To date, or not to date?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New year; new hopes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So long, 2012!

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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 …

Digital Diaries: Constructing and managing online identities through blog therapy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 …

Inspirations; Part 8

It’s been more than a year since I’ve shared some bits of inspiration and since I’m really feeling the need for some positive thinking, I thought I’d share some this evening.

A conflicted heart feeds on doubt and confusion.
~ Emily Thorne; Revenge

Even if happiness forgets you a little bit, never completely forget about it.
~ Jacques Prévert

Don’t let the fear of striking out hold you back.
~ Babe Ruth

Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr

A successful man is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks others have thrown at him.
~ David Brinkley

ITP Awareness Month: My story

September is ITP Awareness Month, so I thought I’d share my ITP story with you.

First, some key bits of information so that you know why it’s such a big deal:

  • ITP stands for idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura which is, essentially, a very low platelet count. A normal count is 150,000-400,000 (generally said as 150-400).
  • The lower the number, the higher your risk of bruising and prolonged bleeding/healing—or at the extreme, spontaneous internal bleeding and haemorrhaging (‘brain bleeds’ and such).
  • It is classified as a rare autoimmune disease.

This story is about my personal journey. If you want more information on ITP, check out the following links:

Right. Now let’s get this story going!

My story begins in late 1995 when I was just 21 years old. My energy levels were sapped and I could barely drag myself out of bed most days. My arms and legs were covered with bruises; my gums bled when I brushed my teeth; cuts took ages to stop bleeding and even longer to heal. It took a while for me to fully realise that something was wrong, at which time I went to the local clinic to be checked out. By this time it was January 1996.

It was only an hour later that I was called back into the clinic for more blood work because my platelet count was in the single digits and they thought it might be wrong. A subsequent draw gave similar results. Then there was a bit of panic with the nurses and doctors who were making loads of phone calls before prescribing me some prednisone and asking me to come back the following day.

In the days to follow, I had my blood drawn almost every day. I also began to experience the evil side effects of the steroids. But despite the medication, my platelet counts never rose above 30. I was frightened, to say the least.

Soon, my rural family doctor made an appointment for me with a haematologist in Seattle. I didn’t have anyone to take with me, so I made my way on my own and found that the haematologist’s office was in the Oncology Unit. You know, like cancer! As I sat there in the waiting room, watching cancer patients come and go, I began to cry. I was even more frightened by this time and there was no one there to hold my hand.

Meeting with the haematologist was strange. She talked to me about the possible causes including leukaemia. She also talked to me about the various tests she needed to run—some of which required bone marrow aspirations. As I left the hospital, I was shaking. I was still no closer to knowing what was wrong with me, but I was increasingly frightened that it was the worst case scenario. (The side effects from the evil prednisone didn’t help.)

Eventually, it was decided that I had ITP and that they would do a splenectomy to ‘cure’ me—a decision I felt I was bullied into at the time and one that I regret to this day. My surgery was April 1996 and by June of that year my counts had stabilised to a ‘normal’ count of around 160, though they would drop to the 80s when I had a cold or other illness.

Unfortunately, by February 2002 my body decided that stable wasn’t good enough and my counts took a drastic nosedive—with a count of six (yes, 6) on my birthday. Once again, I found myself back on the prednisone. And, once again, I found myself frightened. But because the prednisone wasn’t working this time, they put me on azathioprine as well.

It took several months for my body to regulate itself again, only this time it stabilised at an average count of 70-80. Which meant that getting sick means drops of 40 or below.

Today, my average counts are still around 80, but I have had a couple of 150-180 counts, too. (Which makes me happy.) But, sadly, I still get low counts (my last low was 13 back in March).

What does this mean for my life? Well, it means that I have to listen to my body. It means that I have to be careful and pay attention to any new bruise. It means I have to keep an eye out for signs of a low count (fatigue, petechiae, nose/gum bleeds). It means that when I get a cold, I get a double-whammy of a low count. It means I have to be careful around things that can lower my counts (chemicals, certain foods). And, frustratingly, it means that I have to argue with people who think that I need to be treated like an invalid.

But I can still live my life. I can still run and play and do things. Yes, I have to be careful and I have to use common sense, but that doesn’t mean I don’t get to enjoy life.

So, that’s my story. It’s not interesting or anything, but at least I’m alive to tell it!

[That’s a picture of my platelets that I drew when I had a count of 10 in January 2011.]

Packing up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The dating game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Braving it alone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heigh-ho, heigh-ho

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

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

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

I HAVE A JOB!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What it doesn’t mean is that I will:

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

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

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

The cruelty of random memories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dissertation Month Update:

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

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

Tomorrow’s task list:

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

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

They’re braver

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I dreamt a dream

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

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

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

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

I dreamt a dream whilst still awake
by Just Frances

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

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

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

Getting back into the [blogging] game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Three years gone

It’s been three years since Paul died so suddenly; so unexpectedly. Some days I can’t believe that he’s gone. Some days I struggle with comprehending the fact that I lost the most important person in my life. It just seems so unfair; so wrong.

I still struggle with grief some days. The loneliness and sadness encompasses me and I can’t move for the pain. Though, thankfully, those days don’t come as often as they once did and I have learned how to manage my grief; how to survive it.

I am now in a place where I can imagine a happy future most days. I can imagine laughing and smiling; feeling safe and secure; and even feeling good about myself again. (And often times I don’t need to imagine because I am actually happy quite often and I laugh and smile most days, too!)

But, no matter how happy I am, or I can imagine myself being, I still miss Paul. I miss his smile and his laugh. I miss conversations (and fights) with him. I miss curling up on the couch with him in the evenings and waking up next to him in the mornings. I miss holding his hand. I miss the kisses and the hugs. I miss having to hide the chocolate (and the peanut butter) and I miss checking ingredient lists for contraband (he was a vegetarian). I even miss him getting frustrated with me for not making mashed potatoes the right way.

