A happy me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Challenge 2013: A race a month

2013.01.02.running-challengeI failed ever-so-slightly in my 2012 Race a Month Challenge, but I enjoyed it so much that I’m challenging myself to the same feat for 2013. It’s not really my resolution for the year—which is to continue hoping for good things—it’s more of a lifestyle choice. And because it’s meant to be a bit of a challenge, I will try to increase the number of marathons or half marathons I participate in.

As it stands today, my first intended race will be the Buchlyvie 10K in Buchlyvie, Scotland. It was my first race of 2012, and I am desperately hoping it goes better this year! Of course, as my race partner (and race transportation provider) has moved to Wales, figuring out how to get there will be half the challenge!

I am also thinking about doing the Alloa Half Marathon in March and the Edinburgh (full) Marathon in May—if I can wrangle an entry, as they’re already sold out. And, of course, I’m thinking about running the Loch Ness Marathon again.

Oh! I’m even going to attempt at more—and better—training this year. Oh yes, I am!

If anyone is a runner and wishes to join me at a race—or if you’re not a runner but want to come cheer me on—please do get in touch. Running is, after all, a very social sport for being such a solitary one.

Happy running!

New year; new hopes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So long, 2012!

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

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

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

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

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

A successful failure

2012.12.27.a-successful-failureI suppose it’s time I acknowledge that my 2012 Race a Month Challenge wasn’t as successful as I’d hoped. However, I am still calling it a success because I truly did have the best of intentions.

So, I guess I’ll start with the fact that I didn’t manage to run a race in November or December. Yes, I failed two months in a row! Now, in my defence, I was very sick in November with a low platelet count which meant that I couldn’t participate in either of the races I’d planned to run. Of course, I felt the need to make up for that by running an extra race in December. Only the December 2 race was cancelled due to icy conditions. So I planned to make up for it with a Park Run the following weekend but that, too, was cancelled due to icy. And the race I planned to do for my actual December run was in the States, but I didn’t make it home for Christmas because I had to send of my passport for my visa application.

I know it sounds like a load of excuses, and I am sorry for that. But I have made it up to my body by doing lots of training runs over the Christmas break. I hope that you’ll forgive me my failure on this. After all, thanks to running three races in September, I did manage a full 12 races in 2012! And here’s the recap:

So that’s my kind of successful failure. But I’m going for it again for 2013 so maybe I’ll have more success the next time. In fact, I already have a list of races to get me started. And—just for fun—I might do two full marathons next year. Because I can!

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 …

New leaves

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

Oops, did you catch that error?

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

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

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

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

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

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!

October: The missing month

I’ve thought long and hard about how to handle the month of October for my blog. You know, since I only posted twice before the site went down for essential maintenance.

I thought about writing posts off-line, then adding them to the site when it was back up. But that would mean loads of back-reading for my (small) readership.

I thought about forgetting the month all-together. But that would mean not talking about a few things that happened that I want to include in my digital diary.

I even thought about writing one really, really long post that gave all the details of everything. But that would mean one really, really long post that no one would want to read.

So, instead, you get a bulleted list of some of the highlights from my October:

  • My Mum spent most of the month here on holiday. We toured all over the UK (with her having a week without me in England with my in-laws) and really did have an amazing time.
  • I ran the Beat Beethoven 5.5K race in Stirling with my friend, Joanne. We both beat the maestro, which was awesome, and it means that I got my October race out of the way for my 2012 Race a Month Challenge.
  • I received notification that I not only passed my dissertation with a distinction, but that I passed my entire master’s course with distinction—a rare honour and one that I will blog about separately very soon.
  • I managed to secure a two-month extension on my Tier 4 student visa, giving me a bit of breathing room whilst I sort out my Tier 2 work visa. (There is still stress around that topic.)
  • I made two major decisions about my future in Scotland: 1) I really do want to research PhD opportunities and 2) I really do want to get a car.

Lots more stuff happened throughout the month, but those are the ones that jump out at me. If I’m completely honest, most of the month was spent in tears though. It was a very stressful month that saw me fearing for my future because of visa issues and concern over how I did on my dissertation. I’m sure that the visa stresses will return with vigour, but at least I’ve learned that I’m a smart cookie.

But for now, here’s October in a nut shell. And as I’m nearly half-way through November, I’ll just concentrate on keeping up with that!

Three cheers for the cheerers

Well, that’s the Loch Ness Marathon done, and I am pleased to say that I improved my time over last year. The weather was pretty decent (could have been warmer for my liking) and the high I got from putting myself through the torture—and crossing the finish line!—was amazing.

Frustratingly, my knee gave up sometime after the 16-mile mark and there were a couple of times that I nearly crashed to the ground because of it, but it saw me through—just. But despite the physical pain my body was in, I never ‘hit the wall’ and was raring to go the entire race, which was nice since I was emotionally unprepared in the days leading up to it. And, thankfully, I’m not nearly as sore today as I was the day after the race last year. (Yay!)

But I don’t want to talk about me any more. (Shock!) Instead, I want to talk about the people who cheer from the sidelines. These people are amazing. They stand there for hours cheering everyone on as they run (or walk or hobble) past. They are full of encouragement for the participants and they always bring a smile to my face.

For some, they’ve had their lives disrupted as the roads to-and-from their homes (or businesses) are closed. They can’t come-and-go as they please and (inevitably) they end up with loads of empty water bottles and energy gel packs littering their gardens. Yet they stand there. Rain or shine. Clapping. Picking up rubbish. Giving words of encouragement and praise. And not just for the elite runners—for every runner.

It warms my heart and it powers me on. And when I can, I high-five the kids who stand there with their hands out for the slapping. And when my lungs allow it, I say thank you. At the very least, I try to nod or smile so that this amazing cheering section knows that they are appreciated. Because, in all honesty, their outpouring of encouragement and support really does keep me going. And for that, they deserve to be acknowledged and thanked.

So, thank you, random people in the random crowds. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

Now back to me for a brief moment: My goal was to run the race in less than 5:30:00, based on last year’s 5:37:42. And I’m happy to report that I beat my goal by nearly 12 minutes with a time of 5:18:37—nearly 20 minutes better than last year. Maybe I should strive for a sub-5:00:00 for my next marathon!

As always, you can see more of my running photos and times in the Run, Frances, Run! gallery.

Heading to the start

In about 24 hours, I will be running my second marathon. I know I’d said I was only ever doing one, but I was kind of challenged (dared?) by a friend and I can’t resist a good challenge.

I wish I could say I’m excited about it, but I’m not. I haven’t really trained, I spend last week battling a cold, and (in all honesty) I’ve been in a sulky, feeling-sorry-for-myself mood for the past week, which means I’m less than excited about everything let alone running 26.2 miles.

But, I’m doing it. I’ve committed myself to it and I can’t back out now.

I’ll be heading to the train station in a short while so that I can make my way to Inverness for tomorrow’s Loch Ness Marathon.

I hope the weather improves. I hope my mood improves. And, of course, I hope my time improves.

Stay tuned for a post-race re-cap! (And feel free to send me some good running thoughts and prayers!)

Digital Diaries: Constructing and managing online identities through blog therapy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Forty-nine days

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

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

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

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

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

A bloody Stirling day

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

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

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

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

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

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

A step toward the future

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

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

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

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

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

A great run

Today was Race Number Nine in my 2012 Race a Month Challenge and I’m pretty excited about it. It was the Great Scottish Run ½ Marathon in Glasgow (that’s 13.1 miles, if you wondered) and I finished under goal time! But, as always, you’ll have to get to the end to find out what that time is…

First up, however, is a big public thanks to my friend, John, who not only drove me to the race (and back home—a total of nearly 100 miles) but who stood around with me for an hour and a half before the race started; sat in his car reading for two hours before heading to the finish line; then met me at the finish with my bag containing comfy shoes and crisps.

Now, on to the race. I am really pleased with my time and even more pleased that I ran the majority of it. Where I took a few longer walk breaks in Edinburgh, this race saw me running solid for the first eight or so miles then I just took 15-30 second walk breaks. I suppose that has something to do with getting a bit more training in, but I must confess that I’ve still not done enough training—especially when I know I have a marathon in four weeks’ time!

Of course, the best part about the race was seeing everyone cheering each other on. I know I’ve said it before, but I really do love the non-competitive nature of running. We’re all running for our own reasons; we’re all fighting our own demons. And, inevitably, everyone helps each other and offers words of encouragement to the people around them.

Today, I witnessed two younger men slow down to help physically support a man in his 60s who was wavering around mile 11. Other runners around them shared their energy gels and water with him, and it sounded like the young men were planning to take a slower time in order to keep the older man going. (I hope they all managed to finish!)

For my own found inspiration, a woman caught up to me around mile 12 to say that she was using my pace (and bright shorts!) as her motivation and she helped me to pick up my pace for that last mile. And I’m thankful to her for it because it helped me shave a minute or two off my final time—which was already going to be less than my goal time of ‘under 2:30’.

