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!)

Sing a song

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

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

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

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

I know—my lyrics leave something to be desired!

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

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

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

Yes, I am that kind of crazy.

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

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!

Freedom of the City

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

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

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

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

YouTube trails

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which lead me to a song about butterfly kisses…

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

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

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

Random thoughts: Simple pleasures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Red and rosé

It took a while to convince myself to get out of bed today. I mean, a long while—it was nearly noon by the time I decided to emerge from under my duvet. At first, I wondered if I would spend the day inside. Not necessarily sulking, but sitting around doing nothing. And for a while, I convinced myself that I could do that.

Then, for reasons still unknown, I decided that I should head into town. With that decision made, I hopped in the shower before putting on a pretty skirt and a fun sweater for a quick jaunt into town. I didn’t really know why I was going, but I knew that I needed to get out and stretch my legs.

Anyhow, I looked in the charity shops and even a couple of sales racks in the mall, but didn’t manage to find anything I wanted/needed/that fit, so I went home empty handed.

And now, I’m curled up on the couch with a glass of French rosé, listening to the sultry jazz sounds of Norah Jones, and getting ready to paint my nails a nice shade of hooker red.

I guess I have to say it’s not been too bad of a start to the new month.

Substitutiary locomotion

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

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

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

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

A lesson in carols

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

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

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

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

Minor chord

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Music to launder money by

There’s an ice cream van that comes around the neighbourhood most evenings around 6:30. When I first heard the magical music, I smiled as I realised that I could grab my money and run down to buy a frozen treat if I wanted. Oh yes, my inner child was oh-so-happy.

Then, one night, the music came on and I mentioned it to Rebecca. And Rebecca then mentioned that ice cream vans are sometimes used as a way to launder money. And hair salons launder money, too, apparently. (And in a quick search, I’ve learned that ice cream vans have been known to sell smuggled cigarettes, too!)

Now when I hear the melodic vehicle I still smile—no longer with naive innocence, but instead with the wryness of knowledge.

But here’s the deal: If it’s true, am I breaking the law by knowing aiding in criminal activity by purchasing a Cornetto? I mean, I don’t want to risk a criminal record over a lousy frozen treat.

Fun with maths

[Please note that the ‘S’ at the end of maths was intentional, and not an error. It’s part of my attempt to use that funny British English stuff, since that’s (almost) home. However, I’m not quite ready to add the ‘S’ to words such as toward, forward, and backward. One day, I will completely acclimatise myself to the extra and replacement ‘S’s though. I think. But now onto the story.]

Once again, I’ve had a couple of great, fun-filled days. And much of the fun has included numbers. Like:

3+9=Golftastic!
Three friends came to visit yesterday and we were given the opportunity to play nine holes of golf at Rope Rider. The course isn’t open to the public for another three weeks, so it was a rare treat. It was also quite interesting to play since the course isn’t marked so we didn’t know where the tee-boxes were or what par was on each hole. Additionally, we didn’t have a course map and the pins weren’t out on the greens so we didn’t actually know where to aim! But we all had a great time and the course was absolutely amazing!

12+1+3+1=Runtastic!
So this morning I woke up bright and early (like, 6 a.m.!) for a 12-mile training run (12+1). I’ve been feeling a bit lazy with my running the last few days, so wasn’t about to bail on it! Thankfully, my Dad woke up early, too, so that he could ride along with me on his trike (that’s the 3+1 part, if you wondered).

NieceX3+Yakima=Funtastic!
After cooling down from my run, I grabbed three of my nieces (Flik, 14; Cassandra, 13; and Ivanna, 13) for a quick trip to Yakima. We loaded into my car and turned up the tunes (500 Miles by The Proclaimers was the first song request) then just sang and laughed on our way to ‘the big city’ (population 91,000 that’s big to us!). Our first stop was Target for some new running tops, then it was on to Miner’s for burgers and fries. After an enjoyable lunch we stopped off at the art supply and book stores before making the return drive to the homeland. It was really fun to be out with the girls, and I especially loved chatting with Ivanna about her dreams of being a tattoo artist when she grows up. (I doubt her mom enjoys hearing that career choice!)

36+Colours+Tin Case=Drawtastic!
Of course, I also managed to invest in some future fun! Yep, when we went to the art supply store, I noticed that they had a 50 percent off sale on premium coloured pencil sets. And since I have been frustrated with my $5 cheap-and-cheerful set intended for elementary students, I broke down and purchased a set of Prismacolor pencils. There are just 36 in the set, compared to 72 in the cheap set, but they are meant to be much better and come in a handy tin for carrying with me. And since we all know that I find joy (and therapy) in drawing swirls, it just seemed like $30 well spent!

And since we’re talking about maths, here are some more figures for you:

  • 7: Number of sleeps left until my flight
  • 39: Number of sleeps left until the first day of classes
  • 59: Number of sleeps left until I run/walk the Loch Ness Marathon

(Not bad for a woman who hates maths, huh?)

[That’s a photo of today’s burgers. Yum, huh?]

So, I made you a mixed tape

About two months ago I wrote about how distraught and heartbroken I was over the apparent loss of my beloved first (and only) mixed tape (CD) that Paul made me shortly before we got married. I was really starting to lose all hope of ever finding it, but then it happened—I found it! Or rather, my father found it!

It seems that it got shuffled away into a bag filled with sympathy cards shortly after my return from my UK holidays a few months after Paul’s death. I vaguely remember the circumstances that lead me to tuck things away in the closet, but I guess I was too filled with grief to have fully remembered what I stashed. (I even found a few un-opened bills and letters, but nothing important as I pay my bills online!)

But anyhow, I am now in possession of the CD again and it makes me so very happy—a small bright spot in the otherwise sad and tearful process of packing up the last bits of my home in preparation for my move.

Now, I’m sure that if Paul was alive he’d not want me sharing the playlist and his notes on my blog. But since he’s not here to protest, and since I feel that I really want to share them, here they are for your enjoyment! I’ve included the song title and artist in brackets at the end of each song description so that you can check them out if you’d like!

