Coming soon…

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

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

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

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

And, most importantly: It’s coming soon!

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

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!

A first Friday tradition?

2013.01.04.first-friday-diningIt’s the first Friday of January, therefore the first Friday of the New Year. And a new year is an opportunity for a new start. So, I’ve decided to take advantage of this fact and start a new tradition for myself, since my partner-in-crime has moved away, thus ending the Friday Night Cocktails tradition.

The new tradition? Dinner out. Either alone or with friends. (Alone this time. But maybe some will join me in February.)

I hate dining alone—I always have—but I realise that I am alone now and I have to get used to that fact. Yes, I could just stay home and hide away from the world, but sometimes I feel that I need to face the world with bravery—despite my solitude. It was a bit awkward at first, as dining alone often is, but I was prepared with a positive attitude and a fully charged Kindle—complete with a trashy novel that I found for free on Amazon.

I think the hardest part of the evening was deciding where to go. I’d thought about going to a really nice place for a bit of fine dining, but that would have been the most difficult choice—especially since that’s where the happy, lovey-dovey couples were most likely to be. And I thought about going to a family dining place or maybe out for a nice curry, but that seemed a bit weird, too.

In the end, I decided to go to The City Walls. Its friendly atmosphere with little nooks-and-crannies seemed like the perfect place for my first foray into First Friday dinners. And it was OK. I sat in a wee corner—in a comfy chair near the fire—and I read my book whilst drinking a pint of Belhaven Best and munching on a plate of nachos. And I enjoyed myself.

More importantly, I didn’t feel awkward or out of place; which means that I’ll be more likely to go out for dinner on the first Friday in February, too. And I imagine that I might spend most of these dinners alone, but I hope that I can talk friends into joining me sometimes, too.

How about you? Are you starting any new traditions this year?

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!)

Only in my dreams

2012.12.29.only-in-my-dreamsThere is a man who appears in my dreams who isn’t Paul. In my dreams, we’re madly in love. And much like the widow dreams I still have, these dreams are different each time. Sometimes happy; sometimes sad. But always a dream; never a reality.

Sometimes, he’s all mine in those dreams; we’re a couple and we’re oh-so-happy. Sometimes we’re married. Sometimes we have children. Sometimes we’re on a first date. And sometimes we’re good friends who are just becoming more than that.

I like those dreams. I never want to wake up when I’m having them. They make my heart so happy all day long—even though I know it was only a dream that will never come true.

But sometimes in those dreams, he belongs to another and we are merely caught in the misfortunate place of wishing things were different. Sometimes I try to push him away but he continues to pursue me. Sometimes we acknowledge that we can’t be together and we part in tears. And sometimes I ask him to make a choice between me and his partner—and his response varies.

Those are the dreams that make me sad. I’m sad because I’ve dreamt of spending time with another woman’s partner. I’m sad because—even in my dreams—I can’t have the love I want. I’m sad because those feelings stick with me all day long. I feel guilty for having shared emotions with a man who’s already spoken for.

The worst thing is that these dreams break my heart. Over and over again, when I realise that they are only dreams and the man is only a shadow who visits me when I sleep, I am sad. I am sad that he’s not really here. I am sad that I can’t pick up the phone and call him. I’m sad that I only know him when I’m asleep.

And sometimes, when I’m out at the shops, I find myself wishing he would walk through the door. I find myself wishing he’d come and whisper in my ear, just like he does in my dreams.

I’m sure this puts me somewhere on the crazy scale. But certainly I can’t be the only person out there who dreams of a man who fills her heart with joy. And, who knows, sometimes dreams come true …

Only In My Dreams
by Just Frances

He walks in the room; my heart skips a beat
He glances at me; I blush and look away
His smile is infectious as he walks toward me
The gentle kiss he greets me with sends shivers down my spine
He brushes my hair off my face; I blush again
Our fingers entwined; we gaze into each other’s eyes
The conversation is easy; the laughter is flowing
He whispers in my ear; I blush some more
Hand in hand, we begin to leave; and I wake up
And he’s not there; he was only in my dreams

Bonus!

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

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

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

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

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

Downgraded

2012.11.30.downgradedRemember when I told you that I moved into a lovely new flat? And how I went on about how massive the place is?

Well, massive is great in the summer, but in the cold of the winter it means heating a lot of space. Which on its own isn’t bad, but when you’re sleeping in a cavernous bedroom with high(ish) ceilings and loads of space, it means that it takes a bit to heat up.

And that got me thinking: Why do I need to spend all of that money heating up the largest bedroom in the flat when it’s just little ol’ me. Wouldn’t it make more sense to move into the small bedroom?

OK, the large bedroom has a double bed where the small one only has a twin but, again, it’s just little ol’ me and I tend not to toss and turn so a twin bed is plenty big enough.

With this in mind, last night I switched the radiator off in the large room and on in the small one, then snuggled into the twin bed and went to sleep.

And I was toasty warm the whole night through. No, I was a bit too warm. Which meant that I didn’t need to use the second duvet. It was so very nice!

So, I have downgraded my sleeping arrangements for the winter. Or maybe in a sense it’s an upgrade since it’s a warmer and more comfortable sleeping situation.

Oh! And that means that I now have a spare double bedroom for guests. So if any married (or otherwise coupled) friends want to visit, there’s loads of space! Don’t worry—I’ll turn the radiator back on for you!

The master

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

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

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

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

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

Thanksgiving expertise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, I have much to be thankful for.

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

New leaves

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

Oops, did you catch that error?

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

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

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

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

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

Peachy-keen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Low, but lucky

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Writer’s cramp

AJER3MAFNB4F

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

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

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

But I digress…

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

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

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

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

To bead or not to bead

When I moved into my new flat last weekend, I was excited to see that the previous tenant (and my good friend!) left behind a large pile of crafty stuff for me. I took a quick peek at the time and was excited to see that there were skeins and skeins of yarn and loads and loads of beads—in addition to other crafty bits-and-bobs.

Anyhow, I finally got around to going through the treasures with a bit more attention and can’t believe the amount of goodies that have been left behind.

In addition to the yarn and general craft supplies, there are beads and beads and more beads. There are beading pliers and other such tools. There are various bits of jewellery wires and hooks and doodads. And there are loads of other bits and pieces that I don’t even recognise.

Best of all—there is a box of books and magazines all about beading. Which means I might actually be able to make something with all of these goodies.

And, as those of you who knew me back in the day will recall, I do love making my own jewellery. So, um yeah, this could be fun!

Tasty tater tot casserole

Tater tot casserole has got to be one of the world’s most yummiest, tastiest comfort foods—ever! I love it. I crave it. I gobble it up at warp-speed! But they don’t really have tater tots in the UK, so it’s a hard dish to make.

I can hear you asking now: What? No tater tots? I thought the UK was a first-world nation?!

Yeah, well, not when it comes to pre-formed frozen potato treats. Or, at least not when it comes to tater tots, since they do have other forms of pre-formed frozen potato treats. And it seems that the low-end, discount freezer stores tend to have a variety of potato treats that—whilst not perfect—come pretty close to tater tots. At least close enough to work for tater tot casserole.

And since I stumbled upon a bag of such treats at Iceland yesterday—with bits of bacon in them, no less!—I figured it was a good excuse to have some yummy comfort food.

Oh, and if you’re from the UK and don’t know what I’m talking about—or if you’re from the States and have led a sad, sad, sheltered life—here’s a recipe for you!

Tater tot casserole

Begin cooking the tater tots as per the bags instructions. At the same time, defrost and partially heat the vegetables (drain if needed) and brown the beef.

When the tots are nearly cooked, reserved 12-20 to the side then mix all ingredients together in a casserole dish. Place remaining tots on top, then return casserole to oven (at the same temperature as the tots) for 15-30 minutes—or until heated through.

Now, go and enjoy! And then make it again and again and enjoy it again and again!

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!

Bloody Scotland; bloody fabulous

There is a fabulous literary festival in Stirling this weekend, and I’ve managed to catch a bit of it today. Bloody Scotland celebrates the amazing crime writers in Scotland and (for what little I’ve seen) it’s bloody fabulous!

It’s the kind of event that I’d love to spend an entire weekend enjoying, but between moving into my new flat today and a 10K road race tomorrow, I’ve only been able to manage one event—Deadlier than the Male. I wasn’t quite certain what to expect because—to be honest—I haven’t read any books by the panel. But after hearing Karin Fossum and Val McDermid speak, I have decided what my next Kindle purchases will be!

I think that my favourite part about the talk, however, was the motivation it’s given me to get back into my own writing. Hearing the authors speak with so much energy about the process was invigorating. Further, hearing them talk about the time and dedication you have to be willing to commit to the process made me realise that I’ve been a bit lazy at doing that. (Well, in fairness, I think much of that has been because I’ve been busy with my dissertation.)

Of course, because I was too chicken to go alone, I ended up tagging along with a woman I’ve met through another friend—and she invited me to go along to a wee reception as well (it’s nice to know people who rub elbows with people I want to rub elbows with!). Anyhow, the reception meant that I got to speak with a couple of people about the creation of the event, which was kind of cool.

I have a 10K race in the morning, but I am now thinking that I need to go back up to the festival when I’m done so that I can try to see another event or two—assuming there are tickets remaining. Of course, that’s also assuming I have the energy since I’m a bit exhausted from the weekend’s events already.

And, with that, I suppose I’ll head off to bed so that I can be up in time for tomorrow’s race.

New digs

Today is moving day! Which means I’m kind of busy. Which means just a short post to share a video tour of the new digs. I had meant to do that last night, since I did a walk through of the place after work yesterday, but video editing issues meant that I didn’t get around to it. Video editing issues also mean that you don’t get a tour of the master bedroom, but I figured that’s OK since that’s my personal space.

But, I have to go haul stuff down to the car now. Talk to you soon!

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.]

August under budget

At the start of August, I shared with you my plans to develop a strict grocery budget of £200 per month. And now I’m pleased to say I’ve come in under budget by £20! The best part about it, however, is that I’ve still eaten really well. No, wait. The best part is that I’m starting September with a freezer full of food leftover from August, meaning I’m on track for another under-budget month!

And not only did I eat really well, but I shared several of my meals with others because I love to have people over for dinner! And as I look at all the food that’s still in the cupboards and freezer, I can see how I could stretch it to feed a family of four on about the same budget. Of course, if I put beer, wine, and spirits on a different budget line, I’d be able to feed a family of four without worries.

Some of the things I did to keep my budget down was to shop about an hour before Marks & Spencer’s Food Hall closed, then I’d seek out the coveted ‘yellow discount’ stickers so that I could design cheap meals. I also worked really hard to use up leftovers right away, which meant cooking up pots of soup or pasta dishes that went directly into the freezer. It really did make a difference on the amount of food waste I created, too. And happily, it made for some pretty good throw-together concoctions!

So, what happens with the leftover £20? Well, £10 will go into my savings account and £10 will get added to my September entertainment budget. And who knows, maybe I’ll have an even bigger savings at the end of this month!

Boxes from home

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

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

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

So, from Royann I got:

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

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

The latest box from them included:

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

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

What did they send? Well:

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

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

Payday treats

Today is payday! I’m so excited because it’s my first payday in more than a year and it’s so fantastic to see my bank balance to up for a change, after watching it steadily decline over the last year.

I’m lucky in that I haven’t needed a pay cheque because I worked so hard at saving up for this crazy year of postgraduate study, but those savings weren’t going to last forever—or even for the rest of 2012! So, I’m very thankful to have found a wonderful job that can help re-build my bank balance.

Of course, a first pay cheque deserves a celebratory purchase, so I’ll have to sort that out soon, too. I’d seen a fabulous, funky set of vintage late-1960s dishes at a charity shop about a month ago and told myself that if they were still there on payday that would be my treat. But they were gone when I went back so now I need a new plan. I don’t know what that will be yet, but it will be some sort of a little treat. I am happy to take suggestions for ways to treat myself so feel free to share your thoughts!

