New digs

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

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

Tasty tortillas

Today we’re going to have a wee cooking lesson. But it’s also a lesson in budgeting and in ridding ourselves of un-needed preservatives. And as the topic of tortillas has come up a few times in the last week, that’s what we’re going to play with today.

First, let’s look at the nutritional side of things, using Old El Paso flour tortillas as our guide. The back of the pack claims the following ingredients: Wheat Flour, Water, Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil, Stabiliser: Glycerol, Salt, Raising Agents: E450a, E500, Dextrose, Emulsifier: E471, Preservative: E202, Flour Treatment Agent: E920.

[Note for American readers: ‘E Numbers’ are how preservatives and additives are labelled in the EU/UK. Find out more here.]

Now, compare those ingredients to my recipe: Flour, water, olive oil, baking powder, and salt.

(Do you see where I’m going here?)

Then, let’s look at the cost. A pack of tortillas will cost you anywhere from £1.20-£3.00 in the UK and, what, about $1.00-$4.00 in the States, depending on the brand and the number/size in the pack. After you add up the cost of a 5-pound bag of flour, 16-ounce (or so) bottle of olive oil, and the negligible cost of salt and baking powder,  you’re looking at less-than £1.00 ($1.00) for a batch of 8-10 tortillas. And yes, I realise that time and electricity/gas for cooking plays into this, too, but I still think homemade is a bargain!

But, more importantly, homemade just tastes better. The texture and the flavour are a vast improvement over store-bought. And you can use whole wheat and/or gluten-free flours if you want.

So, on to the next part: A wee how-to video to show you just how easy it is! (And because I haven’t made a video in a while.) Recipe will follow the video.

Tasty Tortillas

  • 3 cups plain flour (375 g)
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3-4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup water (8 oz / 250 ml)
Once you’ve gathered your ingredients, you’re ready to make some tortillas!
  • Mix flour, baking powder, salt, and oil
  • Add water a bit at a time and mix with hands until it forms a nice, doughy ball (you may not need all of the water!)
  • Form into large ball and let sit (covered with towel) for 15 minutes
  • Divide into 8-10 smaller balls
  • Flour work space
  • Roll each ball flat with rolling pin (or a wine bottle!)
  • Cook on very hot, un-greased pan or griddle for a few seconds on each side—just enough to get pretty little brown spots

These can be enjoyed as a taco wrap, or for a bread substitute for almost any kind of sandwich. I like to spread them with cream cheese or salmon pate and enjoy with a few olives. Yummy!

Summer holidays

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Swirls for Amy

I recently finished another swirl drawing and I thought that I’d share it with you. (But you have to read to the end to see it!) This was more than just a drawing though. You see, my swirls began as a way to occupy my mind and my thoughts, and have actually become a great way of relaxing and meditating for me. So I decided that I would use this project to focus my mind on the recipient—and it was a wonderful experience! As I swirled, I thought about my good friend, Amy, and what her friendship means to me. And it was wonderful. Really.

It was so nice to reflect on our friendship—from meeting in elementary school to high school plays (and band!) to re-connecting through Facebook and our blogs as adults. We were never close friends in school but in the past couple of years I think we’ve developed a stronger bond and friendship than we ever could have imagined.

I documented my progress as I went along so that you can see it all come together. That may or may not be of interest to you, but, it’s there if you want to see it. (It’s less than 30 seconds if that helps.)

So, what can I tell you about Amy? Well, I can tell you that she is a wonderful person who is full of inspiration and joy. She is beautiful and has an amazing smile. She is a loving, nurturing, and fun Mom to six lovely children and perfect Wife to a very lucky man. She is thoughtful, caring, and compassionate. And she is my friend. And for that, I am blessed.

And now, you can see the lovely swirl that the lovely Amy now has hanging in her lovely entryway.

Chinese jacks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll get by

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Freedom of the City

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

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

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

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

YouTube trails

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which lead me to a song about butterfly kisses…

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

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

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

Lovely latkes

I love latkes. They’re amazingly delicious and super duper easy to make; inexpensive, too. And the best thing about them (today) is that they fit the bill for my Dark Days Challenge. (I realise it’s been more than a month since I last posted a DDC meal, but it’s not because I’ve not been eating local, rather it’s because I haven’t been blogging about it.)

Latkes, or potato pancakes, are part of the traditional cuisines of several Eastern European counties (often under different names). I learned how to make them when I was in high school and soon developed my own recipe. You know, because I like to do things my way!

So, what makes this a DDC meal? Well, for starters, I’ve used Scottish-grown potatoes and onions, and Scottish eggs. I used butter from Graham’s Family Dairy, just outside of Stirling, and locally milled flour. I also used a pinch of Maldon Sea Salt and British made crème fraiche. Oh! And the sautéed mushrooms were Scottish, too, with a pinch of English garlic. The wine, whilst not local in origin, fits the organic bill.

Here’s the recipe:

Lovely Latkes

  • 2 cups shredded potatoes
  • ½ small onion (diced)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2-4 tablespoons flour (depending on how doughy you want them)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Butter for frying

Mix the potatoes, onion, egg, flour, and salt together in a bowl and let sit for 15-30 minutes. Heat frying pan (I prefer a cast iron skillet when available) and place a pat of butter in to melt. Once melted, drop the potato mixture in by the spoonful. About a 1/4 cup or so of batter should do it.

Fry for three minutes, then flip over and fry for another three minutes. Serve with sour cream and/or apple sauce.

And I’ve had a couple of people mention they’d like to see more videos, so I’ve even prepared a cooking demo for you. Yay!

Substitutiary locomotion

Back in the day, kids’ movies were pretty gosh-darn awesome. So much so that (I think) they’ve survived the test of time. Movies like Pete’s Dragon (one that my sister and her kids watch regularly) and all of the Hayley Mills movies. And then there’s things like Mary Poppins, The Apple Dumpling Gang, and a long list of Disney’s theatrical animations!

