So long, 2012!

2010.09.20.sometimesIf I am honest, I would have to say that 2012 has been a pretty unhappy year. I think it’s been even worse because I had such high hopes for it; I suppose that hoping for happiness only served to set me up for greater disappointments. And it really has been a disappointing year on so many levels.

But despite the disappointments I faced, there were good things, too. And those are the memories I will try to take away from 2012. So, here are a few of the year’s high notes:

I also have to give special acknowledgement to a group of women who became my virtual ears when I was really struggle a couple of months ago. And further acknowledgement to two amazing friends who’ve been working to bring Just Frances back up to speed so that we can scrap this temporary blog and move full-speed ahead into a bright 2013.

So, goodbye 2012. I will remember the good times. And for you, 2013, I hope you bring me the joy I so desperately want and need!

(Want more year-end reviews: Here’s 2010 and 2011!)

Only in my dreams

2012.12.29.only-in-my-dreamsThere is a man who appears in my dreams who isn’t Paul. In my dreams, we’re madly in love. And much like the widow dreams I still have, these dreams are different each time. Sometimes happy; sometimes sad. But always a dream; never a reality.

Sometimes, he’s all mine in those dreams; we’re a couple and we’re oh-so-happy. Sometimes we’re married. Sometimes we have children. Sometimes we’re on a first date. And sometimes we’re good friends who are just becoming more than that.

I like those dreams. I never want to wake up when I’m having them. They make my heart so happy all day long—even though I know it was only a dream that will never come true.

But sometimes in those dreams, he belongs to another and we are merely caught in the misfortunate place of wishing things were different. Sometimes I try to push him away but he continues to pursue me. Sometimes we acknowledge that we can’t be together and we part in tears. And sometimes I ask him to make a choice between me and his partner—and his response varies.

Those are the dreams that make me sad. I’m sad because I’ve dreamt of spending time with another woman’s partner. I’m sad because—even in my dreams—I can’t have the love I want. I’m sad because those feelings stick with me all day long. I feel guilty for having shared emotions with a man who’s already spoken for.

The worst thing is that these dreams break my heart. Over and over again, when I realise that they are only dreams and the man is only a shadow who visits me when I sleep, I am sad. I am sad that he’s not really here. I am sad that I can’t pick up the phone and call him. I’m sad that I only know him when I’m asleep.

And sometimes, when I’m out at the shops, I find myself wishing he would walk through the door. I find myself wishing he’d come and whisper in my ear, just like he does in my dreams.

I’m sure this puts me somewhere on the crazy scale. But certainly I can’t be the only person out there who dreams of a man who fills her heart with joy. And, who knows, sometimes dreams come true …

Only In My Dreams
by Just Frances

He walks in the room; my heart skips a beat
He glances at me; I blush and look away
His smile is infectious as he walks toward me
The gentle kiss he greets me with sends shivers down my spine
He brushes my hair off my face; I blush again
Our fingers entwined; we gaze into each other’s eyes
The conversation is easy; the laughter is flowing
He whispers in my ear; I blush some more
Hand in hand, we begin to leave; and I wake up
And he’s not there; he was only in my dreams

Survived

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preparing for alone

2012.12.22.preparing-for-aloneI’ve decided to spend Christmas alone this year. I know that sounds silly to some people, but it seems like the right thing to do for me; for my heart. It’s not that I’ve not been invited to spend the day with others; it’s just that it’s hard to spend such a special day in someone else’s home. I would be left feeling like an outsider; like I was there because someone took pity on me.

I know that the people who’ve invited me wouldn’t feel that way, but I would. And I’m afraid that would be hard on my heart, so I’ve declined the invitations in favour of spending the day alone.

Part of me knows that the best way to make it through the day alone is to pretend that the day isn’t happening but, at the same time, I know that my heart and soul will know what day it is no matter how much my brain tries to ignore it.

So, I’ve decided that I will enjoy a Christmas feast, just like I would do if I had someone to spend the day with. Only, I had a bit of a melt-down in the shops today when I tried to buy groceries (seeing those happy couples still hurts!) so I have to go back and try again tomorrow.

But, thanks to a co-worker, I do have a copy of the Christmas Radio Times so I can start planning out my Christmas day viewing. Doctor Who and EastEnders are already circled!

Yes, I’ll be alone for Christmas, but I will survive it. Just like I’ve managed to survive every other day. And hopefully, I’ll survive without too many tears. After all, I have to carry on, and this won’t be my last holiday alone. So I might as well figure out how to manage.

Failure to launch

2012.04.13.beautiful_things_paper_heartWay back in May, I had a failed attempt at re-entering the dating world—and that was after my ego had already been shattered! At the time, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to share the story here or not. But it seems to me that the story should be shared because I keep reflecting on it, so it’s obviously something that’s been bothering me.

It should be noted that I don’t plan to share every detail of every date I ever go on, but as this was my first date since Paul died, I guess it’s significant. So, here goes!

I was very apprehensive about the thought of meeting another man for lunch. I mean, I know it’s not cheating and I know that Paul would be more than happy for me to be dating, but it’s still weird. I mean, how can I go on a date with someone who wasn’t my husband?

After a slightly awkward greeting, we walked up the road to a nice little place where we could chat over lunch. The conversation was easy enough, but I never fully relaxed into it. Part of that was likely typical ‘first date jitters’ but I’m sure part of it was ‘first date after widowhood weirdness’ which is another layer of complication.

At the end of lunch, we parted ways as awkwardly as we’d met, and I made my way home. I was uncertain about the date and uncertain if I wanted to see the man again. He was very kind, but I didn’t feel a strong connection. However, I chalked that up to the conflicting feelings I had about dating a man who wasn’t my husband.

When I was asked if I’d be interested in a second date, I found myself agreeing to meet the man for dinner. After all, the first date wasn’t a disaster; it just wasn’t a spark-filled fairytale.

But, in the end, the second date didn’t happen. And here’s why:

The man called a couple of days before the date to make arrangements for where and when we would meet. It was then that he mentioned the possibility of another date later that month. Only I said I couldn’t because I was going to England for my brother-in-law’s birthday. And he said he thought my family all lived in the States. And I said that my in-laws were in England. And he was very adamant that it wasn’t right for me to be spending time with my ‘ex in-laws’.

Yes, this man felt that my late husband’s family were my ‘ex’ in-laws and that I need to cut them out of my life. He felt that it was wrong for me to have anything to do with them because, after all, I was no longer married and therefore I had no obligation to them.

He, apparently, is on rather bitter terms with his ex-wife and her family, and he felt that widowhood and divorce was the same thing where in-laws are concerned and that it was completely inappropriate for me to have anything to do with them.

Anyhow, he gave me a choice: Him or them. And I didn’t need to think about it, because I knew instantly that it was my in-laws. My family. The people who have been there for me even though they don’t have to be.

The entire situation hurt me very badly and I was rather angry that I was told to choose. I wasn’t upset at the idea that this man wasn’t the one; I was upset that someone would tell me that I had to walk away from my family. Sadly, a read around the World Wide Web shows that I’m not the only widow(er) who has been asked to choose. I don’t know if it’s ignorance or insecurity on the part of the ultimatum-maker, but it’s hurtful either way.

So, there you go. My first date story. Let’s hope that one day I have happier, more succesful dating stories to share!

Visa hiccups

2012.08.12.visaIt would seem that I am being challenged on my visa journey this time around. And it is so very frustrating!

As you may know, I have been trying to switch my visa from a Tier 4 (Student) to a Tier 2 (General Work). But to do that, my employer needed to apply to the UKBA to become a sponsor.

For the past few months, there have been various back-and-forths on this, that, and the next thing to get everything lined up so that I can apply for my visa before my current one expires in mid-January.

And—finally!—everything came together.

The plan was simple: Make my application online and pay the extra £300 for the premium service which would include an in-person interview and a decision within 24 hours.

The hope was that I could get an interview for the next week so that I could have my passport back in time to travel to the Homeland for Christmas—realising that the last-minute ticket would cost a small fortune.

So I filled out the online application. Only there aren’t any available appointments before Christmas. In fact, there aren’t any available appointments before my current visa expires!

What does this mean?

Well, first of all it means that I will have to send off my application by post (which means I don’t have to pay the extra money). Along with my application I have to send my passport and other supporting documents. And since it can take six weeks—or more!—to get everything back, it means I can’t go home for Christmas.

It also means that I have to talk to the HR folks at work to make sure that they realise that once I apply, my current visa automatically extends until my application is decided. Because if they don’t clearly understand that, they may not let me work (or pay me!) until the new visa arrives.

So whilst this isn’t ‘good’ visa news, it’s certainly not bad visa news. (And let’s hope it doesn’t transcend into bad news!)

Of course, now I need to figure out a Plan B for Christmas. That’s going to be hard!

To the birthday boy

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

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

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

The master

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

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

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

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

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

New leaves

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

Oops, did you catch that error?

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

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

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

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

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

Low, but lucky

I’ve been a bit low lately and reached out to a friend for a bit of company. When I’d first mentioned that I was stressed and needed to get out of the flat, I imagined that we’d meet up for a wee walk somewhere so that I had a bit of human interaction.

What I didn’t expect was that we’d spend eight hours together chatting, walking, and eating. But that’s what our visit turned out to be. And it was just what I needed.

Yep, last Saturday I made my way to Edinburgh to meet with Adrian, who took me on a fantastic walk through the Penicuik House Estate. There was something so wonderful about walking through the wooded estate, looking over Midlothian as we trekked across the sodden and muddy ground with his dog, Holly.

Of course, poor Adrian got to listen to me moan a bit about my life’s stresses, and he got to hear a bit about things that have led to my current state of stress and woe, so it might not have been as enjoyable for him. But he tolerated me—and even cooked me dinner and drove me back to the train station when we were done walking.

So, yes. I’ve been a bit low lately. But I keep finding all of these wonderful reminders about all of the wonderful people who are out there supporting me. I am a lucky woman because I have friends. And with luck and friendship, I’m sure this low mood will give way to a high mood soon enough.

Forty-nine days

My visa expires in 49 days. My employer is working on getting sponsorship approval for me so that I can apply for a new visa, but I don’t know if it will all happen before my current visa expires. I might be entitled to a two-month extension, giving me a bit of breathing room to apply for the work visa, but I’ve not heard back from the Home Office to confirm that.