I know it’s not much money, but it’s another step toward my future and that makes me happy.

A 10K and a curry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Virtually friends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Braving it alone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Found things

I like shiny things and pretty things and interesting things. And often, as I’m walking down the road, I’ll stop to pick these little things up. In fact, when I’m on an outing or holiday, I almost dedicate myself to finding something shiny or pretty or interesting. Then, when I get home, I pile them all up in a pretty container.

I began collecting little tid-bits when I arrived back in Scotland last summer and kept them neatly pilled on a dresser in my bedroom until I found a bowl that would work to hold them all.

The bowl doesn’t have much in it at the moment: A couple of marbles I’ve found when out-and-about; some sea glass from Aberdour; a shell from Seaton Carew; a couple of pebbles from my recent visit to the Highlands; and a couple other random finds.

By the time the bowl is full, I imagine I won’t remember the story behind every little pretty thing. But that’s OK because I’ll still be able to look at the overflowing contents and I’ll know that each of those things brought me a bit of joy once, and together they’ll serve as a reminder that—no matter how grumpy or sad I may be at times—I’ve led a pretty happy life, filled with moments of joy.

Each pebble, shell, marble, or random tid-bit represents a bit if joy. And it makes me happy to know that I have a bowl that is slowly filling up with more and more moments of joy; joy that was found when I didn’t even know I was looking for it.

A favoured snack

I have been a good girl all day. I had an oat bar and grapes for breakfast; leftover chicken and potatoes for lunch; and a big, healthy Caesar salad for dinner. Yes—loads of good-for-you foods. And I even had lots and lots of water (and only one cup of coffee) throughout the day.

But I’ve gone and ruined all of that healthiness by making one of my favourite snacks (and pouring a glass of wine). Worse, I’ve had more than my fair share of the snack. (But only one glass of wine.)

The snack is Chicken in a Biskit crackers smeared with cream cheese and topped with pimento-stuffed green olives. And they are delicious!*

The recipe (if you can call it that) was first introduced to our family by my second-eldest sister, Claudia, who learned of the snack from someone she used to babysit for. I was in my early teens, but it quickly became a favourite. I mean, it helped that I already liked all three ingredients separately, so putting them together seemed like a good idea to me!

Anyhow, it’s one of those snacks that I like to have from time-to-time. Sometimes when I’m sick and just want yummy snacks, and other times it’s just because I like them. But you can’t get Chicken in a Biskit crackers in the UK. So when my baby sister, Royann, asked what she could send me, they were on the list!**

So, now I get to have one of my favourite snacks. And I suppose I need to have them every evening until I’m out of crackers now, since they’ll go stale now that the box has been opened. (Oh, life is hard some days!)

I’ve also just realised that my snack doesn’t have a name. I just call them Chicken in a Biskit crackers with cream cheese and olives. And that means that I’m going to open up the topic for discussion and ask you what you think the snack should be called!

* I used to use a whole olive on each cracker (cut in half) but now I slice the olives into 3 (1 olive = 1.5 crackers) so that I have a little bit less sodium. One day, I may need to start cutting them into 4!

** I will re-visit the topic of stuff Royann sent me soon, so stay tuned to find out how awesome she is!

Sing a song

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

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

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

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

I know—my lyrics leave something to be desired!

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

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

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

Yes, I am that kind of crazy.

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

(K)impossible

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

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

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

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

Heigh-ho, heigh-ho

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

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

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

I HAVE A JOB!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What it doesn’t mean is that I will:

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

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

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

Summer holidays

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

%%wppa%% %%slide=37%%

Escaping to the hermitage

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

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

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

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

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

%%wppa%% %%slide=36%%

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

Spent pennies

As you may know, I like to save all of my ‘spare’ change so that I can cash it in for something fun and frivolous. So when I am out shopping, I never give the cashier exact change, I keep those jingly-jangly coins to feed my coin jar! (And if you’ve ever wondered, that’s where the pennies I pinch from the pavement end up, too!)

Anyhow, after nearly a year of collecting, I cashed in £94 worth of coins today. (That’s about $148, if you wondered.) And there’s still about £15 left in the jar as a starter fund, since there weren’t enough to bag up in all the right denominations*.

After heading to the bank to deposit the coins, I made my way to Falkirk so that I could spend my money! (That was the first £3.50 of my money spent!)

The rest of the money was spent as follows:

A new paper cutter for making my swirl cards: £19.99 (sub-total: £23.49)

Three bottles of Washington State wines from Chateau Ste Michelle: £9.99×3=£29.97 (sub-total: £53.46)

Two pretty new dresses from the 50% off sale rack: £20 and £21 (sub-total: £94.46)

OK! You got me: I went 46p over budget. But I’m going to let that slide since the dresses aren’t really frivolous. They are a practical purchase and will be put to use starting once this week’s holiday is over. (Are you starting to feel a theme to my sometimes-cryptic posts?)

Oh! And you could also argue that the paper cutter isn’t frivolous, since I hope to put that to use for making and selling cards.

The wine, however, is purely for fun.

* In the UK they use little plastic baggies for coins instead of the paper rolls we use in the States. It makes it harder to keep them tidy, but it’s a heck of a lot easier to bag than it is to roll! 

Gadget Girl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Gadget Day, everyone!

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

A poetic starter

Since I turned in my dissertation draft yesterday, I’ve decided that I am going to take a week’s holiday to rest and unwind before I have to start working on edits for the final version. So, in between now and July 31, I am on holiday! Which basically just means I’m going to go and do fun things for the next week.

And that started today with a trip to Edinburgh.

Way back in May, my cousin Rita was in Scotland as part of a tour group and we spent a day in Edinburgh together. Only two of the things on her list of ‘things to see’ weren’t open (or planted) that day. So I promised her I would return on her behalf. And I decided to start my holidays by following through with that promise!

The first stop was the Scottish Poetry Library. Rita is a librarian, and had been excited about the idea of seeing the place. I don’t know if I would have gone without her prompting, but I’m glad I did because it’s always fun (and educational!) to do new things.

If I’m completely honest, I’m not really ‘into’ poetry, but there are a few poems and poets that I like—mostly because they make me giggle. (Yes, Shel Silverstein—I’m talking about you!) So, today’s goal was to randomly(ish) find something I liked. To do that, I picked out books the piqued my interest—either by their title or typeset—then I flicked through them.

And just as I was about to give up, I tried one last book and I finally found what I was looking for! I know it’s short, but it made me smile very much, and that’s what poetry should do!

A Cat Called Slumber
by Adrian Mitchell (found in ‘Blue Coffee’, pg 63)

In the middle of the night appears
My day-shy tabby with collapsable ears
And I stroke her ears so those ears collapse
And she purrs to say that she loves me, perhaps…

After the library, I wandered over to Princes Street Gardens to have a look at the Floral Clock which was being planted when Rita was visiting. But, I’m pleased to say, it was fully planted—and fully working—when I arrived today. Apparently, the theme is London 2012.

Anyhow, it was a successful trip into the city. And the weather was fabulous which just added to the enjoyment of the day. In fact, the weather was so fabulous that I left the house without an umbrella or a jacket and didn’t regret it once! And better than that, it was so fabulous that I bought an ice cream and sat in the gardens for a spell before catching the train home. Bliss!

I wonder what the rest of my holiday week will hold …

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!

Hair today

Today I’m going to give a bit of a rave. It’s kind of about how awesome my hair looks, but really it’s more about how it got looking this awesome.

Those who know me know that I rarely get my hair cut more than once a year. Not because I’m against having it done, it’s just that I don’t really think about it. I mean, it’s just hair. Right? But I’ve (almost) always gotten my hair cut before a holiday or other big happenings.

Anyhow, I don’t have any holidays planned, but I do have a big happening planned. And this big happening is something that I want to look fabulous for. No, I’m not talking about a date. And no, I’m not going to tell you about my big happening. But I will tell you soon enough. How’s that for a cliff hanger?

So, I made an appointment at Two’s Company Hairdressing to have Malcolm make me look pretty (contact details below). And, as he did when I was there back in February, he did!

Only this time I was more impressed than the first time. Not because it was a better cut, but because—despite the fact that it had been six months since my last visit—he remembered me and the fact that I was a master’s student and a runner. And it’s a bit nice to be remembered, especially when you feel like a small town redneck lost in the big city.

And not only that, but he was nice and chatty and when I told him about my big happening, he was keen to make sure my hair would be fab for it. Oh! And because my hair is rather long and thick, he enlisted a second stylist to help dry it before he put it up in Velcro rollers for a spell. I felt like such a celebrity having two people working on my hair!

The results were gorgeous—and educational as Malcolm took the time to give me tips on how to set my hair in rollers, since I’ve been failing in my own attempts. Even better is that he thinks that (as long as I don’t go for a run!) my hair might last until my big happening!

Now, I fully admit that my lack of skill means that it won’t look this fabby again (well, until I get it cut next) but I can already tell that it’s going to look great even when I don’t do anything to it!

Yay! for pretty hair!

Two’s Company Hairdressers is located in Stirling at 1A Livilands Gate. If you’re local, give them a shout! (UK: 01786 461610)

Note: I have not received anything in exchange for this post. I am just a happy client and felt that they deserved a public kudos.

And now for a wee Dissertation Month update:

Current word count: 3,244 (only 8,756 to go and I’m not done for the day!)

Tomorrow’s task list:

  • Write, write, write! (A friend from my course is coming over for a work party.)
  • Review current Ofcom and Pew Research stats on Internet use
  • Get ready for my big happening

Words about me

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

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

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

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

Just Frances in Just Words

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

Patriotism abroad

Today is Independence Day in America. It is the day when the nation celebrates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. As a proud American, this is one of my favourite holidays (tying with Thanksgiving). It is a day when we, as a nation, celebrate what it means to be American. We celebrate our independence from the United Kingdom, but mostly we celebrate our freedoms and our rights.

All across the land people hold parades and have barbeques. They set off fireworks and they gather to honour those who fought and died to ensure our independence—and those who continue to fight and die to ensure our freedoms remain intact.

This is my first time being outside of America for Independence Day. And it’s weird. It feels as if the day isn’t really happening, even though in my heart I know it is. To be honest, I was a little sad that the day was passing without acknowledgement (well, I did get two text messages wishing me a happy day). But then Rebecca showed up for a quick visit on her way home from work—with an American flag and a pack of flag napkins. So, I did spend a bit of time being a flag-waving American.

Yes, I am a patriotic American. Despite choosing to be an expat. Despite loving Scotland and wanting to live here for the foreseeable future. Despite my occasional disagreement with the way my home country is run. I am an American and I am proud of it.

And now, as promised as part of Dissertation Month, here’s a wee update:

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

That’s right, no increase in the word count. It was a busy day with reading though, and I managed to create my library list for tomorrow, too! (And I managed a 4.67 mile run. Yay!)

Tomorrow’s task list:

  • Go to the library for more books
  • Expand literature review section
  • Make an appointment for a hair cut

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!

Swirl research

As you know, I like to swirl. It’s a relaxing pastime and I find it extremely helpful when I need to unwind for a spell.

I’ve been sharing my completed swirls with family and friends on Facebook and I’ve been amazed at how many people tell me that they really like them. In fact, I’ve been amazed at how often it’s been suggested that I try to sell them.

And so, I’ve decided to try that in the form of swirl note cards. Which means I’ve prepared a stack of samples to send off to family and friends in the hope of receiving some honest feedback about the quality as well as their thoughts on pricing.

It’s weird because this is the first time I’ve seriously thought about selling something I’ve made. And even weirder because I still can’t understand why everyone likes my swirls so much. I mean, they’re just scribbles that I do when I’m bored or stressed. Still, I like to please my public whenever I can!

