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!)

And now we wait

2012.12.19.now-we-waitI have finally managed to get all of my visa stuff sent off to the UK Border Agency. There was a bit of a hiccup in the process which means that I will have a bit of time to wring my fingers in worried anticipation whilst I wait to hear the outcome of my application. But at least it’s in progress now.

I made my application online and carefully put all of my documents in an envelope post off for review. All of my important documents: My passport, originals of my birth certificate and marriage certificate, letters from financial institutions, and my original master’s degree certificate.

Unfortunately, this means that I am without my passport and can’t go back to the Homeland for Christmas. But it also means that I am a step closer to obtaining a work visa that will allow me to remain in my beloved Scotland. Well, to remain for the duration of the job, at least.

The next step is to have my biometrics taken, which will happen once I receive a letter from the UKBA, then I wait some more. And hopefully I will be sharing a picture of my new visa with you soon!

October: The missing month

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 …

A bloody Stirling day

Today was fabulous—even as I sit here with aching muscles and feel completely wrecked. The day started off well, after a fantastic night’s sleep in my new bed, and even though it’s only early evening, I think it’s going to end pretty well, too.

So, why was it such a fabulous day? Well for starters, I ran the Stirling 10K today. OK, I was slow (1:02:12) because my legs were so tired from yesterday’s move, but this marks the first time I’ve repeated a race in Scotland. Sadly, the slow time means I didn’t beat last year’s race, but I’m still pleased with myself for doing it. More than that, I’m pleased with myself for running it without a running partner—or a support team. (The latter of which meant walking nearly 2 miles home after the race; I cheated and took a taxi to the start line though.)

[All of my race photos and times can be found in the Run, Frances, Run gallery.]

And continuing on the solo theme, I decided to take myself back out into town today to catch the last event at Bloody Scotland. The final event was a dramatic reading of The Red-Headed League (which was a hoot!) followed by a wee awards ceremony. I wasn’t certain if I wanted to go on my own because I knew that there was someone there (who I don’t know) that I didn’t want to bump into (a friend of a friend) and I was afraid that I might accidently end up in one of those awkward situations where you don’t want to introduce yourself. (I decided before hand that I’d give a fake name.) But I digress…

The topping on my Stirling day, however, was when I popped into M&S on my way home and I saw someone I know! Now, I know this doesn’t seem like a big deal, but I don’t really have any friends here and it’s such a big city (to me) that I often feel a bit glum walking around namelessly. So when someone recognises me and I get to have a wee chat in the middle of the shops, it makes me happy; it makes me feel like I belong. (Now that I think about it, someone recognised me yesterday, too, and struck up a wee conversation. That was nice.)

So now I’m sitting on the couch, completely drained. It’s been a long, busy weekend, but a fun and positive one. Next week will be spent unpacking and settling into my new flat… and maybe doing some training for my next race!

Bloody Scotland; bloody fabulous

There is a fabulous literary festival in Stirling this weekend, and I’ve managed to catch a bit of it today. Bloody Scotland celebrates the amazing crime writers in Scotland and (for what little I’ve seen) it’s bloody fabulous!

It’s the kind of event that I’d love to spend an entire weekend enjoying, but between moving into my new flat today and a 10K road race tomorrow, I’ve only been able to manage one event—Deadlier than the Male. I wasn’t quite certain what to expect because—to be honest—I haven’t read any books by the panel. But after hearing Karin Fossum and Val McDermid speak, I have decided what my next Kindle purchases will be!

I think that my favourite part about the talk, however, was the motivation it’s given me to get back into my own writing. Hearing the authors speak with so much energy about the process was invigorating. Further, hearing them talk about the time and dedication you have to be willing to commit to the process made me realise that I’ve been a bit lazy at doing that. (Well, in fairness, I think much of that has been because I’ve been busy with my dissertation.)

Of course, because I was too chicken to go alone, I ended up tagging along with a woman I’ve met through another friend—and she invited me to go along to a wee reception as well (it’s nice to know people who rub elbows with people I want to rub elbows with!). Anyhow, the reception meant that I got to speak with a couple of people about the creation of the event, which was kind of cool.

I have a 10K race in the morning, but I am now thinking that I need to go back up to the festival when I’m done so that I can try to see another event or two—assuming there are tickets remaining. Of course, that’s also assuming I have the energy since I’m a bit exhausted from the weekend’s events already.

And, with that, I suppose I’ll head off to bed so that I can be up in time for tomorrow’s race.

New digs

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

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

A great run

Today was Race Number Nine in my 2012 Race a Month Challenge and I’m pretty excited about it. It was the Great Scottish Run ½ Marathon in Glasgow (that’s 13.1 miles, if you wondered) and I finished under goal time! But, as always, you’ll have to get to the end to find out what that time is…

First up, however, is a big public thanks to my friend, John, who not only drove me to the race (and back home—a total of nearly 100 miles) but who stood around with me for an hour and a half before the race started; sat in his car reading for two hours before heading to the finish line; then met me at the finish with my bag containing comfy shoes and crisps.

Now, on to the race. I am really pleased with my time and even more pleased that I ran the majority of it. Where I took a few longer walk breaks in Edinburgh, this race saw me running solid for the first eight or so miles then I just took 15-30 second walk breaks. I suppose that has something to do with getting a bit more training in, but I must confess that I’ve still not done enough training—especially when I know I have a marathon in four weeks’ time!

Of course, the best part about the race was seeing everyone cheering each other on. I know I’ve said it before, but I really do love the non-competitive nature of running. We’re all running for our own reasons; we’re all fighting our own demons. And, inevitably, everyone helps each other and offers words of encouragement to the people around them.

Today, I witnessed two younger men slow down to help physically support a man in his 60s who was wavering around mile 11. Other runners around them shared their energy gels and water with him, and it sounded like the young men were planning to take a slower time in order to keep the older man going. (I hope they all managed to finish!)

For my own found inspiration, a woman caught up to me around mile 12 to say that she was using my pace (and bright shorts!) as her motivation and she helped me to pick up my pace for that last mile. And I’m thankful to her for it because it helped me shave a minute or two off my final time—which was already going to be less than my goal time of ‘under 2:30’.

And with that, my official time: 2:16:57. Yeah, wow! I’m very pleased as this is my fastest ½ marathon time in about 20 years and was a full 17 minutes and 39 seconds faster than Edinburgh back in May.

I have two more races to get through for September: The Stirling 10K and the Loch Ness Marathon. And I think I have two races for October: The Great Edinburgh Run (10K) and the Beat Beethoven (5.5K in Stirling). Now I just need to sort my November and December races for the rest of my Race a Month goal!

Oh! And you can see more race photos at my Run, Frances, Run gallery, too!

[Photo credits to my friend, John.]

A year later

Today marks one year since I hit the reset button on my future. Yes, it’s been one year since I moved back to my beautiful, beloved Scotland.

If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know that the road leading up to my flight across the pond was a troubled one and that the entire adventure was sparked by a personal tragedy. Or, rather, it was accelerated since our hope was to return to Scotland one day.

Regular readers may also be aware that life didn’t magically ‘get better’ with my move and that I have had a few emotional ups-and-downs over the past year. Most of which can be attributed to the stress and uncertainty I’ve faced with questions about what happens when my current visa expires, and other worries about the next steps for my new future. (I knew this move wouldn’t make life perfect and had expected the ups-and-downs; though I’d hoped for fewer downs than there were!)

But, as I write this, I can feel the road levelling out a bit. There are still a few questions and uncertainties (mostly with visas and jobs!), but things are starting to look a bit brighter at the moment. I admit that if things should fall apart, my mental and emotional health might fall along with everything else, but I’m trying to be hopeful and optimistic.

I don’t know where I will be in another year’s time and that’s a bit scary to me because it means I still don’t have the stability that my heart, mind, and soul so desperately crave. I’m afraid to make plans and I’m afraid of the ‘whatifs’ that haunt my thoughts.

However, I am here in Scotland for now and I’m going to hold onto that for as long as I can because life is happier here than it was the last two years I was in the States. This is home. I just hope that, one day, the Home Office lets me make that permanent!

Braving it alone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heigh-ho, heigh-ho

Today, I woke up at 6.30 and began getting ready for the day. I cleaned my teeth, took a shower, put on a dress, drank some coffee, ate some food, and then made my way to my office.

Yes. You read that correctly: I made my way to my office. As in, I have a job now.

What’s that? You didn’t hear me? Let me try that again:

I HAVE A JOB!

I wasn’t quite sure if I’d share the news here—or how soon I would share it if I did—but I decided that since Just Frances readers are subjected to my lows, they should also get to share in my highs. After all, I really do appreciate the support you’ve all given me over the years.

And since I’ve decided to share my news, I suppose I should tell you a bit about the job. My apologies in advance if it seems a little vague; I just like to keep a bit of separation between my personal and professional lives. I’m sure you understand.

So, I am now working as the Communications Manager for an organisation in Stirling, Scotland. The organisation itself is rather small, but they (sorry, we) work with a wide variety of external partners and organisations. And that means meeting lots of new people and learning all sorts of new things.

Sadly, it is operating on a project-funded basis which will most likely come to an end in March, at which time I will once again be unemployed. Of course, there is also the chance that there will be visa hiccups before then that force me into unemployment earlier than that.

(Oops! I went all ‘glass is half empty’ there. Sorry about that. I really am trying to be positive though. Really. Honestly!)

But regardless of visa-related stresses and worries, it’s a fantastic job with amazing opportunities—and it helps that it seems to be a very pleasant working environment.

So what does this mean for you? Well, it means that you will see a considerably happier Just Frances for starters.

And it means that you can expect posts on things such as:

  • Purchases for my new (or vintage but new-to-me) work wardrobe
  • Weekend trips and adventures (you know, because I can afford them again!)
  • Great new meal plans that include quick-and-easy dinners (that provide me with excellent left-over lunches!)

What it doesn’t mean is that I will:

  • Moan and groan about work woes
  • Bore you with stories about my work life
  • Stop blogging

Anyhow, I’m pretty excited about this new adventure and I am hoping that it leads to great and wonderful things—including the possibility for me to stay on here in Scotland for the long haul.

Of course, I’m also pretty tired and exhausted. I know it’s ‘just office work’ but it’s really exhausting when you’re trying to learn a new job; so exhausting, in fact, that I can’t even bring myself to pour a celebratory glass of wine. That will just have to wait for the weekend, I guess!

Summer holidays

I don’t know if it’s fair to say that I’ve been on my summer holidays, since I’ve been an unemployed student for the last year+, but calling this past week my summer holidays is a great excuse to share a bit of Cliff Richard, so there you go!

Anyhow, if you’re still with me after that, I’ll tell you a bit about the last part of my holiday week. But I’ll start with a quick recap of the first part of the week: I went to the Scottish Poetry Library, I bought a new phone, I spent my spare change, and I went to the Hermitage in Perth.

So, now it’s time to bore you with the rest of my holidays! (Of course, it was anything but boring for me!)

On Sunday, I hopped on the train to Inverness to visit some friends in the Highlands. I was met at the station by Emma and her children before being whisked away to a little village a few miles away where David was waiting for us.

