ITP Awareness Month: My story

September is ITP Awareness Month, so I thought I’d share my ITP story with you.

First, some key bits of information so that you know why it’s such a big deal:

  • ITP stands for idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura which is, essentially, a very low platelet count. A normal count is 150,000-400,000 (generally said as 150-400).
  • The lower the number, the higher your risk of bruising and prolonged bleeding/healing—or at the extreme, spontaneous internal bleeding and haemorrhaging (‘brain bleeds’ and such).
  • It is classified as a rare autoimmune disease.

This story is about my personal journey. If you want more information on ITP, check out the following links:

Right. Now let’s get this story going!

My story begins in late 1995 when I was just 21 years old. My energy levels were sapped and I could barely drag myself out of bed most days. My arms and legs were covered with bruises; my gums bled when I brushed my teeth; cuts took ages to stop bleeding and even longer to heal. It took a while for me to fully realise that something was wrong, at which time I went to the local clinic to be checked out. By this time it was January 1996.

It was only an hour later that I was called back into the clinic for more blood work because my platelet count was in the single digits and they thought it might be wrong. A subsequent draw gave similar results. Then there was a bit of panic with the nurses and doctors who were making loads of phone calls before prescribing me some prednisone and asking me to come back the following day.

In the days to follow, I had my blood drawn almost every day. I also began to experience the evil side effects of the steroids. But despite the medication, my platelet counts never rose above 30. I was frightened, to say the least.

Soon, my rural family doctor made an appointment for me with a haematologist in Seattle. I didn’t have anyone to take with me, so I made my way on my own and found that the haematologist’s office was in the Oncology Unit. You know, like cancer! As I sat there in the waiting room, watching cancer patients come and go, I began to cry. I was even more frightened by this time and there was no one there to hold my hand.

Meeting with the haematologist was strange. She talked to me about the possible causes including leukaemia. She also talked to me about the various tests she needed to run—some of which required bone marrow aspirations. As I left the hospital, I was shaking. I was still no closer to knowing what was wrong with me, but I was increasingly frightened that it was the worst case scenario. (The side effects from the evil prednisone didn’t help.)

Eventually, it was decided that I had ITP and that they would do a splenectomy to ‘cure’ me—a decision I felt I was bullied into at the time and one that I regret to this day. My surgery was April 1996 and by June of that year my counts had stabilised to a ‘normal’ count of around 160, though they would drop to the 80s when I had a cold or other illness.

Unfortunately, by February 2002 my body decided that stable wasn’t good enough and my counts took a drastic nosedive—with a count of six (yes, 6) on my birthday. Once again, I found myself back on the prednisone. And, once again, I found myself frightened. But because the prednisone wasn’t working this time, they put me on azathioprine as well.

It took several months for my body to regulate itself again, only this time it stabilised at an average count of 70-80. Which meant that getting sick means drops of 40 or below.

Today, my average counts are still around 80, but I have had a couple of 150-180 counts, too. (Which makes me happy.) But, sadly, I still get low counts (my last low was 13 back in March).

What does this mean for my life? Well, it means that I have to listen to my body. It means that I have to be careful and pay attention to any new bruise. It means I have to keep an eye out for signs of a low count (fatigue, petechiae, nose/gum bleeds). It means that when I get a cold, I get a double-whammy of a low count. It means I have to be careful around things that can lower my counts (chemicals, certain foods). And, frustratingly, it means that I have to argue with people who think that I need to be treated like an invalid.

But I can still live my life. I can still run and play and do things. Yes, I have to be careful and I have to use common sense, but that doesn’t mean I don’t get to enjoy life.

So, that’s my story. It’s not interesting or anything, but at least I’m alive to tell it!

[That’s a picture of my platelets that I drew when I had a count of 10 in January 2011.]

Braving it alone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A favoured snack

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(K)impossible

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

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

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

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

Gadget Girl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Gadget Day, everyone!

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

First flowers

Every once in a while, my mind wanders back to the first time a boy gave me flowers. Or, rather, the first time a boy tried to give me flowers. And each time I recall that moment in time, I feel bad and I wonder if the boy remembers it, too.

I was five or six years old and was in Kindergarten. A boy in my class came up to me one morning holding a hand-picked bouquet of dandelions. He handed me the flowers and told me that he liked me.

I was so embarrassed. I don’t know why. Back then there were no divisions of ‘cool kids’ and ‘not-cool kids’ so it wasn’t a peer pressure thing. I think the attention was just a bit uncomfortable.

So I handed the flowers back to him and told him I was allergic. I saw a look of sadness (embarrassment?) in his eyes and immediately felt bad. Still, I couldn’t tell him I lied about being allergic to flowers. And I did like him. So I invited him to play on the swings with me instead.

After that, he always sat next to me when we were doing art projects. And he always made sure that the classroom’s only pair of left-handed scissors made their way to me—despite one of the mean kids (a right-hander, no less!) always trying to use them so that I couldn’t.

I never saw him again after Kindergarten; I think his family moved away. But I think of him whenever I see dandelions and whenever I think about someone giving me flowers. And I wonder if he remembers that day. I wonder if he is afraid of rejection each time he goes to give another girl flowers. I hope not. After all, most girls aren’t so embarrassed about receiving a bit of attention from boys.

If I could go back in time to that moment, I would accept the flowers with a smile and a thank you. And then I would invite him to play on the swings. After all, it’s not every day that a girl is given a bouquet of hand-picked flowers for no reason other than that a boy likes her!

The bestest Daddy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Father’s Day!

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

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?

The Desiderata way of life

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

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

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

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

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

The Desiderata
by Max Ehrmann

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 …

Blackberries and bridges

I asked what you wanted me to write about, and the first request was to write about the emotions I’ve felt when engaging with different types of art—books, music, paintings, etc. It’s too much to cover in one post though, so I’m going to break it down into bits; starting with books. So, Jessica W., this is for you!

There are two books that always stick out in my mind when I think about books with a great impact on my life. They are not great works of literary genius by contemporary standard, but they are the two books that I reflect on over and over again.

The first book is A Taste of Blackberries by Doris Buchanan Smith. It’s the story of two young boys who enjoy all sorts of exploits—including picking blackberries. They are so excited to be invited into the garden of a crotchety old lady who lives in town (children are generally forbidden on her property) to pick her berries. But, tragically, one of the boys dies after suffering an allergic reaction to bee stings when they find a nest on her property.

The story talks about the surviving boy’s grief—as well as the guilt felt by the old woman—and eventually ends with all of the neighbourhood children being granted a free pass to enjoy the old woman’s garden. It is geared for pre-teen kids and whilst I was a pre-teen when I first read it, I enjoy re-reading it from time-to-time from my very battered well-loved copy.

Thirty years after I first read the book, I always pause when I think of blackberries. And when I’m out picking blackberries, I think about youthful friendships and the enjoyment and simplicity of childhood summers. Despite the book being sad, it makes me happy to reflect on the positive message about friendship and carrying on that the book attempts to instil in its young readers. (I have tried to get my young nieces and nephews to read it, but have yet to have success with that!)

The second book is If I Should Die Before I Wake by Lurlene McDaniel. Another ‘death’ book, the story follows that of a young woman who volunteers on the cancer ward of a children’s hospital. A bit of a loner, she finds a friend in one of the patients—and, as in any book for the early-teen audience—they fall in love. But his terminal illness means that they’re relationship is short-lived.

It’s funny that what I remember and reflect on about the book isn’t the love story or the tragedy of a young man’s death—it’s a conversation she had with her grandfather that touches me and that I reflect on often.

The conversation is about her grandfather’s job building bridges during the Great Depression. Jobs were scarce and everyone was desperate for the opportunity to work. At some point during a job, he was caught making a handprint and writing his name in the concrete support of a bridge they’d just completed—an act that saw him losing his job. The girl was very shocked by this and declared that it was ‘just one hand print’ and wondered what the big deal was. So the grandfather explained that if everyone on the job put their handprints and names on every bridge, they’d be completely covered with such markings. Later in the book, we read that the girl has gone to find the bridge. The foliage has grown up around the base, but once she clears away the grass and soil, her grandfather’s handprint is exposed and she smiles as she places her hand in the print.