What does this mean for you? Well, it means that in the next few weeks you might be able to buy a set of swirl cards from me. But please know that I’m not going to push that on anyone! When they’re ready, I’ll let you know. Buy them; don’t buy them. Totally up to you!

Wow. I feel like a little entrepreneur all of the sudden. (I hope Hallmark is ready for this awesome bit of competition!)

A door to nature

Over the past few months, I have realised just how much I miss having my very own front door; a door that I can open up to the great outdoors.

You see, for most of my life I’ve lived in detached, single-family homes. Homes where external doors opened to nature—not a stair case that led you down a flight (or more!) of stairs to yet another door. For most of my life, I’ve been able to walk out my front door and sit down on the porch or in the garden and soak in the sun. I could sit there sipping my coffee in the mornings—or my cocktail in the evenings—whilst surrounded by Mother Nature’s design.

But now, I only have windows to open to nature. If I want to sit outside and enjoy my morning coffee, I have to walk down several flights of stairs. And even then, I don’t have a private garden; I’d have to sit on the front steps of my building.

It is actually a hard adjustment to make. Much harder than I would have thought. In fact, I think that not having that easy access to nature has added to my feelings of gloom at times. I mean, there is something that lifts my spirits when I’m outside and when I’m feeling low and can’t find the energy to go into town, I miss out on the fresh air nature would provide. Certainly, I don’t think that a door to nature is the cure for all that ails me, but I do think that it would help. At least a little bit.

This realisation has led me to the decision that, if I find a job and get to stay on in Scotland, I will need to find a new place to live. Somewhere with a private garden. Somewhere with a door that takes me directly to nature. Somewhere that I can sit outside and relax after a hard day’s work—or cool down after a long run. Now, I just need to find a job so that I can start looking for a new flat!

Yes, a door to nature. That’s what I want. And a job.

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!

Big noise means big fun

I had big fun tonight at The Big Noise’s Big Concert in Raploch. OK, I got wet and cold because it is summer time in Scotland and that means wind and rain—I mean really, really wet. But the music more than made up for the weather. Thankfully, the rain let up for the second half which meant that I dried out a bit and it really did make for an enjoyable ending to a great evening.

But I don’t want to talk about tonight; I want to talk about The Big Noise because they are doing big things and I’m very excited about it!

Here’s the deal:

Big Noise is an orchestra programme that aims to use music making to foster confidence, teamwork, pride and aspiration in the children taking part – and across their wider community. It is based on the methods of Venezuela’s “El Sistema” movement and is run by the charity Sistema Scotland.
[Text from Big Noise’s website.]

So, basically, they take a load of kids who live in economically depressed areas (in this case, Raploch) and they give them an amazing opportunity to transform their lives through music. And, in fact, an opportunity to transform a community through music. And it’s working. It’s really, really working. In fact, it’s working so well that there are more groups in the works for other bits of Scotland and the Raploch group is working with the Stirling Council to ensure continued funding.

More than that, it’s working so well that 450 children ranging from pre-school to 13 are finding passion through music. They are working together and the community is behind them with support and energy—as evident by the massive crowd that showed up tonight and braved the horrid weather to listen to these amazing kids play.

Wow! I am just in awe over the dedication shown by everyone involved!

Oh! And a special shout-out today for my parents who are celebrating 43 years of marriage. Wow! I am just in awe over their dedication to each other!

The bestest Daddy

I didn’t have the perfect childhood. I didn’t have perfect parents. I didn’t grow up with money or material possession that caused envy of those around me. But I did have a childhood filled with love and laughter. OK, there were tears and stress, too, but even during the bad times I always felt loved; if not slightly lost and forgotten in such a large family.

But even though life wasn’t perfect growing up, I honestly believe that I had (and still have!) the bestest Daddy in the whole wide world!

Growing up, he was a wealth of knowledge. As we’d drive along the highway for some fantastic road trip, he’d point out sites along the route and tell us about this, that, or the next amazing thing we were looking at. He just knew things. And not in a know-it-all kind of way—he really knew things. His mind was (is!) a sponge.

He was perfectly happy to make a fool of himself and play with us girls. I remember one family sing-song night when he got up and sang Rock Around the Clock—complete with dance moves! I can’t hear that song without thinking of my Daddy now.

As a child, he fixed my (many) cuts and scrapes—and encouraged me to go back out and collect a few more. After all, bruises heal and kids need to play! When I was a teenager, he taught me to drive—and didn’t get mad when I turned too wide and scraped the car on the guardrail. When I was in my mid-20s and decided to go to university, he supported my decision and cheered me on.

When I got married in my early-30s, he walked me down the aisle, and soon after acted as a reference for our adoption application. A couple of years later, he held my hand and comforted me as I planned my husband’s funeral.

When I became a foster mom, he happily became a grandpa—treating my little friend just as he would have if she was blood. When I was training for my marathon, he was there showing his support by riding along on my longer runs to supply me with water. (And waking up very early to do so!)

When I decided to return to Scotland, he was there supporting me all the way. And he’s still there with words of support and encouragement—and acts as my personal assistant, opening my US-based mail and sorting my banking needs as required.

Now, I know that these are just the things that Daddies are meant to do, but he’s managed to make me feel like his favourite and most important daughter in the whole wide world—even when there are six of us. And I would venture to guess, that he’s made all of my sisters feel as if they are the favourite and most important daughter. Because my Daddy has so much love to share that he’s never had to skimp on it with any of us girls. And that is what makes my Daddy the bestest in the world.

Happy Father’s Day!

Oh yeah, and it’s my sister Claudia’s 40th birthday today. Yay for her! I hope that she has a year filled with all of the joys and blessings that she deserves!

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!]

Sunny days

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

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

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

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

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

Yay! for sunny days!

A mini-reunion and a catch-up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Swirls for Amy

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

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

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

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

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

Memory sparks

Triboluminescence is awesome! It used to entertain me as a child and it still entertains me as an adult. Or, to translate into Plain English: It’s awesome when you crunch on a Wint-O-Green Life Savers and it makes sparks!

That sounds like a random statement, doesn’t it? So let me back up so that you know how I got here.

Several weeks ago I bought a pack of minty Polos from a vending machine. As I popped the first one into my mouth, I was instantly reminded of how we used to enjoy WoG Life Savers as children because of the sparks.

So I posted my random memory on Facebook and enjoyed the back-and-forth comments from friends who 1) always thought it was an urban myth; 2) recalled with joy making sparks of their own; or 3) asked what Life Savers were (they’re America’s answer to Polos).

And then Mom offered to send me some.

And they arrived with an Easter parcel a few weeks ago.

And tonight, I finally broke the bag open.

And I went into the bathroom and closed the door (with the lights off).

And I chomped on a Life Savers.

And I smiled. A lot.

Now the challenge will be to not eat them all so that I can share them with my friends who never had the joy of making Life Saver sparks as children. But I bet they’ll enjoy making them as grownups!

How about you? Do you remember making Life Savers sparks when you were a kid?

Dusty books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Desiderata way of life

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

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

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

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

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

The Desiderata
by Max Ehrmann

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Heirloom tear drops

Growing up, I always loved to borrow my Mom’s clothing and accessories—the old stuff. I loved her funky dresses and jewellery from the 1960s and 70s, and often dreamed of one day owning it all.

I was elated when, as a teenager, she finally gave me an old handbag of hers from when she was in high school. It was the first bag in my vintage collection and remains a favourite to this day. I wore her flowing gowns (more often than she may know!) and flashed my bedazzled fingers that were loaded with funky rings. And the bracelets and necklaces—oh my! I even wore her wedding dress when I got married!

Slowly but surely, I’ve become the owner of some of these bits and bobs. So today I thought I’d share one of my favourites with you! And it goes beyond Mom, too, which is cool.

So, here’s the story as told in the letter that I got when I received this amazing set:

Frances,

‘Tis the year for re-gifting! Actually, this is a piece of history. Your grandmother had this necklace and earring set in high school. She wore it several times as I was growing up. In 1970, I had a new lace outfit for the Marine Corps Ball and needed a blue necklace to compliment it. I requested to borrow this set and Mom sent it to me. She told me I could keep it because she didn’t use it anymore. I have now chosen to give it to you. I know you’ll use and cherish this set.

Enjoy!

Love,
Mom

I have worn the set on several occasions over the past few years. The last time I wore it was for the last professional portraits Paul and I had taken together. I love them so much and hope that I’m able to find an occasion to wear them again. (Anyone want to take me out for a nice dinner?)

Oh, and Mom, I can still fit into that lace outfit you wore in 1970. You and I both know that I will give it a good and loving home. You know my address when you’re ready to pass it along …

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!

An Easter reflection

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

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

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

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

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

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

Egg-teastic!

I’ve had an eggteastic day making Easter tea eggs. (Get it? Eggteastic. Like eggtastic only tea instead of ta. No? OK, moving on…)

So, about these Easter tea eggs: I have wanted to attempt making tea eggs for a couple of years now but haven’t managed until now. I decided that Easter was a good time to attempt them since I wanted some eggs for the holiday but I felt that dying boiled eggs on my own—and with no one to hide them for—might be a bit sad.

I did a bit of research and found several recipes that I felt I could follow, but since I don’t really follow recipes, I just used the others as guides. (This one served as my main guide, if you’re wondering.) Below is a wee photo guide for my version of tea eggs. I started simple this time, but will add spices next time.

%%wppa%% %%slide=32%%

Over the next couple of days I will use these for devilled eggs and potato salad. I’m egg-cited (get it?) to see how the added flavour enhances some of my favourite egg dishes.

My Good Friday

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

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

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

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

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

Paper bird of happiness

When I boarded the bus today, I was met by a pretty little origami crane that was perched on the seat next to me. It had been made with someone’s bus ticket and it looked very much like it was there for someone to find.

I picked it up and held it in my hand, marvelling at not only how well it was made, but at how such a silly, simple little thing could bring me so much happiness. I wanted to take it away with me but I felt that someone else might enjoy a smile, too. Then I thought that I’d take it to the library with me and leave it for someone to find there. (Even though I really wanted to keep it for myself.)

As I sat admiring the little bird, a very pregnant woman and her wee boy boarded the bus and sat behind me. The boy was in a bit of a fussy mood and his mum was trying her best to brighten his day. So I turned around and showed him the pretty bird and asked if he’d like to have it. His face beamed when his mum said that would be OK.

Of course, that meant that I was left without a bird. But, thanks to the wonders of the Internet, I was able to find instructions to make my own. Maybe I’ll practice a bit and one day I’ll be good enough to leave pretty birds behind for others to enjoy.

Whisky hearts

Normally, an empty whisky bottle means a cork without a job. But not today. No, today I decided to rescue the cork from my empty bottle of Glenmorangie and carve it up a bit with my pocket knife. (A tool that every good redneck always has on hand.)

I didn’t have any ink pads (sadly, my craft supplies couldn’t make the journey to Scotland with me) but I had some cheap markers that I thought would work as a pigment, and I think the results are a success.

OK, I know it’s a bit silly and childish, but it entertained me. And it means that I have a pretty little heart-shaped stamp to add to my slowly-growing craft box. I think I’ll save up a few more corks to make some other shapes, too—stars, dots, horse shoes, etc. I don’t know what I’ll do with them all, but they’ll be a bit of rainy day entertainment at the very least.

(Other ideas for cheap and easy craft ideas are always welcome!)

Your challenge: Write a letter!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy writing!

Spring break

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

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

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

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

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

Happy spring break, everyone!

Chinese jacks

Today’s post is a random memory and a bit of a musing about Chinese jacks. So, let’s go!