And with that, my official time: 2:16:57. Yeah, wow! I’m very pleased as this is my fastest ½ marathon time in about 20 years and was a full 17 minutes and 39 seconds faster than Edinburgh back in May.

I have two more races to get through for September: The Stirling 10K and the Loch Ness Marathon. And I think I have two races for October: The Great Edinburgh Run (10K) and the Beat Beethoven (5.5K in Stirling). Now I just need to sort my November and December races for the rest of my Race a Month goal!

Oh! And you can see more race photos at my Run, Frances, Run gallery, too!

[Photo credits to my friend, John.]

A 10K and a curry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That dissertation? Done.

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

Now, to the important announcement:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A year later

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

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

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

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

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

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

(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!

Dissertation month update; Part 5

Wow. I guess that’s Dissertation Month pretty much over. I mean, I know it’s not been a full calendar month, but the month’s main project—completing my full draft to turn in for my supervisor’s review—has been completed. So now I just have to sit back and wait for my supervisor’s comments and suggestions so that I can make necessary edits for the final document.

So, what happens next? Well, I have a few days before I get feedback, so nothing for a wee while. But after that, I suppose it will be back to dissertation work. But the next round should be easier than this last month because I now have a full document that I will be working with.

Anyhow, the final document is due on August 21. And that means that you can probably expect a couple more posts about the progress of final edits—and maybe even the last-minute madness of getting it all printed and bound. Then after August 21 you’ll get to hear about my final course grade and then probably a bit about graduation and stuff like that.

So if you were thinking that the end of Dissertation Month meant that you wouldn’t have to hear about my dissertation again, you were wrong. (Sorry.)

But, if I’m lucky and things go according to plan, you might even get to hear news about jobs and positive future stuff! Heck, if you’re lucky (if I’m lucky!) you won’t even have to wait until the dissertation is done and dusted for those happy stories. (But let’s not crack the bubbles just yet!)

So here are the stats:

Current word count: 11,110 (Not including references, appendices, and other bits-and-bobs)

Task list for the next few days:

  • Relax.
  • Relax.
  • Relax.

Seven for seven

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dissertation month update; Part 4

Dissertation Month is nearly over! Can you believe it? I mean, it’s just been a mad blur of writing and writing and writing!

As you may recall, I have to have a full draft of my dissertation turned into my supervisor by noon on Tuesday, July 24. That means that I have three full days left to finish it up—plus a bit more tonight and a bit on Tuesday morning. But let’s be honest—I’m not getting anything else done tonight and I won’t realistically get anything done on Tuesday. So, I have Saturday, Sunday, and Monday to finish it up.

But that’s OK because I am so very nearly there now! In fact, I’m so nearly there that I’ve decided to mix myself a wee RyanCentric Martini to celebrate!

So here are the stats:

Current word count: 9,476 (Only 2,524 to go! And if I take the ‘+/- 10%’ to heart, I can stop in another 1,324 words!)

Tomorrow’s task list:

  • Print out Findings section for a hand-written review
  • Clean up Findings section, adding in academic references where required and moving sub-sections as needed
  • Begin a solid draft of the Conclusion section

Yay! Yay! Yay! I really feel as if this sucker is coming together now!

The cruelty of random memories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dissertation Month Update:

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

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

Tomorrow’s task list:

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

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

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

Dissertation month update; Part 2

Dissertation month continues! As does my progress. The biggest part of this week’s work has been transcribing and re-reading interview materials, but I’ve also managed to complete my methodology section and to expand upon my literature review. Importantly, I’ve also managed to create my chapter outline this week.

Now, you would think that an outline is something that should have happened early on—and you’d be correct. And, in fact, I did create a basic outline several months ago which I’ve been working from all along. However, some of the sub-sections within chapters couldn’t be determined until I got to the analysing portion of the project. And I’m there now!

But for all of the work I’ve done, I am not much further along the path to 12,000 words! It seems that I’ve managed to clean up quite a bit of text, making it more precise, but that also means making it less wordy. (Obviously not something I can do here on my blog!)

I am excited to say, however, that I’ve managed to get some more work done on my introduction and—thankfully!—I now have a better understanding of the main body of the project, my findings.

So, where am I now?

Current word count: 2,971 (only 9,029 to go!)

Tomorrow’s task list:

  • Go for a 4+ mile run
  • Back to the library, again!
  • Complete literature review section
  • Expand on findings section

Oh! And a very, very happy 13th birthday to my lovely former foster daughter!

Dissertation month update; Part 1

Just a quick dissertation update for you today, since I did promise that this would be Dissertation Month.

First, a look at the tasks I had set for yesterday:

I am pleased to say that the first task was a complete success and that I got all of my email responses sorted. (Now I just need to make sense of them all!)

The second task, expanding the methodology section, was also a success. I had a goal to finish that section today and I think I did. But I feel it’s inadequate after looking at a couple of sample dissertations. You see, mine is only 844 words and the samples I’ve seen are 1,000-1,300 words. But, sometimes less is more. And I can always review and expand later if needed. So, I guess for now, I can say that section is done. (Yay! That’s a mini-goal reached!)

And the last task, well, I made it half-way. It just happened to be raining yesterday—all day long!—and that meant that about two miles was all I could manage. But I managed, so that’s cool. And I’ve added a new routine to my training. It’s the push-sit plan and I am just trying to make it a habit right now so it means 10 sit-ups and 10 push-ups before I go to bed at night and again when I wake up in the morning. Once it becomes a habit, I will start increasing the number of each. (Must get fit for this marathon!)

Anyhow, I also spent much of today transcribing the last of my interviews (my longest one by far!) and have even had a couple of great moments of inspiration that led me to add to the skeleton of my dissertation. OK, nothing more than sub-headers, but it’s all part of the process.

So, where am I now?

Current word count: 2,843 (only 9,157 to go!)

Yes, I know that’s not much of an increase for two days’ work, but I completely re-worked a couple of sections so the words that are there are better words. And that’s important.

Tomorrow’s task list:

  • Complete the last interview transcription
  • Expand literature review section
  • Create a library list for a Thursday trip to the university library
  • Run 4+ miles (let’s hope the weather cooperates!)

Welcome to dissertation month!

OK folks, it’s time to get serious about this dissertation. Like really, really serious! (Actually, I should have been really, really serious about it for the past few months but, well…) So I am claiming July to be Dissertation Month. Which means that you may be faced with several dissertation-themed posts and rants—or at least updates on my progress within most of my posts.

But, even with such a major deadline looming, I am totally lacking motivation. So, I am asking you, Dear Reader, to help me out there. Encouragement, prayers, and good writing vibes are needed!

And, for my part, I will share with you an honest update on my progress. Starting today!

For those in need of a refresher, my dissertation is looking at the role of social networking (specifically Facebook) in news reading/sharing. (It’s less Facebook-y than it sounds.) The final, final printed dissertation is due August 21 and needs to be 12,000 words (+/- 10%). But I have a major deadline looming at the end of July, when I need to have a full draft ready for my dissertation supervisor. Which means I have about three and a half weeks to write this thing!

As it stands now, I have my introduction and literature review sections nearly done and I am now done with interviews. In fact, much of today has been spent transcribing the last of my spoken interviews. Which means that I didn’t get the 1,000 words written for the dissertation itself like I’d hoped, but it was/is a big-and-important part of the process so that’s OK. And the day’s not over, so I might manage to get some more work done. I wonder if a glass of wine would help or hinder that process…

Current word count: 2,732 (only 9,268 to go!)

Tomorrow’s task list:

  • Review emailed responses and enter into a nice, clean Word document
  • Expand research methodology section (goal to complete section by Wednesday)
  • Run 4+ miles (exercise is vital to keeping the mind sharp!)

Half way

It’s June 30; the last day of the first half of 2012 and the half-way point for my 2012 Race a Month Challenge.

Of course, today’s race was a bit of a challenge itself. Well, not the race so much as getting there! You see, this was the first time since my arrival in Scotland that I’ve had to make my way to a race alone. And without private transportation. But I managed, so I guess I should be pleased with myself and I should probably also give a nod to the wonders of public transport. (Though, honestly, I think I need to consider getting a car—assuming I manage to get a job!)

The race wasn’t a proper, full-on race; it was one of the Park Runs I’ve told you about in the past. There were no viable races this month, so it was that or nothing. And for a while I wondered if it would be nothing because it just seemed so daunting to try and make it all the way to Falkirk for a race. Still, I made it. And that means I’m still on task for my race goal!

My time was rather slow at 32.23, but I can chalk that up to the fact that—yet again—I haven’t done any training. I am trying to get better with that though, and since I’ve signed up for the Loch Ness Marathon again, I really need to get serious. (Which will help with the gooey belly I’m now sporting. Bonus!)

Anyhow, I suppose it’s time to find races for July and August now so that I don’t end up leaving them to the last minute, either!

Loch Ness; Take two

Do you remember when I told you that I was going to run the Loch Ness Marathon in honour of Paul? And how after I ran it, I told you I was never going to run another marathon?