Really, I just miss Paul. All of him. I always will…

Say no to bunny boilers!

There is a new campaign against stalking starting in the UK today and I thought it was a perfect opportunity to talk about stalking on Just Frances. The National Campaign Against Stalking aims to talk about stalking and to educate people on what stalking is and the rights that victims of this (in my view) act of psychological terror.

So, today I’m going to do my part to bring the conversation into the open so that we can eliminate some of the stigma (and misunderstanding) about the issue. First, it’s important to know that, whilst we joke about it, stalking isn’t a joke. It is a frightening experience for the person being stalked.

Second, it’s important to know everything you can about the laws in your region and what you can do to protect yourself. Every country is different; every state different. So educate yourself. There is no way that I can go into all of the information here, but some great starting points for your information gathering are at the end of this post. But if you’re truly in fear at this moment in time—contact your local police. It’s better safe than sorry. Or dead.

I can’t tell you the number of times each week I hear (or make) jokes about stalking my friends online. I’m sure you can relate to this. We tell people we know that we’ve had a good look around their Facebook page and we ‘feel like a stalker’ all of the sudden. We Google people we know (or used to know) to see what they’re doing now. We search for information, and in the case of social networking platforms, we’re freely given information from our friends and acquaintances. This is (generally) not stalking.

Stalking is unwanted harassment. It’s unwanted attention. It’s unwanted contact. And most of the time, it’s done by someone the victim knows. (Find more information here.)

If you find yourself in a situation where you are receiving unwanted contact, tell the person to leave you alone. Tell them NO in no uncertain terms. And then ignore them. But keep records of each and every time they attempt to make contact. Yeah, sounds easy, doesn’t it? But take it from me, that first NO can be difficult, especially if it’s someone you know. And that’s where I’ll segue into my own story of being stalked.

Stalker Sam (madey-uppy name) and I started out as friends. But he wanted more than that. And I wasn’t forceful enough in saying no because I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. So I still agreed to meet him for coffee ‘as friends’ because I thought he would learn to be OK with that. Instead, he became more adamant that I would change my mind.

And that’s when the gifts started to appear. That’s when the flowers started to arrive. And that’s when the phone calls and text messages and letters (soaked in his cologne) started to increase. He would track my car down and leave cards on the windshield when I was out running errands. He even gave gifts to my parents and my sisters.

I took the advice of lawyer and law enforcement friends and told him NO one last time. I told him to stop contacting me—full stop. And then I began to ignore him, whilst keeping a record of every contact he made.

Then one day, he cornered me after Church to tell me that God told him that I loved him and that we were meant to be together—I was just playing hard to get.

I was frightened and also embarrassed because I wondered if it was my fault. Maybe I should have been more forceful in saying no. Maybe I should have been kinder to him and tried to maintain a friendship. Maybe I said NO in a way that could have been interpreted as YES. (Wrong! No means no and this was not my fault!)

Eventually, his contact waned (helped by the fact that I returned to Scotland) but every once in a while he gets in touch again. Like right before my wedding. Like right after my husband’s death. Like when he started a Facebook account. And each contact has been ignored then recorded in my Stalker Sam journal.

I’m not as afraid of Stalker Sam now because I like to think he’s moved on and is no longer a threat to me. But when I’m in the homeland and I see him, I panic. If I see a car that looks like one he used to drive (I don’t know what he drives right now) or if I smell his cologne, I panic. If I see someone out of the corner of my eye with his build and hair colour/style, I panic. Even though I am thousands of miles away from him.

Was I ever in ‘real’ danger from Stalker Sam? I don’t know. I don’t know what would have happened if I’d done things differently; I don’t know if he was capable of causing me physical harm. But what I do know is that he scared me and that his actions were wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

OK. I’ve gone on for a bit here. But I hope that my rambling helps you to become more aware of stalking. Don’t do it. It’s not nice. And if you feel that you’re a victim, reach out to someone for help. Below is a list of links to help you find more information—because information and knowledge are powerful tools!

Applying myself

With less than six weeks of classes left—and less than 20 weeks until my dissertation is due—it’s time to start thinking about the future again. And that means getting a job!

Of course, it’s not as easy as just getting a job when you’re a foreign national who requires a visa for work. Then again, with the current levels of unemployment in the UK skyrocketing, it’s even more difficult!

So, I’m applying to jobs. Lots of them. Some are right up my alley and others would be a step backward but a job is a job. Plus, all of them would give me the opportunity to stay on here in Scotland if I was offered the job.

Sadly, I’ve yet to have success. I’ve not even made it to the interview stage yet. But I keep looking and I keep applying. Because eventually someone is going to see my application and realise that I am the best person for the job.

I have another round of applications going out this week, and at least one of the jobs is one that I really, really want. Your good thoughts and prayers are appreciated! And in return, I promise to keep you posted about the job search.

Out of place

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll get by

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My shattered ego

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

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

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

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

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

Ouch.

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

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

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

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

Ouch. Again.

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

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

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

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!

Booking courage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

One down

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scholarly doubts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paranoia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A cunning plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

For the grade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Solo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sign here

Remember how I said that I think I found a new flat? Well, yesterday I paid the deposit and today I picked up the contracts, which means I’m one step closer to a home of my own again—even if only a temporary one.

I have to admit that yesterday was a bit of a hard day for me and I nearly didn’t go to pay the deposit. Several little things made me question myself and sent me into a bit of mild hysteria as I wondered if I had chosen the right flat and I even began to stress about the stress that might be waiting for me in a year’s time when I have to figure out the next steps for my future.

But I managed to calm myself down and I reminded myself how right this new place feels and how I can afford it and how I really believe I can be happy living there. It’s funny, because as soon as I paid the deposit I began to feel a bit better. (Yay!)

I now have the daunting task of reading through the contracts and trying to understand UK rental speak. Of course, I’m lucky to have friends who will read through them as well and will answer questions I may have about the wording.

