Bonus!

2012.12.20.bonusBack in August when I started my new job, the biggest bonus was that my employer was actually willing to sponsor me for a work visa. Those of you who’ve attempted to live in a country other than your native one will understand what a tremendous bonus this is.

Of course, because I work for a small, government-funded programme, I realised that pay increases and bonuses would not be in my future. But that’s OK because I enjoy the job—and I make enough to live on so I don’t need a salary increase. (Though I’d happily take!)

So with that in mind, the last thing I expected to receive today was a bonus. But it seems that someone felt we all deserved a little something extra so they dipped into their own pocket to deliver everyone a generous gift certificate to the local shopping centre. (Please note that this was given with private funds, not government money—no tax money was used for this gift.)

Anyhow, just this morning I stood there looking at my latest accumulation of spare change and I told myself that I would use it to purchase a new tablet in the new year—as soon as there was enough of it. Well, it seems to me that this unexpected bonus could be used to help me get there a little bit faster, which means that between the £60 I had in coins and the £100 on the gift card, it’s time to start researching my next gadget!

Of course, by the time I finally get around to cashing in the coins, I’ll have enough for an even better gadget. I can’t wait!

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!

Visa hiccups

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

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

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

And—finally!—everything came together.

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

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

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

What does this mean?

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

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

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

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

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 …

Payday treats

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

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

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

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

(K)impossible

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

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

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

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

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!

Listening for the phone

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

Lonely, all alone
by Celeste Mills*

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

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

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

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

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

Getting back into the [blogging] game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No more teachers; lots more books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Break-less spring break

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

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

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

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

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

Busy, busy, busy…

A productive start

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spring break

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

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

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

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

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

Happy spring break, everyone!

Journalist? Blogger? Writer.

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

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

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

So, here goes!

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the survey says

I am excited to report that I earned £40 an hour today! Of course, I only did 15 minutes worth of work. But still, that makes me £10 richer. Yay!

How did I do it? Well, I agreed to participate in a survey. You see, when I’m not in a hurry (and it’s not raining) I am happy to help market researchers in their quest to create better products. I figure that it may help me get the things I really want to buy in shops, but I also know that you get paid for them more often than not! (That is also why I always open my junk mail!)

Of course, I can’t tell you much more than what I’ve already said because I signed a confidentiality waiver. But I can tell you that I gave my opinion on a brand of products from a type of product that I use. I can tell you that it took about 15 minutes. And I can also tell you that it wasn’t an unpleasant experience. In fact, I really enjoy seeing how researchers frame their questions and lay out their surveys. (Yeah I know—I’m a geek!)

So next time you’ve got some time to spare, stop and answer a few questions. After all, it might make a difference to the products you use (or would use ‘if only they would’…). And when you’re done, you can use the money for a nice cup of coffee and a cake! Or splash out and buy a really nice bottle of red nail polish!

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!)

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.]

Jobless

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

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

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

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

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?)

Pieces of noon

Once again, I’ve become lax in my efforts to reclaim my lunch hour. In fact, the last time I made a deliberate effort to do so was back in March! OK, in fairness I have taken a couple of lunch-time trips to Moscow for optical appointments but that’s just not the same. But I digress…

Last week I noticed that the WSU Museum of Art had listed a few summer concerts, so I decided to put them on my calendar right away so that I could be free to take the five minute walk and get out of the office. I’d completely forgotten about it, but then my handy-dandy gadgets started beeping and flashing reminding me that I had a noon appointment—one that I almost cancelled because I wasn’t really in the mood. But then I realised that not being in the mood to relax was exactly why I needed to go and relax.

So, it was off to listen to the WSU faculty jazz ensemble, Nighthawk, and look at the pretty art stuff. After all, what can be more relaxing than a bit of jazz and art on a late-spring afternoon?

And now comes the part I know you’re all waiting for: My impressions of some of the art! But don’t worry, I’m only going to give my thoughts on four of the many pieces I saw.

First up, I was drawn to an Andy Warhol painting called Siberian Tiger (1983). Now, please forgive me for my first thoughts about this painting, but it reminded me of the tigers and lions we used to draw as children. Well, the outline part at least—the rest of it was very much outside of my ability! The colouring and texture on the tiger’s eyes and facial features was beautiful. Truly the work of an artist and not that of my childhood drawings! But, the memories it brought me of my now-passed thoughts that I could be a famous artist made me smile.