Well, I was wrong. In fact, I really wanted to do another one just moments after finishing the first. And that feeling never went away. It was just so exhilarating!

So, today I’ve finally signed up to run the Loch Ness Marathon for the second time. Oh yes, I have! Only this time I’m not running for Paul. This time I’m running for me!

What does this mean for you? Well, at the moment nothing other than the occasional mention of marathon training. And maybe later I’ll give a shout out for fundraising—if I can decide to do that. Which I’m thinking I might. So, I don’t know. Stay tuned for that.

In the mean time, however, feel free to give all of those ‘I told you so’ comments for those who thought the marathon bug might take hold of my soul (and soles!). Because it has!

I dreamt a dream

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

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

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

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

I dreamt a dream whilst still awake
by Just Frances

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

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

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

Half done

I completed my second half marathon today. Well, that’s if you can count last year’s Inaugural Homeland Memorial Half Marathon. Which I do. Only today’s half wasn’t in the homeland (though it was on Memorial Weekend). No, today’s race was in my adopted home country of Scotland—the Edinburgh Half Marathon. (And I’m pleased to say my time has improved since last year!)

It really was a great race. My heart, mind, and soul were geared up and excited for the entire race—and could have carried me on further. However, my legs gave up around mile 9 or so. Yeah, maybe that’s because I haven’t actually run—at all—since my last race five weeks ago.

Still, I enjoyed the entire race. Really.

The weather was fab, too. This was my first Scottish race run in shorts and a tank top—and was a nice change from the driving rain I’ve had to deal with for some of my races. Even better, the course followed the seaside for a good distance, so the fresh sea air gave me a bit of enjoyment.

As I ran this, my 5th race in my 2012 ‘Race a Month’ challenge, it struck me that my motivations have changed. Or, rather, changed back. You see, before Paul died I always ran for me. I ran because I enjoyed running. But after he died, I began running so that I could train for a marathon in his honour. And that was wonderful and I am pleased that I did it. But that’s done now, and without even realising my motivation has switched back to me and my own personal enjoyment. Certainly, I still think about Paul when I run—but I think of loads of other things, too.

Yes, running has once again become a time to clear my own mind. Part of me feels sad because it’s almost like a lost connection but at the same time, I still know that he’s there running with me. He is, after all, always with me—even when I’m not aware of it.

Oh, and another thing that struck me today was that I do have a bit of self control. I mean, at mile 4 when I saw the two pence coin in the road, I didn’t stop to pick it up because I knew it would trip up other runners. Just before mile 8 I passed up a 50 pence piece and further along the route were two separate pennies that I left behind. And if you’re a regular reader, you might know how much of a challenge that was to me!

Anyhow, it was a good race; it was a good day. And, since you’ve read this far, I’ll tell you my time: 2.34.36. Slow, yes. But remember… I haven’t trained. (Maybe I should do that before the next race?)

And, as always, you can see photos from all of my races here!

Quiet-ness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?!

Running round the mulberry bush

Today was another race day as part of my Race a Month goal I set this year with the ever-amazing Rebecca. And, as often happens post-race, I feel great! (Worn out and tired, but great!)

The Mulberry Bush Balfron 10K took place in (you guessed it!) Balfron. It was a very hilly course, but the scenery more than made up for it! Hilly, as in there was a hill toward the end that is comparable to the grudging misery of Doomsday Hill near the end of Spokane’s Bloomsday 12K. Really.

As I started up the hill I was feeling pretty good, but as it went on and on and on, I began to wonder if I’d be able to run up the entire thing. In fact, I debated in my mind for quite a while before deciding that I wouldn’t take a walk break. (Happily, I didn’t take any walk breaks today. Yay!)

But, hills aside, it really was a good race. Once again, I’ve not put in as much training as I should (and I’m still working to sort out my rubbish eating habits!) though I did managed to finish more than three minutes under goal. (Unofficial time: 1:03:42)

My next race is up in the air, as I didn’t manage to get registered in time. Still, I’m holding out hope that I can wrangle an entry. (Watch this space!)

And, as always, you can see photos from all of my races here!

A weighty issue

I’m fat. No, that’s not true. That’s so far from the truth that it’s laughable. Heck, I’m not even overweight. Still, I feel ‘fat’(ish).

Here’s the problem: After my marathon I stopped partaking in a normal running routine. And as the days turned to cold, wet, wintery weather, I stopped partaking in most exercise all together. I became rather sedentary, but I continued eating the same volume of food.

Add to all of that, my school schedule means that I have a lot of time on my hands. I don’t have an eight-hour office job to go to, and I’m certainly not spending a full eight hours on campus or at the library. And that means more time for eating out of boredom.

And worse, a long struggle with being sad over the holidays meant that I was less inclined to cook healthy meals and actually got into a habit of eating lots of high-fat, sodium-laden foods.

Combine all of those bad habits together and you get a gooey Frances.

Now, I really do know that I’m not fat. I still fit into my clothes and I can still button my jeans. The problem is that where once there was a super-flat, firm tummy and thighs and a back-side that didn’t jiggle too much, there is now a flabby tummy and wiggly-jiggly bum and thighs.

And it’s making me sad. I feel really mad at myself for letting my body get so out of control. I’m out of shape, I’m not drinking enough water, and I’m jiggling where once I didn’t jiggle.

How sad (and frustrated and desperate) am I? Well, I’ve found myself Googling terms like ‘fast weight loss’ and ‘weight loss food’. I’ve even looked at appetite suppressants. I just looked, but there was a little voice in my head that was saying: ‘Come on. Two weeks on that and you’ll be back to normal!’ No, that’s not a good thing for my mind to be saying to my body. In fact, that’s a stupid thing!

So, the solution: Well, for starters I need to run more. I’ve got my race-a-month challenge, but I need to get more training runs in not only for that, but for my overall health. I also need to eat less. I don’t mean starve myself; I mean cutting out the habit of eating a large bag of crisps in one sitting, or eating half my weight in olives and cheese after dinner every night. I need to drink more water (lots more!). And, I need to start eating healthier foods again—fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats.

I’m not fat. And I’m certainly not suffering from body dysmorphic disorder. I don’t know what I weight and I don’t care. Still, I want to be back to my normal. Which isn’t fat or skinny. It’s more average and toned maybe.

I’m not sharing this bit of information with the hope for advice or tips. I’m sharing it because saying it out loud will make me more accountable to myself to fix it. I’m sharing it because admitting my flaws makes me more determined to fix them.

And I promise that I’ll fix this slowly and without the aid of pills and potions. Good, old-fashioned exercise and healthy eating will set me straight—and will probably help my race times, too!

Applying myself

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

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

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

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

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

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!

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!

Running around

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll get by

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Running on empty

Today was Race Two in my goal of running a race a month throughout 2012. (A joint goal with my partner-in-crime, Rebecca.) We couldn’t find a February race within a reasonable distance, so instead we participated in the Falkirk Park Run, a weekly timed event with 150+ runners or so. (And it was free!)

But I screwed up. Really, really screwed up. You see, since it was ‘just’ a 5K, and since it wasn’t a ‘real’ race, I didn’t take it as seriously as I should have. I didn’t go to bed until midnight, after having two glasses of wine. Worse, I neglected to eat breakfast. Yes, I was running on an empty stomach! I didn’t really realise it until I’d been at it for about seven minutes—and then I realised that I didn’t have the energy to run hard. In fact, there were several moments when I thought I could kick it up, but then the pangs of hunger hit and I knew I needed to slow down or I’d never finish.

I finished in 32 minutes and 27 seconds, which is a respectable time for a 5K but I could have/should have done better. And instead of feeling invigorated, I felt weak and dizzy. And I felt silly and stupid because I should know better than to run on empty!

And now, because I’m hoping that most of you have stopped reading by now, I’m going to make some further food confessions. You see, it seems that I’ve been running on empty quite a lot these past few months. Running on empty, walking on empty, going to class and shopping and sleeping on empty… you get the point. Yes, I have been a bad food eater!

Now, it’s not that I have some weird body image thing and am trying to lose weight or anything (though I admit to feeling flabby, but that’s an issue of toning, not weight loss). It’s just that I’ve not been in a good routine for a very long time. If I’m further honest, these poor eating habits have been with me since Paul died—so way, way, way too long.

I rarely eat breakfast and I rarely eat lunch. So by the time I do eat, I am so hungry that I can’t eat very much or I gorge myself on all sorts of unhealthy, salty, fatty foods. And if I’m further honest, part of the problem is that I can’t be bothered to cook for myself most days. I mean, I try to do it, but it’s really hard (i.e.: sad, lonely, and pathetic) to cook for one.

I’m trying to fix this, but I’ve been saying that for more than a year now! But I’m slowly getting better. I’ve been trying to make out a week’s menu ahead of time and I’m making some nice, hearty meals that freeze well for days when I don’t feel like cooking. In fact, as I’m typing I have some chicken and potatoes in the oven and some fresh spinach ready to cook up. But I can’t promise that tomorrow’s dinner won’t be a jumbo-sized bag of crisps!