I have just moved into a new flat with a six-month lease. I have spent nearly all of my savings. If my visa doesn’t go through, I have no job, no money, and no legal right to stay in Scotland—but I will still owe the balance of my lease (and my two-year mobile phone contract). I will be destroyed financially—and emotionally.

I am stressed. I am worried. I am frightened. I worry that my mental health and emotional well-being will be on dangerous ground if my gamble doesn’t pay off. I am fearful that losing this dream will turn my life into a spiralling nightmare.

I have to be honest and say that my world is consumed with the stresses of WhatIfs these days. I’m trying not to be doom and gloom, but I really am afraid. I know you can’t fix it. I know that there is very little I can do about it at this point. But I’m trying to stay positive and I’m trying to be upbeat. It’s just hard some days. And the closer I get to November 11 without a visa solution, the harder life will be. Oh, and if I don’t get a visa, I can’t even attend my own graduation ceremony, which isn’t until November 23!

So, yeah. That’s what’s going through my mind these days. I must find a happy outlet …

Packing up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That dissertation? Done.

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

Now, to the important announcement:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The cruelty of random memories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dissertation Month Update:

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

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

Tomorrow’s task list:

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

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

I dreamt a dream

I wrote this poem a few weeks ago, when life was going great and my future was filled with hope: job prospects; PhD funding opportunities; and more! When I wrote it, I did so bracing myself for disappointment (hence the second part) but the hope kept coming and I actually began to think that maybe—just maybe—my dreams were starting to come true.

Alas, things began to crumble (or is that that my eggs began to crack?) and I’ve been left in a bit of despair.

I am, Dear Reader, struggling to find a bit of hope these days. I’m working on Plan B—which is the ultimate ‘I give up’ plan—but I can’t quite bring myself to put it into motion. I’d like to think that’s because I have a small sliver of hope left in my life, but (said with my newly-acquired defeatist attitude) I fear it’s just wishful thinking.

Anyhow, I am continuing to search for a job (several application deadlines this week!) and am still searching for that golden PhD funding egg. And a couple of friends are doing what they can to help with those things. I am trying to keep the dream alive. I really am. It just seems like it’s becoming a nightmare sometimes…

I dreamt a dream whilst still awake
by Just Frances

I dreamt a dream whilst still awake;
I savoured every moment.
With eyes wide open, I smiled;
I imagined all of the joy the dream could bring.
My heart was happy;
Filled with hope and anticipation.
I thought of the future and all of its possibilities.

I dreamt a dream whilst still awake;
And cried when it began to fade.
Reality’s light brought sorrow;
The joy would never be mine.
My heart was heavy;
Filled with longing and disappointment.
I thought of a future without hope or possibilities.

[I’ll try for a happier poem next time. I promise!]

Getting back into the [blogging] game

You may have noticed that I’ve been rather quiet these past few weeks. Maybe you’ve found that refreshing or maybe you’ve been wondering where I’ve been and if I’m still alive. So, I guess I should tell you!

First of all, I’m still alive. (In case you really did wonder.) As for where I’ve been, well, I’ve been in my flat most of the time. Really.

Life has been a bit crazy lately. For much of May, I was so busy with school and happy happenings that I didn’t really have the time to post. There was a whisky festival, a wedding reception, a half-marathon, a couple of out-of-town visits with friends, and plenty of other joyous things to occupy my time.

Then toward the end of May, I was jolted from my joy with the news of a friend’s suicide. A couple of days later I found myself in an irreparable falling-out with another friend followed by a failed attempt at entering the dating world. And all of those things, coupled with my so-far failing job and PhD funding searches, threw me into a spiral of despair and self-pity. And tears. Lots and lots and lots of tears.

And all of that means that I have spent every day of the month upset. I’ve been sulking and hiding away from the world. I’ve been, quite honestly, a mess. And I’ve not really felt like sharing everything here because I’m sure that I would sound like a whiney little cry baby.

But, I am pleased to say, I’ve been feeling a little better the past couple of days. In fact, I’ve been out of bed before 9.30 a.m. every day this week. And I’ve cooked proper meals every day this week. (Tonight will be teriyaki chicken with rice and carrots. Yum.) And I’ve hardly cried at all this week!

Over the next few weeks, I will be extremely busy with my dissertation and I will be filling out as many job applications as I can find. But I’m going to try to post more often. In fact, I might even try to post 3-4 times a week or more—eventually working back up to near-daily posts.

Oh! And I’m thinking about maybe possibly considering selling some of my swirls (reproductions as opposed to originals) on Esty or something. Maybe as note cards? I don’t know. What do you think? (The swirl with this story is my latest one, and the first black/grey one I’ve attempted.)

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.

Seven years

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

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

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

I love you, Paul.

No more teachers; lots more books

Today was my last day of classes. And that means no more teachers. No more admissions-determined schedules. No more sitting through lectures and seminars. No more compulsory interaction with other students. Wow. It seems like only yesterday I was telling you about my first few days. Time, it seems, has flown by.

Though just because classes are over doesn’t mean the work is! No, I have four essays due in between now and next Monday, and I still have that dissertation to work on over the summer. And that means that the library will be my stomping grounds for the next couple of months!

But do you know something? I’m really sad about classes being done. I’m really sad that another chapter of this new life is coming to an end. But worse than that—and what’s really making me sad—is that I don’t know what happens next.

I haven’t had luck in finding a way to pay for Ph.D. studies, so have resigned myself to the knowledge that this degree is as far as my academic world will go. And I haven’t had any luck in finding a job—or even getting to the interview stage!—so I am starting to worry that this degree is also as far as my life in Scotland will go.

And that means that I am once again facing a future that is unknown and frightening. I’m facing the ever-increasing realisation that I can’t have the life I want; that I might have to start all over yet again. Only I don’t know if I have the strength to make another start.

I’ve not completely given up and will continue to look at both Ph.D. and work possibilities here in the UK, but I have to start making contingency plans now, too. Whether I want to or not.

But, I still have a bit of work to do before I can put any new plans in action because just because those essays and that dissertation won’t write themselves!

I’m sorry if this post seems a bit sad, but to be honest, I am a bit sad. I never thought that this would be a flawless journey filled with nothing but joy and happiness, but I suppose I had hoped that I would have a bit more clarity about my future by now. And it’s that uncertainty that I am struggling with right now.

And since I like to leave my posts on a high note whenever possible, I’ll say that I am looking forward to meeting up with one of my many cousins in a few days’ time. She’s in the UK on holidays and will be in Edinburgh as part of her travels so we’ll be meeting up. How exciting is that?!

Three years gone

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

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

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

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

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

Expiry dates

I’m a little bit crazy most days. Always have been; always will be. But widowhood seems to have increased my insanity. In fact, it seems to have created new forms of crazy all together!

I thought about sharing a little window into that craziness last week, but decided against it because I don’t really want to bore you with these things. But tonight I had a bit of a meltdown so figured maybe saying it all ‘out loud’ might help me work through it. (Or not. We’ll see.)

Here’s the deal: I can’t buy things with an expiry date of April 26. I just can’t do it. Two years ago, I was out shopping and grabbed a tub of yoghurt. As always, I checked the expiry date and it was April 26. It was days before the first anniversary of Paul’s death (which is April 26 if you haven’t sussed that yet) and I panicked. I put the tub back and started searching for one with a later date. But they were all dated April 26. So I didn’t get any yoghurt. Same thing last year: I couldn’t buy anything with an April 26 expiry date.

So, a few days ago I found myself grabbing a few groceries to tide me over until my next online shop. As I picked up a pack of fresh cheese, I noticed the expiry date (yes, April 26) and realised that there was no way I could do an online shop until after that date, for fear of having something delivered with that dreaded date imprinted on the packaging.

Anyhow, tonight I decided I’d make a nice salad for dinner. I grabbed a bottle of Ranch dressing that I’d bought a few months ago. After putting the salad together, I opened the bottle and noticed the date as I started pouring it—April 26. I froze. I didn’t know what to do. Do I throw it out? Do I force myself to move past this silly block? I didn’t know. I don’t know how long I stood there staring at the salad before deciding that I needed to eat it.

I grabbed a fork, picked up the salad, and went to sit on the couch. But I couldn’t bring myself to eat the salad. Instead, I found myself sobbing uncontrollably over a stupid date. I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t. And with that, I went back to the kitchen and threw it out—the salad and the rest of the dressing.

Then I cried some more. I am, after all, completely insane.

I don’t know what will happen next year. I just know that, apparently, this year I’m still not ready to buy or eat food with an expiry date of April 26. As I said, widowhood has created new kinds of crazy for me!

I’ll get by

It’s been a week since I last shared my mundane life with you here on Just Frances. And it’s been nearly that long since I [temporarily?] deactivated my Facebook account.

Yes, I admit it: I’m having a pretty crappy time right now. No one thing is catastrophic, but it seems that when I put all of my stress and worries together just now, they’re a bit more than my little self can handle. And my answer [rightly or wrongly] has been to hide away from the world. It’s a strange thing, because I rely so heavily on Facebook and this blog to connect me to the world and to give my life a little bit of emotional stability. But, ironically, sometimes those things can’t be the solution—and may even add to the stress.

I have received several messages through Just Frances in the past couple of days asking about my whereabouts. And a couple of emails to my personal accounts. And even a couple of text messages. Some from people wondering if they’d offended me, causing me to defriended them on Facebook, and some from people just checking in to see how I am.

So, first off, I’d like to thank all of those who’ve been in touch. I appreciate your care and concern for me—and I think I’ve replied to everyone. If not, I’m sorry and please feel free to write and tell me that you’re still feeling neglected so that I can let you know that I care! (No, really. Because if you’ve not heard back from me, it really is an oversight on my part.)

And secondly, I’d like to let you all know that I’m OK. Ish. I have a lot on my mind and am feeling a bit overwhelmed, but it’s nothing serious and nothing that some good old peace and personal contemplation can’t fix. But please know that I have an amazingly awesome friend who is keeping me straight. So I’m not really struggling on my own—no, I have an innocent victim to listen to me whine and cry.

