Swirl-flies

So I spent the past weekend on the couch dying of the common cold. OK, I wasn’t dying, but I wasn’t feeling too great, either. However, all that time convalescing meant time spent swirling!

I’ve got a couple of swirls on the go at the moment—including a blue one that [finally] nearing completion and one for the winner of my anniversary contest who asked that I donate the finished piece. (You have to wait for details on that, sorry!) And I will soon be starting a new swirl for an amazingly awesome woman I know.

But all this swirling got me thinking that I wanted to expand my abilities a bit. I still want to do swirls; I just want to make them a bit more… I don’t know… something. So I’ve decided to create a butterfly swirl.

Generally, I completely free-hand my swirls, but I felt that I needed to pre-sketch the butterfly to make sure each side was even. The next step will be to colour in the swirls of the butterfly before free-hand swirling the rest of the piece.

I am a little bit concerned that a symmetrical focal point surrounded by random swirls might make it a bit unbalanced, but it might work. And if it doesn’t, that’s OK because I have a couple of other ideas on how to incorporate butterflies into the swirls.

Oh yeah, I also spent quite a bit of time reading and doing academic-y stuff. I’m a good girl like that.

Moleskine inspirations

I write. In fact, I think it would be fair to say that I’m a writer. And as any good writer does, I carry a notebook with me everywhere I go so that when inspiration hits, I am prepared!

In recent years, I’ve found myself carrying small Moleskines with me—whilst leaving my larger notebooks (and journals) at home. I’ve found them useful tools for jotting down thoughts and ideas (many of which get transferred to my larger notebooks) but also for the purpose of shopping and to-do lists.

And to serve as a constant inspirational tool, I’ve taken to adding an inspirational quote on the cover.

Today I found myself calling a new book into service, which means a new quote.

And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.
~ Sylvia Plath

Yes, I’m feeling inspired. In fact, I almost feel a poem coming on…

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?

Doing nothing, online

A little while ago, I told you about my classes for spring semester and how one of those classes included blogging. Well, yesterday I posted my first blogging assignment, and I’m sharing it with you today. (Wow! I can actually hear you shouting with joy over that little fact!)

This post was meant to get everyone used to the blogging environment (yeah, I’ve got that down pat!). We were asked to share something we liked online—a website, video clip, playlist, or even another blog. I thought it would be a bit churlish to share Just Frances, so I chose anther website that I really like.

So, here’s my first academic blog post!

Doing nothing, online

I am a pretty well-connected gal. I spend countless hours interacting with family, friends, and perfect strangers through social media on my computer and phone every day. I Facebook and Tweet daily. I Skype and blog and email and Yelp—and have even recently started pinning.

But sometimes I like to do nothing. Sometimes, I like to put my feet up and meditate a bit. Online. Because that’s what a well-connected gal does!

Do Nothing for 2 Minutes is a great reminder that we all need to unplug and unwind from time-to-time. I admit that there is a certain amount of irony to the site, but I think that’s why I like it so much. And, surprisingly, as someone who may be a little bit a lot addicted to interacting with social media, I am pretty good at sitting still and doing nothing for two minutes. (Though it did take a lot of practice before I succeeded!)

Oh yeah, and when you’re done doing nothing, you’re asked to share your success on Facebook, Twitter, or StumbleUpon. Because what’s the point of doing nothing online if you can’t tell all of your friends about it?

Random thoughts: The wisdom of age

Random thoughts—Week 4: Write a story about letting go, where the main character is a factory worker and a locket is a key object in the story. Set your story in an apartment.

The wisdom of age

Sylvia sat on the floor of the empty flat, tears streaming down her face as she stared at the silver locket in her hands. She looked around at the bare walls and thought of the photos that hung there just a short while ago. There had been so many of them, each filled with more memories than their simple frames could possibly have held. She thought about all of those picture hooks in the walls and allowed herself a crooked smile as she realised that the deposit would be lost because of them. But, she rationalised, that was a small price to pay for the smiles those photos encouraged over the years.

She would miss coming here to visit her neighbour, an octogenarian widow with no children; no family. Over the years they’d bonded. The old woman told her stories about her travels and adventures; she offered an ear and advice for the younger woman who was far from home and hoping to find her own way in the world. The old woman felt Sylvia was wasting her time working in a factory—a job she hated and that didn’t allow her to take time to travel. The old woman was so full of kindness and wisdom and Sylvia would miss her. Yes, she would miss her friend for the rest of her life.

The will was simple: Sell or donate everything—except for one item of Sylvia’s choice. And then, stop wishing and planning for adventures and go find them! Sylvia was the sole beneficiary. When she was first told of the will, she imagined there would be just enough money to pay for expenses, and maybe a spa weekend. The old woman had lived very meagrely. It looked as if all of her furniture—and probably her clothes—were found at charity shops and flea markets.

She allowed herself another smile as she looked down at the silver locket again. The old woman wore it every day and often touched it, telling her that it contained photos of the people she cared for most in the world. It was only after the old woman died that she knew who those people were: They were the woman’s husband and Sylvia. It was all Sylvia needed to convince herself to make a change.

Sylvia stood and walked across the room with determination. She picked up the phone and called her boss at the factory. She beamed from ear-to-ear as she informed the person on the other end that she was tendering her resignation. She was tired of working for peanuts; tired of working in a dead end job. The old woman was right: If you aren’t following your hopes and dreams, you’re not really living.

A few hours later, Sylvia was in the attorney’s office. He informed her that the estate auction had done better than expected. But, more than that, he informed her of the life insurance that was left—and the stocks and bonds. It would seem that the old woman left more than Sylvia ever could have dreamed.

Sylvia rose slowly, touching the locket that now hung from her neck. The old woman told her that life always had a funny way of working out. Yes, Sylvia thought, life was funny. She would miss her friend; the friend who taught her about what was important in life.

And now, she was letting go of her fears and worries; she was letting go of the uncertainties that had kept her from following her dreams for too long. She was letting go and moving on. She was, after all, the sole beneficiary of a secret millionaire and she had a promise to keep; a promise to find adventures of her own.

Poor man’s casserole

Growing up, I loved it when I was informed that we were having Poor Man’s Casserole for dinner. It was such a basic meal, but it was rather stodgy and really yummy. It never would have been named as a favourite food, but it never would have been on my ‘don’t like’ list either.

So, when I looked in the cupboards and realised that I had everything I needed to make the dish for tonight’s dinner, I was excited at the prospect of enjoying a meal from childhood. But I’ve renamed it to fit my circumstances better. Instead of Poor Man’s Casserole, I’m calling it Starving Student’s Stodge. Because, well, I’m a starving student on a budget. And I like stodge.

For your own budgeting purposes, the meal can be made for less than £5 (if you buy the cheap beef and generic/store brand beans) and will serve 4-6 people. So, around £1 per serving. Of course, I splurged on better quality beef with a lower fat content, so mine was a bit more than that. (Yes, no matter how tight my budget, I always opt for the better cuts of meat!)

Wanna make it at home? Here’s how!

Starving Student’s Stodge

  • 2-3 raw potatoes
  • 1 small sliced onion
  • 1 pound ground beef (UK: Minced beef)
  • 2 tins pork-n-beans (UK: Baked beans)
  • Salt and pepper as desired

Layer sliced, raw potatoes on the bottom of a casserole dish; place sliced onion on top. Press ground beef (uncooked) over potatoes and onion. Salt and pepper as desired (I omit these). Pour beans over beef. Cover and bake in 350°f (175°c) oven for 1.5 hours.

My parents also added a tin of condensed tomato soup on top, but I omit that part. Also, I’ve considered layering some fresh tomatoes, peppers, or mushrooms in with the onion, but I’m not that posh!

Hushed hooking

I started a new crochet project back in January. But I couldn’t tell you about it because it was for my friend’s birthday present. And she’s such a good friend that she reads my blog all the time. And I knew that even if I tried to talk about it without saying what or who it was for, it would ruin the surprise.

But, it’s done now and it’s been delivered. So now I can tell you about the lovely blue throw blanket that I made for the lovely Rebecca’s birthday.

Oh yeah! That’s another thing: Rebecca gets a birthday this year. In fact, she gets a birthday tomorrow. Yep, she’s a Leap Day Baby!

Happy birthday, Rebecca! I hope that you have an amazing day! (And make the most of it, since you don’t get another birthday for four years!)

The other birthday girl

I share the title of Middle Sister with my younger sister, Celeste; there are two older than me and two younger than her. I also share my birth month with her. I’m nice like that.

Over the years, we’ve shared a bedroom; we’ve shared clothes; and we’ve shared meals. We’ve shared secrets and dreams; we’ve shared hopes and fears; and we’ve shared laughter and tears.

And since today is her day, I’m going to share some of my blog space with her, too!

So, happy birthday, Celeste. I hope you have a fabby-dabby day!

 

I [heart] root beer

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

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

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

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

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

Random thoughts: Simple pleasures

Random thoughts—Week 3: List 31 simple pleasures; pick one and write about it.

Last year I was challenged to write a list of 30 things that made me smile and I imagine that this list may include a few duplicates, but I will try to keep those to a minimum.

  1. Finding coins as I’m walking down the road
  2. Unexpected postcards (heck, even expected postcards!)
  3. Lunch with friends
  4. Internet chats and phone calls with my nieces and nephews
  5. Dirty Martinis
  6. Seeing children skipping down the road
  7. Skipping down the road (yes, even as a full-grown woman, I do that sometimes!)
  8. Hearing a favourite song on the radio
  9. Watching a favourite movie on television
  10. Long soaks in a hot bath
  11. Finding my favourite [whatever] on sale
  12. Smells that rekindle a happy memory
  13. Running
  14. A well-cooked steak (that would be medium-rare, thank you!)
  15. Riding on carousels
  16. Playing on swing sets
  17. The feeling of the sun on my face
  18. Flirtatious encounters with cute boys (even when I know I’ll never see them again)
  19. A quiet night in with some jazz, red wine, candle light, and a good book
  20. Sleeping in on a Saturday morning after a long week at work (or school)
  21. Finding a ‘new’ vintage handbag that I love—and can afford!
  22. Watching (and listening to) a massive rain storm—complete with thunder and lightning
  23. Seeing my friends happy and giddy with excitement
  24. Waking up dreading going to work, only to realise it’s the weekend
  25. Walking barefoot in the grass or on a sandy beach
  26. Gravy style popcorn
  27. Picnics in the park
  28. Finishing a craft project
  29. Weekend city breaks to fantastic places
  30. Finding an out-of-the-way pub that sells great beer—but that no one knows about!
  31. Hugs and kisses from family and friends

Now, I know that I’m meant to write about just one of these things, but it would seem that I had a fantastic opportunity to combine a few in one. So, here’s a wee story about something that happened when I was in Cambridge this weekend:

I woke up early to go for a run on Saturday (No 13). And after the run, I had a bit of time to waste waiting for my running partner (who’d gone off for a longer trek!). So, as I waited, I found myself (literally) skipping (No 7) over to the playground where I plopped myself down on a swing (No 16). And as I swung, I noticed some shiny things on the ground below. Sure enough, those shiny things were coins—33 pence worth of them (No 1)!

Of course, the weekend also included Nos: 3, 12, 17, 23, 29, 30, and 31. And loads of other simple pleasures that didn’t make the list.

Oh! And be sure to check out Rebecca’s blog to see what she wrote for her topic this week!

Hunger pains

I’ve been thinking about hunger for a few days now—ever since I signed up to participate in Art House Co-op’sThe Meal’ project. The project is meant as a ‘shared meal’ around the globe, whilst at the same time bringing the issue of hunger to mind, and has certainly given me a lot to think about.

