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!

Bonus!

2012.12.20.bonusBack in August when I started my new job, the biggest bonus was that my employer was actually willing to sponsor me for a work visa. Those of you who’ve attempted to live in a country other than your native one will understand what a tremendous bonus this is.

Of course, because I work for a small, government-funded programme, I realised that pay increases and bonuses would not be in my future. But that’s OK because I enjoy the job—and I make enough to live on so I don’t need a salary increase. (Though I’d happily take!)

So with that in mind, the last thing I expected to receive today was a bonus. But it seems that someone felt we all deserved a little something extra so they dipped into their own pocket to deliver everyone a generous gift certificate to the local shopping centre. (Please note that this was given with private funds, not government money—no tax money was used for this gift.)

Anyhow, just this morning I stood there looking at my latest accumulation of spare change and I told myself that I would use it to purchase a new tablet in the new year—as soon as there was enough of it. Well, it seems to me that this unexpected bonus could be used to help me get there a little bit faster, which means that between the £60 I had in coins and the £100 on the gift card, it’s time to start researching my next gadget!

Of course, by the time I finally get around to cashing in the coins, I’ll have enough for an even better gadget. I can’t wait!

The master

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

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

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

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

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

The distinguished lady

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Writer’s cramp

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Today is Day 3 of Social Media Week, so I thought I’d talk about correspondence. You see, for all of the wonderfulness of social media, it has a lot to answer for in regards to the breakdown of communication. Email, instant messaging, and social networking sites have almost completely replaced birthday cards, letters, and other hand-written messages. Yes, it’s great that we can stay in touch through electronic mail, and, yes, it’s great that it means messages are sent and received in moments, but I still like getting real mail through the post. Don’t you?

I mean, what would bring you the most joy? A birthday greeting on Facebook, an e-card sent to your email account, or a real, paper card sent through the post? I think that most people would agree that there is something fabulous about the paper card. Right?

Those of you who know me know that I’ve always been a fan of ‘real’ mail. My family and close friends get ‘real’ birthday and Christmas cards. And they get postcards, too. And not just some random card, no, I spend time thinking about the right card for each person. (Well, Christmas cards are generally a mass-mailing to be honest.) If you get a birthday card or postcard from me, you can bet that I chose it in the shop with you in mind, rather than buying a stack then addressing them willy-nilly.

But I digress…

The point is this: In the past five days, I’ve written five letters to various loved ones, the last of which will be posted tomorrow. My writing surge was prompted after receiving a letter from my cousin, which brought me so much enjoyment. Not just because of the words on paper (which were heart warming) but because it was evidence that someone not only thought of me, but took the time to write a letter, address it, slap some stamps on the sucker, and send it off. I mean, in this day and age, that’s a big deal.

Despite the fact that 4 of the 5 recipients for my letters are people I interact with on social media regularly, I felt the need to hand-write something. I hope that they feel the same joy when the letters arrive as I do when I get personal correspondence. And I hope that it spurs them to write a letter or card to someone else.

More importantly, however, is my hope that you Dear Reader, take this as yet another challenge to write a letter to someone you know. You can write a letter of thanks to an old teacher, send a random memory to an old friend, or just drop a quick hello in the post for someone who needs the cheering up.

Social media is great and all, but a personal letter is better!

Digital Diaries: Constructing and managing online identities through blog therapy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A case for the interrobang

2012.09.24.interrobangToday is National Punctuation Day in America—a day to celebrate the amazingness of punctuation. Today also marks the start of Social Media Week—a world-wide event looking at social media’s impact on modern-day society. To that, I’ve decided to combine both celebrations into one post by making a case for a very social media-ish bit of punctuation: the interrobang. I mean, who wouldn’t want to read a post about the interrobang‽

An interrobang is a non-standard form of punctuation that combines a question mark and exclamation point all in one adorable little bundle. It was first conceived by Martin Speckter in the 1960s for use in advertisements, but it never caught on. The idea was that it could be used when asking a question in an excited manner, expressing excitement or disbelief in the form of a question, or asking a rhetorical question.

As I’m sure many users of social media—and social networking sites in particular—have seen, the use of multiple question marks and exclamation points at the end of comments and posts is standard all over the Internet. And whilst exclamation points are often overused these days (guilty!), they do help to convey a bit of emotion and meaning when communicating electronically. And when you’re trying to convey disbelief or sarcasm, sometimes it becomes necessary to use two bits of punctuation at once. Right‽

At the same time, social networking sites—specifically Twitter—limit the number of characters allowed for posts, meaning that brevity must be used. But with brevity, meaning can sometimes be lost.

When you combine the need for multiple punctuation marks to convey meaning and the need for brevity, it only makes sense to double-up on punctuation. You agree, right‽

And so, I make the case for the interrobang. I think we need to celebrate this little guy and give it the revival it deserves. We need to embrace its aesthetics. We need to revel in its ability to convey meaning and intent. And why not start today‽

To use it, you can enter the codes or you can copy-and-paste from here [ ‽ ] or your computer’s character map. Just make sure you use it!

Now, go spread the word, OK‽

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.

Sing a song

For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved to sing—or hum or whistle or la-de-da. Now, I’m not saying I’m any good at it, I’m just saying I love to do it. And, often, I find myself doing it without even thinking about it. Yes, I just break out into a tune. (In a very out-of-tune kind of way.)

I sing in the shower. I hum as I type. I whistle as I walk down the road. Sometimes I sing, hum, or whistle a song, other times I just make it up as I go along. (But since my new job is in an open-plan office, I need to be very careful not to break into song at my desk!)

Most people talk to themselves; I sing to myself. A song when I’m alone in my flat might go something like this:

Oh, oh, oh. I think I might be hungry.
La-de-da. I wonder what’s in the fridge.
Oh! Look at that! There are lovely, lovely grapes.
Washy-washy lovely grapes.
How I love you, lovely grapes.

I know—my lyrics leave something to be desired!

I used to sing conversations with my foster daughter, too. She quickly learned that the more she complained that I was embarrassing her, the more I’d sing! (And the louder, too!)

I sing when I run. Or at least I try.