I realise I sound a bit vague and cryptic just now, but that’s because I’m not really ready or willing (I may never be!) to share my current insanity with the entire world—or rather, with the handful of people who stop by Just Frances from time-to-time.

But, because I like to end on a high note, I’ll share some happy things with you:

  1. I’m running a 10K road race tomorrow. (Race 3 in my 2012 Race a Month Challenge!)
  2. I’ve been accepted as a Technorati blogger. (It’s just that this current mood has prevented me from sending in my first contribution!)
  3. I am going to be a card-carrying member of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. (As soon as I wear my friend down a bit more so that they include me as an additional [and therefore less expensive] member on their account; the difference of which I’d pay.)

That’s all for now. I will try to post a bit more regularly in the next few days, but if you don’t hear from me, please know that I’m managing. Yep, I’ll get by, with a little help from my friends.

My shattered ego

­I’ve gone back and forth over if I would share a specific sliver of my life with you or not. And I almost chose not. But the issue came to light again over the past couple of days and I suppose I feel a bit compelled to share it now. (I don’t know why, because it’s rather humiliating.)

First, the back story: Nearly two years ago, a couple of ‘helpful’ women in my life decided that I needed to start dating. It had been, after all, a year since my husband died and was therefore time to find a new relationship. They ‘assisted’ by setting up three online dating profiles without my knowledge—and corresponding with a couple of guys they thought would be perfect for me! This didn’t go over very well when I found out, and in fact caused a lot of stress and upset for all sides. (I was being ungrateful and stubborn, or so I was told. We’ve since reconciled but, sadly, there is still a scar on our relationships.)

After I was given the login information, I closed out all but one of accounts they’d created for me. The one that I didn’t close, I made inactive. I don’t know why; hopeful curiosity I suppose. A few months ago, and for reasons I still don’t understand, I decided to check out the site. I logged in, had a wee look, and then logged out. Only logging in meant that my account was no longer inactive. And that meant that someone saw my profile and sent me a message.

When the message came in, I panicked. A lot. But I decided that maybe I’d update the profile and see what happened. I included a quick and cheeky little ‘about me’ section and filled out the rest of the little tick-boxes. What I didn’t do was include public photos, deciding that I would just share photos with men who contacted me and who I was interested in getting to know a bit.

Anyhow, in the weeks to follow four people responded to my profile. And in each instance, we corresponded back-and-forth a couple of times before they requested to see a photo—a request which I obliged. But each of the potential suitors went silent as soon as I did that. Well, that’s not true—one did respond saying I wasn’t what he was looking for.

Ouch.

The experience was very hurtful, and I responded by once again deactivating my profile. Obviously, there is something about my photos that seemed to be turning men away and that really stung my ego in ways that I never imagined.

But, curiosity got the better of me again, so I logged in over the weekend to have a peek. And that meant my account was active again. And you know what? One of those four guys from before sent me a message! He said that he just read my profile and I seemed very interesting, but felt that we’d corresponded before. I replied that I thought we had, but couldn’t be 100% certain. (I lied; I knew for certain that we’d written.)

I decided to give the guy the benefit of the doubt. I mean, maybe he didn’t reply when I’d shared the photo in the past because he was busy. Or maybe he didn’t reply because he lost his computer. Or because he had to go out of town. Or because he was doing that ‘wait a week’ thing and by the time he was ready to respond, I’d deactivated my account.

So, for a couple of days, we wrote back-and-forth. Not a lot, just 2 messages. Then he asked if I had a photo. And I sent one. Only this time he didn’t go silent. This time, he replied. And his reply was ‘I really don’t think we click. I hope you find someone though.’

Ouch. Again.

So, it seems that I am not attractive enough for online dating. (Or maybe I’m too attractive and guys run when they see my photo because they’re intimidated by my beauty?) I suppose not being cut out for online dating is OK though because I wasn’t comfortable about it in the first place.

It’s funny, I’m not really desperate to date. I’m actually rather freaked out at the idea of dating again. I mean, I never imagined I’d have to do that again! But I also have to admit that I like the idea of a nice boy asking me out. I like the idea of sharing a nice meal with someone who makes me laugh. I even like the idea of someone holding my hand as we walk down the street. But I don’t need those things. And if I’m going to meet someone, I’d rather meet them the old fashioned way, like how I met Paul.

Anyhow, I don’t know why I’m sharing this with you because, as I said, it’s a bit humiliating and embarrassing. But, I guess that it makes up for all the times that I share stories about how amazingly awesome I am, too. Kind of an ego-neutraliser of sorts!

YouTube trails

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which lead me to a song about butterfly kisses…

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

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

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

Random thoughts: Challenging things

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

31 happy things

The last couple of months have been a real struggle for me emotionally. I don’t know why; I don’t know what triggered it. (Well, I think I know some of the why and what, but I’d rather not talk about it just yet.) But, the struggles have left me feeling bleak and weak and teetering on surrender.

Yes, I admit it: There have been days when I’ve felt that giving up and giving into the sadness was all I could do. Further to that, I’ve even thought on several occasions that if I were to scrap my current hopes and dreams and cash in my bank accounts, I could live the life of a rover—living on the road, taking part-time, temporary jobs at restaurants or hotels. I could just disappear from the world I know; the world that seems to be so painful some times.

Anyhow, I’ve spent the last month thinking about all of the dreadful things that my future might hold. That’s right, for each of the 31 days of the year so far, I have thought about failing, giving up, abandoning hope, and letting the misery take over.

So, to make up for it, I’ve decided to give some thought to the happy things that could be waiting for me—many of which I can only realise if I don’t let the negative thoughts win. And here they are for you to read! (I won’t share all of the less-than-happy thoughts from before with you because they don’t deserve the blog space!)

31 Happy Things to Look Forward To

  1. The completion of my master’s degree
  2. A fun-tastic weekend in Cambridge
  3. A sweet birthday excursion
  4. Running a race a month for 2012
  5. Laughing so hard that my belly aches the next day
  6. Cooking a Cinco de Mayo feast for friends
  7. My mom’s visit to Scotland
  8. My next visit to the Homeland
  9. The excitement (and frustration) of the 2012 Presidential Election
  10. Finding (and buying) the perfect shade of red tights
  11. Mani-pedis
  12. Martinis with friends at The Junk Rooms
  13. Flirting with cute boys
  14. Fish and chips at Seaton Carew
  15. McGuire Specials from McKean’s
  16. Dancing
  17. Meeting new people
  18. Starting on my PhD
  19. The thrill of completing my second marathon
  20. Getting a UK drivers’ licence
  21. Getting British citizenship
  22. Publishing a book
  23. Selling one of my swirl drawings
  24. Going on a date (which is equally something I dread the idea of)
  25. Falling in love again (which is equally something I dread the idea of)
  26. Spontaneous weekend trips to some great new place
  27. Passing on wisdom to my nieces and nephews
  28. Becoming a well-known authority in the world of social media
  29. Owning my own home again
  30. Having a disposable income again
  31. Being mostly happy again

OK, that was hard. I know that some of those things can be accomplished even if I were to listen to all the voices telling me to flee, but the ones I want most are the things I can only have if I ignore the insecurities and fight off the doom and gloom that seems to visit a bit too often these days. But I know that the more battles I win against the bad thoughts, the more of this list I can see accomplished!

Tomorrow starts a new month and a new chance at a happy future. I can’t promise that I’ll be 100% happy, but I will try to find more joyful things to share with you!

Catching up

I can’t believe that it’s been more than a week since I last blogged. I’m not exactly off to the best start this year, am I? So, this post will serve as a quick catch up for everyone—including me!

As I mentioned in my last post, I made a trip down to England to visit my in-laws last week; though I actually made the trip a day later than planned because of heavy winds that closed the road. But I made it, and enjoyed two nights at my sister-in-law, Ann’s, house in Wakefield. In fact, my brother-in-law, John, made the trip up from Telford for the second night, which was a nice added bonus to family time!

On Friday, I made my way to Billingham to spend the weekend with my sister-in-law, Liz. That night I participated in her girls’ night out group (I’ve joined them before—what a great group of women!) then the following morning we went to Starbucks where I got to meet my newest great nephew, Salem. Oh—and later that day we made a trip to Seaton Carew for fish and chips. (I know, that’s not surprising.)

Sunday was ‘going home’ day, but not before a nice long lunch with another sister-in-law, Elizabeth, and her daughter, Jack. All the visiting made for a busy week, so by the time they took me to the train station I was ready to go home. But it also made me happy to know that I’m only ever a couple hours away from a wonderful family. (And there are already plans to see everyone in February for a reunion.)

Anyhow, Rebecca proved once again that she’s a fantastically amazing friend by picking me up at the train station and giving me a lift home that night. It was nice to sit and relax with a cup of tea and a chat before unpacking. (Which I did before I went to bed because I don’t like to leave it until the next day.)

So, yesterday I finally dragged myself out for a run. It was my first run of the year—and my first run in more than two months! But I feel good for having done it. Well, except for the slightly sore leg muscles today!

And that’s my week in review. I have to admit that it’s been a hard week. In fact, it’s been a hard start to the year. I’ve been feeling a bit blah and unmotivated and can’t seem to shake it. To be completely honest, I sometimes wonder if it’s some sort of mild depression, but I don’t feel hopeless or helpless—I just feel blah and unmotivated. And sometimes sad and lonely. However, I’m trying to convince myself that it’s because I’m bored and inactive. I’m on break from school and I don’t have a job which means I don’t have a schedule to keep me busy. I’ve also been sitting in the flat instead of going out running. In part because of the weather, but in part because of the lack of motivation that comes from no schedule.

But, as I like to end on a positive note, I am trying to get re-motivated. The weather is nice (or at least dry) which means I will be able to get a few training runs in this month and I’ve already committed to running a 10K in a week and a half. I also have a couple of small projects to work on for Boxed Cat Media and am already thinking excitedly about school starting back in February. And I’m doing more of my swirl drawings, too. So it’s not all doom and gloom. I will shift this sulky mood soon. I promise!

(Do you like how I snuck the sad bits in at the end, hoping that most people never read that far? But honestly, I am OK. Just a little crazy. But that’s normal for me.)

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!

