To date, or not to date?

2011.08.30.bit_of_a_wanderTwo weeks before Paul died, we had a conversation about our futures, should one of us die—a conversation sparked because it was the anniversary of my very dear friend’s death. And it seemed that Paul and I both agreed: We would want the surviving partner to carry on and live life; to be happy; to date or re-marry. Not the week after the funeral, obviously, but eventually.

So, I promised that if anything ever happened to him, I would date again. But never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that just two weeks later I would be faced with living up to my promise.

It’s been more than three and a half years since Paul died and I am still alone. I haven’t found someone new and there are no prospects on the horizon. In fairness, I did attempt at ‘finding love online’ a little over a year ago—which only served to bruise my ego. And about six months ago I went on a first date—which didn’t work out because the guy was an idiot. And, though embarrassing to admit, I even thought that there might be a connection with someone I knew, but it turns out that I misread our friendship and his intentions were less-than-honourable. (A lucky escape for me, I suppose.)

Now I find myself in a hard position. I’m confused and scared about the idea of dating. I’m afraid of getting hurt. I’m afraid of falling in love again. And I’m afraid of having someone I love die too soon.

At the same time, I feel guilty for not dating. I feel as if I’m letting Paul down. I feel as if he would be telling me to stop being alone and lonely—and start finding someone new to love.

But I don’t want to try online dating again. And I haven’t had luck with asking friends to introduce me to (decent) single guys. And I don’t have the kind of social life that puts me in a position to meet new people—let alone single guys.

So how does a woman in her very late 30s find a man when she doesn’t have a social life and doesn’t want to find someone online? And do I really need to find someone? Is it possible to just live the rest of my life alone?

I don’t know the answer to any of these questions, Dear Reader, but I hope to find them. And I hope that the journey to discovery isn’t too painful. And I hope that, if I do end up dating again, I am able to find someone perfect for me. And not someone to replace Paul (he’s irreplaceable) but someone to complement my life. Someone who can make me laugh and make my heart skip a beat. Someone like the (single) man in my dreams.

Survived

2011.07.15.was_a_homeI managed to survive Christmas alone. I won’t lie and say that it was easy. In fact, it was so very hard. My broken heart ached all day long as I watched my Facebook feed fill up with photos of happy families and statuses about the perfect gift from the perfect spouse. Things that my own Facebook wall should have been filled with.

I’ll be honest and admit that I was jealous of all of those people with their seemingly wonderful lives. I was jealous that everyone else seemed to be so happy whilst I was all alone. By choice, but alone never-the-less.

I spent the day on the couch watching television and sulking. I stood and looked out the window from time-to-time, envious of the families out for a Christmas walk. And I cried as I remembered how happy my last Christmas with Paul was. And toward the end of the day, I had a nice video Skype chat with my parents.

But I couldn’t bring myself to cook my Christmas feast. As much as I had wanted to be strong and brave and cook a lovely meal to enjoy by candlelight at the table, my heart hurt too much to allow it. So instead, I nibbled on cheese and crackers throughout the day—and a bit of fresh fruit. Then I cooked my Christmas ham and some roast potatoes for Boxing Day instead.

No, yesterday wasn’t the Christmas I wanted, or even the Christmas I planned. And today wasn’t the Boxing Day that it should have been. But I survived both days. Somehow.

Maybe next year will be better. Maybe next year I will have met someone wonderful to spend Christmas with; or maybe I’ll just be more adept at spending time alone. After all, I’m getting a lot of practice!

I hope that you had a lovely Christmas and that your day was filled with the love of family, friends, and Christ.

[Photo is of my last Christmas with Paul. It was such a magical, beautiful day and I wish I could re-live it one more time.]

To the birthday boy

Another year, another birthday. Only he’s still not here to celebrate. My Paul would be 51 years old today, but instead he will forever be 47. It’s a day of hurt and sadness for me and I find myself missing Paul more than ever when his birthday comes around.

He’s not here to celebrate, but I wish him the happiest of birthdays in Heaven above.

I carry you with me every day, Paul, in my heart and in my memories. I only wish you were in my arms just one more time. I love ya, luv. xx

The master

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

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

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

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

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

New leaves

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

Oops, did you catch that error?

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

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

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

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

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

Packing up

I alluded to a big step toward a happier future the other day, but also said I wouldn’t share the big(ish) news just yet. Only I’ve changed my mind because I realised that the little steps needed for the big step are a bit more stressful than I thought, and writing about my stresses often helps to ease my mind.

So, I guess I’ll go ahead and tell you that I’m packing up my belongings so that I can move into a new flat this weekend. I am actually really excited about the new flat. It’s a fantastic place with loads of space for me (and guests!) and even has a private garden and off-street parking. It’s so much nicer (and bigger!) than where I am now and is really a place that I can turn into a home—even if only temporarily so.

But I’ve been really upset every time I start boxing things away. And since the majority of today has been spent packing—and making calls to transfer various utilities and such—I’ve been pretty much upset all day long.

I hate that I’m upset about packing because I should be happy since it’s such a positive step. But I suppose that it reminds me of the last time I packed up my home, and all of the tearful and painful feelings that came along with that move.

At the same time, I imagine that some of the stress about packing up is that I am not 100% certain what my visa status is—or how long I’ll be able to remain in the UK. I guess I’m kind of gambling with that stuff at the moment and am just hoping and wishing for the best! (Work visas are being applied for, it’s just a matter of hoping everything falls in place!)

Anyhow, I guess the good things about packing up is that I’m finally getting rid of some of the clothes I’ve had slated for the charity shops. And I’ve finally taken the old photos and other mementos of Paul’s down to my in-laws (not all of them—but I wanted to make sure I was sharing!). Oh, and I’ve finally gotten around to getting Paul’s old race t-shirts ready to have made into a quilt (more on that later).

So, there you have it. My big news a bit earlier than planned. And sometime after I get the keys to my new place, I’ll give you a tour just like I did when I moved into my current flat!

The dating game

Sometimes I think about dating. Only it’s a confusing topic for me. Not the dating part; I know how to do that. It’s more the mental and emotional part that has me uncertain. And not uncertain in an ‘Am I ready?’ way; uncertain in an ‘I am a mad woman’ way.

Worse, it’s more than one concern. So, I’m going to share them here and maybe the act of writing it down will help.

First, there’s the question of why I want to date. Is it because I’m lonely, bored, or restless? Is it because I don’t want to be alone? Is it because I feel a bit of social pressure? Is it because I actually feel that I’m ready to share my life with someone? Is it because I want to have someone to go to the movies with? Or is it because I want someone to curl up on the couch with?

I suppose it could be for all of those reasons. But if I don’t know why I want to date, then how do I know that I should be doing it?

Then, there’s the question of ‘What if I like him?’ I wonder if I would know why? I mean, if I meet some guy and he’s nice and I find myself liking him, how do I know that it’s him I like and not just the idea of him answering/solving the questions I asked about why I want to date? Is he really all that funny? Is he really all that nice? Or am I like the thirsty man who drinks sand in the desert?

But there’s also the question of ‘What if I don’t like him?’ Is it really that I don’t like him? Or am I just afraid and therefore finding flaws in flawless things? Or maybe I’m so confused that I can’t recognise the ‘spark’ that you feel when you meet someone new? Is it because somewhere in my mind he’s not Paul and that makes me feel guilty and so I run? Is it because I’m afraid that others will judge me for dating, so I’m avoiding it? Is it because I’m afraid that if I date, Paul’s family and friends will be hurt?

Of course, there’s also the fear of my legitimate dislike (or maybe just a disinterest) in a guy and when I voice that feeling the guy (or others around me) may think that it’s because I’m holding a candle for someone else and that I’m ‘damaged by widowhood’ or something. And whilst I admit that the concerns above are very much fears based on my marital status, I also know that—sometimes—I will just not like someone and that it has nothing to do with Paul.

Anyhow, there are millions of other questions and concerns that float through my head as I start to think about re-entering the dating world. And—believe it or not—some are even crazier than the ones I’ve shared.

So, I don’t know. Between bad experiences with dating sites and these confusing questions and realisations that keep popping into my head, maybe I ought to just start looking at getting a dozen cats instead

That dissertation? Done.

First, an apology for my absence the last week. I’ve had some Website glitches and had to enlist the help of some amazing friends who are fluent in Web Geek (I am merely conversational at best). Anyhow, the site is still under observation and I may be absent again—but I will tell you all about that later.

Now, to the important announcement:

My dissertation has been handed in—a full 24 hours and 20 minutes before it was due. (Yay me!) I now have to sit around and wait until sometime in October to find out how I did. So if you’re lucky, you won’t hear about it again until that time. But since you are here, I’ll chat a bit more about the process of turning in the most important piece of academic writing I’ve ever done!

I am so excited about having completed 12,108 words, plus another 2,000 or so for the appendices, abstract, acknowledgments, and other bits and bobs. When I printed everything off last night, I was beaming.

But then, as I walked through town on my way to campus, I couldn’t help but think about the ‘old plan’ where I was meant to do my master’s degree part time whilst my husband and kids supported me from home. Up until that life change, I’d always imagined celebrating this moment with Paul. I don’t know how we would have celebrated, but we would have done something.

Instead, I turned in my dissertation then went to work. And when I got home this evening, I looked around the flat—now empty of its former stacks of library books—and wondered what I would do with my life next.

There have been no celebrations, only reflections on what life ‘should have’ been and the long struggle to get to where I am now. And as I start to realise that there may not be anyone in the stands for my graduation in November, I’m struck at just how very alone I feel some days. (I know I’m not alone, and the comments and interactions from my Facebook friends tell me very much that I am loved and supported.)

So. Now what? What do I do? Where do I go? What does my future look like now? I wish I could answer some of those questions for you now, but I can’t. Maybe soon though. In the mean time, I will keep holding on to hope and faith and I will take the days one at a time.

Oh! And did I tell you that I turned in my master’s dissertation today? Well, I did!

The cruelty of random memories

There is something ever-so-cruel about random memories. OK, not always. In fact, most of the time random memories are happy moments. But sometimes, like today, they’re just reminders of a future that was stolen from me.

For the past few days, life has been rather exciting and positive for me. There’s been a lot of progress made on my dissertation and I’ve even made a bit of progress in my job search—and I’ve been getting lots (OK, some) training in for my next marathon. And all of those things combined make me excited for my future. And excitement about my future meant that I wandered into town today to look at new gadgets and gizmos for my kitchen and at shoes and jackets and a few other things I’d like to buy.

So there I was, in this fabby little kitchen shop looking at slow cookers, when I was flooded with memories of the day before Paul died. We’d gone into town shopping and we looked at slow cookers and debated which one to get. In the end, we decided we’d hold off and get one the following weekend when we were in the Big City—but we went ahead and bought a chain saw, new additions for our Fiesta Ware collection, and new work shoes for me. (And instead of shopping in the Big City the next weekend, I was at Paul’s funeral.)

As I stood there trying to shake the memory, all I could think of was the conversations we’d had that day. Conversations about the kids we were getting ready to adopt; about the chores we had in for the garden the next day; about making plans for Thanksgiving and Christmas—with our future kids! And all of the sudden I was reminded that, even though I am excited about my future, I really miss my old life; I really miss Paul.

I slowly made my way around the kitchen shop, and even managed to browse through some clothing shops, but my mood was deflated and I couldn’t bring myself to buy anything. I couldn’t bring myself to celebrate my new future because I was too upset about the memories of my old dreams; the dreams I lost when I lost Paul. And as I walked home, I couldn’t keep the tears away. Which meant that by the time I got to my flat I couldn’t help but sob.

I feel so silly when these things happen because I should be happy right now. It really has been a good and positive week and there are so many things that should be making me laugh and smile. Yet still, I cried.

I’m feeling a tad less sorry for myself now though and I’m sure that I’ll be able to concentrate on the happy stuff soon enough. Today was just a momentary blip, all caused because of those cruel little random memories.

But enough of that; let’s talk about some of those positive future-y things, shall we? Specifically, the goal of earning my master’s degree!

Dissertation Month Update:

Current word count: 4,200 (only 7,800 to go!)

Again, that doesn’t seem like much, especially compared to what I had for my last update, but I’m nowhere near done writing for the day and I have about 400+ words scribbled down in a notebook that I wrote on the train the other day. So once those are added in—and I add a few bits to other sections—I may break 5,000 before I go to bed. In fact, maybe that will be my goal!

Tomorrow’s task list:

  • 4+ mile training run
  • Work party with classmate (again)
  • Finish literature review

[Image is my most recent swirl-in-progress. It’s been helping me relax in between fits of dissertation writing!]

Loch Ness; Take two

Do you remember when I told you that I was going to run the Loch Ness Marathon in honour of Paul? And how after I ran it, I told you I was never going to run another marathon?

Well, I was wrong. In fact, I really wanted to do another one just moments after finishing the first. And that feeling never went away. It was just so exhilarating!

So, today I’ve finally signed up to run the Loch Ness Marathon for the second time. Oh yes, I have! Only this time I’m not running for Paul. This time I’m running for me!

What does this mean for you? Well, at the moment nothing other than the occasional mention of marathon training. And maybe later I’ll give a shout out for fundraising—if I can decide to do that. Which I’m thinking I might. So, I don’t know. Stay tuned for that.

In the mean time, however, feel free to give all of those ‘I told you so’ comments for those who thought the marathon bug might take hold of my soul (and soles!). Because it has!

I can open doors

There is a debate that I have with one of my sisters quite often, and since it came up on Facebook again, I’m going to have my rant here. So, you’ve been warned.

The debate is essentially about chivalrous behaviours by men toward women. Celeste (and some of my other sisters and friends) believes that a man should always open a door for a woman. And he should carry her bags. And he should stand when she is arriving at or leaving the table.

Now, I don’t know exactly how far Celeste’s views go, so I’ll end the ‘she thinks’ things there. But there are other views on chivalry held by other women I know. They include things like a man should always pay. Always. They should pump gas (petrol) for a woman. They should walk on the outside, closest to traffic.

As I think about the possibility of dating again, I realise that these are all things I’m going to have to contend with. And, to be honest, I worry that with my age I’ll be stuck (?) dating men who’ve gone through a divorce and I fear that they may over compensate by trying to woo me with these chivalrous acts. And, well, that’s just going to make me fume.

I mean, it’s not that I don’t like a man to be kind and polite. It’s that I don’t want a man to treat me as if I’m a helpless woman.

My view is one of equality: He (or she!) who reaches the door first opens it for the other person. If there are four bags, each person can carry two—or the task can be shared based on weight rather than quantity*. If both people can afford to pay, then turns can be taken**.

Basically, everyone should be treated fairly and with respect and equality—regardless of their gender. I don’t necessarily believe in a 50/50 split of everything, either. Rather, I believe in the idea of everyone contributing to their strengths and weaknesses. So, if my arms are loaded with boxes and I get to the door first, then of course I’d expect some man (or woman!) to be kind and open the door for me.

Women have worked far too hard to be treated equally for some ‘helpless’ woman to go around demanding they be treated differently just because they’re a woman.

And don’t get me started on ‘romantic’ gestures like flowers and chocolates!!

And that, Dear Reader, is an abbreviated version of my chivalry rant.

So, I’d really love to hear your thoughts on the issue. Really. What do you think?

* Less than two weeks after Paul and I started dating, we went to the shops to get fixings for him to make my birthday dinner. On leaving the store, I grabbed one of the two bags, only Paul insisted on carrying both. He was very adamant and this upset me. I made a mental note to be aware of any other controlling behaviour. But there weren’t any, and he was generally happy for me to ‘carry my own weight’. It just happens that on that day, he had just picked me up after being released from hospital and didn’t feel that a ‘sicky’ should be carrying anything.

** When Paul and I started dating, I was a poor student so we made the deal that he would pay when we went for meals and such, and I would pay when we went for coffee. Now, as a starving student again, I find it hard to let friends pay my way, but I do let them when they offer because I know that it’s just a temporary thing.

Half done

I completed my second half marathon today. Well, that’s if you can count last year’s Inaugural Homeland Memorial Half Marathon. Which I do. Only today’s half wasn’t in the homeland (though it was on Memorial Weekend). No, today’s race was in my adopted home country of Scotland—the Edinburgh Half Marathon. (And I’m pleased to say my time has improved since last year!)

It really was a great race. My heart, mind, and soul were geared up and excited for the entire race—and could have carried me on further. However, my legs gave up around mile 9 or so. Yeah, maybe that’s because I haven’t actually run—at all—since my last race five weeks ago.

Still, I enjoyed the entire race. Really.

The weather was fab, too. This was my first Scottish race run in shorts and a tank top—and was a nice change from the driving rain I’ve had to deal with for some of my races. Even better, the course followed the seaside for a good distance, so the fresh sea air gave me a bit of enjoyment.

As I ran this, my 5th race in my 2012 ‘Race a Month’ challenge, it struck me that my motivations have changed. Or, rather, changed back. You see, before Paul died I always ran for me. I ran because I enjoyed running. But after he died, I began running so that I could train for a marathon in his honour. And that was wonderful and I am pleased that I did it. But that’s done now, and without even realising my motivation has switched back to me and my own personal enjoyment. Certainly, I still think about Paul when I run—but I think of loads of other things, too.

Yes, running has once again become a time to clear my own mind. Part of me feels sad because it’s almost like a lost connection but at the same time, I still know that he’s there running with me. He is, after all, always with me—even when I’m not aware of it.

Oh, and another thing that struck me today was that I do have a bit of self control. I mean, at mile 4 when I saw the two pence coin in the road, I didn’t stop to pick it up because I knew it would trip up other runners. Just before mile 8 I passed up a 50 pence piece and further along the route were two separate pennies that I left behind. And if you’re a regular reader, you might know how much of a challenge that was to me!

Anyhow, it was a good race; it was a good day. And, since you’ve read this far, I’ll tell you my time: 2.34.36. Slow, yes. But remember… I haven’t trained. (Maybe I should do that before the next race?)

And, as always, you can see photos from all of my races here!

Seven years

I started a post yesterday, but couldn’t bring myself to finish it through the tears. You see, yesterday was my 7th wedding anniversary—and the 4th one I’ve spent as a widow. And it really hurts to realise that, which means that the past couple of days have been filled with tears and sorrow.

But I couldn’t let the fact that I had a wedding anniversary go un-acknowledged, so here I am acknowledging it.

May 21, 2005 was the happiest day of my life. I never would have imagined then the pain I’d be in now, but I would do it all again in a heartbeat. After all, you have to grab love and happiness when you can get it—and if you’re lucky, that love will be so strong that it carries on for eternity.

I love you, Paul.

Three years gone

It’s been three years since Paul died so suddenly; so unexpectedly. Some days I can’t believe that he’s gone. Some days I struggle with comprehending the fact that I lost the most important person in my life. It just seems so unfair; so wrong.

I still struggle with grief some days. The loneliness and sadness encompasses me and I can’t move for the pain. Though, thankfully, those days don’t come as often as they once did and I have learned how to manage my grief; how to survive it.

I am now in a place where I can imagine a happy future most days. I can imagine laughing and smiling; feeling safe and secure; and even feeling good about myself again. (And often times I don’t need to imagine because I am actually happy quite often and I laugh and smile most days, too!)

But, no matter how happy I am, or I can imagine myself being, I still miss Paul. I miss his smile and his laugh. I miss conversations (and fights) with him. I miss curling up on the couch with him in the evenings and waking up next to him in the mornings. I miss holding his hand. I miss the kisses and the hugs. I miss having to hide the chocolate (and the peanut butter) and I miss checking ingredient lists for contraband (he was a vegetarian). I even miss him getting frustrated with me for not making mashed potatoes the right way.

Really, I just miss Paul. All of him. I always will…

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 …

YouTube trails

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which lead me to a song about butterfly kisses…

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

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

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

Random thoughts: Challenging things

Random thoughts—Week 2: Write a list of 10 challenges you’ve faced in the last three months. Pick one and write about it.

Wow. Ten challenges in three months? I guess that means I’m going to have to define challenges a little more loosely than I normally would. But let’s see where I get, huh? My list will be done in chronological order and I’ll write about the last one. (Though I’ll link to previous ones if there is a story to pair with it.)

  1. Getting through another Thanksgiving and Paul’s birthday without Paul
  2. Finishing final papers and exams for my first semester of graduate school
  3. Surviving (and enjoying) Christmas
  4. Surviving (and enjoying) New Year’s Eve (despite the sadness and grief that hit the first bit of the New Year)
  5. Finding the energy to participate in life after a difficult start to the New Year
  6. Competing in my first race since my marathon
  7. Teaching myself how to edit videos
  8. Finding the courage to book myself a night away (on my own!) for my birthday
  9. Overcoming my mental block toward making Sunday roasts
  10. Getting through another Valentine-less Valentine’s Day

OK, so how did I manage to get through the challenge of another Valentine-less Valentine’s Day? Well, to be honest I holed up in my flat all day. Not really in an effort to avoid the day, but just because I felt that I had enough to occupy myself with here on my own.

Valentine’s Day is one of those days I dread now. It’s silly, I know, because it’s ‘just another day’, but it’s also a day when it becomes even more obvious that I’m alone now. I guess that the real challenge of this day is to not let the sadness encompass me.

I know the day’s not over yet, but I think I’ve won the challenge. Yes, there have been a few moments of sadness (and tears) but I’ve not been consumed with those things. Instead, it’s just been a normal day with some reading for school, some crafty stuff for a soon-to-be shared project I’m working on, and lots of cooking and eating of food.

Oh, and as I reflect on my list of challenges from the past three months, I have to say that I really am blessed. Money is tight these days; my future seems scary and uncertain at times; I’m sad and lonely some days; and I desperately miss Paul. But my challenges aren’t bad. They don’t include things like searching for a warm place to sleep or scrounging for scraps of food. My challenges don’t include fighting (or fearing) for my life or struggles to keep my family together. Yes, I am blessed to have such frivolous challenges to face!

And as for this writing challenge, I really feel sorry for Rebecca this week. I mean, my challenge was to list some challenges, but her challenge is to write a story about tap dancing cockroaches. So be sure to check in on her to see how she gets on with her ick-worthy topic.

Sunday roast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yep, I have a happy belly now!

Just because you fall

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

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

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

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

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!

Another year passes

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

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

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

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

One down

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wants versus needs

Once again, I wanted to spend the day inside, hiding away from the world. I wanted to sit in and sulk and cry and feel sorry for myself. I don’t know why I feel this way, but I imagine that it has a lot to do with the sadness of facing another holiday season without Paul. I imagine it has a lot to do with the loneliness I feel when there’s no one to share my life with; no one to share my dreams with.

But as much as I wanted to sit inside and pretend that the world wasn’t out there waiting for me, I knew that I needed to go and participate in life today.

And I did. I managed to get out of bed and brush my teeth. I managed to make a cup of coffee and take a shower. And I managed to walk into town to meet Rebecca for a cup of coffee and a natter.

In fact, I even managed to make my way further into town to buy a couple of Christmas gifts for my [former] foster daughter back in America. And I managed to treat myself to some fresh olives from the farmers’ market on the way home.

But I did it all without the true joy and excitement the activities deserved. I did it all with a touch of apathy. And now I’m sitting in my living room once again.

I want to put on my PJs and sulk on the couch. I want to block out the world and be miserable. I want to go to bed early and cry myself to sleep.

But I know that I need to stop thinking about those wants. I need to put on my shoes and put on a smile and go out again. After all, it’s Cocktail Night and I need to be at The Junk Rooms for Cocktail Night. I need to be there because it will remind me that there is a world outside of my flat. A world that’s filled with friends and laughter and smiles.

Boxed in

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A thankful weekend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fifty years ago

Fifty years ago, a great man was born. Today is a guarded celebration of that fact; guarded, because Paul’s not here to join in the merriment. There is no cake. There are no balloons. There isn’t a stack of cards or a pile of presents. But there are happy memories of the years we shared in amongst the tears I’ve shed over the years we lost. He may be gone, but he’ll never be forgotten.

Even on the days I cry for you, I still remember all of the laughter we shared. I love ya, luv. x

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!

Paranoia

Last week I finally got around to seeing my new doctor and this week I’m regretting it just that little bit. You see, on the outside I look like a perfectly healthy, 37-year-old woman. (Though some people think I look younger than that, which is cool.) On the outside, no one would ever guess that on the inside my body is not-so-healthy.

Of course, the problem with looking healthy and (mostly) feeling healthy is that I sometimes forget that I’m not as healthy as I appear. And when I neglect to go to the doctor’s office for checkups, I can forget a lot easier. (Kind of.)

Anyhow, back to the story: Last week I went to meet my new doctor and he promptly had me schedule an appointment for blood work—a standard procedure for someone with ITP. So, on Friday afternoon I went back for labs and was told I’d have the results in about a week. And when the phone rang Monday morning and the person on the other end introduced herself as someone from the clinic, my heart sank. It’s never a good thing when you get a call…

And so, yesterday I learned that my platelet count is 50. (Normal range is 150-400.)

Now, that’s not a really bad number (I’m normally around 70-80) but it’s always a bit worrying because I never know if a lower-than-my-normal number is because it was really low and is now climbing up, or if it’s on its way down. Which means stress and worry and paranoia.

The doctor wants me to go back in on Monday for another blood draw to see where I am. I’m hoping that it’s climbing up because I’ll be a little (maybe even a lot) sad if it goes lower.

And that means that for the next few days I will be obsessed with ITP and platelets. I will worry about this, that, and the next thing. I will have irrational fears that it’s getting worse. I will dream about cutting my finger and bleeding forever. I will second guess every niggly little twinge (Yikes! Is that spontaneous internal bleeding?) and will panic at the smallest bruise. I will be afraid to exert too much energy and I will worry that I’m pushing myself too hard. I will wonder if I’m tired because I’ve just spent a day running errands or if it’s ITP-induced fatigue.

