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!)

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!

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!

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?

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 …

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

Boxed cat

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

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

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

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

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

And now on to the thank yous:

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

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

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

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

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

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

In flight

Ah, the modern world. Don’t you love how it’s filled with gadgets and gizmos aplenty and whozits and whatzits galore? After all, it means that I can bring you this blog update from an airplane some 10,000 feet above the ground!

So, here I am somewhere in the air between my home state of Washington and the Minneapolis airport. I’m flying on a standby buddy pass (i.e.: dirt cheap!), so was pleased to have gotten a seat on my first leg without problems. The next leg is Minneapolis to London and I’m hoping for good luck once again. Once I get to London I’m on my own and am travelling full fare, but it’s still an amazing savings.

(A special shout out of thanks to a special friend who sorted my travel. I won’t name her because I don’t want to make her phone ring off the hook for others looking for cheap travel, but please know that she is an amazing woman and whilst I don’t know her well, I feel that she is a true friend and someone I hope to know for the rest of my life! Lots of love to you, my friend!!)

But I digress…

I guess the point of this post is to distract me a bit from this new reality that I’ve yet to admit. It just doesn’t seem possible that I’m finally on my way. I feel as if I’m in a dream world and that this is just a little jaunt to someplace. I’ve been shutting out my emotions so much these past few weeks and I know it!

Don’t get me wrong, I cried when I said goodbye to my folks today (and my sister, two nieces and a nephew who joined us at SeaTac). And I’ve cried a few times since getting through security. But it’s all still a dream.

But I think my meltdown moment will be either when I arrive in Heathrow or when I arrive in Edinburgh and am greeted by Rebecca. (Yes, Rebecca, please expect tears. But please know it’s not you!) Yep, I’m a step closer to the dream and it won’t be long until my future becomes my today!!

[That’s a photo of me with the folks just before I got in line for security. I miss them already… (and not just because of the cooking and laundry they’ve done in the past month I’ve been staying with them!)]

At the beach: A holiday recap

I suppose it’s time for a holiday recap, since my Washington Coast holiday is over. So, here goes!

Day 1: I arrived at Copalis Beach, Washington, where I was attending a fun-filled family reunion, with more than enough time to eat food and visit with loads of awesome Eberles. Because I was playing in the family golf tournament the next morning, I stayed sober and went to bed early. Because I was staying in my sister Jessica’s tent and everyone else was staying up late drinking, I didn’t actually sleep. But I suppose that’s OK because everyone was having fun.

Day 2: Up bright and early, I loaded up my niece Cassandra (13) who decided to golf with us at the last minute, then stopped off to pick up Celeste’s kids, Flik (14) and Haden (12) who had also signed up to golf. Once we got to the course, I learned that Cassandra had only played miniature golf. I also learned that Haden and Cassandra would be on my team with Cousin Jack. Yeah, by the 9th hole it was just me and Jack. Haden called his mom for a lift and Cassandra went and read a book. It was also at the 9th hole that my completely rubbish game turned to just a half-way rubbish game. [Flik’s team, for the record, won the tourney. And Flik won the ladies’ long drive competition. Yay Flik!]

After golf it was off to the Ocean Shores senior centre for a BBQ potluck with 100+ cousins. At some point, Daddy and I went out to map out a 10-mile run for me to do in the morning. Of course, after not getting a good night’s sleep the night before, I opted to crash on the couch at the cabin my folks and sister, Celeste, had rented instead of back at the camp site with Jessica and the cousins. It was another early night, but what a great night’s sleep it was!

Day 3: Yes folks, it’s 10-Mile Run day! Daddy got up early with me to take me up to the start line for my run. The weather was nice and cool and there was a nice foggy mist for the first nine miles, which made for a cool and enjoyable run. Even better was that Dad showed up on his trike around mile 3.5 with a bottle of water then paced me until mile six when he rode back to meet me at the finish with his car. I had originally hoped for a two-hour finish, but was very pleased to have finished in 1:46:44—about a 10.36 minute mile, which is great for a training run!

After my run (and shower) it was back to the senior centre for more BBQ and potluck followed by a photo scavenger hunt that my team won. I’ll spare you some of the carry-on that ensued to make that happen, but I will share with you the names of Team Awesome: Me; my awesome baby sister, Royann; my awesome niece, Flik; and my awesome cousins, Carson and Dylan. Oh yeah, we had a blast! (And did I mention that our team won? Well, we did!)

And after that fun, it was back to the main camp ground for a dinner BBQ and potluck with more visiting with cousins. Only this time, I was drinking. And one of the cousins was making martinis, so you know I was happy! (Thank you, Flik, for your idea that we sleep in the car that night instead of in the cold tent. I was far too drink-filled to crawl into a tent anyhow!)