The next step is to take in the signed contracts and wait. And wait. And wait. Because I don’t get the keys until October 24. That’s a lot of waiting for someone who hates waiting!

But to keep myself busy, I have a marathon to think about. Oh, and there’s always that master’s degree I’m meant to be doing to keep me busy, too.

And (I promise I’m nearly done) I have picked up my crochet hooks again so that I can make a pretty throw for the couch in my lovely new flat. Maybe I’ll share my progress with you on that soon.

The flat hunt begins

I’ve been looking at flats on line for several months and now that I’m in town, it’s time to start looking in real life! Of course, I’m starting to think it will be a long, hard, emotional process!

I’ve scrimped and saved for the past two years so that I could afford to return to Scotland for my post graduate degree, but despite my efforts I am still going to be cutting it tight on the financial side. I no longer have a comfortable income. I no longer have a car. I no longer have a great credit history. (Well, I have one in America but it doesn’t translate to Scotland so I’m credit-less here.)

All of this means that I need to find a place that I can afford on a tight budget and that it needs to be in the city centre so that I can walk everywhere—or take a bus trip when needed. Thankfully, most flats in my budget are furnished. Sadly, most of them are crappy little dives, barely big enough to swing a cat.

Yesterday was a bit of a blow when I learned that most of the reputable letting agents required you to be in (preferably full time)employment. My student status seems to be a negative one, despite the fact that I’ve spent the last several years as a working professional and that I am not a typical student (you know, being 37 years old and all!). My healthy(ish) bank balance doesn’t seem to matter nor does my offer to pay several months’ rent in advance. No, in order to rent with a reputable company, I will need a guarantor. (Which I know I can do if required.)

Regardless, I registered with a couple of the better agents yesterday and today.

Of course, I also realised that I need to check out the agents with a less-than-fantastic reputation, which is what I did today. It seems that they’re not as bothered with my student status, nor are they concerned about my unemployment—and they’ll happily let me pay in advance so that I don’t need a guarantor.

As luck would have it, one of today’s agents had a flat just across the road that was on the upper end of my budget so we walked across to have a look. It’s in a great location for town (two blocks from the coffee shop I’m sitting in whilst writing this post) and is a ‘good enough’ size. However, I noticed immediately that the entry stair (whilst clean-ish) was dingy and smelly. I also noticed that the flat is grimy and smelly—in fairness some of this could be from the student who is currently residing there, though some is certainly damp.

I have to say, I am sad that my upper limit budget will only get me that type of flat in the city centre. And I have to admit that it makes me cry a bit. I could manage living there for a year, but I fear that I would be sad doing so as it’s such a stark contrast to the lovely home I left behind in America.

But, I have another flat to look at on Thursday. It’s the same price—again, at the upper end of my budget—but is a bit over a mile from the city centre which means it should be a bit nicer for the same money. In fact, the photos are lovely. Sadly, it means taking the bus more often, but if it’s as nice as it seems on line, then I think it will be a better choice for me emotionally. And of course, I would need a guarantor to secure the place, but if I must, I must.

To give a happy spin here: I have to remember how lucky I am that I have a good friend to stay with until I find a place. Rebecca has kindly opened her home to me and whilst I know we’d both rather our own space, I also know that she’s happy to house me in between now and then. (I promise not to stay so long that I wear out my welcome!) Of course, I guess the nice thing is that the longer I stay, the more money I have to spend on a flat—which would mean a nicer place all together!

Anyhow, I’ve only just begun and I’m not stressing out yet, but I’ll take all the luck you can send my way!

In flight

Ah, the modern world. Don’t you love how it’s filled with gadgets and gizmos aplenty and whozits and whatzits galore? After all, it means that I can bring you this blog update from an airplane some 10,000 feet above the ground!

So, here I am somewhere in the air between my home state of Washington and the Minneapolis airport. I’m flying on a standby buddy pass (i.e.: dirt cheap!), so was pleased to have gotten a seat on my first leg without problems. The next leg is Minneapolis to London and I’m hoping for good luck once again. Once I get to London I’m on my own and am travelling full fare, but it’s still an amazing savings.

(A special shout out of thanks to a special friend who sorted my travel. I won’t name her because I don’t want to make her phone ring off the hook for others looking for cheap travel, but please know that she is an amazing woman and whilst I don’t know her well, I feel that she is a true friend and someone I hope to know for the rest of my life! Lots of love to you, my friend!!)

But I digress…

I guess the point of this post is to distract me a bit from this new reality that I’ve yet to admit. It just doesn’t seem possible that I’m finally on my way. I feel as if I’m in a dream world and that this is just a little jaunt to someplace. I’ve been shutting out my emotions so much these past few weeks and I know it!

Don’t get me wrong, I cried when I said goodbye to my folks today (and my sister, two nieces and a nephew who joined us at SeaTac). And I’ve cried a few times since getting through security. But it’s all still a dream.

But I think my meltdown moment will be either when I arrive in Heathrow or when I arrive in Edinburgh and am greeted by Rebecca. (Yes, Rebecca, please expect tears. But please know it’s not you!) Yep, I’m a step closer to the dream and it won’t be long until my future becomes my today!!

[That’s a photo of me with the folks just before I got in line for security. I miss them already… (and not just because of the cooking and laundry they’ve done in the past month I’ve been staying with them!)]

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!

An unemployed, homeless transient

Last summer I shared with you my rocky start in life as an illegitimate, homeless transient. Well, it would seem that I’m back to a less-than-ideal lifestyle again.

Yes, folks, I am officially an unemployed, homeless transient.

My last day of employment was July 8 and I said goodbye to my lovely home this morning. I am in transit now—literally—having stopped about half-way between the home I just left and the home I grew up in.

I will stay with my parents until I leave for Scotland, where I will essentially wave to my friends, drop off my bags, then head to England to stay with various in-laws for a couple of weeks before heading up to Scotland to settle in. Once back in Scotland, I will rely on the goodwill of good friends for a while as I try to find a job and a flat of my own.