So, the goal is simple: Cook more, eat more, and be better nourished before going for a run.

Speaking of cooking and eating, it’s time to start on that spinach now. Yum!

And don’t forget to enter my anniversary competition. I’ve really enjoyed the entries so far and would love to be entertained with a few more! (Don’t be shy!)

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!)

Just because you fall

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

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

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

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

31 happy things

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

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

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

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

31 Happy Things to Look Forward To

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

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

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

A running start

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another year passes

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

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

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

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

One down

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!)

Social conscience

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

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

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

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

And I have finally found that social life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Re-packing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday will be here before I know it.

Budgeting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For the grade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!!

I’ve been ID’d

Yippy! I picked up my student ID card today and am officially able to get student discounts now. Yay!! Though, funnily, the only student discount I’ve gotten so far was for my bus fare on the way to campus. I stepped aboard and asked if it was the bus to campus and was kindly told it was and asked if I had my student ID—to which I said no, as I was on my way to pick it up. But the nice man gave me the 50p discount anyhow. (So trusting!) And I thought it was pretty cool that he thought I looked like I could be a student.

So that’s the other cool thing about today: At 37 years old, I am finally holding a student ID card proclaiming me as a postgraduate student. Yay!

I’m back on campus on Monday to meet with my programme director and to register for my course modules. Then I’m back on Tuesday for a couple of orientation meetings. Then I think I’ll start attending classes later in the week. But I don’t know when…

Oh, and if you’re looking at the photo thinking ‘Wow! What an awesome student ID photo!’, you should know it’s been edited for my own amusement, because that’s how I roll!

Have visa; will travel

I got my UK visa today! Yay!! Actually, I got the email on Monday telling me I’d been approved, but wanted to wait until it was in my hands before telling you about it. It should have been delivered Tuesday, but a blunder at the consulate meant that I had to make the long drive to Spokane to pick it up in person.

I’ll spare you the carry-on that caused that action and will instead just give another Yay! to celebrate the fact that I now have the visa.

(Yay!)

Oh, and I had hoped that it would be good from August 1 and had planned to fly out on August 8, but they issued it as valid from August 12. Which means that my Mommy gets me for another 4 days which I bet will make her very, very happy.

And now I can book my flights. I hope the amazing Rebecca is ready for me, ‘cause now that the UK government says I can come, there’s nothing to keep me away!

Oh! And have I said Yay! yet? No? Well then…

Yay! Yay! and another Yay! for good measure!!

(And that photo on the visa? Well, I doctored that for the post because the official visa photo is horrid. But if you see me with my passport in hand, please feel free to ask for a peek at the real think. If you don’t scare easily that is…)

Seller’s blues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A nickel for my thoughts

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

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

The insecurities:

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

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

The excitement:

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

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

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

Visa blues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The weekend will get better. It must get better…

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!

The homeland half

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Photo credits to my dad, Roy Cook.]

Ten things

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It’s another list day. Yay!

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

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

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

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

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

A bloomin’ recap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Choices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Visa changes: A rambling rant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Struggling with apathy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On beating children

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Check out more race photos at Run Frances, Run!

Future plans and dreams of the past

I spent an hour or so transferring my old floppy disks onto my external hard drive today and was very pleased with myself for managing to only open six of the files: Three photos, two obituaries, and one assignment from my Sociology 101 course.

Whilst I probably won’t share most of my coursework here when I finally scour through the rest of the files, I felt that this one needed to be shared now.

The assignment was for a dyadic interview of myself—basically, I needed to write down my future plans and dreams. So, here’s where I was with myself way back in 1999! [My comments on these thoughts 12 years later are in brackets.]

Future Plans and Dreams

Desires
I desire to find true joy and happiness; to find a place within my soul and my mind where I can be free from stress and agony—a peace within.
[I found that peace about two years later when I moved to Scotland. Wow! I had no idea what it was like to feel so at peace!]

Hopes
I hope to see all of my nieces and nephews graduate from college, marry, and have children of their own. I also hope to one day adopt a child of my own, so that I may see them do the same.
[I suppose these hopes are still the same. When I wrote them, I had figured on adopting as a single mom—and whilst for a while my hope was to adopt as a married woman, I’m back to the original plan I guess. Like it or not!]

Fears
My biggest fear is losing my parents. Next is dying young, before I get the chance to fulfil all of my dreams and find that “one true love”.
[Well, I certainly still fear losing my parents—even more now that I already lost my husband! But at least I’ve yet to die young, and even if I do, at least I finally found true love!]

Hang-ups
I tend to put other people ahead of me when I make plans, which often causes disappointment on my part.
[Funny, this still seems to be a big problem for me. In fact, putting the needs (wants?) of others before mine used to get Paul so angry with me. He was convinced that people were just taking advantage of my willingness to help.]

What will make me happy
I am already happy with my life. I love the person I have become over the years, and I feel very good about myself. To maintain this happiness is as easy as listening to my heart. If my heart feels good about something, I do it. I’ve yet to be disappointed or unhappy with my life by following that rule.
[I think that being happy with my life, combined with being at peace with myself once I got to Scotland, is what made it possible for me to find love. Sadly, I am no longer happy with my life because that love is gone and it brought my world crashing down around me, but I am working on finding that happiness again—and I’m doing it by following my heart back to Scotland.]

Goodness… I wonder what other insights into my life I’ll find when I read through the rest of these files?

Emotional screens

It’s been a bit of a crazy month as I cope with a gazillion emotions swarming around my heart and soul. Then tonight, I sat down with my markers and sketch pad to doodle and—without planning—I came up with what reminds me of one of those beaded screen thingys from the 1970s.

And that prompted me to think about all of those emotions that I keep partially hidden behind my own screen. And that prompted me to write a poem. But the poem was so bad that I can’t even share it here. So instead, I’ll give you the gist of it all.

Since Paul died, many people in my life have given their opinions on my grieving process. Some have had the courage to give their opinions directly to me, others have passed them on through the local gossip mills or other sources, and others have had conversations about me without realising (or caring?) that I was in earshot.

If I’m happy, I must not have loved him. If I’m sad, I must be suffering from depression. If I laugh, I must not have cared. If I cry, I’m grieving too hard.

But the truth is that I’m often happy; and I love him still. I’m often sad; and I don’t need pills to fix it. When I laugh, it’s because I’m trying to live my life. When I cry, it’s because I’m living my life without him.

Anyhow, I’ve realised for a while now that I’m hiding my emotions. I’m outwardly displaying a neutral expression even if I’m laughing or crying inside. Only it’s no longer intentional, it’s just become the way of my world.

I started to realise that I was extremely apathetic at work and thought it had something to do with keeping my big life plans to myself at the office for so long—which prompted me to let work know I was leaving considerably sooner than planned. (And, oh, did that lift a lot of stress in my world!)

But I’ve also realised that I’ve been keeping emotions from others in my life, too—emotions of anger and resentment as well as joy and affection. (Sadly, all of those emotions at once for at least one person in my life!)

I know that much of these emotional barriers will fade away when I’m at a place of peace within my life. And whilst I hope know that I will be at peace in my soul when I return to Scotland in August, I’m hoping that the process of finding some calm will start sooner than that.

In the mean time, I’m going to try to allow myself to honestly feel however I feel. And I’m going to try not to care if my laughter or tears seem wrong to someone else.

So, how do I feel today? If I’m honest, I’m feeling anxious and nervous and jealous and hurt over a few maybe big, maybe little things. I’m sure those emotions will carry on for a while, but I’m going to make room for some happiness and laughter, too. And I’m not going to be ashamed to show it!!

And with that, I’m going to bed. Yes, I know it’s barely 9:30 on a Friday night, but it’s been an emotionally exhausting week and I need to recharge so that I can find my happy juice tomorrow!

Pain-loving partners

My nephew, Haden, and I ran the Partners in Pain 5K in Spokane this morning. It was Haden’s second time running the race and my fourth last. The official race times aren’t in yet, but I’m pleased to say that we both beat last year’s time. So that’s pretty awesome.

I’ll admit that there is a bit of sadness knowing that I’m running out of time to run with my new partner, but we’ve got at least three races to do together before I return ‘home’ to Scotland and I’m sure we can find a race to run when I return to the homeland for visits. But I won’t get too sad just yet because we already have plans to run races together in March, May, and July!

Next race: The St. Paddy’s 5K in Snoqualmie, Washington. Yay!

Check out more of my race photos here!

The big announcement

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

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

So, here’s the BIG announcement:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A happy thought

I don’t know that my day started off badly, but it didn’t start off happy. Stress has been preventing me from getting a proper night’s sleep for quite some time and it’s causing my days to be more apathetic than anything. But today, the apathy turned to happy thoughts. And the happy thoughts turned to thoughts of a happy future; a future where I plan to be as happy as a king queen.

Happy Thought
by Robert Louis Stevenson

The world is so full of a number of things,
I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.

 

 

Nine years ago

Nine years ago today, my intended life plans changed. Only I didn’t know it at the time.

