked me up after being released from hospital and didn’t feel that a ‘sicky’ should be carrying anything.

** When Paul and I started dating, I was a poor student so we made the deal that he would pay when we went for meals and such, and I would pay when we went for coffee. Now, as a starving student again, I find it hard to let friends pay my way, but I do let them when they offer because I know that it’s just a temporary thing.

Counting my chickens

A couple of weeks ago, I sat looking at my eggs. They were held in separate baskets and they looked so pretty; so promising. And, as I do, I began to count them.

Now, I am old enough—and should be wise enough—to know that I’m not really meant to count those eggs as chickens, but I still counted. I mean, I didn’t figure they’d all hatch, but I’d hoped for one successful chicken out of each basket of eggs. More than that from any one basket would have been too much to handle anyhow.

But then something happened and the eggs began to fall out of the baskets; one after the other. (OK, I tossed a few out, too, because they weren’t the sort of egg that I liked.) And before I knew it, all of my baskets were empty and I was left with nothing but a pile of broken eggs at my feet.

I’ll admit that I cried over some of those eggs like they were spilt milk. And I even considered calling in all of the king’s horses and all the king’s men to help repair one of them, but it seemed like a fruitless task. So, now I guess it’s time to grate some cheese and chop some mushrooms so that I can attempt at making an omelette with all of these broken eggs.

There’s a farmers’ market in town tomorrow. Maybe I’ll stop by and get some duck eggs since chicken eggs don’t seem to work well for me.

Half done

I completed my second half marathon today. Well, that’s if you can count last year’s Inaugural Homeland Memorial Half Marathon. Which I do. Only today’s half wasn’t in the homeland (though it was on Memorial Weekend). No, today’s race was in my adopted home country of Scotland—the Edinburgh Half Marathon. (And I’m pleased to say my time has improved since last year!)

It really was a great race. My heart, mind, and soul were geared up and excited for the entire race—and could have carried me on further. However, my legs gave up around mile 9 or so. Yeah, maybe that’s because I haven’t actually run—at all—since my last race five weeks ago.

Still, I enjoyed the entire race. Really.

The weather was fab, too. This was my first Scottish race run in shorts and a tank top—and was a nice change from the driving rain I’ve had to deal with for some of my races. Even better, the course followed the seaside for a good distance, so the fresh sea air gave me a bit of enjoyment.

As I ran this, my 5th race in my 2012 ‘Race a Month’ challenge, it struck me that my motivations have changed. Or, rather, changed back. You see, before Paul died I always ran for me. I ran because I enjoyed running. But after he died, I began running so that I could train for a marathon in his honour. And that was wonderful and I am pleased that I did it. But that’s done now, and without even realising my motivation has switched back to me and my own personal enjoyment. Certainly, I still think about Paul when I run—but I think of loads of other things, too.

Yes, running has once again become a time to clear my own mind. Part of me feels sad because it’s almost like a lost connection but at the same time, I still know that he’s there running with me. He is, after all, always with me—even when I’m not aware of it.

Oh, and another thing that struck me today was that I do have a bit of self control. I mean, at mile 4 when I saw the two pence coin in the road, I didn’t stop to pick it up because I knew it would trip up other runners. Just before mile 8 I passed up a 50 pence piece and further along the route were two separate pennies that I left behind. And if you’re a regular reader, you might know how much of a challenge that was to me!

Anyhow, it was a good race; it was a good day. And, since you’ve read this far, I’ll tell you my time: 2.34.36. Slow, yes. But remember… I haven’t trained. (Maybe I should do that before the next race?)

And, as always, you can see photos from all of my races here!

A mini-reunion and a catch-up

Oh dear, it’s been more than a week since I last posted. Sorry about that. It’s not that I’ve been sitting at home sulking though. No, I’ve been sitting at home writing essays like a mad woman! So, let me get you up to speed!

School: The past week, as I mentioned, was spent working on final essays for this past semester. The last of them was finished yesterday and turned in—with a bit of time to spare. I’m not feeling too confident about a couple of them, but I’m sure I did OK. I am pleased to brag, however, that I have received a few marks over the past week—all distinctions! Yeah, that’s nice for the ego.

So, the semester is done and that means no more classes. But I do have that dissertation to work on, so this probably won’t be my last school update.

Whisky: On Saturday, I went to the Spirit of Stirling Whisky Festival with a friend, his friend, and his friend’s friend. (Did you catch that?) It was an absolutely fantastic day, and one that probably deserves a story of its own. But, it was a late night with too much whisky and I was in no condition to even think about whisky the next day, so the story has gotten downgraded to an update. (Which shouldn’t be taken as a negative commentary; it was a day of great fun, great whisky, and great company.)

Edinburgh (Or: The Mini Eberle Reunion): After turning in my essays yesterday, I hopped on a train to Edinburgh to meet up with my cousin Rita and her friend, who are in Scotland as part of an organised tour. They had the afternoon free to tour on their own, so I was invited through as a personal tour guide. And since they’d already done the castle thing with the group, I got to show them a few other highlights.

We met along Princes Street then grabbed a coffee (well, I had mint tea) to catch up and chat about what we wanted to do, then we went to see the city. Our first stop—The Scott Monument—was easy enough, especially since we opted to not walk to the top. Then we wandered back toward the Floral Clock. Which we kind of saw in that the workings were sticking out of the ground, but it was in the process of being planted so if you didn’t know it was meant to be a clock you’d have missed it.

Next, we wandered through Princes Street Gardens on our way to Moray Place so that Rita could get a photo of a friend’s first house (No 28, if you wondered) before heading up Heriot Row to see the childhood home of Robert Louis Stevenson. The Queen Street Gardens across from the house were later used as inspiration for Treasure Island. (Apparently.)

From there, we wandered through the New Town on our way back to Princes Street Gardens where we sat to visit whilst Rita enjoyed (or at least took a sip of) Scotland’s number-one selling beverage, Irn Bru. I pointed out buildings and landmarks, explained how The Mound was formed and the Nor Loch drained, and even got to bore my captives with the story of how Paul and I met—and (when we’d made our way to The Royal Mile) I got to point out where we met, too!

Up on The Royal Mile, we attempted to visit The Writers’ Museum (we were 15 minutes too late!) before going in to see St Giles’ Cathedral. Then, it was back to the train station for me.

Of course, since one of the things Rita had on her list was closed (The Poetry Library) I’ve promised to go back and see it (and report back) for her. I’ll even have to stop by the Floral Clock on her behalf.

It was an absolutely fantastic afternoon and I am so pleased that I was invited to be part of Rita’s holidays. We’ve decided we’re going to have to do it again—maybe Rome next time with a private audience with the Pope.

[Photo is of RLS’s house, No 17 Heriot Row. Yes, we’re that kind of tourist!]

No more teachers; lots more books

Today was my last day of classes. And that means no more teachers. No more admissions-determined schedules. No more sitting through lectures and seminars. No more compulsory interaction with other students. Wow. It seems like only yesterday I was telling you about my first few days. Time, it seems, has flown by.

Though just because classes are over doesn’t mean the work is! No, I have four essays due in between now and next Monday, and I still have that dissertation to work on over the summer. And that means that the library will be my stomping grounds for the next couple of months!

But do you know something? I’m really sad about classes being done. I’m really sad that another chapter of this new life is coming to an end. But worse than that—and what’s really making me sad—is that I don’t know what happens next.

I haven’t had luck in finding a way to pay for Ph.D. studies, so have resigned myself to the knowledge that this degree is as far as my academic world will go. And I haven’t had any luck in finding a job—or even getting to the interview stage!—so I am starting to worry that this degree is also as far as my life in Scotland will go.

And that means that I am once again facing a future that is unknown and frightening. I’m facing the ever-increasing realisation that I can’t have the life I want; that I might have to start all over yet again. Only I don’t know if I have the strength to make another start.

I’ve not completely given up and will continue to look at both Ph.D. and work possibilities here in the UK, but I have to start making contingency plans now, too. Whether I want to or not.

But, I still have a bit of work to do before I can put any new plans in action because just because those essays and that dissertation won’t write themselves!

I’m sorry if this post seems a bit sad, but to be honest, I am a bit sad. I never thought that this would be a flawless journey filled with nothing but joy and happiness, but I suppose I had hoped that I would have a bit more clarity about my future by now. And it’s that uncertainty that I am struggling with right now.

And since I like to leave my posts on a high note whenever possible, I’ll say that I am looking forward to meeting up with one of my many cousins in a few days’ time. She’s in the UK on holidays and will be in Edinburgh as part of her travels so we’ll be meeting up. How exciting is that?!

Blocked: How you can help!

I have loads of things I want to write about. But I can’t. Some of them need to wait until ‘the right moment’ and others need more refinement in my head. Others are just these random things that I kind of want to share but I don’t really know if they warrant sharing.

But I want to write something for you. Partly because writing makes me happy and sharing my thoughts with the ethers really is a great ego boost. (I’ve always been up front about the fact that this blog serves to boost my ego!) Of course, I also want to write something for you because I think that some of you really do want to read what I have to say. I don’t quite know why, because most of what I have to say is a bit silly. However, our relationship is that I write; you read. That’s how this thing works.

And so, I need your help! I want to know what you want me to write about in the coming days. To that, I’m soliciting your opinions and questions. This is your opportunity to ask me anything you want. (Overly personal or insulting questions may not be answered.) You can ask me to give my opinion on a specific subject or to write a list of my top [however many whatevers]. You can ask me to write a poem about your favourite [blank] or to follow up on a post from the past. You can even set a challenge for me to do and blog about.

Basically, any reasonable topic request will be granted.

So, let’s hear from you: What do you want to hear from me?

A weighty issue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!)

My shattered ego

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

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

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

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

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

Ouch.

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

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

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

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

Ouch. Again.

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

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

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

Running on empty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just because you fall

I’ve done my fair share of falling in my life—literally and figuratively. Sometimes because I was clumsy or negligent. Sometimes because I was pushed or tripped by someone else. Sometimes because of circumstances beyond human control.

I have scars on my arms and legs (and head!) to show for some of those falls. And I have lots of memories (good and bad) to go along with them. And I have scars on my heart and soul from some of those falls, too. And the memories to go along with them.

But, I get up. And I carry on. Because until I cross the finish line, it’s not over. And even if I have to drag my battered, bruised, and bleeding body over the line with the last breath of my soul, I will finish the race. And I will win. Simply by finishing, I will win.

Oh yeah, and today marks ten years since I first met my amazing husband. I miss him terribly each and every day, but even though his loss was a big fall for me, I’m still going. And if you’ve ever wondered how we met, you can check out a post I wrote two years ago about our meeting!

The little red dress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Booking courage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A running start

I have a goal to run a race a month in 2012. It’s kind of an annual goal that Paul and I always attempted, but one that’s yet to be met; mostly because there always seems to be a race shortage. It’s one of the disadvantages of living in rural America. But this year, I’m in urban Scotland so I might have better luck attaining my goal!

Also this year, I have a new running partner who is going to attempt the goal with me. And we have the added advantage of Park Runs—timed races that take place in various communities around the UK. So on months when we can’t find a road race we want to do, we’ll supplement with the Park Runs. (Which is probably going to be our February race.)

Anyhow, today was the first race of the year—the Buchlyvie 10K (in Buchlyvie, Scotland). It was a relatively flat out-and-back course and (save for the rain) it was very scenic, too. But it was anything but easy. In fact, I’m going to rattle off a series of excuses to explain away my poor time:

  • It was raining like mad!
  • It was very cold.
  • The headwinds were quite strong.
  • The winds changed directions so there was a headwind on the return, too!
  • The course was muddy, wet, rocky, and slippery.
  • My knee was twinging for about half of the race.
  • I spent last week very ill with a fever and headache.

But I suppose if I’m honest, I did poorly because I’ve not put in the training. And I’ve been eating junk food and sitting around the flat feeling sorry for myself lately—which means I’ve gotten a bit soft and gooey and flabby, too. So whilst the excuses above are all valid reasons for a slower-than-desired pace, I could have (should have!) done better—and would have if I’d been out training and eating healthier foods. Which, I guess, means that my slow pace is ultimately down to my own laziness. Must.Do.Better!

Oh! But excitingly, Rebecca beat me this time! She ran well and ran hard and she crossed the finish line a few minutes before me. Normally, this would be a massive blow to my ego, but for some reason I’m OK with it today, and am very pleased for Rebecca. (See, I must still be ill because these are not things that I would say under typical circumstances!)

And, since you’ve made it this far, here are our unofficial finish times: Rebecca: 1:04:51; Me: 1:07:10.

You can check out my running gallery to see photos of the shirt and me in my running gear. And that’s also where you’ll find official race times when they’re posted.

Steak and potatoes

OK boys and girls, today is my first meal prepared for the Dark Days Challenge. Not that I haven’t been eating some local foods all along, but tonight’s dinner is special because it’s all about the local stuff!