Day 4: Yeah, one too many drinks the night before, so I was a bit slow for day 4. Still, I managed to make it through. Most folks were heading home, but my folks and Celeste had their cabin for one more night, so Uncle Mike (who’d ridden over with me) and I decided to stay one more night, too, pitching our tents in a site just down from the cabin. Oh, and my baby sister’s kids (Adrian, 12, and Brendan, 7) were left off with my folks, too.

Once camp was set, we walked to the beach to fly kites. Only, Uncle Mike had these massive, fancy kites with loads of lines to operate and I just wanted a little pretty thing on the end of a single string. Thankfully, Brendan let me use the kite he was flying, so that made me happy. And after kite flying ended, it was back to the folks’ cabin for pizza before heading to the tents for some much-needed sleep.

Day 5: It’s leaving day, which means packing up the rigs. Only all of the sudden I had two more passengers (Adrian and Brendan) who needed a ride home to their mom. And that meant figuring out how to get all of mine and Uncle Mike’s gear back, since the back seat was no longer an option. Luckily, the kids’ legs were short enough to use some of their floor board space, and the folks had a bit of space in their rig, too. (My golf clubs appreciated the lift!)

Once on the road, the kids and Uncle Mike napped whilst I drove. Then it was a quick(ish) stop at the Old Spaghetti Factory in Tacoma before giving the boys back to their mom. Then it was on to Cle Elum to where Uncle Mike loaded his stuff into his rig and drove off whilst I warmed up LittleGreen. After all, I knew that you really wanted to know about my holidays. (Yay!)

[I’ll post loads of photos later. In the mean time, here’s what you’re looking at for this story:
Day 1: Camp fire at Echoes of the Sea, Copalis Beach, Washington.
Day 2: My golf team, Team Awesome, with members Cassandra, Jack, Haden, and me. [Photo by my niece, Flik.]
Day 3: Me, at the five-mile mark of my 10-mile run. (It was more fun than my face may let on!) [Photo by my Dad, Roy.]
Day 4: Brendan flying the fun kite.
Day 5: Me, Daddy, Mommy, and Celeste in the face-in-hole cut out at the camp grounds. [Photo by The Jeanne.]

On a positive note

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have visa; will travel

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

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

(Yay!)

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

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

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

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

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

The packing begins

Last weekend the world was really closing in on me. So much so that I had a bit of a breakdown at my folks’ place about the stresses of emptying my house. The process of trying to sell stuff, deciding what to keep, and figuring out how I would manage to get everything I was keeping from my rural home to the homeland more than 200 miles away was just too much.

Anyhow, my breakdown caused them to re-think their plans for this weekend. They had intended to spend the entire weekend with another sister (Jessica) and my niece (Cassandra), but instead opted to spend Friday night with them, then drive down to my place to help with the process of clearing out some of my treasured junk. At the same time, Jessica and Cassandra decided that they would also come down on Saturday to help—and for a final chance to see my foster daughter before she moves in a couple of weeks.

And so, last night I stood in my bedroom clearing out my antique dresser and vanity so that my folks could take them to my niece, Flik. The set had been my grandmother’s and I really wanted them to remain in the family—and Flik was more than happy to be the recipient of a bit of family furniture.

Of course, to get the stuff ready meant that I (finally) had to empty out Paul’s underwear drawer. And I (finally) had to put away the keys and coins and bits and bobs that he’d placed on top of the dresser the night he died. (Yes, these things really have sat right where he left them for more than two years.) Now, all of those things are in a couple of boxes on the bedroom floor. I haven’t quite gotten to the place where I’m ready to get rid of his clothes. (But I did throw away his used tooth ­­picks and tissues. That’s a step in the right direction…)

Because I wanted to take advantage of the exiting vehicles, I also managed to pack four boxes with stuff for storage: Some books and movies, a variety of vases and knick-knacks that I can’t yet part with, and the wedding cake topper that my dad hand-carved for us. I even filled up Jessica’s car with loads of things that would have ended up at Goodwill: Various wine and champagne glasses, candle holders, candles, hair clippers, and snow boots—plus some teas and chocolates that would never be consumed if left here.

It hurts so much to see these things gone from my home because it’s a sad reminder that soon this house that was once filled with love and hopes and dreams will be empty and lifeless. No matter how many times I tell myself that I’m doing the right thing—and that Paul would approve of everything I’m doing—it hurts. I try to put on a brave face, but inside I’m crying; inside my whole world is vanishing before my eyes.

There is so much more to do. So very, very, very much more. And I don’t know if my body can produce all the tears that are needed for the process. Then, once the house is empty, there’s the process of saying goodbye to my life in America.

Why do the right decision have to be so painful?

The homeland half

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Photo credits to my dad, Roy Cook.]

