Coming soon…

2013.01.06.coming-soonRegular Just Frances readers might know that the ‘real’ site has been down since mid-October, with my last post happening on October 5. When the decision was made to take the site down for much-needed upgrades, I think everyone involved (i.e.: me and my awesome Web Guru) thought it would be a short-lived disruption.

But, as happens, life got in the way and it’s taken a bit longer than expected.

However, the time has been good for me because it’s allowed me to focus in a bit on why I write; on who I’m really writing for. It’s also given me a bit of time to think about how I want to manage Just Frances moving forward. (As my Web Guru said: It will be about the content. And it will be spectacular.)

Anyhow, this is just a wee post to let you know that the design is done. And it’s lovely. And simple.

And, most importantly: It’s coming soon!

So thanks for bearing with me… I hope to have the new site up soon and hope that you like it!

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!)

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 …

Thanksgiving expertise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, I have much to be thankful for.

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

New leaves

Graduation is on Friday and I’m really dreading looking forward to it.

Oops, did you catch that error?

Well, if I’m honest I’m not looking forward to it as much as I should. I suppose that it’s yet another reminder that Paul isn’t here to share in my joy. It’s even harder because when I think back to how I always imagined my graduation, Paul and the kids we were meant to adopt were always in the stands.

But life changes. Whether we like it or not, it changes.

So, instead of having Paul in the stands, my sister-in-law, Liz, and brother-in-law, John, are coming up from England to help me celebrate. And after the ceremony, I’ll meet some friends in the pub to celebrate some more.

Of course, all of this celebration means a new dress. Only I couldn’t find one I liked. And so I’m wearing the simple black dress that I wore for Paul’s funeral, with the hope that it will help to give the dress a happy memory.

And since I’m wearing an old dress, it’s only right that I wear a new necklace with it. And maybe it’s fitting that the one I found is a grouping of silver leaves. After all, after graduation I will be turning over a new leaf, re-starting my life as a master’s graduate.

Peachy-keen

As you probably know by now, I like to swirl. It’s relaxing and rather enjoyable (and maybe a bit addicting at times). In addition to swirling for my own inner peace, I really like to swirl for my friends and family—and am always up for swirling away at custom pieces when requested.

So, when my dear friend, ‘Peach’, said she wanted a peach-coloured swirl, I just couldn’t say no. (I didn’t want to say no!) I mean, Peach has been such an amazing friend to me over the years* and I really, really wanted to do something to repay the kindness she’s always given me.

I started this swirl in July 2012 using three Prismacolor Premier Verithin coloured pencils (Light Peach, 757; Deco Pink, 743; Process Red, 743½). It’s not the first time I’ve done a monochromatic swirl, but it is the first time that I’ve used colours that I don’t like using. And that’s actually made this a very difficult swirl for me.

You see, the two lighter colours (757 and 743) are difficult to see when I’m swirling. I really have to press hard to make the colour transfer to the paper, and really need to have natural daylight to make it visible when I’m swirling. Thankfully, the colours are easy to see when it’s done, and they transfer beautifully when I scan the image to the computer. Because of the difficulty I’ve had with seeing the colours as I’m working, I had a hard time getting into the creation of this swirl.

Since July it’s spent more time un-touched than touched. But then something happened and I became a bit more attached to the piece. I think it’s to do with the fact that I recently reached out to Peach for emotional support, which made me more excited to create this for me. And it also has to do with the fact that she was directly impacted by Hurricane Sandy, which means that I’m thinking about her more than ever these days—and as I find that my swirls are more enjoyable when I’m thinking about the recipient, it means this one finally got done!

Now, I wish that I didn’t need that emotional support and that my friend hadn’t been in the hurricane’s path, but we can’t prevent all of the bad things from happening. But since the bad did happen, I suppose I’ll take the good that can be garnered from it, and that’s the opportunity to reflect on a friendship. A friendship that I feel blessed to have found!

And now I guess I can start on another swirl. I wonder what it will look like when I’m done …

* Peach is one of my ‘make believe’  friends, and whilst I’ve never met her in person she has become a strong pillar of support in my life. She is part of my core virtual support network and her friendship is very precious to me.

Low, but lucky

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

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

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

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

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

A bloody Stirling day

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boxes from home

I’ve written in the past about foods I miss from the Homeland, and I’ve shared tales of the amazing boxes I’ve received from family and friends back home. And, well, it’s time to tell those tales again! Only this time, the boxes have really stacked up! But I want to make sure that I’m sharing the joy because I want to make sure that everyone knows how very much I appreciate their kindness.

First up is a box from my baby sister, Royann. It’s not the first one she’s sent, and my guess is that it won’t be the last. I know that she doesn’t have a ridiculous amount of spare cash, and that makes me appreciate her generosity that much more.

Plus, it’s kind of cool that her boys always send little notes along in the parcels!

So, from Royann I got:

Next was a box from my parents. They are great at sending parcels out every-so-often and I’m always surprised at the extra little somethings that are included. From news clippings to old cocktail sticks, there is always an extra little something to make me smile!

The folks are also really good at including goodies for my amazingly-awesome friend, Rebecca.

The latest box from them included:

And lastly, a large box from my friends, Sarah and Martin. This one is extremely special to me because these are a couple of my ‘virtual’ friends and they were very insistent about sending me goodies from home and wouldn’t take no for an answer. It just warms my heart that people I’ve never met ‘in real life’ want to do nice things for me.

Even more is that they sent way, way, way more stuff than I expected. (Well, I didn’t expect anything, let alone as much as they sent!)

What did they send? Well:

And let’s not forget a box of goodies my Uncle Fred and Aunt Becky sent (with Root Beer lollies!) and a parcel sent by my friend, Ramona, a few months back. (No photos of those, sorry.)

Yes, I am loved. And, yes, I need to get to the post office at the weekend to send some love off to others!

A 10K and a curry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Virtually friends

Last week, I sent a panicked message to my Facebook friends when I learned that there were issues with Just Frances that meant the site needed to be taken down for a spell. I was panicked and stressed and, quite frankly, in a bit of hysterics because this site means so much to me and has been such an important part of my grief process—my healing process.

Minutes after that panicked plea for help, I found myself overloaded with volunteers. In fact, I had to turn people away because there were so many people helping. One woman walked to her neighbour’s house to have him contact me. Another woman had her husband ‘friend’ me on Facebook so that he could help. And another woman was in touch to say she’d be back to help as soon as her husband was safely at the airport. And several other people got in touch by Facebook message, email, text message, and phone calls. All willing and able to help. And I have never met 95% of them ‘in real life’.

In the end, the ‘new Facebook friend’ and the woman with the travelling husband became my personal Web Gurus. They reviewed the files on Just Frances. They wrote emails to the hosting company. They spent precious time helping me—despite having real jobs and real families demanding their time. They fit me in. And they followed up. Any they helped. Freely and happily and selflessly.

And the woman (and her now-back-home husband) are still helping out by monitoring the site to make sure we’ve got everything fixed. More time. More effort. All for me. Someone they’ve never met.

I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to repay these amazing people for their time, efforts, and—most of all—kindness. I am humbled and eternally grateful for them and only hope that I’m able to show the same level of kindness to others.

And I remind you—it wasn’t just the two who did the heavy lifting. Several people volunteered to help, and they deserve heartfelt kudos, too.

My world has been made so much brighter by my virtual friends; these supportive people I’ve never met—even more so over the last three years—and I am reminded on a regular basis how very much they mean to me.

So, thank you, Dear Virtual Readers. Thank you, Dear Virtual Friends. You may not realise it, but you are important to me.

Summer holidays

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Escaping to the hermitage

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seven for seven

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

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

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

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

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

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

I broke it!

Yikes! Were you on Just Frances yesterday? Well, if you were you may have noticed a 12+ hour period where the site was broken. The main page worked (mostly) but all of the other pages were kicking up an error.

Well, I have it fixed now. It took a bit of head scratching and a conversation via Facebook with some guy I’ve never met but whom I’ve kind of been introduced to by other Facebook friends I’ve never met (but have ‘known’ for years!).

Sadly, that friend wasn’t able to help in a direct way but his thought process—and a comment made by my awesome host—led me to an idea when I woke up this morning.

Anyhow, it’s fixed now. Unfortunately, I had to uninstall a plugin that I really liked to make it work. (I then re-installed to see if that was really the problem, and it was.) I’m not going to call them out just now because I’ll wait to see how they respond to my email—and hopefully they can fix the bug on their end.

But! I’m back now and that’s all that matters.

And how’s that dissertation coming along? Well, yesterday—despite the Just Frances drama!—was a productive day that saw me writing 2,300 words! So, here’s the status:

Current word count: 8,094 (only 3,906 to go!)

Today’s task list:

  • Head up to campus a bit of library time
  • Work on findings section
  • Start putting together my conclusion

And your task list? Simple! Just have an awesome day!

[Photo note: That’s my old, old phone that I broke at the Edinburgh Castle way back in March 2010. You can read the story here if you want to laugh at me retrospectively.]

Dissertation month update; Part 3

In less than two weeks’ time, I have to have a full draft of my dissertation ready to turn into my supervisor for his review. (After which, I will have a couple of weeks to make final edits before it’s due.) It seems that Dissertation Month is going by so quickly!

So, what does that mean? Well, that means I am going to be writing like a mad woman for the next several days. In fact, I need to write 600-700 words a day in between now and July 24. Yikes! I just saw that and freaked out a little!

But it’s not as bad as it sounds! No, really! You see, I have all of my interview findings in separate documents. Fourteen documents to be exact and that’s more than 19,000 words. Of course, once I narrow those down to the important—or, rather, relevant—words, I shouldn’t be more than 8,000 words. Which means I’d best get busy whittling words and rearranging them into meaningful information.

Anyhow, today was a work party day with a friend from my course. I know we didn’t get much accomplished with our word counts, but I think we both found it useful to bounce ideas off each other for our projects as a whole. We’ll be getting together again over the weekend and hopefully we’ll both be further along by then!

Below is my progress-to-date, but I’m nowhere near done for the night. I plan to finish up a few more sections that I was editing today and will add in a few bits of detail that deserve to be included. It’s my hope that I can add another 200 words tonight, but I need an early night so may have to stop before I get to that point so that I’m not up until the sun rises!

Current word count: 3,425 (only 8,755 to go!)

Tomorrow’s task list:

  • Head up to campus for a meeting and a bit of library time
  • Edit down all interviews to the ‘relevant’ bits in preparation for adding to dissertation
  • Review current book lists, reference lists, and literature review section to ensure nothing has been missed out

Words about me

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

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

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

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

Just Frances in Just Words

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

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.)

A mini-reunion and a catch-up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Swirls for Amy

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

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

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

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

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

Dusty books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Summer is near

Summer is near. Very, very, near. And that’s awesome because it means that my jacket is getting a break from service.

And it means that I get to spend lazy evenings sitting on the patio with friends whilst we barbeque burgers and sausages (and drink beer and cider) whilst listening to the kids running around the garden.

And it means spending lazy afternoons sitting around at a friend’s mum’s place eating more burgers and sipping on glasses of juice.

And, sadly, it also means my arms have turned ever-so-slightly pink. But that’s OK because summer is near.

Did you hear that? Summer is near! Summer is near! Yay, yay, yay for summer!!

Running around

Yay! Today was my third race in my 2012 Race a Month Challenge. I don’t know how I survived it, but I did!

The Round the Houses 10K (sponsored by the Falkirk Victoria Harriers) took place in Grangemouth, Scotland, and was attended by a good 700 runners (Maybe more? Sorry, I’m rubbish at crowd counts!). And, thankfully, the weather was fantastic! Though if I knew it was going to be that fantastic, I’d have worn shorts and skipped the jacket.

It was a bit of a struggle for me, but I managed it. I’m sure I’ve mentioned my lack of exercise and training over the past few months and that, coupled with my recent bought of the lurgy and subsequent drop in my platelets, meant that I really wasn’t ready for the race. In fact, there was a point in the second half where I was getting rather upset that I wasn’t able to run faster. And being upset about that reminded me that I’m still sulking and upset about things from the past week. And that meant that I started thinking about that stuff. Which got me even more upset. It’s such a terrible cycle!

But, just shy of the 8K mark I took a quick walk break. And it was then that another runner caught me (also on a walk break) and we encouraged each other the rest of the way. In fact, we got each other so encouraged that we managed a nice little sprint over the finish line. Ah, that made me feel better!

My end-of-race running partner also made me remember what I love most about running—it’s an individual sport but we’re all cheering each other on. It’s amazing how everyone is out there fighting their own demons and medical ailments, but we all encourage each other to keep going. Because in running (unless you are destined to be in the top three) we’re not competing against each other—we’re only competing against ourselves.

I have another 10K toward the end of April, then a half marathon in May already scheduled. I suppose I should really get my training schedule sorted out now, because I can’t keep running races if I don’t get in better shape!

Oh! My [unofficial time] was 1:07:17. Rebecca, my awesome running sidekick, did better than that. And that means that of the three races we’ve run this year, she’s beat me three times. I’m not [too] bitter. (Honestly, I’m happy for her. Really.)

Oh! Again! I have to add a quick ‘Thank you’ to my ride home from the race. Rebecca was heading to see her parents after the race (in the opposite direction from home) so I arranged to have my friend make the drive all the way to Grangemouth to pick me up and take me to Stirling. So, a great big thank you to John. Because I know he’ll want the public accolades. Even though he doesn’t read my blog.

