Coming soon…

2013.01.06.coming-soonRegular Just Frances readers might know that the ‘real’ site has been down since mid-October, with my last post happening on October 5. When the decision was made to take the site down for much-needed upgrades, I think everyone involved (i.e.: me and my awesome Web Guru) thought it would be a short-lived disruption.

But, as happens, life got in the way and it’s taken a bit longer than expected.

However, the time has been good for me because it’s allowed me to focus in a bit on why I write; on who I’m really writing for. It’s also given me a bit of time to think about how I want to manage Just Frances moving forward. (As my Web Guru said: It will be about the content. And it will be spectacular.)

Anyhow, this is just a wee post to let you know that the design is done. And it’s lovely. And simple.

And, most importantly: It’s coming soon!

So thanks for bearing with me… I hope to have the new site up soon and hope that you like it!

It’s an onomatopoeic day

2012.12.14.onomatopoeiaI do love a bit of onomatopoeia. But I don’t like experiencing it first-hand. Achoo!

Of course, since I’m home, snuggled under my duvet, experiencing the agony of a cold, there is a lot of onomatopoeia going on.

I’m sneezing: Achoo!

I have a runny nose: Sniff, sniff

I’m drinking soup: Slurp

I’m cat-napping: Zzzz

And I’m complaining: Grumble

But I’m sure that I’ll be better soon. And then I’ll be laughing (haha) once again.

Downgraded

2012.11.30.downgradedRemember when I told you that I moved into a lovely new flat? And how I went on about how massive the place is?

Well, massive is great in the summer, but in the cold of the winter it means heating a lot of space. Which on its own isn’t bad, but when you’re sleeping in a cavernous bedroom with high(ish) ceilings and loads of space, it means that it takes a bit to heat up.

And that got me thinking: Why do I need to spend all of that money heating up the largest bedroom in the flat when it’s just little ol’ me. Wouldn’t it make more sense to move into the small bedroom?

OK, the large bedroom has a double bed where the small one only has a twin but, again, it’s just little ol’ me and I tend not to toss and turn so a twin bed is plenty big enough.

With this in mind, last night I switched the radiator off in the large room and on in the small one, then snuggled into the twin bed and went to sleep.

And I was toasty warm the whole night through. No, I was a bit too warm. Which meant that I didn’t need to use the second duvet. It was so very nice!

So, I have downgraded my sleeping arrangements for the winter. Or maybe in a sense it’s an upgrade since it’s a warmer and more comfortable sleeping situation.

Oh! And that means that I now have a spare double bedroom for guests. So if any married (or otherwise coupled) friends want to visit, there’s loads of space! Don’t worry—I’ll turn the radiator back on for you!

October: The missing month

I’ve thought long and hard about how to handle the month of October for my blog. You know, since I only posted twice before the site went down for essential maintenance.

I thought about writing posts off-line, then adding them to the site when it was back up. But that would mean loads of back-reading for my (small) readership.

I thought about forgetting the month all-together. But that would mean not talking about a few things that happened that I want to include in my digital diary.

I even thought about writing one really, really long post that gave all the details of everything. But that would mean one really, really long post that no one would want to read.

So, instead, you get a bulleted list of some of the highlights from my October:

  • My Mum spent most of the month here on holiday. We toured all over the UK (with her having a week without me in England with my in-laws) and really did have an amazing time.
  • I ran the Beat Beethoven 5.5K race in Stirling with my friend, Joanne. We both beat the maestro, which was awesome, and it means that I got my October race out of the way for my 2012 Race a Month Challenge.
  • I received notification that I not only passed my dissertation with a distinction, but that I passed my entire master’s course with distinction—a rare honour and one that I will blog about separately very soon.
  • I managed to secure a two-month extension on my Tier 4 student visa, giving me a bit of breathing room whilst I sort out my Tier 2 work visa. (There is still stress around that topic.)
  • I made two major decisions about my future in Scotland: 1) I really do want to research PhD opportunities and 2) I really do want to get a car.

Lots more stuff happened throughout the month, but those are the ones that jump out at me. If I’m completely honest, most of the month was spent in tears though. It was a very stressful month that saw me fearing for my future because of visa issues and concern over how I did on my dissertation. I’m sure that the visa stresses will return with vigour, but at least I’ve learned that I’m a smart cookie.

But for now, here’s October in a nut shell. And as I’m nearly half-way through November, I’ll just concentrate on keeping up with that!

Warming up with a faded flag

It’s starting to get cold outside and that means cuddling up on the couch with a cosy blanket. And for a double-dose of warmth, I like to crochet one blanket whilst cuddled under another.

So, I’m putting some of the fabulous wool (that’s yarn in American speak) that was left behind with all the beads when I moved in.

I chose to use the three large spools of basic wool for my new project since they are all the same weight and will look nice together.

I kind of think that they look like faded flag colours. What do you think?

Oh! And if you want to crochet along with me, here’s the pattern I’m using:

Start with Ch 108 (I’m doubling mine, using hook size ‘N’/9mm) then:

Row 1: 2 dc in 3dr ch from hook, *skip 2 ch, 1 sc and 2 dc in next ch; rep from * across, ending with skip 2 ch, 1 sc ch in last ch. Ch 2, turn.

Row 2: 2 dc in first sc, *skip 2 dc, 1 sc and 2 dc in next sc; rep from * across, ending with 1 sc in top of t-ch. Ch 2, turn. Rep Row 2 for pat.

Anyhow, I’m sure you’ll get to see the project as I progress and again when I finish. My hope is to finish it before Christmas. Wish me luck!

A case for the interrobang

2012.09.24.interrobangToday is National Punctuation Day in America—a day to celebrate the amazingness of punctuation. Today also marks the start of Social Media Week—a world-wide event looking at social media’s impact on modern-day society. To that, I’ve decided to combine both celebrations into one post by making a case for a very social media-ish bit of punctuation: the interrobang. I mean, who wouldn’t want to read a post about the interrobang‽

An interrobang is a non-standard form of punctuation that combines a question mark and exclamation point all in one adorable little bundle. It was first conceived by Martin Speckter in the 1960s for use in advertisements, but it never caught on. The idea was that it could be used when asking a question in an excited manner, expressing excitement or disbelief in the form of a question, or asking a rhetorical question.

As I’m sure many users of social media—and social networking sites in particular—have seen, the use of multiple question marks and exclamation points at the end of comments and posts is standard all over the Internet. And whilst exclamation points are often overused these days (guilty!), they do help to convey a bit of emotion and meaning when communicating electronically. And when you’re trying to convey disbelief or sarcasm, sometimes it becomes necessary to use two bits of punctuation at once. Right‽

At the same time, social networking sites—specifically Twitter—limit the number of characters allowed for posts, meaning that brevity must be used. But with brevity, meaning can sometimes be lost.

When you combine the need for multiple punctuation marks to convey meaning and the need for brevity, it only makes sense to double-up on punctuation. You agree, right‽

And so, I make the case for the interrobang. I think we need to celebrate this little guy and give it the revival it deserves. We need to embrace its aesthetics. We need to revel in its ability to convey meaning and intent. And why not start today‽

To use it, you can enter the codes or you can copy-and-paste from here [ ‽ ] or your computer’s character map. Just make sure you use it!

Now, go spread the word, OK‽

New digs

Today is moving day! Which means I’m kind of busy. Which means just a short post to share a video tour of the new digs. I had meant to do that last night, since I did a walk through of the place after work yesterday, but video editing issues meant that I didn’t get around to it. Video editing issues also mean that you don’t get a tour of the master bedroom, but I figured that’s OK since that’s my personal space.

But, I have to go haul stuff down to the car now. Talk to you soon!

A step toward the future

I’m working on a big step toward a happier future. Well, I’m working on several big steps at the moment, but there’s only one that’s a certainty at this moment.

And in this bag is a little something to celebrate that step. It’s from my amazing friend, Rebecca, and I can’t wait until I get to take it out of the bag and admire it.

But what is it and when do you get to see it? Well, I can’t tell you what it is (or what the step is) but I can tell you both of those things on September 14. Deal?

In the mean time, isn’t it a pretty bag? And it’s flocked, too.

Now… back to preparing for that next big step because there are lots and lots of little steps in between now and September 14!

Boxes from home

I’ve written in the past about foods I miss from the Homeland, and I’ve shared tales of the amazing boxes I’ve received from family and friends back home. And, well, it’s time to tell those tales again! Only this time, the boxes have really stacked up! But I want to make sure that I’m sharing the joy because I want to make sure that everyone knows how very much I appreciate their kindness.

First up is a box from my baby sister, Royann. It’s not the first one she’s sent, and my guess is that it won’t be the last. I know that she doesn’t have a ridiculous amount of spare cash, and that makes me appreciate her generosity that much more.

Plus, it’s kind of cool that her boys always send little notes along in the parcels!

So, from Royann I got:

Next was a box from my parents. They are great at sending parcels out every-so-often and I’m always surprised at the extra little somethings that are included. From news clippings to old cocktail sticks, there is always an extra little something to make me smile!

The folks are also really good at including goodies for my amazingly-awesome friend, Rebecca.

The latest box from them included:

And lastly, a large box from my friends, Sarah and Martin. This one is extremely special to me because these are a couple of my ‘virtual’ friends and they were very insistent about sending me goodies from home and wouldn’t take no for an answer. It just warms my heart that people I’ve never met ‘in real life’ want to do nice things for me.

Even more is that they sent way, way, way more stuff than I expected. (Well, I didn’t expect anything, let alone as much as they sent!)

What did they send? Well:

And let’s not forget a box of goodies my Uncle Fred and Aunt Becky sent (with Root Beer lollies!) and a parcel sent by my friend, Ramona, a few months back. (No photos of those, sorry.)

Yes, I am loved. And, yes, I need to get to the post office at the weekend to send some love off to others!

Do you want to help?

Hello, Just Frances readers! I’ve been thinking about updating the ‘look and feel’ of Just Frances for a few months now, and now that I’m done with my dissertation I figured it was a good time to make it happen.

But, as I’ve often said, I want my readers to be happy little campers, so I’m asking for input from a few of you.

The task is simple: Look at a couple of mock-ups and tell me what you think. You will be asked a couple of direct questions (Do you like x?) and will also be given a chance to tell me what you don’t like. (Or even what you’d like to see.)

You do not need to know me ‘in real life’. You do not need to be a Facebook friend or Twitter follower. You do not need to be someone who comments on my posts. You just need to be someone who visits Just Frances on a regular basis. Because, let’s face it, it’s those regular visitors who will be impacted by the changes the most!

To volunteer, please get in touch with the contact form. Then, in a week or two when I have the test site all ready, I’ll send you an email with the link and you can let me know what you think.

So… here’s your chance to affect Just Frances!

Payday treats

Today is payday! I’m so excited because it’s my first payday in more than a year and it’s so fantastic to see my bank balance to up for a change, after watching it steadily decline over the last year.

I’m lucky in that I haven’t needed a pay cheque because I worked so hard at saving up for this crazy year of postgraduate study, but those savings weren’t going to last forever—or even for the rest of 2012! So, I’m very thankful to have found a wonderful job that can help re-build my bank balance.

Of course, a first pay cheque deserves a celebratory purchase, so I’ll have to sort that out soon, too. I’d seen a fabulous, funky set of vintage late-1960s dishes at a charity shop about a month ago and told myself that if they were still there on payday that would be my treat. But they were gone when I went back so now I need a new plan. I don’t know what that will be yet, but it will be some sort of a little treat. I am happy to take suggestions for ways to treat myself so feel free to share your thoughts!

I know it’s not much money, but it’s another step toward my future and that makes me happy.

Braving it alone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Found things

I like shiny things and pretty things and interesting things. And often, as I’m walking down the road, I’ll stop to pick these little things up. In fact, when I’m on an outing or holiday, I almost dedicate myself to finding something shiny or pretty or interesting. Then, when I get home, I pile them all up in a pretty container.

I began collecting little tid-bits when I arrived back in Scotland last summer and kept them neatly pilled on a dresser in my bedroom until I found a bowl that would work to hold them all.

The bowl doesn’t have much in it at the moment: A couple of marbles I’ve found when out-and-about; some sea glass from Aberdour; a shell from Seaton Carew; a couple of pebbles from my recent visit to the Highlands; and a couple other random finds.

By the time the bowl is full, I imagine I won’t remember the story behind every little pretty thing. But that’s OK because I’ll still be able to look at the overflowing contents and I’ll know that each of those things brought me a bit of joy once, and together they’ll serve as a reminder that—no matter how grumpy or sad I may be at times—I’ve led a pretty happy life, filled with moments of joy.

Each pebble, shell, marble, or random tid-bit represents a bit if joy. And it makes me happy to know that I have a bowl that is slowly filling up with more and more moments of joy; joy that was found when I didn’t even know I was looking for it.

Sing a song

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

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

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

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

I know—my lyrics leave something to be desired!

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

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

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

Yes, I am that kind of crazy.

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

(K)impossible

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

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

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

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

First flowers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I broke it!

Yikes! Were you on Just Frances yesterday? Well, if you were you may have noticed a 12+ hour period where the site was broken. The main page worked (mostly) but all of the other pages were kicking up an error.

Well, I have it fixed now. It took a bit of head scratching and a conversation via Facebook with some guy I’ve never met but whom I’ve kind of been introduced to by other Facebook friends I’ve never met (but have ‘known’ for years!).

Sadly, that friend wasn’t able to help in a direct way but his thought process—and a comment made by my awesome host—led me to an idea when I woke up this morning.

Anyhow, it’s fixed now. Unfortunately, I had to uninstall a plugin that I really liked to make it work. (I then re-installed to see if that was really the problem, and it was.) I’m not going to call them out just now because I’ll wait to see how they respond to my email—and hopefully they can fix the bug on their end.

But! I’m back now and that’s all that matters.

And how’s that dissertation coming along? Well, yesterday—despite the Just Frances drama!—was a productive day that saw me writing 2,300 words! So, here’s the status:

Current word count: 8,094 (only 3,906 to go!)

Today’s task list:

  • Head up to campus a bit of library time
  • Work on findings section
  • Start putting together my conclusion

And your task list? Simple! Just have an awesome day!

[Photo note: That’s my old, old phone that I broke at the Edinburgh Castle way back in March 2010. You can read the story here if you want to laugh at me retrospectively.]

Hair today

Today I’m going to give a bit of a rave. It’s kind of about how awesome my hair looks, but really it’s more about how it got looking this awesome.

Those who know me know that I rarely get my hair cut more than once a year. Not because I’m against having it done, it’s just that I don’t really think about it. I mean, it’s just hair. Right? But I’ve (almost) always gotten my hair cut before a holiday or other big happenings.

Anyhow, I don’t have any holidays planned, but I do have a big happening planned. And this big happening is something that I want to look fabulous for. No, I’m not talking about a date. And no, I’m not going to tell you about my big happening. But I will tell you soon enough. How’s that for a cliff hanger?

So, I made an appointment at Two’s Company Hairdressing to have Malcolm make me look pretty (contact details below). And, as he did when I was there back in February, he did!

Only this time I was more impressed than the first time. Not because it was a better cut, but because—despite the fact that it had been six months since my last visit—he remembered me and the fact that I was a master’s student and a runner. And it’s a bit nice to be remembered, especially when you feel like a small town redneck lost in the big city.

And not only that, but he was nice and chatty and when I told him about my big happening, he was keen to make sure my hair would be fab for it. Oh! And because my hair is rather long and thick, he enlisted a second stylist to help dry it before he put it up in Velcro rollers for a spell. I felt like such a celebrity having two people working on my hair!

The results were gorgeous—and educational as Malcolm took the time to give me tips on how to set my hair in rollers, since I’ve been failing in my own attempts. Even better is that he thinks that (as long as I don’t go for a run!) my hair might last until my big happening!

Now, I fully admit that my lack of skill means that it won’t look this fabby again (well, until I get it cut next) but I can already tell that it’s going to look great even when I don’t do anything to it!

Yay! for pretty hair!

Two’s Company Hairdressers is located in Stirling at 1A Livilands Gate. If you’re local, give them a shout! (UK: 01786 461610)

Note: I have not received anything in exchange for this post. I am just a happy client and felt that they deserved a public kudos.

And now for a wee Dissertation Month update:

Current word count: 3,244 (only 8,756 to go and I’m not done for the day!)

Tomorrow’s task list:

  • Write, write, write! (A friend from my course is coming over for a work party.)
  • Review current Ofcom and Pew Research stats on Internet use
  • Get ready for my big happening

Swirl sets

I almost wasn’t going to post anything today, but then I remembered my promise to post more often so I thought I’d best post something. And so, I thought I’d post my first ‘series’ of swirls for you.

This is the first time I’ve done swirls as a set, and I actually did these with the sights to use them for a set of three note cards for when I get my shop up-and-running. (Which won’t be for a few more weeks—stay tuned!)

These are different for me in that I’ve used rounded ends for the swirls instead of my normal pointy ends. Also, the colours are much more monotone than others. Oh, and I’ve not pushed out to the very edge of the margins and I’ve added little circles-in-circles to these.

So, what do you think?

Words about me

I am participating in an online thing where a few people are getting together to chat through a moderated forum run by a grief counsellor. It’s kind of an experimental thing run by the niece of a woman I used to know, and when the moderator went looking for participants, this woman suggested me.

Anyhow, the first ‘meeting’ was just a brief introduction of each other so that we knew why we were participating. And for the next meeting, we were asked to find out how others view us.