Chinese jacks, for those who don’t know, are these awesome little plastic ring things that kids would clip together in the 1980s for playing, well, Chinese jacks. But we’d also use them for Hopscotch markers and necklaces or other bits of jewellery.

They were fun and bright and silly. All of the sorts of things I love. We had loads and loads of them when we were kids. Some were pastel, others were bright, and others were neon. There were even translucent ones. I remember sitting there clipping them together in little sets, or stringing them together as chains and bracelets. But what I don’t remember is what happened to them. Where did they all go? Have they been thrown away after all of this time, or are they somewhere at my folks’ house, stashed away in a box?

I guess that’s it. I don’t really have much more to say about them, I just thought that I’d let you know I was thinking about them.

[Note: This video is not meant as an endorsement. I have no relationship with the company portrayed and am not in a position comment on them or their products.]

Of course, this all reminds me of those plastic charm necklaces we had back in the 80s, too. Yeah, they were, like, so awesome. Like, you know, totally radical, dude.

I wonder what today’s kids will reflect on when they’re my age…

Summer is near

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

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

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

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

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

Running around

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Swirls, old and new

Back in August I was finishing up a swirl drawing at my folks’ house. I had left my work-in-progress on the coffee table and whilst I was out, my 14-year-old niece, Ivanna, stopped by to visit her grandparents. When I returned my parents told me how Ivanna was mesmerised by the drawing, studying it intensely. She even mentioned that it would make a good tattoo.

I finished the drawing the day before I left for Scotland, and wrote a letter to Ivanna on the back. I asked Dad to scan it for me before passing it on, but he forgot. And that meant I didn’t have a copy of the finished piece, which was a bit of a bummer. But I knew that Ivanna was happy to own it (an excited email told me so!), so I decided that was more important than anything else.

But I asked Dad to scan some tax documents for me yesterday and he decided that since he was scanning, he may as well grab the drawing and scan that, too.

So, here it is for your enjoyment!

Oh! And here’s a new one I’m working on. It’s the butterfly swirl I mentioned before and is going to be the swirl I use for the winner from my anniversary contest. (More on that later!)

Pinching pennies

As I walked to the bus stop today, I stooped to pick up a two pence coin. It took two seconds—tops. But it made me smile for several moments. It also got me thinking more about the stigma some people put on the act (art?) of picking up loose coins found on the ground.

Then I started to think about the money I’ve found recently and I smiled even more as I realised just how fast it adds up. Then I started to do more maths. My initial calculations were based on a one-second retrieval rate which would equate to a time value of £36 per hour. (I’m not the only penny pincher who thought this was a fair rate, though I also found an argument for the paltry value of £2.40 based on a 15-second retrieval rate.)

However, I had a re-think and decided to give a two-second average retrieval rate because sometimes you do need to step out of your way for collection. So, I propose that picking up pennies found on the ground has a time value of £18 per hour.

And that’s assuming you only ever find pennies. But I quite often find silver coins, too. (Evidence: 11¢ find; Nickel find.) And sometimes, I even find paper money! So a two-second stoop-and-scoop can be far more profitable!

But for the maths, let’s stick to pennies and the two-second pick-up rate. If we accept the £18 per hour value and attribute that to a full-time job, you’d be on an annual salary of around £37,400.

Which makes me wonder: Why is there such a stigma to picking up pennies? I mean £37,400 is nothing to sneeze at when you realise that the 2011 median income was £26,200 (USA 2010 median: $26,364).

[Note: If you’re picking up American or Canadian pennies, the maths are the same; just swap out the £ symbol for a $ symbol.]

How about you? Are you a penny pincher? Do you smirk with glee at those little bits of glimmering money? Or maybe you’re not driven by the monetary reward. In that case, maybe you can think of pennies as a small gift from the universe. Or maybe coin-hunting can be that kooky way to bond with your family. Or if you’d rather, you can just walk past the coin and let someone like me pick it up. That would be OK, too!

Freedom of the City

My day started out pretty lazy and I didn’t have plans of leaving the flat until early afternoon. But then I learned that there was a military pipe and drum band making their way through town. Which meant that I needed to get dressed and get a move on my day. And I’m so glad that I did!

The reason for the parade was that the Royal Regiment of Scotland was given the the honour of The Freedom of the City of Stirling. [Read the BBC’s story about the event here.] And since you weren’t able to be there to see it (or were you there and I missed you?) I’m sharing the video I made of the event. Yay!

After the parade finished, I made my way through the Stirling Farmers’ Market to pick up some fresh produce, buffalo steaks, and a bit of smoked cheddar. I even ran into someone from one of my classes and had a nice chat. It’s always nice to run into people I know!

So, now I guess I need to return to my weekend of rest. Yep, it would seem that I have a low platelet count after last weekend’s cold. For those counting, the count was 13. But don’t worry, I’m sure they’re on the upswing again.

Swirl-flies

So I spent the past weekend on the couch dying of the common cold. OK, I wasn’t dying, but I wasn’t feeling too great, either. However, all that time convalescing meant time spent swirling!

I’ve got a couple of swirls on the go at the moment—including a blue one that [finally] nearing completion and one for the winner of my anniversary contest who asked that I donate the finished piece. (You have to wait for details on that, sorry!) And I will soon be starting a new swirl for an amazingly awesome woman I know.

But all this swirling got me thinking that I wanted to expand my abilities a bit. I still want to do swirls; I just want to make them a bit more… I don’t know… something. So I’ve decided to create a butterfly swirl.

Generally, I completely free-hand my swirls, but I felt that I needed to pre-sketch the butterfly to make sure each side was even. The next step will be to colour in the swirls of the butterfly before free-hand swirling the rest of the piece.

I am a little bit concerned that a symmetrical focal point surrounded by random swirls might make it a bit unbalanced, but it might work. And if it doesn’t, that’s OK because I have a couple of other ideas on how to incorporate butterflies into the swirls.

Oh yeah, I also spent quite a bit of time reading and doing academic-y stuff. I’m a good girl like that.

Moleskine inspirations

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

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

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

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

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

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

YouTube trails

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which lead me to a song about butterfly kisses…

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

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

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

I [heart] root beer

I love root beer. I really, really do. It’s my fizzy soft drink of choice and I could drink barrels and barrels of the stuff.

Sadly, root beer isn’t readily available in Scotland. I heard a rumour that it used to be sold in UK McDonalds outlets, but I guess it didn’t sell very well so they gave up on it. And that means that it’s nearly impossible to find the stuff.

A few weeks ago I decided that I would make a trip into Edinburgh to pick up some A&W Root Beer from Lupe Pinto’s import shop. Yes, it’s a bit silly to make such a long trip for root beer, but I’ve been desperate. I mean, it’s been more than six months since I’ve had the stuff!

But then I stopped into my local sweetie shop and discovered that they’ve started to sell some American candies and root beer! It’s not cheap (about $2.50 per can!) and it’s not Barq’s but it sure does quench my thirst!

And now that I have a local source for root beer, I guess I can scratch it off of my expat food woes list!

Random thoughts: Simple pleasures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A birthday in Crieff, not grief

It’s here! It’s here! The start of my 38th year of life is here! (Translation: Yay! It’s my 38th birthday!)

My birthday, if I’m honest, has rarely been a day of great excitement and celebration for me. For many reasons, it’s just a day of stress and upset. And, it would seem, a day when bad things seem to happen! Of course, since Paul died, the day is even more stressful. (For a history lesson, read about my 36th birthday and pre-birthday spa day or my 37th birthday wishes!)

But, as you may recall, I decided to take myself away for my birthday this year, in the hopes of distracting myself from my birthday and in an effort to fall in love with solo travelling again. Yes, I opted for a trip to Crieff to stave off the birthday-triggered grief!

Of course, you may know that the entire reason for this trip was that someone had told me about a sweetie shop that is hailed as the No. 1 sweetie shop in all of Scotland—Gordon and Durward’s, home of the Sugared Mice—and by now you probably know that I love candy. A lot. And when I got there, well, I was like a kid in a candy shop! It was like a little corner of heaven made just for me! And I got to see them making fudge, which was neat. I did manage some self control (I set a budget before I walked through the door) but I also did manage to get a bag full of goodies: Pick-n-mix gummy sweets, three flavours of fudge, a couple candy necklaces, and four sugared mice (I’d have bought five mice, but they were out of green).

After that sweet little visit, I wandered across the road to have lunch at The Lounge. I hadn’t really planned to talk about my lunch, but it was so fantastic that I have to sing some praises. You see, I ordered the Cesar salad because it was advertised as coming with calamari, which is different, and therefore interesting. But what I really enjoyed was that there were whole anchovies on top of the salad! So many places don’t do that anymore. In fact, the last time I had anchovies on my Cesar salad I was in my very early 20s! So, great big kudos to The Lounge! If I lived locally, I’d be back!

When I was done with lunch, I made my way back to the hotel where I treated myself to a spa treatment before settling into my room for a couple hours’ of nothingness. Ah, nothingness! And thanks to television and a WiFi connection, I managed a lot of nothingness! (Oh, and I managed to paint my fingernails, too!)

Next, it was time for dinner. I chose to eat in the formal dining room (a great excuse to wear my pretty red dress!) and am so pleased that I did! Fancy pigeon breasts for a starter; filet steak for my main; and Guinness cheddar on rustic bread for dessert. All enjoyed with a rich red wine and a lovely glass of bubbles.

And now I’m back in my room; I’ve changed into my comfy pyjamas to enjoy a bit of television; and I’m getting ready to enjoy a fluffy lemon cupcake I purchased when in town earlier. (Yum!)

%%wppa%% %%slide=31%%

Has it been a day of complete joy and laughter? No. But it’s been a pretty good day and a nice way to start my 38th year.

Oh! And an interesting tid bit for you: When I booked my room, it was the only room available (a single). Other than that, the hotel was completely booked out. Why? Well, because tomorrow is the World Indoor Tug of War Championships, hosted by the Scottish Tug of War Association. Really.

A winning announcement

As promised, today is the day that I’m announcing the winner of my anniversary contest. (But you have to read a bit of a ramble first. And more of a ramble when the announcement is over. I offer no apologies for that.)

Pre-announcement ramble: Wow! This was really hard. All of the entries were entertaining and all of them brought me a smile and a bit of joy. I found myself agonising over who to pick as the winner. For a while, I thought I’d select someone randomly. But that didn’t seem fair. Then I found myself wanting to let everyone be a winner because it makes me feel bad to have someone walk away empty handed.

In the end, I decided to choose one entry. And I chose that entry based on the amount of entertainment it provided, as well as the sort of entertainment. And that entry was made by Ephemera.

I chose Ephemera because I had to work for their post. I had to Google ‘F.M.R.L.’ to see what that stood for (I never did find out) and ‘Ozymandias’ (a sonnet, apparently). In fact, I Googled much of their post to see if it was all part of a poem. And all of those Google searches lead me down loads of winding paths of entertainment and information.

Yes, I chose Ephemera because their post piqued my desire for knowledge. So, I guess now I need to send them an email to see what colours they want for their swirl!

Post-announcement ramble: So, we know who’s getting the prize, but I can’t leave it at that because I loved all of the entries!

Amy: I laughed! I laughed so very much! You couldn’t have known it, but there’s been a bit of a bunny joke going on around here for a few months (I’m merely on the fringe of the joke) and after your post, I started seeing bunnies everywhere. It made me laugh so much. Really, honestly.

Mathew (mm): It made me smile to know that your daughter enjoys the Frances books so much. I read them as a child and really wish I had a set of them again. Such great books and Frances was just amazing with her awesome songs sung in cosy little hiding places. Your post rekindled happy childhood memories!

Debbie: I love Shel Silverstein! I own all of his books and quite often think of his poems when I’m writing. An excellent artist for sure! I was pleased to see your post and to learn that you found me through Frances 3.0. (Though I’m sad to hear that you had a reason to find the site.) I hope your cousin and her children continue to heal!

