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!

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!

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

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

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

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

But I digress…

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

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

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

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

Inspirations; Part 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

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.

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 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.

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

Out of place

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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…

Just because you fall

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

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

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

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

Random thoughts: A challenge

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

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

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

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

And with that: Let the challenge begin!

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

Blank slate; inspiration sought

I’ve spent the last couple of hours searching for inspiration. For what, I don’t quite know. I’ve found lists of daily adventures, blogs meant to inspire you to write a book, and all sorts of things that would make a prostitute blush. (Sadly, that happens with Google searches sometimes!)

In the end, I found the inspiration I was looking for in the hall closet. Yes, I was inspired by a piece of light-weight cardboard that sat peeking out from the top shelf.

Or at least I found just enough inspiration to know that I want to use it as the base for a collage. But I don’t know what the theme of the collage should be.

And that’s where you, Dear Reader, come in. Yes, I would like to hear your ideas of what to place on the board; ideas of a theme or a medium to use; ideas of anything, really.

So, what do you think I should do for my collage? Feel free to give multiple suggestions, and I will let you know what I’ve decided to do once I’m fully inspired!

[Here’s the blank canvas. It measures approximately 16.5 x 9.5 inches. Or 9.5 x 16.5 I suppose, depending on the final orientation.]

A random letter

Today, I decided to let the Internet decide what my post would be. So, I went to Creative Writing Prompts to pick a topic. But I wanted it to be a bit more random than that, so I visited Random.org to pick my topic number. And that number was 109. The prompt is to write a letter to someone I feel I need to spend more time with.

I went back and forth over who to write to, because I spend as much time as I can (or want) with most of the people in my life. (Well, geography gets in the way sometimes, unfortunately.) I finally decided to write to someone I really do miss; someone I really do wish I could spend more time with; someone I really need to spend more time with.

So, here goes!

Dear Happy Frances,

You have been on my mind a lot lately, and with each passing day I realise just how much I miss you. I remember when we were inseparable; when we spent nearly every hour of every day together. But now, it just seems that we’ve been too busy to hang out.

I know that the last couple of years have been hectic, and that for a while we weren’t even on speaking terms, but I guess I thought we were growing closer again. Only now it seems that we’re letting the busyness and craziness of life get in the way of our friendship again.

But the thing is, I don’t want our friendship to fizzle. I want us to grow close again. I want us to be inseparable again. I want you to spend more time with my other friends, too, because I know that they love you just as much as I do.

So, if you’re up for it—and I think you are!—I’d love to talk about how to find more time for each other. What do you say?

Lots of love,
Frances

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

He’s getting younger

Today is my Daddy’s 67th birthday. And you may not believe it (unless you know him) but he just keeps getting younger and younger every year. Or maybe it’s that as each year goes by he realises that life is for living so he goes and lives it.

He’s an inspiration. And the bestest Daddy a girl could ask for.

Happy birthday, Dad. I hope that you have an amazingly-childish year!

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.

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.)

Inspirations; Part 7

Life is very stressful for me right now and I am feeling the effects in the core of my being. I have a sneaking suspicion that it will get worse over the next week or two as I finish up my time at the office and leave my lovely home behind in the hopes of a brighter future. And I hope that once that part of this journey is done some of the stress will fade away.

To get me through to that, however, I am in need of inspiration. So I’m back to finding wise words to ponder.

Reach high, for stars lie hidden in your soul. Dream deep, for every dream precedes the goal.
~ Pamela Vaull Starr

Your current safe boundaries were once unknown frontiers.
~ Anonymous

If your ship doesn’t come in, swim out to it.
~ Jonathan Winters

The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.
~ Winston Churchill

Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.
~ Joshua J. Marine

A faith-led journey

Today is Ash Wednesday; the start of the Lenten season. For 40 days (and six Sundays) I will reflect on my faith and my relationship with Jesus Christ, my Saviour. And as I contemplate the essence of the penitential season meant for the preparation for Easter, I am invigorated by the thought of examining my faith.

As a Catholic, I will spend today fasting and will make my way to Mass where I will receive Communion as well as have ashes imposed on my forehead. (Which will inevitably mean explaining for the rest of the day that, yes, I am aware I have ‘dirt’ on my face.)

Then, throughout Lent I will abstain from meat on Fridays. This in itself isn’t difficult because I only have meat 1-2 days a week anyhow, so I think the true challenge is remembering that it’s Friday. Inevitably, I will forget. But I know that I will be forgiven by my Saviour. Though I suppose the ‘good side’ of forgetting is that the moment I realise I’ve just eaten meat on a Friday, I begin a conversation with God. And it’s always good to have chats with God in my book!

