A happy me

2013.01.05.a-happy-meI think that one of the things I struggle with is being happy with me. For a million little reasons, I’ve always found it difficult to be kind to myself; to take care of myself on a spiritual well-being level.

I, like many people, tend to feel sorry for myself when I’m alone too much. And that makes me unhappy, which means that I feel even more sorry for myself. And then I’m in this little world of misery and unhappiness and I find it difficult to take care of me; I find it difficult to care about being good to myself.

I’d like to say that I’ve ‘seen the light’ and that, from now on, I will always be kind to myself. But that would be a lie.

However, I have had a pretty good few days where I have been kind to myself. I’ve gone out running, I’ve been eating a bit better, and I’ve even been sleeping a bit more soundly.

In fact, yesterday I managed to get my eyebrows waxed and my hair cut. Both of which make me feel good about myself. And I even managed to take myself out for dinner—which is often scary, but also enjoyable if done right.

I also treated myself to a rejuvenating facial this afternoon. It was peaceful and relaxing and has really helped to boost my mood.

Yes, I am a happy me right now. And I like that. But I admit that I am bracing myself for stress and misery, too. I am so sceptical about life that I can’t believe that my mood will continue on this high path.

Still, I’m happy now and I’m going to accept that. And I’m going to work to keep that mood going for as long as I can. After all, being happy is one of my life’s goal!

A first Friday tradition?

2013.01.04.first-friday-diningIt’s the first Friday of January, therefore the first Friday of the New Year. And a new year is an opportunity for a new start. So, I’ve decided to take advantage of this fact and start a new tradition for myself, since my partner-in-crime has moved away, thus ending the Friday Night Cocktails tradition.

The new tradition? Dinner out. Either alone or with friends. (Alone this time. But maybe some will join me in February.)

I hate dining alone—I always have—but I realise that I am alone now and I have to get used to that fact. Yes, I could just stay home and hide away from the world, but sometimes I feel that I need to face the world with bravery—despite my solitude. It was a bit awkward at first, as dining alone often is, but I was prepared with a positive attitude and a fully charged Kindle—complete with a trashy novel that I found for free on Amazon.

I think the hardest part of the evening was deciding where to go. I’d thought about going to a really nice place for a bit of fine dining, but that would have been the most difficult choice—especially since that’s where the happy, lovey-dovey couples were most likely to be. And I thought about going to a family dining place or maybe out for a nice curry, but that seemed a bit weird, too.

In the end, I decided to go to The City Walls. Its friendly atmosphere with little nooks-and-crannies seemed like the perfect place for my first foray into First Friday dinners. And it was OK. I sat in a wee corner—in a comfy chair near the fire—and I read my book whilst drinking a pint of Belhaven Best and munching on a plate of nachos. And I enjoyed myself.

More importantly, I didn’t feel awkward or out of place; which means that I’ll be more likely to go out for dinner on the first Friday in February, too. And I imagine that I might spend most of these dinners alone, but I hope that I can talk friends into joining me sometimes, too.

How about you? Are you starting any new traditions this year?

So long, 2012!

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

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

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

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

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

Survived

2011.07.15.was_a_homeI managed to survive Christmas alone. I won’t lie and say that it was easy. In fact, it was so very hard. My broken heart ached all day long as I watched my Facebook feed fill up with photos of happy families and statuses about the perfect gift from the perfect spouse. Things that my own Facebook wall should have been filled with.

I’ll be honest and admit that I was jealous of all of those people with their seemingly wonderful lives. I was jealous that everyone else seemed to be so happy whilst I was all alone. By choice, but alone never-the-less.

I spent the day on the couch watching television and sulking. I stood and looked out the window from time-to-time, envious of the families out for a Christmas walk. And I cried as I remembered how happy my last Christmas with Paul was. And toward the end of the day, I had a nice video Skype chat with my parents.

But I couldn’t bring myself to cook my Christmas feast. As much as I had wanted to be strong and brave and cook a lovely meal to enjoy by candlelight at the table, my heart hurt too much to allow it. So instead, I nibbled on cheese and crackers throughout the day—and a bit of fresh fruit. Then I cooked my Christmas ham and some roast potatoes for Boxing Day instead.

No, yesterday wasn’t the Christmas I wanted, or even the Christmas I planned. And today wasn’t the Boxing Day that it should have been. But I survived both days. Somehow.

Maybe next year will be better. Maybe next year I will have met someone wonderful to spend Christmas with; or maybe I’ll just be more adept at spending time alone. After all, I’m getting a lot of practice!

I hope that you had a lovely Christmas and that your day was filled with the love of family, friends, and Christ.

[Photo is of my last Christmas with Paul. It was such a magical, beautiful day and I wish I could re-live it one more time.]

Preparing for alone

2012.12.22.preparing-for-aloneI’ve decided to spend Christmas alone this year. I know that sounds silly to some people, but it seems like the right thing to do for me; for my heart. It’s not that I’ve not been invited to spend the day with others; it’s just that it’s hard to spend such a special day in someone else’s home. I would be left feeling like an outsider; like I was there because someone took pity on me.

I know that the people who’ve invited me wouldn’t feel that way, but I would. And I’m afraid that would be hard on my heart, so I’ve declined the invitations in favour of spending the day alone.

Part of me knows that the best way to make it through the day alone is to pretend that the day isn’t happening but, at the same time, I know that my heart and soul will know what day it is no matter how much my brain tries to ignore it.

So, I’ve decided that I will enjoy a Christmas feast, just like I would do if I had someone to spend the day with. Only, I had a bit of a melt-down in the shops today when I tried to buy groceries (seeing those happy couples still hurts!) so I have to go back and try again tomorrow.

But, thanks to a co-worker, I do have a copy of the Christmas Radio Times so I can start planning out my Christmas day viewing. Doctor Who and EastEnders are already circled!

Yes, I’ll be alone for Christmas, but I will survive it. Just like I’ve managed to survive every other day. And hopefully, I’ll survive without too many tears. After all, I have to carry on, and this won’t be my last holiday alone. So I might as well figure out how to manage.

Thanksgiving expertise

Today is Thanksgiving and, once again, I have so much to be thankful for. Of course, it’s always a little awkward being overseas on the holiday, since it’s not only not celebrated here, but it’s also not understood. So when my good friend, a primary school teacher, invited me into her classroom to talk with a group of 30+ eight year olds on the topic, I didn’t hesitate to say yes!

And so, I did what most Americans do for Thanksgiving, and took the day off from work. (And I’m taking tomorrow off for graduation, too!)

When I got to the classroom, I was introduced to the children as Mrs Ryan, and was soon swarmed with children wanting to tell me that they’ve been to America or that they know people who’ve been to America. So it was easy to see that I would have a fairly interested audience.

Anyhow, the day was spent reading the children a book about the first Thanksgiving and explaining to them who the Pilgrims were. Then we talked about the feast and how similar it is to a Christmas dinner. And then we talked about the important part of the holiday: Being thankful.

Soon, the children were back at their desks busily writing down a few sentences about what they were most thankful for.

As I watched them write, I knew that I was thankful for being there. I was thankful that I was able to share one of my favourite holidays with a group of eager children.

Of course, later I was thankful for my sister-in-law, Liz, and brother-in-law, John, who had travelled up from England to celebrate my graduation tomorrow. And for our Thanksgiving feast? A nice Indian curry at one of my favourite places in Stirling.

Yes, I have much to be thankful for.

(Want my Thankful stories from past years? Here are links for 2008, 2009, 2010, 2010 again, and 2011!)

Low, but lucky

I’ve been a bit low lately and reached out to a friend for a bit of company. When I’d first mentioned that I was stressed and needed to get out of the flat, I imagined that we’d meet up for a wee walk somewhere so that I had a bit of human interaction.

What I didn’t expect was that we’d spend eight hours together chatting, walking, and eating. But that’s what our visit turned out to be. And it was just what I needed.

Yep, last Saturday I made my way to Edinburgh to meet with Adrian, who took me on a fantastic walk through the Penicuik House Estate. There was something so wonderful about walking through the wooded estate, looking over Midlothian as we trekked across the sodden and muddy ground with his dog, Holly.

Of course, poor Adrian got to listen to me moan a bit about my life’s stresses, and he got to hear a bit about things that have led to my current state of stress and woe, so it might not have been as enjoyable for him. But he tolerated me—and even cooked me dinner and drove me back to the train station when we were done walking.

So, yes. I’ve been a bit low lately. But I keep finding all of these wonderful reminders about all of the wonderful people who are out there supporting me. I am a lucky woman because I have friends. And with luck and friendship, I’m sure this low mood will give way to a high mood soon enough.

Warming up with a faded flag

It’s starting to get cold outside and that means cuddling up on the couch with a cosy blanket. And for a double-dose of warmth, I like to crochet one blanket whilst cuddled under another.

So, I’m putting some of the fabulous wool (that’s yarn in American speak) that was left behind with all the beads when I moved in.

I chose to use the three large spools of basic wool for my new project since they are all the same weight and will look nice together.

I kind of think that they look like faded flag colours. What do you think?

Oh! And if you want to crochet along with me, here’s the pattern I’m using:

Start with Ch 108 (I’m doubling mine, using hook size ‘N’/9mm) then:

Row 1: 2 dc in 3dr ch from hook, *skip 2 ch, 1 sc and 2 dc in next ch; rep from * across, ending with skip 2 ch, 1 sc ch in last ch. Ch 2, turn.

Row 2: 2 dc in first sc, *skip 2 dc, 1 sc and 2 dc in next sc; rep from * across, ending with 1 sc in top of t-ch. Ch 2, turn. Rep Row 2 for pat.

Anyhow, I’m sure you’ll get to see the project as I progress and again when I finish. My hope is to finish it before Christmas. Wish me luck!

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!

Bloody Scotland; bloody fabulous

There is a fabulous literary festival in Stirling this weekend, and I’ve managed to catch a bit of it today. Bloody Scotland celebrates the amazing crime writers in Scotland and (for what little I’ve seen) it’s bloody fabulous!