And if you’d like, you can see more of my race photos here!

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.

YouTube trails

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which lead me to a song about butterfly kisses…

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

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

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

Hushed hooking

I started a new crochet project back in January. But I couldn’t tell you about it because it was for my friend’s birthday present. And she’s such a good friend that she reads my blog all the time. And I knew that even if I tried to talk about it without saying what or who it was for, it would ruin the surprise.

But, it’s done now and it’s been delivered. So now I can tell you about the lovely blue throw blanket that I made for the lovely Rebecca’s birthday.

Oh yeah! That’s another thing: Rebecca gets a birthday this year. In fact, she gets a birthday tomorrow. Yep, she’s a Leap Day Baby!

Happy birthday, Rebecca! I hope that you have an amazing day! (And make the most of it, since you don’t get another birthday for four years!)

Random thoughts: Simple pleasures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Random thoughts: Top 50 no-gos

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

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

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

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

The dummy box

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks, Joanne! I really appreciate it. Really!

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

Great chieftain o’ the puddin-race

Oh, what a happy belly I have, all thanks to the lovely Burns’ Supper that Rebecca prepared.

Whilst Rebecca made the final preparations, we chatted over a nice glass of wine.

Then it was yummy Scottish salmon and a bit of healthy green stuff for starters.

Haggis, neeps*, and tatties for the main course—with whisky, of course.

And cranachan for dessert.

And did I mention the whisky?

But, best of all, there was me and the amazing Rebecca. I don’t have a photo of that, but that’s OK because I know that it’s because we were too busy laughing and chatting to take a photo of ourselves. Yay!

[Confused about the title? Check out the full Address to a Haggis here.]

* Actually, instead of neeps, it was mashed carrots and parsnips. Still, it was the right colour and it was yummy!

A running start

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Got milk?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catching up

I can’t believe that it’s been more than a week since I last blogged. I’m not exactly off to the best start this year, am I? So, this post will serve as a quick catch up for everyone—including me!

As I mentioned in my last post, I made a trip down to England to visit my in-laws last week; though I actually made the trip a day later than planned because of heavy winds that closed the road. But I made it, and enjoyed two nights at my sister-in-law, Ann’s, house in Wakefield. In fact, my brother-in-law, John, made the trip up from Telford for the second night, which was a nice added bonus to family time!

On Friday, I made my way to Billingham to spend the weekend with my sister-in-law, Liz. That night I participated in her girls’ night out group (I’ve joined them before—what a great group of women!) then the following morning we went to Starbucks where I got to meet my newest great nephew, Salem. Oh—and later that day we made a trip to Seaton Carew for fish and chips. (I know, that’s not surprising.)

Sunday was ‘going home’ day, but not before a nice long lunch with another sister-in-law, Elizabeth, and her daughter, Jack. All the visiting made for a busy week, so by the time they took me to the train station I was ready to go home. But it also made me happy to know that I’m only ever a couple hours away from a wonderful family. (And there are already plans to see everyone in February for a reunion.)

Anyhow, Rebecca proved once again that she’s a fantastically amazing friend by picking me up at the train station and giving me a lift home that night. It was nice to sit and relax with a cup of tea and a chat before unpacking. (Which I did before I went to bed because I don’t like to leave it until the next day.)

So, yesterday I finally dragged myself out for a run. It was my first run of the year—and my first run in more than two months! But I feel good for having done it. Well, except for the slightly sore leg muscles today!

And that’s my week in review. I have to admit that it’s been a hard week. In fact, it’s been a hard start to the year. I’ve been feeling a bit blah and unmotivated and can’t seem to shake it. To be completely honest, I sometimes wonder if it’s some sort of mild depression, but I don’t feel hopeless or helpless—I just feel blah and unmotivated. And sometimes sad and lonely. However, I’m trying to convince myself that it’s because I’m bored and inactive. I’m on break from school and I don’t have a job which means I don’t have a schedule to keep me busy. I’ve also been sitting in the flat instead of going out running. In part because of the weather, but in part because of the lack of motivation that comes from no schedule.

But, as I like to end on a positive note, I am trying to get re-motivated. The weather is nice (or at least dry) which means I will be able to get a few training runs in this month and I’ve already committed to running a 10K in a week and a half. I also have a couple of small projects to work on for Boxed Cat Media and am already thinking excitedly about school starting back in February. And I’m doing more of my swirl drawings, too. So it’s not all doom and gloom. I will shift this sulky mood soon. I promise!

(Do you like how I snuck the sad bits in at the end, hoping that most people never read that far? But honestly, I am OK. Just a little crazy. But that’s normal for me.)

A slow start

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another year passes

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

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

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

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

Home(ish) for Christmas

Well, I suppose now that Christmas is over, I should tell you a bit about my lovely Christmas weekend! And it really was a lovely weekend! I went through to Aberdour with my friend, Rebecca, to spend Christmas with her parents. And whilst I wasn’t with my own family, I was made to feel like family indeed!

It was a wonderful weekend with loads of laughter and new traditions. I enjoyed my first-ever Christmas goose (I hope it’s not my last) and managed lots of relaxation in between scrumptious meals prepared by Rebecca’s mum.

Oh! And I got gifts for Christmas, too! A lovely cashmere scarf, a French press, some home made jams, lots of candy and chocolates, fresh coffee, and even a worry stone. (And more!)

Yes, it was a wonderful Christmas! So wonderful, in fact, that I didn’t manage to take as many photos as I normally would have. But you can see the few I did manage!

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Oh! And you know those bugs from the photo gallery can be seen on the video below. My bug (yellow) won. But Rebecca will tell you that her sissy pink bug did.

A lesson in carols

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

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

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

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

A spirit found

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making do; Part 2

Back in November I talked about the practice of ‘making do’ in my efforts to host a Thanksgiving dinner for friends. I was really pleased that all of that making do worked out, especially since I’ve found myself needing to make do again. But this time, making do had nothing to do with food. Instead, I found myself having to make do with what I had to wrapping parcels.

For years, I collected used gift bags and tissue paper, bows and ribbons, and even wrapping paper and boxes. I had it all neatly organised so that I could easily wrap up gifts for family and friends. I had such a selection of stuff that I almost always found the right size bag, box, or used bit of paper for everything. But when I moved, I passed on my collection to my baby sister, Royann. And that means there isn’t an awe-inspiring collection of wrapping supplies tucked away in the hall closet. (I hope she appreciates the time it took me to amass such a collection, and I hope she’s using the supplies whilst continuing to replenish them with her own reclaimed materials!)

Then yesterday I found myself looking at purchasing wrapping paper, shipping boxes, and bubble wrap for sending parcels home for Christmas. And I have to admit that as I stood there looking at the available stock in the shops made me sad as I recalled (once again) all of the stuff (i.e.: clutter) I had to leave behind when I ventured out for this new future of mine.

So I went home empty-handed. No, really. I went home with nothing because the idea of having to buy those things broke my heart. When I got home, however, I started to look at what I had. I had printer paper and coloured pencils, so I would make wrapping paper. (I didn’t.) I had a few boxes from things I bought when I moved into my flat—but they were all either too big or too small. And I had some wrapping paper from a lovely housewarming gift that Rebecca gave me.

Ah! And I had scissors and a bag filled with plastic bags (from before I got my re-usable ones). And with that, I got to work.

It seems that the gifts I bought for my nieces and nephews were small enough to be placed in envelopes with their Christmas cards and there was just enough of that wrapping paper from Rebecca for the gifts I got for my folks and my lovely [former] foster daughter. Then, I found a used (but usable) padded envelope that was large enough for my foster daughter’s gift to fit in. But I was having trouble finding a box for the stuff for my nieces, nephews, and parents (it was all being shipped to the folks’ place to save on costs).

But wait! Who needs a box to be the ‘right’ size when you have scissors? It seemed to me that there was a box that could be the perfect size—if I cut it down a bit. And padding? Well, since the nieces and nephews’ gifts aren’t breakable, they got to help provide protection for the folks’ gifts, along with some crumpled plastic bags (which I know the folks will recycle on my behalf).

And that’s it. I had to buy some packing tape, but that’s something I can’t really re-use anyhow.

Of course, now I need to figure out how I will wrap the rest of my gifts. But since they didn’t need to go to the post office for international shipping, I can give myself a few days to scrounge around. And there is still that printer paper and coloured pencils if all else fails!

A thankful weekend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Making do

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Countdown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Warming up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Sugar and spice

OK, since it’s sort of my thing to tell you all about goodies that I get from home, I suppose I should tell you about yesterday’s parcel. (Yeah, I know you’re excited about this!)

It would seem that two of my nephews found themselves with extra Halloween candy—in addition to the extras their Mom had since they only got one (or was it two?) trick-or-treaters. So, the boys, Adrian and Brendan, offered some of their candy to me and my baby sister (their Mom), Royann, added a few other bits-and-bobs to round out the care package. And even though I was expecting the parcel, I beamed with joy and excitement when it arrived. And, true to form, I tore into it straight away!

Inside, I found loads of Now and Laters, a few Tootsie Pops, a couple Bit-o-Honeys, some Dots and JujyFruits, and a smattering of other candies. And, of course, a box of SweetTarts. Royann also included two of my go-to ingredients, Lowery’s Seasoning and Lemon Pepper, as well as a thimble and a vintage handkerchief. (Just in time for cold and flu season!)

But the best things in the parcel were the hand-made cards from the boys, each containing their most recent school photos—and each with jokes and I-love-yous.

Oh, yes, the candy and the seasonings are fantastic, but they’re nothing compared to cards from my nephews. Those were my favourite part. And they look very nice displayed in along with my collection of family photos.

Oh! And I also got a Thanksgiving card from my cousin, Helen, and her family this week. And an enjoyable letter from my friend, George, the week before—one that contained more than 30 questions about how I’m getting along in Scotland.

Yes, parcels and letters from home make the arrival of bills and junk mail seem less annoying!

And amazingly, I’ve not eaten all of the candy yet. But give me time…

Connect the dots

Confession: I have 292 Facebook friends. At least 46 of them are people I’ve never met. 25 or so are people I’ve only met once. 93 are former classmates. 64 are family of one description or another. And (not including family) I’ve only seen 18 of them in real life in the past 12 months.

Further confession: Two of those connections are animals (one cat; one dog).

Of course, I say that I have 292 Facebook friends, but most of them aren’t friends so much as they are a virtual network of acquaintances, former school mates, and family. This isn’t to say I don’t value my Facebook friends, because I do. I really, really do. But the truth is that I (like most adults) only have a handful of friends—you know, real friends as opposed to people I’m friendly with. Thought I must admit that Facebook was the tool that helped to create two of my closest real-life friendships.

The thing I like best about Facebook is the way everything connects. For me, Facebook began with me connecting with my virtual friends—people I ‘knew’ from online forums and newsgroups. Then I began to connect with my family and former school mates as they joined Facebook. And now, I’m connected with people who are connected with people who know me, even though I don’t know the person I’m connected to. (Does that make sense?)

It’s funny the way it works; it’s funny what prompts people to connect. I mean, before Paul died, I was only friends with one of his university friends—a woman I’d met in ‘real life’ years before. A day or two after he died, I received a friend request from another woman he went to uni with, but someone I’d only met once before. After his funeral, several more of his friends ‘friended’ me. Some I’d met, some I’d not met at the time. And still others whom I’ve still never met!

Even funnier still is how people I know from different parts of my life are now overlapping. It seems that as my ‘real life’ friends and ‘virtual’ friends have been connecting with me on my Facebook posts, those sets of people have found common ground and have friended each other. So now my sister is friends with some of my virtual friends. And even different groups of real life friends have found each other—either because they’ve connected virtually or because they’ve met in real life as my US and UK worlds have collided.

But the funniest of all is when I notice the ever-so-faint dots that connect two of my friends when they’re not connected to each other. Example 1: Last year a friend suggestion popped up noting that I had two friends in common with someone I’d never met. But those two friends (one real, one virtual) didn’t know each other, either. It just so happened that my real life friend was an old classmate of a virtual friend’s work colleague. Example 2: A virtual friend of mine is the real life friend of a couple of my husband’s university friends, even though he never met my husband. And it turns out that the same virtual friend is friends in real life and on Facebook with the friends of one of my classmates, who doesn’t know the guy but was very surprised to see that his real life friends had a friend in common with me. (Again, did you follow that?)

You could argue that these arbitrary connections to random strangers around the world are silly and pointless, but it entertains me. Plus that, many of those strangers have been a great social outlet for me when I needed it most. So when I start connecting the virtual dots, I can see a real life network of support.

I’m sure that over time my Facebook friend list will grow even more. And I’m sure that as the networking tool changes to adapt to society (or as society adapts to the tool?) we will change the way we define friends. But that’s OK, because you can never have too many friends. Right?

Social conscience

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

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

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

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

And I have finally found that social life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I spy

As part of my Thankful November theme, today’s post is an ‘I Spy’ photo story. So, here goes!

I spy ten things that make me thankful to live in Stirling, Scotland:

The Stirling Castle: What a breath-taking castle! And local residents (that’s me!) get free admission. So you know where I’ll be spending a lot of time!

The University of Stirling: How lucky am I that such a beautiful city is home to a great university with a media research centre?

The Stirling Smith: Stirling has a fascinating history, and the Smith tells the story so well. They even have lectures and events—one of which I’m attending later this month. (Story to follow!)

Easy Rail Links: I’m a 10-miniute walk to the train station and from there I’m only an hour to Edinburgh or 4 hours to my in-laws in Billingham.