And I sing as I walk to town. Only I’m well-aware that I might look crazy, so I am sure to peek over my shoulder every-so-often to make sure no one is within ear shot. I hum as I walk through the shops (as softly as possible) and I la-de-da or whistle in the shops, too. And most of the time, I don’t even realise I’m doing it!

Yes, I am that kind of crazy.

But I wonder if I’m alone. Do you sing/hum/whistle in public? And are you always aware that you’re doing it?

(K)impossible

This is Kim. Kim Possible, to use her full name. She began her life as a McDonald’s Happy Meal toy way back in 2003 and has been serving as my office power back-up since August 2004.

You see, in August 2004 I started working in a Downtown Seattle skyscraper—on the top floor. And my then-five-year-old nephew, Adrian, was concerned about my ability to get out of the building in the event of a power failure. Anyhow, he felt that Kim would be a useful tool for me because her jetpack lights up giving off a little red glow.

So, in his five-year-old wisdom, if the power went out and it was dark, I could use Kim’s glowing jetpack to find my way to the elevators to get downstairs. You know, because the elevators would still work in his mind. Yes, he was a very sweet kid to have given me his toy. Heck, eight years later and he’s still a very sweet kid!

Anyhow, since leaving my job in the States last year, Kim has hung out on a window sill at home, watching over me as I worked on my master’s degree. But today, she made her way to her new home on the desk at my new job. I’m sure she’ll like it there!

Gadget Girl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Gadget Day, everyone!

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

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

Listening for the phone

When I was in high school, my sister (I think?*) wrote a poem that went something like this:

Lonely, all alone
by Celeste Mills*

Lonely, all alone
Listens for the phone
Listens for a call
From anyone at all
Listens for a ring
Saying anything
Lonely, all alone
Listens for the phone

Anyhow, I’m not sitting around in some desperate ‘please someone call me because I’m all alone’ kind of mood, but I am desperately wishing that my phone would ring.

In fact, for the past month I have been checking my landline to make sure that 1) it’s still working and 2) I haven’t missed a call. And I keep checking my mobile for the same reasons. And, if I’m completely honest, I may have called one from the other a couple of times just to be sure.

Yep, I’m desperate for my phone to ring. Mostly about jobs and interviews and stuff (mostly). But it’s been ever-so silent. So, here I sit. Listening for the phone. Even though I know that I’m not getting a call about a job interview on a Friday night.

* I keep forgetting to ask my sister if, in fact, it is her poem and I couldn’t get in touch with her today when I decided to write this post. And I’ve tried to search for it online to see if it belongs to someone else but can’t find it. If you know who wrote it please let me know so that I can give credit where it’s due (and so that I can apologise for this blatant act of copyright infringement).

No more teachers; lots more books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

 

Work in progress; Part 1

Yippee! I’ve just completed another chunk of my dissertation—and I managed to finish it more than 12 hours before it was due!

I admit it was a little harder than it should have been, but not because I can’t do the work—rather, I’ve made a bit of a change to the overall scope of the project. It seems, in doing my research, that there are other questions that I feel need to be asked before I try to ask about gauging legitimacy. But I’m very excited about the new direction I’m taking and, to be honest, it’s not that far from the original plan. And, as I’ve learned, sometimes plans change.

So, I’m a step closer to that master’s degree now.

The next steps are to meet with my supervisor to discus my changes and to talk about a timeline for completion. I need to finish up my question for interview subjects, too. Oh, and I need to find my interview subjects!

Busy, busy, busy! But oh-so-happy, too!

Break-less spring break

It’s been nearly a week since spring break started, but it’s been anything but a break! Still, this is what I signed up for so I’m not complaining.

I got off to a very productive start, but I admit that I’ve not managed to update you on my progress as promised. Further, I admit that I’ve not managed to get as much running in as I’d hoped for so I won’t be hitting my goal of 30 total miles over the break. Oh, and my taxes might get delayed, since my folks decided to take a last-minute road trip to see some of the glorious waterfalls around Washington State (like this one!) which means that they’re not home to search for a couple of documents I need.

But the rest of my to-do list is going pretty well. No, really. It is!

In fact, today was spent reading (a lot) and writing for my dissertation and working on a job application for a job that I really want, but that I’m not too convinced I’ll even get an interview for. [Enter prayers and an extra dose of hopeful thoughts here.]

Tomorrow is another reading, writing, and applying day. And hopefully by Saturday I’ll be caught up enough to manage a run, too.

Busy, busy, busy…

Your challenge: Write a letter!

One of the best joys in my life is personal mail. Letters, cards, postcards, parcels. I just love getting something in the post that doesn’t say I owe money. Not only do I enjoy receiving letters, I enjoy sending them. However, letter writing seems to be a dying art.

Oh, there are people who still write letters—and in fact, I regularly correspond with a friend from the homeland. (He refuses to use computers, so it’s the only way to keep up. But that’s OK!) Less often, I write random letters or send unexpected cards to other friends. And I always send birthday cards to the nieces and nephews.

When I write cards and letters, I like to make them special. I like to make sure that the recipient feels loved and thought of. I even try to make the envelope special by using wax seals or stickers.

I know that it sounds a bit shallow to say this next part, but I like sending cards and letters to people I care about because it makes me feel happy. (Is that selfish?)

And since I want you to feel happy, too, I am challenging everyone to write a letter or send a card to someone. You can write a letter to an old teacher, letting them know how they impacted your life. You can write to your best friend’s mum to say thank you for all of those meals they cooked when you were over visiting. Or maybe you can write to a sibling or cousin to share a memory of the two of you growing up. You can even write a letter to the local fire department to thank them for their service. Yes, you can write to anyone about anything! (Just make it a positive one!)

Need some inspiration? Check out the blog Letters from Lauren. She’s not updated the site since last August, but her letters are fab and might be a great help to get you started! Or Googleletter writing blog’ to find more great ideas for how to get started.

So, the challenge has been made. Go out and brighten someone’s day with a letter. Even a postcard will do! (And feel free to tell me about it in the comments below!)

Happy writing!