Sunday saw us visiting Urquhart Castle along the shores of Loch Ness before heading back to the house for a nice meal of roast lamb’s leg (jealous, Mom?) and a late-night chatting and visiting session.

On Monday, we loaded the rig for a long (but fun!) day that saw us driving along a single track road to Oldshoremore on the West Coast where we frolicked on the beach for a bit, before heading to Loch-Something-Or-Other for a bit of ice cream. To round out the day, we stopped off at Ullapool for fish-n-chips before stopping at the Corrieshalloch Gorge which was oh-so-amazing that I can’t even find the words to describe it!

Needless to say, after all of that activity it was an early night last night and a lazy day today. Yes, it was a short visit, but we managed to pack a lot of fun into those 48 hours! And it also must be said that I had a lovely time, that my hosts were fantastic, and that I have truly been emotionally energised by the entire trip!

And now, I’m settled in my flat, curled up in my PJs, and looking forward to an early night because tomorrow will be a busy day. After all, my holidays are now over so it’s time this unemployed bum gets a job!

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Escaping to the hermitage

Sometimes I wonder if I could become a reluctant hermit, living in my own little hermitage, hiding away from society, and sulking away my life one day at a time. But, thankfully, I have just enough of a desire for company to save myself from myself!

To make sure I didn’t spend my entire week’s holiday alone, I sent a message out to my friends on Facebook letting them know that I was up for activities. And one of my friends, John, quickly sent me a message to arrange a trip to Perthshire to see—of all things!—the Hermitage!

When it was first suggested, I had to Google the place. But, apparently, it’s quite a popular destination for hikes and picnics and stuff. Of course, one destination wasn’t enough for us, so we also visited the Pitlochry Power Station and Fish Ladder, took a wee wander through Pitlochry, and stopped at a couple of whisky distilleries. Not bad for a day’s activities!

And as he was kind enough to suggest the activity—and do the driving—I thought it was only fair that I provided a nice picnic lunch for the two of us. So, I whipped up some pasta salad (with salami—yum!) and a few sandwiches, cleaned some grapes, and grabbed a bag of crisps.

And now, it’s time to bore you with photos from my day! (Honestly, it was just so lovely that I wanted to let you see it!)

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Of course, John wasn’t the only one to answer my call for activities, so tomorrow morning I will make my way up north to the Highlands of Scotland for a couple of days. Yay!

A poetic starter

Since I turned in my dissertation draft yesterday, I’ve decided that I am going to take a week’s holiday to rest and unwind before I have to start working on edits for the final version. So, in between now and July 31, I am on holiday! Which basically just means I’m going to go and do fun things for the next week.

And that started today with a trip to Edinburgh.

Way back in May, my cousin Rita was in Scotland as part of a tour group and we spent a day in Edinburgh together. Only two of the things on her list of ‘things to see’ weren’t open (or planted) that day. So I promised her I would return on her behalf. And I decided to start my holidays by following through with that promise!

The first stop was the Scottish Poetry Library. Rita is a librarian, and had been excited about the idea of seeing the place. I don’t know if I would have gone without her prompting, but I’m glad I did because it’s always fun (and educational!) to do new things.

If I’m completely honest, I’m not really ‘into’ poetry, but there are a few poems and poets that I like—mostly because they make me giggle. (Yes, Shel Silverstein—I’m talking about you!) So, today’s goal was to randomly(ish) find something I liked. To do that, I picked out books the piqued my interest—either by their title or typeset—then I flicked through them.

And just as I was about to give up, I tried one last book and I finally found what I was looking for! I know it’s short, but it made me smile very much, and that’s what poetry should do!

A Cat Called Slumber
by Adrian Mitchell (found in ‘Blue Coffee’, pg 63)

In the middle of the night appears
My day-shy tabby with collapsable ears
And I stroke her ears so those ears collapse
And she purrs to say that she loves me, perhaps…

After the library, I wandered over to Princes Street Gardens to have a look at the Floral Clock which was being planted when Rita was visiting. But, I’m pleased to say, it was fully planted—and fully working—when I arrived today. Apparently, the theme is London 2012.

Anyhow, it was a successful trip into the city. And the weather was fabulous which just added to the enjoyment of the day. In fact, the weather was so fabulous that I left the house without an umbrella or a jacket and didn’t regret it once! And better than that, it was so fabulous that I bought an ice cream and sat in the gardens for a spell before catching the train home. Bliss!

I wonder what the rest of my holiday week will hold …

Patriotism abroad

Today is Independence Day in America. It is the day when the nation celebrates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. As a proud American, this is one of my favourite holidays (tying with Thanksgiving). It is a day when we, as a nation, celebrate what it means to be American. We celebrate our independence from the United Kingdom, but mostly we celebrate our freedoms and our rights.

All across the land people hold parades and have barbeques. They set off fireworks and they gather to honour those who fought and died to ensure our independence—and those who continue to fight and die to ensure our freedoms remain intact.

This is my first time being outside of America for Independence Day. And it’s weird. It feels as if the day isn’t really happening, even though in my heart I know it is. To be honest, I was a little sad that the day was passing without acknowledgement (well, I did get two text messages wishing me a happy day). But then Rebecca showed up for a quick visit on her way home from work—with an American flag and a pack of flag napkins. So, I did spend a bit of time being a flag-waving American.

Yes, I am a patriotic American. Despite choosing to be an expat. Despite loving Scotland and wanting to live here for the foreseeable future. Despite my occasional disagreement with the way my home country is run. I am an American and I am proud of it.

And now, as promised as part of Dissertation Month, here’s a wee update:

Current word count: 2,843 (only 9,157 to go!)

That’s right, no increase in the word count. It was a busy day with reading though, and I managed to create my library list for tomorrow, too! (And I managed a 4.67 mile run. Yay!)

Tomorrow’s task list:

  • Go to the library for more books
  • Expand literature review section
  • Make an appointment for a hair cut

Loch Ness; Take two

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

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

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

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

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

Big noise means big fun

I had big fun tonight at The Big Noise’s Big Concert in Raploch. OK, I got wet and cold because it is summer time in Scotland and that means wind and rain—I mean really, really wet. But the music more than made up for the weather. Thankfully, the rain let up for the second half which meant that I dried out a bit and it really did make for an enjoyable ending to a great evening.

But I don’t want to talk about tonight; I want to talk about The Big Noise because they are doing big things and I’m very excited about it!

Here’s the deal:

Big Noise is an orchestra programme that aims to use music making to foster confidence, teamwork, pride and aspiration in the children taking part – and across their wider community. It is based on the methods of Venezuela’s “El Sistema” movement and is run by the charity Sistema Scotland.
[Text from Big Noise’s website.]

So, basically, they take a load of kids who live in economically depressed areas (in this case, Raploch) and they give them an amazing opportunity to transform their lives through music. And, in fact, an opportunity to transform a community through music. And it’s working. It’s really, really working. In fact, it’s working so well that there are more groups in the works for other bits of Scotland and the Raploch group is working with the Stirling Council to ensure continued funding.

More than that, it’s working so well that 450 children ranging from pre-school to 13 are finding passion through music. They are working together and the community is behind them with support and energy—as evident by the massive crowd that showed up tonight and braved the horrid weather to listen to these amazing kids play.

Wow! I am just in awe over the dedication shown by everyone involved!

Oh! And a special shout-out today for my parents who are celebrating 43 years of marriage. Wow! I am just in awe over their dedication to each other!

Half done

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

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

Still, I enjoyed the entire race. Really.

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

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

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

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

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

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

A mini-reunion and a catch-up

Oh dear, it’s been more than a week since I last posted. Sorry about that. It’s not that I’ve been sitting at home sulking though. No, I’ve been sitting at home writing essays like a mad woman! So, let me get you up to speed!

School: The past week, as I mentioned, was spent working on final essays for this past semester. The last of them was finished yesterday and turned in—with a bit of time to spare. I’m not feeling too confident about a couple of them, but I’m sure I did OK. I am pleased to brag, however, that I have received a few marks over the past week—all distinctions! Yeah, that’s nice for the ego.

So, the semester is done and that means no more classes. But I do have that dissertation to work on, so this probably won’t be my last school update.

Whisky: On Saturday, I went to the Spirit of Stirling Whisky Festival with a friend, his friend, and his friend’s friend. (Did you catch that?) It was an absolutely fantastic day, and one that probably deserves a story of its own. But, it was a late night with too much whisky and I was in no condition to even think about whisky the next day, so the story has gotten downgraded to an update. (Which shouldn’t be taken as a negative commentary; it was a day of great fun, great whisky, and great company.)

Edinburgh (Or: The Mini Eberle Reunion): After turning in my essays yesterday, I hopped on a train to Edinburgh to meet up with my cousin Rita and her friend, who are in Scotland as part of an organised tour. They had the afternoon free to tour on their own, so I was invited through as a personal tour guide. And since they’d already done the castle thing with the group, I got to show them a few other highlights.

We met along Princes Street then grabbed a coffee (well, I had mint tea) to catch up and chat about what we wanted to do, then we went to see the city. Our first stop—The Scott Monument—was easy enough, especially since we opted to not walk to the top. Then we wandered back toward the Floral Clock. Which we kind of saw in that the workings were sticking out of the ground, but it was in the process of being planted so if you didn’t know it was meant to be a clock you’d have missed it.

Next, we wandered through Princes Street Gardens on our way to Moray Place so that Rita could get a photo of a friend’s first house (No 28, if you wondered) before heading up Heriot Row to see the childhood home of Robert Louis Stevenson. The Queen Street Gardens across from the house were later used as inspiration for Treasure Island. (Apparently.)

From there, we wandered through the New Town on our way back to Princes Street Gardens where we sat to visit whilst Rita enjoyed (or at least took a sip of) Scotland’s number-one selling beverage, Irn Bru. I pointed out buildings and landmarks, explained how The Mound was formed and the Nor Loch drained, and even got to bore my captives with the story of how Paul and I met—and (when we’d made our way to The Royal Mile) I got to point out where we met, too!

Up on The Royal Mile, we attempted to visit The Writers’ Museum (we were 15 minutes too late!) before going in to see St Giles’ Cathedral. Then, it was back to the train station for me.

Of course, since one of the things Rita had on her list was closed (The Poetry Library) I’ve promised to go back and see it (and report back) for her. I’ll even have to stop by the Floral Clock on her behalf.

It was an absolutely fantastic afternoon and I am so pleased that I was invited to be part of Rita’s holidays. We’ve decided we’re going to have to do it again—maybe Rome next time with a private audience with the Pope.

[Photo is of RLS’s house, No 17 Heriot Row. Yes, we’re that kind of tourist!]

Applying myself

With less than six weeks of classes left—and less than 20 weeks until my dissertation is due—it’s time to start thinking about the future again. And that means getting a job!

Of course, it’s not as easy as just getting a job when you’re a foreign national who requires a visa for work. Then again, with the current levels of unemployment in the UK skyrocketing, it’s even more difficult!

So, I’m applying to jobs. Lots of them. Some are right up my alley and others would be a step backward but a job is a job. Plus, all of them would give me the opportunity to stay on here in Scotland if I was offered the job.

Sadly, I’ve yet to have success. I’ve not even made it to the interview stage yet. But I keep looking and I keep applying. Because eventually someone is going to see my application and realise that I am the best person for the job.