Compact City Centre: Everything you need is right there. And I’m less than 10 minutes away from it all!

Mr Simms Olde Sweet Shoppe: An entire shop dedicated to sweeties. It’s like a little corner of heaven right here in Stirling!

The Burgh Coffee House: It’s great to have such an inviting place to sit and relax whilst sipping a cup of tea and surfing the Internet with free WiFi.

The Junk Rooms: Friday night cocktails are amazing here. It’s not just the drinks but the comfortable atmosphere, too!

Good Friends: Having an amazing friend like Rebecca here is fantastic. The fact that she’s a great local guide is an added bonus!

A Re-discovered Smile: The thing I’m more thankful for in Stirling? My re-discovered smile. Life is good here. And that is really something to be thankful for.

Guy’s night

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

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

It was a fantastic firework show, too!

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

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

Silken smiles

I am smiling today because I was given a beautiful gift. But the smile is less about the gift, and more about the reasoning behind it.

It came from a woman on my postgraduate course. And it came so out of the blue. She said it was just because I was so kind and helpful. That was it. It was just to say thank you for being kind and helpful.

It’s a lovely pink silk scarf from the south of China and is absolutely lovely. It really is.

I’ve been smiling today because I was given a beautiful gif—the gift of remembering that people are kind and generous. The gift of friendship.

Sugar high

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

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

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

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

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

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

One man’s junk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Job done!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Classy lady

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflections

The home I had in America was my dream home. Paul and I spent more than two years searching for the perfect place to raise a family and I remember how we both just knew this little yellow house was the place from the moment we walked through the front door. A month or so later we were handed the keys and after that we started making the place our own.

We tore out the carpets to let the hardwood floors shine like they were meant to; we painted the walls; and we refinished an Art Deco table for the dining room. And we started to search for bits and bobs to make our house our home. One of the things we were searching for was a mirror—something large enough to fit over the seven-foot fireplace mantle.

As we began our search, we looked for something with a simple frame in a black or white finish. Like really, really simple. But we didn’t find what we wanted straight away so we began to look for something with a bit of flare to it. But not something gaudy or ostentatious—something simple and classy to compliment the Art Deco/Craftsman designs of the house.

Then it happened—we stopped into our favourite back road antique store (the one I talked about before) and we found the perfect mirror. It was tucked behind a pile of picture frames that were tossed haphazardly in a corner behind a broken down table. It wasn’t anywhere near what we were looking for, but we knew instantly that it was the one we wanted.

So we went from searching for a modern, simple wood framed mirror to falling in love with mirror framed with one of those gold-and-gaudy frames that you see in stuffy old art museums. But it worked. It really did. In fact, I think it worked better than anything else ever could have because it clashed in just the right way.

I remember when I first started thinking about leaving my home and my lovely treasures for my return to Scotland. I remember thinking that I would miss my table and my mirror so much, and I remember thinking that it would be so hard to part with them—and so many other pieces. I also remember thinking that I wanted them to go to people who would love them like I did, but I also knew that there was no way I could guarantee that would happen.

Then my friend, Amy, posted a picture of her mantle on her blog and asked others about how they decorated theirs. So I shared a picture of my mantle from my first Christmas in my home and Amy mentioned that she quite liked it—assuming it was either a family piece or an expensive piece. (It was neither.) But that made me realise that Amy would love the mirror as much as I did and that she would treasure it. So we met up for lunch just before I left the country so that I could pass on my treasured mirror to my treasured friend.

Anyhow, today Amy shared what she’s done with the mirror. She made it her own with a bit of spray paint and placed it in her newly redecorated bedroom where it looks incredible. It’s made me cry a bit to see my beloved mirror in someone else’s home, but it makes me happy at the same time because I always thought it would be happy in someone’s loving family home—and that’s where it is.

As for me, I’m planning to move into my new flat toward the end of October. And since the only mirror there is in the bathroom, maybe it’s time for me to find another perfect mirror for this new life of mine. I’m sure there will be plenty of funky little back road (or even main road?) antique stores to search in with friends on the weekends.

[Photo #1 is the photo of my mirror; Photo #2 is Amy’s mirror]

One down; one long one to go

I ran my first-ever non-American race today—a gentle 10K through my new home of Stirling. I’ve been neglecting my training so I was actually quite pleased with my time. (Sorry, you have to read more before you get that bit of information!)

The course was relatively flat and took us through this place and over there by that place and along a river and over a bridge or two. (OK, you got me! I don’t actually know all of the areas we ran through. But it did offer lovely views of the castle and the Wallace Monument.) The weather was fairly nice and cool—and came with a light rain near the half-way mark, which was actually quite nice.

And get this! The course was marked in kilometres—not miles! I know that’s a strange comment since the race was a 10K, but in the states a 10K (or 5K) is still marked in miles. Because of this surprise, I found myself having to do maths along the course so that I could gage if my pace was OK. But that also meant that I didn’t get my 6 mile mark, which is what tells me that I have .2 miles to go, which is what tells me to kick it up to top speed. But I got a 9K mark instead and I didn’t know what that meant in miles. Then there was a sign that said ‘200 metres to go’ and I had no clue what that meant at first—but it dawned on me that 200 metres is my .2 miles(ish) so kicked it up for my strong(ish) finish.

I had hoped to finish in under an hour, and am happy to say I did that—just!—with a finish time of 59:28. I am very happy with that time because, well, it’s a respectable time and I am training for a marathon so am working on distance not speed (and in fact, I even intentionally slowed my pace a couple of times as to not risk injury). Of course, at the same time I’m upset with that time because I so wanted to be even faster! But I have to realise that I am no longer 18 years old and I have two pre-existing medical conditions. Still, my stubbornness wanted to believe I was that perfectly healthy and fit high schooler! But I digress.

And even though this blog is all about me, I do have to mention that my friend, Rebecca, ran it with me. But if you want to know what her take on the day’s event was, you’ll have to read about it here. And don’t listen to her about my ‘shooting off in front’ at the 5K mark; but she’s right that I did a lousy job with that photo. (Sorry!)

So my next non-American race is the Loch Ness Marathon in two weeks’ time; which means that today’s run was 20.2 miles shy of the furthest distance I ever, ever, ever plan to run/walk/crawl. I’m a little frightened about the marathon, but I’m a bit excited, too. You might get the privilege of reading a post or two before the marathon about my progress, my fears, and my excitement. So stay tuned…

And, as always, you can see more photos from my races here.

Honestly, I’ll keep blogging

It would seem that I’m not very good at this whole blogging thing of late, and I apologise for that. I suppose that it has a lot to do with the fact that I am no longer living in near isolation—meaning I have real life people to talk to—and that I have been running around quite a bit visiting family and friends and getting ready for the start of term. But I’ve been meaning to write, really.

In fact, on Saturday I had thought I might post about how I am re-learning the art of solo site seeing. It was something that I always did before I met Paul (and did with enjoyment at that time in my life) but it would seem that now that I’m seeing the sites on my own again—and not really by choice—that it can be a little sad. But then I got sidetracked after a rather upsetting conversation and thought I’d blog about that because I needed to vent, but really didn’t want to vent here. Then Rebecca came home (as a reminder, she’s the friend I’m staying with until I get my own flat) and instead of blogging my emotions, I vented to her. It was actually good to have a real-life person to vent to, but I felt bad about burdening her. (It really helped, too, but meant that I was so emotionally drained that it was all I could do to drink half a bottle of Champagne and watch Doctor Who before going to bed.)

So then I thought I might blog about Sunday. Rebecca and I took the train through to Glasgow to check out a craft fair and to do some vintage shopping (I had success at both activities!). We also took a side trip to find the house that a former work colleague’s grandmother lived in before moving to America. (Sadly, the house seems to have been torn down.) But by the time we got home it was time for me to Skype with one of my sisters and her kids and by the time we were done chatting I was beat and ready for an early night.

That brought me to Monday—the first day of the first semester for my postgraduate career. I had looked at a flat in the morning that I decided was perfect for me (I will update on the flat hunt later—maybe even today!) which meant that I was all smiles for my trek to campus. Once on campus I met with my programme director and was so excited to determine my modules—one of which felt as if it was designed especially for me! But when I got home, I was too busy sharing my exciting day with Rebecca whilst we pigged out on curry that I never got around to blogging.

And then yesterday I decided that I would share all the details about my degree and what I hoped to learn and study. I even started the post. But then I learned that the module I felt was designed for me was being cancelled because only two of us signed up for it. I have to say that I was completely gutted! So instead of telling you about my courses, I spent time thinking about what module to take instead. (It’s between two and I hope to know what to do by tomorrow.) I also spent the day getting books and reading materials for next week—and actually reading in preparation. And, again, I was too beat (and emotionally exhausted) to blog about it all.

Which brings us to this post: A post about the things I thought about posting about over the past few days but never did. (Really, it’s more to update my Mom and a few others who’ve indicated that they’d rather have boring ‘what I did today’ posts than no posts at all.)

Again, I’m going to get better at this; I think I just need to get a routine sorted out. After all, blogging really is a great outlet for me and I find my life is much calmer when I’m writing. So here are a few post topics you can look forward to over the next few weeks: My first Scottish race, my first marathon, my first day of classes, my new flat, Ian Rankin, and an anecdote or two about the differences between Scotland and my part of America. Yay!

[The image with this blog was created by me with the awesome Keepcalm-O-Matic. Yay, again!]

Boxed cat

OK folks, it’s pitch time! So sit back, relax, and get ready to hear all about my new freelance venture and how you can help!

Regular readers will recall that I’ve recently left my job in America, moved to Scotland, and will be attending university for a postgraduate degree (starting next week!). But what you may not know is that I am also attempting to fund my crazy adventure by doing some freelance communications work. And that’s where Boxed Cat Media comes in.

Boxed Cat Media is a freelance communications business offering services including writing and editing; social media support and consultation, including website and blog setup; layout and design for print and web; and brand and identity support. (See more details here.) I hope to work with small mom-and-pop shops, community organisations, and non profits. Additionally, I will work with individuals on small projects such as holiday cards, birth or adoption announcements, blog setup/design, and more.

Now for the pitch: In order for this venture to work, I need people to pay me money to do work for them. And that’s where you come in! Yes, I need you to help spread the word. Not in a pushy, call all your friends way, because that would be silly. Instead, I just hope that you’ll think of me when you or someone you know needs some design or communications work done.

To that, here’s the link one more time: http://www.boxedcatmedia.com. (That’s: Boxed Cat Media Dot Com, if you missed it!)

And now on to the thank yous:

First, to all of my friends who helped brainstorm a great name! Especially Mark G., who suggested ‘Schrodie Media Group’ which made me smile, but I feared the cat’s name might make a URL difficult. However, that got me to the track that lead to Boxed Cat Media, as Schrodie was named after the man behind the cat-in-a-box theory in the first place.

Next, to the folks who gave feedback on the logo: Thank you Mom, Dad, Rebecca, Amy, Celeste, Ellen, Patricia, Paula, and Martin. Extra
thanks to Dad and Martin who gave additional feedback on tweaks in fairly quick order.

Then to the folks who reviewed the site for me: Thanks, Nick, Royann, and Dad! And another thanks to Dad for his input on my business cards.

Have I missed anyone? I hope not! But if I have, please know I’m grateful to you, too!!

So there you have it. Boxed Cat Media is now up and running and ready for work. So please feel free to help make that happen!

(And I promise to start blogging more regularly as I get settled in a bit more. Really!)

A palatial day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Got there

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Hello; goodbye

Today I said hello to an old friend from high school for the first time since high school. Sadly, I also said goodbye to her. (Or more accurately: I’ll see you again, and in less than 20 years this time!)

Amy and I were always friendly in school. Not always best buds and we didn’t really ‘hang out’ much, but she was always one of the people I liked very much. In fact, about five years ago I saw that she was on Classmates.com and I searched her name on Google trying to find out more about her. I was excited to learn that she was living not too far from me, and that she was in a similar career field to me. But I didn’t really know how to contact her because she was unlisted. Then we connected on Facebook and I realised that the Amy [Married Name] I Googled was a different person than the Amy I wanted to connect with! (This is all probably news to Amy; I never told her of my previous stalking before!)

On Facebook, Amy and I rarely connected because life got in the way. But after Paul died, she sent me the most amazing, heart-felt note and it touched my soul. After that, I found myself peeking at her blog from time-to-time, but never commenting. Then one day I was writing a blog post about saying goodbye to my car and noticed that she had a similar post on her blog—a post I linked to.

Soon, we were reading each other’s blogs regularly, and commenting on them. Even though my old friend lived clear on the other side of the state, she became an amazing support network for me. She was there when I needed her, offering words of support, wisdom, and encouragement.

For two years now, we’ve rekindled our friendship online. And today we met for lunch (with our sisters, Celeste and Maile, who were also friends and classmates growing up). It was like we’d only seen each other yesterday. It was so comfortable, and so long overdue!

I am sad that I am leaving behind such an amazing friend, but I am so happy that she will be on the other side of a keyboard any time I need her. I am so lucky to have such a wonderful friend.

Thank you, Amy, for everything! I love you and will certainly stay in touch. You’re the kind of friend everyone in this world needs—a true friend!!

[Left to right: Amy, Maile, Celeste, and me.]

The Doctor is in

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

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

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

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

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

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

Running goodbyes

A few months ago, I decided that I wanted to run ‘one last race’ with my nephews before I left for Scotland, so I searched out the race that was closest to my departure date. And that race was today.