Wants versus needs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Forced out

This morning I realised that I haven’t been outside since Monday. I spent Tuesday and Wednesday holed up inside working on my dissertation proposal—and only showered and changed out of my PJs on Wednesday because Rebecca was coming over for dinner. I had planned to go out yesterday to turn in my proposal, but was informed that, because of the weather, I could just turn in my electronic copy yesterday and bring in the hard copy on Monday. So, I stayed in my PJs all day.

When I woke up this morning, I did so with all intentions of going out to survey the damage from yesterday’s storm. Only I found myself just sitting there, unable—and unwilling—to move. It happens sometimes and I hate it. Sometimes I manage to get myself into this sulky, unmotivated place where I don’t want to do anything. I don’t want to see people or leave the house. I don’t want to participate in the world.

So I sat there at the table looking at the (relatively short) list of things I want to get done in the next few days and I couldn’t bring myself to do any of them. I couldn’t bring myself to eat breakfast or write Christmas cards to my nieces and nephews. I couldn’t even bring myself to get out of the chair to go slump on the couch.

But sometime around 1 o’clock I decided that I really did need to get out into the fresh air. So I decided I would walk into town to get some milk so that I could make a batch of No-Bake Cookies. And I’m not kidding you that it took another hour to actually make myself get dressed. And once I was dressed, it took another half an hour to motivate myself to leave the flat.

Once I got into town, I managed to wander around a couple of shops, but it wasn’t done with true enjoyment. It was just done because I was out and about. But I did manage to get some milk—and even treated myself to a pack of sweeties—so at least it was a productive outing!

And now I’m home again. The cookies have been made and my PJs have been re-donned. There’s some peppy music on the iPod and I’m trying to motivate myself to think about making dinner.

I really hate these days. They’re the days when I feel lonely and miserable and I can’t figure out a way to turn off those feelings. I hate these days where I just lose all motivation and start wishing my life was different. I guess the good thing is that I know these days are far and few between now, but I still hate them when they come.

I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but I’m determined to make it a better day. I’m determined to spend more time enjoying the world and the fresh air. I’m determined to make tomorrow happy. One way or another!

Scholarly doubts

Today has been quite a day; a day full of reminders that I meant to be a scholar. Meant to be a scholar. But I must admit I don’t feel very scholarly at the moment.

I think I’m going to tell this tale in reverse order for a bit now, though I retain the right to jump around between points. (Yes, not a very scholarly way to write, is it?)

This evening, I was a guest of The Scottish Government for a reception welcoming Scotland’s Saltire Scholars. (Oh yeah, have I ever mentioned I’m one of those?) Well, the room was filled with a 100+ people—Scottish government officials, university representatives, and scholars. Everyone was eager and excited and confident. And intelligent. Like, really intelligent. And I felt like an out-of-place small-town redneck playing make believe. I mean, I managed the conversations just fine and knew what questions to ask others about their studies or jobs to sound all intelligent myself, but I just felt like such a fraud being there. I felt like I just wasn’t clever enough to be part of this group.

But before tonight, it was two essay assignments that have had me questioning my scholarly ability.

In fairness, the essays were ‘easy enough’ and my marks for past work have been respectable. But I really failed to put my best foot forward for these last two assignments. I don’t know if it’s because I failed to manage my time or if I just couldn’t find the motivation for them. But I know that I did not do my best work.

To be honest, I think I’ve let my life get in the way of my scholastic endeavours. I’ve been feeling a bit down because of my lower-than-ideal platelet count and I was feeling a bit down about Thanksgiving and Paul’s birthday. And that’s all in addition to other personal stresses I’ve been feeling recently.

And now I’m feeling very negative about myself. I feel as if I’ve let myself down and I’m questioning if I’ve made the right choice to do my master’s degree in the first place. I mean, I’ve always been the ‘stupid kid’ and now I’m feeling a bit of truth to the label.

Maybe I’m crazy and my marks for these last two assignments will be fine. But I don’t feel that will be true. My ego is hurting these days and it’s bringing me down!

I’m not thinking about quitting nor do I think I’m on the verge of failing my way out the door. I’m just feeling stressed and frightened and that makes me feel insecure and uncertain and that makes me angry with myself.

I’m sorry for dumping this on you; I know you can’t fix it for me. And I’m not asking for praise and ego building. I just need to share my insecurities sometimes, and when there’s no one on the couch next to me to sob to, you get it all!

I have another paper due next Monday and I’m feeling pretty confident about it. So maybe that will help my mood. And I guess tomorrow will be a library day. Maybe that will help me feel a bit more scholarly again …

Fifty years ago

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

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

Paranoia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A cunning plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Re-packing

I’ve spent a bit of time packing today. Wow, it seems like I’m doing that a lot lately. But I hope it’s a while before I have to do it again.

I started packing about six months ago. First, it was my home—a long, emotional process that hurt in ways I never would have imagined. Then, a little over two months ago, I packed two large suitcases for my move to Scotland.

When I unpacked two months ago, I knew it was temporary, so I knew that the time would come to pack once again. But that doesn’t make it any easier.

You see, I move into my new flat on Monday. A place of my own. A new home. A new chance for a happy future. With all of that newness, you’d think I’d be happy about packing up. But it’s hard to be happy. It’s hard to be happy about moving into a home of my own when I always thought I’d have someone to share my home with into old age.

I think it’s a bit worse because I don’t know what happens next. I don’t know if I’ll be staying on in Stirling—or even Scotland—after graduate school. I don’t know if I’ll move again in six months or a year or ten years from now. And it’s hard to not know. It makes me feel so scared and unsettled. It makes me wonder if I will ever have a real home again.

I know I’m being silly and that I shouldn’t worry too much about the future, but I can’t help it. I do worry. I worry about floating between one thing and the next and never having a bit of permanency again. I worry about a million little things that I shouldn’t worry about.

I am still convinced that this entire crazy adventure is a good thing. I am still convinced that, despite the sadness that comes with it all, this is what I need to do to find some peace in my world again. I just need to stop thinking about the sad things and the worrisome things and start thinking about the happy things.

Like: I’m going to have a new home where I can decorate as I like without having to compromise on design and style. I’m going to have a warm place to live whilst I study for my master’s degree—a degree that has been part of my educational goals for more than a decade. I’m going to have a place to call my own and a place to cook meals and entertain friends. I’m going to have a new home where I can sit and dream new dreams. And dreams are like food for the soul.

Monday will be here before I know it.

When sadness comes

Life is mostly good these days. It’s mostly happy and mostly bright and mostly cheerful. Mostly. Of course, the problem with mostly is that mostly isn’t always.

Sometimes, the sadness comes and I don’t know why. Sometimes, the sadness comes and it’s a real, legitimate cause. And sometimes, the sadness comes and it’s a silly little reason that I shouldn’t let get to me—it’s something that I should know better about getting upset over. But, sometimes, sadness has a will all of its own.

Today, if you haven’t guessed, the sadness came. It came and I knew why. It came because I let it though the door when I let a bit of laughter in. It came and I could have prevented it but I didn’t. I didn’t because I need to learn how to live in this world without letting silly things make me sad.

Knowing that this sadness is temporary helps. Knowing that the days are mostly good and happy and bright and cheerful helps. And I’m too cheap to buy a ticket for the entire journey, so at least I know there are smiles waiting for me when I alight.

The wings of sadness will lift you off the ground without warning. What of it? Don’t pay for your ticket and you will be returned to the ground safely.
~ Nipun Mehta

Job done!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why run?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!]

The flat hunt begins

I’ve been looking at flats on line for several months and now that I’m in town, it’s time to start looking in real life! Of course, I’m starting to think it will be a long, hard, emotional process!

I’ve scrimped and saved for the past two years so that I could afford to return to Scotland for my post graduate degree, but despite my efforts I am still going to be cutting it tight on the financial side. I no longer have a comfortable income. I no longer have a car. I no longer have a great credit history. (Well, I have one in America but it doesn’t translate to Scotland so I’m credit-less here.)

All of this means that I need to find a place that I can afford on a tight budget and that it needs to be in the city centre so that I can walk everywhere—or take a bus trip when needed. Thankfully, most flats in my budget are furnished. Sadly, most of them are crappy little dives, barely big enough to swing a cat.

Yesterday was a bit of a blow when I learned that most of the reputable letting agents required you to be in (preferably full time)employment. My student status seems to be a negative one, despite the fact that I’ve spent the last several years as a working professional and that I am not a typical student (you know, being 37 years old and all!). My healthy(ish) bank balance doesn’t seem to matter nor does my offer to pay several months’ rent in advance. No, in order to rent with a reputable company, I will need a guarantor. (Which I know I can do if required.)

Regardless, I registered with a couple of the better agents yesterday and today.

Of course, I also realised that I need to check out the agents with a less-than-fantastic reputation, which is what I did today. It seems that they’re not as bothered with my student status, nor are they concerned about my unemployment—and they’ll happily let me pay in advance so that I don’t need a guarantor.

As luck would have it, one of today’s agents had a flat just across the road that was on the upper end of my budget so we walked across to have a look. It’s in a great location for town (two blocks from the coffee shop I’m sitting in whilst writing this post) and is a ‘good enough’ size. However, I noticed immediately that the entry stair (whilst clean-ish) was dingy and smelly. I also noticed that the flat is grimy and smelly—in fairness some of this could be from the student who is currently residing there, though some is certainly damp.

I have to say, I am sad that my upper limit budget will only get me that type of flat in the city centre. And I have to admit that it makes me cry a bit. I could manage living there for a year, but I fear that I would be sad doing so as it’s such a stark contrast to the lovely home I left behind in America.

But, I have another flat to look at on Thursday. It’s the same price—again, at the upper end of my budget—but is a bit over a mile from the city centre which means it should be a bit nicer for the same money. In fact, the photos are lovely. Sadly, it means taking the bus more often, but if it’s as nice as it seems on line, then I think it will be a better choice for me emotionally. And of course, I would need a guarantor to secure the place, but if I must, I must.

To give a happy spin here: I have to remember how lucky I am that I have a good friend to stay with until I find a place. Rebecca has kindly opened her home to me and whilst I know we’d both rather our own space, I also know that she’s happy to house me in between now and then. (I promise not to stay so long that I wear out my welcome!) Of course, I guess the nice thing is that the longer I stay, the more money I have to spend on a flat—which would mean a nicer place all together!

