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!

New year; new hopes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So long, 2012!

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

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

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

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

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

Survived

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preparing for alone

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

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

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

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

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

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

Failure to launch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Visa hiccups

2012.08.12.visaIt would seem that I am being challenged on my visa journey this time around. And it is so very frustrating!

As you may know, I have been trying to switch my visa from a Tier 4 (Student) to a Tier 2 (General Work). But to do that, my employer needed to apply to the UKBA to become a sponsor.

For the past few months, there have been various back-and-forths on this, that, and the next thing to get everything lined up so that I can apply for my visa before my current one expires in mid-January.

And—finally!—everything came together.

The plan was simple: Make my application online and pay the extra £300 for the premium service which would include an in-person interview and a decision within 24 hours.

The hope was that I could get an interview for the next week so that I could have my passport back in time to travel to the Homeland for Christmas—realising that the last-minute ticket would cost a small fortune.

So I filled out the online application. Only there aren’t any available appointments before Christmas. In fact, there aren’t any available appointments before my current visa expires!

What does this mean?

Well, first of all it means that I will have to send off my application by post (which means I don’t have to pay the extra money). Along with my application I have to send my passport and other supporting documents. And since it can take six weeks—or more!—to get everything back, it means I can’t go home for Christmas.

It also means that I have to talk to the HR folks at work to make sure that they realise that once I apply, my current visa automatically extends until my application is decided. Because if they don’t clearly understand that, they may not let me work (or pay me!) until the new visa arrives.

So whilst this isn’t ‘good’ visa news, it’s certainly not bad visa news. (And let’s hope it doesn’t transcend into bad news!)

Of course, now I need to figure out a Plan B for Christmas. That’s going to be hard!

The master

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

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

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

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

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

Forty-nine days

My visa expires in 49 days. My employer is working on getting sponsorship approval for me so that I can apply for a new visa, but I don’t know if it will all happen before my current visa expires. I might be entitled to a two-month extension, giving me a bit of breathing room to apply for the work visa, but I’ve not heard back from the Home Office to confirm that.

I have just moved into a new flat with a six-month lease. I have spent nearly all of my savings. If my visa doesn’t go through, I have no job, no money, and no legal right to stay in Scotland—but I will still owe the balance of my lease (and my two-year mobile phone contract). I will be destroyed financially—and emotionally.

I am stressed. I am worried. I am frightened. I worry that my mental health and emotional well-being will be on dangerous ground if my gamble doesn’t pay off. I am fearful that losing this dream will turn my life into a spiralling nightmare.

I have to be honest and say that my world is consumed with the stresses of WhatIfs these days. I’m trying not to be doom and gloom, but I really am afraid. I know you can’t fix it. I know that there is very little I can do about it at this point. But I’m trying to stay positive and I’m trying to be upbeat. It’s just hard some days. And the closer I get to November 11 without a visa solution, the harder life will be. Oh, and if I don’t get a visa, I can’t even attend my own graduation ceremony, which isn’t until November 23!

So, yeah. That’s what’s going through my mind these days. I must find a happy outlet …

A step toward the future

I’m working on a big step toward a happier future. Well, I’m working on several big steps at the moment, but there’s only one that’s a certainty at this moment.

And in this bag is a little something to celebrate that step. It’s from my amazing friend, Rebecca, and I can’t wait until I get to take it out of the bag and admire it.

But what is it and when do you get to see it? Well, I can’t tell you what it is (or what the step is) but I can tell you both of those things on September 14. Deal?

In the mean time, isn’t it a pretty bag? And it’s flocked, too.

Now… back to preparing for that next big step because there are lots and lots of little steps in between now and September 14!

The dating game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That dissertation? Done.

First, an apology for my absence the last week. I’ve had some Website glitches and had to enlist the help of some amazing friends who are fluent in Web Geek (I am merely conversational at best). Anyhow, the site is still under observation and I may be absent again—but I will tell you all about that later.

Now, to the important announcement:

My dissertation has been handed in—a full 24 hours and 20 minutes before it was due. (Yay me!) I now have to sit around and wait until sometime in October to find out how I did. So if you’re lucky, you won’t hear about it again until that time. But since you are here, I’ll chat a bit more about the process of turning in the most important piece of academic writing I’ve ever done!

I am so excited about having completed 12,108 words, plus another 2,000 or so for the appendices, abstract, acknowledgments, and other bits and bobs. When I printed everything off last night, I was beaming.

But then, as I walked through town on my way to campus, I couldn’t help but think about the ‘old plan’ where I was meant to do my master’s degree part time whilst my husband and kids supported me from home. Up until that life change, I’d always imagined celebrating this moment with Paul. I don’t know how we would have celebrated, but we would have done something.

Instead, I turned in my dissertation then went to work. And when I got home this evening, I looked around the flat—now empty of its former stacks of library books—and wondered what I would do with my life next.

There have been no celebrations, only reflections on what life ‘should have’ been and the long struggle to get to where I am now. And as I start to realise that there may not be anyone in the stands for my graduation in November, I’m struck at just how very alone I feel some days. (I know I’m not alone, and the comments and interactions from my Facebook friends tell me very much that I am loved and supported.)

So. Now what? What do I do? Where do I go? What does my future look like now? I wish I could answer some of those questions for you now, but I can’t. Maybe soon though. In the mean time, I will keep holding on to hope and faith and I will take the days one at a time.

Oh! And did I tell you that I turned in my master’s dissertation today? Well, I did!

A year later

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

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

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

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

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

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

I dreamt a dream

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

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

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

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

I dreamt a dream whilst still awake
by Just Frances

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

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

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

Counting my chickens

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

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

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

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

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

Quiet-ness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunny days

The sun is shining brightly in Scotland today. And I am so thankful for it because it’s made me realise how happy I am right now.