I’m always careful and aware of my condition(s), but it seems that my carefulness goes into overdrive when I know that my counts are low. You see, this is why I shouldn’t have gone to the doctor. It I hadn’t gone, I would never have known, and I could have carried on pretending that I’m just a normal, every-day, healthy 37-year-old woman.

However, it’s OK. I’m OK. Everything will be OK. So please don’t worry about me. I’m not in any danger; I’m not sick and dying. I just have a lower platelet count than I want.

It’s days like this when I really miss Paul. I mean, he would be just as obsessed as I am about my counts and would commiserate or celebrate with me when the numbers came in. And, of course, if they were lower than I’d hoped, Paul could be counted on to wait on me hand-and-foot and completely fuss over me with his ‘A woman in your condition…’ line. And even though I didn’t need to be fussed over, it was nice.

But now the real question is how I can spin this so that I can get my friends to fuss and take pity on me and come over to clean my flat. You know, because I shouldn’t stress myself out just now. You know, in case it has an adverse effect on next week’s counts. I mean, a woman in my condition… (No? No volunteers? Darn!)

[Note: That’s a picture of my platelets from last year. So, those 10 guys are like the ancestors of the 50 I have now.]

A cunning plan

Sometimes, no matter how much thought goes into plans, things don’t work out. From Daedalus and Icarus’ attempt at building wings to escape from Crete to Windows Vista, history is full of failed attempts—despite the extreme cunningness of the plans.

In my own life, there have been countless failed plans. My plans to join the United States Marine Corps were scuppered by kidney disease. My plans to be happily married with a couple of kids in tow were destroyed by widowhood. My plans to be financially comfortable were ruined (temporarily?) by a self-inflicted change of plans that included quitting my job, moving to Scotland, and going to graduate school. And my plans to rule the world have yet to really get off the ground at all.

But despite knowing that plans don’t always work out, I still find myself planning. Planning—and hoping for the best. Even though I know I should be planning and hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst.

The last couple of weeks have seen me rather upset over plans that haven’t quite worked out. In fact, the last couple of weeks have seen multiple attempts for the same general plan fail. You see, I had hoped to host a full-on Thanksgiving dinner in my new flat for some people I know. But the first round of invitees had to cancel (which they did in plenty of time) so I had to re-think my plans. Which meant another invitation to some friends from out of town, but they were unable to make it. And other people I thought of inviting already had plans, too. (Totally understandable.)

The realisation that Thanksgiving was going to be a shadow of the holiday I hoped for meant a slightly upset conversation with my friend, Rebecca, where I mentioned just not doing anything at all, but it also meant that she helped me come up with a new plan—and a back-up plan for if the new plan failed. Sadly, by yesterday, I realised that the new plan was going to fail, too, which meant that poor Rebecca got to listen to me cry and cry over how I’m actually dreading next weekend because my most favoured holiday isn’t going to be anything like what I wanted it to be.

My tears were only made worse because it also happens to be ‘what would have been’ Paul’s 50th birthday weekend. And I honestly don’t know how I’m going to keep my sanity and composure knowing that he’s not around to share in the celebration of Thanksgiving (a holiday that he learned to love, despite being British and a vegetarian!) or his birthday.

Now, in fairness, another one of my friends was planning to be there and even made several complicated arrangements to ensure his availability. And he wasn’t too happy when I said that I might scrap the plans all together because it seemed silly to make a full-on Thanksgiving feast for three people—especially when two weren’t even American and one would be making an extremely large effort to be there. So it’s not like no one wanted to come and celebrate with me.

And so, after having a good cry that resulted in soggy sleeves because God forbid I carry a handkerchief when I actually need one, Rebecca and I came up with a new plan—a plan that includes a nice dinner out next Friday for the two of us and a ‘Silly Thanksgiving’ for the Saturday for anyone who might be able to show up. We won’t do a full-on meal, but all the important things will be there. You know, like olives for everyone’s fingers. Less pressure (maybe) and (hopefully) a good distraction for me. Well, that’s the plan anyhow …

I know that my emotional response is less about the plans not working out and more about the grief that comes from knowing that Paul isn’t here to celebrate with me, but that doesn’t make it easier to put those emotions in a box. They’re there haunting me. But I also know that even if the latest set of plans don’t work out the way I hope, that it’s OK for me to be upset and emotional. Now if I could just come up with a cunning plan for getting past those sad emotions and going straight to the happy ones.

Social conscience

Social lives are interesting things—and hard to define at times. Everyone seems to have one or want one. Or they want a better one or a different one or a less chaotic one. Or they laugh about how their children have better social lives than they do!

Paul and I always talked about our lack of social lives and how, if it weren’t for each other, we’d be hermits. We even joked that we were looking forward to adopting our children because we’d be able to glom onto their social lives and—who knows—maybe even find a bit of socialisation through our kids’ friends’ parents.

Of course, when Paul died I was faced with the realisation that he really was my only true social life. When he died, I found myself in near-isolation and it was hard. It was lonely. It was so very lonely. I didn’t have any friends in the area and my parents (the nearest thing to a social life I had) were a four hour drive away. So I turned to my virtual friends for interaction and support. But I knew there was something missing. I knew that I wanted—that I needed—a friend in the real world to socialise with. Sure, there were a couple of women at work who I chatted with at the office, but it’s not the same.

In fact, when I created my four main life goals, one of the tasks for the happiness goal was to find or create a real-life social life because I knew that being happy (for me) was dependent on having people to interact with.

And I have finally found that social life.

As regular readers will know, I am happily settled in Stirling, Scotland. And as luck would have it, my friend Rebecca lives in Stirling, too. And she’s become the main player in my social life. (Though I honestly hope I’m not being overly clingy as I re-learn the rules of social play!)

Rebecca has been an amazing friend to me for more than two years now, but even more so now that we’re neighbours. I have someone to go to coffee with and to site-see with and to have cocktails with and to have dinner with and to do all sorts of fun things with.

But it’s not just Rebecca. No, there are several players in my social life these days. In fact, I’m heading to Edinburgh on Tuesday for dinner with Joanne and her family. And I have been asked to name a day to meet with Steve and his family and with Les and Yvonne. And I’m meant to meet up with Martin next week and I have to return a call to Lindsay about getting together. And I have to look into a trip to France for a girls’ weekend with Mila.

And then there’s the family side of my social life. Yes, I have to get myself on a train to England so that I can see Liz and Ann and Elizabeth and John and all the rest of them. And I have to get my Mom and Dad on a plane to visit me here. And my cousin Helen is planning a trip. And who knows who else!?

Oh, I could go on and on about how great it is to have a social life again, but I don’t have time. No, I need to get going now so that I can get ready to head into Edinburgh for dinner and a Billy Bragg concert with Rebecca. Oh, and tomorrow night, it’s off to a Milonga at The Junk Rooms. Then next Saturday I’m off to Glasgow for another concert.

So, um, basically my social life has exploded! (Yay!)

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!

Job done!

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

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

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

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

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

But wait! Around mile 21 Rebecca caught up with me again! I was so happy to see her! We spent the next mile or so walking together but then I just needed to run. Which I did for most of the remaining course with occasional walk breaks. But each time I ran I was in pain. Lots and lots of pain.

Of course, when I passed mile 26 and knew I had only a fraction of a mile to go, I was spurred on and my pace quickened. Then Emma and David Knox were there with their two children and a massive banner cheering me on so I kicked it up even more. And I’m pleased to say that I finished in under goal time! (Goal: 6 hours. Finish time: 5:37:42.)

So I felt good. I didn’t hit the wall, but I was in physical pain for the last half of the race. I felt happy and energised and cheered on the entire time. I really did. Though I was actually expecting to be quite emotional because of why I was running. But I like to think that Paul was there with me in spirit, and that his presence is what kept me going.

And, no, I will never do another marathon again. My body can’t take it. But a half marathon? You’re on! That’s a distance I enjoy and that I can do well.

Also at this point, it needs to be said that I couldn’t have done this without Rebecca. She got on board with the marathon idea early on and was a great motivator to me. Just having her there on the course with me was so wonderful because I know that she was supporting me all the way—as I was her—even when we weren’t running together. I am so lucky to have such a great friend, and am so pleased for her accomplishments today. An accomplishment that included raising more than £600 for charity!

And thanks to everyone else who supported me along the way. Dad and Haden were great running aids when I was in the homeland, riding bikes alongside me and cheering me on. My Mom was always there with encouragement and my sisters were full of inspiration, too. As were my various nieces, nephews, aunts, and uncles. And my friends around the world who cheered me from virtual worlds by Facebook, email, and this very blog. I felt your love today, really.

And Paul, I hope I made you proud. You would have loved the course and would have made my time look horrid. Thank you for being there with me in spirit. I love ya, luv! x

Why run?

I’m running my first—and last—ever marathon in the morning. I’m pretty excited about it, but at the same time I’m rather dreading it. You see, I don’t actually enjoying running exceedingly long distances. 10Ks and 12Ks are fun. Heck, even the occasional 10-miler or half marathon would be an exciting race to train for. But a marathon is 26.2 miles and is simply too long to enjoy.

Of course, that statement makes one wonder why I’m going through this torture in the first place. So, let me tell you!

I am running a marathon in the morning because Paul didn’t; because Paul can’t; because Paul died about a month before his first marathon.

When we first met, Paul was anything but athletic. Then, shortly after we got married, he decided to join my gym with the caveat that it was a one month trial—and the insistence that he would hate it and quit. In fact, in the first week or so I thought he would! But then he found the treadmill and was pretty excited about that.

A few weeks after finding the treadmill at the gym, Paul set a goal to run a 5K. But he would never run more than that. Then I mentioned the Spokane Bloomsday 12K and he was uninterested (too far, you understand) but eventually he changed his mind and ran that. But he would never run further than that.

Then he ran his first half marathon. And then he started to talk about how he’d like to run a marathon before he was 50. So when he decided—at the age of 47—that he was ready for that first marathon, I smiled. After all, he only ever wanted to run a 5K!

Paul loved running. It became a true passion in his life and he was good at it. And he trained and trained for the marathon—he even ran whilst we were on our last holiday to England.

Paul died a week before what would have been our third run at the Bloomsday 12K—and a month before the Coeur d’Alene (Idaho) Marathon. The Bloomsday 12K took place the day after his funeral, so there was no way I could have done it, but at the time I felt this odd need to run (or at least walk) the marathon for him. But that was silly since I could barely stand on my own two legs for the first few months after he died. In fact, I gave up running all together for quite a while after he died.

Anyhow, I eventually got back into running again and felt the need to run a marathon before what would have been his 50th birthday. And that would be this November, so I needed to get in gear and start training!

Of course, I am not really in shape for this adventure. I don’t have the stamina to run that far. Between my blood condition and kidney disease (and pure laziness), I’ve been struggling with getting the training in and maintaining my health. In fact, often times I can hear Paul yelling at me about how a woman ‘in my condition’ ought not be running a marathon. I can also hear him nagging me about getting my training in and about how I need to be careful not to make myself sick and about how I need to eat my breakfast—especially on training days—and that I need to remember to cross-train.

But, as Paul well knows (knew?) I am stubborn and when I say I’m going to do something, I do it.

So that’s why I’m running. I’m running for Paul. But since running for Paul makes me feel happy, I suppose that I’m running for myself, too.

Oh! And I managed to talk Rebecca into running with me. She’s running for her own reasons as well as for charity. (Don’t be shy you don’t have to know her to sponsor her!)

Paul: I know I won’t enjoy this race as much as you would have. And I know that I won’t make as good of time as you would have. And I know you probably don’t think I should be doing it at all. But I know you’ll be there cheering me on. I love ya, luv! xx

Classy lady

It’s here! My first week of classes has finally happened! After a long journey of ups and downs and a false start or two, I am finally a postgraduate student. And here’s the promised update on that very topic!

First, the long journey condensed: I had planned to go on to my master’s degree and PhD after my undergraduate degree but then I met Paul and the decision was made to hold off on the postgraduate stuff for a couple of years. Then, with Paul as my strongest supporter, I planned to begin my master’s on a part time basis in the states—but Paul died a few months before I was meant to start and I didn’t have the energy to grieve and study. So it was put on hold again. Then, with family and friends around the world as my strongest supporters, I finally took my dream out of its holding pattern and put it into full gear.

Next, the degree: I am now working toward a Master of Letters in Media and Culture at the University of Stirling, Scotland. [As described on the course website: This degree explores such aspects of contemporary media culture, offering modules which explore areas such as digital cultures, creative industries, cultural theory, media economics, screen studies, and media rights and intellectual property.] The degree will be a lot of hard work and will require a 12,000 word dissertation at the end (expect more on that later, as I’m super excited about my possible topic!). Eventually, I hope to roll it into a PhD, though funding will determine if I need to take a break from studies before I do that.

And, finally, the fun stuff: Classes! I am taking four modules this semester: Two on Mondays and one each on Thursdays and Fridays. Which means I get Tuesdays and Wednesdays as an extra weekend. Er, I mean, as study days. So here’s a bit about the modules:

Media Economics: This isn’t the course I wanted, but since only two of us had signed up for that class (Interpreting News), I had to pick something different. I was afraid to choose this one because of the word ‘economics’ but the module description didn’t sound too scary so I’m going for it. We will spend the semester looking at the economic issues in the media industry and toward the end of the course I will have written an essay on a yet-to-be-assigned topic. (Oh! And there will be an exam at the end. This is my only class with an exam, and I hope it doesn’t get too economic-y or math-y for me.)

Research Methods: This is a core module taken by all postgrad students and is meant as a stepping stone to my dissertation. Throughout the course I will work on fine-tuning my topic which will lead to my dissertation proposal. I am feeling confident about the class and am excited to see my proposal come together. (OK, I’ll give you a teaser: It will relate to the relationships between social media and the news.)

The Practice of Cultural Theory: Wow. This is going to be an interesting class. In it, we will look at the works of ‘the great thinkers’ in the area of cultural theory. If I’m honest, much of it seems a bit too philosophical to me, but I am excited none-the-less because the readings are interesting and because the course assignments seem as if they will be great exercises for my dissertation writing. I am a little intimidated by the amount of reading that needs to be done each week, but I am also excited because many of the online resources are the sorts of things I’d read for pure entertainment!

The Media Environment: This is going to be a fun class and I’m going to enjoy writing the essay for it. We will spend the semester looking at the relationships between the media and society. The major assignment for the course is a 3,000 word essay and I was so excited to see one of my favourite subjects is one of the essay options. (Yes, more social media stuff!) In fact, because I’ve had the course information for nearly two weeks now, I’ve already been thinking about an angle for my paper!

So, there you have it. I’m a student again. Yay!!

Reflections

The home I had in America was my dream home. Paul and I spent more than two years searching for the perfect place to raise a family and I remember how we both just knew this little yellow house was the place from the moment we walked through the front door. A month or so later we were handed the keys and after that we started making the place our own.

We tore out the carpets to let the hardwood floors shine like they were meant to; we painted the walls; and we refinished an Art Deco table for the dining room. And we started to search for bits and bobs to make our house our home. One of the things we were searching for was a mirror—something large enough to fit over the seven-foot fireplace mantle.

As we began our search, we looked for something with a simple frame in a black or white finish. Like really, really simple. But we didn’t find what we wanted straight away so we began to look for something with a bit of flare to it. But not something gaudy or ostentatious—something simple and classy to compliment the Art Deco/Craftsman designs of the house.

Then it happened—we stopped into our favourite back road antique store (the one I talked about before) and we found the perfect mirror. It was tucked behind a pile of picture frames that were tossed haphazardly in a corner behind a broken down table. It wasn’t anywhere near what we were looking for, but we knew instantly that it was the one we wanted.

So we went from searching for a modern, simple wood framed mirror to falling in love with mirror framed with one of those gold-and-gaudy frames that you see in stuffy old art museums. But it worked. It really did. In fact, I think it worked better than anything else ever could have because it clashed in just the right way.

I remember when I first started thinking about leaving my home and my lovely treasures for my return to Scotland. I remember thinking that I would miss my table and my mirror so much, and I remember thinking that it would be so hard to part with them—and so many other pieces. I also remember thinking that I wanted them to go to people who would love them like I did, but I also knew that there was no way I could guarantee that would happen.

Then my friend, Amy, posted a picture of her mantle on her blog and asked others about how they decorated theirs. So I shared a picture of my mantle from my first Christmas in my home and Amy mentioned that she quite liked it—assuming it was either a family piece or an expensive piece. (It was neither.) But that made me realise that Amy would love the mirror as much as I did and that she would treasure it. So we met up for lunch just before I left the country so that I could pass on my treasured mirror to my treasured friend.

Anyhow, today Amy shared what she’s done with the mirror. She made it her own with a bit of spray paint and placed it in her newly redecorated bedroom where it looks incredible. It’s made me cry a bit to see my beloved mirror in someone else’s home, but it makes me happy at the same time because I always thought it would be happy in someone’s loving family home—and that’s where it is.

As for me, I’m planning to move into my new flat toward the end of October. And since the only mirror there is in the bathroom, maybe it’s time for me to find another perfect mirror for this new life of mine. I’m sure there will be plenty of funky little back road (or even main road?) antique stores to search in with friends on the weekends.

[Photo #1 is the photo of my mirror; Photo #2 is Amy’s mirror]

Home away from home away from home

Today I left my new home in Stirling to take a train journey to Billingham, England—Paul’s hometown and home to some of my in-laws. My sister-in-law, Liz, and niece, Rachel, met me at the train station to bring me to my English ‘weekend’ home.

When I got to the house, I was escorted to my room, which has been all done up for my arrival. But not only that, the night stand drawer has been filled with goodies for me—including my very own coffee mug for keeping in the kitchen downstairs, which means I no longer have to use a guest mug. (Yay!) And then, of course, we loaded back into the car with the dogs to head to Seaton Carew so that I could have fish-n-chips for dinner. Because no trip to Billingham is complete without a stop off at The Almighty Cod!

After enjoying our fish on the bench, we wandered down to the beach where the dogs chased balls into the sea whilst I collected shells to write a message in the sand. The sun was shining and the light breeze was just as you’d expect it. Later, walking back up the beach to the car park, I found sea glass for the first time ever—lots and lots of it! (I think a return visit for the sole purpose of finding more glass is in order!)

And now I’m back at the house, all cosy in my very own room, and feeling very much like this is my home away from the home that I live in now that I’m no longer home. (Did you follow that?*)

I’m down here in England for the next two+ weeks, with plans to return to Scotland the first weekend of September. I hope to be able to visit with all (or at least most) of the in-laws as well as train for my marathon and relax.

* My first home [hometown] is Cle Elum, Washington; my current home [or home away from home, and where my heart sings the loudest] is Scotland [Stirling, to be exact]; my home away from home when I’m already home away from home is Billingham, Paul’s hometown. Is that clearer?

The feathers

A couple of nights before we had services for Paul in England*, a woman I know told me a story about feathers. She said when angels pass by sometimes their feathers fall to the ground. And that our loved ones become our own angels when they die.**

Anyhow, when we arrived at the cemetery after the Mass, there was a feather teetering on the edge of grave. When I noticed it, I think my heart skipped a beat from the surprise of it. It made me smile inside—even though I was sobbing outside—because I knew that Paul was with me that day. His eldest sister noticed it, too, and bent to pick it up then handed it to me. She was just as pleased to see it there as I was, as she’d been there when the story was told. After the services, I placed the feather in my journal.

When I returned to my hometown, I stopped off at the cemetery there. And inside of the little flower box my Dad had made as a temporary grave marker, there was another feather. Again, it made me smile because I knew Paul was there with me. That feather found its way to my journal, too.

Over the past two years, I’ve been very aware of feathers. When I’ve had a hard day and notice a feather in an unlikely place, it brings me a bit of joy because it’s another reminder that Paul is here with me—in my heart and soul and in my memories. Sometimes, I find myself talking to Paul and asking him if I’m doing the right thing or to show me the way, and then I’ll see another feather.

Now, I know that Paul isn’t speaking to me through feathers (nor do I save them all!), but I also know that seeing them reminds me that Paul wants me to be happy and if the choices I’m making in my life will help toward that, then he thinks it’s the right thing (even if it’s not what he would do). And because the last year has been especially busy with big decisions (applying to school, quitting my job, leaving our home, and moving to Scotland) I’ve been asking for Paul’s guidance and approval more than ever.

When I found myself at the SeaTac airport, past security and on my way to Terminal S, I was surprised and very pleased to find a feather laying there at the landing between escalators. It brought such joy to my heart because it reminded me that I was making the right decisions and that Paul would want this for me. So I picked up the feather and continued through the airport; knowing that Paul was there with me.

I’m still trying to find my bearings and I know that it’s still early days, but I know that this is going to be a good move for me. I need to re-learn much about living in Scotland, but I already feel a bit more at ease with my world.

(And I really do promise that I won’t become that mad woman with a collection of hundreds and hundreds of feathers. That would be just silly! But I’m sure I’ll end up with a small handful by the time my journey is done.)

* I chose to have Paul’s cremated remains buried in both my hometown, next to my grandparents, and in his hometown in with his parents. I realise it seems strange, but knowing that I can visit him no matter which country I chose to live has given me a great sense of peace. (Also, the Catholic Church does allow this practice, so long as all remains are buried in consecrated grounds. If you wondered; as some have.)

** I actually don’t believe that our souls become angels, but I do believe that Paul is up there somewhere and that he is watching over me.

Widow dreams

For more than two years now, my nights have been haunted with horrible dreams. I call them ‘widow dreams’ and I understand from other widow(er)s that they are very common.

It started the first time I finally slept after Paul died. That first dream was a re-enactment of the horrors of watching him die whist I desperately performed CPR. For the next couple of weeks, every time I closed my eyes I would witness Paul dying all over again. Not always in exactly the same way, but always with me trying to help him—or with me trying to scream for help but I’d lost my voice.

After a while, those dreams changed. I would dream that we’d just learned his head was loose and we needed to be careful it didn’t fall off killing him instantly. I would dream that he had cancer or that if he ate broccoli he’d have a heart attack and die on the spot. Or I would dream of a million other things that meant we needed to be careful because one wrong move and Paul would die.

In between the dying dreams were the abandonment dreams. Those are the awful dreams where we would be sitting on the couch all lovey-dovey and out of the blue he’d tell me he wanted a divorce. Or I’d come home early and he’d be with another woman. Or we’d be in the grocery store and his girlfriend would show up and he’d tell me he was leaving me for her. Or a million other similar dreams that all ended in Paul leaving me for another woman. (These dreams are extremely common with widow(er)s I guess. I hate them most of all!)

Then there are the dreams where Paul comes back. Yep, he just waltzes in and acts like nothing happened and I’m so excited but also so angry with him. Those are the dreams I have been having more and more often of late. In fact, since leaving the home we shared together and moving in with my parents in preparation for my move to Scotland, I’ve been having them non-stop. And let me just say that Paul is not happy that he went home and saw it cleared out! Sometimes, I dream that I arrive in Scotland and he’s there to pick me up because he didn’t die; he’d just forgotten to tell me he was moving over ahead of me to get our home ready (much to my anger and delight).

And sometimes, the dreams are just plain old dreams. No dying, no abandonment, no coming back. Paul’s just there and we’re together doing normal things. And sometimes the kids we were meant to adopt are with us too. I like those dreams because for that brief time my dreams aren’t shattered and my life is so happy. But those dreams are also the ones that cause me to roll over and snuggle with Paul when I wake up. Only he’s not there to be snuggled.

The worst thing about these dreams is that some of them haunt me for hours after I wake up. Some of them are just so real and so vivid that I can’t shake them. Mostly, the ones I can’t shake are the bad/sad ones, but sometimes it’s the happy family ones that haunt me.

I don’t know how long these dreams will be with me, but I expect them to come and go as my life changes and as I hit major turning points in my journey. In the mean time, I suppose that I should be happy that I can still see Paul in my dreams, since I can’t see him in my waking hours.

[This post is illustrated with my most recent swirls-in-progress drawing—something I like to work on to take my mind off the dreams.]

An unemployed, homeless transient

Last summer I shared with you my rocky start in life as an illegitimate, homeless transient. Well, it would seem that I’m back to a less-than-ideal lifestyle again.

Yes, folks, I am officially an unemployed, homeless transient.

My last day of employment was July 8 and I said goodbye to my lovely home this morning. I am in transit now—literally—having stopped about half-way between the home I just left and the home I grew up in.

I will stay with my parents until I leave for Scotland, where I will essentially wave to my friends, drop off my bags, then head to England to stay with various in-laws for a couple of weeks before heading up to Scotland to settle in. Once back in Scotland, I will rely on the goodwill of good friends for a while as I try to find a job and a flat of my own.

I make light of the terminology, which isn’t fair since so many people are facing these terms against their will. This really is a hard time for me, despite my joking, but I am lucky in that my situation is [mostly] one of my own making. Yes, it began with the devastation of losing Paul and becoming a widow so unexpectedly at such a young age, but the rest was mostly driven by my path to find a bit of joy in my world.

I am looking forward to my arrival in Scotland, where I will try to make my home. I must admit that I worry about my future employment, and I worry about my future housing and transient status. But I don’t worry about being safe and secure because I am going home where I expect I’ll be welcomed with open arms.

As always, you can continue to expect a few sad and reflective posts on Just Frances as I continue to find my way to this new future. But you can also look forward to some fun and happy posts over the next few weeks as I have a busy social calendar for my final days in the homeland! Stay tuned to hear all about it!

[That’s a photo of what an unemployed, homeless transient looks like after a week of unemployment and three hours of homeless transient status, if you wondered.]

It was a home

Tonight is my last night in my house—the house I purchased with Paul a little over three years ago. This was our home; this was where we planned to start a family; this was where our dreams began to come to life.

Tonight, my house is nearly empty and an eerie silence has taken over where once there was laughter. Wood floors and the bare walls mean that each step echoes like I’m in a cavern. And each echo is like a memory of all the plans and dreams we had.