Growing up, I was always starving. Well, at least I was pretty convinced that I was starving in my pleas to my parents for a snack less than an hour before dinner was served—a dinner that would have come after I’d already been fed a nutritionally balanced breakfast and lunch earlier in the day.

The fact was, however, that I was far from starving. My sisters and I never went without food for more than a few hours at a time. And when we were given food, there was more than enough to go around. We may not have liked what we were being served, but we were always provided with healthy and nutritious meals.

Not only were we provided with food growing up, but we were given invaluable lessons on how to prepare foods. Those lessons mean that I am able to feed myself well as an adult—even when I’m on a tight budget. And living in a modern, Western society means that I will always have food available to me.

But not everyone is so lucky. In fact, according to Action for Hunger International, nearly a billion people are affected by global hunger. Additionally, deadly acute malnutrition affects 55 million children worldwide—despite it being preventable and treatable. (See the ACF’s map of nations most affected by acute malnutrition here.)

So, here are some more quick facts for you:
(Source: World Food Programme hunger stats)

  • Hunger is the world’s No 1 health risk, killing more people than AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis each year—combined.
  • One in seven people go to bed hungry every day.
  • One in four children in developing countries are underweight.
  • There are more hungry people in the world than the combined populations of the USA, Canada, and the European Union.

Let’s compare that to these facts:

There is enough food grown and produced in the world to feed everyone but, shockingly, there are many barriers that prevent it from getting into the hands of those who need it: Natural disasters such as floods and storms destroy crops. Drought and climate change have caused crop failures as well as the loss of livestock. Wars and conflicts—as well as shoddy infrastructure—prevent the transportation and distribution of food. Poverty prevents people from accessing proper nutrition. And poor farming practices leave land stripped of its nutrients—or at risk of erosion or deforestation.

Fixing the problem isn’t as easy as packing up your un-eaten leftovers and shipping them off to Ethiopia. It’s not as easy as handing someone a fish—and in many cases, it’s not even as simple as teaching someone to fish.

But that doesn’t mean we’re helpless in the fight against hunger. Action Against Hunger International offers a selection of ways to take action and help. Yes, money is great and does a lot to help the cause, but it’s not the only way to help. You can give your time by educating others about world hunger (Facebook and blogs are great tools for that!) or by volunteering at food banks or other community organisations that strive to eliminate poverty.

And now, I’m going to ask you to take action. Oh yes, I am! But I’m not asking you to give money or volunteer (though I urge you to do so if you feel so inclined!).

Instead, I ask that you think about food. Think about all of the food in your cupboards, all of the food you eat, and all of the food you throw away. Think about it and talk about it with your children. Then give thanks for all you have. Because even if all you have is a tin of baked beans and a bag of rice, it’s still more than some people have.

And if, after you’ve thought about it, you want to do something more, visit Action for Hunger International’s website or stop into one of the homeless shelters or community action centres where you live to see what you can do to make a difference.

Wow. All of that about hunger. And we’ve only scratched the surface.

(Thanks for reading!)

A Lenten poem

I’ve written about Lent and my beliefs in the past (2010; 2011) but try as I may, this year I couldn’t come up with the words. Not because of a lack of faith, but rather because I don’t know what more I can add to the discussion.

And so, I’ve found a poem to share instead, as a way of celebrating this very important day in my spiritual life. I hope that you all have a blessed Lenten season, full of the love and peace, and the salvation of Christ.

A Poem about Lent
by Elena dal Friuli

Jesus prayed and fasted for forty days
In the desert long time ago.
He showed endurance and restraint
With temptation as His foe.

The length of Lent is forty days
For us a time of preparation.
It starts on Wednesday we call Ash
And it ends with Easter’s celebration.

We follow Lent to follow Him
A time of sacrifice and prayer
We give up something we desire
That His example we might share.

By giving up some things in life
During this time of preparation
We show Him that we too are willing
To overcome our own temptation.

Oh, what joy that Lent will bring
At the end of the forty days
When Sunday’s bells will ring
With Resurrection’s praise.

A birthday in Crieff, not grief

It’s here! It’s here! The start of my 38th year of life is here! (Translation: Yay! It’s my 38th birthday!)

My birthday, if I’m honest, has rarely been a day of great excitement and celebration for me. For many reasons, it’s just a day of stress and upset. And, it would seem, a day when bad things seem to happen! Of course, since Paul died, the day is even more stressful. (For a history lesson, read about my 36th birthday and pre-birthday spa day or my 37th birthday wishes!)

But, as you may recall, I decided to take myself away for my birthday this year, in the hopes of distracting myself from my birthday and in an effort to fall in love with solo travelling again. Yes, I opted for a trip to Crieff to stave off the birthday-triggered grief!

Of course, you may know that the entire reason for this trip was that someone had told me about a sweetie shop that is hailed as the No. 1 sweetie shop in all of Scotland—Gordon and Durward’s, home of the Sugared Mice—and by now you probably know that I love candy. A lot. And when I got there, well, I was like a kid in a candy shop! It was like a little corner of heaven made just for me! And I got to see them making fudge, which was neat. I did manage some self control (I set a budget before I walked through the door) but I also did manage to get a bag full of goodies: Pick-n-mix gummy sweets, three flavours of fudge, a couple candy necklaces, and four sugared mice (I’d have bought five mice, but they were out of green).

After that sweet little visit, I wandered across the road to have lunch at The Lounge. I hadn’t really planned to talk about my lunch, but it was so fantastic that I have to sing some praises. You see, I ordered the Cesar salad because it was advertised as coming with calamari, which is different, and therefore interesting. But what I really enjoyed was that there were whole anchovies on top of the salad! So many places don’t do that anymore. In fact, the last time I had anchovies on my Cesar salad I was in my very early 20s! So, great big kudos to The Lounge! If I lived locally, I’d be back!

When I was done with lunch, I made my way back to the hotel where I treated myself to a spa treatment before settling into my room for a couple hours’ of nothingness. Ah, nothingness! And thanks to television and a WiFi connection, I managed a lot of nothingness! (Oh, and I managed to paint my fingernails, too!)

Next, it was time for dinner. I chose to eat in the formal dining room (a great excuse to wear my pretty red dress!) and am so pleased that I did! Fancy pigeon breasts for a starter; filet steak for my main; and Guinness cheddar on rustic bread for dessert. All enjoyed with a rich red wine and a lovely glass of bubbles.

And now I’m back in my room; I’ve changed into my comfy pyjamas to enjoy a bit of television; and I’m getting ready to enjoy a fluffy lemon cupcake I purchased when in town earlier. (Yum!)

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Has it been a day of complete joy and laughter? No. But it’s been a pretty good day and a nice way to start my 38th year.

Oh! And an interesting tid bit for you: When I booked my room, it was the only room available (a single). Other than that, the hotel was completely booked out. Why? Well, because tomorrow is the World Indoor Tug of War Championships, hosted by the Scottish Tug of War Association. Really.

A winning announcement

As promised, today is the day that I’m announcing the winner of my anniversary contest. (But you have to read a bit of a ramble first. And more of a ramble when the announcement is over. I offer no apologies for that.)

Pre-announcement ramble: Wow! This was really hard. All of the entries were entertaining and all of them brought me a smile and a bit of joy. I found myself agonising over who to pick as the winner. For a while, I thought I’d select someone randomly. But that didn’t seem fair. Then I found myself wanting to let everyone be a winner because it makes me feel bad to have someone walk away empty handed.

In the end, I decided to choose one entry. And I chose that entry based on the amount of entertainment it provided, as well as the sort of entertainment. And that entry was made by Ephemera.

I chose Ephemera because I had to work for their post. I had to Google ‘F.M.R.L.’ to see what that stood for (I never did find out) and ‘Ozymandias’ (a sonnet, apparently). In fact, I Googled much of their post to see if it was all part of a poem. And all of those Google searches lead me down loads of winding paths of entertainment and information.

Yes, I chose Ephemera because their post piqued my desire for knowledge. So, I guess now I need to send them an email to see what colours they want for their swirl!

Post-announcement ramble: So, we know who’s getting the prize, but I can’t leave it at that because I loved all of the entries!

Amy: I laughed! I laughed so very much! You couldn’t have known it, but there’s been a bit of a bunny joke going on around here for a few months (I’m merely on the fringe of the joke) and after your post, I started seeing bunnies everywhere. It made me laugh so much. Really, honestly.

Mathew (mm): It made me smile to know that your daughter enjoys the Frances books so much. I read them as a child and really wish I had a set of them again. Such great books and Frances was just amazing with her awesome songs sung in cosy little hiding places. Your post rekindled happy childhood memories!

Debbie: I love Shel Silverstein! I own all of his books and quite often think of his poems when I’m writing. An excellent artist for sure! I was pleased to see your post and to learn that you found me through Frances 3.0. (Though I’m sad to hear that you had a reason to find the site.) I hope your cousin and her children continue to heal!

Rebecca: I still have trouble picturing you as chubby, but if you say so… Your post did entertain me! Partly because I enjoyed reading a memory from your childhood, but partly (sorry to say) because it took me down a winding YouTube path of funny ballet/dancing videos! Of course, your second post entertained me, too. But for different reasons!

ANT Elizabeth: I enjoyed your ramble very much! I vaguely remember your friend Joy—I just don’t know if that’s because I’ve met her or remember stories you’ve told about her. And as for liking ‘teen’ shows, I have a confession to make, too: I love teen romantic comedies! They are a hoot, and no matter how predictable the story is, they make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside!

OK, one more quick ramble. And that’s to say that I think future contests will be easier. I was maybe asking too much for everyone to write more than a line or two. So, next time maybe I’ll just ask for a favourite quote, song title, or joke. Something short and sweet. What do you think?

Oh! And maybe I’ll have to do a ‘progress post’ on the winning swirl drawing. Yes, that might be fun!

Still classy

OK, since I bored you with descriptions of my modules last semester, I think it’s only fair I do the same for my spring semester modules. After all, I’m sure that you care about these things. And if you don’t well, you should!

First, a reminder: I am working toward a Master of Letters in Media and Culture at the University of Stirling, Scotland. My dissertation will look at how users of social media determine the legitimacy of news and information shared on Facebook. (So if you see me playing on Facebook when you know I’m meant to be writing a paper, just think of it as important academic research!)

Now, on to the classes! I am taking four modules this semester: Two on Mondays and one each on Thursdays and Fridays. In addition to my courses, I will be working steadily on my dissertation which is due in August (Yikes!).

Digital Cultures: I think I’m going to love this class! It’s all about the convergence of media cultures, specifically how digital media has become so prominent in our world today. The module will be graded on contribution to a class blog and an essay. If it happens that some of the blog posts I write for the class are interesting enough, I may even share them here! (Blogging? Well, if I must …)

Media Rights: This class will centre on issues of intellectual property and copyright in the UK as well as the rest of the world. I imagine we’ll touch on issues of piracy and cultural norms as they pertain to such actions. I know it sounds boring, but it really is an interesting topic. Assessment for the module will be based on a 3,000 word essay.

Media Regulation and Policy: Leveson Inquiry, anyone? My guess is that the inquiry will play heavily in this class as we look at the issues of regulating the media. We will look at questions of who the media are and who should be charged with regulating them. It’s a sticky topic, but should make for great discussions. The class will be graded on two assignments: An essay due toward the middle of the semester and a proposal for a new piece of regulation policy (or for the abolition of an existing policy) due at the end of the semester.

Memory and Archives in the Digital Age: I don’t know about this class. It is very heavily skewed toward the archiving of film and moving images, not toward the overall archiving of digital communications. But, I am confident that there will be connections I can make to my own interests. (Watch this space for details.) Assessment is based on a short presentation and a 2,500 word essay.