The next piece that struck me was an untitled piece by Cheryl Laemmle. It was oil on canvas painted in 1978 depicting a monkey and a horse in an outdoor scene. (Where else would a monkey and horse be, right?) The overall piece wasn’t something that spoke to me, but I was so taken in by how realistic the fur on the animals looked. The white fur on the horse was especially realistic and I had to resist the urge to feel it. On looking up close, I could see the individual brush strokes that made the fur, but even after that, it still looked all 3-D(ish) when I stepped back again. So, yeah, this piece made me smile, too.

The third piece that made me stop for a closer look was probably the most pretentious one in the place. (Yes, I always try to pick out the one I think is the most pretentious.) Anyhow, it was by Nancy Burson and was titled O.I.C. (1980; screen print) It was in a simple, minimalist brushed silver frame with a white matte. And inside the white matte was a white square screen-printed on white paper. If you looked very closely, you could see the faintest pencil-scrawled signature. (I would have been embarrassed to sign my name to it as it seems as silly as signing a blank cheque if you ask me. But what do I know about art?)

Finally, I was struck by a piece by Joseph Goldberg titled Pieces of Noon (1986; encaustic on linen over wood). The overall piece looked rather distressed and flaky and consisted of several ill-fitted bits of something-or-other stacked on each other—with a very tenuous looking base and a more stable looking top bit.

And now I’m going to get all self-reflected and stuff because it’s my blog and it’s all about me and that last piece made me all reflective and stuff so: I found it amusing that, in an effort to reclaim my lunch hour, I found enjoyment in a bit of art called Pieces of Noon. Further, I enjoyed the symbolism* in the piece being distressed and flaky—just like I’ve been feeling lately. And I found it interesting that—despite the tenuous-looking base—the overall image seemed stable and solid. Almost as if the weight of the top bits were stabilising the rest of the stack. (Yeah, I’m not the best at interpreting art, but these were my thoughts and this is my blog so that’s OK.)

Oh! And one more thing! As I sat there scribbling my notes with one of my Just Frances pens, a member of the museum’s staff approached me to let me know that using ink pens was not allowed. He requested that I use a pencil instead (and kindly handed me one). I have never heard of an ink prohibition in a museum before and from the sounds of it, neither have my Facebook friends. Have you? Or was this just a one-off little quirk?

[The image with this post is my own rough sketch of the Pieces of Noon piece. It’s not nearly as good as the original, but I’m not really an artist so that’d OK!]

* Symbolism, much like horoscopes, makes me laugh in cynicism often because we can all interpret whatever we want out of things. It’s all about the spin. But, as I said, this is my blog and this is my interpretation! You are, of course, welcome to share your own interpretations in the comment section.

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!

Logo-ing

The last couple of nights have been rather fun for me as I’ve started to gear up for life as an unemployed bum. And part of that life—I hope—will include a bit of freelance writing and communications work.

So, I’m getting ready to create a website to hawk my wares, which means a logo. And at the same time, I’m working on a couple of projects for other people—again, website and logo stuff. My creative juices are flowing and I’m having a blast.

But I can’t actually share my work with you yet, which is why you only get to see my pen-and-pencil-obscured doodles and sketches. Though I’ve included a pretty swirl drawing for you, too. You know, because I know how much you love my swirls.*

Gosh, I wish I could tell you more about it all, but I can’t do that just yet. But stick around for the big unveiling once that unemployed status officially kicks in this summer!

* I’m sorry if you’re sick of swirls. But I enjoy them and they make me happy and so I will keep creating them. But I won’t share all of them here. Oh! And someone asked me about getting a journal with a swirl drawing. So I’m looking into that. Just Frances branded swirl journals and sketch books? Sure… Why not?

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!

Lunch with Claudia

I’ve been quite lax in my determination to take back my lunch hour so decided that I’d take some me-time today because the stress of the world has been getting to me and I needed the respite. So I had lunch with Claudia Fitch at the WSU Museum of Art. (OK, I ate lunch then went to the museum because you can’t take food in. And not so much ‘with’ Claudia as with her art work.)