Because the race was ‘on the other side of the mountains’ I drove over last night with my 12-year-old nephew, Haden, and 14-year-old niece, Flik. We then stayed at my baby sister, Royann’s, house with her husband, Javier, and their boys, 12-year-old Adrian and 7-year-old Brendan. Then it was an early start for us all to get to Lacey in time for the race.

Flik, Haden, and Adrian ran the 5K route and I ran the 10K one, whilst the others cheered us on. And I’m extremely pleased to say that all of us improved our times over previous races, despite none of us winning our groups. (I ran mine in 59:27, which is a 9:35 minute mile, which is way awesome!!)

Oh, and at the race I saw an old friend from high school, Craig, who was there to cheer on his wife who was also running the 10K. He’s one of the few classmates I have on my Facebook page, which meant that I was happy to go say hi, instead of pretending to not notice him! We figured that the last time we saw each other was during the 4th of July parade sometime in between my first trip to Scotland 10 years ago and my wedding 6+ years ago. What a nice little addition to my day! (And good luck to Craig’s wife who is training for a half marathon!)

After the race was over and the winners were announced, it was time for the hard part—saying goodbye. And because Haden was staying behind with his cousins, it meant one more person to hug. My first hug came from Brendan. He gave me the best hug he’s ever given me and told me he loved me—and even let me kiss his cheek! Then it was Haden’s turn for a hug. And I made him use both arms and gave him a kiss, too. Next up was Adrian. Again, two arms, kisses, and ‘I love yous’ were exchanged. (Promises of post cards and candy from Scotland were made to all of the kids.) Finally, it was time to say goodbye to Royann and Javier. Again, good hugs and promises of Skype phone calls.

Thankfully, Flik was heading back to the homeland with me, which meant a bit of a distraction, which meant I wasn’t a sobbing pile of goo when I drove away!

And since we were near(ish) ANT Elizabeth’s house, we went to see Schrodie, too. I am pleased to report that my beloved cat is starting to settle in a bit more. Her and my ANT’s cat are starting to share window ledges (though with a bit of animosity) and are even hiding under beds together. It’s kind of cool. But, she’s still got a way to go in her bid for normalisation!

Of course, the down side of that side trip was saying goodbye to Schrodie all over again. And saying goodbye to my cousins, Carson and Dylan, as well as my ANT. But I know that we’ll all keep in touch and I know that I’ll see them all when I’m back for visits. So that’s cool.

I have three full days remaining now and way too much to do in those days! I have to pack; I have to get my hair cut; I have to finish getting computers fixed up for family members so that we can stay in touch; I have to visit with friends; and I have to spend quality time with family. And I still have so many people to say goodbye to, too.

It’s going to be hard, but I know that I’m doing what’s best for me. After all, Scotland is waiting!

[Note to self: Drink more water to make up for all the tears that will be flowing!]

Eggs benny

Last night I drove out to Vantage for Girls’ Weekend at The Beach House—my second ever girls’ weekend, though sadly I was only able to attend one evening.

I was late in arriving because I was so busy with a million ‘must do before I move’ chores, but got there in plenty of time to visit with my sister, Celeste, and her best friend (and our host), Jenna, as well as their friends Rachel, Heather, and Sarah. And whilst Rachel and Heather were both lovely women and I enjoyed talking with them, it was Sarah who stole my heart—or rather, my tummy!

Sarah, it seems, is hoping to open a food cart soon. But not just any food cart—one that serves Eggs Benedict and BACON cookies! (Yes, really!!)

Now, I don’t know if you know this, but I LOVE bacon. So I was very happy to taste-test last night’s chocolate chip, sea salt, and bacon cookies. And I LOVE Eggs Benedict. So I was very thrilled to learn that Sarah was making breakfast for us this morning. And breakfast was (you guessed it!) Eggs Benedict! And can I just say, it was YUM-ME!!

Several hours later and I am at my baby sister’s house, in preparation for a race I’m participating in with my niece, Flik, and two 12-year-old nephews, Haden and Adrian, tomorrow morning. (I’m doing the 10K; the kids are doing the 5K.) But even though I’m here, where I’m awaiting an amazing dinner of barbequed tacos, I’m still thinking about my breakfast. It really was that good!

(Thanks, Sarah! I’m certain that your business venture will be a great success!!)

Fun with maths

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An awesome Monday

I’ve had a pretty awesome Monday, if you wondered. It started when I woke up at 6 a.m. and checked my email. That’s when I learned that I’d been awarded a £2,000 Scotland Saltire Scholarship toward my tuition at the University of Stirling. Then I went for an eight-mile run, where I shaved two minutes off my time on the same route last week.

After cooling down with some refreshing mountain water and a cup of coffee, I decided to call HM Revenue and Customs to sort my UK tax refund. Only I read the wrong number from my list and called my sister-in-law in England instead which meant a nice, unexpected chat with Liz, after which I called the tax man. And the tax man agreed with me that there was an error on their end and is sorting out a cheque for me for nearly £700.

By this time, it’s only about 9 a.m. and I’ve already managed a successful training run and have increased my bank balance by £2,700! Then about 40 minutes later, my eldest sister showed up with her daughters so that we could all head up to Tumble Creek for a round of golf. It was potentially the longest game I’ve ever played—despite us playing a scramble format—but it was so great to play with the girls!

When I finally got home (around 5 p.m.?) I got the chance to relax for a bit before my friend, Marv, arrived for a trip up to Fifty6 Degrees for a wee dram of single malt. (We chose Talikers; yum!)

And now I’m home again and ready for bed. It’s been an active day, but an awesome one. Thankfully, tomorrow appears to be considerably less active, but also enjoyable since I have a lunch date with Jennifer!

Now about that marathon…

You’d be forgiven for forgetting that I’m meant to be training for a marathon, since I’ve not really brought up the subject recently, but I really am still planning to participate (and complete) the Loch Ness Marathon in Scotland on October 2. And now that I’m an unemployed bum living at my mommy and daddy’s, I’m actually getting some training in!

On Monday I did a four-mile run and today I enjoyed an early(ish) morning six-mile run. Then, when I’m at the ocean for a family reunion this weekend, I will do a 10-mile route—though it’s yet to be mapped out. In addition, I’ve been busy with a million other activities such as packing, lifting, and moving; bike riding; and golf. (In fact, I’m playing 18 holes on Friday at the reunion!)

I’ve also picked out my pre-move last American 10K (Aug 7 in Lacey, Washington, if you want to join me) and have registered for my first-ever Scottish race: A gentle 10K in my future home of Stirling.

Oh! And my marathon registration pack has arrived at my friend’s flat, so I guess I’m really doing this thing!

Playing make believe

Avid readers of Just Frances will remember that I shared my thankfulness for ‘make believe friends’ this past Thanksgiving. Well, it seems that my sister, Celeste, shared that story with her make believe friends at the same time. And one of those friends became a regular reader of my blog after that. Dawn began offering support and friendship through my blog and even found me on Facebook.

Well, this week Dawn is in Seattle as a tag-along spouse whilst her husband attends a conference. So she’s meeting her make believe friends in real life—and Celeste and I were first!

It really was interesting to meet with someone I’d only known online—but it seemed easy and very comfortable. Of course, I felt at ease with Dawn before meeting her, so that probably helped!

Now, not only was this Dawn’s first trip to Seattle, but it seems that it was Celeste’s first for many things, too, because she’s never really been a Seattle girl. So I was in tour guide heaven!

Our first stop was Starbucks #1, then we wandered across to Pike Place Market where we enjoyed the various booths and free samples—and watched with big smiles as they threw fish. Then, of course, it was down to Post Alley to stick our used chewing gum on the gum wall. (Really.)

Next up, we wandered along the Waterfront where I purchased a loaf of double sourdough bread from the Alaska Sourdough Bakery before we popped in to Ye Olde Curiosity Shop to see the mummies and three-headed pigs. (Really.)

Of course, all this wandering around made us hungry, so I had to introduce the girls to Dick’s Drive-In on Broadway. We all enjoyed Dick’s Deluxes, fries, and root beer, and then we were off to Volunteer Park where we enjoyed a walk around the conservatory and were pleasantly surprised to see a fantasy medieval-y battle group playing. Even better was that some of the players took time to talk to us about their group. (Really.)

Anyhow, it was a good day out and I’m glad to have gotten the chance to meet Dawn in real life.

Check out photos from the day here.

And check out a video from the battle people here!!

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.]

On a positive note

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

The counting begins

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who am I really talking to?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The homeland half

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Photo credits to my dad, Roy Cook.]

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!]

Ta-da!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post it

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ten things

Reminder: I’m moving servers later this week and will lose most of my subscriber information. Please click here for more information on re-subscribing! Now… on to the story!

It’s another list day. Yay!

Today’s list is 10 things I’ve not done in more than a year but that I am going to work hard at doing in the next 12 months. So here goes!

  1. Go for a bike ride (Last ride: Autumn 2008)
  2. Plant something (Last planting: Tulip and crocus bulbs in England; March 2010)
  3. Eat BBQ burgers and dogs (It’s been 2+ years which is too+ long!)
  4. Go to Scotland (Last trip: Feb/Mar 2010)
  5. Travel out of state to visit friends* (Last trip: October 2009)
  6. Go to a fair (Last fair: September 2006)
  7. Get a haircut (Last cut: February 2010**)
  8. Buy a fiction novel (Last purchase: April 2010)
  9. Go camping (Last trip: So long ago I can’t even remember!)
  10. Buy a new gadget***

And may I just say how difficult it was to create this list? At first I thought: Just 10 things? No problem! But the problem is that so many of the things I’ve not done in the past year+ are things that I have no intentions of ever doing again! I mean, it’s been more than a year since I last changed a tire, but I don’t plan on changing one in the next year. Nor do I plan on chopping fire wood or making a pinecone wreath.

How about you? Do you have a list of 10 things to share? And if so, how easy was it to create?

* As in to another state within the USA—not as in out of the states, which I’ve done as recently as December 2010.
** Yes, really. More than a year ago. That’s about normal for me. What do I care? It’s just hair.
*** OK, in fairness I bought an iPod Shuffle sometime last summer. But with gadgets, a month is like a year, so I’m really jonesin’, man!

For the last time

Well folks, the Bloomsday 12K results are in. But I’m going to get all melancholy for a bit before I get to that part.

You see, it dawned on me sometime last week that this may very well be the last time I run Bloomsday. It’s not my hometown race and once I leave the Palouse it won’t exactly be convenient to participate. Sure, about a dozen people travel from my hometown for the race each year, but I’m not returning to my hometown; I’m returning to my home county.

It also dawned on me that this was the first time I participated without Paul. We were registered for the race in 2009 but he died a week before the starters’ gun went off. Of course, knowing that it was a matter of ‘when not if’ Paul died, part of me is glad we didn’t run it. I mean, what if the ‘when’ was whilst he was running a race with 50,000 plus people? I don’t know how I could have coped with that. (I know: Whatifs are silly things. But the mind seems to go there from time to time!)

Anyhow, I am a bit sad about my time. I mean, I came in under my goal of 1:45 (just) but it was a whole 23 minutes slower than my last time. And we’ll not talk about what my time would have been in my teens and early-20s when I was at my top fitness!

I know I shouldn’t be upset. After all, my physical, mental, and emotional wellness really took a hit when Paul died and I’m not yet at my pre-widowed levels. (I might not ever be!) I also have to remember that I have had two severe platelet crashes since January—the last of which was just two weeks before the race when I sat in the doctor’s office discussing the possibility of a platelet transfusion. So, really, I probably shouldn’t have been running in the first place! But, I guess that my slow speed is just another indicator of how much life has changed for me in the last two years.

So, now that Bloomsday is done, I guess it’s time to start thinking about that marathon in October. And, of course, the hometown Runner Stumbles 10K over 4th of July weekend—my last American race for who-knows-how-long.

And, finally, here are the times for our group:

  • Nearly-12-year-old nephew, Haden: 1:41:39
  • Me: 1:44:22
  • Nearly-13-year-old niece, Flik: 2:10:14
  • My sister, Celeste: 2:11:31
  • Nearly-12-year-old foster daughter: 2:11:34
  • My neighbour (Kerry): 2:42:28
  • Kerry’s friend, Leslie: 2:42:28

Don’t forget to check out some of our photos, too!

A bloomin’ recap

Bloomsday 2011 is over and I’m alive to tell the story! And after little-to-no training, that is a success in itself. Yay!

I’ll not bore you with all of the details since you already know that I was in the green colour group and that I ran with my nephew, Haden, whilst the rest of our group walked. Instead, I’ll just get to the good stuff and that’s this:

Haden and I ran the entire race. All of it. We ran it all. I really thought that Haden would take a walk break at some point. But, no, he was good to run! And he ran up Doomsday Hill at a rather impressive rate. In fact, once we got to the top of the dreaded hill, Haden was set to finish at a great speed. So, he dashed off in front of me just shy of mile seven and I didn’t see him until I made it past the finish line. I was (and still am!) extremely pleased and impressed with his ability!

The other good stuff is that the rest of our group (the five walkers) all completed the course in one piece. Of course, the cool thing about that is that they’re not athletes and have never walked such a distance in their lives. A couple had recently done five miles, and the other three had walked (sometimes with a bit of jogging) 5Ks a couple of times. So this really was a challenge for them and they are all filled with joy and pride at their accomplishments—as they should be!

And for even more good stuff: New connections were made! My sister and my neighbour really hit it off and it seems everyone enjoyed each other’s company and everyone just had an all-around good time, which is always a treat!