Loosey goosey

Back in February I told you about a never ending project I’ve been working on with left over bits of yarn. And I mentioned that the stitching was getting looser as I went, making the project all catawampus. At first, I thought I’d just deal with it. But then my obsessive compulsive tendencies got the better of me and I couldn’t continue.

All of the sudden, I began to stress out about this project. It seemed such a waste, but I couldn’t possibly accept this horribly skewed thing. So I thought I’d start completely over—stitching with a larger hook and using a loose stitch from the first row. That would make the project go faster, too, which sounded good to me. But once I began that plan—stitching as I unravelled—I determined that wouldn’t work either because it just didn’t look right.

So I started to think maybe I’d just bin the whole project. No harm; no foul.

But I couldn’t bring myself to do that. So my remaining option was to unravel to the point where my stitching went awry. That thought made me sad, but at least there wouldn’t be any waste.

Which means I’ve spent a couple of hours unravelling my lovely afghan. And now I get to spend many, many, many more re-stitching. And, with a bit of consistency and discipline, maybe it will work the way it’s meant to this time around.

(One day, Mom, this will make it to your bed. I promise!)

Her Majesty’s big day

It’s Friday, April 29, 2011. It’s a date that will be remembered around the world as a commoner weds a prince in a faraway land.

But, more importantly, it’s my mommy’s birthday. And because I don’t really mind my age being shared with the world, I will go out on a limb here and tell you that it’s her 64th birthday.

Now, I think it would be fair to say that Mom is very, very [censored] off that her day has been overshadowed by the royal nuptials. I can’t really blame her for that, since I’m a bit sick of hearing about the wedding, too.

To make up for her spoiled day, I’m sending a big shout-out for the whole world to read. Well, the extremely small portion of the world that reads my blog anyhow.

Happy birthday, Mom!

(I should note here that I’ve failed to post Mom’s birthday card. So it will be late. Sadly, my nephew, Adrian, turns 12 tomorrow and his card hasn’t been posted either. I’m really slacking!!)

On beating children

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Check out more race photos at Run Frances, Run!

If the dress fits

At some point I am going to need to go through all of my clothes and ditch the old stuff in preparation for my move. But today isn’t that day.

It is, however, the day that I happened across the dress that I wore for my high school graduation way back in 1992.

So I did what any 37-year-old woman would do 19 years after graduation—I tried on the dress. And it fit.

I have several dresses from high school and my 20s that I’ve saved. It may seem strange to have kept them—knowing full-well I’ll never wear them again—but I just know how upset I am that my mom get rid of her awesome clothes from the 60s and 70s. The few pieces that she kept I’ve managed to borrow on occasion (and I’ve been given a couple, too) but there are some dresses I’ve seen in old photos that I’m so distraught over not being able to steal borrow.

Which brings me to why I’ve saved my ‘best’ dresses from the past: So that I can one day pass them on to my daughter. Of course, as a childless widow, the chances of that happening are now slimmer than ever before. So instead, I hope to one day pass them on to my nieces. Only, I don’t know that they’ll want them.

Oh, what a dilemma!

But, all of that said, since the dresses seem to fit—and since the 90s seem to be coming back in style—maybe I should start wearing them again?

No, wait. I think I remember some rule that goes something like: ‘If you wore it when it was fashionable the first time around, you’re not allowed to wear it when it becomes retro-awesome.’

Oh well. Anyone want some awesome dresses from the 1990s for their daughters? …

It may never be done…

Shortly after moving into our new home, I started working on a queen-sized afghan using the bits and scraps of other projects. Paul and I were looking forward to having loads of handmade afghans and quilts to keep us warm. Then when Paul died I stopped stitching because I just didn’t have the heart for it.

But about nine months later, I picked up my hooks and started to work on the afghan once again. I even put out a call to friends for any left-over yarn they might have—and was pleased to have people respond with bags of the stuff!

Then summer hit. Then I took in a foster kid. Then life’s stresses hit. Then the holiday season’s depression hit. Then I needed to concentrate on finishing my foster daughter’s [now late, but finally finished] Christmas afghan.

Which meant this lovely queen-sized afghan was neglected and neglected and neglected. (Though there were periods between neglect where I’d hook a couple of rows.)

Anyhow, I guess it’s about half-way done now—nearly three years after it got started! But all of the sudden I’m moving back to Scotland. And it seems silly to take a half-finished project this size with me, but I can’t ditch it now because I’ve put in too much effort.

And so, I am now stitching for my mommy! Yep, I’ve decided that I will attempt at finishing this sucker before I fly out to Scotland this summer and I will give the finished afghan to my Mom. I think she’ll like this plan.

Of course, in taking a photo of the project so far, I spread the blanket out on the floor and quickly noticed that it’s getting wider as I go. I think it’s a combination of me loosening my stitches as I get faster and the different, softer yarns that I’m using right now. So Mom, I’m very sorry but you’ll be getting a crooked afghan.