Rebecca: I still have trouble picturing you as chubby, but if you say so… Your post did entertain me! Partly because I enjoyed reading a memory from your childhood, but partly (sorry to say) because it took me down a winding YouTube path of funny ballet/dancing videos! Of course, your second post entertained me, too. But for different reasons!

ANT Elizabeth: I enjoyed your ramble very much! I vaguely remember your friend Joy—I just don’t know if that’s because I’ve met her or remember stories you’ve told about her. And as for liking ‘teen’ shows, I have a confession to make, too: I love teen romantic comedies! They are a hoot, and no matter how predictable the story is, they make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside!

OK, one more quick ramble. And that’s to say that I think future contests will be easier. I was maybe asking too much for everyone to write more than a line or two. So, next time maybe I’ll just ask for a favourite quote, song title, or joke. Something short and sweet. What do you think?

Oh! And maybe I’ll have to do a ‘progress post’ on the winning swirl drawing. Yes, that might be fun!

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!

Splashing out

Today I finally broke down and bought a new set of sauce pans. They are light-weight, cheap aluminium pans but, despite that, they are considerably better than the pans that my flat was furnished with. It’s something I’ve been thinking about doing since I first moved in, but I’ve been a bit uncomfortable with the idea of spending my limited budget on something that was more of a want than a need.

But the problem is that the pans I had were so cheap they didn’t work well. I know, I know: A bad cook always blames their tools. But sometimes, sub-standard tools do make a negative impact! And because the pans were such rubbish, I dared not cook certain foods.

So, the way I see it is that these pans are an investment in my future nutritional health. Yes, really. As strange as that sounds, these pans really will help me cook more!

In fact, one of the pans is in service now, cooking up a batch of basmati rice, to be served with baked salmon and peas.

Maybe this little splash out of cash will help me fix my poor diet!

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! (Today’s your last chance, so 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!)

An anniversary contest

Two years ago, JustFrances.com entered the blogosphere. Can you believe it!? In that time there have been 572 posts, the writing of which have provided me with great deal of enjoyment and comfort—and have hopefully provided you with some entertainment, too.

As my life continues to change and my readership continues to grow, so has this site. It can be difficult knowing what to write at times because it’s no longer ‘just about me’—there’s an actual audience to consider, too. And more and more, that group is consisting of people I’ve never met. So, I created a short survey to see what people liked and what they wanted more of. The results so far have been positive and encouraging which is awesome! The survey is still active (through February 17), so please feel free to add your input if you haven’t already.

And to show that I’m listening (and to celebrate my second anniversary!) I’m holding a fun contest. The winner of this amazing contest will receive an original swirl drawing, custom made by me for you. Yay!

Here are some samples of the swirls. Click on the thumbnails to see larger versions.

  

  

Entering the contest is as easy as plopping some words into the comment section below as a ‘mini blog post’ for my entertainment. You can share a joke or some inspirational quotes; a short story or memory about your childhood or some silly thing we got up to together; a rant (or rave) about work or life; or just about anything else you think will make a good blog post. As you can see from this blog, the style and tempo of your post can be anything you want!

[If you’re a blogger, you can write a post on your site (but it must be obvious that it’s been written for my entertainment!) then share the link with me in the comments below.]

Now for the fine print. (Sorry, can’t miss that part!)

  1. Entries can be up to 500 words.
  2. The deadline is midnight GMT on February 19, 2012.
  3. One entry per person; you don’t need to use your real name, but you do need to use a valid email address.
  4. If you are using someone else’s work (quotes, jokes, etc.), please be sure to give credit where credit is due!
  5. The winner will be announced on Just Frances the morning of my birthday (February 21) and will be contacted through the email address used to enter. (I promise not to spam you!)
  6. The winner will have the option of choosing one (1) 5.5” x 8.5” drawing or two (2) 3.5” x 5” note cards. (Further details of your options will be explained to the winner in the email.)
  7. If your comment is caught by my spam filters or is deemed by me to be spam or inappropriate (profanity and/or anti-social comments will not be accepted) your entry will be automatically disqualified.
  8. If you are my Mom or Dad, your name will not be entered into the drawing because you can have a swirl drawing anytime you want (just ask) so it’s not fair for you to win. But you can still entertain me with a post!

So that’s it I think. You are welcome to tell your friends about the contest or to link to this on your blog or Facebook or Twitter or whatever. I mean, it would be great to have more than three people participating!

Just Frances continues to be a place of enjoyment for me. I know that posts may be a bit sad and reflective at times, but it’s helpful for me to get those thoughts out there. And the act of getting those sad thoughts out there releases my soul  a bit so that I can enjoy life—and therefore have happy posts.

And, of course, knowing that there are people out there reading—and supporting me—helps. Thanks for all of your support over the past two years! And happy blogging to you!

Sunday roast

Sunday roast is a pretty big thing here in the UK. So much so that even Paul—a 30+ year vegetarian—insisted that we enjoyed a big Sunday roast (sans dead animal for him!) most weeks. Mostly, we’d just have roasted veg, mashed potatoes, and Yorkshire puddings; sometimes even a bit of boiled cabbage.

I think my favourite part about Sunday roasts was that it was one of the few meals Paul and I prepared together. We’d return home from Church and start prepping the meal. Then, as it was nearing completion, I’d be kicked out of the kitchen so that I wasn’t in the way when Paul made his Yorkshire puddings and mashed the potatoes. You see, he didn’t like the way I cooked potatoes, so would always just take over that task. Which was fine by me since it saved me getting mad at him for telling me what I was doing wrong. (I was always called back in at the end, however, because it was my job to dish up.)

Anyhow, I’ve not done Sunday roast since he died. I just couldn’t do it. Even just thinking about it made me start to panic. Really. Thanksgiving was the closest I got, and then I had a mini panic attack when someone joking questioned some of my cooking methods. (The blocks that your mind creates through grief can be silly sometimes, I know!) But I digress…

The point of today’s post is to share with you the lovely Sunday roast I’ve made—my first since my last with Paul on Easter Sunday 2009.

I hadn’t really planned on making the meal, but when I went to the farmers’ market yesterday, I couldn’t resist the lovely topside roast they were selling at the Puddledub Buffalo stall. And since I knew I had Scottish grown carrots, parsnips, and potatoes at home, I figured it was a good excuse to make a Sunday roast for the Dark Days Challenge.

In addition to the meat and veg mentioned above, I also used Scottish onions and English garlic. My oil choice was Summer Harvest’s Cold Pressesd Rapeseed Oil and I used Maldon Sea Salt.

And let’s not forget dessert: A lovely piece of carrot cake from Milis Cakes. I’ll be honest and admit that I don’t know if they source their ingredients locally, but I’m going to let it slide since they’re a local, independent cake maker.

Yep, I have a happy belly now!

Coats and cupcakes

When I was in town earlier in the week, I saw a nice light-weight coat that I really liked in a charity shop. But when I tried it on, I wasn’t quite certain about it. I mean, it looked nice and it fit, but it’s the same colouring as my wool coat, so I wavered. In the end, I put it back on the rack and walked away.

But I’ve been thinking about it and decided it would be OK to have another black and white coat. It was a different cut, after all, and would look much nicer with dresses than my wool coat. Plus that, it was only £10 so it wasn’t a massive commitment.

So, I went to town today determined to get the coat if it was still there. And it was still there. Only it wasn’t £10, it was £4.99. Which means I saved £5.01 in addition to supporting a good cause!

And when you save a bit of money, it’s OK to celebrate with a little treat. So when I stopped by the Farmers’ Market on the way back to my flat, I splurged £1.90 on a pretty pink Valentine’s cupcake from Milis Cakes. (I’ve already eaten it though, so I guess it was just a pretty pink cupcake.)

Oh! I also picked up a nice roast from one of the local farmer stalls for tomorrow’s dinner. And that means that I have everything I need for a Sunday roast, which will qualify for the Dark Days Challenge. And that means that if you check back tomorrow, you can read about my yummy dinner.

(Or you could invite yourself over to help eat my dinner. There’s more than enough to share!)

And, yes, that really is the cupcake I bought. It was as yummy as it looks. I also got a carrot cupcake for tomorrow’s dessert. I wonder if it will last that long…

The dummy box

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks, Joanne! I really appreciate it. Really!

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

The little red dress

Twelve years ago, I purchased a lovely silky red dress that I just loved. Form-fitting and sexy, I loved finding excuses to wear it. The only ‘flaw’ was that I needed to add a bit more help to the upper portion—more than I normally need to add. (Sorry, this is my blog and I can talk about my less-than-endowed form if I want.)

Ten years ago, I brought it to Scotland with me hoping that I’d have a chance to wear it. Then I met Paul and I figured I’d get the chance. And I did. And he loved it. And over the years, I’ve pulled it out again for special occasions.

The last time I wore it was Easter 2009—just two weeks before Paul died. I remember standing there wondering what to wear for church, and he pulled that little red dress out. After all, he said, with a light sweater it would be more than appropriate for Sunday Mass. And when we got home and began making our Sunday lunch, he told me how beautiful I was in that dress.

So, when I packed my bags to return to Scotland last summer, I couldn’t help but to pack the dress; even though I didn’t know if I’d ever get a chance to wear it. And, to be honest, I’ve felt a bit soft and gooey the last several weeks, having not been running but still eating as if I’m training for a marathon!

Anyhow, I wanted to wear something pretty for my birthday later this month and I thought about that dress. And, well, I tried it on with a bit of trepidation because I knew that if it was too snug I’d be upset.

But it fit rather nicely. In fact, I could eat a few extra meals in between now and my birthday and it would still fit! (Though I will still need to add a bit of help to the upper portion; some things never change!)

I am very happy about this little victory. And I know that I’ve just bragged about how a dress that I bought when I was 26 years old still fits me today—just days shy of being 38—but I run and try to stay quite active. (And if this was a pair of jeans, it would be a different story. Dresses are just more forgiving for bum-and-thigh weight gain!)

Now… what am I going to do about shoes and an evening handbag? I guess I’ll need to see what sort of fun stuff they have at the charity shops!

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!

Fun, all wrapped up

I started this post a few weeks ago with the intention of talking about how Starbursts have changed since I was a kid. But I never got around to finishing it because I didn’t really know what I could say on the topic, other than how awesome the new wrapper design is.

Then my sister posted one of those Facebook saying photos that read ‘Chocolate doesn’t ask silly questions; chocolate understands’ [Semicolon was my addition] and I realised that there is a great difference between my love for sweeties and the love that many women seem to have for chocolate.

You see, I almost feel like chocolate is meant to be a sophisticated, grown up sweet treat. And, sadly, it’s one that seems to cause great amounts of guilt for some women who consume it. But, chocolate seems to have a bit of a philisophical slant to it, too.

Take, for example, the same sister’s love of Dove chocolate bits. Inside of each wrapper is a message of hope, encouragement, or inspiration. Or some other such grown up mumbo-jumbo. Or these silly little quotes she likes about how she’d kill for chocolate or that the perfect man is one who brings chocolate.

Really, it’s enough to make me sick. Too much chocolate is just, well, it’s just not awesome.

But my sweeties of choice? Well, they’re pretty cool.

First, you’ve got things like LoveHearts and Conversation Hearts where each piece of candy has silly messages written right on them! Like: Call Me; UR Hot; My Boy; Cute Stuff; or I’m Shy. I mean, that’s a great way to flirt with a cute boy. Right?

Then, you’ve got awesome things like Laffy Taffy. Now, Laffy Taffy is fun because each wrapper contains jokes! Really funny ones, like: ‘What’s an owl’s favourite subject? Owlgebra.’ (Hilarious, right?)