Spring break

Well, as of 4:00 p.m. I am officially on spring break. Only, that really just means that I’m not going to classes for a week. And, actually, since there aren’t classes on Easter Monday, and I don’t have classes on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, I’m really out of class for nearly two weeks. Yay!

But that doesn’t mean I won’t be busy. Really, really busy.

During my time off, I will be working on my dissertation (I have a big chunk due April 10). I will also be doing my taxes and working on several job applications in the hopes to find a position that will allow me to stay on in Scotland after graduation.

I know that most students look forward to spring break because of the parties and travelling opportunities, but I’m looking forward to it so that I can concentrate on my much-neglected to-do list, and so that I can really ramp up my training. (I must start running more so that my legs and tummy look great for summer shorts weather!)

But, since all work and no play is a silly way to live life, I am going to begin my spring break in style—at The Junk Rooms. Which means I should stop blogging and get myself to town to meet Rebecca.

Happy spring break, everyone!

Journalist? Blogger? Writer.

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks working on a paper that asked if there should be regulations or laws to distinguish between what professional journalists and ordinary citizens can write. And that led me down all sorts of paths, thinking about issues of blogging, journalism, and the media’s general place in society.

I’m not going to bore you with all of the arguments and conclusions from my paper or with my thoughts on the state of modern-day information sharing. Instead, I’ll just give a little bit of insight to the topic for those who want to know some of the things I think about when I’m doing academic snobbery stuff.

If you really want to hear my views, we can discuss them over a pint of ale—your treat, of course, because I’m a starving student.

So, here goes!

Unless you’ve been living under a rock (or maybe if you’re living in America) you’ve probably heard about the Leveson Inquiry here in the UK. The inquiry was prompted by the phone-hacking scandal by the News of the World and will have (already has had?) a drastic impact on the future of news reporting throughout the UK—and maybe even a knock-on effect for other nations around the globe.

As a blogger who is also a trained communications professional with experience as a freelance journalist, I find the question of ‘who is and isn’t a journalist’ pretty interesting. I mean, am I a journalist? Or am a just a blogger who once was a journalist? What about other bloggers? Are they journalists? Can they be? Should they be?

Right now, there are debates happening around the world—and around the World Wide Web—about the differences between bloggers and journalists, and whether or not someone would need special training and a license to be a journalist. There are further debates around the idea of creating regulations or laws distinguishing between what journalists and ordinary citizens can write (i.e.: bloggers, users of social networking sites, those commenting on blogs and news sites).

I’m sure it seems like a bit of a boring topic to some people, but any regulations or laws that are created around these issues can be far-reaching. They can change the way news and information is presented to you, but they can also change the way in which you are able to share information. And each time we make a law that restricts an ordinary citizen’s ability to receive or share information, we move further away from the ideals of a free press—and of free speech.

But, back to me. Am I a journalist? No, not really. Even if I end up doing more freelance writing for news outlets, I don’t know that I’d feel like a journalist. But I like to think that I hold myself to the ideals of journalistic ethics. And I like to think that my readers find me to be trustworthy. Of course, that’s easy to do when I just write silly rubbish about my own life—my integrity and trustworthiness might be questioned if I attempted to become an investigative blogger.

Me? I’m a just a writer. Not a famous one, and probably not a very good one, but a writer none-the-less. (OK, I’m a blogger, too, but first-and-foremost, a writer.)

Moleskine inspirations

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doing nothing, online

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

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

So, here’s my first academic blog post!

Doing nothing, online

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

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

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

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

Still classy

OK, since I bored you with descriptions of my modules last semester, I think it’s only fair I do the same for my spring semester modules. After all, I’m sure that you care about these things. And if you don’t well, you should!

First, a reminder: I am working toward a Master of Letters in Media and Culture at the University of Stirling, Scotland. My dissertation will look at how users of social media determine the legitimacy of news and information shared on Facebook. (So if you see me playing on Facebook when you know I’m meant to be writing a paper, just think of it as important academic research!)

Now, on to the classes! I am taking four modules this semester: Two on Mondays and one each on Thursdays and Fridays. In addition to my courses, I will be working steadily on my dissertation which is due in August (Yikes!).

Digital Cultures: I think I’m going to love this class! It’s all about the convergence of media cultures, specifically how digital media has become so prominent in our world today. The module will be graded on contribution to a class blog and an essay. If it happens that some of the blog posts I write for the class are interesting enough, I may even share them here! (Blogging? Well, if I must …)

Media Rights: This class will centre on issues of intellectual property and copyright in the UK as well as the rest of the world. I imagine we’ll touch on issues of piracy and cultural norms as they pertain to such actions. I know it sounds boring, but it really is an interesting topic. Assessment for the module will be based on a 3,000 word essay.

Media Regulation and Policy: Leveson Inquiry, anyone? My guess is that the inquiry will play heavily in this class as we look at the issues of regulating the media. We will look at questions of who the media are and who should be charged with regulating them. It’s a sticky topic, but should make for great discussions. The class will be graded on two assignments: An essay due toward the middle of the semester and a proposal for a new piece of regulation policy (or for the abolition of an existing policy) due at the end of the semester.

Memory and Archives in the Digital Age: I don’t know about this class. It is very heavily skewed toward the archiving of film and moving images, not toward the overall archiving of digital communications. But, I am confident that there will be connections I can make to my own interests. (Watch this space for details.) Assessment is based on a short presentation and a 2,500 word essay.

There will be lots and lots of writing happening this semester, that’s for sure! But I’m excited about it, really!

First day, again

Yippee! After a too-long, two-month winter break I have finally started back to school. The new semester began on Monday with classes starting yesterday, but since I don’t have classes on Wednesday, I only got back to the classroom today. And it was fun!

OK, fun might not be the right word, but I really did enjoy it. And I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s class, too.

And back to school means dusting off the school supplies!

So I’ve got fresh ink in my printer (it ran dry when printing course materials earlier in the week) and a couple of new note books for jotting down thoughts when I’m not able to type them out. I also have plenty of Post-Its and page flags for marking pages and taking notes when I’m reading, and highlighters for highlighting course notes and handouts. (I rarely use highlighters or pens in books—that’s a bad thing to do!)