Over there is where we planned to build a window seat with storage for games and puzzles. And that’s where we were going to place a ledge for the cat to peer out the window. Those two bedrooms there were where our children would sleep. And that large bedroom upstairs was going to be a guest room and my sewing room where I planned to make curtains for the windows.

We had the plans drawn up for converting the shop into a family room and a mini-gym. There were plans for the laundry room and kitchen, and for the bathroom and our bedroom. And there was new furniture picked out for the living room. We even had the garden all planned out—complete with a private sitting area for reading and snuggling.

But when Paul died, all of those dreams and plans died with him.

I knew we’d leave together one day, as we always talked about returning to Scotland. But I never dreamt I’d be leaving alone. I think it’s harder to leave this place in the midst of shattered dreams than it would have been to leave it with Paul in pursuit of our joint future.

This was my home. And now I can only hope that the next occupants find joy here. I hope that it is one day filled with dreams and hopes and laughter and children, because that’s what this house needs.

As for me, I hope that one day I find a new home—a place where my heart is happy and dreams can be dreamt again…

So, I made you a mixed tape

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

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

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

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

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

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

The table

Three weeks before we moved into our house, I found an Art Deco table on CraigsList for $20. I emailed the link to Paul then excitedly picked up the phone to talk to him about it. Looking at the photos, we both agreed that it was battered—after all, all of the four chairs were in pieces and the finish on the rest of the table was horrible at best! We also agreed that it would look fabulous in the Art-Deco-meets-Craftsman house we were in the process of buying.

With little effort, I convinced Paul that it would be a breeze to refinish, so we decided to get it, which meant transporting it to our temporary home in our Ford Focus and Honda CRX. I don’t know what a tighter fit was: Getting it into the two small cars or getting it into the hovel of an apartment we lived in for a month before moving into the house!

After we moved in to the house in mid-May we would sit out on the back patio in the evenings sanding away the old finish by hand. Each piece had to be taken apart and sanded separately, and then I carefully glued the chairs back together. The table legs were missing a couple of little fiddly bits, too, so my Daddy got to recreate them using the existing ones as a template.

Finally, in November, we began the process of staining the table. When, two weeks before Thanksgiving, it was done, we excitedly placed the table in the dining room. Then I stood back and commented about what a great job we’d done—especially since I’d never refinished anything before in my life!

At that moment, Paul looked at me in shock. He had assumed that since I insisted it would be an easy project that I’d actually done something like it before—and he remarked that had he known I’d not, he would have argued against getting the table. (I reminded him that I never said I’d done it before—I’d only said that it would be easy to do.) But I think that Paul was glad he didn’t have that bit of information because he loved the table and loved to tell the story about our amazing CraigsList find.

And a couple of weeks after it was done we had the table filled with family for Thanksgiving dinner—which fell on Paul’s birthday that year.

Yesterday, I sold that table (for more than $20, after all, it’s all pretty now!). It breaks my heart to say goodbye to the table where Paul and I sat to share meals and dreams together, but I am happy to know that someone new will get to enjoy it now. As for me, I don’t have the table any more, but I will always have the memories…

Boom! Bang!

Today is the 235th birthday of my beloved America. I always get a bit weepy on Independence Day because my patriotism always gets the better of me. Of course, today I realised that next year I won’t be in America for the big celebration, and whilst I’m happy that I’ll be in my adopted home of Scotland, I’m a bit sad knowing I won’t be here to celebrate my heritage. But don’t worry—I will always be proud to be an American!

But on to the rest of the story…

I decided to kidnap my 12-year-old nephew, Haden, for a few days. I figured that since I still had a couple of days left on my four-day weekend and since my folks would be arriving on Wednesday to help with packing, it would be nice to have the company and the extra set of hands.

Of course, once we got to my house I realised that I wasn’t prepared—I mean, there were no fireworks at the house! At first I wasn’t worried about it because I knew that we could watch the other fireworks going off, but I quickly noticed that Haden was looking a bit sad. So I went across to the neighbours’ to see if they had things to blow up. And it turns out that they had loads and loads and loads of firecrackers on hand.

When I returned to tell Haden that I had a plan, his face lit up! Once we arrived on the neighbours’ deck, his face lit up even more—I don’t know if he’s ever seen so many firecrackers in his life! So, with the supervision of four adults, Haden spent the evening throwing firecrackers off the deck whilst we all watched the most amazing small-town firework display I’ve ever seen!

I’m sad to know that I’ll never see another firework show on the Palouse, but I’m pleased that I had such a fun-filled 4th of July with my wonderful neighbours. I just wish Paul could have been here with us.

Tomorrow Haden and I will go for a three-mile run before dying our hair green. Then we’ll be busy packing. Haden knows I’ll spend a bit of time crying but I think he’s OK with that. In a way, I think that Haden’s sad, too. He knows that this is [likely] his last trip to the Palouse and he knows that I’m leaving soon—and I think he’ll miss me, just as I’ll miss him.

But at least he’ll remember that his second (and hopefully not last) 4th of July at Aunt Frances’ was a banging good time!

Happy birthday, America!

[That’s a photo of Haden throwing a firecracker, if you wondered.]

Cleaning closets

Well, I’ve finally done it. I’ve finally cleaned out Paul’s side of the closet. It only took more than two years…

I don’t know what took me so long, other than denial and the inability to bring myself to complete the heart-wrenching task. There have been several times over the past two years that I’ve opened the closet and looked at his clothes—sometimes I’d even gather them in my arms and smell them. But I couldn’t bring myself to take things off the hangers or pack them in to boxes or bags.

Of course, now that I’m moving, I didn’t have a choice. So when my Aunt Elizabeth (which I pronounce ANT for her benefit despite my normal aunt-as-in-flaunt pronunciation) came over this evening I asked her to help. I was more than happy that she was willing!

We started in the hall closet with Paul’s coats and jackets—and laughed as I pulled used tissues and toothpicks out of every pocket. (I even found a key to our booze cupboard in a pair of his jeans.) We laughed even more when my cousin found even more tissues in the pocket of a jacket he tried on. I was happy when my cousin decided to take the down-filled winter jacket and a nice dressy black jacket. And my aunt is the proud new owner of Paul’s Levi jean jacket. It makes me feel good to know that people I love will be wearing Paul’s coats and jackets. (Is that weird?)

Then we moved to the bedroom closet. Having AE there to help (and distract) made it almost painless to bag up Paul’s old socks and underwear! When we got to the clothing, I decided that I’d save all of his old race t-shirts to have a quilt made with them. I also decided to save the ties (with the thought of offering them to nieces and nephews in the USA and UK) and that I’d keep a couple of tops for me to wear, as well as two of his ball caps. I also decided that some of Paul’s running gear would be offered to a couple of my young nephews.

Everything else got bagged up for Goodwill: Button-up shirts, sweaters, trousers, jeans, and shoes. I don’t know that I have the heart to take it all to Goodwill though, so AE has volunteered to drop them off for me—after allowing her sons to dig through.

I really hate that I’ve had to do this, but I am so happy to have had someone there to help. Tears were shed, but laughter was shared, too, as I told stories of the various pieces of clothing.

Of course, knowing that Paul would be more than happy for me to get rid of everything makes it easier, too. And knowing that I will have a nice quilt one day to remind me of all the races we ran together will help.

There’s still more sorting to do and I’m sure some things will be harder to sort than others. The next stage is to figure out what I’m taking back to the UK with me so that I can share them with his family. Photos and mementos from his entire life are certainly not things that are heading for the Goodwill bin!

Now, I know this is going to sound silly, but I think that the idea of throwing away those silly tissues and toothpicks will be more difficult that getting rid of his clothes!

Stuff hurts

I’m really tired of getting rid of stuff. It really hurts to part with even the most simple of items. I struggle each time I post something on CraigsList or take another trip to GoodWill.

I want to keep all of it. I want to keep the little twisty-tie things from the junk drawer and the spare hair brush in the hall cupboard. I want to keep the canning jars and the tea pots and the Post-It notes and the screwdrivers. I want to keep the CDs and the FiestaWare and the lamps and the table.

I want to keep all of those silly little things that you collect over the years to fill up your house—you know, those things that make your house your home.

But I can’t keep it all. And each time something else leaves, it’s another reminder that most of my dreams never came true. Each time I part with something else, it’s another reminder that this house is no longer my home—that I won’t have a place to call my own for a very long time. If I ever do again, that is.

As I look around the house now, it looks so strange. The room that was meant to house the children we planned to adopt is bare—the twin beds sold last week, the book shelf and desk the week before that.

The small guest room is empty; the large one only holds a bed and a couple of half-filled boxes now. My room is filled with boxes of clothes instead of dressers—and will soon be empty, too.

The laundry room is nearly empty—just the cat’s belonging, some old Christmas decorations, and a shelving unit remain. The washer and dryer sold two weeks ago and the ‘booze cupboard’ left this evening.

The kitchen cupboards are slowly emptying. The dining room table that we worked so hard to refinish should be gone this week. The CD case left yesterday.

I don’t know how many times this weekend I’ve just stopped in my tracks to cry. I know it’s just ‘stuff’ but it was all part of the home Paul and I built together and I don’t want that to end; even though I know it has to.

I keep telling myself that once I’m done clearing out the house it will get better but sometimes I don’t believe myself. I worry that once I go to stay with my folks it will be worse because I’ll be gone from the home Paul and I shared. And I worry that once I get to Scotland it will be worse because I’ll be there without him, when we were meant to be there together.

But I know that I have to do this. I know that I can’t stay here in this house surrounded by this stuff. I know that I have to keep moving forward toward this new life and this new plan. It just hurts so much some days because I still wish I had the old plan.

It’ll get better. It has to…

Schrodie lives!!

It was just before 4 a.m. when the screaming howls of cats outside my bedroom window woke me with a start. I ran toward the back door to rescue my cat, only on opening the door I heard the sounds of an animal running into the cedar trees. I called out for Schrodie, but she didn’t answer.

I panicked running back into the house to check for her. She wasn’t on the couch or on my bed. She didn’t come when I shook her food container.

I grabbed the flashlight and started walking toward the cedars—crying and shaking. As my light flashed on Schrodie’s collar and a trailing of fur along the edge of the trees, I broke down as I realised that my cat might just be gone.

My sister, Celeste, was with me for the weekend so I got her out of bed to assist in the search—she too had been awoken by the sounds of angry cats. And when we both realised that, yes, Schrodie was gone, I broke down on the pavement in a way that was oddly similar to my breakdown on hearing the news of Paul’s death.

Laying in bed, all I could think of was how horrible this place was and how awful the world would be without Schrodie. I was planning to one day bring her to Scotland with me and now I would never see her again. I kept thinking that maybe it wasn’t Schrodie—the fur seemed lighter than hers, but maybe it was just lighter because it was spread out on the dampened lawn.

Eventually, I started to think about how I would convince my sister that she needed to gather up the collar and the fur so that we could bury them with Paul. And I started to wonder how I would tell my foster daughter, who was at a friend’s house for the night. And I started to wonder how I would manage my last few weeks in this house without Schrodie.

Then—three hours later—a miracle happened. Schrodie came bounding into my room and pounced on my chest. She was alive! And was clever enough to know that if she bashed her head hard enough on the sensor-activated cat door (the activation unit is on her collar) she could gain entry into the house.

The house is filled with jubilation as we celebrate the fact that Schrodie, who is named for Erwin Schrodinger, was dead for three hours—but actually was alive. Alive!!!

Sadly, something died in the early hours this morning. But that something was trespassing so my cat had to defend our home. I just hope that something wasn’t a child’s beloved pet…

Oh! Another thought: Cat’s have nine lives, mine has eight left.

And just look at that cat! This photo was taken this morning. She’s loving the attention but I think she wonders what the big deal is…

Seller’s blues

For two weeks now, I’ve been selling loads of stuff on CraigsList and I can’t believe how mixed my emotions are at the process. The stuff I’m selling is just stuff; random, run-of-the-mill stuff. It’s not treasured items with high sentimental value. It’s not extremely valuable antiques or jewellery. It’s just stuff.

My first sale was an old clothes drying rack. Simple, boring, but useful. And only $10. The next day I sold an IKEA outdoor table set and a bookshelf that was actually rescued from the Dumpster. As the week went on I added a vintage handbag and an awesome sewing stool to the list of sold items.

This week I’ve already sold a set of drinking glasses, a large wall mirror, a chain saw, a Crock-Pot, a popcorn maker, placemats and napkins, and a variety of garden tools. Oh—and I sold the washer and dryer, too.

I’ve got $425 to add to my savings account now, which is like £265 in today’s money, which will really help once I get to Scotland. It may not sound like much, but every penny I gather now means less relying on friends and family once I arrive.*

So, if it’s just ‘stuff’ and I’m adding to my savings, why am I so sad?

Maybe it’s because if Paul was here I wouldn’t be parting with this stuff because we’d still need it as part of our happy family plans. Maybe it’s because as the house empties I’m reminded that my life and my entire world have changed so drastically—and devastatingly—over the past two years. Maybe it’s because I’m so afraid that I’m going to fail in Scotland and be forced back to America where I will have only the clothes on my back and my failure to keep me company and I’ll be forced to start over again and again and again.

I am really, really looking forward to getting to Scotland and starting over. I really, really do believe that it’s the path I need to follow to find some joy in my life. But I really, really hate that it’s an extremely bumpy and hilly and poorly lit path. And once I get to Scotland, the path will be a bit bumpy, too. But, as there doesn’t appear to be an alternative path, I’ve just gotta suck it up and keep going…

Happy. Sad. Happy. Sad. Happy. Sad. This back-and-forth is really hard on a girl’s emotional well-being!

* Yes, I know my friends and family want to help and are happy to do so, but I want to stand on my own two feet as much as I can. I hate that I’m going to be poor again and I really hate the idea of asking for (or needing) handouts. But, as some of my wise friends and family have pointed out, I may need to swallow my pride and take the help. Still… every penny counts.

A happy-sad goodbye

One of my favourite bits of furniture was an old 1950s(ish) green padded sewing stool. I wish I didn’t have to do it, but I said goodbye to it today. Parting with my stuff is very hard, and I really thought that parting with this awesome little guy would be hard, too. But when I met its new owner in a parking lot this morning, I couldn’t help but smile.

I bought the stool about three years ago. It was on one of the many trips Paul and I took to ratty little antique shop on one of the winding Palouse back roads—and one of the many purchases we made there. The shop has a nice front room with everything nicely dusted and displayed, but they also have this back storage area that is more like the dumping ground for everything else. You have to climb over things and move things around to get to that one cool thing tucked in a corner. But it’s worth it!

One day we popped in on our way to Spokane and in the back room there was this awesome little green stool—without a price tag. I loved it and knew it would be great in my sewing room. We decided that we’d ask what the price was and we’d buy it if it was less than $25.

Well, it turns out that the shop’s owner had salvaged it the night before from the garbage heap in another small farming town a few miles away. He asked if we’d pay $5. And with that, this lovely new stool went from garbage heap to back room to a loving home.

It hurt to put the thing up on CraigsList, but I did so with a $20 price tag. A few hours later I got an excited email from a woman who was getting ready to move to the area to attend university, but she wanted to know if I’d hold it until August. I let her know I couldn’t so she made arrangements to make the six-hour drive to town this weekend to visit friends and look for an apartment.

I was a bit doubtful that someone would want this little stool so desperately, but after several emails I was convinced and we arranged to meet this morning. When I pulled the stool out from the trunk, the woman’s face lit up! She was so excited and couldn’t stop smiling. She seemed to love it at first sight the way I had loved it at first sight. She happily handed me the money and I smiled as she carted it away.

OK, I know it seems silly and all. But I feel better knowing that this stool that brought me so much joy is now bringing someone else joy. (Even if secretly her joy is that she knows it’s really worth $500 and is going to resell it!) Also, I was pleased to know that her move to the area is so that she can get her master’s degree—which is the same reason I’m moving away from the area.

I wish it were this easy to part with all of my stuff, but I know that there will be more tears than smiles for much of the process. I also wish I could make an awesome profit on everything like I did for this!

The packing begins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why do the right decision have to be so painful?

Visa blues

I made my way up to Spokane today for my biometrics appointment as part of my visa application for The Big Move to Scotland. You would think that this news would have me extremely happy, but I just can’t find the joy today.

Maybe it’s because after the biometrics appointment I had a bone marrow aspiration. (Ouch!) Maybe it’s because on the drive to the appointment I realised that my last trip to the federal building was for Paul’s biometrics for his 10-year green card. Maybe it’s because once I walked into the building it dawned on me that Paul died right before we applied for his American citizenship. Or maybe it was because we were meant to be immigrating back to Scotland together.

Oh, I tried to celebrate this big step toward my big move. In fact, on my way home I stopped off at the post office and was momentarily joyed to find that my UK tax refund had finally arrived. But then I was sadden to find out that it was about £500 shy of what was expected.

Then, I had to pick up my foster daughter, take her shopping for a birthday gift, and drop her off at a friend’s for a birthday slumber party. ‘Yay!’ I thought to myself. ‘A relaxing Friday evening at home without the kid; I can have a martini and soak in the tub…’

And then I got home and there was more unhappy news waiting for me. (Nothing life threatening or unexpected, but sad none the less.)

Anyhow, I want to be happy today, but I can’t seem to get there. Instead, I can’t stop crying and stressing out about everything and nothing all at once.

But, in an attempt to leave on a high note: Now that my biometrics are done, I can send in the rest of my forms to the British Embassy. They say that most visas are approved within 10 days, so I’m holding out hope that I’m a ‘most visa’ case because I can’t buy my tickets until I have my visa. And once I buy my tickets, I’m sure I’ll be a bit more calm. (And probably a bit more stressed and emotional, too!)

The weekend will get better. It must get better…

Music lessons; take two

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

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

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

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

Yep. I’m still Aunt Awesome!

Should be

Today should be my sixth wedding anniversary. It’s the ‘candy’ anniversary, so I should be on a sugar high by now. And Paul should be in a chocolate coma. We should be getting ready to go out for a fancy dinner, too.

Should be. But not.

I guess I have to console myself with the knowledge that the three anniversaries we got were wonderful. But some days it’s hard to do that because he should be here with me.

So, instead of spending the day celebrating my marriage, I’ve spent it preparing for my move. Specifically, I’ve been going through old paper files and shredding like a mad woman.

And nestled in a pile of Paul’s files I found a detailed receipt from the gift he got me for our first wedding anniversary. It was the ‘paper’ anniversary so his gift to me was an enlarged, stylised photo from our wedding day. We joked about putting it above the fireplace, but decided against furthering the belief that we were one of those sappy, happily married couples who hung over-sized wedding photos of themselves above the fireplace. So instead, we hung it in the hall. (After all, we were a sappy, happily married couple so it needed to go some place!)

His gift from me was a small file box labelled ‘important paperwork’ that contained 365 bits of paper with memories of our courtship, facts about love and marriage, and various other romantic notions and crap. And every day for the next year, Paul would read one out loud then we’d share a sappy hug and kiss. One day, I might read them again. But not today…

So, Paul, since I know you’re watching and listening every day:
Happy anniversary; I love ya, luv.

From happy to crash

It’s been a bad day. It started good, but then something happened that caused me to come crashing down. I could tell you what that something was, but it’s so silly and makes me look completely and totally insane and unstable which hurts my ego which just makes the crash so much worse, so let’s just say it was something and leave it at that.

You see, I am so excited about my future. I’m [mostly] happy for the first time in two years. I have something to look forward to. I have plans that [I hope] will help me to be a strong, secure, and confident woman once again.

But somewhere in the back of my mind is this constant reminder that I had ‘It All’ before and that it was all taken away in the blink of an eye. And I’m constantly frightened that my world might crumble again and I don’t know that I can survive another re-build.

Yesterday, I was so excited to have looked over my finances again only to determine that I might actually have enough money to make the next year a success. Of course, I won’t be living the life style I’m used to now, but what I’ll be lacking in money I’m sure I’ll make up for in laughter and happiness. Today started out with more confidence-filled thoughts, too.

Then it dawned on me that part of my plan for the next year relies heavily on support from family and friends in the UK. And I started to worry that maybe I’ve played it all up a bit too much in my head; maybe I’ve convinced myself that my connections there are stronger than they are in reality.

What if I get to Scotland and find out that my friends don’t have time for me? What if I get there and we don’t have anything in common? What if they don’t like me? What if I’m too crazy for them in large doses when I’m actually there in person on the same continent all the time? What if… well, the list goes on.

Yes, I know how crazy this all sounds. I mean, I know that I will have loads of support when I arrive. I know that everyone wants to help. I know that people love me and care for me and blah blah blah. But sometimes, I just feel so alone and vulnerable and fragile and it doesn’t matter that I know I’m wrong. Sometimes, my mind just jumps to worst-case scenarios and when that happens, sometimes I can’t stop the spiral no matter how hard I try.

I feel better when I check out forums and blogs by other crazy widows because at least it seems that these insecurities and seemingly-unprovoked crying and sobbing fits are normal. And, I have to admit that my emotions may be a bit more tender than normal not only because I’m in the midst of preparing to leave the house I shared with Paul, but because tomorrow marks six years since we got married and there won’t be a card from him on the mantle place tomorrow morning to remind me of that fact…

I promise I will try to cheer up soon. After all, things are mostly happy these days and there really is a bright future waiting for me—I just can’t see it through the blur of the tears some days.

[To distract myself, I worked on one of my swirly drawings a bit. So at least my crash means I’ve broken out the drawing stuff again!]

Final blooms

We moved into our house on May 15, 2008. About a week later, all of the pink tulips planted along the front side began to bloom. They were truly lovely and we enjoyed bringing them in to adorn the mantle. That autumn, we planted loads of yellow and red tulips to go along with the rest. After all, I do love tulips! Then the following April, Paul and I watched excitedly as the tulips started to grow. In fact, the day before he died we remarked about how fun it would be to have tulips that we planted in the house.

It was about two weeks later when the first of the yellow tulips began to bloom, followed a couple of days later by the red. (The pink took another week or so.) And I cried and cried and cried because Paul never got to see our beautiful flowers bloom. Instead, they got to adorn his grave. Somehow, that just wasn’t the same.

When the flowers began to sprout through the melting snow last spring, my emotions got the better of me again. Only in addition to being sad that Paul couldn’t enjoy the flowers, I was sad that he wasn’t there to see the first sprouts, either.

And this year, it’s all happening again. Only this year, I’m also sad that I will never see them bloom again. I’m sad that I’m leaving behind not only these beautiful flowers we planted, but also the dreams and plans we had for the rest of the garden.

I can’t explain how hard it is to see the seasons changing without Paul here to enjoy it with me. I think there may be a little bit of guilt there though.

I know it sounds silly, but part of me is glad to be leaving this place because I think it will be easier to see the flowers bloom somewhere else—flowers that we didn’t plant together. But part of me will also be sad that Paul never did see our yellow and red tulips. The ones that will adorn his grave one last time this Memorial Day Weekend. I hope he likes them…

Lost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The dressing room

The thing I hate most about buying clothes (second only to parting with money) is trying on clothes. I hate trying on clothes. I hate it so much that if I don’t have success with my first trip to the dressing room, I will often call off my shopping trip and leave. But if I manage the (rare) treat of loving the first thing I try on, I can be encouraged to try on more stuff.

This hatred of trying on clothes is why I own so much old stuff. It fits, I know it fits, it’s comfortable, so I keep wearing it—despite current trends and styles.

But (as is a common theme of this blog lately) I need to start getting rid of stuff. And that means going through all of my clothes and trying stuff on. All of it. After all, there’s no point in transporting something 6,000 miles only to find out it doesn’t fit quite right anymore.

Anyhow, I spent a few hours trying on clothes today. Lots and lots and lots of clothes. And what I’ve found is that I have a lot of clothes that I can ditch without concern. But there’s also a lot of clothes that I can’t seem to part with because I like them and I wear them—despite my owning them for more than a decade. But thanks to Facebook and a digital camera, I am able to get feedback on some things from my friends, which means that the ‘ditch’ pile has grown! (Which is OK.)

As an added bonus, I’ve made my foster daughter go through her clothes, too. I mean, she’s been growing like a weed since her arrival last August and she’ll be moving on to her permanent home soon. It would be unfair of me to send her there with ill-fitting rags. Right?

I made her get rid of jeans that were waaayyy too tight and ones with holes in the britches so she hates me now because she wanted to keep them. And I am evil for making her try on clothes. Bad foster mommy. Bad!

On the plus side, I’ve told her I’d take her shopping since her wardrobe has dwindled considerably because of the chore. She’s happy about that.

I suppose that I should confess at this point that I have yet to go through Paul’s clothes. I know it’s been more than two years, but I haven’t wanted to do it. A friend had [kind of] planned to come out and help, but it never happened so I have to do it alone. I’ve gotten as far as knowing that there are a couple of things I want to keep for myself and I’ve decided that I’ll offer up ties to nephews (and nieces) but I’m at a loss as to how to handle the rest of his clothes. But I’d best figure it out soon! Or maybe I just need to pack it away in storage bins. We’ll see…

Anyhow, it seems I have a lot of extra space in my closet now. And it seems that I’ll have a bit more space in my luggage for important things like gadgets and cough syrup. So that’s cool!

Selling swords

I’ve sold all of Paul’s old swords—finally. I’d gone through them with a co-worker back in February but hadn’t gotten around to doing much more. I think I was worried that it would be a long and drawn out process, and I wasn’t looking forward to it. Especially when I figured I’d get less than $300 for the lot!

Anyhow, on Friday afternoon I was talking to that same co-worker who told me that she’d been to Clarkston the week before and noticed a sign for a pawn shop specialising in swords and knives. So I did a quick search and found a phone number for the shop—Sid’s Pawn. I called Sid and told him my situation. Then I sent my folks a quick email to see if they’d be heading my way in the next couple of weeks. And less than ten minutes later Dad responded that they could come out that day—a four hours’ drive at the start of Mother’s Day weekend.