I have another round of applications going out this week, and at least one of the jobs is one that I really, really want. Your good thoughts and prayers are appreciated! And in return, I promise to keep you posted about the job search.

Out of place

As I walked into town this afternoon, I noticed a dandelion growing in a wall along the pavement. It was sticking out brightly against the grey stone as if to say ‘Hello! I’m here! I belong!’ even though it wasn’t really meant to be there; even though it risked someone removing it or spraying it with deadly chemicals.

And, as sometimes happens when I see things that I wasn’t expecting to see, this little out of place flower (weed?) got me thinking a bit about my own life.

You might recall last week’s post about my struggles to keep it together. Well, without getting into too many details, part of those struggles stemmed from my tenuous future here in Scotland. You see, much like the dandelion, I’m trying to put down roots somewhere that isn’t my natural home. I’m trying to put down roots and live a life of joy, but I’m doing it with the constant fear that someone will walk along and pluck me out and toss me aside—like a weed growing where it doesn’t belong.

Yes, I know—it’s a really cornball analogy. But I hope you get the point.

(And I’m trying not to think about the analogy where the dandelion (me) causes the wall (Scotland) to weaken and crumble because of the foreign matter edging in (immigration). No, let’s not think about that analogy!)

Anyhow, I am still worried. I am still struggling with the fears of an uncertain future and I am still trying to figure out what my next steps will be. But whilst I’m worrying, I’m also trying to find solutions. And I’m trying to be gentle with myself, recognising that even if all of my worries and fears play out to completion, it just means that I have an opportunity to start over again—whether I want to or not.

So, I am still feeling a bit down and stressed and overwhelmed, but a little less than I did last week. Yes, I am surviving. And with luck, my friend the dandelion will survive, too!

Spring break

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

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

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

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

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

Happy spring break, everyone!

Freedom of the City

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

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

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

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

I [heart] root beer

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

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

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

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

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

Free drugs

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

And today just happened to be one of those days.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Great chieftain o’ the puddin-race

Oh, what a happy belly I have, all thanks to the lovely Burns’ Supper that Rebecca prepared.

Whilst Rebecca made the final preparations, we chatted over a nice glass of wine.

Then it was yummy Scottish salmon and a bit of healthy green stuff for starters.

Haggis, neeps*, and tatties for the main course—with whisky, of course.

And cranachan for dessert.

And did I mention the whisky?

But, best of all, there was me and the amazing Rebecca. I don’t have a photo of that, but that’s OK because I know that it’s because we were too busy laughing and chatting to take a photo of ourselves. Yay!

[Confused about the title? Check out the full Address to a Haggis here.]

* Actually, instead of neeps, it was mashed carrots and parsnips. Still, it was the right colour and it was yummy!

Birthday annoucement

This will be a short post (lucky you!) and serves two purposes: 1) To get me back in the habit of regular posts and 2) To announce that I think I’ve made plans for my birthday.

On the regular posting side, this will make four days in a row. Which isn’t a record for me by any means, but since I’ve been a bit remiss in posting, it’s one of the best runs I’ve had in a while.

On the birthday side, I’ve decided to take myself out of town for my birthday. I generally hate my birthday and try to just ignore it all together. I also feel a bit lonely and depressed when travelling solo these days. So, I’ve decided to try to break both of those cycles this year.

I’ll fill you in on my celebration plans later, but I wanted to make the announcement now so that I can’t back out. Which means that I am now under obligation to go and enjoy myself (and blog about it) so that I don’t let you down. (And that will serve as my motivation if my insecurities start creeping in.)

Oh! And tomorrow is Burns’ Night. And that means a food post can be expected. (Well, maybe that will wait until the next day. Depends on how many toasts to Rabbie are made!)

A running start

I have a goal to run a race a month in 2012. It’s kind of an annual goal that Paul and I always attempted, but one that’s yet to be met; mostly because there always seems to be a race shortage. It’s one of the disadvantages of living in rural America. But this year, I’m in urban Scotland so I might have better luck attaining my goal!

Also this year, I have a new running partner who is going to attempt the goal with me. And we have the added advantage of Park Runs—timed races that take place in various communities around the UK. So on months when we can’t find a road race we want to do, we’ll supplement with the Park Runs. (Which is probably going to be our February race.)

Anyhow, today was the first race of the year—the Buchlyvie 10K (in Buchlyvie, Scotland). It was a relatively flat out-and-back course and (save for the rain) it was very scenic, too. But it was anything but easy. In fact, I’m going to rattle off a series of excuses to explain away my poor time:

  • It was raining like mad!
  • It was very cold.
  • The headwinds were quite strong.
  • The winds changed directions so there was a headwind on the return, too!
  • The course was muddy, wet, rocky, and slippery.
  • My knee was twinging for about half of the race.
  • I spent last week very ill with a fever and headache.

But I suppose if I’m honest, I did poorly because I’ve not put in the training. And I’ve been eating junk food and sitting around the flat feeling sorry for myself lately—which means I’ve gotten a bit soft and gooey and flabby, too. So whilst the excuses above are all valid reasons for a slower-than-desired pace, I could have (should have!) done better—and would have if I’d been out training and eating healthier foods. Which, I guess, means that my slow pace is ultimately down to my own laziness. Must.Do.Better!

Oh! But excitingly, Rebecca beat me this time! She ran well and ran hard and she crossed the finish line a few minutes before me. Normally, this would be a massive blow to my ego, but for some reason I’m OK with it today, and am very pleased for Rebecca. (See, I must still be ill because these are not things that I would say under typical circumstances!)

And, since you’ve made it this far, here are our unofficial finish times: Rebecca: 1:04:51; Me: 1:07:10.

You can check out my running gallery to see photos of the shirt and me in my running gear. And that’s also where you’ll find official race times when they’re posted.

Got milk?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A lesson in carols

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

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

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

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

Steak and potatoes

OK boys and girls, today is my first meal prepared for the Dark Days Challenge. Not that I haven’t been eating some local foods all along, but tonight’s dinner is special because it’s all about the local stuff!

Now, I like to pride myself in purchasing locally grown produce whenever possible, but I must admit that much of the other groceries I buy come from all over. I mean, it’s a little difficult to find local olive oil when you live in Scotland! But, I did some research and managed to find a few local (Scotland or elsewhere in the UK) staples to keep on hand—many of which will make appearances not only in my local-only meals, but in my every day meals as well. Those things include a Scottish cooking oil, UK-sourced sea salt, and Scottish-milled flour—to name a few. I won’t go into all of them today, but will try to tell you a bit about them as I use them. Or, at the very least, I will link to them so that you can read more if you want.

And with that, here’s what I had for dinner:

My main course was pan-fried minute steak from Puddledub Buffalo Farms. I had wanted a fillet steak, but they only had large packs available by the time I arrived at their stall on the market, so I ended up with a less-than-ideal cut. But, cooked with a bit of Maldon sea salt, it was pretty tasty! I also made a small potato-shallot-and-cheese concoction using Scottish-grown potatoes and shallots, layered with a strong Scottish cheddar. I baked it in a small dish that was coated with Summer Harvest rapeseed oil (made in Scotland) and a light sprinkling of sea salt. Oh! And some lightly boiled Scottish-grown carrots for my veg.

Oh! And I can’t forget about the wine now, can I? I don’t generally buy (or drink) fruit wines, but Cairn o’ Mohr always has a booth at the Stirling Farmers’ Market and curiosity (and the need for local!) got the better of me. So, I bought a bottle of their Bramble Wine. And it was very nice. Maybe next time, I’ll try one of their whites!

Anyhow, I’ve learned a lot this week about the foods that are available locally. This has also been a great excuse to experiment with food—which is what the potato thing was—and a great reminder about what a good cook I actually am. (But I wish I made a bigger pot of the potato stuff. That was way-yummy!!)

Of course, I seem to have forgotten to get myself something for pudding. Darn! Maybe next week…

The dark days

The dark days of winter are upon us. Oh yes, they really are. Even more so here in Scotland compared to my (only slightly) lower-latitude homeland. But those nine degrees don’t make a difference when you’re in the deep dark of winter.

But this post isn’t about the darkness—it’s about food!

You see, my friend The Improbable Farmer has taken up a challenge. And since I enjoy a bit of a challenge—especially one that fits my views—I decided I’d give it a shot, too. (Yeah, I’m such a copy-cat!)

And so, I will be taking part in the 5th Annual Dark Days Challenge.

So, you may not know this about me, but I’ve long been a bit of a hippy-granola-freak. In fact, Paul and I were avid supporters of our local Co-Op and worked hard to source foods (and other goods) locally. We even grew our own food and made our own cleaning supplies. Oh! And we had a compost heap and everything! (He made me promise not to knit underwear for the kids we were adopting though. And I begrudgingly agreed—with my fingers crossed behind my back.)

But, yes, I am a wanna-be-hippy. And maybe I’ll take some time to talk about my views on sustainable living and the whole reduce-reuse-recycle thing from time-to-time. Oh—Wait!—I’m kinda getting ready to do that right now!

[Sorry, I seem to have digressed, so let me get back on topic …]

The challenge sounds rather simple—but I expect it will be a bit difficult, or it wouldn’t be called a challenge. The idea is that I will cook one meal a week that is made from SOLE foods (sustainable, organic, local, ethical). Local is often described as being within 100 miles, though the challenge allows for 150 miles because of the winter growing seasons. That said, I live on a small (by American standards) island and I don’t really know the geography well enough to know how many miles away something is. So, I will aim for UK-sourced goods, giving priority to Scotland and the regions closest to Stirling.

I hope that this challenge helps me learn more about the foods produced here in the Central Belt, but also that it helps to remind me of the importance of eating local. Not just for the environmental impacts, but for the economical ones, too. Oh! And maybe it will help to wake up my culinary creativity which seems to have taken a bit of a long nap.

I’m jumping on the bandwagon nearly three weeks late, but since it’s really about reminding myself about the importance of eating local, the dates are arbitrary. I’m sure it will be interesting, especially since I don’t really know all of the local farms and brands and shops, but there’s no better way to learn than a challenge!

So I guess that tomorrow I’ll stop by the Stirling Farmers’ Market and the local deli to see what they have on hand to help me succeed. Wish me luck! (And join along if you want!)

[Speaking of ethical, the photo with this story was taken from my sister’s blog without her permission, but with assumed consent.]

A modest proposal

Hey! Wanna know what I did today? (Of course you do!) Well, today I turned in my dissertation proposal for my Master of Letters in Media and Culture. And I’m pretty gosh-darned excited about it!

Of course, gale-force winds across Scotland (now being referred to as Hurricane Bowbag) means that I’ve only submitted my paper electronically, and will need to turn in the hard copy version tomorrow but, still, it’s done!

What’s that? You really want to know what my dissertation’s research question is? Well, since you asked with such excitement, I guess I can tell you! So, in big, headline font, here it is:

How do users of social media determine the legitimacy of news and information shared on Facebook?


Yeah, it’s going to be exciting doing the research on that one. (No, really it is!)

Anyhow, up next is an exam for my Media Economics class. I am decidedly less excited about that because, well, I don’t get this whole economics thing. (Help?)

But that can wait until tomorrow. For now, it’s back to my reward for finishing my proposal.