In fact, just the other day, I was walking in town and caught myself singing Brazzle Dazzle Day. Then when I woke up this morning, I saw my sister’s Facebook posts from the night before—yes, they just watched Pete’s Dragon again! Then, when I looked to see what movies were available on the BBC’s iPlayer, I was giddy with excitement to see Bedknobs and Broomsticks (which I’m watching now)!

So, my wish for you is that you have a brazzle dazzle day thinking about the childhood movies that bring you the most joy.

And I wish for you the gift of substitutiary locomotion so that you can veg on the couch watching those movies, all the while casting spells so that you don’t need to walk to the kitchen to refill your snack bowls and drink glasses!

Home(ish) for Christmas

Well, I suppose now that Christmas is over, I should tell you a bit about my lovely Christmas weekend! And it really was a lovely weekend! I went through to Aberdour with my friend, Rebecca, to spend Christmas with her parents. And whilst I wasn’t with my own family, I was made to feel like family indeed!

It was a wonderful weekend with loads of laughter and new traditions. I enjoyed my first-ever Christmas goose (I hope it’s not my last) and managed lots of relaxation in between scrumptious meals prepared by Rebecca’s mum.

Oh! And I got gifts for Christmas, too! A lovely cashmere scarf, a French press, some home made jams, lots of candy and chocolates, fresh coffee, and even a worry stone. (And more!)

Yes, it was a wonderful Christmas! So wonderful, in fact, that I didn’t manage to take as many photos as I normally would have. But you can see the few I did manage!

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Oh! And you know those bugs from the photo gallery can be seen on the video below. My bug (yellow) won. But Rebecca will tell you that her sissy pink bug did.

Minor chord

I love a good minor chord. I love minor keys and minor scales. I love a bit of musical dissonance. Unexpected notes; unexpected lyrics. They’re wonderful to me.

My musical tastes have always been varied, but I have to admit that I tend to lean toward smaller bands—mainstream is great and all, but it’s just a bit too, I don’t know, too predictable for me. I like a song with a bit of interest to it.

My favourite song of all time? Well, that would be “Eve of Destruction” by Barry McGuire. I like that it was banned from the airwaves. I like that it uses the word ‘coagulating’.

The bands that I list as my favourites (with the exception of Styx) are not headlining acts. Well, not in the mainstream at least. I like the little guys who play music because they like music. They write lyrics that make me smile because they’re writing them for them—not for a big-time record label.

Of course, this means I almost never hear my favourite bands on the radio. But that’s what my iTunes collection is for—a collection that boasts more than 8,400 songs at the moment.

Now, you could feel sorry for me not being able to hear my bands on the radio, but the cool thing about listening to the minor league of the music industry is that when I go to concerts I’m not there with 20,000+ other people. I’m there with a couple dozen or a couple hundred. Oh yeah, that’s awesome.

My next concert will be Billy Bragg who is playing in Edinburgh this Sunday. It’s bound to be a bigger crowd than when I saw him in Seattle (where there were about 100 people in the audience) but it’s not going to be like the crowds I’ve been to for concerts at The Gorge or The Tacoma Dome.

Yep, when it comes to music, the minor leagues win my vote. And quite often, they even use minor chords and dissonance when they’re singing to me.

Coming home

I got the keys to my new flat this morning and have spent the day traipsing up and down several flights of stairs to get my belongs moved in—and more trips up and down to get groceries and bedding and a few other bits-and-bobs in.

There’s still lots and lots of unpacking to do. And there is still lots and lots of stuff to buy to make this place a home. But I’m sure it will be fun getting it all put together.

It’s a bit strange being in my own place now, but I think it’s going to be OK. Of course, since Rebecca is just around the corner, it’s not like I’ll be living in isolation!

I am going to resist the urge to write a long and boring description of my new flat. Instead, I’m just going to let you see it for yourself! And whilst you’re doing that, I’m going to pour myself a glass of wine to celebrate coming home.

Feeling fishy

Today I had a fish pedicure with my sister-in-law, Liz. I had heard about them but was never of the mindset to get one; however from the day I arrived more than two weeks ago, Liz was pretty sure I needed one. And as I’m a pretty curious person, I decided to give it a try—but I made her get one, too!

[See video below!]

According to the informational handout at the spa (Bam-Bou Fish Pedicure Spa):

‘…the fish suck and nibble the dry skin from your feet leaving you with healthy, rejuvenated skin. … These clever little fish can also stimulate acupuncture points, helping to regulate the nervous system, relax the body and release fatigue!

[It is a] totally natural and safe procedure whereby the Garra Rufa fish produce a specific enzyme whilst they suck and nibble away your dead and dry skin which then promotes the regrowth of the fresh, new skin below.’

You need only Google ‘fish pedicure’ to see that it’s a procedure banned in several US states and Canadian provinces, and that it’s a questionable practice in the UK at the moment. But at the same time, I did enough research to learn that it isn’t outright dangerous or unsanitary.

Anyhow, it was £10 for 15 minutes and we basically sat there and let these little fishies converge on our feet. It was very weird and I felt a bit squeamish at first, but once I got used to it I didn’t mind the tingly sensation. But, I don’t think it’s an experience I’ll repeat—I would much rather have a proper pedicure where the girl paints my toenails bright red at the end.

Do I recommend it? No, not really. But I wouldn’t try to dissuade you if you were curious. My only advice would be to make sure you find a place that takes hygiene seriously and that you take a friend so that you have someone to giggle with!

Bit of a wander

Yesterday was a completely new experience for me: Walking through the English countryside. The walk was suggested by Paul’s cousin, Olwen, and I happily accepted the offer. Though if I’m honest, I didn’t really know what to expect for it! And I wasn’t really prepared for a walk either, having only brought a pair of running shoes and casual clothes with me for my trip to England. Always the trooper, I was going to make do with the clothing I’d brought, but as luck would have it, Olwen had an old pair of boots that fit me as well as a spare rucksack.