I thought about asking one or two friends to really talk to me about who they think I am, but in the end I decided to take it to Facebook. Which I did. And I asked everyone to give me a few words they’d use if they had to describe me to a friend.

The results, I must say, are interesting. And if you’re not familiar with word clouds, I’ll give you a hint and tell you that the more times a word is used, the larger the image of that word is. So, I guess that means that, ultimately, my friends think I’m quirky, strong, brave, and grammatical. (And loads of other things.)

Just Frances in Just Words

Anyhow, it was really interesting to me to see the sort of things people said. Quirky was expected as were grammar-related comments. I suppose runner, determined, and loving were not a surprise, either. But compassionate, inspiring/inspirational, and introspective weren’t. And, of course, some just made me smile. Like green and granola. All in all, I guess it’s a pretty fair description of me. Mostly the quirky bit, apparently.

Listening for the phone

When I was in high school, my sister (I think?*) wrote a poem that went something like this:

Lonely, all alone
by Celeste Mills*

Lonely, all alone
Listens for the phone
Listens for a call
From anyone at all
Listens for a ring
Saying anything
Lonely, all alone
Listens for the phone

Anyhow, I’m not sitting around in some desperate ‘please someone call me because I’m all alone’ kind of mood, but I am desperately wishing that my phone would ring.

In fact, for the past month I have been checking my landline to make sure that 1) it’s still working and 2) I haven’t missed a call. And I keep checking my mobile for the same reasons. And, if I’m completely honest, I may have called one from the other a couple of times just to be sure.

Yep, I’m desperate for my phone to ring. Mostly about jobs and interviews and stuff (mostly). But it’s been ever-so silent. So, here I sit. Listening for the phone. Even though I know that I’m not getting a call about a job interview on a Friday night.

* I keep forgetting to ask my sister if, in fact, it is her poem and I couldn’t get in touch with her today when I decided to write this post. And I’ve tried to search for it online to see if it belongs to someone else but can’t find it. If you know who wrote it please let me know so that I can give credit where it’s due (and so that I can apologise for this blatant act of copyright infringement).

A door to nature

Over the past few months, I have realised just how much I miss having my very own front door; a door that I can open up to the great outdoors.

You see, for most of my life I’ve lived in detached, single-family homes. Homes where external doors opened to nature—not a stair case that led you down a flight (or more!) of stairs to yet another door. For most of my life, I’ve been able to walk out my front door and sit down on the porch or in the garden and soak in the sun. I could sit there sipping my coffee in the mornings—or my cocktail in the evenings—whilst surrounded by Mother Nature’s design.

But now, I only have windows to open to nature. If I want to sit outside and enjoy my morning coffee, I have to walk down several flights of stairs. And even then, I don’t have a private garden; I’d have to sit on the front steps of my building.

It is actually a hard adjustment to make. Much harder than I would have thought. In fact, I think that not having that easy access to nature has added to my feelings of gloom at times. I mean, there is something that lifts my spirits when I’m outside and when I’m feeling low and can’t find the energy to go into town, I miss out on the fresh air nature would provide. Certainly, I don’t think that a door to nature is the cure for all that ails me, but I do think that it would help. At least a little bit.

This realisation has led me to the decision that, if I find a job and get to stay on in Scotland, I will need to find a new place to live. Somewhere with a private garden. Somewhere with a door that takes me directly to nature. Somewhere that I can sit outside and relax after a hard day’s work—or cool down after a long run. Now, I just need to find a job so that I can start looking for a new flat!

Yes, a door to nature. That’s what I want. And a job.

They’re braver

A friend of mine sent me a link to a fellow widow’s blog this weekend and I had a wee peek around to see what she had to say. It’s not the first ‘Widow Blog’ I’ve read, and it certainly won’t be the last, but it’s made me realise several things about how un-brave I am at times.

I can rant on and on about what drives me mad about [some] Widow Blogs—and I almost did until I deleted a couple of paragraphs—but today I want to talk about what makes me realise that I’m not as brave as other widows out there. And I suppose that bravery comparison extends beyond fellow widows. I mean, there are loads of bloggers out there who make me feel like a scaredy-cat.

When I started my first post-Paul blog, I did so with a specific aim to blog about my grief. And that really helped, but I wasn’t brave enough to really put my name to it. I wasn’t brave enough to share the link (or posts) with my friends and family. I mean, I shared it with a couple of them, but I was very guarded about it. And, I suppose I was guarded about what I wrote. Yes, it was a bit raw at times, but I wasn’t able to share all of my thoughts, feelings, and emotions because I was afraid of offending people, but also because I was afraid to admit some of those things personally.

With Just Frances, I’ve actively shared the link with family and friends, and that means that I’m even more guarded about what I share. In some cases, I’m not sharing my anger. Other times, I’m not sharing my fears. Sometimes, I don’t share my adventures, because I don’t think it’s fair to blog about friends who aren’t really into the whole online life thing. And then there are the times when I don’t share anything.

But I read some of these blogs and I am amazed at how brave the writers’ are. They share the most intimate details of their lives not only with strangers, but with their family and friends. (I know that sounds backwards, but the anonymity that blogging allows means some people share with the ethers without the knowledge of their ‘real’ world.) These bloggers talk about depression and suicidal thoughts and anger and fights with friends and dating and everything in between. But not just in passing, vague terms—they go into details. They spill out this raw emotion for all to see.

And that, Dear Reader, is oh-so brave.

I don’t know how many times I’ve written down such raw emotion only to delete it before it I even open up my blog’s content management system. I’m just afraid to share some things. I’m afraid of what others will think. I’m afraid of being judged but those who don’t understand. I’m afraid that sharing some things might force me to actually face them.

I know I share. And I know that some people think I share too much. But I guess that I’m forever aware that I don’t share everything. I don’t even share most things. And when there’s not a real person next to me on the couch to share things with from time-to-time, it can seem a bit crowded in my mind.

So, yeah. Sometimes, I feel like a great big scaredy-cat when it comes to sharing things on my blog. But, then, I don’t suppose I’ve ever shared everything with anyone. (I shared 99.9% of everything with Paul. I still do, but it’s just not the same.)

I don’t really know what the point if this post is, other than to say I feel like an inadequate blogger at times. But I guess that’s OK.

As for that rant about Widow Blogs, maybe I’ll bore you with that in a day or two. (I know, you’re totally on the edge of your seat waiting for that post!)

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.

Toenails

I went back-and-forth about what I should post today and for a brief moment, I even thought that I might not post at all. But then I remembered that I promised I’d post more—in part to prevent myself from withdrawing from society all together. So, I’m posting about my toenails.

So, here’s the deal. I’m a runner. I’ve been a runner since I was in high school. And for years and years and years I had people tell me about how they’ve lost toenails from running too much. Apparently, it really is a problem with distance runners. But it was never a problem I had.

Until after I ran the Inaugural Homeland Half last May. Yep, a few weeks after that run, I lost a toenail—my pointer-finger equivalent on my right foot. Really. My toenail was so damaged that it lifted away and eventually fell off. It was so weird. I blamed it on the fact that I’d not trimmed my toenails prior to the run, rather than the distance I ran.

And then, I ran the Loch Ness Marathon. And after that, I noticed that the pointer-finger equivalent on my left foot was a bit loose—but unlike that first toenail, this one had a new nail growing underneath. Of course, at the time I had dark red nail polish, so didn’t also notice it was also slightly darker than normal. But when I took off the polish, I noticed that not only was that toenail dark, but my big toe on my right foot had a massive black spot on it, too.

Eventually, the nail on my left foot fell off, giving way to the new (but not yet completely formed) nail. But the big toenail on my right foot just sat there with its dark spot. And sat, and sat. Then, after a while, I noticed there was a ridge on top of the toenail which I soon filed down to even out the surface.

Now, there is a new toenail growing underneath, but the old toenail is still firmly attached. And this means that I have a dual-layer toenail on my big right toe. It seems that I have about ¼ inch of old toenail to grow out before this rectifies itself. But as my toenails tend to grow very slowly, it might not be back to normal until my next marathon. Which means, I risk going through this whole toenail trauma all over again.

And that’s basically today’s post: An overshare about the condition of my toenails because of my running insanity. I guess the good side, however, is that 1) no one but me really sees my toenails; 2) my red polish habit masks any deformities; and 3) I’m not likely to talk about this topic again.

(Admit it: Sometimes you wish you never stopped by to see what I had to share!)

Counting my chickens

A couple of weeks ago, I sat looking at my eggs. They were held in separate baskets and they looked so pretty; so promising. And, as I do, I began to count them.

Now, I am old enough—and should be wise enough—to know that I’m not really meant to count those eggs as chickens, but I still counted. I mean, I didn’t figure they’d all hatch, but I’d hoped for one successful chicken out of each basket of eggs. More than that from any one basket would have been too much to handle anyhow.

But then something happened and the eggs began to fall out of the baskets; one after the other. (OK, I tossed a few out, too, because they weren’t the sort of egg that I liked.) And before I knew it, all of my baskets were empty and I was left with nothing but a pile of broken eggs at my feet.

I’ll admit that I cried over some of those eggs like they were spilt milk. And I even considered calling in all of the king’s horses and all the king’s men to help repair one of them, but it seemed like a fruitless task. So, now I guess it’s time to grate some cheese and chop some mushrooms so that I can attempt at making an omelette with all of these broken eggs.

There’s a farmers’ market in town tomorrow. Maybe I’ll stop by and get some duck eggs since chicken eggs don’t seem to work well for me.

Quiet-ness

I’ve been quiet again. (Still?) So I feel that I should pop in and say hello, since so often I’m quiet when life is hard and I’m feeling down. But that’s not the case right now. Well, mostly not the case.

The past two weeks have been… interesting. In fact, this past week it got even more interesting! I’ve had a lot going on and have been mulling over all sorts of things. Some good; some not-so good; some potentially good but yet undetermined. But nothing life threatening. (Life altering, maybe.)

I’m being vague. I know. And I’m sure that there are a few people who may think they know what I’m talking about. But they don’t. (I know! More vague-ery. Is that a word?)

Anyhow, since I’m not really in a position to share the interesting-ness of the last couple of weeks (yet) I’m just checking in to say that life is mostly good right now. I am busy working on my dissertation and am filling out job applications like a mad woman.

But since I’m being vague, I’ll at least share a few highlights:

  • I finished a swirl drawing for my lovely [former] foster daughter. (I must get it in the post next week!)
  • I had a platelet count last week and the results came back at 164. Yes folks, that’s in the normal range. Awesome!
  • I am running the Edinburgh Half Marathon tomorrow. Only I didn’t get registered in time, which means I’m running as someone else, since they kindly sacrificed their entry for me.

Anyhow, I expect that the next couple of weeks will be weird and filled with more mulling. (And job applications.) But I’ll try not to be too quiet.

[Photo is the swirl drawing I’m sending to the kid. She is, after all, one of my biggest swirl fans!]

Sunny days

The sun is shining brightly in Scotland today. And I am so thankful for it because it’s made me realise how happy I am right now.

Yes, I admit that I spend a couple of tearful days cooped up at home feeling sorry for myself. But even as I did that, I was well-aware that life is mostly good these days.

In fact, despite the anniversary-related tears and a couple of days last week that were filled with literal rain, it’s been a pretty sunshine-and-happiness couple of weeks.

I know it may not last. I know that life’s challenges may bring me more tears and that Mother Nature may bring me more rain. But for today, I’m happy; for today, it’s sunny.

And that means smiles and laughter and picnics in the park. (Picnics overlooking a cemetery near the castle, but cemeteries can be places for smiles, laughter, and picnics, too.)

Yay! for sunny days!

Memory sparks

Triboluminescence is awesome! It used to entertain me as a child and it still entertains me as an adult. Or, to translate into Plain English: It’s awesome when you crunch on a Wint-O-Green Life Savers and it makes sparks!

That sounds like a random statement, doesn’t it? So let me back up so that you know how I got here.

Several weeks ago I bought a pack of minty Polos from a vending machine. As I popped the first one into my mouth, I was instantly reminded of how we used to enjoy WoG Life Savers as children because of the sparks.

So I posted my random memory on Facebook and enjoyed the back-and-forth comments from friends who 1) always thought it was an urban myth; 2) recalled with joy making sparks of their own; or 3) asked what Life Savers were (they’re America’s answer to Polos).

And then Mom offered to send me some.

And they arrived with an Easter parcel a few weeks ago.

And tonight, I finally broke the bag open.

And I went into the bathroom and closed the door (with the lights off).

And I chomped on a Life Savers.

And I smiled. A lot.

Now the challenge will be to not eat them all so that I can share them with my friends who never had the joy of making Life Saver sparks as children. But I bet they’ll enjoy making them as grownups!

How about you? Do you remember making Life Savers sparks when you were a kid?

Without regret

OK, I’m going to answer another question from when I asked what you wanted me to write about. The second question was if I believed in having regrets. So, here’s my take on the issue!

For 38 years, I’ve made decisions to act or not act on thoughts and impulses. I’ve messed up; I’ve made mistakes; I’ve taken wrong turns.

I decided not to attend university after high school because I couldn’t afford it. In my early 20s, I found myself in my first-ever relationship—mostly due to peer pressure. In my mid-20s, I opted to go into massive amounts of debt to [finally] attend university. In my late-20s, I increased my debt by going to Scotland for a year’s study. Then, I decided to put my master’s degree on hold.

In the past three years, I’ve made countless decisions. I made hasty decisions about funeral plans and long-thought-out decisions about headstones. I decided to open my home to a lovely foster child. I quit my job. I said goodbye to my house. I moved to Scotland. I started grad school. I’ve done stupid things and silly things and (maybe) even irresponsible things since Paul died.

My life today is a crazy, jumbled, emotional mess. I don’t own a home or a car. I have very little money in the bank and no job to replenish what is there. I’m stressed out about money; I’m stressed out about my future; I’m stressed out about my mental health. I cry. A lot.

And now, I am 38 years old and I don’t have children. I don’t have a husband. I don’t any of those things that society seems to judge success by. Yes, my life is pretty much a great big fail these days.

But do I have regrets? Not really. I mean, I regret any pain that my decisions may have caused others, but I don’t regret my life’s course. I don’t regret the bad stuff or the shameful stuff or the embarrassing stuff. Because all of those things combine together to make me who I am. All of those things combined together to make the next thing possible. And some of those next things were pretty awesome.

If I had gone to university right after high school, I may never have met Paul.

If I hadn’t dated Loser Boy, I may not have found myself going to university. And I may never have met Paul.

If I hadn’t decided to go to university—and to study abroad—I may never have met Paul.

And who knows how many decisions were made and turns were taken throughout my youth that might have changed my path. And then I may never have met Paul.

I haven’t lived a perfect life but I haven’t lived a life of [out-of-the-ordinary] sin and crime either. But for a moment my life seemed perfect, and that was because I met Paul. And that brief moment of perfection may not have happened if one little decision had been different.

Regrets? No. How can I regret a string of events that brought me countless experiences and friendships and memories? How can I regret a string of decisions that brought me the love of a foster daughter and the love of a husband? No, I have no regrets for the life I’ve lived and the lessons I’ve learned.

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 …

Say no to bunny boilers!

There is a new campaign against stalking starting in the UK today and I thought it was a perfect opportunity to talk about stalking on Just Frances. The National Campaign Against Stalking aims to talk about stalking and to educate people on what stalking is and the rights that victims of this (in my view) act of psychological terror.

So, today I’m going to do my part to bring the conversation into the open so that we can eliminate some of the stigma (and misunderstanding) about the issue. First, it’s important to know that, whilst we joke about it, stalking isn’t a joke. It is a frightening experience for the person being stalked.

Second, it’s important to know everything you can about the laws in your region and what you can do to protect yourself. Every country is different; every state different. So educate yourself. There is no way that I can go into all of the information here, but some great starting points for your information gathering are at the end of this post. But if you’re truly in fear at this moment in time—contact your local police. It’s better safe than sorry. Or dead.

I can’t tell you the number of times each week I hear (or make) jokes about stalking my friends online. I’m sure you can relate to this. We tell people we know that we’ve had a good look around their Facebook page and we ‘feel like a stalker’ all of the sudden. We Google people we know (or used to know) to see what they’re doing now. We search for information, and in the case of social networking platforms, we’re freely given information from our friends and acquaintances. This is (generally) not stalking.

Stalking is unwanted harassment. It’s unwanted attention. It’s unwanted contact. And most of the time, it’s done by someone the victim knows. (Find more information here.)

If you find yourself in a situation where you are receiving unwanted contact, tell the person to leave you alone. Tell them NO in no uncertain terms. And then ignore them. But keep records of each and every time they attempt to make contact. Yeah, sounds easy, doesn’t it? But take it from me, that first NO can be difficult, especially if it’s someone you know. And that’s where I’ll segue into my own story of being stalked.

Stalker Sam (madey-uppy name) and I started out as friends. But he wanted more than that. And I wasn’t forceful enough in saying no because I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. So I still agreed to meet him for coffee ‘as friends’ because I thought he would learn to be OK with that. Instead, he became more adamant that I would change my mind.

And that’s when the gifts started to appear. That’s when the flowers started to arrive. And that’s when the phone calls and text messages and letters (soaked in his cologne) started to increase. He would track my car down and leave cards on the windshield when I was out running errands. He even gave gifts to my parents and my sisters.