And, of course, I’ve got Little Green, my super-fantastic netbook that I take to class with me. It really is the sign of the modern era, because in my undergraduate studies I had a desktop and laptop computer, but certainly wouldn’t have lugged something to class with me. Now, I power up at the start of each class and I search out further information on the spot (then bookmark the websites for later review).

Oh, and I have some text books, too. I’ll tell you more about them later.

Yeah, I’m pretty excited to be back at school. And once I’ve attended each of my four classes I will tell you a bit about them—because I know you want to know! For now, I have some reading to do for tomorrow’s class so I need to sign off.

But not before I remind you to enter my anniversary competition that I posted yesterday. I’ve really enjoyed the entries so far and would love to be entertained with a few more! (Don’t be shy!)

Random thoughts: A challenge

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

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

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

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

And with that: Let the challenge begin!

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

Substitutiary locomotion

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

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

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

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

One down

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A modest proposal

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

And the survey says

I am excited to report that I earned £40 an hour today! Of course, I only did 15 minutes worth of work. But still, that makes me £10 richer. Yay!

How did I do it? Well, I agreed to participate in a survey. You see, when I’m not in a hurry (and it’s not raining) I am happy to help market researchers in their quest to create better products. I figure that it may help me get the things I really want to buy in shops, but I also know that you get paid for them more often than not! (That is also why I always open my junk mail!)

Of course, I can’t tell you much more than what I’ve already said because I signed a confidentiality waiver. But I can tell you that I gave my opinion on a brand of products from a type of product that I use. I can tell you that it took about 15 minutes. And I can also tell you that it wasn’t an unpleasant experience. In fact, I really enjoy seeing how researchers frame their questions and lay out their surveys. (Yeah I know—I’m a geek!)

So next time you’ve got some time to spare, stop and answer a few questions. After all, it might make a difference to the products you use (or would use ‘if only they would’…). And when you’re done, you can use the money for a nice cup of coffee and a cake! Or splash out and buy a really nice bottle of red nail polish!

Booked up

I returned a stack of six books to the library today. And I left with another seven. All to be read and reviewed over the next week. And I’m sure there will be dozens and dozens more in between now and the completion of my master’s dissertation.

The current stack of books, in fact, is to aid me in the completion of my dissertation proposal—a 2,000 word piece of academic writing that will serve as the foundation for my 12,000 word dissertation that is due in August.

So, since this blog is all about me and how fantastic I think I am, I’m going to share with you my dissertation topic. You know, since I’m sure you care.

My dissertation will look at social media—specifically, how Facebook users determine the legitimacy of news and information shared on the social networking site.

I’ll bore you more on the details of that exciting topic later. (Actually, I do find it exciting!) But for today, I’m just going to bore you with my books. You know, as an attempt at academic snobbery and all that…

Yeah, so I’ve got a bit of reading to do. And hopefully I can keep my spirits up and can manage to get the term behind me with a decent grade!

Oh, and in the interest of research: What do you think? Do you want to hear more about my studies and details of my dissertation and social media research, or would you like me to keep it to a minimum? (There is no wrong answer!)

Stained

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chalk it up to intelligence

Since the beginning of June, I’ve been a bit remiss about organising my digital files. I think I got a bit crazy with my foster daughter moving, followed by quitting my job, leaving my house, moving to Scotland, starting school, and well, just life in general!

But the point is this: Tonight I got around to looking at some of the photos that I’ve taken over the past few months* and I found one of the sidewalk chalk drawing my foster daughter made for me a couple of days before she left. She was so excited to drag me out of the house to see it and I was so excited to see her so excited about it!

Yes, the kid thought I was pretty awesome. When we’d go into town, she insisted on introducing me to everyone as her ‘awesome foster mom’. She failed to acknowledge, however, that I couldn’t have been an awesome foster mom without having such an awesome foster kid.

Anyhow, I just thought I’d share the kid’s artwork. I miss seeing her drawings every day (I miss seeing her every day!), but at least I know she’s still happily drawing away in her new home. In fact, when we spoke on the phone last week, I asked if she needed/wanted anything and her only request was a new sketch book with the Loch Ness Monster or a Scottish flag on it.

I wonder what I’ll find the next time I flip through my photos …

* Don’t worry! I’m not one of those people who keep photos on the camera for months and months at a time. I’ve been transferring to my computer and backup drive; I’ve just not filed all of them in their respective folders.

Cutting out the middles

So I’m working on a new design project for my parents. Just a little something that will make Mom smile—and me. (Likely others in the family, too, but I can’t be sure yet.)

Anyhow, part one is underway: Photoshopping a photo of me and my sister, Celeste. Together, we share the ‘middle child’ position in our family. We also share a birth month, but not a birthday, as I was born two years and six days before her. I know this is all more information than you needed, but I felt it was warranted to explain the silly title of this post. But I digress…

It’s a bit tedious because I have to cut out the two of us from a busy airport scene—and I have to do it without trimming too much off of our shoes and hair. It’s hard, especially since I’m self-taught on the software.

But this is where I am so far. Now I just need to clean up the edges a bit and figure out what the background will be. (No, it won’t be green.)

There is a lot more work to be done and I don’t know when it will get finished, but I’ll be sure to share the finished design when it’s complete!

Happy Friday!

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!!

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!)]

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!]

Green means go

Today was Shiny New Gadget Day, which is always a celebratory day for me. And today’s gadget was a Dell Inspiron Mini 1012—a wee green computing machine!

It was a hard decision to get a new gadget as I’m trying to save every penny I can for my year of relative unemployment, but I decided that I really did need it to make my studies easier. My main laptop (a lovely, robust little HP called Happy) is great and will continue to be used, but she’s just too heavy for toting to-and-from classes. And with her limited (3-4 hours?) battery life, there is the added weight of her power cord. Add to that, I will be living car-less which means the long walk to campus, to the library, or to the coffee shop would just be too burdensome with the extra weight.