The story of ‘So, I made you a mixed tape’

  1. First of a few melancholy tunes which kind of sum up our situation—the actual lyrics may not be particularly relevant but the ‘sadness’ aspect kind of sums up how it feels to be so far away from you. [Both Sides Now; Joni Mitchell]
  2. This is just a sharp reminder that we have it easy compared to some people. We know we will see each other again—the people Mary Black sings about are parting forever. [Ellis Island; Mary Black]
  3. All this being together and leaving each other nonsense that we have to endure seems to centre on airports—at least I know when I’ll be back again! [Leaving on a Jetplane; John Denver]
  4. The ultimate feeling miserable song! [This is How it Feels to be Lonely; Inspiral Carpets]
  5. And now a wee reminder of how insignificant it all is in the great scheme of things. Nothing like a bit of Python to lighten the mood. [Galaxy Song; Monty Python]
  6. Back to the airplane theme again. This song isn’t about airplanes actually, but it is a lovely love song and he does mention he is holding his ‘ticket tight’. Makes more sense with the next track. [Down the Dip; Aztec Camera]
  7. Ah! A ticket for an airplane ‘Lonely days are gone’. [Give Me a Ticket for an Aeroplane; Jefferson Airplane]
  8. OK, so I didn’t drive, but this song has that sense of ‘I just can’t wait to see you’ about it that I can relate to. [I Drove All Night; Cyndi Lauper]
  9. And just to shake off the sentimentality before it gets to overbearing, how about a little AC/DC? Also, just in case the nieces are listening, this track might help me in my bid for ‘Cool Uncle Paul’ status. [Let There Be Rock; AC/DC]
  10. Now, we are always using the analogy of a fairytale for our romance—and here’s a song about a guy who thought love was only true in fairytales. Well, like him, I guess I’m a believer now, too. (Awww, how sweet.) [I’m a Believer; The Monkees]
  11. This is just a neat little tune—I’m sure we had a conversation about it ages ago. [I Love You Period; Dan Baird]
  12. And I know this song was mentioned in dispatch recently. [Forever and Ever Amen; Randy Travis]
  13. Because I thought you were talking about this song! (I put this version on just to remind you what they sound like live. Especially as you had to miss their gig recently.) [Red Cortina (Live); The Saw Doctors]
  14. And how can I play the Saw Doctors and not think of this track and the fact that next time we hear it played live it will be for our first dance as husband and wife. [I Know I’ve Got Your Love; The Saw Doctors]
  15. Now the mood moves through melancholy and slushy sentimentality into slightly perky optimism because—not long from now—I’ll be on my way! [I’m On My Way; The Proclaimers]
  16. A statement of fact surely? [The Best is Yet to Come; Tony Bennett]
  17. Ah, the song I had to stop myself from humming out loud all the time we were in Venice! [Going to the Chapel; The Chiffons]
  18. And finally, returning to the air theme again—this time with a more cheerful outlook. [Come Fly With Me; Frank Sinatra]

The last long weekend

I’m in the homeland enjoying a four-day weekend before the start of my final (three-day) work week. And as it happens to be Pioneer Days Weekend (in celebration of Independence Day) there is lots going on!

Yesterday was an annual barbeque at my eldest sister, Veronica’s, house—made so much better because it was the day after my 15-year-old niece, Krystyne’s, last radiation treatment! I can’t tell you how happy I am that my favourite Bug is cancer-free!

Then today I ran the Runner Stumbles 10K with my 12-year-old nephew, Haden, whilst my sister, Celeste, and 14-year-old niece, Flik, did the 5K. It was a bit of a hard race for me since I’d not run at all (bad girl!) since the half-marathon distance I did just over a month ago, coupled with the fact that I’m not long out of a two-week battle with an upper respiratory infection—which meant I did a lot of coughing on the route!!

But still, Haden and I managed to run the entire race. And whilst I was disappointed with my slower-than-desired time, I was so proud of Haden for coming in first in his age group (under 14). He’s a bit bummed that he was the only person in his group, but I reminded him that whilst loads of kids his age did the 5K route, he was the only one who had the courage and determination to do the 10K. And he ran the whole thing. A feat to be proud of for sure!

[See more of my races here.]

Then this evening, I grabbed Flik and Haden to head out to the old South Cle Elum train depot where my 16-year-old nephew, Nick, was playing with his band, The Blast-Ended Skrewts. The band has been together for about eight years and really do rock! (The YouTube video below should serve as proof to that statement!)

I’ll head home tomorrow and will hopefully find some nice local fireworks to watch. Then on Tuesday I will head out of a quick training run on the last day of my four-day weekend. A day that I’m also realising will be my last day off work—since you can’t count it as a day off work when you’re unemployed. Which I will be as of 5:01 p.m. on Friday, July 8.

Wow! I’m beat just thinking about all the activity of the weekend and coming week!

Music lessons; take three

When my foster daughter first came to stay with me, we fell into a habit of listening to the radio on the drives to and from town, about 30 miles away. We both liked country, so it worked for us. Then in the evenings I would put some jazz or a bit of Christy Moore or Mary Black on the Bose. The kid didn’t care for the jazz but seemed to like the Irish tunes so that became our pattern.

Then one day in October I brought my “The Best Scottish Album in the World…Ever” CD out to the car and we discovered that she loved much of that music.

Soon, we were listening to The Paperboys and The Waterboys. Then we added The Clumsy Lovers and The Saw Doctors. And she loved it all. Really, really loved it.

So when I started thinking about what to get her for her birthday in July, it was an easy decision: An iPod filled with her new favourite tunes.

I gave her the gift a couple of days ago because she is leaving for her new home on the east coast tomorrow morning and I won’t get to see her on her birthday. And it would be fair to say that she loved the gift—especially the engraving on the back that says “[Name] is 100% awesome.”

It’s really going to be hard to say goodbye tomorrow, but I hope that she’ll think of me with happy thoughts when she hears the music she was introduced to during our time together. I know that I will never think of The Paperboys without thinking of the kid, that’s for sure!

I do love teaching kids about music! See what I taught my niece, Flik, here or check out her brother, Haden’s, music lesson!

Pieces of noon

Once again, I’ve become lax in my efforts to reclaim my lunch hour. In fact, the last time I made a deliberate effort to do so was back in March! OK, in fairness I have taken a couple of lunch-time trips to Moscow for optical appointments but that’s just not the same. But I digress…

Last week I noticed that the WSU Museum of Art had listed a few summer concerts, so I decided to put them on my calendar right away so that I could be free to take the five minute walk and get out of the office. I’d completely forgotten about it, but then my handy-dandy gadgets started beeping and flashing reminding me that I had a noon appointment—one that I almost cancelled because I wasn’t really in the mood. But then I realised that not being in the mood to relax was exactly why I needed to go and relax.

So, it was off to listen to the WSU faculty jazz ensemble, Nighthawk, and look at the pretty art stuff. After all, what can be more relaxing than a bit of jazz and art on a late-spring afternoon?

And now comes the part I know you’re all waiting for: My impressions of some of the art! But don’t worry, I’m only going to give my thoughts on four of the many pieces I saw.

First up, I was drawn to an Andy Warhol painting called Siberian Tiger (1983). Now, please forgive me for my first thoughts about this painting, but it reminded me of the tigers and lions we used to draw as children. Well, the outline part at least—the rest of it was very much outside of my ability! The colouring and texture on the tiger’s eyes and facial features was beautiful. Truly the work of an artist and not that of my childhood drawings! But, the memories it brought me of my now-passed thoughts that I could be a famous artist made me smile.