Yes, I admit that I spend a couple of tearful days cooped up at home feeling sorry for myself. But even as I did that, I was well-aware that life is mostly good these days.

In fact, despite the anniversary-related tears and a couple of days last week that were filled with literal rain, it’s been a pretty sunshine-and-happiness couple of weeks.

I know it may not last. I know that life’s challenges may bring me more tears and that Mother Nature may bring me more rain. But for today, I’m happy; for today, it’s sunny.

And that means smiles and laughter and picnics in the park. (Picnics overlooking a cemetery near the castle, but cemeteries can be places for smiles, laughter, and picnics, too.)

Yay! for sunny days!

Seven years

I started a post yesterday, but couldn’t bring myself to finish it through the tears. You see, yesterday was my 7th wedding anniversary—and the 4th one I’ve spent as a widow. And it really hurts to realise that, which means that the past couple of days have been filled with tears and sorrow.

But I couldn’t let the fact that I had a wedding anniversary go un-acknowledged, so here I am acknowledging it.

May 21, 2005 was the happiest day of my life. I never would have imagined then the pain I’d be in now, but I would do it all again in a heartbeat. After all, you have to grab love and happiness when you can get it—and if you’re lucky, that love will be so strong that it carries on for eternity.

I love you, Paul.

The Desiderata way of life

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

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

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

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

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

The Desiderata
by Max Ehrmann

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Without regret

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Easter reflection

Easter Sunday is rolling to a close and I’m sitting here thinking about how wonderful my life is because of my Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. I truly am blessed to have the love of Jesus in my heart and in my soul. He has been a constant in my life and my faith in Him and the salvation He offers has kept me going these past few years.

I know, I know: I don’t normally go all Alleluia! and stuff, but it really is there in my heart and soul every day. And it really has saved me from myself since Paul died. That faith has kept me going and given me the hope to continue each day—even when I don’t want to continue; even when I feel like I can’t continue. That faith has given me the hope that life will get better and that, one day, life will be wonderful again.

In the mean time, I’ll pray. And I’ll hope. And I’ll look to the future. And I’ll survive.

As for my Easter, it was OK. It’s the first Easter since Paul died that I made a nice meal. The first Easter after he died, I took a hike to distract myself and last Easter I had my foster daughter for a distraction. I guess I just felt that making a big meal would make the day easier, so I enjoyed a nice meal of baked ham, au gratin potatoes, and roasted asparagus—and a couple glasses of Champagne. Was it the way I wanted to spend the day? Not really, but it beats spending the day sulking around the house. And thanks to an unexpected phone call from my good friend, Joanne, I even enjoyed a wee chat.

And now, it’s back to school work and job applications. Not very Easter-y, but I’ve got to keep focused on the future because I can pray all I want but I doubt Jesus is going to come down and write my dissertation for me!

Happy Easter, everyone. He is risen; let us rejoice!

My Good Friday

Today is Good Friday, a day of great importance for many Christians—including me. It’s also a day of fasting for Catholics (and maybe other religions?). So, I’m fasting. I’m not starving, but I’m certainly fasting.

Still, it’s been a good day. I had a wee sleep in this morning and when I finally managed to drag myself out of bed (I won’t confess the time) I took a bit of time to work on my butterfly swirl and catch up on emails. Eventually, I made my way to the shower before taking some time to get more school work done.

Then, I did something I shouldn’t have done: I went to town for groceries. Yes, whilst fasting—whist hungry—I went to the shops for food. But I rationalised it because I was afraid that if I didn’t go today there wouldn’t be a ham left for my Easter dinner on Sunday. Thankfully, a grocery list kept me from buying too much more than I needed. And even then, my hunger-driven impulse buys weren’t too bad: A package of strawberries, a bottle of wine, and a pack of crisps. None of which got eaten today. (Good girl points for me!)

Yes, I’ve had a good Good Friday. I hope you have, too. It won’t be long until we’re celebrating the resurrection of my Saviour, Jesus Christ. Oh, what a wonderful thing to celebrate!

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.
~ John 3:16

A Lenten poem

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

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

A Poem about Lent
by Elena dal Friuli

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

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

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

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

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

Random thoughts: Challenging things

Random thoughts—Week 2: Write a list of 10 challenges you’ve faced in the last three months. Pick one and write about it.

Wow. Ten challenges in three months? I guess that means I’m going to have to define challenges a little more loosely than I normally would. But let’s see where I get, huh? My list will be done in chronological order and I’ll write about the last one. (Though I’ll link to previous ones if there is a story to pair with it.)

  1. Getting through another Thanksgiving and Paul’s birthday without Paul
  2. Finishing final papers and exams for my first semester of graduate school
  3. Surviving (and enjoying) Christmas
  4. Surviving (and enjoying) New Year’s Eve (despite the sadness and grief that hit the first bit of the New Year)
  5. Finding the energy to participate in life after a difficult start to the New Year
  6. Competing in my first race since my marathon
  7. Teaching myself how to edit videos
  8. Finding the courage to book myself a night away (on my own!) for my birthday
  9. Overcoming my mental block toward making Sunday roasts
  10. Getting through another Valentine-less Valentine’s Day

OK, so how did I manage to get through the challenge of another Valentine-less Valentine’s Day? Well, to be honest I holed up in my flat all day. Not really in an effort to avoid the day, but just because I felt that I had enough to occupy myself with here on my own.

Valentine’s Day is one of those days I dread now. It’s silly, I know, because it’s ‘just another day’, but it’s also a day when it becomes even more obvious that I’m alone now. I guess that the real challenge of this day is to not let the sadness encompass me.