What’s that? Well, since you asked, that would be watching The Godfather Trilogy. Again. Because it’s awesome.

(Oh, and in case you found this post through a web search looking for a different modest proposal, you can find that one here: A Modest Proposal, by Jonathan Swift.)

Stained

I spent the afternoon at the Stirling Smith Art Gallery today and am so glad I did because I really did need to get out of the flat for a bit.

The impetus for my visit was their St Andrew’s Day lecture, Scotland’s Stained Glass. I know it sounds a bit boring but I like stained glass so it was fascinating to me! (And as it was a packed house, it must be a fascinating topic for others, too.)

The lecture was given by Michael Donnelly, the leading authority of Scottish stained glass from the 19th and early 20th centuries, and began with a brief history of the nation’s stained glass which included a look at medieval glass techniques and the destruction of Scotland’s stained glass during the Reformation. (In fact, there is only one pre-Reformation window remaining in Scotland.)

[Side note: Apparently, medieval glass makers sometimes used urine as part of the painting and firing process. Yuck!]

When Scottish artisans re-started the craft of stained glass in the early 19th century, they had no examples on hand for inspiration so had to travel to England and Europe to look at early pieces, then they had to recreate the methods through trial and error. But they figured it out and have made quite an impressive new collection of beautiful stained glass!

The slideshow that went along with the lecture gave examples of several Scottish artists and I happily took notes as the speaker went along so that I knew which artists I’d want to learn more about. I smiled when he spoke of Daniel Cottier, an artist who imposed his own image when depicting others in his work. I was in awe at the works he shared by William Morris, and I was filled with joy when he showed a picture of a piece by WG Morton. And, of course, I was really delighted to see Morton’s contemporary, Charles Rennie MacIntosh get a mention or three. You know, because he’s awesome!

But you don’t want a long, drawn-out recap of the lecture, so instead, I’ll just point you to a couple of resources to learn more if you’re inclined:

Scotland’s Stained Glass website—which includes a couple of PDF books for you to download (for non-commercial use only)

The People’s Palace website—the building houses a large collection of post-Reformation glass that has been salvaged from derelict and demolished buildings

Anyhow, I’m still feeling a bit down from yesterday, and actually had to force myself to go to the lecture instead of staying in feeling sorry for myself. It hasn’t solved my sorrows, but it was enjoyable. Which is always good.

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 …

A thankful weekend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Making do

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Countdown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I spy

As part of my Thankful November theme, today’s post is an ‘I Spy’ photo story. So, here goes!

I spy ten things that make me thankful to live in Stirling, Scotland:

The Stirling Castle: What a breath-taking castle! And local residents (that’s me!) get free admission. So you know where I’ll be spending a lot of time!

The University of Stirling: How lucky am I that such a beautiful city is home to a great university with a media research centre?

The Stirling Smith: Stirling has a fascinating history, and the Smith tells the story so well. They even have lectures and events—one of which I’m attending later this month. (Story to follow!)

Easy Rail Links: I’m a 10-miniute walk to the train station and from there I’m only an hour to Edinburgh or 4 hours to my in-laws in Billingham.

Compact City Centre: Everything you need is right there. And I’m less than 10 minutes away from it all!

Mr Simms Olde Sweet Shoppe: An entire shop dedicated to sweeties. It’s like a little corner of heaven right here in Stirling!

The Burgh Coffee House: It’s great to have such an inviting place to sit and relax whilst sipping a cup of tea and surfing the Internet with free WiFi.

The Junk Rooms: Friday night cocktails are amazing here. It’s not just the drinks but the comfortable atmosphere, too!

Good Friends: Having an amazing friend like Rebecca here is fantastic. The fact that she’s a great local guide is an added bonus!

A Re-discovered Smile: The thing I’m more thankful for in Stirling? My re-discovered smile. Life is good here. And that is really something to be thankful for.

Guy’s night

Last night was Guy’s night. Guy Fawkes’ Night, that is. (Well, it’s more often called Bonfire Night in Scotland, but that doesn’t make for as fun of a post title!) And to celebrate, Rebecca and I went to the Bridge of Allen fireworks show.

It was, by far, the largest bonfire I’ve even been to. Both in the size of the fire and the size of the crowd.

It was a fantastic firework show, too!

Oh, and in an effort to support the local economy, we had to swing by The Junk Rooms on the way home. (I know it wasn’t a Friday, but I think that’s OK.)

So, yeah, girls can have fun on Guy’s night, too!

Comfort zones

There is something to be said about the comforts of home. Your own bed; your favourite chair; knowing where all the gadgets are in the kitchen; understanding the intricacies of just how to turn the knobs in the shower so that you have the right temperature and the right pressure. Yes, there is something to be said about the comforts of home.

When you’re surrounded by the comforts of home, you truly are in your comfort zone.

Of course, after you’ve sold your bed, put your favourite chair in storage, and moved into a new flat (in a new country) where you haven’t figured out the kitchen layout or the workings of the shower—let alone how to walk down the road—you don’t always feel as if you’re in your comfort zone.

One of the common things with being an expat is finding yourself outside your comfort zone. Maybe not in that ‘makes your skin crawl’ kind of way, but (for me at least) in that ‘I don’t fully understand the way this works and everyone must think I’m an alien’ kind of way.

Grocery stores are one of those situations for me. They are just different here. The produce is displayed differently. All of the foods I like aren’t available, and many are in different packaging so I don’t always realise that they are there. The eggs are not in a cooler—they just sit there on a room-temperature shelf. The aisles are chaos. You have to pack your own groceries. And, in some places, you have to put a £1 coin in a slot just to get a shopping cart. Er, I mean a trolley. (But you get the coin back when/if you return the trolley to its home.)

So there you go. When I’m grocery shopping in the UK I am outside my comfort zone. I’m getting better at it—and I’m a lot more comfortable now than I was 10 years ago—but I am always aware that I’m not in the homeland.

Ah! But there is a grocery store where I feel at home. It’s called Lupe Pintos and they have a shop in Edinburgh and Glasgow. I first found it 10 years ago and I fell in love! You see, they are a North American import store. You want American or Mexican groceries? This is where you go.

And when I go, I recognise the brands and the packaging. They have Lipton Onion soup mix. They have Hidden Valley Ranch dressing. They have Stove Top and Libby’s and Bisquick and A&W and Old El Paso and hominy and yams and all sorts of other goodies that I love, love, love. In fact, they have more stuff there now than they did 10 years ago. And apparently the Glasgow store is much larger than the Edinburgh one.

It’s so nice to be able to walk into a shop and just grab the items you want without having to hem and haw over if it will be ‘close enough’ to the American version. Now, often times it really doesn’t matter, but sometimes, you really want those home comforts. And isn’t it nice that there’s a place that sells them? A place where I feel like I’m in my comfort zone…

Which way?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sugar high

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

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

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

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

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

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

Times, they are a-changin’

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Budgeting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Solo

I arrived in Scotland nearly two months ago, and am now on my own for the first time. In fact, I am on my own for the first time since July when I left the home I shared with Paul to stay with my parents for a few weeks before my move. I knew that I’d be on my own again at some point, so at least it’s not so unexpected!

My current solo-ness comes because the friend I’m staying with, Rebecca, left for her holiday to Italy this morning. (That’s a photo of her heading for her first leg of the journey.) But the solo-ness won’t end when she returns in two weeks, because the day after she gets home, I will be moving into my new flat. Which means that today is the beginning of solo-living for both of us!

I’ll be honest and say that I have mixed feelings about the solo-ness of it all! I mean, I am looking forward to living on my own again (not because I don’t like living with Rebecca, but rather because I like to have my own space—as does Rebecca, I’m sure!). But at the same time, I am dreading it. I am dreading living in silence. I am dreading the reminder that I am no longer a happily married woman. And I am dreading the loneliness that comes with that.

But I am looking forward to having my own space, too. I am looking forward to making a new home for myself where my new future can thrive. And I’m looking forward to re-learning how to be happy with my own company.

Of course, I am lucky because for the next two weeks of solo life, I have plans to spent time with ‘real life’ people and I have the excitement of packing for my new flat to keep me occupied.

And in two weeks’ time when Rebecca’s home and I’m in my new flat, she’ll be just around the corner for visits! After all, I’ll need a social life and Rebecca is a blast to socialise with!

I imagine that the next two weeks will be filled with mixed emotions as I re-adjust to life on my own once again. And I imagine my posts may be a mixture of emotions because of it. So, I apologize in advance for any sadness (though I’m sure there’ll be happiness to share, too).

Oh! And if you’re looking for fun and adventure, be sure to check out Rebecca’s blog because she’s sure to be sharing her travel stories with the ethos! (Have I ever mentioned how much I admire her for taking these amazing solo holidays? No? Well, I do. A lot!)

So, here’s to solo-ness! And a reminder to me (and everyone else) that solo doesn’t have to mean lonely and sad. Solo can be happy and empowering, too!

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

Rationalised spending

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

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

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

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

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

Classy lady

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One down; one long one to go

I ran my first-ever non-American race today—a gentle 10K through my new home of Stirling. I’ve been neglecting my training so I was actually quite pleased with my time. (Sorry, you have to read more before you get that bit of information!)

The course was relatively flat and took us through this place and over there by that place and along a river and over a bridge or two. (OK, you got me! I don’t actually know all of the areas we ran through. But it did offer lovely views of the castle and the Wallace Monument.) The weather was fairly nice and cool—and came with a light rain near the half-way mark, which was actually quite nice.

And get this! The course was marked in kilometres—not miles! I know that’s a strange comment since the race was a 10K, but in the states a 10K (or 5K) is still marked in miles. Because of this surprise, I found myself having to do maths along the course so that I could gage if my pace was OK. But that also meant that I didn’t get my 6 mile mark, which is what tells me that I have .2 miles to go, which is what tells me to kick it up to top speed. But I got a 9K mark instead and I didn’t know what that meant in miles. Then there was a sign that said ‘200 metres to go’ and I had no clue what that meant at first—but it dawned on me that 200 metres is my .2 miles(ish) so kicked it up for my strong(ish) finish.

I had hoped to finish in under an hour, and am happy to say I did that—just!—with a finish time of 59:28. I am very happy with that time because, well, it’s a respectable time and I am training for a marathon so am working on distance not speed (and in fact, I even intentionally slowed my pace a couple of times as to not risk injury). Of course, at the same time I’m upset with that time because I so wanted to be even faster! But I have to realise that I am no longer 18 years old and I have two pre-existing medical conditions. Still, my stubbornness wanted to believe I was that perfectly healthy and fit high schooler! But I digress.

And even though this blog is all about me, I do have to mention that my friend, Rebecca, ran it with me. But if you want to know what her take on the day’s event was, you’ll have to read about it here. And don’t listen to her about my ‘shooting off in front’ at the 5K mark; but she’s right that I did a lousy job with that photo. (Sorry!)

So my next non-American race is the Loch Ness Marathon in two weeks’ time; which means that today’s run was 20.2 miles shy of the furthest distance I ever, ever, ever plan to run/walk/crawl. I’m a little frightened about the marathon, but I’m a bit excited, too. You might get the privilege of reading a post or two before the marathon about my progress, my fears, and my excitement. So stay tuned…

And, as always, you can see more photos from my races here.

