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!)

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 …

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!]

Booking courage

OK, so you know how I said I was going to treat myself to a wee trip for my birthday this year? The idea really came to me out of the blue. I was thinking about my birthday and realised that I couldn’t bear the thought of being alone on it yet again. At the same time, I didn’t want a party or a fuss or anything else.

So I decided that I needed to ‘run away’ for the day. I needed to make plans for myself so that I had an excuse for not doing anything else. And that’s when I remembered that there was this sweetie shop in Crieff that I’ve long wanted to visit. A few Google searches later and I started to think I could stitch a quick trip together.

At first, I wasn’t going to say anything to anyone. I was just going to be gone on my birthday. But then I started to panic. I started to get a lump in my throat at the idea of being alone on my birthday. I panicked at the idea of checking into a hotel alone and dining alone and just wandering around alone.

But I knew I needed to do it. Which led to an announcement on Facebook. And once I’d made the announcement there, I started to really come around to the idea. Which is when I told you, Dear Reader, about my plans. You see, once I say I’m going to do something, I have to do it. My ego would feel bruised otherwise. So, now I have to do it!

Here’s the plan: I’m going to take a coach from Stirling to Crieff the morning of my birthday, where I will stay at the Crieff Hydo Hotel. Once I drop my bag off at the hotel, I will wander into town to visit Gordon and Durward’s Sweet Shop. (Oh yes, I’m going to spend my birthday being a kid in a candy shop!) From there, I will head over to the Glenturret distillery for a wee whisky tour and tasting session. (I must book that tour soon!)

Then it will be back to the hotel for dinner. I haven’t decided what I’ll wear (I will dress up though) but, thanks to online menus, I have decided what I’ll eat. Yes, I’ll be having the salmon starter, a steak dinner, and the cheese plate for afters. I think I’ll get myself a little cake and one of those small bottles of bubbles for back in my room, too.

Of course, saying I’m going to do it doesn’t mean anything until I start booking my journey, right? And so, I’ve just booked my hotel. And I guess that means I’m really going to do it! Yes, I’m sure that I will panic a few times in between now and then—I might even panic when I’m there—but I will go and I will enjoy myself. After all, the Old Frances used to really enjoy solo travel. And since the New Frances is a solo person, she’d best get used to doing thing solo once again!

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 spirit found

I’ve been struggling to find my Christmas Spirit since the season began and was starting to wonder if it would be found in time. I haven’t had the energy or the inclination for baking Christmas cookies or writing Christmas cards. Yes, I’ve been feeling deflated and sad and lonely and tearful.

But it’s nearly Christmas so I’m not going to whinge on and on about the sadness and tears. Instead, I’m going to tell you about my renewed joy!

You see, I went through to Edinburgh yesterday to spend some time with my friend, Joanne, and her family. And when Joanne picked me up at my bus stop, I was greeted with excitement not only from her, but from her 4-year-old daughter, Miss E, who was in the back seat full smiles. When we got to the house, I smiled as I watched the baby running around with smiles of her own, and laughed when Joanne’s 7-year-old son told me stories of his day at his friend’s house.

This morning I hid in the guest room until the kids made their way to school (no sense in me interrupting their morning routine!) then I enjoyed a nice coffee and chat with Joanne. Yes, I was feeling myself cheer up with each passing moment.

However, it was when Miss E was finished with nursery school that my Christmas Spirit made a solid appearance. You see, Miss E brought home all sorts of Christmas crafts—including a stocking just for me! And then, when Joanne went upstairs to tend to the baby, Miss E and I made some homemade cranberry bread whilst we talked about America. (A place that Miss E is quite fond of!)

After baking cranberry bread, there was drawing to be done. And I’ll just say I was very honoured (and flattered) that Miss E wanted to draw the exact same thing as me!!
Yeah, it was a bit sad to say goodbye to everyone late this afternoon, but I’m so pleased to have found my Christmas Spirit again! And with just enough time, too, since I need to make some truffles tomorrow so that I can get ready to head out of town for Christmas. (Don’t worry, I’ll tell you more about my Christmas adventures later!)

You know what? I think I need to make more of an effort to visit Joanne and her family more often. I know it’s an hour’s train journey, plus a car or bus ride from the station, but I always feel so happy once I’ve been for a visit. Yes, maybe regular visits with friends should be part of my New Year’s Resolution!

(Oh! And now that I’ve found my Christmas Spirit, maybe it’s time I enjoy some mulled wine?)