Now, when I think about leaving my mark somewhere—or when I think about taking ‘just one’ rock from an ancient wall—I stop to remember that my ‘just one’ would be part of a bigger problem if everyone did the same. So it keeps me from unintentionally ruining something for future generations.

OK, these might not be the books you expected me to write about, but these really are the two most impactful books I’ve ever read. Well, except for encyclopædias and dictionaries, which I still read for entertainment and enjoyment.

Your challenge: Write a letter!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy writing!

Chinese jacks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?

Poor man’s casserole

Growing up, I loved it when I was informed that we were having Poor Man’s Casserole for dinner. It was such a basic meal, but it was rather stodgy and really yummy. It never would have been named as a favourite food, but it never would have been on my ‘don’t like’ list either.

So, when I looked in the cupboards and realised that I had everything I needed to make the dish for tonight’s dinner, I was excited at the prospect of enjoying a meal from childhood. But I’ve renamed it to fit my circumstances better. Instead of Poor Man’s Casserole, I’m calling it Starving Student’s Stodge. Because, well, I’m a starving student on a budget. And I like stodge.

For your own budgeting purposes, the meal can be made for less than £5 (if you buy the cheap beef and generic/store brand beans) and will serve 4-6 people. So, around £1 per serving. Of course, I splurged on better quality beef with a lower fat content, so mine was a bit more than that. (Yes, no matter how tight my budget, I always opt for the better cuts of meat!)

Wanna make it at home? Here’s how!

Starving Student’s Stodge

  • 2-3 raw potatoes
  • 1 small sliced onion
  • 1 pound ground beef (UK: Minced beef)
  • 2 tins pork-n-beans (UK: Baked beans)
  • Salt and pepper as desired

Layer sliced, raw potatoes on the bottom of a casserole dish; place sliced onion on top. Press ground beef (uncooked) over potatoes and onion. Salt and pepper as desired (I omit these). Pour beans over beef. Cover and bake in 350°f (175°c) oven for 1.5 hours.

My parents also added a tin of condensed tomato soup on top, but I omit that part. Also, I’ve considered layering some fresh tomatoes, peppers, or mushrooms in with the onion, but I’m not that posh!

Hunger pains

I’ve been thinking about hunger for a few days now—ever since I signed up to participate in Art House Co-op’sThe Meal’ project. The project is meant as a ‘shared meal’ around the globe, whilst at the same time bringing the issue of hunger to mind, and has certainly given me a lot to think about.

Growing up, I was always starving. Well, at least I was pretty convinced that I was starving in my pleas to my parents for a snack less than an hour before dinner was served—a dinner that would have come after I’d already been fed a nutritionally balanced breakfast and lunch earlier in the day.

The fact was, however, that I was far from starving. My sisters and I never went without food for more than a few hours at a time. And when we were given food, there was more than enough to go around. We may not have liked what we were being served, but we were always provided with healthy and nutritious meals.

Not only were we provided with food growing up, but we were given invaluable lessons on how to prepare foods. Those lessons mean that I am able to feed myself well as an adult—even when I’m on a tight budget. And living in a modern, Western society means that I will always have food available to me.

But not everyone is so lucky. In fact, according to Action for Hunger International, nearly a billion people are affected by global hunger. Additionally, deadly acute malnutrition affects 55 million children worldwide—despite it being preventable and treatable. (See the ACF’s map of nations most affected by acute malnutrition here.)

So, here are some more quick facts for you:
(Source: World Food Programme hunger stats)

  • Hunger is the world’s No 1 health risk, killing more people than AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis each year—combined.
  • One in seven people go to bed hungry every day.
  • One in four children in developing countries are underweight.
  • There are more hungry people in the world than the combined populations of the USA, Canada, and the European Union.

Let’s compare that to these facts:

There is enough food grown and produced in the world to feed everyone but, shockingly, there are many barriers that prevent it from getting into the hands of those who need it: Natural disasters such as floods and storms destroy crops. Drought and climate change have caused crop failures as well as the loss of livestock. Wars and conflicts—as well as shoddy infrastructure—prevent the transportation and distribution of food. Poverty prevents people from accessing proper nutrition. And poor farming practices leave land stripped of its nutrients—or at risk of erosion or deforestation.

Fixing the problem isn’t as easy as packing up your un-eaten leftovers and shipping them off to Ethiopia. It’s not as easy as handing someone a fish—and in many cases, it’s not even as simple as teaching someone to fish.

But that doesn’t mean we’re helpless in the fight against hunger. Action Against Hunger International offers a selection of ways to take action and help. Yes, money is great and does a lot to help the cause, but it’s not the only way to help. You can give your time by educating others about world hunger (Facebook and blogs are great tools for that!) or by volunteering at food banks or other community organisations that strive to eliminate poverty.

And now, I’m going to ask you to take action. Oh yes, I am! But I’m not asking you to give money or volunteer (though I urge you to do so if you feel so inclined!).

Instead, I ask that you think about food. Think about all of the food in your cupboards, all of the food you eat, and all of the food you throw away. Think about it and talk about it with your children. Then give thanks for all you have. Because even if all you have is a tin of baked beans and a bag of rice, it’s still more than some people have.

And if, after you’ve thought about it, you want to do something more, visit Action for Hunger International’s website or stop into one of the homeless shelters or community action centres where you live to see what you can do to make a difference.

Wow. All of that about hunger. And we’ve only scratched the surface.

(Thanks for reading!)

Heads will [not] roll!

Hey! Guess what! It’s ‘Share a Random Memory for No Reason Other Than It Popped into My Head Day’! Aren’t you glad you stopped by to read such rubbish? Sure you are! So here goes.

I was seven or eight years old, playing down at the ponds around the edge of the neighbourhood. I remember we were catching tadpoles. Then these older kids came over and started talking to us. They told us that we should be careful because there was a killer on the loose. So far, there weren’t any children missing, but you never know.

We didn’t want to believe them, but they pointed up to the hillside as proof. They’d just come down from having a closer look. Those weren’t all rocks, you know. The one right there in the middle? Well, that’s the decapitated head of an old lady. They told us not to get too close because there were bugs all over it. Plus that, the killer might be watching.

I remember being brave and telling the kids I didn’t believe them. But at the same time, I remember thinking up an excuse for why we needed to go home right then and there.

Oh, I was frightened. But I wasn’t going to let those big kids know that. Instead, I told my Daddy what they said.

Now, I don’t know if he knew from the start the whole thing was a joke to scare us little kids (probably) or if he really thought it needed investigation (less likely) but he had us take him to the ponds (which might have been big puddles, in hindsight) to show him where this head was.

As we stood on the edge of the water, Daddy went in for a closer look. Then came back and told us that it was definitely just a rock.

::Phew!:: Thank goodness for that!

Sorry, I can’t really remember much more about the story. I can’t even remember who I was with that day. Oh, but it reminds me of another water-based memory. Maybe I’ll share that with you one day, too. In the mean time, feel free to share a random memory of yours with me!

The little red dress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fun, all wrapped up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Making do

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Countdown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good ol’ goulash

I love goulash. Growing up, I was always happy to see it on the dinner table. Later, as a grown-up, I loved going to my folks’ house and seeing leftover goulash in the fridge—and eating it! But I realised that I’ve never actually made it myself. I guess it was one of those meals that was never prepared when it was my turn to help in the kitchen.

So, when I decided I wanted to make goulash, I had to stop and think about what was in it. I knew it was simple, but wondered if I could replicate it.

I don’t know if I used all the same stuff my folks use, but it seemed to taste like theirs so I’m calling it a success.

Just Goulash

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes
  • 4 (or so) cups cooked macaroni pasta
  • ½ chopped onion
  • Chopped garlic
  • Oregano
  • Fresh ground pepper

Whilst the pasta cooks, brown the ground beef then add garlic and onions to sauté. Add tin of tomatoes (do not drain), oregano, and pepper to the meat and heat through. Add cooked and drained pasta to pan and mix together. Serve and enjoy!

The entire thing cost about £4 to make, and provided tonight’s dinner plus three portions for the freezer. So, £1 per serving. Unless you include the glass of wine I had with it, which was from a £5 bottle (actually, an £8 bottle that was on an incredible sale!). Figuring four meals per bottle of wine (I’m a light weight!) that means £1.25 per glass, bringing the total cost for tonight’s dinner up to £2.25. That’s pretty good, especially when I think about the limited food budget I have at the moment.