The next piece that struck me was an untitled piece by Cheryl Laemmle. It was oil on canvas painted in 1978 depicting a monkey and a horse in an outdoor scene. (Where else would a monkey and horse be, right?) The overall piece wasn’t something that spoke to me, but I was so taken in by how realistic the fur on the animals looked. The white fur on the horse was especially realistic and I had to resist the urge to feel it. On looking up close, I could see the individual brush strokes that made the fur, but even after that, it still looked all 3-D(ish) when I stepped back again. So, yeah, this piece made me smile, too.

The third piece that made me stop for a closer look was probably the most pretentious one in the place. (Yes, I always try to pick out the one I think is the most pretentious.) Anyhow, it was by Nancy Burson and was titled O.I.C. (1980; screen print) It was in a simple, minimalist brushed silver frame with a white matte. And inside the white matte was a white square screen-printed on white paper. If you looked very closely, you could see the faintest pencil-scrawled signature. (I would have been embarrassed to sign my name to it as it seems as silly as signing a blank cheque if you ask me. But what do I know about art?)

Finally, I was struck by a piece by Joseph Goldberg titled Pieces of Noon (1986; encaustic on linen over wood). The overall piece looked rather distressed and flaky and consisted of several ill-fitted bits of something-or-other stacked on each other—with a very tenuous looking base and a more stable looking top bit.

And now I’m going to get all self-reflected and stuff because it’s my blog and it’s all about me and that last piece made me all reflective and stuff so: I found it amusing that, in an effort to reclaim my lunch hour, I found enjoyment in a bit of art called Pieces of Noon. Further, I enjoyed the symbolism* in the piece being distressed and flaky—just like I’ve been feeling lately. And I found it interesting that—despite the tenuous-looking base—the overall image seemed stable and solid. Almost as if the weight of the top bits were stabilising the rest of the stack. (Yeah, I’m not the best at interpreting art, but these were my thoughts and this is my blog so that’s OK.)

Oh! And one more thing! As I sat there scribbling my notes with one of my Just Frances pens, a member of the museum’s staff approached me to let me know that using ink pens was not allowed. He requested that I use a pencil instead (and kindly handed me one). I have never heard of an ink prohibition in a museum before and from the sounds of it, neither have my Facebook friends. Have you? Or was this just a one-off little quirk?

[The image with this post is my own rough sketch of the Pieces of Noon piece. It’s not nearly as good as the original, but I’m not really an artist so that’d OK!]

* Symbolism, much like horoscopes, makes me laugh in cynicism often because we can all interpret whatever we want out of things. It’s all about the spin. But, as I said, this is my blog and this is my interpretation! You are, of course, welcome to share your own interpretations in the comment section.

Music lessons; take two

Back in April I took Paul’s record collection and a turntable to my niece, Flik. This was a much loved gift and she’s since purchased a few new (old) records to add to the collection. Unfortunately, this left her 12-year-old brother, Haden, feeling a bit left out.

But that changed today when I showed up with a dual-cassette ‘boom box’ and a bag of Uncle Paul and my old cassette tapes. I know it’s hard to believe, but the kid was so, so excited to get a stack of Van Morrison and Bob Dylan tapes. Maybe less excited about some of my tapes—Cyndi Lauper, Sylvia, and Belinda Carlisle.

I had to teach him how to use the cassette player and explain how the process works for finding a specific song and flipping the tape over when one side is done, but that quick lesson was enough to get him ready to play. I also explained the concept of mixed tapes and about the differences between 8-tracks and cassettes. He was further cheered when I told him that you can still find cassettes every-so-often. (He’s a yard sale maniac, so he’ll be finding new music all summer, I’m sure!)

Anyhow, we’re now sitting here watching Pete’s Dragon and I think it’s driving him crazy because what he wants to be doing is playing with his new toy.

Yep. I’m still Aunt Awesome!

Lost

Last month I decided to write a blog post about the one and only “mixed tape” that was ever made for me. Well, I say mixed tape but it was actually a CD; it was titled “So, I Made You A Mixed Tape” and was a gift from Paul a few months before our wedding.

In addition to the CD, he made a fun cover with photos of the two of us. And as a bonus, inside was a folded-up sheet of A4 paper that included notes on why he chose the songs he did.

But when I went to grab the CD last month it wasn’t there. It didn’t seem to be anywhere, in fact. But I told myself that was OK—I probably placed it somewhere and would run across it when I had a better look later. Surprisingly, I stayed calm at the time. I mean, it was the eve of the anniversary of his death, so I would have expected this inability to find something to have been a melting point. But it wasn’t; it was only mildly upsetting.

Anyhow, for the past two weeks I’ve searched high-and-low. I’ve gone through every drawer in the main bits of the house—two or three times. I’ve searched under the seats, in the trunk, and in the glove box of my car. I’ve called to have my sister do the same with my old car, too. I’ve opened every CD to see if (somehow) the mixed CD and A4 paper got put in the wrong case.

And I can’t find it. And I’m lost at what to do now.

I mean, I transferred the songs to my iPod long ago so I have the music, which is something, but I don’t have that stupid scrap of paper and try as I may I can’t remember what he wrote for all of those songs. And it’s no longer just mildly upsetting.

I really hope that I’ll be able to write an embarrassing update shortly saying that—in a moment of madness—I had actually placed the CD in the freezer or something, but those who know me also know that I almost never lose things (other than my mind). I may lock the keys in the car on (rare) occasion. I may have to dig through piles of clutter to locate something from time-to-time. But I don’t lose things.

I wouldn’t have lent it out. I wouldn’t have thrown it out. I can’t see why I would have put it anywhere other than with the rest of my CDs. So I don’t know. I just don’t know. But it’s really starting to get to me now. And I’m crying over having lost a stupid CD. I fear my [remaining shred of] sanity will be next …

[Note: This post has been updated to reflect the error that my niece so gleefully pointed out to me. Happy now, Flik?]

Music lessons

It was about a year ago when I first loaded music onto my niece’s iPod. Her mom didn’t (and still doesn’t) have iTunes so her only music was from my collection; which meant her Uncle Paul’s collection, too. We randomly loaded as much music on as would fit and I told her to let me know what she liked and didn’t like and the next time she came to visit we could be pickier about how to use her 8GB of space.

Well, much to my surprise, it was Billy Bragg and Aztec Camera for the win! So at her next visit she got some Morrissey and Deacon Blue. OK, she pretty much wanted all of her Uncle Paul’s music.

Flik is now 13 years old and is very much a fan of 1980s British punk and rock—for better or worse. She also loves her Uncle Paul so very much—as evident by the fact that prior to his death, Paul was the only one allowed to call Felicity ‘Flik’ and since his funeral that is her preferred name. So that may have something to do with her love of the music.