Right. Time to stop blogging now and start hooking…

100 random things

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

100 Random Things about Just Frances

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

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

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

Fannies and haggis

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

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

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

Check out photos from the weekend here!

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And check out some fun videos from the weekend below!

2010 Christmas card and letter

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

Dear Family and Friends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merry Christmas!
Just Frances

Happy 235th birthday, USMC!

Since 1775, the United States Marine Corps has been winning battles and defending our nation.

On what marks the 235th birthday of the Corps, I want to say that I am proud to be the daughter of two amazing Marines. I am proud of my amazing niece who is serving our country today. I am proud of all my family and friends who’ve served in the past and who will serve in the future.

Thank you for your service and thank you for protecting my freedoms.

Blagenda

WooHoo! I made a trip to the homeland this weekend to make blagenda with my folks and one of my sisters. Her kids and my foster daughter got in on the action, too.

We used an old family recipe that was brought over from Ukraine when my family emigrated/immigrated* a couple of generations ago. I don’t know just how old the recipe is, but it’s certainly a traditional dish for people of ‘Germans from Russia’ heritage.

If you’re wondering, blagenda is essentially a pumpkin turn-over or tart. It’s a basic short pastry filled with grated pumpkin then it’s baked for a bit. Growing up, we always had it as a savoury even though some families would add sugar and cinnamon to make it a sweet dish. This year, we gave the sweet-side a try and made a few with cinnamon and sugar ourselves.

We made more than 260 of the little guys in total. That’s a lot of pastry rolling and my arms are very, very sore now, having been the main pastry-roller-outer. In fact, I was so busy rolling pastry that I didn’t end up touching any of the pumpkin prior to it being placed in the pastry shells. (The task of peeling, chopping, and shredding pumpkin went to Mom, Celeste, and the kids.)

The recipe we followed is one that my Great Aunt Mary wrote down—but who knows how many times it was copied before then. If you care to give it a go, here’s a copy of the recipe for you, edited for grammar and clarity because it’s what I do!

Blagenda

Pumpkin mixture:

  • 6 cups grated pumpkin
  • ½ cup grated or chopped onion
  • 1½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper

Mix all together and let set ½ hour. It makes its own juice [NOTE: Juices should be drained before placed in pastry but save them and use them as a great soup base. Yum!]. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired.

Pastry:

  • 6 cups flour
  • 1½ cup shortening
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup sugar

Mix as you would a pie crust, adding milk as needed, and work well.  Roll out as you would pie crust and cut circles 3-6 inches wide. Place pumpkin mixture on half of pastry and flip the other half over to make a tart. [NOTE: For best results, use a bit of water to help seal the edges.] Bake at 350°F for about 20 minutes or until a nice golden brown. [NOTE: We baked for about 25 minutes – the size of your tarts will impact cooking time.]

[Side note: I was asked to give proper UK measurements, too, but haven’t got the math done yet. I will try to update later in the week but if you really can’t wait, US to UK measurements can be found here: US cups to UK weights (dry ingredients) and US to UK liquid conversions.]

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And—big surprise!—here are a couple of videos of the process for your enjoyment. (The second one is the best!)

[Another side note: After posting a story and video about making pickles, a friend gave me a bit of grief for not having demonstrated the proper technique for washing hands. I’m not going to do that now, either, but will say that you really must wash your hands before (and after) handling food. If you don’t know the proper technique, you can Google it.]

 

* Emigrate and immigrate have two different but similar meanings, if you didn’t know. Someone emigrates from a location and immigrates to a location. So, to use the terms in sentences: My maternal and paternal ancestors emigrated from Ukraine a couple of generations ago. And: My hope is to immigrate to Scotland in the next year.

Handbag packrat

Ack! It’s happened again! I’ve become a handbag packrat. You know, those women who carry these massive bags around all the time that are loaded with rubbish they don’t need. And the reason they do that is simple: As inhabitants of the western world, we fill the space we have to capacity. (And if that’s still not enough, we just rent a storage unit somewhere on the outskirts of town!)

I am not generally a handbag packratter though. For three main reasons: I don’t wear makeup; I carry smaller, vintage bags most of the time; and I swap out my bags often.

But when I go on holiday I generally carry a shoulder bag so that I can toss my camera and any small purchases into the bag and my hands are free.

Anyhow, when I went to England at the start of the month, I grabbed a larger handbag so that I could have various bits and bobs with me on the plane. And when I got back I entered straight into a crazy world of work and foster mommy-ing and I never had time to switch my bag back over. Which meant that I did what inhabitants of the western world do and I filled the space to capacity.

Well, I’ve had enough and am now cleaning house. Or, rather, cleaning bag!