Olwen is a regular walker and got in touch with her friends, Ernie and Dennis, to join us for the day. They picked a route that they’ve all done in the past, and we headed out in the car from Billingham through Whitby and into Robin Hood’s Bay where the walk began. It was then a nine-mile walk on a disused rail bed that took us up to Ravenscar then back down the way to Robin Hood’s Bay again. It’s meant to go along the beach, but a high tide meant that we walked along the tops of the cliffs instead. It was a very train-oriented journey (despite the fact that we were on foot) which made me happy because it meant loads of great photos for Mom!

After the walk, we drove into Whitby for some fish and chips. I’d only been there once before—on the last English holiday Paul and I took a few weeks before he died—so it was a bit of a happy-sad part to the day, but I’m glad we went. A bonus to the trip was seeing a steam train!

Now, I wanted to keep this post fairly short, but I have to talk about the steam train so that’s not going to happen! You see, when we pulled into Whitby everyone decided to take a detour to the old train viaduct, because of my excitement over the old rail line. As we walked out on the viaduct, Ernie thought he saw what looked like steam from an old train so we waited and waited to see it come by, only we decided it must be smoke from a bonfire.

Then we noticed smoke on the other side, right near Whitby, and thought maybe that was a train. And we waited and waited but no train came. But still I smiled because it reminded me of a friend’s trip to Wales where she sat and watched the dolphins play, only to later realise they were just waves. Of course, she’d already had the thrill of enjoying the dolphins, so decided not to let the reality get her down. And that’s what today’s non-trains were to me—a bit of a letdown because there wasn’t a train, but a lot of smiles whilst I waited for the trains that never showed.

Then we started to walk back to the car and I stopped and insisted that I heard a train. Really, I did! So we waited a bit longer and sure enough, an old steam train came chugging around the corner and under the viaduct! Yay!!

But I’ve gone on and on, so I’ll stop now. But because I know that Mom would have loved to see the old trails, I took a great amount of photos on the route. And now she (and you!) can see what the day was like for me. I know it’s not quite the same as being there, but it’ll have to do!

Oh, one last thing: I promised my former foster daughter occasional YouTube videos, so here’s a quick one of the sea coming in at Robin Hood’s Bay at the end of our walk.

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!

Playing make believe

Avid readers of Just Frances will remember that I shared my thankfulness for ‘make believe friends’ this past Thanksgiving. Well, it seems that my sister, Celeste, shared that story with her make believe friends at the same time. And one of those friends became a regular reader of my blog after that. Dawn began offering support and friendship through my blog and even found me on Facebook.

Well, this week Dawn is in Seattle as a tag-along spouse whilst her husband attends a conference. So she’s meeting her make believe friends in real life—and Celeste and I were first!

It really was interesting to meet with someone I’d only known online—but it seemed easy and very comfortable. Of course, I felt at ease with Dawn before meeting her, so that probably helped!

Now, not only was this Dawn’s first trip to Seattle, but it seems that it was Celeste’s first for many things, too, because she’s never really been a Seattle girl. So I was in tour guide heaven!

Our first stop was Starbucks #1, then we wandered across to Pike Place Market where we enjoyed the various booths and free samples—and watched with big smiles as they threw fish. Then, of course, it was down to Post Alley to stick our used chewing gum on the gum wall. (Really.)

Next up, we wandered along the Waterfront where I purchased a loaf of double sourdough bread from the Alaska Sourdough Bakery before we popped in to Ye Olde Curiosity Shop to see the mummies and three-headed pigs. (Really.)

Of course, all this wandering around made us hungry, so I had to introduce the girls to Dick’s Drive-In on Broadway. We all enjoyed Dick’s Deluxes, fries, and root beer, and then we were off to Volunteer Park where we enjoyed a walk around the conservatory and were pleasantly surprised to see a fantasy medieval-y battle group playing. Even better was that some of the players took time to talk to us about their group. (Really.)

Anyhow, it was a good day out and I’m glad to have gotten the chance to meet Dawn in real life.

Check out photos from the day here.

And check out a video from the battle people here!!

Bye bye, Schrodie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The last long weekend

I’m in the homeland enjoying a four-day weekend before the start of my final (three-day) work week. And as it happens to be Pioneer Days Weekend (in celebration of Independence Day) there is lots going on!

Yesterday was an annual barbeque at my eldest sister, Veronica’s, house—made so much better because it was the day after my 15-year-old niece, Krystyne’s, last radiation treatment! I can’t tell you how happy I am that my favourite Bug is cancer-free!

Then today I ran the Runner Stumbles 10K with my 12-year-old nephew, Haden, whilst my sister, Celeste, and 14-year-old niece, Flik, did the 5K. It was a bit of a hard race for me since I’d not run at all (bad girl!) since the half-marathon distance I did just over a month ago, coupled with the fact that I’m not long out of a two-week battle with an upper respiratory infection—which meant I did a lot of coughing on the route!!

But still, Haden and I managed to run the entire race. And whilst I was disappointed with my slower-than-desired time, I was so proud of Haden for coming in first in his age group (under 14). He’s a bit bummed that he was the only person in his group, but I reminded him that whilst loads of kids his age did the 5K route, he was the only one who had the courage and determination to do the 10K. And he ran the whole thing. A feat to be proud of for sure!

[See more of my races here.]

Then this evening, I grabbed Flik and Haden to head out to the old South Cle Elum train depot where my 16-year-old nephew, Nick, was playing with his band, The Blast-Ended Skrewts. The band has been together for about eight years and really do rock! (The YouTube video below should serve as proof to that statement!)

I’ll head home tomorrow and will hopefully find some nice local fireworks to watch. Then on Tuesday I will head out of a quick training run on the last day of my four-day weekend. A day that I’m also realising will be my last day off work—since you can’t count it as a day off work when you’re unemployed. Which I will be as of 5:01 p.m. on Friday, July 8.

Wow! I’m beat just thinking about all the activity of the weekend and coming week!