Wakey culture

I made my way down to Wakefield, England, yesterday to visit with my sister-in-law, Ann, for a few days. I’ve made several trips here over the past eight+ years and have always enjoyed it. But today was a different sort of day out in Wakefield because I went to my first art museum here—the newly opened Hepworth Wakefield.

I generally love museums and such, but I think that I was more impressed with the architecture of this one than the stuff they had inside. As we approached the grey mass of concrete (the largest purpose built exhibition space in the UK outside of London) I was struck by the building’s stark and utilitarian design. The angled, multi-layered roof line seemed so oddly placed in juxtaposition to the Chantry Chapel across the way—the brutal architecture seemed more fitting in a dock yard than in the heart of a medieval town. But I think that David Chipperfield’s vision works. (I especially loved the look of it against the blue sky!)

Inside of the museum I enjoyed the variety of paintings and sculptures, but I don’t think I was in the right mindset for a museum trip because none of the works really called to me today. I did, however, find it fascinating to see some of the displays explaining the process behind making some of the massive outdoor public sculptures that I see all over the place.

Of course, after seeing the arty cultural stuff, it was time to spend some cash. So Ann took me to a couple of shops where I found myself a new dress and a pair of ballet slipper kind of shoes after we popped into the Wakefield Cathedral’s gift shop and a Costa Coffee.

Tomorrow will be a bit of a lazy day (after, that is, I get a quick training run in for that bloody marathon!) then we’re heading back to Billingham on Friday. I realised the other day that I’ve been living out of a suitcase for nearly two months now, and I have to admit that I am ready to get settled in up in Scotland! (Though I also don’t quite know where I’ll be staying long-term there, so it will be a while before I’m truly settled, so stay tuned!)

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.

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!

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…)

Waiting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Seven years ago today

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

After that moment, I learned the following things:

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

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

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

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

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!

Home and (partially) de-stressed

Well, I’ve finally made it back home after having a lovely mini break to Canada. My drive home turned into a bit of a longer journey than expected, but it wasn’t a disaster by any means. So, I’ll not bore you with the details of the drive.

If you’ve been reading, you’ll know that I spent a fun day out and about at a local historic park and another fun day bottling wine and cross country skiing. Because it was such a short break, that was pretty much it for activities. But it was still an amazing trip because of the company.

I’ve been struggling a bit the past few months and have been convinced that much of my sadness is a realisation that I am incredibly lonely and that I don’t have friends to just sit around and visit with. And this short visit helped to further convince me of that.

From the moment I arrived I could feel the stress melting. It was just so nice to sit and chat with friends about nothing and everything. It was nice to feel that my presence was wanted and enjoyed; that I wasn’t a burden. In fact, the visit has lifted so much stress from my soul and has helped to give me a little more courage and strength for the great things that are waiting for me on the horizon.

I wish I could have stayed longer, but I am so pleased to know that I will have many more opportunities to visit with my friends for years to come. Thank you, Rebecca and Amanda, for letting me join you for part of your family’s holiday celebrations. It’s helped to end my year on a high note!!

And because I know everyone is expecting them, here are some photos to enjoy of my trip. (Yay!)

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And I didn’t fall once…

Well, I’m back in America now. But not home. I’m still working on that. So, I’ll save the trials and tribulations of my homeward journey and instead just share yesterday’s super-happy day in Canada with you. (Yay!!)

The day started with a great night’s sleep—for the second night in a row. And it was only made better when I descended the stairs to be greeted by my friends once again. (I was even momentarily mistaken as Rebecca, which I think of as a great compliment!)

After breakfast, we loaded into the car and drove to the wine shop where us women folk bottled some wine whilst the boys popped into the local bike shop. When we finished, the boys drove the wine home and we girlies took a bit of a wander along the water.

Later in the afternoon, we loaded the car again then headed to Cypress Mountain to participate in the Lantern Ski. The last time I went skiing was with my friend, Roach (really), about 12 years ago, and it was down-hill, so I did find cross-country skiing a bit difficult. But, I am pleased to say, I didn’t fall ONE time. [Enter cheeky smile here.]

It was a fantastically-fun day. But a fantastically-long day, too. Which is why I’m posting this now, and not last night when I was too tired for a second cocktail, let alone playing on the computer! (Plus, my tail bone was very sore, since I didn’t fall once, and I just wanted to rest!)