Sadly, there was one instance of the race that upset me. As I was running (slowly) up Doomsday Hill, I was passed by a woman around my age who was probably carrying about 20 pounds more that her frame allowed—wearing spandex shorts and a rather small running top. She wasn’t going much faster than me, but she was making pretty good time. Well, just as I got up to a group of three extremely pretty ‘they’re probably in a sorority’ girls, I overheard them speaking rather disparagingly about the woman and all the jiggling extra bits of her. They were very vocal about how ‘people who look like that’ shouldn’t be allowed to dress like that.

Now, if that were me, I don’t think I’d have chosen that wardrobe. And if she were in the grocery store, I’d have probably been a little snarky (inwardly, mind you) about her choice of clothing. But she was running a 12K road race. Running it. And she was keeping a better pace than me or the silly commentary panel. If that’s the outfit she felt comfortable running in, I say wear it!

Anyhow, it just upset me. And I don’t know if I’m more upset at the offenders for their judgmental comments or at myself for not saying something. Maybe it’s a tie? But I digress…

Now, what you really want are photos and times. Sadly, at nearly 10 p.m. the times aren’t yet posted and I am too beat to wait for them. I will update you on those tomorrow. In the mean time, I guess the photos will have to suffice.

13295 + 48065 = Team Awesome

OK, I admit that I’m generally pretty rubbish at math[s], but I think I’ve done the calculations right this time!

You see, tomorrow morning is the 35th annual Bloomsday 12K in Spokane, Washington, and my nephew, Haden, and I will be running it together. My bib number is 13295; Haden’s is 48065. And together, we equal Team Awesome.

This is Haden’s first-ever 12K and it takes place just three days before his 12th birthday. He’s pretty excited about it, too!

We’ve had a big spaghetti dinner. We’ve hydrated with lots of water all day. We have our race gear set out and ready to go. We have yummy donuts and bananas for a fuelling breakfast tomorrow morning. Yes, we are ready to run!

Oh! And an added bonus is that my sister, niece, foster daughter, neighbour, and neighbour’s friend are all participating in the race, too. They’ll be walking the course. And I believe it will be the furthest any of them have ever walked. They’re all pretty excited about it!

Tune in tomorrow to see how we did!

(Yes, Haden’s number is upside down. He knew this at the time of the photo. He says that he thinks people should learn how to read upside down, apparently.)

Colour me green

The Bloomsday 12K race organisers tell me (via email this morning) that I’m go for green for this weekend’s race. This makes me so happy because I feared my two year hiatus from the event would relegate me to lilac once again.

I should note here that there are more than 50,000 race participants and they colour-code groups by estimated finish times, with the fastest people in the front. The first time Paul and I ran the race, we were lilac—way in the back where all the walkers are. But the next year saw Paul upgraded to yellow (the best non-elite group) and me to orange (the third non-elite group). Paul’s funeral was the day before the 2009 race, so there was no way I was going to participate, but I think he’d have been pleased to know that I was upgraded to green that year—the second non-elite group. (Paul was slated for the yellow group again.) But I digress…

Despite not participating for two years, the race organisers still felt I was worthy of being GREEN!

And, because he was listed as a runner instead of a walker, my soon-to-be-12-year-old nephew and running partner, Haden, has been seeded in the blue group. Which is the fifth back from the elite, but is still in front of the walkers.

Now, because you can start with a colour group behind yours but not in front of yours, I will be starting in the blue group. But I will be wearing my lovely green race bib. Yay! Haden and I are super-duper excited about the race and aim to run the whole thing. Yes, even Doomsday Hill!!

Oh, and it seems green is my theme this week. I’m working on an updated look for Just Frances and sent a test link to a couple of friends. And one wrote back saying all sorts of mean things that made me cry about how horrible he thinks my choice of greens is. So I sent him a set of four other greens and he replied with more harsh, cruel words, sending me into a spiral of despair and sorrow.

OK, I may be exaggerating a bit there. I think it would be fairer to say he questioned very nicely if the first shade was too dark (I agreed) then made a suggestion on a possible direction based on the next set of four. I hate to admit it, but his comments have actually given me a great idea for my green solution.

And one more thing on the topic of green: The thought of ‘green’ and ‘solution’ in a sentence made me think of the movie Soylent Green. It’s a great movie and if you’ve not yet seen it, you should!

Found in the rubble

I whine a lot about all that I lost nearly two years ago when Paul died. And I’ll probably whine a lot more because I really lost so much. But this post isn’t about my loss; it’s about what I’ve gained, because it’s time I call a couple of people out of the rubble. After all, I don’t know that I could have survived this long without them.

[Disclaimer: This post is about friendships that wouldn’t have been formed if Paul hadn’t died, so if I’ve known you for, like, ever please don’t feel slighted.]

First of all, there is my awesome neighbour, Kerry. The night (or rather, early morning hours) that Paul died I called Kerry to pick me up at the hospital in the next town over. I barely knew her, as we’d not been in the house that long, but she took my 3 a.m. phone call and came to the rescue. I stayed at her house until my daddy made the four-hour drive. In the days and weeks after the funeral, Kerry would come round to visit regularly. Her husband, Tom, kept my lawn mowed, and they’d both take me out golfing.

Kerry is still around, popping by to visit now and then. We feed each other’s cats when were away and she’s always just a text message away if I’m home sick and need her to pick something up in town. (We both work at the university, which is convenient!) She stops by for a drink now and then, and now that spring has sprung, there’s talk of more golf—and some weekend walks. In fact, the other day we were talking about how sad it is that I’ll be leaving in a few months’ time, because we’ll miss the friendship.

Next up is Martin. Martin was a friend of Paul’s from university and when I first met him nine years ago I told Paul I would be happy to never see him again because I thought he was a bit of a pompous [censored]. Paul told me to give him a chance and also pointed out that I may have been a bit of a pompous [censored] to his friend, too. A few weeks before Paul died, Martin came up in conversation and I scoffed about how arrogant the guy was (still holding a grudge from that first meeting, because that’s how I roll), but Paul told me he was a good guy. And Paul was right: As soon as Martin heard the news of Paul’s death, he made arrangements to fly out to America for the funeral. He arrived on Friday night and left on Sunday. What a kind and generous gesture to make for a friend.

But more than that, Martin kept in touch regularly after the funeral. He called to check in on me, he offered help with Paul’s UK estate stuff, and he made himself available when I needed to vent. On trips to the UK since Paul’s death, I’ve had the opportunity to meet up with him and have decided that Paul was right, he’s a good guy. Sadly, I’m probably not that nice to him and tend to take out my frustrations on him but I’m trying to be nicer.

And then there’s Rebecca. Another of Paul’s university friends, I first met Rebecca at his memorial services in England. I was sitting at a table with a group of his friends when this woman remarked about my slightly obsessive-compulsive tendencies, as I was habitually straightening coasters and making certain my pint was centred on my coaster at all times. I think she instantly felt bad about making the joke, but I instantly decided that I liked her. The next day she sent me a lovely note and friend request on Facebook and we soon became friends. The few times we’ve seen each other since that first meeting I’ve felt very comfortable around her—as if we’d been friends our entire lives. I don’t know if she realises it, but I’ve never had a female friend who makes me feel so at ease.

Rebecca has become one of my strongest supporters and loudest cheerleaders. She’s there to cheer me up and make me laugh—and she’s been the needed voice of calm and reason when I’ve been anxious and afraid of taking such big steps toward my future. And as I’m going to be living in the same city as her in just a few months (I’ll even stay with her when I first arrive) I’m glad to know that there will be someone nearby to call my friend.

Of course, there are also several other people I’ve gotten to know since (and because of?) Paul’s death. Several of his old friends have reached out on Facebook; a few neighbours have been round to chat; and I’ve grown closer to his family, too. And I’m sure that once I move back to Scotland, some of those connections will flourish into full-on friendships, too.

I feel so blessed to have forged these new friendships and relationships, but they came at a heavy price to my heart. I won’t go down the road of “Who would you chose: Paul or these new friends”; that’s a silly road because I don’t get the choice. Bad things happen. Crappy things happen. And sometimes your entire world crumbles all around you. But if you look in the rubble, sometimes you can find just enough to salvage to make something fabulous—like friendships!

We’ll be back!

Way back in March 2002 my bestest friend ever whom I’ve known for, like, ever and ever came to visit me in Scotland. And she totally hated it. She’d be the first to tell you that she doesn’t travel well and those darn people in Scotland couldn’t even speak English.

But it wasn’t all bad. No, she loved the Chinese food and the Pringles. And she really enjoyed Stirling. And she really loved our tour of Inverness and Loch Ness. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that the day we went to Loch Ness was the best day of the entire visit.*

Anyhow, it won’t be long now and we’ll be back along the shores of Nessie’s watery home as we run the Loch Ness Marathon together (with other great friends, too!) in October.

So to celebrate that fact, here’s a pretty picture that I took of Urquhart Castle on the shores of Loch Ness back on that first visit.

Yay!

* Actually, maybe the best day was the day after she met Paul. They got on so well at dinner that they made plans for us all to go to the Star Wars exhibit the next day. My best friend and boyfriend were in geek heaven!

Paperwork

I’ve spent much of the weekend going through Paul’s old university newspapers and clippings. It’s strange because many of the stories feel like ghosted memories to me since Paul quite often shared tales of his days at the University of Edinburgh. And since I’ve gotten to know a few of his old school friends a bit more in the past [nearly] two years, it makes the stories seem even more like faded memories of my own. (Wow! How can it be almost two years already!?)

This isn’t the first time I’ve gone through these papers, and it won’t be the last time. But at least there will be less of them for me to sort in the future because I’m getting rid of the duplicates. After all, there is no reason for me to keep three copies of the same paper—not when someone else can benefit from the memories.

So, I’ve sorted through them. I’ve put all of the clipped articles aside to scan then read through the other papers. And what I found was that Paul kept 1-2 complete copies of the issues where he was mentioned, but also kept the cut-up copy from where he took the clippings.

It seems to me that I’m really only interested in the clippings that talk about Paul—despite the fact I know some of the people in the other stories. It also dawns on me that Paul’s siblings would probably be happy with just the Paul-centric bits. So I am scanning those articles and photos to share with the family. (I haven’t decided what I’ll do with the original clippings and am not ready or willing to make that decision just yet. After all, it’s only been two years. I’m not ready to deal with these things yet!)

Of course, this all means that I have stacks of memories that I can share with Paul’s old friends. I’ve already packaged up a few copies to send on to one of his friends (who I hope will forward some on to the person they’re intended for!) and I have another stack that I plan to offer to different people in the next couple of weeks.

All told, I’ve cut the stack by about two-thirds. I haven’t actually gotten around to scanning the clippings yet, but I will.

I know it seems silly, but this was no easy task. I mean, Paul saved all of these things for nearly 20 years before he died. He cared so much about them that he packaged them up and brought them half-way around the world with him. And I dismantled the collection in less than 48 hours. That’s so sad to me. But I find a bit of solace knowing that maybe the memories will bring a bit of joy to the friends he loved so much.

(For those wondering: No, I’ve yet to sort through anything else—including clothes and his bathroom drawer. Like I said, it’s only been two years!)

Joy in an envelope

I go to the post office on my way home almost every day. And each time I put the key in the lock I hold my breath hoping that there will be a letter or parcel for me. You know—something other than a bill. Sadly, it doesn’t happen often, but I still hold out hope.

And today it happened! I got a letter all the way from Canada!

When I saw the brown envelope my first thought was it was a letter from the UK’s HM Revenue & Customs about my tax refund. But then I saw the return address and I knew it was something from a lovely new friend of mine—who is the sister of a lovely friend in Scotland, to boot!

I couldn’t wait to open the letter, but since I’m one of those people who must open things with a clean edge—and me without a pocket knife!—I had to hold the urge to tear it open in the post office lobby. I smiled all the way home. (OK, I’m only ¼ mile from the post office, but I smiled for the ¼ mile!) Once I got home, I excitedly opened the envelope and was so excited to see a hand-written (!!) letter explaining the contents.

The contents, if you wondered—and the impetus for the letter—was a Christmas card and ornament that got forgotten about when I was up over the holidays, as well as a special little preview of the author’s next art exhibit.

But most importantly the envelope contained joy, happiness, and friendship. And precious things such as those are treasures that should be kept nearby at all times!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go re-read my lovely letter…

Crap from a loser

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laughter from above

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On beating children

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Check out more race photos at Run Frances, Run!

Dr. Martin’s Mix

Earlier today I wrote an email to a friend and decided to share a new revelation in my life: I don’t like cooked celery. I don’t hate it; I just have decided that I don’t really care for it. And that revelation really stood out as I enjoyed a nice big bowl of Dr. Martin’s Mix late last week and picked around the celery.

Well, as I typed that email, the thought of Dr. Martin’s Mix made me laugh out loud for reasons of my own amusement. So I’ve decided to share the recipe and its ‘story’ with you. And depending on how well you know me and my friends, the story at the end of the recipe may make you laugh out loud, too.

Dr. Martin’s Mix

From page 20 of Peg Bracken’s The I Hate to Cook Book, copyright 1960

(It takes about seven minutes to put this together. Dr. Martin is a busy man.)