There will be lots and lots of writing happening this semester, that’s for sure! But I’m excited about it, really!

Splashing out

Today I finally broke down and bought a new set of sauce pans. They are light-weight, cheap aluminium pans but, despite that, they are considerably better than the pans that my flat was furnished with. It’s something I’ve been thinking about doing since I first moved in, but I’ve been a bit uncomfortable with the idea of spending my limited budget on something that was more of a want than a need.

But the problem is that the pans I had were so cheap they didn’t work well. I know, I know: A bad cook always blames their tools. But sometimes, sub-standard tools do make a negative impact! And because the pans were such rubbish, I dared not cook certain foods.

So, the way I see it is that these pans are an investment in my future nutritional health. Yes, really. As strange as that sounds, these pans really will help me cook more!

In fact, one of the pans is in service now, cooking up a batch of basmati rice, to be served with baked salmon and peas.

Maybe this little splash out of cash will help me fix my poor diet!

And don’t forget to enter my anniversary competition. I’ve really enjoyed the entries so far and would love to be entertained with a few more! (Today’s your last chance, so don’t be shy!)

Running on empty

Today was Race Two in my goal of running a race a month throughout 2012. (A joint goal with my partner-in-crime, Rebecca.) We couldn’t find a February race within a reasonable distance, so instead we participated in the Falkirk Park Run, a weekly timed event with 150+ runners or so. (And it was free!)

But I screwed up. Really, really screwed up. You see, since it was ‘just’ a 5K, and since it wasn’t a ‘real’ race, I didn’t take it as seriously as I should have. I didn’t go to bed until midnight, after having two glasses of wine. Worse, I neglected to eat breakfast. Yes, I was running on an empty stomach! I didn’t really realise it until I’d been at it for about seven minutes—and then I realised that I didn’t have the energy to run hard. In fact, there were several moments when I thought I could kick it up, but then the pangs of hunger hit and I knew I needed to slow down or I’d never finish.

I finished in 32 minutes and 27 seconds, which is a respectable time for a 5K but I could have/should have done better. And instead of feeling invigorated, I felt weak and dizzy. And I felt silly and stupid because I should know better than to run on empty!

And now, because I’m hoping that most of you have stopped reading by now, I’m going to make some further food confessions. You see, it seems that I’ve been running on empty quite a lot these past few months. Running on empty, walking on empty, going to class and shopping and sleeping on empty… you get the point. Yes, I have been a bad food eater!

Now, it’s not that I have some weird body image thing and am trying to lose weight or anything (though I admit to feeling flabby, but that’s an issue of toning, not weight loss). It’s just that I’ve not been in a good routine for a very long time. If I’m further honest, these poor eating habits have been with me since Paul died—so way, way, way too long.

I rarely eat breakfast and I rarely eat lunch. So by the time I do eat, I am so hungry that I can’t eat very much or I gorge myself on all sorts of unhealthy, salty, fatty foods. And if I’m further honest, part of the problem is that I can’t be bothered to cook for myself most days. I mean, I try to do it, but it’s really hard (i.e.: sad, lonely, and pathetic) to cook for one.

I’m trying to fix this, but I’ve been saying that for more than a year now! But I’m slowly getting better. I’ve been trying to make out a week’s menu ahead of time and I’m making some nice, hearty meals that freeze well for days when I don’t feel like cooking. In fact, as I’m typing I have some chicken and potatoes in the oven and some fresh spinach ready to cook up. But I can’t promise that tomorrow’s dinner won’t be a jumbo-sized bag of crisps!

So, the goal is simple: Cook more, eat more, and be better nourished before going for a run.

Speaking of cooking and eating, it’s time to start on that spinach now. Yum!

And don’t forget to enter my anniversary competition. I’ve really enjoyed the entries so far and would love to be entertained with a few more! (Don’t be shy!)

Free drugs

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

And today just happened to be one of those days.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First day, again

Yippee! After a too-long, two-month winter break I have finally started back to school. The new semester began on Monday with classes starting yesterday, but since I don’t have classes on Wednesday, I only got back to the classroom today. And it was fun!

OK, fun might not be the right word, but I really did enjoy it. And I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s class, too.

And back to school means dusting off the school supplies!

So I’ve got fresh ink in my printer (it ran dry when printing course materials earlier in the week) and a couple of new note books for jotting down thoughts when I’m not able to type them out. I also have plenty of Post-Its and page flags for marking pages and taking notes when I’m reading, and highlighters for highlighting course notes and handouts. (I rarely use highlighters or pens in books—that’s a bad thing to do!)

And, of course, I’ve got Little Green, my super-fantastic netbook that I take to class with me. It really is the sign of the modern era, because in my undergraduate studies I had a desktop and laptop computer, but certainly wouldn’t have lugged something to class with me. Now, I power up at the start of each class and I search out further information on the spot (then bookmark the websites for later review).

Oh, and I have some text books, too. I’ll tell you more about them later.

Yeah, I’m pretty excited to be back at school. And once I’ve attended each of my four classes I will tell you a bit about them—because I know you want to know! For now, I have some reading to do for tomorrow’s class so I need to sign off.

But not before I remind you to enter my anniversary competition that I posted yesterday. I’ve really enjoyed the entries so far and would love to be entertained with a few more! (Don’t be shy!)

An anniversary contest

Two years ago, JustFrances.com entered the blogosphere. Can you believe it!? In that time there have been 572 posts, the writing of which have provided me with great deal of enjoyment and comfort—and have hopefully provided you with some entertainment, too.

As my life continues to change and my readership continues to grow, so has this site. It can be difficult knowing what to write at times because it’s no longer ‘just about me’—there’s an actual audience to consider, too. And more and more, that group is consisting of people I’ve never met. So, I created a short survey to see what people liked and what they wanted more of. The results so far have been positive and encouraging which is awesome! The survey is still active (through February 17), so please feel free to add your input if you haven’t already.

And to show that I’m listening (and to celebrate my second anniversary!) I’m holding a fun contest. The winner of this amazing contest will receive an original swirl drawing, custom made by me for you. Yay!

Here are some samples of the swirls. Click on the thumbnails to see larger versions.

  

  

Entering the contest is as easy as plopping some words into the comment section below as a ‘mini blog post’ for my entertainment. You can share a joke or some inspirational quotes; a short story or memory about your childhood or some silly thing we got up to together; a rant (or rave) about work or life; or just about anything else you think will make a good blog post. As you can see from this blog, the style and tempo of your post can be anything you want!

[If you’re a blogger, you can write a post on your site (but it must be obvious that it’s been written for my entertainment!) then share the link with me in the comments below.]

Now for the fine print. (Sorry, can’t miss that part!)

  1. Entries can be up to 500 words.
  2. The deadline is midnight GMT on February 19, 2012.
  3. One entry per person; you don’t need to use your real name, but you do need to use a valid email address.
  4. If you are using someone else’s work (quotes, jokes, etc.), please be sure to give credit where credit is due!
  5. The winner will be announced on Just Frances the morning of my birthday (February 21) and will be contacted through the email address used to enter. (I promise not to spam you!)
  6. The winner will have the option of choosing one (1) 5.5” x 8.5” drawing or two (2) 3.5” x 5” note cards. (Further details of your options will be explained to the winner in the email.)
  7. If your comment is caught by my spam filters or is deemed by me to be spam or inappropriate (profanity and/or anti-social comments will not be accepted) your entry will be automatically disqualified.
  8. If you are my Mom or Dad, your name will not be entered into the drawing because you can have a swirl drawing anytime you want (just ask) so it’s not fair for you to win. But you can still entertain me with a post!

So that’s it I think. You are welcome to tell your friends about the contest or to link to this on your blog or Facebook or Twitter or whatever. I mean, it would be great to have more than three people participating!

Just Frances continues to be a place of enjoyment for me. I know that posts may be a bit sad and reflective at times, but it’s helpful for me to get those thoughts out there. And the act of getting those sad thoughts out there releases my soul  a bit so that I can enjoy life—and therefore have happy posts.

And, of course, knowing that there are people out there reading—and supporting me—helps. Thanks for all of your support over the past two years! And happy blogging to you!

Random thoughts: Challenging things

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday roast

Sunday roast is a pretty big thing here in the UK. So much so that even Paul—a 30+ year vegetarian—insisted that we enjoyed a big Sunday roast (sans dead animal for him!) most weeks. Mostly, we’d just have roasted veg, mashed potatoes, and Yorkshire puddings; sometimes even a bit of boiled cabbage.

I think my favourite part about Sunday roasts was that it was one of the few meals Paul and I prepared together. We’d return home from Church and start prepping the meal. Then, as it was nearing completion, I’d be kicked out of the kitchen so that I wasn’t in the way when Paul made his Yorkshire puddings and mashed the potatoes. You see, he didn’t like the way I cooked potatoes, so would always just take over that task. Which was fine by me since it saved me getting mad at him for telling me what I was doing wrong. (I was always called back in at the end, however, because it was my job to dish up.)

Anyhow, I’ve not done Sunday roast since he died. I just couldn’t do it. Even just thinking about it made me start to panic. Really. Thanksgiving was the closest I got, and then I had a mini panic attack when someone joking questioned some of my cooking methods. (The blocks that your mind creates through grief can be silly sometimes, I know!) But I digress…

The point of today’s post is to share with you the lovely Sunday roast I’ve made—my first since my last with Paul on Easter Sunday 2009.

I hadn’t really planned on making the meal, but when I went to the farmers’ market yesterday, I couldn’t resist the lovely topside roast they were selling at the Puddledub Buffalo stall. And since I knew I had Scottish grown carrots, parsnips, and potatoes at home, I figured it was a good excuse to make a Sunday roast for the Dark Days Challenge.

In addition to the meat and veg mentioned above, I also used Scottish onions and English garlic. My oil choice was Summer Harvest’s Cold Pressesd Rapeseed Oil and I used Maldon Sea Salt.

And let’s not forget dessert: A lovely piece of carrot cake from Milis Cakes. I’ll be honest and admit that I don’t know if they source their ingredients locally, but I’m going to let it slide since they’re a local, independent cake maker.

Yep, I have a happy belly now!

Coats and cupcakes

When I was in town earlier in the week, I saw a nice light-weight coat that I really liked in a charity shop. But when I tried it on, I wasn’t quite certain about it. I mean, it looked nice and it fit, but it’s the same colouring as my wool coat, so I wavered. In the end, I put it back on the rack and walked away.

But I’ve been thinking about it and decided it would be OK to have another black and white coat. It was a different cut, after all, and would look much nicer with dresses than my wool coat. Plus that, it was only £10 so it wasn’t a massive commitment.

So, I went to town today determined to get the coat if it was still there. And it was still there. Only it wasn’t £10, it was £4.99. Which means I saved £5.01 in addition to supporting a good cause!

And when you save a bit of money, it’s OK to celebrate with a little treat. So when I stopped by the Farmers’ Market on the way back to my flat, I splurged £1.90 on a pretty pink Valentine’s cupcake from Milis Cakes. (I’ve already eaten it though, so I guess it was just a pretty pink cupcake.)

Oh! I also picked up a nice roast from one of the local farmer stalls for tomorrow’s dinner. And that means that I have everything I need for a Sunday roast, which will qualify for the Dark Days Challenge. And that means that if you check back tomorrow, you can read about my yummy dinner.

(Or you could invite yourself over to help eat my dinner. There’s more than enough to share!)

And, yes, that really is the cupcake I bought. It was as yummy as it looks. I also got a carrot cupcake for tomorrow’s dessert. I wonder if it will last that long…

Random thoughts: Top 50 no-gos

Random thoughts—Week 1: List 50 things I’ll never do.