(Have I convinced you that I really did need to make this purchase yet? Because I feel I need to convince you that I need it so that my guilt will lessen…)

Anyhow, LittleGreen (that’s her name) is lightweight and can run about six hours on a full battery charge. She is quick and speedy and will run my graphic software with ease—though with her small size (just 10”) I won’t use her as my main design friend. I haven’t gotten a chance to bond with LittleGreen just yet, but we will soon. Oh yes, come tomorrow I’ll have set my preferences, downloaded Skype and TweetDeck, installed Office and Adobe Creative Suite, and networked her with Happy.

All just in time to pack up and take to the ocean this weekend!

(Yay!)

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!

I’ve been Kindled!

I did it! I purchased a Kindle today. The 3G one. Yay me!

I opted to purchase it from Staples in Moscow because I didn’t want to wait a week for it to arrive from Amazon and because it was $3.40 cheaper because of the sales tax savings. (Yes; I’m that cheap. I mean, I was going to drop of clothes at Goodwill across the parking lot, so it wasn’t out of my way or anything.)

I also purchased my first Kindle book—Ian Rankin’sStrip Jack” for £4.99. Ah! Did you notice that pound sign? Well that’s because the book I wanted isn’t available for customers in America so I had to switch my country of choice to the UK. Which is cool since that will be my country of residence in less than three months’ time.

Anyhow, I need to go read now but I wanted to leave you with a couple of questions:

  • Is there something ironic about naming a book-reading device after a fire-related word?
  • If you purchase a re-furbished Kindle (or re-gift one) then does the Kindle become a Rekindle?
  • If you’re reading something electronically, can it even be said that you’re reading a book?

So, book suggestions welcome. Gifts of Kindle books are also welcome. [Enter cheeky smile here.]

Happy reading!

Ta-da!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The flip side

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

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

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

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

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

A public service announcement

This will be a short post—or rather, a short public service announcement—because I am using my Dad’s netbook as I am unable to get online with my own awesome laptop.

Why can’t I get online? Because my parents got a new Internet service provider. And when the provider came over to set things up they were handed a business card with a long, difficult-to-remember string of numbers to use as the network key.

And like many people, they never changed the code to something they’d remember. And they’ve lost the card.

This is not the first time I’ve run into this problem. And I bet others have run into this problem, too.

So, my PSA to you is this:

Make sure that you know your network key. Because not only can it be a nightmare for your guests, but it can make it difficult to go online with your new gadgets and gizmos if you don’t know the magic code.

No, wait! Just as I typed the last sentence, Daddy found the card with three lines each containing 10 characters. One of these is meant to be the magic code. I guess I’ll go see if it works on my laptop now…

National Grammar Day

It’s National Grammar Day here in the fantastic United States of America. Are you as excited about that as I am? No? Well, I suppose I didn’t expect you to be. But I am super-duper excited!

I thought long and hard about what to write about for this celebratory day but I couldn’t find the right angle. So instead, I’ll just share some random thoughts.

To start with, you’ve maybe noticed that Just Frances is not written in my best ‘grammar-ific’ style. I try to keep it all very conversational here—and that means run-on sentences as well as incomplete ones. It also means that I start sentences with conjunctions and end them with prepositions. And I don’t care!

My decision to write in such an informal manner came as I thought about my audience. Not that I think my audience can’t handle full-on formal writing, but because my audience is family and friends so ‘casual conversation’ just seemed more fitting. Plus that, I’ve been accused of being a language and grammar snob for quite some time, so I thought I’d leave that to my professional life and my linguist forums and blogs where people love my wordsnobbery.

Of course, the awesome thing about being oh-so-casual-and-conversational here is that I can say things like ‘wordsnobbery’. Which is cool. (See, I did more of that casual stuff by starting a sentence with which. This is fun!)

[A note about my professional life for those who care: I am a communications professional and get paid to write and edit. Yes, believe it or not, I really do! I love my job and I love linguistics in general. But this, as I said, is my personal blog so I’m keepin’ it casual. Yay!]

Blah, blah, blah… Let’s move on now.

For a while, I thought about writing about the differences between American and British English. But then I realized that no one who reads my blog probably cares about the differences. So then I thought that, at the very least, I should point out that I’ve decided to work toward[s] incorporating more and more British English into Just Frances—in the form of spelling, grammar, and punctuation, as well as idioms and word usage. Of course, this just means that I probably seem quite illiterate to some folks. And that’s OK. (My decision to do that is so that I can brush up on the language before I move back over this summer.)

Oh! And I guess that I should devote a paragraph to my mantra about English being a living language. The basic idea is that the rules for grammar, spelling, and punctuation that we use now are not what we used 100 years ago and aren’t what we’ll use in another 100 years. Our language has evolved—and will continue to evolve—forever.

At best, our language is a theory. However, there are certainly rules and best practices in place that should be adhered to. But you can fudge that, too. I mean, I don’t follow all of the rules here and that’s OK. But I wouldn’t dare write like this at work or for any official business. There’s a time and a place to break the rules, after all. So, txt spk on the net all u wnt. However, please refrain from the use of non-standard English when preparing your monthly reports for your manager.

And now, I’m sure you have a stack of sentences you want to diagram and infinitives you want to split, so I’ll leave you with a couple of quick thoughts:

The old rule ‘I before E except after C’ is a lie. There are too many exceptions for it to be a rule. So please stop teaching it to your children.

It is acceptable to use an Oxford comma (also called a serial comma). You just need to use it consistently and in accordance to the style guide approved by your industry or organisation.

And finally, check out some fun language books such as:

Happy National Grammar Day to you!

The clutter shuffle

Today is a snow day on the Palouse and I am well and truly snowed in. School has been cancelled; the roads are unsafe; and the car has yet to be found—though I suspect it’s under that big pile of white fluff.

So I’m going through more clutter. Yay! Actually, I suppose that I’m just re-formatting clutter.

Yep, today’s project is to take all of my old 3.5” floppy disks and transfer them to my external hard drive. I suppose the mature thing to do would be to then throw out the disks. I admit that might be hard, but it must be done.

The real challenge, of course, will be to just transfer the files and not read through all of them. Which will be hard because they represent my entire undergraduate career. Yes, from Eng101 to ASL304 and Com207 to Com475 it’s all there. There are even disks from a few of my early freelance projects and my baby sister’s wedding invitations that I designed more than a decade ago—long before I even had a proper grown-up relationship!