I make light of the terminology, which isn’t fair since so many people are facing these terms against their will. This really is a hard time for me, despite my joking, but I am lucky in that my situation is [mostly] one of my own making. Yes, it began with the devastation of losing Paul and becoming a widow so unexpectedly at such a young age, but the rest was mostly driven by my path to find a bit of joy in my world.

I am looking forward to my arrival in Scotland, where I will try to make my home. I must admit that I worry about my future employment, and I worry about my future housing and transient status. But I don’t worry about being safe and secure because I am going home where I expect I’ll be welcomed with open arms.

As always, you can continue to expect a few sad and reflective posts on Just Frances as I continue to find my way to this new future. But you can also look forward to some fun and happy posts over the next few weeks as I have a busy social calendar for my final days in the homeland! Stay tuned to hear all about it!

[That’s a photo of what an unemployed, homeless transient looks like after a week of unemployment and three hours of homeless transient status, if you wondered.]

Stuff hurts

I’m really tired of getting rid of stuff. It really hurts to part with even the most simple of items. I struggle each time I post something on CraigsList or take another trip to GoodWill.

I want to keep all of it. I want to keep the little twisty-tie things from the junk drawer and the spare hair brush in the hall cupboard. I want to keep the canning jars and the tea pots and the Post-It notes and the screwdrivers. I want to keep the CDs and the FiestaWare and the lamps and the table.

I want to keep all of those silly little things that you collect over the years to fill up your house—you know, those things that make your house your home.

But I can’t keep it all. And each time something else leaves, it’s another reminder that most of my dreams never came true. Each time I part with something else, it’s another reminder that this house is no longer my home—that I won’t have a place to call my own for a very long time. If I ever do again, that is.

As I look around the house now, it looks so strange. The room that was meant to house the children we planned to adopt is bare—the twin beds sold last week, the book shelf and desk the week before that.

The small guest room is empty; the large one only holds a bed and a couple of half-filled boxes now. My room is filled with boxes of clothes instead of dressers—and will soon be empty, too.

The laundry room is nearly empty—just the cat’s belonging, some old Christmas decorations, and a shelving unit remain. The washer and dryer sold two weeks ago and the ‘booze cupboard’ left this evening.

The kitchen cupboards are slowly emptying. The dining room table that we worked so hard to refinish should be gone this week. The CD case left yesterday.

I don’t know how many times this weekend I’ve just stopped in my tracks to cry. I know it’s just ‘stuff’ but it was all part of the home Paul and I built together and I don’t want that to end; even though I know it has to.

I keep telling myself that once I’m done clearing out the house it will get better but sometimes I don’t believe myself. I worry that once I go to stay with my folks it will be worse because I’ll be gone from the home Paul and I shared. And I worry that once I get to Scotland it will be worse because I’ll be there without him, when we were meant to be there together.

But I know that I have to do this. I know that I can’t stay here in this house surrounded by this stuff. I know that I have to keep moving forward toward this new life and this new plan. It just hurts so much some days because I still wish I had the old plan.

It’ll get better. It has to…

Seller’s blues

For two weeks now, I’ve been selling loads of stuff on CraigsList and I can’t believe how mixed my emotions are at the process. The stuff I’m selling is just stuff; random, run-of-the-mill stuff. It’s not treasured items with high sentimental value. It’s not extremely valuable antiques or jewellery. It’s just stuff.

My first sale was an old clothes drying rack. Simple, boring, but useful. And only $10. The next day I sold an IKEA outdoor table set and a bookshelf that was actually rescued from the Dumpster. As the week went on I added a vintage handbag and an awesome sewing stool to the list of sold items.

This week I’ve already sold a set of drinking glasses, a large wall mirror, a chain saw, a Crock-Pot, a popcorn maker, placemats and napkins, and a variety of garden tools. Oh—and I sold the washer and dryer, too.

I’ve got $425 to add to my savings account now, which is like £265 in today’s money, which will really help once I get to Scotland. It may not sound like much, but every penny I gather now means less relying on friends and family once I arrive.*

So, if it’s just ‘stuff’ and I’m adding to my savings, why am I so sad?

Maybe it’s because if Paul was here I wouldn’t be parting with this stuff because we’d still need it as part of our happy family plans. Maybe it’s because as the house empties I’m reminded that my life and my entire world have changed so drastically—and devastatingly—over the past two years. Maybe it’s because I’m so afraid that I’m going to fail in Scotland and be forced back to America where I will have only the clothes on my back and my failure to keep me company and I’ll be forced to start over again and again and again.

I am really, really looking forward to getting to Scotland and starting over. I really, really do believe that it’s the path I need to follow to find some joy in my life. But I really, really hate that it’s an extremely bumpy and hilly and poorly lit path. And once I get to Scotland, the path will be a bit bumpy, too. But, as there doesn’t appear to be an alternative path, I’ve just gotta suck it up and keep going…

Happy. Sad. Happy. Sad. Happy. Sad. This back-and-forth is really hard on a girl’s emotional well-being!

* Yes, I know my friends and family want to help and are happy to do so, but I want to stand on my own two feet as much as I can. I hate that I’m going to be poor again and I really hate the idea of asking for (or needing) handouts. But, as some of my wise friends and family have pointed out, I may need to swallow my pride and take the help. Still… every penny counts.

A nickel for my thoughts

As I walked to my car after work today, I noticed a nickel lying on the sidewalk and smiled as I swooped down to pick it up without missing a step. I mean, it’s only a nickel and most people wouldn’t have bothered, but as I’ve blogged before about my willingness to stop for coins, it shouldn’t be surprising to know that I’ve done it again.

Anyhow, it got me thinking about my future a bit—both the excitement and the insecurities! And since I’ve found it helps me to write about these things, you get to read a few of them! (But I’ll start with the bad and end with the good. Yay!)