I was living in Scotland whilst studying at Edinburgh Napier University. I was researching graduate schools and had planned to finish my undergrad then go directly on to my master’s work, followed by my doctoral studies. I was certain that I would be ‘Doctor Cook’ by the time I was 35. Then I would work toward becoming a single mom through adoption. (I was extremely picky and couldn’t find a man worthy of a second date, let alone a man I’d consider marriage and adoption with!)

Then I met Paul. I thought I was just meeting a great guy and that we’d date whilst I was in Scotland and maybe we’d stay in touch when I returned to the states, and that if we were still in touch when I returned to Scotland again maybe we’d date a bit more. When I realised that I was really falling in love for the first time in my life, I realised that I needed to re-think my plans. I couldn’t imagine passing up a relationship with this amazing man just so that I could get my Ph.D. Plus, I had a feeling that he’d be supportive of me doing that later. And he was.

[Note: I posted a story of how we met on my ‘grief blog’ last year. You can read it here if you’d like. But be warned that overall, it’s an extremely depressing blog. Not like Just Frances which is only depressing on occasion.]

So nine years later I’m sitting here with a new life plan. It’s a bit sad to realise that my new plan is so similar to the one I had nine years ago; it’s almost as if I’ve just been in a state of suspended animation. But I don’t regret taking the diversion—not at all; not in the least.

I don’t find this to be a sad day or a sad memory; though it is sad to know that I don’t have Paul here to walk down Memory Lane with me. But at least I still have the memories…

Inspirations; Part 6

It’s the second day of the second month of a new year. I’m convinced this year will be a good one, but I’ve got to keep myself inspired or I might lose sight of the dream.

You can never cross the ocean unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.
~ Christopher Columbus

The only man who never makes a mistake is the man who never does anything.
~ Theodore Roosevelt

The question isn’t who is going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me.
~ Ayn Rand

Your life is your message to the world. Make it inspiring.
~ Lorrin L. Lee

First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do.
~ Epictetus

Just two minutes

I used to be able to sit in complete silence and just be at peace with myself. I used to be able to curl up with a book and focus on only the story I was reading. I used to be able to listen to music and not think of anything other than the sounds coming from the speakers.

But when Paul died, I found that I was no longer at peace with myself, nor could I focus on a single task. I needed constant stimulation to get through the day: TV, music, Facebook, real books—you name it. And often, I had them all on the go at once. It was the only way to stave off the sadness and tears long enough to get me from one hour to the next.

And now, I’ve found that I don’t need constant stimulation to hide from my grief anymore—I need it because it’s become a part of my routine. I no longer know how to function without a constant stream of noise and distraction.

Which is why one of my goals for the new year is to focus my mind. I’m working on the art of single-tasking. This means that when I take my shower, I am only thinking about my shower—not planning my day. When I’m driving down the road, I am only thinking about the feel of the wheel, the curve of the road, the pressure of my foot on the gas pedal—not rehashing a conversation in my head.

Sound easy? It’s not. I fail at single-tasking all the time. But I’m getting better.

Well, I say I’m getting better but I can’t manage to do nothing for two minutes. And that frustrates me.

But I’m not one to give up. So once I post this, I’m going to turn off all the noise in the house then I’m going to sign out of my email and Facebook accounts, and then I’m going to attempt at doing nothing for two minutes. And once I succeed at that, I’m going to shut down the computer (without re-checking emails or Facebook) and I’m going to go to bed—where I plan to single-task my way to a peaceful night’s sleep.*

How about you? Do you think that you can manage to do nothing for two minutes?

* On-going insomnia will likely prevent me from that task, but I am going to try. Another goal for the year is to finally start sleeping through the night again. It’s been nearly two years since I’ve had a full night’s sleep, and my soul could really use the rest!

Inspirations; Part 5

Nearly a week into the new year and I’m wondering if I can keep a couple of ‘secret’ resolutions I made to myself. So, I need a bit of inspiration to remind me of what I know I must believe in order to succeed.

I don’t follow precedent, I establish it.
~ Fanny Ellen Holtzman

Your future depends on many things, but mostly on you.
~ Frank Tyger

The wise don’t expect to find life worth living; they make it that way.
~ Anonymous

The best bet is to bet on yourself.
~ Arnold Glasow

The only Zen you find on the tops of mountains is the Zen you bring up there.
~ Robert M. Pirsig

Saving cash; depleting clutter

Like many of you, I have a habit of taking home soaps and other toiletries from hotels. And, like I’m sure some of you, I never actually use them. Yet, still, I take them.

The stuff I get from cheapy hotels sits in a plastic bag. That stuff smells bad. Well, not bad, but like perfume. (Ick.)

The stuff I get from fancy hotels sits in a nice wicker basket. That stuff smells nice. And it’s actually name-brand products from around the globe. But, still, I never use it.

But, I’m trying to pinch pennies. And I’m trying to de-clutter. So now the stuff is going to get used.

My foster daughter actually likes smelly stuff, so as soon as she’s out of her stinky body wash gel, she will be handed a bar of Motel 6 soap. And later Holiday Inn and Sheraton* soaps. Same thing when she’s out of shampoo, conditioner, and lotion. And only once all the free stuff is gone will we buy new stuff.

I will be using the fancy soaps—L’Occitane, Neutrogena, Bath & Body Works. A couple of them are lightly-scented, but not perfumey. And I will be using the fancy hair stuff, too—John Frieda, Pantene, Bath & Body Works. Again, not too smelly.

I even have some dental floss, tooth paste, and deodorant. As well as a few other bits-and-bobs. And several free sewing kits, of which I think I’ll give one to a friend because I recall him needing—yet not having—a needle and thread once.**

Now, I cannot promise that I will not add more free stuff to the mix, and I cannot promise that I won’t buy new stuff from time-to-time, but at least I’ll be saving money and clearing out some clutter.

* OK, Sheraton hotels are not really on the cheap end of the spectrum, but they do use smelly products so their toiletries get tossed in with the cheap stuff.
** I know it sounds cheap to give free stuff to friends, but it’s not like it’s a proper gift and it’s not like it’s really a gift so much as a gesture of goodwill.

Culinary apathy

As part of my marathon training, I need to get back into the habit of eating healthy foods. You know—whole foods, low sodium foods, unprocessed foods. Boring foods.

In fairness, not all healthy food is boring. But sometimes it seems like it is.

Case in point: All week long I’ve had brown rice and vegetables for lunch. Sometimes they were fresh, crisp, raw veggie sticks, other times they were left-over veggies from the night before. It tastes nice, but it’s not as lovely as deep-fried junk food!

Oh well. At least I’m out of brown rice now so will have to have something less boring for tomorrow’s lunch. Something nice and greasy for a Friday afternoon. Yes, that sounds nice.

Plus, one of the best ways to stay on track with healthy eating is to allow yourself treats every now and then. So, really, a Friday junk food fix will help with my healthy eating goals! (Right?)

I can do it! [So says The Kid]

My foster daughter is pretty excited about my plans to run a marathon. She thinks I’m an amazing runner and that I’ll do really well. In fact, she is convinced that I will be in the top 10.

Yes, really. Even when I explained that last year there were more than 2,400 runners. Even when I explained that the top 50 last year all ran it in less than 3 hours and I ‘hope’ to finish mine in under 6.

Her response was, basically: “Well you won’t win with that attitude.”

OK, there is no way on God’s Earth that I will make it in the top 10. Or even the top 100. Or even the top 1,000. But I do like her attitude about having a positive attitude on the subject.

So to add to her inspiring words, here are some words of wisdom from Steve Prefontaine:

Life’s battles don’t always go to the strongest or fastest man, but sooner or later the man who wins is the fellow who thinks he can.

Time or distance?

Today I had all intentions of doing 8 miles on the treadmill at the gym. I was free of the kid for a few hours so had the time to take it easy and not worry about how long it took. I figured I’d run a couple miles, walk a couple miles, run a couple miles, and then walk the rest.

Now, it should be noted that in the year and a half since Paul died, the furthest I’ve run is 6.2 miles. And it should also be noted that I’ve not really done any training. My last run (5 miles) was about a month ago. The run before that was about a month earlier still (a 10K race). So, 8 miles was actually a bit of an aggressive target.

When I got to the gym, I noticed that the treadmills had a time limit of 60 minutes. After which, they will go into cool down mode. So I figured I’d do 60 minutes then restart the machine to finish off my 8 miles.

As I got going, I realised this was going to be hard. But I got a good pace going and started to feel confident. Then I heard Paul in the back of my mind telling me to stop being stupid and not push myself too hard. And I knew he was right.

And so, I decided to just do 60 minutes and not worry about distance just yet.

I am still trying to determine what my official training regimen will be, but for now I’ve told myself that I’m going to stick with 60 minutes for the month of December. Over the course of the month, I will try to increase the mileage within that timeframe with the goal of running a 10K (6.2 miles) by the end of the month.

In January, I’ll think about my next step and whether I will go for increased mileage or increased distance. I’m starting my training early enough so I am not concerned that I’m taking it slow. Because Paul is right—I can’t be stupid and push myself too hard when I’m training. That’s what race day is for!