It’s the kind of event that I’d love to spend an entire weekend enjoying, but between moving into my new flat today and a 10K road race tomorrow, I’ve only been able to manage one event—Deadlier than the Male. I wasn’t quite certain what to expect because—to be honest—I haven’t read any books by the panel. But after hearing Karin Fossum and Val McDermid speak, I have decided what my next Kindle purchases will be!

I think that my favourite part about the talk, however, was the motivation it’s given me to get back into my own writing. Hearing the authors speak with so much energy about the process was invigorating. Further, hearing them talk about the time and dedication you have to be willing to commit to the process made me realise that I’ve been a bit lazy at doing that. (Well, in fairness, I think much of that has been because I’ve been busy with my dissertation.)

Of course, because I was too chicken to go alone, I ended up tagging along with a woman I’ve met through another friend—and she invited me to go along to a wee reception as well (it’s nice to know people who rub elbows with people I want to rub elbows with!). Anyhow, the reception meant that I got to speak with a couple of people about the creation of the event, which was kind of cool.

I have a 10K race in the morning, but I am now thinking that I need to go back up to the festival when I’m done so that I can try to see another event or two—assuming there are tickets remaining. Of course, that’s also assuming I have the energy since I’m a bit exhausted from the weekend’s events already.

And, with that, I suppose I’ll head off to bed so that I can be up in time for tomorrow’s race.

August under budget

At the start of August, I shared with you my plans to develop a strict grocery budget of £200 per month. And now I’m pleased to say I’ve come in under budget by £20! The best part about it, however, is that I’ve still eaten really well. No, wait. The best part is that I’m starting September with a freezer full of food leftover from August, meaning I’m on track for another under-budget month!

And not only did I eat really well, but I shared several of my meals with others because I love to have people over for dinner! And as I look at all the food that’s still in the cupboards and freezer, I can see how I could stretch it to feed a family of four on about the same budget. Of course, if I put beer, wine, and spirits on a different budget line, I’d be able to feed a family of four without worries.

Some of the things I did to keep my budget down was to shop about an hour before Marks & Spencer’s Food Hall closed, then I’d seek out the coveted ‘yellow discount’ stickers so that I could design cheap meals. I also worked really hard to use up leftovers right away, which meant cooking up pots of soup or pasta dishes that went directly into the freezer. It really did make a difference on the amount of food waste I created, too. And happily, it made for some pretty good throw-together concoctions!

So, what happens with the leftover £20? Well, £10 will go into my savings account and £10 will get added to my September entertainment budget. And who knows, maybe I’ll have an even bigger savings at the end of this month!

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!

Braving it alone

Tonight, I decided to brave it alone and took myself to the theatre (sorry, to the cinema) to see Brave. And why not? Friday nights are great nights for going to the cinema, and what better date is there than myself?

This is going to be a slightly different post because I’m going to break it down into three bits: The me bit, the venue bit, and the movie bit. So you can take your pick of those sections of read the whole thing. You call. So let’s get started!

The Me Bit:
This is only the third time I’ve gone to the movies alone. The first time I was 12 or 13 years old and the friend I planned to go with had to cancel. I decided to go to the matinee showing at the Roslyn Theatre alone and had my Daddy drop me off. Only when I got there, some of my older sister’s friends were there and they were quite cruel about me not having any friends. I can’t remember if I walked home or called for a ride, but I remember trying not to cry and feel sorry for myself.

The next time I went I was 27 years old and living in Edinburgh. It was over the winter holidays and I really wanted to see The Princess Diaries but didn’t have anyone to go with, so I went alone. (I hadn’t met Paul at the time.) I was really nervous about it and a bit freaked out, to be honest, so I wore a ball cap so that I could ‘hide’ from everyone else. I don’t know if I was the only solo-viewer that day, but it seemed like I was. It was my first successful trip to the movies alone, and I always watch The Princess Diaries when I see it on television now because it reminds me of that little victory.

Then there was today. I’ve thought about going to the movies alone several times since Paul died, but just couldn’t bring myself to do it. But I didn’t have any luck in finding a movie partner—and really, really wanted to see Brave in the cinema—so I had to ‘brave it alone’. And do you know what? It was OK. Yes, I would have preferred to have someone there with me, but I didn’t feel awkward or out-of-place. So I guess that’s a good thing. Almost like a battle won.

But enough about the me bit, let’s move on!

The Venue Bit:
OK, this is where I feel let down. I went to the Vue Stirling Cinema—part of a big national chain—and was very underwhelmed by the experience. In fairness, much of this is because I grew up going to a small, ‘mom-and-pop’ theatre in my hometown where it’s like going to a friend’s house to watch a flik. Still, it was a bit ‘meh’.

First, the place didn’t smell like fresh-popped popcorn. It smelled like stale popcorn. (And it looked like stale popcorn.) So, I opted for crisps and sweets instead. Which was OK since I like crisps and sweets.

Next, there were 34 minutes worth of previews and adverts before the opening credits of the movies. Yes, really. Thirty-four minutes. That, in my opinion, is ridiculous.

Then, there was the inevitable end bit where everyone started to leave the moment the credits began to roll. And the cleaners swept (pun intended) in to start getting ready for the next showing. They looked a bit irked that I was sitting, watching the end credits. (It was worth it. Wait for the movie review section!)

The saving grace, however, was the seats. I upgraded to a VIP seat (£9.15 with my student ID) which meant that I got to curl up with my legs underneath me and I had two cushy arm rests and a cup holder. So, that was pretty awesome.

I can’t give you a ‘thumbs up’ rating for the venue because it was very unremarkable. But I’d go back. Only I’d smuggle in my own snacks. (I know, shame on me!)

The Movie Bit:
Brave was awesome. Awe-SOME! Really, it’s a must-see. The animation was fabulous and the story was funny, heart-warming, and entertaining all at once. The ‘acting’ (if you can call it that” was amazing. I could feel the emotions.

At the start, when Merida is dancing and twirling near the top of a waterfall, I could feel her joy and excitement. I wanted to dance and twirl with her! Throughout the movie, I could feel her sorrow and frustration and energy. It was so well done.

Some of the younger kids in attendance were taken out after the movie started getting a bit exciting (spoiler: there are bears growling and fighting and doing bear stuff) but I think that most of the kids enjoyed it as much as the adults did. (There was lots of laughing from viewers of all ages!)

And, in true Just Frances fashion, I stayed for the credits. All of them. (Someone worked hard to put them together, and I like to honour that by watching.) As always, near the end was a list of production babies. And, there is a little something to reward those who stay to the end. And it made me laugh. And everyone else missed it. So, if you’ve not seen the movie yet, stay until the end. It’s worth the smile.

And that’s it. (Finally.) Sorry it’s so long. But the summary is this: I braved watching Brave alone and it was an excellent movie! (Yay!)

[Image copyright Disney Pixar; republished with good intent under the Fair Use Doctrine.]

Found things

I like shiny things and pretty things and interesting things. And often, as I’m walking down the road, I’ll stop to pick these little things up. In fact, when I’m on an outing or holiday, I almost dedicate myself to finding something shiny or pretty or interesting. Then, when I get home, I pile them all up in a pretty container.

I began collecting little tid-bits when I arrived back in Scotland last summer and kept them neatly pilled on a dresser in my bedroom until I found a bowl that would work to hold them all.

The bowl doesn’t have much in it at the moment: A couple of marbles I’ve found when out-and-about; some sea glass from Aberdour; a shell from Seaton Carew; a couple of pebbles from my recent visit to the Highlands; and a couple other random finds.

By the time the bowl is full, I imagine I won’t remember the story behind every little pretty thing. But that’s OK because I’ll still be able to look at the overflowing contents and I’ll know that each of those things brought me a bit of joy once, and together they’ll serve as a reminder that—no matter how grumpy or sad I may be at times—I’ve led a pretty happy life, filled with moments of joy.

Each pebble, shell, marble, or random tid-bit represents a bit if joy. And it makes me happy to know that I have a bowl that is slowly filling up with more and more moments of joy; joy that was found when I didn’t even know I was looking for it.

Summer holidays

I don’t know if it’s fair to say that I’ve been on my summer holidays, since I’ve been an unemployed student for the last year+, but calling this past week my summer holidays is a great excuse to share a bit of Cliff Richard, so there you go!

Anyhow, if you’re still with me after that, I’ll tell you a bit about the last part of my holiday week. But I’ll start with a quick recap of the first part of the week: I went to the Scottish Poetry Library, I bought a new phone, I spent my spare change, and I went to the Hermitage in Perth.

So, now it’s time to bore you with the rest of my holidays! (Of course, it was anything but boring for me!)

On Sunday, I hopped on the train to Inverness to visit some friends in the Highlands. I was met at the station by Emma and her children before being whisked away to a little village a few miles away where David was waiting for us.

Sunday saw us visiting Urquhart Castle along the shores of Loch Ness before heading back to the house for a nice meal of roast lamb’s leg (jealous, Mom?) and a late-night chatting and visiting session.

On Monday, we loaded the rig for a long (but fun!) day that saw us driving along a single track road to Oldshoremore on the West Coast where we frolicked on the beach for a bit, before heading to Loch-Something-Or-Other for a bit of ice cream. To round out the day, we stopped off at Ullapool for fish-n-chips before stopping at the Corrieshalloch Gorge which was oh-so-amazing that I can’t even find the words to describe it!

Needless to say, after all of that activity it was an early night last night and a lazy day today. Yes, it was a short visit, but we managed to pack a lot of fun into those 48 hours! And it also must be said that I had a lovely time, that my hosts were fantastic, and that I have truly been emotionally energised by the entire trip!

And now, I’m settled in my flat, curled up in my PJs, and looking forward to an early night because tomorrow will be a busy day. After all, my holidays are now over so it’s time this unemployed bum gets a job!

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Escaping to the hermitage

Sometimes I wonder if I could become a reluctant hermit, living in my own little hermitage, hiding away from society, and sulking away my life one day at a time. But, thankfully, I have just enough of a desire for company to save myself from myself!