Now, I like to pride myself in purchasing locally grown produce whenever possible, but I must admit that much of the other groceries I buy come from all over. I mean, it’s a little difficult to find local olive oil when you live in Scotland! But, I did some research and managed to find a few local (Scotland or elsewhere in the UK) staples to keep on hand—many of which will make appearances not only in my local-only meals, but in my every day meals as well. Those things include a Scottish cooking oil, UK-sourced sea salt, and Scottish-milled flour—to name a few. I won’t go into all of them today, but will try to tell you a bit about them as I use them. Or, at the very least, I will link to them so that you can read more if you want.

And with that, here’s what I had for dinner:

My main course was pan-fried minute steak from Puddledub Buffalo Farms. I had wanted a fillet steak, but they only had large packs available by the time I arrived at their stall on the market, so I ended up with a less-than-ideal cut. But, cooked with a bit of Maldon sea salt, it was pretty tasty! I also made a small potato-shallot-and-cheese concoction using Scottish-grown potatoes and shallots, layered with a strong Scottish cheddar. I baked it in a small dish that was coated with Summer Harvest rapeseed oil (made in Scotland) and a light sprinkling of sea salt. Oh! And some lightly boiled Scottish-grown carrots for my veg.

Oh! And I can’t forget about the wine now, can I? I don’t generally buy (or drink) fruit wines, but Cairn o’ Mohr always has a booth at the Stirling Farmers’ Market and curiosity (and the need for local!) got the better of me. So, I bought a bottle of their Bramble Wine. And it was very nice. Maybe next time, I’ll try one of their whites!

Anyhow, I’ve learned a lot this week about the foods that are available locally. This has also been a great excuse to experiment with food—which is what the potato thing was—and a great reminder about what a good cook I actually am. (But I wish I made a bigger pot of the potato stuff. That was way-yummy!!)

Of course, I seem to have forgotten to get myself something for pudding. Darn! Maybe next week…

One down

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scholarly doubts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.]

Warming up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?

If the shoe fits

I’ve been experimenting with footwear since my return to Scotland. Yep, it’s heels for this redneck, if you can believe it.

I admit, it’s a bit tricky at times because I still wobble a bit (and that’s with fairly short and chunky heels!) but I’m getting better and I almost feel like a semi-pro! But the biggest bonus is that I feel good! I know it sounds silly, but the dress code here tends to be a bit smarter than the homeland for everyday wear, and I feel good when I am dressed up that little bit more.

But that’s not the point, so I’ll move on now.

The point is that my feet are suffering! They don’t hurt but they are suffering. You see, I’ve always worn sensible, well-fitting shoes without heels. And that meant that I’ve always had pretty feet. Well, not so much as a child because I insisted on wearing shoes that were too small because I didn’t like shoe shopping. Not that I like it anymore now. But I digress. Again…

Back to the point: The bottoms of my feet are starting to get a couple of spots with not-so-soft skin. And I need to figure out how to fix that, whilst still wearing pretty shoes. And since I can’t afford professional pedicures at the moment, I’ll need to figure out how to fix it on my own.

For starters, I am using a heavy lotion before I go to bed, covering my feet with socks as I sleep so as to not get the bedding all lotion-y. I am also spending a bit more time making sure my toenails are trimmed nicely.

But the biggest solution, I imagine, is going to be finding the right shoes and the right inserts. And that, sadly, means shoe shopping. (I think I know someone who can help with that!)

Of course, the other solution would be to return to my redneck roots and just wear casual trainers everywhere.

Dear Self Confidence

It’s been nearly eight months since I last wrote a poem (horrible or otherwise) for you. Well, for me, actually. So, tonight I decided to whip one up.

As always, it’s a bit rubbish but I enjoy writing them so here it is!

Dear Self Confidence
By Just Frances

Dear Self Confidence:
I would like to tell you
how much I’ve missed you.

You tell me
you’re standing next to me
but I can’t always see you.

You tell me
you’re in my heart and soul
but I can’t always feel you.

You tell me
you’re in my thoughts
but I can’t always notice you.

I would like to tell you
that I need you to be stronger.

I would like to tell you
that I need you to work harder.

I would like to tell you
that I need you to barge in and take over.

So during our next encounter don’t be shy.
Come out and shout and scream.
Come out and jump up and down.

I will embrace you.
You will embrace me.
It will be a special moment.

I need you.
I’m ready for you.
Let’s do lunch.

Much love to you,
Just Frances

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.

For the grade

I now have less than two weeks to complete my first assignment as a postgraduate student. It’s a bit strange doing school work again, but I am really enjoying it.

My first assignment is a book review for my cultural theory class and is due by noon next Friday (Oct 21). The book, Matt Hill’s How to do Things with Cultural Theory, is not one that I would ordinarily choose to read which makes it difficult, but it’s not the worst book I’ve ever read. I think the hardest part right now is that, unlike when reading for pleasure, I can’t just give up on it and toss it aside.

Of course, the awesome thing about a book review is that it’s not too difficult to write. Basically, it will include an outline of the subject and a summary of how the book is organised followed by my comments on the content including any thoughts on the usefulness (or lack of usefulness) the book has.

So, in between now and next Friday, I need to read 181 pages (including the introduction and conclusion, but not the unfeasibly long bibliography) then write a 1,000 word (+/- 10%) review. And it needs to be double spaced using APA referencing. And it needs to be submitted in both hardcopy and electronic forms.

And I get to do it all for a grade. I think that’s the part I’m worried about. I mean, can my ego take the hit if I get a less-than-awesome grade? Can my emotions handle it if I find out that I’m not as clever as I think I am? It’s a lot of pressure you know, especially for someone who spent the first many years of her life thinking she was stupid.

The hardest part, as regular readers will know, is going to be keeping within the word limit. After all, I tend to go on and on and on and on and …

And I promise not to bore you with details and musings about all of my assignments. (Some, yes. All, no.)

Job done!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!!

I’ve been ID’d

Yippy! I picked up my student ID card today and am officially able to get student discounts now. Yay!! Though, funnily, the only student discount I’ve gotten so far was for my bus fare on the way to campus. I stepped aboard and asked if it was the bus to campus and was kindly told it was and asked if I had my student ID—to which I said no, as I was on my way to pick it up. But the nice man gave me the 50p discount anyhow. (So trusting!) And I thought it was pretty cool that he thought I looked like I could be a student.

So that’s the other cool thing about today: At 37 years old, I am finally holding a student ID card proclaiming me as a postgraduate student. Yay!

I’m back on campus on Monday to meet with my programme director and to register for my course modules. Then I’m back on Tuesday for a couple of orientation meetings. Then I think I’ll start attending classes later in the week. But I don’t know when…

Oh, and if you’re looking at the photo thinking ‘Wow! What an awesome student ID photo!’, you should know it’s been edited for my own amusement, because that’s how I roll!

Running into excuses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At the beach: A holiday recap

I suppose it’s time for a holiday recap, since my Washington Coast holiday is over. So, here goes!

Day 1: I arrived at Copalis Beach, Washington, where I was attending a fun-filled family reunion, with more than enough time to eat food and visit with loads of awesome Eberles. Because I was playing in the family golf tournament the next morning, I stayed sober and went to bed early. Because I was staying in my sister Jessica’s tent and everyone else was staying up late drinking, I didn’t actually sleep. But I suppose that’s OK because everyone was having fun.

Day 2: Up bright and early, I loaded up my niece Cassandra (13) who decided to golf with us at the last minute, then stopped off to pick up Celeste’s kids, Flik (14) and Haden (12) who had also signed up to golf. Once we got to the course, I learned that Cassandra had only played miniature golf. I also learned that Haden and Cassandra would be on my team with Cousin Jack. Yeah, by the 9th hole it was just me and Jack. Haden called his mom for a lift and Cassandra went and read a book. It was also at the 9th hole that my completely rubbish game turned to just a half-way rubbish game. [Flik’s team, for the record, won the tourney. And Flik won the ladies’ long drive competition. Yay Flik!]

After golf it was off to the Ocean Shores senior centre for a BBQ potluck with 100+ cousins. At some point, Daddy and I went out to map out a 10-mile run for me to do in the morning. Of course, after not getting a good night’s sleep the night before, I opted to crash on the couch at the cabin my folks and sister, Celeste, had rented instead of back at the camp site with Jessica and the cousins. It was another early night, but what a great night’s sleep it was!

Day 3: Yes folks, it’s 10-Mile Run day! Daddy got up early with me to take me up to the start line for my run. The weather was nice and cool and there was a nice foggy mist for the first nine miles, which made for a cool and enjoyable run. Even better was that Dad showed up on his trike around mile 3.5 with a bottle of water then paced me until mile six when he rode back to meet me at the finish with his car. I had originally hoped for a two-hour finish, but was very pleased to have finished in 1:46:44—about a 10.36 minute mile, which is great for a training run!

After my run (and shower) it was back to the senior centre for more BBQ and potluck followed by a photo scavenger hunt that my team won. I’ll spare you some of the carry-on that ensued to make that happen, but I will share with you the names of Team Awesome: Me; my awesome baby sister, Royann; my awesome niece, Flik; and my awesome cousins, Carson and Dylan. Oh yeah, we had a blast! (And did I mention that our team won? Well, we did!)

And after that fun, it was back to the main camp ground for a dinner BBQ and potluck with more visiting with cousins. Only this time, I was drinking. And one of the cousins was making martinis, so you know I was happy! (Thank you, Flik, for your idea that we sleep in the car that night instead of in the cold tent. I was far too drink-filled to crawl into a tent anyhow!)

Day 4: Yeah, one too many drinks the night before, so I was a bit slow for day 4. Still, I managed to make it through. Most folks were heading home, but my folks and Celeste had their cabin for one more night, so Uncle Mike (who’d ridden over with me) and I decided to stay one more night, too, pitching our tents in a site just down from the cabin. Oh, and my baby sister’s kids (Adrian, 12, and Brendan, 7) were left off with my folks, too.

Once camp was set, we walked to the beach to fly kites. Only, Uncle Mike had these massive, fancy kites with loads of lines to operate and I just wanted a little pretty thing on the end of a single string. Thankfully, Brendan let me use the kite he was flying, so that made me happy. And after kite flying ended, it was back to the folks’ cabin for pizza before heading to the tents for some much-needed sleep.

Day 5: It’s leaving day, which means packing up the rigs. Only all of the sudden I had two more passengers (Adrian and Brendan) who needed a ride home to their mom. And that meant figuring out how to get all of mine and Uncle Mike’s gear back, since the back seat was no longer an option. Luckily, the kids’ legs were short enough to use some of their floor board space, and the folks had a bit of space in their rig, too. (My golf clubs appreciated the lift!)

Once on the road, the kids and Uncle Mike napped whilst I drove. Then it was a quick(ish) stop at the Old Spaghetti Factory in Tacoma before giving the boys back to their mom. Then it was on to Cle Elum to where Uncle Mike loaded his stuff into his rig and drove off whilst I warmed up LittleGreen. After all, I knew that you really wanted to know about my holidays. (Yay!)

[I’ll post loads of photos later. In the mean time, here’s what you’re looking at for this story:
Day 1: Camp fire at Echoes of the Sea, Copalis Beach, Washington.
Day 2: My golf team, Team Awesome, with members Cassandra, Jack, Haden, and me. [Photo by my niece, Flik.]
Day 3: Me, at the five-mile mark of my 10-mile run. (It was more fun than my face may let on!) [Photo by my Dad, Roy.]
Day 4: Brendan flying the fun kite.
Day 5: Me, Daddy, Mommy, and Celeste in the face-in-hole cut out at the camp grounds. [Photo by The Jeanne.]

I’ve got spirit, yes I do!

Today I had lunch with a couple of ladies from the state’s foster care office—one was the woman who licenced me and Paul nearly three years ago and the other was the social worker for my now-former foster daughter. Both women are very kind and I’ve enjoyed knowing them through this entire process so despite my still recovering from this terrible cold, there was no way I was going to cancel!

Just before our meals arrived, I was handed a small award-trophy-thingy with my name engraved. It seems that I was given the ‘Spirit Award’ at this year’s Foster Parent Appreciation Dinner and I wasn’t in attendance to receive it! Then I was handed a manila envelope that contained a nice card as well as a certificate describing me as an ‘exemplary foster parent’.

Needless to say, I was touched and tears were shed.

Now, not to be all down on myself, but I don’t think that I did anything more than any other foster parent does on a daily basis so receiving such an honour seems unwarranted. And part of me wonders if the sympathy card played a bit in it. I can hear it now: ‘Oh my goodness, this grieving widow just said she’d take this placement that we couldn’t place anywhere else*! We should give her a special award for that!’