I know the day’s not over yet, but I think I’ve won the challenge. Yes, there have been a few moments of sadness (and tears) but I’ve not been consumed with those things. Instead, it’s just been a normal day with some reading for school, some crafty stuff for a soon-to-be shared project I’m working on, and lots of cooking and eating of food.

Oh, and as I reflect on my list of challenges from the past three months, I have to say that I really am blessed. Money is tight these days; my future seems scary and uncertain at times; I’m sad and lonely some days; and I desperately miss Paul. But my challenges aren’t bad. They don’t include things like searching for a warm place to sleep or scrounging for scraps of food. My challenges don’t include fighting (or fearing) for my life or struggles to keep my family together. Yes, I am blessed to have such frivolous challenges to face!

And as for this writing challenge, I really feel sorry for Rebecca this week. I mean, my challenge was to list some challenges, but her challenge is to write a story about tap dancing cockroaches. So be sure to check in on her to see how she gets on with her ick-worthy topic.

Random thoughts: Top 50 no-gos

Random thoughts—Week 1: List 50 things I’ll never do.

  1. Climb Mount Everest
  2. Compete in a sport professionally
  3. Give birth (sadly…)
  4. Celebrate 50 years of marriage
  5. Eat monkey brains (but in general I’m up for trying new/different foods)
  6. Become a nun (but I wanted to at one point in my life)
  7. Go deep-water diving
  8. Have cosmetic surgery (unless, of course, I’m in some horrific accident and need to be repaired)
  9. Buy an iPhone or iPad
  10. Commit suicide (Don’t worry! It’s never been an option or thought!)
  11. Buy a brand new car
  12. Participate in an ultramarathon
  13. Have lasik surgery
  14. Drink tequila shots out of someone’s navel
  15. Be a space tourist
  16. Pierce my nose
  17. Sail the Seven Seas
  18. Join a nudist colony
  19. Ride a barrel over Niagara Falls
  20. Drive drunk
  21. Juggle knives
  22. Watch Battlestar Galactica by choice
  23. Drink Gin and Tonics
  24. Go on a shooting safari
  25. Run with the bulls
  26. Follow the ‘5 Second Rule’ outside of my own home
  27. Back down on a running disagreement regarding my pro-Oxford comma stance
  28. Have a pet monkey
  29. Play golf in a lightning storm
  30. Abandon my faith
  31. Ridicule someone for their faith (or non-belief)
  32. Declare the certain non-existence of extraterrestrial life or Bigfoot
  33. Participate in past-life regression
  34. Cheat on my taxes
  35. Wear an ‘I’m with stupid’ t-shirt
  36. Give up carbs
  37. Become a vegan
  38. Quit Facebook
  39. Cook (or eat) liver
  40. Not vote in an election I’m allowed to vote in
  41. Be ashamed of my nationality
  42. Rob a bank
  43. Drive a train
  44. Drive blindfolded
  45. Turn by back on my family
  46. Wish and hope for bad things to happen to other people
  47. Deny my small-town, redneck roots
  48. Pretend to be dumb
  49. Betray my friends
  50. Be normal (bore-ing!)

OK, wow! That was really hard. And I admit, I’ve really done some reaching on these. Further, I admit that I didn’t put loads of things up that I thought I might ‘be forced to do’ at some point in my life. That said, I can’t be 100% certain that the future won’t bring some strange reality that sees me being forced to rob a bank, drive a train, and betray my friends. But I imagine that if my life got to that point, we’d be facing some apocalyptic disaster or that my friends would be staging a massive intervention!

(Here’s hoping my next random topic is easier!)

Just because you fall

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

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

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

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

31 happy things

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

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

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

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

31 Happy Things to Look Forward To

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

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

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

Another year passes

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

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

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

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

A lesson in carols

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

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

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

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

More than gifts

It’s Christmas Eve already. Wow! It seems to have jumped up out of nowhere. But, I am pleased to say that I have all of my shopping done. And I’m pleased to say that a couple of unsuspected gifts have arrived for me from America, too.

Yesterday was spent shopping and wrapping and truffle making—with a bit of time devoted to drinking mulled wine. And now, today, I am nearly ready for tomorrow. I just need to drizzle some white chocolate on the truffles.

But it’s not just about the shopping and the truffles and the wine and the gifts. No, Christmas is more than that. It’s a time to celebrate the birth of my Saviour, Jesus Christ. This is a very important time of year for me, and even though I may not speak of it often, I am humbled to walk through this life with Christ by my side.

I wish you all the merriest of Christmases—whether you’re celebrating the birth of Christ or just the gathering of family and friends. I hope your hearts are filed with joy!

For a child is born to us, a son is given us…
~ Isaiah 9:5

One down

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Re-packing

I’ve spent a bit of time packing today. Wow, it seems like I’m doing that a lot lately. But I hope it’s a while before I have to do it again.

I started packing about six months ago. First, it was my home—a long, emotional process that hurt in ways I never would have imagined. Then, a little over two months ago, I packed two large suitcases for my move to Scotland.

When I unpacked two months ago, I knew it was temporary, so I knew that the time would come to pack once again. But that doesn’t make it any easier.

You see, I move into my new flat on Monday. A place of my own. A new home. A new chance for a happy future. With all of that newness, you’d think I’d be happy about packing up. But it’s hard to be happy. It’s hard to be happy about moving into a home of my own when I always thought I’d have someone to share my home with into old age.

I think it’s a bit worse because I don’t know what happens next. I don’t know if I’ll be staying on in Stirling—or even Scotland—after graduate school. I don’t know if I’ll move again in six months or a year or ten years from now. And it’s hard to not know. It makes me feel so scared and unsettled. It makes me wonder if I will ever have a real home again.