Of course, the best thing about budget meals at home is that when I go out to dinner (like I’ll do tomorrow) I don’t feel guilty! (Yay!)

Sugar high

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

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

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

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

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

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

Budgeting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hello; goodbye

Today I said hello to an old friend from high school for the first time since high school. Sadly, I also said goodbye to her. (Or more accurately: I’ll see you again, and in less than 20 years this time!)

Amy and I were always friendly in school. Not always best buds and we didn’t really ‘hang out’ much, but she was always one of the people I liked very much. In fact, about five years ago I saw that she was on Classmates.com and I searched her name on Google trying to find out more about her. I was excited to learn that she was living not too far from me, and that she was in a similar career field to me. But I didn’t really know how to contact her because she was unlisted. Then we connected on Facebook and I realised that the Amy [Married Name] I Googled was a different person than the Amy I wanted to connect with! (This is all probably news to Amy; I never told her of my previous stalking before!)

On Facebook, Amy and I rarely connected because life got in the way. But after Paul died, she sent me the most amazing, heart-felt note and it touched my soul. After that, I found myself peeking at her blog from time-to-time, but never commenting. Then one day I was writing a blog post about saying goodbye to my car and noticed that she had a similar post on her blog—a post I linked to.

Soon, we were reading each other’s blogs regularly, and commenting on them. Even though my old friend lived clear on the other side of the state, she became an amazing support network for me. She was there when I needed her, offering words of support, wisdom, and encouragement.

For two years now, we’ve rekindled our friendship online. And today we met for lunch (with our sisters, Celeste and Maile, who were also friends and classmates growing up). It was like we’d only seen each other yesterday. It was so comfortable, and so long overdue!

I am sad that I am leaving behind such an amazing friend, but I am so happy that she will be on the other side of a keyboard any time I need her. I am so lucky to have such a wonderful friend.

Thank you, Amy, for everything! I love you and will certainly stay in touch. You’re the kind of friend everyone in this world needs—a true friend!!

[Left to right: Amy, Maile, Celeste, and me.]

Specky four eyes

A lot has changed since I got my first pair of glasses nearly 30 years ago. (That’s glasses as in specs, not drinking vessels, to clarify for my UK readers.) Back then, ‘big’ was normal for glasses. Back then, my frames were massive and wholly dependent on my parents’ budget. (And they were wise enough to insure the suckers, too!) My frames remained rather large throughout the 1980s and well into the ’90s.

In the mid- to late-90s two things happened: I got my own insurance and I learned that, despite my extremely strong prescription, I could wear small frames. Added to that, my optometrist’s office offered specials for ‘buy one pair; get one 50 percent off’ which meant that I could, for the first time in my life, have sunglasses! Eventually, I found myself with several pair because my prescription didn’t change for a few years but my insurance kept paying for new glasses each year.

Ah, with all of those new, smaller glasses the world never looked better! [Pun intended.]

Anyhow (slowly getting to the point) I was long-past due for a new prescription so I went and had my eyes checked a couple of months ago and am now (finally) getting around to ordering glasses I can see through!

But thanks to insurance cuts (Only $150 for hardware? That’s madness!) and my imminent unemployment and future starving student status, I decided against getting new frames. Instead, I’m just updating the lenses in my last two pair of regular frames and my sunglasses. This way I have a spare pair of specks should anything happen to the other. Plus, since my new (soon to be former!) optometrist offers 30 percent off the cost of 2nd and 3rd sets, my total out-of-pocket expense is just $65! Which is about $85 less than I had budgeted, so I that Kindle with 3G is starting to sound a bit better…

Wait. If this post is about ordering three pair of glasses, shouldn’t the title be “Specky eight eyes”? Oh well, I’ve always said I was rubbish at math[s].

Oh, and I know I’m not showing you photos of the glasses, but I figured that you’ve been seeing the current ones (red frames) and the sunglasses for the last year+ of this blog and if you’ve looked at older photos (pre-November 2008) you’ve seen the others. And you’ll get to see them all again and again and again so you don’t need to see them now. (Yay! Can you feel the suspense building?)

For the last time

Well folks, the Bloomsday 12K results are in. But I’m going to get all melancholy for a bit before I get to that part.

You see, it dawned on me sometime last week that this may very well be the last time I run Bloomsday. It’s not my hometown race and once I leave the Palouse it won’t exactly be convenient to participate. Sure, about a dozen people travel from my hometown for the race each year, but I’m not returning to my hometown; I’m returning to my home county.

It also dawned on me that this was the first time I participated without Paul. We were registered for the race in 2009 but he died a week before the starters’ gun went off. Of course, knowing that it was a matter of ‘when not if’ Paul died, part of me is glad we didn’t run it. I mean, what if the ‘when’ was whilst he was running a race with 50,000 plus people? I don’t know how I could have coped with that. (I know: Whatifs are silly things. But the mind seems to go there from time to time!)

Anyhow, I am a bit sad about my time. I mean, I came in under my goal of 1:45 (just) but it was a whole 23 minutes slower than my last time. And we’ll not talk about what my time would have been in my teens and early-20s when I was at my top fitness!

I know I shouldn’t be upset. After all, my physical, mental, and emotional wellness really took a hit when Paul died and I’m not yet at my pre-widowed levels. (I might not ever be!) I also have to remember that I have had two severe platelet crashes since January—the last of which was just two weeks before the race when I sat in the doctor’s office discussing the possibility of a platelet transfusion. So, really, I probably shouldn’t have been running in the first place! But, I guess that my slow speed is just another indicator of how much life has changed for me in the last two years.

So, now that Bloomsday is done, I guess it’s time to start thinking about that marathon in October. And, of course, the hometown Runner Stumbles 10K over 4th of July weekend—my last American race for who-knows-how-long.

And, finally, here are the times for our group:

  • Nearly-12-year-old nephew, Haden: 1:41:39
  • Me: 1:44:22
  • Nearly-13-year-old niece, Flik: 2:10:14
  • My sister, Celeste: 2:11:31
  • Nearly-12-year-old foster daughter: 2:11:34
  • My neighbour (Kerry): 2:42:28
  • Kerry’s friend, Leslie: 2:42:28

Don’t forget to check out some of our photos, too!

Crap from a loser

When I was 20 I met my first boyfriend. I thought he was amazing! He told me how to dress and reminded me regularly that I was getting fat and that I wasn’t all that smart. He was friends with my brothers-in-law, my sisters seemed to like him, as did my friends. Well, the friends I was allowed to keep. He was so wise to make me stop spending time with some of them. I mean, forget that I knew them for, like, ever!

Eventually, he left me for another woman, whom he married then divorced when he left for yet another woman. This shouldn’t be too shocking since he was a divorced man who’d cheated on his wife long before I’d ever met him.

But when he left, I was crushed. After all, he’d convinced me that—without him—I was nothing. I was fat, ugly, and stupid. And since he cleaned out the bank account (and the cash I had stashed in my jewellery box) when he left, I was also broke.

But I needed him. He was my soul mate. I was in love. (Blah, blah, blah. Barf.)

A couple of days after he left, the friends he said I couldn’t talk to came to my rescue and told me I was better off without him. (Liars! I thought at the time.) But they stayed with me (and are still with me) and I was so happy that they came back after Loser Boy had made me walk away from them.

By then, my self esteem was shot. At 125 (or less) pounds, I was convinced I was fat. I knew that I was the least attractive Cook Girl because he said so. And it wasn’t a secret that I wasn’t very smart. He had been doing me a great honour by staying with me and taking me out in public!

Thankfully, my self esteem returned over time. And when it did, I realised that all of the crap gifts he’d given me that I was saving for when he came back were rubbish! I mean gold jewellery? I didn’t like gold any more then than I do now! (But he preferred it, so that’s what I got.) And amethysts? Yes I know it’s my birth stone but I don’t like it. And sappy poetry cards signed simply: Love Loser Boy? Way to be original and think of your own prose!

So I boxed up all the crap and tossed it into the back of the closet at my folks’ house and forgot about it for more than a decade.