The insecurities:

  • I’m [still] afraid about the financial side of my decisions. Going from middle class to starving student is going to be devastating!
  • I worry about what my social life will be like—and if the friendships I’ve forged with Paul’s friends since his death will survive once I’m there full time.
  • I wonder if I’m actually smart enough to do the whole postgraduate and doctoral studies thing.

I know that these things seem silly, but I live in near isolation and 95 percent of my non-work communications are electronic these days which just adds to my insanity which feeds my insecurities!

The excitement:

  • I am really looking forward to having a chance at a fresh start for this crummy little life I’m living. I’m convinced that it’s the step I need to find the joy I’ve lost.
  • I’m really excited about having a new partner in crime and am certain that (despite the doubts noted above) my social life will be better than it ever has been once I move.
  • I am very eager to begin my studies and am looking forward to being in a learning environment again. (That nickel from the intro paragraph has been added to my coin stash as part of my tuition fund.)

I wish I could say that the excitement always balances out the insecurities, but if I’m honest I’m getting more and more anxious, nervous, frightened, and insecure as I get closer to this great new adventure. I keep telling myself I’m being silly, but as you probably know fears and whatifs just take over sometimes!

But—Hey!—I am 5¢ closer to my £10,600 ($17,200) tuition bill now!

Visa blues

I made my way up to Spokane today for my biometrics appointment as part of my visa application for The Big Move to Scotland. You would think that this news would have me extremely happy, but I just can’t find the joy today.

Maybe it’s because after the biometrics appointment I had a bone marrow aspiration. (Ouch!) Maybe it’s because on the drive to the appointment I realised that my last trip to the federal building was for Paul’s biometrics for his 10-year green card. Maybe it’s because once I walked into the building it dawned on me that Paul died right before we applied for his American citizenship. Or maybe it was because we were meant to be immigrating back to Scotland together.

Oh, I tried to celebrate this big step toward my big move. In fact, on my way home I stopped off at the post office and was momentarily joyed to find that my UK tax refund had finally arrived. But then I was sadden to find out that it was about £500 shy of what was expected.

Then, I had to pick up my foster daughter, take her shopping for a birthday gift, and drop her off at a friend’s for a birthday slumber party. ‘Yay!’ I thought to myself. ‘A relaxing Friday evening at home without the kid; I can have a martini and soak in the tub…’

And then I got home and there was more unhappy news waiting for me. (Nothing life threatening or unexpected, but sad none the less.)

Anyhow, I want to be happy today, but I can’t seem to get there. Instead, I can’t stop crying and stressing out about everything and nothing all at once.

But, in an attempt to leave on a high note: Now that my biometrics are done, I can send in the rest of my forms to the British Embassy. They say that most visas are approved within 10 days, so I’m holding out hope that I’m a ‘most visa’ case because I can’t buy my tickets until I have my visa. And once I buy my tickets, I’m sure I’ll be a bit more calm. (And probably a bit more stressed and emotional, too!)

The weekend will get better. It must get better…

Frances 3.0: Still in Beta

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who am I really talking to?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From happy to crash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A hard day on the home front

It’s been a hard day since the realisation that I will be leaving my house in less than three months. It’s so sad to know that I’m leaving this place where dreams once grew and laughter was shared between a hopeful husband and wife.

But there is a new future out there waiting for me and I can’t reach for it if I don’t let go of the house. Everyone keeps telling me how strong I am; how brave I am. I never knew how much strength and bravery could hurt…

To help ease my pain, I searched out some inspirational quotes. I think I like this one best for today:

Home is where the heart is but happiness is where your friends are.
~ Unknown

Choices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Visa changes: A rambling rant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Struggling with apathy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The trouble with Bob and Dave

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With this ring

The last thing I expected from Paul when we took a mini-break to Venice back in spring 2004 was an engagement ring. I mean, I thought we were heading that way, but I didn’t expect the question right then. (But I said yes without skipping a beat!)

I remember the feeling of pride looking at that ring in the year in between our engagement and our wedding. And I remember the immense feelings of joy when my engagement ring was joined with a wedding band.

Paul and I would sit curled up on the couch together sometimes just looking at our rings. We would smile when we’d hold hands and our bands would clink together. Sometimes, we’d just clink them together for the sound—and we’d giggle and beam with joy. (I know: Extremely sappy! Funnily, we’d have mocked others for doing the same thing; which is why we only did it in the privacy of our own home.)

We were going to wear our rings forever—until death do us part and all that. And we were young(ish) and healthy and planned to live a very, very long time. So you can imagine the heartbreak when less than four years later Paul’s ring was removed from his finger in the funeral home. When it was handed to me, I slipped it onto my finger where it remained until yesterday.

In the beginning, I told myself that I would wear all three rings forever. I felt a connection of sorts with them there together. The diamond setting on my engagement ring kept Paul’s wedding band securely in place, but because it was so much bigger than my finger, the ring would clink and clank around when I moved my hand. I found a bit of morbid comfort in that sound.

But, also from the beginning, I knew that my wearing his ring made others uncomfortable. Some people even made comments about it being time to remove my rings—and after the ‘one year mark’ a couple people were quite adamant that it was time to do so. But I wasn’t ready. (I wanted to ask them how long they’d worn their rings after losing their spouse, but I didn’t think that they’d see the ironic humour in the question, since their spouses were still living.)

Later, I decided that maybe it was time I set aside the rings—despite the fact that I wasn’t ready. I thought that maybe it would be symbolic or something. So I started looking at ‘widow rings’ since I’d been hearing so much about them. But the thought of setting my wedding rings aside for a black diamond to symbolize the end of my marriage seemed wrong. Very, very wrong.

So instead I started to research nice claddagh bands. Something that would be meaningful to me, but not [hopefully] elicit questions like a black diamond on my wedding finger would cause. Something substantial that could replace all three rings. But nothing seemed good enough.