  1. Climb Mount Everest
  2. Compete in a sport professionally
  3. Give birth (sadly…)
  4. Celebrate 50 years of marriage
  5. Eat monkey brains (but in general I’m up for trying new/different foods)
  6. Become a nun (but I wanted to at one point in my life)
  7. Go deep-water diving
  8. Have cosmetic surgery (unless, of course, I’m in some horrific accident and need to be repaired)
  9. Buy an iPhone or iPad
  10. Commit suicide (Don’t worry! It’s never been an option or thought!)
  11. Buy a brand new car
  12. Participate in an ultramarathon
  13. Have lasik surgery
  14. Drink tequila shots out of someone’s navel
  15. Be a space tourist
  16. Pierce my nose
  17. Sail the Seven Seas
  18. Join a nudist colony
  19. Ride a barrel over Niagara Falls
  20. Drive drunk
  21. Juggle knives
  22. Watch Battlestar Galactica by choice
  23. Drink Gin and Tonics
  24. Go on a shooting safari
  25. Run with the bulls
  26. Follow the ‘5 Second Rule’ outside of my own home
  27. Back down on a running disagreement regarding my pro-Oxford comma stance
  28. Have a pet monkey
  29. Play golf in a lightning storm
  30. Abandon my faith
  31. Ridicule someone for their faith (or non-belief)
  32. Declare the certain non-existence of extraterrestrial life or Bigfoot
  33. Participate in past-life regression
  34. Cheat on my taxes
  35. Wear an ‘I’m with stupid’ t-shirt
  36. Give up carbs
  37. Become a vegan
  38. Quit Facebook
  39. Cook (or eat) liver
  40. Not vote in an election I’m allowed to vote in
  41. Be ashamed of my nationality
  42. Rob a bank
  43. Drive a train
  44. Drive blindfolded
  45. Turn by back on my family
  46. Wish and hope for bad things to happen to other people
  47. Deny my small-town, redneck roots
  48. Pretend to be dumb
  49. Betray my friends
  50. Be normal (bore-ing!)

OK, wow! That was really hard. And I admit, I’ve really done some reaching on these. Further, I admit that I didn’t put loads of things up that I thought I might ‘be forced to do’ at some point in my life. That said, I can’t be 100% certain that the future won’t bring some strange reality that sees me being forced to rob a bank, drive a train, and betray my friends. But I imagine that if my life got to that point, we’d be facing some apocalyptic disaster or that my friends would be staging a massive intervention!

(Here’s hoping my next random topic is easier!)

The dummy box

Well, I have a television now. Yay! I’ve been going back-and-forth on whether to get one or not, but when Joanne offered up an old one of hers, I found myself unable to turn the offer down. I’d been watching TV on my ‘big’ laptop (14” screen) and it was bit of a pain—and I had a very limited selection of shows to watch.

Joanne was pretty certain that wasn’t good enough, and was pretty certain that I needed a proper TV. After all, there are some really good shows that I should be watching and it would be nice to be able to just flick around the channels sometimes. At first I discarded her statements, but the more I thought about it, the more I realised Joanne was right. (Not that I should be surprised; Joanne’s a smart cookie!)

So this afternoon, my new(used) TV arrived. Joanne and I hauled it up to my top-floor flat, then we went to town for lunch—and to get a FreeView box so that the big ol’ box would work. Of course, once we got back to my flat again, we realised that we also needed an aerial cable, which meant that when Joanne went home, I went back out in search of the magic cable. I had to go to five shops before I found one, but at least I was successful.

And now, I’m sitting at home with my nice little television sitting in the corner of the living room. With my groovy new FreeView box, I get about 50 channels plus music stations and it all works with a remote control. This is like Couch Potato Haven!

Now, what will I watch? There are just so many choices! Yay! (Don’t worry; I have a TV License now, too!)

Thanks, Joanne! I really appreciate it. Really!

[To give further credit and thank-you-ness to everyone who tried to get me telly-ed-up: Martin did offer (on several occasions) to bring me an old 37” television he has collecting dust in a corner, and Rebecca sent me to my new flat with a small portable television. It just wasn’t compatible with the new digital signal regulations.]

Cheap [or free] booze

I used to buy expensive booze. I had a collection of fine wines and expensive whiskies. I had top-shelf Cognacs and the best small batch Bourbons. And I wouldn’t have thought twice about opening a $40 bottle of wine for no reason other than I wanted a glass of wine.

But I couldn’t take it all with me, so I slowly worked through my collection before I moved. And I gave the rest to my aunt and my neighbours. (And took a couple of bottles to my folks’ house too, I think.)

And now I find myself in a different booze situation all together.

First of all, I’m in a small apartment that doesn’t have the space for wine storage—not when you like to really collect fine wines at least! But more depressingly, I can’t afford it even if I could store it.

So, I’ve found myself drinking cheap booze again. I’ve found myself choosing wines based on price, not on label/vineyard. And I only buy wine that’s on sale. (I can normally get a ‘nice enough’ bottle on a half price sale, but even that’s not what I’d consider good wine.)

In fact, all but one bottle of wine are screw tops! I know that nice wines are using screw tops these days, but the majority of Washington State wines (which are top-class, premium wines that beat out any Old World wine you can imagine!) have corks.

Oh! And I’ve even stooped to purchasing store brand stuff! Which isn’t necessarily bad but Sainsbury’s vodka has nothing on Grey Goose!

But, thankfully, I’ve got some nice stuff that I’ve gotten for Christmas gifts. (Must send that thank you note to Canada soon!) And thanks to friends and family, I even have three (well, two and a bit) bottles of nice Scotch, too.

It’s not that I’m a raging alcoholic or anything, it’s just that I’ve realised recently that my snobbery when it comes to drink has gone to the wayside in favour of my frugal (and poor) ways.

But my birthday is coming up. And I like Remy Martin and Caol Ila. You know, if you wondered …

Cheers!

Heads will [not] roll!

Hey! Guess what! It’s ‘Share a Random Memory for No Reason Other Than It Popped into My Head Day’! Aren’t you glad you stopped by to read such rubbish? Sure you are! So here goes.

I was seven or eight years old, playing down at the ponds around the edge of the neighbourhood. I remember we were catching tadpoles. Then these older kids came over and started talking to us. They told us that we should be careful because there was a killer on the loose. So far, there weren’t any children missing, but you never know.

We didn’t want to believe them, but they pointed up to the hillside as proof. They’d just come down from having a closer look. Those weren’t all rocks, you know. The one right there in the middle? Well, that’s the decapitated head of an old lady. They told us not to get too close because there were bugs all over it. Plus that, the killer might be watching.

I remember being brave and telling the kids I didn’t believe them. But at the same time, I remember thinking up an excuse for why we needed to go home right then and there.

Oh, I was frightened. But I wasn’t going to let those big kids know that. Instead, I told my Daddy what they said.

Now, I don’t know if he knew from the start the whole thing was a joke to scare us little kids (probably) or if he really thought it needed investigation (less likely) but he had us take him to the ponds (which might have been big puddles, in hindsight) to show him where this head was.

As we stood on the edge of the water, Daddy went in for a closer look. Then came back and told us that it was definitely just a rock.

::Phew!:: Thank goodness for that!

Sorry, I can’t really remember much more about the story. I can’t even remember who I was with that day. Oh, but it reminds me of another water-based memory. Maybe I’ll share that with you one day, too. In the mean time, feel free to share a random memory of yours with me!

Just because you fall

I’ve done my fair share of falling in my life—literally and figuratively. Sometimes because I was clumsy or negligent. Sometimes because I was pushed or tripped by someone else. Sometimes because of circumstances beyond human control.

I have scars on my arms and legs (and head!) to show for some of those falls. And I have lots of memories (good and bad) to go along with them. And I have scars on my heart and soul from some of those falls, too. And the memories to go along with them.

But, I get up. And I carry on. Because until I cross the finish line, it’s not over. And even if I have to drag my battered, bruised, and bleeding body over the line with the last breath of my soul, I will finish the race. And I will win. Simply by finishing, I will win.

Oh yeah, and today marks ten years since I first met my amazing husband. I miss him terribly each and every day, but even though his loss was a big fall for me, I’m still going. And if you’ve ever wondered how we met, you can check out a post I wrote two years ago about our meeting!

Random thoughts: A challenge

Two weeks ago I shared a post that was determined by random. It was a great way to find some inspiration for writing and the randomness of it all entertained me. When I was talking to Rebecca today, we decided that we’d have a bit of fun with the format and see if we could help inspire each other with a bit of randomness. And so, we’ve created a new game.

Here’s how it will work: There are 346 writing prompts over at CreativeWritingPrompts.com. We will use Random.org to randomly select a number then we will send the corresponding prompts to the other person. We’re picking numbers for each other so that we keep ourselves honest—and to make it that little bit more fun.

I imagine that we each have different reasons for wanting to try this challenge. My reasons are simple: I want to be challenged to write about things I might not write about. I hope that it will help me improve my writing skills as well as my creativity—and I hope that it will force me to write about things I might otherwise shy away from.

Oh! And I’ve already been given my topic for this week: List 50 things you’ll never do. On the surface it sounds easy, but I’ve learned with lists that anything past 10 is difficult! So, I guess I should start thinking about the things I’ll never do.

And with that: Let the challenge begin!

[In the spirit of the topic, the photo with this story was the photo that came up in my random photo block (look to the left) when I went to create the post. It’s from Thanksgiving 2011.]

The little red dress

Twelve years ago, I purchased a lovely silky red dress that I just loved. Form-fitting and sexy, I loved finding excuses to wear it. The only ‘flaw’ was that I needed to add a bit more help to the upper portion—more than I normally need to add. (Sorry, this is my blog and I can talk about my less-than-endowed form if I want.)

Ten years ago, I brought it to Scotland with me hoping that I’d have a chance to wear it. Then I met Paul and I figured I’d get the chance. And I did. And he loved it. And over the years, I’ve pulled it out again for special occasions.

The last time I wore it was Easter 2009—just two weeks before Paul died. I remember standing there wondering what to wear for church, and he pulled that little red dress out. After all, he said, with a light sweater it would be more than appropriate for Sunday Mass. And when we got home and began making our Sunday lunch, he told me how beautiful I was in that dress.

So, when I packed my bags to return to Scotland last summer, I couldn’t help but to pack the dress; even though I didn’t know if I’d ever get a chance to wear it. And, to be honest, I’ve felt a bit soft and gooey the last several weeks, having not been running but still eating as if I’m training for a marathon!

Anyhow, I wanted to wear something pretty for my birthday later this month and I thought about that dress. And, well, I tried it on with a bit of trepidation because I knew that if it was too snug I’d be upset.

But it fit rather nicely. In fact, I could eat a few extra meals in between now and my birthday and it would still fit! (Though I will still need to add a bit of help to the upper portion; some things never change!)

I am very happy about this little victory. And I know that I’ve just bragged about how a dress that I bought when I was 26 years old still fits me today—just days shy of being 38—but I run and try to stay quite active. (And if this was a pair of jeans, it would be a different story. Dresses are just more forgiving for bum-and-thigh weight gain!)

Now… what am I going to do about shoes and an evening handbag? I guess I’ll need to see what sort of fun stuff they have at the charity shops!

Like the back of my hand

How many times have we been told that someone is so certain of their directions because they know the place like they know the back of their hand? For most of us, I imagine the answer would be countless times.

Personally, I don’t know that I’ve ever said it—mostly because I think it’s a stupid saying. But if I’m honest, I’ve always wondered just how well I ‘really’ know the back of my hand.

Well, today (yes, I’m bored!) I decided to see just how well I know the back of my hand. And—lucky you!—you get to see the results.