To make sure I didn’t spend my entire week’s holiday alone, I sent a message out to my friends on Facebook letting them know that I was up for activities. And one of my friends, John, quickly sent me a message to arrange a trip to Perthshire to see—of all things!—the Hermitage!

When it was first suggested, I had to Google the place. But, apparently, it’s quite a popular destination for hikes and picnics and stuff. Of course, one destination wasn’t enough for us, so we also visited the Pitlochry Power Station and Fish Ladder, took a wee wander through Pitlochry, and stopped at a couple of whisky distilleries. Not bad for a day’s activities!

And as he was kind enough to suggest the activity—and do the driving—I thought it was only fair that I provided a nice picnic lunch for the two of us. So, I whipped up some pasta salad (with salami—yum!) and a few sandwiches, cleaned some grapes, and grabbed a bag of crisps.

And now, it’s time to bore you with photos from my day! (Honestly, it was just so lovely that I wanted to let you see it!)

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Of course, John wasn’t the only one to answer my call for activities, so tomorrow morning I will make my way up north to the Highlands of Scotland for a couple of days. Yay!

Big noise means big fun

I had big fun tonight at The Big Noise’s Big Concert in Raploch. OK, I got wet and cold because it is summer time in Scotland and that means wind and rain—I mean really, really wet. But the music more than made up for the weather. Thankfully, the rain let up for the second half which meant that I dried out a bit and it really did make for an enjoyable ending to a great evening.

But I don’t want to talk about tonight; I want to talk about The Big Noise because they are doing big things and I’m very excited about it!

Here’s the deal:

Big Noise is an orchestra programme that aims to use music making to foster confidence, teamwork, pride and aspiration in the children taking part – and across their wider community. It is based on the methods of Venezuela’s “El Sistema” movement and is run by the charity Sistema Scotland.
[Text from Big Noise’s website.]

So, basically, they take a load of kids who live in economically depressed areas (in this case, Raploch) and they give them an amazing opportunity to transform their lives through music. And, in fact, an opportunity to transform a community through music. And it’s working. It’s really, really working. In fact, it’s working so well that there are more groups in the works for other bits of Scotland and the Raploch group is working with the Stirling Council to ensure continued funding.

More than that, it’s working so well that 450 children ranging from pre-school to 13 are finding passion through music. They are working together and the community is behind them with support and energy—as evident by the massive crowd that showed up tonight and braved the horrid weather to listen to these amazing kids play.

Wow! I am just in awe over the dedication shown by everyone involved!

Oh! And a special shout-out today for my parents who are celebrating 43 years of marriage. Wow! I am just in awe over their dedication to each other!

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!]

Memory sparks

Triboluminescence is awesome! It used to entertain me as a child and it still entertains me as an adult. Or, to translate into Plain English: It’s awesome when you crunch on a Wint-O-Green Life Savers and it makes sparks!

That sounds like a random statement, doesn’t it? So let me back up so that you know how I got here.

Several weeks ago I bought a pack of minty Polos from a vending machine. As I popped the first one into my mouth, I was instantly reminded of how we used to enjoy WoG Life Savers as children because of the sparks.

So I posted my random memory on Facebook and enjoyed the back-and-forth comments from friends who 1) always thought it was an urban myth; 2) recalled with joy making sparks of their own; or 3) asked what Life Savers were (they’re America’s answer to Polos).

And then Mom offered to send me some.

And they arrived with an Easter parcel a few weeks ago.

And tonight, I finally broke the bag open.

And I went into the bathroom and closed the door (with the lights off).

And I chomped on a Life Savers.

And I smiled. A lot.

Now the challenge will be to not eat them all so that I can share them with my friends who never had the joy of making Life Saver sparks as children. But I bet they’ll enjoy making them as grownups!

How about you? Do you remember making Life Savers sparks when you were a kid?

Dusty books

A couple of years ago, a friend took me to Glasgow for a surprise that would really excite my ‘geeky side’. As we made our way to this secret place, I wondered what it could be. My friend knew of my love of books and printing and typography history, so I thought we might be going somewhere to see an old printing press or a collection of ancient manuscripts.

Wrong. He was taking me to a Doctor Who exhibit. Which I must say, was really awesome and cool and it did appeal to my geeky side. But it wasn’t a pile of dusty old books.

However, I travelled to Manchester for a wedding yesterday and this morning was whisked away by a couple of friends to show me The John Rylands University Library. And do you know what they have there? Well, they have old printing presses and a massive collection of ancient manuscripts and books.

It seems that when they’d visited the library previously, they instantly knew it was a place I’d love. And they were oh-so right!

I don’t know what to tell you about the place. It was all just so perfect. The original building opened to the public on 1 January 1900 and has since undergone refurbishments—including the addition of a modern section that houses a visitors’ information centre. The two sections have been paired so wonderfully, and the old and new work so well together. I couldn’t help but look at the fine details of the original building as I wandered down the halls.

There were a couple of old printing presses on display in the massive hallways, too. They were beautifully presented and I was easily able to sneak around the back of one to get a good look at the entire piece. (I don’t know if you’re meant to do that, but there wasn’t a sign saying I couldn’t so…)

Oh! And there was a great display with some fragments from ancient copies of the Old and New Testaments. Wow. Talk about impressive. There were several other bibles and science texts open behind cases to view, too.

But once I got into the reading room I was truly in awe. Down the centre corridor there were displays of ancient (and not-so-ancient but still old) books showing different binding styles. I was so excited to see the quality of goatskin-bound books with finely tooled lettering. Equally impressive were some of the vellum-, silk-, and wood-bound books. I mean—Wow!—what beautiful pieces of art.

In the rest of the reading room were standard glass-fronted display shelves filled with books from the library’s various collections. I honestly don’t know how I can give the collection the praise it deserves. It was amazing. The only thing I didn’t like was that I couldn’t touch or smell the books. That would have been heaven for sure!

Yes, another trip is needed. Only next time, I’m going to go with a letter of reference so that I can attempt to get my hands on some of the books. Maybe a Gutenberg Bible. The library has one of only 21 surviving complete copies. Oh yes, that would be amazing.

 

Whisky hearts

Normally, an empty whisky bottle means a cork without a job. But not today. No, today I decided to rescue the cork from my empty bottle of Glenmorangie and carve it up a bit with my pocket knife. (A tool that every good redneck always has on hand.)

I didn’t have any ink pads (sadly, my craft supplies couldn’t make the journey to Scotland with me) but I had some cheap markers that I thought would work as a pigment, and I think the results are a success.

OK, I know it’s a bit silly and childish, but it entertained me. And it means that I have a pretty little heart-shaped stamp to add to my slowly-growing craft box. I think I’ll save up a few more corks to make some other shapes, too—stars, dots, horse shoes, etc. I don’t know what I’ll do with them all, but they’ll be a bit of rainy day entertainment at the very least.

(Other ideas for cheap and easy craft ideas are always welcome!)

Chinese jacks

Today’s post is a random memory and a bit of a musing about Chinese jacks. So, let’s go!

Chinese jacks, for those who don’t know, are these awesome little plastic ring things that kids would clip together in the 1980s for playing, well, Chinese jacks. But we’d also use them for Hopscotch markers and necklaces or other bits of jewellery.

They were fun and bright and silly. All of the sorts of things I love. We had loads and loads of them when we were kids. Some were pastel, others were bright, and others were neon. There were even translucent ones. I remember sitting there clipping them together in little sets, or stringing them together as chains and bracelets. But what I don’t remember is what happened to them. Where did they all go? Have they been thrown away after all of this time, or are they somewhere at my folks’ house, stashed away in a box?

I guess that’s it. I don’t really have much more to say about them, I just thought that I’d let you know I was thinking about them.

[Note: This video is not meant as an endorsement. I have no relationship with the company portrayed and am not in a position comment on them or their products.]

Of course, this all reminds me of those plastic charm necklaces we had back in the 80s, too. Yeah, they were, like, so awesome. Like, you know, totally radical, dude.

I wonder what today’s kids will reflect on when they’re my age…

Freedom of the City

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

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

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

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

Swirl-flies

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moleskine inspirations

I write. In fact, I think it would be fair to say that I’m a writer. And as any good writer does, I carry a notebook with me everywhere I go so that when inspiration hits, I am prepared!

In recent years, I’ve found myself carrying small Moleskines with me—whilst leaving my larger notebooks (and journals) at home. I’ve found them useful tools for jotting down thoughts and ideas (many of which get transferred to my larger notebooks) but also for the purpose of shopping and to-do lists.

And to serve as a constant inspirational tool, I’ve taken to adding an inspirational quote on the cover.

Today I found myself calling a new book into service, which means a new quote.

And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.
~ Sylvia Plath

Yes, I’m feeling inspired. In fact, I almost feel a poem coming on…

YouTube trails

I decided to spend the day on the couch in an effort to rid myself of my latest cold. (Two colds since the New Year? Well that totally sucks!)

Anyhow, a lazy day like that tends to lead me down silly little YouTube trails. (Honestly, some of my time online was legitimate research for my dissertation. Really.)

It started with an intentional search for Peter Kay’s lipdub of Is This the Way to Amarillo? and quickly descended into all sorts of strange follow-ons. And since you’re here, I’ll share some of the highlights with you!

As I said, it began with a bit of Peter Kay. (Which always reminds me of Paul.)

And that, for reasons unknown, lead me to search for the Macarena.

Suprisingly, the Macarena didn’t lead me to the Chicken Dance, but rather to Suzanne Vega. (By way of Mony Mony. You had to be in my mind to follow that leap.)

Of course, that lead me to one of the saddest songs from my childhood…

Which lead me to a song about butterfly kisses…

And butterfly kisses make me think of my friend Joe, which makes me think of Shakespear’s Sister.

And thoughts of Joe bring me to thoughts of Paul. It’s a full circle… (This was our first dance at our wedding.)

Don’t you just love the randomness of YouTube trails?

Doing nothing, online

A little while ago, I told you about my classes for spring semester and how one of those classes included blogging. Well, yesterday I posted my first blogging assignment, and I’m sharing it with you today. (Wow! I can actually hear you shouting with joy over that little fact!)