All of the sudden I was excited because it seemed like I might actually be able to sell the swords, and had even started to believe in my mind that I might just be able to get my ‘hoped for’ amount of $300. Of course, I was also trying to be realistic and tried to convince myself that I’d happily take an offer of less than that. But I knew I’d be super-happy with an offer of $400.

Anyhow, less than 24 hours after I got the tip I found myself walking into a pawn shop with a stack of swords and walking out with $500!! That was even after taking the most valuable swords out of the collection for my co-worker and Dad, giving a couple to my cousin, and keeping a small one for me. (No clue why or what I’ll do with it, but I felt the need to keep one.)

I’m happy because I didn’t really expect to be able to sell them—let alone for as much as I did. I’m happy because that extra money will help my finances as I prepare to move my entire life 6,000 miles away. And I’m happy because I know that Paul would be pleased that I’m moving forward with this new future—despite it not being the life I’d signed up for!

Of course, I’m sad because it’s another realisation that my world is changing in ways that I never dreamt of. I’m sad because parting with Paul’s belongings—even ones without sentimental value—is a reminder that he will never come back to yell at me for getting rid of his stuff. And I’m sad because, eventually, I’m going to have to sort through the sentimental stuff.

Oh, but more happy stuff is that I am now thinking I may get a Kindle. I mean, I got $200 more than I ever dreamt I would for the swords, so why not? I’m not 100% certain that I’ll get one, but I might. Maybe? Stay tuned to find out if I’ve allowed myself the splurge!

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!

Colour me green

The Bloomsday 12K race organisers tell me (via email this morning) that I’m go for green for this weekend’s race. This makes me so happy because I feared my two year hiatus from the event would relegate me to lilac once again.

I should note here that there are more than 50,000 race participants and they colour-code groups by estimated finish times, with the fastest people in the front. The first time Paul and I ran the race, we were lilac—way in the back where all the walkers are. But the next year saw Paul upgraded to yellow (the best non-elite group) and me to orange (the third non-elite group). Paul’s funeral was the day before the 2009 race, so there was no way I was going to participate, but I think he’d have been pleased to know that I was upgraded to green that year—the second non-elite group. (Paul was slated for the yellow group again.) But I digress…

Despite not participating for two years, the race organisers still felt I was worthy of being GREEN!

And, because he was listed as a runner instead of a walker, my soon-to-be-12-year-old nephew and running partner, Haden, has been seeded in the blue group. Which is the fifth back from the elite, but is still in front of the walkers.

Now, because you can start with a colour group behind yours but not in front of yours, I will be starting in the blue group. But I will be wearing my lovely green race bib. Yay! Haden and I are super-duper excited about the race and aim to run the whole thing. Yes, even Doomsday Hill!!

Oh, and it seems green is my theme this week. I’m working on an updated look for Just Frances and sent a test link to a couple of friends. And one wrote back saying all sorts of mean things that made me cry about how horrible he thinks my choice of greens is. So I sent him a set of four other greens and he replied with more harsh, cruel words, sending me into a spiral of despair and sorrow.

OK, I may be exaggerating a bit there. I think it would be fairer to say he questioned very nicely if the first shade was too dark (I agreed) then made a suggestion on a possible direction based on the next set of four. I hate to admit it, but his comments have actually given me a great idea for my green solution.

And one more thing on the topic of green: The thought of ‘green’ and ‘solution’ in a sentence made me think of the movie Soylent Green. It’s a great movie and if you’ve not yet seen it, you should!

Two years

It’s been two years since Paul died, leaving me here to live in this world without him. When we promised ‘Until death do us part’ I imagined more time; I imagined children and grandchildren and wrinkles and old-age dementia. Instead, I got grief and pain and sadness long before I should have. (But oh, how wonderful the world was for our brief time together.)

I promised Paul once that I’d try to find happiness if anything were to happen to him, but I didn’t know at the time how difficult that promise would be—nor did I realise our ‘what if’ conversation would become my reality.

I struggle every day as I try to find a balance between finding a new path to happiness and the guilt I feel at being happy without him. And I struggle every day as I try to find a balance between survival and grief.

Two years later and I still don’t know how to live in this world without Paul. But I’m trying to learn. It’s just hard to concentrate on the lessons when I’m so busy missing him so very much.

A hard day on the home front

It’s been a hard day since the realisation that I will be leaving my house in less than three months. It’s so sad to know that I’m leaving this place where dreams once grew and laughter was shared between a hopeful husband and wife.

But there is a new future out there waiting for me and I can’t reach for it if I don’t let go of the house. Everyone keeps telling me how strong I am; how brave I am. I never knew how much strength and bravery could hurt…

To help ease my pain, I searched out some inspirational quotes. I think I like this one best for today:

Home is where the heart is but happiness is where your friends are.
~ Unknown

Choices

I’m sure you’ve gleaned by now that I’m very anxious and frightened about my future. And I bet some people wonder why I’m putting myself through this major life change when I’m faced with so much uncertainty. You’d be forgiven for thinking that, especially if you don’t know the whole story.

You see, the truth is that my choices are not: A) Stay here on the Palouse with my lovely house and my great job and try to muddle my way through to a happy(ish) ending or B) Return to Scotland and hope that this great plan of mine works out and I’m able to be happy again.

No, the truth is that I am well and truly failing here on the Palouse. I am miserable and depressed and unhappy and stressed and lonely and isolated and I feel hopeless.

Our move to the Palouse was deliberate. I was offered a job where I would be able to work on my master’s degree part time (and for free). We planned to purchase a family home (which we succeeded in) and to adopt a couple of cute kids (which was in the works). And once my degree was done and the adoptions were finalised, we planned to return to Scotland. I can’t tell you a solid timeline because it would have depended on my coursework, but we were hoping for about five years—so 2014 or so.

When Paul died, all of those plans and dreams died along with him; which meant that the Palouse went from a place where dreams happen to a place of nightmares. The Palouse stopped being a happy place for me and became my very own personal hell.

To be honest, I believe that if I chose to stay on the Palouse I would continue to fail—if I didn’t have this new plan, I may have failed already. I feared from the start that staying here would eventually cause my complete and total collapse—mentally, emotionally, and physically—which would eventually mean I’d lose my job and my house and my ability to care for my basic needs.

You see the truth is that my choices are: A) Stay here on the Palouse until my mental, emotional, and physical health failed to the point of me being institutionalised (really) or B) Flee this place of shattered dreams in the hopes of fixing myself and reclaiming a bit of joy and happiness in my life.

OK, some of my posts may seem filled of doubt and uncertainty, but that doesn’t mean I think I’m making a mistake. I know I’ve made the right choice—I just know that the right choice is filled with a myriad of trials and tribulations of their own. And those things get to me from time to time and that makes me doubt myself even more.

Yes, I am frightened and uncertain about my future but at least I have a certain amount of control over my future at this point. If I had chosen to stay here, my choices would have [eventually] been limited to lime or cherry Jell-O at Western State.

And that means that despite the fact that sometimes I sound miserable—and sometimes I really am miserable—I am not as miserable as I would be if I wasn’t putting myself through this. I guess this is the lesser of two miseries for me!

So please bear with me whilst I’m going through these tremendous ups and downs. I’m confident that the ups will outnumber the downs in a few more months. (Though I can’t promise it will all be ups even after I move—that wouldn’t be realistic!)

Found in the rubble

I whine a lot about all that I lost nearly two years ago when Paul died. And I’ll probably whine a lot more because I really lost so much. But this post isn’t about my loss; it’s about what I’ve gained, because it’s time I call a couple of people out of the rubble. After all, I don’t know that I could have survived this long without them.

[Disclaimer: This post is about friendships that wouldn’t have been formed if Paul hadn’t died, so if I’ve known you for, like, ever please don’t feel slighted.]

First of all, there is my awesome neighbour, Kerry. The night (or rather, early morning hours) that Paul died I called Kerry to pick me up at the hospital in the next town over. I barely knew her, as we’d not been in the house that long, but she took my 3 a.m. phone call and came to the rescue. I stayed at her house until my daddy made the four-hour drive. In the days and weeks after the funeral, Kerry would come round to visit regularly. Her husband, Tom, kept my lawn mowed, and they’d both take me out golfing.

Kerry is still around, popping by to visit now and then. We feed each other’s cats when were away and she’s always just a text message away if I’m home sick and need her to pick something up in town. (We both work at the university, which is convenient!) She stops by for a drink now and then, and now that spring has sprung, there’s talk of more golf—and some weekend walks. In fact, the other day we were talking about how sad it is that I’ll be leaving in a few months’ time, because we’ll miss the friendship.

Next up is Martin. Martin was a friend of Paul’s from university and when I first met him nine years ago I told Paul I would be happy to never see him again because I thought he was a bit of a pompous [censored]. Paul told me to give him a chance and also pointed out that I may have been a bit of a pompous [censored] to his friend, too. A few weeks before Paul died, Martin came up in conversation and I scoffed about how arrogant the guy was (still holding a grudge from that first meeting, because that’s how I roll), but Paul told me he was a good guy. And Paul was right: As soon as Martin heard the news of Paul’s death, he made arrangements to fly out to America for the funeral. He arrived on Friday night and left on Sunday. What a kind and generous gesture to make for a friend.

But more than that, Martin kept in touch regularly after the funeral. He called to check in on me, he offered help with Paul’s UK estate stuff, and he made himself available when I needed to vent. On trips to the UK since Paul’s death, I’ve had the opportunity to meet up with him and have decided that Paul was right, he’s a good guy. Sadly, I’m probably not that nice to him and tend to take out my frustrations on him but I’m trying to be nicer.

And then there’s Rebecca. Another of Paul’s university friends, I first met Rebecca at his memorial services in England. I was sitting at a table with a group of his friends when this woman remarked about my slightly obsessive-compulsive tendencies, as I was habitually straightening coasters and making certain my pint was centred on my coaster at all times. I think she instantly felt bad about making the joke, but I instantly decided that I liked her. The next day she sent me a lovely note and friend request on Facebook and we soon became friends. The few times we’ve seen each other since that first meeting I’ve felt very comfortable around her—as if we’d been friends our entire lives. I don’t know if she realises it, but I’ve never had a female friend who makes me feel so at ease.

Rebecca has become one of my strongest supporters and loudest cheerleaders. She’s there to cheer me up and make me laugh—and she’s been the needed voice of calm and reason when I’ve been anxious and afraid of taking such big steps toward my future. And as I’m going to be living in the same city as her in just a few months (I’ll even stay with her when I first arrive) I’m glad to know that there will be someone nearby to call my friend.

Of course, there are also several other people I’ve gotten to know since (and because of?) Paul’s death. Several of his old friends have reached out on Facebook; a few neighbours have been round to chat; and I’ve grown closer to his family, too. And I’m sure that once I move back to Scotland, some of those connections will flourish into full-on friendships, too.

I feel so blessed to have forged these new friendships and relationships, but they came at a heavy price to my heart. I won’t go down the road of “Who would you chose: Paul or these new friends”; that’s a silly road because I don’t get the choice. Bad things happen. Crappy things happen. And sometimes your entire world crumbles all around you. But if you look in the rubble, sometimes you can find just enough to salvage to make something fabulous—like friendships!

Music lessons

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amputated at the heart

Grief is one of those things you can’t really explain to someone who hasn’t gone through it. Even those of us who’ve experienced extreme grief of losing a spouse can’t know the emotional rollercoaster the widow(er) next to us is on. There are different tear-triggers; different coping mechanisms; different paths to follow.

But (I think) one common thing with most widow(er)s is that—eventually—we learn to cope with the loss and face the fact that we have a future waiting for us. (Happy or otherwise.)

A few weeks after Paul died, a ‘seasoned veteran’ of widowhood shared an analogy with me where she compared losing your spouse with having your arm amputated.

I know! It sounds so strange, but here’s the general idea:

When you lose an arm, all of the sudden you can’t function the way you once did. Your first goal is to overcome the real, physical pain and that may take some time. But then you start to realize that you have to re-learn how to eat. You have to re-learn how to tie your shoes. And you have to re-learn how to shower and drive and make a bed and shake hands and carry groceries and a million other things. All the while, you’re trying to cope with the emotional pain of the loss.

Whilst you’re re-learning these skills, you might have someone there to help you or you might have to wear slip-on shoes for a while. Maybe your bed doesn’t get made and maybe you have to take the bus everywhere. But, eventually, you learn new ways to complete these tasks. They may never be as easy and the sheets on your bed may never be perfectly straight again, but at least you’re making the bed again.

But through it all, you never forget that you’ve lost your arm. You don’t wake up one day and think that you were born with one arm. And even if you get a fantastic prosthetic arm that you love so much and that you never want to be without again, you never forget that you once had a flesh-and-bone arm.

And then, many amputees experience a phenomenon called phantom limb where they can feel a sensation of their limb still being attached and moving with the body (painfully or otherwise). But that, too, is something that may ease over time.

Of course, it wasn’t my arm that was amputated, but rather my husband. And he was amputated right at my heart. The emotional pain is greater some days than others now, and it’s often accompanied by physical pain. And I didn’t need to re-learn how to tie my shoes or drive a car. Instead I had to re-learn how to breathe and laugh and smile—in addition to a million other lessons. And some days, I have to take refresher courses on these lessons because it can be hard to retain the knowledge!

I’ll let you in on a little secret though: To help me remember to breathe and laugh and smile, I have little notes posted around the house and my office. No, really I do! And most days, they help. Most days…

Don’t say these things

Maybe you’ve heard me say it before, but when Paul died people said some pretty stupid things to me. And maybe you’ve also heard me mention that I started writing them down because I found it to be therapeutic. And maybe you’ve also heard me promise that I’d share that list. And today’s that day. Yay!!

But first, here’s a look at the fairy garden that you first saw a week ago. It’s really growing fast, huh?

OK, back to the list. I feel the need to give a couple of disclaimers before you can read it.

The first is that this list will either make you cry or make you laugh. If it makes you cry, I am sorry. If it makes you laugh, then welcome to my morbid little world. (They say widowhood gives you a twisted sense of humour. I think that’s true.)

My second disclaimer is that, whilst a couple of the people making these comments were actually extremely rude in their entire behaviour toward me, most of the comments were made by people who (I think) were just trying to be nice. I honestly believe that they thought they were sharing ‘soothing’ words of wisdom with me and didn’t understand that platitudes suck. (I never knew that before, either.)

[These were all said within the first six months of my husband dying at which point I stopped adding to the list.]

  • Do you think if you did CPR better he would have lived?
  • How long are you going to wear his wedding ring? It’s kind of creepy.
  • Do you really think red nail polish is appropriate?
  • We’ll have you back on the dating scene in no time! (One month out)
  • When do you think you’ll start dating again? (One month out; a different person than the first)
  • Let me know when you’re ready to date because I know a couple of guys who would like to meet you. (Two months out; again, different person—my potential dating life is still a big deal to people especially now that I’m nearly two years out!)
  • Oh, I didn’t think you’d be going out in public so soon. (2.5 months out)
  • I guess your luck finally ran out.
  • At least you’re young and can start over.
  • At least you didn’t have kids.
  • You’re lucky that probably won’t be having kids now!
  • I know just what you’re going through. I got divorced a couple of years ago–only I wish my ex was dead!
  • I know how hard grief is, when my cat died it took me months to get over it.
  • In a year’s time it will all be like a bad dream and you’ll be ready to move on.
  • Wow, you must really be sad then, huh?
  • Was there anything you could have done to save him?
  • Do you think it’s your fault that he died?
  • Maybe if you stayed in Scotland he would still be alive, you know because they have free health care.
  • I guess all that healthy eating and exercise was in vain.
  • I would be a lot more upset than you seem to be if it was my husband.
  • I can’t believe that you’re going back to work. I would be too upset to even get out of bed.
  • You weren’t married too long so it will be easier to get over it.
  • Will you be selling your wedding rings?
  • Think of it this way, you’ll get to have the excitement of a first kiss again!
  • Since you did CPR, at least you got to give him lots of kisses before he died.
  • This is going to make you a stronger person.
  • Do you think you’ll be alone for the rest of your life now?
  • Maybe if you lived in a big city he would have lived.
  • Hey, at least you can eat meat now!
  • Maybe you need antidepressants because you shouldn’t still be crying after a month.
  • Well, at least widowhood is a good weight loss plan.
  • It’s time to cowgirl-up. We all have issues we’re dealing with.

The proof is in the pudding

A few weeks after we got married, Paul asked me to make rice pudding. I’d never made it before but found an American recipe and got to cooking. The end result was a happy me—because it turned out just as I would expect an American version of rice pudding to turn out—and an unhappy Paul—because it was nothing like he expected.

This exercise resulted in two things: 1) I learned that there was a difference between American and British rice puddings and 2) Paul took over all subsequent responsibilities for making rice pudding in our home.

This didn’t bother me because I’m a bit indifferent toward rice pudding. And since I don’t really think about rice pudding, I’ve not had it since Paul died. After all, no one was there to cook it for me!

But today I cleaned out the kitchen cupboard and found a bag of [hideously out-dated] pudding rice and a container of [not as out-dated] Bird’s Custard. So I decided to try my hand at rice pudding again, with the aid of my Mrs. Beeton’s cookbook.

Of course, I didn’t have any milk so had to use powdered milk. And I didn’t have any lemon rind so had to use a splash of bottled lemon juice.

The result? Well, let’s just say Paul would not have been pleased and would have reminded me that this is why he is in charge of making rice pudding. Oh well, you can’t say I didn’t try. And it was good enough for me so it wasn’t a total failure.

April

April is upon us again and if I’m honest I’m dreading the entire month.

I remember two years ago when April Fools’ Day rolled around—Paul and I both played practical jokes on each other and we were so pleased that we’d managed to succeed in our trickery. Then came Easter. Then came a lot of work-related events and projects that kept me stressed. Then came the call we were waiting for regarding a couple of kids we planned to adopt. Then came an unexpected one-week foster care placement. Then came an enjoyable Saturday afternoon followed by a wonderful Saturday evening with a nice meal before curling up on the couch for a movie. Then came our last ever kiss good night. Only we didn’t know it at the time…

As April approached last year, I could feel the stress and pressure of my world closing in. And because my work calendar mimicked the same patterns as the year before, it just added stress. With each day, I became more and more upset and fragile. I was so afraid because I didn’t know what to expect for that dreaded ‘anniversary’ that I spent more time crying and worrying than anything else.

But when April 26 came around, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I was a mess. But I managed to keep myself out of the mental asylum so that was a success in my mind.

And now I’m approaching that two-year mark and I can feel the pressure building again. As I look at my work calendar I can’t help but notice that—once again—the same meetings and events are taking place leading up to that dreadful day.

All of the same flowers are blooming, too—the ones we planted right after moving in and were anxious to see bloom for the first time. Two years ago Paul and I were so excited about seeing our tulips bloom and I cried when they bloomed after his death. And I cried last year, too, because once again the flowers that we planted bloomed without him ever seeing them. And now, I’m sad that this spring will be the last time I ever see them bloom.

I’ve been feeling the weight of the world the last few days and I have to be honest and say that I fear I will be stressed the entire month once again—waiting, just waiting, for the memories of my final moments with Paul.

I’ve managed to convince myself that next year will be easier because I won’t have the same environmental reminders laughing in my face. And I’ve managed to convince myself that next year will be easier because I’ll be in a happier place—mentally and emotionally as well as physically. And, of course, I’ve managed to convince myself that next year will be easier because I will be that much more adept at dealing with my grief. After all, time heals all wounds. After all, time makes you learn how to deal with the gaping wounds of grief with more composure.

I will not have a mental break down this April. I will not have a mental break down this April. I will not have a mental break down this April. I will not have a mental break down this April. I will not have a mental break down this April. I will not have a mental break down this April. I will not have a mental break down this April…

Seven years ago today

Seven years ago today, Paul proposed marriage to me when we were in Venice. So, I thought that I’d share the story with you today. Readers of my no-longer-updated-but-still-online ‘grief blog’ may remember this story from its original posting. No reason to re-invent the wheel so this is just a copy-and-paste post.

 

Venice: A random happy memory
(originally posted on Frances v3: Still in Beta; September 6, 2009)

It’s not all doom and gloom in my mind. Some days—most days—I think about the happy moments I shared with Paul and I even manage a laugh or a smile in between tears. Today I got to thinking about our trip to Venice, Italy, way back in spring 2004. It was truly one of my most memorable holidays. Ever.

It was before we were married. We were living in Edinburgh, Scotland, and decided to take a mini-break to somewhere. We’d tossed ideas around for locations, and Paul was adamant that Venice would be the most romantic. So we booked our tickets and reserved a room for four nights at the Hotel Graspo de Ua, just around the corner from the Rialto Bridge.

On the day we arrived we wandered around taking in the local squares and getting our bearings. We road along the canals in the vaporettos (water busses) and had pizza at a local café. On day two we went to St. Mark’s Square to feed the pigeons and wandered around the ancient city taking in the sites. We visited the basilica and had gelato on the steps of some lovely building.

Later that evening, after a romantic, candle-lit dinner, we talked about taking a gondola ride. Of course, upon hearing the cost, my frugality took over and we didn’t go. Instead, we wandered around the streets of Venice—up and down one windy path after another—until nearly 11:00 p.m. at which point and we made our way back to the hotel. There, I sat on the edge of the bed removing my shoes when all of the sudden Paul got up from the chair, dropped to his knees in front of me, grabbed my hands, and began to tell me how wonderful I was.

It was at that moment I knew: He was either breaking up with me, or proposing marriage. The moment Paul asked me to marry him I said yes—not a moment of hesitation was needed. I wasn’t expecting a proposal. I mean, I thought that we were heading in the marriage direction, but I didn’t know he was ready to pop the question just yet.

After that moment, I learned the following things:

  • The reason that Paul chose to wear his beat up, old jacket on the holiday instead of the new one he’d just purchased: The old one had an inside pocket for him to hide the ring for the moment he found the right spot.
  • The reason that Paul wanted to go on a gondola: So that he could propose whilst the boatman sang to us. Paul didn’t want to fight with me about the gondola on the day he proposed, or he’d have insisted that we got on the boat.
  • The reason we wandered around all night: After my refusal for the boat ride he wanted to find an alternative romantic location in Venice—only all of the bridges were either covered with litter or unsavoury-looking characters.
  • The reason he proposed whilst I was on the edge of the bed: He needed to do it before midnight—when it would have been April Fools’ Day. (He didn’t want to risk me thinking it was a joke.)
  • And, I learned that he called to get my parents’ blessing/permission beforehand—bonus!

The following day, we went to Murano where I found a four-leaf clover. I know that you could argue it didn’t give me much good luck—but I feel like a lucky woman despite my circumstances. I was very lucky to have Paul in my life, if only for a short time.

A final note: Paul and I loved to tell the story about how he proposed and whilst I didn’t get the romantic proposal Paul had planned, I got one that makes for a better story without all the sappy clichés!

[Note: See videos of us feeding pigeons and Paul sighing here. Or see some photos from our holiday here.]

Paperwork

I’ve spent much of the weekend going through Paul’s old university newspapers and clippings. It’s strange because many of the stories feel like ghosted memories to me since Paul quite often shared tales of his days at the University of Edinburgh. And since I’ve gotten to know a few of his old school friends a bit more in the past [nearly] two years, it makes the stories seem even more like faded memories of my own. (Wow! How can it be almost two years already!?)

This isn’t the first time I’ve gone through these papers, and it won’t be the last time. But at least there will be less of them for me to sort in the future because I’m getting rid of the duplicates. After all, there is no reason for me to keep three copies of the same paper—not when someone else can benefit from the memories.

So, I’ve sorted through them. I’ve put all of the clipped articles aside to scan then read through the other papers. And what I found was that Paul kept 1-2 complete copies of the issues where he was mentioned, but also kept the cut-up copy from where he took the clippings.

It seems to me that I’m really only interested in the clippings that talk about Paul—despite the fact I know some of the people in the other stories. It also dawns on me that Paul’s siblings would probably be happy with just the Paul-centric bits. So I am scanning those articles and photos to share with the family. (I haven’t decided what I’ll do with the original clippings and am not ready or willing to make that decision just yet. After all, it’s only been two years. I’m not ready to deal with these things yet!)

Of course, this all means that I have stacks of memories that I can share with Paul’s old friends. I’ve already packaged up a few copies to send on to one of his friends (who I hope will forward some on to the person they’re intended for!) and I have another stack that I plan to offer to different people in the next couple of weeks.

All told, I’ve cut the stack by about two-thirds. I haven’t actually gotten around to scanning the clippings yet, but I will.

I know it seems silly, but this was no easy task. I mean, Paul saved all of these things for nearly 20 years before he died. He cared so much about them that he packaged them up and brought them half-way around the world with him. And I dismantled the collection in less than 48 hours. That’s so sad to me. But I find a bit of solace knowing that maybe the memories will bring a bit of joy to the friends he loved so much.

(For those wondering: No, I’ve yet to sort through anything else—including clothes and his bathroom drawer. Like I said, it’s only been two years!)

A light bulb moment

One of the things on the ‘to-do list’ before Paul died was to purchase new bedroom furniture—including bedside tables and lamps. We had everything picked out; it was just a matter of going to get them. But all of the sudden, it didn’t seem important.

Later, I couldn’t see the point in getting new stuff because I wasn’t certain I wanted to stay here. Later still, I couldn’t see the point in getting new stuff because I was certain I was leaving.

So, I continued using only the overhead light and I continued keeping my eyeglasses on the floor by the bed as I slept. Only the set up wasn’t really great for bedtime reading.

But then something happened—I got a free lamp! A nice one that would work nicely for bedside reading, too. So I brought in an old, empty filing cabinet that I planned to take to Goodwill and I threw a pretty sarong on top of it.