But, I have an award. And, other than my varsity letter and a small charm for being the badminton champion at school, this is my first ever award. Yay me!! (Now I need to build a trophy shelf…)

* Placement problems were not to do with my foster daughter, but rather a desperate shortage of licenced foster care homes in the region. Which is sad because fostering is such a rewarding and wonderful thing!

The homeland half

Today was the Inaugural Homeland Memorial Weekend Half Marathon and I came in first place! No, really, I did!

OK, in fairness I was the event’s creator and the only [real] participant. But still, I ran (and walked) 13.1 miles today. Which is probably more than you ran today so please don’t judge me for bragging. And not only that, but I did it with a 6 a.m. start time. (Crazy lady!)

The course was pretty simple and was measured (and marked) by my dad, and we drove it last night so that I could see where each mile point was. It started from my sister’s house, went east out of town to Airport Road then cut to the left onto Masterson Road and left again at Red Bridge. The turn-around was about a mile past The Flying Horseshoe Ranch.

It was a straight out-and-back which meant that all of those blasted hills I had to run up on the first half of the course were hills to run down for the last half! (Which helped!) What helped more was that my dad was waiting at each mile marker to offer water and take photos. Talk about a support team!

And now for the boring mile-by-mile recount:

My 12-year-old nephew was going to do the race with me but I knew before Mile 1 he’d be bailing. Just past Mile 2 we were on a walk-and-water break. And by Mile 3 he joined my dad in his car. By Mile 3.5 Haden was ready to rejoin me.

At Mile 4, my sister, Celeste, had come out for a quick cheer and a photo op. At Mile 5, Haden hopped back in the rig with my dad—having decided he really, really was done. Mile 6 was a chance for a quick water break before I headed the additional .55 miles to the turn around.

At the turn-around (Mile 6.55! Yay!) my jacket came off and I was on the downhill end of the race. Just before Mile 7 my sister showed up again with water and the kids for a final cheering session before heading home to feed everyone breakfast. And just past Mile 8, as I turned back onto Masterson Road, the winds picked up. Cold, hard, miserable winds. And that’s also where my legs started to get mad at me.

By Mile 9 I was starting to wonder what I’d gotten myself into. Not so much with today’s race, but with the thought of my marathon in October. That was also when my mind started to mull over some unspoken words that need spoken to a friend, which started to make me a bit frustrated because I fear they’ll go unsaid forever. Which isn’t exactly motivating!

At Mile 10 I requested my jacket back. The winds were frigid and by this time my legs had given up on me to the point of no running—where for the two miles before I’d been on a walk-run routine. It was frustrating to know that I’d be walking the rest of the race, but I knew that I’d be able to walk fast—it’s just that my legs couldn’t do the running thing anymore. Or so I thought…

By the time I got to Airport Hill (a steep and long-ish hill that I’d run up at the start of the race) I was ready to run down the hill. I continued walking again at the base of the hill and was soon upon Mile 11—Just two miles to go now!! And that 12th mile was hard! I had the cold wind, the sore legs, a nagging question about if I could actually do a marathon, and the thoughts of unspoken words to keep me down.

But then, just before rounding the corner for Mile 12—The Final Mile—I saw my nephew riding his bike toward me. He decided to come out to cheer me on for a bit. It made my heart sing, and my smile came back to my face. At that point, dad headed back to the house and I started to feel a bit more confident—albeit with sore, un-running legs!

And, finally, about two blocks before the finish line, I managed to run again. The heavy winds were complicating that, but the final 100 yards or so was down an alley way where the wind was blocked—and at the finish line were my parents, my sister, my nephew and niece, and my foster daughter. They even had a ribbon for me to run through and a ‘1st Place’ ribbon for my efforts!

I’m tired now. Really, really tired. But I’m well-pleased with my efforts; especially since I didn’t actually train for this. (Oops!)

The Loch Ness Marathon is in just 18 weeks and I’m pretty sure my running partner for that race won’t bail on me (though she’s allowed to run on her own since she’ll be faster than me!). I don’t expect to run it all, but I do expect to finish. I guess I’d best get training!

[Photo credits to my dad, Roy Cook.]

Music lessons; take two

Back in April I took Paul’s record collection and a turntable to my niece, Flik. This was a much loved gift and she’s since purchased a few new (old) records to add to the collection. Unfortunately, this left her 12-year-old brother, Haden, feeling a bit left out.

But that changed today when I showed up with a dual-cassette ‘boom box’ and a bag of Uncle Paul and my old cassette tapes. I know it’s hard to believe, but the kid was so, so excited to get a stack of Van Morrison and Bob Dylan tapes. Maybe less excited about some of my tapes—Cyndi Lauper, Sylvia, and Belinda Carlisle.

I had to teach him how to use the cassette player and explain how the process works for finding a specific song and flipping the tape over when one side is done, but that quick lesson was enough to get him ready to play. I also explained the concept of mixed tapes and about the differences between 8-tracks and cassettes. He was further cheered when I told him that you can still find cassettes every-so-often. (He’s a yard sale maniac, so he’ll be finding new music all summer, I’m sure!)

Anyhow, we’re now sitting here watching Pete’s Dragon and I think it’s driving him crazy because what he wants to be doing is playing with his new toy.

Yep. I’m still Aunt Awesome!

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?

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!]

Lost

Last month I decided to write a blog post about the one and only “mixed tape” that was ever made for me. Well, I say mixed tape but it was actually a CD; it was titled “So, I Made You A Mixed Tape” and was a gift from Paul a few months before our wedding.

In addition to the CD, he made a fun cover with photos of the two of us. And as a bonus, inside was a folded-up sheet of A4 paper that included notes on why he chose the songs he did.

But when I went to grab the CD last month it wasn’t there. It didn’t seem to be anywhere, in fact. But I told myself that was OK—I probably placed it somewhere and would run across it when I had a better look later. Surprisingly, I stayed calm at the time. I mean, it was the eve of the anniversary of his death, so I would have expected this inability to find something to have been a melting point. But it wasn’t; it was only mildly upsetting.

Anyhow, for the past two weeks I’ve searched high-and-low. I’ve gone through every drawer in the main bits of the house—two or three times. I’ve searched under the seats, in the trunk, and in the glove box of my car. I’ve called to have my sister do the same with my old car, too. I’ve opened every CD to see if (somehow) the mixed CD and A4 paper got put in the wrong case.

And I can’t find it. And I’m lost at what to do now.

I mean, I transferred the songs to my iPod long ago so I have the music, which is something, but I don’t have that stupid scrap of paper and try as I may I can’t remember what he wrote for all of those songs. And it’s no longer just mildly upsetting.

I really hope that I’ll be able to write an embarrassing update shortly saying that—in a moment of madness—I had actually placed the CD in the freezer or something, but those who know me also know that I almost never lose things (other than my mind). I may lock the keys in the car on (rare) occasion. I may have to dig through piles of clutter to locate something from time-to-time. But I don’t lose things.

I wouldn’t have lent it out. I wouldn’t have thrown it out. I can’t see why I would have put it anywhere other than with the rest of my CDs. So I don’t know. I just don’t know. But it’s really starting to get to me now. And I’m crying over having lost a stupid CD. I fear my [remaining shred of] sanity will be next …

[Note: This post has been updated to reflect the error that my niece so gleefully pointed out to me. Happy now, Flik?]

Something-9

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

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

Here’s how it works:

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

She says: ‘I’m 29!’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Photo credits to Royann.]

Ta-da!

So, this is the new look for Just Frances. What do you think? I really do hope you like it!

I had a handful of friends look at a test site toward the end of April and am really pleased with the feedback I got from them. It was also refreshing to hear everyone comment on the same things (mostly) which made it easy to know if suggestions would work for a large audience!

Over the next few days you may notice small tweaks to the site, but I hope that they will only serve to make it better.

To my reviewers: Thank you so very much for your help! And please don’t take it personally if I didn’t use your suggestions. (Some of which I am actually still working on.)

To my father who travelled all the way out to the Palouse to help me with another project (story to follow tomorrow) and ended up helping to troubleshoot the new look, too: THANK YOU!

To my readers: Please feel free to make suggestions of your own on the sorts of things you’d like to read on Just Frances.

And thank you, everyone, for reading. I know I write a lot of rubbish, but it’s a great form of therapy for me and knowing that people are actually reading really does help!

The flip side

Hey! Guess what! The transfer of Just Frances is complete and I’m now running on a self-hosted platform.

It may not seem like a big deal to you, but there are several reasons why you should care:

  • It means a new subscription system, so if you were once a subscriber you may no longer be one. (Sorry, but you can subscribe now!)
  • No more ads! That’s right, no more of those annoying ads at the bottom of the posts. (Yay!)
  • I have more flexibility to make upgrades and changes to the site, which means if there’s some great thing you’d like to see on Just Frances, I may be able to implement it now!
  • It saves my $14.95 a year because I don’t have to pay to have the WordPress.com site mapped to JustFrances.com.
  • The change makes me feel happy, and as a loyal reader you should want me to be happy. (I hope!)

Sadly, the change also means that I lost all of my ratings data so the little stars at the top of each story are all empty—even the ones that had previous 5-star “100% Awesome” ratings. But that’s OK because my 100% awesome readers will soon bump my ego, I’m sure!!

Oh, it also means that I will be rolling out a new look for the site soon. And that’s pretty awesome, don’t you think? And here’s a little sneak-preview as a reward for reading to the end of the post!

Crap from a loser

When I was 20 I met my first boyfriend. I thought he was amazing! He told me how to dress and reminded me regularly that I was getting fat and that I wasn’t all that smart. He was friends with my brothers-in-law, my sisters seemed to like him, as did my friends. Well, the friends I was allowed to keep. He was so wise to make me stop spending time with some of them. I mean, forget that I knew them for, like, ever!

Eventually, he left me for another woman, whom he married then divorced when he left for yet another woman. This shouldn’t be too shocking since he was a divorced man who’d cheated on his wife long before I’d ever met him.

But when he left, I was crushed. After all, he’d convinced me that—without him—I was nothing. I was fat, ugly, and stupid. And since he cleaned out the bank account (and the cash I had stashed in my jewellery box) when he left, I was also broke.

But I needed him. He was my soul mate. I was in love. (Blah, blah, blah. Barf.)

A couple of days after he left, the friends he said I couldn’t talk to came to my rescue and told me I was better off without him. (Liars! I thought at the time.) But they stayed with me (and are still with me) and I was so happy that they came back after Loser Boy had made me walk away from them.

By then, my self esteem was shot. At 125 (or less) pounds, I was convinced I was fat. I knew that I was the least attractive Cook Girl because he said so. And it wasn’t a secret that I wasn’t very smart. He had been doing me a great honour by staying with me and taking me out in public!

Thankfully, my self esteem returned over time. And when it did, I realised that all of the crap gifts he’d given me that I was saving for when he came back were rubbish! I mean gold jewellery? I didn’t like gold any more then than I do now! (But he preferred it, so that’s what I got.) And amethysts? Yes I know it’s my birth stone but I don’t like it. And sappy poetry cards signed simply: Love Loser Boy? Way to be original and think of your own prose!

So I boxed up all the crap and tossed it into the back of the closet at my folks’ house and forgot about it for more than a decade.

But then the other day I remembered the jewellery! Hey! I can sell that to help with my move to Scotland. I know it’s ugly and all, but gold can be sold for scrap. As can amethysts.

And can I just say how fun it was to throw the rest of the [now torn] crap into an old coffee can? Concert tickets, photos, cards, key chains—all of it! Oh, and since I was taking it out to the trash just then, I also emptied my old coffee grounds on top for good measure—a fate that Yuban didn’t deserve.

And for the record, when my self esteem completely returned a few years later I realised that—despite what Loser Boy told me—I was never fat, stupid, or ugly. And so to prove it, I went to university. (Really, that’s what prompted me to start school at nearly 25 years of age!)

And that act of spite meant that I met my second boyfriend, whom I would later marry. And that boyfriend? Well, he knew just how fit, intelligent, and beautiful I was/am. AND, he knew that I like silver-toned jewellery and also chose the best pieces, which will never be thrown in a box at the back of the closet!

Laughter from above

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On beating children

I beat two children today. I didn’t plan to do it. I mean, I expected to beat one, but the other just happened. I also beat two adults. Sadly, I was beaten by a child, too.

Now, my guess is that you understand the joke. If the photo didn’t give it away, however, I’ll be a little clearer.

Today was the 3rd Annual Finaghty’s St. Patty’s 5K in Snoqualmie, Washington, and I participated with my two 11-year-old nephews, Adrian and Haden, my 11-year-old foster daughter, my sister, Celeste, and her friend David. My 13-year-old niece was going to join us but she was home sick. Oh, and my awesome parents came to show their support. As in: Daddy took photos whilst Mommy held handbags and jackets for the runners.

This was my foster daughter’s first-ever race so she held back with Celeste and David walking much of the course. The only runners in the group were me and the boys. And I was pretty confident that Haden would be in first, followed by Adrian, then me.