This post was meant to get everyone used to the blogging environment (yeah, I’ve got that down pat!). We were asked to share something we liked online—a website, video clip, playlist, or even another blog. I thought it would be a bit churlish to share Just Frances, so I chose anther website that I really like.

So, here’s my first academic blog post!

Doing nothing, online

I am a pretty well-connected gal. I spend countless hours interacting with family, friends, and perfect strangers through social media on my computer and phone every day. I Facebook and Tweet daily. I Skype and blog and email and Yelp—and have even recently started pinning.

But sometimes I like to do nothing. Sometimes, I like to put my feet up and meditate a bit. Online. Because that’s what a well-connected gal does!

Do Nothing for 2 Minutes is a great reminder that we all need to unplug and unwind from time-to-time. I admit that there is a certain amount of irony to the site, but I think that’s why I like it so much. And, surprisingly, as someone who may be a little bit a lot addicted to interacting with social media, I am pretty good at sitting still and doing nothing for two minutes. (Though it did take a lot of practice before I succeeded!)

Oh yeah, and when you’re done doing nothing, you’re asked to share your success on Facebook, Twitter, or StumbleUpon. Because what’s the point of doing nothing online if you can’t tell all of your friends about it?

Random thoughts: Simple pleasures

Random thoughts—Week 3: List 31 simple pleasures; pick one and write about it.

Last year I was challenged to write a list of 30 things that made me smile and I imagine that this list may include a few duplicates, but I will try to keep those to a minimum.

  1. Finding coins as I’m walking down the road
  2. Unexpected postcards (heck, even expected postcards!)
  3. Lunch with friends
  4. Internet chats and phone calls with my nieces and nephews
  5. Dirty Martinis
  6. Seeing children skipping down the road
  7. Skipping down the road (yes, even as a full-grown woman, I do that sometimes!)
  8. Hearing a favourite song on the radio
  9. Watching a favourite movie on television
  10. Long soaks in a hot bath
  11. Finding my favourite [whatever] on sale
  12. Smells that rekindle a happy memory
  13. Running
  14. A well-cooked steak (that would be medium-rare, thank you!)
  15. Riding on carousels
  16. Playing on swing sets
  17. The feeling of the sun on my face
  18. Flirtatious encounters with cute boys (even when I know I’ll never see them again)
  19. A quiet night in with some jazz, red wine, candle light, and a good book
  20. Sleeping in on a Saturday morning after a long week at work (or school)
  21. Finding a ‘new’ vintage handbag that I love—and can afford!
  22. Watching (and listening to) a massive rain storm—complete with thunder and lightning
  23. Seeing my friends happy and giddy with excitement
  24. Waking up dreading going to work, only to realise it’s the weekend
  25. Walking barefoot in the grass or on a sandy beach
  26. Gravy style popcorn
  27. Picnics in the park
  28. Finishing a craft project
  29. Weekend city breaks to fantastic places
  30. Finding an out-of-the-way pub that sells great beer—but that no one knows about!
  31. Hugs and kisses from family and friends

Now, I know that I’m meant to write about just one of these things, but it would seem that I had a fantastic opportunity to combine a few in one. So, here’s a wee story about something that happened when I was in Cambridge this weekend:

I woke up early to go for a run on Saturday (No 13). And after the run, I had a bit of time to waste waiting for my running partner (who’d gone off for a longer trek!). So, as I waited, I found myself (literally) skipping (No 7) over to the playground where I plopped myself down on a swing (No 16). And as I swung, I noticed some shiny things on the ground below. Sure enough, those shiny things were coins—33 pence worth of them (No 1)!

Of course, the weekend also included Nos: 3, 12, 17, 23, 29, 30, and 31. And loads of other simple pleasures that didn’t make the list.

Oh! And be sure to check out Rebecca’s blog to see what she wrote for her topic this week!

A birthday in Crieff, not grief

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A winning announcement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An anniversary contest

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

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

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

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

  

  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The dummy box

Well, I have a television now. Yay! I’ve been going back-and-forth on whether to get one or not, but when Joanne offered up an old one of hers, I found myself unable to turn the offer down. I’d been watching TV on my ‘big’ laptop (14” screen) and it was bit of a pain—and I had a very limited selection of shows to watch.

Joanne was pretty certain that wasn’t good enough, and was pretty certain that I needed a proper TV. After all, there are some really good shows that I should be watching and it would be nice to be able to just flick around the channels sometimes. At first I discarded her statements, but the more I thought about it, the more I realised Joanne was right. (Not that I should be surprised; Joanne’s a smart cookie!)

So this afternoon, my new(used) TV arrived. Joanne and I hauled it up to my top-floor flat, then we went to town for lunch—and to get a FreeView box so that the big ol’ box would work. Of course, once we got back to my flat again, we realised that we also needed an aerial cable, which meant that when Joanne went home, I went back out in search of the magic cable. I had to go to five shops before I found one, but at least I was successful.

And now, I’m sitting at home with my nice little television sitting in the corner of the living room. With my groovy new FreeView box, I get about 50 channels plus music stations and it all works with a remote control. This is like Couch Potato Haven!

Now, what will I watch? There are just so many choices! Yay! (Don’t worry; I have a TV License now, too!)

Thanks, Joanne! I really appreciate it. Really!

[To give further credit and thank-you-ness to everyone who tried to get me telly-ed-up: Martin did offer (on several occasions) to bring me an old 37” television he has collecting dust in a corner, and Rebecca sent me to my new flat with a small portable television. It just wasn’t compatible with the new digital signal regulations.]

Random thoughts: A challenge

Two weeks ago I shared a post that was determined by random. It was a great way to find some inspiration for writing and the randomness of it all entertained me. When I was talking to Rebecca today, we decided that we’d have a bit of fun with the format and see if we could help inspire each other with a bit of randomness. And so, we’ve created a new game.

Here’s how it will work: There are 346 writing prompts over at CreativeWritingPrompts.com. We will use Random.org to randomly select a number then we will send the corresponding prompts to the other person. We’re picking numbers for each other so that we keep ourselves honest—and to make it that little bit more fun.

I imagine that we each have different reasons for wanting to try this challenge. My reasons are simple: I want to be challenged to write about things I might not write about. I hope that it will help me improve my writing skills as well as my creativity—and I hope that it will force me to write about things I might otherwise shy away from.

Oh! And I’ve already been given my topic for this week: List 50 things you’ll never do. On the surface it sounds easy, but I’ve learned with lists that anything past 10 is difficult! So, I guess I should start thinking about the things I’ll never do.

And with that: Let the challenge begin!

[In the spirit of the topic, the photo with this story was the photo that came up in my random photo block (look to the left) when I went to create the post. It’s from Thanksgiving 2011.]

Fun, all wrapped up

I started this post a few weeks ago with the intention of talking about how Starbursts have changed since I was a kid. But I never got around to finishing it because I didn’t really know what I could say on the topic, other than how awesome the new wrapper design is.

Then my sister posted one of those Facebook saying photos that read ‘Chocolate doesn’t ask silly questions; chocolate understands’ [Semicolon was my addition] and I realised that there is a great difference between my love for sweeties and the love that many women seem to have for chocolate.

You see, I almost feel like chocolate is meant to be a sophisticated, grown up sweet treat. And, sadly, it’s one that seems to cause great amounts of guilt for some women who consume it. But, chocolate seems to have a bit of a philisophical slant to it, too.

Take, for example, the same sister’s love of Dove chocolate bits. Inside of each wrapper is a message of hope, encouragement, or inspiration. Or some other such grown up mumbo-jumbo. Or these silly little quotes she likes about how she’d kill for chocolate or that the perfect man is one who brings chocolate.

Really, it’s enough to make me sick. Too much chocolate is just, well, it’s just not awesome.

But my sweeties of choice? Well, they’re pretty cool.

First, you’ve got things like LoveHearts and Conversation Hearts where each piece of candy has silly messages written right on them! Like: Call Me; UR Hot; My Boy; Cute Stuff; or I’m Shy. I mean, that’s a great way to flirt with a cute boy. Right?

Then, you’ve got awesome things like Laffy Taffy. Now, Laffy Taffy is fun because each wrapper contains jokes! Really funny ones, like: ‘What’s an owl’s favourite subject? Owlgebra.’ (Hilarious, right?)

And of course, there’s Starbursts. (Sorry, UK folks, they are not OpalFruits now. Adapt and embrace the change.) But the cool thing about Starbursts is they’ve re-done the wrappers! I mean, for years kids had fun with the wrappers. For example, do you remember in junior high school when it was said that if you could unwrap a Starburst in your mouth (with your tongue) it meant you were a good kisser?

But now they’ve added a bit of fun-for-all-ages to the wrappers! Yes, on each little piece of candy there is an opportunity for some silliness. You might be instructed to say ‘red lorry yellow lorry’ ten times fast or you might be asked to play air guitar (or air sax or air drums) or you might be told to try to touch the tip of your nose with your tongue. Or maybe you’ll be instructed to sing a song or hop on your left leg.

No, with each piece of candy you’re not given some valuble insight on life’s great mysteries. Instead, you’re given the opportunity to be silly; to have some fun; to laugh; to recall your childhood.

OK, I know that people think my candy preference is rather childish (certainly, by adulthood we’ve moved past these silly kiddie candies, right?) but I enjoy them. Partly because they taste yummy, but partly because they make me remember the simple pleasures in life.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, my wrapper has just informed me that it’s time to make a shadow puppet…

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 slow start

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Substitutiary locomotion

Back in the day, kids’ movies were pretty gosh-darn awesome. So much so that (I think) they’ve survived the test of time. Movies like Pete’s Dragon (one that my sister and her kids watch regularly) and all of the Hayley Mills movies. And then there’s things like Mary Poppins, The Apple Dumpling Gang, and a long list of Disney’s theatrical animations!

In fact, just the other day, I was walking in town and caught myself singing Brazzle Dazzle Day. Then when I woke up this morning, I saw my sister’s Facebook posts from the night before—yes, they just watched Pete’s Dragon again! Then, when I looked to see what movies were available on the BBC’s iPlayer, I was giddy with excitement to see Bedknobs and Broomsticks (which I’m watching now)!