Loosey goosey

Back in February I told you about a never ending project I’ve been working on with left over bits of yarn. And I mentioned that the stitching was getting looser as I went, making the project all catawampus. At first, I thought I’d just deal with it. But then my obsessive compulsive tendencies got the better of me and I couldn’t continue.

All of the sudden, I began to stress out about this project. It seemed such a waste, but I couldn’t possibly accept this horribly skewed thing. So I thought I’d start completely over—stitching with a larger hook and using a loose stitch from the first row. That would make the project go faster, too, which sounded good to me. But once I began that plan—stitching as I unravelled—I determined that wouldn’t work either because it just didn’t look right.

So I started to think maybe I’d just bin the whole project. No harm; no foul.

But I couldn’t bring myself to do that. So my remaining option was to unravel to the point where my stitching went awry. That thought made me sad, but at least there wouldn’t be any waste.

Which means I’ve spent a couple of hours unravelling my lovely afghan. And now I get to spend many, many, many more re-stitching. And, with a bit of consistency and discipline, maybe it will work the way it’s meant to this time around.

(One day, Mom, this will make it to your bed. I promise!)

Catch a falling star

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

[Sung to the tune of Catch a Falling Star]

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

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

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

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

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

A dialect vlog

I’ve decided to take part in the ‘Dialect Vlog’* craze so today you get to see me on camera. Yay!

Here’s how it works: I have a list of words to read and a list of questions to answer. The idea is that someone studying linguistics can map the differences in dialect from one region to the next. I’ve included the words and questions under the video for you to follow along—or for you to use in creating your own Dialect Vlog.

[I’ll spare you my ramble about the differences between languages, dialects, and accents—but please know there are differences between the terms.]

Here is a Dialect Vlog from a woman who grew up in the Pacific Northwest! For those linguists in the house who may wonder what the deal is with my dialect/accent, it should be noted that whilst I grew up in a rural community in Central Washington, I suffered through a couple years’ of speech therapy as a child, lived in Scotland for a spell as an adult, married an Englishman, and have a daily influence of British English through my addiction to EastEnders and regular conversations with family and friends in the UK. So, I offer my apologies for skewing the results!

Aunt, Route, Wash, Oil, Theatre, Iron, Salmon, Caramel, Fire, Water, Sure, Data, Ruin, Crayon, Toilet, New Orleans, Pecan, Both, Again, Probably, Spitting image, Alabama, Lawyer, Coupon, Mayonnaise, Syrup, Pyjamas, Caught

  • What is it called when you throw toilet paper on a house?
  • What is the bug that when you touch it, it curls into a ball?
  • What is the bubbly carbonated drink called? soda
  • What do you call gym shoes?
  • What do you say to address a group of people?
  • What do you call the kind of spider that has an oval-shaped body and extremely long legs?
  • What do you call your grandparents?
  • What do you call the wheeled contraption in which you carry groceries at the supermarket?
  • What do you call it when rain falls while the sun is shining?
  • What is the thing you change the TV channel with?

If you decide to take part and post your own dialect vlog, please let me know so that I can check out your video!

* I don’t know who started the concept or created the questions and word list and to be honest, I’ve not tried to search that hard. If you know where this started and can provide me with that information, I am happy to give complete credit where it is due.

Fannies and haggis

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

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

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

Check out photos from the weekend here!

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And check out some fun videos from the weekend below!

The life of tiny platelets

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

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

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

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

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!)

How hokey!

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

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

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

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

Happy 235th birthday, USMC!

Since 1775, the United States Marine Corps has been winning battles and defending our nation.

On what marks the 235th birthday of the Corps, I want to say that I am proud to be the daughter of two amazing Marines. I am proud of my amazing niece who is serving our country today. I am proud of all my family and friends who’ve served in the past and who will serve in the future.

Thank you for your service and thank you for protecting my freedoms.

Blagenda

WooHoo! I made a trip to the homeland this weekend to make blagenda with my folks and one of my sisters. Her kids and my foster daughter got in on the action, too.

We used an old family recipe that was brought over from Ukraine when my family emigrated/immigrated* a couple of generations ago. I don’t know just how old the recipe is, but it’s certainly a traditional dish for people of ‘Germans from Russia’ heritage.

If you’re wondering, blagenda is essentially a pumpkin turn-over or tart. It’s a basic short pastry filled with grated pumpkin then it’s baked for a bit. Growing up, we always had it as a savoury even though some families would add sugar and cinnamon to make it a sweet dish. This year, we gave the sweet-side a try and made a few with cinnamon and sugar ourselves.

We made more than 260 of the little guys in total. That’s a lot of pastry rolling and my arms are very, very sore now, having been the main pastry-roller-outer. In fact, I was so busy rolling pastry that I didn’t end up touching any of the pumpkin prior to it being placed in the pastry shells. (The task of peeling, chopping, and shredding pumpkin went to Mom, Celeste, and the kids.)

The recipe we followed is one that my Great Aunt Mary wrote down—but who knows how many times it was copied before then. If you care to give it a go, here’s a copy of the recipe for you, edited for grammar and clarity because it’s what I do!

Blagenda

Pumpkin mixture:

  • 6 cups grated pumpkin
  • ½ cup grated or chopped onion
  • 1½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper

Mix all together and let set ½ hour. It makes its own juice [NOTE: Juices should be drained before placed in pastry but save them and use them as a great soup base. Yum!]. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired.

Pastry:

  • 6 cups flour
  • 1½ cup shortening
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup sugar

Mix as you would a pie crust, adding milk as needed, and work well.  Roll out as you would pie crust and cut circles 3-6 inches wide. Place pumpkin mixture on half of pastry and flip the other half over to make a tart. [NOTE: For best results, use a bit of water to help seal the edges.] Bake at 350°F for about 20 minutes or until a nice golden brown. [NOTE: We baked for about 25 minutes – the size of your tarts will impact cooking time.]

[Side note: I was asked to give proper UK measurements, too, but haven’t got the math done yet. I will try to update later in the week but if you really can’t wait, US to UK measurements can be found here: US cups to UK weights (dry ingredients) and US to UK liquid conversions.]