Fitch is a multi-media artist who creates sculptures from, essentially, rubbish. I generally like this sort of work, but I have to admit that I wasn’t overly taken by this exhibit. Now, this isn’t to say that she’s not a good artist—it’s just that most of her work wasn’t to my liking. Or maybe it was that I didn’t like seeing so much in one place because I think I’d have enjoyed seeing one piece tucked away somewhere in someone’s home. And I certainly enjoy many of her public art pieces.

However, there were three displays that piqued my interest today.

The first to catch my eye was ‘Backdrop (granite)’. Essentially, it’s three large chunks of brown butcher paper pieced together with a life-sized(ish) gray and white painting of a human(ish) form. I smiled when I saw it because it reminded me of when I was a young girl in Camp Fire and we did life-sized drawings/tracings of ourselves on butcher paper. (I wonder if Mom still has ‘me’ rolled up in a corner somewhere…)

The next one that caught me was ‘Floating Mechanism (nightshade)’. It just seemed as if it belonged on the set of a science fiction movie. One where an evil madman had created an army of evil robots (in this case, female breast looking robots) which were standing in ridged formation waiting for their activation orders.

Finally, I was bemused and amused with an untitled installation that consisted of several pieces ranging in size. It was created with re-bar and other metal bits and had glass and fiberglass globes and bobbles here and there. I didn’t care for the display with everything lumped together like that. But it’s just the sort of whimsy I’d have loved to see interspersed throughout a botanic garden or something.

So, would I recommend checking out the exhibit? Absolutely! You never know what you’ll like until you see it. And if you’re not around to see it, maybe you should check out the museums in your neck of the woods. It’s a great way to spend a rainy day and you might just find a new favourite artist!

National Grammar Day

It’s National Grammar Day here in the fantastic United States of America. Are you as excited about that as I am? No? Well, I suppose I didn’t expect you to be. But I am super-duper excited!

I thought long and hard about what to write about for this celebratory day but I couldn’t find the right angle. So instead, I’ll just share some random thoughts.

To start with, you’ve maybe noticed that Just Frances is not written in my best ‘grammar-ific’ style. I try to keep it all very conversational here—and that means run-on sentences as well as incomplete ones. It also means that I start sentences with conjunctions and end them with prepositions. And I don’t care!

My decision to write in such an informal manner came as I thought about my audience. Not that I think my audience can’t handle full-on formal writing, but because my audience is family and friends so ‘casual conversation’ just seemed more fitting. Plus that, I’ve been accused of being a language and grammar snob for quite some time, so I thought I’d leave that to my professional life and my linguist forums and blogs where people love my wordsnobbery.

Of course, the awesome thing about being oh-so-casual-and-conversational here is that I can say things like ‘wordsnobbery’. Which is cool. (See, I did more of that casual stuff by starting a sentence with which. This is fun!)

[A note about my professional life for those who care: I am a communications professional and get paid to write and edit. Yes, believe it or not, I really do! I love my job and I love linguistics in general. But this, as I said, is my personal blog so I’m keepin’ it casual. Yay!]

Blah, blah, blah… Let’s move on now.

For a while, I thought about writing about the differences between American and British English. But then I realized that no one who reads my blog probably cares about the differences. So then I thought that, at the very least, I should point out that I’ve decided to work toward[s] incorporating more and more British English into Just Frances—in the form of spelling, grammar, and punctuation, as well as idioms and word usage. Of course, this just means that I probably seem quite illiterate to some folks. And that’s OK. (My decision to do that is so that I can brush up on the language before I move back over this summer.)

Oh! And I guess that I should devote a paragraph to my mantra about English being a living language. The basic idea is that the rules for grammar, spelling, and punctuation that we use now are not what we used 100 years ago and aren’t what we’ll use in another 100 years. Our language has evolved—and will continue to evolve—forever.

At best, our language is a theory. However, there are certainly rules and best practices in place that should be adhered to. But you can fudge that, too. I mean, I don’t follow all of the rules here and that’s OK. But I wouldn’t dare write like this at work or for any official business. There’s a time and a place to break the rules, after all. So, txt spk on the net all u wnt. However, please refrain from the use of non-standard English when preparing your monthly reports for your manager.

And now, I’m sure you have a stack of sentences you want to diagram and infinitives you want to split, so I’ll leave you with a couple of quick thoughts:

The old rule ‘I before E except after C’ is a lie. There are too many exceptions for it to be a rule. So please stop teaching it to your children.