Anyhow, this love for Paul and his music made it easy for me to know what to do with Paul’s old vinyl records. So this weekend I packed up the records and our record player and brought them to Flik. She seems pretty excited about Del Amitri and U2 and The Smiths and The Waterboys and, well, all of them, really. Her mom points out that the excitement is the main reason she cleaned her room today—otherwise there wouldn’t have been room for the new turn table and LPs.

One thing that really made her smile was that included in a box of 45s was a handful of hand-written play lists from back when Paul would DJ at University of Edinburgh discos. She’ll enjoy that, I think.

Of course, now the kid just has another reason to hide away in her room. Which may or may not be a good thing.

Catch a falling star

I was standing in the kitchen making dinner when my foster daughter asked me if I’d ever heard the song “Catch a Grenade” which prompted me to ask if it went something like this:

[Sung to the tune of Catch a Falling Star]

Catch a gre-e-na-ade;
Don’t put it in your pocket;
Never throw the pin away.

Catch a gre-e-na-ade;
Don’t put it in your pocket;
Save it for apocalypse.

And another verse or two before I gave up. Then she sang a verse or two of the actual song. Her version of the song wasn’t as good as mine.

But here’s the thing: She has never heard the song Catch a Falling Star. Never. She didn’t recognise the tune at all. It was a sad, sad moment. But she knows it now. And she’s not happy that I’ve been dancing around the house singing it at the top of my lungs since after dinner. I’m embarrassing her, apparently.

And here it is for you to enjoy on this lovely, starry night. And if it prompts you to sing and dance in front of your loved ones, that’s a good thing!

Challenging music

Over the summer, my friend set a challenge to listen to all of her iPod’s music collection alphabetically. A through Z; every song. Every. Last. Song.

I recall admiring her dedication and I also recall thinking it must have been easy enough since she had less than 1,500 songs and I assumed they were all music of her choosing. I recall smiling as I realised that she was truly enjoying the challenge—and enjoying re-discovering her music. She made several comments about how others should do the same, and I was mildly interested in trying it, but not enough to actually take on the challenge.

Until September 30, 2010.

Yep, that morning I got to the office, plugged in my iPod, and instead of selecting ‘shuffle’ I chose to play every song I had in alphabetical order. A through Z; every song.*

Every.

Last.

Song.

That was 130 days, 4,868 songs, and 313+ hours of play time ago.**

It was fun.

It was boring.

It was mind-numbingly boring at times.

It was exciting.

And it was educational.

So, here are some fun little facts, figures, and musical musings for you to ponder:

  • Letter with the most song titles: “S” with 540 songs
  • Letter with the least song titles: “Z” with 3 songs
  • Number of songs starting with numerals (so, “1” but not One): 21
  • Number of artists: 452
  • Number of albums: 555
  • Number of genres: 34
  • Song I have the most versions or copies of: “N17” by The Saw Doctors (Six copies)

Would I do it again? Oh, I don’t know. Maybe? But I’m not willing to make a promise at this point!

Would I recommend that you do it? Absolutely! It really is interesting and entertaining—especially when you hear long-lost tunes.

* Actually, A-Z plus 0-9, because some started with numerals.
** To save myself from complete madness, I opted to only attempt the challenge whilst at work which means that it took a bit longer to make my way through the collection than it would have otherwise.

La-de-da

Don’t you love it when you’re sitting there minding your own business and all of the sudden—completely out of the blue—an old camp song pops into your head?

Me too!

But I sure hate it when there’s no one to share it with. So, I’m just going to share it here. If it weren’t for the fact that I’m already snuggled in my jammies for the night, I’d consider sharing via a YouTube video post, but you don’t need to see me in my jimjams and you probably would prefer not to hear me sing!!

Yay! for camp songs!

La-de-da

Romeo and Juliet,
On a balcony they met.
Scram you guys, I’ve got a date.
Shakespeare’s comin’ in a Ford V-8!

[Chorus]
La-de-da
Pop pop, fizz fizz
La-de-da
Pop pop, fizz fizz
La-de-da
Pop pop, fizz fizz
La-de-da, la-de-da, la-de-da-da-da

Pepsi-Cola came to town.
Coca-Cola shot him down.
Dr. Pepper fixed him up.
Now we all drink 7-Up.

[Chorus]

Henry Ford was a grand old man.
Took four wheels and an old tin can.
Put ’em together and the darn thing ran!
Henry Ford was a grand old man.

[Chorus]

I miss dinner parties

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Just a doodlin’

I love to doodle. So today, as I sat waiting for a meeting that took forever to get started, I found myself doodling a bit. The meeting’s theme of social media use seems to have come across in my doodle, too.

Of course, thinking about doodling makes me think of one of my favourite songs from childhood, The Doodlin’ Song by the Statler Brothers. So I’m sharing the song with you. Yay!

Donald, where’s yer troosers?

I woke up yesterday morning with “Caledonia” going through my head so decided to grab my “The Best Scottish Album in the World…Ever” CD to listen to on the 30-minute drive to town. The kid wasn’t too keen on the departure from our normal car music—the local country western station—so I played a song I thought she’d like (after listening to Caledonia twice, of course).

In the rear view mirror I could see her struggling with the lyrics of the song I chose for her, so I turned off the music to explain that the girls were asking Donald where his trousers were because he was wearing, essentially, a skirt. Once she realized what the song was about, she asked me to please turn the music back on.

Last night when the kid asked if we could listen to “that Scottish CD” I didn’t think anything of it—but had to say no since it was in the car still. After all, it is a regular occurrence for her to ask me to play whatever the last music I had on was.

Then this morning I started the car and she instantly asked if we could listen to “song 16”. And we did. A few times. With her singing along and laughing.

On the drive home this evening it was more of the same.

She is now in her room singing it and came out a moment ago to ask if I thought she had a good Scottish accent (which she sings the song in). And, she is just two points away from earning enough for an MP3 player so she’s asked that “Donald, Where’s Yer Troosers” go on the device along with a handful of others from the CDs such as “500 Miles” and “Shang-a-Lang”.

Yes, folks, I am influencing the musical tastes of yet another child. Also on the list: I introduced my eldest sister’s daughters to disco (specifically the Village People) several years ago. Her husband is still mad at me for that. I’ve also introduced my 13-year-old niece to Billy Bragg and Aztec Camera. Her mom is OK with that, though I don’t think she’s happy that Morrissey has managed to make his way onto her iPod, too. (Oops!)

Hope you have a musical Friday!

My favourite things

As part of my effort to take back my lunch time, I’ve spent today’s lunch break composing a little ditty on my laptop just for my awesome readers; who are also some of my favourite things. (Yay! for awesome readers! And yay! for reclaimed lunch breaks. And yay! for whatever else you want to celebrate today!)