I chose my left hand because that’s the one with the most stuff on it. To start with, I traced my hand onto a piece of paper then I allowed myself a few moments to study my hand. No more than 10 seconds or so. Next, I placed a glove on my hand to ensure I wouldn’t cheat.

Then I began to sketch a map of my hand. (This was a bit difficult with a glove, but I wasn’t going for perfection.) I decided that I would include major veins, freckles, specs, and scars. Then I decided to add approximate locations of joints and knuckles.

The results? Pretty bad, I think—especially if I plan to use the memorisation of my hand as a correlation to my abilities to give directions!

For starters, my knuckles are actually further back than I drew them. (The other finger joints seem close enough.) Next, my fingernails are not drawn at representative sizes. Moving on, the veins are wrong. The main one (the Y-shaped one) is fairly close, but the other two I have shown are pointing in the wrong direction in relation to my fingers. Oh! And there are a couple of veins that seem to have been missed out all together.

Then there are my freckles. OK, the two large ones in the centre are pretty accurate, but there are four others on the back of my hand that (whilst very small) went completely unmapped. Oh, then there’s this little red spot on my thumb that’s been there for years but isn’t actually a freckle. Apparently, it’s nearly on top of my thumb’s knuckle, not toward the thumbnail!

The scar I have shown actually curves the other way. (It’s not that noticeable, either.) Also, I failed to make note of other small scars.

So, do I know the back of my hand very well? No, not as well as you’d think, given it’s been attached to my arm since before I was even born!

How about you? How well do you know the back of your hand?

Red and rosé

It took a while to convince myself to get out of bed today. I mean, a long while—it was nearly noon by the time I decided to emerge from under my duvet. At first, I wondered if I would spend the day inside. Not necessarily sulking, but sitting around doing nothing. And for a while, I convinced myself that I could do that.

Then, for reasons still unknown, I decided that I should head into town. With that decision made, I hopped in the shower before putting on a pretty skirt and a fun sweater for a quick jaunt into town. I didn’t really know why I was going, but I knew that I needed to get out and stretch my legs.

Anyhow, I looked in the charity shops and even a couple of sales racks in the mall, but didn’t manage to find anything I wanted/needed/that fit, so I went home empty handed.

And now, I’m curled up on the couch with a glass of French rosé, listening to the sultry jazz sounds of Norah Jones, and getting ready to paint my nails a nice shade of hooker red.

I guess I have to say it’s not been too bad of a start to the new month.

31 happy things

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

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

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

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

31 Happy Things to Look Forward To

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

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

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

Fun, all wrapped up

I started this post a few weeks ago with the intention of talking about how Starbursts have changed since I was a kid. But I never got around to finishing it because I didn’t really know what I could say on the topic, other than how awesome the new wrapper design is.

Then my sister posted one of those Facebook saying photos that read ‘Chocolate doesn’t ask silly questions; chocolate understands’ [Semicolon was my addition] and I realised that there is a great difference between my love for sweeties and the love that many women seem to have for chocolate.

You see, I almost feel like chocolate is meant to be a sophisticated, grown up sweet treat. And, sadly, it’s one that seems to cause great amounts of guilt for some women who consume it. But, chocolate seems to have a bit of a philisophical slant to it, too.

Take, for example, the same sister’s love of Dove chocolate bits. Inside of each wrapper is a message of hope, encouragement, or inspiration. Or some other such grown up mumbo-jumbo. Or these silly little quotes she likes about how she’d kill for chocolate or that the perfect man is one who brings chocolate.

Really, it’s enough to make me sick. Too much chocolate is just, well, it’s just not awesome.

But my sweeties of choice? Well, they’re pretty cool.

First, you’ve got things like LoveHearts and Conversation Hearts where each piece of candy has silly messages written right on them! Like: Call Me; UR Hot; My Boy; Cute Stuff; or I’m Shy. I mean, that’s a great way to flirt with a cute boy. Right?

Then, you’ve got awesome things like Laffy Taffy. Now, Laffy Taffy is fun because each wrapper contains jokes! Really funny ones, like: ‘What’s an owl’s favourite subject? Owlgebra.’ (Hilarious, right?)

And of course, there’s Starbursts. (Sorry, UK folks, they are not OpalFruits now. Adapt and embrace the change.) But the cool thing about Starbursts is they’ve re-done the wrappers! I mean, for years kids had fun with the wrappers. For example, do you remember in junior high school when it was said that if you could unwrap a Starburst in your mouth (with your tongue) it meant you were a good kisser?

But now they’ve added a bit of fun-for-all-ages to the wrappers! Yes, on each little piece of candy there is an opportunity for some silliness. You might be instructed to say ‘red lorry yellow lorry’ ten times fast or you might be asked to play air guitar (or air sax or air drums) or you might be told to try to touch the tip of your nose with your tongue. Or maybe you’ll be instructed to sing a song or hop on your left leg.

No, with each piece of candy you’re not given some valuble insight on life’s great mysteries. Instead, you’re given the opportunity to be silly; to have some fun; to laugh; to recall your childhood.

OK, I know that people think my candy preference is rather childish (certainly, by adulthood we’ve moved past these silly kiddie candies, right?) but I enjoy them. Partly because they taste yummy, but partly because they make me remember the simple pleasures in life.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, my wrapper has just informed me that it’s time to make a shadow puppet…

Blank slate; inspiration sought

I’ve spent the last couple of hours searching for inspiration. For what, I don’t quite know. I’ve found lists of daily adventures, blogs meant to inspire you to write a book, and all sorts of things that would make a prostitute blush. (Sadly, that happens with Google searches sometimes!)

In the end, I found the inspiration I was looking for in the hall closet. Yes, I was inspired by a piece of light-weight cardboard that sat peeking out from the top shelf.

Or at least I found just enough inspiration to know that I want to use it as the base for a collage. But I don’t know what the theme of the collage should be.

And that’s where you, Dear Reader, come in. Yes, I would like to hear your ideas of what to place on the board; ideas of a theme or a medium to use; ideas of anything, really.

So, what do you think I should do for my collage? Feel free to give multiple suggestions, and I will let you know what I’ve decided to do once I’m fully inspired!

[Here’s the blank canvas. It measures approximately 16.5 x 9.5 inches. Or 9.5 x 16.5 I suppose, depending on the final orientation.]

Thankful swirls

As you probably know by now, I’ve found a lot of solace in creating swirls. There’s something relaxing and peaceful about them. I have to admit that my first-ever swirl drawing was rubbish. No, really, it was. But from the time I realised that swirls were my sunflowers, my skills have improved. [See more evidence here, here, here, and here.]

Of course, the problem with enjoying something so much is that I want to draw lots of swirls. But I really don’t have that much use for a ga-zillion drawings of swirls. So last summer, when I completed a swirl drawing that my niece was admiring whilst in-progress (she thought it would make a great tattoo!), I wrote a letter to her on the backside. I understand that she’s since hung it up in her bedroom.

Since then, I’ve used swirls to illustrate a blog post and even made a swirl drawing to wrap a friend’s birthday present. And after Christmas, I used some blank greeting cards to make swirl thank you cards for some friends. And now I’m working on a special swirl for a friend’s baby girl.

So, I guess that I’m thankful for my swirls because of the enjoyment I get from them, but I’m also thankful that my skills have improved enough to use them as gifts and cards for people I love. Otherwise, I’d be lost in stacks upon stacks of therapeutic swirls!

Booking courage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Great chieftain o’ the puddin-race

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

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

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

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

And cranachan for dessert.

And did I mention the whisky?

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

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

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

Birthday annoucement

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

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

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

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

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

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!

A random letter

Today, I decided to let the Internet decide what my post would be. So, I went to Creative Writing Prompts to pick a topic. But I wanted it to be a bit more random than that, so I visited Random.org to pick my topic number. And that number was 109. The prompt is to write a letter to someone I feel I need to spend more time with.

I went back and forth over who to write to, because I spend as much time as I can (or want) with most of the people in my life. (Well, geography gets in the way sometimes, unfortunately.) I finally decided to write to someone I really do miss; someone I really do wish I could spend more time with; someone I really need to spend more time with.

So, here goes!

Dear Happy Frances,

You have been on my mind a lot lately, and with each passing day I realise just how much I miss you. I remember when we were inseparable; when we spent nearly every hour of every day together. But now, it just seems that we’ve been too busy to hang out.

I know that the last couple of years have been hectic, and that for a while we weren’t even on speaking terms, but I guess I thought we were growing closer again. Only now it seems that we’re letting the busyness and craziness of life get in the way of our friendship again.

But the thing is, I don’t want our friendship to fizzle. I want us to grow close again. I want us to be inseparable again. I want you to spend more time with my other friends, too, because I know that they love you just as much as I do.

So, if you’re up for it—and I think you are!—I’d love to talk about how to find more time for each other. What do you say?

Lots of love,
Frances

A running start

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Got milk?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting better

For a few days now, I’ve been feeling the dreaded claws of illness tightening their grip on my immune system. In fact, by yesterday I wondered if illness was winning, as I found myself suffering on the couch with a fever of 39.1°c (102+° f) and a niggly headache. But—12 hours of sleep later—today I seem to be winning.

I am still fighting off whatever this may be, and am still hoping that it doesn’t develop into a full-on cold (or other illness). But at least I’m feeling better today that I did yesterday.

Of course, being a tad ill has not helped me to get over the down in the dumps feelings I’ve been dealing with since New Year’s Day, but at least it’s not made it worse. In fact, in some ways it’s made me feel better because I get to sit around and sulk in my pyjamas without feeling bad about it!

And, in an effort to get over (or stave off) being sick, I’ve gotten myself some supplies: Crisps and dip and cookies and orange juice and fresh fruits and veggies. Oh, and some pretty daffodils to look at. Or at least I hope they’ll be pretty once they bloom.

So, now I’m just sitting on the couch eating yummy food, hydrating lots and lots, watching whatever looks interesting on iPlayer, and swirling. I hope by the end of the weekend I’ll have not only finally won the battle of this cold, but that I manage to win the battle of the sadness, too!

The maze

There are countless metaphors for life: It’s a puzzle; it’s a book; it’s a song; it’s a dance; it’s a path; it’s a maze.

Goodness, I do wish life were as simple as any of those things! Especially on days like today, when I managed to complete a maze from my daily calendar in one try—and in pen. No mistakes. I just started through the maze and found my way to the other end without bumping into walls. (OK, I paused to look around a couple of times, but I didn’t get lost.)

Life just isn’t that simple. Of course, if life were that simple, maybe it wouldn’t be worth it. I mean, I’ve met some pretty awesome people in my puzzle-book-song-dance-path-maze. And some of those people were met because I needed help with the puzzle, picked the wrong book, sang the wrong lyrics, forgot the dance steps, left the path, or took the wrong turn.

Life isn’t a puzzle or a book or a song or a dance. It’s not a path or a maze. It’s just life. And life is fantastic and wonderful—despite the pain and sorrow that lingers at the edges.

And isn’t life funny, the way you can sit down to do a simple maze and all of the sudden you’re contemplating the meaning of it all?

Catching up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A slow start

It’s nearly midnight on January 2nd and I’m finally getting around to writing my first post of the year. I meant to write yesterday and I’ve been meaning to write today, but life got in the way.

Sadly, yesterday’s lack of writing was due to the sad parts of life. Everything is OK, but I think that a bit too much Champaign the night before led to a sulky-feel-sorry-for-myself kinda day. Yes, I was pretty pathetic to be honest. Got out of bed around 8 but was too upset and teary to face the world so I went back to bed until nearly noon. Then I finally got up and sat on the couch sulking all day.

I know it sounds like a miserable start to the new year, but sometimes my mind goes into sulky mode and I just can’t bring myself out of it. On the plus side, however, I did manage to roast a chicken for an early dinner and even managed to boil up the leftovers for a big pot of soup. So at least it was a semi-productive day!