It is acceptable to use an Oxford comma (also called a serial comma). You just need to use it consistently and in accordance to the style guide approved by your industry or organisation.

And finally, check out some fun language books such as:

Happy National Grammar Day to you!

The clutter shuffle

Today is a snow day on the Palouse and I am well and truly snowed in. School has been cancelled; the roads are unsafe; and the car has yet to be found—though I suspect it’s under that big pile of white fluff.

So I’m going through more clutter. Yay! Actually, I suppose that I’m just re-formatting clutter.

Yep, today’s project is to take all of my old 3.5” floppy disks and transfer them to my external hard drive. I suppose the mature thing to do would be to then throw out the disks. I admit that might be hard, but it must be done.

The real challenge, of course, will be to just transfer the files and not read through all of them. Which will be hard because they represent my entire undergraduate career. Yes, from Eng101 to ASL304 and Com207 to Com475 it’s all there. There are even disks from a few of my early freelance projects and my baby sister’s wedding invitations that I designed more than a decade ago—long before I even had a proper grown-up relationship!

Oh, and for some added fun, there are also a couple of disks with drafts of a book I wrote. One day, I’m going to have to see about getting it published!!

I suppose that when I’m done with this I should move on to transferring the work I have stored on CDs and DVDs. Then I should remember to make a backup of my backup drive! And don’t worry—I always keep that backup drive in a fireproof safe! (No, that’s a lie. I tell myself to do that but I’ve yet to actually go and buy a safe. Though doing so is on my to-do list before my move!)

[Note: I am also attempting to do so real work for my real job, which would be easier if my Internet connection wouldn’t keep going out on me causing me to have to log back in to everything. But I guess that just means tomorrow will be busier than expected. But that can be a good thing!]

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!!

Challenging music

Over the summer, my friend set a challenge to listen to all of her iPod’s music collection alphabetically. A through Z; every song. Every. Last. Song.

I recall admiring her dedication and I also recall thinking it must have been easy enough since she had less than 1,500 songs and I assumed they were all music of her choosing. I recall smiling as I realised that she was truly enjoying the challenge—and enjoying re-discovering her music. She made several comments about how others should do the same, and I was mildly interested in trying it, but not enough to actually take on the challenge.

Until September 30, 2010.

Yep, that morning I got to the office, plugged in my iPod, and instead of selecting ‘shuffle’ I chose to play every song I had in alphabetical order. A through Z; every song.*

Every.

Last.

Song.

That was 130 days, 4,868 songs, and 313+ hours of play time ago.**

It was fun.

It was boring.

It was mind-numbingly boring at times.

It was exciting.

And it was educational.

So, here are some fun little facts, figures, and musical musings for you to ponder:

  • Letter with the most song titles: “S” with 540 songs
  • Letter with the least song titles: “Z” with 3 songs
  • Number of songs starting with numerals (so, “1” but not One): 21
  • Number of artists: 452
  • Number of albums: 555
  • Number of genres: 34
  • Song I have the most versions or copies of: “N17” by The Saw Doctors (Six copies)

Would I do it again? Oh, I don’t know. Maybe? But I’m not willing to make a promise at this point!

Would I recommend that you do it? Absolutely! It really is interesting and entertaining—especially when you hear long-lost tunes.

* Actually, A-Z plus 0-9, because some started with numerals.
** To save myself from complete madness, I opted to only attempt the challenge whilst at work which means that it took a bit longer to make my way through the collection than it would have otherwise.

Food woes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts or ideas to share?

I have awesome neighbours!

I have awesome neighbours!

After last night’s blizzard I decided to work from home so that I didn’t have to deal with the roads.

But when things seemed to clear up by early afternoon, I decided I’d run into town with my foster daughter because she doesn’t have proper snow gear yet. (She had to wear my boots to shovel snow this morning.)

Only, the car wouldn’t start when I went out. And I live in a town of 650 people with no shops and no services. The neighbours across the way are gone for Thanksgiving. My dad is a four-hour drive away. And I neglected to renew my AAA membership after Paul died. (Opps!)

So I called Annie, our amazing town clerk. She promised a call back in five minutes. It wasn’t even that long until she called to say that Tim was on his way. Only, I don’t know Tim. But less than five minutes pass again and there’s Tim ready to fix my car.