Just 300 days until the Loch Ness Marathon!!

I’m goin’ for it!

I’m a runner. I have been since school when I ran on the cross country team. I enjoy running. Really, I do. But I never wanted to run a marathon. I thought maybe I’d do a half-marathon at some point, but 26.2 miles? I don’t think so.

Shortly after we got married, I convinced Paul to join my gym. I asked him to try it for one month. After the end of week one, I figured he’d drop at the end of the month. But then he found the treadmills. And he started to go to the gym with excitement!

Within a few months, we purchased a really good treadmill and ended the gym memberships. His goal at that time was to run a 5K. And he did it. Then I mentioned the Bloomsday 12K and he shook his head ‘No!’ but within a few weeks, we were registered for that race, too. But he would never run a marathon, he said—not even a half-marathon.

But a year later, he ran his first half-marathon. And all of the sudden, he decided that he would run a marathon before he turned 50. But he couldn’t wait that long, so a year after that first half-marathon, he was meant to run his first marathon. But he died a month before the race at the age of 47.

I remember thinking at the time that I would run the race in his memory. But I was in the throes of grief and there was no way I could walk one mile—let alone run more than 26! A year later, I still wasn’t ready.

But now I am. Or at least, I think I am. Mentally, mind you. Certainly not physically!

Yes, I am planning to run the Loch Ness Marathon on Sunday, October 2, 2011, in Inverness, Scotland. And I’ve got a couple of friends talked into running it with me. And I hope to talk more people into running with me, too.

Now, I say that I’m going to run it but I have to be completely honest with you and myself and say that, medically, I don’t know if I can. I have a hard time maintaining my platelet counts when I’m running 5Ks and 10Ks, I don’t know that my body will like me running a marathon—or even that it will like me training for one.

So, I guess that I’m planning on doing a marathon. Run, walk, crawl… one way or another, I want to complete a marathon before what would have been Paul’s 50th birthday.

Yes folks, I’m insane. Feel free to join me along the route—running or cheering from the sidelines!

Clay play

As part of my on-going mission to relax and find a bit of silly joy in life, I broke open a box of coloured clay this evening. I didn’t do much with it today, but I’m inspired now and have a great idea for some fun time with my foster daughter this weekend.

I’m sure you’re totally excited to see what we might create so here’s a wee flower to tide you over until I have something more artistic to entertain you with. Yay!

 

“The Earth Laughs in Flowers”
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

Learning to cope [?]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sorry for whining again…

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

Paper flowers

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

Today I stumbled upon the following prompt:

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

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

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

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

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

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

10 on 10-10-10

WooHoo! Today is 10-10-10 and I’ve just run a 10K. Yay!

This makes me happy because:

I must admit that we were a bit slow because neither of us put in the training required for such a race. I could blame it on the fact that I can’t get out there and run because of my foster daughter, but that’s just an excuse. I could claim that I’ve been too stressed for training, but we all know that training would have brought about those lovely en‘Dolphins’ which would have helped to alleviate some of the stress, so that’s a rubbish excuse, too.

Still, I’ve managed a 10K on 10-10-10 which is more than most people I know have done today. So I’m going to take my accomplishment and be happy for it. And as I reminded Haden, no matter how slow we may have been, at least we did it!

Official times aren’t up yet, but we both finished in under 1:20 which was our goal. Haden was about 1:16:16 and I was about 1:16:21.

Yay! for me and Yay! for my nephew!

Check out more of my races here!

Curly

Curl ˈkər(-ə)l (verb) [Middle English crullen, curlen, from crulle, curly, perhaps of Middle Low German origin.]
transitive verb: 1: to form (as the hair) into coils or ringlets 2: to form into a curved shape : twist <curled his lip in a sneer> 3: to furnish with curls
intransitive verb: 1a : to grow in coils or spirals b : to form ripples or crinkles <bacon curling in a pan> 2: to move or progress in curves or spirals : wind <the path curled along the mountainside> 3: twist, contort 4: to play the game of curling

So, I’ve had my hair curled. And how awesome is it that the intransitive verb mentions one of my favourite foods (bacon) and the sport of my favourite (non-native) country (Scotland)?! Yay!

Thanks, Lynn, for making my hair look so pretty!

(Oh, and a shot with pigtails, too. Because I love to wear my hair in bunches these days!)

A shape haiku

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

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

From fear to hope
by Just Frances 

Fear
Sadness
I live them
But still, I smile

I try to forget
I try to remember

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

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

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

But I strive be happy
So this is my life

And I’ll live it
Full of joy
Laughter
Hope

Working weekend

Wow! What a great weekend! And you want to know why? Well, it’s because I spent most of it in the homeland working toward three of my goals.

And because I know you want to know, here’s what I accomplished!

Goal #1: To be blissfully happy

Toward this goal I:

  • Socialized with real people in the real world (What? Facebook isn’t the real world?!)
  • Did some drawing and writing and relaxing and stuff
  • Went on a 5-mile training run with my nephew

Goal #2: To earn my master’s degree

Toward this goal I:

  • Worked on my personal statements for my applications
  • Sent a current draft of my statement to new reviewers in the hopes of a fresh reference point
  • Visited with one of my undergraduate professors who will act as a reference for my applications (which is a double score because she’s also a friend and I got to have a lovely visit with her!)

Goal #3: To publish a book

Toward this goal I:

  • Gave some thought to a collaborative writing project I’m (meant to be) working on
  • Scribbled notes about characters for a potential book I want to take off the back burner
  • Had lunch with with my old (as in former, not elderly) high school English teacher who helped to further spark my desire to get back into writing (but she may not know she did that!)

So, Yay! for me! I feel as if I’ve accomplished so much which is great because I had a fun time doing it. But now I’m tired. Very, very tired.

Relearning the art of childhood

A while back I picked up a piece of bond paper and a box of crayons to illustrate a silly little image to go along with my goals posting. A few days after that I grabbed a couple more sheets of paper from the printer then borrowed my foster daughter’s colored pencils to illustrate each individual goal. By the time I was done I realized how much I missed drawing and coloring—despite the fact that I’m not the artist I imagine I am.

That enjoyment led me to purchase some nice drawing paper and a set of 72 colored pencils and a little carrying case for all of my new art supplies. Since then, I’ve found a lot of pleasure in sitting on the couch drawing and coloring. And in recent days, I’ve been drawing and coloring even more thanks to the way-fun silliness course I’m participating in.

All of this has made me realize that I really like to be artistic and has made me start to think about all the other forms of artsy stuff I used to do as a child. Which brings me to the point of the post: Today I purchased an inexpensive set of water color paints and a cheap little box of modeling clay. My first attempt at a water color painting is really quite rubbish, but I enjoyed re-learning how to use the paints and am excited to do some more.

With a bit more practice, I’ll be ready to go out and paint the amazing sunsets on the Palouse. In fairness you might not be able to identify the painting as a sunset when I’m done, but as long as I’m enjoying my childish fun, it doesn’t matter what the end result looks like.

So I’m still feeling a bit down, but at least I can multitask by being miserable and happy at the same time.

Yay for painting!

Unhappily stressed

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

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

First, the stresses:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

• • • • •

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

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

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

x

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

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!

God’s Eyes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Closer to a better tomorrow

Today’s quote from my “Be Good to Yourself” calendar came at just the right time. For a few weeks now I’ve been telling myself to get in gear and start working toward next year when I hope plan to attend graduate school in the UK.

Every day do something that will inch you closer to a better tomorrow.
~ Doug Firebaugh

I’ve been working on my applications and I’ve been thinking about the practicalities, but I’ve not actually done anything to get me closer to success.

One of the biggest hurdles (other than the required acceptance letter, of course) is the financial side of the issue. In short, I need to come up with about £24,000 ($36,000) for tuition and living expenses. That’s no small task. (In fairness, I’ll have about £9,000 of that once I finish filling out some tax refund forms for the UK, but that still leaves a £15,000 deficit!)

In an effort to curtail spending I’ve cut the cable and have opted to not buy a complete new wardrobe for the year (despite knowing that Paul would want me to) and will instead work with what I’ve got just adding a couple of pieces here-and-there.

I’ve also decided to trim my grocery budget drastically, which is going to be difficult because I’ve gotten used to buying higher-end foods over the past few years. But, I suppose that I need to get into practice if I’m going to be a starving student!

Anyhow, the main point is this:

I’ve just purchased a big container of Yuban coffee. The sale price was $2.99 per pound, compared to the $12 per pound I normally spend on fancy coffee. I have about three days’ worth of Pioneer Coffee left, and then I’ll have to start slumming it. I’m not really looking forward to this part of my higher education goal, but I suppose I need to cowgirl-up and get on with it.

Other money-saving plans include making more soups and casseroles instead of steaks and prawns; buying fresh flowers less often and instead finding pretty leaf-filled branches and other ‘free’ items from my yard to display on the mantel piece; and eating apples, pears, and other inexpensive fruits instead of expensive berries and exotic imported produce.