But today was better. Today I actually got up and took a shower and left the flat. In fact, I was out for longer than I’d expected! And it was a nice day. I went up to the Wallace Monument with a couple of friends, then we had lunch in Bridge of Allen, stopped by Doune Castle (you know, the one from Monty Python and the Holy Grail), and finally made it back to Stirling for a couple pints of beer and a football game.

And when I got home I swirled. And I packed a small suitcase. Because I’m heading to England tomorrow to see my in-laws for a few days.

So, this post is really to let you know I’m alive and to also let you know that if you don’t hear from me for a few days, it’s because I’m down south doing fun things. Which will be even better since my sulky mood has passed.

I hope your new year is off to a less-sulky start than mine!

Another year passes

As 2011 winds to an end, I find myself reflecting on the year’s joys (and sorrows). It’s funny the way we do that—the way we compartmentalise our years as if the changing of the date will truly make an impact on our lives. But I suppose we need to have hope that ‘things will be better’ next year—just like we have hope that with each tomorrow life will improve.

It’s been a bitter-sweet year for me. Bitter because I said goodbye to my home—a place where dreams were dreamt and love was shared. Bitter because I found myself in created for myself a financial situation that leaves me pinching pennies once again. Bitter because I spent the entire year without my beloved Paul by my side.

But sweet because I returned to my beloved Scotland, where my heart sings with joy. Sweet because I’ve started working toward my master’s degree and other life goals. And sweet because I’ve found a true friend who is there to console me on the bitter days—and to help me celebrate on the sweet days.

2012 will be here before I know it, and I have such great hopes that with it will come great joy. I don’t expect the year to be nothing but sunshine and happiness, but I know that there will be laughter and love. There will be adventures and opportunities. And there will be family and friends to share it all with!

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.

Apologies for the delay

I don’t know why I feel the need to apologise for the delay in posting a story about my Christmas weekend, but I feel bad for not having shared with you yet, so… Sorry for the delay!

Anyhow, you’ll [maybe] be glad to know that the story is ready (complete with exciting YouTube video!) and will be posted at some point tomorrow. The delay is one of photos. But I’m nearly done putting a photo gallery together for the story (so don’t worry, Mom!) and will post as soon as that’s done.

And since I don’t have a Christmas story to share with you (yet) I’m sharing a little teaser of today’s swirl drawings. When I’m done (next week?) I’ll share the finished product!

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas!

A lesson in carols

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

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

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

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

More than gifts

It’s Christmas Eve already. Wow! It seems to have jumped up out of nowhere. But, I am pleased to say that I have all of my shopping done. And I’m pleased to say that a couple of unsuspected gifts have arrived for me from America, too.

Yesterday was spent shopping and wrapping and truffle making—with a bit of time devoted to drinking mulled wine. And now, today, I am nearly ready for tomorrow. I just need to drizzle some white chocolate on the truffles.

But it’s not just about the shopping and the truffles and the wine and the gifts. No, Christmas is more than that. It’s a time to celebrate the birth of my Saviour, Jesus Christ. This is a very important time of year for me, and even though I may not speak of it often, I am humbled to walk through this life with Christ by my side.

I wish you all the merriest of Christmases—whether you’re celebrating the birth of Christ or just the gathering of family and friends. I hope your hearts are filed with joy!

For a child is born to us, a son is given us…
~ Isaiah 9:5

A spirit found

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steak and potatoes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The dark days

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One down

Well, today marks the end of my first semester as a postgraduate student. It’s been a crazy and hectic journey to get to this point, but I got here and I’m alive to tell the story!

I admit that there was a time I worried that I would never even start on my master’s degree. Paul’s death shook me to the core and even though I know that this is what he would want for me, I just couldn’t find the motivation to apply to schools. And even then, I didn’t know how I would pay for it. But, I applied and I got accepted and I figured out a way to pay for it all. And even though it means I am living on a very tight budget, this is a very positive step.

The school year got off to a good start, but then a few weeks ago the stress of the holidays and a low platelet count, Paul’s would-be birthday, and a couple other personal conflicts distracted me. Yes, I got myself into such an emotional state that I actually began to doubt my abilities and wondered if this whole adventure was a mistake.

In fact, at the height of my turmoil, I had two major essays to write for two different modules. One was 50 percent of my overall mark—the other was 100 percent of my grade for that module. With each paper, I turned them in with regret. I honestly feared that I may have failed—or came near to failure.

I got the grade for the first paper late last week with a very good mark. In fact, I double checked because I didn’t think I read it correctly. And since I also had an exam for that module (which would be the remaining 50 percent of my grade) that mark made me less apprehensive about the exam.

The other paper was marked and ready for collection yesterday, but I opted to pick it up today after my exam (the one mentioned above). In fact, I decided to pick it up after the exam because I was so worried that the mark would completely deflate me and that it would affect my ability to sit the exam.

But at the last moment I decided to pick up the paper before the exam. And I was so, so, so, so pleased to see that I got a mark of distinction. Yes! On a paper that I was certain would be below average or even—dare I say?—a failure mark. A distinction. Really. And let me just say that I beamed. It was such a moment of joy for me that all of my worries and fears about the pending exam went away. All of the sudden, nothing else mattered. I was smart—and I had a marked essay to prove it!

In the end, I think I did pretty well on my exam. I didn’t ace it, but I didn’t fail it. And that’s OK. Because I got great marks on all my papers (a distinction on one, if you didn’t catch that earlier) and I am feeling confident about my abilities once again.

So, my first semester is done. Teaching resumes for spring semester in mid-February then my dissertation is due in August. I’m excited about the winter break, but I’m more excited about next semester and my dissertation. In fact, you can guarantee that I will be doing some reading for next semester over the break. And I’ve already started to give some real thought to that dissertation.

And all of this means that, in about a year’s time, you might get to read about my excitement of completing my first semester as a PhD student.

(Oh, and did I mention that I got a distinction on one of my essays today?)

Making do; Part 2

Back in November I talked about the practice of ‘making do’ in my efforts to host a Thanksgiving dinner for friends. I was really pleased that all of that making do worked out, especially since I’ve found myself needing to make do again. But this time, making do had nothing to do with food. Instead, I found myself having to make do with what I had to wrapping parcels.

For years, I collected used gift bags and tissue paper, bows and ribbons, and even wrapping paper and boxes. I had it all neatly organised so that I could easily wrap up gifts for family and friends. I had such a selection of stuff that I almost always found the right size bag, box, or used bit of paper for everything. But when I moved, I passed on my collection to my baby sister, Royann. And that means there isn’t an awe-inspiring collection of wrapping supplies tucked away in the hall closet. (I hope she appreciates the time it took me to amass such a collection, and I hope she’s using the supplies whilst continuing to replenish them with her own reclaimed materials!)

Then yesterday I found myself looking at purchasing wrapping paper, shipping boxes, and bubble wrap for sending parcels home for Christmas. And I have to admit that as I stood there looking at the available stock in the shops made me sad as I recalled (once again) all of the stuff (i.e.: clutter) I had to leave behind when I ventured out for this new future of mine.

So I went home empty-handed. No, really. I went home with nothing because the idea of having to buy those things broke my heart. When I got home, however, I started to look at what I had. I had printer paper and coloured pencils, so I would make wrapping paper. (I didn’t.) I had a few boxes from things I bought when I moved into my flat—but they were all either too big or too small. And I had some wrapping paper from a lovely housewarming gift that Rebecca gave me.

Ah! And I had scissors and a bag filled with plastic bags (from before I got my re-usable ones). And with that, I got to work.

It seems that the gifts I bought for my nieces and nephews were small enough to be placed in envelopes with their Christmas cards and there was just enough of that wrapping paper from Rebecca for the gifts I got for my folks and my lovely [former] foster daughter. Then, I found a used (but usable) padded envelope that was large enough for my foster daughter’s gift to fit in. But I was having trouble finding a box for the stuff for my nieces, nephews, and parents (it was all being shipped to the folks’ place to save on costs).

But wait! Who needs a box to be the ‘right’ size when you have scissors? It seemed to me that there was a box that could be the perfect size—if I cut it down a bit. And padding? Well, since the nieces and nephews’ gifts aren’t breakable, they got to help provide protection for the folks’ gifts, along with some crumpled plastic bags (which I know the folks will recycle on my behalf).

And that’s it. I had to buy some packing tape, but that’s something I can’t really re-use anyhow.

Of course, now I need to figure out how I will wrap the rest of my gifts. But since they didn’t need to go to the post office for international shipping, I can give myself a few days to scrounge around. And there is still that printer paper and coloured pencils if all else fails!

Wants versus needs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Forced out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A modest proposal

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Delivered

I am one of those weird people who enjoys grocery shopping. I start in the produce section and take great effort to select the best fresh fruits and vegetables. Then I wander up and down every aisle—with my list in hand—looking for great bargains. Most trips see me grabbing a few items not on the list, but items that are on sale and that I use regularly. And since I’m shopping with a list that’s based on a pre-determined menu, I end up with loads of great food that will actually make for some great meals when I get home.

Oh wait! I lied! I rarely go up and down every aisle. I avoid the one with the sodas and shelf-stable juices because I don’t really drink those things. And I avoid the one with the crisps (that’s chips to translate to American) because I am a weak woman when it comes to savoury snacks.

But I digress… (That happens often, doesn’t it?)

I learned when I lived in Edinburgh that grocery shopping without a car is not fun. Or rather, the shopping bit is fun but the part where you have to get the stuff home kind of sucks. Especially if you live in a top floor flat! So I did this thing where I would walk to the store (a mile+ away) then I’d take a taxi home for about 5. But I still had to lug everything upstairs to my 2nd floor flat (that’s the 3rd floor in America).

And then I discovered Tesco delivery!

When I moved to Stirling I decided that I would have my groceries delivered again. Only it took me a while to get everything sorted—mostly because I needed a new bank card since the one I had wasn’t working for online payments. But my new card came in the post over the weekend and I put it to the test!

And, well, it seems to have worked! I placed an order yesterday afternoon and took the first delivery spot they had this morning—which meant that by 9:30 I had my groceries delivered and put away!

The cool thing about this is that it took way less time than shopping myself, I didn’t have to lug everything up the stairs to my 3rd floor flat (that’s the 4th floor in America), the delivery fee was half the cost of a taxi ride home, and I didn’t end up with impulse buys that I really didn’t need—which means I saved money in the end!

So, what’s on the menu for this week? Well, there will be a feta-asparagus-potato-tomato bake thingy this evening, a Caesar salad tomorrow, baked chicken with mushroom risotto the next day, pasta with fresh tomatoes and artichoke hearts the day after that, and maybe a baked potato with a fresh salad the day after that. And plenty of fresh fruit, granola, and yoghurt for breakfast all week, too.

But I didn’t buy any wine this time, so if you’re going to invite yourself around for one of these fabulous meals, you’ll need to bring a bottle to share!

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 in

When I moved to Scotland in August, I sent a couple of large boxes by sea—hoping they’d arrive before Thanksgiving. They didn’t. But they did arrive today. (Yay!)

I wanted them here before Thanksgiving because they had my aprons, my favourite cookbook, and my American measuring cups (yes, there is a difference). But I also wanted them to arrive in time for Thanksgiving so that I could share the photos with Paul’s friends who were joining me for the celebration. Of course, I know that I will have more opportunities to share the photos, so I’ll not fret over that too much!

So, what kind of goodies were so valuable to me that I went through the expense of international shipping? Oh, all sorts of things!

The main reason for the shipment was to bring Paul’s belongings over. All of his photos from childhood, college, university, and more. His diaries and mementos. His favourite books and the little trinkets he collected over the years. The boxes are full of his life’s memories. Mostly from times before we met. Mostly things that I want to give to his family and friends.