And now I’m enjoying reading in bed for the first time in years. It’s actually quite relaxing and enjoyable. Which is awesome.

Oh! And I got a giggle as I started reading a new (to me) Ian Rankin book last night because I imagine that if I continue leaving books all over my make-shift night stand, I’ll soon be giving Inspector Rebus a run for his money on the trail of books laying around the place!

Springy

Today is the first day of spring, but despite the cluster of purple crocus sprouting up just outside my kitchen door, it doesn’t feel like spring. Still, the calendar insists it is, so I suppose spring has now officially sprung.

I’m kind of anti-spring these days, likely due to the memories leading up to Paul’s spring-time death. But, I am trying to be upbeat and positive. I suppose the positive thing about spring is that it’s just one season away from summer.

And summer is when my new future kicks into high gear as I pack my bags and return to Scotland.

So roll on spring—but roll quickly so that summer can come out to play!

Struggling with apathy

I have these conversations in my head where I shout at myself for being so stressed and unhappy and apathetic, then I tell myself to just stick it out because I will snap out of it as soon as I’m done working and I’ve moved to Scotland. But as much as I want to believe that, I sometimes fear that I’m lying to myself.

There is no doubt in my mind that I am absolutely miserable right now. I can’t seem to function the way I did two years ago. I’ve lost all of my passion for life. I can’t bring myself to care about my diet the way I used to. I can’t bring myself to care about running the way I used to. I can’t bring myself to enjoy anything the way I used to.

I get through most days telling myself that it will get better as soon as I’m done working. I tell myself it will get better as soon as am away from these reminders of the hopes and dreams I had with Paul. And I tell myself that it will get better as soon as I can start concentrating on my new future in my new home.

I’m convinced that when I get to Scotland I will laugh again; when I get to Scotland life will be OK again. I will walk more; run more; eat better; sleep better.

But lately I’ve also started to worry that I will be just as miserable there as I am here. And I suppose that in some ways, it will be more stressful than the life I have now because there are so many unknowns.

There are certain things I know to be true: I am extremely unhappy where I am now and I don’t want to stay here—where I build dreams with Paul—without Paul. If I remain where I am now—living the life I’m living now—I will soon go into full-on depression and end up institutionalised. I feel at peace and at home in Scotland and have always been happy there. I have a passion for higher education and actually look forward to studying and being in the classroom again.

I think I’m doing the right thing. I really do. But I guess that I’m afraid that I’m totally screwing up. I wish I had a crystal ball so that I knew if it all worked out or not.

Oh well, I guess there’s only one way to find out.

And as your reward for reading my mindless ramble, here’s a pretty picture I made for you when fiddling around with Photoshop today. Yay!

The trouble with Bob and Dave

Bob and Dave* are my kidneys. Bob to my left; Dave to my right. Both are riddled with cysts and are considerably larger than normal kidneys. Bob is nearly double the average kidney size; Dave is a big’un, too, though slightly smaller than Bob.

Bob and Dave are the silent sufferers of polycystic kidney disease (PKD). I’ve known about the condition since I was five years old and am just one of several people in my family with the genetic disease. But I’ve always been lucky in that I’ve not had significant problems with my kidneys. In fact, if it weren’t for the cysts which are present in ultrasounds, you’d never know I had kidney disease at all!

From time to time I will get a kidney infection or a cyst will cause me a bit of pain. But my blood pressure is in the normal range and my microalbumin creatinine levels have always been awesomely normal. Which isn’t normal for someone with kidney disease—especially as they move further and further away from their first birthday—but I’ve never been normal, right?

I’ve long prided myself for my healthy diet and my exercise patterns. And my doctors have all agreed that those lifestyle habits have helped me to maintain my kidney function, blood pressure, and overall health for all of these years.

But then Paul died. And my diet went downhill. And I wasn’t getting any exercise. After all, cooking for two is more enjoyable than cooking for one—that’s what TV dinners are for. And running without your favourite running partner just sucks.

And that means that for nearly two years I’ve just not had my once-healthy lifestyle. I mean, it’s not been completely rubbish, but it’s not been as good as it once was. So it shouldn’t have come as too big a surprise when I was called back to my doctor’s office to discuss the results of my lab work from earlier this week.

Long story short: My Bob and Dave are no longer giving 100% to their task of keeping me healthy. They’ve started to look toward retirement, and it’s really making me sad.

OK, in fairness, I am not in kidney failure—nor do I expect to be in kidney failure in the near future. But for the first time in my life, my microalbumin levels are elevated. And that means that it’s time I realise that I’m not immortal. It’s time I realise that I do, in fact, have a progressive, genetic kidney disease and that I am, in fact, a sicky.

I’m trying not to blame myself for Bob and Dave’s lack of work effort. I mean, they are genetically pre-disposed for part-time work and early retirement. I tried to give them incentives to work hard for 35 years, but for the last two years I’ve not been the best manager. So of course they’re staging a bit of a work slowdown now.

I’ve been trying meaning to get better about managing my health for the last year, and I suppose that now I really do need to grow up and stop pouting. I must get back to my pre-widowed eating and exercise habits before the crew completely walks out on me.

But just in case they up and quit, I’ll give a quick plug for organ donation:**
If you’re not an organ donor already, consider signing up to give the gift of life because, despite the pretty picture I’ve drawn to accompany this story, kidneys do not actually grow on trees.

Now I’m signing off to go feel sorry for myself for a while. But I promise I will snap out of it soon. After all, depression isn’t good for your health!

* Thank you to Layla for providing my kidneys with names. It’s not something I’d considered in the past.
** I don’t need a kidney transplant at this time and likely won’t need one for years and years so please don’t feel the need to offer yours up. I’m naively optimistic that when if I do go into renal failure, they’ll have come up with a fantastically-awesome robot kidney solution! (Robo-Frances at your service!)

Laughter from above

I think Paul laughed at me today. No, I’m certain he rolled on the floors of Heaven with extreme belly laughs. I think that he did some tisking under his breath and all. Why? Well let me tell you a little story…

After a long weekend in the homeland, I stopped up at the cemetery to visit with Paul before making the long drive home. I pulled through the gates, turned left, and parked. Just like I always do. Then I reached down to the passenger side floorboards for my winter boots to trek through the snow. I opened the door then bent over to put on my boots then I grabbed my umbrella because it was raining.

Another look at the snow made me decide to leave the keys behind so that they didn’t drop in the deep snow forcing me to dig around for them. So I hit the unlock button so that I didn’t accidently lock myself out then I set the keys on the passenger seat.

Then I stood up to exit the car, instinctively hit the lock button, and shut the door.

I stopped short of cursing as I looked through the window at the keys sitting there next to my $500 mobile phone and my handbag—that uncharacteristically had $500+ in cash as well as my camera in it.

I took a moment to berate myself and feel sorry for myself then I walked over to Paul’s grave and told him I’d be right back. Then I started walking toward town. (Thankfully, sometime after I left town in 2001 they built a gas station near the interchange, so it wouldn’t be too far of a walk.)

At this point, I was very happy to have my boots and umbrella!

On the short walk to the station I worried not about my expensive phone and money sitting there in plain view (this is Cle Elum, after all) but about walking into the gas station to ask for help and not knowing the person behind the counter.

But on walking in I was greeted by Margie of all people! I’d not even closed the door when she exclaimed: “Frances! How are you!?”

And I gave her my sob story. And she gave me a big hug. Then she called the locksmith.

As I waited for the locksmith (less than 10 minutes) I chatted with Margie and the mother of two old classmates. Then I got a ride back to the cemetery with John the locksmith. (It was George when I was in town. I wonder what happened to him…?)

Ten minutes later John had the car open and I was finally ready to visit with Paul. Who I think had just about finished laughing at me by that time.

I blame this all on Paul, of course. After all, it’s his fault I was at the cemetery in the first place.

With this ring

The last thing I expected from Paul when we took a mini-break to Venice back in spring 2004 was an engagement ring. I mean, I thought we were heading that way, but I didn’t expect the question right then. (But I said yes without skipping a beat!)

I remember the feeling of pride looking at that ring in the year in between our engagement and our wedding. And I remember the immense feelings of joy when my engagement ring was joined with a wedding band.

Paul and I would sit curled up on the couch together sometimes just looking at our rings. We would smile when we’d hold hands and our bands would clink together. Sometimes, we’d just clink them together for the sound—and we’d giggle and beam with joy. (I know: Extremely sappy! Funnily, we’d have mocked others for doing the same thing; which is why we only did it in the privacy of our own home.)

We were going to wear our rings forever—until death do us part and all that. And we were young(ish) and healthy and planned to live a very, very long time. So you can imagine the heartbreak when less than four years later Paul’s ring was removed from his finger in the funeral home. When it was handed to me, I slipped it onto my finger where it remained until yesterday.

In the beginning, I told myself that I would wear all three rings forever. I felt a connection of sorts with them there together. The diamond setting on my engagement ring kept Paul’s wedding band securely in place, but because it was so much bigger than my finger, the ring would clink and clank around when I moved my hand. I found a bit of morbid comfort in that sound.

But, also from the beginning, I knew that my wearing his ring made others uncomfortable. Some people even made comments about it being time to remove my rings—and after the ‘one year mark’ a couple people were quite adamant that it was time to do so. But I wasn’t ready. (I wanted to ask them how long they’d worn their rings after losing their spouse, but I didn’t think that they’d see the ironic humour in the question, since their spouses were still living.)

Later, I decided that maybe it was time I set aside the rings—despite the fact that I wasn’t ready. I thought that maybe it would be symbolic or something. So I started looking at ‘widow rings’ since I’d been hearing so much about them. But the thought of setting my wedding rings aside for a black diamond to symbolize the end of my marriage seemed wrong. Very, very wrong.

So instead I started to research nice claddagh bands. Something that would be meaningful to me, but not [hopefully] elicit questions like a black diamond on my wedding finger would cause. Something substantial that could replace all three rings. But nothing seemed good enough.

The urgency to find a new ring became clear a couple of months ago when I noticed that the rings were starting to get a bit worn because they were clinking together all the time. I became concerned that it would soon ruin the setting on my engagement ring, or potentially the diamond itself. And I could already see how the platinum was wearing.

Then a couple of weeks ago—after a considerable amount of research and soul-searching—I finally ordered a new ring. A simple band with a claddagh engraved in the metal. I decided that it would be my birthday gift to myself.

But when it came in the post a few days ago, I realised that I wasn’t actually ready or willing to give up wearing my rings. So I tried on the new ring with my wedding set and felt that I could live with that. But I wasn’t ready to make the commitment just yet, so I put the new band away and put Paul’s ring back on my finger.

Yesterday morning when I woke up, I opened the box with the new ring once again and stared at it, wondering if I could actually bring myself to remove Paul’s ring for good. I felt so torn, but I knew that I needed to put this new ring on my finger. So I placed it in between Paul’s ring and mine and wore it that way for a couple of hours.

Finally, after I’d taken my foster daughter to day care, I thought I’d give it a shot without Paul’s ring. I removed all of the rings and placed Paul’s on top of his jewellery box before putting the new ring and my wedding rings back on. Then I went to take a shower. And I cried and cried and cried.

It dawned on me that we put so much ceremony into placing an engagement ring or wedding ring on our fingers, but there isn’t a ceremony to mark their removal. After all, there is nothing to celebrate, is there?

I don’t know how I really feel about removing Paul’s ring. I know it doesn’t feel good, but I also don’t feel completely hysterical about it, either. I also can’t promise that next week I won’t put Paul’s ring back on my finger. I suppose that I’ll just do whatever feels right.

As for my own wedding rings, I don’t know how long I’ll wear them. When I first put them on I had all intentions of wearing them for the rest of my life. And maybe I will. Or maybe I won’t. But for now, I can’t bear the thought of being without them. After all, in my heart I am still very much married.

Who knew that a simple piece of jewellery could cause so much thought and so much grief!?

Passing the baton

I think that one of the saddest things about not having children is the knowledge that there’s no one to pass on your traditions to. Paul and I were so excited about adopting and that was one of the exciting things for us: Passing on our knowledge, love, and traditions to future generations.

Because we were both runners, and generally ran in a race about once a month, we spoke excitedly about the possibility that our future children would enjoy the sport along with us. We looked forward to the day when the four of us could go to races as a family. We even decided that we’d take turns running for time so that one of us could run or walk slowly with the kids whilst the other ran hard to make time.

When I ran my first race after Paul died, I was thrilled to be joined by my then 10-year-old nephew, Haden. I was even more thrilled to see how much he enjoyed the race. And even more thrilled when he became my new running partner and started to talk excitedly about the day he could join the school cross country team.

One year later, I was joined by the now 11-year-old Haden and my other 11-year-old nephew, Adrian, for a race. And by this time, my 11-year-old foster daughter was starting to regret her hatred for sports.

When I mentioned to my foster daughter that Haden, Adrian, and I were participating in a 5K in mid-March, she felt a bit left out and wanted to know if she could join us. Yes, this from a girl who throws a fit at the thought of walking from one end of the mall to another—a self-titled hater of exercise.

So, we made a deal. If she could run two miles—non-stop and without complaining—I would sign her up for the St. Paddy’s 5K, too.

Today, my foster daughter ran two miles in 21:30. And she did it without complaining. (Well, she’s been complaining about her legs being sore since the run, but she didn’t complain during the run!)

I’m really pleased that in the past 13 months I’ve managed to get three kids excited about my favourite sport.

And I’m really pleased that I will have three 11-year-old running partners for my next race.

And I’m really pleased that despite the fact that I may never have children of my own to pass on my knowledge and traditions to, I am still having a [hopefully positive] impact on the next generation.

(And I hope that when I’m a decrepit, childless, old lady with no one to care for me, that these children remember me and stop by the old folks’ home from time-to-time to wipe the drool off my chin!)

Sorting swords

I finally got around to sorting through some of Paul’s stuff. In this case, it was a pile of stock leftover from his eBay business. In total, there are about 50 swords in the pile—and I have no idea what to do with them!

How do you sell swords? I have no idea! I just know that I can’t keep them and that the money will be a nice (though small) addition to my tuition fund. I know that somewhere on the other laptop there is an inventory sheet that lists they’re wholesale and retail prices, I just haven’t looked at it yet. I also know that there is no way that I’ll get even the wholesale cost back for them if I take them to a pawn shop, but I have to do something with them.

And once that’s done, I have an entire house full of stuff that I have to sort through yet, and I’m not looking forward to it. I mean, these swords don’t carry any sentimental value because they were only ever stock—never ‘belongings’—and I know that Paul wanted to sell them just as much as I do.

Can you believe it? Here I am nearly two years after his death I’ve not even started the process of going through any of Paul’s stuff. I can’t bring myself to do it alone and really wanted to take on the task with someone who actually knew Paul, but they’re all 6,000 miles away. And I don’t really expect that anyone is going to travel all this way to help!

If I’m honest, I don’t want to sort through Paul’s stuff—at least not on my own—and would rather just ignore the task. Which was fine for a while, but now that I’m moving I have to actually start taking care of these things. I can’t take all of Paul’s t-shirt and underpants to Scotland with me, after all!

However, I’m not ready for the heartbreaking task of going through Paul’s actual stuff just yet so will keep my head buried in the sand a little bit longer.

At least I’m going through the things that have no sentimental value. That’s a start, right?

Next up: Paperback books. They are half-way between sentimental value and no sentimental value so might not be too difficult.

(And if you’re a sword collector or have always just fancied owning a replica of the ‘Braveheart’ sword—give me a shout!)

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 year of Just Frances

It’s been a year since I started Just Frances. Whilst it’s certainly not my first blog, it is unique in that I’ve actually put my name and face to it!*

In the past year, there have been: 5,897 unique visitors (based on IP addresses; not including bots and the like); 527 search terms used to find these pages; 806 approved comments; 1,092 comments caught by my awesome spam blocker; and a whopping 315 stories posted.

In the past year, I’ve shared some of my poetry and drawings with you; I’ve shared my happiness; and I’ve shared my sorrows. I’ve uploaded several YouTube videos to speak directly to my awesome readers and I’ve shared photos of my adventures.

This blog has been a tremendous help to me as I grieve for Paul and the future we once dreamt of, and as I contemplate a new future that is now in the works. If you don’t write for public consumption, you may not understand the therapeutic value that blogging brings, but I promise you it is a true therapy for me.

But whilst this blog serves as a form of therapy for me, I also want it to be something of value for my readers. To that, please feel free to participate! You are always welcome to comment on my posts, but you can also ask questions or suggest things you’d like me to write about. Want more video uploads? More photos? More drawings? Please feel free to let me know! I even have a handy-dandy comment form (look for the tab at the top of the page) if you want to contact me privately!

And there you have it. A year of Just Frances.

So thank you, Dear Reader, for your support and encouragement over the past year! Just knowing you’re out there reading the nonsense I’m posting makes me smile and gives me the strength to continue. You’re awesome!

* RyanCentric was the first website I put my name and face to, but it was more website than blog so I’m not counting it for the purpose of the aforesaid statement.

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.

Nine years ago

Nine years ago today, my intended life plans changed. Only I didn’t know it at the time.

I was living in Scotland whilst studying at Edinburgh Napier University. I was researching graduate schools and had planned to finish my undergrad then go directly on to my master’s work, followed by my doctoral studies. I was certain that I would be ‘Doctor Cook’ by the time I was 35. Then I would work toward becoming a single mom through adoption. (I was extremely picky and couldn’t find a man worthy of a second date, let alone a man I’d consider marriage and adoption with!)

Then I met Paul. I thought I was just meeting a great guy and that we’d date whilst I was in Scotland and maybe we’d stay in touch when I returned to the states, and that if we were still in touch when I returned to Scotland again maybe we’d date a bit more. When I realised that I was really falling in love for the first time in my life, I realised that I needed to re-think my plans. I couldn’t imagine passing up a relationship with this amazing man just so that I could get my Ph.D. Plus, I had a feeling that he’d be supportive of me doing that later. And he was.

[Note: I posted a story of how we met on my ‘grief blog’ last year. You can read it here if you’d like. But be warned that overall, it’s an extremely depressing blog. Not like Just Frances which is only depressing on occasion.]

So nine years later I’m sitting here with a new life plan. It’s a bit sad to realise that my new plan is so similar to the one I had nine years ago; it’s almost as if I’ve just been in a state of suspended animation. But I don’t regret taking the diversion—not at all; not in the least.

I don’t find this to be a sad day or a sad memory; though it is sad to know that I don’t have Paul here to walk down Memory Lane with me. But at least I still have the memories…

Food woes

I’ve been noticing in recent weeks that I’m not eating enough and I need to work on that.

Before Paul died my diet and exercise routine was fantastic. I mean, I ate my share of junk food, but 95% of my diet was comprised of healthy, whole foods that were low in sodium and fat. Almost nothing came from a box or a can.

After Paul died I pretty much stopped eating. When I finally got around to feeding myself it was rubbish junk food—canned soups and raviolis, TV dinners, and salty snacks. I couldn’t be bothered to cook. Eventually I found myself back in the kitchen cooking mostly OK foods a couple of times a week. Then when I took a foster care placement in August, it forced me to start cooking even more and I tried to cook on the healthy end of the spectrum. But I never got back to eating the way I did before Paul died.

Then sometime in October I started to feel the stress of life and noticed I was eating less and less. And it’s not gotten better. On the nights that my foster daughter visits her Mom, I don’t eat at all. On the nights we’re home together for dinner, I’m eating extremely small portions or not at all. At lunch in the office, I’m picking at this and that, or when I go and get a meal, I’m only eating half of it. And breakfast? Well, that seems to have been forgotten about again.

I don’t have body issues; I don’t think I need to lose weight. And at this point, I’m not underweight. But I am certainly under eating and if it continues I will be at risk of being underweight.

But even though I know that I am not consuming enough calories (and when I do, they’re not the healthiest calories!) I still want to exercise. I still want to run. I still want to be active.

I know that some of my eating is that I can’t eat when I’m upset, stressed, or sad. When these emotions get to me, just the thought of eating makes my tummy upset.

But some of it is that I’m just too lazy to leave my office to get lunch, and I’ve gotten out of the routine of bringing breakfast and lunch to the office with me. And once I’ve gone nearly all day without eating, I am too hungry to know what I want to eat when I get home.

Now that I’ve acknowledge it, I need to fix it. I am aware that it’s a problem and I don’t want it to become a larger problem.

To start, I am going to begin a food journal and will include my mood and stress level in the journal. I think that seeing it written down will help me to know where my problem points are.

I’m also going to do what I don’t really want to do, but think I need to for a while: I’m going to get some store-bought granola bars and frozen meals to keep in the office kitchen. That way, when my reason for not eating is that I’m too lazy to wander over to the union building to get lunch, at least I can eat something.

Of course, I also know that I need to work on lessening the stress and sadness in my life so that I actually care about food again. And I’m working on that; though it seems slow-going at times. I also know that, ultimately, I need to get back to the eating habits I had before Paul died because I was at my healthiest then and I know it had a lot to do with my diet. (Of course, it also had a lot to do with the health benefits that come from a joyful and happy marriage, but I can’t get that back, so will just concentrate on the food part.)

I’d rather not be yelled at about how I really should start eating because, as you can see, I know that and I am now trying to fix it. But I’d love to hear some ideas of how to get my eating back on track. I’m open to hearing your suggestions for quick-and-easy ways to get three meals a day, even when I’m too upset or stressed to eat.

Thoughts or ideas to share?

We forgot the camera

I almost never go into the upstairs of the house these days because the only things up there are two guest rooms and storage. But I’ve decided to bring the desk down from the small guest room for my foster daughter to use, so I went up this morning to measure it so that I know where to put it when it comes downstairs next weekend.

When I opened the top drawer I smiled as I saw a stack of drawings that my now 13-year-old niece has left behind. But when I un-folded one in particular, I laughed.

Here’s why:
A few months after Paul died, my niece and nephew came out to visit. It was my first time having company since his death and I knew it was going to be difficult. Thankfully, Flik and Haden understood how hard it would be for me and were not terribly uncomfortable when I was upset. I’m sure it was hard on them, too, since it was the first time they were in my home without their Uncle Paul around to tell them jokes and teach them to juggle.

One of the things we did was take a hike up Kamiak Butte. It was my first time tackling the hill without Paul. And once we got to the top, I took my first post-Paul ‘we forgot the tripod’ shot—something that was actually more difficult than I imagined it would be.

And I laughed at that specific picture because it was a ‘we forgot the camera’ drawing of the three of us at the top of the butte.

So now I have our tripod-less photo of the trip, a shot of the three of us that another hiker took, and a camera-less drawing that Flik did.

I’m [not] Scottish

I am American, born and bred to American parents. My ancestors are Germans from Russia. This means that I am not, contrary to the insistence of some, Scottish. (But I hope to be one day!)

But I have a great affinity for Scotland because it’s the one place in the entire world I’ve ever felt truly settled—the one place I’ve ever felt that I truly belong. Paul wasn’t Scottish, either. No, contrary to popular belief, he was English. (From the North East, if you wondered.) But Paul shared a passion for Scotland and when he moved there for university he stayed put until we settled in America. Because of our shared love for Scotland, we incorporated the traditions of our adopted home into our lives. After all, home is where the heart is.

But now I have a foster daughter who knows several things to be true: I speak with a funny accent; I lived in Scotland; I want to return to Scotland; I have lots of friends in Scotland (and family in England); and that I think Scotland is the greatest place in the world.

She also assumes several things and just won’t believe me when I tell her otherwise. Mainly that I am Scottish. I’m not; but she just shrugs her shoulders and says I seem Scottish to her.

Well, now that I’m in the midst of planning Burns’ Supper, my foster daughter is learning loads of great things about Scotland and Robert Burns. And she’s even more insistent that I am Scottish.

So today when she was in the computer lab at school, she saw a link on one of the school-sanctioned websites about Robert Burns. She clicked it and started reading everything about the man then recognized a link as a song we listened to on New Year’s Eve, so she printed out the lyrics to Auld Lang Syne. Then she had to explain to her teacher why she was wasting resources.

Apparently, the teacher is familiar with Burns’ Night and was very excited to hear about how the kid’s ‘Scottish foster mom’ is having a big Burns’ Supper complete with haggis, neeps, and tatties.

You know how they say if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em? Well, I can’t seem to beat this Scottish wrap, so I may as well just brogue up and break out my Harris Tweed and shortbread!

Reflections of 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April: I re-discovered Kamiak Butte.

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

June: I started reading an excellent book series.

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

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

September: I went fishing and I was silly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everybody hurts, sometimes

I’ve really been struggling through this holiday season—much more than last year when I was still in a bit of shock and disbelief over the fact that I no longer had Paul to share Christmas mornings with. The loneliness and sadness just seems so much worse this year. Much, much worse.

I’m trying my best to muddle through for my foster daughter, but it’s difficult some days. I don’t have the excitement that I should have for buying gifts and making candies and singing carols. I just hurt too much to think about it this year.

But for all of the pain and hurt and sadness and depression [?] I’m feeling right now, I am keeping R.E.M. in mind and I’m hanging on, and taking comfort in my friends.

When you think you’ve had too much of this life, well hang on;
‘Cause everybody hurts. Take comfort in your friends.
~ R.E.M.

In fact, to end on a happy note so that you don’t think I’m completely hopeless, whilst I’m completely dreading Christmas, I am extremely excited about the following day when I will travel to Canada to spend time with friends. Those happy thoughts are keeping me strong and will help me through. (Yay! for Canada!)

I miss dinner parties

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Water, water, everywhere

I had a long, partly mostly tear-filled conversation with a friend today where I went on and on about many of the fears and uncertainties that I’m facing as I start looking toward my future. And he commented about how I need to stop looking at the glass as half empty and start looking at it as half full.*

I think I’ve been a glass half full person my entire life. And at times, my glass has been overflowing—like throughout my years with Paul. But when Paul died, that glass shattered and all the water drained out. And there wasn’t anything I could do to stop it.