But then the other day I remembered the jewellery! Hey! I can sell that to help with my move to Scotland. I know it’s ugly and all, but gold can be sold for scrap. As can amethysts.

And can I just say how fun it was to throw the rest of the [now torn] crap into an old coffee can? Concert tickets, photos, cards, key chains—all of it! Oh, and since I was taking it out to the trash just then, I also emptied my old coffee grounds on top for good measure—a fate that Yuban didn’t deserve.

And for the record, when my self esteem completely returned a few years later I realised that—despite what Loser Boy told me—I was never fat, stupid, or ugly. And so to prove it, I went to university. (Really, that’s what prompted me to start school at nearly 25 years of age!)

And that act of spite meant that I met my second boyfriend, whom I would later marry. And that boyfriend? Well, he knew just how fit, intelligent, and beautiful I was/am. AND, he knew that I like silver-toned jewellery and also chose the best pieces, which will never be thrown in a box at the back of the closet!

Hopscotch

Like most kids, I played Hopscotch growing up. It was a great game and really only required a piece of chalk. And since they used blackboards in schools back then, chalk was an easy commodity to come by!

I think we mostly used rocks as our markers. But for a while Chinese Jacks were in style and we used them. They were lighter than the rocks and they didn’t tend to tumble around which was cool.

Anyhow, I don’t know about you but I can’t resist a Hopscotch court. It doesn’t matter if I’m in casual gear and sneakers or in a suit and heels—I hop.

And hopping makes me happy. So I’m putting a piece of chalk in my handbag and I’m going to start making Hopscotch courts when no one is looking because I bet that I’m not the only grownup who must hop.

And I bet that most grownups would smile if they saw a Hopscotch court appear outside of their office—even if they didn’t hop.

I wonder where I’ll put my first piece of graffiti…?

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? …

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!)

A valentine-less Valentine’s Day

I’ve always been a bit put off with Valentine’s Day. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that I was never the girl who got the boy in school. I was the weird one, a Tom boy, and a loner and frankly got a bit disgusted with the whole process as a child. After all, it was never me who got the special cards from the cute boys.

In my early- to mid-20s I dated casually but never had a boyfriend so didn’t care too much for the day then, either. Certainly by then there were lots of cute boys giving me attention and wanting me to be their Valentine (it helps that I’d learned how to use soap and wash my hair by then) but I wasn’t interested in them. So, Valentine’s Day remained a day of apathy for me.

A few days after meeting Paul, he invited me to a Gene Pitney concert which just happened to be on Valentine’s Day. It was strange being on a Valentine’s Day date with a man I’d only gone on my first date with about a week before, but we both acknowledged that it wasn’t a romantic outing—just a concert.

Future Valentine’s Days saw us staying home and enjoying a nice meal—just the two of us—with a Gene Pitney CD playing in the background. We’d exchange cards but there were no flowers and jewellery. We preferred to stay home and enjoy each others’ company rather than go out to watch people do the forced-romance dance at a crowded restaurant.

Before meeting Paul I didn’t care about the day. Then, when we were together, we both enjoyed mocking those people who put too much effort and stress into the day. And now that he’s gone, well, the apathy and mocking has been replaced with sadness.

So, here I am on Valentine’s Day without my valentine. But still very much in love. Yeah, no matter how happy I am about finally making steps toward a new future, sometimes I can’t help but be so very sad about losing the old future.

Frosting and graham crackers

Growing up, I used to love it when we had frosting and graham crackers as part of our school lunches. It was awesome! And the lunch ladies normally mixed food colouring in with the frosting so that we’d have green frosting on St. Patrick’s Day, pink on Valentine’s Day, and whatever random colour they wanted to use other times.

Now that I’m a grownup, I can’t be bothered with silly things like mixing food colouring with my frosting. So I just eat my graham crackers with plain, white frosting.

Of course, sometimes I can’t be bothered to spread frosting on graham crackers. When that happens, I just eat the frosting with a spoon—unless I can’t be bothered with that, either; in which case I just use my finger.

Oh, and just in case you ever come to visit and you see an open container of frosting in the fridge, just know that at some point I’ve stood there with the fridge door open eating frosting with my finger. And I double dip. And I’m not ashamed of it.

Yum. I think I’ll go have another serving now…

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]

Just two minutes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How hokey!

I think it was Celeste’s wedding when we started the tradition of doing the Hokey Pokey at Cook Girl weddings. I remember all of us girls standing in line together for a photo and one or two of us started goofing around. Which got a couple others goofing around; which meant most of us were in on it.

We laughed and giggled as we danced. Except for the eldest Cook Girl who was far too mature for such silliness.

And at the next few weddings we did it again. And at the last wedding (mine) we did it for a final time. Only this time, some of my friends joined in. But still, the eldest was a stick-in-the-mud and wouldn’t play. (She doesn’t know it yet, but when her daughters get married, I’m totally going to get them in on the tradition. And they’ll do it because they totally love their Awesome Aunt Frances.)

Here’s a fun video of us dancing around from Jessica’s wedding. Sadly, I don’t think I got video of us dancing at mine. Oh well, I have the memories …

A cartridge in a bare tree

Growing up, one of my favourite Christmas decorations was a small twiggy, leafless branch, planted in a little pot and standing 6-8” tall. Hanging from one of the little stick-limbs was a spent bullet casing.

Very obviously, this was a “Cartridge in a Bare Tree”.

It made me giggle as a child and it makes me giggle as a grown up.

I wonder if my parents still have that silly little tree.

And I wonder if I can find one for myself.

Wait! What am I saying? I’m a redneck hick chick from Small Town America. I’ll just go shoot a gun, pick up the spent shells, snap a twig from a tree, and make my own!

Yes, that sounds like a fun weekend art project. But maybe not one my foster daughter should assist with …

Image courtesy of The Forestry Forum

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.

Food foibles

So I think I’m a mild food hoarder. Or that I have some weird food obsessions. Or both. I’ve known it for years but mostly lived alone as an adult which made it easier to deal with.

When I [finally] settled down and got married, I found that I had to work to overcome some of my food foibles. Well, actually I didn’t have to overcome them—Paul accepted them and just played my little games.

(All the while, Paul would point out how crazy I was being and remind me that we can just buy/make more of whatever food I wanted.)

Basically, my deal is that I will panic if I think that I’m not getting my fair share—or more. A normal meal of normal food won’t trigger panic, nor will going out to a traditional restaurant where I order my own meal. No, panic situations for me are buffets, pot lucks, and parties with hors d’oeuvres; shared foods like pizza, chips, and buckets of popcorn; and divided foods like a slice of cake or pie.

I really do panic if I think there won’t be enough of something for me. To solve the problem of panic, Paul would always give me the bigger half of whatever we were splitting and we’d have separate containers of popcorn. Now, almost always I would eat what I wanted then give the rest to Paul—meaning he still got more—but if he got the bigger piece to start with I would have felt panicked.

I hoard food, too. Not proper food, but junk food. I have candy and junk food stashes everywhere: In the kitchen and living rooms at home; in my office; in my car; and even in my handbag. As long as my supplies are well-stocked, I’m OK. But when they start to dwindle I really do panic. I’m afraid that I’ll never get another Love Heart again. I worry that I may want pretzels and not have access to them. But if they are there and available to me, I won’t necessarily eat them. No, just the knowledge that they are there and that I can have them any time I want is enough to give me peace of mind.

I will fantasize for days if I know that there is a food event coming up. I salivate as I wonder what great nibbles will be at a holiday party. When going to the movies, I think for hours about my snack choices before the movie–and I’ve been known to watch a movie I’m not too keen on seeing just because I want the popcorn. I get really excited when I get to go for fish-n-chips–and even more excited when I know I’m going to a sweets shops. It’s bad. Really, really bad.

I realized that I had a problem when Paul and I went through our adoption training a few years ago. Apparently, food hoarding and other issues are very common in children in the foster care system and is often directly related to neglect and the instability of a food supply at some time in their lives.

I was never starved as a child—despite my insistence ½ hour before dinner that I was dying of hunger and really needed a snack. I was well-fed and never worried that a meal wouldn’t happen. BUT, there was a fight for food growing up in that the ‘best’ foods were gone fast. Everyone got a first helping of everything on the table, but with eight people around the dinner table, sometimes there wasn’t enough for a second helping of the favourite foods for everyone. Which to a kid is complete abuse!