I took the advice of lawyer and law enforcement friends and told him NO one last time. I told him to stop contacting me—full stop. And then I began to ignore him, whilst keeping a record of every contact he made.

Then one day, he cornered me after Church to tell me that God told him that I loved him and that we were meant to be together—I was just playing hard to get.

I was frightened and also embarrassed because I wondered if it was my fault. Maybe I should have been more forceful in saying no. Maybe I should have been kinder to him and tried to maintain a friendship. Maybe I said NO in a way that could have been interpreted as YES. (Wrong! No means no and this was not my fault!)

Eventually, his contact waned (helped by the fact that I returned to Scotland) but every once in a while he gets in touch again. Like right before my wedding. Like right after my husband’s death. Like when he started a Facebook account. And each contact has been ignored then recorded in my Stalker Sam journal.

I’m not as afraid of Stalker Sam now because I like to think he’s moved on and is no longer a threat to me. But when I’m in the homeland and I see him, I panic. If I see a car that looks like one he used to drive (I don’t know what he drives right now) or if I smell his cologne, I panic. If I see someone out of the corner of my eye with his build and hair colour/style, I panic. Even though I am thousands of miles away from him.

Was I ever in ‘real’ danger from Stalker Sam? I don’t know. I don’t know what would have happened if I’d done things differently; I don’t know if he was capable of causing me physical harm. But what I do know is that he scared me and that his actions were wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

OK. I’ve gone on for a bit here. But I hope that my rambling helps you to become more aware of stalking. Don’t do it. It’s not nice. And if you feel that you’re a victim, reach out to someone for help. Below is a list of links to help you find more information—because information and knowledge are powerful tools!

Blackberries and bridges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blocked: How you can help!

I have loads of things I want to write about. But I can’t. Some of them need to wait until ‘the right moment’ and others need more refinement in my head. Others are just these random things that I kind of want to share but I don’t really know if they warrant sharing.

But I want to write something for you. Partly because writing makes me happy and sharing my thoughts with the ethers really is a great ego boost. (I’ve always been up front about the fact that this blog serves to boost my ego!) Of course, I also want to write something for you because I think that some of you really do want to read what I have to say. I don’t quite know why, because most of what I have to say is a bit silly. However, our relationship is that I write; you read. That’s how this thing works.

And so, I need your help! I want to know what you want me to write about in the coming days. To that, I’m soliciting your opinions and questions. This is your opportunity to ask me anything you want. (Overly personal or insulting questions may not be answered.) You can ask me to give my opinion on a specific subject or to write a list of my top [however many whatevers]. You can ask me to write a poem about your favourite [blank] or to follow up on a post from the past. You can even set a challenge for me to do and blog about.

Basically, any reasonable topic request will be granted.

So, let’s hear from you: What do you want to hear from me?

A weighty issue

I’m fat. No, that’s not true. That’s so far from the truth that it’s laughable. Heck, I’m not even overweight. Still, I feel ‘fat’(ish).

Here’s the problem: After my marathon I stopped partaking in a normal running routine. And as the days turned to cold, wet, wintery weather, I stopped partaking in most exercise all together. I became rather sedentary, but I continued eating the same volume of food.

Add to all of that, my school schedule means that I have a lot of time on my hands. I don’t have an eight-hour office job to go to, and I’m certainly not spending a full eight hours on campus or at the library. And that means more time for eating out of boredom.

And worse, a long struggle with being sad over the holidays meant that I was less inclined to cook healthy meals and actually got into a habit of eating lots of high-fat, sodium-laden foods.

Combine all of those bad habits together and you get a gooey Frances.

Now, I really do know that I’m not fat. I still fit into my clothes and I can still button my jeans. The problem is that where once there was a super-flat, firm tummy and thighs and a back-side that didn’t jiggle too much, there is now a flabby tummy and wiggly-jiggly bum and thighs.

And it’s making me sad. I feel really mad at myself for letting my body get so out of control. I’m out of shape, I’m not drinking enough water, and I’m jiggling where once I didn’t jiggle.

How sad (and frustrated and desperate) am I? Well, I’ve found myself Googling terms like ‘fast weight loss’ and ‘weight loss food’. I’ve even looked at appetite suppressants. I just looked, but there was a little voice in my head that was saying: ‘Come on. Two weeks on that and you’ll be back to normal!’ No, that’s not a good thing for my mind to be saying to my body. In fact, that’s a stupid thing!

So, the solution: Well, for starters I need to run more. I’ve got my race-a-month challenge, but I need to get more training runs in not only for that, but for my overall health. I also need to eat less. I don’t mean starve myself; I mean cutting out the habit of eating a large bag of crisps in one sitting, or eating half my weight in olives and cheese after dinner every night. I need to drink more water (lots more!). And, I need to start eating healthier foods again—fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats.

I’m not fat. And I’m certainly not suffering from body dysmorphic disorder. I don’t know what I weight and I don’t care. Still, I want to be back to my normal. Which isn’t fat or skinny. It’s more average and toned maybe.

I’m not sharing this bit of information with the hope for advice or tips. I’m sharing it because saying it out loud will make me more accountable to myself to fix it. I’m sharing it because admitting my flaws makes me more determined to fix them.

And I promise that I’ll fix this slowly and without the aid of pills and potions. Good, old-fashioned exercise and healthy eating will set me straight—and will probably help my race times, too!

The world is filled with beautiful things

It’s a poetry day again. I don’t know if this is any good, and I may play with it a bit before calling it final, but at least this is a good start. Well, maybe it’s a good start. [Enter humble and embarrassed apology about how sorry I am for torturing you with my poetry here.]

The world is filled with beautiful things
by Just Frances

The world is filled with beautiful things;
If only we’d pause to notice them.
A broken branch, where a butterfly sits;
A muddy puddle, where a robin splashes.

The world is filled with joyful things;
If only we’d open our hearts.
A gentle breeze that lifts our spirits;
The sun’s rays that warm our souls.

The world is filled with happy things;
If only we’d stop and listen.
Chimes from an ice cream van,
…..as children scream with joy;
Bells from a church steeple,
…..as a new marriage begins.

The world is filled with possibilities;
If only we’d let ourselves believe.

Believe in the beauty the springs from ashes.
…..Believe in the love hidden behind the tears.
……….Believe in the joy that has yet to be realised.

Because the world is filled with beauty.
…..With love.
……….With joy.
……………With peace.

• • •

[Photo is a small heart-shaped scrap of paper that has sat nestled in the lawn in front of my flat for a couple of months now. Through wind and rain and snow—and thankfully a bit of sunshine. I leave it there because it makes me smile to see it there every day; it reminds me that love is everywhere and can weather anything!]

Break-less spring break

It’s been nearly a week since spring break started, but it’s been anything but a break! Still, this is what I signed up for so I’m not complaining.

I got off to a very productive start, but I admit that I’ve not managed to update you on my progress as promised. Further, I admit that I’ve not managed to get as much running in as I’d hoped for so I won’t be hitting my goal of 30 total miles over the break. Oh, and my taxes might get delayed, since my folks decided to take a last-minute road trip to see some of the glorious waterfalls around Washington State (like this one!) which means that they’re not home to search for a couple of documents I need.

But the rest of my to-do list is going pretty well. No, really. It is!

In fact, today was spent reading (a lot) and writing for my dissertation and working on a job application for a job that I really want, but that I’m not too convinced I’ll even get an interview for. [Enter prayers and an extra dose of hopeful thoughts here.]

Tomorrow is another reading, writing, and applying day. And hopefully by Saturday I’ll be caught up enough to manage a run, too.

Busy, busy, busy…

Paper bird of happiness

When I boarded the bus today, I was met by a pretty little origami crane that was perched on the seat next to me. It had been made with someone’s bus ticket and it looked very much like it was there for someone to find.

I picked it up and held it in my hand, marvelling at not only how well it was made, but at how such a silly, simple little thing could bring me so much happiness. I wanted to take it away with me but I felt that someone else might enjoy a smile, too. Then I thought that I’d take it to the library with me and leave it for someone to find there. (Even though I really wanted to keep it for myself.)

As I sat admiring the little bird, a very pregnant woman and her wee boy boarded the bus and sat behind me. The boy was in a bit of a fussy mood and his mum was trying her best to brighten his day. So I turned around and showed him the pretty bird and asked if he’d like to have it. His face beamed when his mum said that would be OK.

Of course, that meant that I was left without a bird. But, thanks to the wonders of the Internet, I was able to find instructions to make my own. Maybe I’ll practice a bit and one day I’ll be good enough to leave pretty birds behind for others to enjoy.

Whisky hearts

Normally, an empty whisky bottle means a cork without a job. But not today. No, today I decided to rescue the cork from my empty bottle of Glenmorangie and carve it up a bit with my pocket knife. (A tool that every good redneck always has on hand.)

I didn’t have any ink pads (sadly, my craft supplies couldn’t make the journey to Scotland with me) but I had some cheap markers that I thought would work as a pigment, and I think the results are a success.

OK, I know it’s a bit silly and childish, but it entertained me. And it means that I have a pretty little heart-shaped stamp to add to my slowly-growing craft box. I think I’ll save up a few more corks to make some other shapes, too—stars, dots, horse shoes, etc. I don’t know what I’ll do with them all, but they’ll be a bit of rainy day entertainment at the very least.

(Other ideas for cheap and easy craft ideas are always welcome!)

Your challenge: Write a letter!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy writing!

A productive start

Spring break started on Friday, and by Saturday morning I had created a bit of a to-do list of all of the things I want to accomplish during my week+ break from classes.

And, I’m pleased to say, I am actually making pretty decent progress!

To keep myself accountable, I’m going to share my list here—and I will try to give little updates in any posts in between now and my return to school. So, here goes!

And, in addition to my to-do list, I am going to work on fixing some bad habits I’ve gotten into. To that, I will aim to:

  • Drink more water—much, much more water!
  • Go to bed before 11 p.m. every night (unless I am socialising in a face-to-face setting)
  • Get out of bed before 9 a.m. every morning
  • Eat at least 5 servings of fresh fruits and vegetables every day
  • Get out of the flat for at least an hour every day (in addition to time spent running)

I am pleased to say that I am making progress with both lists. My swirl drawing (shown above) is coming along nicely. I ran nearly 5 miles yesterday and will run the same route again tomorrow. I have organised my tax documents and will call my bank to sort out the last documents tomorrow evening (delayed because of time zones). I have completed one job application and have an internship application in progress; I have also sent emails in regards to a couple other applications. And I have books ready for me to pick up at the library for my dissertation.

Also, I’ve managed to be in and out of bed by my new deadlines—and have been drinking lots of water and enjoying lots of fresh produce. And, I’ve been outside enjoying the lovely spring weather.

Yes, I’ve been a busy little bee, and I hope that it helps to lift my mood and my self confidence. After all, spring break is no time to sit around and sulk!

Spring break

Well, as of 4:00 p.m. I am officially on spring break. Only, that really just means that I’m not going to classes for a week. And, actually, since there aren’t classes on Easter Monday, and I don’t have classes on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, I’m really out of class for nearly two weeks. Yay!

But that doesn’t mean I won’t be busy. Really, really busy.

During my time off, I will be working on my dissertation (I have a big chunk due April 10). I will also be doing my taxes and working on several job applications in the hopes to find a position that will allow me to stay on in Scotland after graduation.

I know that most students look forward to spring break because of the parties and travelling opportunities, but I’m looking forward to it so that I can concentrate on my much-neglected to-do list, and so that I can really ramp up my training. (I must start running more so that my legs and tummy look great for summer shorts weather!)

But, since all work and no play is a silly way to live life, I am going to begin my spring break in style—at The Junk Rooms. Which means I should stop blogging and get myself to town to meet Rebecca.

Happy spring break, everyone!

Chinese jacks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Journalist? Blogger? Writer.

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks working on a paper that asked if there should be regulations or laws to distinguish between what professional journalists and ordinary citizens can write. And that led me down all sorts of paths, thinking about issues of blogging, journalism, and the media’s general place in society.

I’m not going to bore you with all of the arguments and conclusions from my paper or with my thoughts on the state of modern-day information sharing. Instead, I’ll just give a little bit of insight to the topic for those who want to know some of the things I think about when I’m doing academic snobbery stuff.

If you really want to hear my views, we can discuss them over a pint of ale—your treat, of course, because I’m a starving student.

So, here goes!

Unless you’ve been living under a rock (or maybe if you’re living in America) you’ve probably heard about the Leveson Inquiry here in the UK. The inquiry was prompted by the phone-hacking scandal by the News of the World and will have (already has had?) a drastic impact on the future of news reporting throughout the UK—and maybe even a knock-on effect for other nations around the globe.

As a blogger who is also a trained communications professional with experience as a freelance journalist, I find the question of ‘who is and isn’t a journalist’ pretty interesting. I mean, am I a journalist? Or am a just a blogger who once was a journalist? What about other bloggers? Are they journalists? Can they be? Should they be?

Right now, there are debates happening around the world—and around the World Wide Web—about the differences between bloggers and journalists, and whether or not someone would need special training and a license to be a journalist. There are further debates around the idea of creating regulations or laws distinguishing between what journalists and ordinary citizens can write (i.e.: bloggers, users of social networking sites, those commenting on blogs and news sites).

I’m sure it seems like a bit of a boring topic to some people, but any regulations or laws that are created around these issues can be far-reaching. They can change the way news and information is presented to you, but they can also change the way in which you are able to share information. And each time we make a law that restricts an ordinary citizen’s ability to receive or share information, we move further away from the ideals of a free press—and of free speech.

But, back to me. Am I a journalist? No, not really. Even if I end up doing more freelance writing for news outlets, I don’t know that I’d feel like a journalist. But I like to think that I hold myself to the ideals of journalistic ethics. And I like to think that my readers find me to be trustworthy. Of course, that’s easy to do when I just write silly rubbish about my own life—my integrity and trustworthiness might be questioned if I attempted to become an investigative blogger.

Me? I’m a just a writer. Not a famous one, and probably not a very good one, but a writer none-the-less. (OK, I’m a blogger, too, but first-and-foremost, a writer.)

Summer is near

Summer is near. Very, very, near. And that’s awesome because it means that my jacket is getting a break from service.

And it means that I get to spend lazy evenings sitting on the patio with friends whilst we barbeque burgers and sausages (and drink beer and cider) whilst listening to the kids running around the garden.

And it means spending lazy afternoons sitting around at a friend’s mum’s place eating more burgers and sipping on glasses of juice.

And, sadly, it also means my arms have turned ever-so-slightly pink. But that’s OK because summer is near.

Did you hear that? Summer is near! Summer is near! Yay, yay, yay for summer!!

Ode to a St Patrick’s Day Martini

What’s that? The Martinis! Facebook page is running a poetry competition? Well, how can I resist that?

The entry request was simple: “Let’s see who pays attention… Comment on this status with an original St. Patrick’s Day poem about Martinis!, and we’ll pick three winners to post as our status from now until Saturday. The poem status that gets the most likes will win 3 mini shooters! GO!” [See the full thread here.]

And I entered. And just so that I have more proof than Facebook that I’m the original author (you know, for when this poem becomes famous) I’m sharing it here, too! (Yay!)

Ode to a St Patrick’s Day Martini
by Just Frances

Martini.
Vodka.
Dirty.
Filthy, really.
You bring me joy.
You warm my heart.
I love you.
And your olives.
They’re green, you know.
And that fills the bill.
So long, green beer.
Hello, my lovely,
Deliciously dirty,
St Patrick’s Day Martini.

Pinching pennies

As I walked to the bus stop today, I stooped to pick up a two pence coin. It took two seconds—tops. But it made me smile for several moments. It also got me thinking more about the stigma some people put on the act (art?) of picking up loose coins found on the ground.

Then I started to think about the money I’ve found recently and I smiled even more as I realised just how fast it adds up. Then I started to do more maths. My initial calculations were based on a one-second retrieval rate which would equate to a time value of £36 per hour. (I’m not the only penny pincher who thought this was a fair rate, though I also found an argument for the paltry value of £2.40 based on a 15-second retrieval rate.)

However, I had a re-think and decided to give a two-second average retrieval rate because sometimes you do need to step out of your way for collection. So, I propose that picking up pennies found on the ground has a time value of £18 per hour.

And that’s assuming you only ever find pennies. But I quite often find silver coins, too. (Evidence: 11¢ find; Nickel find.) And sometimes, I even find paper money! So a two-second stoop-and-scoop can be far more profitable!

But for the maths, let’s stick to pennies and the two-second pick-up rate. If we accept the £18 per hour value and attribute that to a full-time job, you’d be on an annual salary of around £37,400.

Which makes me wonder: Why is there such a stigma to picking up pennies? I mean £37,400 is nothing to sneeze at when you realise that the 2011 median income was £26,200 (USA 2010 median: $26,364).

[Note: If you’re picking up American or Canadian pennies, the maths are the same; just swap out the £ symbol for a $ symbol.]

How about you? Are you a penny pincher? Do you smirk with glee at those little bits of glimmering money? Or maybe you’re not driven by the monetary reward. In that case, maybe you can think of pennies as a small gift from the universe. Or maybe coin-hunting can be that kooky way to bond with your family. Or if you’d rather, you can just walk past the coin and let someone like me pick it up. That would be OK, too!

Random thoughts: Last of the big spenders

Random thoughts—Week 5: List the top 12 things you can buy with your last $20.