It feels a bit ironic to be taking the day’s “Be Good to Yourself” quote and interpreting it to mean depriving myself of lovely foods, but I’m playing the long game here so am happy to make the short-term sacrifice!

Tonight’s dinner: Left-over meat loaf w/ frozen veggies. Tomorrow: Beef stew made from a hodgepodge of left-overs from the freezer. Yum!

That’s me home [?]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Falling into autumn

I used to enjoy the confluence of seasons; the awkward meeting between weather patterns—one anxious to begin its reign whilst the other tries in vain to retain its glory. Summer will soon lose the battle and fade to the changing colors of the trees and the crisp morning air that belong so adamantly to autumn. Despite my once-strong enjoyment of this seasonal change, for a second year in a row I find myself quite down over the start of the fall.

I recall the start of the cooler weather last year and the odd feeling that came over me. I should have been excited about shopping for new school clothes and supplies for the kids Paul and I were planning to adopt; excited about attending parent-teacher conferences and school concerts; excited about taking kids trick-or-treating. As I looked out the windows last year, I could see excited children walking to school with their backpacks slung over one shoulder laughing and giggling as they kicked at the fallen leaves. And there I was in an empty house.

The raw pain of last year has subsided, but there is still a bit of grief with the shift of seasons. Maybe it’s because I know that the dream of starting a family with Paul and participating in the joy of the first days of school is a distant memory. Maybe it’s because the fall means the start of the holidays—Halloween is just around the corner followed quickly by Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, and even Burns’ Night—or maybe it’s because some days I’m crazier than others.

Side note: I realize that I now have a foster child to care for and that she’s doing the whole “back to school” thing—and more, she’s starting middle school—but it’s not the same. I’m happy to be sharing this time with her, and I think she’s happy to be spending it with me, but we’re not creating a permanent family. We both know it’s temporary—we just don’t know how long temporary will be. If I’m honest, I don’t know if her presence makes me sadder about the changing of the seasons or if it’s making the changes easier on me. I may never know. (This is all said without regret. I really am pleased to have the kid here with me. Really.) But I digress…

Much like last year, I really do want to be excited about the changing seasons. I want to be excited about Halloween and Thanksgiving. And I really want to be excited about chopping wood for the fire place and getting the house ready for the cold of winter. But I’m not.

I wonder if my apathy toward the changing seasons is because I can’t see where my future is going. With each changing season I’m witnessing the future I once dreamt of creep further and further away—but I still can’t imagine the new future that will take its place. It seems that the world is changing and that time is marching on, but I’m standing still.

I know that I’m thinking about the future and trying to re-shape it but the part that I’m trying to shape is still so up-in-the-air that I suppose I’m too frightened to believe it may happen. (Is there irony in the fact that some kids dread the start of fall because it means going back to school and that I dread the start of next fall because I fear I won’t be going back to school?)

Anyhow, that’s me today. A bit sad and melancholy about a season that once saw me giddy and excited about school supplies, Halloween costumes, and Thanksgiving feasts.

Note to self: Snap out of it already, you whiny little cry baby!

The cost of vanity

For more than a year I’ve been telling myself to get some really nice, quality face moisturizer because grief can really take a toll on your skin. Between the constant crying, the lack of sleep, and the absolutely rubbish diet, my once-smooth skin began to age in triple-time shortly after Paul died. I’m now crying considerably less and sleeping a little bit more – so much of the swollen eye issues are subsiding. But still, I’ve been feeling less than happy with my skin’s appearance, and whilst I know part of this is my poor diet of late, part of it is also the fact that I’m no longer in my early-20s. (I know. Hard to believe!)

Anyhow, knowing that having nice skin would make me happy, I put buying a nice lotion on my task list for my life goal of being blissfully happy. Well, the day after I posted the tasks for that goal, a friend commented about products that she uses and that a friend of hers uses. Which got me searching for other things available.

So when I was given the opportunity to drop my foster daughter off at her friend’s house for a couple of hours, I headed to the cosmetics counter at Macy*s. I was immediately pounced upon by the sales staff. (This was my first trip to a cosmetics counter. It was a bit scary and intimidating.) Thankfully, I’d read a bit about the various products online before heading out so I sort of kind of knew what I wanted because those girls started yakking on and on about this and that and totally lost me!

There were two brands I was interested in, and I chose based on the free gifts – which I know is silly, but as they’re both major international brands with excellent reputations, I didn’t figure I had much to lose. Brand #1’s free gift was makeup, which if you’ve read past posts, you’d know that doesn’t interest me. Brand #2’s free gift was six travel/trial-sized containers of other products, and a little toiletry bag – all of which I could get some use out of.

And so, I’ve gone from my (very good) Olay products (a night cream and a day cream – about $20 for both) to the (supposedly) superior Lancôme products. I paid nearly $75 for a nice night cream then got three small containers of day creams, a small eye cream, and two small containers of serum (I don’t really know what that means yet) along with a nice little bag to carry them in. Yay!

The best part? I get to mark something off of my task list! That deserves another ‘Yay’!

Goals update

Nearly three weeks ago, I posted my goals and promised that I would soon update each goal with a list of tasks required to accomplish them. Well, I’ve finally gotten the initial task lists posted – along with hand-drawn images because I was a bit bored last night. (Cutting off the cable will do that to you!)

Support and encouragement is always welcome! Please feel free to check in to watch my progress, but also feel free to offer support or assistance where you can. If you think you can help with any of my tasks, please give a shout!

Goal #1: To be blissfully happy

Goal #2: To earn my master’s degree

Goal #3: To publish a book

Goal #4: To rule the world

Back to school

Way-hey! Tomorrow is the first day of school. I’m totally excited! I’ve got my backpack packed, my pencils sharpened, my way-awesome binder loaded with college-ruled paper, and my protractor tucked neatly away in a little pouch.

I can almost smell the construction paper and paste wafting through the halls. I can almost taste the overly-processed, barely recognizable as food, lunch waiting for me in the cafeteria. I can almost hear the laughter of happy children on the playground…

Oh, wait. It’s not me who’s going to school tomorrow. It’s the kid. Darn!

Yep, the kid starts 6th grade in the morning. Middle school. Wow. It seems like less than two weeks ago that she came into my life…

Oh, wait. It was less than two weeks ago!

So, for those wondering how I’m getting on with the kid – we’re getting on quite well. I think that she’s both excited and nervous about starting middle school tomorrow. She totally loves her awesome new backpack. It’s purple and it has a butterfly. Cool. (I must admit to liking the butterfly motif myself, but I’d rather it in green.)

For those wondering about my own back-to-school plans – they are still in process. I can’t send off my applications for autumn 2011 until after the 2010 school year begins, but I am working on them now. I promise. My goal is to have everything ready for my applications before the end of September. I promise. Really.

Happy back-to-school season to all!!

Rainbows

This is one of those funny posts for me. It started because I had a thought about rainbows, which then led me down a path of remembering the first time I felt joy and sorrow simultaneously (on a trip to Edinburgh), which then led me to a statement declaring I would give a friend money for having not fessed up that I’d already been through a ‘scary’ tourist trap that he wanted to take me through. I think the moment I realized I was going to part with my money was the moment I realized that I needed to get back on topic.

So… back to the topic of rainbows.

I can never decide if rainbows make me happy or sad. I can never decide if the dreams that they hold make up for the fact that they are merely an illusion. It makes me smile to look at them, but it’s so frustrating that – try as I may – I can never catch one. I can never hold one. I can never feel the array of colors in my hands. And there certainly isn’t a pot of gold at the end of one – as much as I want to believe there is. As a child, I knew it was there. And there was once a time that I allowed my adult self to imagine that maybe, just maybe, it’s there – hiding behind the mask of grown-up cynicism.

I guess that the truth is that I struggle some days. I struggle to find the energy to believe that there might just be a pot of gold at the end of that rainbow. But I want to believe that the illusion is real. I want to believe that one day I will be walking along and all of the sudden a rainbow appears in all of it’s Roy G. Biv greatness and I’ll be able to reach out and touch it. I’ll be able to feel it’s glow. And I’ll have a wee chat with the leprechaun charged with protecting that pot of gold.

As part of my goal to be blissfully happy, I am going to start giving rainbows a chance. I am going to work to find that innocent joy in the simplicity of nature’s gift. And I’m going to find more reasons to be happy about rainbows than sad about them.

I know, it’s sort of a nonsense post today. I blame it on Kermit.

Spare change

Faithful readers of Just Frances may recall that I blogged about my spare change about four months ago. They may also recall me blogging about my inability to complete simple tasks these days. So, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I never did get around to cashing in those coins to buy some fantastically-wonderful, unneeded thing.

Instead, my collection of coins has grown by $18.19 since March, meaning I now have $83.13 to spend on something. Well, actually, I have $43.13 to spend because I’ve decided to put $40 into savings for my master’s degree fund.* (Donations to said fund are always appreciated.**)

And the rest of the money? I’ve decided that I’m going to use it all for music. After all, how else am I going to meet my goal to collect 40,000 songs for my iPod?