Also, we rarely got desserts and snacks and candy. So when we did, we made the most of it. Looking back I know that we were raised with an extremely good, balanced, and nutritious menu. But I can also see how my food obsessions may have started.

I must have snacky foods available at all times now. When I fly to the UK I have a special check list of snack foods to take with me (sweet and savoury, chewy and crunchy) even though they’ll feed me on the plane. In fact—I almost never eat the food that I take with me, but the one time I didn’t take it I was a bit freaked out over it, so Paul insisted that I pack food no matter where we were going and how long we’d be gone.

A tip to friends and family: Always offer me the last chip. I will most likely decline, but being asked will make me feel secure. Also, be prepared to have separate buckets of popcorn if we go to the movies. And don’t ask for some of my candy, but don’t be surprised if I want some of yours. In fact, I will probably pick a candy that I know you hate just to be safe.

Yes, you knew I was weird and a little lot obsessive-compulsive, but I bet you didn’t know that I was completely off my rocker when it came to food!

The cure

As a kid, I remember Grandpa Eberle talking about the best way to get rid of a cold: A shot (or two?) of Brandy, a hot shower, and a warm bed. I think even then I realized that he was basically saying: “If you have a couple of drinks then take a hot shower, you’ll pass out. By the time you wake up, your body will have fought the cold.”

As a grown-up, I always relied on the family recipe for help because “cough syrup” really does help. Any time I was sick, Paul would hand me a small glass of the stuff. The heavy liquor would coat my throat, easing the pain, whilst the booze would help me sleep.

Sadly, today was a sick day for me. No work; just rest. (Well, I did check emails from time-to-time, but was really too tired to do much.) Of course, I didn’t have any cough syrup and with the kid around I didn’t think it was wise to medicate at noon anyhow!

But she’s in bed now. And as I was still in need of medicine, I’ve mixed a lovely dirty Martini. A strong one. So now I’m going to turn off the computer, drink my medicine, and read my trashy novel until the booze takes effect and I fall asleep snuggled under my lovely winter duvet (15 tog!) that I’ve just pulled out of storage.

Who needs a doctor when you’ve got such amazing home remedies?!

When I was a kid I thought…

When I was a kid I thought that the horses just off the west interchange in Ellensburg were wild and I dreamt that I when I was a grown-up I would capture and tame them for my own farm.

When I was a kid I thought that “The Coast” was such an amazingly awesome—and scary—place where all of the good things happened.*

When I was a kid and I saw interracial couples (is it OK to use that term?) with children, I would dream that, one day, we would all be the same ethnic race and we would all have lovely tanned skin all year long because of it.**

When I was a kid and we got to the place in Sunday Mass where we’d all shake hands, I thought we were saying “Pleased to meet you” which didn’t make sense, because in our small town everyone knew each other already.***

When I was a kid I thought that almonds came from peaches and nectarines, because the seed inside the seed (if you see what I mean) looks just like an almond.

When I was a kid I thought I could invent a car that ran on water.

When I was a kid I was going to be a famous writer living in Paris or Europe. Or I was going to be President of the United States of America. Or I was going to be a big-shot attorney. Or an artist. Or… (But I never dreamed I would be a wife or a mom. Go figure!)

When I was a kid I thought being a grown-up was going to be the most funnest and most exciting thing ever and life was going to be great and I was always going to be happy.

Yeah, life was simple back then. Some days, I want to be a kid again and think all those silly things and dream all those impossible dreams.

So, what did you think when you were a kid?

* “The Coast” is anything west of the Cascade Mountain pass along I-90 (you know, Seattle). And people from “The Other Side” were known simply as Coasties or 206-ers.
** I don’t know that I realized they were different races, I think I just thought they looked different than one another; which, I think, says something positive about the way my parents raised me to not think about race.
*** What we were actually (meant to be) saying was “Peace be with you”.

The rising cost of teeth

We were sitting at the table eating dinner when out of the blue the kid asked what would happen if she lost a tooth when she was at my house. She was concerned that the Tooth Fairy wouldn’t know how to find her. I explained that, as part of the process with her social worker, the Tooth Fairy was informed of her change of address – as were the Easter Bunny, Santa, et cetera.

This prompted a question to the kid about how much the Tooth Fairy leaves her. The kid quickly explained that she would always leave her tooth under her pillow and when she woke in the morning there was $5 or $10 in place of the tooth.

$5 or $10 for a tooth?! You’ve got to be kidding me!

All of the sudden I found myself telling the kid that, in this volatile global economic environment, the Tooth Fairy was likely to start paying less for teeth; after all, the market wouldn’t be able to bear the higher cost of teeth for long. (The fact that the kid pointed out not one but four loose teeth made this statement even more vital.)

I also had to inform the kid that because we lived in an extremely rural area off the main roads, we needed to make it easier for the Tooth Fairy to get in and out of the house quickly. So, any lost teeth would need to be placed in a glass of water on the dining room table for the fairy to find*. That way, the Tooth Fairy can come in, grab the tooth, leave some money and skedaddle. Having to sneak in and carefully remove the tooth from under a pillow is very time-consuming, you know.

When I was a kid we got a quarter. Yep, two-bits, that was it; maybe more on a rare occasion that I’ve forgotten about. Of course, when I was a kid a Jolly Rancher stick was only 10¢ and a candy bar was about a quarter. I haven’t seen Jolly Rancher sticks in ages (do they still make them?) and candy bars are nearly a buck these days. So, I can see how a tooth would also claim a higher price tag.

But how much is a tooth worth?

A quick search online gave answers ranging from a letter telling the kid how proud the Tooth Fairy was that the tooth was in such great condition (lame!) to $20 or a video game (outrageous!). So, I did what people do in this age of social media: I asked my friends on Facebook.

Luckily, it seems that most of the responses I got were within a $2 to $5 range – leaning more heavily toward $2.

Anyhow, that first conversation with the kid was about four weeks ago – and she finally lost the tooth the other day whilst I was in England. She told the family she was staying with that she would take the tooth back with her because she’d rather the Tooth Fairy come to my house. (How sweet.)

So, when we got up this morning the kid went to see what the Tooth Fairy left. And wouldn’t you know it? $2 was at the bottom of the glass ($1 in quarters and a Sacajawea dollar). There was also a ‘scratch and sniff’ tooth brush and a pack of fun flossers left behind. I guess that might have been a hint to the kid…

Now, about the rest of those loose teeth. Guess I’ll have to make sure the Tooth Fairy is prepared for them, too!

* I don’t know why, but we always left our teeth in a glass of water. Some kids left their teeth under their pillows. Others just on the kitchen table. Feel free to tell me how things go down in your home!

That’s me home [?]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gone fishin’

Back in July I was inspired by fish. It started as a general rambling, then turned to an actual plan for fishing on Labor Day Weekend. It was going to be great! Some friends from high school and I were all going to meet at our childhood fishin’ ponds and re-live our glory days. Soon, the fishing expedition grew as my friends planned to bring their kids. So I decided to bring my niece and nephew. And it was going to be fun.

Then I took a foster care placement and wondered if a fishing trip would still work. And I decided it would. So she was going to come, too. Then my friends all cancelled! So instead of being a fishing trip to remember my childhood, it became a fishing trip to build memories in the present-day childhoods of three amazing kids. (And memories for me and whilst I’m not a kid, I am pretty childish sometimes.)

Anyhow, we had a blast. Three fish were caught; none big enough for eating. One got tossed back; two became bait.

I forgot how fun fishing was. I may have to go again before all my new tackle rusts…

And look! Fun things for you!

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Oh, and be sure check out the little video my niece made below. I didn’t realize what she was doing at first, but it’s pretty good so I’m sharing it with you!

Hope you’ve all had a great Labor Day Weekend.

Falling into autumn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bug removal

I removed a large grasshopper from the house today using Paul’s special bug-removal jar. The old peanut butter jar took on the duty of bug receptacle the summer we got married. It moved with us from Seattle to our apartment on the Palouse, then later it moved with us into our new house.

Paul loved his peanut butter jar bug catcher so much that I let him be the official bug (and spider) remover. We were not of the ‘kill it’ mindset and instead released critters into the wild – or at least into the garden out front.