So, what was in the bag? Well…

  • Money floating loosely: £4.05 in coins; $3.25 in coins; and $6 in cash
  • Two iPods; 1 iPod headphone; and 1 iPod cable
  • A smart phone; a wireless mouse/pointer; and three thumb drives (total storage: 22 GB)
  • Two sets of keys
  • A pack of gum (four pieces of which were out of pack floating loose); a pack of Love Hearts; a pack of Giant SweetTarts; two tins of mints; three lollypops; a tea bag; and an apple
  • Three handkerchiefs; a nail file; a pocket mirror; a pack of secret girly things; and two chap sticks
  • A silver ring; two tooth pick flossy things; five safety pins; and a small container of hand lotion
  • A seashell from Seaton and one teaspoon worth of sand, grit, and coal bits that must have come from the shell floating at the bottom of the bag
  • A large note book; a small Moleskin; two novels; a check book; and a filled check register
  • Fifteen envelopes filled with new bank cards, bank statements, bills, and a fun new art project
  • Four pens; a business card holder; and seven loose business cards
  • Eleven ponytail holders
  • Two empty gum wrappers and a partial wrapper from a pack of Mentos
  • A camera
  • A wallet with: Nine receipts that need to be reconciled; six business cards; a pack of domestic stamps; three international use stamps; eight bits of plastic for banks, identification, and insurance purposes; $11 in cash; and $2.95 in coins

And now, I’ve cleared out the mess and transferred junk into one of my favourite vintage bags: A 1960s wicker bag with teal lining and brass handles and closures. This is a fun bag that I purchased when out shopping with my mommy shortly before I got married.

And its contents are:

  • A smart phone; a 16 GB thumb drive; and one iPod with headphones
  • Two sets of keys
  • A pack of gum; a pack of Love Hearts; a tin of mints; and three lollypops
  • One handkerchief; a nail file; a pocket mirror; a pack of secret girly things; and two chap sticks
  • A tooth pick flossy thing and a small container of hand lotion
  • A seashell from Seaton (I’m taking it to Paul’s grave at the weekend, otherwise I wouldn’t still be carrying it—promise!)
  • A small Moleskin and a check book
  • Four pens and a business card holder
  • Two ponytail holders
  • A wallet with: A pack of domestic stamps; three international use stamps; four bits of plastic for banks, identification, and insurance purposes and $17 in cash

Ah… that’s better. Still a bit too much clutter but much, much less than before! I wonder what bag I’ll pick to use next week… ?

An illegitimate, homeless transient

I was born as a homeless transient, living in hotel rooms on the road for the first couple weeks of my life. Added to that early start, in the 1980s it was discovered that I was actually an illegitimately-born child. In fact, most of my sisters were illegitimate, as well.

That is a completely factual statement, however misleading it may be.

My father’s new post in the United States Marine Corps saw the family leaving California for Texas. Between the time that the family’s home in California was vacated and I was born, my parents and my two older siblings (for obvious reasons, not my younger siblings) took up residence in a long-stay hotel. Shortly after my birth at Camp Pendleton,* we vacated the California hotel and hit the road for Texas.

That answers the homeless transient part of the statement. Now on to my illigitimate birth.

My parents were married at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Cle Elum, Washington, in June 1969 (the same church I was married in nearly 36 years later). Their wedding was performed by Mom’s cousin, a Catholic priest. Their first-born daughter entered the world about 15 months later. About every two years another daughter was born. But here’s the catch: Mom’s cousin didn’t actually file the paperwork with the county until the sometime in the late 1970s, after their fifth daughter was born.** Meaning that, technically, they weren’t married.

And there you have it. From an illegitimate, homeless transient to a successful, university-educated world-traveler. Who knew!?

(Did I mention that I work in the public relations industry? Yep, it’s all about the spin, babe!)

* It should be noted that shortly after my birth the hospital was demolished. I like to think that it’s because they realized that never again would the building see the birth of such an amazing individual. And being as the building would never be able to top such an event, they decided to build a new hospital. It was the right choice.

** The timing may be a little off so whilst it is known that their sixth (and final) daughter was legitimately born, there is still a question as to if their penultimate daughter was born before or after their marriage certificate was filed.

Flying Old Glory

With pride and passion, I hung my American flag in front of my home today. With pride and passion, I am remembering our fallen soldiers, airmen, sailors, and marines today.

I am proud to be an American – today and every day. When the Color Guard passes by I stand tall and proud; a tear in my eye. When the National Anthem plays I stand tall and proud; my hand on my chest and a tear in my eye. I am proud of what America stands for and what her Founding Fathers had in mind when framing the Constitution. No matter where in the world I may find myself living, I will always be proud to have been born in the United States of America. For it is the land of the free because of the brave.

As you’re enjoying Memorial Day with your family and friends, stop to think of the brave men and women who’ve made the ultimate sacrifices to ensure the freedoms we, as Americans, hold so dear. And if you have the chance, thank one of the brave men and women who are serving today, or who served in the past.