This challenge all comes down to interpretation. So, here’s how I’m interpreting it: My assumptions for the list are that all of my basic needs are being met (food, shelter, clothing) and that it’s my last $20 until my next budgeted allowance.

My list will be 12 $20 items, instead of 12 items that total $20. For items linked from UK sites, the cost will be £12 to account for the exchange rate. Also, for the purpose of this list, I will not include sales tax (or shipping) in the final price. Oh! And the mythical purchases will be fun things, because all of my other bills have been sorted already. So, here goes!

  1. Electronic butterfly in a jar
  2. Hand-made leather journal
  3. Silver plated Champagne stopper
  4. Basic whisky glasses
  5. Owl crystal necklace
  6. Eight sticks of sealing wax (green, of course!)
  7. Eucalyptus and spearmint bubble bath from Bath and Body Works
  8. A pretty tulip skirt (the red one!)
  9. A set of John Lewis martini glasses
  10. Heart-patterned tights
  11. Running hat with a hole for my ponytail
  12. A pretty butterfly Alice band

Phew! That was harder than it seemed. Mostly because most of my splurge ‘wants’ are either really cheap or really expensive! But it was fun, and now I guess I have a bit of a wish list going for myself!

I wonder what next week’s random topic will be …

Moleskine inspirations

I write. In fact, I think it would be fair to say that I’m a writer. And as any good writer does, I carry a notebook with me everywhere I go so that when inspiration hits, I am prepared!

In recent years, I’ve found myself carrying small Moleskines with me—whilst leaving my larger notebooks (and journals) at home. I’ve found them useful tools for jotting down thoughts and ideas (many of which get transferred to my larger notebooks) but also for the purpose of shopping and to-do lists.

And to serve as a constant inspirational tool, I’ve taken to adding an inspirational quote on the cover.

Today I found myself calling a new book into service, which means a new quote.

And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.
~ Sylvia Plath

Yes, I’m feeling inspired. In fact, I almost feel a poem coming on…

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?

Doing nothing, online

A little while ago, I told you about my classes for spring semester and how one of those classes included blogging. Well, yesterday I posted my first blogging assignment, and I’m sharing it with you today. (Wow! I can actually hear you shouting with joy over that little fact!)

This post was meant to get everyone used to the blogging environment (yeah, I’ve got that down pat!). We were asked to share something we liked online—a website, video clip, playlist, or even another blog. I thought it would be a bit churlish to share Just Frances, so I chose anther website that I really like.

So, here’s my first academic blog post!

Doing nothing, online

I am a pretty well-connected gal. I spend countless hours interacting with family, friends, and perfect strangers through social media on my computer and phone every day. I Facebook and Tweet daily. I Skype and blog and email and Yelp—and have even recently started pinning.

But sometimes I like to do nothing. Sometimes, I like to put my feet up and meditate a bit. Online. Because that’s what a well-connected gal does!

Do Nothing for 2 Minutes is a great reminder that we all need to unplug and unwind from time-to-time. I admit that there is a certain amount of irony to the site, but I think that’s why I like it so much. And, surprisingly, as someone who may be a little bit a lot addicted to interacting with social media, I am pretty good at sitting still and doing nothing for two minutes. (Though it did take a lot of practice before I succeeded!)

Oh yeah, and when you’re done doing nothing, you’re asked to share your success on Facebook, Twitter, or StumbleUpon. Because what’s the point of doing nothing online if you can’t tell all of your friends about it?

Random thoughts: The wisdom of age

Random thoughts—Week 4: Write a story about letting go, where the main character is a factory worker and a locket is a key object in the story. Set your story in an apartment.

The wisdom of age

Sylvia sat on the floor of the empty flat, tears streaming down her face as she stared at the silver locket in her hands. She looked around at the bare walls and thought of the photos that hung there just a short while ago. There had been so many of them, each filled with more memories than their simple frames could possibly have held. She thought about all of those picture hooks in the walls and allowed herself a crooked smile as she realised that the deposit would be lost because of them. But, she rationalised, that was a small price to pay for the smiles those photos encouraged over the years.

She would miss coming here to visit her neighbour, an octogenarian widow with no children; no family. Over the years they’d bonded. The old woman told her stories about her travels and adventures; she offered an ear and advice for the younger woman who was far from home and hoping to find her own way in the world. The old woman felt Sylvia was wasting her time working in a factory—a job she hated and that didn’t allow her to take time to travel. The old woman was so full of kindness and wisdom and Sylvia would miss her. Yes, she would miss her friend for the rest of her life.

The will was simple: Sell or donate everything—except for one item of Sylvia’s choice. And then, stop wishing and planning for adventures and go find them! Sylvia was the sole beneficiary. When she was first told of the will, she imagined there would be just enough money to pay for expenses, and maybe a spa weekend. The old woman had lived very meagrely. It looked as if all of her furniture—and probably her clothes—were found at charity shops and flea markets.

She allowed herself another smile as she looked down at the silver locket again. The old woman wore it every day and often touched it, telling her that it contained photos of the people she cared for most in the world. It was only after the old woman died that she knew who those people were: They were the woman’s husband and Sylvia. It was all Sylvia needed to convince herself to make a change.

Sylvia stood and walked across the room with determination. She picked up the phone and called her boss at the factory. She beamed from ear-to-ear as she informed the person on the other end that she was tendering her resignation. She was tired of working for peanuts; tired of working in a dead end job. The old woman was right: If you aren’t following your hopes and dreams, you’re not really living.

A few hours later, Sylvia was in the attorney’s office. He informed her that the estate auction had done better than expected. But, more than that, he informed her of the life insurance that was left—and the stocks and bonds. It would seem that the old woman left more than Sylvia ever could have dreamed.

Sylvia rose slowly, touching the locket that now hung from her neck. The old woman told her that life always had a funny way of working out. Yes, Sylvia thought, life was funny. She would miss her friend; the friend who taught her about what was important in life.

And now, she was letting go of her fears and worries; she was letting go of the uncertainties that had kept her from following her dreams for too long. She was letting go and moving on. She was, after all, the sole beneficiary of a secret millionaire and she had a promise to keep; a promise to find adventures of her own.

I [heart] root beer

I love root beer. I really, really do. It’s my fizzy soft drink of choice and I could drink barrels and barrels of the stuff.

Sadly, root beer isn’t readily available in Scotland. I heard a rumour that it used to be sold in UK McDonalds outlets, but I guess it didn’t sell very well so they gave up on it. And that means that it’s nearly impossible to find the stuff.

A few weeks ago I decided that I would make a trip into Edinburgh to pick up some A&W Root Beer from Lupe Pinto’s import shop. Yes, it’s a bit silly to make such a long trip for root beer, but I’ve been desperate. I mean, it’s been more than six months since I’ve had the stuff!

But then I stopped into my local sweetie shop and discovered that they’ve started to sell some American candies and root beer! It’s not cheap (about $2.50 per can!) and it’s not Barq’s but it sure does quench my thirst!

And now that I have a local source for root beer, I guess I can scratch it off of my expat food woes list!

Random thoughts: Simple pleasures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hunger pains

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s compare that to these facts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Thanks for reading!)

Splashing out

Today I finally broke down and bought a new set of sauce pans. They are light-weight, cheap aluminium pans but, despite that, they are considerably better than the pans that my flat was furnished with. It’s something I’ve been thinking about doing since I first moved in, but I’ve been a bit uncomfortable with the idea of spending my limited budget on something that was more of a want than a need.

But the problem is that the pans I had were so cheap they didn’t work well. I know, I know: A bad cook always blames their tools. But sometimes, sub-standard tools do make a negative impact! And because the pans were such rubbish, I dared not cook certain foods.

So, the way I see it is that these pans are an investment in my future nutritional health. Yes, really. As strange as that sounds, these pans really will help me cook more!

In fact, one of the pans is in service now, cooking up a batch of basmati rice, to be served with baked salmon and peas.

Maybe this little splash out of cash will help me fix my poor diet!

And don’t forget to enter my anniversary competition. I’ve really enjoyed the entries so far and would love to be entertained with a few more! (Today’s your last chance, so don’t be shy!)

Free drugs

I’m not new to the Scottish National Health Services (NHS), having had my first experience with them about 10 years ago, but I guess that my American upbringing is just so overpowering that I’m still taken aback from time-to-time with the strangeness of socialised health care.

And today just happened to be one of those days.

You see, I have been on medications for my kidneys for nearly a year now because it would seem that this silly polycystic kidney disease thing has decided to play up a bit. (Darn; so much for being invincible!) Before I left the States, I filled a super-sized prescription so that I didn’t have to worry about it straight away. No problem.

Then, way back in November, I finally got around to seeing my local doctor. And he gave me a new prescription for when my American drugs ran dry. When I got home, I tucked the paper away and forgot about it. Until I took my last pill last night.

So this afternoon I took the prescription to Boots to have it filled. I expected to have a bit of paperwork to fill out as this was my first time filling a prescription there. And I expected to have to come back in 15 minutes to an hour to pick up the filled prescription.

But that’s not what happened. No, instead I handed over the prescription, the pharmacist scanned the barcode on the prescription, printed a couple of little stickers, turned around, grabbed a couple of boxes, slapped the sticker on them, asked for my signature, popped the drugs in a bag, handed them to me, and sent me on my way.

Three minutes tops. No money was exchanged. He had all the information he needed on the prescription form so didn’t need to ask me anything further. That was it. Our transaction was over.

It’s strange, because I forgot that they don’t charge for prescriptions in Scotland anymore—though they charge in England, and when I was here 10 years ago they charged in Scotland, too. And then, I was being seen at the hospital instead of a clinic and there was some loophole with getting medications at the hospital that meant I didn’t pay then, either.

I know that this post may seem more random than most, but someone asked that I share more stories about the differences between life in Scotland vs life in America, and the NHS is certainly a pretty big difference!

And it’s still weird for me, this NHS business. I mean, I love the service; I love the care; I love the ease (and cost!) of filling prescriptions. But it comes at a price because I’ve handed over the control (and ownership?) of my medical history to a massive government agency. And that’s scary to me. Really, really scary.

(But I’ll leave my commentary there because 1) I admit I don’t fully understand the politics behind it all and 2) I have a friends who work for the NHS and I don’t want to say the wrong thing here and have them correct me later!)

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.

Random thoughts: Top 50 no-gos

Random thoughts—Week 1: List 50 things I’ll never do.

  1. Climb Mount Everest
  2. Compete in a sport professionally
  3. Give birth (sadly…)
  4. Celebrate 50 years of marriage
  5. Eat monkey brains (but in general I’m up for trying new/different foods)
  6. Become a nun (but I wanted to at one point in my life)
  7. Go deep-water diving
  8. Have cosmetic surgery (unless, of course, I’m in some horrific accident and need to be repaired)
  9. Buy an iPhone or iPad
  10. Commit suicide (Don’t worry! It’s never been an option or thought!)
  11. Buy a brand new car
  12. Participate in an ultramarathon
  13. Have lasik surgery
  14. Drink tequila shots out of someone’s navel
  15. Be a space tourist
  16. Pierce my nose
  17. Sail the Seven Seas
  18. Join a nudist colony
  19. Ride a barrel over Niagara Falls
  20. Drive drunk
  21. Juggle knives
  22. Watch Battlestar Galactica by choice
  23. Drink Gin and Tonics
  24. Go on a shooting safari
  25. Run with the bulls
  26. Follow the ‘5 Second Rule’ outside of my own home
  27. Back down on a running disagreement regarding my pro-Oxford comma stance
  28. Have a pet monkey
  29. Play golf in a lightning storm
  30. Abandon my faith
  31. Ridicule someone for their faith (or non-belief)
  32. Declare the certain non-existence of extraterrestrial life or Bigfoot
  33. Participate in past-life regression
  34. Cheat on my taxes
  35. Wear an ‘I’m with stupid’ t-shirt
  36. Give up carbs
  37. Become a vegan
  38. Quit Facebook
  39. Cook (or eat) liver
  40. Not vote in an election I’m allowed to vote in
  41. Be ashamed of my nationality
  42. Rob a bank
  43. Drive a train
  44. Drive blindfolded
  45. Turn by back on my family
  46. Wish and hope for bad things to happen to other people
  47. Deny my small-town, redneck roots
  48. Pretend to be dumb
  49. Betray my friends
  50. Be normal (bore-ing!)

OK, wow! That was really hard. And I admit, I’ve really done some reaching on these. Further, I admit that I didn’t put loads of things up that I thought I might ‘be forced to do’ at some point in my life. That said, I can’t be 100% certain that the future won’t bring some strange reality that sees me being forced to rob a bank, drive a train, and betray my friends. But I imagine that if my life got to that point, we’d be facing some apocalyptic disaster or that my friends would be staging a massive intervention!

(Here’s hoping my next random topic is easier!)

Cheap [or free] booze

I used to buy expensive booze. I had a collection of fine wines and expensive whiskies. I had top-shelf Cognacs and the best small batch Bourbons. And I wouldn’t have thought twice about opening a $40 bottle of wine for no reason other than I wanted a glass of wine.

But I couldn’t take it all with me, so I slowly worked through my collection before I moved. And I gave the rest to my aunt and my neighbours. (And took a couple of bottles to my folks’ house too, I think.)

And now I find myself in a different booze situation all together.

First of all, I’m in a small apartment that doesn’t have the space for wine storage—not when you like to really collect fine wines at least! But more depressingly, I can’t afford it even if I could store it.

So, I’ve found myself drinking cheap booze again. I’ve found myself choosing wines based on price, not on label/vineyard. And I only buy wine that’s on sale. (I can normally get a ‘nice enough’ bottle on a half price sale, but even that’s not what I’d consider good wine.)

In fact, all but one bottle of wine are screw tops! I know that nice wines are using screw tops these days, but the majority of Washington State wines (which are top-class, premium wines that beat out any Old World wine you can imagine!) have corks.

Oh! And I’ve even stooped to purchasing store brand stuff! Which isn’t necessarily bad but Sainsbury’s vodka has nothing on Grey Goose!

But, thankfully, I’ve got some nice stuff that I’ve gotten for Christmas gifts. (Must send that thank you note to Canada soon!) And thanks to friends and family, I even have three (well, two and a bit) bottles of nice Scotch, too.

It’s not that I’m a raging alcoholic or anything, it’s just that I’ve realised recently that my snobbery when it comes to drink has gone to the wayside in favour of my frugal (and poor) ways.

But my birthday is coming up. And I like Remy Martin and Caol Ila. You know, if you wondered …

Cheers!

Heads will [not] roll!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

::Phew!:: Thank goodness for that!

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

Random thoughts: A challenge

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

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

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

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

And with that: Let the challenge begin!

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

Like the back of my hand

How many times have we been told that someone is so certain of their directions because they know the place like they know the back of their hand? For most of us, I imagine the answer would be countless times.

Personally, I don’t know that I’ve ever said it—mostly because I think it’s a stupid saying. But if I’m honest, I’ve always wondered just how well I ‘really’ know the back of my hand.

Well, today (yes, I’m bored!) I decided to see just how well I know the back of my hand. And—lucky you!—you get to see the results.

I chose my left hand because that’s the one with the most stuff on it. To start with, I traced my hand onto a piece of paper then I allowed myself a few moments to study my hand. No more than 10 seconds or so. Next, I placed a glove on my hand to ensure I wouldn’t cheat.

Then I began to sketch a map of my hand. (This was a bit difficult with a glove, but I wasn’t going for perfection.) I decided that I would include major veins, freckles, specs, and scars. Then I decided to add approximate locations of joints and knuckles.

The results? Pretty bad, I think—especially if I plan to use the memorisation of my hand as a correlation to my abilities to give directions!

For starters, my knuckles are actually further back than I drew them. (The other finger joints seem close enough.) Next, my fingernails are not drawn at representative sizes. Moving on, the veins are wrong. The main one (the Y-shaped one) is fairly close, but the other two I have shown are pointing in the wrong direction in relation to my fingers. Oh! And there are a couple of veins that seem to have been missed out all together.

Then there are my freckles. OK, the two large ones in the centre are pretty accurate, but there are four others on the back of my hand that (whilst very small) went completely unmapped. Oh, then there’s this little red spot on my thumb that’s been there for years but isn’t actually a freckle. Apparently, it’s nearly on top of my thumb’s knuckle, not toward the thumbnail!

The scar I have shown actually curves the other way. (It’s not that noticeable, either.) Also, I failed to make note of other small scars.

So, do I know the back of my hand very well? No, not as well as you’d think, given it’s been attached to my arm since before I was even born!

How about you? How well do you know the back of your hand?

Fun, all wrapped up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blank slate; inspiration sought

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thankful swirls

As you probably know by now, I’ve found a lot of solace in creating swirls. There’s something relaxing and peaceful about them. I have to admit that my first-ever swirl drawing was rubbish. No, really, it was. But from the time I realised that swirls were my sunflowers, my skills have improved. [See more evidence here, here, here, and here.]

Of course, the problem with enjoying something so much is that I want to draw lots of swirls. But I really don’t have that much use for a ga-zillion drawings of swirls. So last summer, when I completed a swirl drawing that my niece was admiring whilst in-progress (she thought it would make a great tattoo!), I wrote a letter to her on the backside. I understand that she’s since hung it up in her bedroom.

Since then, I’ve used swirls to illustrate a blog post and even made a swirl drawing to wrap a friend’s birthday present. And after Christmas, I used some blank greeting cards to make swirl thank you cards for some friends. And now I’m working on a special swirl for a friend’s baby girl.