I know I’m being silly and that I shouldn’t worry too much about the future, but I can’t help it. I do worry. I worry about floating between one thing and the next and never having a bit of permanency again. I worry about a million little things that I shouldn’t worry about.

I am still convinced that this entire crazy adventure is a good thing. I am still convinced that, despite the sadness that comes with it all, this is what I need to do to find some peace in my world again. I just need to stop thinking about the sad things and the worrisome things and start thinking about the happy things.

Like: I’m going to have a new home where I can decorate as I like without having to compromise on design and style. I’m going to have a warm place to live whilst I study for my master’s degree—a degree that has been part of my educational goals for more than a decade. I’m going to have a place to call my own and a place to cook meals and entertain friends. I’m going to have a new home where I can sit and dream new dreams. And dreams are like food for the soul.

Monday will be here before I know it.

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!

Job done!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Classy lady

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The feathers

A couple of nights before we had services for Paul in England*, a woman I know told me a story about feathers. She said when angels pass by sometimes their feathers fall to the ground. And that our loved ones become our own angels when they die.**

Anyhow, when we arrived at the cemetery after the Mass, there was a feather teetering on the edge of grave. When I noticed it, I think my heart skipped a beat from the surprise of it. It made me smile inside—even though I was sobbing outside—because I knew that Paul was with me that day. His eldest sister noticed it, too, and bent to pick it up then handed it to me. She was just as pleased to see it there as I was, as she’d been there when the story was told. After the services, I placed the feather in my journal.

When I returned to my hometown, I stopped off at the cemetery there. And inside of the little flower box my Dad had made as a temporary grave marker, there was another feather. Again, it made me smile because I knew Paul was there with me. That feather found its way to my journal, too.

Over the past two years, I’ve been very aware of feathers. When I’ve had a hard day and notice a feather in an unlikely place, it brings me a bit of joy because it’s another reminder that Paul is here with me—in my heart and soul and in my memories. Sometimes, I find myself talking to Paul and asking him if I’m doing the right thing or to show me the way, and then I’ll see another feather.

Now, I know that Paul isn’t speaking to me through feathers (nor do I save them all!), but I also know that seeing them reminds me that Paul wants me to be happy and if the choices I’m making in my life will help toward that, then he thinks it’s the right thing (even if it’s not what he would do). And because the last year has been especially busy with big decisions (applying to school, quitting my job, leaving our home, and moving to Scotland) I’ve been asking for Paul’s guidance and approval more than ever.

When I found myself at the SeaTac airport, past security and on my way to Terminal S, I was surprised and very pleased to find a feather laying there at the landing between escalators. It brought such joy to my heart because it reminded me that I was making the right decisions and that Paul would want this for me. So I picked up the feather and continued through the airport; knowing that Paul was there with me.

I’m still trying to find my bearings and I know that it’s still early days, but I know that this is going to be a good move for me. I need to re-learn much about living in Scotland, but I already feel a bit more at ease with my world.

(And I really do promise that I won’t become that mad woman with a collection of hundreds and hundreds of feathers. That would be just silly! But I’m sure I’ll end up with a small handful by the time my journey is done.)

* I chose to have Paul’s cremated remains buried in both my hometown, next to my grandparents, and in his hometown in with his parents. I realise it seems strange, but knowing that I can visit him no matter which country I chose to live has given me a great sense of peace. (Also, the Catholic Church does allow this practice, so long as all remains are buried in consecrated grounds. If you wondered; as some have.)

** I actually don’t believe that our souls become angels, but I do believe that Paul is up there somewhere and that he is watching over me.

Caledonia, I’m going home!

Wow! Can you believe that I’m flying ‘home’ to Scotland tomorrow? Or should I say today, since it’s past midnight in the homeland (why am I still awake!?) and morning time in Scotland.

I have to be honest and admit that today sort of snuck up on me. The past two+ years have been so filled with grief and stress and worry that even though I’ve been looking forward to my return to my beloved adopted Caledonia (that means Scotland) I haven’t quite allowed myself to believe this is happening.

I’m happy. I’m sad. I’m excited. I’m frightened. And I’m everything else in between.

I can’t help but think that my goodbyes over the past few weeks might be my final goodbyes. I can’t help but think that I don’t know what my future will hold when I arrive—and I can’t help but worry that it will be a failure. I can’t help but think about how much I will miss my Mom and Dad and my nieces and nephews and my sisters. I will miss my friends and my home country very much.

But at the same time, I can’t help but think of the joyful song my heart has always sung when I’m in Scotland. I can’t help but think of the enjoyment I will find in studying  (no, really!). I can’t help but think about the joys of spending time with my new friends and my wonderful in-laws.

It’s been an agonizing journey, and I know that the pain isn’t over. I have no expectations of a perfect world waiting for me. I don’t think that my move will erase the pain or make my world instantly better. But I do know that I need to do this. And I do know that my heart and soul need this to help me ‘get better’.

I am leaving behind a world I’ve known for my entire life, and heading to the world where I feel I belong. And I’m so very ready for it!

Caledonia you’re calling me, and now I’m going home!

Choices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bug gear

I had a post all ready about how beat tired I was and it was only Monday. But I’m not going to post it because my stress and exhaustion is nothing compared to what my niece is going through right now.

So instead, I’m going to give a plug for the new Team Buggie CafePress site so that you can go buy some Bug Gear if you want.

Bug heads to Seattle in the morning for her first week of chemotherapy. I’m sure she’d appreciate all the prayers and good thoughts you have to spare. Maybe some for her folks and sister who are all exhausted and stressed, too.

I love ya, Bug! xx

Team Buggie

My awesome niece, Bug, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma the other day. She’s just days away from turning 15 and is an amazing kid. Really.