So Mom, Dad, Miranda: Thank you from the bottom of my heart! Semper Fi!

Bit of Saturday shopping

The folks came to visit, so while Daddy went on a bike ride to Palouse and back, Mom and I headed to Moscow for some antique and book shopping. And I’ve totally scored!

I was actually looking for a “new” vintage handbag at the antique store but they didn’t have anything that I would actually use, and what’s the point in a cool, old handbag if it’s just going to sit in the closet? I did, however, manage to find a couple of new handkerchiefs – which is good because I am still suffering from a nasty cold. I also found a great ring. It’s a tiger’s eye set in silver and fits just right! I’d been looking for a tiger’s eye ring for a while, and since I wasn’t spending money on a handbag, I got something else for my hand instead!

When we finally made our way to the book store, Mom went in search of some cookbooks and I hit the discount CD racks. I used to love spending rainy Saturdays in Fopp looking through the racks and today reminded me of that. I really didn’t plan to buy anything, but Mom was taking her time so my hands slowly started to fill up. I got six CDs in total including Etta, Miles, Harry, and (because it was only 97¢) a Debbie Gibson CD (really!).

I know I should have stayed home to rest and recuperate a bit more, but I felt it would be unfair for Mom to have traveled all this way to just sit around… And I’m such a thoughtful daughter!

Taste testing

Part of being a redneck means that homemade booze is a fixture in your life. In my case, I don’t make my own booze (any more). I just drink the goods my wonderful mom produces.

A fan of fine Brandy, I was very excited more than a year ago when Mom first mentioned her latest attempt at home-brew: “Mock Cognac”. Well, today was finally tasting day!

With a glass of Hennessy’s VS Cognac in one hand and a glass of Mom’s Cle Elum-brewed brandy in another, I was ready for the challenge. Result: Not bad. Whilst Mom’s isn’t as smooth as Hennessy’s, it’s certainly an improvement on some of the bottom-shelf stuff I’ve suffered.

We’ll do another taste in about seven months before she wraps it up for Christmas gifts, so there’s time for it to age and improve a bit more. In the mean time, I will start looking for some good cocktail recipes for when I get my share of the liquid gold…

First bag

A conversation this afternoon reminded me that it’s time to swap out handbags; something I’ve not done since returning from my holidays so it’s really time I get in gear! Of course, what this really means is that I am going to share more useless information with you. Yay!

My handbag of choice isn’t really a “bag” but it still falls into the clutch category, which falls into the overall handbag category, so I’m counting it. It measures 8.5″ across, 4.25″ high (not including handle), and 2″ deep. When open the “lid” side is a full mirror.

Given to me by my Mom when I was in high school, this is the bag that started it all! I was really into vintage clothing and accessories at the time, but didn’t generally carry a handbag because I never saw the use in them. I don’t recall the circumstance that led to my ownership of the bag, just that it became mine. And as I started to carry it I got all sorts of fantastic compliments on it, and really enjoyed telling people that it had been my Mom’s bag in the 1960s.

Of course, after a while everyone knew the story and my old bag was old news. And then someone else gave me an old bag and the compliments and “back story” telling started again. It wasn’t long until I found an obsession with vintage bags!

But the best thing about vintage bags? Most of them have limited space which means I don’t get stuck carrying useless junk everywhere with me. And because I like to swap them out regularly, I tend not to have weeks’ old receipts and garbage cluttering the precious space.

And because I know you care, here is a list of the contents of my bag on an average day:

  • Lip balm
  • Drivers’ license
  • Debit and credit cards
  • Nail file (in a protective case so that the abrasive material doesn’t scratch anything else in the bag)
  • Handkerchief
  • Ponytail holder
  • Business cards
  • Pen
  • Mobile phone
  • Keys
  • Candy

And we’re back

Our time in the UK has sadly come to an end and we are now back in America after leaving Edinburgh in the early morning hours. As always, tears were shed as I left my beloved Scotland behind. I am so pleased to have had the opportunity to share it all with Mom though, who now understands a bit better why I have such a love for the place.

The last few days in Scotland saw us touring castles, abbeys, churches, and other such old falling down buildings in and around Edinburgh, Stirling, and (of course) Roslin. Because we had a car and my local(ish) knowledge, we were able to get away from the main tourist places and visit some of the less-traveled sites. We also spent a lot of time visiting with friends in and around Scotland.

We had a wonderful time and, as always, I wish I never had to leave. There are a few things Mom didn’t get to see this trip, but I’m hoping that the visit has left enough of an impression on her that she will want to return to see more of the lovely British Isles in the future.