So, I guess that I’m thankful for my swirls because of the enjoyment I get from them, but I’m also thankful that my skills have improved enough to use them as gifts and cards for people I love. Otherwise, I’d be lost in stacks upon stacks of therapeutic swirls!

A random letter

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

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

So, here goes!

Dear Happy Frances,

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

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

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

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

Lots of love,
Frances

Got milk?

If you’re American, you may not realise that milk is a very important part of British culture. From the 1946 School Milk Act (an addendum to the Education Act 1944) to Margaret Thatcher, Milk Snatcher and from breast milk ice cream to the order in which one adds tea and milk to a mug, milk seems to be more than just another beverage.

Which is what this post is about: Tea. Or rather, milky tea.

In the states, coffee tends to be the hot beverage of choice. And not that instant stuff, either. Tea drinkers are a minority group. And then, they’re more likely to want honey and lemon than milk. Oh, and if people do want to lighten/whiten up their coffee or tea, they’re more likely to use half-and-half, not milk. (And then there’s the non-dairy creamer group, but this isn’t about what Americans do, so we’ll just ‘skim’ over that. Skim. Get it? No? Oh, well. Never mind …)

In the UK, however, tea is the winning beverage. It’s very much a part of the culture (more so, I think, that coffee is part of American culture) and it seems that more people use milk here than don’t. I don’t; I drink my coffee strong and black with no sugar and I drink my tea medium and black with no sugar.

And here’s the problem: Since I don’t use milk (with the rare exception of baking or a splurge purchase of sugary breakfast cereal) I never have the stuff in my fridge. Which is OK until someone comes into my home. You see, as part of the UK’s tea obsession, it is customary to offer guests in your home a cuppa. And I’m pretty good at doing that. But the moment I say ‘Would you like a cup of tea?’ I find myself remembering that I can’t offer them milk for that tea.

The first time it happened, I was lucky because the friend in question (whilst a bit confused as to my lack of milk) was happy to have Earl Grey tea instead—which apparently doesn’t require milk as vocally as black tea does. The next time it happened, I was lucky enough to have the smallest little drip of milk left over from something I baked the day before. And when everyone came over for Thanksgiving, I made certain that I had milk on hand. Of course, I was then a bit cheeky and let my guests add their own milk and sugar so that I didn’t over (or under) do it.

Which brings me to today. I’ve been having a bit of trouble with the hot water in my flat, so a workman came around to fix it. Now, I don’t know if you’re meant to offer workmen tea, but it seemed rude not to, so I did—since I was making myself a cup of coffee anyhow. And the moment I asked I regretted it because then I had to follow that up with ‘Oh, but I don’t have any milk.’

And my no milk meant that he changed his order to a cup of coffee instead—black; two sugars. I didn’t think it was fair to keep him waiting whilst I made a cafetier of coffee, so I grabbed the instant stuff (that’s not an insult here as it is in America) and fixed a cup for him. With no milk.

I wonder if it’s socially acceptable to offer guests shelf-stable milk for their tea?

So, tell me how you take your tea or coffee. Or better still, tell me what your views are in regards to serving tea or coffee to company!

The maze

There are countless metaphors for life: It’s a puzzle; it’s a book; it’s a song; it’s a dance; it’s a path; it’s a maze.

Goodness, I do wish life were as simple as any of those things! Especially on days like today, when I managed to complete a maze from my daily calendar in one try—and in pen. No mistakes. I just started through the maze and found my way to the other end without bumping into walls. (OK, I paused to look around a couple of times, but I didn’t get lost.)

Life just isn’t that simple. Of course, if life were that simple, maybe it wouldn’t be worth it. I mean, I’ve met some pretty awesome people in my puzzle-book-song-dance-path-maze. And some of those people were met because I needed help with the puzzle, picked the wrong book, sang the wrong lyrics, forgot the dance steps, left the path, or took the wrong turn.

Life isn’t a puzzle or a book or a song or a dance. It’s not a path or a maze. It’s just life. And life is fantastic and wonderful—despite the pain and sorrow that lingers at the edges.

And isn’t life funny, the way you can sit down to do a simple maze and all of the sudden you’re contemplating the meaning of it all?

A slow start

It’s nearly midnight on January 2nd and I’m finally getting around to writing my first post of the year. I meant to write yesterday and I’ve been meaning to write today, but life got in the way.

Sadly, yesterday’s lack of writing was due to the sad parts of life. Everything is OK, but I think that a bit too much Champaign the night before led to a sulky-feel-sorry-for-myself kinda day. Yes, I was pretty pathetic to be honest. Got out of bed around 8 but was too upset and teary to face the world so I went back to bed until nearly noon. Then I finally got up and sat on the couch sulking all day.

I know it sounds like a miserable start to the new year, but sometimes my mind goes into sulky mode and I just can’t bring myself out of it. On the plus side, however, I did manage to roast a chicken for an early dinner and even managed to boil up the leftovers for a big pot of soup. So at least it was a semi-productive day!

But today was better. Today I actually got up and took a shower and left the flat. In fact, I was out for longer than I’d expected! And it was a nice day. I went up to the Wallace Monument with a couple of friends, then we had lunch in Bridge of Allen, stopped by Doune Castle (you know, the one from Monty Python and the Holy Grail), and finally made it back to Stirling for a couple pints of beer and a football game.

And when I got home I swirled. And I packed a small suitcase. Because I’m heading to England tomorrow to see my in-laws for a few days.

So, this post is really to let you know I’m alive and to also let you know that if you don’t hear from me for a few days, it’s because I’m down south doing fun things. Which will be even better since my sulky mood has passed.

I hope your new year is off to a less-sulky start than mine!

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!

Apologies for the delay

I don’t know why I feel the need to apologise for the delay in posting a story about my Christmas weekend, but I feel bad for not having shared with you yet, so… Sorry for the delay!

Anyhow, you’ll [maybe] be glad to know that the story is ready (complete with exciting YouTube video!) and will be posted at some point tomorrow. The delay is one of photos. But I’m nearly done putting a photo gallery together for the story (so don’t worry, Mom!) and will post as soon as that’s done.

And since I don’t have a Christmas story to share with you (yet) I’m sharing a little teaser of today’s swirl drawings. When I’m done (next week?) I’ll share the finished product!

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas!

Connect the dots

Confession: I have 292 Facebook friends. At least 46 of them are people I’ve never met. 25 or so are people I’ve only met once. 93 are former classmates. 64 are family of one description or another. And (not including family) I’ve only seen 18 of them in real life in the past 12 months.

Further confession: Two of those connections are animals (one cat; one dog).

Of course, I say that I have 292 Facebook friends, but most of them aren’t friends so much as they are a virtual network of acquaintances, former school mates, and family. This isn’t to say I don’t value my Facebook friends, because I do. I really, really do. But the truth is that I (like most adults) only have a handful of friends—you know, real friends as opposed to people I’m friendly with. Thought I must admit that Facebook was the tool that helped to create two of my closest real-life friendships.

The thing I like best about Facebook is the way everything connects. For me, Facebook began with me connecting with my virtual friends—people I ‘knew’ from online forums and newsgroups. Then I began to connect with my family and former school mates as they joined Facebook. And now, I’m connected with people who are connected with people who know me, even though I don’t know the person I’m connected to. (Does that make sense?)

It’s funny the way it works; it’s funny what prompts people to connect. I mean, before Paul died, I was only friends with one of his university friends—a woman I’d met in ‘real life’ years before. A day or two after he died, I received a friend request from another woman he went to uni with, but someone I’d only met once before. After his funeral, several more of his friends ‘friended’ me. Some I’d met, some I’d not met at the time. And still others whom I’ve still never met!

Even funnier still is how people I know from different parts of my life are now overlapping. It seems that as my ‘real life’ friends and ‘virtual’ friends have been connecting with me on my Facebook posts, those sets of people have found common ground and have friended each other. So now my sister is friends with some of my virtual friends. And even different groups of real life friends have found each other—either because they’ve connected virtually or because they’ve met in real life as my US and UK worlds have collided.

But the funniest of all is when I notice the ever-so-faint dots that connect two of my friends when they’re not connected to each other. Example 1: Last year a friend suggestion popped up noting that I had two friends in common with someone I’d never met. But those two friends (one real, one virtual) didn’t know each other, either. It just so happened that my real life friend was an old classmate of a virtual friend’s work colleague. Example 2: A virtual friend of mine is the real life friend of a couple of my husband’s university friends, even though he never met my husband. And it turns out that the same virtual friend is friends in real life and on Facebook with the friends of one of my classmates, who doesn’t know the guy but was very surprised to see that his real life friends had a friend in common with me. (Again, did you follow that?)

You could argue that these arbitrary connections to random strangers around the world are silly and pointless, but it entertains me. Plus that, many of those strangers have been a great social outlet for me when I needed it most. So when I start connecting the virtual dots, I can see a real life network of support.

I’m sure that over time my Facebook friend list will grow even more. And I’m sure that as the networking tool changes to adapt to society (or as society adapts to the tool?) we will change the way we define friends. But that’s OK, because you can never have too many friends. Right?

Gorillas and cheese

A post about gorillas and cheese? Did I mean grilled cheese? Have I gone mad? Well, yes, no, and probably would be the answers there.

So, why am I talking about gorillas and cheese then? Well, because as a blogger I like to use headlines that make people smile. Funny and punny; interesting and intriguing; relevant and informational. Rarely will I use some random, un-connected post title, because the title should be part of the story. And, if it doesn’t lead back to the story, it’s just a waste of words.

I bet you’re really dying to know how gorillas and cheese fits in with this post now, aren’t you?! So let me tell you more about this gorillas and cheese nonsense. (Here’s a hint: It’s not about gorillas or cheese, it’s about email.)

Generally when I write emails, I want the subject line to be informational. If I want a recipe from my mom, the subject might be ‘Navy Bean Soup Recipe?’ or if I need to send travel details to dad, the subject line might be ‘Travel itinerary; Dec 2011’ or if I’m sending an email to my entire family to let them know I’ve arrived in Scotland, the subject line might be ‘Greetings from Sunny Scotland’.

But what about those back-and-forth emails with friends? You know, the ones where the emails are like modern-day letter-writing. I mean, ‘Hi’ and ‘Hello’ are kind of boring subject lines.

And this is where I get to have a bit of fun. I figure subject lines are kind of like starting off with a joke.

Sometimes, I like to find a funny way to tie in the main message (Sean Connery is [not] gay) but other times, I like to use something completely and totally random (The coconut milk made me do it). And other times, I like to open with a compliment (You have a beautiful smile).

My favourite subject lines are ones that make me smile. I got one from a friend a while back titled ‘My big toe is my second toe’. The main email had nothing to do with toes, but there was a post script that explained that he was trying to out-do me in weird subject lines. I laughed. And I also realised that I don’t send as many emails as I used to and that I should fix that.

And if I were to start a list of fun subject lines for future emails, it would include the following:

  • Do you pack your lunch or take the bus to school?
  • Is this the party to whom I am speaking?
  • Elephants eat bananas
  • Polka dots cure curiosity: Read the story here!
  • One million, four hundred thousand, nine hundred, thirty & 12/100

How about you? Any random email subject lines that you’ve used or received or now want to create? After all, email should be fun!

(Funny, I’m now thinking that I want a grilled cheese sandwich for dinner.)

[The post image is of Salvador Dali’s The Persistence of Memory and is displayed here under the Fair Use Doctrine.]

If the shoe fits

I’ve been experimenting with footwear since my return to Scotland. Yep, it’s heels for this redneck, if you can believe it.

I admit, it’s a bit tricky at times because I still wobble a bit (and that’s with fairly short and chunky heels!) but I’m getting better and I almost feel like a semi-pro! But the biggest bonus is that I feel good! I know it sounds silly, but the dress code here tends to be a bit smarter than the homeland for everyday wear, and I feel good when I am dressed up that little bit more.

But that’s not the point, so I’ll move on now.

The point is that my feet are suffering! They don’t hurt but they are suffering. You see, I’ve always worn sensible, well-fitting shoes without heels. And that meant that I’ve always had pretty feet. Well, not so much as a child because I insisted on wearing shoes that were too small because I didn’t like shoe shopping. Not that I like it anymore now. But I digress. Again…

Back to the point: The bottoms of my feet are starting to get a couple of spots with not-so-soft skin. And I need to figure out how to fix that, whilst still wearing pretty shoes. And since I can’t afford professional pedicures at the moment, I’ll need to figure out how to fix it on my own.

For starters, I am using a heavy lotion before I go to bed, covering my feet with socks as I sleep so as to not get the bedding all lotion-y. I am also spending a bit more time making sure my toenails are trimmed nicely.

But the biggest solution, I imagine, is going to be finding the right shoes and the right inserts. And that, sadly, means shoe shopping. (I think I know someone who can help with that!)

Of course, the other solution would be to return to my redneck roots and just wear casual trainers everywhere.

Which way?

In America it seems to be fairly straight forward: We move right. In the UK (and potentially the rest of the world?) people seem to move all over the place.

So, here’s the deal as I see it: In America, we drive on the right side of the road. If we’re cycling on the road, we ride in the direction of traffic. If we’re walking or running on the side of the road, we do so opposite of the direction of traffic for visibility purposes. When we’re on a sidewalk (UK translation: pavement) we tend to walk on the right, as we do in corridors and when using stairs or escalators (UK translation: elevators).

As with cars, people will generally pass on the left and we yield to others depending on the situation. It’s really quite civilised and is common no matter where you travel—though in larger metropolitan areas with big crowds, it can get a bit messy.

In the UK, drivers travel on the left. And everyone else just moves every which way. There doesn’t seem to be a pattern at all.

I first realised this ten years ago when I moved to Edinburgh. I was having the hardest time walking along Princes Street and climbing stairs without bumping into people. At first, I was embarrassed because I realised that I’d been moving along the right side of the pavement and stair cases, so of course I’d be running into people because, obviously, people should be walking on the left, just as motorist drive. Right? (Wrong!)

I tried keeping to the left and realised that I was getting bumped into just as much there as I’d been on the right. So I started to observe a bit more to see what sort of cultural clues I could find. But ten years later and I’ve still not found the clues!

What I have learned, however, is that it’s every walker for themselves in the UK. People scatter like ants and giving way is not always automatic. Yes, there is a level of decency and politeness to it all, but it seems (to this outsider’s mind) to be very disorganised and haphazard.

So, how do you do it? How to you navigate the sidewalks and corridors in a nation where there doesn’t seem to be a right-of-way? If you know, please feel free to share your wisdom. Otherwise, maybe I’ll figure it out one of these days. In which case, I’ll come back and share my wisdom with you.

[The photo was originally uploaded to an album on RyanCentric. It was taken at the hotel Paul and I stayed at during the holiday where he proposed. We didn’t agree with what the carving was: He thought it was a random carving, I thought (and maintain to this day) that it’s an abstract arrow. You know, in case you wondered where it came from.]

A thankful November

Just Frances was started with the idea of sharing random nothingness with family and friends as a way to stave off the isolation I was feeling in the first few months after Paul died. It had started with the idea that it would be bright and cheery (fake it ‘til you make it sort of stuff) but slowly I started to share my grief and other less-than-cheery stuff.

I don’t always like sharing the sad stuff because I don’t want to be ‘that’ person, but sometimes the act of sharing the sad makes is easier for me to move past it. And I know I share a lot of sad stuff and that, depending on what’s going on in my world, the sad can seem to dominate, but I like to think that I don’t sound too doom-and-gloom. I like to think that people can see that I’m happy and cheerful quite often—or at least that I’m trying to be happy and cheerful.

Thankfully, I have managed to recapture some of my joy over the past couple of years. It’s not always been easy, but I’ve found that faking it helps. I’ve also found that it helps to take a step back every now-and then to recognise where the good moments are. (Hence, my Finding Joy resolution for 2010.)

But here’s the point: I’ve been so wrapped up in my move and starting school and all of the stress that comes along with major life changes that I’ve been neglecting the thankful things in my life. So, since Thanksgiving is at the end of November, I’ve decided to spend the month reflecting on what I’m thankful for.

For the next month, I will post something I’m thankful for on my blog. I will post those things each day on the left side of Just Frances, just under the block of photos. I will also keep a running list of those things here if you miss a day. (But you’re on here every day, right?)

And here’s a challenge for you: Take some time to look around your world and find something to be thankful for. You can do it just once, or for a week, or a month, or a year, or forever—that’s up to you. Just remember to take some time to reflect on the good things and on the thankful things in your life. And feel free to share some of them with me on this post or the running list.

(Oh! And if you want to know what I’m thankful for today, I am thankful for the love and support I’ve received from family, friends, and strangers over the past couple of years.)

Times, they are a-changin’

Ah, yes. It’s that magical time of year when the clocks fall back an hour as you sleep. I always liked clock-changing times as a child, though I don’t really know why. Of course, as an adult it’s been a bit of a pain because it means remembering to run all over the house (and cars changing various clocks.

But this year is different. This year I don’t own any clocks (yet) and my computers and mobile phone are all super smart and have managed to update themselves without any assistance from me. And when I first moved into my flat on Monday the clock on the boiler (that’s like a furnace in American speak) was off by 20 minutes so I had to re-set it—and I set it to the soon-to-be correct time so that I didn’t need to remember it today.

Yep. I’ve had a super easy time this go around.