Bug is a golfer. She’s a softball player and a soccer player and a basketball player and an any-other-sport-you-can-think-of player. Well, maybe not a rugby or cricket player because we just don’t do that in our neck of the woods.

Bug likes math and she’s good at it. Heck—Bug just likes school in general, and is good at it.

She likes hiking and camping and fishing and hunting.

And she’s stubborn and bloody-minded. And she’s a fighter. And she fights like a girl. And girls fight to win. And when she says she’s gonna do something, she does it! And she says she’s gonna beat this. And I have no doubt in my mind that she will.

Go Team Buggie! We all love ya lots and lots. xx

A faith-led journey

Today is Ash Wednesday; the start of the Lenten season. For 40 days (and six Sundays) I will reflect on my faith and my relationship with Jesus Christ, my Saviour. And as I contemplate the essence of the penitential season meant for the preparation for Easter, I am invigorated by the thought of examining my faith.

As a Catholic, I will spend today fasting and will make my way to Mass where I will receive Communion as well as have ashes imposed on my forehead. (Which will inevitably mean explaining for the rest of the day that, yes, I am aware I have ‘dirt’ on my face.)

Then, throughout Lent I will abstain from meat on Fridays. This in itself isn’t difficult because I only have meat 1-2 days a week anyhow, so I think the true challenge is remembering that it’s Friday. Inevitably, I will forget. But I know that I will be forgiven by my Saviour. Though I suppose the ‘good side’ of forgetting is that the moment I realise I’ve just eaten meat on a Friday, I begin a conversation with God. And it’s always good to have chats with God in my book!

I love Lent because it seems to make me so much more aware of my faith. And let’s face it, if it weren’t for my faith I would have been lost long ago.

I don’t suppose these are the right words, but I hope the sentiment is clear: I wish you all a happy Lenten season!

Sans pancakes

Well, it’s Pancake Day and I’ve managed to remember and forget and remember and forget and remember all since I woke up. Of course, by the time I had my final remembering moment it was too late to plan for a pancake dinner.

It’s funny, because for days and days I’ve been excited about tomorrow—Ash Wednesday. I’ve got my work calendar blocked out so that I can attend Mass and I’ve even given a great amount of thought as to how I could do my ritual fast without affecting my foster daughter’s meals. (As she’s only 11 and not Catholic, I don’t feel it’s fair to make her fast. However, she’ll be participating in “Fish Fridays” with me until Easter.)

So, with not enough time to prepare pancakes, I did the next best thing: I picked up a couple of cream puffs on my way home—and a fun secular Easter-themed PEZ dispenser.

And now that I’ve feasted a bit, I am ready to prepare my heart and soul for the Lenten season.

(Check out last year’s post about my views on Lent here.)

Fear is a burning bridge

Over the past several weeks I’ve made a lot of decisions that will have a lasting impact on my life. I’ve set the wheels in motion for things that will ruin my finances, end my career, destroy a friendship, and send me into a spiral of doubt and uncertainty.

I am so excited about my future and about the opportunities I have in front of me. But at the same time, I am more frightened than I ever thought possible. Some days, I can pretend that everything is going to be OK. But some days, I can’t.

Fear is a burning bridge behind you and a dark, foggy, trail-less forest ahead of you.

Sadly, my flashlight runs on hope and faith and I seem to be running low on supplies…

(But tomorrow will be better. Right? …)

Thirty-seven birthday wishes

Today is my 37th birthday. And the birthday girl gets to make wishes. And I don’t believe in the whole “if you tell anyone your wish it won’t come true” malarkey, so I’m sharing my birthday wishes with you—all 37 of them.

I am truly blessed because I know that I have family and friends around the world who will help make so many of my birthday wishes come true. Thank you, everyone, for being part of my life!

I wish for:

  • A year where I am happy and carefree
  • Good health
  • Good health for my family and friends
  • My nieces and nephews to have all of their dreams come true
  • Schrodie to be happy with Flik, my amazing niece who will [hopefully] be taking over service to the cat when I leave for Scotland
  • The confidence to know that I’m making the right decisions in my life
  • The strength to carry on when things seem hopeless
  • The ability to forgive others graciously
  • Composure when I’m facing upsetting situations
  • Laughter when I can’t stop crying
  • Laughter for no reason at all
  • Friends who support me
  • Friends who allow me to support them
  • The ability to laugh at my mistakes
  • More empathy and sympathy when dealing with the struggles of others
  • My foster daughter to have a bright and happy future filled with love and security
  • Children around the world to be safe and secure, without fear of abandonment or starvation
  • The ability to be kind even to the cruelest of people
  • Patience and understanding in all situations
  • An end to wars and strife and struggles around the world
  • A world filled with love and acceptance
  • The courage to always do what is right, even when it’s not popular
  • The enthusiasm needed to succeed in school
  • The knowledge and intelligence needed to succeed in school
  • The humility to accept my faults
  • The esteem to love myself despite my faults
  • The acceptance to love others despite their faults
  • The health to complete my first [and last?] marathon in October
  • The good sense to not make myself ill by pushing myself too hard
  • The faith to remember that God is there beside me even when I feel abandoned
  • Good fortunes in love and happiness for my family and friends
  • Good fortunes in employment and wealth for my family and friends
  • My days to be filled with child-like wonderment and laughter
  • Days where I laugh so hard that my sides ache
  • Good friends to celebrate my joys with
  • Good friends to commiserate my sorrows with
  • And a windfall of money so that I don’t have to stress about my finances for the next year (Come on, you didn’t think all of my wishes were going to be for sunshine and happiness, did you?)