And of course, there’s Starbursts. (Sorry, UK folks, they are not OpalFruits now. Adapt and embrace the change.) But the cool thing about Starbursts is they’ve re-done the wrappers! I mean, for years kids had fun with the wrappers. For example, do you remember in junior high school when it was said that if you could unwrap a Starburst in your mouth (with your tongue) it meant you were a good kisser?

But now they’ve added a bit of fun-for-all-ages to the wrappers! Yes, on each little piece of candy there is an opportunity for some silliness. You might be instructed to say ‘red lorry yellow lorry’ ten times fast or you might be asked to play air guitar (or air sax or air drums) or you might be told to try to touch the tip of your nose with your tongue. Or maybe you’ll be instructed to sing a song or hop on your left leg.

No, with each piece of candy you’re not given some valuble insight on life’s great mysteries. Instead, you’re given the opportunity to be silly; to have some fun; to laugh; to recall your childhood.

OK, I know that people think my candy preference is rather childish (certainly, by adulthood we’ve moved past these silly kiddie candies, right?) but I enjoy them. Partly because they taste yummy, but partly because they make me remember the simple pleasures in life.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, my wrapper has just informed me that it’s time to make a shadow puppet…

Thankful swirls

As you probably know by now, I’ve found a lot of solace in creating swirls. There’s something relaxing and peaceful about them. I have to admit that my first-ever swirl drawing was rubbish. No, really, it was. But from the time I realised that swirls were my sunflowers, my skills have improved. [See more evidence here, here, here, and here.]

Of course, the problem with enjoying something so much is that I want to draw lots of swirls. But I really don’t have that much use for a ga-zillion drawings of swirls. So last summer, when I completed a swirl drawing that my niece was admiring whilst in-progress (she thought it would make a great tattoo!), I wrote a letter to her on the backside. I understand that she’s since hung it up in her bedroom.

Since then, I’ve used swirls to illustrate a blog post and even made a swirl drawing to wrap a friend’s birthday present. And after Christmas, I used some blank greeting cards to make swirl thank you cards for some friends. And now I’m working on a special swirl for a friend’s baby girl.

So, I guess that I’m thankful for my swirls because of the enjoyment I get from them, but I’m also thankful that my skills have improved enough to use them as gifts and cards for people I love. Otherwise, I’d be lost in stacks upon stacks of therapeutic swirls!

Booking courage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Great chieftain o’ the puddin-race

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

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

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

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

And cranachan for dessert.

And did I mention the whisky?

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

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

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

Birthday annoucement

This will be a short post (lucky you!) and serves two purposes: 1) To get me back in the habit of regular posts and 2) To announce that I think I’ve made plans for my birthday.

On the regular posting side, this will make four days in a row. Which isn’t a record for me by any means, but since I’ve been a bit remiss in posting, it’s one of the best runs I’ve had in a while.

On the birthday side, I’ve decided to take myself out of town for my birthday. I generally hate my birthday and try to just ignore it all together. I also feel a bit lonely and depressed when travelling solo these days. So, I’ve decided to try to break both of those cycles this year.

I’ll fill you in on my celebration plans later, but I wanted to make the announcement now so that I can’t back out. Which means that I am now under obligation to go and enjoy myself (and blog about it) so that I don’t let you down. (And that will serve as my motivation if my insecurities start creeping in.)

Oh! And tomorrow is Burns’ Night. And that means a food post can be expected. (Well, maybe that will wait until the next day. Depends on how many toasts to Rabbie are made!)

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.

Catching up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A slow start

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another year passes

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

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

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

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

Substitutiary locomotion

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

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

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

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

Home(ish) for Christmas

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

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

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

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

%%wppa%% %%slide=26%%

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

A lesson in carols

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

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

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

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

More than gifts

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

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

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

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

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

A spirit found

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steak and potatoes

OK boys and girls, today is my first meal prepared for the Dark Days Challenge. Not that I haven’t been eating some local foods all along, but tonight’s dinner is special because it’s all about the local stuff!

Now, I like to pride myself in purchasing locally grown produce whenever possible, but I must admit that much of the other groceries I buy come from all over. I mean, it’s a little difficult to find local olive oil when you live in Scotland! But, I did some research and managed to find a few local (Scotland or elsewhere in the UK) staples to keep on hand—many of which will make appearances not only in my local-only meals, but in my every day meals as well. Those things include a Scottish cooking oil, UK-sourced sea salt, and Scottish-milled flour—to name a few. I won’t go into all of them today, but will try to tell you a bit about them as I use them. Or, at the very least, I will link to them so that you can read more if you want.

And with that, here’s what I had for dinner:

My main course was pan-fried minute steak from Puddledub Buffalo Farms. I had wanted a fillet steak, but they only had large packs available by the time I arrived at their stall on the market, so I ended up with a less-than-ideal cut. But, cooked with a bit of Maldon sea salt, it was pretty tasty! I also made a small potato-shallot-and-cheese concoction using Scottish-grown potatoes and shallots, layered with a strong Scottish cheddar. I baked it in a small dish that was coated with Summer Harvest rapeseed oil (made in Scotland) and a light sprinkling of sea salt. Oh! And some lightly boiled Scottish-grown carrots for my veg.

Oh! And I can’t forget about the wine now, can I? I don’t generally buy (or drink) fruit wines, but Cairn o’ Mohr always has a booth at the Stirling Farmers’ Market and curiosity (and the need for local!) got the better of me. So, I bought a bottle of their Bramble Wine. And it was very nice. Maybe next time, I’ll try one of their whites!

Anyhow, I’ve learned a lot this week about the foods that are available locally. This has also been a great excuse to experiment with food—which is what the potato thing was—and a great reminder about what a good cook I actually am. (But I wish I made a bigger pot of the potato stuff. That was way-yummy!!)

Of course, I seem to have forgotten to get myself something for pudding. Darn! Maybe next week…

One down

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A modest proposal

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

And the survey says

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

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

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

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

Boxed in

When I moved to Scotland in August, I sent a couple of large boxes by sea—hoping they’d arrive before Thanksgiving. They didn’t. But they did arrive today. (Yay!)

I wanted them here before Thanksgiving because they had my aprons, my favourite cookbook, and my American measuring cups (yes, there is a difference). But I also wanted them to arrive in time for Thanksgiving so that I could share the photos with Paul’s friends who were joining me for the celebration. Of course, I know that I will have more opportunities to share the photos, so I’ll not fret over that too much!

So, what kind of goodies were so valuable to me that I went through the expense of international shipping? Oh, all sorts of things!

The main reason for the shipment was to bring Paul’s belongings over. All of his photos from childhood, college, university, and more. His diaries and mementos. His favourite books and the little trinkets he collected over the years. The boxes are full of his life’s memories. Mostly from times before we met. Mostly things that I want to give to his family and friends.

Of course, part of me wants to keep all of it for myself. I don’t want to share them. But they’re not my memories—they’re Paul’s memories that he shared with the people he grew up with. I just want to keep them because they’re part of him. But I also know that other people need them more than I do. After all, I have all of the mementos of our time together, so why shouldn’t others have the mementos from their time together?

Happily, I had the foresight to put some of my stuff in the boxes, too. And I’m glad I did because now instead of just feeling the sadness of having Paul’s memories with me, I also have the excitement of having some of my things with me.

Yep, I have my favourite cookbook and my left-handed spoons. I have my bathrobe and winter ski coat and three of my favourite winter sweaters (all green, you may not be surprised to know!). I also have some of my favourite stationery for writing letters home and I have my Godfather DVD collection. And a CWU alumni sweatshirt and some hats and gloves and scarves. And a couple of books for my master’s programme and a copy of the Constitution of the United States of America. You know, because every home should have one!

I’m pleased to have some of my home comforts again. And even though it’s not the same as having my lovely home that I shared with Paul filled with all of our beautiful things, it’s nice to have a few more things from that ‘old’ life to help me settle into this new one.

A thankful weekend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

%%wppa%% %%slide=14%%

Making do

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Countdown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Warming up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sugar and spice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!)

Minor chord

I love a good minor chord. I love minor keys and minor scales. I love a bit of musical dissonance. Unexpected notes; unexpected lyrics. They’re wonderful to me.

My musical tastes have always been varied, but I have to admit that I tend to lean toward smaller bands—mainstream is great and all, but it’s just a bit too, I don’t know, too predictable for me. I like a song with a bit of interest to it.

My favourite song of all time? Well, that would be “Eve of Destruction” by Barry McGuire. I like that it was banned from the airwaves. I like that it uses the word ‘coagulating’.

The bands that I list as my favourites (with the exception of Styx) are not headlining acts. Well, not in the mainstream at least. I like the little guys who play music because they like music. They write lyrics that make me smile because they’re writing them for them—not for a big-time record label.

Of course, this means I almost never hear my favourite bands on the radio. But that’s what my iTunes collection is for—a collection that boasts more than 8,400 songs at the moment.

Now, you could feel sorry for me not being able to hear my bands on the radio, but the cool thing about listening to the minor league of the music industry is that when I go to concerts I’m not there with 20,000+ other people. I’m there with a couple dozen or a couple hundred. Oh yeah, that’s awesome.

My next concert will be Billy Bragg who is playing in Edinburgh this Sunday. It’s bound to be a bigger crowd than when I saw him in Seattle (where there were about 100 people in the audience) but it’s not going to be like the crowds I’ve been to for concerts at The Gorge or The Tacoma Dome.

Yep, when it comes to music, the minor leagues win my vote. And quite often, they even use minor chords and dissonance when they’re singing to me.

I spy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guy’s night

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

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

It was a fantastic firework show, too!

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

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

If the shoe fits

I’ve been experimenting with footwear since my return to Scotland. Yep, it’s heels for this redneck, if you can believe it.

I admit, it’s a bit tricky at times because I still wobble a bit (and that’s with fairly short and chunky heels!) but I’m getting better and I almost feel like a semi-pro! But the biggest bonus is that I feel good! I know it sounds silly, but the dress code here tends to be a bit smarter than the homeland for everyday wear, and I feel good when I am dressed up that little bit more.

But that’s not the point, so I’ll move on now.

The point is that my feet are suffering! They don’t hurt but they are suffering. You see, I’ve always worn sensible, well-fitting shoes without heels. And that meant that I’ve always had pretty feet. Well, not so much as a child because I insisted on wearing shoes that were too small because I didn’t like shoe shopping. Not that I like it anymore now. But I digress. Again…

Back to the point: The bottoms of my feet are starting to get a couple of spots with not-so-soft skin. And I need to figure out how to fix that, whilst still wearing pretty shoes. And since I can’t afford professional pedicures at the moment, I’ll need to figure out how to fix it on my own.

For starters, I am using a heavy lotion before I go to bed, covering my feet with socks as I sleep so as to not get the bedding all lotion-y. I am also spending a bit more time making sure my toenails are trimmed nicely.

But the biggest solution, I imagine, is going to be finding the right shoes and the right inserts. And that, sadly, means shoe shopping. (I think I know someone who can help with that!)

Of course, the other solution would be to return to my redneck roots and just wear casual trainers everywhere.

Silken smiles

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

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

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

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

Comfort zones

There is something to be said about the comforts of home. Your own bed; your favourite chair; knowing where all the gadgets are in the kitchen; understanding the intricacies of just how to turn the knobs in the shower so that you have the right temperature and the right pressure. Yes, there is something to be said about the comforts of home.

When you’re surrounded by the comforts of home, you truly are in your comfort zone.

Of course, after you’ve sold your bed, put your favourite chair in storage, and moved into a new flat (in a new country) where you haven’t figured out the kitchen layout or the workings of the shower—let alone how to walk down the road—you don’t always feel as if you’re in your comfort zone.

One of the common things with being an expat is finding yourself outside your comfort zone. Maybe not in that ‘makes your skin crawl’ kind of way, but (for me at least) in that ‘I don’t fully understand the way this works and everyone must think I’m an alien’ kind of way.