Olives

I love olives. They are very much a part of my life. Olives for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Olives for tacos and nachos and pizza. Olives for tuna noodle casserole and olives for eating all on their own. Oh, and olives for martinis, of course. Only the world of olives in Scotland is not the same as the world of olives in my part of America.

To start with, there are black olives. You know, the ones that you get in a can (sorry, in a tin) in the states. They are in a mild salt brine and are very mild in flavour because of it. These are the olives that children put on their fingers for Thanksgiving and Christmas and are what we use for tacos, nachos, and pizza. Only where you have several options in the states (small, medium, large, extra large, whole, sliced, chopped, diced, and more) in Scotland you’re lucky to find them on the shelf. No, instead you need to search them out. (I did find some that are ‘close enough’ at the farmers’ market in Stirling—they are simply black olives in oil, and they’ll do until I find the ‘right’ ones.)

Then there are green olives. You know, the ones in glass jars with red pimentos—standard green olives. Growing up, there was always a jar of these in the fridge and, again, when you went to the grocery store you had a wide selection of green olives to choose from. And, of course, every bar in America has an ample supply of these lovely little guys on hand for drinks. Dirty martini with extra olives? No problem! But, again, that’s not the way of the world here. I first noticed it a couple of years ago when I was handed a martini with Kalamata olives instead of green ones, but it was a modern-y fusion-y place so I thought they were just being pretentious. (Of course, you could argue that ordering a dirty vodka martini is pretty pretentious, too.)

But I’ve been here just long enough now to realise that my sort of green olives aren’t as easily found here as they are in the homeland. In fact, a week ago I went out to dinner with Rebecca and ordered a dirty vodka martini, but then was told there were no green olives, meaning I had a mojito instead. Then last night we went back to the same place and I ordered my favoured drink again. Only—you guessed it!—no green olives! So I had a margarita. (OK, I had three. It was a Friday night, after all!)

Now, in fairness, Scotland does have an ample supply of all of the other sorts of olives that I love. So it’s not like I can’t get olives here—it’s just that the world of olives is different here. And this means that I will have to work harder to find my mild black olives. But it also means that the next time Rebecca and I go into that fabby little olive-less place for dinner and/or drinks, we will bring a jar of olives. Just in case!

And if you want to offer tips as to how to find those little black olives that I love so much, I’d appreciate it. After all, I’m hosting Thanksgiving and my guests will need olives for their fingers in order to partake in the full-on American experience!

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!]

Re-searching

Well, I’ve done some more thinking on my flat search and have decided to increase my accommodation budget. The decision was made after looking at a flat on Tuesday that was on the upper end of my budget and realising that city centre places in that budget are not quite nice enough.

I had a viewing arranged for this afternoon at a place outside of the city centre that seemed much, much nicer—despite being the same price. Prior to viewing the flat, however, I looked at the transportation costs for getting to and from university. And, well, it would be a pretty penny. Still, I made my way to today’s flat viewing and was very pleased with what I saw. I was also pleased to find that it’s only a 15 minute walk to the city centre (at my pace; I timed it after the viewing). That means that if I took the flat I could walk into the centre to catch a bus to the university for cheaper than if I got the bus right outside.

But I decided to up my budget a bit to give myself more options within the city centre. Doing this means that I can get a nicer flat (a lot nicer from what I’ve seen) and my bus costs will be drastically lowered. Additionally, it means that I will be closer to restaurants, cafes, and grocery stores which means I’m saving money on late-night taxis and grocery deliveries.

And so I looked at a second flat today in my new price range. It was smack-dab in the middle of town and was considerably larger than the first city centre flat I looked at. I would be rather comfortable, though not as comfortable as the one I looked at earlier in the day. Oh, and the landlord doesn’t want to rent to students, but the agent is going to ask about making an exception for a mature postgraduate. We’ll see what happens there.

I have another flat to look at on Monday that’s about a 10 minute walk to the city centre—one I walked by early today, too. Based on what I’ve seen in real life and what I’ve seen in the online photos, it’s a top contender. Plus, they’ve said that I won’t need a guarantor if I’m willing to pay forward my rent a bit. (Which I am.)

So still no flat, but I’m feeling a bit more confident about my search now! I’m hoping to find a nice place by November so that I can have friends around for a nice Thanksgiving feast!

[The picture is of a little stone that sits outside the second flat I viewed today. It made me smile!]

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!

Boxed cat

OK folks, it’s pitch time! So sit back, relax, and get ready to hear all about my new freelance venture and how you can help!

Regular readers will recall that I’ve recently left my job in America, moved to Scotland, and will be attending university for a postgraduate degree (starting next week!). But what you may not know is that I am also attempting to fund my crazy adventure by doing some freelance communications work. And that’s where Boxed Cat Media comes in.

Boxed Cat Media is a freelance communications business offering services including writing and editing; social media support and consultation, including website and blog setup; layout and design for print and web; and brand and identity support. (See more details here.) I hope to work with small mom-and-pop shops, community organisations, and non profits. Additionally, I will work with individuals on small projects such as holiday cards, birth or adoption announcements, blog setup/design, and more.

Now for the pitch: In order for this venture to work, I need people to pay me money to do work for them. And that’s where you come in! Yes, I need you to help spread the word. Not in a pushy, call all your friends way, because that would be silly. Instead, I just hope that you’ll think of me when you or someone you know needs some design or communications work done.

To that, here’s the link one more time: http://www.boxedcatmedia.com. (That’s: Boxed Cat Media Dot Com, if you missed it!)

And now on to the thank yous:

First, to all of my friends who helped brainstorm a great name! Especially Mark G., who suggested ‘Schrodie Media Group’ which made me smile, but I feared the cat’s name might make a URL difficult. However, that got me to the track that lead to Boxed Cat Media, as Schrodie was named after the man behind the cat-in-a-box theory in the first place.

Next, to the folks who gave feedback on the logo: Thank you Mom, Dad, Rebecca, Amy, Celeste, Ellen, Patricia, Paula, and Martin. Extra
thanks to Dad and Martin who gave additional feedback on tweaks in fairly quick order.

Then to the folks who reviewed the site for me: Thanks, Nick, Royann, and Dad! And another thanks to Dad for his input on my business cards.

Have I missed anyone? I hope not! But if I have, please know I’m grateful to you, too!!

So there you have it. Boxed Cat Media is now up and running and ready for work. So please feel free to help make that happen!

(And I promise to start blogging more regularly as I get settled in a bit more. Really!)

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.

A palatial day

Today wasn’t spent in my new home of Stirling, but rather in my old home of Edinburgh—the city I first moved to ten years ago. In fact, I spent the day with a friend from my old Edinburgh days!

I met Joanne and her three young children outside of the new Scottish Parliament buildings and from there we walked over to Holyrood Palace—a place I’ve meant to visit for ten years now but only just today made it. And what a wonderful visit it was!

Cameras weren’t allowed past the outer courtyard (other than the gardens and abbey which we didn’t see) which means I don’t have loads of photos to share, but it also means that I was looking at the paintings and tapestries with my eyes, rather than through the camera lens, which is always better. Of course, because we had three young kids with us, it also meant that there wasn’t too terribly much time for staring at stuff within each room—in fact, we didn’t even make it through the entire palace before it was time to call it good and head out for food.

After exiting the palace, we went to the royal cafe where I enjoyed an amazing bowl of mustard and mushroom soup. I’d never heard of such a thing, but it was lovely! Then it was off for ice cream cones before heading to the park to let the kids play (and the grownups visit!).

Oh, and because I purchased my ticket at the palace ticket office, it’s actually good for a full year, meaning that I can go back to see the gardens and the abbey when I have more time to really enjoy them.

I’m really pleased to have met up with Joanne today—and I’m really pleased that we’ll be able to get together on a whim now. In fact, we’ve even talked about getting together for dinner and wine when I return from England in a couple of weeks.

Anyhow, that’s really all for now. I’m still finding my feet, but am doing it with loads of activity! After all, this was my second trip to Edinburgh in as many days and tomorrow I head off to England. Yay!

Got there

I suppose this is a good time to give an update on my travels, since I’ve arrived in Stirling, Scotland, and am now out and about enjoying the free WiFi access. So, here we go:

Firstly, the flights: I left my hometown about 10:30 a.m. Thursday (that’s 6:30 p.m. Thursday in Stirling time) to travel to the airport some two hours away. Because I was flying standby, I wasn’t certain if I’d have a seat on the 3:00 p.m. flight, but I got one, so that was cool. Of course, you may know that since I updated on the plane during that flight!

Once in Minneapolis, I went to the gate hoping that I’d manage a seat on the flight to London and was extremely pleased to not only have a seat, but to have one in business class! And let just say that business class travel is amazing! A glass of bubbles before takeoff; a proper blanket and pillow; a three-course, proper meal served with good wine; and a seat that reclined all the way into a bed. The best thing about it was that I managed a decent sleep! (Yay!)

Then—all of the sudden—I was in the UK. But because my standby ticket was only good to London, I had to make my way to Edinburgh on my own. In anticipation of this, I had my Dad book me a flight once I was confirmed on my London leg, but he could only get me a (decently priced) flight that took off eight hours later—which meant a long day at Heathrow! Worse, it meant transferring from Terminal 4 to Terminal 5 and since I wasn’t on a continuing flight, I had to take my baggage with me. It was not an easy task, but it didn’t kill me.

Oh, and to fill the time, my sister and her best friend had me do a photo scavenger hunt with items/situations they posted on my Facebook page. So that was fun!

By the time I got on the flight to Edinburgh, I was more than ready to be done travelling. And by the time I came through the gates there, I was a mix of emotions and couldn’t decide if that would mean tears or laughter but seeing my friend, Rebecca, standing there to greet me made it an easy decision—laughter and smiles! (Though with watery eyes and a lump in my throat, I’ll admit.)

Finally, I was in Stirling—my home for the next year+. I was so tired but so excited. I was also very hungry and in need of a shower. After all, it was after 10:00 p.m. by that time—more than 24 hours after my journey
began.

Amazingly, I managed to get a full night’s sleep instead of my normal 3:00 a.m. waking time on my first night. I give credit to the business class cabin’s sleeper chairs!!

And now, after a wee wander around the Stirling city centre with Rebecca, I’m enjoying a sandwich and tea at the local coffee shop.

I’m sure that my sleeping and eating patterns will be off for a few days, but I’m also sure that they will sort themselves out. In the mean time, I’m just going to enjoy the thrill of being back in Scotland and I’m going to try to remember that I’m not on holiday this time. No, this time I’m home!

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!

Now about that marathon…

You’d be forgiven for forgetting that I’m meant to be training for a marathon, since I’ve not really brought up the subject recently, but I really am still planning to participate (and complete) the Loch Ness Marathon in Scotland on October 2. And now that I’m an unemployed bum living at my mommy and daddy’s, I’m actually getting some training in!

On Monday I did a four-mile run and today I enjoyed an early(ish) morning six-mile run. Then, when I’m at the ocean for a family reunion this weekend, I will do a 10-mile route—though it’s yet to be mapped out. In addition, I’ve been busy with a million other activities such as packing, lifting, and moving; bike riding; and golf. (In fact, I’m playing 18 holes on Friday at the reunion!)