But I passed Adrian at the first mile marker and he wasn’t able to catch back up. (Please remember this was only his second race, and it was very hilly. This was probably the first and only time I’ll be beating him!)

Now, we’re all beat tired. But not so beat that we’re not already talking about our next race, the Bloomsday 12K in Spokane, Washington. In fact, we’re even talking about getting loads of folks to join us for a Team Buggie mojo-rally! (Stay tuned for confirmation and/or details of said rally.)

Mmm… a nice cold beer sounds good right about now.

Oh! You want times, too! So here goes:

Haden: 30:02
Just Frances: 32:16
Adrian: 36:15
My lovely foster daughter: 49:28
David: 49:34
Celeste: 49:44

Check out more race photos at Run Frances, Run!

Future plans and dreams of the past

I spent an hour or so transferring my old floppy disks onto my external hard drive today and was very pleased with myself for managing to only open six of the files: Three photos, two obituaries, and one assignment from my Sociology 101 course.

Whilst I probably won’t share most of my coursework here when I finally scour through the rest of the files, I felt that this one needed to be shared now.

The assignment was for a dyadic interview of myself—basically, I needed to write down my future plans and dreams. So, here’s where I was with myself way back in 1999! [My comments on these thoughts 12 years later are in brackets.]

Future Plans and Dreams

Desires
I desire to find true joy and happiness; to find a place within my soul and my mind where I can be free from stress and agony—a peace within.
[I found that peace about two years later when I moved to Scotland. Wow! I had no idea what it was like to feel so at peace!]

Hopes
I hope to see all of my nieces and nephews graduate from college, marry, and have children of their own. I also hope to one day adopt a child of my own, so that I may see them do the same.
[I suppose these hopes are still the same. When I wrote them, I had figured on adopting as a single mom—and whilst for a while my hope was to adopt as a married woman, I’m back to the original plan I guess. Like it or not!]

Fears
My biggest fear is losing my parents. Next is dying young, before I get the chance to fulfil all of my dreams and find that “one true love”.
[Well, I certainly still fear losing my parents—even more now that I already lost my husband! But at least I’ve yet to die young, and even if I do, at least I finally found true love!]

Hang-ups
I tend to put other people ahead of me when I make plans, which often causes disappointment on my part.
[Funny, this still seems to be a big problem for me. In fact, putting the needs (wants?) of others before mine used to get Paul so angry with me. He was convinced that people were just taking advantage of my willingness to help.]

What will make me happy
I am already happy with my life. I love the person I have become over the years, and I feel very good about myself. To maintain this happiness is as easy as listening to my heart. If my heart feels good about something, I do it. I’ve yet to be disappointed or unhappy with my life by following that rule.
[I think that being happy with my life, combined with being at peace with myself once I got to Scotland, is what made it possible for me to find love. Sadly, I am no longer happy with my life because that love is gone and it brought my world crashing down around me, but I am working on finding that happiness again—and I’m doing it by following my heart back to Scotland.]

Goodness… I wonder what other insights into my life I’ll find when I read through the rest of these files?

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!)

Sharpies and Bics and Uni-Balls—Oh my!

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

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

Easy peasy, lemon squeezy!!

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

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

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

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

Then the panicked insanity began.

The thoughts going through my head were things like:

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

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

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

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!

100 random things

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

100 Random Things about Just Frances

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

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

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

A year of Just Frances

It’s been a year since I started Just Frances. Whilst it’s certainly not my first blog, it is unique in that I’ve actually put my name and face to it!*

In the past year, there have been: 5,897 unique visitors (based on IP addresses; not including bots and the like); 527 search terms used to find these pages; 806 approved comments; 1,092 comments caught by my awesome spam blocker; and a whopping 315 stories posted.

In the past year, I’ve shared some of my poetry and drawings with you; I’ve shared my happiness; and I’ve shared my sorrows. I’ve uploaded several YouTube videos to speak directly to my awesome readers and I’ve shared photos of my adventures.

This blog has been a tremendous help to me as I grieve for Paul and the future we once dreamt of, and as I contemplate a new future that is now in the works. If you don’t write for public consumption, you may not understand the therapeutic value that blogging brings, but I promise you it is a true therapy for me.

But whilst this blog serves as a form of therapy for me, I also want it to be something of value for my readers. To that, please feel free to participate! You are always welcome to comment on my posts, but you can also ask questions or suggest things you’d like me to write about. Want more video uploads? More photos? More drawings? Please feel free to let me know! I even have a handy-dandy comment form (look for the tab at the top of the page) if you want to contact me privately!

And there you have it. A year of Just Frances.

So thank you, Dear Reader, for your support and encouragement over the past year! Just knowing you’re out there reading the nonsense I’m posting makes me smile and gives me the strength to continue. You’re awesome!

* RyanCentric was the first website I put my name and face to, but it was more website than blog so I’m not counting it for the purpose of the aforesaid statement.

Friendship bracelets

My foster daughter was given a friendship bracelet making kit for Christmas. I remember thinking it was a silly thing to sell as a kit. I mean, all you need is a bit of embroidery floss and a safety pin, right? But she seemed happy about the gift, so I wasn’t about to tell her what a silly thing it was.*

Fast forward to last night, and I found her in her room attempting to use the kit for the first time; and hating it. She decided—on her own—that the kit was worthless. Instead, she decided that she would just braid the floss together. Of course, braiding wouldn’t have the same look as a friendship bracelet from the kit with the fancy ‘weaving wheel’. But she decided that something was better than nothing.

Seeing her disappointment, I quickly rounded up the floss that came with the kit, grabbed a pair of scissors and a safety pin, and sat her down next to me on the couch for a quick lesson in friendship bracelets.

I was very pleased with myself because after not having made a friendship bracelet in 20+ years, I actually remembered how! And I must have been an OK instructor because the kid picked it up immediately and has already made two bracelets since last night. She is practicing with different patterns and types of knots and should have the skill mastered by the end of the weekend. She even managed to take my left-handed instructions and reverse them for using her non-left (wrong?) hand.

Me? I attempted at one this evening and realised two things before giving up: 1) I have too many other projects going at the moment to get wrapped up in a new one and 2) I don’t know if my friends would wear one if I gave them one anyhow. (But after my afghans are done, I think I might make some bracelets for my friends anyhow. I bet they’d smile if I gave them one, even if it never got worn.)

[The top photo is my foster daughter working on her third bracelet. The bottom photo is what I did before giving up for the night in favour of blogging and crocheting.]

* In all fairness, it was a very nice, very kind gift from a community programme that gives gifts to foster children. It’s just that I grew up making bracelets by hand and sort of thought that a kit that does the weaving for you is cheating. But maybe hand-knotting bracelets is one of those traditions that doesn’t get passed from one generation to the next?

Truffles!!

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

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

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

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

And without any further ado, here are the recipes:

Chocolate Truffles

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

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

Peanut Butter Truffles

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

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

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

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

Each batch makes 30-40 truffles.

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

Enjoy!!

Time or distance?

Today I had all intentions of doing 8 miles on the treadmill at the gym. I was free of the kid for a few hours so had the time to take it easy and not worry about how long it took. I figured I’d run a couple miles, walk a couple miles, run a couple miles, and then walk the rest.

Now, it should be noted that in the year and a half since Paul died, the furthest I’ve run is 6.2 miles. And it should also be noted that I’ve not really done any training. My last run (5 miles) was about a month ago. The run before that was about a month earlier still (a 10K race). So, 8 miles was actually a bit of an aggressive target.

When I got to the gym, I noticed that the treadmills had a time limit of 60 minutes. After which, they will go into cool down mode. So I figured I’d do 60 minutes then restart the machine to finish off my 8 miles.

As I got going, I realised this was going to be hard. But I got a good pace going and started to feel confident. Then I heard Paul in the back of my mind telling me to stop being stupid and not push myself too hard. And I knew he was right.

And so, I decided to just do 60 minutes and not worry about distance just yet.

I am still trying to determine what my official training regimen will be, but for now I’ve told myself that I’m going to stick with 60 minutes for the month of December. Over the course of the month, I will try to increase the mileage within that timeframe with the goal of running a 10K (6.2 miles) by the end of the month.

In January, I’ll think about my next step and whether I will go for increased mileage or increased distance. I’m starting my training early enough so I am not concerned that I’m taking it slow. Because Paul is right—I can’t be stupid and push myself too hard when I’m training. That’s what race day is for!

Just 300 days until the Loch Ness Marathon!!

Dear Stress and Worry

Dear Stress and Worry:

I would like to tell you how very unhappy and miserable you make me.

You tell me the world is full of doom and gloom.
You tell me there is no laughter.
You tell me there is no joy.

I would like to tell you that your negative ways hurt my spirit and damage my self-esteem.

So during our next encounter, when I find myself listening to your lies and I am becoming more and more sad, I am going to stand up to you.

I am going to be strong.
I am going to tell you you’re wrong.

And I am going to banish you.

Signed,
Finding Courage

I’m goin’ for it!

I’m a runner. I have been since school when I ran on the cross country team. I enjoy running. Really, I do. But I never wanted to run a marathon. I thought maybe I’d do a half-marathon at some point, but 26.2 miles? I don’t think so.

Shortly after we got married, I convinced Paul to join my gym. I asked him to try it for one month. After the end of week one, I figured he’d drop at the end of the month. But then he found the treadmills. And he started to go to the gym with excitement!

Within a few months, we purchased a really good treadmill and ended the gym memberships. His goal at that time was to run a 5K. And he did it. Then I mentioned the Bloomsday 12K and he shook his head ‘No!’ but within a few weeks, we were registered for that race, too. But he would never run a marathon, he said—not even a half-marathon.

But a year later, he ran his first half-marathon. And all of the sudden, he decided that he would run a marathon before he turned 50. But he couldn’t wait that long, so a year after that first half-marathon, he was meant to run his first marathon. But he died a month before the race at the age of 47.

I remember thinking at the time that I would run the race in his memory. But I was in the throes of grief and there was no way I could walk one mile—let alone run more than 26! A year later, I still wasn’t ready.

But now I am. Or at least, I think I am. Mentally, mind you. Certainly not physically!

Yes, I am planning to run the Loch Ness Marathon on Sunday, October 2, 2011, in Inverness, Scotland. And I’ve got a couple of friends talked into running it with me. And I hope to talk more people into running with me, too.

Now, I say that I’m going to run it but I have to be completely honest with you and myself and say that, medically, I don’t know if I can. I have a hard time maintaining my platelet counts when I’m running 5Ks and 10Ks, I don’t know that my body will like me running a marathon—or even that it will like me training for one.

So, I guess that I’m planning on doing a marathon. Run, walk, crawl… one way or another, I want to complete a marathon before what would have been Paul’s 50th birthday.

Yes folks, I’m insane. Feel free to join me along the route—running or cheering from the sidelines!

Fashion-less

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clay play

As part of my on-going mission to relax and find a bit of silly joy in life, I broke open a box of coloured clay this evening. I didn’t do much with it today, but I’m inspired now and have a great idea for some fun time with my foster daughter this weekend.

I’m sure you’re totally excited to see what we might create so here’s a wee flower to tide you over until I have something more artistic to entertain you with. Yay!

 

“The Earth Laughs in Flowers”
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

Hooked

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

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

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

Wrong!

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

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

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.

On a happier note

To counter last night’s less-than-happy post, here’s something I’m super happy about!

First, the background:
Just as I was starting to remember how fun it was to draw, a friend in Scotland sent a note about participating in an online art course called The Art of Silliness2. So I signed up thinking it would be fun. And it was!

[Side note: The course finished last week, but I must admit I’ve fallen behind in my silliness because of my sadness. I am pleased to say that I am starting to be silly again, however, and will be posting the rest of my course work for you to mock very soon. Yay!]

Anyhow, at some point during the silly course, I noticed an advertisement for The Sketchbook Project and decided that it looked fun, too. So I signed up for the project with the theme of “make mine a double”. But I was a little sad because the tour didn’t include my neck of the woods.

But then, happily, today I got an email from the organizers announcing the addition of more stops on the tour and it includes Seattle! Yay!

So for my lovely friends and family in the lovely Pacific Northwest, you can head out to the Form/Space Atelier art gallery June 10-12 to check out my awesome sketchbook (and the awesome sketchbooks of many others who are likely more talented than I am!).

For my amazing friends who live elsewhere, you can check out the tour map to see if the show will be coming to you, too! And more dates and locations will be added, so keep checking!

Yay! I’m going to be part of a traveling art exhibition! This makes me super-duper happy!

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.