So, here I am state-side once again. I’m a bit knackered after the long journey, and expect to have an off-kilter sleep pattern for a few nights; Mom is a lot knackered, and will certainly take longer to recover than I will. Also, my right leg is bruised three inches above and below my knee, a phenomenon that happens because I use my leg to push, heave, lift, and otherwise manage my luggage. That will be my long-lasting souvenir – but sadly, won’t serve as a reminder to handle my luggage differently in the future. (Have I mentioned I’m stubborn and don’t like to ask for help in lifting heavy bags?)

Home, sweet Scotland

We arrived in Scotland yesterday afternoon to bright sunny skies. Our plan had been to spend the day winding up the English coast and stay somewhere on the England/Scotland border so that we could arrive in Scotland first thing this morning, but Scotland must have been calling me home because one England-based plan after another fell through so we just headed toward the border.

We crossed into Scotland around 4:00 p.m. and stopped to take in the fresh air. I know it’s the same as what they get in England, but for some reason, my heart just cheers up the moment I know I’m in my lovely Scotland. I’m funny that way. (And many other ways, too.) After taking in the air, we got back in the car and headed toward Jedburgh where we found a nice little hotel for the evening.

At dinner, Mom was thrilled to enjoy her first ‘proper’ haggis and a 1/2 pint of McEwan’s 70/. (Two full pints of the stuff for me, but I’m normally an 80/ girl.) Because Mom was a good girl, I let her try some of my sticky toffee pudding, too.

In the morning, Mom enjoyed her first ‘full-Scottish’ breakfast before we went to tour the Jedburgh Abbey. After that, it was off to Edinburgh for us – my favourite city in the whole wide world. I just feel that I belong there!!

After a bit of a car tour of Edinburgh, it was off to my good friend, Lindsay’s, in Bo’Ness. This is where we’ll make our base for the rest of our trip.

So far, Mom seems to be enjoying herself. She is looking forward to heading to Stirling tomorrow then down to Roslin on Friday. We’ll eventually make our way back to Edinburgh to see the castle and other touristy stuff… The only part of the journey I’m dreading is the part where we go back to the airport and I have to leave my beloved Scotland behind once again.

The North

After a lovely couple of days in Yorkshire, we made the trip to Teesside on Sunday by way of a few small, back-country roads where we were able to see a couple of twee villages and lovely little farm houses as well as the ruins of a fantastic abbey. It took us nearly four hours to make the trip to Billingham, one that would normally be about an hour’s drive. Our local guide, Paul’s cousin Olwyn, made the trip even more enjoyable. The SatNav on loan from my nephew, Stephen, means we didn’t get lost!

Once we finally arrived at my brother- and sister-in-law’s house, we were off again for Seaton Carew. A perfect start to any visit!

We’ve spent the day touring around Billingham and supporting the local economy at the shops. I found some lovely new wool so that I can start on another baby afghan for the flight home, and even found a bit of new clothes! Mom found some tea and a new mug – and a canvas bag to carry them in. Soon, it will be time to head out to the carvery for dinner.

We’ll load the car again in the morning to begin our drive further north toward Scotland. We have plans to stop along Hadrian’s Wall and Holy Island. We don’t know if we’ll hit the border tomorrow or the next day, but we’ll get there eventually!

Yorkshire

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

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

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

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

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

Now, back to my lovely cup of tea…

Go!

And we’re off! Actually, we’ve been on the go for about 10+ hours now and are now waiting in Amsterdam for our connecting flight into Manchester.

My journey so far: I’ve shuffled the iPod through my jazz, bluegrass, and folk collections; my crochet project is at a stand-still as I’ve run out of yarn; and I’ve watched a couple of crummy movies.

Mom’s journey so far: Sleeping, reading, needle-work, rolling her eyes as I sing along to the music on my iPod.

Mom’s mood pulse: Beat tired and ready to just get there already! (She is now also wishing for that teleportation device!)

Won’t be long now until we arrive “home” in the UK. I just hope that I’m awake enough for the drive to Wakefield, and that the Google Maps are accurate enough to get us there!

Get set…

We’re at SeaTac now. We’ve checked in. We’ve gone through security. We’ve checked our gate number. We’re all ready to go… and are just waiting to be told we can.

I’m taking advantage of the free SeaTac WiFi while Mom uses the free time to catch up on the latest-and-greatest news in the Yakima Herald.

Mom’s mood pulse: Calm, cool, and collected. So she says…

Oh, look… Duty Free. Must go shopping now!

On your mark…

Remember when you were a kid and on Christmas Eve you were so very excited for Santa to arrive that you couldn’t sleep? You’d wish and hope and pray all through Midnight Mass that he’ll have come while you were away. When you finally got to bed you’d toss and turn, certain that every sound you heard was the sound of Santa’s reindeer on the roof. Those excited and anxious jitters were so great!