100 random things

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

100 Random Things about Just Frances

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

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

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

Survival kits

We have survival kits for camping trips and natural disasters. We have special kits for snake bites and cuts. We keep emergency kits in our cars and we even carry mini-sewing kits when we travel—just in case. But it seems that we don’t keep on hand the important supplies needed to survive the knocks and punches of everyday life.

If I could, I would gather all of the supplies needed to survive life’s journey, package them up, and send them to all of my family and friends, to all of my readers, and to all the people I share this Earth with.

But I can’t. So instead I’m going to share with you a supply list and urge you to gather the items and keep them nearby—and remember to help those around you who need the extra care by making an extra kit or two. (Just in case.)

A Survival Kit for Life’s Journey

  • A rubber band to help you be flexible, and not break
  • A cotton ball to cushion the rough times ahead
  • Hershey’s Hugs and Kisses as a reminder that we all need hugs and kisses
  • A golden ribbon to tie hearts together in friendship
  • Life Savers as a reminder of the times we need each other’s help and to keep you from drowning in everyday chores
  • A toothpick to pick out the good in everyone… including yourself!
  • An eraser because everyone makes mistakes; and that’s okay, we learn by our mistakes
  • A pencil to list your blessings every day
  • A tea bag to help you relax daily and go over your list of blessings
  • Marbles for when you lose yours
  • A candle to remind you to share your light
  • Jewels to remind you how valuable you are to me

Two-poem Thursday

When I’m feeling stressed I turn to my writing prompts. Today, that meant working on a new form poem, which led me to writing a prompt-less poem as well. 

First, the form poem:

Hold on
by Just Frances

Hold on to your love
Even if your heart is broken

Hold on to the peaceful thoughts
Even if your world seems at war

Hold on to your faith
Even if you can’t believe

Hold on to your courage
Even if you’re too afraid

Hold on to your dreams
Even when they seem impossible

•••••

And now, a bit of rubbish that I typed without prompt (other than emotion):

The path I walk
by Just Frances

I once walked with confidence;
My every step full of faith
I once planned with ambition;
My future certain

But then my path was blocked
And my steps faltered;
My plans were shattered
And my future was lost

I now walk with cautious fear;
My every step full of worry
I now plan with hesitation;
My future unclear

The new path is treacherous;
Winding, narrow, and dark
But the way is lit with candles;
Left by those who’ve travelled before

•••••

Obviously, there is a reason that I’m not the nation’s poet laureate, but I don’t mind because my rubbish poems are for me—not the betterment of America.

New year hopes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflections of 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April: I re-discovered Kamiak Butte.

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

June: I started reading an excellent book series.

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

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

September: I went fishing and I was silly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merry Christmas

Today I celebrate the birth of My Lord, My Saviour; Jesus Christ.

May the joy of the season be with you today and throughout the year.

Silent Night
by Joseph Mohr

Silent night, holy night
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon Virgin Mother and Child
Holy Infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace

Silent night, holy night!
Shepherds quake at the sight
Glories stream from heaven afar
Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!
Christ, the Saviour is born
Christ, the Saviour is born

Silent night, holy night
Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth

2010 Christmas card and letter

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

Dear Family and Friends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merry Christmas!
Just Frances

Dear Stress and Worry

Dear Stress and Worry:

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

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

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

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

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

And I am going to banish you.

Signed,
Finding Courage

Tearful but thankful

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The good, the bad, and the uncertain

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

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

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

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

Today I will…

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

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

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

Today I will…

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

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

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

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

Today I will smile more and cry less.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today I will remember to love myself.

Today I will remember to pray.

Sometimes I want to…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God’s Eyes

On the drive home from the airport Friday evening, I started to think about Ojo de Dios (God’s Eyes). I don’t know what brought the thought to mind, but I’m sure it was a winding road of completely unrelated subjects. (A regular journey in my crazy little mind.)

By the time I got into town, I realized that I really wanted to make a God’s Eye. And luckily, I had almost all of the supplies needed: Yarn, scissors, and hands. Of course, I was missing the ever-important supply of popsicle sticks. So I needed to travel to the next town to purchase a box of popsicles.

Sadly, the kid managed to lose all privileges for the whole of the weekend which meant that she couldn’t help with the chore of excavating the sticks from their frozen prisons. Which meant that I needed to eat two popsicles after she went to bed on both Friday and Saturday nights* so that I had the required four popsicle sticks for today’s crafting time.

After the kid was finished with her chores (her room is amazingly clean now!), I got dinner started (homemade beef stew), we had lunch, and I did my chores (working on my personal statement for graduate school), we sat on the couch together to make some God’s Eyes. Of course, this was after I spent some time online re-learning how to make them since I’ve not done it since I was the kid’s age! (Wow! That’s 25 years ago!)

If you’re wondering, this is all a part of my life goal to be blissfully happy. Doing these simple little things is enjoyable and I’m finding that the more crafty stuff I do, the more I seem to smile, which is also why I’ve just signed up for the Sketchbook Project. Look for more on that soon! And don’t forget to check out my coursework from my online class The Art of Silliness2, too!

* She knew this was happening and was disappointed but also knows why and accepted this fact with very little argument. She managed an entire weekend of removed privileges along with extra chores with very little argument as part of our “every action (or non-action) has a consequence” lesson plan. I’m a mean foster mommy, yet she’s an amazing kid despite it!

Inspirations; Part 3

I’ve done a lot of praying this past week in the hopes of finding the strength, courage, and inspiration I need to accept a challenge facing my already fragile world. My fears are great and my confidence is weak but I have faith. And my faith will see my through.