The urgency to find a new ring became clear a couple of months ago when I noticed that the rings were starting to get a bit worn because they were clinking together all the time. I became concerned that it would soon ruin the setting on my engagement ring, or potentially the diamond itself. And I could already see how the platinum was wearing.

Then a couple of weeks ago—after a considerable amount of research and soul-searching—I finally ordered a new ring. A simple band with a claddagh engraved in the metal. I decided that it would be my birthday gift to myself.

But when it came in the post a few days ago, I realised that I wasn’t actually ready or willing to give up wearing my rings. So I tried on the new ring with my wedding set and felt that I could live with that. But I wasn’t ready to make the commitment just yet, so I put the new band away and put Paul’s ring back on my finger.

Yesterday morning when I woke up, I opened the box with the new ring once again and stared at it, wondering if I could actually bring myself to remove Paul’s ring for good. I felt so torn, but I knew that I needed to put this new ring on my finger. So I placed it in between Paul’s ring and mine and wore it that way for a couple of hours.

Finally, after I’d taken my foster daughter to day care, I thought I’d give it a shot without Paul’s ring. I removed all of the rings and placed Paul’s on top of his jewellery box before putting the new ring and my wedding rings back on. Then I went to take a shower. And I cried and cried and cried.

It dawned on me that we put so much ceremony into placing an engagement ring or wedding ring on our fingers, but there isn’t a ceremony to mark their removal. After all, there is nothing to celebrate, is there?

I don’t know how I really feel about removing Paul’s ring. I know it doesn’t feel good, but I also don’t feel completely hysterical about it, either. I also can’t promise that next week I won’t put Paul’s ring back on my finger. I suppose that I’ll just do whatever feels right.

As for my own wedding rings, I don’t know how long I’ll wear them. When I first put them on I had all intentions of wearing them for the rest of my life. And maybe I will. Or maybe I won’t. But for now, I can’t bear the thought of being without them. After all, in my heart I am still very much married.

Who knew that a simple piece of jewellery could cause so much thought and so much grief!?

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? …)

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!)

The big announcement

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

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

So, here’s the BIG announcement:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Food woes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts or ideas to share?

Ten

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everybody hurts, sometimes

I’ve really been struggling through this holiday season—much more than last year when I was still in a bit of shock and disbelief over the fact that I no longer had Paul to share Christmas mornings with. The loneliness and sadness just seems so much worse this year. Much, much worse.

I’m trying my best to muddle through for my foster daughter, but it’s difficult some days. I don’t have the excitement that I should have for buying gifts and making candies and singing carols. I just hurt too much to think about it this year.

But for all of the pain and hurt and sadness and depression [?] I’m feeling right now, I am keeping R.E.M. in mind and I’m hanging on, and taking comfort in my friends.

When you think you’ve had too much of this life, well hang on;
‘Cause everybody hurts. Take comfort in your friends.
~ R.E.M.

In fact, to end on a happy note so that you don’t think I’m completely hopeless, whilst I’m completely dreading Christmas, I am extremely excited about the following day when I will travel to Canada to spend time with friends. Those happy thoughts are keeping me strong and will help me through. (Yay! for Canada!)

Water, water, everywhere

I had a long, partly mostly tear-filled conversation with a friend today where I went on and on about many of the fears and uncertainties that I’m facing as I start looking toward my future. And he commented about how I need to stop looking at the glass as half empty and start looking at it as half full.*

I think I’ve been a glass half full person my entire life. And at times, my glass has been overflowing—like throughout my years with Paul. But when Paul died, that glass shattered and all the water drained out. And there wasn’t anything I could do to stop it.

But I’ve been given a new glass and it’s been filling up very, very slowly. Drip by drip the water is adding up. I’ll admit that sometimes a bit evaporates away, but it’s always replaced and the water line continues to rise.

So you know what? My glass is half full. Sadly, some of that water is my tears. But sometimes, you have to shed a few tears to help fill the glass I suppose.

I know that I seem sad and hopeless at times, but I’ve never given up hope. I’m too stubborn to give up on hope. But, yes, I am sad quite often. I’m sad beyond words at times. But I still hold onto my hope for a brighter future because I know it’s there.

And those tears will add up over time and they’ll eventually fill my glass so much that it’s no longer half full but is overflowing. You see, I have to go through this sadness. There is no way around it. It’s part of grief. It’s part of the human condition. But I’m bound and determined that those tears not be shed in vain. No, those tears are going to help me through it all.

And when most of the tears have dried, there will be enough water to have several glasses that are half full. Glasses that I can share with my friends when all they can find are the half empty ones. Because those glasses aren’t as nice as the half full ones.

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

[Excerpt]
Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.

Water, water, everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink.

* This isn’t to say that my friend cast aside my feelings and fears as if he didn’t care. He was just trying to remind me that, actually, my glass is half full. And he’s right. And it’s friends like him who help to keep it from tipping over and emptying out!

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

Scotland: A rocky start; but home for my heart

It was September 2001. I was 27 years old and travelling off of the North American continent for the first time in my life. No, that’s not true. I had just been to Hawaii a few months prior. But I digress… It was my first time using a passport at least. I can’t recall if I got a stamp when I transferred in Amsterdam, but I do remember grinning from ear-to-ear when I got a stamp in my passport the first time I arrived in Edinburgh, Scotland. …I digress further…

I remember being so excited—giddy, really—as I walked out of customs at the Edinburgh airport. This was to be an adventure of a lifetime!

My eyes scanned the area just past baggage claim. I had signed up for a meet and greet scheme offered by the university. The letter I carried with me very clearly said that I would be met outside of baggage claim by a university representative who would escort me to my new flat.

But there wasn’t anyone there. Instead, I saw a booth that had a general sign regarding study abroad students. So I walked over there and asked about the meet and greet. But they didn’t know what I was talking about. Instead, they pointed me to a payphone.

Luckily, I’d entered the country with a bit of sterling, so quickly broke a note for some coins then went to make a call.