I’ve also picked out my pre-move last American 10K (Aug 7 in Lacey, Washington, if you want to join me) and have registered for my first-ever Scottish race: A gentle 10K in my future home of Stirling.

Oh! And my marathon registration pack has arrived at my friend’s flat, so I guess I’m really doing this thing!

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.]

Have visa; will travel

I got my UK visa today! Yay!! Actually, I got the email on Monday telling me I’d been approved, but wanted to wait until it was in my hands before telling you about it. It should have been delivered Tuesday, but a blunder at the consulate meant that I had to make the long drive to Spokane to pick it up in person.

I’ll spare you the carry-on that caused that action and will instead just give another Yay! to celebrate the fact that I now have the visa.

(Yay!)

Oh, and I had hoped that it would be good from August 1 and had planned to fly out on August 8, but they issued it as valid from August 12. Which means that my Mommy gets me for another 4 days which I bet will make her very, very happy.

And now I can book my flights. I hope the amazing Rebecca is ready for me, ‘cause now that the UK government says I can come, there’s nothing to keep me away!

Oh! And have I said Yay! yet? No? Well then…

Yay! Yay! and another Yay! for good measure!!

(And that photo on the visa? Well, I doctored that for the post because the official visa photo is horrid. But if you see me with my passport in hand, please feel free to ask for a peek at the real think. If you don’t scare easily that is…)

Seller’s blues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lost voice messages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three cheers for Monday!

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

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

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

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

Oh, come on! This deserves another shout so:

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

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

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…

The counting begins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.]

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!]

Expat food woes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ten things

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It’s another list day. Yay!

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

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

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

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

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

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!

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!)

We’ll be back!

Way back in March 2002 my bestest friend ever whom I’ve known for, like, ever and ever came to visit me in Scotland. And she totally hated it. She’d be the first to tell you that she doesn’t travel well and those darn people in Scotland couldn’t even speak English.

But it wasn’t all bad. No, she loved the Chinese food and the Pringles. And she really enjoyed Stirling. And she really loved our tour of Inverness and Loch Ness. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that the day we went to Loch Ness was the best day of the entire visit.*

Anyhow, it won’t be long now and we’ll be back along the shores of Nessie’s watery home as we run the Loch Ness Marathon together (with other great friends, too!) in October.

So to celebrate that fact, here’s a pretty picture that I took of Urquhart Castle on the shores of Loch Ness back on that first visit.

Yay!

* Actually, maybe the best day was the day after she met Paul. They got on so well at dinner that they made plans for us all to go to the Star Wars exhibit the next day. My best friend and boyfriend were in geek heaven!

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!)

For the record

I picked up my medical records today so that I can give a copy of my medical history to my new GP when I arrive in Scotland. I’m a little nervous about passing them off, however, and have decided that I will scan them all before I leave so that they’re not lost in the system.

Now, I have to say this next part carefully, because one of Paul’s old school friends* works for the Scottish health system and knows something or other about how medical records are transferred and blah, blah, blah. We once had a broad conversation on the topic and I don’t think we agreed with each other’s views. Mostly because I was right and he wasn’t. [Enter cheeky grin here.]

But it must be said: I don’t have full faith the UK’s medical records system.

Mind you, it’s not because I don’t trust the system, but rather it’s because the system is too big and I have no control of my records once they are handed over. (Much like the military hospitals here, I imagine.) Once I hand over my records, they ‘belong to’ the government-run system. I don’t know if I have a problem with this because I have a healthy habit of questioning my government’s actions, or if it’s because I’m an American and my government has no right to own (or to know about) my medical history.

But you see, in Scotland (and the whole of the UK) health care is socialised** and I don’t get to pick-and-chose who my doctors are (unless I pay for private care). It also means that if I move three miles away, I may need to register with a new GP and my medical records will be automatically transferred. The good part of that is that I don’t need to do anything for that to happen. The bad part is that if I feel there are errors in my records, the new GP will have that (potentially) incorrect information. It also means that, when seeking second opinions, medical care providers will have access to records which could inhibit their ability to give a non-biased opinion.

So I don’t know; there’s just something wrong (in my opinion) about my medical records being part of the government’s database and therefore subject to the National Archive’s Data Protection Act. But, I want to move to Scotland and I may will need a doctor when I get there. So I guess that I need to play by their rules. And thankfully, Scotland is one of those counties where I’ll not be executed for having an opinion contrary to that of the government’s.

I wonder if other expats have these concerns, or if it’s just another case of me being a little off-kilter.

Anyhow, I guess that’s one more thing I can check off my to-do list. Sadly, I think I’ve added about a dozen things to that same list in the last week…

(And for those counting, there are only 104 days remaining until I’m an unemployed bum–and only 71 of those days are actually working days. Yay me!)

[Disclaimer: I realise that I do not have a full understanding of the health system in the UK and that my statements and opinions may be grossly unfair. I also realise that there are great differences between UK and US medical systems on many levels and that each have their pros and cons. This post is in no way meant as a political or social commentary on those systems, but rather a commentary on my own personal feelings and insecurities (rightly or wrongly) about handing off my medical history to a system that gives me less control and access to that information moving forward than what I am accustomed to currently.***]

* I say Paul’s friend, but in fairness he is also my friend. Though I bet sometimes he wishes that weren’t the case!
** Apologies again to UK family and friends; the term socialised health care is just what we use state-side to describe government-supplied care and in no way means I think you’re all socialists.
*** Gaining a full copy of my records was as easy as signing my name to a very easy-to-understand form then waiting two days for them to be ready. No fees, no additional red tape, no hassles.

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!

Future plans and dreams of the past

I spent an hour or so transferring my old floppy disks onto my external hard drive today and was very pleased with myself for managing to only open six of the files: Three photos, two obituaries, and one assignment from my Sociology 101 course.

Whilst I probably won’t share most of my coursework here when I finally scour through the rest of the files, I felt that this one needed to be shared now.

The assignment was for a dyadic interview of myself—basically, I needed to write down my future plans and dreams. So, here’s where I was with myself way back in 1999! [My comments on these thoughts 12 years later are in brackets.]

Future Plans and Dreams

Desires
I desire to find true joy and happiness; to find a place within my soul and my mind where I can be free from stress and agony—a peace within.
[I found that peace about two years later when I moved to Scotland. Wow! I had no idea what it was like to feel so at peace!]

Hopes
I hope to see all of my nieces and nephews graduate from college, marry, and have children of their own. I also hope to one day adopt a child of my own, so that I may see them do the same.
[I suppose these hopes are still the same. When I wrote them, I had figured on adopting as a single mom—and whilst for a while my hope was to adopt as a married woman, I’m back to the original plan I guess. Like it or not!]

Fears
My biggest fear is losing my parents. Next is dying young, before I get the chance to fulfil all of my dreams and find that “one true love”.
[Well, I certainly still fear losing my parents—even more now that I already lost my husband! But at least I’ve yet to die young, and even if I do, at least I finally found true love!]

Hang-ups
I tend to put other people ahead of me when I make plans, which often causes disappointment on my part.
[Funny, this still seems to be a big problem for me. In fact, putting the needs (wants?) of others before mine used to get Paul so angry with me. He was convinced that people were just taking advantage of my willingness to help.]

What will make me happy
I am already happy with my life. I love the person I have become over the years, and I feel very good about myself. To maintain this happiness is as easy as listening to my heart. If my heart feels good about something, I do it. I’ve yet to be disappointed or unhappy with my life by following that rule.
[I think that being happy with my life, combined with being at peace with myself once I got to Scotland, is what made it possible for me to find love. Sadly, I am no longer happy with my life because that love is gone and it brought my world crashing down around me, but I am working on finding that happiness again—and I’m doing it by following my heart back to Scotland.]

Goodness… I wonder what other insights into my life I’ll find when I read through the rest of these files?

Sharpies and Bics and Uni-Balls—Oh my!

I promised myself that I would go through junk every week so that by the time I’m ready to start packing, I’ve rid myself of most of the un-needed clutter. A couple of weeks ago, I went through my card and stationery supplies, last weekend I began the process of sorting through some clutter stored under the eaves, and today it was the drawers on left-hand side of my desk.

I thought the biggest hurdle would be the bottom drawer because that’s where I’ve been shoving un-opened mail for the last year. So I emptied the contents onto the coffee table, grabbed my letter opener, and started sorting. And it was actually quite easy since most of the envelopes were just old bank statements and bills that I paid online. When I was done, I had a huge pile of rubbish to shred and a stack of envelopes for the recycle bin. The smallest pile was maybe ¼ inch thick and consisted of things that I needed to file away.

Easy peasy, lemon squeezy!!

The middle drawer was up next. It was fairly simple in part because it contained the previously-sorted stationery and in part because it is only ½ as deep as the bottom drawer so there wasn’t too much clutter in there!

Finally, I opened the top drawer. This is the drawer where I store the majority of my pens as well as some Post-Its and note paper and random bits-and-bobs that I’ve shuffled away ‘for later’.

First, I shuffled the Post-Its to a new location (to be sorted later) then I sorted the random bits-and-bobs. That was the easy part.

Next, I sorted through the pens tossing out those that were dried up and passing on those that I never liked to my foster daughter (who actually did need pens). But I realised that even with that process done, I have way more pens that I can ever use between now and August when I head to Scotland.

Then the panicked insanity began.

The thoughts going through my head were things like:

  • Frances—you really need to keep all of these pens and markers and highlighters because you will be going to school in Scotland and you’ll need them.
  • But, Frances, remember that you have a limited amount of luggage space and you’ll want to bring your reference books and gadgets and maybe even some clothes with you.
  • And remember—you can buy new pens and stuff when you get to Scotland.
  • But, wait! You’ll have a very limited budget so should you really use it to buy things that you already have?
  • Besides, your folks and friends can bring more stuff for you when they come and visit.
  • So go ahead, Frances, keep those pens and markers and highlighters. It’s the right thing to do!

Honestly, the thought of parting with these silly things freaks me out. It’s not because I’m transposing my emotions onto them—it’s because I am an office supply junkie.

I am frightened at the prospect of sorting through my Post-Its and note pads. And the idea of parting with my paper clips and tape dispensers? Oh my! I may need to change my monthly grief counselling appointments to weekly packrat counselling sessions!!

Emotional screens

It’s been a bit of a crazy month as I cope with a gazillion emotions swarming around my heart and soul. Then tonight, I sat down with my markers and sketch pad to doodle and—without planning—I came up with what reminds me of one of those beaded screen thingys from the 1970s.

And that prompted me to think about all of those emotions that I keep partially hidden behind my own screen. And that prompted me to write a poem. But the poem was so bad that I can’t even share it here. So instead, I’ll give you the gist of it all.

Since Paul died, many people in my life have given their opinions on my grieving process. Some have had the courage to give their opinions directly to me, others have passed them on through the local gossip mills or other sources, and others have had conversations about me without realising (or caring?) that I was in earshot.

If I’m happy, I must not have loved him. If I’m sad, I must be suffering from depression. If I laugh, I must not have cared. If I cry, I’m grieving too hard.

But the truth is that I’m often happy; and I love him still. I’m often sad; and I don’t need pills to fix it. When I laugh, it’s because I’m trying to live my life. When I cry, it’s because I’m living my life without him.