Anyhow, I’ve only just begun and I’m not stressing out yet, but I’ll take all the luck you can send my way!

The feathers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In flight

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

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

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

But I digress…

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

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

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

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

Caledonia, I’m going home!

Wow! Can you believe that I’m flying ‘home’ to Scotland tomorrow? Or should I say today, since it’s past midnight in the homeland (why am I still awake!?) and morning time in Scotland.

I have to be honest and admit that today sort of snuck up on me. The past two+ years have been so filled with grief and stress and worry that even though I’ve been looking forward to my return to my beloved adopted Caledonia (that means Scotland) I haven’t quite allowed myself to believe this is happening.

I’m happy. I’m sad. I’m excited. I’m frightened. And I’m everything else in between.

I can’t help but think that my goodbyes over the past few weeks might be my final goodbyes. I can’t help but think that I don’t know what my future will hold when I arrive—and I can’t help but worry that it will be a failure. I can’t help but think about how much I will miss my Mom and Dad and my nieces and nephews and my sisters. I will miss my friends and my home country very much.

But at the same time, I can’t help but think of the joyful song my heart has always sung when I’m in Scotland. I can’t help but think of the enjoyment I will find in studying  (no, really!). I can’t help but think about the joys of spending time with my new friends and my wonderful in-laws.

It’s been an agonizing journey, and I know that the pain isn’t over. I have no expectations of a perfect world waiting for me. I don’t think that my move will erase the pain or make my world instantly better. But I do know that I need to do this. And I do know that my heart and soul need this to help me ‘get better’.

I am leaving behind a world I’ve known for my entire life, and heading to the world where I feel I belong. And I’m so very ready for it!

Caledonia you’re calling me, and now I’m going home!

Running goodbyes

A few months ago, I decided that I wanted to run ‘one last race’ with my nephews before I left for Scotland, so I searched out the race that was closest to my departure date. And that race was today.

Because the race was ‘on the other side of the mountains’ I drove over last night with my 12-year-old nephew, Haden, and 14-year-old niece, Flik. We then stayed at my baby sister, Royann’s, house with her husband, Javier, and their boys, 12-year-old Adrian and 7-year-old Brendan. Then it was an early start for us all to get to Lacey in time for the race.

Flik, Haden, and Adrian ran the 5K route and I ran the 10K one, whilst the others cheered us on. And I’m extremely pleased to say that all of us improved our times over previous races, despite none of us winning our groups. (I ran mine in 59:27, which is a 9:35 minute mile, which is way awesome!!)

Oh, and at the race I saw an old friend from high school, Craig, who was there to cheer on his wife who was also running the 10K. He’s one of the few classmates I have on my Facebook page, which meant that I was happy to go say hi, instead of pretending to not notice him! We figured that the last time we saw each other was during the 4th of July parade sometime in between my first trip to Scotland 10 years ago and my wedding 6+ years ago. What a nice little addition to my day! (And good luck to Craig’s wife who is training for a half marathon!)

After the race was over and the winners were announced, it was time for the hard part—saying goodbye. And because Haden was staying behind with his cousins, it meant one more person to hug. My first hug came from Brendan. He gave me the best hug he’s ever given me and told me he loved me—and even let me kiss his cheek! Then it was Haden’s turn for a hug. And I made him use both arms and gave him a kiss, too. Next up was Adrian. Again, two arms, kisses, and ‘I love yous’ were exchanged. (Promises of post cards and candy from Scotland were made to all of the kids.) Finally, it was time to say goodbye to Royann and Javier. Again, good hugs and promises of Skype phone calls.

Thankfully, Flik was heading back to the homeland with me, which meant a bit of a distraction, which meant I wasn’t a sobbing pile of goo when I drove away!

And since we were near(ish) ANT Elizabeth’s house, we went to see Schrodie, too. I am pleased to report that my beloved cat is starting to settle in a bit more. Her and my ANT’s cat are starting to share window ledges (though with a bit of animosity) and are even hiding under beds together. It’s kind of cool. But, she’s still got a way to go in her bid for normalisation!

Of course, the down side of that side trip was saying goodbye to Schrodie all over again. And saying goodbye to my cousins, Carson and Dylan, as well as my ANT. But I know that we’ll all keep in touch and I know that I’ll see them all when I’m back for visits. So that’s cool.

I have three full days remaining now and way too much to do in those days! I have to pack; I have to get my hair cut; I have to finish getting computers fixed up for family members so that we can stay in touch; I have to visit with friends; and I have to spend quality time with family. And I still have so many people to say goodbye to, too.

It’s going to be hard, but I know that I’m doing what’s best for me. After all, Scotland is waiting!

[Note to self: Drink more water to make up for all the tears that will be flowing!]

Widow dreams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An unemployed, homeless transient

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was a home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bye bye, Schrodie

I said goodbye to Schrodie today and whilst it breaks my heart, I am certain that her new home will be a good place and that she’ll be well taken care of. She has gone to live with my ANT Elizabeth who will love her very much.

Yesterday was a tough day as we made the nearly-eight-hour drive from one end of the state to another. When we finally arrived at AE’s, her travel box was placed in a large crate that would allow her to acclimatise without fear of AE’s cat, Bug.

Before we left our home though, Schrodie gave me a bit of enjoyment by playing on her favourite chair. At this time, she was unaware that she was going in the box so she still liked me!

Once at AE’s, Schrodie didn’t want to come out of her travel box. Every so often, she’d peek out at me, but that was it. So, eventually, I pulled her out and let her explore the large cage. But instead, she hid out in the litter box at the back of the cage for a couple of hours!

Finally, after the house when dark and my cousins went to bed, Schrodie came out of the cage and was ready to explore the house. She snuggled with me a bit over night, but was mostly investigating—and avoiding Bug! By the next morning, she was feeling a bit more confident in her explorations.

And here’s what it was like when Paul and I first brought her home from the shelter a little over two years ago. Only that time, she went into hiding for a few days!

I cried lots and lots when I left Schrodie behind this morning, but I know that she’ll be well-loved and that I’ll see her again. And who knows, maybe one day she’ll even join me in Scotland!

Jobless

After five years at Washington State University, I am now officially unemployed. Funnily, my five-year service certificate arrived today, too!

I’m very sad about this step and don’t have the heart just now to talk about it, because as much as I’m happy about the next steps toward my future, I am also aware of the great sadness that brought about this next phase of my life.

I will miss my job. I will miss my co-workers. And I will miss my pay check. But I have a happy future waiting for me in Scotland and it’s just too far to commute!

The next step in this journey is saying goodbye to my cat. Then to my house. Then to my car. Then to my American family and friends. So please forgive me if I seem overly sad and melancholy for the next few weeks …

The table

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cleaning closets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stuff hurts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’ll get better. It has to…

Subtracted

Last August I wrote a post titled Plus One, and for the months between then and now my life was thrown into this weird world of foster mommyhood, with a side of grief and widowhood for good measure. It was a time filled with so many mixed emotions. In the first few weeks I wondered if I’d made a mistake. I mean, it was really hard to have this little person in my home because it was a constant reminder that Paul wasn’t there—nor were the two little people we’d planned to adopt before he died.

But, somehow, we made it work. Her existence in my world meant that I needed to get up off the couch and cook healthy meals again. Her existence meant I couldn’t just sit around on the couch from the time I got home from work until I went to bed wallowing in self pity. No, with her around I needed to make it look like I was a productive, happy, healthy grownup.

And so I found myself [finally] completing my applications to graduate school. And I found myself [finally] eating better and exercising more. And I found myself getting to the office early all of the sudden, since she needed to be at school 20 minutes before I was meant to be at my desk.

Of course, there were loads of hard things I had to deal with, too. I couldn’t just ignore the holidays—no matter how hard I tried. I couldn’t just shut out the world—no matter how much I wanted to.

And slowly, we became a family. A weird, slightly awkward family, but a family none the less.

And now she’s gone and I’m alone in my house once again; a house that was bought with the sole purpose of raising a family with my husband. And I’m lost all over again.

Of course, as I was preparing my foster daughter for her move with family back east, I was also preparing myself for my move to Scotland. So over the next few weeks I will be finishing up the task of packing up my home—closing the doors behind me as I leave knowing that some of my dreams will be staying behind.

Saying goodbye is never easy. And no matter how much you prepare yourself for the inevitable, the tears flow. But I know that as I type this, my lovely [former] foster daughter is in her new home some 3,000 miles away. I imagine she’s excited and nervous about these big life changes, but I know that she’s embarking on an adventure that will lead to an amazing future.

And I hope that, one day, we meet again…

Waiting

I’m waiting—we’re waiting that is—for a flight to take off in Denver so that we can head to the airport to pick up one of the flight’s passengers. You see, my time as a foster mom is quickly coming to an end as my lovely foster daughter prepares to move with family back east. And on that flight is her big sister, who is coming out to pick up the kid.

The kid was so excited when she woke up this morning and even had the hours down before we’d be picking up Big Sis. And when I dropped her off at day care she let everyone know just how many hours it would be until I was back to pick her up so that we could pick up Big Sis.

But sometime around noon I got word that the flight was delayed by an hour. So I didn’t rush to the day care because time was no longer tight. However, when I got there at 3:15, the kid instantly jumped up (she had her jacket on and belongings in her bag around her shoulder) and started heading to the door. I had to remind her that she needed to say goodbye because she wouldn’t be back on Monday. And she did—with smiles from ear-to-ear.

It broke my heart to tell her at that time that the flight was delayed an hour and that we’d be going home to relax for a bit before making the drive to the airport more than an hour north. But then I got another text from Big Sis—with news of further delays.

So now we’re at the house and I’m checking flight details to get the latest updates. The flight is now about 2½ hours delayed which means a later night than imagined. And a kid with anxiety issues wearing ruts in the floor with her back-and-forth pacing.

(There is a reason I will not fly into Denver for connecting flights, you know!)

Anyhow, we’re waiting for Big Sis. And I’m waiting for the tearful goodbyes. It’s such a happy-sad time for both of us right now, and I sometimes I can’t figure out which of us is doing the best job at pretending to be all cool and nonchalant about the whole thing.