Oh, and for some added fun, there are also a couple of disks with drafts of a book I wrote. One day, I’m going to have to see about getting it published!!

I suppose that when I’m done with this I should move on to transferring the work I have stored on CDs and DVDs. Then I should remember to make a backup of my backup drive! And don’t worry—I always keep that backup drive in a fireproof safe! (No, that’s a lie. I tell myself to do that but I’ve yet to actually go and buy a safe. Though doing so is on my to-do list before my move!)

[Note: I am also attempting to do so real work for my real job, which would be easier if my Internet connection wouldn’t keep going out on me causing me to have to log back in to everything. But I guess that just means tomorrow will be busier than expected. But that can be a good thing!]

Sharpies and Bics and Uni-Balls—Oh my!

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

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

Easy peasy, lemon squeezy!!

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

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

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

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

Then the panicked insanity began.

The thoughts going through my head were things like:

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

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

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

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!)

I miss dinner parties

Shortly after we got married Paul and I started a new tradition of monthly dinner parties. Parties to which we were the only guests. It began with Paul’s birthday when I asked where he wanted to go for dinner. And he requested a five-course meal at home. I think he was shocked that I agreed to it, since it was a lot of work, but I was happy to oblige.

That first dinner (if memory serves correctly) included a nice insalata caprese; French onion soup (with vegetable stock, of course); broiled portabella mushrooms with fresh mozzarella, tomato, and basil, served with asparagus and red potatoes; melon and port; and a cheese and fruit platter. We will have started with a cocktail then paired wines with each course. The entire meal took more than four hours to enjoy.

The next month we enjoyed a Christmas feast. In January we had a fancy Burns’ Supper. Then in February we had a five-course Valentine’s dinner. After enjoying fancy dinners four months in a row, we decided that we’d keep it up. And we always dressed for the occasion—me in a fancy dress and him in a shirt and tie.

After a while, we gave each dinner a theme. We’d have French food one evening and Greek food—complete with Ouzo—the next time. It was a great way to try new recipes; which could be tricky since Paul was a vegetarian, but I love a good challenge—and good food! And whilst I did the cooking, Paul would sort out a great selection of music and light the candles.

Yes, we were oh-so-la-de-da. But we enjoyed our special evenings.

Our last fancy dinner was Easter 2009; just two weeks before Paul died. My last fancy dinner was November 2009 when I went to his university reunion; which made me smile because when he first suggested a fancy dinner for his November birthday four years earlier, he used those university dinners as his inspiration.

Anyhow, I miss those evenings of too much food and too much drink; those evenings where we just relaxed and had fun and enjoyed each others’ company. But I’m glad that I have the happy memories to look back on.

There’s no real point to this, sorry to say. But if you’re looking for someone to join you at your next dinner party, just drop me a line!

Fashion-less

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

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

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

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

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

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

Punctuate this!

Yay! Today is National Punctuation Day. And if you know me at all you know that this is a day I love to celebrate.

So here’s to the proper use of those amazing little marks and their ever-important jobs of clarifying meaning by indicating the separation of words into sentences, clauses, and phrases.

WooHoo!

Apostrophe: Predominately used to indicate the omission of one or more letters (contraction) or for the marking of possessives.

Brackets and parenthesis: Used as matched sets to set apart or interject other or supplementary text.

Colon: As a general rule, a colon informs the reader that the following proves, explains, or simply provides elements of what is referred to before.

Comma: Used to indicate a separation of ideas or of elements within the structure of a sentence.
(And let us not forget the awesomeness of the Oxford comma!)

Dash: (of which there are two primary types: en dash and em dash; not to be confused with a hyphen)
En dash: Used to show a range of values, relationships and connections, compound adjectives, and to relate parenthetical expressions.
Em dash: Often used for the demarcation of parenthetical thoughts or similar interpolation but also used to indicate an unfinished sentence when a quoted speaker is interrupted.

Ellipsis: Usually indicates an intentional omission of a word in original text but can also be used to indicate a pause in speech or an unfinished thought.

Exclamation mark: Generally used after an interjection or exclamation to indicate strong feelings or high volume, and often marks the end of a sentence.

Hyphen: Used to join words or to separate the syllables in a single word.

Kissend*: A common way to sign off on a message (hand-written or electronic) in the UK – though without the same lovey-dovey connotation it would carry in the USA. x

Period (full stop): Used as the concluding punctuation to most sentences but can also be used to mark initialisms or abbreviations.

Question mark: A mark most often found at the end of a sentence or phrase to indicate a direct question.

Quotation marks: Used primarily to mark the beginning and end of a passage attributed to another and repeated word for word.

Semicolon: Used to connect independent clauses and indicating a closer relationship between the clauses than a period.

* OK, I made up the name for that bit of punctuation, but it’s a punctuation mark that I like and I decided that it needed a name so there you have it: A kissend. x

Taking back lunch

I’ve been skipping lunch for years. Well, that’s strictly not true. I’ve been eating lunch (most days) but I eat at my desk whilst working. I don’t actually leave my office.

But that’s going to change! Yes, I am taking back my lunch hour!

From here on out, I will get up from my desk and leave the office for a lunch break several times a week. I’d like to declare that I’ll do this every day, but sometimes I really just can’t. So instead I am going to vow to take lunch away from my desk three or more days a week and that I will take at least a half hour for my break—though ideally I will take my full hour.

I don’t know what I’ll do for my breaks. Maybe I’ll eat lunch out.

Maybe I’ll sit and read a book in a little coffee shop.

Maybe I’ll sketch something-or-other in my handy-dandy little sketch book.

Maybe I’ll go to the gym for some light weight-lifting.

Maybe I’ll go for a brisk walk around campus.

Or maybe I’ll just sit somewhere quiet and do nothing.

I suppose it won’t matter what I do, as long as I’m not doing work.

I’ve decided that this will revitalize me for the afternoons, making me more productive for the last half of my work day. And I’ve decided that it will make me realize that my time is valuable and precious and that I shouldn’t just give away my lunch hours. And I’ve decided that I deserve it. Because I do.