And do you want to know the best part? Of course you do! Well, the best part is that whilst the UK changes times today, the USA doesn’t change until next weekend. And that means that—for the next week—I am an hour closer to my family. (Aw, isn’t that sweet!)

So—Hello family! We’re only seven hours apart at the moment. Yay!!

Music to launder money by

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

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

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

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

Cutting out the middles

So I’m working on a new design project for my parents. Just a little something that will make Mom smile—and me. (Likely others in the family, too, but I can’t be sure yet.)

Anyhow, part one is underway: Photoshopping a photo of me and my sister, Celeste. Together, we share the ‘middle child’ position in our family. We also share a birth month, but not a birthday, as I was born two years and six days before her. I know this is all more information than you needed, but I felt it was warranted to explain the silly title of this post. But I digress…

It’s a bit tedious because I have to cut out the two of us from a busy airport scene—and I have to do it without trimming too much off of our shoes and hair. It’s hard, especially since I’m self-taught on the software.

But this is where I am so far. Now I just need to clean up the edges a bit and figure out what the background will be. (No, it won’t be green.)

There is a lot more work to be done and I don’t know when it will get finished, but I’ll be sure to share the finished design when it’s complete!

Happy Friday!

Another light bulb moment

Today my Dad gave me a quick call on Skype to tell me that a parcel arrived for me (I’ve had my post forwarded to the folks’ place) and he wanted to know if he should open it. The parcel was from my utility company and it seemed strange that they’d be sending me anything other than an electric bill, which I get by email anyhow.

So I had Dad open it and as he did so, he mentioned the label on the side saying something about my ‘CFL have arrived’. Odd, I’d not ordered any CFLs. What are those anyhow? Oh, wait! It’s all coming back to me now.

About three years ago I sent away for free compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) from my utility company and promptly forgot about it. But sure enough, once Dad got that box opened, there were eight brand-spanking new CFLs nestled inside for me.

And that means that whilst the energy company might be keen to get their customers to use energy efficient light bulbs, they are not very efficient with sending them out!

I’ve declined Dad’s offer to send them to me, even though I know that he’d do it in under three years’ time. Instead, I’ll let my folks use them. You know, so that they can say I’ve brightened their lives.

Rationalised spending

Yesterday was meant to be my last training run before my first (and last) ever marathon next Sunday. Only plans got changed. As they do.

So instead of being all fit and athletic and stuff, I went to the antique mall (do they call them that here in Scotland?). After all, I do have to find new old things, since I left so many of my old things behind when I moved.

I looked at handbags and drooled. But then I remembered that I am on a budget and can’t rationalise spending £85 on a vintage handbag—no matter how awesome it was.

But then I looked at a stack of handkerchiefs (something I like to collect as much as handbags) and figured that since I’m back living in my lovely home of Scotland where there’s lots of rain, it would make sense to have a few spare hankies, which meant that I could easily rationalise spending £6 on three pretty little embroidered hankies.

And since my friend, Sharon, always wants to see photos of my latest vintage finds, this post is really all for her!!

Not today

I was going to write a post about my first day of classes, but in typical student fashion, I just can’t be bothered. So instead, I’ll just post a quick hello to test out my new post-by-phone application on my gadet-y new android phone.

I promise to post something later in the week though and will let you know how all of my classes are at the end of the week. Deal?

Honestly, I’ll keep blogging

It would seem that I’m not very good at this whole blogging thing of late, and I apologise for that. I suppose that it has a lot to do with the fact that I am no longer living in near isolation—meaning I have real life people to talk to—and that I have been running around quite a bit visiting family and friends and getting ready for the start of term. But I’ve been meaning to write, really.

In fact, on Saturday I had thought I might post about how I am re-learning the art of solo site seeing. It was something that I always did before I met Paul (and did with enjoyment at that time in my life) but it would seem that now that I’m seeing the sites on my own again—and not really by choice—that it can be a little sad. But then I got sidetracked after a rather upsetting conversation and thought I’d blog about that because I needed to vent, but really didn’t want to vent here. Then Rebecca came home (as a reminder, she’s the friend I’m staying with until I get my own flat) and instead of blogging my emotions, I vented to her. It was actually good to have a real-life person to vent to, but I felt bad about burdening her. (It really helped, too, but meant that I was so emotionally drained that it was all I could do to drink half a bottle of Champagne and watch Doctor Who before going to bed.)

So then I thought I might blog about Sunday. Rebecca and I took the train through to Glasgow to check out a craft fair and to do some vintage shopping (I had success at both activities!). We also took a side trip to find the house that a former work colleague’s grandmother lived in before moving to America. (Sadly, the house seems to have been torn down.) But by the time we got home it was time for me to Skype with one of my sisters and her kids and by the time we were done chatting I was beat and ready for an early night.

That brought me to Monday—the first day of the first semester for my postgraduate career. I had looked at a flat in the morning that I decided was perfect for me (I will update on the flat hunt later—maybe even today!) which meant that I was all smiles for my trek to campus. Once on campus I met with my programme director and was so excited to determine my modules—one of which felt as if it was designed especially for me! But when I got home, I was too busy sharing my exciting day with Rebecca whilst we pigged out on curry that I never got around to blogging.

And then yesterday I decided that I would share all the details about my degree and what I hoped to learn and study. I even started the post. But then I learned that the module I felt was designed for me was being cancelled because only two of us signed up for it. I have to say that I was completely gutted! So instead of telling you about my courses, I spent time thinking about what module to take instead. (It’s between two and I hope to know what to do by tomorrow.) I also spent the day getting books and reading materials for next week—and actually reading in preparation. And, again, I was too beat (and emotionally exhausted) to blog about it all.

Which brings us to this post: A post about the things I thought about posting about over the past few days but never did. (Really, it’s more to update my Mom and a few others who’ve indicated that they’d rather have boring ‘what I did today’ posts than no posts at all.)

Again, I’m going to get better at this; I think I just need to get a routine sorted out. After all, blogging really is a great outlet for me and I find my life is much calmer when I’m writing. So here are a few post topics you can look forward to over the next few weeks: My first Scottish race, my first marathon, my first day of classes, my new flat, Ian Rankin, and an anecdote or two about the differences between Scotland and my part of America. Yay!

[The image with this blog was created by me with the awesome Keepcalm-O-Matic. Yay, again!]

Lost voice messages

[Note: This post has nothing to do with phones or other technology.]

Just before bedtime on Sunday I started to feel a bit of a tickle in my throat and by the time I woke up Monday morning, my voice was gone. (I think the tickle stole it!) I was certain it would get better as the day went on so I headed into the office. Only my voice didn’t get better and I found myself sipping mint tea just to keep going.

By last night my body was beat so I went to bed early hoping that a good night’s sleep would coax my voice out of hiding. Instead, I had a miserable night’s sleep because my throat was so very sore and swollen that I was in too much pain for proper rest.

So this morning I woke once more only my voice was completely gone by this point—not a squeak to be heard—which meant sending an email to the office to let them know I wouldn’t be in. But I still needed to go to town to take my foster daughter to day care, which meant that I might as well stop by the doctor’s office. And since the kid had a ride home, I didn’t have to stick around when I was done.

Anyhow, the doctor says I don’t have strep throat, which is awesome. And that I have a platelet count of 100, which is almost unheard of for me, which is awesome. And since I was in town with a sore throat I took the opportunity to pick up a few messages. (Ah! There’s that word from the title…)

And when you have a sore throat and have lost your voice, you need to have think carefully about what sort of messages to get. I chose apple juice and lemon-lime soda, apple sauce, chicken noodle soup, and fresh raspberries (one pack didn’t survive the drive home). Oh, and just in case my voice comes back and my throat stops hurting, a bag of pretzels and some cheese-in-a-can.

But for now, I think I’ll pour a glass of apple juice and soda and attempt to kip for a couple of hours…

(Do you like how I’m starting to use more Scottish terminology in my blog?)

Three cheers for Monday!

To make up for my last few sad(ish) posts, here’s a happy one for you (times three)!

Happy #1: I sent off the forms and documents for my visa today. It’s scary to place my passports in an envelope, but it’s a necessary task to get the visa. Which I need if I’m going to move to Scotland. Which I need to do if I’m going to attend the University of Stirling. Which I need to do if I’m going to find a bit of joy in my life again. So: Hip Hip Hooray for posting visa stuff!

Happy #2: I sent off my application for a Saltire Scholarship today. It’s sponsored by the British government specifically for international students and will be a great little addition to my living and tuition expenses if I get it. I won’t find out if I’ve been chosen to get one of the £2,000 awards until July, but I feel happy just knowing I’ve applied. So: Hip Hip Hooray for scholarship applications!

Happy #3: I have managed to sell my washer and dryer, a small student desk, a clothes drying rack, and an outdoor table and chair set today. OK, I haven’t seen any money yet, but I’ve made the deals and will be meeting with folks to sell stuff this week and next. Yes, there’s a little bit of counting chickens before they hatch, but I’m very confident with at least the washer and dryer sale—and they offered nearly double what I’d planned to sell them for, so that’s awesome! (That sale is thanks to a work colleague who knows I’m moving and had friends seeking just what I was selling!) So: Hip Hip Hooray for selling stuff that I never thought would sell!

Oh, come on! This deserves another shout so:

Three cheers for Monday!
Hip Hip Hooray! Hip Hip Hooray! Hip Hip Hooray!

And look! To celebrate the happiness, I’ve made a pretty blobby thingy for you to look at!

The counting begins

I am counting down the days until The Big Move takes place. Not in exact days mind you, because I won’t buy my ticket until I have my visa in hand. But in some form or another, I’ve been counting down since I got my acceptance email from the University of Stirling way back in November 2010. Of course, the first stage of my countdown was done in secrecy because I was counting down the weeks before I could give notice at work. Which I did about two months before I’d planned to because I just couldn’t handle the stress of the secret!

But now that work knows I’m outta here, I can count it all down out loud. And here’s the breakdown:

  • Days until I’m an unemployed bum: 37
  • Days left in the office: 25
  • Number of office Mondays remaining: 4
  • Days before classes start: 102
  • Days until I move home to Scotland: 70 (or thereabouts)

Of course, for excited as I am about these numbers, I also have to remember that it’s only 37 days until I am without an income—expendable or otherwise. And it’s only about 70 days until I have to say goodbye to my parents and nieces and nephews and siblings and my beloved Schrodie—and my friends and my life here in America.

I’m sure that once I arrive in Scotland I will start counting down the days until I can return to the homeland for a visit. Or maybe I’ll be counting down the days until my family come to visit me in Scotland. Or maybe I’ll be counting down the days until I have my PhD…

You know, for someone who hates maths, I sure do enjoy countdowns!

Monday swirls

It has been an emotionally and physically exhausting couple of days. From an out-of-the-blue emotional crash on Friday, to marking the anniversary of my marriage on Saturday, to a long day of preparing for The Big Move on Sunday, I’ve just been feeling battered.

Then, I spent much of this Monday in meetings, meetings, and more bloody meetings.

So when I got home from work—to a peacefully quiet house, thanks to my foster daughter’s burgeoning social life—I took the opportunity to swirl a bit. In fact, I managed so many swirls (and dots!) that I finally finished this piece that I started way back in January!

Oh! And I also spent a bit of time this evening on Facebook brainstorming some awesome names for a potential freelance communications endeavour I’m considering. That was fun and I hope to have more to share with you on that sometime this summer…

And now, I’m off to read in bed for a bit before I call it quits for the night. Nighty-night!

Expat food woes

I think that one of the worst things about the life of an expat or repat is dealing with food let-downs. Or is that just me?

You see, when I first moved to Scotland (expat) I really missed certain American foods: Root beer; [proper] hotdogs and corndogs; saltines; Butterfingers; and others. But then I returned to America (repat), leaving behind all of my new-found foods: [Proper] fish-n-chips; curry take-aways; Love Hearts; and various ‘biscuits’ [sweet and savoury].

Anyhow, I’m super-happy about my return to expat life where I will no longer miss my lovely British (and Indian) foods. But I’m starting to realise that I’m going to miss my American foods again. And the more I think about it, the more the list grows! So far I have:

  • Hotdogs and hamburgers
  • Corndogs
  • Root beer
  • Chicken strips
  • Ranch dressing
  • Butterfingers
  • Three Musketeers
  • Root beer (it deserves a second mention)
  • Ranch dressing (it also deserves a second mention)
  • Saltines
  • [Americanised] Mexican food
  • General Tso’s Chicken
  • Pioneer Coffee
  • Jelly beans
  • [Double Stuff] Oreos
  • Basic black olives (the kind for tacos and nachos)
  • Taco Bell and Taco Time (I know these are restaurants, but I will miss them!)
  • Rye bread
  • 1000 Island dressing
  • Many, many more!

Oh! Then there’s the ‘you can find them but they need to be tracked down at specialty import stores’ list.

But you know what? I am willing to make these sacrifices. After all, Scotland is home to deep-fried pizza and Mars bars. So I’ll just console myself with those. [Note to self: Get gym membership!]

Specky four eyes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What the hook?

Moving 6,000 miles away means finally clearing out drawers that have long been left cluttered. It also means finding things that you vaguely remember maybe once having for a specific purpose, but can’t quite remember what that purpose was.

These 10 “S” hooks are a perfect example of that. I can almost remember maybe having purchased them for something. But it’s like a ghosted memory of nothing. They’ve sat in top, right-hand drawer of my bedroom vanity for more years than I can remember. My guess is that they were in that drawer when I first left for Scotland 10 years ago!

So, why do I have them? What could they have been for? I don’t know!

But please tell me this: What would you do with them? If they were yours, how would you use them? Any suggestions of how I could use them? Because right now, I’m thinking they’ll just get tossed in the Goodwill pile.

Of course, I’m happy to pack them up and mail them to the person who gives me the most interesting or entertaining use for them, so please feel free to share your ideas!

Just testing …

And now I’m in testing mode. Which means that you may see a bit of weirdness. In fact, this weird post will be deleted sometime tomorrow.

Normal service will resume eventually.

Wait. I’m not normal. Oh well…

UPDATED: I’ve decided to not delete this post because it represents an important part of this site’s future. Yay!

The flip side

Hey! Guess what! The transfer of Just Frances is complete and I’m now running on a self-hosted platform.

It may not seem like a big deal to you, but there are several reasons why you should care:

  • It means a new subscription system, so if you were once a subscriber you may no longer be one. (Sorry, but you can subscribe now!)
  • No more ads! That’s right, no more of those annoying ads at the bottom of the posts. (Yay!)
  • I have more flexibility to make upgrades and changes to the site, which means if there’s some great thing you’d like to see on Just Frances, I may be able to implement it now!
  • It saves my $14.95 a year because I don’t have to pay to have the WordPress.com site mapped to JustFrances.com.
  • The change makes me feel happy, and as a loyal reader you should want me to be happy. (I hope!)

Sadly, the change also means that I lost all of my ratings data so the little stars at the top of each story are all empty—even the ones that had previous 5-star “100% Awesome” ratings. But that’s OK because my 100% awesome readers will soon bump my ego, I’m sure!!

Oh, it also means that I will be rolling out a new look for the site soon. And that’s pretty awesome, don’t you think? And here’s a little sneak-preview as a reward for reading to the end of the post!

Radio silence

OK folks, this is it. I’m moving over to a self-hosted platform and won’t be able to post anything for a 24-hour period beginning at 12:01 a.m. tomorrow morning / tonight. (Yes, that means Thursday, May 5.)

Which means I need to do two things:

  1. Give a reminder about the loss of subscriptions
  2. Figure out what to do in between now and the migration completion

First, the reminder:
If you are a subscriber now, you won’t be one after the server changes happen unless you tell me you want to be! To make sure you don’t miss out, please send me a message by using the contact form, commenting on this post, or sending me a personal email. If you’re not a subscriber yet but want to be, you can let me know by doing the same thing!

Second, the figuring:
Let’s see, there are books and movies and handbags to sort through for selling. There are clothes to sort through for Goodwill-ing. There are files to shred and magazines to recycle. The lawn needs mowing, photos need scanning, and scholarship applications need filling in. But then, there’s also a couch that looks awfully lonely and a book that looks in desperate need of a bit of fondling… I’m sure with all of those things I’ll find something to occupy my time!

So, that’s me signing off. But just because I can’t post, doesn’t mean you can’t read. Just know that if the site looks broken at any point in the next 24 hours, it’s OK!

See you on the other side!

Ten things

Reminder: I’m moving servers later this week and will lose most of my subscriber information. Please click here for more information on re-subscribing! Now… on to the story!

It’s another list day. Yay!

Today’s list is 10 things I’ve not done in more than a year but that I am going to work hard at doing in the next 12 months. So here goes!

  1. Go for a bike ride (Last ride: Autumn 2008)
  2. Plant something (Last planting: Tulip and crocus bulbs in England; March 2010)
  3. Eat BBQ burgers and dogs (It’s been 2+ years which is too+ long!)
  4. Go to Scotland (Last trip: Feb/Mar 2010)
  5. Travel out of state to visit friends* (Last trip: October 2009)
  6. Go to a fair (Last fair: September 2006)
  7. Get a haircut (Last cut: February 2010**)
  8. Buy a fiction novel (Last purchase: April 2010)
  9. Go camping (Last trip: So long ago I can’t even remember!)
  10. Buy a new gadget***

And may I just say how difficult it was to create this list? At first I thought: Just 10 things? No problem! But the problem is that so many of the things I’ve not done in the past year+ are things that I have no intentions of ever doing again! I mean, it’s been more than a year since I last changed a tire, but I don’t plan on changing one in the next year. Nor do I plan on chopping fire wood or making a pinecone wreath.