Crumble 1 to 1½ pounds of pork sausage (hamburger will do, but pork is better) into a skillet and brown it. Pour off a little of the fat. Then add:

1 green pepper, chopped
2 green onions, (also called scallions) chopped
2 or 3 celery stalks, chopped
2 cups chicken consommé or bouillon
1 cup raw rice
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
½ teaspoon salt

Dr. Martin then puts the lid on and lets it simmer at the lowest possible heat while he goes out and sets a fracture. When he comes back in about an hour, his dinner is ready.

(Sorry. I’m still giggling to myself over the entire thing!)

Dr. Martin's Mix

Earlier today I wrote an email to a friend and decided to share a new revelation in my life: I don’t like cooked celery. I don’t hate it; I just have decided that I don’t really care for it. And that revelation really stood out as I enjoyed a nice big bowl of Dr. Martin’s Mix late last week and picked around the celery.

Well, as I typed that email, the thought of Dr. Martin’s Mix made me laugh out loud for reasons of my own amusement. So I’ve decided to share the recipe and its ‘story’ with you. And depending on how well you know me and my friends, the story at the end of the recipe may make you laugh out loud, too.

Dr. Martin’s Mix

From page 20 of Peg Bracken’s The I Hate to Cook Book, copyright 1960

(It takes about seven minutes to put this together. Dr. Martin is a busy man.)

Crumble 1 to 1½ pounds of pork sausage (hamburger will do, but pork is better) into a skillet and brown it. Pour off a little of the fat. Then add:

1 green pepper, chopped
2 green onions, (also called scallions) chopped
2 or 3 celery stalks, chopped
2 cups chicken consommé or bouillon
1 cup raw rice
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
½ teaspoon salt

Dr. Martin then puts the lid on and lets it simmer at the lowest possible heat while he goes out and sets a fracture. When he comes back in about an hour, his dinner is ready.

(Sorry. I’m still giggling to myself over the entire thing!)

Wednesday’s child is full of woe

Oh Wednesday, Wednesday, Wednesday. Whatever will I do with you?

Wednesday, I want to love you because you symbolize the middle of the work week which means that it’s almost the weekend. I want to love you because your funny little nickname, Hump Day, makes me giggle. And I want to love you because you’re fun to pronounce. (Or maybe that’s just because my pronunciations are skewed thanks to years of speech therapy?)

But you know what, Wednesday? Sometimes you really are full of woe.

Case in point:
I stop by the post office each day on my way home from the office hoping to have a letter or a card or a parcel from a friend. Most days, I am disappointed and only get bills or name-addressed junk mail. But on Wednesdays, the box only ever contains a grocery store flyer from a town I never go to because it’s in a different direction than where I work, and therefore shop. But I get to be sad that there is a sale on blueberries that I can’t get because the added trip would cost more in fuel than the savings on the berries.

Case in point:
Wednesday is the day that the bill collectors call for the person who used to own my home telephone number; which means that I return home from work to a beeping answering machine and allow myself a moment’s excitement that someone has called for me. But instead I just have several machine-voiced auto messages for some guy I don’t even know.

But, I know this isn’t your fault. And I know that originally, you were not the day of woe but were rather the day of loving and giving. So I’m going to give you a break.

After all, Wednesday is also the day that the housekeeper comes.

And Wednesday is the half-way point in the week’s fresh grocery supply which means I can eat those last few strawberries without guilt because I know I’ll re-stock in two days’ time!

And this Wednesday was a day that I had a nice chat with a friend in Scotland who helped to remind me that I’m not totally screwing with my big life changes but am, in fact, doing the right thing. (Thanks for that! Having the reassurance of a friend always helps!)

[Oh, and if you wondered, I was born on a Thursday and as we know, Thursday’s child has far to go. I think what that means in my case is that I have to travel 6,000 miles to find home. Yep, that’s my interpretation at least.]

Fear is a burning bridge

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

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

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

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

(But tomorrow will be better. Right? …)

Thirty-seven birthday wishes

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

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

I wish for:

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

100 random things

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

100 Random Things about Just Frances

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

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

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

A year of Just Frances

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friendship bracelets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Survival kits

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

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

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

A Survival Kit for Life’s Journey

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

Working out and working through

Since my foster daughter had a social engagement this afternoon, I took advantage of the kid-less time to get some miles in on the gym’s treadmill. And I realised just how much I needed not only the workout, but the time to work through some thoughts.

As many runners will tell you, there is something cathartic about pounding the pavement—or in my case, the treadmill’s conveyor belt. So whilst my body was thriving on the adrenaline and endorphins during my five-mile run, my mind was getting a workout of its own.

First, the work out breakdown:
I put 70 minutes in on the treadmill (10 of those were cool-down minutes) today. It was a run-walk combination, though I did run more than walk. In the end, I put in 5.25 miles. With the exception of a short burst of speed at the end (and three walk breaks) I kept a steady running pace of a 12-minute mile. This is slower than my ideal 5K race pace, but I am going for endurance at the moment so will be keeping a slow pace for a while. And I felt good throughout the work out, which is awesome!

Now for the work through part of the story:
I tried to keep my mind focused on my running and breathing as much as possible, but by mile two my mind was completely immersed in a thought pattern that I couldn’t ignore, which is actually a good thing, because I was able to work through the thoughts.

You see, I’ve been beating myself up in recent months over a couple of my personal relationships. In a nut shell, I have allowed relationships to continue even though they ultimately make me feel bad about myself. The old Frances never would have put up with it, but I guess that I’ve been so hopeful that these relationships would flourish that I’ve let my standards slide.

It’s hard, because the friends in question aren’t necessarily bad friends, they’re just unable (or unwilling) to be what I want or need. They have priorities that don’t include me: Spouses, children, jobs, families, and closer friends. And that means that my needs are often placed at the end of their lists. (Which is OK—we all have to triage our lives!)

There’ve been cancelled plans, un-returned phone calls and emails, broken promises, and (in some cases) flagrant disregard of feelings. And I’ve accepted those things because I know that these friends have other priorities and I don’t want to be a burden.

So, I worked through what I want from each of these relationships and what I am getting from them now. And I’ve decided that at least one needs to go immediately, another may end up gone soon, and the other needs a lot more thought—because I really don’t want to lose that one.

I know I sound harsh, but in all three cases I’ve tried to be open with communication and I’ve made myself available to them around the clock. But I feel neglected over and over again, and it makes me feel like a burden. The majority of our communications are initiated by me, which makes me feel that I am being tolerated rather than wanted. And it really hurts.

By mile four I’d resolved to act on these broken relationships. But I also began to think about the positive new relationships in my life. You see, since Paul died I have gained new friends and re-found old ones. I am excited about the direction that some of my new friendships are going because I feel so happy and secure in them; I feel wanted and needed in them. And I’m thrilled to have found renewed friendships with people I know from school—though our communications are mostly electronic now, I feel loved and wanted and cared for by them. In all cases with these new and renewed friendships, I know that they would be there to support me when I need them without me feeling like a burden. (And I will be there for them.)

[I accept that relationships are a two-way street and that I am not an innocent bystander in the breakdown of friendships. I also don’t think that dissolving friendships is a bad thing—you know, ebbs and flows and all that. Also, I don’t believe that they read my blog, so I’m not posting this as some passive-aggressive message. I promise!]

OK, I know that this may seem like a negative post, but it’s not really negative in my mind. You see, I decided that 2011 was going to be a year of taking care of my needs: my emotional needs, my mental needs, and my physical needs. Part of that means that I need to address things that are burdens in my life. Sadly, that means that I need to get rid of things that upset me. But it also means that I am focusing more on the things that make me happy. And ultimately, these steps will help me to find peace in my world.

Fannies and haggis

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

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

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

Check out photos from the weekend here!

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And check out some fun videos from the weekend below!

Insanity descends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m [not] Scottish

I am American, born and bred to American parents. My ancestors are Germans from Russia. This means that I am not, contrary to the insistence of some, Scottish. (But I hope to be one day!)

But I have a great affinity for Scotland because it’s the one place in the entire world I’ve ever felt truly settled—the one place I’ve ever felt that I truly belong. Paul wasn’t Scottish, either. No, contrary to popular belief, he was English. (From the North East, if you wondered.) But Paul shared a passion for Scotland and when he moved there for university he stayed put until we settled in America. Because of our shared love for Scotland, we incorporated the traditions of our adopted home into our lives. After all, home is where the heart is.

But now I have a foster daughter who knows several things to be true: I speak with a funny accent; I lived in Scotland; I want to return to Scotland; I have lots of friends in Scotland (and family in England); and that I think Scotland is the greatest place in the world.

She also assumes several things and just won’t believe me when I tell her otherwise. Mainly that I am Scottish. I’m not; but she just shrugs her shoulders and says I seem Scottish to her.

Well, now that I’m in the midst of planning Burns’ Supper, my foster daughter is learning loads of great things about Scotland and Robert Burns. And she’s even more insistent that I am Scottish.

So today when she was in the computer lab at school, she saw a link on one of the school-sanctioned websites about Robert Burns. She clicked it and started reading everything about the man then recognized a link as a song we listened to on New Year’s Eve, so she printed out the lyrics to Auld Lang Syne. Then she had to explain to her teacher why she was wasting resources.

Apparently, the teacher is familiar with Burns’ Night and was very excited to hear about how the kid’s ‘Scottish foster mom’ is having a big Burns’ Supper complete with haggis, neeps, and tatties.

You know how they say if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em? Well, I can’t seem to beat this Scottish wrap, so I may as well just brogue up and break out my Harris Tweed and shortbread!

Reflections of 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April: I re-discovered Kamiak Butte.

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

June: I started reading an excellent book series.

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

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

September: I went fishing and I was silly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Home and (partially) de-stressed

Well, I’ve finally made it back home after having a lovely mini break to Canada. My drive home turned into a bit of a longer journey than expected, but it wasn’t a disaster by any means. So, I’ll not bore you with the details of the drive.

If you’ve been reading, you’ll know that I spent a fun day out and about at a local historic park and another fun day bottling wine and cross country skiing. Because it was such a short break, that was pretty much it for activities. But it was still an amazing trip because of the company.

I’ve been struggling a bit the past few months and have been convinced that much of my sadness is a realisation that I am incredibly lonely and that I don’t have friends to just sit around and visit with. And this short visit helped to further convince me of that.

From the moment I arrived I could feel the stress melting. It was just so nice to sit and chat with friends about nothing and everything. It was nice to feel that my presence was wanted and enjoyed; that I wasn’t a burden. In fact, the visit has lifted so much stress from my soul and has helped to give me a little more courage and strength for the great things that are waiting for me on the horizon.

I wish I could have stayed longer, but I am so pleased to know that I will have many more opportunities to visit with my friends for years to come. Thank you, Rebecca and Amanda, for letting me join you for part of your family’s holiday celebrations. It’s helped to end my year on a high note!!

And because I know everyone is expecting them, here are some photos to enjoy of my trip. (Yay!)

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And I didn’t fall once…

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then the travel trials began…

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

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

A winning day

I arrived in Canada yesterday afternoon to find lots of left-over Christmas turkey and friendly people waiting to greet me. (The turkey gets first mention not because it’s better than the people, but because it seems to be playing a very big part in this little mini holiday of mine.) I also arrived with a feeling of peace and a smile on my face, because I’d been looking forward to this relaxing little break for quite some time!

[Enter story and cast description here: I have travelled to Canada to visit my friend, Rebecca, who has travelled from Scotland to visit her sister, brother-in-law, and nephew who all live in British Columbia. This is my first time meeting my friend’s family ‘in real life’ and they are all absolutely lovely. Now, back to the story at hand.]

It was so great to wake up this morning feeling rested and relaxed—despite the fact that, as always, I woke up in the middle of the night unable to sleep. The difference being that I didn’t wake up thinking I was having a mild heart attack, as I’ve been doing in recent weeks thanks to stress and anxiety (my new ‘best friends’, apparently).

After a nice sleep in, I enjoyed a nice chatty breakfast before we all headed out to Burnaby Village Museum where the four grown-ups in our group helped the not-quite-grown-up young boy with a 12 Days of Christmas themed scavenger hunt around the little heritage village. We spent a considerable amount of time peeking into the old buildings and admiring not only the interesting old-time displays (look for photos soon!) but also the fantastic architecture.

Once the boy found all 12 items on his list, we went to claim our prize of miniature candy canes. (YUM! I do love candy canes.) Then we got to ride on the vintage 1912 carousel, which made all of us smile like little children—including the child.

And, upon returning to the house, we got to feast on more left-over turkey.

So, it’s been a winning day all around: Successful scavenger hunt = WIN. Good food = WIN. Good sleep = WIN. Good laughs = WIN. Good friends = SUPER WIN. (Oh, and not feeling stressed and anxious about life all day was certainly a bonus WIN!)

My only disappointment was that it was a miniature candy cane. Oh well, you can’t have it all!!

(Up for tomorrow: Bottling wine, cross country skiing, and MORE TURKEY.)

Christmas goodies

I’ve spent the day making Christmas goodies for family and friends. I thought it would put me in the Christmas mood, but it’s really just reminded me of the last time I spent the day making Christmas goodies—about two years ago.

I decided against making cookies and just stuck to truffles and fudge. And I ran out of sugar so only made one batch of fudge. But I managed lots and lots of truffles, so that will make up for it.

I haven’t made up pretty plates yet, but here’s a picture of the peanut butter and white chocolate truffles on the tray to make you wish you were here.

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!)

2010 Christmas card and letter

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

Dear Family and Friends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merry Christmas!
Just Frances

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!

Tearful but thankful

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m thankful for…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have awesome neighbours!

I have awesome neighbours!