My favourite things
as interpreted by Just Frances*

Shiny new gadgets and hooker-red nails
Cool vintage handbags that come in the mail
Pretty red sports cars and fun silver rings
These are a few of my favourite things

Movies with mobsters and friends who are so dear
Martinis and pizza and pretzels and good beer
Acting quite silly and playing on swings
These are a few of my favourite things

Books about grammar and good punctuation
Laughing and smiling and Scotland vacations
Songs that are happy, that I like to sing
These are a few of my favourite things

When the clouds come
When the tears sting
When I’m feeling sad
I simply remember my favourite things
And then I don’t feel so bad

• • • • •

[NOTE: Apparently, my laptop is still set to UK English (not proper American English) from working on school application stuff and has therefore insisted that I have favourite things, not favorite things. And I’m totally OK with that!]

* I’m sure you’ve figured it out, but this is to be sung in the tune of “My Favourite Things”. If you need a reminder, here’s a link to a rendition by Pomplamoose. Yay!

Remember yesterday

Woke up to the sound of pouring rain; the wind would whisper and I’d think of you. And all the tears you cried, that called my name; and when you needed me I came through.

Oh yeah, I’m totally remembering yesterday* today. It started with a text message from my 13-year-old niece who has found that she loves my music collection. Her text was letting me know that one of her new-found songs from my past put her ‘in high spirits’. The song was Good Love by Poison.

Well, that text made me set my iPod to play Poison. But then I felt the need for a total Hair Band** Fest.

So, I set up my “Hair Band” play list (yes, I have one) and hit play. (What a way to spend a Friday at the office!) Then I let my Facebook public know about my celebration of Hair Band Friday. And they quickly made posts of their own about the new celebration. (Yay! I love being a trend-setter!)

And because I know you’re dying for this information, my Hair Band play list includes:

Yay for music! And yay for Friday Hair Band Fests everywhere!

* The title and opening quote are from Skid Row’s “I Remember You” – in case you didn’t get the reference.
** What I call Hair Band, Paul called Poodle Rock. The ever-knowing
Wikipedia calls it Glam Metal.

Running commentary

When I run I think. Even when I’m listening to my iPod, my mind is racing through one thought after another. It jumps from here to there with silly randomness. I can’t control it; I’ve tried. But I suppose that it does tell a lot about the sorts of things that weigh on my mind, because often the things that I think about when I’m running are not the things I would think about if I were told to sit down and think.

I don’t want to scare anyone away. And worse, I don’t want anyone to think I’ve finally cracked and it’s time for a padded cell. But I’m going to share some of the random thoughts that pop into my head when I’m running.

  • OK Frances! You’ve got four miles to run today and you’re going to do it! Let’s go!
  • Hey, the rec center is pretty nice when it’s empty!
  • I should have done this yesterday when I was out. Then I could have just vegged out on the couch today.
  • I have to remember to re-wash the towels when I get home. Stupid rain storm! I guess it’s my fault for not bringing them in off the line last night. But still. Stupid rain storm!
  • I wonder if that old lady who called my number by mistake yesterday ever got a hold of her friend.
  • Why do I get so many wrong number calls? Oh, I hate that!
  • I was really dismissive of my friend when he suggested a time for a phone chat over the weekend. I hope I didn’t hurt his feelings. I guess I wasn’t mean, I just declined the invitation. So, whatever.
  • Actually, I have been pretty mean to him lately. He must be a masochist or he would have written me off by now.
  • He must know I don’t mean to be mean. But that’s still not fair. I just need to stop taking my frustration out on the innocent!
  • I really do have nice friends.
  • I’m actually pretty lucky to have made a couple of new friends this last year. I must stop referring to them as Paul’s friends one of these days because they’re my friends now, too.
  • Blogs are great! I’m enjoying getting to know one of my new friends by reading her blog. It makes me feel like I’ve known her my entire life. I wish I did. I bet life would have been a lot funner with a friend like her growing up.
  • Oh! Must email her sister about my holiday plans for this fall. It will be fun to meet her for the first time. If she’s anything like her little sis, it will be a blast.
  • I need to make sure I’ve blocked my work calendar. I suppose I’ll have to check my email a bit when I’m in Canada, but that’s OK.
  • Wow! It’s almost October. I need to formally RSVP to Lindsay about her wedding. I hope I can manage more than a long-weekend. A two nights’ stay in Scotland isn’t exactly what I’d call a holiday.
  • I wonder if I can wear the dress that I wore to last year’s Old Hacks’ dinner to her wedding. I mean, it’s a different set of people and I don’t think that any of Paul’s old university friends will be there… I really don’t want to have to go dress shopping…
  • I wonder if I can find someone to go to the wedding with me. I’m not looking forward to going to a wedding by myself right now. Especially one that Paul should be at. He was really looking forward to her wedding.
  • Ugg! Has it only been two miles?! I am so out of shape. This is hard. I wonder if I can just call it a day…
  • Yum. That banana bread I had this morning was really good. I should make more. No, I should make pumpkin bread. And I should really remember to tie my hair back because I found one of my hairs in the last loaf. Yuck. Oh well, at least it was my own hair…
  • I wonder what I’d be doing today if Paul hadn’t died?
  • I guess we’d have finalized the adoption by now, so we’d have gone to Sunday Mass with the kids.
  • Yum! Then we would have made a big Sunday roast. Paul really did make the best Yorkshire puddings. I wish I’d let him teach me how to make them. Now I’ll never know.
  • I wonder what the kids would have thought about having a ‘funny foreigner’ for a daddy. I wonder if we’d have been good parents…
  • I wonder if I’ll ever get to be a mom now…
  • Oh! I like this song, I’m going to turn it up.
  • Stop it! Don’t sing along!
  • Wow! I’ve almost gone four miles already. I feel great! Maybe I’ll run five miles instead…
  • No, maybe not Frances. Four and a quarter miles is a long enough run. Start your cool down before you drop!
  • Maybe I’ll start a new draft of my application letter this afternoon.
  • I have to email Anna to figure out when to meet. It’s going to be so nice to catch up with her. It’s going to be so nice to have her help with my letter!!
  • I wonder when I’ll hear if I’ve gotten accepted…
  • I wonder which school I’d rather go to…
  • Ah, who cares! You’ll go to whichever one accepts you and you’ll be grateful for it!
  • I wonder if… NO! Don’t start wondering about what will happen if you don’t get accepted. Be positive.
  • I am beat! Can I stop now?
  • Oh, go on! You’re only a quarter mile from five. Keep going…
  • Must remember to buy onions and goat cheese so that I can make that risotto recipe.
  • And cat food. Don’t forget the cat food!
  • Way-hey!! That’s five miles! My furthest distance in more than a year. Who cares if I walked that last three-quarter mile? I’m counting it!