It took about ½ an hour to get the car going. Tim worked with bare hands in the 10°F temperatures (that’s -11°C, if you wondered) then wouldn’t take anything for his trouble.

All the while, another neighbour was busy clearing snow from around my driveway with his tractor. After Tim left, that neighbour asked if he got everything cleared OK. And I, excitedly, said yes. After all, I’d not asked for this favour, he just came by to plough for me like he has for the past two winters.

And these are all different people than the ones who’ve watched my cat whilst I’m away or kept my lawn mowed since Paul died.

Yes, these things might happen in the big city, too, but I think they’re more common in a small town. These good people and their friendly “help your neighbour” attitude will be missed when I return to Scotland. But, then, I always found people to be kind and helpful there, too.

Yay! for awesome neighbours!!

11¢

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

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

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

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

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.]

Just a doodlin’

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

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

Sicky

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

Then I was fine.

Then it started again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

An inspirational lunch

I remember visiting a friend not too long ago and being shocked to learn that he rarely took advantage of the great cultural and historical sites around him. I challenged him to use his lunch hour to see some of the places from time-to-time. I remember thinking how lucky he was to have such entertainment at his disposal, but how sad it was that he didn’t take advantage of it. (My guess is he still hasn’t.) But it dawned on me today that I have an amazing amount of cultural entertainment all around me that I never utilize.

I work in the center of a large university campus. All around me there are museums displaying art. There are concerts and lectures. There are exhibits for everything and anything everywhere! So when the university’s electronic newsletter for faculty and staff showed up in my email this morning, my eyes were drawn to a story about an art exhibit that opened today.

And because I am meant to be reclaiming my lunch hours, and because the museum is less than two minutes from my office (in fact, I park in the garage under the museum!), and because I’ve been feeling very arty these past few weeks, I decided to go at lunch time.

The exhibit at the WSU Museum of Art is called “Contemporary Australian Aboriginal Art” and is part of a collection belonging to Margaret Levi and Robert Kaplan. To be honest, I don’t know that I realized there was such a thing as contemporary aboriginal art, but then, I don’t really know anything about art. (But I know what I like!)

When I walked in, I couldn’t help but start smiling. I think it was because the art is so similar to what I like to draw: squiggles, swirls, lines, and dots. Only where my ‘art’ is just mindless nothings, I can see the thought that went into this—and the use of traditional symbols in many of the pieces helped to tell a story. (Thank you to the museum for providing legends to the symbols throughout the exhibit!)

Anyhow, I am inspired! I am inspired to continue my quest to reclaim my lunch time. I am inspired by the art and am excited to create some new drawings of my own. And I am inspired by seeing the paint on linens and canvas—so much so that I am now inspired to see if there is a painting course that I can take so that I can pretend to be an artist a bit more.

Yes, I think I should do that. Wouldn’t it be fun to learn how to paint?

Anyhow, I hope you’re inspired, too. I hope you’re inspired to take time for yourself; inspired to see an art exhibit; inspired to create your own art; or just inspired for the sake of inspiration.

Unhappily stressed

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

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

First, the stresses:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am trying to be happy. Really I am. I’m taking time each day to be silly. I’m trying to identify a bit of joy each day. I’m finding inspirational quotes to bolster my moods. I’m doing arts and crafts. And I’m even trying to take back some of my mid-day personal time.

Maybe what’s getting me down isn’t so much life’s stresses, but the uncertainty of my future. For nearly a year and a half my future has been hazy and I don’t like it. Maybe once it’s a bit more clear, my mood will improve.

I am certain that this little mood will pass, and in the mean time I will keep faking it because one way or another, it will make me feel a bit better.

• • • • •

Well, reader, I meant for this to post last night when I was feeling really down. And then my neighbor came by and we had a drink and a long gossip about nothing and everything (and I got her to do a silliness worksheet). Which cheered me up considerably.

I am still feeling unhappy and stressed, but am glad to have had a couple hours’ respite from my condition. And I think that the night’s laughter has carried over into today because I feel a bit happier today already than I did yesterday. Of course, it is the weekend which may have something to do with it.