Seller’s blues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A happy-sad goodbye

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A nickel for my thoughts

As I walked to my car after work today, I noticed a nickel lying on the sidewalk and smiled as I swooped down to pick it up without missing a step. I mean, it’s only a nickel and most people wouldn’t have bothered, but as I’ve blogged before about my willingness to stop for coins, it shouldn’t be surprising to know that I’ve done it again.

Anyhow, it got me thinking about my future a bit—both the excitement and the insecurities! And since I’ve found it helps me to write about these things, you get to read a few of them! (But I’ll start with the bad and end with the good. Yay!)

The insecurities:

  • I’m [still] afraid about the financial side of my decisions. Going from middle class to starving student is going to be devastating!
  • I worry about what my social life will be like—and if the friendships I’ve forged with Paul’s friends since his death will survive once I’m there full time.
  • I wonder if I’m actually smart enough to do the whole postgraduate and doctoral studies thing.

I know that these things seem silly, but I live in near isolation and 95 percent of my non-work communications are electronic these days which just adds to my insanity which feeds my insecurities!

The excitement:

  • I am really looking forward to having a chance at a fresh start for this crummy little life I’m living. I’m convinced that it’s the step I need to find the joy I’ve lost.
  • I’m really excited about having a new partner in crime and am certain that (despite the doubts noted above) my social life will be better than it ever has been once I move.
  • I am very eager to begin my studies and am looking forward to being in a learning environment again. (That nickel from the intro paragraph has been added to my coin stash as part of my tuition fund.)

I wish I could say that the excitement always balances out the insecurities, but if I’m honest I’m getting more and more anxious, nervous, frightened, and insecure as I get closer to this great new adventure. I keep telling myself I’m being silly, but as you probably know fears and whatifs just take over sometimes!

But—Hey!—I am 5¢ closer to my £10,600 ($17,200) tuition bill now!

The packing begins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why do the right decision have to be so painful?

Visa blues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The weekend will get better. It must get better…

Who am I really talking to?

My lovely foster daughter is getting ready for a major life change and I’m amazed at how well she’s handling it. (Or how well she’s pretending to handle it?) After living with me since mid-August, she is now preparing to move on to her permanent home—far, far away from where she grew up. And I get to help her with this transition.

Part of the move means going through all of her worldly possessions and deciding what she wants to keep. And part of the move means saying goodbye to loved ones, friends, and a school that she’s known her entire life. All of her known world will soon be a reflection in the rear view mirror. (Well, since she’s flying there probably won’t be a rear view mirror, but you get the point.)

Of course, this is a positive transition; one that will see her happily settled with loving family members. She’s really looking forward to it. But at the same time, she has to leave loving family members behind.

We’ve talked about needing to downsize and part with loved possessions because of space limits—and the high cost of shipping or storing things. We’ve talked about what things are worth keeping at any cost versus what things can be given to friends, sold, or donated to charity. We’ve even taken photos of some of those items so that she can remember them.

We’ve talked about how this new world she’s moving to will have different cultural and social expectations—even though it’s still the same country. We’ve talked about how exciting it is to have a fresh start, but also about how sad it is to be leaving her old life behind. We’ve talked about how exciting it is to think of starting 7th grade as the new kid—and about how much of a letdown the reality of that situation might be.

We’ve talked about how happy she is about her bright new future, and about how much she has to give up in order for it to happen. We’ve talked about how sad it will be to leave her old world behind. And we’ve talked about how she’s allowed to be happy and sad all at once and how being happy about her future doesn’t mean that she has to be happy about saying goodbye to her life here.

We’ve talked about how many struggles she’s had here, and how a fresh start won’t mean an end to life’s struggles—it will just mean different struggles. And we’ve talked about how it’s OK for her to miss here when she’s there.

We’ve talked about how her fresh start doesn’t erase the sadness—or the happiness—of her past; it just gives her new opportunities for a bright future. A future that will always include elements from her past. Because, after all, just because she’s in foster care doesn’t mean that she doesn’t have wonderful memories of a wonderful life.

Oh, and we’ve talked about what it’s going to be like to fly, as this will be her first plane journey. And we’ve talked about how we’ll stay in touch and what sorts of cool things she wants me to send her when I move to Scotland. (Pencils and t-shirts: Yes. Candy and stuffed animals (not including Nessie, of course): No.)

It’s funny because these conversations aren’t all about her. When we talk, we talk about how we’re both on these major life-changing journeys and how we’ve both had a lot of sadness in our lives that have been the impetus for our new futures. It’s funny because it’s easier for her to part with her stuff when she sees me doing the same thing. It’s not just her getting rid of ill-fitting clothing in preparation for a move; I’m doing it, too. We’re both downsizing. We’re both filled with emotions of joy and sadness as we look toward our futures and behind to our pasts.

I’m often told what a blessing it is that I’m in the kid’s life, helping her through this time of transition. But you know what? She’s helping me just as much as I’m helping her. Some days I feel that taking on an 11-year-old foster kid whilst I was in the process of grieving for my husband was a bad idea. But most days, I realise that it was the best thing I could have done for both of us.

Anyhow, it just struck me today that all of the assurances I’m giving her to ease her fears and insecurities are the same assurances I need to be giving myself!

And I suppose that you may get to hear a bit more about her transition over the next couple of weeks because it really is a bit of a grieving process for both of us. Luckily, I can blog it out. Sadly, she’s taking it out like any nearly-12-year-old girl would do—lots of hysterical tears and fits over nothing. (Oh, wait! I do that on occasion, too.)

[Original artwork by my foster daughter, October 2010.]

Should be

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

Should be. But not.

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

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

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

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

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

From happy to crash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final blooms

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Selling swords

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post it

This isn’t the post I planned to share tonight. No, that post was a bit sad and reflective of my (sometimes) miserable lot in life and I went on and on about how isolated and alone I feel most days.

This is the picture I was going to share with that post. It was just a little something I drew on a Post-It Note whilst waiting for my foster daughter to finally finish her breakfast this morning.

But why did I decide not to post the sad stuff? Well, partly because I reminded myself that no matter how isolated and alone I feel most days, I will be living in a city again soon—and in my favourite country in the whole world.

And partly because I checked the post on my way home from work today and there was a card waiting for me reminding me that no matter how isolated and alone I feel, I have amazing friends all around the world who care and who are there for me.

I’m still a bit sad and reflective, but at least now the light of hope that shines on my future is a little bit brighter.

See! I keep telling you guys that a simple card can make all the difference in someone’s day. Maybe we should all make a point of sending a note to someone we care about this week. Maybe a thank you note to an old math teacher or a letter to a friend’s mom letting them know what a great job they did raising their child?

For the last time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two years

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

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

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

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

A hard day on the home front

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

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

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

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

Choices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Visa changes: A rambling rant

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned before what a massive gamble this new adventure of mine is. I’m leaving my job during one of the worst economic times in recent history; I’m saying goodbye to my house, my car, and most of my worldly possessions; and I’m destroying my finances and depleting my savings account all for the hope that I’m walking into a brighter, happier future.

If everything goes according to plan, my world will be pretty awesome for the first time in nearly two years. But, as I learned nearly two years ago, plans change—in the blink of an eye. I know that there’s a chance that things won’t go according to plan, but that they’ll still turn out just as good—or better—than planned. But I also know that there’s a chance that everything will fall apart and I’ll be left broken beyond repair.

As I creep closer and closer to saying goodbye to my house and my ‘stuff’ I’m finding myself very stressed and panicked. I’m going from a 4-bedroom house where I can have as much ‘stuff’ as I want and an income that [slightly] exceeds my monthly spending and bills to an unknown living situation where I expect to struggle to purchase groceries let alone drop $500 on a new mobile phone without thinking about it.

I’m upset because I’ve realised that I probably can’t take my golf clubs or bike because I don’t know where I’ll store them—nor can I rationalise the additional costs for baggage. I can’t take my über-gadget scanner because I don’t know if there will be space in my flat [which may or may not be furnished and rat-free] and I can’t take all of my clothes and handbags for the same reason. I’m sad because I’m going to have to take public transportation everywhere because I won’t be able to afford a car—and as a proper redneck American, my car is part of my freedom.

But as much as those material things (and the loss of my comfortable income) upset me, they’re not what’s getting me down today because I know I can store my ‘things’ with family in America or replace them with new ‘things’. What’s upset me today is that I’ve just learned that the most recent changes at the UK’s border agency means the end of the post-study work visa—which played heavily into my future plans because I intended to apply for said visa upon completing my master’s degree so that I could stay on in Scotland if I so chose.

OK, there are still other options including a company-sponsored post-study work visa or going straight onto my Ph.D. studies (which is the ultimate goal anyhow) but one isn’t a ‘sure thing’ and the other is an expensive thing! And I know I shouldn’t think too far ahead and I know that I should be upbeat and positive and I know that things will happen the way they’re meant to happen and blah, blah, blah. But some days, it’s hard.

I want to be positive. I want to be that little Pollyanna person spewing gladness and faith at every junction. But some days I can’t even fake it. Some days, all of the fear and the worries and the grief just gang up on me and make the rainbows and unicorns go into hiding. Today is one of those days. And I really hate those days. And it seems like the closer I get to The Big Move, the more these fears and insecurities come out of the wood work.

To summarise: I’m stressed and unhappy. But I’m sure the Pollyanna attitude with return soon. (I hope?) And thanks for listening to my emotional rant…

Amputated at the heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seven years ago today

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

After that moment, I learned the following things:

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

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

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

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

Paperwork

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Struggling with apathy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The trouble with Bob and Dave

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A blue Monday

Mondays are generally very important to me. As the first day of the new work week, Monday has the ability to set the tone for the following days. No matter what stresses you dealt with the week prior, Monday brings a new week—a fresh start!

I woke up excited about the day ahead of me. I was excited to say goodbye to February—a month that has been rather difficult on me emotionally—and was excited to greet the new week.

The day was going OK. Sadly, only OK and not fabulous as I really wanted, but OK was pretty good after last week’s stresses (some self-induced, I admit).

Then it happened. One little conversation and I was deflated; the wind knocked out of my sails.

I tried to make like everything was OK and that I wasn’t offended and hurt, though I don’t know if the other person would have been bothered either way. The worst thing is that I couldn’t quite read their motives so I don’t know if they were trying to inflict pain or if they were, in fact, acting out of frustration with something going on in their world. (Maybe a bit of both?)