Now, it’s not that I’m queasy and squeamish when it comes to bugs. For goodness’ sake – I was a Tomboy through-and-through growing up. I even had a ‘bug circus’ with Larry from across the way when I was a kid. It was just that Paul enjoyed the chase. He was the man of the house and, therefore, the hunter.

Since Paul died, I suppose I’ve just not noticed – or just ignored – crawly things in the house. Don’t get me wrong, the house isn’t full of bugs. It’s just the odd spider or cricket that sneaks through the door. Of course, I must admit that I’ve allowed Schrodie to play with them on occasion – an act that may well have horrified Paul! But I chalked it up to animals being animals, and it was therefore acceptable.

Anyhow… For the first time since Paul died – no, for the first time ever – I’ve found myself using the peanut butter jar bug catcher. It seems that the kid wasn’t too keen on a large grasshopper taking up residence in her room and the cat wasn’t feeling snacky. So out came the jar.

I’m not sad by this, but I can’t help but imagine the practiced skill Paul would have used if he was here. I never thought I’d say it, but I wish I had a big strong boy to take bugs out of the house for me. (OK, not just any boy, but Paul.)

Great-grandma’s pickles

Yay! Pickle-making weekend has finally arrived. And just in time, as I was out of pickles.

My folks arrived Friday night with freshly-picked cucumbers from Imperial’s Garden outside of Wapato. They also brought with them my 13-year-old niece and 11-year-old nephew. (A couple of hours later, the kids’ mom arrived with beer for me from her man, JohnnyO, who knows I like good beer. That deserves an extra yay*!)

On Saturday, my nephew and I woke up early for go for a morning run through the wheat fields as part of our training for our 10k race that takes place on 10-10-10. We’d expected to come home to the smells of breakfast cooking, but the rest of the house was still sleeping! When they (finally) woke, we had a big breakfast to fuel us for a long day of pickle production.

My family’s dill pickles are the best! We use my (maternal) great-grandma’s recipe – with a couple of minor tweaks because of modern-day USDA guidelines. Despite the government’s intrusion**, they’re fantastic pickles!

My niece and foster daughter helped a bit with sorting cucumbers in the beginning, but spent most of the day hiding in the kid’s room playing. My nephew, however, spent the entire day helping make pickles with an amazing amount of enthusiasm! To reward him for his hard work, he will get to taste the first pickle when they’re ready. To remind the girls that today was a team effort, they did all the dishes whilst the rest of us relaxed in the living room. (This reminder didn’t sit well with the dish-doers!)

I know you wish you were here with us for this exciting pickle-making weekend, so I come bearing fun things for you! Yes! Another YouTube video, a photo gallery, and a recipe! Wow! Totally awesome!

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Want to make your own pickles? Here’s the recipe***:

Mom’s Dill Pickles
(But really, they’re my great-grandma’s)

Put 1 quart cider vinegar, 1 quart water, and ½ cup pickling salt together in a non-reactive**** saucepan and boil for a few minutes. Then pour the mixture over small cucumbers which are packed tightly into jars along with garlic, peppers, and fresh dill. (Ratios to your taste.) Process in water bath for 15 minutes.

Want to try one of the totally awesome pickles that I made? Well, unless you’re a close friend or family member with plans to visit me in the next wee while, you probably can’t. Sorry about that!

Oh! And how about a little lesson, too!?

* I haven’t decided if the extra yay was for the beer or my sister’s arrival.
** We are not bound by these guidelines, but if we want to enter things in the county fair, they must be made to USDA standards. Oh, and it’s meant to be safer.
*** Ratios of water/vinegar have been changed from the original to be in line with what we made. Dad also points out that some of the reasoning for this is that ‘in the olden days’ vinegar was more acidic that it is today.
**** Non-reactive saucepans are a stainless steel, chip-free enamelware pan, or glass pans.

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.

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.

And the winner is…

WooHoo! Thank you to everyone who entered* for a chance to win FREE COFFEE! For that matter, thank you to all of my readers. Your support of my ego-driven ramblings means more to me than you may know!

And congratulations to Mark, who has won a $25 gift card to Starbucks!

Here’s a ridiculously silly little video of me doing the drawing. Feel free to laugh at me. I did when I saw it. (Funny, in my mind I look and sound very different. I think there must be something wrong with my webcam…)

Well, I suppose I should answer my own questions now, so here goes: 

1) What’s your coffee order and why?
Tall drip – preferably French roast but any darker, full-bodied roast will do. Strong; no milk; no sugar. Why? There was a time when I drank lattes, but I think I did it out of social necessity – after all, my friends drank lattes so I should, too. I’d order a double tall, non-fat latte but then I wouldn’t drink the whole thing because it was too milky. I was essentially throwing my money away. It just made sense to switch to drip since I knew I’d actually drink it that way. 

2) What’s the funniest thing you’ve ever witnessed when at the coffee shop?
It was at a Costa Coffee when I was living in Scotland and everyone in the shop was snickering when we saw it. Two elderly ladies were walking toward the counter; a bit slowly, but it was obviously their turn to order next. This young man dressed in his best chavy Burberry get-up pushed past them and mumbled his order in a way that only a chav can do. The ladies were extremely unhappy to have been cut off so one whacked him on his shoulder with her handbag a couple of times whilst the other berated him for his poor behavior, wagging her finger the whole time. The kid looked shocked and embarrassed and swiftly left the shop. It was great! 

3) What’s your favorite ‘random acts of kindness’ story?
Years ago when I was first diagnosed with an auto-immune disease that meant a low platelet count, I was told that I could still donate blood if my platelet counts were in the ‘normal’ range for at least three months. So when the condition went into remission I excitedly went to the local blood drive – dragging a friend with me, even though she wasn’t going to donate as she was not too keen on needles. When I was told by the Red Cross nurse that, actually, I would never be able to donate blood again because I’m a ‘bleeder’, I was visibly upset. I think I may have even cried.

My friend, the one who was extremely dramatic about her dislike of needles, instantly said “I’ll give blood since you can’t.” She knew that taking over my dedication to blood donation was the best way to console me. It was an act of impulse, but also of kindness. And each time there was a blood drawing in town, she was there giving blood in my stead. And when she was asked if she was interested in being placed on the national bone marrow registry, she said yes without batting an eye. And, eventually, she became a living organ donor. Whilst the last part wasn’t so random, the blood donor part certainly was!

Thanks again for coming out to play! Have an awesome day!

* For reasons not-yet discovered, the back-end system used for Just Frances deleted rather than approved all comments made by first-time posters (on all stories) over a period of about 48 hours, though I did get the email notifications. This means that if you commented, I got it – I will work to manually enter them over the weekend so that everyone can see them. And I’ve emailed all of those people to let them know I know they’ve commented. The system is now up-and-running so any new comments WILL appear on the board. Technology, for all of it’s amazing awesomeness, sucks some times!

I’m [not] stupid

Plinky asked me to describe the worst teacher I’ve ever had. I figured that since two teachers instantly came to mind, it was a big enough deal to actually blog about.

I can never quite decide which of the two gets the ultimate prize for worst teacher, though my folks would probably say it was my 5th grade teacher, Mr. S., which is possible. But there was something inherently cruel about Ms. I., who was my 6th grade homeroom teacher and English teacher throughout my junior high tenure.

First, there’s Mr. S. He was one of those stern teachers – one who seemed to just hate kids. Maybe it was because he was burnt-out on teaching, or maybe he really did hate kids; I don’t know. My parents didn’t care for him as a teacher because he refused to listen to their concerns about my inability to spell extremely basic words correctly, despite the fact that I always did well on my spelling tests.

But I remember the first time I realized he wasn’t a very good teacher. It was during “silent reading” time when we would sit at our desks and read on our own. Whilst my friends read whatever the “Harry Potter” equivalent of the day was, I had my nose buried in a griping historical biography of some description. (I was very interested in the Russian Tsars at the time and I read every book on the Romanov dynasty that our small municipal library had to offer. Yes, at 10-11 years old.)

You would think that this higher-level reading interest would have been appreciated by a teacher, but instead Mr. S. accused me of not really reading. I couldn’t convince him otherwise, and eventually, he revoked my silent reading privileges, leaving me to sit there silently (and bored) whilst my classmates enjoyed 20 minutes of reading time. Jerk.