So, those are the highlights from my last full day with great friends in Canada. This morning was a bit sad as I said my goodbyes, but knowing that I’d see everyone in the summer helped ease the tears of separation.

And then the travel trials began…

The highlights are that 1) it took twice as long to get to my foster daughter from Canada to where she was staying and 2) the roads over the mountain pass were too bad to continue after collecting her so we are crashing at the home of an old classmate who happens to live near(ish) the base of the pass.

We hope to continue our trek in the morning, and I promise to share the story when (if?) we make it home.

A winning day

I arrived in Canada yesterday afternoon to find lots of left-over Christmas turkey and friendly people waiting to greet me. (The turkey gets first mention not because it’s better than the people, but because it seems to be playing a very big part in this little mini holiday of mine.) I also arrived with a feeling of peace and a smile on my face, because I’d been looking forward to this relaxing little break for quite some time!

[Enter story and cast description here: I have travelled to Canada to visit my friend, Rebecca, who has travelled from Scotland to visit her sister, brother-in-law, and nephew who all live in British Columbia. This is my first time meeting my friend’s family ‘in real life’ and they are all absolutely lovely. Now, back to the story at hand.]

It was so great to wake up this morning feeling rested and relaxed—despite the fact that, as always, I woke up in the middle of the night unable to sleep. The difference being that I didn’t wake up thinking I was having a mild heart attack, as I’ve been doing in recent weeks thanks to stress and anxiety (my new ‘best friends’, apparently).

After a nice sleep in, I enjoyed a nice chatty breakfast before we all headed out to Burnaby Village Museum where the four grown-ups in our group helped the not-quite-grown-up young boy with a 12 Days of Christmas themed scavenger hunt around the little heritage village. We spent a considerable amount of time peeking into the old buildings and admiring not only the interesting old-time displays (look for photos soon!) but also the fantastic architecture.

Once the boy found all 12 items on his list, we went to claim our prize of miniature candy canes. (YUM! I do love candy canes.) Then we got to ride on the vintage 1912 carousel, which made all of us smile like little children—including the child.

And, upon returning to the house, we got to feast on more left-over turkey.

So, it’s been a winning day all around: Successful scavenger hunt = WIN. Good food = WIN. Good sleep = WIN. Good laughs = WIN. Good friends = SUPER WIN. (Oh, and not feeling stressed and anxious about life all day was certainly a bonus WIN!)

My only disappointment was that it was a miniature candy cane. Oh well, you can’t have it all!!

(Up for tomorrow: Bottling wine, cross country skiing, and MORE TURKEY.)

Everybody hurts, sometimes

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

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

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

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

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

2010 Christmas card and letter

I sent out my holiday Christmas cards on Monday and, as promised, am sharing the card and letter with all of you. After all, just because you’re not on my mailing list doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get the fun of a Christmas card and letter. Right? So, without further ado …

Dear Family and Friends

As I sat to write my 2010 Christmas letter, I struggled with how to start it. It’s difficult to write a letter about all of the wonderful things I’ve experienced the past year when all of those wonderful things were shadowed with grief. But still, there were wonderful things to share.

The year got off to a slow start as I’d taken ill on Christmas and wasn’t feeling better until mid-way through January. But by the end of the month, I was running the “Freeze Your Fanny 5K” with my then 10-year-old nephew, Haden. It was my first race since Paul died and Haden’s presence made it much easier for me. (This was Haden’s first-ever race.) That same day, I hosted a Burns’ Supper at my house—complete with haggis, neeps, and tatties. And proper Scotch, of course.

In late-February and early-March, my Mom and I took a trip to the UK. Our first stop was England where we attended the Ryan Family Reunion. We then drove up to Scotland making several stops along the way. It was Mom’s first trip overseas and I was so pleased to be showing her around. I think the she understands a bit more why I feel so at home in Scotland now that she’s experienced it.

April and May, if I’m honest, were blurs as I marked the anniversary of Paul’s death as well as what would have been our 5th wedding anniversary. But, like the months before and after, I managed to make it through with the support and love of my family and friends.

Over the summer I spent time running and playing golf, reading and writing, and working—a lot. I also managed to attend my first-ever girls’ weekend at one point at The Beach House near Vantage, Washington, and ran in my hometown’s Runner Stumbles 5K over Fourth of July Weekend. (And whilst it wasn’t in the summer, my new running partner wouldn’t forgive me if I didn’t say it: Haden and I also ran in the Spokane, Washington, 10K on 10-10-10.)