So, my wish for you is that you have a brazzle dazzle day thinking about the childhood movies that bring you the most joy.

And I wish for you the gift of substitutiary locomotion so that you can veg on the couch watching those movies, all the while casting spells so that you don’t need to walk to the kitchen to refill your snack bowls and drink glasses!

A lesson in carols

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

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

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

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

A spirit found

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A modest proposal

Hey! Wanna know what I did today? (Of course you do!) Well, today I turned in my dissertation proposal for my Master of Letters in Media and Culture. And I’m pretty gosh-darned excited about it!

Of course, gale-force winds across Scotland (now being referred to as Hurricane Bowbag) means that I’ve only submitted my paper electronically, and will need to turn in the hard copy version tomorrow but, still, it’s done!

What’s that? You really want to know what my dissertation’s research question is? Well, since you asked with such excitement, I guess I can tell you! So, in big, headline font, here it is:

How do users of social media determine the legitimacy of news and information shared on Facebook?


Yeah, it’s going to be exciting doing the research on that one. (No, really it is!)

Anyhow, up next is an exam for my Media Economics class. I am decidedly less excited about that because, well, I don’t get this whole economics thing. (Help?)

But that can wait until tomorrow. For now, it’s back to my reward for finishing my proposal.

What’s that? Well, since you asked, that would be watching The Godfather Trilogy. Again. Because it’s awesome.

(Oh, and in case you found this post through a web search looking for a different modest proposal, you can find that one here: A Modest Proposal, by Jonathan Swift.)

Stained

I spent the afternoon at the Stirling Smith Art Gallery today and am so glad I did because I really did need to get out of the flat for a bit.

The impetus for my visit was their St Andrew’s Day lecture, Scotland’s Stained Glass. I know it sounds a bit boring but I like stained glass so it was fascinating to me! (And as it was a packed house, it must be a fascinating topic for others, too.)

The lecture was given by Michael Donnelly, the leading authority of Scottish stained glass from the 19th and early 20th centuries, and began with a brief history of the nation’s stained glass which included a look at medieval glass techniques and the destruction of Scotland’s stained glass during the Reformation. (In fact, there is only one pre-Reformation window remaining in Scotland.)

[Side note: Apparently, medieval glass makers sometimes used urine as part of the painting and firing process. Yuck!]

When Scottish artisans re-started the craft of stained glass in the early 19th century, they had no examples on hand for inspiration so had to travel to England and Europe to look at early pieces, then they had to recreate the methods through trial and error. But they figured it out and have made quite an impressive new collection of beautiful stained glass!

The slideshow that went along with the lecture gave examples of several Scottish artists and I happily took notes as the speaker went along so that I knew which artists I’d want to learn more about. I smiled when he spoke of Daniel Cottier, an artist who imposed his own image when depicting others in his work. I was in awe at the works he shared by William Morris, and I was filled with joy when he showed a picture of a piece by WG Morton. And, of course, I was really delighted to see Morton’s contemporary, Charles Rennie MacIntosh get a mention or three. You know, because he’s awesome!

But you don’t want a long, drawn-out recap of the lecture, so instead, I’ll just point you to a couple of resources to learn more if you’re inclined:

Scotland’s Stained Glass website—which includes a couple of PDF books for you to download (for non-commercial use only)

The People’s Palace website—the building houses a large collection of post-Reformation glass that has been salvaged from derelict and demolished buildings

Anyhow, I’m still feeling a bit down from yesterday, and actually had to force myself to go to the lecture instead of staying in feeling sorry for myself. It hasn’t solved my sorrows, but it was enjoyable. Which is always good.

A thankful weekend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Making do

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Social conscience

Social lives are interesting things—and hard to define at times. Everyone seems to have one or want one. Or they want a better one or a different one or a less chaotic one. Or they laugh about how their children have better social lives than they do!

Paul and I always talked about our lack of social lives and how, if it weren’t for each other, we’d be hermits. We even joked that we were looking forward to adopting our children because we’d be able to glom onto their social lives and—who knows—maybe even find a bit of socialisation through our kids’ friends’ parents.

Of course, when Paul died I was faced with the realisation that he really was my only true social life. When he died, I found myself in near-isolation and it was hard. It was lonely. It was so very lonely. I didn’t have any friends in the area and my parents (the nearest thing to a social life I had) were a four hour drive away. So I turned to my virtual friends for interaction and support. But I knew there was something missing. I knew that I wanted—that I needed—a friend in the real world to socialise with. Sure, there were a couple of women at work who I chatted with at the office, but it’s not the same.

In fact, when I created my four main life goals, one of the tasks for the happiness goal was to find or create a real-life social life because I knew that being happy (for me) was dependent on having people to interact with.

And I have finally found that social life.

As regular readers will know, I am happily settled in Stirling, Scotland. And as luck would have it, my friend Rebecca lives in Stirling, too. And she’s become the main player in my social life. (Though I honestly hope I’m not being overly clingy as I re-learn the rules of social play!)

Rebecca has been an amazing friend to me for more than two years now, but even more so now that we’re neighbours. I have someone to go to coffee with and to site-see with and to have cocktails with and to have dinner with and to do all sorts of fun things with.

But it’s not just Rebecca. No, there are several players in my social life these days. In fact, I’m heading to Edinburgh on Tuesday for dinner with Joanne and her family. And I have been asked to name a day to meet with Steve and his family and with Les and Yvonne. And I’m meant to meet up with Martin next week and I have to return a call to Lindsay about getting together. And I have to look into a trip to France for a girls’ weekend with Mila.

And then there’s the family side of my social life. Yes, I have to get myself on a train to England so that I can see Liz and Ann and Elizabeth and John and all the rest of them. And I have to get my Mom and Dad on a plane to visit me here. And my cousin Helen is planning a trip. And who knows who else!?

Oh, I could go on and on about how great it is to have a social life again, but I don’t have time. No, I need to get going now so that I can get ready to head into Edinburgh for dinner and a Billy Bragg concert with Rebecca. Oh, and tomorrow night, it’s off to a Milonga at The Junk Rooms. Then next Saturday I’m off to Glasgow for another concert.

So, um, basically my social life has exploded! (Yay!)

Minor chord

I love a good minor chord. I love minor keys and minor scales. I love a bit of musical dissonance. Unexpected notes; unexpected lyrics. They’re wonderful to me.

My musical tastes have always been varied, but I have to admit that I tend to lean toward smaller bands—mainstream is great and all, but it’s just a bit too, I don’t know, too predictable for me. I like a song with a bit of interest to it.

My favourite song of all time? Well, that would be “Eve of Destruction” by Barry McGuire. I like that it was banned from the airwaves. I like that it uses the word ‘coagulating’.

The bands that I list as my favourites (with the exception of Styx) are not headlining acts. Well, not in the mainstream at least. I like the little guys who play music because they like music. They write lyrics that make me smile because they’re writing them for them—not for a big-time record label.

Of course, this means I almost never hear my favourite bands on the radio. But that’s what my iTunes collection is for—a collection that boasts more than 8,400 songs at the moment.

Now, you could feel sorry for me not being able to hear my bands on the radio, but the cool thing about listening to the minor league of the music industry is that when I go to concerts I’m not there with 20,000+ other people. I’m there with a couple dozen or a couple hundred. Oh yeah, that’s awesome.

My next concert will be Billy Bragg who is playing in Edinburgh this Sunday. It’s bound to be a bigger crowd than when I saw him in Seattle (where there were about 100 people in the audience) but it’s not going to be like the crowds I’ve been to for concerts at The Gorge or The Tacoma Dome.

Yep, when it comes to music, the minor leagues win my vote. And quite often, they even use minor chords and dissonance when they’re singing to me.

Guy’s night

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

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

It was a fantastic firework show, too!

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

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

Sugar high

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

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

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

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

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

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

One man’s junk

We’ve heard it a million times before: “One man’s junk is another man’s treasure.” Well, let me just say that I’ve found a treasure in amidst the junk—The Junk Rooms, that is. And now, it’s become a Cocktail Mecca for me and my friend, Rebecca, who introduced me to the place.

The Junk Rooms is filled with, well, junk. It’s a mismatch of jumbled tables and chairs with trinkets, nick-knacks, and pictures all over the place (most of which are available for sale). Once you ascend the stairs to the main dining area, you feel as if you’ve entered your grandmother’s attic (in a good, nostalgic way; not in a bad smelly old person way).

But there is no culinary junk! No, the food is fabby. And the cocktails are even fabbier. (Is fabbier a word?)

Anyhow, last night was Cocktail Night and I really had a fantastic time. I don’t know if it was the martinis, the company, or the fact that the owner had just gotten several boxes of old books from an estate sale and we found ourselves sorting through the paper treasures most of the evening. Actually, it was probably a combination of all three.

I know this sounds like a sales pitch. And I suppose in a way it is—after all, one way to ensure a business you like stays in business is to make sure they get business. But I promise if you go, you’ll not be disappointed. (If it helps: The staff are not only friendly, but they’re easy on the eyes, too.)

A word to the wise, however: Be wary about having that third drink—no matter how lovely it sounds at the time. It might make your Saturday morning a bit groggy. (Thankfully I wasn’t silly enough to go for a forth!)

[Note: The photo is one of my homemade martinis. I was too busy enjoying myself last night to snap a photo!]

Budgeting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feeling fishy

Today I had a fish pedicure with my sister-in-law, Liz. I had heard about them but was never of the mindset to get one; however from the day I arrived more than two weeks ago, Liz was pretty sure I needed one. And as I’m a pretty curious person, I decided to give it a try—but I made her get one, too!

[See video below!]

According to the informational handout at the spa (Bam-Bou Fish Pedicure Spa):

‘…the fish suck and nibble the dry skin from your feet leaving you with healthy, rejuvenated skin. … These clever little fish can also stimulate acupuncture points, helping to regulate the nervous system, relax the body and release fatigue!

[It is a] totally natural and safe procedure whereby the Garra Rufa fish produce a specific enzyme whilst they suck and nibble away your dead and dry skin which then promotes the regrowth of the fresh, new skin below.’