I’ve decided that it is imperative for my health because, let’s face it, being overworked and overstressed is bad for your blood pressure and bad for your mental and physical being. And I’ve decided that this will help me reach my goal of being blissfully happy; which is a very, very important life goal so it shouldn’t be neglected.

Feeling inspired? Maybe you should take back your lunch hour, too*!

I’d love to hear suggestions for how to spend my time, or comments on how you’ll get your time back.

Happy lunching!

[NOTE: Today’s lunch break includes posting this from my way-awesome gadget phone whilst sitting in a comfy chair at a little coffee shop drinking mint tea and eating a (probably high sodium) sourdough pretzel. Yay for me!]

* Run the term “take back lunch hour” in your preferred search engine and you’ll see that it’s not just me doing this. It seems that there’s an international movement afoot! Yay for lunch hours!

Hump day haikus

The Squeen, in her most noble and wise ways, has declared that: “Wednesdays, today and forthwith and here-on-after, are haiku Wednesdays.” I’ve thought about posting random things related to haikus (including actually writing my own) in the past but haven’t actually done it. And so now, by royal proclamation, I feel it’s time I address the issue.

I have a love-hate relationship with haikus. I love that it forces the writer to think in a pre-defined pattern, but I hate that school teachers throughout the western world (unintentionally?) don’t explain what that pattern is. As a child I was simply told that a haiku is a three-line poem consisting of a first line with five syllables, a second line with seven syllables, then a third line with five syllables again.

But the reality is that a haiku is meant to contain 17 moras (in the 5/7/5 format) which are not really the same as syllables. Now, I will admit that in the English language we rarely discuss sentence structure in terms of moras, but I feel that this is something that should still be brought to the attention of young minds.

Another thing I love about haikus is the seemingly obscure connections between lines. They are vague and sometimes challenging—especially to young school children. I remember being told to write a haiku (with three lines of 5/7/5) that told a short story or gave a description of some random object of my choice. Which was fun because it was a bit challenging to pick just the right words to get the 17 syllable cap right.

But the reality is that a haiku is meant to consist of a seasonal reference (a kigo) and a cutting word (a kireji). It is true that the English language doesn’t have a direct equivalent to the latter, but that doesn’t seem like a fair reason to not at least explain this difference.

I guess that my love is that haikus are fun and challenging (yes, I find challenging to be fun).

And I guess that my hate is that while western school teachers seem keen to explain that haikus are a form of Japanese poetry, often combining the writing lesson with a lesson in traditional Japanese art form such as gyotaku (fish painting, basically), they neglect to fully give the lesson in how true Japanese haikus are formed.

I suppose that I wish I’d been given the full lesson as a child, which could have included how haikus in English evolved and are their own writing form—distinct from what’s found in Japan but certainly rooted in the culture and history of the original haikus.

But maybe when you were taught about haikus, your teacher went into all of this with you and so you’re at a loss to why I’m whining. And that’s OK.

Anyhow, as a reward for reading this far, here are the two haikus that I wrote today by orders of The Squeen as part of my silliness course, which are meant to address items in my medicine cabinet, which is more of a drawer than a cabinet, but let’s not split hairs…

Fall is in the air
Wood smoke making my eyes dry
Ah,
Visine, my friend

Summer is fading
Factor thirty nearly gone
Cat Crap is ready

And here’s a bonus one just for Just Frances readers:

Autumn is awesome
And Just Frances is awesome
And her readers, too

No “E”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m [not] stupid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.)

What do you feed a hungry ego? Pens!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A lazy day

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

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

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

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

Ahhh….

That Cook Girl

I am a Cook Girl. The preantepenultimate Cook Girl, to be precise. Growing up in a small town with five sisters who could easily be identified as my siblings, “That Cook Girl” was a familiar term. Of course, I was also used to hearing things like “Oh yeah, you’re the weird one,” and “Um, didn’t you have blue hair yesterday?” after it being confirmed that I was, in fact, one of the Cook Girls.

So when the antepenultimate Cook Girl was hoping to register her first-ever web domain, I (also known as That Geeky Cook Girl) offered to host it on my account – after all, I have more than enough server space so I might as well share the joy.

But Celeste didn’t know what to use for a domain. She wanted something kitchen-y, as her existing blog was all about cooking and stuff. So we tried this and that and the next thing. On a whim, I checked out www.ThatCookGirl.com and it was available – to which Celeste was thrilled. Even though she didn’t get the “That Girl” connection. (I suppose that could be construed as one of my many failures as a big sister.)

I know what you’re thinking: “OK! OK! What is the point already?”

Well, the point is this:
Celeste launched her new site today, www.ThatCookGirl.com, and I want to make certain that I get the credit for coming up with such a cool domain. If I’m honest, I wish that I didn’t tell her about the find – then I could have registered it for myself and had the domain forward to Just Frances. Damn! Why did I have to be such a nice big sister?!

Anyhow, check out That Cook Girl’s website at (you’ll never guess this URL!) www.ThatCookGirl.com.

Re-learning obsessive-compulsive behaviors

Anyone who has known me long knows that I am one of those geeky, overly-organized, slightly obsessive-compulsive, and highly meticulous people. Oh, and I have a great memory and am extremely detail-oriented. Well, I used to be.

Sadly, when Paul died many of those traits went to the way-side. As my world was enveloped by a thick fog of grief and despair, my brain turned to mush. My ability to concentrate was gone, as was my memory and my motivation. I really wanted to be organized and obsessive, but couldn’t. It’s a phenomenon often spoken about in the ‘Land of Widowhood’ and even has it’s own term: Widda Brain.

More than a year later, some of the fog is slowly lifting. But I’m not back to my brand of normal. And if I’m honest, I don’t know that I’ll ever find that normal. No, I’m learning that I will need to create a new normal.

I have neglected so many tasks over the past year – big ones, small ones, and everything in between. I find it frustrating that I can’t find the energy to do the simplest tasks some days and try as I may, I’ve yet to find the motivation I need.