But I’ve been given a new glass and it’s been filling up very, very slowly. Drip by drip the water is adding up. I’ll admit that sometimes a bit evaporates away, but it’s always replaced and the water line continues to rise.

So you know what? My glass is half full. Sadly, some of that water is my tears. But sometimes, you have to shed a few tears to help fill the glass I suppose.

I know that I seem sad and hopeless at times, but I’ve never given up hope. I’m too stubborn to give up on hope. But, yes, I am sad quite often. I’m sad beyond words at times. But I still hold onto my hope for a brighter future because I know it’s there.

And those tears will add up over time and they’ll eventually fill my glass so much that it’s no longer half full but is overflowing. You see, I have to go through this sadness. There is no way around it. It’s part of grief. It’s part of the human condition. But I’m bound and determined that those tears not be shed in vain. No, those tears are going to help me through it all.

And when most of the tears have dried, there will be enough water to have several glasses that are half full. Glasses that I can share with my friends when all they can find are the half empty ones. Because those glasses aren’t as nice as the half full ones.

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

[Excerpt]
Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.

Water, water, everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink.

* This isn’t to say that my friend cast aside my feelings and fears as if he didn’t care. He was just trying to remind me that, actually, my glass is half full. And he’s right. And it’s friends like him who help to keep it from tipping over and emptying out!

Time or distance?

Today I had all intentions of doing 8 miles on the treadmill at the gym. I was free of the kid for a few hours so had the time to take it easy and not worry about how long it took. I figured I’d run a couple miles, walk a couple miles, run a couple miles, and then walk the rest.

Now, it should be noted that in the year and a half since Paul died, the furthest I’ve run is 6.2 miles. And it should also be noted that I’ve not really done any training. My last run (5 miles) was about a month ago. The run before that was about a month earlier still (a 10K race). So, 8 miles was actually a bit of an aggressive target.

When I got to the gym, I noticed that the treadmills had a time limit of 60 minutes. After which, they will go into cool down mode. So I figured I’d do 60 minutes then restart the machine to finish off my 8 miles.

As I got going, I realised this was going to be hard. But I got a good pace going and started to feel confident. Then I heard Paul in the back of my mind telling me to stop being stupid and not push myself too hard. And I knew he was right.

And so, I decided to just do 60 minutes and not worry about distance just yet.

I am still trying to determine what my official training regimen will be, but for now I’ve told myself that I’m going to stick with 60 minutes for the month of December. Over the course of the month, I will try to increase the mileage within that timeframe with the goal of running a 10K (6.2 miles) by the end of the month.

In January, I’ll think about my next step and whether I will go for increased mileage or increased distance. I’m starting my training early enough so I am not concerned that I’m taking it slow. Because Paul is right—I can’t be stupid and push myself too hard when I’m training. That’s what race day is for!

Just 300 days until the Loch Ness Marathon!!

I’m goin’ for it!

I’m a runner. I have been since school when I ran on the cross country team. I enjoy running. Really, I do. But I never wanted to run a marathon. I thought maybe I’d do a half-marathon at some point, but 26.2 miles? I don’t think so.

Shortly after we got married, I convinced Paul to join my gym. I asked him to try it for one month. After the end of week one, I figured he’d drop at the end of the month. But then he found the treadmills. And he started to go to the gym with excitement!

Within a few months, we purchased a really good treadmill and ended the gym memberships. His goal at that time was to run a 5K. And he did it. Then I mentioned the Bloomsday 12K and he shook his head ‘No!’ but within a few weeks, we were registered for that race, too. But he would never run a marathon, he said—not even a half-marathon.

But a year later, he ran his first half-marathon. And all of the sudden, he decided that he would run a marathon before he turned 50. But he couldn’t wait that long, so a year after that first half-marathon, he was meant to run his first marathon. But he died a month before the race at the age of 47.

I remember thinking at the time that I would run the race in his memory. But I was in the throes of grief and there was no way I could walk one mile—let alone run more than 26! A year later, I still wasn’t ready.

But now I am. Or at least, I think I am. Mentally, mind you. Certainly not physically!

Yes, I am planning to run the Loch Ness Marathon on Sunday, October 2, 2011, in Inverness, Scotland. And I’ve got a couple of friends talked into running it with me. And I hope to talk more people into running with me, too.

Now, I say that I’m going to run it but I have to be completely honest with you and myself and say that, medically, I don’t know if I can. I have a hard time maintaining my platelet counts when I’m running 5Ks and 10Ks, I don’t know that my body will like me running a marathon—or even that it will like me training for one.

So, I guess that I’m planning on doing a marathon. Run, walk, crawl… one way or another, I want to complete a marathon before what would have been Paul’s 50th birthday.

Yes folks, I’m insane. Feel free to join me along the route—running or cheering from the sidelines!

No-bake cookies

I remember the first time I made no-bake cookies for Paul. He came home from work, looked at the plate of cookies on the kitchen counter and made sounds of disgust. Those sounds were louder when I told him what was in them.

Later that evening we sat on the couch watching a movie and I brought a cookie through for me. I begged him to just try one bite, which he reluctantly did. Then he asked for another and another until he’d eaten more than half of my cookie.

By the end of the evening, Paul was feeling a bit ill because he’d eaten about five of the things!

Soon, no-bake cookies were a regular request.

I didn’t feel like baking a cake today, but wanted to make something nice to enjoy as I toast Paul’s birthday later this evening. It’s going to be strange not having to fight Paul for the last one. (Though I always let him win that fight.)

No-Bake Cookies

½ cup butter (115g)
2 cups sugar (450g)
½ cup milk (120ml)

Boil for two minutes

Add:
¼ cup peanut butter (65g)
6 tablespoons cocoa powder (4 tablespoons)
3 cups oats (270g)
1 teaspoon vanilla (5ml)

Mix together then spoon mixture onto wax paper to cool

Enjoy!

A birthday remembered

Today isn’t what it’s meant to be. Instead of me baking a cake for Paul’s 49th birthday, I’m stuck remembering that he only made it as far as 47. Instead of him opening cards and presents with the excitement of a small child, I’m left wondering what I would have gotten for him if he was here.

Happy birthday doesn’t seem like the right sentiment today and a celebration isn’t right, either. So, I’m left just to remember how amazing Paul was. And he really, really was an amazing man.

I love ya, luv. And I miss you much; today and every day. xx

Tearful but thankful

Well, it would seem that I wasn’t meant to have a proper Thanksgiving this year. I wished for one, and even invited family and friends to join me, but no one was able to come. So instead, I decided that I would make the trip to my homeland to share a traditional turkey dinner with my parents and one of my sisters and her family. (Though between us we’d decided that our ‘traditional’ dinner would be eaten out at a nice restaurant in town followed by desserts at my sister’s.)

Whilst I’d really wanted to host dinner this year, I was happy with the plan because it would mean that I could run in a local 5K race with my nephew on Friday and, more importantly, that I would be able to visit Paul’s grave on Saturday for what would have been his birthday.

We tried to make it, but once I finally got to I-90, the roads were just too slick for safe travel. It’s funny that the rural farm roads I’d been on for nearly 60 miles—which were covered in drifting snow so bad that you couldn’t actually see the road—was a more pleasurable experience than the freeway! So I had to make the difficult call to turn around and return home. Back home where food would need to be scrounged because we’d eaten the fresh stuff in the days before; anticipating being away for a few days.

My foster daughter seemed to handle the disappointment OK. Maybe that’s because upon returning home she instantly went out sledding with her friend; which worked well for me because I needed to be a complete sobbing mess for a while and I couldn’t do it in front of her. And I sobbed a lot after she went out to play. But thankfully I regained my composure and came up with an alternative plan for us before she returned.

When the kid arrived back home we got into our jammies and I started to prepare a feast of grilled cheese sandwiches, saltines with peanut butter, oranges, microwave popcorn, and stale peanut butter cookies for dessert. All to be enjoyed whilst curled up in front of the fire place watching Stuart Little.

But just as the pans for grilling the sandwiches were ready, there was a knock at the door. It seems the neighbours noticed my car was home and knew that meant I didn’t make it to the homeland after all. So they brought loads of food for us—apologising for not noticing sooner or they’d have had us over for a proper meal! An invitation for a post-feeding visit was extended, which we happily accepted.

So, as we sat down to our lovely meal of ham and turkey—with a big plate of desserts tucked away in the kitchen—we sat to reflect on how our miserable Thanksgiving was a day to be thankful for, indeed!

And after partaking in delicious desserts that our wonderful neighbours brought, we wandered through the snow over to their house for a visit. The kid played with the kids; I sat and shared a bottle of wine with the Mrs.; and the Mr. kept the kids in line and the fire stoked.

I’m still very sad that I didn’t make it to the homeland and suppose that it’s partly because I can’t be there to take flowers to Paul on his birthday now. But still, I am thankful today.

I am thankful that despite the bad roads I made it safely home.

I am thankful that my neighbours, whom I barely know, were so kind and thoughtful and not only shared their food but opened their home to us to share in the evening.

I am thankful to be warm and toasty in my own home as the kid sleeps soundly in her bed.

I am thankful that even when everything seems so sad and low, things always seem to work out with the grace of God.

And I am thankful that today, all the way in England, my great-nephew, Travis, was born. A Thanksgiving baby is always something to be thankful for.

Fire and wine

It’s been a very long week. A very, very long week. But whilst last Tuesday ended with my going to bed sobbing and crying, this Tuesday is ending with me feeling happy and having a smile on my face.

From good news about my future to good neighbours, it’s just gotten better and better since this time a week ago.

And now, instead of tears, I’m spending my evening smiling inside a toasty warm house. I’ve started my first fire since Paul died; I’ve poured a glass of wine; and I’m just enjoying knowing that I have a bright future in front of me, despite the struggles it will take to get there.

And… relax…

Scotland: A rocky start; but home for my heart

It was September 2001. I was 27 years old and travelling off of the North American continent for the first time in my life. No, that’s not true. I had just been to Hawaii a few months prior. But I digress… It was my first time using a passport at least. I can’t recall if I got a stamp when I transferred in Amsterdam, but I do remember grinning from ear-to-ear when I got a stamp in my passport the first time I arrived in Edinburgh, Scotland. …I digress further…

I remember being so excited—giddy, really—as I walked out of customs at the Edinburgh airport. This was to be an adventure of a lifetime!

My eyes scanned the area just past baggage claim. I had signed up for a meet and greet scheme offered by the university. The letter I carried with me very clearly said that I would be met outside of baggage claim by a university representative who would escort me to my new flat.

But there wasn’t anyone there. Instead, I saw a booth that had a general sign regarding study abroad students. So I walked over there and asked about the meet and greet. But they didn’t know what I was talking about. Instead, they pointed me to a payphone.

Luckily, I’d entered the country with a bit of sterling, so quickly broke a note for some coins then went to make a call.

Now, this wasn’t a proper payphone. No, it looked funny and certainly didn’t operate like any payphone I’d ever used. And the phone numbers I had were not working. So I had to ask someone how to dial. (Country codes, city codes, and a funny + sign were very confusing to this small town American girl!)

I finally got someone on the phone and was told that students attending [Edinburgh] Napier University were to make their own way to the main campus building. Which meant I needed to either figure out the bus system (again, small town girl with no real public transportation experiences) or take a taxi. (The woman on the phone said this expense would be reimbursed, but I failed to get a receipt.)

I get in the taxi and tell the driver where I want to go. He dropped me and my bags at the curb and drove off. I walked to the door to find it locked. But this is definitely the right address and there is even a sign on the door telling me I’ve come to the right place.

By now, I am tired, I am hungry, I am nearly 6,000 miles from home, and I’m in a foreign country with no clue what to do. So I started to cry. Then I told myself I was being silly, regained my composure, and started down the road with my two, very large bags. (Yay! for wheeled luggage!)

On my way, I stopped a woman to ask for directions. She pointed me to where I’d just left and I started to cry again. She then remembered that there was another entrance on the far side and walked me over there. (About two blocks away, if you wondered.) As we rounded the corner I saw several people milling around. Yes, this was the place!

Once inside, I gathered the keys to my flat when I ran into another American student—who had just collected keys to her flat, which was right across from me. So we shared a taxi to our new homes. (And we chatted: It seems that all of the international students were promised someone would meet them at the airport, so at least I wasn’t alone!)

Finally, I walked into my flat on Morrison Circus. And I found it mostly bare. There was no bedding. No crockery. No cutlery. Just a spattering of inexpensive furniture. All of those items were meant to be included for international students. But it wasn’t there. I made a quick trip across the hall and learned that my taxi-mate’s flat was fully stocked. So it was just me going without! (My three flat-mates, whom I’d not yet met, didn’t arrive for a couple more days.)

So I made a call to the university’s housing office on the payphone around the corner. (I’m a pro at these funny, foreign machines by now, you know!) But, oops! They forgot to drop off my ‘international kit’. But they would bring it by the next afternoon. Which meant I had 24 hours before I’d have dishes or a blanket (or, rather, a duvet)!

I unpacked a few things then found my way to a little shop on Dalry Road to get some dinner. Of course, I had to pick carefully because I couldn’t cook and didn’t have utensils. So I ended up with a lunch-portion of macaroni salad (chosen because it came with a little plastic fork), a pack of ready-salted crisps (because I’d never heard of ‘prawn cocktail’ flavour before), a pack of shortbread, and a bottle of water.

Then I went back to my flat where I cried wondering just what the hell I’d gotten myself into. What I’d thought would be an exciting and fun trip for a redneck hick-chick who was anything but worldly was one mishap after the next.

But have no fear! By the end of week two, I knew that my heart had finally found where it belonged. I was home in my beloved Scotland.

(If you wondered: I didn’t meet Paul until several months later. And I met him in a tourist shop on the Royal Mile. After all, I needed a souvenir, right?)

The hard days

The thing about grief is that sometimes it just hits you out of nowhere. Yesterday was such a great day. I really enjoyed spending time in my sister’s kitchen making blagenda. It was a happy day full of laughter. I thought about Paul throughout the day, but I always do. I know it’s been a year and a half since he died but he’s always on my mind on some level. Thankfully, it’s mostly happy memories these days.

My bad day started this morning, though it started good. No, it started great! You see, my friend’s husband heard that I was going for a morning run and had his wife ask if he could join me. (Since I had only met him for about three seconds once over the summer, I was surprised for the ask, but more than happy to oblige.)

I left my sister’s house and ran about three blocks to pick up my running partner then the two of us continued on a five-mile run—chatting along the way. It was enjoyable and it reminded me of the runs Paul and I would do around my homeland. After leaving my running partner at his doorstep, I ran the three blocks back to my sister’s. At some point, it dawned on me that today was the first time I’d run with another adult since Paul died.

That fact didn’t bother me for the first few minutes, but all of the sudden it was making me sad. But it wasn’t enough to ruin my day.

Then, I went up to the cemetery to leave some potted roses for Paul and my grandparents. As I pulled up I could feel myself getting more emotional than normal. I put it down to the time of year. With Thanksgiving just around the corner and what would have been Paul’s 49th birthday two days later, I am certainly missing him more right now.

And then I noticed that the cards I’d left for Paul in a little flower box were gone. There should have been three cards: Last year’s birthday card, a Christmas card, and a Valentine’s Day card. But they were gone. And I lost it. I just couldn’t imagine that someone would take Paul’s card. I mean, the sea shell I brought back from Seaton Carew last month was still there, but the cards were gone. They weren’t in the way and in fact were nestled and almost hidden in the little flower box. But now they’re gone.

Anyhow, seeing that completely ruined my day. I sat there sobbing and had the hardest time regaining composure. When I was finally ready to return to the car, the tears came again. I just wanted to sit and cry forever but I had to go pick up my foster daughter for our four-hour drive home. And it was such a hard drive because I was still upset but I couldn’t show it.

And I’m still upset now. Only I don’t know if it’s actually the cards or something else. I just know that it’s made me so very sad. And it came so out of the blue.

Yes, I hate days like this. I hate that I can be floating along in a good-enough state for days and then I crash. And I don’t know what will trigger it and I don’t know how to make it stop.

I guess the good side is that days like this are becoming fewer and there are more good days in between.

Now I find myself wondering if there is somewhere else I can stash cards for Paul because I can’t not give him a birthday card…

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!

Sicky

The day started out OK. I was a bit tired and run-down feeling, but it’s Monday and it was a pretty busy weekend so it wasn’t too surprising to be a bit blah feeling. What was surprising is that a few minutes into an 11 o’clock meeting I started to feel lightheaded and dizzy. My arms and legs felt a bit weak and tingly and I could feel this fuzzy haze coming over me. I went from freezing cold to boiling hot in a matter of moments. And things seemed to be getting dark.

Then I was fine.

Then it started again.

I excused myself from the meeting out of fear that I would pass out and was immediately followed out by another woman who didn’t think that my Casper-complexion was right. So it was off to the doctor’s office for me.

And then it was home for me. Which was a carry-on because I live nearly 30 miles outside of town in the middle of BFE with no public transport which meant that someone had to drive me home—and someone else had to follow to get my driver back to town. My driver and my driver’s driver brought me in, made me soup, got me situated then left me to sleep under a cuddly blanket on the couch with the cat (after, of course, I cranked the heat and put on my PJs).

Of course, the kid needed to get home, too. But thankfully my neighbour from over the road works in town and was able to pick up the kid on my behalf.

By the time the kid arrived home I was awake again and had just enough energy to make her favourite dinner—homemade split pea soup from the freezer. And thankfully at 11-years-old, she’s old enough to understand that I’m feeling a bit blah and could sort herself out for a shower. (She must be a bit beat, too, because she went straight to bed when told to do so!)

I have to admit that it’s all made me miss Paul so very much because if he was here he’d have come to town and picked me up and taken care of me and fussed all over me and called me a ‘poor wee scone’ and he’d have cooked for me and put me to bed and then in the morning he’d have fussed over me some more. (How’s that for a run-on sentence!?) But, it’s nice to know that between my co-workers and my neighbours there are people to take care of me if I get sick. Which isn’t quite the same as having Paul here, but it’s something at least.

Anyhow, I’m feeling a bit weak still but am hoping that a night’s sleep will help. In the mean time, I’ve been given a ‘just in case’ dose of antibiotics and will wait for blood tests to be back tomorrow. I’m sure it’s nothing serious, but I’d sure like to be back to my brand of normal soon!

A-Z poetry (Hey! That rhymes!)

Today’s writing lesson was an A-Z poem where the first letter of each line forms the alphabet in alphabetical order. It was a bit challenging because I often use these writing assignments to reflect on my emotions rather than just silliness, but I do love a good challenge! So, without further ado…

A-Z Poetry
by Just Frances

A long time ago
Back in my past
Cares were light-hearted
Dreams were big

Everything was simple then
Fears were hidden then
Great expectations were in front of me then
Hopes were greater then

I laughed
Just to laugh
Kisses were tender
Love was enough to see me through

My life has changed since then
Now it seems less idyllic

Obstacles seem more challenging
Perseverance seems too hard
Quitting isn’t an option though
Realizing a new future is the only way

Standing still won’t get me there
Through this hell is the only way out
Upon this journey I will one day reflect
Very difficult as it may be

Widowhood has changed my disposition
Xanthippe-type traits appear when least expected
Yet still I believe
Zen feelings will return to my being

Learning to cope [?]

It’s been nearly a month since I posted about being stressed and unhappy and I hate to admit that not much has changed. I’ve had happy moments in between now and then and I’ve laughed and enjoyed life, but it’s all been marred by the sadness I’m feeling—and much of that joy was being faked if I’m completely honest.

According to the professionals, I’m not ‘depressed’ I’m just extremely stressed and when added to the fact that I’m still grieving, it makes it difficult to cope. This is nice to know since I don’t believe that I’m suffering from depression, but it basically means that I am too stressed and I don’t have an outlet for that stress. And the grief? Well, by some accounts that will be with me for the rest of my life, it’s just a matter of degrees. (No, you don’t ‘snap out of it’ on the year mark. Really. Despite what you may have read. But that rant is not for this post…)

When I lost Paul I lost my confidant; my biggest supporter; the one person who could make all of life’s stresses seem insignificant. Of course, since Paul died there are so many new stresses in my life. That irony is well noted.

And now I need to find a way to cope on my own. And it’s really, really hard! But, I’m stubborn and determined and I’ll figure out a way to manage if it kills me!

Ideally, I would have that amazing friend like they have in Hollywood movies. You know—the best friend who is a solid rock; the friend who is just there and just sorts you out. They know what you need even if you don’t and they’re not afraid to just bulldoze their way in when you build a wall. I don’t know if that person exists off screen or not, but they don’t exist for me.

[Side note: I do have friends and they are wonderful, but I don’t have that amazingly-close friend who just ‘gets me’ and maybe that’s because I am extremely weird and (as one friend puts it) so different than everyone else and no one will ever get me. Heck, I don’t think Paul ever totally understood me. But really, I love my friends!]

So, I need to be my own best friend. I need to be my biggest supporter, my biggest cheering section, and my own life-sorter-outer.*

How does one do that? I just don’t know. I’m experimenting with several things though.

I’m writing down my thoughts and feelings and emotions and other sappy rubbish. Some in the form of (bad) poems; some in the form of letters to people that never get sent (including letters to me); some in the form of journal entries; and some in a free-flowing ‘non-form’ form.

I’m being all creative and crap. I’m drawing and sketching; I’m doing arts and crafts; and I’m working on crochet projects—new and old.

I’m taking time for me. I’ve gotten rid of the cable so that I can concentrate on relaxing and reading; I’m (mostly) taking back my lunch time; and I’m trying to pamper myself.

I’m trying to be healthier. I’m getting a bit more exercise (still not enough); I’m eating healthier foods; I’m drinking more water; and I’m getting more sleep.

Overall, I’m just trying to find the connection I used to have with my heart, mind, body, and soul. I’m trying to reclaim the peace and happiness I once felt. I’m trying to re-establish my self-esteem and my identity.

I’ve convinced myself that all of these fears and stresses and unhappy feelings will go away if I get accepted to grad school but then I start to worry about what will happen to my remaining shred of sanity if I’m not accepted. And then I remember that those thoughts are exactly what I’m supposed to avoid in order to find peace in my world. So instead of thinking about that, I think I’ll go turn on some soft music and read a book for a while.

Sorry for whining again…

* This reminds me of that Friends episode where the girls read a book called Be Your Own Windkeeper.

10 on 10-10-10

WooHoo! Today is 10-10-10 and I’ve just run a 10K. Yay!

This makes me happy because:

I must admit that we were a bit slow because neither of us put in the training required for such a race. I could blame it on the fact that I can’t get out there and run because of my foster daughter, but that’s just an excuse. I could claim that I’ve been too stressed for training, but we all know that training would have brought about those lovely en‘Dolphins’ which would have helped to alleviate some of the stress, so that’s a rubbish excuse, too.

Still, I’ve managed a 10K on 10-10-10 which is more than most people I know have done today. So I’m going to take my accomplishment and be happy for it. And as I reminded Haden, no matter how slow we may have been, at least we did it!

Official times aren’t up yet, but we both finished in under 1:20 which was our goal. Haden was about 1:16:16 and I was about 1:16:21.

Yay! for me and Yay! for my nephew!

Check out more of my races here!

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?!

Scarily unexcited

Halloween is less than four weeks away and I am anything but excited about it. In fact, there is this niggling feeling of apprehension about what once was a favorite holiday. If I had my way, the day wouldn’t happen; the kid wouldn’t trick-or-treat and I would turn off the house lights so that no one came to the house for treats, either. Yes, I know how sad that all sounds.

Two years ago I was giddy with excitement. I was busy planning and creating costumes for Paul and my niece. I was decorating the house and the yard. I was buying candy. I was planning a ‘scary’ dinner menu of witches’ fingers, bloody eyeballs, mummy brains, and (of course) bloody Marys to wash it all down.

Two years ago Paul and I spoke excitedly about the following year and about how he would get to take the kids we planned to adopt trick-or-treating whilst I stayed home to hand out candy to kids coming to the house. We were both excited about that future.

But instead of the plans Paul and I had for last year, I turned off the lights and drove to Spokane to spend Halloween with my aunt and her friends who were all going out to dinner. The only way I knew it was Halloween was that everyone (including me) was dressed up. I wasn’t excited about Halloween, but I did enjoy it for what it was—a night away from reality.

This year, I just can’t get excited.  I’m trying to, really I am. But I can’t. So I’m trying to fake it. I’m trying to pretend that I’m excited about costumes. I’m trying to pretend that I’m excited about decorating the house. I’m trying to pretend that I’m excited about trick-or-treating. And I’m trying to pretend that I’m OK with doing all of this without Paul. I’m trying to pretend that I don’t mind living this new future that is so very different than my old future.

I’m afraid that if this is how I feel for something as simple as Halloween that it will be even harder when Thanksgiving and Christmas roll around. I’m afraid that my sorrow will ruin the holidays for the kid, who deserves a happy and cheerful holiday season. I’m afraid that I may never really enjoy the holidays again—that I’ll have to slap on a fake smile and pretend for the rest of my life.

In an effort to not worry about too much at once, and because Paul always said you have to finish one holiday before planning for the next, I will hold off on other holiday stresses until after the ghouls and goblins have finished begging for candy.

In an effort to keep faking it, I am planning a way-fun papier-mâché pumpkin-making project with the kid and am even thinking about possible costumes for me. And if all else fails, I will just keep reminding myself that I get to eat all the left-over Halloween candy.

I just hope that I’m able to fake it well enough so that the kid doesn’t know its all smoke and mirrors…

Unhappily stressed

I’m really struggling this week. Actually, I’ve been struggling for a couple of weeks now. I’m sad and I feel quite helpless about it. I’m trying to cheer myself up but I can’t seem to manage it. I am pretty certain it’s just stress and worry; not depression. But I’m having trouble getting past it because it seems so many stresses have been accumulating and I don’t have an outlet for my stress these days.