Remember when you were a bit older and you had those darn SATs that meant the difference between getting into the four-year college of your choice or attending community college? For days and weeks on end you dreamt of showing up at the exam half naked, or that your pencils kept breaking every time you filled in one of those blasted bubbles. Those nerve-wracking and anxious jitters were awful!

I think that Mom is half way in between those two feelings right now as she prepares for her first-ever trip off of the North American continent! Me? I’ve done this journey often enough that it doesn’t have the same effect. This isn’t to say I’m not excited, but I don’t have the jitters.

But we are packed and ready to go. Daddy will drive us to SeaTac bright-and-early tomorrow morning for our flight to the UK (via Amsterdam). Mom is certainly excited to see the family in England again, and equally excited to meet some of my friends in Scotland for the first time.

As a seasoned traveler, I’m almost bored of this journey and wish I could gain access to a teleportation device (or the TARDIS) and just GET THERE, but I imagine that this might be an enjoyable flight for me as I witness the innocent wonderment of a first-time international traveler. I’ve brought several tour guide books for some of the places we’ll visit which will keep us entertained, and I’m even going to ::gasp:: use Gogo In-flight Internet with my gadget phone to blog and Facebook about our exciting adventure! (I bet you thought you’d get a bit of a break whilst I was traveling! No such luck with today’s technology advancements!)

The problem with Seattle*

It’s Monday night and I’m busy getting ready for my holidays: Doing laundry; packing; cooking up ‘leftover stew’ with the contents of the fridge to put in the freezer (can’t have spoiled food when I return!); and reassuring Schrodie that I really do love her, despite the fact that I’m abandoning her yet again…

The frustrating thing is that I don’t actually leave until Wednesday, but because I’m flying out of the Seattle Tacoma International Airport (SeaTac) I have to leave a full day before. It’s a nearly six-hour drive to the airport from my house – IF there’s no traffic and IF the mountain pass is clear (February? That’s a very iffy if!). And so, I’m getting ready tonight so that I can drive to my folks’ house tomorrow (that’s about four hours away) then on Wednesday morning, Daddy will drive me and Mom to SeaTac.

Now don’t get me wrong, I do like the idea of flying out of SeaTac. As the largest airport in the state, it offers non-stop flights into Europe, where leaving from Spokane (which is only an hour away) would mean a stop somewhere in the states – and an added 5+ hours to the journey – for international flights. You could argue that I’ve already used up that time by driving clear across the state just to get to the airport, and you’d be correct! But, since I’m taking this journey with Mom, a long drive one way or another just had to happen.

But here’s the problem as I really see it: I like to have every bit of clothing cleaned, and freshly-made beds before I leave. In a world where I left my house straight for the airport, I would do laundry before bed so that the only dirty clothes being left behind were my jammies and unmentionables (::blush::) from the night before. However, in this scenario, I will be leaving a complete outfit as well as my jammies and unmentionables behind. OK, this really just means an extra pair of trousers, an extra top, and a pair of socks, and that there won’t be time to make up the bed with fresh sheets AND wash the old ones before I leave, but it’s just enough to cause my obsessive-compulsive issues (did I mention I have those?) into overdrive.

(A saving grace: The housekeeper will be in a couple of days before my return, so I can have her take care of the bed for me. But there won’t be enough dirty clothes to warrant her doing the washing.)

(A second saving grace: Thanks to the inspiration of a friend in Scotland, I am enjoying a Hefeweizen (or two) whilst packing. Yes, on a school night!)

Oh, and a random memory of Paul as I look at the photo with this story: Last February as I packed for a trip to the UK with Paul, he noticed for the first time that I actually have a well-organized packing list which I use for travel – tick-boxes and all! He laughed and laughed and laughed. But when we got  to England, I had everything I needed. Lucky for him, I did his packing, too. (I know, I truly am OCD!)

*OK, the title isn’t fair. It leads one to believe that there is just one problem with Seattle (or the greater Puget Sound area, really) and folks from “The 509” know that there are certainly many more problems than that! I’m quite certain that if you stick around, there will be more complaints offered about the Wet/West Side of the state!

Still stitching

I started crocheting this baby blanket last February. I’m still a beginner(ish) hooker and wanted something simple and small to work on while Paul and I traveled to England for a Ryan family reunion. A couple of days after we got home we adopted Schrodie so the project was put on hold because young cats and yarn aren’t the best mix. It was only a couple of months ago that I decided to pick up my hooks again, but have been working on a larger blanket, saving this one for my next flight.

Mom and I will be traveling to the UK in a few days for the Ryan family reunion and I’m planning to take this project with me to keep me occupied on the long flight. My excited hope is that I can finish it on the way there and start a new one on the return journey because it seems several people I know are due to have babies this spring and summer. Keeping that optimistic hope, I will pack a couple of extra skeins of yarn. However, I am a realist and think that I will be lucky to finish this a year after starting it!