How about you? Do you have a list of 10 things to share? And if so, how easy was it to create?

* As in to another state within the USA—not as in out of the states, which I’ve done as recently as December 2010.
** Yes, really. More than a year ago. That’s about normal for me. What do I care? It’s just hair.
*** OK, in fairness I bought an iPod Shuffle sometime last summer. But with gadgets, a month is like a year, so I’m really jonesin’, man!

Changes afoot [Subscribers: Please take note!]

Things are changing here at Just Frances—but you won’t see the changes from your side for a few days yet. You see, I am moving from a WordPress.com site (free!) to a self-hosted site (which isn’t free, but since I already pay for hosting RyanCentric.com, the move won’t cost me anything extra).

[Blah, blah, blah, technical stuff about moving files and CSS/HTML edits, blah, blah, blah.]

But why am I telling you about changes when you can’t see them (yet)? Well, it’s because the changes may still affect you—especially if you are a subscriber.

Here’s the deal: Your subscription to Just Frances won’t follow me to the new servers! (Yikes!)

But I have a few options for you—and if you’re not a subscriber, you can still take advantage of them:

  1. Send me a message using the contact form, by commenting on this post, or by personal email if you know my email address, letting me know that you want to subscribe when the new site is ready for you. I will then hand-enter your email address when the new subscription tool is ready—and you won’t miss a post! (I will not share your email address with anyone, nor will I spam you. I promise!)
  2. Check out Just Frances every so often (every day, even!) to see if you’ve missed any stories—and to see if there is a new subscription button ready for you. This means you don’t have to send me a message now, but it means you need to remember to subscribe later. Sorry.
  3. Do nothing and revel in the knowledge that once the changes happen you won’t get any more emails from Just Frances. See—it’s a great way to walk away from all of this awesomeness without having to actually click unsubscribe. Yay! (Really, I know you’d cry if you didn’t get a regular dose of insanity from me!)

Oh! And a day or two after the server migration takes place, I will be rolling out a new look for Just Frances. I hope you like it! (I bet you’re starting to feel like a kid at Christmas now with all of the anticipation of these great changes!)

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.

Foto fun

This will be a short post, Dear Reader, because I am very sleepy and am going to be early. But I wanted to let you know that I’m having a bit of fun on Facebook in April by way of a Photo Scavenger Hunt.

The group is open to the public (well, as long as you have a Facebook account) and we’ll be posting a list of 20 items for you to ‘find’ with your camera throughout the month of April.

So go log on to your Facebook account (do any of us really log out?) and like Photo Scavenger Hunt today!

Nighty night, boys and girls!

Wallpaper?

I was meant to be scanning old newspaper clippings this evening. But then I got sidetracked playing with Photoshop. So, I guess I’ll need to scan stuff at the weekend. And my procrastination means you get to look at a weird 70s-ish flower thingy. (Wouldn’t this make an awesome wallpaper pattern?)

Hopscotch

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday’s child is full of woe

Oh Wednesday, Wednesday, Wednesday. Whatever will I do with you?

Wednesday, I want to love you because you symbolize the middle of the work week which means that it’s almost the weekend. I want to love you because your funny little nickname, Hump Day, makes me giggle. And I want to love you because you’re fun to pronounce. (Or maybe that’s just because my pronunciations are skewed thanks to years of speech therapy?)

But you know what, Wednesday? Sometimes you really are full of woe.

Case in point:
I stop by the post office each day on my way home from the office hoping to have a letter or a card or a parcel from a friend. Most days, I am disappointed and only get bills or name-addressed junk mail. But on Wednesdays, the box only ever contains a grocery store flyer from a town I never go to because it’s in a different direction than where I work, and therefore shop. But I get to be sad that there is a sale on blueberries that I can’t get because the added trip would cost more in fuel than the savings on the berries.

Case in point:
Wednesday is the day that the bill collectors call for the person who used to own my home telephone number; which means that I return home from work to a beeping answering machine and allow myself a moment’s excitement that someone has called for me. But instead I just have several machine-voiced auto messages for some guy I don’t even know.

But, I know this isn’t your fault. And I know that originally, you were not the day of woe but were rather the day of loving and giving. So I’m going to give you a break.

After all, Wednesday is also the day that the housekeeper comes.

And Wednesday is the half-way point in the week’s fresh grocery supply which means I can eat those last few strawberries without guilt because I know I’ll re-stock in two days’ time!

And this Wednesday was a day that I had a nice chat with a friend in Scotland who helped to remind me that I’m not totally screwing with my big life changes but am, in fact, doing the right thing. (Thanks for that! Having the reassurance of a friend always helps!)

[Oh, and if you wondered, I was born on a Thursday and as we know, Thursday’s child has far to go. I think what that means in my case is that I have to travel 6,000 miles to find home. Yep, that’s my interpretation at least.]

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!)

Catch a falling star

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

[Sung to the tune of Catch a Falling Star]

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

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

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

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

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

Frosting and graham crackers

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

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

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

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

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

La-de-da

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

Me too!

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

Yay! for camp songs!

La-de-da

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

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

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

[Chorus]

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

[Chorus]

Just two minutes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The life of tiny platelets

A low platelet count means I’m on rest orders from the doctor. My foster daughter is spending the night at a friend’s house. I’m too cheap to pay for cable so I’m watching The Godfather for the gazillionth time. Which means I’m a bit bored silly at the moment.

I’m also totally obsessed with my blood disease, idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura, right now. Which seems to happen any time my counts are lower than 50. (Normal is 150-400; mine are generally around 60-80.)

So, to entertain myself I searched ‘platelets’ in YouTube. And I found a series of three really corny animated videos that I thought I’d share with you.

Apologies about going on and on about platelets. I promise to knock it off as soon as mine get back to ‘my’ idea of normal. (Soon, I hope!) In the mean time, you can bore yourself and your children with lessons in human clot creation! (Yay!)

DO open your junk mail!

I hate junk mail. I really do. It’s a waste of resources and a waste of my excitement—because I always get excited when I have mail, and am then disappointed that it’s junk mail.

But I always open my junk mail. Always. And then I shred it. Or use it for fire starter.

And why do I open it? Well, because you get some pretty cool free stuff sometimes.

Sometimes that cool stuff is return address labels or stickers. Sometimes it’s a sample of a new dish soap or shampoo. Sometimes it’s coupons for useful (or useless) stuff. And sometimes it’s little note cards.

But sometimes it’s money. Yes, really. Sometimes it’s money.

I bet you didn’t know that, did you?

Well, it’s not unheard of for surveys to have money in them;* generally $2-5 depending on the company. Kind of a way to entice you to fill it out and turn it in. Which, since they also include pre-paid return envelopes, I always do. After all, I’d feel guilty taking the money otherwise.

So today when I opened my week’s junk mail I wasn’t surprised to see that The Nielsen Company included two, crisp, un-folded $1 bills in the envelope.

Which means I got two bucks just for opening my junk mail. Yay!

How about you? Do you open your junk mail? Will you open it now that you know there might be money in it?

* In the UK they often include a cheapy pen in the envelope—which makes it ever-so-easy to fill out the form immediately! But, sadly, I never got money for my efforts there…

30 things

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

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

OK! You’re next! What’s on your list?

Grrr…

I have had one of those really crummy days where I just want to scream and throw a temper tantrum. It’s not one of those days where I am sad and upset about my lot in life; it’s not one of those days where I’m doubtful and frightened about my future.

Instead, it’s one of those days where I realize that I am not able to control the actions of others. And, worse, I cannot directly affect the choice others make. But, sadly, the choices of others will still have negative consequences for me.

Those negative consequences are what are getting to me today.

OK, it’s not like the consequences are [directly] life altering or life threatening but little by little they add up and really do impact my quality of life.

But, in an effort to not be completely negative about the day, it is Wednesday. And the house keeper comes on Wednesdays. So my house is clean now. Which makes me happy.

To summarize:
Boo!! for stupid people.
Yay!! for people who clean my house.

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!

Coccydynia

Remember how I told you I went cross country skiing last week and didn’t fall once? Well, I wish I had fallen once, because it was the second fall that caused current state of coccydynia.

The first two days after my coccyx injury were spent driving; often on compact snow and ice making for a very bumpy—and sore—journey home from my holidays. The next two days were spent relaxing at home. Still sore, but not as sore as I’d been. And slowly, I began to forget about my injury.

But the problem now is that I am mostly pain free. Which means I forget about my poorly tail. Which means I keep standing up without thinking about it. Which means that I am causing myself more pain.

I’d planned to go for a training run this week to prepare not only for my marathon but for the Freeze Your Fanny 5K. But now, instead of worrying about freezing my fanny, I’m complaining about a pain in it.

Yes, this post is all about the pain in my arse.

And that picture, if you wondered, is me pointing to my fanny the first time I ran the Freeze Your Fanny 5K in 2008.

Saving cash; depleting clutter

Like many of you, I have a habit of taking home soaps and other toiletries from hotels. And, like I’m sure some of you, I never actually use them. Yet, still, I take them.

The stuff I get from cheapy hotels sits in a plastic bag. That stuff smells bad. Well, not bad, but like perfume. (Ick.)

The stuff I get from fancy hotels sits in a nice wicker basket. That stuff smells nice. And it’s actually name-brand products from around the globe. But, still, I never use it.

But, I’m trying to pinch pennies. And I’m trying to de-clutter. So now the stuff is going to get used.

My foster daughter actually likes smelly stuff, so as soon as she’s out of her stinky body wash gel, she will be handed a bar of Motel 6 soap. And later Holiday Inn and Sheraton* soaps. Same thing when she’s out of shampoo, conditioner, and lotion. And only once all the free stuff is gone will we buy new stuff.

I will be using the fancy soaps—L’Occitane, Neutrogena, Bath & Body Works. A couple of them are lightly-scented, but not perfumey. And I will be using the fancy hair stuff, too—John Frieda, Pantene, Bath & Body Works. Again, not too smelly.

I even have some dental floss, tooth paste, and deodorant. As well as a few other bits-and-bobs. And several free sewing kits, of which I think I’ll give one to a friend because I recall him needing—yet not having—a needle and thread once.**

Now, I cannot promise that I will not add more free stuff to the mix, and I cannot promise that I won’t buy new stuff from time-to-time, but at least I’ll be saving money and clearing out some clutter.

* OK, Sheraton hotels are not really on the cheap end of the spectrum, but they do use smelly products so their toiletries get tossed in with the cheap stuff.
** I know it sounds cheap to give free stuff to friends, but it’s not like it’s a proper gift and it’s not like it’s really a gift so much as a gesture of goodwill.

How hokey!

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

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

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

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

A cartridge in a bare tree

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

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

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

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

And I wonder if I can find one for myself.

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

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

Image courtesy of The Forestry Forum

It’s all about the unicorns

My foster daughter has this habit of saying “Guess what?” without giving any further clues or context. In the beginning, I would ask for hints or detail, but she would just demand that I guess. And there is no way I’d ever come close so I started to just make up guesses.

So when she says “Guess what?” I reply with things like:

You were on your way out to the playground at recess when this herd of pink unicorns came careening down out of the lentil fields right toward you and your friends. And just moments before they impaled you with their silvery horns, flying monkeys swooped down and picked you up with their teeth then flew you to a rainbow where you could sit safely whilst the herd passed by. Afterward, you were able to slide down the rainbow and land safely on a bed of marshmallows.

Or:

You were sleeping soundly when all of the sudden a troll with purple hair woke you with hushed tones and told you to hop on to his unicorn so that he could ride you to safety because there was a dragon outside your bedroom window who was going to kidnap you and take you to the Land of the Firebreathers where you would be forced to repair all of the broken claws and scales that the dragons got when they were fighting the evil orgs who ruled Swamp Kingdom.

And she just rolls her eyes and lets me know that the thing I was supposed to guess was that some kid at school broke their fingernail or something.

But it won’t end there. No, after she tells me what I was meant to guess, she then lets me know that, in fact, there are no pink unicorns (don’t be silly!) and that dragons don’t need someone to repair their claws and scales because (of course) they have special regeneration powers that mean they fix themselves.

Anyhow, my unicorn-based guesses are getting more creative. But they are also turning up in my adult conversations these days. Oh well. Folks already knew I was crazy, believing in unicorns fits right in with my current residency in La-La-Land.

Kid questions

Kids are great. I love the way they don’t mince words.

I called a friend on Tuesday to ask for help after claiming it “Ask for Help Tuesday”. Tuesday was a bad day for me. A really, really bad day. So I was crying as I asked for help. My friend had her young grandchildren with her at the time and was telling them to hold on whilst we spoke.

Anyhow, I called the same friend on Wednesday to let her know some fantastic news that I’d just received. And again she had her grandchildren with her.

I laughed when I heard the young boy ask:
“Is she going to cry about her dead husband again?”

And I smiled when my friend said:
“Yes, she will always cry for him.”

Even more, I love that my friend allows me to cry for him but that she also allows me to laugh and celebrate my life.

That’s it. No real point to this “Taking Back My Lunch Hour” post.

Happy Thursday!

11¢

It was dark, rainy, and wet when I walked out of the office a little after 5 this evening. But that didn’t stop me from spotting a dime and a penny on the sidewalk in front of me. I had to look twice because it was so hard to see, but that was certainly 11¢ laying there.

I felt no shame as I bent down in my business casual work outfit to pick up what seems to most as worthless. And I felt no shame as my eyes darted around to see if there were more precious coins laying about in search of someone to love them. (I didn’t see any, but will pay close attention on my way into the office tomorrow when I have the light of day to aid my search.)

Why would a woman with a comfortable (though modest) income bother to pick up such a pittance? Because I’m cheap. Because I’m frugal. Because I hate waste. Because I like money. And—most importantly—because I can’t actually afford to go to graduate school so I need save every penny I can. Even if it’s a penny scrounged from a puddle of water outside my office door.

Yay! I’m 11¢ closer to my £10,000+ tuition bill!

Feeling dotty

I’m still struggling with the sadness that came over me yesterday. Not in an “I’m still sad” way but in a “Big episodes of grief really wipe me out” way. So I decided I’d take it easy and doodle for a bit after dinner.

The evening’s doodles are really more dottles; which is about right since I’m feeling a bit dotty today.

Which makes me smile because dotty is a British slang term for mentally unbalanced, eccentric, or amusingly absurd—all terms that could be used to describe me most days.

Just a doodlin’

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

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

Blue hearts

So there is was a great big, blue 2,800-pound bronze heart sculpture on campus that I totally love. I noticed it on my first trip to WSU for a job interview and was instantly drawn to it. But it wasn’t long until I started to hear about the great controversy surrounding it. Apparently, my love for the challenging sculpture is a minority opinion.

Anyhow, I began a new type of journal the other day where I will combine traditional journal entries with poems and prose as well as drawings and whatever else I feel I need to add to work through some thoughts and emotions I’m dealing with right now. My first drawing? You guessed it! The big blue heart! It just seemed fitting with the journal entry I’d just written.

Well, less than 24 hours after my creative release, the heart was removed from campus! But (yay!) it will return next year. It seems that the controversial piece will be on loan to the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, Mich., until next year as part of a Jim Dine retrospective.

Maybe I’ll manage to sort out my thoughts and emotions before its return to campus. Wow. Maybe if I draw a big picture of stress, that will be taken away in 24 hours, too … ?

Today I will…

Photo credits to Windy Tevlin; Tevlin PhotographyToday’s writing prompt was to write for ten minutes starting with the words “Today I will…”. So when lunch came around I grabbed my laptop and a cup of tea, set a timer, and wrote.

What you see below is just what came out—I’ve not done any editing of any sort. So please forgive me for any errors or confusing thoughts.

[Side note: Whilst I say that I will do these things today, I have to also acknowledge that many of them are just too difficult right now. Some will be achieved today and others will be achieved over time and some will remain attitudes to strive for throughout my life. Blah, blah, blah…]

Today I will…

Today I will be happy. I will think about good things and try not to dwell on the sad.

Today I will help someone who needs help and I will try to remember that it’s OK to ask for help when I need it, too.

Today I will be creative. I will take time to draw and color.

Today I will think about my future in positive tones and I won’t think about the possibility of failure.

Today I will smile more and cry less.

Today I will think about a friend who means the world to me but I’m mad at. But I probably won’t speak to them because I’m too stubborn.

Today I will forgive myself for not being perfect. But I will still expect perfection and will cause myself much grief over it.

Today I will take a few minutes to just relax and do nothing.

Today I will enjoy my own company and I will remind myself that being alone is OK.

Today I take time to think about happy memories and less about sad ones.

Today I will be gentle with myself and not demand more than I can reasonably do.

Today I will not get mad at myself for being afraid.

Today I will pay more attention to my surroundings and be thankful for the gift of sight when I see the sun setting over the Palouse hills.

Today I will be more patient when others upset me, because they probably don’t even know that their actions are causing me grief.

Today I will remember that it’s OK to be mad and that it’s OK to be grumpy. But that I can’t take those emotions out on innocent people who only mean well.

Today I will remember that I have friends around the world who care for me even if I never hear from them.

Today I will remember that my life is not as bad as I think it is and that I have a bright future ahead of me even if I can’t see it.

Today I will remember that I am in control of my life and my destiny.

Today I will remember to love myself.

Today I will remember to pray.