Tomorrow’s goal: Cash in the coins!

* I know I said before that I liked to use spare coins for things that were wanted, but not needed, so it may seem wrong to put it toward savings, but I ‘want’ a master’s, I don’t ‘need’ one. So this counts in my book.
** I don’t really need donations, but I would be extremely grateful if anyone knows of scholarships that I can apply for!

To train and listen

I am one of those people who pushes herself a little (a lot?) too hard when there’s a goal to be met. But I’m trying to listen to my body a little more so that I don’t push to the point of illness or injury.

My 11-year-old nephew and I are currently training for a 10K race on 10/10/10 and decided to use today as a chance to get a run in on the Bill Chipman Trail. The four-mile run would be his longest – ever – and the furthest I’ve run in more than a year. Oh, and it was a hot, hot, hot day!

As we got going, I told the kid we’d be taking it slow. He was happy to go along with that plan. As we neared the two-mile marker I was pleased to see that it was actually about a quarter mile closer than I’d remembered, which gave me a bit of a (much needed) energy kick.

But as we neared mile three I could feel myself weakening. I’d not eaten breakfast (bad!) and I’d not had nearly enough water over the past few days (also bad!). Part of my brain said to keep going – after all, it was only another mile – but the other part couldn’t help but remember the dream I’d had the night before where I collapsed and was unable to call out for help.

It was a hard decision to make, but I decided to walk the last mile. And as I walked I reminded myself that I’ve not been training much, I have two ‘major medical’ obstacles to deal with, and I’m no longer the high school cross country star. (What? I’m not a teenager anymore? Oh no!)

I can accept that my nephew will get a better time at the race in October, but I can’t accept that I won’t be able to finish the race. So, I’ve promised myself that I will make a strong effort to eat better, stay hydrated, keep training, and (most importantly) listen to my body!

Yep, time to get ready to run!

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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Whatifs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflections of joy

My 2010 New Year’s Resolution was to find a little bit of joy each day. I started a gallery so that I could post a picture of each day’s joyful finding because I knew it would force me to continue on with my resolution.

Now at the half-way mark, I’ve learned a lot about joy. You see, before I became Just Frances, I was one of those sickeningly happy people. Whilst I wasn’t happy every moment of every day, I was almost always upbeat and positive. I radiated joy and I laughed. I laughed a lot. But for the last 14+ months, I’ve struggled to be that happy person. I’m not depressed, I’m just no longer blissfully happy. Most days, I’m just sort of neutral. And some days, I’m incredibly sad. But, thankfully, some days I’m pretty happy.

I learned that joy can be difficult to find when there’s no one to share your day-to-day life with. Partly because you pay less attention to your surroundings when you can’t excitedly point them out to the person you love; partly because when there’s no one to share the joyful moments with, the stressful, mundane, or painful moments overshadow any joy that entered your life.

But I’ve also learned that if you allow yourself to reflect on your day and make yourself step back from the gloom to search for the joy, you’ll find something happy. And if you don’t allow yourself to take those moments for granted, you can almost hear them shouting at you to be noticed and appreciated.

Sometimes that little piece of joy is so overwhelming that you don’t even need to think to identify it:

February 26, 2010: A pint of beer in a pub in (Old) York with Mom and my in-laws. Happy happy, joy joy!

Sometimes that little piece of joy is so subtle, so hidden, that you have a hard time realizing it existed in the first instance:

April 18, 2010: A lazy Sunday on the couch reading a trashy novel, sipping tea, munching on fresh berries, and listening to Etta James. Joy!

Sometimes that little piece of joy comes when you need it most and it can brighten up even the bleakest of days:

April 20, 2010: I wasn’t quite sure where today’s joy would come from because it was so crazy at work. Late afternoon, I had to take a frantic and un-planned trip to another building on the other side of campus. As I got out of my car and quickly walked toward the building, a butterfly started to fly near me then landed on my arm and sat there for maybe 10 seconds before moving on. I stopped in my tracks, amazed at the simplistic beauty of the creature and felt this amazing smile come over my face. It calmed me down and really made the entire rest of my day joyful.

And sometimes that little piece of joy needs to be conjured up:

June 5, 2010: The peonies are blooming and I had to bring a couple inside to look at. Joy!

I know without a doubt that Paul wants me to be happy which helps me in my ongoing quest to find that happiness I lost when I lost him. I see glimpses of it every now-and-then and there are times when I can feel it wrapped around my very being. One day, I know it will be with me more often than not. One day, joy and happiness will radiate once more. And when it does, I will try not to take it for granted.

I’m a runner (?)

I’m a runner. Or at least I used to be a runner. Now I sort of fake it. But I hope that eventually I’ll remember that I used to love running.

I ran on the cross country team when I was in school and I was really, really good at it. Team sports were never my thing (disliking people didn’t help) and with running I could push myself and not have to worry about what my team mates were up to. It felt so great to just hit the pavement and go!

After we got married, Paul got into running too. Really got into it! Soon, we were running races together – we got to the point where we ran a short race (mostly 5Ks) about once a month. Of course, that wasn’t enough for Paul so he kept training and training and training. In fact, his first marathon was just a month away when he died. (He’d run two half-marathons already.)

[Check out the Ryan Road Race Record to see shirts from the races we ran!]

I stopped running when Paul died. It was nine months before I ran again. My re-entry to the sport was the annual Freeze Your Fanny 5K in Lewiston, Idaho, with my then 10-year-old nephew. It was his first-ever race. And he loved it! Two weeks later, he came back to run the Partners in Pain 5K with me in Spokane. I didn’t train for either race, and my times showed it!

I made it back to the gym toward the end of April and have been trying to get in shape and back into running. The 31st Annual Runner Stumbles race is taking place in my hometown 4th of July weekend and my now 11-year-old nephew will be running it with me. Paul and I always ran the 10K, but as I’ve not trained enough, I’ll be doing the 5K this year. It’s my third race without Paul, but my nephew is turning out to be a fantastic race partner so that helps.

I don’t know what it’s going to take to get me back to the days where I yearned to lace up and run, but I’m trying to find that passion again. It doesn’t help that every time I start feeling like running, I get sick and my platelet counts seem to drop, but they’re going strong at the moment so I’m taking advantage of it. I’ve told myself that I’m going to run before work tomorrow morning. Stay tuned to see if I’ve lied to myself… again!

And check out my new running photo gallery, “Run, Frances, Run“, to see  photos and shirts from recent races!

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!

To be blissfully happy

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

Desiderata
by Max Ehrmann

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to the gym

I found my way back to the gym today. It’s been just over a year since I last went and it felt a bit weird to be honest. Paul and I were runners and I tried to hit the gym 2-3 times a week before work then we’d run the Bill Chipman Trail or participate in a road race together on the weekends. After he died, I didn’t have the inclination to run or work out – and I certainly didn’t have the calorie intake to support physical activity anyhow!

In late January and early February, I did two 5K road races with my 10-year-old nephew – without a bit of training. I must say, my times were shameful and my body was extremely sore for a few days after each race. Obviously, both things are signs that I need to get in gear! (Not to mention that if I go much longer without taking care of myself, people will think I’m a bingo player!)

So, with my hometown “Runner Stumbles” 10K race coming up on July 4, I figured I’d best get in gear and get training. My nephew, who will be 11 by the time of the race, is already looking forward to it and assures me that he is training for the race. Apparently, he’s caught the running bug! I sometimes wonder if it’s because Uncle Paul was a runner… but I don’t know if he’d admit it!

Anyhow, I’m trying to get back in the habit of taking regular exercise as part of my renewed get-fit regime. I’ve been neglecting my health for a year now, and it’s time to get my backside in gear! What does this mean to you? Probably not much – other than having to read about my gym and running activities from time to time.

The signs point west

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

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

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

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

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

Music to my ears

I bought an iPod Classic in October because I was feeling down and shiny things normally cheer me up. I had it engraved with the last line from one of my favorite poems, Desiderata (by Max Ehrmann).

Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

Anyhow, the iPod will hold up to 40,000 songs and my goal is to fill it up. Well, today I noticed that I am at 10 percent capacity! How fantastic is that?

There are a total of 435 albums representing 24 genres. The top three genres are rock (102), alternative – which I define to include all new age and ska (76), and country (35).

I will slowly start working to digitalize (is that a word?) my vinyl collection (and my folks’ collection) which will certainly add to the number of rock albums and may even bring my jazz collection into a running for #3. (Now, if I would classify bluegrass, big band, jazz, and swing into one genre, it would certainly take the #2 spot – if not top billing.)

In addition to my amazingly eclectic music collection (Which, did I mention includes three albums from the Cle Elum Roslyn Elementary School’s Marimba band?) I have 416 Podcasts waiting to be listened to. They include 241 English language and grammar tips and lessons; 143 Scots Gaelic modules (I’ve been trying to learn for more than 10 years now); and 14 episodes of Johnathan Ross’ radio show. Yes, I really must get caught up!

I’m assuming you care about these little details of my life or you wouldn’t still be reading…