Anyhow, I’ve realised for a while now that I’m hiding my emotions. I’m outwardly displaying a neutral expression even if I’m laughing or crying inside. Only it’s no longer intentional, it’s just become the way of my world.

I started to realise that I was extremely apathetic at work and thought it had something to do with keeping my big life plans to myself at the office for so long—which prompted me to let work know I was leaving considerably sooner than planned. (And, oh, did that lift a lot of stress in my world!)

But I’ve also realised that I’ve been keeping emotions from others in my life, too—emotions of anger and resentment as well as joy and affection. (Sadly, all of those emotions at once for at least one person in my life!)

I know that much of these emotional barriers will fade away when I’m at a place of peace within my life. And whilst I hope know that I will be at peace in my soul when I return to Scotland in August, I’m hoping that the process of finding some calm will start sooner than that.

In the mean time, I’m going to try to allow myself to honestly feel however I feel. And I’m going to try not to care if my laughter or tears seem wrong to someone else.

So, how do I feel today? If I’m honest, I’m feeling anxious and nervous and jealous and hurt over a few maybe big, maybe little things. I’m sure those emotions will carry on for a while, but I’m going to make room for some happiness and laughter, too. And I’m not going to be ashamed to show it!!

And with that, I’m going to bed. Yes, I know it’s barely 9:30 on a Friday night, but it’s been an emotionally exhausting week and I need to recharge so that I can find my happy juice tomorrow!

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!)

The big announcement

Today I gave my official notice at work and my last day will be July 8.

This is a celebratory moment because it means that I can now publicly share my happy, happy news.

So, here’s the BIG announcement:

I am moving back to Scotland to attend the University of Stirling for my postgraduate studies where I will earn my Master of Letters in Media and Culture. YAY!!

Wow! It feels great to say that so publicly. So great, in fact, that I’m going to say it again—only louder!

I am moving back to Scotland to attend the University of Stirling for my postgraduate studies where I will earn my Master of Letters in Media and Culture. YAY!!

OK, this isn’t news to everyone, I know. But it’s news to some people. And since I’ve officially told work, I can now talk about it. Which I guess is the real news.

The bummer for all of you reading is that now that I can talk about it, I will. So you can look forward to blog posts about the last few weeks at work, about selling up my belongings, about packing up my treasures, and about the stresses and worries I’m facing as I move on to the next phase of my life.

And now for a quick disclaimer about that first announcement: Please know that my excitement about giving notice at work isn’t meant as a negative statement about my job, my place of employment, or my co-workers. No, the excitement about giving notice isn’t about saying goodbye to a job, it’s about taking a giant leap toward my future—a future that I know will bring me some of the joy and happiness I lost when I lost Paul.

Oh, and did I also mention that I’m moving back to Scotland to attend the University of Stirling for my postgraduate studies where I will earn my Master of Letters in Media and Culture? YAY!!

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…

Fannies and haggis

The second annual “Freeze Your Fanny and Burns’ Supper Extravaganza” weekend is officially over and I think it was a great success! There were 18 of us for dinner all together and everyone seemed to enjoy the haggis!

I realize that there is so much to say about such a fun-filled weekend, but rather than a big story, I’ll just give some of the highlights then you can check out the photo gallery and YouTube videos for more details. So, here’s how the weekend went:

  • Most everyone arrived Friday evening and we had a blast playing games and visiting.
  • My 11-year-old nephews, Haden and Adrian, and I ran the Freeze Your Fanny 5K on Saturday morning where Haden took 2nd place in his age group and Adrian took 3rd. This was Haden’s second time running the race and Adrian’s first-ever race. (Final times: Haden: 30:04; Adrian: 33:04; Me: 36:50, which isn’t bad since I’d just come off bed rest and took it easy.)
  • Flik and Dad had a Scrabble re-match where, though Daddy won, Flik showed a vast improvement to her skills. (Final score: 226 – 281)
  • Various sisters, uncles, and nieces hiked Kamiak Butte on Saturday and Sunday.
  • Celeste, believe it or not, hiked Kamiak twice in one day!
  • Jessica won the Hula Hoop competition.
  • With all of the food served throughout the weekend, I didn’t wash a single dish! (Thanks to my awesome sisters!)
  • I also didn’t peel any neeps or tatties!
  • Everyone tried the haggis and most had at least a second serving if not a third. In fact, many people even had fried haggis for breakfast on Sunday!
  • Saturday’s dinner ended with Flik playing Auld Lang Syne on her trumpet.
  • Sunday ended with my foster daughter very upset over saying goodbye to her new best friend, my niece Cassandra. (They’ll meet again, for sure!)
  • We laughed and laughed and laughed and had a lot and a lot and a lot of fun all weekend long! (Except for the goodbye tears.)

Check out photos from the weekend here!

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And check out some fun videos from the weekend below!

Insanity descends

Oh my, oh my, oh my! My normally quiet home has transcended into a mad house! But it’s a happy mad house.

Yep, the house is chock-a-block with parents and aunts and uncles and siblings and nieces and nephews and friends as we all gear up for the 2nd Annual Freeze Your Fanny and Burns’ Supper Extravaganza. (See the story and photos from the inaugural event here.)

The family began arriving around 2:00 this afternoon and it wasn’t long before the house was filled with laughter and chatter. In fact, the laughter and chatter was still going at nearly 1:00 a.m.—well past my normal bed time. But as my bedroom is the living room couch, I was forced to participate. (Happily so.)

Tomorrow will start bright-and-early for those of us travelling to Lewiston for the Freeze Your Fanny 5K. This will be my 11-year-old nephew, Haden’s, second time running the race (last year’s race was his first-ever race) and will be my 11-year-old nephew, Adrian’s, first-ever race of all time. Unbelievably, this will be my 4th entry in the race. Though, with the aforementioned illness, I’ll now be taking it slow.

Whilst we’re running, Dad and my niece, Flik, will meet in the living room for a Scrabble re-match as Flik tries to de-throne Daddy. There are loads of games and puzzles—and a few hula hoops—for everyone to play with, too.

Schrodie is not happy about the influx of people, but I think she’ll get over it.

Oh, and that photo, if you wondered, is a load of Scottish treats (Tunnock’s!!!) that my Uncle Fred brought with him from Portland, Oregon. If you look closely, you’ll notice the Scotch tape and the napkins—with an Argyle pattern, of course. (His socks were Argyle for the occasion, too, if you wondered.)

I’m [not] Scottish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twee tweety tenement

I was give a little bird house the other day by my foster daughter. She came home and rather unceremoniously handed it to me on her way to her room, whilst I was in the middle of a conversation with the woman who’d driven her home. So I set it down on a side table, finished my conversation, then went to check on the kid who was getting ready for bed.

Two days later, I notice the birdhouse sitting there. I picked it up and asked the kid to tell me what the deal was with the birdhouse.

She told me that she painted it special for me so that I can take it to Scotland with me next time and hang it in a tree. Then, I need to take photos of all the birds that come to visit it to send to her because she wants to know what Scottish birds look like.

So this is the way we do things I guess. When I leave the country, I am bound by duty to send photos of something to her. On my trip to England in September she wanted airplane photos and on my up-coming trip to Canada she wants pictures of my friends. And as I like to travel and take pictures, I’m totally OK with these requests!

But don’t be fooled. She always wants real presents—and real candy—from my travels. But she’s a sweetie, so I’m happy to oblige!

I’m goin’ for it!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scotland: A rocky start; but home for my heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

YayDay! countdown

Yay! It’s just 89 days until YayDay!!

YayDay! is one of my favourite days on the modern calendar. It’s a self-created holiday that I’ve been celebrating since I first began working proper office hours. (Which was better in Scotland where my day ended at 4:30 instead of the typical American 5 o’clock stopping time I have now.)

But what you really want to know is what YayDay! is all about.

Well, YayDay! is the cold, dreary winter day when the sun doesn’t set until after 5. And this winter, that day is Monday, February 7, when the sun will set at 5:01 p.m.—one minute after my work day is over. (Which is just two weeks before my birthday, when sunset will be at 5:22 p.m., if you wondered.)

Yay!

I don’t know what I’ll do to celebrate this year. In the past, celebrations have included going out for dinner, enjoying a bottle of Champaign at home, or heading out to the pub. Last year I wasn’t really in a celebratory mood so simply marked the day by remembering past celebrations with Paul. I’m open to suggestions—no matter how silly!

Your YayDay! might not be the same as mine because your location will determine your sunset times. So check out the US Naval Oceanography Portal’s website to find your magic YayDay! [Not in the USA? Check out this site instead.]

Donald, where’s yer troosers?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope you have a musical Friday!

My favourite things

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

My favourite things
as interpreted by Just Frances*

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

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

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

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

• • • • •

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

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

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!

Just a quick trip

So there I was in line at the British Airways counter at SeaTac. With me were three of my five sisters and their kids and a wanna-be sister (that’s you, J.D.) and her kids. (For those counting, that’s 13 people.) I was the only one of the group with experience traveling overseas, so I was the spokeswoman for us. Or maybe that was because I’m bossy and controlling. Either way, I was the leader.

I start handing passports over to the nice woman behind the counter and all of the sudden I realize that mine is dog-eared. Now, this panicked me. I was very upset about having a not-pretty passport so asked her to begin processing the information for the other 12 people in my travel party whilst I popped over to the instant passport printing machine. I took all of three minutes to get my new passport and it was fab! I even managed to include my signature green on the information page. It was an extra $10 for the customized look, but well worth it!

Once back at the counter, we finished the check-in process and made our way through the security lines. In front of us was David Tennant. We struck up a conversation and he was pleased to learn that he was speaking to Just Frances of Internet fame. So pleased, in fact, that he asked for some pens. Left-handed ones to boot!

Before I knew it we were on a plane bound for Heathrow. It must have been the shortest flight in the world because within moments we’d landed and were heading through immigration before heading to the train station. I’d really wanted to fly up north, but the romantic notion of train travel carried by my travel companions meant that I was out-voted. So instead, we took a long and boring train journey to Scotland; my companions pointing out every old building and spray-paint-dotted sheep along the route. (I think I was smiling secretly as I recalled my first train journey in the UK.)

Finally, we arrived at Waverly Station in Edinburgh and made our way to my friend’s amazing country house – which was only about a two-minute walk from the station.

As the rest of the group got settled into their rooms for the night, I sat there visiting with my friend who was preparing to make me a cuppa tea. We were having a great little chat when all of the sudden the kettle started whistling.

At the same time, my alarm clock started to go off. Yep, it was time to re-enter reality and go to work. Oh well. Maybe I can return to my lovely conversation tonight. After all, it’s not fair that everyone else’s holiday was cut short when I awoke from my dream.

You just can’t beet this!

I don’t know if it’s because of my family’s peasant, Germans-from-Russia roots*, or because I’m weird (maybe both?) but I really like beets. I do. Honestly!

So when a friend in Scotland wrote a blog post about her ‘fridge surprise supper’ last month, my mind instantly thought that the photo was a big bowl of borscht. But instead, it was a big bowl of beet risotto – with a rough recipe for readers who wished to emulate. And I did. I really, really did.