Curly

Curl ˈkər(-ə)l (verb) [Middle English crullen, curlen, from crulle, curly, perhaps of Middle Low German origin.]
transitive verb: 1: to form (as the hair) into coils or ringlets 2: to form into a curved shape : twist <curled his lip in a sneer> 3: to furnish with curls
intransitive verb: 1a : to grow in coils or spirals b : to form ripples or crinkles <bacon curling in a pan> 2: to move or progress in curves or spirals : wind <the path curled along the mountainside> 3: twist, contort 4: to play the game of curling

So, I’ve had my hair curled. And how awesome is it that the intransitive verb mentions one of my favourite foods (bacon) and the sport of my favourite (non-native) country (Scotland)?! Yay!

Thanks, Lynn, for making my hair look so pretty!

(Oh, and a shot with pigtails, too. Because I love to wear my hair in bunches these days!)

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…]

That’s me home [?]

Well, that’s me home again to the great US of A. But you know what? I don’t feel that I’ve come home. I feel like I’ve come back to where I live; to where I’m from.

My trip to the UK was a sad occasion. My brother-in-law, Michael, passed away so I booked a flight as soon as I could. But despite the sadness of my trip, I felt so good to be back there—back home. I really can’t explain why I feel at home here but I do. I am really looking forward to the day when I’m back living in Scotland and I can just pop down to visit my family in England at the weekend.

I’m always so torn on where my home really is. My heart is really truly in Edinburgh (Scotland) and I feel so at peace there; so at home there. It’s a feeling that I don’t know I’ve ever really felt in my home town—the place I was raised; the place my family lives. I feel as if I’m supposed to love my home town and that I’m supposed to dream of it with rose tinted glasses, but I don’t. Life was certainly good enough for me growing up there, but I never really fit in; never really belonged. (I don’t know that many people would argue with that comment.)

I know that if I return to the UK I will miss so much about America, including my family. But I also know that I didn’t miss America as much when I lived in Scotland as I miss Scotland now that I’m living back in the states. When Paul was alive, I missed Scotland but because we were missing it together—and planning to return together—it made it more bearable. Now I’m not only missing the culture and lifestyle that I so loved in Edinburgh, but I’m missing the dream of returning there with my husband.

If I were able to just pick up and move, I would. But I don’t qualify for settlement in the UK as a widow of a British citizen, which means I can’t go where I most want to go. It’s so very difficult to realize you can’t have what you want. And with an ego the size of mine, not getting what I want is even more difficult.

Anyhow, I’m still working on my applications for graduate school and hoping that I’ll get accepted and be able to afford to study in the UK. I hope that being back there long-term will help me to feel at peace with the world again—with myself again—as I did when living in Edinburgh. I hope that I will feel like I belong somewhere again because I really hate feeling like an outsider; feeling like I don’t belong.

Blah, blah, blah. Guess I’m just feeling a bit sad and missing my adopted home today. I promise to cheer up in time for my next post. Even if I have to fake it!

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

Just a quick trip

So there I was in line at the British Airways counter at SeaTac. With me were three of my five sisters and their kids and a wanna-be sister (that’s you, J.D.) and her kids. (For those counting, that’s 13 people.) I was the only one of the group with experience traveling overseas, so I was the spokeswoman for us. Or maybe that was because I’m bossy and controlling. Either way, I was the leader.

I start handing passports over to the nice woman behind the counter and all of the sudden I realize that mine is dog-eared. Now, this panicked me. I was very upset about having a not-pretty passport so asked her to begin processing the information for the other 12 people in my travel party whilst I popped over to the instant passport printing machine. I took all of three minutes to get my new passport and it was fab! I even managed to include my signature green on the information page. It was an extra $10 for the customized look, but well worth it!

Once back at the counter, we finished the check-in process and made our way through the security lines. In front of us was David Tennant. We struck up a conversation and he was pleased to learn that he was speaking to Just Frances of Internet fame. So pleased, in fact, that he asked for some pens. Left-handed ones to boot!

Before I knew it we were on a plane bound for Heathrow. It must have been the shortest flight in the world because within moments we’d landed and were heading through immigration before heading to the train station. I’d really wanted to fly up north, but the romantic notion of train travel carried by my travel companions meant that I was out-voted. So instead, we took a long and boring train journey to Scotland; my companions pointing out every old building and spray-paint-dotted sheep along the route. (I think I was smiling secretly as I recalled my first train journey in the UK.)

Finally, we arrived at Waverly Station in Edinburgh and made our way to my friend’s amazing country house – which was only about a two-minute walk from the station.

As the rest of the group got settled into their rooms for the night, I sat there visiting with my friend who was preparing to make me a cuppa tea. We were having a great little chat when all of the sudden the kettle started whistling.

At the same time, my alarm clock started to go off. Yep, it was time to re-enter reality and go to work. Oh well. Maybe I can return to my lovely conversation tonight. After all, it’s not fair that everyone else’s holiday was cut short when I awoke from my dream.

Sharing is nice

Image from: http://www.instantshift.com/2008/12/10/20-free-social-media-icon-sets-for-bloggers/When I started Just Frances I did so thinking that I’d just throw things out there randomly and that no one would read it. It wasn’t meant to be anything more than an outlet for thoughts – an outlet I felt I really needed because there wasn’t anyone sitting next to me on the couch every evening to share things with.

Soon, family and friends began reading and within a month my readership doubled. The following month, it grew a bit more. And eventually, ‘perfect strangers’ were reading. So I added a contact form and a way for readers to subscribe to new stories. And the blog kept growing.

Now, in the grand scheme of things, my readership isn’t that big – yet. But I’m now hearing from folks on a regular basis telling me how much they enjoy Just Frances. And I’m often asked if I’ve thought about doing this, that, or the next thing to make the blog more interactive for viewers.

I was asked to implement a rating system. So I did. It was suggested that little video clips of me talking to my readers would be fun. So the YouTube channel I created for Schrodie’s fans is now sharing space with my silly videos.

And I was asked to include ways to share posts via Facebook, Twitter, Digg, email, and more! But I was unable to do so until this week when WordPress finally rolled out sharing functions on their blog platform. (Thanks, WordPress!)

Well, dear readers, your sharing tools are now here, so share, share, share!

Now, selfishly, I should add that whilst I began this little blog as a way of sharing random thoughts with no expectation other than personal release, I’ve found that I enjoy knowing that others are reading. I’ve found that it really is great to know that there are people out there who have found enjoyment in my writings. Which, of course, just inflates my ego that little bit more.

OK! What does this mean to you? Well, it means that it’s now easier to share Just Frances with your friends. And it means that I listen to you – I really, really do listen to you! So feel free to get in touch and let me know what you would like to see or read more about. Let me know what other changes you’d like to see to the site. And feel free to let me know what you don’t like. I may not take all of your suggestions, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want them!

Oh, and feel free to subscribe for email updates, too. Then you know you’ll never miss another amazingly-awesome installment from Just Frances!

Thanks for reading! ::kiss kiss::

Remember yesterday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hot, young, fit coeds

I had to smile today when I left the office and noticed several dozen extremely fit, extremely beautiful, young (legally so), skimpily-clad coeds milling around the campus mall. I noticed that they were all young women – not a boy in sight – which struck me as odd until I realized that they were there for an orientation of the WSU Greek System. Yes folks, I’d walked into a mass of future sorority girls. And I couldn’t help but smile from ear-to-ear as I made my way through the crowds toward the parking garage.

No, I’ve not discovered some once-hidden desire to experiment with my sexual identity. It’s just that once we moved to the Palouse, I learned how to be a good wife; which means I can now spot a ‘hot chick’ at a hundred paces. Only now, I can’t point her out to my husband. (Who loved it when I would direct his attention to a hot coed.)

When we first moved to the Palouse, it was because I was offered a great job at the university that would allow me to work toward my master’s on a part-time basis. It was all very short notice so we ended up getting a small apartment near campus. In fact, it was near the student recreation center where the most in-shape of all the fit students could be found milling about throughout the day. And they wore next to nothing. I mean, I wear more to the beach than most of today’s students wear to class!

Anyhow, in addition to the move bringing new scenery, it also prompted us to finally get Paul a drivers’ license because – unlike Seattle or Edinburgh – there was no public transportation and walking wasn’t an option in such a sprawled-out community. So all of the sudden you’ve got this new driver who is unaccustomed to seeing so much flesh (because let’s face it, the weather in Scotland wasn’t conducive to such non-wardrobes) driving past a bunch of hot chicks on a daily basis. It could get scary when he’d turn to look. And I don’t blame him – I found myself looking, too. (My looking was out of shock and jealously.)

Eventually, I just did the driving around campus. And he took in the views. And over time, I grew accustomed to pointing out ladies who were wearing next-to-nothing. (Really? Can you call them ladies the way they’re dressed?)

And so, when I left the office today and was greeted by swarms and swarms of future sorority girls, I couldn’t help but think of Paul. And of how much he would have loved the sight. It just made me smile.

So when you see some incredible gorgeous, hot, young (but legally so), fit chick, think of Paul. And if your wife gets mad at you for looking, just tell her you are looking in honor of your friend. After all, he would do the same for you!

NOTE: The photo isn’t a fair representation, I know. But I didn’t have a photo of any of the hot chicks and don’t like to use photos that I don’t have permission to use. So, just pretend that I’m almost as hot as the hot coeds. (And if you don’t think I am, be nice and don’t tell me. Let me live in my fantasy world.)

Correct-handed

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

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

Wasn’t that fun? But, moving on…

Some interesting things to ponder:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Running commentary

When I run I think. Even when I’m listening to my iPod, my mind is racing through one thought after another. It jumps from here to there with silly randomness. I can’t control it; I’ve tried. But I suppose that it does tell a lot about the sorts of things that weigh on my mind, because often the things that I think about when I’m running are not the things I would think about if I were told to sit down and think.

I don’t want to scare anyone away. And worse, I don’t want anyone to think I’ve finally cracked and it’s time for a padded cell. But I’m going to share some of the random thoughts that pop into my head when I’m running.

  • OK Frances! You’ve got four miles to run today and you’re going to do it! Let’s go!
  • Hey, the rec center is pretty nice when it’s empty!
  • I should have done this yesterday when I was out. Then I could have just vegged out on the couch today.
  • I have to remember to re-wash the towels when I get home. Stupid rain storm! I guess it’s my fault for not bringing them in off the line last night. But still. Stupid rain storm!
  • I wonder if that old lady who called my number by mistake yesterday ever got a hold of her friend.
  • Why do I get so many wrong number calls? Oh, I hate that!
  • I was really dismissive of my friend when he suggested a time for a phone chat over the weekend. I hope I didn’t hurt his feelings. I guess I wasn’t mean, I just declined the invitation. So, whatever.
  • Actually, I have been pretty mean to him lately. He must be a masochist or he would have written me off by now.
  • He must know I don’t mean to be mean. But that’s still not fair. I just need to stop taking my frustration out on the innocent!
  • I really do have nice friends.
  • I’m actually pretty lucky to have made a couple of new friends this last year. I must stop referring to them as Paul’s friends one of these days because they’re my friends now, too.
  • Blogs are great! I’m enjoying getting to know one of my new friends by reading her blog. It makes me feel like I’ve known her my entire life. I wish I did. I bet life would have been a lot funner with a friend like her growing up.
  • Oh! Must email her sister about my holiday plans for this fall. It will be fun to meet her for the first time. If she’s anything like her little sis, it will be a blast.
  • I need to make sure I’ve blocked my work calendar. I suppose I’ll have to check my email a bit when I’m in Canada, but that’s OK.
  • Wow! It’s almost October. I need to formally RSVP to Lindsay about her wedding. I hope I can manage more than a long-weekend. A two nights’ stay in Scotland isn’t exactly what I’d call a holiday.
  • I wonder if I can wear the dress that I wore to last year’s Old Hacks’ dinner to her wedding. I mean, it’s a different set of people and I don’t think that any of Paul’s old university friends will be there… I really don’t want to have to go dress shopping…
  • I wonder if I can find someone to go to the wedding with me. I’m not looking forward to going to a wedding by myself right now. Especially one that Paul should be at. He was really looking forward to her wedding.
  • Ugg! Has it only been two miles?! I am so out of shape. This is hard. I wonder if I can just call it a day…
  • Yum. That banana bread I had this morning was really good. I should make more. No, I should make pumpkin bread. And I should really remember to tie my hair back because I found one of my hairs in the last loaf. Yuck. Oh well, at least it was my own hair…
  • I wonder what I’d be doing today if Paul hadn’t died?
  • I guess we’d have finalized the adoption by now, so we’d have gone to Sunday Mass with the kids.
  • Yum! Then we would have made a big Sunday roast. Paul really did make the best Yorkshire puddings. I wish I’d let him teach me how to make them. Now I’ll never know.
  • I wonder what the kids would have thought about having a ‘funny foreigner’ for a daddy. I wonder if we’d have been good parents…
  • I wonder if I’ll ever get to be a mom now…
  • Oh! I like this song, I’m going to turn it up.
  • Stop it! Don’t sing along!
  • Wow! I’ve almost gone four miles already. I feel great! Maybe I’ll run five miles instead…
  • No, maybe not Frances. Four and a quarter miles is a long enough run. Start your cool down before you drop!
  • Maybe I’ll start a new draft of my application letter this afternoon.
  • I have to email Anna to figure out when to meet. It’s going to be so nice to catch up with her. It’s going to be so nice to have her help with my letter!!
  • I wonder when I’ll hear if I’ve gotten accepted…
  • I wonder which school I’d rather go to…
  • Ah, who cares! You’ll go to whichever one accepts you and you’ll be grateful for it!
  • I wonder if… NO! Don’t start wondering about what will happen if you don’t get accepted. Be positive.
  • I am beat! Can I stop now?
  • Oh, go on! You’re only a quarter mile from five. Keep going…
  • Must remember to buy onions and goat cheese so that I can make that risotto recipe.
  • And cat food. Don’t forget the cat food!
  • Way-hey!! That’s five miles! My furthest distance in more than a year. Who cares if I walked that last three-quarter mile? I’m counting it!