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And—big surprise!—here are a couple of videos of the process for your enjoyment. (The second one is the best!)

[Another side note: After posting a story and video about making pickles, a friend gave me a bit of grief for not having demonstrated the proper technique for washing hands. I’m not going to do that now, either, but will say that you really must wash your hands before (and after) handling food. If you don’t know the proper technique, you can Google it.]

 

* Emigrate and immigrate have two different but similar meanings, if you didn’t know. Someone emigrates from a location and immigrates to a location. So, to use the terms in sentences: My maternal and paternal ancestors emigrated from Ukraine a couple of generations ago. And: My hope is to immigrate to Scotland in the next year.

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!

Papier-mâché pumpkins; Part 2

Yay! One week later and our fabulous papier-mâché pumpkins are done! This was a fun and inexpensive project and requires absolutely no talent what-so-ever. Plus, most of the supplies are probably things you already have in your home which makes it even easier. (Supply list below.)

The kid ran the camera for most of the project, including the video segments, so check out the step-by-step photo gallery to see 1) how you can make your own pumpkins and 2) what an amazing talent the kid has with a camera.

(In the photo: My pumpkin is on the left; the kid’s is on the right. And that’s Schrodie sniffin’ around.)

Here’s another video for your enjoyment. And if you missed the first set of videos you can check them out here or visit my YouTube channel. Yay!

Supply list for two pumpkins:

  • Newspaper
  • Cardboard
  • 2 cereal boxes (or similar weight material)
  • 1 paper towel cardboard roll thingy
  • Stapler and staples
  • Duct tape
  • Masking tape
  • Flour
  • Water
  • Paint
  • Paint brush
  • A fun CD of your choosing
  • A fun attitude! (This can be faked to start out if needed and at some point in the project, it will become genuine!)

Papier-mâché pumpkins; Part 1

Yay! We’ve been busy making papier-mâché pumpkins for two days now. I’m using a new technique (no balloons for this gal!) and it seems to be working out pretty well. I had to buy some orange paint, but other than that everything is either recycled materials or general household junk (staples, duct tape, flour, etc) which is pretty cool!

The kid is running the camera for this project (mostly) and has decided that we should share the videos of our pumpkins in progress right away, instead of waiting for the whole thing to be done.

So, here are some fun little videos for you. Check back next week for step-by-step photos of the whole project so that you can make your very own Papier-mâché pumpkin! [[UPDATE: See the photo gallery here!]]

Making the goop:

Pumpkin building:

The kid’s turn:

Donald, where’s yer troosers?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope you have a musical Friday!

10 on 10-10-10

WooHoo! Today is 10-10-10 and I’ve just run a 10K. Yay!

This makes me happy because:

I must admit that we were a bit slow because neither of us put in the training required for such a race. I could blame it on the fact that I can’t get out there and run because of my foster daughter, but that’s just an excuse. I could claim that I’ve been too stressed for training, but we all know that training would have brought about those lovely en‘Dolphins’ which would have helped to alleviate some of the stress, so that’s a rubbish excuse, too.

Still, I’ve managed a 10K on 10-10-10 which is more than most people I know have done today. So I’m going to take my accomplishment and be happy for it. And as I reminded Haden, no matter how slow we may have been, at least we did it!

Official times aren’t up yet, but we both finished in under 1:20 which was our goal. Haden was about 1:16:16 and I was about 1:16:21.

Yay! for me and Yay! for my nephew!

Check out more of my races here!

Crafty chick

I’d like to tell you that I’m completely over my blue mood, but that would be a lie. I have, however, been having an enjoyable weekend despite it.

My original plan for yesterday was to have a relaxing afternoon at the spa, but since the kid’s plans got cancelled, so did mine. So instead, the two of us went into town to pick up some craft supplies and to paint some ceramics at Wild @ Art. We ended up spending most of the day out-and-about but it was quite enjoyable. In the evening, we both worked on our silliness worksheets and after she went to bed I re-learned how to use watercolor paints.

Today we were going to spend some time doing some crafts together, but instead she abandoned me to go play with her friend. Which is cool because 1) kids should spend time playing with other kids and 2) I got some time alone after all!

So, instead, I’ve spent the morning coloring silly little picture frames and baking banana bread. Soon I will start making lunch (fried egg sandwiches, anyone?) then a big pot of split pea soup to re-stock the freezer.

The best part about getting all of this done so early in the day? There’s still plenty of time for an EastEnders omnibus and maybe I can even get started on my new Ian Rankin novel. Oh… and maybe I can even sneak a nice, long soak in the tub into the day somewhere. 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!

Gone fishin’

Back in July I was inspired by fish. It started as a general rambling, then turned to an actual plan for fishing on Labor Day Weekend. It was going to be great! Some friends from high school and I were all going to meet at our childhood fishin’ ponds and re-live our glory days. Soon, the fishing expedition grew as my friends planned to bring their kids. So I decided to bring my niece and nephew. And it was going to be fun.

Then I took a foster care placement and wondered if a fishing trip would still work. And I decided it would. So she was going to come, too. Then my friends all cancelled! So instead of being a fishing trip to remember my childhood, it became a fishing trip to build memories in the present-day childhoods of three amazing kids. (And memories for me and whilst I’m not a kid, I am pretty childish sometimes.)

Anyhow, we had a blast. Three fish were caught; none big enough for eating. One got tossed back; two became bait.

I forgot how fun fishing was. I may have to go again before all my new tackle rusts…

And look! Fun things for you!

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Oh, and be sure check out the little video my niece made below. I didn’t realize what she was doing at first, but it’s pretty good so I’m sharing it with you!

Hope you’ve all had a great Labor Day Weekend.

Sharing is nice

Image from: http://www.instantshift.com/2008/12/10/20-free-social-media-icon-sets-for-bloggers/When I started Just Frances I did so thinking that I’d just throw things out there randomly and that no one would read it. It wasn’t meant to be anything more than an outlet for thoughts – an outlet I felt I really needed because there wasn’t anyone sitting next to me on the couch every evening to share things with.