Of course, part of me wants to keep all of it for myself. I don’t want to share them. But they’re not my memories—they’re Paul’s memories that he shared with the people he grew up with. I just want to keep them because they’re part of him. But I also know that other people need them more than I do. After all, I have all of the mementos of our time together, so why shouldn’t others have the mementos from their time together?

Happily, I had the foresight to put some of my stuff in the boxes, too. And I’m glad I did because now instead of just feeling the sadness of having Paul’s memories with me, I also have the excitement of having some of my things with me.

Yep, I have my favourite cookbook and my left-handed spoons. I have my bathrobe and winter ski coat and three of my favourite winter sweaters (all green, you may not be surprised to know!). I also have some of my favourite stationery for writing letters home and I have my Godfather DVD collection. And a CWU alumni sweatshirt and some hats and gloves and scarves. And a couple of books for my master’s programme and a copy of the Constitution of the United States of America. You know, because every home should have one!

I’m pleased to have some of my home comforts again. And even though it’s not the same as having my lovely home that I shared with Paul filled with all of our beautiful things, it’s nice to have a few more things from that ‘old’ life to help me settle into this new one.

Booked up

I returned a stack of six books to the library today. And I left with another seven. All to be read and reviewed over the next week. And I’m sure there will be dozens and dozens more in between now and the completion of my master’s dissertation.

The current stack of books, in fact, is to aid me in the completion of my dissertation proposal—a 2,000 word piece of academic writing that will serve as the foundation for my 12,000 word dissertation that is due in August.

So, since this blog is all about me and how fantastic I think I am, I’m going to share with you my dissertation topic. You know, since I’m sure you care.

My dissertation will look at social media—specifically, how Facebook users determine the legitimacy of news and information shared on the social networking site.

I’ll bore you more on the details of that exciting topic later. (Actually, I do find it exciting!) But for today, I’m just going to bore you with my books. You know, as an attempt at academic snobbery and all that…

Yeah, so I’ve got a bit of reading to do. And hopefully I can keep my spirits up and can manage to get the term behind me with a decent grade!

Oh, and in the interest of research: What do you think? Do you want to hear more about my studies and details of my dissertation and social media research, or would you like me to keep it to a minimum? (There is no wrong answer!)

Stained

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scholarly doubts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is a path we follow

I don’t know what compelled me to play poet again today, but compelled I was, so you get to read my latest attempt at literary expression. I think it needs some work, but I don’t know what kind, so this is really just a draft-ish piece. Anyhow, enjoy!

There is a path we follow
By Just Frances 

There is a path we follow
We follow with faith
We follow with hope
We follow with trepidation

There is a path we follow
A path not mapped
A path found and made by dreams
A path we blaze with faith
……With hope
…………With trepidation

There is a path we follow
A path to love
A path to joy
A path to faith
A path to love
A path to peace
A path to the unknown

There is a path we follow
We chose the route
We follow the twists and turns
We fear the dead ends and shadows
……And monsters and demons
…………But we’re protected by friends and God

There is a path we follow
We follow with faith
We follow with hope
We follow with trepidation
We follow for brighter tomorrows

A thankful weekend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fifty years ago

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

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

Making do

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Countdown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paranoia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He’s getting younger

Today is my Daddy’s 67th birthday. And you may not believe it (unless you know him) but he just keeps getting younger and younger every year. Or maybe it’s that as each year goes by he realises that life is for living so he goes and lives it.

He’s an inspiration. And the bestest Daddy a girl could ask for.

Happy birthday, Dad. I hope that you have an amazingly-childish year!

Warming up

I’ve been upset about Thanksgiving for a while now. Like really, really upset. I know it’s silly, but that’s the way it’s been. (As I’ve said.)

But all of the sudden, it’s getting better. It seems that there has been a late-comer (or two or three) to the party and Thanksgiving will maybe feel a little less like just having two friends over for dinner (not that having two friends over for dinner isn’t something to be thankful for) and a little more like a proper Thanksgiving. Well, as close to it as you can get when you’re not in America.

So now I’m getting all warmed up and I’m trying to figure out just how to get it all done. I’ve got pies to bake (will anyone like pumpkin pie?) and bread to rip (you know, for the stuffing). And I’ve got dill pickles to find and serving dishes to sort. In addition to regular dishes and chairs and stuff.

Oh, and drinks. Must figure out drinks. And I should decide what vegetables to serve. And I should try to find fresh cranberries so that I can make sauce.

But don’t worry—I have the olives (all the way from America!) and even noticed today that they’re jumbo-sized so they’ll fit on adult fingers. Because you have to put olives on your fingers for Thanksgiving.

Oh! And to add to my renewed interest in Thanksgiving, I’m totally pleased that Das Gute Essen linked to my bladenda post in their Thanksgiving post today. Yay, yay, and yay again!

[The picture with this post is of our Thanksgiving table from 2008. What a wonderful memory that day has left for me!]

My life is made up of seconds

My life is made up of seconds. And I’m spending the next 600 hundred on a free-writing exercise. And you get to read all about it because I’ve taken a free-write challenge to write for 10 minutes using the title of this post as my prompt. (Actually, it was a 20-minute challenge, but I’m only doing 10.) So, here goes.

Seconds; they pass by faster than we know. They pass by faster than we realise and faster than we’d like on a good day; slower than we plead for on a bad day. Time is funny that way—you know, the way we wish for more of it whilst wishing it would hurry up.

I don’t know how many seconds a day I waste wishing my life was different. Too many, I imagine. And what a waste that is. I’d like to say that I value every moment of my life on this planet and that I treasure all of those seconds, but I’d be lying. I’d like to say that life’s lessons have taught me to live for every moment of time we’re given, but sometimes I can’t bring myself to be thankful for every moment.

Sometimes, I find myself wishing the moments would fast forward to some great unknown. Sometimes, I find myself wishing the moments would reverse to a better time. But, thankfully, sometimes I find myself enjoying the seconds as they pass by. I like those seconds. I like those moments. And I wish I had more of them.

Time goes by in years and months and weeks and days. It goes by in hours and minutes and seconds. And we lose track. We forget what we’ve done with times past, and we forget what we dreamt of for times future.

How many of my seconds have been lost by taking my world for granted? By taking my family and friends and my own life for granted? I wish there was a way to get those moments back, but they’re gone forever. And I wish I could say I will never waste another one of my precious seconds by taking those I love for granted again, but I’m human and imperfect.

My seconds are valuable. My moments are valuable. My hours and days and weeks and years are valuable. I need to remind myself of that more often. I need to spend some of my seconds being thankful and grateful for the love I’ve given and received over the span of my life—and I need to use some of those seconds to love others more.

[Note: As with other free-writing exercises I’ve done, I am sharing this to you with only spelling edits, so please forgive the clunky-ness of the text. Thoughts don’t always flow with grammar and sentence structure intact!]

A cunning plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sugar and spice

OK, since it’s sort of my thing to tell you all about goodies that I get from home, I suppose I should tell you about yesterday’s parcel. (Yeah, I know you’re excited about this!)

It would seem that two of my nephews found themselves with extra Halloween candy—in addition to the extras their Mom had since they only got one (or was it two?) trick-or-treaters. So, the boys, Adrian and Brendan, offered some of their candy to me and my baby sister (their Mom), Royann, added a few other bits-and-bobs to round out the care package. And even though I was expecting the parcel, I beamed with joy and excitement when it arrived. And, true to form, I tore into it straight away!

Inside, I found loads of Now and Laters, a few Tootsie Pops, a couple Bit-o-Honeys, some Dots and JujyFruits, and a smattering of other candies. And, of course, a box of SweetTarts. Royann also included two of my go-to ingredients, Lowery’s Seasoning and Lemon Pepper, as well as a thimble and a vintage handkerchief. (Just in time for cold and flu season!)

But the best things in the parcel were the hand-made cards from the boys, each containing their most recent school photos—and each with jokes and I-love-yous.

Oh, yes, the candy and the seasonings are fantastic, but they’re nothing compared to cards from my nephews. Those were my favourite part. And they look very nice displayed in along with my collection of family photos.

Oh! And I also got a Thanksgiving card from my cousin, Helen, and her family this week. And an enjoyable letter from my friend, George, the week before—one that contained more than 30 questions about how I’m getting along in Scotland.

Yes, parcels and letters from home make the arrival of bills and junk mail seem less annoying!

And amazingly, I’ve not eaten all of the candy yet. But give me time…

Connect the dots

Confession: I have 292 Facebook friends. At least 46 of them are people I’ve never met. 25 or so are people I’ve only met once. 93 are former classmates. 64 are family of one description or another. And (not including family) I’ve only seen 18 of them in real life in the past 12 months.

Further confession: Two of those connections are animals (one cat; one dog).

Of course, I say that I have 292 Facebook friends, but most of them aren’t friends so much as they are a virtual network of acquaintances, former school mates, and family. This isn’t to say I don’t value my Facebook friends, because I do. I really, really do. But the truth is that I (like most adults) only have a handful of friends—you know, real friends as opposed to people I’m friendly with. Thought I must admit that Facebook was the tool that helped to create two of my closest real-life friendships.

The thing I like best about Facebook is the way everything connects. For me, Facebook began with me connecting with my virtual friends—people I ‘knew’ from online forums and newsgroups. Then I began to connect with my family and former school mates as they joined Facebook. And now, I’m connected with people who are connected with people who know me, even though I don’t know the person I’m connected to. (Does that make sense?)

It’s funny the way it works; it’s funny what prompts people to connect. I mean, before Paul died, I was only friends with one of his university friends—a woman I’d met in ‘real life’ years before. A day or two after he died, I received a friend request from another woman he went to uni with, but someone I’d only met once before. After his funeral, several more of his friends ‘friended’ me. Some I’d met, some I’d not met at the time. And still others whom I’ve still never met!

Even funnier still is how people I know from different parts of my life are now overlapping. It seems that as my ‘real life’ friends and ‘virtual’ friends have been connecting with me on my Facebook posts, those sets of people have found common ground and have friended each other. So now my sister is friends with some of my virtual friends. And even different groups of real life friends have found each other—either because they’ve connected virtually or because they’ve met in real life as my US and UK worlds have collided.

But the funniest of all is when I notice the ever-so-faint dots that connect two of my friends when they’re not connected to each other. Example 1: Last year a friend suggestion popped up noting that I had two friends in common with someone I’d never met. But those two friends (one real, one virtual) didn’t know each other, either. It just so happened that my real life friend was an old classmate of a virtual friend’s work colleague. Example 2: A virtual friend of mine is the real life friend of a couple of my husband’s university friends, even though he never met my husband. And it turns out that the same virtual friend is friends in real life and on Facebook with the friends of one of my classmates, who doesn’t know the guy but was very surprised to see that his real life friends had a friend in common with me. (Again, did you follow that?)

You could argue that these arbitrary connections to random strangers around the world are silly and pointless, but it entertains me. Plus that, many of those strangers have been a great social outlet for me when I needed it most. So when I start connecting the virtual dots, I can see a real life network of support.

I’m sure that over time my Facebook friend list will grow even more. And I’m sure that as the networking tool changes to adapt to society (or as society adapts to the tool?) we will change the way we define friends. But that’s OK, because you can never have too many friends. Right?

Gorillas and cheese

A post about gorillas and cheese? Did I mean grilled cheese? Have I gone mad? Well, yes, no, and probably would be the answers there.

So, why am I talking about gorillas and cheese then? Well, because as a blogger I like to use headlines that make people smile. Funny and punny; interesting and intriguing; relevant and informational. Rarely will I use some random, un-connected post title, because the title should be part of the story. And, if it doesn’t lead back to the story, it’s just a waste of words.