You need only Google ‘fish pedicure’ to see that it’s a procedure banned in several US states and Canadian provinces, and that it’s a questionable practice in the UK at the moment. But at the same time, I did enough research to learn that it isn’t outright dangerous or unsanitary.

Anyhow, it was £10 for 15 minutes and we basically sat there and let these little fishies converge on our feet. It was very weird and I felt a bit squeamish at first, but once I got used to it I didn’t mind the tingly sensation. But, I don’t think it’s an experience I’ll repeat—I would much rather have a proper pedicure where the girl paints my toenails bright red at the end.

Do I recommend it? No, not really. But I wouldn’t try to dissuade you if you were curious. My only advice would be to make sure you find a place that takes hygiene seriously and that you take a friend so that you have someone to giggle with!

A palatial day

Today wasn’t spent in my new home of Stirling, but rather in my old home of Edinburgh—the city I first moved to ten years ago. In fact, I spent the day with a friend from my old Edinburgh days!

I met Joanne and her three young children outside of the new Scottish Parliament buildings and from there we walked over to Holyrood Palace—a place I’ve meant to visit for ten years now but only just today made it. And what a wonderful visit it was!

Cameras weren’t allowed past the outer courtyard (other than the gardens and abbey which we didn’t see) which means I don’t have loads of photos to share, but it also means that I was looking at the paintings and tapestries with my eyes, rather than through the camera lens, which is always better. Of course, because we had three young kids with us, it also meant that there wasn’t too terribly much time for staring at stuff within each room—in fact, we didn’t even make it through the entire palace before it was time to call it good and head out for food.

After exiting the palace, we went to the royal cafe where I enjoyed an amazing bowl of mustard and mushroom soup. I’d never heard of such a thing, but it was lovely! Then it was off for ice cream cones before heading to the park to let the kids play (and the grownups visit!).

Oh, and because I purchased my ticket at the palace ticket office, it’s actually good for a full year, meaning that I can go back to see the gardens and the abbey when I have more time to really enjoy them.

I’m really pleased to have met up with Joanne today—and I’m really pleased that we’ll be able to get together on a whim now. In fact, we’ve even talked about getting together for dinner and wine when I return from England in a couple of weeks.

Anyhow, that’s really all for now. I’m still finding my feet, but am doing it with loads of activity! After all, this was my second trip to Edinburgh in as many days and tomorrow I head off to England. Yay!

Got there

I suppose this is a good time to give an update on my travels, since I’ve arrived in Stirling, Scotland, and am now out and about enjoying the free WiFi access. So, here we go:

Firstly, the flights: I left my hometown about 10:30 a.m. Thursday (that’s 6:30 p.m. Thursday in Stirling time) to travel to the airport some two hours away. Because I was flying standby, I wasn’t certain if I’d have a seat on the 3:00 p.m. flight, but I got one, so that was cool. Of course, you may know that since I updated on the plane during that flight!

Once in Minneapolis, I went to the gate hoping that I’d manage a seat on the flight to London and was extremely pleased to not only have a seat, but to have one in business class! And let just say that business class travel is amazing! A glass of bubbles before takeoff; a proper blanket and pillow; a three-course, proper meal served with good wine; and a seat that reclined all the way into a bed. The best thing about it was that I managed a decent sleep! (Yay!)

Then—all of the sudden—I was in the UK. But because my standby ticket was only good to London, I had to make my way to Edinburgh on my own. In anticipation of this, I had my Dad book me a flight once I was confirmed on my London leg, but he could only get me a (decently priced) flight that took off eight hours later—which meant a long day at Heathrow! Worse, it meant transferring from Terminal 4 to Terminal 5 and since I wasn’t on a continuing flight, I had to take my baggage with me. It was not an easy task, but it didn’t kill me.

Oh, and to fill the time, my sister and her best friend had me do a photo scavenger hunt with items/situations they posted on my Facebook page. So that was fun!

By the time I got on the flight to Edinburgh, I was more than ready to be done travelling. And by the time I came through the gates there, I was a mix of emotions and couldn’t decide if that would mean tears or laughter but seeing my friend, Rebecca, standing there to greet me made it an easy decision—laughter and smiles! (Though with watery eyes and a lump in my throat, I’ll admit.)

Finally, I was in Stirling—my home for the next year+. I was so tired but so excited. I was also very hungry and in need of a shower. After all, it was after 10:00 p.m. by that time—more than 24 hours after my journey
began.

Amazingly, I managed to get a full night’s sleep instead of my normal 3:00 a.m. waking time on my first night. I give credit to the business class cabin’s sleeper chairs!!

And now, after a wee wander around the Stirling city centre with Rebecca, I’m enjoying a sandwich and tea at the local coffee shop.

I’m sure that my sleeping and eating patterns will be off for a few days, but I’m also sure that they will sort themselves out. In the mean time, I’m just going to enjoy the thrill of being back in Scotland and I’m going to try to remember that I’m not on holiday this time. No, this time I’m home!

The Doctor is in

Today is the long-awaited Doctor Who Marathon with my 14-year-old niece, Flik; 13-year-old niece, Cassandra; and Flik’s best friend, Hattie.

We are kicking back eating loads and loads of junk food whilst watching The Doctor save the world over and over again. He’s kinda cool like that.

You can give credit to Flik for the party, as she’s recruited as many Doctor Who fans as she could since I first introduced her to the greatness of the BBC sci-fi series about three years ago.

I’m looking forward to returning home to Scotland where everyone I know are Who Fans, but for now, I’m enjoying my newly-recruited Who Fans. Oh yes, Anglophiles in the making!!

Two full days of American life and three sleeps in the homeland, then I head to the airport. Yay! (But I’ll miss hanging out with my nieces and their friends when I leave!)

[That’s a picture of a TARDIS flannel (wash cloth) that a friend insisted I buy as a souvenir when we went to the Doctor Who exhibit a couple of years ago. It’s sat unused until tonight, and now belongs to a very happy Flik!]

Fun with maths

[Please note that the ‘S’ at the end of maths was intentional, and not an error. It’s part of my attempt to use that funny British English stuff, since that’s (almost) home. However, I’m not quite ready to add the ‘S’ to words such as toward, forward, and backward. One day, I will completely acclimatise myself to the extra and replacement ‘S’s though. I think. But now onto the story.]

Once again, I’ve had a couple of great, fun-filled days. And much of the fun has included numbers. Like:

3+9=Golftastic!
Three friends came to visit yesterday and we were given the opportunity to play nine holes of golf at Rope Rider. The course isn’t open to the public for another three weeks, so it was a rare treat. It was also quite interesting to play since the course isn’t marked so we didn’t know where the tee-boxes were or what par was on each hole. Additionally, we didn’t have a course map and the pins weren’t out on the greens so we didn’t actually know where to aim! But we all had a great time and the course was absolutely amazing!

12+1+3+1=Runtastic!
So this morning I woke up bright and early (like, 6 a.m.!) for a 12-mile training run (12+1). I’ve been feeling a bit lazy with my running the last few days, so wasn’t about to bail on it! Thankfully, my Dad woke up early, too, so that he could ride along with me on his trike (that’s the 3+1 part, if you wondered).

NieceX3+Yakima=Funtastic!
After cooling down from my run, I grabbed three of my nieces (Flik, 14; Cassandra, 13; and Ivanna, 13) for a quick trip to Yakima. We loaded into my car and turned up the tunes (500 Miles by The Proclaimers was the first song request) then just sang and laughed on our way to ‘the big city’ (population 91,000 that’s big to us!). Our first stop was Target for some new running tops, then it was on to Miner’s for burgers and fries. After an enjoyable lunch we stopped off at the art supply and book stores before making the return drive to the homeland. It was really fun to be out with the girls, and I especially loved chatting with Ivanna about her dreams of being a tattoo artist when she grows up. (I doubt her mom enjoys hearing that career choice!)

36+Colours+Tin Case=Drawtastic!
Of course, I also managed to invest in some future fun! Yep, when we went to the art supply store, I noticed that they had a 50 percent off sale on premium coloured pencil sets. And since I have been frustrated with my $5 cheap-and-cheerful set intended for elementary students, I broke down and purchased a set of Prismacolor pencils. There are just 36 in the set, compared to 72 in the cheap set, but they are meant to be much better and come in a handy tin for carrying with me. And since we all know that I find joy (and therapy) in drawing swirls, it just seemed like $30 well spent!

And since we’re talking about maths, here are some more figures for you:

  • 7: Number of sleeps left until my flight
  • 39: Number of sleeps left until the first day of classes
  • 59: Number of sleeps left until I run/walk the Loch Ness Marathon

(Not bad for a woman who hates maths, huh?)

[That’s a photo of today’s burgers. Yum, huh?]

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.]

The last long weekend

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

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

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

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

[See more of my races here.]

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

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

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

On a positive note

Yesterday’s post was a bit sad and whilst I’d love to say that I’m over it and that the world is all unicorns and rainbows and shiny things now, it’s not. It’s going to take a while to get to that point because I have a lot of stuff to go through (mentally, emotionally, and physically) to prepare for my happy future. It’s stressful and overwhelming but I am trying to be positive, really.

One of the things that has me thinking positively is the realisation that once I’ve actually left my job and my house, I will be free to spend time relaxing and sorting things out in my head—something I’ve not really had a chance to do since Paul died more than two years ago. And all of the sudden I’m going to have three weeks or so with no responsibilities. So here’s how I imagine myself spending those three weeks:

First, I have to be realistic and acknowledge that my Dad probably has a list of projects for me to help with around the house. Mom probably has a list, too. But I also know that I enjoy helping the folks (delayed obedience I like to call it) so that’s OK. Plus that, Dad’s projects will probably be great for some cross training (i.e.: free weight lifting!). Of course, the folks aren’t going to keep me busy from dawn to dusk, so that’s where the rest of the plan comes in.