Of course, one of the biggest changes in the last year is that I’ve become a foster mom to an 11-year-old girl. [The Kid] came to stay with me in mid-August and will be with me [until she’s not with me anymore]. She is a great kid; full of energy and very artistic. She is intelligent and funny and has this sceptical little look about her when I’m telling hilarious jokes. (She doesn’t think they’re as funny as I do.)

So there you have it: 2010 in a nutshell. If this little update wasn’t enough for you, please feel free to check out my awesome blog (www.JustFrances.com) for loads of up-to-date exciting happenings with my boring life!

I am looking forward to 2011 and am certain it will have great things in store for me. It won’t be the same without Paul to share it with, but I am blessed to have all of you to help celebrate life with me. Your support and love has been amazing. I hope that the past year has been good to you, and that the year to come brings you all of the joy and happiness you deserve.

Merry Christmas!
Just Frances

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!

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?)

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!

Hello from Seaton

I’m in England at the moment and that means a trip to Seaton Carew. Actually, it means as many trips there as possible. My lovely sister-in-law is seeing to it that I get my fill of fish-n-chips (and British bacon) before I have to return to the states.

I’ve not been posting much the last week, but don’t worry, Just Frances will be back in America soon. In the mean time, here’s another silly video for you to enjoy!

Leavin’ on a jet plane

I’m on my way to England and had to leave my lovely foster daughter behind for the week. We discussed my trip ahead of time and she had a million questions – mostly about what it would be like to travel on a plane.

She asked that I post pictures from the plane, so this photo-heavy post is for her.

And, thanks to GoGo In-Flight Internet, I’m posting these photos from an altitude of 10,000+. Yay!

View from the window before take-off

View from the window somewhere between Spokane and Phoenix

View from inside the first plane (Spokane to Phoenix)

View from inside the second plane (Phoenix to Philadelphia)

I had hoped to take a photo of my airplane meal, but they didn’t have any low-sodium options left by the time they got to me at the back of the plane. Which means Just Frances is Just Starving. (Yeah, this is what happens when you wake up at 3:00 a.m. I MUST find food in Philly. Cheese steak, maybe?)

OK, that’s me off to play on the Internet ON THE PLANE some more. Ain’t technology grand?

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.

Retrocycler

My dad is going bats. BATS, I tell you! And he starts today. Yes, folks, my father will spend the next few weeks accomplishing his goal to “Bike Around The State”. (BATS, get it now?)

Without a doubt, my 65-year-old father is a man of true inspiration. After breaking his neck whilst riding his bike two summers ago, he was determined to get right back in the saddle. However, he’s since given up on his traditional road bike in favor of a recumbent, which is better for his neck and back.

With more flashy-reflective-shiny things than an Amish buggy, Dad and his slow-moving vehicle will make their way around the state’s outer highways and rural roads. He will start out by heading over Satus Pass to the Columbia River Gorge; living in the center of the state means that he needs to work a bit to get to the edge. But he’s been training and I’m confident that he’s going to succeed. I’m also not throwing out the idea that he might go all Forrest Gump on us and just keep going once he hits that initial goal!

Dad started a blog, Retrocycler, a while back to share his journey with family and friends. He will be updating from the road with pictures and anecdotes, so be sure to check it out!

People ask where I get my stubbornness and determination from. I wonder if they figure it out upon meeting Dad! I just hope that, one day, I am as determined as he is. (I’m already as stubborn as he is!)

Taming wild horses

For a few months now I’ve promised myself that I would finally tame the desire to hike to the top of the Wild Horses Monument which overlooks the Columbia River at Vantage. It’s a very short (but steep) hike that Paul and I took regularly on the drive between my home town of Cle Elum and our home on the Palouse.

Sometimes these “first time without Paul” experiences are really hard and I need to psyche myself up for it for several days – or even weeks. This was one of those treks for me. When I first thought I was ready, the road was closed for the winter, so it took a while longer before I could tackle it.

Today I found myself exiting the freeway at the last minute answering a strong desire to tame the horses. Being Memorial Day Weekend the car lot was filled with tourists and the hill was more crowded than I’d ever seen before. Luckily, I had my rugged hiking shoes in the trunk of the car so I was able to take the lesser-traveled and considerably-steeper trail to the top. Also by luck, I seemed to be the only one who knew that there were peaceful places to sit on the back side of the hill where the tourists neglected to visit.