Yeah. That’s the highlights. The conversation in my head continued into the locker room, through the grocery store, and on the 25-mile drive home. If only there was a way to harness the energy created by useless thoughts…

And the winner is…

WooHoo! Thank you to everyone who entered* for a chance to win FREE COFFEE! For that matter, thank you to all of my readers. Your support of my ego-driven ramblings means more to me than you may know!

And congratulations to Mark, who has won a $25 gift card to Starbucks!

Here’s a ridiculously silly little video of me doing the drawing. Feel free to laugh at me. I did when I saw it. (Funny, in my mind I look and sound very different. I think there must be something wrong with my webcam…)

Well, I suppose I should answer my own questions now, so here goes: 

1) What’s your coffee order and why?
Tall drip – preferably French roast but any darker, full-bodied roast will do. Strong; no milk; no sugar. Why? There was a time when I drank lattes, but I think I did it out of social necessity – after all, my friends drank lattes so I should, too. I’d order a double tall, non-fat latte but then I wouldn’t drink the whole thing because it was too milky. I was essentially throwing my money away. It just made sense to switch to drip since I knew I’d actually drink it that way. 

2) What’s the funniest thing you’ve ever witnessed when at the coffee shop?
It was at a Costa Coffee when I was living in Scotland and everyone in the shop was snickering when we saw it. Two elderly ladies were walking toward the counter; a bit slowly, but it was obviously their turn to order next. This young man dressed in his best chavy Burberry get-up pushed past them and mumbled his order in a way that only a chav can do. The ladies were extremely unhappy to have been cut off so one whacked him on his shoulder with her handbag a couple of times whilst the other berated him for his poor behavior, wagging her finger the whole time. The kid looked shocked and embarrassed and swiftly left the shop. It was great! 

3) What’s your favorite ‘random acts of kindness’ story?
Years ago when I was first diagnosed with an auto-immune disease that meant a low platelet count, I was told that I could still donate blood if my platelet counts were in the ‘normal’ range for at least three months. So when the condition went into remission I excitedly went to the local blood drive – dragging a friend with me, even though she wasn’t going to donate as she was not too keen on needles. When I was told by the Red Cross nurse that, actually, I would never be able to donate blood again because I’m a ‘bleeder’, I was visibly upset. I think I may have even cried.

My friend, the one who was extremely dramatic about her dislike of needles, instantly said “I’ll give blood since you can’t.” She knew that taking over my dedication to blood donation was the best way to console me. It was an act of impulse, but also of kindness. And each time there was a blood drawing in town, she was there giving blood in my stead. And when she was asked if she was interested in being placed on the national bone marrow registry, she said yes without batting an eye. And, eventually, she became a living organ donor. Whilst the last part wasn’t so random, the blood donor part certainly was!

Thanks again for coming out to play! Have an awesome day!

* For reasons not-yet discovered, the back-end system used for Just Frances deleted rather than approved all comments made by first-time posters (on all stories) over a period of about 48 hours, though I did get the email notifications. This means that if you commented, I got it – I will work to manually enter them over the weekend so that everyone can see them. And I’ve emailed all of those people to let them know I know they’ve commented. The system is now up-and-running so any new comments WILL appear on the board. Technology, for all of it’s amazing awesomeness, sucks some times!

Ugly thoughts

Many years ago, a friend came to visit me. She exclaimed excitedly that she’d been walking by a vintage clothing shop in Portland, Oregon, and in the window display she noticed the ugliest handbag she’d ever seen, which made her think of me. So she bought it for me as a gift. (This would not be the last time she made similar purchases for me, with similar statements.)

Now, you may think that I would be insulted by this statement, but over the years I’ve grown to realize that when people say that ugly, gaudy, ostentatious, or tacky accessories make them think of me, they mean it as a compliment, and I take it as one!

This is one of my largest vintage bags, measuring 10.5” across; 6.5” high; and 4.5” deep. (Add another 5” to the height with the handles.) It’s constructed of wicker then has a burlap over-lay on the front with Bakelite flowers attached to it. The handles and the top of the bag are made of a tortoise shell Bakelite with small brass tacks used to fasten it to the wicker underneath.

Anyhow… This bag won today’s bag grab because I was heading to the big-bad-city for a root canal (yay!) and thought I’d do a bit of shopping beforehand. One of the things I was shopping for was golf shoes which meant that I need to bring a pair of socks with me. I know that doesn’t sound like much, but most of my vintage bags are too small to accommodate socks. I also figured I’d take the opportunity to stop off at the little vintage shop “Finders Keepers” whilst in the area.

Sadly, the shoe shopping was a miserable failure (who knew it could be so difficult to find ladies’ golf shoes?) and some serious road construction in downtown Spokane meant I couldn’t get to the vintage shop. But, happily, three people gave me awesome compliments on my awesome bag. Which almost made up for the shopping failures and the root canal.

Free coffee!

I’m holding a contest and you should totally enter to win FREE COFFEE! Yay!

Why a contest*? Because I stopped at Starbucks on my way home this afternoon and experienced an amazing act of kindness and really want to pass on my joy.

Here’s the story:
I decided to stop in at Starbucks for a cup of Refresh tea to break up my journey home. I grabbed my laptop and headed into the shop. I’m standing there waiting to order when an older lady in front of me turned and said “I’m buying your drink today, so go ahead and place your order.” In my shock, I looked behind me thinking she must be talking to a friend. But no, she was talking to me.

She explained that seeing that my pretty floral dress matched my floral laptop sleeve made her smile and she wanted to do something to make me smile in return. I tried to protest but she wouldn’t have it any other way. Figuring my drink was only about a buck-sixty, and that it really would make her happy to buy it for me, I allowed her to do so.

I mean, how wonderfully-kind was that? It was nice enough to just have the compliment of making someone smile, but then to get a free drink out of the deal? 100% awesome!

It got me thinking that the simple act of buying someone a cup of coffee can totally turn a plain day into a sprinkles-added day.

So now you know why, let’s talk about how!

How do you enter?
Answer one or more of these three questions by leaving a comment on this post.
[Comments left on Facebook do not count, sorry.]

1) What’s your coffee order and why?

2) What’s the funniest thing you’ve ever witnessed when at the coffee shop?

3) What’s your favorite ‘random acts of kindness’ story?

When is the contest over?
Entries must be received by 10:00 p.m. Pacific Standard Time on Thursday, August 5th.
[That translates to 6:00 a.m. Greenwich Mean Time on Friday, August 6th, for folks in the UK.]

What do you win?
A $25 or £20 Starbucks gift card.
[NOTE: This assumes the winner is from America, Canada, or the UK. If you don’t live in one of those places but still want to play, we’ll figure out some way to get you free coffee in a currency you can use for roughly $25USD!]

Who can enter?
Anyone! You don’t have to ‘really’ know me. This can be your first-ever visit to my blog. Doesn’t matter. But you can only enter once.

How will the winner be determined?
The names of entrants will be placed in a hat and one will be randomly selected by Schrodie. OK, that last part is a lie. One will be randomly selected by me.

So, get busy answering one or more of the questions for your chance to get some free coffee!

* To give full credit, the inspiration for doing a contest at all came after reading a friend’s blog where she gave away a gift card to celebrate a great accomplishment in her life.

Cold theory

So I’m sitting here drinking a proper beer with my sister and brother-not-in-law, JohnnyO. (JohnnyO is drinking Bud Light, which is almost proper beer, so that’s OK.) A question of if my beer is ‘ice cold’ turns the conversation to the ridiculous ‘cold activation’ sensor-thingy on the side of a can of Coors Light. [I’m shuddering at the thought of drinking said beverage regardless of the temperature.]

Anyhow, being one of those people who must find an answer for anything, even if it’s made up, I had to answer JohnnyO when he asked “What’s up with that?” with complete disdain in his voice.

And here’s my theory:

You know those people who are really dumb and hold Roman Candles in their hands whilst the fiery balls of flaming sulfur fly into the sky? Or the ones who stop at the gas station because their car is a bit noisy then grab the muffler to see if it’s securely attached to the car? Or the woman (or man) who checks to see if the curling iron is hot enough by wrapping their hand around the barrel? You know, the people who end up at the Harborview Burn Center for skin grafts causing them to lose sensation in their hands?

Well, I think that those are the people Coors is marketing to. The people with no feeling in their hands. And who like cheap, crap lagers. And need a way to tell if it’s ice cold.

When I rule the world, I will make certain that my Drinks Tsar makes eliminating Coors and other icky lagers* a priority.

* Icky lagers are to be defined as those un-liked by me as well as the lucky person who gets to be Drinks Tsar.

To train and listen

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yep, time to get ready to run!

I’m [not] stupid

Plinky asked me to describe the worst teacher I’ve ever had. I figured that since two teachers instantly came to mind, it was a big enough deal to actually blog about.

I can never quite decide which of the two gets the ultimate prize for worst teacher, though my folks would probably say it was my 5th grade teacher, Mr. S., which is possible. But there was something inherently cruel about Ms. I., who was my 6th grade homeroom teacher and English teacher throughout my junior high tenure.

First, there’s Mr. S. He was one of those stern teachers – one who seemed to just hate kids. Maybe it was because he was burnt-out on teaching, or maybe he really did hate kids; I don’t know. My parents didn’t care for him as a teacher because he refused to listen to their concerns about my inability to spell extremely basic words correctly, despite the fact that I always did well on my spelling tests.

But I remember the first time I realized he wasn’t a very good teacher. It was during “silent reading” time when we would sit at our desks and read on our own. Whilst my friends read whatever the “Harry Potter” equivalent of the day was, I had my nose buried in a griping historical biography of some description. (I was very interested in the Russian Tsars at the time and I read every book on the Romanov dynasty that our small municipal library had to offer. Yes, at 10-11 years old.)

You would think that this higher-level reading interest would have been appreciated by a teacher, but instead Mr. S. accused me of not really reading. I couldn’t convince him otherwise, and eventually, he revoked my silent reading privileges, leaving me to sit there silently (and bored) whilst my classmates enjoyed 20 minutes of reading time. Jerk.

Then there’s Ms. I.; she was just plain cruel. She called me stupid; she teased me about the way I spoke; she told me I’d never amount to anything. She almost took glee in pointing out my errors. (She had also teased others in my class, and my sisters before me, but she seemed to save her “stupid” comments for me alone.) Over and over again Ms. I. belittled me in front of my classmates – and in private. I think it was the first time in my life when I’d ever really despised an adult.

However, I should give Ms. I. a bit of credit, since it was her cruelty that made me start reading dictionaries and encyclopedias in an effort to be less stupid. Trying to look smarter also helped me to develop memory tricks so that I could absorb knowledge more easily. But she doesn’t deserve that credit because I’m the one who put in the hard work!

I think that between my early speech difficulties and dyslexia (which was diagnosed sometime in junior high) there was a common belief that I was, in fact, stupid. Coupled with the fact that I lived in a rural community and had a family that couldn’t pay for a university education for me, I suppose that it was assumed that I would be a waitress or a housewife after high school. With these preconceived notions, maybe I wasn’t worth the teaching energy required to help me shine.

OK, you could say that my experiences as a young child weren’t based in reality but rather a child’s interpretation of reality, but let’s remember we’re talking about a small town which means that I’ve had several run-ins with both since leaving school. (Most recently Ms. I. a few weeks ago.) So here’s what I know from my grown-up years:

Shortly after I began attending university in my mid-20s, I was chatting with Mr. S. in the coffee shop and told him how mean he was to me. His response was along the lines of “I knew you were smart and I was trying to motivate you.” (What a load of crap!) But he’s always been kind to me since I became an adult, and was very supportive and encouraging when I was working full-time whilst studying for my degree.

I also remember chatting with Ms. I. one day just before I went to study in Scotland for a year. Her comment was along the lines of “You’re the last Cook girl I would ever have thought would make something of herself.” Stupid [censored]. I will always go out of my way to avoid the woman and it worries me that she’s still out there teaching my nieces and nephews. I just hope that she’s a better teacher to them than she ever was to me.