I’m planning to get some training runs in most days and maybe some bike riding for cross training. I’m planning to sit in the back garden with a book (or my Kindle) soaking up the sun. I’m planning on eating lots of good food that my folks cook for me (really, I’ll try to get out of as much cooking as possible!). I’m planning on meeting up with friends and siblings for lunch and coffee. I’m planning to head up to the lake with my book (or my Kindle) to soak up the sun. I’m planning to hang out with my nieces and nephews as much as possible.

Oh! And I’m planning to attend the Eberle Family Reunion at Ocean Shores—with a pre-reunion camping trip with Uncle Mike for good measure. And I’m planning to attend the multi-year Cle Elum Roslyn High School reunion. And I’m planning to sit in front of the local coffee shop with a book (or my Kindle) soaking up the sun, chatting with the other locals in the way that small town locals do. (Might as well enjoy these few weeks of ‘being a local’ once again.)

Of course I know that my emotions will get the better of me from time-to-time and that my relaxing time will also be emotional crying time. But I’m pretty sure that just having time to be with my thoughts—without the pressures of work—will help. I just have to remember not to get bored. Or if I do get bored, I can’t tell my folks because growing up, once you said ‘I’m bored’ they’d put you to work—and you couldn’t take those words back!

[Note to self: I won’t be bored, I’ll be relaxing.]

Horsin’ around

Like many girls her age, my foster daughter is a horse freak. I mean, she gets really, really, really, excited about the idea of horses. Me? I’m not really into them so much. I mean, I like them and all, but I don’t get excited about them. I don’t think I ever did. (Cats are another matter, however.)

Anyhow, now that the weather is warming (Yay!) and the kid is getting ready to move on to her new, permanent home (mixed emotions!) I’ve realised that I need to show her the various horsey things I’ve been thinking about showing her for a while now.

So, two weeks ago on our way home from her last visit to my homeland, we finally stopped off at the Wild Horses Monument. It’s just past Vantage along I-90 and super easy to stop for a quick hike, but it seems that we’ve never had time, we didn’t have the proper footwear with us, or access was shut because of winter weather.

The day we stopped happened to be the day after I ran 13.1 miles, so my legs weren’t too happy about the last minute decision, but the look of excitement on the kid’s face made it worth it! She went running for the base of the hill at warp speed and if she could have managed that pace for the hike, she would have!

Once at the top, she had to touch and climb on each and every horse. It was great fun to watch her excitement—just as I’ve enjoyed watching the excitement with all of my nieces and nephews when I’ve taken them. I just never get bored of the hike and I know that it made that last drive from my homeland even more meaningful to her!

Then today we were going to go to the WSU Art Museum to watch the Summer Solstice String Quartet. But when I mentioned it the kid looked only mildly excited. So I asked if she’d like to go to the Appaloosa Horse Museum instead. Um, YES PLEASE!

When we got there, she was excited to watch the informational video about the horses whilst she drew a picture on the large sheet of butcher paper they had laid out. Then it was off to look at the other indoor exhibits before heading out back for galloping races and lassoing lessons with the other kids.

Sadly, there is a horse virus going around the region at the moment which means horses can’t travel around so she couldn’t see a real horse this trip. But she seemed pretty happy with the horse necklace I got her in the gift shop so that’s OK.

Anyhow, it’s weird to know that our time is coming to an end. But we both have places to go and happy futures waiting for us, so there are smiles despite the sadness. In the mean time, we have about a week to horse around a bit more. That’ll be fun…

Pieces of noon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Music lessons

It was about a year ago when I first loaded music onto my niece’s iPod. Her mom didn’t (and still doesn’t) have iTunes so her only music was from my collection; which meant her Uncle Paul’s collection, too. We randomly loaded as much music on as would fit and I told her to let me know what she liked and didn’t like and the next time she came to visit we could be pickier about how to use her 8GB of space.

Well, much to my surprise, it was Billy Bragg and Aztec Camera for the win! So at her next visit she got some Morrissey and Deacon Blue. OK, she pretty much wanted all of her Uncle Paul’s music.

Flik is now 13 years old and is very much a fan of 1980s British punk and rock—for better or worse. She also loves her Uncle Paul so very much—as evident by the fact that prior to his death, Paul was the only one allowed to call Felicity ‘Flik’ and since his funeral that is her preferred name. So that may have something to do with her love of the music.

Anyhow, this love for Paul and his music made it easy for me to know what to do with Paul’s old vinyl records. So this weekend I packed up the records and our record player and brought them to Flik. She seems pretty excited about Del Amitri and U2 and The Smiths and The Waterboys and, well, all of them, really. Her mom points out that the excitement is the main reason she cleaned her room today—otherwise there wouldn’t have been room for the new turn table and LPs.

One thing that really made her smile was that included in a box of 45s was a handful of hand-written play lists from back when Paul would DJ at University of Edinburgh discos. She’ll enjoy that, I think.

Of course, now the kid just has another reason to hide away in her room. Which may or may not be a good thing.

A light bulb moment

One of the things on the ‘to-do list’ before Paul died was to purchase new bedroom furniture—including bedside tables and lamps. We had everything picked out; it was just a matter of going to get them. But all of the sudden, it didn’t seem important.

Later, I couldn’t see the point in getting new stuff because I wasn’t certain I wanted to stay here. Later still, I couldn’t see the point in getting new stuff because I was certain I was leaving.

So, I continued using only the overhead light and I continued keeping my eyeglasses on the floor by the bed as I slept. Only the set up wasn’t really great for bedtime reading.

But then something happened—I got a free lamp! A nice one that would work nicely for bedside reading, too. So I brought in an old, empty filing cabinet that I planned to take to Goodwill and I threw a pretty sarong on top of it.

And now I’m enjoying reading in bed for the first time in years. It’s actually quite relaxing and enjoyable. Which is awesome.

Oh! And I got a giggle as I started reading a new (to me) Ian Rankin book last night because I imagine that if I continue leaving books all over my make-shift night stand, I’ll soon be giving Inspector Rebus a run for his money on the trail of books laying around the place!

Why today is awesome

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

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

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

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

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you!!

Lunch with Claudia

I’ve been quite lax in my determination to take back my lunch hour so decided that I’d take some me-time today because the stress of the world has been getting to me and I needed the respite. So I had lunch with Claudia Fitch at the WSU Museum of Art. (OK, I ate lunch then went to the museum because you can’t take food in. And not so much ‘with’ Claudia as with her art work.)

Fitch is a multi-media artist who creates sculptures from, essentially, rubbish. I generally like this sort of work, but I have to admit that I wasn’t overly taken by this exhibit. Now, this isn’t to say that she’s not a good artist—it’s just that most of her work wasn’t to my liking. Or maybe it was that I didn’t like seeing so much in one place because I think I’d have enjoyed seeing one piece tucked away somewhere in someone’s home. And I certainly enjoy many of her public art pieces.

However, there were three displays that piqued my interest today.

The first to catch my eye was ‘Backdrop (granite)’. Essentially, it’s three large chunks of brown butcher paper pieced together with a life-sized(ish) gray and white painting of a human(ish) form. I smiled when I saw it because it reminded me of when I was a young girl in Camp Fire and we did life-sized drawings/tracings of ourselves on butcher paper. (I wonder if Mom still has ‘me’ rolled up in a corner somewhere…)

The next one that caught me was ‘Floating Mechanism (nightshade)’. It just seemed as if it belonged on the set of a science fiction movie. One where an evil madman had created an army of evil robots (in this case, female breast looking robots) which were standing in ridged formation waiting for their activation orders.

Finally, I was bemused and amused with an untitled installation that consisted of several pieces ranging in size. It was created with re-bar and other metal bits and had glass and fiberglass globes and bobbles here and there. I didn’t care for the display with everything lumped together like that. But it’s just the sort of whimsy I’d have loved to see interspersed throughout a botanic garden or something.

So, would I recommend checking out the exhibit? Absolutely! You never know what you’ll like until you see it. And if you’re not around to see it, maybe you should check out the museums in your neck of the woods. It’s a great way to spend a rainy day and you might just find a new favourite artist!

Hopscotch

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

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

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

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

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

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

Challenging music

Over the summer, my friend set a challenge to listen to all of her iPod’s music collection alphabetically. A through Z; every song. Every. Last. Song.

I recall admiring her dedication and I also recall thinking it must have been easy enough since she had less than 1,500 songs and I assumed they were all music of her choosing. I recall smiling as I realised that she was truly enjoying the challenge—and enjoying re-discovering her music. She made several comments about how others should do the same, and I was mildly interested in trying it, but not enough to actually take on the challenge.

Until September 30, 2010.

Yep, that morning I got to the office, plugged in my iPod, and instead of selecting ‘shuffle’ I chose to play every song I had in alphabetical order. A through Z; every song.*

Every.

Last.

Song.

That was 130 days, 4,868 songs, and 313+ hours of play time ago.**

It was fun.

It was boring.

It was mind-numbingly boring at times.

It was exciting.

And it was educational.

So, here are some fun little facts, figures, and musical musings for you to ponder:

  • Letter with the most song titles: “S” with 540 songs
  • Letter with the least song titles: “Z” with 3 songs
  • Number of songs starting with numerals (so, “1” but not One): 21
  • Number of artists: 452
  • Number of albums: 555
  • Number of genres: 34
  • Song I have the most versions or copies of: “N17” by The Saw Doctors (Six copies)

Would I do it again? Oh, I don’t know. Maybe? But I’m not willing to make a promise at this point!

Would I recommend that you do it? Absolutely! It really is interesting and entertaining—especially when you hear long-lost tunes.

* Actually, A-Z plus 0-9, because some started with numerals.
** To save myself from complete madness, I opted to only attempt the challenge whilst at work which means that it took a bit longer to make my way through the collection than it would have otherwise.

Fannies and haggis

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

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

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

Check out photos from the weekend here!

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And check out some fun videos from the weekend below!

Insanity descends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I didn’t fall once…

Well, I’m back in America now. But not home. I’m still working on that. So, I’ll save the trials and tribulations of my homeward journey and instead just share yesterday’s super-happy day in Canada with you. (Yay!!)

The day started with a great night’s sleep—for the second night in a row. And it was only made better when I descended the stairs to be greeted by my friends once again. (I was even momentarily mistaken as Rebecca, which I think of as a great compliment!)