Grocery stores are one of those situations for me. They are just different here. The produce is displayed differently. All of the foods I like aren’t available, and many are in different packaging so I don’t always realise that they are there. The eggs are not in a cooler—they just sit there on a room-temperature shelf. The aisles are chaos. You have to pack your own groceries. And, in some places, you have to put a £1 coin in a slot just to get a shopping cart. Er, I mean a trolley. (But you get the coin back when/if you return the trolley to its home.)

So there you go. When I’m grocery shopping in the UK I am outside my comfort zone. I’m getting better at it—and I’m a lot more comfortable now than I was 10 years ago—but I am always aware that I’m not in the homeland.

Ah! But there is a grocery store where I feel at home. It’s called Lupe Pintos and they have a shop in Edinburgh and Glasgow. I first found it 10 years ago and I fell in love! You see, they are a North American import store. You want American or Mexican groceries? This is where you go.

And when I go, I recognise the brands and the packaging. They have Lipton Onion soup mix. They have Hidden Valley Ranch dressing. They have Stove Top and Libby’s and Bisquick and A&W and Old El Paso and hominy and yams and all sorts of other goodies that I love, love, love. In fact, they have more stuff there now than they did 10 years ago. And apparently the Glasgow store is much larger than the Edinburgh one.

It’s so nice to be able to walk into a shop and just grab the items you want without having to hem and haw over if it will be ‘close enough’ to the American version. Now, often times it really doesn’t matter, but sometimes, you really want those home comforts. And isn’t it nice that there’s a place that sells them? A place where I feel like I’m in my comfort zone…

A thankful November

Just Frances was started with the idea of sharing random nothingness with family and friends as a way to stave off the isolation I was feeling in the first few months after Paul died. It had started with the idea that it would be bright and cheery (fake it ‘til you make it sort of stuff) but slowly I started to share my grief and other less-than-cheery stuff.

I don’t always like sharing the sad stuff because I don’t want to be ‘that’ person, but sometimes the act of sharing the sad makes is easier for me to move past it. And I know I share a lot of sad stuff and that, depending on what’s going on in my world, the sad can seem to dominate, but I like to think that I don’t sound too doom-and-gloom. I like to think that people can see that I’m happy and cheerful quite often—or at least that I’m trying to be happy and cheerful.

Thankfully, I have managed to recapture some of my joy over the past couple of years. It’s not always been easy, but I’ve found that faking it helps. I’ve also found that it helps to take a step back every now-and then to recognise where the good moments are. (Hence, my Finding Joy resolution for 2010.)

But here’s the point: I’ve been so wrapped up in my move and starting school and all of the stress that comes along with major life changes that I’ve been neglecting the thankful things in my life. So, since Thanksgiving is at the end of November, I’ve decided to spend the month reflecting on what I’m thankful for.

For the next month, I will post something I’m thankful for on my blog. I will post those things each day on the left side of Just Frances, just under the block of photos. I will also keep a running list of those things here if you miss a day. (But you’re on here every day, right?)

And here’s a challenge for you: Take some time to look around your world and find something to be thankful for. You can do it just once, or for a week, or a month, or a year, or forever—that’s up to you. Just remember to take some time to reflect on the good things and on the thankful things in your life. And feel free to share some of them with me on this post or the running list.

(Oh! And if you want to know what I’m thankful for today, I am thankful for the love and support I’ve received from family, friends, and strangers over the past couple of years.)

Sugar high

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

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

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

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

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

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

Times, they are a-changin’

Ah, yes. It’s that magical time of year when the clocks fall back an hour as you sleep. I always liked clock-changing times as a child, though I don’t really know why. Of course, as an adult it’s been a bit of a pain because it means remembering to run all over the house (and cars changing various clocks.

But this year is different. This year I don’t own any clocks (yet) and my computers and mobile phone are all super smart and have managed to update themselves without any assistance from me. And when I first moved into my flat on Monday the clock on the boiler (that’s like a furnace in American speak) was off by 20 minutes so I had to re-set it—and I set it to the soon-to-be correct time so that I didn’t need to remember it today.

Yep. I’ve had a super easy time this go around.

And do you want to know the best part? Of course you do! Well, the best part is that whilst the UK changes times today, the USA doesn’t change until next weekend. And that means that—for the next week—I am an hour closer to my family. (Aw, isn’t that sweet!)

So—Hello family! We’re only seven hours apart at the moment. Yay!!

One man’s junk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Secret smiles

There is something to be said about a smile. People who smile are more approachable. They seem friendlier. They seem carefree. They seem happier.

For me, I’ve found that I smile when I’m happy. And when I’m happy I have a spring in my step. And when I have a spring in my step it makes everything brighter. And I’ve found that when I’m stressed or sad, I don’t smile. But I’ve also found that if I fake a smile, I can turn a not-so-happy day into a better one (sometimes).

There was a time when I was that happy person who smiled all the time—and rarely was I faking it. Oh yes, I was that overly chirpy person who always saw the good in everything and everyone. People would comment about how bright and cheery and happy I was. (Oh, and I hummed. A lot. In public. And I didn’t care. And I skipped at times, too.)

But widowhood stole that part of my world away. No, really. Since Paul died I’ve lost that naturally occurring joy. For more than two years now, I’ve struggled to be happy and cheery. I mean, it’s not like I’m never happy and cheery, it’s just that I’m not that person all the time like I once was.

Of course, I’ve been trying to re-claim that person for quite a while now. In fact, my 2010 resolution was ‘Finding Joy’—which helped me to see a glimpse of Old Frances. And that glimpse reminded me that I need to get back to that person all together.

For the longest time, I’ve struggled to find my smile. But now that I’m back in Scotland, plunging head-first into my future and my dreams, it’s time to put the search for my smile at the top of my list because I don’t want to be the girl who always hears “Cheer up, love” from strangers as she walks down the road. No, I want to be the one who always hears “You have a lovely smile” from strangers as she walks down the road.

But how do I do that? Well, I guess that I need to fake it. I need to plaster a fake smile on my face and walk out the door with fake confidence.

So that’s what I’ve been doing for the past week. I’ve been reminding myself to smile when I’m walking down the street or when I’m waiting for the bus. I’m even smiling when I’m cooking dinner or sitting on the couch. Now, I don’t know if I’m in a better mood because of these forced smiles, but I do know that I have been feeling a bit peppy. (Maybe that’s the excitement of a new flat?)

Of course, this means that I’m walking down the street with a smile plastered on my face. Everywhere I go I’m aware that I have an ever-so-slight smile. A Mona Lisa-like half smile—you know, the sort of smile that you can see but you don’t know why it’s there. No one knows why it’s there because it’s a secret. And it’s a secret because I daren’t let anyone know it’s fake. (Well, other than you, obviously.)

And as I walk around with my smile, secretly knowing that it’s a smile for no other reason than to smile, I’m finding that I have a little spring in my step. And I’ve even caught myself humming as I walk down the street or singing along to the music in the shops. And it’s making me happy. It’s making me smile without thinking about it—without forcing it.

So I guess that the secret to being a happy, smiley person is to just smile. It’s that simple. Just smile. (And if you’re faking it, that can be a secret!)

Coming home

I got the keys to my new flat this morning and have spent the day traipsing up and down several flights of stairs to get my belongs moved in—and more trips up and down to get groceries and bedding and a few other bits-and-bobs in.

There’s still lots and lots of unpacking to do. And there is still lots and lots of stuff to buy to make this place a home. But I’m sure it will be fun getting it all put together.

It’s a bit strange being in my own place now, but I think it’s going to be OK. Of course, since Rebecca is just around the corner, it’s not like I’ll be living in isolation!

I am going to resist the urge to write a long and boring description of my new flat. Instead, I’m just going to let you see it for yourself! And whilst you’re doing that, I’m going to pour myself a glass of wine to celebrate coming home.

A box of love

You don’t need words to know you’re loved. Not really. Sometimes, a box of stuff says it all. Take, for example, the box that came in the post for me today.

It was a simple box filled with simple things. No note to explain the occasion or the contents. Just a simple box filled with simple things. But I didn’t need a note to know that the box was sent because I’m loved.

You see, the box was sent by my Ant Elizabeth—all the way from America! And the contents were (I’m assuming) chosen because of my list of foods I would miss when I moved. You see, she reads my blog regularly so she knew just what to send. It’s just another example of how amazing she is. She is, after all, the woman who so kindly took in my cat when I left. And she is, after all, the woman who I used to want to be when I grew up. (It’s not that I don’t still look up to her, it’s just that I learned that I can’t be someone else, I have to be me.) And she is, after all, the woman I call my twin! (Really, we look quite a bit alike. Yes, she’s gorgeous just like me!)

Anyhow, since I told you what my parents sent last week, I’ll tell you what Ant Elizabeth sent this week!

  • Black olives (3 cans)
  • 1000 Island dressing (1 bottle)
  • Ranch mix (2 packs)
  • General Tso’s Chicken seasoning mix (2 packs)
  • A bag of ‘Fun Size’ Butterfingers
  • A bag filled with a variety of mini-sized candy bars

And this all means that I have olives not only for tacos, but for Thanksgiving—where I might have to teach my guests about the American tradition of putting olives on your fingers before eating them. And it means that I can have yummy Rueben sandwiches. And it means I can make Ranch dip to share with my friends on Halloween and Thanksgiving. And I can introduce my friends to the greatness of General Tso’s.

And, if I’m feeling generous, I can have my friends help with a comparison taste test to determine—once and for all—what the difference is between American and UK Milky Way bars. (If I’m feeling really generous, I might even share a Butterfinger or two. Maybe.)

Thank you, Ant Elizabeth. You have no idea how amazingly happy I was to receive goodies from home today. No, really, my face hurts from all the happy smiles. I love you!!

Chalk it up to intelligence

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cutting out the middles

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Friday!

Trick of the treats

Oh, what a sweet day it is! I arrived home to see that the postman brought me a parcel all the way from America. Oh yes—a parcel filled with yummy candies from the homeland.

Inside the parcel was a selection of some of my favourite American candies—and a sampling of candies I requested for Rebecca, after having a conversation last month about them. (I mean, if my Scottish friends are so kind as to introduce me to their cultural yummies, it’s only fair that I introduce them to mine. Right?)

So, here’s what my wonderful Mommy and Daddy sent me (all the miniature trick-or-treat versions):

These are all great candies that I can’t (seemingly) get in the UK. The 3 Musketeers and Butterfinger bars are great because those have always been my go-to choice for candy bars. The Milk Duds and Whoppers are my ‘nice to have at the movies with a big container of popcorn’ treats. The Smarties and Jolly Ranchers fall into my love of chalky sweets and sucky hard candies. And the Hot Tamales and Mike and Ikes* (whilst also on my go-to list of sweets to buy) are ones that I’m excited to share with Rebecca.

Of course, I did have to laugh since there were no Candy Corns in the parcel. No, Mom forgot to put them in. Or is it that they got eaten before she made a trip to the post office … ? Either way, I’m very thankful to my awesome parents for sending me candy.

Now the trick is going to be not eating the treats until Halloween.

(And if you’re looking for a way to get rid of your leftover Halloween candy, give me a shout and I’ll send you my address… she says only half jokingly…)

* It seems that you can, in fact, get Mike and Ike Tropical flavour here, just not the originals, and since Rebecca likes the tropical ones, I thought she should try the others. And, if you don’t already know, Hot Tamales are actually a secondary product. They are made by re-melting all of the ill-formed Mike and Ikes then they add loads of cinnamon flavour to mask the mis-match of flavours from all of the other candies. Really.

Job done!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why run?