So, there you have it. I was the stupid kid growing up. (Who knew?)

Thankfully, by the time I hit high school I found some amazing teachers who really put in the time and effort to help me learn. If you think this post about bad teachers is long, just wait; I may decide to post about the greatness of some of the greatest educators I’ve ever known one day. That’s a post that would make Homer’s works look like excerpts from the Reader’s Digest!

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Waning affections

My 13-year-old niece thinks I’m pretty cool. In fact, she’s gone as far as to give me the nick name “Aunt Awesome.” She looks up to me; she idolizes me; she wants to be like me when she grows up. It’s pretty cool, really.

But that reverence and affection can change in an instant.

You see, she’s come to my neck of the woods to attend a residential academic summer camp for “highly capable students” at the university where I work. For a week, she will live in a dorm and attend classes taught by the school’s research professors. This is the first time she’s attended an overnight camp without a companion. This is her first time really getting out on her own.

So, we arrive on campus and get the kid checked in. Then I take her to her room and her roommate is already there with her parents. (This is her roommate’s second year, so there’s someone to teach her to ropes.)

I asked if she wanted help unpacking. No.

I asked if she wanted me to stick around for the opening ceremonies. No.

I asked if she wanted me to leave. Yes. (Without a hug, please.)

I went from “Aunt Awesome” to “Aunt Please Don’t Address Me in Public” in less than five minutes. And now I know how my parents must have felt over and over and over again.

I’m sure the brat will love me again once I pick her up on Friday and we are an acceptable distance from her new friends’ view.

Thankfully, her 11-year-old brother, who is staying with me whilst attending a day camp this week, still thinks I’m cool. Of course, that may change when I drop him off at camp tomorrow morning…

What do you feed a hungry ego? Pens!

Blogs are great for the ego. Here on Just Frances I rule the content; it’s all about me and I can say anything I want. (I will always aim for a PG or PG-13/12A rating however.) Those who know me well know that I’m a bit of a megalomaniac. Those who don’t know me well probably assume that I am. In fact, I admit that I am.

As part of that megalomania, I have a not-so-secret fantasy to be a world-renowned social media go-to girl where my blog is quoted in leading media outlets around the world and is one day found on Technorati’s “Top 100 Blogs” list along with Gizmodo and Boing Boing. But that’s a fantasy I don’t see happening any time soon!

But a few weeks ago someone asked what I was doing to build exposure to my blog and I realized that I wasn’t doing anything. I include the URL in my email signature line; I post stories to my Facebook and Twitter accounts; I mention it in passing to family and friends; a few people link to my blog from their blogs. But that’s it. I wasn’t actively “doing” anything to help my cause.

I started to realize that as a communications professional – one who hopes to study the impacts of social media on modern society for her master’s dissertation – I really have no excuse for not working to gain more exposure for my blog. I mean, I have the know-how; I can market the heck out of myself if I’d just let my ego convince my self-esteem that I’m pretty awesome. After all, I am made with 100% pure awesomeness!

And so, I ordered pens! I found a vendor who would do a small batch of pens with my own graphic for a very reasonable price and ordered 100 of the little guys. They were meant to be printed so that the logo was right-side up when the pen was held in the left hand, but (sadly) they arrived printed for right-handers. I’m a bit frustrated by this misprint, but have sent a message to the vendor to see about rectifying the issue. I’m too excited to wait, however, so am announcing their (misprinted) arrival now!*

So here’s the deal: In order for this plan to work, I need to get these pens into the hands of others so that more people visit Just Frances! If any of my faithful readers would like a couple to pass on to their friends or to random strangers, let me know and I’ll get some out to you. Of course, you should keep one for yourself, too. You can use the contact form at the top of the blog or pop me an email if you know my address, but speak soon; supplies are limited!

Help me fulfill my egocentric desire to become a social media maven. You know you want to!

*Depending on what the response from the vendor’s customer service department is, I may delay handing out pens until left-handed ones arrive. Stay tuned for an update! (But feel free to put in your request for pens now!)

UPDATE: The vendor is re-doing the pens with the “left-handed” logo I’d requested, but I get to keep the “right-handed” pens, too. Which means I have twice as many pens, but also means you can request the style you’d prefer!

Whatifs

Whatifs are terrible little things. They hold us back from doing all of the important things in life. They feed on fear and worry and self-doubt. But Whatifs are silly and inconsequential things; they are a manifestation of our insecurities from the dark depths of our imaginations.

I know that. You know that. The whole world knows that. But still, those little Whatifs seem to hold an amazing amount of power over us. I think one of the biggest problems with Whatifs is that they prevent you from accomplishing all of those little tasks that would bring you a step closer to finding out if those Whatifs are real or imaginary.

I have a list of fears a mile long, all starting with Whatifs.

Whatif I apply to school and don’t get in? Whatif I go to school and fail? Whatif I am stuck where I am forever? Whatif I’m all alone for the rest of my life? Whatif I get lost and can’t find my way? Whatif I don’t have any money? Whatif I…

I know I’ll never know until I try. I know that I’ll never succeed if I let the Whatifs get in the way. I know the Whatifs will only multiply if I listen to them. But sometimes, they scream so loud that I can’t ignore them!

Maybe tonight’s bedtime reading should be The Little Engine Who Could

Whatif
by Shel Silverstein
from the book A Light in the Attic (1981)

Last night, while I lay thinking here,
some Whatifs crawled inside my ear
and pranced and partied all night long
and sang their same old Whatif song:
Whatif I’m dumb in school?
Whatif they’ve closed the swimming pool?
Whatif I get beat up?
Whatif there’s poison in my cup?
Whatif I start to cry?
Whatif I get sick and die?
Whatif I flunk that test?
Whatif green hair grows on my chest?
Whatif nobody likes me?
Whatif a bolt of lightning strikes me?
Whatif I don’t grow taller?
Whatif my head starts getting smaller?
Whatif the fish won’t bite?
Whatif the wind tears up my kite?
Whatif they start a war?
Whatif my parents get divorced?
Whatif the bus is late?
Whatif my teeth don’t grow in straight?
Whatif I tear my pants?
Whatif I never learn to dance?
Everything seems well, and then
the nighttime Whatifs strike again!

I ran; I nearly stumbled

Photo credits to my dad, RoyI ran the Runner Stumbles 5K yesterday with my nephew. My cousin and her son joined us, too, which was a fun little treat. I have to say, I thought that my third race without Paul would have been easier, but for some reason I found it emotionally difficult to run this race without him. Maybe because it was my hometown race. Maybe because I was running the shorter course while Paul and I always ran the longer 10K course. Maybe because some days are harder than others without any reason. But I managed to make it.

Just as I thought I was going to start crying because I couldn’t stop thinking about Paul, Dignity by Deacon Blue* came on the iPod. I know that I’m the one who set the play list, so I shouldn’t be surprised it was there, but the gadget was playing all of the songs randomly so I didn’t know when (or if) that song would play. That song gave me the kick I needed though which made a difference to the entire race for me.

My time was slower than I really wanted – but faster than the time my doctor wanted to me run it in. But (shhh…) we won’t tell her.

In addition to the fun of running with the family, the enjoyable part of the race was that I passed two women who were on the high school cross country team with me (they finished about five minutes behind me) and one gal who is in high school now who informed me that she’d be beating me. Yeah, in the end she was about three minutes behind me. So there, you little brat.

This race really did kick my butt. I need to get in gear though because my nephew and I have a 10K race coming up and I can’t let him down!

Check out more of my race photos here!

*Dignity was Paul’s ‘victory song’ when he ran for student office at Edinburgh University.

Designing woman

A while back, I decided that I wanted to purchase a new ring for myself. Something special; something that had a bit of meaning to me. I had a rough idea of what I wanted then started to do some looking around. My rough idea led me down several paths which took me through several changes from what I thought I wanted.

I’ve been sketching and clipping photos from catalogs to patch something together for a while. And now I know exactly what I want. (Well, mostly.)

But the problem is that no one seems to sell the ring I’ve imagined for myself.

Of course, I can’t accept that as an answer. And so now I am taking my design and searching for someone who can make it happen. Which is looking a bit difficult, too, because no one local seems to work with the materials I want – and no one local seems to have all the right skills and tools needed.

Yesterday I allowed myself to consider a temporary ring whilst I continued the search, but I can’t bring myself to do that. And so I’ll keep searching and searching for the solution. After all, I want what I want. And I’m willing to wait for it.

Ultimately, I may need to head into the city to find a jeweler with the skills to make what I want. Or give up on getting what I want. But that will never happen. I’m stubborn. I always get what I want. (Even if I later decide I didn’t want it after all.)

Old and fat

I’ll start this post by saying that I don’t think I’m old or fat. But when I go to a university-operated gym where the average user is 18-22 years old – and fit and healthy – it’s hard to feel young and slender!

This evening after work, I stopped off to get a run in on the treadmill since I’ve neglected to wake up in time to get a run in before work all week. It was soul-destroying!

At 6:30 in the morning, the people I share the gym with are faculty and staff at the school. They’re maybe a couple years younger than me, but most are my age and older. They’re short, tall, skinny, fat. At 6:30 in the morning – those of us that make up the “average” American are using the gym.

At 5:00 in the evening, the people I share the gym with are the students. The young students; the ones who LIVE the gym life and have the fit, healthy bodies to prove it. They are the student athletes, the healthy-eaters, the go-getters.

And in juxtaposition, I am old and fat. Even though on my own, I’m young(ish) and in fairly decent shape.

I think that what got me thinking about this, really, is that when I was done with my 4-mile run and went to clean the machine, a young man said “Here, let me do that for you, Ma’am.” Really? Am I old enough to be a ma’am? And did I look so worn out from my run that this young man didn’t think I had the energy left to wipe down my machine?

Anyhow, in most circles I am not old or fat. But in the athletic facilities of a university in one of the healthiest regions of the nation, I guess I am…

Modern mowing

I’m not a patient person. When I know what I want, I want it now. So, after breaking out the vintage mower yesterday and deciding it was time for an upgrade, I couldn’t think of much more throughout the day. I wanted my new toy. I wanted it today. And I wanted it cheap.

So after work I took a trip to Moscow to pick up my new mower. It was about $10 more than what I’d found online, but once you add shipping costs, it was cheaper. Plus, I got it instantly and didn’t have to stalk the UPS man.

My awesome new Scott’s Classic push reel took about 15 minutes to set up and has several height settings (1-3″). I took her out for a spin once she was done and it was great! She’s lighter and quieter than the old one and because the blades are new she cuts the grass a lot easier.

I’m very excited about my new toy – partly because push reels are so much better for the lawn (and environment) but partly because it’s going to be a great workout for my entire body and I might have my athletic tone back by the end of summer if I keep the lawn trimmed.

Retro mowing

When Paul and I bought our house two years ago, we decided that we wanted to continue our “hippy-granola-freak” lifestyle in our yard care efforts. So, I picked up the old (and I mean old!) lawn mower from my folks’ house the weekend we moved. The next weekend we spent the whole day out in the yard – and met pretty much every neighbor because people kept stopping by to offer use of their gas-powered mowers. Some offered to have their kids come by on the riding mowers, too. It was difficult for people to believe that we really wanted to use the relic mower!

Paul would tell people: “I asked my wife for a multi-gym and this is what I got!”

Last year the old mower never got used. Instead, in the days after Paul died the neighbors all started to care for the lawn. Every week or so, someone would come around on their riding mower and just take care of it for me.

I decided that I really need (and sort of want) to take care of it on my own this year. Between being sick and the bad weather, however, it was difficult to get out and mow. Luckily, someone has come by three times in the past several weeks to mow for me.

The weather was nice today, however, so I took out my trusty mower and mowed a good-sized section of the front yard. And – wow! – it was hard work! I think that I’ll have to mow a little bit each evening to keep up on it – or buy a new mower that’s easier to use.

We’d spoke about purchasing a new push reel mower last spring, and I think that I certainly need to do it this year. So… I think I’m going to check out Tri-State (Idaho’s Most Interesting Store) this weekend and see about buying a new-fangled old fashion mower. It will still be environmentally friendly, but it will be a lot lighter and a lot easier to use.

Here’s a link to the sorts of things I’m looking at. I am, of course, happy to listen to recommendations for which push reel is best!

(And yes, I know I’m crazy. But then, so does everyone else!)

Identity crisis

Since Paul died I’ve really struggled with my identity, which is a bit ironic when I think about the identity struggle I went through as a newlywed. Part of my identity struggle has been my online presence. Paul and I both maintained separate emails (something of an anomaly in my family) and both participated on various online forums without supervision or input from each other. Additionally, I’ve maintained blogs on several subjects for quite several years. If Paul did the same, he never told me. But then, he didn’t necessarily know of all the blogs I maintained.*

The one thing we had together was our website, www.RyanCentric.com. It was his idea, and whilst I did the actual work of creating and maintaining the site, it was very much a joint effort. After he died, I couldn’t bear to look at the site, let alone update it. But eventually, I felt comfortable doing both. But it didn’t really fill my needs, so I started a blog as a sub-domain off of RyanCentric to post random thoughts with the idea of maintaining RyanCentric as what it was meant to be: Stories and photos of my latest-and-greatest adventures. Only, it still feels strange to add stories about ME instead of about US.