The rest of my day was spent pretending that I was still having a good day. And honestly, I tried to have a good day, but it was hard. I guess that the good side is that I didn’t have a terrible day; just a grumpy one.

Luckily for me, tomorrow is the first day of a new month, which means that tomorrow brings a fresh opportunity to have a fantastic month!

And March is bound to be a fantastic month because there are so many awesome things happening! (Even if I have to create the awesome things for myself!)

With this ring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fear is a burning bridge

Over the past several weeks I’ve made a lot of decisions that will have a lasting impact on my life. I’ve set the wheels in motion for things that will ruin my finances, end my career, destroy a friendship, and send me into a spiral of doubt and uncertainty.

I am so excited about my future and about the opportunities I have in front of me. But at the same time, I am more frightened than I ever thought possible. Some days, I can pretend that everything is going to be OK. But some days, I can’t.

Fear is a burning bridge behind you and a dark, foggy, trail-less forest ahead of you.

Sadly, my flashlight runs on hope and faith and I seem to be running low on supplies…

(But tomorrow will be better. Right? …)

Passing the baton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sorting swords

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The making of a bad day

It’s Friday night and the start of my three-day birthday weekend. But I’m anything but happy about it. I have to admit that it’s been a bit of a crummy day.

The bad day started this morning when the massage appointment I’d scheduled for my birthday was cancelled, which wouldn’t have been too bad if it weren’t for the fact that the birthday appointments I’d made for a manicure, pedicure, and facial were all cancelled yesterday.

Then I went to meet with an accountant to take care of my taxes. I knew going in that it would be upsetting, but it was worse than I thought. First, I had to file as single. Single. That in itself was heartbreaking. And because I only had my foster daughter for five months of the tax year, I can’t claim her, which is OK since I’m reimbursed from the state so it’s not like I’m out of pocket for her care on top of it all.

But what it ends up meaning is that I am filing as a single, childless woman with a middle-class income. And that means I pay a lot of taxes! (Thanks to a higher pay check deduction I will get a small refund—but it’s very small!)

I can’t begin to explain the blow to my entire being to be filing as a single, childless woman when I know that if my life went according to plan I would be ticking the box “Married filing jointly” and putting a “2” in for the number of dependants.

Of course, because things tend to come in threes, part of my misery is thanks to a self-inflicted friend conflict. Or is that ex-friend conflict because I am the one who suggested to my friend that we stop being friends the other day? Either way, the stress is getting to me because I’m so torn over the entire situation.*

I expect tomorrow to be a hard day because I’m sorting through some of Paul’s things. But I’m hoping that Sunday is OK. As for Monday, well, I’ve never had good luck with my birthdays so I’m not going to hold my breath, but I’ll still hold out hope that my 37th year begins with more joy than my 36th year seems to be ending with …

* I have to wonder if I’m super upset about the dissolution of the friendship because of all of the other stresses I’m feeling or if I’ve caused the dissolution of the friendship because of my inability to handle other stresses. I guess it may always be a sort of chicken-and-egg thing.

100 random things

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

100 Random Things about Just Frances

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

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

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

A valentine-less Valentine’s Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pain-loving partners

My nephew, Haden, and I ran the Partners in Pain 5K in Spokane this morning. It was Haden’s second time running the race and my fourth last. The official race times aren’t in yet, but I’m pleased to say that we both beat last year’s time. So that’s pretty awesome.

I’ll admit that there is a bit of sadness knowing that I’m running out of time to run with my new partner, but we’ve got at least three races to do together before I return ‘home’ to Scotland and I’m sure we can find a race to run when I return to the homeland for visits. But I won’t get too sad just yet because we already have plans to run races together in March, May, and July!

Next race: The St. Paddy’s 5K in Snoqualmie, Washington. Yay!

Check out more of my race photos here!

Nine years ago

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two-poem Thursday

When I’m feeling stressed I turn to my writing prompts. Today, that meant working on a new form poem, which led me to writing a prompt-less poem as well. 

First, the form poem:

Hold on
by Just Frances

Hold on to your love
Even if your heart is broken

Hold on to the peaceful thoughts
Even if your world seems at war

Hold on to your faith
Even if you can’t believe

Hold on to your courage
Even if you’re too afraid

Hold on to your dreams
Even when they seem impossible

•••••

And now, a bit of rubbish that I typed without prompt (other than emotion):

The path I walk
by Just Frances

I once walked with confidence;
My every step full of faith
I once planned with ambition;
My future certain

But then my path was blocked
And my steps faltered;
My plans were shattered
And my future was lost

I now walk with cautious fear;
My every step full of worry
I now plan with hesitation;
My future unclear

The new path is treacherous;
Winding, narrow, and dark
But the way is lit with candles;
Left by those who’ve travelled before

•••••

Obviously, there is a reason that I’m not the nation’s poet laureate, but I don’t mind because my rubbish poems are for me—not the betterment of America.

Food woes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts or ideas to share?

Swirls are my sunflowers

This post started out as a long ramble about how my [hopefully temporary] malaise got the better of me and I gave up on my silly worksheets and sketchbook project. And, as sometime happens, my long ramble brought me around to a solution to my artistic mental block.

In fact, the long ramble stopped the moment I realised that I was comparing myself and my desire to draw similar things over and over again to Van Gogh and his sunflowers.

At that point, I decided to stop writing about how my depressed mood was preventing me from completing structured creative work and instead picked up my markers and got busy doing what I enjoy: Drawing swirls.

So, OK, the structured creative work still needs to be completed because I have to finish what I started. But since I started it as an outlet for my grief/depression/sadness/whatever, and it is now adding stress to my life because I feel bad for not working on it, I’ve decided to stop and take a break.

Which means that you can bet I’ll be doing a lot of doodle drawings but less assigned drawing—but that’s OK because it makes me happy.

And I’m sharing tonight’s ‘work in progress’ with you now. Yay!

Ten

Following up on yesterday’s spotty confession, I had a blood test today and had a platelet count of 10.* This means that I am officially on rest orders.

It also means that I am officially sad. I mean, I’m used to my counts being low, but 10 is lower than low. Ten is a dangerously low number that reminds me of the constant risk I face since I don’t always know what my counts are from one day to the next. Ten is a number that reminds me that no matter how well I feel, my body is constantly fighting a war with itself.

In the old days Paul and I would have commiserated together. Just as we would have celebrated a count of 80+. (A normal count is 150-400.) It’s not that I want to throw myself a pity party or anything, but sometimes it feels good to rant and cry and complain about it to someone who sort of understands.

Oh well. I guess I’ll just think about the good things about having a dangerously low platelet count:

  • It’s a great excuse to make my guests do all the work when I have a house full of people over for Burns’ Supper in a week’s time
  • It’s a great excuse for not beating my 11-year-old nephews in the Freeze Your Fanny 5K (because you know I’d kick their fannies otherwise!)
  • It’s a great excuse to sit on the couch eating junk food for the up-coming three-day weekend (that’s following rest orders, right?)

And, of course, because there were so few platelets I was able to draw a picture of them for you. I stopped short of naming them, but please feel free to offer name suggestions if you feel so inclined.

* Counts are actually in the 1,000s so a count of 10 = 10,000, meaning the normal range is 150,000 – 400,000.

Seeing spots

Somewhere in the midst of this cold I was hit with chills and pains. My whole body ached. My head was pounding. And I had an 11-year-old foster daughter to take care of so I couldn’t do what I’d normally do, which is to go to bed and stay there.

But I couldn’t function with the pain so I took an extra-strength Tylenol. In fact, I took an extra-strength Tylenol a couple of times; just one at a time, even though the dose is two. Yes; I’m a light weight. But it really did help the pain.

Of course, what I feared might happen happened: The dreaded petechiae.

You see, I have an annoying little ‘blood disease’* called idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura. Which basically means that my body is on self-destruct mode on two levels: 1) My bone marrow doesn’t adequately produce platelets and 2) my immune system thinks that platelets are evil and kills them. (Yay! It’s like my own internal civil war!)

When I’m sick, my immune system goes into overdrive and my platelet counts generally drop even lower than they normally are. But the petechiae don’t show up until my counts are ‘really’ low.

And guess what? Some medications—yes, even ones as ‘harmless’ as Tylenol—can lower platelet counts.** But I took the risk the other day because I couldn’t function without it.

When I went to bed last night there were two or three little guys on my right leg. When I woke up this morning there were dozens and dozens and dozens of them on both legs. Thankfully, as I write this post there are only a handful of ‘new guys’ since this morning.

And so, I guess I need to go have my blood work done first thing tomorrow morning. And I guess that I won’t be running full-speed at the Freeze Your Fanny race in a week and a half’s time. (Not that I would have with my poorly coccyx anyhow.) And I guess that I have now shared more about my medical maladies than you may care to know. But now you know. Sorry about that.

Oh! And it seems that today is now the day that I am knocking into coffee tables and doorways. I have watched three small bruises form on my lower extremities today due to my clumsiness (aided, of course, by the low platelet count). I think I’ll just stay put here on the couch until bed time now.

But on the happy side: I returned to work today. I’m not completely over the cold (or the cough!) but I was pleased to feel well enough to make it to the office—even if I did leave two hours early because I was so tired. Yay! for back to work though. Right?

* I used quotations here because whilst it is classified as a disease, I actually hate to call it that because saying you have a blood disease freaks people out.
** DON’T PANIC! Whilst there are dozens and dozens of things that can cause a depletion of platelets, if you have a normal platelet count you will not be adversely affected by a small drop in the numbers.

Everybody hurts, sometimes

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

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

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

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

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

Water, water, everywhere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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

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

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

Tree time

With less than two weeks before Christmas, I am trying to get into the spirit. I’ll admit it’s difficult, but I am trying.

I had planned to bring out all of my decorations this morning but when it came right down to it, I guess I’m not ready to display those memories this year. So, this afternoon I loaded the kid up and we went to town to buy a new tree.

We decided that we would get a small tree that could go on the plant stand and were pleased to find one that had pinecones and fake berries already on the tree. That meant we just needed to get a small package of bobbles and some pretty garland to finish it off.