Then there’s Ms. I.; she was just plain cruel. She called me stupid; she teased me about the way I spoke; she told me I’d never amount to anything. She almost took glee in pointing out my errors. (She had also teased others in my class, and my sisters before me, but she seemed to save her “stupid” comments for me alone.) Over and over again Ms. I. belittled me in front of my classmates – and in private. I think it was the first time in my life when I’d ever really despised an adult.

However, I should give Ms. I. a bit of credit, since it was her cruelty that made me start reading dictionaries and encyclopedias in an effort to be less stupid. Trying to look smarter also helped me to develop memory tricks so that I could absorb knowledge more easily. But she doesn’t deserve that credit because I’m the one who put in the hard work!

I think that between my early speech difficulties and dyslexia (which was diagnosed sometime in junior high) there was a common belief that I was, in fact, stupid. Coupled with the fact that I lived in a rural community and had a family that couldn’t pay for a university education for me, I suppose that it was assumed that I would be a waitress or a housewife after high school. With these preconceived notions, maybe I wasn’t worth the teaching energy required to help me shine.

OK, you could say that my experiences as a young child weren’t based in reality but rather a child’s interpretation of reality, but let’s remember we’re talking about a small town which means that I’ve had several run-ins with both since leaving school. (Most recently Ms. I. a few weeks ago.) So here’s what I know from my grown-up years:

Shortly after I began attending university in my mid-20s, I was chatting with Mr. S. in the coffee shop and told him how mean he was to me. His response was along the lines of “I knew you were smart and I was trying to motivate you.” (What a load of crap!) But he’s always been kind to me since I became an adult, and was very supportive and encouraging when I was working full-time whilst studying for my degree.

I also remember chatting with Ms. I. one day just before I went to study in Scotland for a year. Her comment was along the lines of “You’re the last Cook girl I would ever have thought would make something of herself.” Stupid [censored]. I will always go out of my way to avoid the woman and it worries me that she’s still out there teaching my nieces and nephews. I just hope that she’s a better teacher to them than she ever was to me.

So, there you have it. I was the stupid kid growing up. (Who knew?)

Thankfully, by the time I hit high school I found some amazing teachers who really put in the time and effort to help me learn. If you think this post about bad teachers is long, just wait; I may decide to post about the greatness of some of the greatest educators I’ve ever known one day. That’s a post that would make Homer’s works look like excerpts from the Reader’s Digest!

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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’!

Very fishy

I started this post thinking it would be about my love of (obsession for?) fish-n-chips but couldn’t stop myself from going on these little tangents about other fish-related thoughts and memories. So instead, I’m just going to share some random fishy tidbits with you.

  • I love fish-n-chips. I always liked it as a kid, but after moving to Scotland and having a ‘proper’ fish supper, I grew to love the stuff. (In Edinburgh, you get your chips with salt-n-sauce – yum!) It’s become somewhat of a joke with my in-laws and UK friends. And if you wondered, the best fish-n-chips in England come from Seaton Carew; in Scotland they come from this little chippy near Haymarket in Edinburgh.
  • During Lent, my mantra is “Fish on a Friday” because during Lent Catholics don’t eat meat on Fridays. I think it used to be every Friday of the year, but it’s been changed in accordance with Canon Law 1253 or Vatican II or something. [Note to self: Research this issue a bit more so that you know what the heck you’re talking about.]
  • When I was a kid, grandpa would point out colorful fish to us – just as he did with my mom and her siblings. “Look! Over there! A purple one is over there on that rock smoking a pipe!” Or some other such silly thing. And I’d look. And I’d be frustrated that I couldn’t see the fish. But every once in a while, I’d say I could see it, too. Grandpa was a funny, funny man. I like to think I got some of his sense of humor. After all, my jokes are just as “baaadddd daaadddd….” (Yeah, it’s a real knee slapper if you knew Grandpa!)
  • Quite often when I think about fish, I find myself saying “Fishy, fishy, fishy…” in a funny voice. I blame the Python Boys and their Find the Fish sketch.
  • “Back in the day” I used to go fishin’ at Hanson Ponds. I remember grabbing my pole and tackle then walking up to Victory Sports for some bait before heading over to the ponds. I don’t remember catching many fish, but I still remember it being fun. I don’t think that I’ve gone fishing since I was in my late-teens or early-20s. I wonder if I would still enjoy it…
  • And, finally, I’m a fish! Well, I’m a Pisces anyhow. I don’t really pay attention to all that hooey, but I guess some people really do believe in it.

Yes, I am well-aware that this is an extremely pointless post. But it’s my blog and I rule the roost on my blog. Yay me!

Extra! Extra! Read all about it!

I must have been 10 or 11 years old when I got my first job as a paper girl for the Daily Record, Kittitas County’s only daily newspaper. I can’t recall if it was 4th or 5th grade when I started delivering the news but I continued doing it until I was 13 or 14. I think.

After school I would go pick up my papers (maybe about 30?) and load my bag over my shoulders. It took less than an hour to make my rounds, but in the heat of summer or frigid-cold of winter it felt like it took much longer than that! I had those terribly mean parents who actually made me deliver my own papers, too, and steadfastly refused to drive me around unless there were extenuating circumstances.

Back then, we had to collect payment from most customers on our own. I remember going around knocking on doors once a month. I remember dreading going to some houses because they would never answer the door. But I loved going to other houses because I would be invited in for some cookies and soda then would visit for a while before heading out for more money collections. Many customers gave me a monthly tip and many more gave me great presents at Christmas.

At the end of the month all of the local paper carriers would meet down at The Harris Street Deli (later Killer & Babes, and now Beau’s) to turn our money in to someone from the paper. They’d count everything up then give us our share of the money. I don’t recall what the monthly rate was for delivering papers, but I do recall that often times I made more in tips than wages!

When I turned 14 I took a job washing dishes at the local truck stop cafe and I haven’t delivered a paper since.

Every once in a while I stop to wonder if kids still deliver papers door-to-door. I don’t know that I’ve seen any out and about where I live, but then, I don’t read print newspapers anymore. I get my news online or on the radio during my morning commute. Well, if you can call it news…

Quite honestly, I don’t know what the point of this post is. But I blame Plinky for making me do it.

Model A

My drive into work took a bit longer than normal today because as I pulled onto the highway I fell in line behind four Model A Fords from the Inland Empire A Car Club out of Spokane. Their average speed of 45 mph was acceptable to me so I saw no reason to pass them along the narrow one-lane highway. After all, it was only 25 miles.

As I followed I began to think about how nice it would be to live in that world with the slower pace of life. How idyllic, right? But then I wondered: In the 1920s and ’30s, did people driving along the road behind a horse and carriage find themselves yearning for the slower pace of life found in the late-1800s?

Then I started to think about how these vehicles from the late-20s and early-30s would make a great blog post, which gave me an ironic chuckle as I was just considering the less complicated, less wired life of that bygone era.

Of course, now I wonder how slow and idyllic the early-2000s will seem to people in the 2070s…

I’m a runner (?)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I like peanut butter

When I first began this blog, I jokingly commented that: “The content will be all over the place. You may visit one day and see a 1,500-word essay on why I think creamy peanut butter is better than crunchy and the next day there may be some random quote from some random song lyrics that I like.”

Well, today’s the day you get that 1,500-word essay and some random song lyrics all in one!

Peanut butter used to be just one of those random foods that I kept in the cupboard. As a child, it was a common lunch ingredient. On occasion, Mom would put it on celery for us to munch on – with raisins. Or maybe the raisins were enjoyed at friends’ houses. I can’t recall. I think we mostly had creamy peanut butter growing up. It was purchased in these large tubs – which is what you do when there are six kids (plus random friends coming and going all the time). Adams brand, maybe?

As an adult, I always kept it on-hand for making “no-bake” cookies. Some days, I would enjoy a big spoonful of the stuff just because I wanted something to eat and didn’t know what else to have. I rarely made PB&J sandwiches, but I used to make toast with peanut butter and a drizzle of honey. Sometimes I’d add raisins.