Yeah. That’s the highlights. The conversation in my head continued into the locker room, through the grocery store, and on the 25-mile drive home. If only there was a way to harness the energy created by useless thoughts…

A nice cuppa tea and a sit down

When I got home from work today, I realized that I’ve not enjoyed a nice cuppa tea and a sit down after work since my last work day before Paul died. And I realized that I sort of missed that little bit of down time between arriving home from the office and making dinner. So, I filled the kettle and set it to boil…

I’ve enjoyed tea in the past year – but on the weekends when I’m sitting on the couch watching television. This evening was not that. As part of my new cable-free lifestyle, I enjoyed my pot of oolong tea with a couple slices of homemade banana bread whilst listening to the soothing sounds of Miles Davis.

I realized instantly that it’s not as much fun to enjoy a cuppa without someone to chat with, but I’m sure that I’ll soon find comfort in sitting on my own.

In the mean time, I’m going to try to remember that I always enjoyed this part of my day. A chance to unwind and enjoy a nice, hot cuppa tea – and maybe instead of telling Paul all about my day, I can tell Schrodie. I’m certain that she will listen intently and impart words of wisdom when needed…

(Oh no! I’m starting to sound like a crazy cat lady!)

Come and share a pot of tea; my home is warm and my friendship’s free.
~ Emilie Barnes

Cutting the cord

I am cutting the cord. Or rather, I am cutting the cable. I’m not replacing cable with satellite and in my rural neck of the woods there is no such thing as aerial reception. So, basically, no more television for this gal!*

I’m more than a year late in doing this. Paul and I got cable a few months after moving into our new home for two reasons: 1) It was during the 2008 presidential campaign and I wanted to watch the debates and 2) my family was coming out for Thanksgiving and it would have caused problems if we couldn’t have the football game on during the day.

By the time spring rolled around, we decided it was time to get rid of the cable because we were spending too much time on the couch zoning out instead of talking to each other. So the decision was made that I would cancel it when I paid May’s bill. But Paul died before that happened and I didn’t have the energy to brush my teeth let alone call the cable company.

It was great having cable this past year. A real saving grace in some ways because it meant voices in an otherwise silent house. I could sit on the couch and zone out to whatever was on TV and not have to think about anything else. But now I find myself zoning out on shows that I’m not really interested in whilst neglecting my once-enjoyed hobbies and activities. I sit on the couch from the time I get home until I go to bed. That’s about four hours of mindless television and commercials “entertaining” me every night. And I’ve had enough!

So what will I do without TV?
I will start reading my ever-growing stack of great books and I will listen to my favorite CDs on the Bose. I will go out for walks and hikes and bike rides – after all, I live in an amazingly-beautiful area with loads of outdoor recreation opportunities. I will write. I will crochet and knit. I will sit outside in the evening sun and take in the sounds of nature. I will take time to cook nice meals and I will take the time to enjoy them at the table instead of wolfing my food down on the couch in front of the telly.

Certainly, it will be difficult getting used to not having an endless supply of rubbish programming spread out over nearly 50 channels, but once I remember how much I used to enjoy the simplicity of my own company, I’m sure I will be celebrating the severed cords!

As of the 1st of August, I will be cable-less. Stay tuned for a post about the insanity it causes me when I realize how boring life is without the time-sucking television vortex!

Of course, it hasn’t escaped my mind that I will be saving $49.67 each month. That’s $596.04 a year! Yep, that will be a nice little addition to my very meager savings account.

* I will continue to get my favorite shows on the Internet because I just can’t live without EastEnders. I’ve also subscribed to NetFlix so that I can watch old TV shows or movies from time-to-time. (I know that seems silly as I’m talking about cutting the cable, but I still want a little bit of entertainment.)

Spare change

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

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

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

Tomorrow’s goal: Cash in the coins!

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

Pomplamoose

A few months ago I had a great conversation about music with a perfect stranger. It seems we both liked the same sorts of random bits of everything, but have a soft spot for slightly off-the-wall stuff. After that first (and only) meeting, he started to send very random emails with links to other obscure(ish) bands that he thought I might like.

One of the first bands he told me about was Pomplamoose. They do mostly covers but also write a few of their own tunes. They’re kinda indie-jazzy-alternative-y, which is cool. But the part that I love is that the two members of the ‘band’ manage to record and mix some fab little videos where they piece it all together so that you can really see how they’ve made them.

Quoting from the ‘ever-wise-and-wonderful’ Wikipedia:

Their videos mostly take the form of “VideoSongs”, a medium Jack Conte defines with two rules:
1. What you see is what you hear. (No lip-syncing for instruments or voice)
2. If you hear it, at some point you see it. (No hidden sounds)

Anyhow, I like them and you should, too.*

*I am not on commission. I just like them. Honestly.

Building my library

I posted a while back about my mission to expand my incredibly eclectic music collection, with the goal to fill my iPod Classic to its capacity of 40,000 songs. Since then, I’ve purchased a few CDs and have borrowed CDs from various family and friends.

I am pleased to say that I now have 4,499 songs!

I’m up to 26 genres (from 24) with the top three being rock (109 albums), alternative (80), and jazz/bluegrass (72). Country was third last time, but dropped to fourth with just 56 albums, up from 35.

Of course, I’m also getting quite the collection of podcasts but have been neglecting listening to them all! I currently have 425 in my library including 234 English language ‘tips’ for good grammar and 128 Gaelic language lessons for when I (finally) start learning a funny foreign language.*

Most days, all of the music is set to random play/shuffle when I’m at the office. I figured that I must have listened to most of the songs at least once, but after a quick review, it seems that nearly half haven’t even gotten one play! I sometimes think I should do what a friend is doing and listen to everything in order from A-Z, but I’m just not that dedicated so each song will have to take its chance with the listening lottery.

*I did take two years’ of French in high school, but I didn’t retain any of it. I then took two years’ of American Sign Language at university and now enjoy eavesdropping on ASL users when I’m out-and-about. (Yes, I’m a little ashamed of this – but only a little.)

A sad goodbye

I’ve said goodbye to Frieda today and it makes me so sad. I know you’re probably thinking “It was just a car; what’s the big deal?” but she was a very special car to me and saying goodbye is just another reminder of how much my world has changed – for better and for worse – since she first came into my life more than a decade ago.

Our last drive saw me returning her to the homeland where we first met. I can’t believe how sad it was driving her back home after all of these years. But we listened to her favorite band, Styx, along the four-hour journey and reminisced about the good ol’ days and all the fun we had together. And I cried like a little baby.

I was nearly 25 when I decided it was time to go to university. I applied – and was accepted – to Central Washington University for winter 1999. Classes were to begin January 6 but I didn’t have a car to get me to campus nearly 30 miles away. On December 29, 1998, my brother-in-law, Mark, took me to Ellensburg to find a car. With my limited budget, I knew I would never find the car I really wanted, but I certainly didn’t expect to end up with a used blue Geo Metro. However, that was the car Mark felt was the best deal for the money. I was upset and couldn’t hide my disappointment. I said I needed a day to think about it and we decided we’d go back down the following day when I finished work.