After last night’s blizzard I decided to work from home so that I didn’t have to deal with the roads.

But when things seemed to clear up by early afternoon, I decided I’d run into town with my foster daughter because she doesn’t have proper snow gear yet. (She had to wear my boots to shovel snow this morning.)

Only, the car wouldn’t start when I went out. And I live in a town of 650 people with no shops and no services. The neighbours across the way are gone for Thanksgiving. My dad is a four-hour drive away. And I neglected to renew my AAA membership after Paul died. (Opps!)

So I called Annie, our amazing town clerk. She promised a call back in five minutes. It wasn’t even that long until she called to say that Tim was on his way. Only, I don’t know Tim. But less than five minutes pass again and there’s Tim ready to fix my car.

It took about ½ an hour to get the car going. Tim worked with bare hands in the 10°F temperatures (that’s -11°C, if you wondered) then wouldn’t take anything for his trouble.

All the while, another neighbour was busy clearing snow from around my driveway with his tractor. After Tim left, that neighbour asked if he got everything cleared OK. And I, excitedly, said yes. After all, I’d not asked for this favour, he just came by to plough for me like he has for the past two winters.

And these are all different people than the ones who’ve watched my cat whilst I’m away or kept my lawn mowed since Paul died.

Yes, these things might happen in the big city, too, but I think they’re more common in a small town. These good people and their friendly “help your neighbour” attitude will be missed when I return to Scotland. But, then, I always found people to be kind and helpful there, too.

Yay! for awesome neighbours!!

Kid questions

Kids are great. I love the way they don’t mince words.

I called a friend on Tuesday to ask for help after claiming it “Ask for Help Tuesday”. Tuesday was a bad day for me. A really, really bad day. So I was crying as I asked for help. My friend had her young grandchildren with her at the time and was telling them to hold on whilst we spoke.

Anyhow, I called the same friend on Wednesday to let her know some fantastic news that I’d just received. And again she had her grandchildren with her.

I laughed when I heard the young boy ask:
“Is she going to cry about her dead husband again?”

And I smiled when my friend said:
“Yes, she will always cry for him.”

Even more, I love that my friend allows me to cry for him but that she also allows me to laugh and celebrate my life.

That’s it. No real point to this “Taking Back My Lunch Hour” post.

Happy Thursday!

Happy 235th birthday, USMC!

Since 1775, the United States Marine Corps has been winning battles and defending our nation.

On what marks the 235th birthday of the Corps, I want to say that I am proud to be the daughter of two amazing Marines. I am proud of my amazing niece who is serving our country today. I am proud of all my family and friends who’ve served in the past and who will serve in the future.

Thank you for your service and thank you for protecting my freedoms.

Blagenda

WooHoo! I made a trip to the homeland this weekend to make blagenda with my folks and one of my sisters. Her kids and my foster daughter got in on the action, too.

We used an old family recipe that was brought over from Ukraine when my family emigrated/immigrated* a couple of generations ago. I don’t know just how old the recipe is, but it’s certainly a traditional dish for people of ‘Germans from Russia’ heritage.

If you’re wondering, blagenda is essentially a pumpkin turn-over or tart. It’s a basic short pastry filled with grated pumpkin then it’s baked for a bit. Growing up, we always had it as a savoury even though some families would add sugar and cinnamon to make it a sweet dish. This year, we gave the sweet-side a try and made a few with cinnamon and sugar ourselves.

We made more than 260 of the little guys in total. That’s a lot of pastry rolling and my arms are very, very sore now, having been the main pastry-roller-outer. In fact, I was so busy rolling pastry that I didn’t end up touching any of the pumpkin prior to it being placed in the pastry shells. (The task of peeling, chopping, and shredding pumpkin went to Mom, Celeste, and the kids.)

The recipe we followed is one that my Great Aunt Mary wrote down—but who knows how many times it was copied before then. If you care to give it a go, here’s a copy of the recipe for you, edited for grammar and clarity because it’s what I do!

Blagenda

Pumpkin mixture:

  • 6 cups grated pumpkin
  • ½ cup grated or chopped onion
  • 1½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper

Mix all together and let set ½ hour. It makes its own juice [NOTE: Juices should be drained before placed in pastry but save them and use them as a great soup base. Yum!]. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired.

Pastry:

  • 6 cups flour
  • 1½ cup shortening
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup sugar

Mix as you would a pie crust, adding milk as needed, and work well.  Roll out as you would pie crust and cut circles 3-6 inches wide. Place pumpkin mixture on half of pastry and flip the other half over to make a tart. [NOTE: For best results, use a bit of water to help seal the edges.] Bake at 350°F for about 20 minutes or until a nice golden brown. [NOTE: We baked for about 25 minutes – the size of your tarts will impact cooking time.]

[Side note: I was asked to give proper UK measurements, too, but haven’t got the math done yet. I will try to update later in the week but if you really can’t wait, US to UK measurements can be found here: US cups to UK weights (dry ingredients) and US to UK liquid conversions.]

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And—big surprise!—here are a couple of videos of the process for your enjoyment. (The second one is the best!)

[Another side note: After posting a story and video about making pickles, a friend gave me a bit of grief for not having demonstrated the proper technique for washing hands. I’m not going to do that now, either, but will say that you really must wash your hands before (and after) handling food. If you don’t know the proper technique, you can Google it.]

 

* Emigrate and immigrate have two different but similar meanings, if you didn’t know. Someone emigrates from a location and immigrates to a location. So, to use the terms in sentences: My maternal and paternal ancestors emigrated from Ukraine a couple of generations ago. And: My hope is to immigrate to Scotland in the next year.

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!

Sicky

The day started out OK. I was a bit tired and run-down feeling, but it’s Monday and it was a pretty busy weekend so it wasn’t too surprising to be a bit blah feeling. What was surprising is that a few minutes into an 11 o’clock meeting I started to feel lightheaded and dizzy. My arms and legs felt a bit weak and tingly and I could feel this fuzzy haze coming over me. I went from freezing cold to boiling hot in a matter of moments. And things seemed to be getting dark.

Then I was fine.

Then it started again.

I excused myself from the meeting out of fear that I would pass out and was immediately followed out by another woman who didn’t think that my Casper-complexion was right. So it was off to the doctor’s office for me.

And then it was home for me. Which was a carry-on because I live nearly 30 miles outside of town in the middle of BFE with no public transport which meant that someone had to drive me home—and someone else had to follow to get my driver back to town. My driver and my driver’s driver brought me in, made me soup, got me situated then left me to sleep under a cuddly blanket on the couch with the cat (after, of course, I cranked the heat and put on my PJs).

Of course, the kid needed to get home, too. But thankfully my neighbour from over the road works in town and was able to pick up the kid on my behalf.

By the time the kid arrived home I was awake again and had just enough energy to make her favourite dinner—homemade split pea soup from the freezer. And thankfully at 11-years-old, she’s old enough to understand that I’m feeling a bit blah and could sort herself out for a shower. (She must be a bit beat, too, because she went straight to bed when told to do so!)

I have to admit that it’s all made me miss Paul so very much because if he was here he’d have come to town and picked me up and taken care of me and fussed all over me and called me a ‘poor wee scone’ and he’d have cooked for me and put me to bed and then in the morning he’d have fussed over me some more. (How’s that for a run-on sentence!?) But, it’s nice to know that between my co-workers and my neighbours there are people to take care of me if I get sick. Which isn’t quite the same as having Paul here, but it’s something at least.

Anyhow, I’m feeling a bit weak still but am hoping that a night’s sleep will help. In the mean time, I’ve been given a ‘just in case’ dose of antibiotics and will wait for blood tests to be back tomorrow. I’m sure it’s nothing serious, but I’d sure like to be back to my brand of normal soon!

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.

On a happier note

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learning to cope [?]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sorry for whining again…

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

200

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

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

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

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

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

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

Working weekend

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

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

Goal #1: To be blissfully happy

Toward this goal I:

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

Goal #2: To earn my master’s degree

Toward this goal I:

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

Goal #3: To publish a book

Toward this goal I:

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

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

My favourite things

As part of my effort to take back my lunch time, I’ve spent today’s lunch break composing a little ditty on my laptop just for my awesome readers; who are also some of my favourite things. (Yay! for awesome readers! And yay! for reclaimed lunch breaks. And yay! for whatever else you want to celebrate today!)

My favourite things
as interpreted by Just Frances*

Shiny new gadgets and hooker-red nails
Cool vintage handbags that come in the mail
Pretty red sports cars and fun silver rings
These are a few of my favourite things

Movies with mobsters and friends who are so dear
Martinis and pizza and pretzels and good beer
Acting quite silly and playing on swings
These are a few of my favourite things

Books about grammar and good punctuation
Laughing and smiling and Scotland vacations
Songs that are happy, that I like to sing
These are a few of my favourite things

When the clouds come
When the tears sting
When I’m feeling sad
I simply remember my favourite things
And then I don’t feel so bad

• • • • •

[NOTE: Apparently, my laptop is still set to UK English (not proper American English) from working on school application stuff and has therefore insisted that I have favourite things, not favorite things. And I’m totally OK with that!]

* I’m sure you’ve figured it out, but this is to be sung in the tune of “My Favourite Things”. If you need a reminder, here’s a link to a rendition by Pomplamoose. Yay!

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…]

Thanking the anonymous

When I arrived home from England last week there was a happy surprise waiting for me in the post. It was a simple gesture: A short note and some cash directing me to do something nice for myself as a way of ‘paying forward’ the loving reach of a foster mom a couple of generations ago.

Since opening my home to my lovely foster daughter a little over a month ago, I have experienced much generosity from the fostering community. Volunteer groups called to see if we needed school supplies or new clothes. Others have offered to care for the kid for a few hours here-and-there so that I can have some much-needed time out. Still others have offered to have ‘baby showers’ of sorts to make sure that the kid has everything she needs*.

I’ve had countless people let me know that they are praying for us and I am continually amazed at the care and concern shown by the kid’s social worker and school administrators. Certainly, at every corner along this journey there is help and support available to ensure she is well. It’s extremely heart-warming.

So why has this gift touched me so much?

Well, I suppose because it’s not about the kid, but about me and the difference that I am making. It’s about acknowledging all of the successful adults in our society who were once foster children themselves—and whose lives were positively impacted by the caring reach of a stranger.

My first thought was to bank the gift because who has time to do something nice for themselves when they’re caring for an 11-year-old on their own? But that would have gone against the spirit of the gift and I’d have felt guilty.

But as luck would have it, the kid has plans for a few hours on Saturday which means I am on my own; free to do as I please. And what I please is to go and get a massage—a lovely, relaxing, hour-long massage.

Lucky for the kid, there’s enough money left for me to stop off at the craft store to get some art supplies for a fun art project for the two of us to do on Sunday afternoon. I’m sure that the giver of such a wonderful gift would allow for me to spend some of it for fun with the kid.

And so, dear anonymous friend (if you’re reading this), thank you from the bottom of my heart. Not just for the gift but for taking the time to thank me for my small role in this amazing child’s life in such a lovely way. Knowing that there are people out there who are so kind and supportive of me really is an enormous gift of its own.

How beautiful a day can be when kindness touches it!
~ George Elliston

* The kid has everything she needs and more! And seriously, if we were the same size I would totally be borrowing from her way-awesome wardrobe!

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.

Being silly

Right, I promised a more cheerful post the other day and I’m pleased to say that I don’t even have to be fake cheerful! You see, a few weeks ago my friend in Scotland sent me a link for an online art course called The Art of Silliness2 and yesterday was the first day of instruction. Yay!

I sat on the couch last night to start working on my warm-up exercise (a short story) and the day’s first proper assignment. My foster daughter is often interested in what I’m writing and drawing in the evenings and I’m (almost) always happy to show her. When she asked about last night’s projects I told her about the silliness class and she very plainly let me know that I am already the silliest person she knows and that she didn’t think I needed a class to learn how to be silly.

Ah, bless…

Anyhow, I am looking forward to spending the next month being that little bit more silly than normal. I promise not to bore you with all of my course work* via daily posts, but I will scan them as I go and include them on my “Silly Page” linked at the top of Just Frances.

* To be clear: This isn’t to say I won’t share some of my assignments, it just means I won’t blog about all of them.

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!

Gone fishin’

Back in July I was inspired by fish. It started as a general rambling, then turned to an actual plan for fishing on Labor Day Weekend. It was going to be great! Some friends from high school and I were all going to meet at our childhood fishin’ ponds and re-live our glory days. Soon, the fishing expedition grew as my friends planned to bring their kids. So I decided to bring my niece and nephew. And it was going to be fun.

Then I took a foster care placement and wondered if a fishing trip would still work. And I decided it would. So she was going to come, too. Then my friends all cancelled! So instead of being a fishing trip to remember my childhood, it became a fishing trip to build memories in the present-day childhoods of three amazing kids. (And memories for me and whilst I’m not a kid, I am pretty childish sometimes.)

Anyhow, we had a blast. Three fish were caught; none big enough for eating. One got tossed back; two became bait.

I forgot how fun fishing was. I may have to go again before all my new tackle rusts…

And look! Fun things for you!

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Oh, and be sure check out the little video my niece made below. I didn’t realize what she was doing at first, but it’s pretty good so I’m sharing it with you!

Hope you’ve all had a great Labor Day Weekend.

Just a quick trip

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remember yesterday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Correct-handed

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

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

Wasn’t that fun? But, moving on…

Some interesting things to ponder:

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

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

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

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

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

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

You just can’t beet this!