Further, I’ve felt a bit schizophrenic maintaining the website, the blog, plus the added photo galleries. Things were become a bit too disjointed and I wanted to be able to share everything with my family and friends in one place. So, in the best geeky way I know, I registered a new domain.

What does all of this mean to you? Well, it means that one link will get you everywhere you want to go in my little world. Well, everywhere that Just Frances goes at least. And that’s the link: www.JustFrances.com. From there, you will find all of my blog postings and links to my photo albums. You will also find a link to RyanCentric, which will remain live but I will (probably) no longer post to it. If I do post to it, rest assured that I will cross-post here.

You may find redirects here and there as I try to make everything fit together, but for the most part the only difference you’ll notice is the URL.

I’m not promising that this will solve my identity crisis – in fact, I seriously doubt it will. But it will make my online world a little easier to manage, and as the majority of my social interaction is online these days, it makes sense to ease the burden!

*Blogs I maintained or contributed to with or without Paul’s knowledge were done so without any malicious intent and did not include questionable material. Just likely not topics he would care about such as my political views or ones related to my passion for (obsession with?) the proper use of the English language.

Retail therapy

I’ve been feeling very sad and lonely the last few days so when my neighbor called to see if I wanted to drive into the city today to cheer me up, I was more than happy for the distraction. What I didn’t realize was that I would actually have a successful shopping day, which was an added cheer for the day! I know that Paul would be very pleased that I bought new clothes – and I even think that he’d have approved of some of it!

My retail therapy actually began yesterday when I purchased a new phone to replace the one I broke whilst on holiday in March. Everyone who knows me likely knows that a cool new gadget is almost guaranteed to bring a smile to my face – which is exactly what my new HTC Tilt2 has done. (Windows Mobile 6.5, if you wondered.)

When we took off for Spokane today, I don’t think that either of us actually planned to buy anything. I think we figured we’d check out a shop or two for plants or garden supplies, maybe grab some lunch, then head home. We got to the Northtown Mall and on our way in noticed a good sale and I was gently prodded to look at the summer dresses – so I did. And I found two that I really liked. And they were on sale. So I bought them.

At the next store, it was my neighbor who had the shopping success having found two great pairs of jeans (one of which was just $5!) and a new necklace. (I found a little over-shirt to wear with my pajamas and a small pair of silver earrings.)

On the way back to the car, we stumbled upon a new store in the mall that sells fantastic business-appropriate clothes and we decided that, as we were pretty much shopped out at that point, that we’d come up some other time to find some nice suits. But I managed to find a pair of denim capris and an amazingly-ugly jacket before we left.

With one more store ahead of us, we stopped in for nachos and margaritas for a re-charge session and to rest up a bit. Then we headed across the road to the golf store where I found a couple of pairs of shoes I like (but I didn’t have the right socks for trying on shoes). I also managed to buy a new pair of golf shorts – they are purple and green plaid and are truly ugly. But I’ve decided that I am going to create a golf look for myself of plaid bottoms and solid-colored tops. I know that I should spend more time working on my swing than looking for ugly clothes, but the swing is never going to improve, so that’s OK.

I really did enjoy the distraction of the day, and while it won’t fix the fact that I’ve come home to an empty house, it did mean that I didn’t sit around the house feeling sad all day. And now that I have all this nice summer clothes, I’m going to have to find excuses to leave the house every-so-often to show them off. I just wish that Paul was here to enjoy the benefit of having a gorgeous, well-dressed, sexy woman on his arm. (Yes, that’s meant to be describing me. I’ve taken a bit of creative license on that one, I know!)

Tulips: Day 1

Tulips are my favorite flowers. I love how they are so simple that they can bring elegance to even the most basic of vessels. I love the way they seem to dance around after they’ve been placed in pretty vase; the way they reach and stretch and grow after they’ve been cut – as if to tell the world that they are strong and they will survive and adapt to their new environment.

For something so simple, they truly are so complex.

I enjoy watching tulips change, and like to sit and stare at them from time-to-time, remembering what they looked like yesterday or even earlier that very day. And I often wonder to myself just how much they grow with each day. It’s such a trivial thing, but I find pleasure in it and I wish that Paul was here to share in that silly little joy.

But since he’s not here, and I still find dancing tulips so much fun that I really want to share it with someone, I’ll use my narcissism-based blog to share it with everyone. (Come on, I know you care or you wouldn’t have made Just Frances your browser’s home page!)

To that, I present to you:

Tulips Day 1
Purchased at Safeway for about $4.00, these 10 stems of reddish-pink and yellow tulips were cut short because they will continue to grow all week long. Each day, I will photograph them and share new measurements. Moments after being placed in the vase and on the mantle, these measured 16″ from the mantle to the tallest bit of flower – in this case, that was one of the leafs.

Check back tomorrow to see how the tulip dance is going!!

First bag

A conversation this afternoon reminded me that it’s time to swap out handbags; something I’ve not done since returning from my holidays so it’s really time I get in gear! Of course, what this really means is that I am going to share more useless information with you. Yay!

My handbag of choice isn’t really a “bag” but it still falls into the clutch category, which falls into the overall handbag category, so I’m counting it. It measures 8.5″ across, 4.25″ high (not including handle), and 2″ deep. When open the “lid” side is a full mirror.

Given to me by my Mom when I was in high school, this is the bag that started it all! I was really into vintage clothing and accessories at the time, but didn’t generally carry a handbag because I never saw the use in them. I don’t recall the circumstance that led to my ownership of the bag, just that it became mine. And as I started to carry it I got all sorts of fantastic compliments on it, and really enjoyed telling people that it had been my Mom’s bag in the 1960s.

Of course, after a while everyone knew the story and my old bag was old news. And then someone else gave me an old bag and the compliments and “back story” telling started again. It wasn’t long until I found an obsession with vintage bags!

But the best thing about vintage bags? Most of them have limited space which means I don’t get stuck carrying useless junk everywhere with me. And because I like to swap them out regularly, I tend not to have weeks’ old receipts and garbage cluttering the precious space.

And because I know you care, here is a list of the contents of my bag on an average day:

  • Lip balm
  • Drivers’ license
  • Debit and credit cards
  • Nail file (in a protective case so that the abrasive material doesn’t scratch anything else in the bag)
  • Handkerchief
  • Ponytail holder
  • Business cards
  • Pen
  • Mobile phone
  • Keys
  • Candy

Aunt Frances

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

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

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

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

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

Happy birthday to my lovely niece, Vg!

Fone fumble

As much as I hate to admit my mistakes and mishaps, I feel that it’s only fair to share a bit of my humility—and it will help to counterbalance the bragging and arrogance I generally display. Oh, and I also fear that it may hit the grapevine so it’s better to ‘fess up now…

This past summer, I purchased an uber-gadget phone; one that many of my friends and family members mocked me for because they couldn’t understand the need to spend so much money on a phone. (In my defense, I actually do use the majority of the features and it’s easier than carrying a small laptop with me everywhere.)

My 10-year-old nephew, Haden, loves the fact that I have such a cool phone, but has pointed out on several occasions that I’ve become rather clumsy with it. He seems to be there each time I drop the blasted thing, and giggles as he scrambles to pick up the pieces. He then mock-lectures me about taking better care of my phone because it’s so expensive. After putting the phone back together, I’ve always felt slightly superior in telling the kid: “See, it still works. I paid for quality and endurance as much as for gadgets!” (And then the kid rolls his eyes.)

Well, it would seem that my luck has run out. Whilst at the Edinburgh Castle with Mom and a friend of Paul’s this past weekend, I cleverly decided to point something out (with excitement) to Paul’s friend—using the hand my phone was in. My hand quickly became a trajectory device for the phone, sending it flying before it fell to the cobbled stone path in front of us. My first reaction was embarrassment, but also relief knowing that it would surely be fine, just like past times.

Wrong. Apparently, the phone didn’t care too much for the cobbled stones and upon picking up the display portion I could see just how badly shattered it was. Putting it back together (to the sounds of laughter) I was pleased to see that it still worked—it was just difficult to see the information on the screen because of the spider web effect of the shattered display.

Thankfully, Paul’s laughing friend is also a gadget geek and had the same model phone at home sitting un-used after a recent upgrade. Once his laughter subsided a bit, it was offered to me as a temporary solution. So, I have a loaner phone to use until I decide what to do next. I will do my best to not break that one, too. Maybe I need to invest in a little wrist strap for it… or some bubble wrap.

I think this story will entertain Haden very, very much and I’m sure he won’t let me forget it…

Freak of nature

We adopted Schrodie when she was about eight months old. She’d had a hard life and was certainly not your typical cat, but we didn’t want a “typical” cat. I remember when we first brought her home she went into hiding so I bought some canned tuna to try and coax her out… or at least to get her to eat at night while we were sleeping. But she turned her nose up at it.

After she came out of hiding, she never really got offered fish or meat again. Just cat food. After all, she is a cat. And with Paul being a vegetarian, there was never any meat or fish in the house anyhow. Then, in the first few months after Paul died I didn’t cook; I ate TV dinners and overly-processed junk food. It was no surprise that the cat wasn’t interested.

Fast forward to December, and I finally started cooking again – and cooking fish and meat, because I’m not a vegetarian. The first meal I cooked was a nice steak with sautéed prawns. Schrodie sniffed around a bit, so I tried to offer her a bit of steak. She turned her nose up at it. So I thought maybe she was after the prawns. Nope, not interested in that either. By the end of the meal I decided that she just wasn’t accustomed to being in a house where such wonderful foods were available – and was maybe nervous about the repercussions of eating her master’s servant’s food.

Anyhow, it’s been about two months since I started cooking again and she’s yet to give any real notice to my dinners; a sniff here and there, but never an attempt to help herself to the culinary delights. Steak? Prawns? Lasagna? No. Fresh tuna? Cheese? Eggs? Not on your life. Chicken? Salmon? Ice cream? Nope.

So, here I am with a belly full of clam linguini and fresh salmon, and the cat won’t so much as lick my plate. I’m left wondering if maybe all of those people who rave about what a good cook I am are just being polite and the cat wants nothing to do with my culinary disasters, or if the cat is just a freak of nature that doesn’t enjoy fish and meat.

I’m going to vote for freak of nature, because it’s easier on my ego.

Just Frances

I was born in a hospital (not in a barn, as sometimes questioned by my mom, who should really know!) on February 21, 1974. The third of six daughters, I am “lucky number three” because we all know that the third time’s a charm.

I grew up in Small-Town, USA, in the Central Washington Cascades. I remember desperately wanting to get out of town, and live anywhere but there. And one day, I did. In September 2001, I made the move “across the pond” to Edinburgh, Scotland, to study at Napier University. The experience was definitely life-changing. Because of my travels, I gained a new-found respect and appreciation for my home town, and a new-found level of self confidence and joy that I never before knew could exist. Oh, and I met my husband there, too. Talk about life-changing!

Sadly, my amazing husband died in April 2009, which is how I became Just Frances. Though I also have a freakishly-weird cat called Schrodie to keep me company.

Before I met Paul, I was very happy being Just Frances. I was alone by choice, and it was bit empowering to be my own person with my own rules. Now, don’t get me wrong, given the choice now I would much rather be part of Paul and Frances. But I don’t have that choice. So I can either dwell on the sad or I can make the best out of a horrid situation.

But don’t feel sorry for me. I don’t want your pity; I don’t want your tears. The world certainly isn’t all doom and gloom – though some days it certainly feels that way – and I am on a mission to be happy. I will be happy because that’s what Paul would want for me. And that’s what I want for myself.

This blog replaces www.RyanCentric.com – a site that Paul and I designed together to brag a bit about our lives. We were excited to be adding information about the children we hoped to adopt and enjoyed adding stories and photos of our latest-and-greatest adventures. I continued updating RyanCentric for a while after Paul died, but I find that being Just Frances makes that site a little strange to use. Not because I’m no longer a Ryan, but because its purpose was not meant for ramblings but rather stories of adventures we took together. The site remains live, however, so please feel free to check it out to learn more about who I was and what I did before Just Frances came on the scene!

Just Frances is a random flow of thoughts and ideas. The content will be all over the place. You may visit one day and see a 1,500-word essay on why I think creamy peanut butter is better than crunchy and the next day there may be some random quote from some random song lyrics that I like. Who knows? I surely don’t.

It will be an adventure, led by your amazing guide, Just Frances. So sit back and enjoy the ride.