Soon, family and friends began reading and within a month my readership doubled. The following month, it grew a bit more. And eventually, ‘perfect strangers’ were reading. So I added a contact form and a way for readers to subscribe to new stories. And the blog kept growing.

Now, in the grand scheme of things, my readership isn’t that big – yet. But I’m now hearing from folks on a regular basis telling me how much they enjoy Just Frances. And I’m often asked if I’ve thought about doing this, that, or the next thing to make the blog more interactive for viewers.

I was asked to implement a rating system. So I did. It was suggested that little video clips of me talking to my readers would be fun. So the YouTube channel I created for Schrodie’s fans is now sharing space with my silly videos.

And I was asked to include ways to share posts via Facebook, Twitter, Digg, email, and more! But I was unable to do so until this week when WordPress finally rolled out sharing functions on their blog platform. (Thanks, WordPress!)

Well, dear readers, your sharing tools are now here, so share, share, share!

Now, selfishly, I should add that whilst I began this little blog as a way of sharing random thoughts with no expectation other than personal release, I’ve found that I enjoy knowing that others are reading. I’ve found that it really is great to know that there are people out there who have found enjoyment in my writings. Which, of course, just inflates my ego that little bit more.

OK! What does this mean to you? Well, it means that it’s now easier to share Just Frances with your friends. And it means that I listen to you – I really, really do listen to you! So feel free to get in touch and let me know what you would like to see or read more about. Let me know what other changes you’d like to see to the site. And feel free to let me know what you don’t like. I may not take all of your suggestions, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want them!

Oh, and feel free to subscribe for email updates, too. Then you know you’ll never miss another amazingly-awesome installment from Just Frances!

Thanks for reading! ::kiss kiss::

Great-grandma’s pickles

Yay! Pickle-making weekend has finally arrived. And just in time, as I was out of pickles.

My folks arrived Friday night with freshly-picked cucumbers from Imperial’s Garden outside of Wapato. They also brought with them my 13-year-old niece and 11-year-old nephew. (A couple of hours later, the kids’ mom arrived with beer for me from her man, JohnnyO, who knows I like good beer. That deserves an extra yay*!)

On Saturday, my nephew and I woke up early for go for a morning run through the wheat fields as part of our training for our 10k race that takes place on 10-10-10. We’d expected to come home to the smells of breakfast cooking, but the rest of the house was still sleeping! When they (finally) woke, we had a big breakfast to fuel us for a long day of pickle production.

My family’s dill pickles are the best! We use my (maternal) great-grandma’s recipe – with a couple of minor tweaks because of modern-day USDA guidelines. Despite the government’s intrusion**, they’re fantastic pickles!

My niece and foster daughter helped a bit with sorting cucumbers in the beginning, but spent most of the day hiding in the kid’s room playing. My nephew, however, spent the entire day helping make pickles with an amazing amount of enthusiasm! To reward him for his hard work, he will get to taste the first pickle when they’re ready. To remind the girls that today was a team effort, they did all the dishes whilst the rest of us relaxed in the living room. (This reminder didn’t sit well with the dish-doers!)

I know you wish you were here with us for this exciting pickle-making weekend, so I come bearing fun things for you! Yes! Another YouTube video, a photo gallery, and a recipe! Wow! Totally awesome!

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Want to make your own pickles? Here’s the recipe***:

Mom’s Dill Pickles
(But really, they’re my great-grandma’s)

Put 1 quart cider vinegar, 1 quart water, and ½ cup pickling salt together in a non-reactive**** saucepan and boil for a few minutes. Then pour the mixture over small cucumbers which are packed tightly into jars along with garlic, peppers, and fresh dill. (Ratios to your taste.) Process in water bath for 15 minutes.

Want to try one of the totally awesome pickles that I made? Well, unless you’re a close friend or family member with plans to visit me in the next wee while, you probably can’t. Sorry about that!

Oh! And how about a little lesson, too!?

* I haven’t decided if the extra yay was for the beer or my sister’s arrival.
** We are not bound by these guidelines, but if we want to enter things in the county fair, they must be made to USDA standards. Oh, and it’s meant to be safer.
*** Ratios of water/vinegar have been changed from the original to be in line with what we made. Dad also points out that some of the reasoning for this is that ‘in the olden days’ vinegar was more acidic that it is today.
**** Non-reactive saucepans are a stainless steel, chip-free enamelware pan, or glass pans.

Stick it ‘n lick it

I really like candy. Especially candy that comes on a stick. Candy on a stick is great fun because of the added bonus of using your hands to eat – a feeding style that is dear to my heart. You name it, I love it! Suckers, lollipops, Tootsie Pops, Dum·Dum·Pops, Drumsticks, Chupa Chups, Sugar Daddies… oh, the list goes on and on!

Before getting to the main point, though, let’s just get the Tootsie Pop stuff dealt with. First: How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop? Well, it’s either three or ‘the world may never know’ – depending on which answer from the 1980s-era commercial you want to believe. Second: The whole Indian shooting a star on the wrapper legend. But I’ve already written about that one, and you can read about it here.

OK? Ready to move on? Great!

I want to talk about the “Eww Factor.” Yes, that’s right, this post is really all about the eww factor.

Am I the only one who finds it a bit odd that there is an exception to the rule that says to keep your food in your mouth? Instead, we find it acceptable to carry on a conversation whilst holding a saliva-covered piece of confection in our hand. And at some point, let’s be honest, some of them get pretty icky looking – especially the ones with ooey, gooey fillings.

I mean, no one would tolerate me removing a chunk of half-masticated steak from my mouth then holding it on my fork for all to see during a conversation. So why is it acceptable to do it with a Tootsie Pop?

I don’t know if there is a real point to this post, but I would love your views on why it’s acceptable – or even your views on why it’s not acceptable.

Thoughts?