However, writing down my thoughts and feelings help. And sadly that means you have to suffer my blue mood. (Alternatively, you can hit the back button on your browser in search of happier rubbish to read.)

First, the stresses:

I’m worried that I won’t get accepted to school (even though I’ve not yet sent in my applications) because that’s my only plan right now and if that falls apart I don’t know what I’ll have to anchor my future to.

I’m worried that if I do get accepted I won’t be able to afford it. I worry that I will completely destroy my finances and the excellent credit rating that I worked so hard to build.

That worry means that my brain has kicked into hyper-sensitive money mode and I’m finding myself constantly thinking about money and how much I can save between now and then. I’m making mental notes of my belongings and wondering what I can bring myself to part with and what I’d be able to sell. (Don’t worry; I won’t be selling off my prized junk until I have a firm letter of acceptance in hand.)

I’ve lost my ‘me’ time. I mean, I had way too much before, but now I don’t have any. I wake up and am in instant mommy-mode. Then I go to work where I’m in work-mode. Then I pick up the kid and I’m in mommy-mode again until about an hour before I go to bed. There is no time for me. I can’t go for a run before work because I can’t leave the kid at home whilst I run and I can’t drop her off at school early enough for me to hit the gym before going to the office and I can’t go to the spa because there’s no one I can just drop the kid off with.

Since my brother-in-law passed away three weeks ago, I’ve not had time to process it all—and maybe I never will. But his death has really upset me because I lost such an amazing person in my life, and because it reminds me about the pain of losing Paul (not that I’ve forgotten the pain, it just makes it a bit more obvious). But mostly, I’m upset because I hate that my sister-in-law has to go through such an intensely-painful process and I can’t do anything to ease her pain.

Of course on top of it all, work is crazy. More so than normal. But I suppose that’s a common stress world-wide.

Most of the stresses above are with me throughout the average week. It’s just that they are all with me right now and I don’t have an outlet. There isn’t someone at home when I get in to whine to about my day. There wasn’t anyone there to complain to when some jerk in a Land Rover made an illegal maneuver to cut me off and take my parking spot. There wasn’t anyone to mix me a Martini when I got home after a particularly rough day at the office. (Though on that day, there was a good friend at the end of the phone which helped very much.)

What’s really hard is that I can’t come home and just be an emotional wreck because I have to pretend to be strong for my foster daughter who requires a stable environment—not a home where the primary caregiver screams and cries (and drinks) to vent her fears and frustrations. I’m sure part of my problem is that I am keeping it all trapped inside at the moment.

I know I can whine here and on Facebook and Twitter, but I really do like to at least pretend to be a mostly cheerful person and I think it would be a turn-off if I always posted these miserable and whiney posts.

I am trying to be happy. Really I am. I’m taking time each day to be silly. I’m trying to identify a bit of joy each day. I’m finding inspirational quotes to bolster my moods. I’m doing arts and crafts. And I’m even trying to take back some of my mid-day personal time.

Maybe what’s getting me down isn’t so much life’s stresses, but the uncertainty of my future. For nearly a year and a half my future has been hazy and I don’t like it. Maybe once it’s a bit more clear, my mood will improve.

I am certain that this little mood will pass, and in the mean time I will keep faking it because one way or another, it will make me feel a bit better.

• • • • •

Well, reader, I meant for this to post last night when I was feeling really down. And then my neighbor came by and we had a drink and a long gossip about nothing and everything (and I got her to do a silliness worksheet). Which cheered me up considerably.

I am still feeling unhappy and stressed, but am glad to have had a couple hours’ respite from my condition. And I think that the night’s laughter has carried over into today because I feel a bit happier today already than I did yesterday. Of course, it is the weekend which may have something to do with it.

I promise to have a happier post soon! In the mean time, thanks for letting me get it off my chest!

x

[NOTE: If you’re wondering how the picture relates to the post, it’s one of the silly things I drew on the couch just trying to unwind and relax. I think it helps to scribble a bit. Maybe…]

Closer to a better tomorrow

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyhow, the main point is this:

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

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

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

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

Fancy hotels

Faithful readers of other rubbish I’ve written since Paul died will remember the struggle I had the first time I found myself having to travel to Seattle for work on my own. There was something very wrong about staying in a 5-Star hotel without Paul.

Before he died, Paul would travel with me when I went away for work. We’d stay in a fancy hotel, go out for a fancy dinner, then sit in the hotel lounge drinking martinis in our best “la-de-da” fashion. The next day, when I was in meetings, Paul would take advantage of the hotel’s gym and swimming pool facilities. Depending on my schedule, we’d meet for lunch and/or go shopping. It was truly wonderful!

I remember my first stay in a fancy hotel for work after he died. It was so difficult; I felt so lost. My second work trip was a bit easier, but still had its challenges; my third was a bit easier still. And now, I’ve created a whole new fancy hotel routine that includes relaxing on a big fluffy bed and ordering room service.

Tonight finds me in Seattle at The Westin. It’s a fantastic room—though not as big and flash as the a-MAZE-ing room I stayed at in Edinburgh a year ago—and the view of the city is truly breath-taking. (If you like the view of downtown Seattle with the Puget Sound behind.)

I looked at the room service menu and was very unimpressed so instead, I’ve ordered a pizza from Pagliacci —something I’ve not done since Paul and I lived in downtown Seattle so many years ago. And wouldn’t you know it? They also had Thomas Kemper’s root beer, too! (Yum!)

So, here I sit eating pizza, drinking root beer, and working on today’s homework assignment for my online silliness class. It’s relaxing and enjoyable. I can’t believe how much easier this hotel stay is than that first one without Paul about a year ago. Though I still wish Paul was here to enjoy a dirty martini at the lounge downstairs.

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!

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.)

Having a Ball (and a Martini)

It’s pickle season. That means that when I come home from work tomorrow the house will be full of people and pickle making supplies.

Mmmm… Grandma’s pickles. It’s a little piece of sodium-laden heaven in every crunch bite!

I’ve washed my canning jars (wide-mouth Balls, because that’s the best for pickles) and more jars will be arriving tomorrow along with freshly-picked pickling cucumbers.

The kid is excited about making pickles. She’s also excited that my 11-year-old nephew and 13-year-old niece are joining in on the pickle preparations. She talks about the niece and nephew – whom she’s yet to meet – as if they are her best friends. Exciting!

So, pickle preparations are done for the evening; which means it’s time to take the advice of the best parenting author I’ve ever read: Christie Mellor. Yes, she’s all about parents being number one and, more importantly, parents taking time to enjoy the grown-up pleasures of a Martini. (Her “Three-Martini” look on parenting was one that Paul and I agreed with. Too bad we didn’t get the chance to put the theory into action!)

 

 

Hot, young, fit coeds

I had to smile today when I left the office and noticed several dozen extremely fit, extremely beautiful, young (legally so), skimpily-clad coeds milling around the campus mall. I noticed that they were all young women – not a boy in sight – which struck me as odd until I realized that they were there for an orientation of the WSU Greek System. Yes folks, I’d walked into a mass of future sorority girls. And I couldn’t help but smile from ear-to-ear as I made my way through the crowds toward the parking garage.

No, I’ve not discovered some once-hidden desire to experiment with my sexual identity. It’s just that once we moved to the Palouse, I learned how to be a good wife; which means I can now spot a ‘hot chick’ at a hundred paces. Only now, I can’t point her out to my husband. (Who loved it when I would direct his attention to a hot coed.)

When we first moved to the Palouse, it was because I was offered a great job at the university that would allow me to work toward my master’s on a part-time basis. It was all very short notice so we ended up getting a small apartment near campus. In fact, it was near the student recreation center where the most in-shape of all the fit students could be found milling about throughout the day. And they wore next to nothing. I mean, I wear more to the beach than most of today’s students wear to class!

Anyhow, in addition to the move bringing new scenery, it also prompted us to finally get Paul a drivers’ license because – unlike Seattle or Edinburgh – there was no public transportation and walking wasn’t an option in such a sprawled-out community. So all of the sudden you’ve got this new driver who is unaccustomed to seeing so much flesh (because let’s face it, the weather in Scotland wasn’t conducive to such non-wardrobes) driving past a bunch of hot chicks on a daily basis. It could get scary when he’d turn to look. And I don’t blame him – I found myself looking, too. (My looking was out of shock and jealously.)

Eventually, I just did the driving around campus. And he took in the views. And over time, I grew accustomed to pointing out ladies who were wearing next-to-nothing. (Really? Can you call them ladies the way they’re dressed?)

And so, when I left the office today and was greeted by swarms and swarms of future sorority girls, I couldn’t help but think of Paul. And of how much he would have loved the sight. It just made me smile.

So when you see some incredible gorgeous, hot, young (but legally so), fit chick, think of Paul. And if your wife gets mad at you for looking, just tell her you are looking in honor of your friend. After all, he would do the same for you!

NOTE: The photo isn’t a fair representation, I know. But I didn’t have a photo of any of the hot chicks and don’t like to use photos that I don’t have permission to use. So, just pretend that I’m almost as hot as the hot coeds. (And if you don’t think I am, be nice and don’t tell me. Let me live in my fantasy world.)

Plus one

I’ve been Just Frances + One for a couple of days. It’s scary. It’s weird. It’s scary. It’s fun. And did I mention it’s scary?

You may know that Paul and I were licenced foster care providers as part of our plan to adopt children from the foster care system, even though we didn’t take short-term foster care placements as a general rule. We were, in fact, looking forward to adopting a couple of kids just before he died. In my grief, however, I wasn’t emotionally prepared to take on single motherhood. And I didn’t think it would be fair for children hoping for (and in need of) an active and happy mom and dad to be thrust upon a grieving widow. No, that wouldn’t have been fair to any of us!

So I was left wondering what I would do. Would I abandon my foster care licence? Would I continue with plans to adopt down the road? Would I foster children short-term? I didn’t know. Sometimes I think I still don’t know!

Actually, I think I was on the road to knowing. You see, I always knew that my life would include children. I just didn’t know when or how. And whilst long before meeting Paul I thought about adopting and being a single mom, I never dreamed there would be a time that I was caring for children as a grieving widow! So, I’d decided a few weeks ago that I needed to think of me first. Of my desire for my master’s degree. I decided that I would continue with my application plans for fall 2011 admission and play the rest by ear. If I was accepted, then I would know that school was the right path for right now. If I was denied, I would take it as a sign that foster parenting was the right path for right now.

When I got to the office last Monday, I made a note to call my care licenser to let her know that I wanted to retain my license, but needed more time to figure out my path before I considered a placement. But before I could call her, a social worker called me to tell me about a young girl who needed a home for a while.

It seemed to me that I could actually help this child. And maybe, just maybe, she could help me, too. It’s turned my world sideways, which is an improvement on the upside-down orientation that it’s been for more than a year. The world looks a bit different from this angle, but as Paul always said: Different doesn’t always mean better or worse; sometimes different is just different.

I don’t know how long this amazing child will be with me, but I’m certain that we will make lasting impressions on each others lives in the time we’re together. We bonded over cake-baking yesterday and toe-nail painting today. She arrived with a couple of “Learn French” CDs, so I figured that I can help her learn and maybe it will help me remember the two years’ of French I took in high school.

I’m still planning to start my studies in the fall – assuming there’s a school that will have me – but in between now and then, I’m going to be the positive light in a child’s life. And she’ll be a positive light in mine.

And there you have it. I’m responsible for the life of a child for the next [who knows how long]. Scary. Exciting. Scary. Enriching. Scary…

(I know! Can you believe that someone gave me a kid to care for? I mean, I’m totally insane and I can barely take care of myself! But then, maybe it takes a bit of madness to deal with the ins-and-outs of the foster care system!)

Correct-handed

Today is International Left-Handers’ Day. Yay! A whole day set aside to celebrate the awesomeness of being a lefty!

So, for my part of the celebration, I’ve made another ridiculous YouTube video. It’s a bit long (nearly eight minutes), but check it out to learn all about my prized left-handed possessions!

Wasn’t that fun? But, moving on…

Some interesting things to ponder:

  • Estimates vary on the percentage of left-handers in the world from a low of 5 percent to a high of 15 percent
  • Left-handers are made with 100% pure awesomeness
  • Left-handers are thought to have a higher likelihood of being dyslexic or of stuttering
  • Most left-handers draw figures facing to the right
  • Twenty percent of all Mensa members are left-handed
  • Left-handers are 100% beautiful
  • As seen from the North Pole, the Earth rotates to the left, counterclockwise, and proceeds to the left around the sun
  • International Left Hander’s Day was first celebrated on August 13, 1976
  • Everyone is born right handed, and only the greatest overcome it
  • Left-handers are made with 100% pure awesomeness (that fact deserved repeating)

Wanna purchase left-handed things? Here are some great resources to check out*:

Oh, and since it’s my blog, I have to give a shout out to some of my favorite lefties!

  • My Daddy, who taught me how to use my correct hand;
  • My bestest friend, Rachel;
  • My really cool nephew, Adrian;
  • My really cool nephew, Stephen;
  • My maternal uncles Fred and Joe;
  • And my favorite lefty ever, my amazingly-awesome husband, Paul, who loved how excited I got about this day every year!
  • (Oh, and a special mention to Ned Flanders and Kermit, too!)

So, again, Happy International Left-Handers’ Day!!

* I am merely providing links and cannot offer an endorsement on any of these outlets. I’ve never used them; I don’t receive any benefits from you using them. These were all found my searching the terms “left-handed products” in Google.

Running commentary

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

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

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

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

To market, to market

I was looking forward to the Moscow Farmers’ Market opening last year but Paul died before we ever made it there and I couldn’t bring myself to go alone until today. I suppose that it was easy to go today because I’ve gotten back into cooking and I was in need of beets and cabbage so that I could make borscht.

So when I woke up this morning, my first order of business was to swap out my handbag. (Well, first I had coffee and took a shower, but you get the point.) My bag of choice for traveling to the farmers’ market was a straw bag with shells and raffia – and a very long strap so that I had both hands free.

As I drove through Palouse on my way to Moscow, I realized that I’d not been to the fantastic little antique shop there in quite some time. And as I was tackling ‘firsts without Paul’ today, I figured I may as well tackle that one, too. It was a bit hard to walk in there alone – and harder still walking around knowing just what Paul would have looked at. He would have been disappointed that I didn’t buy as much as I did, but I was very pleased with the two lovely ‘new’ handkerchiefs I acquired: My first-ever round hankie with lovely blue flowers and a crisp, white linen one with handmade purple and green lace along the edge.

When I finally arrived at the farmers’ market, I was pleased with the selection of fresh produce and homemade breads and jams. But what impressed me more was that the booth selling hand-carved cooking utensils – including left-handed ones! The craftsman was a pleasure to speak with and I was especially excited to hear that he makes one left-handed piece for every three right-handed ones – and he’s always selling out of the lefty tools! Not bad when you know that the estimate is that less that 9 percent of the population is left-handed!

Oh, and I got some great beets, tomatoes, potatoes, and other such goodies, too. But – darn it! – I forgot to get onions so the borscht will have to wait until after my next trip to town! Despite this frustrating oversight, I’m going to call it an extremely successful day’s shopping!

Oh, and I don’t know about anyone else, but is it funny that I drove to Moscow for fixin’s for borscht? No? Must just be me…

A nice cuppa tea and a sit down

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

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

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

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

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

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

Set in stone

I struggled with how to start this post, or if I would even write it at all because it’s hard to know what how to ‘announce’ that your husband’s headstone has finally arrived to mark his grave. It’s hard to know if it’s something that should be shared with the world, or kept as a silent occasion. I struggled to decide if sharing something so personal would offend readers of Just Frances or if sharing this part of my life would be well-received.

In the end, I decided that I needed to share with the world because I find comfort in writing and I’ve had several people contact me saying that they, in turn, find comfort in reading what I’ve written.

So, the big announcement is that after 15 months, there is finally a permanent marker at Paul’s grave in America. Whilst some may say that the delay was a sign of disrespect (in fact, one did!) it took as long as it did because I wanted to be certain that I was choosing something that would be a fitting tribute to Paul. And if I know Paul, he would be surprised that I didn’t take even more time to decide!

I was fortunate that no one pushed me to order a headstone when I was making funeral arrangements. I’ve read so many accounts from young widow(er)s who regret the decisions that were urged upon them in those frightening and confusing hours and days after their spouse passed away. Instead, no one asked me about a headstone at all. Certainly, I made dozens and dozens of other decisions in those early hours, and I don’t regret any of them, but I don’t know that I would have been able to make decisions on a headstone without later regret.

I think I knew what I wanted for Paul’s headstone early on, but it wasn’t until December – more than eight months after he died – that I was finally ready to meet with the monument company to make arrangements for its design. Of course, in true Frances style, what I wanted was not commonly available so had to be custom-designed. And my OCD-tendencies meant several back-and-forth sketches before I was happy with it; which meant that from my initial meeting with the monument company until its placement at the cemetery, it took about seven months to complete – partially because it required a lot of custom hand carving and partially because I didn’t want to rush myself.

I wanted something simple and traditional, but something that was fitting for both of our likes. Knowing that it would need to include a cross, I decided the main design would be Paul’s favorite cross: the St. Martin’s Cross from the Iona Abbey in Scotland. Paul always enjoyed talking about the island’s role in bringing Christianity to Britain, and we had been looking for a nice replica of the cross to hang in our living room before he died.

For several weeks, I’d been anxious and excited for the headstone’s delivery, but when I learned the date of the installation, it made me sad. Paul’s headstone was no longer a theoretical object sometime in the future, but a real, tangible symbol of my husband’s death. It was difficult to see our names* etched in stone; it was painful to see the stone standing there. But strangely, I found comfort in it, too. As I stood there looking at the stone and feeling the coolness of the granite with my hands, I felt good knowing that for generations to come there will be evidence of my amazing husband’s (short) life on this Earth.

Paul and I had always talked about making a trip to the Isle of Iona one day, and I now feel more compelled than ever to travel to the island and see the original cross standing where it’s stood for more than 1,200 years. I know it will be hard to do alone, knowing that it was something we’d planned to do together, but I’m certain that I’ll find a bit of peace standing there on my own knowing that Paul is in my heart.

I thank my God for every remembrance of you.
~ Philippians 1:3

* For my UK readers, I realize that it may seem strange to have my name included on the stone at this point. Whilst not necessarily the ‘standard’ in America, it is a very common format and one that I chose to use because it brought me a certain amount of comfort. Which is weird. But so am I.

A cup of inspiration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cutting the cord

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I ran; I nearly stumbled

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

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

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

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

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

Check out more of my race photos here!

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

When you live alone; Part 1

When you live alone, especially after sharing your life with someone for so long, things change. Little things. Shoe storage locations are one of those things.

I noticed several months ago that shoes began to accumulate under the vanity in my bedroom. It didn’t really bother me much – probably because the housekeeper would place them neatly in the closet each week when she was in.

With the warmer weather, I’ve noticed that summer “slip-on” shoes have been accumulating under the coffee table in the living room. But again, the housekeeper puts them away to the closet every week.

My bad habit of leaving shoes where they don’t belong hit home tonight though. After work I took a shower and prettied myself up for an outdoor photo shoot. As part of the pretty-up process, I tried on several pairs of shoes in front of the hallway mirror to decide which ones to wear. After the decision was made, I sat to relax for about an hour before it was photo time.

When I returned home, I went into my bedroom to change – but not before walking past a pile of shoes in the hall. I had to laugh. Mostly because those damn shoes wouldn’t have sat there for 10 minutes if Paul was here. His first question would have been: “And are we storing shoes in the hall now?” And I would have sheepishly put them away where they belonged.

Yes, when you live alone you become a lazy slob. Thank goodness I had the clarity of mind to hire a housekeeper two months after Paul died. Otherwise, you can bet the house would have been condemned by now!

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!

Shaken, not stirred

My love for Martinis developed sometime in the summer of 2008. It was a drink that Paul and I spoke about trying for a long time, but we needed Martini glasses and it took us quite a long time to find ones that we liked. (We ended up with very simple Ikea glasses.) Once we had all of the supplies, we took on the task of mastering the perfect drink. It took a while, and we dumped a fair bit of failed liquid down the drain, but eventually we got there and developed our “RyanCentric” Martini.

A RyanCentric Martini is the perfect blend of vodka or gin with dry vermouth, a drop or two of bitters, and as many olives as you can fit on a cocktail pick. (Maybe a little bowl of olives on the side, too, because you should never drink on an empty stomach.) Oh, and a splash or two of olive brine, because I like it dirty… ::giggle::

I used to love coming home after work and Paul would be there waiting to greet me. He seemed to know if I was having a hard day at the office, because on those days he’d greet with with a kiss and a hug – and a freshly-poured Martini. (Hugs and kisses happened regardless of the quality of my day.)

And every four weeks, when the results of my blood work would come in, he’d be ready with a Martini. If my platelet counts were high, we’d have a celebratory drink. If they were low, we’d commiserate with one of those deliciously-salty drinks. (For those who wonder, my last counts were really really good. Tonight’s Martini is a belated celebration of that fact.)

We used to love being all “la-de-da” with our Martinis!

I remember sitting in the funeral home looking at urns a couple of days after Paul died. I knew I wanted something simple – and certainly not something etched and floraly and ugly (as most funereal things tend to be, apparently). The funeral director showed me a few options – one of which was a plain, silver, traditionally-shaped urn. As I held it in my hands, it dawned on me that it was shaped like a Martini mixer – right down to the top “lid” portion. I had to laugh. And for an ironic moment I considered it. But in the end, I went with the simple boxes. Two of them: A black metal one for his burial in the states (it reminded me of a monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey) and a simple wooden one for his burial in England.

I don’t know that I will ever be able to drink another Martini with at least a passing thought of Paul. But you know what, it makes me smile to think of him. And you should always smile when drinking an extra-large, extra-olive, extra-dirty Martini. They taste better that way.

And when it comes to shaken or stirred, I prefer shaken.

Fictional President Josiah “Jed” Bartlet once said:

Shaken, not stirred, will get you cold water with a dash of gin and dry vermouth. The reason you stir it with a special spoon is so not to chip the ice. James [Bond] is ordering a weak Martini and being snooty about it.

Snooty? Maybe. Pretentious? Probably. Smart? Definitely. In Bond’s case, he could enjoy an extra Martini or two and not be too tipsy for all his spy stuff. In my case, a slightly weaker Martini means I’ll have the steadiness of hand to mix more than one in an evening. (But only one on a school night!)

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

A stir fry mental block

I love stir fry. It’s amazingly-awesome food. (Except for those icky water chestnuts and bamboo shoots that my folks always put in the stuff. ::shudder::)

I love cooking. It’s an enjoyable task and one that I’m (mostly) eager to manage.

At some point in my marriage, I decided that I didn’t like cooking stir fry. Each week Paul and I would create a menu and he would always ask for stir fry. We’d go grocery shopping and get the fresh veggies and tofu for the meal along with the rest of the week’s groceries. On stir fry days, I would spend the day trying to psych myself up for it. But inevitably, I’d get home and say “Hey, let’s go out for dinner tonight!” and Paul would cave. He would give up on enjoying the meal that he was most looking forward to so that I didn’t have to cook the meal I dreaded.

I remember the first night my stir fry “let’s eat out” meal backfired on me. I came home from work excited about suggesting going out for Mexican and there stood Paul with a big grin on his face. “I thought it would be nice if I cooked dinner for you for a change,” he said. And there on the counter was all the freshly-chopped veggies. The wok was already sizzling with tofu. And so a new tradition began: If stir fry was on the menu, Paul would have it cooking before I walked through the door. In fairness, it was the only way he’d get to eat the stuff!

[At this point, I also need to say that he always made fantastic stir fry, and still did the dishes. I would happily eat the stuff, just couldn’t get excited about cooking it.]

When Dad, who’s visiting for a couple of days, said to me yesterday that he fancied stir fry for tonight’s dinner (OK, he might not have used the word “fancied”) I was a bit cheeky in telling him I’d be up for stir fry, but that he’d have to cook it! Surprisingly, he agreed! And none of that tofu stuff, he used beef! Bonus: He didn’t use water chestnuts or bamboo shoots!

The result: Yummy goodness in my tummy!

I wonder if I can get all of my house guests to sort dinner!?

Just two tasks

I met with my real estate agent the other day about the possibility of putting the house on the market. He gave me two tasks to get the house ready for selling: 1) Paint the new railing at the top of the stairs and 2) Clean out the shop/family room and give it a ‘purpose’.

I planned to do both this weekend.

But let’s be honest, that stack of cardboard boxes that are broken down for the recycle bin? Paul stacked those up a few days before he died and they’re still sitting where he left them. The treadmill hasn’t been touched since he last used it; and his jacket is still hanging by the laundry room door.

We’d planned to partition the room last summer. The back half was going to be work-out space; the front was going to be our old couches and TV (but we never got around to buying the new ones) and that was going to be the kids’ TV/play area.

The space looks horrid right now and I know that Paul would be disappointed. We had just straightened it up and mapped everything out for building the partition and now it’s become a storage area for junk that I don’t know what to do with. Or, more accurately, for stuff that I’m too lazy to put in proper storage under the eaves.

I don’t know when I’ll get around to completing my tasks but if I’m going to get the house on the market I’d best get to it. That said, I reserve the right to change my mind and not sell the house just now. Thankfully, my agent is understanding and knows just how difficult this is on me. After all, he spent so much time helping us find this lovely house!

Wear your hair in bunches

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

Happy Friday!