It was an enjoyable hike – despite the people – and now that I’ve tamed the horses, I’ll be more likely to make regular stops once again. And each hike will be easier on the heart… and the legs as I continue to get back into shape!

Scaredy-cat

I’m a bit late in taking Schrodie to the vet’s office for her yearly check-up (she should have gone in March) but she’s finally been. I must admit, however, that she only made it when she did after I noticed she was missing a patch of fur from the top of her head the other day.

I pulled out her travel box this morning and placed an old (but clean) towel in the bottom. All the while the cat just sat there watching me. As I scooped her up I noticed she wasn’t hesitating and thought: “This’ll be easy!”, even though she did resist slightly when I placed her into the box. Once I put the box in the car, however, her slight meows turned to howls of anger and hatred. And my slight giggles turned to tears at the thought of causing the poor creature stress. For 30 miles I listed to the cat cry out in terror…

At the end of the day I went to retrieve Schrodie and we made the long drive back home – again with her in the back seat of the car howling. Once we got home, she bolted from her travel box and ran from me. Yep, she’s a bit mad!

The bald patch on her fur is still an un-known. The vet took a sample to run a culture to check for ringworm, but she’s not convinced that is the cause. Instead, she guesses that an owl or hawk swooped in to grab a kitty treat, or that she got caught out by a fence or something. It’s been suggested that I keep her in overnight, as that’s when most predatory creatures are out looking for food.

Also worrying to me is that she had a bit of a heart murmur. The vet thinks that it could just be from the stress of the car ride and isn’t concerned about heart disease at this time. Though if I’m honest, this freaks me out more than the thought of some avian creature having her for lunch!

Anyhow, I’m sure that Schrodie will start to love me again in a couple of days. But goodness only knows how long she’ll hate me if I ever move and put her through the torment of the PETS system. I think she’ll disown me the moment the plane lands!

Walla Walla wines

I went to Walla Walla this weekend to visit with some family and friends and participate in a Saturday wine tour – a hobby I enjoy but don’t do often enough. A friend from high school works in the wine-biz in the Seattle area and I promised her a review of the wineries, so here you go!

The first stop was Bergevin Lane Vineyards. Most of their wines are priced in the $25 – $55 range but I felt it was fair pricing for what you get. I especially liked their 2008 Viognier (Columbia Valley; 90 Points; Wine Enthusiast); their 2005 Oui Deux Syrah (Wahluke Slope; “Best of Class”; S.F. Chronicle Wine Competition; January 2009); and their 2006 Intuition Reserve (92 Points; Wine Spectator).

Next up was Patit Creek Cellars. All but one of their wines were priced under $30 but, again, the prices were fair for the product. I was extremely impressed with their 2007 Zinfandel (Walla Walla Valley; 93 Points; Wine & Spirits). Their 2007 Roux Bordeaux Blend (Columbia Valley) and their 2008 Chardonnay (Red Mountain) were also excellent wines. I was also very impressed with their 2008 Semillon Ice Wine (Columbia Valley) but being cheap and not really being a fan of dessert wines, I couldn’t bring myself to spend $59.00 on it (though if you really like ice wine, this is an amazing price for the drink!)

Finally, we went to Waterbrook Winery where we took a full facility tour, including barrel tastings, before heading to the tasting room to try their current releases. Their wines are mass-produced in state-of-the-art facilities, which mean they have a lower price point than the first two wineries. With rare exception, their wines are all under $20, but are surprising good when compared to other wines in a similar range. I really liked their 2007 Pinot Gris, 2007 Sangiovese Rose, 2007 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, and 2005 Meritage (all Columbia Valley vineyards).

There were only two wines I didn’t care for throughout the day, and that was because they were too sweet for me. No one else agreed with that opinion, but that was OK with me!

(Note to self: Go to Walla Walla to visit Uncle Mike more often. The wine is fab and the company is OK, too!)

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!

Yorkshire

I’m well into my second full day in the UK now and while I know I’m just on holiday, I feel as if I’ve come home. I really like how at ease and at peace I feel when I’m here. It’s a feeling I first had a few weeks after moving to Edinburgh and it’s never gone away. I guess it’s true what they say: “Home is where the heart is” and my heart has been here for nearly 10 years now.

It’s been fun seeing it all through Mom’s eyes. She seems to be enjoying herself and is enjoying the company, too. She’s still a bit jetlagged, but she’ll soon get used to the new time zone. After all, a proper cuppa will fix whatever’s ailing you, right?