NOTE: No matter how disgusting I think it is, I will continue to suck on my lollipops – in public or not – because I can. Until Emily Post tells me otherwise at least.

Correct-handed

Today is International Left-Handers’ Day. Yay! A whole day set aside to celebrate the awesomeness of being a lefty!

So, for my part of the celebration, I’ve made another ridiculous YouTube video. It’s a bit long (nearly eight minutes), but check it out to learn all about my prized left-handed possessions!

Wasn’t that fun? But, moving on…

Some interesting things to ponder:

  • Estimates vary on the percentage of left-handers in the world from a low of 5 percent to a high of 15 percent
  • Left-handers are made with 100% pure awesomeness
  • Left-handers are thought to have a higher likelihood of being dyslexic or of stuttering
  • Most left-handers draw figures facing to the right
  • Twenty percent of all Mensa members are left-handed
  • Left-handers are 100% beautiful
  • As seen from the North Pole, the Earth rotates to the left, counterclockwise, and proceeds to the left around the sun
  • International Left Hander’s Day was first celebrated on August 13, 1976
  • Everyone is born right handed, and only the greatest overcome it
  • Left-handers are made with 100% pure awesomeness (that fact deserved repeating)

Wanna purchase left-handed things? Here are some great resources to check out*:

Oh, and since it’s my blog, I have to give a shout out to some of my favorite lefties!

  • My Daddy, who taught me how to use my correct hand;
  • My bestest friend, Rachel;
  • My really cool nephew, Adrian;
  • My really cool nephew, Stephen;
  • My maternal uncles Fred and Joe;
  • And my favorite lefty ever, my amazingly-awesome husband, Paul, who loved how excited I got about this day every year!
  • (Oh, and a special mention to Ned Flanders and Kermit, too!)

So, again, Happy International Left-Handers’ Day!!

* I am merely providing links and cannot offer an endorsement on any of these outlets. I’ve never used them; I don’t receive any benefits from you using them. These were all found my searching the terms “left-handed products” in Google.

Rainbows

This is one of those funny posts for me. It started because I had a thought about rainbows, which then led me down a path of remembering the first time I felt joy and sorrow simultaneously (on a trip to Edinburgh), which then led me to a statement declaring I would give a friend money for having not fessed up that I’d already been through a ‘scary’ tourist trap that he wanted to take me through. I think the moment I realized I was going to part with my money was the moment I realized that I needed to get back on topic.

So… back to the topic of rainbows.

I can never decide if rainbows make me happy or sad. I can never decide if the dreams that they hold make up for the fact that they are merely an illusion. It makes me smile to look at them, but it’s so frustrating that – try as I may – I can never catch one. I can never hold one. I can never feel the array of colors in my hands. And there certainly isn’t a pot of gold at the end of one – as much as I want to believe there is. As a child, I knew it was there. And there was once a time that I allowed my adult self to imagine that maybe, just maybe, it’s there – hiding behind the mask of grown-up cynicism.

I guess that the truth is that I struggle some days. I struggle to find the energy to believe that there might just be a pot of gold at the end of that rainbow. But I want to believe that the illusion is real. I want to believe that one day I will be walking along and all of the sudden a rainbow appears in all of it’s Roy G. Biv greatness and I’ll be able to reach out and touch it. I’ll be able to feel it’s glow. And I’ll have a wee chat with the leprechaun charged with protecting that pot of gold.

As part of my goal to be blissfully happy, I am going to start giving rainbows a chance. I am going to work to find that innocent joy in the simplicity of nature’s gift. And I’m going to find more reasons to be happy about rainbows than sad about them.

I know, it’s sort of a nonsense post today. I blame it on Kermit.

And the winner is…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cold theory

So I’m sitting here drinking a proper beer with my sister and brother-not-in-law, JohnnyO. (JohnnyO is drinking Bud Light, which is almost proper beer, so that’s OK.) A question of if my beer is ‘ice cold’ turns the conversation to the ridiculous ‘cold activation’ sensor-thingy on the side of a can of Coors Light. [I’m shuddering at the thought of drinking said beverage regardless of the temperature.]

Anyhow, being one of those people who must find an answer for anything, even if it’s made up, I had to answer JohnnyO when he asked “What’s up with that?” with complete disdain in his voice.

And here’s my theory:

You know those people who are really dumb and hold Roman Candles in their hands whilst the fiery balls of flaming sulfur fly into the sky? Or the ones who stop at the gas station because their car is a bit noisy then grab the muffler to see if it’s securely attached to the car? Or the woman (or man) who checks to see if the curling iron is hot enough by wrapping their hand around the barrel? You know, the people who end up at the Harborview Burn Center for skin grafts causing them to lose sensation in their hands?

Well, I think that those are the people Coors is marketing to. The people with no feeling in their hands. And who like cheap, crap lagers. And need a way to tell if it’s ice cold.

When I rule the world, I will make certain that my Drinks Tsar makes eliminating Coors and other icky lagers* a priority.

* Icky lagers are to be defined as those un-liked by me as well as the lucky person who gets to be Drinks Tsar.

The kid days of summer

My niece and nephew came out for a week of WSU summer camps. Flik to an over-night camp for smarty-pants kids and Haden to a day camp for kids who like to play hard!

We had a blast – and I took advantage of the free child labor. (Thanks, Haden!)

Check out the photos from our visit here!

Or check out the short video below for proof that kids will work hard – if it’s for someone other than their parents!

Pomplamoose

A few months ago I had a great conversation about music with a perfect stranger. It seems we both liked the same sorts of random bits of everything, but have a soft spot for slightly off-the-wall stuff. After that first (and only) meeting, he started to send very random emails with links to other obscure(ish) bands that he thought I might like.

One of the first bands he told me about was Pomplamoose. They do mostly covers but also write a few of their own tunes. They’re kinda indie-jazzy-alternative-y, which is cool. But the part that I love is that the two members of the ‘band’ manage to record and mix some fab little videos where they piece it all together so that you can really see how they’ve made them.