The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
~Psalm 27:1

When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me?
~Psalm 56:3-4 

He gives power to the weak; and to those who have no might He increases strength.
~Isaiah 40:29

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
~Isaiah 41:10

For I am the LORD, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you: Do not fear; I will help you.
~Isaiah 41:13 

I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
~Philippians 4:13

The gift of life

My aunt received a new(ish) kidney today, courtesy of a very dear friend of the family. (We’ve always said that Jeanne was part of the family – and now she really and truly is!) My aunt was the third family member to receive a kidney transplant. The first was my uncle, who received a kidney from another uncle in March 2002. The second was my mom, who received a kidney from a ‘cadaver donor’ in September 2006. In all three cases, the new kidney means a new lease on life – a chance to live free of dialysis.

But why all the transplants? Because my family has been affected by Polycystic Kidney Disease – one of the most common life-threatening genetic diseases. It affects approximately 1 in every 500 people. It does not skip a generation and parents with the disease have a 50 percent chance of passing the disease on to each of their children.

Over time, the number and size of the cysts will increase, along with the size of the kidneys. Whilst a normal, healthy kidney is the size of a fist, a PKD-riddled kidney can grow to the size of a football, weighing several pounds.

There is no cure. But with proper diet, exercise, and care (including the ever-important issue of keeping blood pressure low) the progression of the disease can be slowed. Ultimately, someone with PKD will need dialysis and/or a transplant at some point.

Four of my parents’ six daughters have the condition – including me. And the next generation of my family is also affected by it. And the odds are that the one after that will be affected, too.

I won’t get on my soapbox about organ donation, because if you know me, you already know my views. But I encourage you to learn as much about organ, tissue, and blood donation as you can and make an informed decision as to if it is right for you. And be certain to let your next-of-kin know your wishes, because they will ultimately make the decision for you should you die.

For more information on becoming a donor please visit the Organ and Tissue Donation and Transplantation service in the USA or the NHS Blood and Transplant service in the UK.

But, back to my aunt and the amazing Jeanne. The entire family is so pleased that such a wonderful woman has done such a wonderful thing. I know that my teenaged cousins are pleased to know that their mom will be up and running around with the vigor and excitement she once had. I know my mom will be pleased to have her sister around for years to come. And I know that everyone will always know that a woman who didn’t have to sacrifice so much did – with nothing to gain other than the knowledge that she’s given the gift of life.

Thank you, Jeanne. We all love you more than you may ever know!

And a thank you to the transplant team at the University of Washington Medical Center. I know I’m a Coug fan, but today, I’m shouting GO DAWGS!

A lazy day

I started the day off thinking I’d do some weeding in the garden. Maybe work on my tan a bit. So, I broke out the gardening tools and poured a glass of cheap-and-cheerful white wine. Then Schrodie came by to visit and reminded me it was a Sunday. And as a good Catholic girl, I should know that Sunday is a rest day.

Then I remembered seeing a flyer in the post office for lawn service and I figured that if I’m willing to pay someone to clean my house, I should be willing to pay someone to weed the flower beds.

With that thought firmly planted in my mind, I broke out the patio table and chairs – carefully situating it so that I could sit in the sun whilst the laptop and phone sat in the shade.

And now, with a bottle of wine and a couple of good books waiting for me and The Divine Comedy providing the day’s musical enjoyment, I’m going to sit back and relax.

Ahhh….

If God used sticky notes

A woman I’ve never met gave me a small book a few days after Paul died.
If God Used Sticky Notes” is just a little picture book but I’ve probably read it 30 times in the last year. I don’t know if it’s my passion for sticky notes or my unwavering faith in God that makes the book so special to me, but every time I open it I smile and think about the kindness of strangers.

It’s going to be a good day today! ~ xo, God

To be blissfully happy

Sometimes I need to be reminded of my ultimate goal in life: To be blissfully happy. On those days, I reflect on one of my favorite poems, Desiderata, by Max Ehrmann. His words are truly inspirational to me. I look forward to the day when joy and happiness come as easily as breathing again…

Desiderata
by Max Ehrmann

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miss you much

It’s been a year since Paul died; a year since I became Just Frances again. I made the drive to his grave in Cle Elum today to bring him some tulips from our yard. He would have loved to see how bright they are in the flower beds and I wish that he was here to admire them on our mantle.

My sister took some tulips up for him yesterday – similar colors to those I brought – and Paul’s family took tulips up to his grave in England. Tulips are my favorite flowers, so that’s what he seems to get now. I hope he doesn’t mind…

Paul, you are always in my heart and on my mind. I miss you much, but I don’t regret an ounce of this pain because it means I loved deeply and truly. I love ya, luv. xx

 Miss You Much
The Clumsy Lovers

I miss you much, but I don’t regret
I sense your touch, that hasn’t left me yet
You know a mournful ending don’t ruin a precious start
A painful parting don’t mean a bitter heart
 

And gracious your beauty
Goodness your soul

Everything’s changed, and you’re not here
But you keep climbing into my dreams somehow
Your voice is strange, but the words are clear
You’re saying “Love me now, love me now, love me now, love me now”
and I do… I do love you.

Great neighbors

When we bought our house, Paul and I really looked forward to tending to the garden. With a lot of nearly 10,000 square feet, we knew it would be a lot of work, but we didn’t care. That first spring and summer we were out almost every weekend and really made it beautiful.

Last spring, we drew up plans for some major garden projects in the back yard and spent some time in the front yard once the snow melted away. The week before Paul died, we spent a long (and enjoyable) day raking and weeding and mowing before enjoying a well-deserved picnic lunch under the cedar trees. The next weekend we planned more work. But God had plans for Paul that we were unaware of.

All last year, various neighbors kept the yard mowed for me. A couple came by to trim some trees, another couple came by to help remove piles of leafs. And I was ever-so-grateful. This year, I know that it’s time I get back out into the yard and start taking care of it myself. And I’ve been planning to do that for the last two weeks, only I got sick.