The next day, just as I was getting ready to leave work, a regular customer came in to purchase a lottery ticket and asked why I looked so gloomy if I was just about to leave work for the day. I explained my Geo Metro-enhanced woes to him and he then asked what kind of car I really wanted. And I told him. Then he said he had one in his driveway that he was planning to sell in the spring. I asked how much and was sad to hear it was nearly double my budget. But he called his wife, explained the situation, and within the hour I was looking at the car.

I excitedly called Mark to tell him what happened. Much to his shock the car was in fantastic shape. So we made a deal that saw me getting the car I really wanted at nearly half of its value!

A second-generation 1987 Honda CRX-Si, my lovely little red two-seater friend had a five-speed transmission and a sunroof. She got 37 miles to the gallon and ran like a dream! My friend Roach (yes, really) installed a rockin’ stereo system with Pioneer speakers – perfect for listening to ’70s and ’80s rock-n-roll. I used her to commute to-and-from school and later for work, leaving her in my parents’ care when I was overseas.

Over the years and the thousands of miles we drove together, she became run down and worn out. I’d mentioned to Paul that maybe it was time I said goodbye, but he was adamant that I keep her and that we’d just spend the money to get her back in shape. He knew how much I loved Frieda and really was quite happy for me to keep her forever, even though that meant we’d need a third car so that we both had cars for transporting kids. (We were actively seeking a new(ish) Outback Sport for that purpose before he died.)

As hard as it is to say goodbye, especially knowing that Paul had wanted me to keep her, I know this is for the best. I think that under the circumstances Paul would understand.

Frieda is going to a wonderful home where she will be well cared for. Her new family will fix her up and give her the love and attention she deserves. The money from the sale will go into savings for my graduate school tuition (a very paltry addition, but those pennies will add up over time). I suppose it’s fitting that saying “hello” to Frieda helped me accomplish my goals of an undergraduate degree, and now saying “goodbye” is helping to get me a little closer to my postgraduate degree.

Goodbye, my friend. I will never forget you. And I promise to let your new owners know that you prefer classic rock-n-roll…

NOTE1: It was always said that when/if I ever did get rid of my little sports car, I could purchase a “grown up” sports car to make up for it (finances depending). My next sports car purchase (I hope) will be a red ’61 or ’63 Corvette if I’m living in America or a green ’61 MG if I’m back in the UK.

NOTE2: Shortly before publishing this story, I happened upon the blog of an old friend from high school (well, obviously not ‘old’ since we’re the same age) and noticed that she, too, recently said goodbye to a dear friend.

The Fishing Song

Last week I posted a silly ramble about all things fish. That ramble prompted a childhood friend to suggest we grab our poles and head out to Hanson Ponds like we did back in the good ol’ days.

So, we’ve decided to get our fishing licenses and spend Labor Day Weekend in the homeland reminiscing about the simpler days of yore.

But all of this fish talk got me thinking about a fishing song I love, “Fishin’ in the Dark” by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. So I had to go to YouTube to listen to it. Which, as you may know, meant that I spent a while clicking through countless other videos. Which brought me to perhaps one of the best fishing songs I’ve ever heard.

Check it out! After all, Wednesdays aren’t as much fun without a little laughter!

Happy fishin’!

I ran; I nearly stumbled

Photo credits to my dad, RoyI ran the Runner Stumbles 5K yesterday with my nephew. My cousin and her son joined us, too, which was a fun little treat. I have to say, I thought that my third race without Paul would have been easier, but for some reason I found it emotionally difficult to run this race without him. Maybe because it was my hometown race. Maybe because I was running the shorter course while Paul and I always ran the longer 10K course. Maybe because some days are harder than others without any reason. But I managed to make it.

Just as I thought I was going to start crying because I couldn’t stop thinking about Paul, Dignity by Deacon Blue* came on the iPod. I know that I’m the one who set the play list, so I shouldn’t be surprised it was there, but the gadget was playing all of the songs randomly so I didn’t know when (or if) that song would play. That song gave me the kick I needed though which made a difference to the entire race for me.

My time was slower than I really wanted – but faster than the time my doctor wanted to me run it in. But (shhh…) we won’t tell her.

In addition to the fun of running with the family, the enjoyable part of the race was that I passed two women who were on the high school cross country team with me (they finished about five minutes behind me) and one gal who is in high school now who informed me that she’d be beating me. Yeah, in the end she was about three minutes behind me. So there, you little brat.

This race really did kick my butt. I need to get in gear though because my nephew and I have a 10K race coming up and I can’t let him down!

Check out more of my race photos here!

*Dignity was Paul’s ‘victory song’ when he ran for student office at Edinburgh University.

God bless the USA

On July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress of the United States of America signed the Declaration of Independence, announcing their departure from the rule of Great Britain.

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…

It was an act of disobedience; an act of war. Some would say war against an absent king; some would say war against ourselves.

It was an act of bravery; an act of independence. It was the first step in the creation of the truly great United States of America. And today, across the nation, we celebrate our freedoms.

In the words of the great Lee Greenwood:

And I’m proud to be an American
where at least I know I’m free,
And I won’t forget the men who died
who gave that right to me,
And I gladly stand up next to you
and defend her still today,
‘Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land
God Bless the USA

Have a happy and safe Independence Day!

Randomly the same

I bring my iPod to work so that I have a bit of music playing in the background. Most days, I set it to randomly play through all of the 4,100+ songs (I’m working to expand my collection). And most days there are several songs that I don’t know because I’ve loaded Paul’s music onto the machine, too; much of which I’ve never heard – or never paid attention to.

Today I set it for random play and of the 76 songs, 38 of them were the Saw Doctors! Now, that’s OK since they are one of my favorite bands, but I always find it strange when random play sounds more like a one-band show.

I don’t do math[s] and don’t fully understand the whole mathematical-statistical-ratio-data thing, but I wonder that the odds are for such a random playing.* Seems to me that such an event wouldn’t happen too often.

Oh, and since I have you here, I’ll share one of my favorite Saw Doctor’s songs with you!

*If you are able to explain it in simple, non-mathematical terms with simple odds of “1 in a [enter number here]” explanation, please feel free to share. But please don’t offer me the formula for which to decipher it on my own because my brain does language: grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Not math or its scientifically-based cousins.

A lazy day

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

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

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

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

Ahhh….

Wear your hair in bunches

Following up on last Friday’s pigtail challenge, here’s a fun little song I have to share with you. I’d never heard it before meeting Paul, but each and every time I’d put my hair in pigtails (that’s bunches for my UK followers) he would sing this song in a funny little voice. And, of course, that means every time I wear pigtails I think of this song and every time I think of this song I think of Paul. But then, most things make me think of Paul so that’s not a surprise!

Happy Friday!

(Oh, and if you wondered, all of this came up because I had my iPod set to random play in the office today and this song came on.)