Now, this wasn’t a proper payphone. No, it looked funny and certainly didn’t operate like any payphone I’d ever used. And the phone numbers I had were not working. So I had to ask someone how to dial. (Country codes, city codes, and a funny + sign were very confusing to this small town American girl!)

I finally got someone on the phone and was told that students attending [Edinburgh] Napier University were to make their own way to the main campus building. Which meant I needed to either figure out the bus system (again, small town girl with no real public transportation experiences) or take a taxi. (The woman on the phone said this expense would be reimbursed, but I failed to get a receipt.)

I get in the taxi and tell the driver where I want to go. He dropped me and my bags at the curb and drove off. I walked to the door to find it locked. But this is definitely the right address and there is even a sign on the door telling me I’ve come to the right place.

By now, I am tired, I am hungry, I am nearly 6,000 miles from home, and I’m in a foreign country with no clue what to do. So I started to cry. Then I told myself I was being silly, regained my composure, and started down the road with my two, very large bags. (Yay! for wheeled luggage!)

On my way, I stopped a woman to ask for directions. She pointed me to where I’d just left and I started to cry again. She then remembered that there was another entrance on the far side and walked me over there. (About two blocks away, if you wondered.) As we rounded the corner I saw several people milling around. Yes, this was the place!

Once inside, I gathered the keys to my flat when I ran into another American student—who had just collected keys to her flat, which was right across from me. So we shared a taxi to our new homes. (And we chatted: It seems that all of the international students were promised someone would meet them at the airport, so at least I wasn’t alone!)

Finally, I walked into my flat on Morrison Circus. And I found it mostly bare. There was no bedding. No crockery. No cutlery. Just a spattering of inexpensive furniture. All of those items were meant to be included for international students. But it wasn’t there. I made a quick trip across the hall and learned that my taxi-mate’s flat was fully stocked. So it was just me going without! (My three flat-mates, whom I’d not yet met, didn’t arrive for a couple more days.)

So I made a call to the university’s housing office on the payphone around the corner. (I’m a pro at these funny, foreign machines by now, you know!) But, oops! They forgot to drop off my ‘international kit’. But they would bring it by the next afternoon. Which meant I had 24 hours before I’d have dishes or a blanket (or, rather, a duvet)!

I unpacked a few things then found my way to a little shop on Dalry Road to get some dinner. Of course, I had to pick carefully because I couldn’t cook and didn’t have utensils. So I ended up with a lunch-portion of macaroni salad (chosen because it came with a little plastic fork), a pack of ready-salted crisps (because I’d never heard of ‘prawn cocktail’ flavour before), a pack of shortbread, and a bottle of water.

Then I went back to my flat where I cried wondering just what the hell I’d gotten myself into. What I’d thought would be an exciting and fun trip for a redneck hick-chick who was anything but worldly was one mishap after the next.

But have no fear! By the end of week two, I knew that my heart had finally found where it belonged. I was home in my beloved Scotland.

(If you wondered: I didn’t meet Paul until several months later. And I met him in a tourist shop on the Royal Mile. After all, I needed a souvenir, right?)

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

Food foibles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Learning to cope [?]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sorry for whining again…

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

A shape haiku

As I work toward my goal of publishing a book I’ve found myself spending a lot of time re-learning different forms of poetry. Added to that, I’ve found that forcing myself to put thoughts in to a predetermined form is helpful as I try to identify my emotions. And blah, blah, blah…

So today I was researching shape poems and all of the sudden my brain jumped to the idea of a sort of shape-haiku mix thing. (Please don’t ask how I jumped from one to another. It’s confusing enough as it is!) But here’s the result: A (sort of) shaped poem with each line increasing then decreasing in syllables from 1 to 10 to 1 again. (Did you follow that?) 

From fear to hope
by Just Frances 

Fear
Sadness
I live them
But still, I smile

I try to forget
I try to remember

I try to re-live the joy
I try to re-live the laughter

There will be times when I want to cry
Times I want to hide away from the world
There will also be times when I laugh

I strive to find peace in my world
Sometimes it’s all a show

But I strive be happy
So this is my life

And I’ll live it
Full of joy
Laughter
Hope

Scarily unexcited

Halloween is less than four weeks away and I am anything but excited about it. In fact, there is this niggling feeling of apprehension about what once was a favorite holiday. If I had my way, the day wouldn’t happen; the kid wouldn’t trick-or-treat and I would turn off the house lights so that no one came to the house for treats, either. Yes, I know how sad that all sounds.

Two years ago I was giddy with excitement. I was busy planning and creating costumes for Paul and my niece. I was decorating the house and the yard. I was buying candy. I was planning a ‘scary’ dinner menu of witches’ fingers, bloody eyeballs, mummy brains, and (of course) bloody Marys to wash it all down.

Two years ago Paul and I spoke excitedly about the following year and about how he would get to take the kids we planned to adopt trick-or-treating whilst I stayed home to hand out candy to kids coming to the house. We were both excited about that future.

But instead of the plans Paul and I had for last year, I turned off the lights and drove to Spokane to spend Halloween with my aunt and her friends who were all going out to dinner. The only way I knew it was Halloween was that everyone (including me) was dressed up. I wasn’t excited about Halloween, but I did enjoy it for what it was—a night away from reality.

This year, I just can’t get excited.  I’m trying to, really I am. But I can’t. So I’m trying to fake it. I’m trying to pretend that I’m excited about costumes. I’m trying to pretend that I’m excited about decorating the house. I’m trying to pretend that I’m excited about trick-or-treating. And I’m trying to pretend that I’m OK with doing all of this without Paul. I’m trying to pretend that I don’t mind living this new future that is so very different than my old future.

I’m afraid that if this is how I feel for something as simple as Halloween that it will be even harder when Thanksgiving and Christmas roll around. I’m afraid that my sorrow will ruin the holidays for the kid, who deserves a happy and cheerful holiday season. I’m afraid that I may never really enjoy the holidays again—that I’ll have to slap on a fake smile and pretend for the rest of my life.