The kid made a lovely star to top the tree and did all the decorating herself. (After I tied string onto the bobbles.) She was extremely pleased with the tree—and even more pleased to know that it’s her tree that she can take with her when she decides she’s sick of living with me.

I know it’s not a big, traditional tree, but we decided it works for us. Plus, the kid liked the idea that because it’s her tree (and more importantly, doesn’t have my precious ornaments from my childhood) she can re-arrange it as often as she wants. She’s just not allowed to touch the presents under it!

Oh! And for those wondering, I have managed enough Christmas spirit to make cards and write my annual letter this year. (Can I call it an annual letter, having missed last year’s?) Anyhow, if you’re on my list, expect it in the post soon because I’m heading out to mail them tomorrow.

If you’re not on my list, please know that it’s nothing personal and I still think you’re awesome! (And it’s really just a re-hash of things you’ve read here, so you’re not missing anything!) BUT, I will post a picture of the card later for all of my curious readers!

So tree and cards are sorted. Now I suppose I’d best go buy some gifts, since I’ve yet to even think about that!

Dear Stress and Worry

Dear Stress and Worry:

I would like to tell you how very unhappy and miserable you make me.

You tell me the world is full of doom and gloom.
You tell me there is no laughter.
You tell me there is no joy.

I would like to tell you that your negative ways hurt my spirit and damage my self-esteem.

So during our next encounter, when I find myself listening to your lies and I am becoming more and more sad, I am going to stand up to you.

I am going to be strong.
I am going to tell you you’re wrong.

And I am going to banish you.

Signed,
Finding Courage

A birthday remembered

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

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

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

Tearful but thankful

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The hard days

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Learning to cope [?]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sorry for whining again…

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

A shape haiku

As I work toward my goal of publishing a book I’ve found myself spending a lot of time re-learning different forms of poetry. Added to that, I’ve found that forcing myself to put thoughts in to a predetermined form is helpful as I try to identify my emotions. And blah, blah, blah…

So today I was researching shape poems and all of the sudden my brain jumped to the idea of a sort of shape-haiku mix thing. (Please don’t ask how I jumped from one to another. It’s confusing enough as it is!) But here’s the result: A (sort of) shaped poem with each line increasing then decreasing in syllables from 1 to 10 to 1 again. (Did you follow that?) 

From fear to hope
by Just Frances 

Fear
Sadness
I live them
But still, I smile

I try to forget
I try to remember

I try to re-live the joy
I try to re-live the laughter

There will be times when I want to cry
Times I want to hide away from the world
There will also be times when I laugh

I strive to find peace in my world
Sometimes it’s all a show

But I strive be happy
So this is my life

And I’ll live it
Full of joy
Laughter
Hope

Scarily unexcited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unhappily stressed

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

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

First, the stresses:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am trying to be happy. Really I am. I’m taking time each day to be silly. I’m trying to identify a bit of joy each day. I’m finding inspirational quotes to bolster my moods. I’m doing arts and crafts. And I’m even trying to take back some of my mid-day personal time.

Maybe what’s getting me down isn’t so much life’s stresses, but the uncertainty of my future. For nearly a year and a half my future has been hazy and I don’t like it. Maybe once it’s a bit more clear, my mood will improve.

I am certain that this little mood will pass, and in the mean time I will keep faking it because one way or another, it will make me feel a bit better.

• • • • •

Well, reader, I meant for this to post last night when I was feeling really down. And then my neighbor came by and we had a drink and a long gossip about nothing and everything (and I got her to do a silliness worksheet). Which cheered me up considerably.

I am still feeling unhappy and stressed, but am glad to have had a couple hours’ respite from my condition. And I think that the night’s laughter has carried over into today because I feel a bit happier today already than I did yesterday. Of course, it is the weekend which may have something to do with it.

I promise to have a happier post soon! In the mean time, thanks for letting me get it off my chest!

x

[NOTE: If you’re wondering how the picture relates to the post, it’s one of the silly things I drew on the couch just trying to unwind and relax. I think it helps to scribble a bit. Maybe…]

Sometimes I want to…

Sometimes I want to scream at the top of my lungs. I want to yell. I want to shout. I want to wail about how unfair everything seems at times.

Sometimes I want to sob hysterically. I want to cry. I want to sulk. I want to curl up into a ball and never leave my bed and just think about how lovely the world used to be.

Sometimes I want to break something. I want to smash a plate. I want to slam a door. I want to punch a wall something soft just to release the energy that seems to build up.

Sometimes I want to flee. I want to run as fast as I can. I want to drive until I run out of gas. I want to catch a Greyhound going anywhere but here then I can pretend that I’m someone else; that my life is completely different than what it is.

Those sometimes seem to come less frequently these days, but they come so out of the blue when I thought that those sometimes were almost gone forever. Those sometimes catch me off guard when they come that way!

Thankfully, in between those sometimes I laugh and enjoy life.

In between those sometimes I can look at my past and smile at the memories.

In between those sometimes I can look toward the horizon and see a future that is bright and full of joy.

In between those sometimes I know how lucky I am to have my family and friends—no matter how far away they live.

In between those sometimes I have my faith to keep me strong.

And in between those sometimes I know that I will be mostly happy despite the days when sometimes creeps up on me so unexpectedly.

That’s me home [?]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Falling into autumn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just two tasks

I met with my real estate agent the other day about the possibility of putting the house on the market. He gave me two tasks to get the house ready for selling: 1) Paint the new railing at the top of the stairs and 2) Clean out the shop/family room and give it a ‘purpose’.

I planned to do both this weekend.

But let’s be honest, that stack of cardboard boxes that are broken down for the recycle bin? Paul stacked those up a few days before he died and they’re still sitting where he left them. The treadmill hasn’t been touched since he last used it; and his jacket is still hanging by the laundry room door.

We’d planned to partition the room last summer. The back half was going to be work-out space; the front was going to be our old couches and TV (but we never got around to buying the new ones) and that was going to be the kids’ TV/play area.

The space looks horrid right now and I know that Paul would be disappointed. We had just straightened it up and mapped everything out for building the partition and now it’s become a storage area for junk that I don’t know what to do with. Or, more accurately, for stuff that I’m too lazy to put in proper storage under the eaves.

I don’t know when I’ll get around to completing my tasks but if I’m going to get the house on the market I’d best get to it. That said, I reserve the right to change my mind and not sell the house just now. Thankfully, my agent is understanding and knows just how difficult this is on me. After all, he spent so much time helping us find this lovely house!

Distractions

I don’t know if it’s better to face things head-on or to find distractions, but personally I prefer the latter in many cases; today being one of those cases. So, instead of spending the day thinking about what I didn’t want to think about – the fact that my husband died before we made it to our 4th wedding anniversary, meaning that he wasn’t here to celebrate our 5th anniversary with me today – I’m distracting myself from my reality.

My first distraction was a golf lesson – my first of the year, and only my 4th ever. And it shows. But – wow! – I did really well! My goal for the summer is to work on my long game so today’s hour-long lesson was working on my drive. Afterward, I hit a bucket of balls on my own and managed to hit the ball further and straighter than I ever have before.

It may sound silly, but I as readied myself for each swing I talked to Paul and asked him to just help me out. Knowing that he hated golf, I have to think that he wasn’t helping so much as my asking was making me concentrate on my swing that little bit more. Either way, I actually looked like I knew what I was going! Bonus – two hours of my day was wasted away!

From there I headed into Moscow where I had nearly three hours to waste before my spa treatment. I hit the mall where I found a fantastic new ring (on sale!) and attempted to buy golf shoes. But apparently the local sports’ store doesn’t care ladies’ golf shoes. Weird. Then I sat in the little coffee shop with my laptop, a book, and a journal and wasted a bit more time before heading to the spa.

After an hour-long, extremely relaxing facial, it was back to Pullman for a manicure and pedicure – with my newly-purchased “A Oui Bit of Red”. The last time I treated myself like this was the day before my birthday, so it was certainly a long-overdue pampering session!

By the time I made it home it was time for a junk food feast and a few episodes of The West Wing, Season 4. Really, not a single one of these activities should have been on the calendar for me today, because May 21 is supposed to be a “we” day, not a “me” day. But as it’s Just Frances now, I suppose it’s OK that I change the way I spend the day. A bit of healthy distraction seems like a good way to do it. Though if I’m honest, I spent a lot of time thinking about the “we” days. Then, I always do…

Mrs. Ryan

Five years ago today, I became Mrs. Ryan. It was truly the happiest day of my life. This is my second wedding anniversary without Mr. Ryan; the first came less than a month after he died. If he was here with me, we’d be celebrating by having a nice meal and reminiscing about how we met and all of the wonderful things that brought us to this day. We really were blessed. Instead, I don’t find I have much to celebrate. But I will always have memories of the day I became Mrs. Ryan, and the nearly four years of joy that followed.

Paul created a couple of short photo videos to share with our family and friends who were unable to attend our wedding, so I thought that I’d share them with you here today.

The ‘formal’ shots
YouTube did not allow me to upload this video with the music Paul had is set to, so the track on the embedded video isn’t as fun. Click here to load the original version.

The ‘candid’ shots
This one loaded with the original music. So no other link needed!

Miss you much

It’s been a year since Paul died; a year since I became Just Frances again. I made the drive to his grave in Cle Elum today to bring him some tulips from our yard. He would have loved to see how bright they are in the flower beds and I wish that he was here to admire them on our mantle.

My sister took some tulips up for him yesterday – similar colors to those I brought – and Paul’s family took tulips up to his grave in England. Tulips are my favorite flowers, so that’s what he seems to get now. I hope he doesn’t mind…

Paul, you are always in my heart and on my mind. I miss you much, but I don’t regret an ounce of this pain because it means I loved deeply and truly. I love ya, luv. xx

 Miss You Much
The Clumsy Lovers

I miss you much, but I don’t regret
I sense your touch, that hasn’t left me yet
You know a mournful ending don’t ruin a precious start
A painful parting don’t mean a bitter heart
 

And gracious your beauty
Goodness your soul

Everything’s changed, and you’re not here
But you keep climbing into my dreams somehow
Your voice is strange, but the words are clear
You’re saying “Love me now, love me now, love me now, love me now”
and I do… I do love you.