Green with envy

I got a new toy today. It’s a lovely new, bright, and shiny 4 GB iPod Shuffle. It’s a pretty shade of green with a personalized inscription.

Just Frances
100% Awesome
 

I purchased my first iPod last October. It’s fantastic, but it’s also rather large. I got the Classic (160 GB) with a view toward the future. I wanted to be able to put all of my music in one place so that when (if?) I manage to make it to the UK for my master’s degree I could take it with me and not have to faff around with 100s of CDs.

I totally love the Classic. I take it to work and plug it into my office speakers so that I can listen to music throughout the day. I’ve found that since Paul died, the music calms me and actually makes me more productive. Not necessarily more productive than I was before he died, but more productive than days when I don’t have music playing.

The problem with the Classic, however, is it’s size. It’s just too big for use when I’m running. And that’s why I needed a second iPod.

The Shuffle is great! It’s super small and clips right onto my clothing. It doesn’t hold as many songs, but it will hold more than enough of the “right kind” of music for running. Whilst the Classic is loaded with everything from bluegrass and jazz to rock and classical, the Shuffle is pretty much just for rock, 80s pop, and up-beat country.

Off to create a new play list for tomorrow morning’s run now. I think I’ll start with Jackson Browne’s Running On Empty

Yay for me!

I hope this doesn’t make you too green.

A weekend at home

Weekends haven’t been the same since Paul died, but I’ve been determined to get back to spending them as normal as possible. Now that spring has finally sprung, I was thrilled to learn that I would have this weekend completely free. No work, no plans, no nothing. This is the sort of weekend that Paul and I liked best because we could spend it doing nothing – which basically meant doing all sorts of things!

Paul used to tell me to sit down and relax, but I just can’t resist working in the yard on a nice day. And then there are all the kitchen chores. And, of course, laundry and grocery shopping and running and… Sadly, now that Paul is gone I have to do his share of the work, too.

Anyhow, I managed to pack quite a bit in to the weekend – even though I didn’t get out of bed until after 10:00 a.m. each day! I’m certain you don’t really care for the details of my weekend, but since this is my blog, I get to pick the topic. And get to talk (or type) as much as I want. To that, I’ve created a photo album so that you can see just how I spent my weekend.

I’ve spared you the little details like checking Facebook every-so-often and personal hygiene tasks because, well, I don’t want to share everything with my fans!

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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!

In (bad) style

Oh my goodness gracious me! My parents sent me home with an old scrap book of mine and I just had to share this awful picture. What the heck was I thinking?

So, what information about me can you gather from this photo?

  • I was friends with Shirley at the time, as that’s her kitchen
  • I was 16 years old
  • Wearing spandex under torn and tattered jeans with over-sized sweaters was my style of the day (though not necessarily THE style of the day)
  • I had already bought my way-awesome brown leather jacket (Which I ceased wearing after a weekend softball tourney in my early 20s when it got completely soaked and damaged. This was a good thing.)
  • I was still on speaking terms with “V”, as that’s his skull-and-bones ring on a chain around my neck
  • I was still being courted by “J”, as the flowers were from him
  • I had way-awesome hair with my way-cool “wave” bangs
  • I used to sport extremely large glasses – ugg!
  • My nick-name at the time was “Jazz” because of my musical preferences and because I played clarinet in the school’s jazz band

This is one of the less embarrassing photos. Maybe I’ll share more from the scrap book later – if I can stop laughing long enough to use the scanner again!

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!

Happy birthday to me

Today is my 36th birthday and to celebrate, I’ve opened a bottle of bubbly and I’m feasting on caviar, wild salmon, and Alaskan king crab. The house is empty, save for me and the cat. There is soft jazz playing in the background and I’m admiring the way the light glistens off of the lovely ring I’m wearing; a birthday present I purchased for myself at Macy*s.

It seems that the last year went by so quickly. On my 35th birthday, I sat right here in this very living room with Paul. It’s strange to think that I only had Paul with me for about two months of my 35th year. And it’s sad to think that I won’t have him at all for my 36th. If he were here, he’d have left a card on the mantle place for me to open when I woke up and he would have bought me the perfect gift – he always did. We would have argued over what to do for the day. I would have wanted to stay home and cook a nice meal; he would have wanted to go out somewhere to celebrate. “I’m not having my wife cook on her birthday,” he would argue.

I had all intentions of sitting around the house doing “nothing” all day but had a last-minute change of heart and instead went to Moscow Wild at Art to decorate some pottery. This was a positive decision for several reasons: 1) It’s not good to sit around and sulk on your birthday; 2) Arts and crafts are great therapy; 3) Spending at least part of your birthday with other humans is always a good idea; and 4) The delay in popping the cork on the bubbly means there won’t be as many Mimosas (Buck’s Fizzes) throughout the day, which means less of a headache tomorrow.

Of course, since my pottery piece of choice was a cat food bowl, and I did a really lousy job at it, Schrodie will not be too pleased that I went and did something. (Goodness, the last time I painted pottery was more than 20 years ago. I feel so old!)

Up next: I’m going to put on my jammies and curl up on the couch for a six-hour EastEnders marathon, enjoyed with a gorgeous piece of mascarpone cheesecake and maybe a big bowl of popcorn. Because it’s my birthday and I can do whatever I want on my birthday.

Vinyl issues

I’ve finally gotten around to my first attempt at digitalizing my vinyl collection. Actually, I’ve started with my parents’ collection, as it’s their fancy-schmancy machine. And can I just say it’s a bit of a bizarre world when dealing with LPs is a confusing and difficult task?!

So far, I’ve transfered one record: Roger Miller’s The 3rd Time Around. Now, I don’t know if it’s because it’s an old record, a dirty record, or an overly-sensitive recording device, but I’ve heard more clear sounding music when driving through the Snoqualmie Pass snow shed attempting to listen to KXLE. Yes, it’s that scratchy and crackly sounding!

That’s problem #1. Problem #2 is that the software doesn’t automatically save each song as an individual file. Of course, this may be due to the recording quality and maybe with a newer album – or with a cleaner album – it will work just fine. Problem #3 then is that when transferred to iTunes (and subsequently my iPod) instead of having 12 songs that are approximately two minutes each, I have to play it as a single album of a little more than 27 minutes.

Because I won’t be out-done and shown-up by a simple piece of technology, I will figure these issues out. My first step is to re-learn the art of properly cleaning vinyl. Once I see how the recording works on a clean record, I will make further changes to the process. If Paul were here, he’d have it all figured out already. He was, after all, the music maker in our family. But he’s not here and I’m sure he’s giggling at me from above as I attempt with difficulty what he would accomplish with relative ease.

And because I’ve been told by my young niece, Flik, that Schrodie isn’t getting enough air time, here’s a little video of her playing with the box that the record player came in for you to enjoy!

Stay tuned for more exciting installments of this dynamic and fascinating story…

Music to my ears

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

Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

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

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

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

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

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