So, I am trying a new plan. I am taking all of the tasks I have to do and breaking them down into Post-It size bites. The task of writing a application letter for my master’s degree is broken into several small pieces starting with one note that simply says: “Write first paragraph for university application”. Some notes are basic parts of a larger step whilst others are a one simple task on one note that should be fairly easy to complete – if I get the motivation to pick that note.

Anyhow, I’ve dedicated half of the top surface of my desk to the “Frances Needs to Get it Together Post-It Plan”. When one sticky is gone, I will replace it with a new task. And, hopefully, I will slowly start to find some motivation and maybe – just maybe – one day my memory will return along with all of my favorite OCD-ish personality traits that I lost when Paul died.

In the mean time, here’s a stock tip for my readers: Buy 3M and Sharpie shares ASAP!

Solar-powered clothes dryer

Carrying on with the hippy-granola-freak of a homeowner theme, I’m pleased to announce that I got to use one of my favorite house-hold appliances today for the first time of the year. Yes, I’m talking about my way-awesome solar-powered clothes dryer!

I used it a couple of times last summer, but wasn’t too enthusiastic about anything last year so didn’t feel the same sense of pride and joy that I felt using it today. It’s one of those strange things: I hate doing laundry most of the year, but the moment I can hang clothes on the line to dry, all of the sudden I’m Dot Branning! In fact, Paul did the laundry in our home all year long – with the exception of nice weekends in the spring and summer because that’s when I would volunteer for the job. (He didn’t like to hang clothes out to dry, so if I wanted line-dried stuff, I had to do it.)

So, today I washed all of the bedding and towels from when I had company last weekend. Tomorrow I will wash clothes. One of the great things with this environmentally-friendly device is it means that I washed the bedding within a week – where I would normally wait until the day before new guests were to arrive; which in this case might not be until mid-July (not counting un-planned visits by the folks, which happily happens every few weeks or so).

Oh! But did I tell you the best thing about line-drying sheets? No wrinkles! When I use a tumble dryer it seems that they always come out a bit wrinkly, even when I remove them the moment the buzzer goes off. With the solar-powered device, I am meticulous about how I hang them (partially folded) so that when I remove them from the line they are crisp and wrinkle-free. Yay!! (And they smell lovely, too!)

Identity crisis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Words I hate; Part I

I love words. When strung together properly they can be so powerful. Without words there would be no poetry, no musical lyrics, no mindless blogs…

But some words make me cringe because of their ambiguous nature. Words that mean two things can be especially angering to me when there is no clear way of knowing which meaning is being used. There are some words that you can figure out by context. You won’t easily confuse the word “tire” in the following two sentences:

“If you keep running around like that you will tire out before the party.”

“We need to pull over because we have a flat tire.”

But what about bi-monthly? The definition can be “every two months” or “twice a month”. So, how do you know?

“It’s a bi-monthly magazine subscription.”

Does that mean that I get a copy of the magazine twice a month or every other month? It’s quite unclear. It’s the same question with bi-weekly and bi-annual.

Is that two meetings a week or one meeting every other week? Are there 6 or 24 bottles of wine in that club offer? Do I have to have those medical tests twice a year or every two years?

You can see the problem here, right?

And we wonder why so many people shy from learning English when they immigrate to America. (Which is a separate rant all together, siding with non-English speakers in a Devil’s Advocate kind of role.)

Anyhow…

Very taxing

I finally filed my taxes. I say finally because I normally have mine completed and filed the first week of February – based on the fact that tax documents generally arrive the last week of January. Yep, a geek to the core I used to love doing my taxes. And this year I tried, but just couldn’t do it through the tears. I think it had something to do with the box that I needed to tick that read: Qualifying Widow.

Instead, I made an appointment with an accountant then spent the weekend getting my files together – something that was more difficult than normal because I seem to have lost some of my over-the-top organizational skills since Paul died. I think having someone do my taxes for me was a good idea though, because I may never have gotten them done otherwise!

But I know what you’re wondering: Did I get a refund?

Yes I did! And a bit more than expected!

Being the responsible person I am, I am using the majority of the money for a major purchase that I’ve been putting off. But because Paul always thought that tax refunds should be used for fun, I will use the rest for something I don’t need.

I will not use the money for a new refrigerator or water heater. I will not use it toward the cost of a new furnace or car repairs. It won’t go toward my student loans or mortgage principal; I won’t roll it into my 401K or my IRA. No CDs or savings bonds. No, this money will be used frivolously – even though that goes against my frugal nature.

I wish I could use it for a trip to my nephew’s wedding in Cuba this June, but I can’t. So I’ll need to think of another trip I can take or useless gadget I can purchase.

A summer trip to California or British Columbia? A flight to Scotland for a friend’s wedding in October? The possibilities are endless!

I think dreaming up ways to spend the money might be just as much fun as the actual spending…

Yorkshire

I’m well into my second full day in the UK now and while I know I’m just on holiday, I feel as if I’ve come home. I really like how at ease and at peace I feel when I’m here. It’s a feeling I first had a few weeks after moving to Edinburgh and it’s never gone away. I guess it’s true what they say: “Home is where the heart is” and my heart has been here for nearly 10 years now.

It’s been fun seeing it all through Mom’s eyes. She seems to be enjoying herself and is enjoying the company, too. She’s still a bit jetlagged, but she’ll soon get used to the new time zone. After all, a proper cuppa will fix whatever’s ailing you, right?

We spent yesterday playing around Wakefield before heading over to York where Mom got to enjoy her first pub lunch. And her first pub dinner. This morning, we woke up and enjoyed a proper English breakfast – complete with heavenly British bacon. (If you’ve not tried bacon on both sides of the pond, you may not know what I mean. If you have, you understand the love affair I have with the UK stuff!)

After breakfast we went into town to see the York Minster, enjoyed a nice tea at Betty’s (where else?), then toured around the medieval city center with a stop at St. Margaret Clitherow’s Chapel on The Shambles. Mom’s now resting while I play geeky-gadget girl (and check up on work emails) before we head out for the family dinner later this evening.

I’m enjoying showing Mom around my lovely British Isles, and I think she’s enjoying being a tourist – but with the added bonus of traveling with someone who has the inside knowledge!

Now, back to my lovely cup of tea…