We spent yesterday playing around Wakefield before heading over to York where Mom got to enjoy her first pub lunch. And her first pub dinner. This morning, we woke up and enjoyed a proper English breakfast – complete with heavenly British bacon. (If you’ve not tried bacon on both sides of the pond, you may not know what I mean. If you have, you understand the love affair I have with the UK stuff!)

After breakfast we went into town to see the York Minster, enjoyed a nice tea at Betty’s (where else?), then toured around the medieval city center with a stop at St. Margaret Clitherow’s Chapel on The Shambles. Mom’s now resting while I play geeky-gadget girl (and check up on work emails) before we head out for the family dinner later this evening.

I’m enjoying showing Mom around my lovely British Isles, and I think she’s enjoying being a tourist – but with the added bonus of traveling with someone who has the inside knowledge!

Now, back to my lovely cup of tea…

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!)

The problem with Seattle*

It’s Monday night and I’m busy getting ready for my holidays: Doing laundry; packing; cooking up ‘leftover stew’ with the contents of the fridge to put in the freezer (can’t have spoiled food when I return!); and reassuring Schrodie that I really do love her, despite the fact that I’m abandoning her yet again…

The frustrating thing is that I don’t actually leave until Wednesday, but because I’m flying out of the Seattle Tacoma International Airport (SeaTac) I have to leave a full day before. It’s a nearly six-hour drive to the airport from my house – IF there’s no traffic and IF the mountain pass is clear (February? That’s a very iffy if!). And so, I’m getting ready tonight so that I can drive to my folks’ house tomorrow (that’s about four hours away) then on Wednesday morning, Daddy will drive me and Mom to SeaTac.

Now don’t get me wrong, I do like the idea of flying out of SeaTac. As the largest airport in the state, it offers non-stop flights into Europe, where leaving from Spokane (which is only an hour away) would mean a stop somewhere in the states – and an added 5+ hours to the journey – for international flights. You could argue that I’ve already used up that time by driving clear across the state just to get to the airport, and you’d be correct! But, since I’m taking this journey with Mom, a long drive one way or another just had to happen.

But here’s the problem as I really see it: I like to have every bit of clothing cleaned, and freshly-made beds before I leave. In a world where I left my house straight for the airport, I would do laundry before bed so that the only dirty clothes being left behind were my jammies and unmentionables (::blush::) from the night before. However, in this scenario, I will be leaving a complete outfit as well as my jammies and unmentionables behind. OK, this really just means an extra pair of trousers, an extra top, and a pair of socks, and that there won’t be time to make up the bed with fresh sheets AND wash the old ones before I leave, but it’s just enough to cause my obsessive-compulsive issues (did I mention I have those?) into overdrive.

(A saving grace: The housekeeper will be in a couple of days before my return, so I can have her take care of the bed for me. But there won’t be enough dirty clothes to warrant her doing the washing.)

(A second saving grace: Thanks to the inspiration of a friend in Scotland, I am enjoying a Hefeweizen (or two) whilst packing. Yes, on a school night!)

Oh, and a random memory of Paul as I look at the photo with this story: Last February as I packed for a trip to the UK with Paul, he noticed for the first time that I actually have a well-organized packing list which I use for travel – tick-boxes and all! He laughed and laughed and laughed. But when we got  to England, I had everything I needed. Lucky for him, I did his packing, too. (I know, I truly am OCD!)

*OK, the title isn’t fair. It leads one to believe that there is just one problem with Seattle (or the greater Puget Sound area, really) and folks from “The 509” know that there are certainly many more problems than that! I’m quite certain that if you stick around, there will be more complaints offered about the Wet/West Side of the state!

Still stitching

I started crocheting this baby blanket last February. I’m still a beginner(ish) hooker and wanted something simple and small to work on while Paul and I traveled to England for a Ryan family reunion. A couple of days after we got home we adopted Schrodie so the project was put on hold because young cats and yarn aren’t the best mix. It was only a couple of months ago that I decided to pick up my hooks again, but have been working on a larger blanket, saving this one for my next flight.

Mom and I will be traveling to the UK in a few days for the Ryan family reunion and I’m planning to take this project with me to keep me occupied on the long flight. My excited hope is that I can finish it on the way there and start a new one on the return journey because it seems several people I know are due to have babies this spring and summer. Keeping that optimistic hope, I will pack a couple of extra skeins of yarn. However, I am a realist and think that I will be lucky to finish this a year after starting it!