I promise to have a happier post soon! In the mean time, thanks for letting me get it off my chest!

x

[NOTE: If you’re wondering how the picture relates to the post, it’s one of the silly things I drew on the couch just trying to unwind and relax. I think it helps to scribble a bit. Maybe…]

Taking back lunch

I’ve been skipping lunch for years. Well, that’s strictly not true. I’ve been eating lunch (most days) but I eat at my desk whilst working. I don’t actually leave my office.

But that’s going to change! Yes, I am taking back my lunch hour!

From here on out, I will get up from my desk and leave the office for a lunch break several times a week. I’d like to declare that I’ll do this every day, but sometimes I really just can’t. So instead I am going to vow to take lunch away from my desk three or more days a week and that I will take at least a half hour for my break—though ideally I will take my full hour.

I don’t know what I’ll do for my breaks. Maybe I’ll eat lunch out.

Maybe I’ll sit and read a book in a little coffee shop.

Maybe I’ll sketch something-or-other in my handy-dandy little sketch book.

Maybe I’ll go to the gym for some light weight-lifting.

Maybe I’ll go for a brisk walk around campus.

Or maybe I’ll just sit somewhere quiet and do nothing.

I suppose it won’t matter what I do, as long as I’m not doing work.

I’ve decided that this will revitalize me for the afternoons, making me more productive for the last half of my work day. And I’ve decided that it will make me realize that my time is valuable and precious and that I shouldn’t just give away my lunch hours. And I’ve decided that I deserve it. Because I do.

I’ve decided that it is imperative for my health because, let’s face it, being overworked and overstressed is bad for your blood pressure and bad for your mental and physical being. And I’ve decided that this will help me reach my goal of being blissfully happy; which is a very, very important life goal so it shouldn’t be neglected.

Feeling inspired? Maybe you should take back your lunch hour, too*!

I’d love to hear suggestions for how to spend my time, or comments on how you’ll get your time back.

Happy lunching!

[NOTE: Today’s lunch break includes posting this from my way-awesome gadget phone whilst sitting in a comfy chair at a little coffee shop drinking mint tea and eating a (probably high sodium) sourdough pretzel. Yay for me!]

* Run the term “take back lunch hour” in your preferred search engine and you’ll see that it’s not just me doing this. It seems that there’s an international movement afoot! Yay for lunch hours!

Fancy hotels

Faithful readers of other rubbish I’ve written since Paul died will remember the struggle I had the first time I found myself having to travel to Seattle for work on my own. There was something very wrong about staying in a 5-Star hotel without Paul.

Before he died, Paul would travel with me when I went away for work. We’d stay in a fancy hotel, go out for a fancy dinner, then sit in the hotel lounge drinking martinis in our best “la-de-da” fashion. The next day, when I was in meetings, Paul would take advantage of the hotel’s gym and swimming pool facilities. Depending on my schedule, we’d meet for lunch and/or go shopping. It was truly wonderful!

I remember my first stay in a fancy hotel for work after he died. It was so difficult; I felt so lost. My second work trip was a bit easier, but still had its challenges; my third was a bit easier still. And now, I’ve created a whole new fancy hotel routine that includes relaxing on a big fluffy bed and ordering room service.

Tonight finds me in Seattle at The Westin. It’s a fantastic room—though not as big and flash as the a-MAZE-ing room I stayed at in Edinburgh a year ago—and the view of the city is truly breath-taking. (If you like the view of downtown Seattle with the Puget Sound behind.)

I looked at the room service menu and was very unimpressed so instead, I’ve ordered a pizza from Pagliacci —something I’ve not done since Paul and I lived in downtown Seattle so many years ago. And wouldn’t you know it? They also had Thomas Kemper’s root beer, too! (Yum!)

So, here I sit eating pizza, drinking root beer, and working on today’s homework assignment for my online silliness class. It’s relaxing and enjoyable. I can’t believe how much easier this hotel stay is than that first one without Paul about a year ago. Though I still wish Paul was here to enjoy a dirty martini at the lounge downstairs.

A lunch break rant

So I’m reading the Puget Sound Business Journal whilst eating my lunch and there’s a section called “Online This Week” which shares selected news items* that were posted on their online edition in between weekly print editions.

The first item was this:
Fine for texting/driving: Too high?

The three-sentence long piece noted that a Pemco Insurance poll found 17 percent of those questioned felt that the $124 fine for using a cell phone while driving was too steep. Eleven percent felt that the same $124 for texting while driving was too high. 