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

Ranking Rankin

I’ve finally read the first book in Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus series, Knots and Crosses. Paul had told me about the series when I was living in Edinburgh – the setting for most of the series – then a couple of years later, we watched a BBC documentary called Ian Rankin’s Hidden Edinburgh after which Paul reminded me again that I needed to read the books. Last Easter we had a conversation about it yet again and I promised him that I would order them and get to reading straight-away. But a couple of weeks later Paul was gone and it didn’t seem important…

Well, I finally got around to ordering the books this Easter and I must say: Paul was right! I really did enjoy the first book and am looking forward to the rest of the series! I was very impressed with the small details Rankin gave to personality traits. Specifically, I am intrigued by the religious conflicts that Rebus has and am interested to see how his spiritual quest unfolds throughout subsequent books. I’m sure that as I continue reading, I will find more character conflicts that pique my interest.

There was one problem I’ve found with the book, and I’m not certain if I’ve read it wrong. Early on, Rankin describes Detective Inspector Jack Morton as 35 years old. On the next page, it is noted that Morton has been a policeman for two decades. Currently, one must be 18 years of age to sign up with the Lothian and Borders Police, the department which Morton and Rebus work for.

In fairness, the book was written in 1987, meaning that Morton would have signed up in 1967. I suppose that there is a possibility that in ’67 you could sign up at the age of 15 or it is possible that Morton began with a different department that allowed for younger recruits.

The other issue I have with the book is not one with the writing, but rather one with the translation editing. You see, I purchased a book that’s been (sort of) copy edited for an American audience. But the copy editor didn’t fully pay attention.

The words and sentence structure are British without a doubt, but much of the punctuation is done in American standards. I say much because there are several places where the editor missed the addition of the Oxford comma. Now, in America different publishing houses opt to use – or not use – the troublesome little bit of punctuation. But its use (or not) is meant to be standardized throughout a publication. In this instance, it’s not. They’ve just thrown Oxford commas in willy-nilly. Very disappointing!

Anyhow, I have two more books in the series and have decided that I will order the next few from Amazon.co.uk so that I can get the original punctuation. After all, I am nearly fluent in British so it shouldn’t be a problem!

To summarize: Excellent start to what’s meant to be an excellent series. Next up: Hide and Seek.

Taming wild horses

For a few months now I’ve promised myself that I would finally tame the desire to hike to the top of the Wild Horses Monument which overlooks the Columbia River at Vantage. It’s a very short (but steep) hike that Paul and I took regularly on the drive between my home town of Cle Elum and our home on the Palouse.

Sometimes these “first time without Paul” experiences are really hard and I need to psyche myself up for it for several days – or even weeks. This was one of those treks for me. When I first thought I was ready, the road was closed for the winter, so it took a while longer before I could tackle it.

Today I found myself exiting the freeway at the last minute answering a strong desire to tame the horses. Being Memorial Day Weekend the car lot was filled with tourists and the hill was more crowded than I’d ever seen before. Luckily, I had my rugged hiking shoes in the trunk of the car so I was able to take the lesser-traveled and considerably-steeper trail to the top. Also by luck, I seemed to be the only one who knew that there were peaceful places to sit on the back side of the hill where the tourists neglected to visit.

It was an enjoyable hike – despite the people – and now that I’ve tamed the horses, I’ll be more likely to make regular stops once again. And each hike will be easier on the heart… and the legs as I continue to get back into shape!

Mrs. Ryan

Five years ago today, I became Mrs. Ryan. It was truly the happiest day of my life. This is my second wedding anniversary without Mr. Ryan; the first came less than a month after he died. If he was here with me, we’d be celebrating by having a nice meal and reminiscing about how we met and all of the wonderful things that brought us to this day. We really were blessed. Instead, I don’t find I have much to celebrate. But I will always have memories of the day I became Mrs. Ryan, and the nearly four years of joy that followed.

Paul created a couple of short photo videos to share with our family and friends who were unable to attend our wedding, so I thought that I’d share them with you here today.

The ‘formal’ shots
YouTube did not allow me to upload this video with the music Paul had is set to, so the track on the embedded video isn’t as fun. Click here to load the original version.

The ‘candid’ shots
This one loaded with the original music. So no other link needed!

A weekend at home

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

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

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

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

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Solar-powered clothes dryer

Carrying on with the hippy-granola-freak of a homeowner theme, I’m pleased to announce that I got to use one of my favorite house-hold appliances today for the first time of the year. Yes, I’m talking about my way-awesome solar-powered clothes dryer!

I used it a couple of times last summer, but wasn’t too enthusiastic about anything last year so didn’t feel the same sense of pride and joy that I felt using it today. It’s one of those strange things: I hate doing laundry most of the year, but the moment I can hang clothes on the line to dry, all of the sudden I’m Dot Branning! In fact, Paul did the laundry in our home all year long – with the exception of nice weekends in the spring and summer because that’s when I would volunteer for the job. (He didn’t like to hang clothes out to dry, so if I wanted line-dried stuff, I had to do it.)

So, today I washed all of the bedding and towels from when I had company last weekend. Tomorrow I will wash clothes. One of the great things with this environmentally-friendly device is it means that I washed the bedding within a week – where I would normally wait until the day before new guests were to arrive; which in this case might not be until mid-July (not counting un-planned visits by the folks, which happily happens every few weeks or so).

Oh! But did I tell you the best thing about line-drying sheets? No wrinkles! When I use a tumble dryer it seems that they always come out a bit wrinkly, even when I remove them the moment the buzzer goes off. With the solar-powered device, I am meticulous about how I hang them (partially folded) so that when I remove them from the line they are crisp and wrinkle-free. Yay!! (And they smell lovely, too!)

Retro mowing

When Paul and I bought our house two years ago, we decided that we wanted to continue our “hippy-granola-freak” lifestyle in our yard care efforts. So, I picked up the old (and I mean old!) lawn mower from my folks’ house the weekend we moved. The next weekend we spent the whole day out in the yard – and met pretty much every neighbor because people kept stopping by to offer use of their gas-powered mowers. Some offered to have their kids come by on the riding mowers, too. It was difficult for people to believe that we really wanted to use the relic mower!

Paul would tell people: “I asked my wife for a multi-gym and this is what I got!”

Last year the old mower never got used. Instead, in the days after Paul died the neighbors all started to care for the lawn. Every week or so, someone would come around on their riding mower and just take care of it for me.

I decided that I really need (and sort of want) to take care of it on my own this year. Between being sick and the bad weather, however, it was difficult to get out and mow. Luckily, someone has come by three times in the past several weeks to mow for me.

The weather was nice today, however, so I took out my trusty mower and mowed a good-sized section of the front yard. And – wow! – it was hard work! I think that I’ll have to mow a little bit each evening to keep up on it – or buy a new mower that’s easier to use.

We’d spoke about purchasing a new push reel mower last spring, and I think that I certainly need to do it this year. So… I think I’m going to check out Tri-State (Idaho’s Most Interesting Store) this weekend and see about buying a new-fangled old fashion mower. It will still be environmentally friendly, but it will be a lot lighter and a lot easier to use.

Here’s a link to the sorts of things I’m looking at. I am, of course, happy to listen to recommendations for which push reel is best!

(And yes, I know I’m crazy. But then, so does everyone else!)

Identity crisis

Since Paul died I’ve really struggled with my identity, which is a bit ironic when I think about the identity struggle I went through as a newlywed. Part of my identity struggle has been my online presence. Paul and I both maintained separate emails (something of an anomaly in my family) and both participated on various online forums without supervision or input from each other. Additionally, I’ve maintained blogs on several subjects for quite several years. If Paul did the same, he never told me. But then, he didn’t necessarily know of all the blogs I maintained.*

The one thing we had together was our website, www.RyanCentric.com. It was his idea, and whilst I did the actual work of creating and maintaining the site, it was very much a joint effort. After he died, I couldn’t bear to look at the site, let alone update it. But eventually, I felt comfortable doing both. But it didn’t really fill my needs, so I started a blog as a sub-domain off of RyanCentric to post random thoughts with the idea of maintaining RyanCentric as what it was meant to be: Stories and photos of my latest-and-greatest adventures. Only, it still feels strange to add stories about ME instead of about US.

Further, I’ve felt a bit schizophrenic maintaining the website, the blog, plus the added photo galleries. Things were become a bit too disjointed and I wanted to be able to share everything with my family and friends in one place. So, in the best geeky way I know, I registered a new domain.

What does all of this mean to you? Well, it means that one link will get you everywhere you want to go in my little world. Well, everywhere that Just Frances goes at least. And that’s the link: www.JustFrances.com. From there, you will find all of my blog postings and links to my photo albums. You will also find a link to RyanCentric, which will remain live but I will (probably) no longer post to it. If I do post to it, rest assured that I will cross-post here.

You may find redirects here and there as I try to make everything fit together, but for the most part the only difference you’ll notice is the URL.

I’m not promising that this will solve my identity crisis – in fact, I seriously doubt it will. But it will make my online world a little easier to manage, and as the majority of my social interaction is online these days, it makes sense to ease the burden!

*Blogs I maintained or contributed to with or without Paul’s knowledge were done so without any malicious intent and did not include questionable material. Just likely not topics he would care about such as my political views or ones related to my passion for (obsession with?) the proper use of the English language.

Back to the gym

I found my way back to the gym today. It’s been just over a year since I last went and it felt a bit weird to be honest. Paul and I were runners and I tried to hit the gym 2-3 times a week before work then we’d run the Bill Chipman Trail or participate in a road race together on the weekends. After he died, I didn’t have the inclination to run or work out – and I certainly didn’t have the calorie intake to support physical activity anyhow!

In late January and early February, I did two 5K road races with my 10-year-old nephew – without a bit of training. I must say, my times were shameful and my body was extremely sore for a few days after each race. Obviously, both things are signs that I need to get in gear! (Not to mention that if I go much longer without taking care of myself, people will think I’m a bingo player!)

So, with my hometown “Runner Stumbles” 10K race coming up on July 4, I figured I’d best get in gear and get training. My nephew, who will be 11 by the time of the race, is already looking forward to it and assures me that he is training for the race. Apparently, he’s caught the running bug! I sometimes wonder if it’s because Uncle Paul was a runner… but I don’t know if he’d admit it!

Anyhow, I’m trying to get back in the habit of taking regular exercise as part of my renewed get-fit regime. I’ve been neglecting my health for a year now, and it’s time to get my backside in gear! What does this mean to you? Probably not much – other than having to read about my gym and running activities from time to time.

Miss you much

It’s been a year since Paul died; a year since I became Just Frances again. I made the drive to his grave in Cle Elum today to bring him some tulips from our yard. He would have loved to see how bright they are in the flower beds and I wish that he was here to admire them on our mantle.

My sister took some tulips up for him yesterday – similar colors to those I brought – and Paul’s family took tulips up to his grave in England. Tulips are my favorite flowers, so that’s what he seems to get now. I hope he doesn’t mind…

Paul, you are always in my heart and on my mind. I miss you much, but I don’t regret an ounce of this pain because it means I loved deeply and truly. I love ya, luv. xx

 Miss You Much
The Clumsy Lovers

I miss you much, but I don’t regret
I sense your touch, that hasn’t left me yet
You know a mournful ending don’t ruin a precious start
A painful parting don’t mean a bitter heart
 

And gracious your beauty
Goodness your soul

Everything’s changed, and you’re not here
But you keep climbing into my dreams somehow
Your voice is strange, but the words are clear
You’re saying “Love me now, love me now, love me now, love me now”
and I do… I do love you.

Retail therapy

I’ve been feeling very sad and lonely the last few days so when my neighbor called to see if I wanted to drive into the city today to cheer me up, I was more than happy for the distraction. What I didn’t realize was that I would actually have a successful shopping day, which was an added cheer for the day! I know that Paul would be very pleased that I bought new clothes – and I even think that he’d have approved of some of it!

My retail therapy actually began yesterday when I purchased a new phone to replace the one I broke whilst on holiday in March. Everyone who knows me likely knows that a cool new gadget is almost guaranteed to bring a smile to my face – which is exactly what my new HTC Tilt2 has done. (Windows Mobile 6.5, if you wondered.)

When we took off for Spokane today, I don’t think that either of us actually planned to buy anything. I think we figured we’d check out a shop or two for plants or garden supplies, maybe grab some lunch, then head home. We got to the Northtown Mall and on our way in noticed a good sale and I was gently prodded to look at the summer dresses – so I did. And I found two that I really liked. And they were on sale. So I bought them.

At the next store, it was my neighbor who had the shopping success having found two great pairs of jeans (one of which was just $5!) and a new necklace. (I found a little over-shirt to wear with my pajamas and a small pair of silver earrings.)

On the way back to the car, we stumbled upon a new store in the mall that sells fantastic business-appropriate clothes and we decided that, as we were pretty much shopped out at that point, that we’d come up some other time to find some nice suits. But I managed to find a pair of denim capris and an amazingly-ugly jacket before we left.

With one more store ahead of us, we stopped in for nachos and margaritas for a re-charge session and to rest up a bit. Then we headed across the road to the golf store where I found a couple of pairs of shoes I like (but I didn’t have the right socks for trying on shoes). I also managed to buy a new pair of golf shorts – they are purple and green plaid and are truly ugly. But I’ve decided that I am going to create a golf look for myself of plaid bottoms and solid-colored tops. I know that I should spend more time working on my swing than looking for ugly clothes, but the swing is never going to improve, so that’s OK.

I really did enjoy the distraction of the day, and while it won’t fix the fact that I’ve come home to an empty house, it did mean that I didn’t sit around the house feeling sad all day. And now that I have all this nice summer clothes, I’m going to have to find excuses to leave the house every-so-often to show them off. I just wish that Paul was here to enjoy the benefit of having a gorgeous, well-dressed, sexy woman on his arm. (Yes, that’s meant to be describing me. I’ve taken a bit of creative license on that one, I know!)

Great neighbors

When we bought our house, Paul and I really looked forward to tending to the garden. With a lot of nearly 10,000 square feet, we knew it would be a lot of work, but we didn’t care. That first spring and summer we were out almost every weekend and really made it beautiful.

Last spring, we drew up plans for some major garden projects in the back yard and spent some time in the front yard once the snow melted away. The week before Paul died, we spent a long (and enjoyable) day raking and weeding and mowing before enjoying a well-deserved picnic lunch under the cedar trees. The next weekend we planned more work. But God had plans for Paul that we were unaware of.

All last year, various neighbors kept the yard mowed for me. A couple came by to trim some trees, another couple came by to help remove piles of leafs. And I was ever-so-grateful. This year, I know that it’s time I get back out into the yard and start taking care of it myself. And I’ve been planning to do that for the last two weeks, only I got sick.

As I drove home this evening, I dreaded the thought of having to mow the lawn. As I rounded the corner of my street, I decided that (despite doctor’s rest orders) I should just suck it up and mow at least part of the thing tonight. But as I pulled into my drive, I saw that someone else already came by on their riding mower. I don’t know which wonderful neighbor to thank, but I’ll tell you what, it’s totally made my day!

I am still dreading the day I finally make it out to do work in the garden because I know it will just remind me that Paul isn’t there to help, but I’m kind of looking forward to getting my hands dirty. Maybe I’ll start slow by weeding the flower beds later this week. Then at least I won’t feel too guilty for picking some of the flowers to bring into the house.

Right! The main point of this entry is to exclaim:
I have amazingly wonderful neighbors and am very lucky to have them!

Tulips: Day 1

Tulips are my favorite flowers. I love how they are so simple that they can bring elegance to even the most basic of vessels. I love the way they seem to dance around after they’ve been placed in pretty vase; the way they reach and stretch and grow after they’ve been cut – as if to tell the world that they are strong and they will survive and adapt to their new environment.

For something so simple, they truly are so complex.

I enjoy watching tulips change, and like to sit and stare at them from time-to-time, remembering what they looked like yesterday or even earlier that very day. And I often wonder to myself just how much they grow with each day. It’s such a trivial thing, but I find pleasure in it and I wish that Paul was here to share in that silly little joy.

But since he’s not here, and I still find dancing tulips so much fun that I really want to share it with someone, I’ll use my narcissism-based blog to share it with everyone. (Come on, I know you care or you wouldn’t have made Just Frances your browser’s home page!)

To that, I present to you:

Tulips Day 1
Purchased at Safeway for about $4.00, these 10 stems of reddish-pink and yellow tulips were cut short because they will continue to grow all week long. Each day, I will photograph them and share new measurements. Moments after being placed in the vase and on the mantle, these measured 16″ from the mantle to the tallest bit of flower – in this case, that was one of the leafs.

Check back tomorrow to see how the tulip dance is going!!

Jokes we thought were funny

Paul and I liked to say things that were 100% accurate, but would easily be taken as meaning something completely different than the truth. The reactions we got from people made us giggle.

  1. My first wife/husband…
    We would drop that into a conversation quite randomly as in “My first husband used to own that CD.” People who knew me (or thought they knew me) were always shocked thinking that I’d been married and divorced without them ever knowing – when in reality, Paul was the first husband I was talking about.
  2. A woman in your condition…
    Paul loved to say this within earshot of my family and friends! “A woman in your condition shouldn’t be mowing the lawn,” would be a normal situation, and it was generally because I was meant to be resting/taking it easy because of an illness – not because of pregnancy. But you know what people were thinking…
  3. I’m in love with a married woman/man…
    When friends would gather and start telling their deepest, darkest secrets, I’d pop in with “I’m madly in love with a married man.” Oh, the looks on their faces when I went on to talk about spending weekends away with this married man!

Yeah, we were so weird…

And don’t worry, I will come up with more ridiculous things to say to make me giggle. It’s what I do.

Indoor-outdoor cat

Last summer I purchased a slightly-expensive, gadgety cat door for Schrodie. It’s great because it is sensor-activated, meaning that only Schrodie can come and go – eliminating the fears and nightmares of Satan’s evil footmen (that means skunks) entering my home through the door.

The cat wears a little sensor on her collar which activates the flappy-thingy, allowing her access. There are four settings: In and Out; In Only; Out Only; or Nothing. I have it set for In and Out.

She was most certainly an indoor cat when we adopted her at eight months old and Paul and I spent a long day introducing her to the great outdoors the week before he died. It was important to me that the cat continue experiencing the outdoors but as I was at work all day I would need a cat door to achieve that. After the door was installed I showed the cat how to use it but she wasn’t too keen on it – or the outdoors. In fact, the only time the cat would use the door was if you tossed her outside. Then she’d run straight back in faster than you’d imagine!

For the past week, I’ve been finding little bits of nature in the house – twigs and leafs, mostly – and have suspected that maybe, just maybe, Schrodie has finally started to go out whilst I was at work. This suspicion has been even stronger the past few days when she’s not been on the bed when I go to sleep or wake up.

And today the proof came in! For the first time, the cat wasn’t waiting for me just inside the kitchen door. So I walked out to the shop and opened that door (the one where the cat door is) and there she was. Outside. Soaking up the evening air. OUTSIDE!

I am such a proud cat owner today. I almost shed a tear of joy. Almost… but I’m not quite that pathetic of a cat lady. Yet…

Very taxing

I finally filed my taxes. I say finally because I normally have mine completed and filed the first week of February – based on the fact that tax documents generally arrive the last week of January. Yep, a geek to the core I used to love doing my taxes. And this year I tried, but just couldn’t do it through the tears. I think it had something to do with the box that I needed to tick that read: Qualifying Widow.

Instead, I made an appointment with an accountant then spent the weekend getting my files together – something that was more difficult than normal because I seem to have lost some of my over-the-top organizational skills since Paul died. I think having someone do my taxes for me was a good idea though, because I may never have gotten them done otherwise!

But I know what you’re wondering: Did I get a refund?

Yes I did! And a bit more than expected!

Being the responsible person I am, I am using the majority of the money for a major purchase that I’ve been putting off. But because Paul always thought that tax refunds should be used for fun, I will use the rest for something I don’t need.

I will not use the money for a new refrigerator or water heater. I will not use it toward the cost of a new furnace or car repairs. It won’t go toward my student loans or mortgage principal; I won’t roll it into my 401K or my IRA. No CDs or savings bonds. No, this money will be used frivolously – even though that goes against my frugal nature.

I wish I could use it for a trip to my nephew’s wedding in Cuba this June, but I can’t. So I’ll need to think of another trip I can take or useless gadget I can purchase.

A summer trip to California or British Columbia? A flight to Scotland for a friend’s wedding in October? The possibilities are endless!

I think dreaming up ways to spend the money might be just as much fun as the actual spending…

Coins

I have two old pint-sized honey jars that I fill with coins. It takes a while to fill them up because I don’t use cash too often. In fact, the current coin stash was started on March 7, 2009, meaning it’s taken more than a year to fill both jars to capacity. Compare that to my waitressing days when it would take just a couple of weeks to fill a gallon-sized jar!

Anyhow, Paul and I decided long-ago that when the jars were full we’d use the money for something fun and silly. Something we didn’t “need” but wanted. On March 6, 2009, we cashed in our coins and used the money to adopt Schrodie. (Which is why we almost called the cat “Spare Change”.)

Well, now the jars are full again and I need to determine how to spend my $64.22 (which doesn’t include a lone Canadian penny, a wheat penny, or the button that were all in the mix). If I spend it on taxable goods, that means I have about $59 to play with. So, what sort of cool things can I get for $59? ($61 if I do my shopping in Idaho, assuming my math is correct.)

I’ll have to think about just what to do with the windfall for a few days. Your suggestions are always welcome so please share any ideas that you have. (Remember though, I’m spending this money on something for ME not for YOU.)

Going green

Across America, people are going green. Not in an effort to be more sensitive to the environment but rather in an effort to get in touch with their inner-Irish. Regardless of family ancestry (mine being Germans from Russia) every American is Irish today. Or is that Oirish?

Traditionally a Catholic holiday and feast day, St. Patrick’s Day, like many other holidays, has been overly commercialized and Americanized in recent years. Our “Irish” traditions are very different than those celebrated by natives of Ireland, living in Ireland, but they were probably loosely based on some village traditions brought over by Irish immigrants then morphed as other cultures began to participate in the hype.

From parades and municipality-sponsored events to pub crawls with green beer and Baileys there are events for everyone! School children wear green to protect themselves from being pinched; families feast on corned beef and cabbage.

Me? I totally get into it! I have special socks and a selection of fun and funky hats and headbands. I wear green clothes and green jewelry. I eat Irish-themed foods (or dye them green if I can’t spin it Irish any other way). This was all very much a culture shock to Paul – the son of an Irishman who grew up in England – but he went along with it because his kookie American wife was going to be Irish on March 17 whether he played along or not.

Of course, as it’s Just Frances now, I didn’t have anyone to buy a St. Patrick’s Day card for. And I didn’t feel like making a big corned beef. And, well, being alone on these holidays just reminds me that I’m alone every day, so this year I scaled back the celebration. I still wore the socks and green clothes of course; I just didn’t go all crazy in my normal style.

But I did need dinner. Potatoes are very Irish, so chips were on the menu. And beer. Green beer. It’s the Oirish in me that insisted on that one…

The problem with Seattle*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy birthday to me

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

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

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

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

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

Still stitching

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

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

Lenten obligations

Lent is a funny little ‘season’ in modern society. Each year people around the globe begin to talk about what they’ll give up for those 40-some days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. Conversations about what is meant to be a spiritual quest for believers sound more like mini New Year’s resolutions. People who rarely – if ever – step foot into a church begin to talk about their weight loss goals or about giving up booze, caffeine, cigars, video games, or social networking sites. Seldom do I hear people talk about the true essence of the penitential season meant for the preparation for Easter.

Now, this isn’t to say that people shouldn’t be allowed to abstain from whatever vice they chose. It’s not even to say that only Christians are allowed to participate in the Lenten season. It is merely an observation from someone who (mostly) tries to follow through with the thought that Lent is a time to strengthen your relationship with God, with your own being, and with your neighbors. In more basic terms, Lent is about baptism – the preparation for baptism and for renewing baptismal commitments.

The three traditional pillars of Lenten observance are prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. (For more information: http://www.catholic.org/clife/lent/faq.php)

Often people think of Lent as a time of needing to make a sacrifice (hence abstaining from favored vices) though it can also be a time of taking on a faith-based task – a burden, if you will.

Over the past several weeks I’ve thought long and hard about what I could do to prepare for Easter. What spiritual task could I take on? What burden could I accept as a way of bringing myself closer to my God? I’ve gone back and forth on this issue countless times and what I’ve realized is that since losing Paul not even a full year ago, my soul and my heart already feel so burdened and I just can’t imagine taking on anything more.

But my faith and my desire to find some spiritual guidance won’t allow me to use Paul as an excuse to absolve myself from my religious obligations. I’ve also noticed that while I’ve not lost my faith in the past 10 months, I have lost my passion for my faith. And so, I’ve decided that I will bring passion back to my life for the Lenten season. I will pick up my battered copy of the bible once again and try to find a bit of solace in it each day. As I struggle through the daily process of grieving for Paul, I will turn once again to my faith to help me through. And I hope that by Easter Sunday I will have found a little more peace in my world; a little more acceptance for my loss; and a greater connection with my God.

While I go through this journey, you may find me posting a little more about my faith. (Have I mentioned yet that I’m Catholic?) I hope that you’ll respect my right to freedom of religion, as I respect yours; and while I realize that for many of my non-Christian friends it may be a bit uncomfortable to read about my faith journey, I hope that you’ll stick with me, because while my faith helps to defines me, it won’t be the main player in this blog.

And for those who are looking at last-minute Lenten obligations, here is a little something to ponder:

A Lenten Reflection
Give up complaining – focus on gratitude.
Give up pessimism – become an optimist.
Give up harsh judgments – think kindly thoughts.
Give up worry – trust Divine Providence.
Give up discouragement – be full of hope.
Give up bitterness – turn to forgiveness.
Give up hatred – return good for evil.
Give up negativism – be positive.
Give up anger – be more patient.
Give up pettiness – become mature.
Give up gloom – enjoy the beauty that is all around you.
Give up jealousy – pray for trust.
Give up gossiping – control your tongue.
Give up sin – turn to virtue.
Give up giving up – hang in there!

~ Unknown author