As I drove home this evening, I dreaded the thought of having to mow the lawn. As I rounded the corner of my street, I decided that (despite doctor’s rest orders) I should just suck it up and mow at least part of the thing tonight. But as I pulled into my drive, I saw that someone else already came by on their riding mower. I don’t know which wonderful neighbor to thank, but I’ll tell you what, it’s totally made my day!

I am still dreading the day I finally make it out to do work in the garden because I know it will just remind me that Paul isn’t there to help, but I’m kind of looking forward to getting my hands dirty. Maybe I’ll start slow by weeding the flower beds later this week. Then at least I won’t feel too guilty for picking some of the flowers to bring into the house.

Right! The main point of this entry is to exclaim:
I have amazingly wonderful neighbors and am very lucky to have them!

Easter at Kamiak

I decided to spend Easter Sunday hiking Kamiak Butte. I wish you could have joined me, but as you couldn’t, I brought you along in my heart and soul instead.

I’ve taken photos of the hike to share with you, though I wish I could have shared the smells and sounds of the day as well. I hope you enjoy the photos as much as I enjoyed my day out!

Happy Easter!

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Near fail on day one

Ash Wednesday is a fasting day in the Catholic Church. I’ve spent nearly a week preparing my mind for that fact.

Current Canon Law states that on a fasting day (for which there are only two obligatory days for Catholics: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday) you may eat only one full meal during the day but you may also eat up to two “collations” (small meals or snacks) which combined wouldn’t be the size of a full meal. There is no restriction on fluids (including alcohol) so fruit juices can help replace some of the lost caloric intake. I am a bit more restrictive than most people I know and eat only what’s necessary for the day – and don’t drink juice or alcohol. The elderly, the very young, and the infirm are released from obligation on fasting days.

So, I woke up this morning and had a cup of coffee. Got to the office and had a cup of mint tea. Went to Mass and received Communion. Got back to the office and ate my first collation: About 2 cups of fresh veggies.

All day I’ve been thinking about my dinner. It needs to be simple and meager, so I decided I would have a can of Chef Boyardee raviolis. My second collation would be six saltines about an hour before bed. No problem, right?

PROBLEM! It’s just dawned on me that Chef Boyardee raviolis have MEAT in them. No meat on Ash Wednesday or on Fridays during Lent.

Problem solved: I will have a two-egg omelette with cheese, onions, and peppers served with a small portion of roast potatoes for dinner instead.

That was a close one! I’m so happy to have had that thought pop into my head!

Lenten obligations

Lent is a funny little ‘season’ in modern society. Each year people around the globe begin to talk about what they’ll give up for those 40-some days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. Conversations about what is meant to be a spiritual quest for believers sound more like mini New Year’s resolutions. People who rarely – if ever – step foot into a church begin to talk about their weight loss goals or about giving up booze, caffeine, cigars, video games, or social networking sites. Seldom do I hear people talk about the true essence of the penitential season meant for the preparation for Easter.

Now, this isn’t to say that people shouldn’t be allowed to abstain from whatever vice they chose. It’s not even to say that only Christians are allowed to participate in the Lenten season. It is merely an observation from someone who (mostly) tries to follow through with the thought that Lent is a time to strengthen your relationship with God, with your own being, and with your neighbors. In more basic terms, Lent is about baptism – the preparation for baptism and for renewing baptismal commitments.

The three traditional pillars of Lenten observance are prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. (For more information: http://www.catholic.org/clife/lent/faq.php)

Often people think of Lent as a time of needing to make a sacrifice (hence abstaining from favored vices) though it can also be a time of taking on a faith-based task – a burden, if you will.

Over the past several weeks I’ve thought long and hard about what I could do to prepare for Easter. What spiritual task could I take on? What burden could I accept as a way of bringing myself closer to my God? I’ve gone back and forth on this issue countless times and what I’ve realized is that since losing Paul not even a full year ago, my soul and my heart already feel so burdened and I just can’t imagine taking on anything more.

But my faith and my desire to find some spiritual guidance won’t allow me to use Paul as an excuse to absolve myself from my religious obligations. I’ve also noticed that while I’ve not lost my faith in the past 10 months, I have lost my passion for my faith. And so, I’ve decided that I will bring passion back to my life for the Lenten season. I will pick up my battered copy of the bible once again and try to find a bit of solace in it each day. As I struggle through the daily process of grieving for Paul, I will turn once again to my faith to help me through. And I hope that by Easter Sunday I will have found a little more peace in my world; a little more acceptance for my loss; and a greater connection with my God.

While I go through this journey, you may find me posting a little more about my faith. (Have I mentioned yet that I’m Catholic?) I hope that you’ll respect my right to freedom of religion, as I respect yours; and while I realize that for many of my non-Christian friends it may be a bit uncomfortable to read about my faith journey, I hope that you’ll stick with me, because while my faith helps to defines me, it won’t be the main player in this blog.

And for those who are looking at last-minute Lenten obligations, here is a little something to ponder:

A Lenten Reflection
Give up complaining – focus on gratitude.
Give up pessimism – become an optimist.
Give up harsh judgments – think kindly thoughts.
Give up worry – trust Divine Providence.
Give up discouragement – be full of hope.
Give up bitterness – turn to forgiveness.
Give up hatred – return good for evil.
Give up negativism – be positive.
Give up anger – be more patient.
Give up pettiness – become mature.
Give up gloom – enjoy the beauty that is all around you.
Give up jealousy – pray for trust.
Give up gossiping – control your tongue.
Give up sin – turn to virtue.
Give up giving up – hang in there!

~ Unknown author