It wasn’t until moving to Scotland that I realized everyone in the world didn’t grow up on PB&J. Paul seemed to almost turn his nose up at the stuff. He found it strange that I would always have a jar in my flat – and even stranger that I would eat it straight from the jar. He just wasn’t interested in the stuff.

About a year after we got married, Paul found himself in the kitchen looking for something to snack on. He found the jar of peanut butter and decided to give it a go. That small jar that would normally last 2-3 months was gone in less than two weeks. He was addicted!

Soon, I found peanut butter becoming a normal grocery purchase – and no longer the smallest jar, but the medium-sized one. And no longer creamy (my favorite) but crunchy. I still maintained my peanut butter habits of 1-2 spoonfuls in a month’s time, but Paul was going through 1-2 spoonfuls a day – sometimes more!

When we’d go to my parents’ house, he could often be found in the kitchen “testing” their peanut butter to make sure it hadn’t gone off or something. It got to be such a (funny) quirk that one year, Santa brought Paul a jar or peanut butter and a plastic spoon. And he started eating it right away!

Eventually, Paul realized that his addiction was getting out of control and he cut back drastically. I think part of it was because he knew that he needed to set a good example for the kids we were planning to adopt and eating straight from the jar wasn’t a good lesson to teach.

You know, I don’t think I’ve eaten peanut butter since Paul died. For some reason, I don’t seem to buy it anymore. Maybe because he’s not here to ask me to; maybe because he’s not here for me to make no-bake cookies for; or maybe because it’s one of those little mental foibles where I will always connect peanut butter with Paul and I’m just not willing or able to deal with it right now. But I digress…

OK! OK! What the heck is this all about?!

Well, it started because “Peanut Butter” by The Royal Guardsmen (Snoopy vs. The Red Baron album) came on the iPod today.

But I just can’t keep this up any longer so it won’t be a 1,500-word essay after all (yes, I hear you cheering that fact!). I’m including the lyrics to the song to help pad it out though.

Oh! And why do I prefer creamy peanut butter to crunchy? Because I once had crunchy peanut butter that either had a very very stale bit of peanut in it or a tiny rock and it chipped my tooth. With creamy, never have to worry about that.

Peanut Butter
The Royal Guardsmen
Snoopy vs. The Red Barron

There’s a food goin’ around that’s a sticky sticky goo
(Peanut, peanut butter)
Oh well it tastes real good, but it’s so hard to chew
(Peanut, peanut butter)
All my friends tell me that they dig it the most
(Peanut, peanut butter)
Early in the morning when they spread it on toast
(Peanut, peanut butter)
I like peanut butter, creamy peanut butter
Chunky peanut butter, too

C’mon now, take a lesson now
(Peanut, peanut butter)
Open up your jar now
(Peanut, peanut butter)
Spread it on your cracker now
(Peanut, peanut butter)
Chomp now
(Peanut, peanut butter)
I like peanut butter, creamy peanut butter
Chunky peanut butter, too

Well, I went to a dinner and what did they eat
(Peanut, peanut butter)
Ah-well, I took a big bite and it stuck to my teeth
(Peanut, peanut butter)
Now everybody look like they got the mumps
(Peanut, peanut butter)
Just-a eatin’ peanut butter in-a great big hunks
(Peanut, peanut butter)
I like peanut butter, creamy peanut butter
Chunky peanut butter, too
I like peanut butter, creamy peanut butter
Chunky peanut butter, too

Free Tootsies!

I enjoyed a raspberry flavored Tootsie Pop after dinner this evening. And for a special surprise, it was an Indian wrapper! Yay!

I don’t remember when I first heard the urban legend about the infamous wrapper that depicts an Indian chief shooting a star with a bow and arrow. But the rumor was that if you found one you could redeem it for a free Tootsie Pop. Admittedly, I never tried this, but I have heard stories from people who insist that their neighborhood Five and Dime honored the tradition.

Though Tootsie Roll Industries claim to never have offered such a promotion and, presumably, these Five and Dimes did so taking the loss themselves as a gesture of good will – and in the hopes of creating loyal customers for tomorrow a the cost of a measly two-bits today.

But still, each time I open a Tootsie Pop with an Indian shooting star I smile… and make a promise to myself to go buy an extra one. Because, obviously, it’s a sign that I deserve it.

McKean’s

McKean’s Drive-In is the local burger joint in my hometown and is a true institution. When I was in school several of my friends worked there – as did I when they needed the extra hands and I wasn’t already working my waitressing job at the truck stop down the road.

In my 20s I would go down on a Friday night with my good friend and his daughter and the three of us would pig out on McGuire Specials, deep-fried mushrooms, onion rings, and milkshakes (make mine pineapple, please!). I’d pop in from time-to-time on my own, too, for a to-go order.

Because Paul was a vegetarian, we never went there – and I got to thinking about it a few weeks ago and realized that it had been 6 or 7 years since my last visit. Which got me thinking about the delicious goodness I was missing out on. So, I posted something on Facebook about it and before I knew it, old high school friends from around the state were on board for a McKean’s Meet-Up.

And so, yesterday I made the drive from the Palouse to the homeland to meet for McGuire Specials. Before lunch I went to cheer on two of my young nieces who had spent their Saturday at a math competition – and ended up kidnapping the 12-year-old afterward to take her for lunch with us.

All together there were eight of us there in the small dining room in the back. My favorite set of twins spent a bit of time reminiscing about their time working behind the counter for “Ammonia Amelia” before our conversations turned to very silly reminiscing about everything under the sun. After lunch, four of us planned to meet at the Brick in Roslyn for a quick beer. Dropping my niece off at home along the way, she remarked that she really enjoyed the whole group – but was certain to point out that we all acted like children!! (I think that this was a compliment though!)

Once at the Brick, my favorite twins, a good friend from high school, and I continued the visiting and laughter for a bit before everyone had to go their own way. (Which included me and one of the twins finding our way to a bar in Cle Elum for a few more beers…)

I think that we all were reminded that the homeland isn’t too far from where we all live now and that there is no reason that we can’t meet up for lunch a little more often. We’re thinking that our next gathering might just be that slumber party that was mentioned on Facebook. (Maybe the niece was right: We really do act like children!)

Two truths and a lie

Several years ago I was asked to tell two truths and a lie; a silly game, but one that seems come up again from time-to-time. Anyhow, in reading through a very old blog of mine, I ran across a post with two truths and a lie.

If you know me, you probably know the stories for the two truths and therefore know the lie… If you don’t know me, well, happy guessing!

  1. I once got a ticket for 104 mph in a 65 zone
  2. I once got out of a ticket, and ended up with a date
  3. I once got a ticket for running a red light

And for those who know the answer to that set, here’s a second set for you to ponder:

  1. I once sang on stage with Pat Benatar as part of the opening act for the Steve Millar Band
  2. I played alto sax with a small jazz ensemble when I was in my early 20s
  3. I played First Chair clarinet in school

Thirty-three paper clips

I had a sudden urge to go upstairs and open the footlocker in one of the guest rooms. It is full of memories from high school (oh, the photos that I’ll never share!) and I thought that I’d try to find an example of how tragically dreadful my writing was way-back-when.

Anyhow, the writing was so bad that I couldn’t bring myself to share it here. (Which really says a lot, considering what I DO share.) But I did enjoy the little trip down memory lane… again, some memories I just can’t bring myself to share.

But I also found a small white box tied with a brown ribbon. I didn’t recall what was in it, so I untied it and removed the lid. There I found a note, dated June 1989, written on half a dollar bill that read:

Don’t forget this memory. It’s part of our future.

The only other thing in the box was a large safety pin that secured 33 colored, vinyl-coated paper clips: One blue; one purple; two red; three black; three green; six white; six pink; and 11 yellow.

But here’s the thing: I know who it’s from, but I don’t know why. I have no memory of this – but am quite certain that it was meant for me, based on who signed the note.

Is there a clue in the fact that it’s a bunch of paper clips? In the number of paper clips? In the color assortment of paper clips? Or is it simply some random bit of nothingness that doesn’t mean a thing today, and probably didn’t mean a thing more than 20 years ago when the note was written?

This is why we shouldn’t keep crap like that. Some future generation may find it and think that it holds vital clues to the survival of civilization as we know it. What a wild goose chase that would be…

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!