In an effort to not worry about too much at once, and because Paul always said you have to finish one holiday before planning for the next, I will hold off on other holiday stresses until after the ghouls and goblins have finished begging for candy.

In an effort to keep faking it, I am planning a way-fun papier-mâché pumpkin-making project with the kid and am even thinking about possible costumes for me. And if all else fails, I will just keep reminding myself that I get to eat all the left-over Halloween candy.

I just hope that I’m able to fake it well enough so that the kid doesn’t know its all smoke and mirrors…

Unhappily stressed

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

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

First, the stresses:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

• • • • •

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

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

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

x

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

Sometimes I want to…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s me home [?]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wish I had

I wish I had
by Just Frances

I wish I had the courage
to say what I want to say;
I wish I had the self-confidence
to know that it’s OK to say it.

I wish I had a window to the future;
I wish I had a magic wand
to make all my wishes come true.

I wish I had the courage
to do what I want to do;
I wish I had the self-confidence
to know that it’s OK to do it.

I wish I had a window to the future;
I wish I had a magic wand
to make all my wishes come true.

Plus one

I’ve been Just Frances + One for a couple of days. It’s scary. It’s weird. It’s scary. It’s fun. And did I mention it’s scary?

You may know that Paul and I were licenced foster care providers as part of our plan to adopt children from the foster care system, even though we didn’t take short-term foster care placements as a general rule. We were, in fact, looking forward to adopting a couple of kids just before he died. In my grief, however, I wasn’t emotionally prepared to take on single motherhood. And I didn’t think it would be fair for children hoping for (and in need of) an active and happy mom and dad to be thrust upon a grieving widow. No, that wouldn’t have been fair to any of us!

So I was left wondering what I would do. Would I abandon my foster care licence? Would I continue with plans to adopt down the road? Would I foster children short-term? I didn’t know. Sometimes I think I still don’t know!

Actually, I think I was on the road to knowing. You see, I always knew that my life would include children. I just didn’t know when or how. And whilst long before meeting Paul I thought about adopting and being a single mom, I never dreamed there would be a time that I was caring for children as a grieving widow! So, I’d decided a few weeks ago that I needed to think of me first. Of my desire for my master’s degree. I decided that I would continue with my application plans for fall 2011 admission and play the rest by ear. If I was accepted, then I would know that school was the right path for right now. If I was denied, I would take it as a sign that foster parenting was the right path for right now.

When I got to the office last Monday, I made a note to call my care licenser to let her know that I wanted to retain my license, but needed more time to figure out my path before I considered a placement. But before I could call her, a social worker called me to tell me about a young girl who needed a home for a while.

It seemed to me that I could actually help this child. And maybe, just maybe, she could help me, too. It’s turned my world sideways, which is an improvement on the upside-down orientation that it’s been for more than a year. The world looks a bit different from this angle, but as Paul always said: Different doesn’t always mean better or worse; sometimes different is just different.

I don’t know how long this amazing child will be with me, but I’m certain that we will make lasting impressions on each others lives in the time we’re together. We bonded over cake-baking yesterday and toe-nail painting today. She arrived with a couple of “Learn French” CDs, so I figured that I can help her learn and maybe it will help me remember the two years’ of French I took in high school.

I’m still planning to start my studies in the fall – assuming there’s a school that will have me – but in between now and then, I’m going to be the positive light in a child’s life. And she’ll be a positive light in mine.

And there you have it. I’m responsible for the life of a child for the next [who knows how long]. Scary. Exciting. Scary. Enriching. Scary…

(I know! Can you believe that someone gave me a kid to care for? I mean, I’m totally insane and I can barely take care of myself! But then, maybe it takes a bit of madness to deal with the ins-and-outs of the foster care system!)

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

Running commentary

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

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

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

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

Fear is a silly thing

I posted a while back about “I AM” poems, and how I like to re-write mine from time-to-time because it helps me to reflect on my world. There are a dozen or so other poem templates that I like to use for personal reflections, too. For some reason, I felt the need to re-address fear today. And since I’m certain my public is eager to know my thoughts on the matter, I’m sharing it with you here! (Stay tuned for more template poems, or take the time to fill in your own!)

Fear is a silly thing
by Just Frances

Scale the wall.

Fear is not enough to keep you from your dreams.
Fear is a silly thing.

Scale the wall.

Fear is only an obstacle if you allow it to be.
Fear is a force to be conquered.

Scale the wall.

Fear is not as strong as your determination.
Fear is a silly thing. 

Scale the wall.

Fear is a manifestation of uncertainly.

Managed by courage.
Conquered by determination.

Hope lies on the other side
Ready to embrace and support
Life’s eternal goodness.

Whatifs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just two tasks

I met with my real estate agent the other day about the possibility of putting the house on the market. He gave me two tasks to get the house ready for selling: 1) Paint the new railing at the top of the stairs and 2) Clean out the shop/family room and give it a ‘purpose’.

I planned to do both this weekend.

But let’s be honest, that stack of cardboard boxes that are broken down for the recycle bin? Paul stacked those up a few days before he died and they’re still sitting where he left them. The treadmill hasn’t been touched since he last used it; and his jacket is still hanging by the laundry room door.

We’d planned to partition the room last summer. The back half was going to be work-out space; the front was going to be our old couches and TV (but we never got around to buying the new ones) and that was going to be the kids’ TV/play area.

The space looks horrid right now and I know that Paul would be disappointed. We had just straightened it up and mapped everything out for building the partition and now it’s become a storage area for junk that I don’t know what to do with. Or, more accurately, for stuff that I’m too lazy to put in proper storage under the eaves.

I don’t know when I’ll get around to completing my tasks but if I’m going to get the house on the market I’d best get to it. That said, I reserve the right to change my mind and not sell the house just now. Thankfully, my agent is understanding and knows just how difficult this is on me. After all, he spent so much time helping us find this lovely house!