Bad desk; good desk

I don’t know how it happens, but I will go weeks and weeks with my desk being nice and clean then all of the sudden things start to accumulate. It’s not as if I don’t have space to store things. It’s not even as if I have to go far to put things away – I mean, 80 percent of the stuff that ends up on top of my desk actually belongs in one of the desk drawers or on the bookshelves right next to the desk.

Thankfully, when I realize I’ve become a slob I’m able to find the energy to fix the problem. And then I’m able to keep things neat and tidy for quite some time. Now, if I could just stop letting things accumulate in the first place…

Before = Bad Desk

After = Good Desk

Hanky panky

A friend from high school mentioned that she’d like to hear more about my collection of vintage handbags and handkerchiefs, so this post is for her! (And it’s about hankies, not handbags.)

I couldn’t tell you exactly when I started using handkerchiefs. If I had to guess, it was in my early-20s when my vintage handbag passion was really kicking into gear. I was finding that I really loved vintage accessories and I slowly started adding hankies to my collection of ‘stuff’. But I’m a firm believer in using things, not just letting them collect in a box hidden from sight.

Over the years, I’ve never seen handkerchiefs used by women in my age group. No, it seems that they are just not the ‘in’ thing to use. (Or maybe it’s that most women in my age group are totting small children with snotty noses around and have decided disposable tissues are just easier!)

In fact, it dawned on me a few weeks ago when I saw a man I know using a handkerchief, that other than me, that friend, and little old ladies, I’ve only seen old redneck men use handkerchiefs in recent times. And whilst my hankies remain neatly folded, the handkerchiefs of this friend and the old rednecks always seem to be crumpled in a pocket. The hankies of little old ladies tend to be stuffed in their sleeves or through the band of their watch. (In fairness, the friend I saw using one recently is neither old nor is he a redneck.)

Anyhow, it makes me wonder a few things:

  • Are there other women under the age of 60 who use handkerchiefs?
  • Are the only men who use them old rednecks or men in suits?
  • Am I the only person who doesn’t crumple their handkerchiefs?
  • If I dropped my hankie in an ever-so-dainty way, would a gallant hero come whisk me away to a land of joyful bliss and happiness like they do in the fairy tales?
  • Would a man still hand a woman his handkerchief if she was crying? And if he did and she blew her nose into it, would he want it back?

[Side note: I don’t blow my nose in my hankies. If I have a cold I carry disposable tissues for that purpose. I know, TMI, but it’s my blog and I can share what I want!]

So, I don’t know if this post really answers the request for information about my handkerchiefs, but it’s maybe a start. And if you want a bit more entertainment, you can always click on the thumbnail images below to see close-ups of some of my (clean, I promise) handkerchiefs.

And, Sharon, I promise that I’ll share more fun stories and pictures about any new vintage accessory purchases!! Yay!

Curly

Curl ˈkər(-ə)l (verb) [Middle English crullen, curlen, from crulle, curly, perhaps of Middle Low German origin.]
transitive verb: 1: to form (as the hair) into coils or ringlets 2: to form into a curved shape : twist <curled his lip in a sneer> 3: to furnish with curls
intransitive verb: 1a : to grow in coils or spirals b : to form ripples or crinkles <bacon curling in a pan> 2: to move or progress in curves or spirals : wind <the path curled along the mountainside> 3: twist, contort 4: to play the game of curling

So, I’ve had my hair curled. And how awesome is it that the intransitive verb mentions one of my favourite foods (bacon) and the sport of my favourite (non-native) country (Scotland)?! Yay!

Thanks, Lynn, for making my hair look so pretty!

(Oh, and a shot with pigtails, too. Because I love to wear my hair in bunches these days!)

200

I can’t believe that I’ve had so much useless rubbish to share with the world since I started Just Frances!

I’ve found writing here to be relaxing, peaceful, and therapeutic. And whilst my writings may be sad at times, I think of this as my happy place; as a place where I can feel vulnerable and safe at the same time.

For me, Just Frances is a release of energy and ideas. It is a place where I can be me: The happy me; the sad me; the wacky and crazy me. It’s a place where my ego can frolic and play. It’s a place where my fears can be displayed. And it’s a place where I can share my joys and successes and happy moments.

For my 200th post, I want to thank you—because your support means the world to me. You may not know it, but just the act of checking in tells me that you care. (Or that you’re voyeuristic, but that’s OK, too.)

So, thank you, dear reader. From the bottom of my heart.

Bonus! My 200th post has been brought to you in just 200 words! And I made a picture for you, too!

When I was a kid I thought…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I asked

I asked
by Just Frances

I asked the grass why it was green;
And it smiled and said just because.

I asked the sky why it was blue;
And it winked secretively.

I asked the wind why it was so fierce;
And it tapped its nose knowingly.

I asked the sun to warm me;
And it did; with passion.

I asked the moon to light my way;
And it did; and the stars joined in.

I asked the oceans why they lapped at the shore;
And they laughed with joy at my curiosity.

I asked myself why I was here;
And the earth sang a song of peace.

The eyes of the heavens glistened.
The joyful tears of the angels above poured onto the land.

And I kept quiet.
And everything was perfect.

Just a quick trip

So there I was in line at the British Airways counter at SeaTac. With me were three of my five sisters and their kids and a wanna-be sister (that’s you, J.D.) and her kids. (For those counting, that’s 13 people.) I was the only one of the group with experience traveling overseas, so I was the spokeswoman for us. Or maybe that was because I’m bossy and controlling. Either way, I was the leader.

I start handing passports over to the nice woman behind the counter and all of the sudden I realize that mine is dog-eared. Now, this panicked me. I was very upset about having a not-pretty passport so asked her to begin processing the information for the other 12 people in my travel party whilst I popped over to the instant passport printing machine. I took all of three minutes to get my new passport and it was fab! I even managed to include my signature green on the information page. It was an extra $10 for the customized look, but well worth it!

Once back at the counter, we finished the check-in process and made our way through the security lines. In front of us was David Tennant. We struck up a conversation and he was pleased to learn that he was speaking to Just Frances of Internet fame. So pleased, in fact, that he asked for some pens. Left-handed ones to boot!

Before I knew it we were on a plane bound for Heathrow. It must have been the shortest flight in the world because within moments we’d landed and were heading through immigration before heading to the train station. I’d really wanted to fly up north, but the romantic notion of train travel carried by my travel companions meant that I was out-voted. So instead, we took a long and boring train journey to Scotland; my companions pointing out every old building and spray-paint-dotted sheep along the route. (I think I was smiling secretly as I recalled my first train journey in the UK.)

Finally, we arrived at Waverly Station in Edinburgh and made our way to my friend’s amazing country house – which was only about a two-minute walk from the station.

As the rest of the group got settled into their rooms for the night, I sat there visiting with my friend who was preparing to make me a cuppa tea. We were having a great little chat when all of the sudden the kettle started whistling.

At the same time, my alarm clock started to go off. Yep, it was time to re-enter reality and go to work. Oh well. Maybe I can return to my lovely conversation tonight. After all, it’s not fair that everyone else’s holiday was cut short when I awoke from my dream.

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.)

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.)

Stick it ‘n lick it

I really like candy. Especially candy that comes on a stick. Candy on a stick is great fun because of the added bonus of using your hands to eat – a feeding style that is dear to my heart. You name it, I love it! Suckers, lollipops, Tootsie Pops, Dum·Dum·Pops, Drumsticks, Chupa Chups, Sugar Daddies… oh, the list goes on and on!

Before getting to the main point, though, let’s just get the Tootsie Pop stuff dealt with. First: How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop? Well, it’s either three or ‘the world may never know’ – depending on which answer from the 1980s-era commercial you want to believe. Second: The whole Indian shooting a star on the wrapper legend. But I’ve already written about that one, and you can read about it here.

OK? Ready to move on? Great!

I want to talk about the “Eww Factor.” Yes, that’s right, this post is really all about the eww factor.

Am I the only one who finds it a bit odd that there is an exception to the rule that says to keep your food in your mouth? Instead, we find it acceptable to carry on a conversation whilst holding a saliva-covered piece of confection in our hand. And at some point, let’s be honest, some of them get pretty icky looking – especially the ones with ooey, gooey fillings.

I mean, no one would tolerate me removing a chunk of half-masticated steak from my mouth then holding it on my fork for all to see during a conversation. So why is it acceptable to do it with a Tootsie Pop?

I don’t know if there is a real point to this post, but I would love your views on why it’s acceptable – or even your views on why it’s not acceptable.

Thoughts?

NOTE: No matter how disgusting I think it is, I will continue to suck on my lollipops – in public or not – because I can. Until Emily Post tells me otherwise at least.

An illegitimate, homeless transient

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rainbows

This is one of those funny posts for me. It started because I had a thought about rainbows, which then led me down a path of remembering the first time I felt joy and sorrow simultaneously (on a trip to Edinburgh), which then led me to a statement declaring I would give a friend money for having not fessed up that I’d already been through a ‘scary’ tourist trap that he wanted to take me through. I think the moment I realized I was going to part with my money was the moment I realized that I needed to get back on topic.

So… back to the topic of rainbows.

I can never decide if rainbows make me happy or sad. I can never decide if the dreams that they hold make up for the fact that they are merely an illusion. It makes me smile to look at them, but it’s so frustrating that – try as I may – I can never catch one. I can never hold one. I can never feel the array of colors in my hands. And there certainly isn’t a pot of gold at the end of one – as much as I want to believe there is. As a child, I knew it was there. And there was once a time that I allowed my adult self to imagine that maybe, just maybe, it’s there – hiding behind the mask of grown-up cynicism.

I guess that the truth is that I struggle some days. I struggle to find the energy to believe that there might just be a pot of gold at the end of that rainbow. But I want to believe that the illusion is real. I want to believe that one day I will be walking along and all of the sudden a rainbow appears in all of it’s Roy G. Biv greatness and I’ll be able to reach out and touch it. I’ll be able to feel it’s glow. And I’ll have a wee chat with the leprechaun charged with protecting that pot of gold.

As part of my goal to be blissfully happy, I am going to start giving rainbows a chance. I am going to work to find that innocent joy in the simplicity of nature’s gift. And I’m going to find more reasons to be happy about rainbows than sad about them.

I know, it’s sort of a nonsense post today. I blame it on Kermit.

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…

Free coffee!

I’m holding a contest and you should totally enter to win FREE COFFEE! Yay!

Why a contest*? Because I stopped at Starbucks on my way home this afternoon and experienced an amazing act of kindness and really want to pass on my joy.

Here’s the story:
I decided to stop in at Starbucks for a cup of Refresh tea to break up my journey home. I grabbed my laptop and headed into the shop. I’m standing there waiting to order when an older lady in front of me turned and said “I’m buying your drink today, so go ahead and place your order.” In my shock, I looked behind me thinking she must be talking to a friend. But no, she was talking to me.

She explained that seeing that my pretty floral dress matched my floral laptop sleeve made her smile and she wanted to do something to make me smile in return. I tried to protest but she wouldn’t have it any other way. Figuring my drink was only about a buck-sixty, and that it really would make her happy to buy it for me, I allowed her to do so.

I mean, how wonderfully-kind was that? It was nice enough to just have the compliment of making someone smile, but then to get a free drink out of the deal? 100% awesome!

It got me thinking that the simple act of buying someone a cup of coffee can totally turn a plain day into a sprinkles-added day.

So now you know why, let’s talk about how!

How do you enter?
Answer one or more of these three questions by leaving a comment on this post.
[Comments left on Facebook do not count, sorry.]

1) What’s your coffee order and why?

2) What’s the funniest thing you’ve ever witnessed when at the coffee shop?

3) What’s your favorite ‘random acts of kindness’ story?

When is the contest over?
Entries must be received by 10:00 p.m. Pacific Standard Time on Thursday, August 5th.
[That translates to 6:00 a.m. Greenwich Mean Time on Friday, August 6th, for folks in the UK.]

What do you win?
A $25 or £20 Starbucks gift card.
[NOTE: This assumes the winner is from America, Canada, or the UK. If you don’t live in one of those places but still want to play, we’ll figure out some way to get you free coffee in a currency you can use for roughly $25USD!]

Who can enter?
Anyone! You don’t have to ‘really’ know me. This can be your first-ever visit to my blog. Doesn’t matter. But you can only enter once.

How will the winner be determined?
The names of entrants will be placed in a hat and one will be randomly selected by Schrodie. OK, that last part is a lie. One will be randomly selected by me.

So, get busy answering one or more of the questions for your chance to get some free coffee!

* To give full credit, the inspiration for doing a contest at all came after reading a friend’s blog where she gave away a gift card to celebrate a great accomplishment in her life.

Getting ready

Girls’ Weekend starts tomorrow. It’s bad enough that (despite the fact I’d blocked my schedule off from 3:00 p.m. onwards) that I have a 4:00 p.m. meeting prior to the four-hour drive to get to the Beach House, but now I’ve just realized that my way-awesome new inflatable inner tube river floaty thingy doesn’t use an air mattress pump OR a bicycle pump.

Yes, folks, I may need to inflate this sucker with manual lung power Saturday morning. I suppose it’s a good thing that I’m generally full of hot air!

Oh well, best get the rest of my gear packed now.

Bikini? Check.

Books? Check.

Beer? No need – the brother-not-in-law is supplying that for me.

Sunblock? Check times three. Because I know how brutal the Columbia is!

Fun attitude? CHECK!

WooHoo! One more sleep until my first-ever Girls’ Weekend!!

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

Cold theory

So I’m sitting here drinking a proper beer with my sister and brother-not-in-law, JohnnyO. (JohnnyO is drinking Bud Light, which is almost proper beer, so that’s OK.) A question of if my beer is ‘ice cold’ turns the conversation to the ridiculous ‘cold activation’ sensor-thingy on the side of a can of Coors Light. [I’m shuddering at the thought of drinking said beverage regardless of the temperature.]

Anyhow, being one of those people who must find an answer for anything, even if it’s made up, I had to answer JohnnyO when he asked “What’s up with that?” with complete disdain in his voice.

And here’s my theory:

You know those people who are really dumb and hold Roman Candles in their hands whilst the fiery balls of flaming sulfur fly into the sky? Or the ones who stop at the gas station because their car is a bit noisy then grab the muffler to see if it’s securely attached to the car? Or the woman (or man) who checks to see if the curling iron is hot enough by wrapping their hand around the barrel? You know, the people who end up at the Harborview Burn Center for skin grafts causing them to lose sensation in their hands?

Well, I think that those are the people Coors is marketing to. The people with no feeling in their hands. And who like cheap, crap lagers. And need a way to tell if it’s ice cold.

When I rule the world, I will make certain that my Drinks Tsar makes eliminating Coors and other icky lagers* a priority.

* Icky lagers are to be defined as those un-liked by me as well as the lucky person who gets to be Drinks Tsar.

Spare change

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

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

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

Tomorrow’s goal: Cash in the coins!

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

SUBS syndrome

This is something I posted on RyanCentric years ago, but as it’s been mentioned by a few “old” friends recently it made me realize that most of my “new” friends won’t know that I suffer from SUBS. Well, they may know, but they don’t realize there’s a name for it. So, I’m re-posting!
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I would like to introduce myself as one who suffers from SUBS syndrome. Well, I guess I don’t really suffer from it, but the people around me sure suffer from my affliction at times.

SUBS is a condition first named with the help of my friend more than a decade ago. We’ve had it all our lives; we just never knew what it was. Though our findings are not published, and would likely never be recognized by any professional journals, many people have been self-diagnosed since our first announcement of the condition.

But just what is SUBS?

SUBS: Sudden Uncontrollable Bursts of Sarcasm
SUBS is a generally genetic condition but is often highly contagious. Those who are not affected are often times left in a stunned condition, as they have no clue what is being said around them, nor do they understand the reason for laughter. At times, they may feel as if they are being teased or picked on by SUBS carriers, though that is rarely the case.

At the present time, there is no known cure for SUBS. Some people are able to control their outbreaks when the situation calls for it; some are able to go into remission for hours or even days at a time. But SUBS is one of those things that are simply ingrained in the inter-workings of the mind.

I am a member of the SUBS community with a genetic disposition to the condition. The genetic line runs heavily through my family on both my maternal and paternal sides. As with most cases, SUBS affects every member in my family. Even my young nieces and nephews are showing signs of the condition. There is no getting through a conversation without someone’s SUBS showing through.

Thankfully, most of the people I know suffer from SUBS, as well. In fact, SUBS is how I met Paul while I was living in Scotland. Him being British and all, he never expected that he would meet an American who could understand sarcasm and wit. If only he knew what he was getting himself into!

I am not ashamed of my condition. No, in fact, I am very proud of it. I get the jokes. I get the puns, and I totally get British sitcoms (well, almost). I love a funny little one-line zinger. Even more so when most people around don’t understand what was said.

Don’t be ashamed if you, too, are afflicted with SUBS. Share the laughter! Share the joy! Maybe your little bit of sarcasm will infect someone else. Oh what a happy day it will be when the whole world is dripping with satire, repartee, and irony!

Bathing Bexy

Bexy has gotten her first non-rain-induced bath for the first time in more than a year. Paul and I used to wash her every 2-4 weeks but I just haven’t had the inclination. The poor dear was covered in bugs and dirt and filth and grime.

So, in an effort to support the local high school baseball team, I stopped to get her washed when I was out and about running errands today.

Yay for clean cars!

Very fishy

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

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

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

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!