I don’t know if it’s because of my family’s peasant, Germans-from-Russia roots*, or because I’m weird (maybe both?) but I really like beets. I do. Honestly!

So when a friend in Scotland wrote a blog post about her ‘fridge surprise supper’ last month, my mind instantly thought that the photo was a big bowl of borscht. But instead, it was a big bowl of beet risotto – with a rough recipe for readers who wished to emulate. And I did. I really, really did.

After a trip to the Moscow Farmers’ Market yesterday (and a second trip to town for the forgotten onions today) I had everything I needed to make my first-ever risotto. (I know! Can you believe that I’ve never made risotto before? In fact, I had to call my mommy to help locate plain risotto in the store. Which is actually called Arborio rice. Who knew? Well, apparently mom did…)

The recipe called for ‘crumbled goat’s cheese’ and I wasn’t certain if that meant feta or chevre. By the time I started cooking I realized that it was well-past bedtime in Scotland, so thought I’d best not send a text. It seemed to me that the less ‘flavorful’ chevre made more sense in this dish, so that’s the type of goat’s cheese I used. (Is it strange that I had two types of goat’s cheese in my fridge?)

The recipe also called for red wine, so being clever I thought I would open a bottle of French wine because of the Auld Alliance with Scotland. Sadly, the bottle I opened had turned and was closer to rancid vinegar than anything else. So I had to open a new bottle, which was OK since the new bottle was a Washington State Merlot and you just can’t beat Washington State premium wines!

The meal was fab! I mean it. It was really good. I don’t know if it tasted like my friend’s version, but I liked it and will be cooking it again!

Oh, I also made a big pot of borscht. I mean, if you’re going to get your hands all stained red with beets, you may as well go whole-hog in the process. Which means that I now have several portions of yummy soup in the freezer. Yay!

I’m tellin’ ya, I’m in beet heaven today!

* The majority of my family emigrated from Ukraine and are sometimes referred to as Black Sea Germans. If you wondered.

Running commentary

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

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

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

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

And the winner is…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ugly thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

Girls’ weekend

At 36 years of age, I’ve finally attended my first girls’ weekend. And you know what? It was pretty fun! (Yay!)

I was never invited to girly get-togethers in high school – likely because I was a bit of a Tomboy and shunned girly stuff. Chatting about boys, hair, makeup, clothes, and ‘personal girly things’ was certainly not something I cared to do. But when I got my first-ever invite to my first-ever girls’ weekend this time, I was excited!

So, after work on Friday I made the drive to the Columbia River gorge near Vantage where my sister and her best friend were waiting for my arrival at the Beach House. The three of us had a fab evening visiting and chatting. Then Saturday morning we had a leisurely morning before heading to the river to float on the water and read books.

Not long after the rest of the ladies arrived, a rain storm set in so the six of us sat around inside chatting and visiting until the weather cleared.

On Sunday, another leisurely morning was enjoyed before I had to make the long drive home. Of course, the long drive was well worth it because it really was a fab weekend! Plus, on the way home I stopped at Starbucks and had an awesome coffee experience, which just added to the awesomeness of the weekend!

Thanks for inviting me, ladies!!

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Ode to the Beach House

An Ode to the Beach House
by Just Frances

Oh Beach House, Beach House
Your lovely views of the Columbia River gorge entice my senses

Oh Beach House, Beach House
The serenity you offer brings joy to my heart

Oh Beach House, Beach House …

Right, this is silly. Who has time to write silly poems and stuff when the river floats are inflated, the skies are blue, and the girls are ready to hit the water?

Yay for Girls’ Weekend at the Beach House.

Getting ready

Girls’ Weekend starts tomorrow. It’s bad enough that (despite the fact I’d blocked my schedule off from 3:00 p.m. onwards) that I have a 4:00 p.m. meeting prior to the four-hour drive to get to the Beach House, but now I’ve just realized that my way-awesome new inflatable inner tube river floaty thingy doesn’t use an air mattress pump OR a bicycle pump.

Yes, folks, I may need to inflate this sucker with manual lung power Saturday morning. I suppose it’s a good thing that I’m generally full of hot air!

Oh well, best get the rest of my gear packed now.

Bikini? Check.

Books? Check.

Beer? No need – the brother-not-in-law is supplying that for me.

Sunblock? Check times three. Because I know how brutal the Columbia is!

Fun attitude? CHECK!

WooHoo! One more sleep until my first-ever Girls’ Weekend!!

The gift of life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pomplamoose

A few months ago I had a great conversation about music with a perfect stranger. It seems we both liked the same sorts of random bits of everything, but have a soft spot for slightly off-the-wall stuff. After that first (and only) meeting, he started to send very random emails with links to other obscure(ish) bands that he thought I might like.

One of the first bands he told me about was Pomplamoose. They do mostly covers but also write a few of their own tunes. They’re kinda indie-jazzy-alternative-y, which is cool. But the part that I love is that the two members of the ‘band’ manage to record and mix some fab little videos where they piece it all together so that you can really see how they’ve made them.

Quoting from the ‘ever-wise-and-wonderful’ Wikipedia:

Their videos mostly take the form of “VideoSongs”, a medium Jack Conte defines with two rules:
1. What you see is what you hear. (No lip-syncing for instruments or voice)
2. If you hear it, at some point you see it. (No hidden sounds)

Anyhow, I like them and you should, too.*

*I am not on commission. I just like them. Honestly.

Chili cheese dogs

I love food. Expensive food, cheap food, homemade food, and overly-processed food-like substances. The last is a group that I don’t get to enjoy often, partly because having kidney disease means I need to watch my sodium intake and partly because I’m too cheap to buy a lot of processed food. (It really is cheaper, healthier, and quicker to cook from scratch!)

Sometimes I find myself thinking a particular “processed food meal” sounds good but then I realize that it’s not easy to justify when cooking for one. But when an old friend from high school posted on Facebook that he was making chili cheese dogs for dinner for his family, it got me thinking that I really, really wanted one, too.

Sadly, hotdogs are sold in packs of eight, as are hotdog buns. And I’m only going to eat one – maybe two – then I’m stuck with loads of extra dogs and buns. Oh, and the rest of a can of chili con carne, but at least that can be used for a lunch later in the week.

Because of my “eating for one” dilemma, I find myself taking advantage of times when there are people around to share food with. And since my 11-year-old nephew is here with me all week whilst attending a fun and adventuresome week of day camp at the university, I’m taking the opportunity to cook all of those wonderfully-delicious meals that I’ve longed for – and that every growing boy loves!

Tonight’s dinner? Those chili cheese dogs I’ve been thinking about for two weeks!

Tomorrow we’ll have a picnic dinner at the top of Kamiak Butte and Wednesday we’ll have tacos. We’ve not decided what to do for the rest of the week, but you can bet baked tofu, curried cous cous, and arugula with low-fat goats’ cheese won’t be on the menu!

It’s a good thing the kid’s only here for a week or I’d be running the risk of high blood pressure, kidney failure, and extreme weight gain!

Building my library

I posted a while back about my mission to expand my incredibly eclectic music collection, with the goal to fill my iPod Classic to its capacity of 40,000 songs. Since then, I’ve purchased a few CDs and have borrowed CDs from various family and friends.

I am pleased to say that I now have 4,499 songs!

I’m up to 26 genres (from 24) with the top three being rock (109 albums), alternative (80), and jazz/bluegrass (72). Country was third last time, but dropped to fourth with just 56 albums, up from 35.

Of course, I’m also getting quite the collection of podcasts but have been neglecting listening to them all! I currently have 425 in my library including 234 English language ‘tips’ for good grammar and 128 Gaelic language lessons for when I (finally) start learning a funny foreign language.*

Most days, all of the music is set to random play/shuffle when I’m at the office. I figured that I must have listened to most of the songs at least once, but after a quick review, it seems that nearly half haven’t even gotten one play! I sometimes think I should do what a friend is doing and listen to everything in order from A-Z, but I’m just not that dedicated so each song will have to take its chance with the listening lottery.

*I did take two years’ of French in high school, but I didn’t retain any of it. I then took two years’ of American Sign Language at university and now enjoy eavesdropping on ASL users when I’m out-and-about. (Yes, I’m a little ashamed of this – but only a little.)

A sad goodbye

I’ve said goodbye to Frieda today and it makes me so sad. I know you’re probably thinking “It was just a car; what’s the big deal?” but she was a very special car to me and saying goodbye is just another reminder of how much my world has changed – for better and for worse – since she first came into my life more than a decade ago.

Our last drive saw me returning her to the homeland where we first met. I can’t believe how sad it was driving her back home after all of these years. But we listened to her favorite band, Styx, along the four-hour journey and reminisced about the good ol’ days and all the fun we had together. And I cried like a little baby.

I was nearly 25 when I decided it was time to go to university. I applied – and was accepted – to Central Washington University for winter 1999. Classes were to begin January 6 but I didn’t have a car to get me to campus nearly 30 miles away. On December 29, 1998, my brother-in-law, Mark, took me to Ellensburg to find a car. With my limited budget, I knew I would never find the car I really wanted, but I certainly didn’t expect to end up with a used blue Geo Metro. However, that was the car Mark felt was the best deal for the money. I was upset and couldn’t hide my disappointment. I said I needed a day to think about it and we decided we’d go back down the following day when I finished work.

The next day, just as I was getting ready to leave work, a regular customer came in to purchase a lottery ticket and asked why I looked so gloomy if I was just about to leave work for the day. I explained my Geo Metro-enhanced woes to him and he then asked what kind of car I really wanted. And I told him. Then he said he had one in his driveway that he was planning to sell in the spring. I asked how much and was sad to hear it was nearly double my budget. But he called his wife, explained the situation, and within the hour I was looking at the car.

I excitedly called Mark to tell him what happened. Much to his shock the car was in fantastic shape. So we made a deal that saw me getting the car I really wanted at nearly half of its value!

A second-generation 1987 Honda CRX-Si, my lovely little red two-seater friend had a five-speed transmission and a sunroof. She got 37 miles to the gallon and ran like a dream! My friend Roach (yes, really) installed a rockin’ stereo system with Pioneer speakers – perfect for listening to ’70s and ’80s rock-n-roll. I used her to commute to-and-from school and later for work, leaving her in my parents’ care when I was overseas.

Over the years and the thousands of miles we drove together, she became run down and worn out. I’d mentioned to Paul that maybe it was time I said goodbye, but he was adamant that I keep her and that we’d just spend the money to get her back in shape. He knew how much I loved Frieda and really was quite happy for me to keep her forever, even though that meant we’d need a third car so that we both had cars for transporting kids. (We were actively seeking a new(ish) Outback Sport for that purpose before he died.)

As hard as it is to say goodbye, especially knowing that Paul had wanted me to keep her, I know this is for the best. I think that under the circumstances Paul would understand.

Frieda is going to a wonderful home where she will be well cared for. Her new family will fix her up and give her the love and attention she deserves. The money from the sale will go into savings for my graduate school tuition (a very paltry addition, but those pennies will add up over time). I suppose it’s fitting that saying “hello” to Frieda helped me accomplish my goals of an undergraduate degree, and now saying “goodbye” is helping to get me a little closer to my postgraduate degree.

Goodbye, my friend. I will never forget you. And I promise to let your new owners know that you prefer classic rock-n-roll…

NOTE1: It was always said that when/if I ever did get rid of my little sports car, I could purchase a “grown up” sports car to make up for it (finances depending). My next sports car purchase (I hope) will be a red ’61 or ’63 Corvette if I’m living in America or a green ’61 MG if I’m back in the UK.

NOTE2: Shortly before publishing this story, I happened upon the blog of an old friend from high school (well, obviously not ‘old’ since we’re the same age) and noticed that she, too, recently said goodbye to a dear friend.

The Fishing Song

Last week I posted a silly ramble about all things fish. That ramble prompted a childhood friend to suggest we grab our poles and head out to Hanson Ponds like we did back in the good ol’ days.

So, we’ve decided to get our fishing licenses and spend Labor Day Weekend in the homeland reminiscing about the simpler days of yore.

But all of this fish talk got me thinking about a fishing song I love, “Fishin’ in the Dark” by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. So I had to go to YouTube to listen to it. Which, as you may know, meant that I spent a while clicking through countless other videos. Which brought me to perhaps one of the best fishing songs I’ve ever heard.

Check it out! After all, Wednesdays aren’t as much fun without a little laughter!

Happy fishin’!

If God used sticky notes

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

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

A weekend at home

Weekends haven’t been the same since Paul died, but I’ve been determined to get back to spending them as normal as possible. Now that spring has finally sprung, I was thrilled to learn that I would have this weekend completely free. No work, no plans, no nothing. This is the sort of weekend that Paul and I liked best because we could spend it doing nothing – which basically meant doing all sorts of things!

Paul used to tell me to sit down and relax, but I just can’t resist working in the yard on a nice day. And then there are all the kitchen chores. And, of course, laundry and grocery shopping and running and… Sadly, now that Paul is gone I have to do his share of the work, too.

Anyhow, I managed to pack quite a bit in to the weekend – even though I didn’t get out of bed until after 10:00 a.m. each day! I’m certain you don’t really care for the details of my weekend, but since this is my blog, I get to pick the topic. And get to talk (or type) as much as I want. To that, I’ve created a photo album so that you can see just how I spent my weekend.

I’ve spared you the little details like checking Facebook every-so-often and personal hygiene tasks because, well, I don’t want to share everything with my fans!

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