After a trip to the Moscow Farmers’ Market yesterday (and a second trip to town for the forgotten onions today) I had everything I needed to make my first-ever risotto. (I know! Can you believe that I’ve never made risotto before? In fact, I had to call my mommy to help locate plain risotto in the store. Which is actually called Arborio rice. Who knew? Well, apparently mom did…)

The recipe called for ‘crumbled goat’s cheese’ and I wasn’t certain if that meant feta or chevre. By the time I started cooking I realized that it was well-past bedtime in Scotland, so thought I’d best not send a text. It seemed to me that the less ‘flavorful’ chevre made more sense in this dish, so that’s the type of goat’s cheese I used. (Is it strange that I had two types of goat’s cheese in my fridge?)

The recipe also called for red wine, so being clever I thought I would open a bottle of French wine because of the Auld Alliance with Scotland. Sadly, the bottle I opened had turned and was closer to rancid vinegar than anything else. So I had to open a new bottle, which was OK since the new bottle was a Washington State Merlot and you just can’t beat Washington State premium wines!

The meal was fab! I mean it. It was really good. I don’t know if it tasted like my friend’s version, but I liked it and will be cooking it again!

Oh, I also made a big pot of borscht. I mean, if you’re going to get your hands all stained red with beets, you may as well go whole-hog in the process. Which means that I now have several portions of yummy soup in the freezer. Yay!

I’m tellin’ ya, I’m in beet heaven today!

* The majority of my family emigrated from Ukraine and are sometimes referred to as Black Sea Germans. If you wondered.

And the winner is…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Very fishy

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

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

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

The signs point west

I decided to take advantage of a 30-day free trial on NetFlix today in a quest to rent the movie Stone of Destiny, after learning of the conspiracy surrounding the stone over which Scottish Kings were traditionally crowned and being a fan of Scottish history and all. OK, my true desire may be based on the fact that Robert Carlyle [swoon!] is in the movie.

After signing up, however, I learned that the movie is not yet available in America. (What? America is the greatest country in the whole wide world. Why does Britain and Canada get it, but we don’t?! I’m totally writing to my congressman over this one!) Blah blah blah…

Relatedly (is that a word?), for nearly a month I’ve been hearing friends, family, co-workers, and acquaintances mention The West Wing in casual conversation. Having only seen – at most – half a dozen episodes I’m generally at a loss for the references. And this seems to be happening more and more. In fact, in less than a week two different people made reference to the same scene from episode #32!

Seeing as I couldn’t get Stone of Destiny, I started to browse the selection of available titles. And that’s when I stumbled upon the fact that you can rent television series and watch the entire show season-by-season. So, I’ve ordered Season 1 of The West Wing and expect that I will begin watching over the weekend – if the delivery times they state are accurate.

My goal is to watch the entire series before the 30-day trial is over so that I can cancel the subscription before I get charged. Then, since I won’t have to pay $9 a month for NetFlix, I will feel better about having to pay nearly $11 to buy Stone of Destiny. And really, it can’t hurt to have a bit of Robert Carlyle in my movie collection. I’ll keep him next to my John Hannah movies…

Very taxing

I finally filed my taxes. I say finally because I normally have mine completed and filed the first week of February – based on the fact that tax documents generally arrive the last week of January. Yep, a geek to the core I used to love doing my taxes. And this year I tried, but just couldn’t do it through the tears. I think it had something to do with the box that I needed to tick that read: Qualifying Widow.

Instead, I made an appointment with an accountant then spent the weekend getting my files together – something that was more difficult than normal because I seem to have lost some of my over-the-top organizational skills since Paul died. I think having someone do my taxes for me was a good idea though, because I may never have gotten them done otherwise!

But I know what you’re wondering: Did I get a refund?

Yes I did! And a bit more than expected!

Being the responsible person I am, I am using the majority of the money for a major purchase that I’ve been putting off. But because Paul always thought that tax refunds should be used for fun, I will use the rest for something I don’t need.

I will not use the money for a new refrigerator or water heater. I will not use it toward the cost of a new furnace or car repairs. It won’t go toward my student loans or mortgage principal; I won’t roll it into my 401K or my IRA. No CDs or savings bonds. No, this money will be used frivolously – even though that goes against my frugal nature.

I wish I could use it for a trip to my nephew’s wedding in Cuba this June, but I can’t. So I’ll need to think of another trip I can take or useless gadget I can purchase.

A summer trip to California or British Columbia? A flight to Scotland for a friend’s wedding in October? The possibilities are endless!

I think dreaming up ways to spend the money might be just as much fun as the actual spending…

And we’re back

Our time in the UK has sadly come to an end and we are now back in America after leaving Edinburgh in the early morning hours. As always, tears were shed as I left my beloved Scotland behind. I am so pleased to have had the opportunity to share it all with Mom though, who now understands a bit better why I have such a love for the place.

The last few days in Scotland saw us touring castles, abbeys, churches, and other such old falling down buildings in and around Edinburgh, Stirling, and (of course) Roslin. Because we had a car and my local(ish) knowledge, we were able to get away from the main tourist places and visit some of the less-traveled sites. We also spent a lot of time visiting with friends in and around Scotland.

We had a wonderful time and, as always, I wish I never had to leave. There are a few things Mom didn’t get to see this trip, but I’m hoping that the visit has left enough of an impression on her that she will want to return to see more of the lovely British Isles in the future.

So, here I am state-side once again. I’m a bit knackered after the long journey, and expect to have an off-kilter sleep pattern for a few nights; Mom is a lot knackered, and will certainly take longer to recover than I will. Also, my right leg is bruised three inches above and below my knee, a phenomenon that happens because I use my leg to push, heave, lift, and otherwise manage my luggage. That will be my long-lasting souvenir – but sadly, won’t serve as a reminder to handle my luggage differently in the future. (Have I mentioned I’m stubborn and don’t like to ask for help in lifting heavy bags?)

Home, sweet Scotland

We arrived in Scotland yesterday afternoon to bright sunny skies. Our plan had been to spend the day winding up the English coast and stay somewhere on the England/Scotland border so that we could arrive in Scotland first thing this morning, but Scotland must have been calling me home because one England-based plan after another fell through so we just headed toward the border.

We crossed into Scotland around 4:00 p.m. and stopped to take in the fresh air. I know it’s the same as what they get in England, but for some reason, my heart just cheers up the moment I know I’m in my lovely Scotland. I’m funny that way. (And many other ways, too.) After taking in the air, we got back in the car and headed toward Jedburgh where we found a nice little hotel for the evening.

At dinner, Mom was thrilled to enjoy her first ‘proper’ haggis and a 1/2 pint of McEwan’s 70/. (Two full pints of the stuff for me, but I’m normally an 80/ girl.) Because Mom was a good girl, I let her try some of my sticky toffee pudding, too.

In the morning, Mom enjoyed her first ‘full-Scottish’ breakfast before we went to tour the Jedburgh Abbey. After that, it was off to Edinburgh for us – my favourite city in the whole wide world. I just feel that I belong there!!

After a bit of a car tour of Edinburgh, it was off to my good friend, Lindsay’s, in Bo’Ness. This is where we’ll make our base for the rest of our trip.

So far, Mom seems to be enjoying herself. She is looking forward to heading to Stirling tomorrow then down to Roslin on Friday. We’ll eventually make our way back to Edinburgh to see the castle and other touristy stuff… The only part of the journey I’m dreading is the part where we go back to the airport and I have to leave my beloved Scotland behind once again.

The North

After a lovely couple of days in Yorkshire, we made the trip to Teesside on Sunday by way of a few small, back-country roads where we were able to see a couple of twee villages and lovely little farm houses as well as the ruins of a fantastic abbey. It took us nearly four hours to make the trip to Billingham, one that would normally be about an hour’s drive. Our local guide, Paul’s cousin Olwyn, made the trip even more enjoyable. The SatNav on loan from my nephew, Stephen, means we didn’t get lost!

Once we finally arrived at my brother- and sister-in-law’s house, we were off again for Seaton Carew. A perfect start to any visit!

We’ve spent the day touring around Billingham and supporting the local economy at the shops. I found some lovely new wool so that I can start on another baby afghan for the flight home, and even found a bit of new clothes! Mom found some tea and a new mug – and a canvas bag to carry them in. Soon, it will be time to head out to the carvery for dinner.

We’ll load the car again in the morning to begin our drive further north toward Scotland. We have plans to stop along Hadrian’s Wall and Holy Island. We don’t know if we’ll hit the border tomorrow or the next day, but we’ll get there eventually!

Go!

And we’re off! Actually, we’ve been on the go for about 10+ hours now and are now waiting in Amsterdam for our connecting flight into Manchester.

My journey so far: I’ve shuffled the iPod through my jazz, bluegrass, and folk collections; my crochet project is at a stand-still as I’ve run out of yarn; and I’ve watched a couple of crummy movies.

Mom’s journey so far: Sleeping, reading, needle-work, rolling her eyes as I sing along to the music on my iPod.

Mom’s mood pulse: Beat tired and ready to just get there already! (She is now also wishing for that teleportation device!)

Won’t be long now until we arrive “home” in the UK. I just hope that I’m awake enough for the drive to Wakefield, and that the Google Maps are accurate enough to get us there!

Get set…

We’re at SeaTac now. We’ve checked in. We’ve gone through security. We’ve checked our gate number. We’re all ready to go… and are just waiting to be told we can.

I’m taking advantage of the free SeaTac WiFi while Mom uses the free time to catch up on the latest-and-greatest news in the Yakima Herald.

Mom’s mood pulse: Calm, cool, and collected. So she says…

Oh, look… Duty Free. Must go shopping now!

On your mark…

Remember when you were a kid and on Christmas Eve you were so very excited for Santa to arrive that you couldn’t sleep? You’d wish and hope and pray all through Midnight Mass that he’ll have come while you were away. When you finally got to bed you’d toss and turn, certain that every sound you heard was the sound of Santa’s reindeer on the roof. Those excited and anxious jitters were so great!

Remember when you were a bit older and you had those darn SATs that meant the difference between getting into the four-year college of your choice or attending community college? For days and weeks on end you dreamt of showing up at the exam half naked, or that your pencils kept breaking every time you filled in one of those blasted bubbles. Those nerve-wracking and anxious jitters were awful!

I think that Mom is half way in between those two feelings right now as she prepares for her first-ever trip off of the North American continent! Me? I’ve done this journey often enough that it doesn’t have the same effect. This isn’t to say I’m not excited, but I don’t have the jitters.

But we are packed and ready to go. Daddy will drive us to SeaTac bright-and-early tomorrow morning for our flight to the UK (via Amsterdam). Mom is certainly excited to see the family in England again, and equally excited to meet some of my friends in Scotland for the first time.

As a seasoned traveler, I’m almost bored of this journey and wish I could gain access to a teleportation device (or the TARDIS) and just GET THERE, but I imagine that this might be an enjoyable flight for me as I witness the innocent wonderment of a first-time international traveler. I’ve brought several tour guide books for some of the places we’ll visit which will keep us entertained, and I’m even going to ::gasp:: use Gogo In-flight Internet with my gadget phone to blog and Facebook about our exciting adventure! (I bet you thought you’d get a bit of a break whilst I was traveling! No such luck with today’s technology advancements!)