The second item was this:
Washington statewide primary voter turnout: 27 percent

It goes on to say that less than 27 percent of the state’s registered voters participated in the Aug. 17 primary election. Shockingly, that included 62.25 percent of voters in rural Columbia County (a population of less than 4,100) but only 21.33 percent in the state’s second-largest county, Pierce County (a population of around 813,600).

What’s the point though, right?

Point #1: If you’re not planning to break the law by using your hand-held mobile device whilst driving then you shouldn’t care what the fine is. If you do break the law, well, too bad, so sad.

Point #2: If you don’t like the laws passed by our elected officials then you’d best get off your back side and do something about it. If you’re not registered, register. If you’re not able to register for whatever reason, lobby for your cause. After all, the best way to see change is to vote for change.

OK. Rant over. Please feel free to resume your normal daily activities now because my lunch break is over.

Thank you!

* It was actually listed as ‘breaking’ news in the paper, but I highly doubt that either of these items count for breaking news.

Remember yesterday

Woke up to the sound of pouring rain; the wind would whisper and I’d think of you. And all the tears you cried, that called my name; and when you needed me I came through.

Oh yeah, I’m totally remembering yesterday* today. It started with a text message from my 13-year-old niece who has found that she loves my music collection. Her text was letting me know that one of her new-found songs from my past put her ‘in high spirits’. The song was Good Love by Poison.

Well, that text made me set my iPod to play Poison. But then I felt the need for a total Hair Band** Fest.

So, I set up my “Hair Band” play list (yes, I have one) and hit play. (What a way to spend a Friday at the office!) Then I let my Facebook public know about my celebration of Hair Band Friday. And they quickly made posts of their own about the new celebration. (Yay! I love being a trend-setter!)

And because I know you’re dying for this information, my Hair Band play list includes:

Yay for music! And yay for Friday Hair Band Fests everywhere!

* The title and opening quote are from Skid Row’s “I Remember You” – in case you didn’t get the reference.
** What I call Hair Band, Paul called Poodle Rock. The ever-knowing
Wikipedia calls it Glam Metal.

Randomly the same

I bring my iPod to work so that I have a bit of music playing in the background. Most days, I set it to randomly play through all of the 4,100+ songs (I’m working to expand my collection). And most days there are several songs that I don’t know because I’ve loaded Paul’s music onto the machine, too; much of which I’ve never heard – or never paid attention to.

Today I set it for random play and of the 76 songs, 38 of them were the Saw Doctors! Now, that’s OK since they are one of my favorite bands, but I always find it strange when random play sounds more like a one-band show.

I don’t do math[s] and don’t fully understand the whole mathematical-statistical-ratio-data thing, but I wonder that the odds are for such a random playing.* Seems to me that such an event wouldn’t happen too often.

Oh, and since I have you here, I’ll share one of my favorite Saw Doctor’s songs with you!

*If you are able to explain it in simple, non-mathematical terms with simple odds of “1 in a [enter number here]” explanation, please feel free to share. But please don’t offer me the formula for which to decipher it on my own because my brain does language: grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Not math or its scientifically-based cousins.

Extra! Extra! Read all about it!

I must have been 10 or 11 years old when I got my first job as a paper girl for the Daily Record, Kittitas County’s only daily newspaper. I can’t recall if it was 4th or 5th grade when I started delivering the news but I continued doing it until I was 13 or 14. I think.

After school I would go pick up my papers (maybe about 30?) and load my bag over my shoulders. It took less than an hour to make my rounds, but in the heat of summer or frigid-cold of winter it felt like it took much longer than that! I had those terribly mean parents who actually made me deliver my own papers, too, and steadfastly refused to drive me around unless there were extenuating circumstances.

Back then, we had to collect payment from most customers on our own. I remember going around knocking on doors once a month. I remember dreading going to some houses because they would never answer the door. But I loved going to other houses because I would be invited in for some cookies and soda then would visit for a while before heading out for more money collections. Many customers gave me a monthly tip and many more gave me great presents at Christmas.

At the end of the month all of the local paper carriers would meet down at The Harris Street Deli (later Killer & Babes, and now Beau’s) to turn our money in to someone from the paper. They’d count everything up then give us our share of the money. I don’t recall what the monthly rate was for delivering papers, but I do recall that often times I made more in tips than wages!