I love Lent because it seems to make me so much more aware of my faith. And let’s face it, if it weren’t for my faith I would have been lost long ago.

I don’t suppose these are the right words, but I hope the sentiment is clear: I wish you all a happy Lenten season!

Inspirations; Part 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inspirations; Part 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

30 things

My friend posted a list of 30 things that make her smile and asked her readers what would be on their list. So, here’s my list! [In no particular order.]

  1. Butterflies
  2. Giggling children
  3. Schrodie
  4. Good friends—real and virtual
  5. Scotland
  6. Rays of sun peeking through the clouds
  7. Pretty sports cars
  8. Shiny new gadgets
  9. Random text messages from my nieces and nephews
  10. My nieces and nephews
  11. Finishing a hard race—under goal time!
  12. Finding a penny on the sidewalk (or even more than a penny!)
  13. The smell of Paul’s shirts when I open his side of the closet (one day I’ll need to get rid of them, but not right now)
  14. Vodka Martinis—extra dirty; extra olives
  15. Memories of happier times past
  16. Dreams of happy times to come
  17. Random emails from friends
  18. Mafia movies
  19. Funky silver rings
  20. Walking on a beach right after a storm
  21. Massive rain storms complete with thunder and lightning
  22. Big herds of elk bedded down along the road
  23. Thoughts about special people in my life
  24. Long pub lunches with friends
  25. International travel with my mom
  26. Fish and chips at Seaton Carew with my in-laws
  27. Seeing the excitement on my nieces’ faces as they talk about following in my footsteps with plans to study abroad when they go to university
  28. [Good] 80s music on the radio
  29. Spending time being active outdoors
  30. Hugs and cuddles from my foster daughter
  31. Breaking the rules just a little bit…

OK! You’re next! What’s on your list?

Reflections of 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April: I re-discovered Kamiak Butte.

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

June: I started reading an excellent book series.

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

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

September: I went fishing and I was silly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I can do it! [So says The Kid]

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

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

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

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

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

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

The good, the bad, and the uncertain

I have a lot on my mind right now. The good, the bad, and the uncertain. I’m not willing or emotionally able to share the bad and uncertain and the good would all be memories, dreams, or made-up rubbish.

So instead of words today, you get art. And a couple of quotes that seem fitting for the thoughts weighing on my mind. (Sorry that the art is rubbish. But a lot of art is.)

If you wait to do everything until you’re sure it’s right, you’ll probably never do much of anything.
~ Win Borden

A ship is safe in harbour, but that’s not what ships are for.
~ William Shedd

Clay play

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

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

 

“The Earth Laughs in Flowers”
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

An inspirational lunch

I remember visiting a friend not too long ago and being shocked to learn that he rarely took advantage of the great cultural and historical sites around him. I challenged him to use his lunch hour to see some of the places from time-to-time. I remember thinking how lucky he was to have such entertainment at his disposal, but how sad it was that he didn’t take advantage of it. (My guess is he still hasn’t.) But it dawned on me today that I have an amazing amount of cultural entertainment all around me that I never utilize.

I work in the center of a large university campus. All around me there are museums displaying art. There are concerts and lectures. There are exhibits for everything and anything everywhere! So when the university’s electronic newsletter for faculty and staff showed up in my email this morning, my eyes were drawn to a story about an art exhibit that opened today.

And because I am meant to be reclaiming my lunch hours, and because the museum is less than two minutes from my office (in fact, I park in the garage under the museum!), and because I’ve been feeling very arty these past few weeks, I decided to go at lunch time.

The exhibit at the WSU Museum of Art is called “Contemporary Australian Aboriginal Art” and is part of a collection belonging to Margaret Levi and Robert Kaplan. To be honest, I don’t know that I realized there was such a thing as contemporary aboriginal art, but then, I don’t really know anything about art. (But I know what I like!)

When I walked in, I couldn’t help but start smiling. I think it was because the art is so similar to what I like to draw: squiggles, swirls, lines, and dots. Only where my ‘art’ is just mindless nothings, I can see the thought that went into this—and the use of traditional symbols in many of the pieces helped to tell a story. (Thank you to the museum for providing legends to the symbols throughout the exhibit!)

Anyhow, I am inspired! I am inspired to continue my quest to reclaim my lunch time. I am inspired by the art and am excited to create some new drawings of my own. And I am inspired by seeing the paint on linens and canvas—so much so that I am now inspired to see if there is a painting course that I can take so that I can pretend to be an artist a bit more.

Yes, I think I should do that. Wouldn’t it be fun to learn how to paint?