After breakfast, we loaded into the car and drove to the wine shop where us women folk bottled some wine whilst the boys popped into the local bike shop. When we finished, the boys drove the wine home and we girlies took a bit of a wander along the water.

Later in the afternoon, we loaded the car again then headed to Cypress Mountain to participate in the Lantern Ski. The last time I went skiing was with my friend, Roach (really), about 12 years ago, and it was down-hill, so I did find cross-country skiing a bit difficult. But, I am pleased to say, I didn’t fall ONE time. [Enter cheeky smile here.]

It was a fantastically-fun day. But a fantastically-long day, too. Which is why I’m posting this now, and not last night when I was too tired for a second cocktail, let alone playing on the computer! (Plus, my tail bone was very sore, since I didn’t fall once, and I just wanted to rest!)

So, those are the highlights from my last full day with great friends in Canada. This morning was a bit sad as I said my goodbyes, but knowing that I’d see everyone in the summer helped ease the tears of separation.

And then the travel trials began…

The highlights are that 1) it took twice as long to get to my foster daughter from Canada to where she was staying and 2) the roads over the mountain pass were too bad to continue after collecting her so we are crashing at the home of an old classmate who happens to live near(ish) the base of the pass.

We hope to continue our trek in the morning, and I promise to share the story when (if?) we make it home.

How hokey!

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

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

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

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

Paper flowers

As part of my self-actualization process rubbish I regularly search for creative inspiration. One form of inspiration I turn to often is writing prompts, which help motivate me to write (and think) about things I might not have otherwise.

Today I stumbled upon the following prompt:

List 10 things you can do with tissue paper. Pick one from the list and write about it.

But I don’t really fancy writing about what I can do with tissue paper. So instead, I’ve just done one of the 10 things and am sharing a photo of my creation for you now.

Yes folks, I’ve spent an exciting Tuesday evening making paper flowers.

A bonus to this is that I promised myself a while back that I would cut back on my spending in an effort to save money for my postgraduate tuition. And now that I have a pretty vase of paper flowers, I don’t need to buy any for quite some time! (Yay!)

Oh! And here’s my list of 10 things you can do with tissue paper:

  1. Make pretty flowers to make you smile
  2. Make a piñata to fill with candy
  3. Wrap awesome presents for awesome friends
  4. Decoupage a cool tin to store yummy cookies in
  5. Line the bottom of your socks and knickers drawer
  6. Make paper hats for inside Christmas crackers
  7. Make stained glass pictures for your mommy
  8. Wrap fancy sweaters before storing them for the summer
  9. Wrap a nice bottle of wine to give to an awesome friend
  10. And, finally, blow a snotty nose into it

An inspirational lunch

I remember visiting a friend not too long ago and being shocked to learn that he rarely took advantage of the great cultural and historical sites around him. I challenged him to use his lunch hour to see some of the places from time-to-time. I remember thinking how lucky he was to have such entertainment at his disposal, but how sad it was that he didn’t take advantage of it. (My guess is he still hasn’t.) But it dawned on me today that I have an amazing amount of cultural entertainment all around me that I never utilize.

I work in the center of a large university campus. All around me there are museums displaying art. There are concerts and lectures. There are exhibits for everything and anything everywhere! So when the university’s electronic newsletter for faculty and staff showed up in my email this morning, my eyes were drawn to a story about an art exhibit that opened today.

And because I am meant to be reclaiming my lunch hours, and because the museum is less than two minutes from my office (in fact, I park in the garage under the museum!), and because I’ve been feeling very arty these past few weeks, I decided to go at lunch time.

The exhibit at the WSU Museum of Art is called “Contemporary Australian Aboriginal Art” and is part of a collection belonging to Margaret Levi and Robert Kaplan. To be honest, I don’t know that I realized there was such a thing as contemporary aboriginal art, but then, I don’t really know anything about art. (But I know what I like!)

When I walked in, I couldn’t help but start smiling. I think it was because the art is so similar to what I like to draw: squiggles, swirls, lines, and dots. Only where my ‘art’ is just mindless nothings, I can see the thought that went into this—and the use of traditional symbols in many of the pieces helped to tell a story. (Thank you to the museum for providing legends to the symbols throughout the exhibit!)

Anyhow, I am inspired! I am inspired to continue my quest to reclaim my lunch time. I am inspired by the art and am excited to create some new drawings of my own. And I am inspired by seeing the paint on linens and canvas—so much so that I am now inspired to see if there is a painting course that I can take so that I can pretend to be an artist a bit more.

Yes, I think I should do that. Wouldn’t it be fun to learn how to paint?

Anyhow, I hope you’re inspired, too. I hope you’re inspired to take time for yourself; inspired to see an art exhibit; inspired to create your own art; or just inspired for the sake of inspiration.

Crafty chick

I’d like to tell you that I’m completely over my blue mood, but that would be a lie. I have, however, been having an enjoyable weekend despite it.

My original plan for yesterday was to have a relaxing afternoon at the spa, but since the kid’s plans got cancelled, so did mine. So instead, the two of us went into town to pick up some craft supplies and to paint some ceramics at Wild @ Art. We ended up spending most of the day out-and-about but it was quite enjoyable. In the evening, we both worked on our silliness worksheets and after she went to bed I re-learned how to use watercolor paints.

Today we were going to spend some time doing some crafts together, but instead she abandoned me to go play with her friend. Which is cool because 1) kids should spend time playing with other kids and 2) I got some time alone after all!

So, instead, I’ve spent the morning coloring silly little picture frames and baking banana bread. Soon I will start making lunch (fried egg sandwiches, anyone?) then a big pot of split pea soup to re-stock the freezer.

The best part about getting all of this done so early in the day? There’s still plenty of time for an EastEnders omnibus and maybe I can even get started on my new Ian Rankin novel. Oh… and maybe I can even sneak a nice, long soak in the tub into the day somewhere. Yay!

No “E”

Q: What does a geeky word-enthusiast who’s just cancelled her cable do for entertainment?

A: She re-reads one of her favorite lipograms, of course!

Yes, I’ve just finished re-reading Ernest Vincent Wright’s Gadsby: A Story of Over 50,000 Words Without Using the Letter “E”.

It is the best story I’ve ever read? Certainly not; but it’s one of my favorites because it really does show that language can be fun, entertaining, and quirky. It also displays how someone with a grasp for the language (and with a thesaurus at the ready) can communicate their thoughts and ideas with alternative words and phrases.

I find the idea of challenging the English language fascinating, and enjoy seeing others break out of the normal flow of our language with such success. And let’s face it, Wright certainly succeeded – especially when you consider that the letter “E” is used five times more often than any other letter in the English language.

Of course, challenging the norms and throwing away centuries of lingual evolution are two separate issues… but I won’t get into that today. (Hey, but that’s a rant you can look forward to later!)

I’ve never met anyone who has read the story, so my reading challenge to you is to check it out for yourself. It’s a quick read and available online.

Cutting the cord

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heading east

About three months ago I wrote that I was getting ready to watch The West Wing. All of it. Seasons 1 through 7. At the time I thought I’d be able to plough right through and accomplish the task within a month. Well, that didn’t happen but I’ve finally watched the last episode this evening.

I was extremely excited when I first started the series because so many people I know told me how fantastic it was. In fact, one overly-enthusiastic fan informed me that (except for Season 5) “…the whole thing is the best telly on the planet. Ever. Period.” I received similar reviews from others – including the opinion that Season 5 was, essentially, rubbish.

Now, in an effort to not be overly contrary I have to say that the show was, on whole, very good. Not the best telly on the planet, but certainly very good. In fact, I even liked Season 5. (I will make no apologies for that statement.)

However, I think that I made a mistake in watching it all back-to-back-to-back. I think that part of the reason I wasn’t overly impressed is that I got a bit of West Wing Fatigue. It just seemed a bit monotonous after a while. Maybe if I’d seen the show one episode at a time over a period of years, I would have enjoyed it more. (This isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy it, I just didn’t totally and completely love it like crazy.)

I had originally planned to start watching The Sopranos next, but I feared that watching it all at once would cause me to become a bit bored of it, too, and I can’t bare the thought of being bored by one of my favorite genres: mob flicks. So I’ve decided to just watch a couple episodes a week and mix them in with re-watching a series I’ve already seen, and love, Black Adder.

NOTE: In case it didn’t make sense, my post about “The West Wing” was titled “The signs point west” and now, because the settings for both “The Sopranos” and “Black Adder” are east of the Pacific Northwest, I am heading east. I know, I know: If you have to explain it, obviously it wasn’t that clever…

The signs point west

I decided to take advantage of a 30-day free trial on NetFlix today in a quest to rent the movie Stone of Destiny, after learning of the conspiracy surrounding the stone over which Scottish Kings were traditionally crowned and being a fan of Scottish history and all. OK, my true desire may be based on the fact that Robert Carlyle [swoon!] is in the movie.

After signing up, however, I learned that the movie is not yet available in America. (What? America is the greatest country in the whole wide world. Why does Britain and Canada get it, but we don’t?! I’m totally writing to my congressman over this one!) Blah blah blah…

Relatedly (is that a word?), for nearly a month I’ve been hearing friends, family, co-workers, and acquaintances mention The West Wing in casual conversation. Having only seen – at most – half a dozen episodes I’m generally at a loss for the references. And this seems to be happening more and more. In fact, in less than a week two different people made reference to the same scene from episode #32!

Seeing as I couldn’t get Stone of Destiny, I started to browse the selection of available titles. And that’s when I stumbled upon the fact that you can rent television series and watch the entire show season-by-season. So, I’ve ordered Season 1 of The West Wing and expect that I will begin watching over the weekend – if the delivery times they state are accurate.

My goal is to watch the entire series before the 30-day trial is over so that I can cancel the subscription before I get charged. Then, since I won’t have to pay $9 a month for NetFlix, I will feel better about having to pay nearly $11 to buy Stone of Destiny. And really, it can’t hurt to have a bit of Robert Carlyle in my movie collection. I’ll keep him next to my John Hannah movies…