When I turned 14 I took a job washing dishes at the local truck stop cafe and I haven’t delivered a paper since.

Every once in a while I stop to wonder if kids still deliver papers door-to-door. I don’t know that I’ve seen any out and about where I live, but then, I don’t read print newspapers anymore. I get my news online or on the radio during my morning commute. Well, if you can call it news…

Quite honestly, I don’t know what the point of this post is. But I blame Plinky for making me do it.

Model A

My drive into work took a bit longer than normal today because as I pulled onto the highway I fell in line behind four Model A Fords from the Inland Empire A Car Club out of Spokane. Their average speed of 45 mph was acceptable to me so I saw no reason to pass them along the narrow one-lane highway. After all, it was only 25 miles.

As I followed I began to think about how nice it would be to live in that world with the slower pace of life. How idyllic, right? But then I wondered: In the 1920s and ’30s, did people driving along the road behind a horse and carriage find themselves yearning for the slower pace of life found in the late-1800s?

Then I started to think about how these vehicles from the late-20s and early-30s would make a great blog post, which gave me an ironic chuckle as I was just considering the less complicated, less wired life of that bygone era.

Of course, now I wonder how slow and idyllic the early-2000s will seem to people in the 2070s…

Morning Joe

I used the last of my coffee up on Monday and haven’t had time to go buy more beans, which means that for the last two mornings I’ve had to get my coffee on the road. Which means that I have to drive nine miles into the next town (which is on my way to the office) before I get my morning coffee fix.

Generally, I get up in the morning to a freshly brewed pot of coffee (gotta love programmable coffee makers!) and I enjoy a cup whilst making my breakfast of healthy granola, yogurt, and berries and chopping fresh veggies for lunch. I then fill up my travel mug, toss my plastic containers and a banana or two into my bag, and hit the road for the 25-mile commute to the office.

It’s weird how the one missing link changes everything. There’s no coffee, so I skip making the food and just hit the road.

The BAD:
There isn’t any healthy food on my desk to munch on so I end up not eating anything because I’m too busy to run out and grab something or I end up eating junk because I do have time to grab something and it’s going to be deep-fried.

The GOOD:
The café where I get the coffee sells amazingly-large cookies and for just $2.50 I can get a 12-ounce cup of Joe and one of those lovely cookies. I end up getting to the office about 20 minutes earlier than I normally would and, as no one else is in, I’m able to take advantage of the quiet and actually read the paper whilst enjoying my coffee and a cookie… and maybe a bit of music. Starting the day off relaxing with the paper is sort of fun!*

However, I will be stopping off to get some coffee beans after work today. I mean, I’ve spent $5 on coffee and cookies in two days. That’s $12.50 a week if I make it a habit, and I can certainly think of better ways to spend that money.

(OK, you could argue that I spend money on the granola and coffee for the house so it’s about the same, but with the café plan, I also tend to eat out for lunch, so in the long run, coffee at home is cheaper. And my home-brew is better and stronger. Totally worth it right there!)

*NOTE: The paper I read in the office is very much work-related, and one that I probably wouldn’t read at all if it wasn’t for that fact. Great paper, but I prefer “world news” to “industry news”.

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!

Greener grass

As I turn on the “Out of Office” reply for my work email, I have to giggle. I’m so excited to be on two weeks’ holiday, but what am I really getting? Two weeks where there will be no work? Two weeks of work that will just vanish from my workload? No. I’m getting a two week deferment – and hardly that since I will be checking my email and working on content planning for an upcoming project the entire time I’m out of the office. The work still needs to get done and it will all be there waiting for me upon my return.

Before I went to university I worked as a waitress and in customer service. Those were great jobs because when you clocked out, that was it. You were off the clock and you didn’t need to worry about table 12 waiting for their Cottage Burger and fries – whoever had the swing shift would deal with it for you. And when you took a vacation, you certainly weren’t stressed about how many tables would be waiting for you when you returned.

Of course, before going to university I struggled to pay the bills and certainly couldn’t have taken a holiday in the first instance. Heck, I could barely afford to eat back then! Now, the bills get paid and I have enough money left over to travel the world… And eating? I’m not struggling in that department!

So, I’ll stop bitching that I have to work on my holiday. Especially since I really do like my job! (And I’m on holiday! You can’t bitch when you’re on holiday!)