I’m running my first—and last—ever marathon in the morning. I’m pretty excited about it, but at the same time I’m rather dreading it. You see, I don’t actually enjoying running exceedingly long distances. 10Ks and 12Ks are fun. Heck, even the occasional 10-miler or half marathon would be an exciting race to train for. But a marathon is 26.2 miles and is simply too long to enjoy.

Of course, that statement makes one wonder why I’m going through this torture in the first place. So, let me tell you!

I am running a marathon in the morning because Paul didn’t; because Paul can’t; because Paul died about a month before his first marathon.

When we first met, Paul was anything but athletic. Then, shortly after we got married, he decided to join my gym with the caveat that it was a one month trial—and the insistence that he would hate it and quit. In fact, in the first week or so I thought he would! But then he found the treadmill and was pretty excited about that.

A few weeks after finding the treadmill at the gym, Paul set a goal to run a 5K. But he would never run more than that. Then I mentioned the Spokane Bloomsday 12K and he was uninterested (too far, you understand) but eventually he changed his mind and ran that. But he would never run further than that.

Then he ran his first half marathon. And then he started to talk about how he’d like to run a marathon before he was 50. So when he decided—at the age of 47—that he was ready for that first marathon, I smiled. After all, he only ever wanted to run a 5K!

Paul loved running. It became a true passion in his life and he was good at it. And he trained and trained for the marathon—he even ran whilst we were on our last holiday to England.

Paul died a week before what would have been our third run at the Bloomsday 12K—and a month before the Coeur d’Alene (Idaho) Marathon. The Bloomsday 12K took place the day after his funeral, so there was no way I could have done it, but at the time I felt this odd need to run (or at least walk) the marathon for him. But that was silly since I could barely stand on my own two legs for the first few months after he died. In fact, I gave up running all together for quite a while after he died.

Anyhow, I eventually got back into running again and felt the need to run a marathon before what would have been his 50th birthday. And that would be this November, so I needed to get in gear and start training!

Of course, I am not really in shape for this adventure. I don’t have the stamina to run that far. Between my blood condition and kidney disease (and pure laziness), I’ve been struggling with getting the training in and maintaining my health. In fact, often times I can hear Paul yelling at me about how a woman ‘in my condition’ ought not be running a marathon. I can also hear him nagging me about getting my training in and about how I need to be careful not to make myself sick and about how I need to eat my breakfast—especially on training days—and that I need to remember to cross-train.

But, as Paul well knows (knew?) I am stubborn and when I say I’m going to do something, I do it.

So that’s why I’m running. I’m running for Paul. But since running for Paul makes me feel happy, I suppose that I’m running for myself, too.

Oh! And I managed to talk Rebecca into running with me. She’s running for her own reasons as well as for charity. (Don’t be shy you don’t have to know her to sponsor her!)

Paul: I know I won’t enjoy this race as much as you would have. And I know that I won’t make as good of time as you would have. And I know you probably don’t think I should be doing it at all. But I know you’ll be there cheering me on. I love ya, luv! xx

Three more sleeps

Oh my goodness! Do you realise that there are only three more sleeps until the Loch Ness Marathon? Well, restless sleeps would be my guess, but I’m sure I’ll get a bit of sleep in between now and then.

I know I’ve not talked much about my training lately, and I suppose that’s because I’ve not managed to get as much training is as I should and I’m really feeling quite guilty about that. Then last weekend I thought I might be coming down with a cold so I feared I’d not be able to do the run at all. (Have no fear—I think it was a case of mild exhaustion, not a cold, and I’m feeling much better now. Thanks for asking.)

Anyhow, I am now in hydration mode. Yep, I’m drinking water like mad and am trying to eat loads of good training-type foods in an effort to be ready for the big race. Not that someone of my meagre skills can see an improvement in ability that way. But still, I’m being a good girl and eating my veggies. (And fruits and carbs and stuff.)

So that’s it for today really. I’ve had all the water I can handle for the day and am now heading off to bed.

Oh! And did you notice the swirl drawing? Well, that’s one I started working on a while back but I haven’t had time to complete it. And since I just got a groovy new printer/scanner combo for school this afternoon, I thought I may as well test it out by sharing more swirls with you! I hope you like them!

Nighty night!

Not quite the answer

Today is my eldest sister’s birthday. Yep. The big something-or-other. I’ll give you a hint: She’s a year shy of being the answer to life, the universe, and everything. (More hints can be found here.)

I don’t know if it’s fair for me to post a happy birthday message to her since I’ve neglected to do so for three of the other four this year, but who said life was fair? Maybe next year I will succeed in public birthday greetings for all of my sisters. Stick around to find out.

Happy birthday, Veronica!

(And apologies for stealing this photo from your Facebook page, but it made me smile.)

Rationalised spending

Yesterday was meant to be my last training run before my first (and last) ever marathon next Sunday. Only plans got changed. As they do.

So instead of being all fit and athletic and stuff, I went to the antique mall (do they call them that here in Scotland?). After all, I do have to find new old things, since I left so many of my old things behind when I moved.

I looked at handbags and drooled. But then I remembered that I am on a budget and can’t rationalise spending £85 on a vintage handbag—no matter how awesome it was.

But then I looked at a stack of handkerchiefs (something I like to collect as much as handbags) and figured that since I’m back living in my lovely home of Scotland where there’s lots of rain, it would make sense to have a few spare hankies, which meant that I could easily rationalise spending £6 on three pretty little embroidered hankies.

And since my friend, Sharon, always wants to see photos of my latest vintage finds, this post is really all for her!!

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!!

Sign here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One down; one long one to go

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Potentially home

Earlier today I mentioned that there was some good news in my search for a flat and I have been asked by a couple of friends over the past few days about my progress, so here’s the update: I think I’ve found a new flat!

I checked out a place Monday morning that is very near where I’m staying now and is only about a ten minutes’ walk to the city centre. It is £25 more per month and slightly smaller than my second choice flat, but choice #2 is five minutes further from the centre, is a bit rough around the edges, sits just off a main road, and has a very dingy, small kitchen that would be horrendous to cook in. Choice #1 is modern and clean with a very well-fitted (though still small) kitchen. There isn’t as much storage, but realistically I don’t need that much storage anyhow!

The flat is a fully furnished property (with very well maintained and nice furnishings) and has a double bedroom with wardrobe, living room, separate kitchen, and full bathroom—in addition to two small storage cupboards in the entry hall. (Is this sounding like a sales pitch yet?) It also has a reserved parking spot for me (despite my not having a car) and plenty of guest parking (despite the fact that I don’t plan to have many guests). And, carrying on with the pitch, it has a security entrance, gas central heating, and double glazing throughout.

The down side? Well, it’s small—at least when compared to the massive four bedroom family home I left behind in the states. And it’s at the top end of my budget which means I’ll have to be a bit more mindful of my pennies. Oh, and it’s on the top floor of a four storey building with no lift. Which isn’t a problem for me since I’m fairly fit, but I don’t think Mom is going to like it when she comes to visit!

Of course, it’s not mine yet. As of now, I’ve said I want it and the agent has sent me a letter outlining the next steps. So, the next step is for me to pay a deposit then they’ll issue the contracts. After that, I just have to wait until the end of October to move in. That’s going to be the hard part—waiting for more than a month to move in after having found something I love!

So there you have it—an update on my potential new home. I know that things can change in between now and my moving, but I do feel quite comfortable with the process so far. Oh! And my connections tell me that the letting agent for this property is probably one of the most reputable ones in town, which is encouraging! (I will give a full rave once I move in, of course!)

I wonder how soon I can start planning my flat warming party … ?

Honestly, I’ll keep blogging

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Bit of a wander

Yesterday was a completely new experience for me: Walking through the English countryside. The walk was suggested by Paul’s cousin, Olwen, and I happily accepted the offer. Though if I’m honest, I didn’t really know what to expect for it! And I wasn’t really prepared for a walk either, having only brought a pair of running shoes and casual clothes with me for my trip to England. Always the trooper, I was going to make do with the clothing I’d brought, but as luck would have it, Olwen had an old pair of boots that fit me as well as a spare rucksack.

Olwen is a regular walker and got in touch with her friends, Ernie and Dennis, to join us for the day. They picked a route that they’ve all done in the past, and we headed out in the car from Billingham through Whitby and into Robin Hood’s Bay where the walk began. It was then a nine-mile walk on a disused rail bed that took us up to Ravenscar then back down the way to Robin Hood’s Bay again. It’s meant to go along the beach, but a high tide meant that we walked along the tops of the cliffs instead. It was a very train-oriented journey (despite the fact that we were on foot) which made me happy because it meant loads of great photos for Mom!

After the walk, we drove into Whitby for some fish and chips. I’d only been there once before—on the last English holiday Paul and I took a few weeks before he died—so it was a bit of a happy-sad part to the day, but I’m glad we went. A bonus to the trip was seeing a steam train!

Now, I wanted to keep this post fairly short, but I have to talk about the steam train so that’s not going to happen! You see, when we pulled into Whitby everyone decided to take a detour to the old train viaduct, because of my excitement over the old rail line. As we walked out on the viaduct, Ernie thought he saw what looked like steam from an old train so we waited and waited to see it come by, only we decided it must be smoke from a bonfire.

Then we noticed smoke on the other side, right near Whitby, and thought maybe that was a train. And we waited and waited but no train came. But still I smiled because it reminded me of a friend’s trip to Wales where she sat and watched the dolphins play, only to later realise they were just waves. Of course, she’d already had the thrill of enjoying the dolphins, so decided not to let the reality get her down. And that’s what today’s non-trains were to me—a bit of a letdown because there wasn’t a train, but a lot of smiles whilst I waited for the trains that never showed.

Then we started to walk back to the car and I stopped and insisted that I heard a train. Really, I did! So we waited a bit longer and sure enough, an old steam train came chugging around the corner and under the viaduct! Yay!!

But I’ve gone on and on, so I’ll stop now. But because I know that Mom would have loved to see the old trails, I took a great amount of photos on the route. And now she (and you!) can see what the day was like for me. I know it’s not quite the same as being there, but it’ll have to do!

Oh, one last thing: I promised my former foster daughter occasional YouTube videos, so here’s a quick one of the sea coming in at Robin Hood’s Bay at the end of our walk.

Wakey culture

I made my way down to Wakefield, England, yesterday to visit with my sister-in-law, Ann, for a few days. I’ve made several trips here over the past eight+ years and have always enjoyed it. But today was a different sort of day out in Wakefield because I went to my first art museum here—the newly opened Hepworth Wakefield.

I generally love museums and such, but I think that I was more impressed with the architecture of this one than the stuff they had inside. As we approached the grey mass of concrete (the largest purpose built exhibition space in the UK outside of London) I was struck by the building’s stark and utilitarian design. The angled, multi-layered roof line seemed so oddly placed in juxtaposition to the Chantry Chapel across the way—the brutal architecture seemed more fitting in a dock yard than in the heart of a medieval town. But I think that David Chipperfield’s vision works. (I especially loved the look of it against the blue sky!)

Inside of the museum I enjoyed the variety of paintings and sculptures, but I don’t think I was in the right mindset for a museum trip because none of the works really called to me today. I did, however, find it fascinating to see some of the displays explaining the process behind making some of the massive outdoor public sculptures that I see all over the place.

Of course, after seeing the arty cultural stuff, it was time to spend some cash. So Ann took me to a couple of shops where I found myself a new dress and a pair of ballet slipper kind of shoes after we popped into the Wakefield Cathedral’s gift shop and a Costa Coffee.

Tomorrow will be a bit of a lazy day (after, that is, I get a quick training run in for that bloody marathon!) then we’re heading back to Billingham on Friday. I realised the other day that I’ve been living out of a suitcase for nearly two months now, and I have to admit that I am ready to get settled in up in Scotland! (Though I also don’t quite know where I’ll be staying long-term there, so it will be a while before I’m truly settled, so stay tuned!)