Quoting from the ‘ever-wise-and-wonderful’ Wikipedia:

Their videos mostly take the form of “VideoSongs”, a medium Jack Conte defines with two rules:
1. What you see is what you hear. (No lip-syncing for instruments or voice)
2. If you hear it, at some point you see it. (No hidden sounds)

Anyhow, I like them and you should, too.*

*I am not on commission. I just like them. Honestly.

The Fishing Song

Last week I posted a silly ramble about all things fish. That ramble prompted a childhood friend to suggest we grab our poles and head out to Hanson Ponds like we did back in the good ol’ days.

So, we’ve decided to get our fishing licenses and spend Labor Day Weekend in the homeland reminiscing about the simpler days of yore.

But all of this fish talk got me thinking about a fishing song I love, “Fishin’ in the Dark” by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. So I had to go to YouTube to listen to it. Which, as you may know, meant that I spent a while clicking through countless other videos. Which brought me to perhaps one of the best fishing songs I’ve ever heard.

Check it out! After all, Wednesdays aren’t as much fun without a little laughter!

Happy fishin’!

God bless the USA

On July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress of the United States of America signed the Declaration of Independence, announcing their departure from the rule of Great Britain.

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…

It was an act of disobedience; an act of war. Some would say war against an absent king; some would say war against ourselves.

It was an act of bravery; an act of independence. It was the first step in the creation of the truly great United States of America. And today, across the nation, we celebrate our freedoms.

In the words of the great Lee Greenwood:

And I’m proud to be an American
where at least I know I’m free,
And I won’t forget the men who died
who gave that right to me,
And I gladly stand up next to you
and defend her still today,
‘Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land
God Bless the USA

Have a happy and safe Independence Day!

American pride

As I was getting ready to head to the homeland for 4th of July weekend, I realized it was high time I switched out handbags. As I’d need to bring my camera and my iPod and loads of candy for the nieces and nephews, I knew it would need to be a slightly larger bag. Opening my handbag closet (yes, I have one) I knew in an instant which one it would need to be.

I got this bag at a funky little shop right next to Fopp on Cockburn Street in Edinburgh. (That’s Co-Burn for my fellow Americans who feel the need to say it out loud – unless you want to be laughed at. Trust me.) It’s one of my “holiday” bags – which is a selection of bags that will carry more than my normal, minimal amount of junk. That way I can put little souvenirs in as I’m wandering around whatever great place I’m visiting and don’t have to worry about my hands getting full.

When I switch out bags, I will often leave little bits in the old one that aren’t needed. I often smile as I go through that rubbish months later because it’s a bit of a history lesson. In this case, I can be pretty certain that the last time I used this bag was late-November or early-December 2008. I know this because there are hand-written notes that I took whilst speaking with our social worker about a couple of young kids that were ready for adoption (sadly, we were not the right match for them).

Of course, I also found a small handful of peppermint candies. So they get to stay in the bag and maybe they’ll finally get eaten!

Yep, another pointless post. To make up for it, here’s a fantastic video to get you in the mood for America’s birthday tomorrow!

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.

Wear your hair in bunches

Following up on last Friday’s pigtail challenge, here’s a fun little song I have to share with you. I’d never heard it before meeting Paul, but each and every time I’d put my hair in pigtails (that’s bunches for my UK followers) he would sing this song in a funny little voice. And, of course, that means every time I wear pigtails I think of this song and every time I think of this song I think of Paul. But then, most things make me think of Paul so that’s not a surprise!

Happy Friday!

(Oh, and if you wondered, all of this came up because I had my iPod set to random play in the office today and this song came on.)

Mrs. Ryan

Five years ago today, I became Mrs. Ryan. It was truly the happiest day of my life. This is my second wedding anniversary without Mr. Ryan; the first came less than a month after he died. If he was here with me, we’d be celebrating by having a nice meal and reminiscing about how we met and all of the wonderful things that brought us to this day. We really were blessed. Instead, I don’t find I have much to celebrate. But I will always have memories of the day I became Mrs. Ryan, and the nearly four years of joy that followed.

Paul created a couple of short photo videos to share with our family and friends who were unable to attend our wedding, so I thought that I’d share them with you here today.

The ‘formal’ shots
YouTube did not allow me to upload this video with the music Paul had is set to, so the track on the embedded video isn’t as fun. Click here to load the original version.

The ‘candid’ shots
This one loaded with the original music. So no other link needed!

Vinyl issues

I’ve finally gotten around to my first attempt at digitalizing my vinyl collection. Actually, I’ve started with my parents’ collection, as it’s their fancy-schmancy machine. And can I just say it’s a bit of a bizarre world when dealing with LPs is a confusing and difficult task?!

So far, I’ve transfered one record: Roger Miller’s The 3rd Time Around. Now, I don’t know if it’s because it’s an old record, a dirty record, or an overly-sensitive recording device, but I’ve heard more clear sounding music when driving through the Snoqualmie Pass snow shed attempting to listen to KXLE. Yes, it’s that scratchy and crackly sounding!

That’s problem #1. Problem #2 is that the software doesn’t automatically save each song as an individual file. Of course, this may be due to the recording quality and maybe with a newer album – or with a cleaner album – it will work just fine. Problem #3 then is that when transferred to iTunes (and subsequently my iPod) instead of having 12 songs that are approximately two minutes each, I have to play it as a single album of a little more than 27 minutes.

Because I won’t be out-done and shown-up by a simple piece of technology, I will figure these issues out. My first step is to re-learn the art of properly cleaning vinyl. Once I see how the recording works on a clean record, I will make further changes to the process. If Paul were here, he’d have it all figured out already. He was, after all, the music maker in our family. But he’s not here and I’m sure he’s giggling at me from above as I attempt with difficulty what he would accomplish with relative ease.

And because I’ve been told by my young niece, Flik, that Schrodie isn’t getting enough air time, here’s a little video of her playing with the box that the record player came in for you to enjoy!

Stay tuned for more exciting installments of this dynamic and fascinating story…