Anyhow, I hope you’re inspired, too. I hope you’re inspired to take time for yourself; inspired to see an art exhibit; inspired to create your own art; or just inspired for the sake of inspiration.

Inspirations; Part 4

I’m in need of bit of inspiration to remind me that I am working toward a brighter tomorrow. And in the process, maybe you’ll be inspired, too!

Nothing will ever be attempted if all possible objections must first be overcome.
~ Samuel Johnson

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.
~ Henry David Thoreau

A man is not old until regrets take the place of dreams.
~ John Barrymore

All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.
~ Walt Disney

Dreams will get you nowhere, a good kick in the pants will take you a long way.
~ Baltasar Gracian

Without inspiration the best powers of the mind remain dormant. There is a fuel in us which needs to be ignited with sparks.
~ Johann Gottfried Von Herder

Today will be a good day. Today will be a good day. Today will be a good day. Today will be a good day. Today will be a good day. Today will be a good day. Today will be a good day. Today will be a good day. Today will be a good day.

If I tell myself that often enough, I’m certain it will be true!

 

Closer to a better tomorrow

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyhow, the main point is this:

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

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

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

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

Inspirations; Part 3

I’ve done a lot of praying this past week in the hopes of finding the strength, courage, and inspiration I need to accept a challenge facing my already fragile world. My fears are great and my confidence is weak but I have faith. And my faith will see my through.

The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
~Psalm 27:1

When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me?
~Psalm 56:3-4 

He gives power to the weak; and to those who have no might He increases strength.
~Isaiah 40:29

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
~Isaiah 41:10

For I am the LORD, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you: Do not fear; I will help you.
~Isaiah 41:13 

I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
~Philippians 4:13

A cup of inspiration

in·spi·ra·tion ˌin(t)-spə-ˈrā-shən, -(ˌ)spi- (noun; 14th century)
1a: a divine influence or action on a person believed to qualify him or her to receive and communicate sacred revelation b: the action or power of moving the intellect or emotions c: the act of influencing or suggesting opinions
2: the act of drawing in; specifically: the drawing of air into the lungs
3a: the quality or state of being inspired b: something that is inspired – a scheme that was pure inspiration
4: an inspiring agent or influence

The smallest things inspire me. I find it surprising at times because one little, seemingly-inconsequential thing can draw the most amazing ideas from my mind. A simple smell can inspire me to write a short story; the sounds of children laughing may inspire me to go outside and play after a long day at the office; a single word might cause my mind to begin composing the next chapter of whatever book I tell myself I’m working on.

I’m inspired to cook after a Facebook friend posts photos of their food. I make appointments for manicures and pedicures after someone I know talks about going to the spa for a day. I schedule golf lessons after hearing my boss talk about playing 18 holes over the weekend. And I go to the gym after my 11-year-old nephew phones to tell me that he’s just been on a training run for the 10K we’re running together in October.

But whilst I find these little inspirations everywhere – every day – I still find myself constantly searching for inspiration.

I search for the inspiration to motivate me to do the dishes. I scour the Internet for inspirational quotes to help bolster a failing smile. I read book after book searching for the inspiration for writing books of my own. And a seek inspiration to just get me from one day to the next.

It’s the searching for inspiration that I find strange. I never needed to search before. But then, Paul was my muse and I suppose I drew much of my inspiration from him – probably without either of us realizing it. 

The inspiration for this post? The side of a disposal coffee cup.

When I’m inspired, I get excited because I can’t wait to see what I’ll come up with next.
~ Dolly Parton

Inspirations; Part 2

Because we all need a bit of inspiration from time-to-time…

Learn to see things backwards, inside out and upside down.
~ John Heider

To reach a port, we must sail. Sail, not tie at anchor. Sail, not drift.
~ Franklin Roosevelt

Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out.
~ Robert Collier

To climb steep hills requires a slow pace at first.
~ Shakespeare

What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?
~ Vincent van Gogh

Whatifs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inspirations; Part 1

My sister gave me a little desk calendar with daily inspirations. The theme is “Be Good to Yourself” and features a short quote on each of the Post-It-size tear-off days. (You get gypped, however, because it doubles-up on Saturday and Sunday, which is silly because the weekends are the days when you’ll want to make notes of events and happenings, but whatever…)

In addition to the stupid quotes (“I love my money right where I can see it… Hanging in my closet.” ~ Sarah Jessica Parker) there are several that have really made me smile – either because they are things that are very true to my own beliefs or because they are truly inspirational.

And since everyone needs a bit of positive inspiration on a dreary Monday, I’m sharing a couple of my favorites with you!

We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscience of our treasures.
~ Thornton Wilder

You were born an original. Don’t die a copy.
~ John Mason

It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.
~ E.E. Cummings