I bet you’re really dying to know how gorillas and cheese fits in with this post now, aren’t you?! So let me tell you more about this gorillas and cheese nonsense. (Here’s a hint: It’s not about gorillas or cheese, it’s about email.)

Generally when I write emails, I want the subject line to be informational. If I want a recipe from my mom, the subject might be ‘Navy Bean Soup Recipe?’ or if I need to send travel details to dad, the subject line might be ‘Travel itinerary; Dec 2011’ or if I’m sending an email to my entire family to let them know I’ve arrived in Scotland, the subject line might be ‘Greetings from Sunny Scotland’.

But what about those back-and-forth emails with friends? You know, the ones where the emails are like modern-day letter-writing. I mean, ‘Hi’ and ‘Hello’ are kind of boring subject lines.

And this is where I get to have a bit of fun. I figure subject lines are kind of like starting off with a joke.

Sometimes, I like to find a funny way to tie in the main message (Sean Connery is [not] gay) but other times, I like to use something completely and totally random (The coconut milk made me do it). And other times, I like to open with a compliment (You have a beautiful smile).

My favourite subject lines are ones that make me smile. I got one from a friend a while back titled ‘My big toe is my second toe’. The main email had nothing to do with toes, but there was a post script that explained that he was trying to out-do me in weird subject lines. I laughed. And I also realised that I don’t send as many emails as I used to and that I should fix that.

And if I were to start a list of fun subject lines for future emails, it would include the following:

  • Do you pack your lunch or take the bus to school?
  • Is this the party to whom I am speaking?
  • Elephants eat bananas
  • Polka dots cure curiosity: Read the story here!
  • One million, four hundred thousand, nine hundred, thirty & 12/100

How about you? Any random email subject lines that you’ve used or received or now want to create? After all, email should be fun!

(Funny, I’m now thinking that I want a grilled cheese sandwich for dinner.)

[The post image is of Salvador Dali’s The Persistence of Memory and is displayed here under the Fair Use Doctrine.]

Social conscience

Social lives are interesting things—and hard to define at times. Everyone seems to have one or want one. Or they want a better one or a different one or a less chaotic one. Or they laugh about how their children have better social lives than they do!

Paul and I always talked about our lack of social lives and how, if it weren’t for each other, we’d be hermits. We even joked that we were looking forward to adopting our children because we’d be able to glom onto their social lives and—who knows—maybe even find a bit of socialisation through our kids’ friends’ parents.

Of course, when Paul died I was faced with the realisation that he really was my only true social life. When he died, I found myself in near-isolation and it was hard. It was lonely. It was so very lonely. I didn’t have any friends in the area and my parents (the nearest thing to a social life I had) were a four hour drive away. So I turned to my virtual friends for interaction and support. But I knew there was something missing. I knew that I wanted—that I needed—a friend in the real world to socialise with. Sure, there were a couple of women at work who I chatted with at the office, but it’s not the same.

In fact, when I created my four main life goals, one of the tasks for the happiness goal was to find or create a real-life social life because I knew that being happy (for me) was dependent on having people to interact with.

And I have finally found that social life.

As regular readers will know, I am happily settled in Stirling, Scotland. And as luck would have it, my friend Rebecca lives in Stirling, too. And she’s become the main player in my social life. (Though I honestly hope I’m not being overly clingy as I re-learn the rules of social play!)

Rebecca has been an amazing friend to me for more than two years now, but even more so now that we’re neighbours. I have someone to go to coffee with and to site-see with and to have cocktails with and to have dinner with and to do all sorts of fun things with.

But it’s not just Rebecca. No, there are several players in my social life these days. In fact, I’m heading to Edinburgh on Tuesday for dinner with Joanne and her family. And I have been asked to name a day to meet with Steve and his family and with Les and Yvonne. And I’m meant to meet up with Martin next week and I have to return a call to Lindsay about getting together. And I have to look into a trip to France for a girls’ weekend with Mila.

And then there’s the family side of my social life. Yes, I have to get myself on a train to England so that I can see Liz and Ann and Elizabeth and John and all the rest of them. And I have to get my Mom and Dad on a plane to visit me here. And my cousin Helen is planning a trip. And who knows who else!?

Oh, I could go on and on about how great it is to have a social life again, but I don’t have time. No, I need to get going now so that I can get ready to head into Edinburgh for dinner and a Billy Bragg concert with Rebecca. Oh, and tomorrow night, it’s off to a Milonga at The Junk Rooms. Then next Saturday I’m off to Glasgow for another concert.

So, um, basically my social life has exploded! (Yay!)

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.

I spy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good ol’ goulash

I love goulash. Growing up, I was always happy to see it on the dinner table. Later, as a grown-up, I loved going to my folks’ house and seeing leftover goulash in the fridge—and eating it! But I realised that I’ve never actually made it myself. I guess it was one of those meals that was never prepared when it was my turn to help in the kitchen.

So, when I decided I wanted to make goulash, I had to stop and think about what was in it. I knew it was simple, but wondered if I could replicate it.

I don’t know if I used all the same stuff my folks use, but it seemed to taste like theirs so I’m calling it a success.

Just Goulash

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes
  • 4 (or so) cups cooked macaroni pasta
  • ½ chopped onion
  • Chopped garlic
  • Oregano
  • Fresh ground pepper

Whilst the pasta cooks, brown the ground beef then add garlic and onions to sauté. Add tin of tomatoes (do not drain), oregano, and pepper to the meat and heat through. Add cooked and drained pasta to pan and mix together. Serve and enjoy!

The entire thing cost about £4 to make, and provided tonight’s dinner plus three portions for the freezer. So, £1 per serving. Unless you include the glass of wine I had with it, which was from a £5 bottle (actually, an £8 bottle that was on an incredible sale!). Figuring four meals per bottle of wine (I’m a light weight!) that means £1.25 per glass, bringing the total cost for tonight’s dinner up to £2.25. That’s pretty good, especially when I think about the limited food budget I have at the moment.

Of course, the best thing about budget meals at home is that when I go out to dinner (like I’ll do tomorrow) I don’t feel guilty! (Yay!)

The race is on

If you aren’t already aware of it, tomorrow is Election Day in America. And as we all know (or should know!) one of the most vital parts in a democratic society is to go out and vote.

For me, voting is now done by email. So when I received my ballot from the Kittitas County Auditor’s Office a few weeks ago, I happily printed it out, filled it in, scanned it as a PDF, then emailed it back. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.

Of course, this election will likely have an appallingly small voter turnout. (Heck, even the presidential elections do, in my mind.) This is ‘just’ a local election. My ballot had the mayoral election (one candidate running for re-election, unopposed) and several county-level races (again, mostly people running unopposed) as well as a handful of state initiates. And you may think those things aren’t important, but I think that local and state elections are by far the most important elections you can participate in.

But this election also signals the start of the Big Race. Yes, folks, this time next year we will be voting in the Presidential Election. In fact, we’re already hearing the rumblings of primary races—rumblings that will get louder as we head into the primaries.

As an independent voter, I get pretty excited about elections because they signal an opportunity for change. Mostly, I get excited about the opportunity for the creation of a strong third party in the American political system. But as a citizen of the great United States of America I just get excited about the opportunity to vote.

I’ve made it a point to not get overly political or issue-based here, and I will try to stick to that, but I’ll make no apologies if I do get a bit overly excited about the Big Race coming up.

And if you’re in America—remember to get out and VOTE tomorrow.

Guy’s night

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

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

It was a fantastic firework show, too!

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

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

If the shoe fits

I’ve been experimenting with footwear since my return to Scotland. Yep, it’s heels for this redneck, if you can believe it.

I admit, it’s a bit tricky at times because I still wobble a bit (and that’s with fairly short and chunky heels!) but I’m getting better and I almost feel like a semi-pro! But the biggest bonus is that I feel good! I know it sounds silly, but the dress code here tends to be a bit smarter than the homeland for everyday wear, and I feel good when I am dressed up that little bit more.

But that’s not the point, so I’ll move on now.

The point is that my feet are suffering! They don’t hurt but they are suffering. You see, I’ve always worn sensible, well-fitting shoes without heels. And that meant that I’ve always had pretty feet. Well, not so much as a child because I insisted on wearing shoes that were too small because I didn’t like shoe shopping. Not that I like it anymore now. But I digress. Again…

Back to the point: The bottoms of my feet are starting to get a couple of spots with not-so-soft skin. And I need to figure out how to fix that, whilst still wearing pretty shoes. And since I can’t afford professional pedicures at the moment, I’ll need to figure out how to fix it on my own.

For starters, I am using a heavy lotion before I go to bed, covering my feet with socks as I sleep so as to not get the bedding all lotion-y. I am also spending a bit more time making sure my toenails are trimmed nicely.

But the biggest solution, I imagine, is going to be finding the right shoes and the right inserts. And that, sadly, means shoe shopping. (I think I know someone who can help with that!)

Of course, the other solution would be to return to my redneck roots and just wear casual trainers everywhere.

Silken smiles

I am smiling today because I was given a beautiful gift. But the smile is less about the gift, and more about the reasoning behind it.

It came from a woman on my postgraduate course. And it came so out of the blue. She said it was just because I was so kind and helpful. That was it. It was just to say thank you for being kind and helpful.

It’s a lovely pink silk scarf from the south of China and is absolutely lovely. It really is.

I’ve been smiling today because I was given a beautiful gif—the gift of remembering that people are kind and generous. The gift of friendship.

Comfort zones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Self Confidence

It’s been nearly eight months since I last wrote a poem (horrible or otherwise) for you. Well, for me, actually. So, tonight I decided to whip one up.

As always, it’s a bit rubbish but I enjoy writing them so here it is!

Dear Self Confidence
By Just Frances

Dear Self Confidence:
I would like to tell you
how much I’ve missed you.

You tell me
you’re standing next to me
but I can’t always see you.

You tell me
you’re in my heart and soul
but I can’t always feel you.

You tell me
you’re in my thoughts
but I can’t always notice you.

I would like to tell you
that I need you to be stronger.

I would like to tell you
that I need you to work harder.

I would like to tell you
that I need you to barge in and take over.

So during our next encounter don’t be shy.
Come out and shout and scream.
Come out and jump up and down.

I will embrace you.
You will embrace me.
It will be a special moment.

I need you.
I’m ready for you.
Let’s do lunch.

Much love to you,
Just Frances

Which way?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A thankful November

Just Frances was started with the idea of sharing random nothingness with family and friends as a way to stave off the isolation I was feeling in the first few months after Paul died. It had started with the idea that it would be bright and cheery (fake it ‘til you make it sort of stuff) but slowly I started to share my grief and other less-than-cheery stuff.

I don’t always like sharing the sad stuff because I don’t want to be ‘that’ person, but sometimes the act of sharing the sad makes is easier for me to move past it. And I know I share a lot of sad stuff and that, depending on what’s going on in my world, the sad can seem to dominate, but I like to think that I don’t sound too doom-and-gloom. I like to think that people can see that I’m happy and cheerful quite often—or at least that I’m trying to be happy and cheerful.

Thankfully, I have managed to recapture some of my joy over the past couple of years. It’s not always been easy, but I’ve found that faking it helps. I’ve also found that it helps to take a step back every now-and then to recognise where the good moments are. (Hence, my Finding Joy resolution for 2010.)

But here’s the point: I’ve been so wrapped up in my move and starting school and all of the stress that comes along with major life changes that I’ve been neglecting the thankful things in my life. So, since Thanksgiving is at the end of November, I’ve decided to spend the month reflecting on what I’m thankful for.

For the next month, I will post something I’m thankful for on my blog. I will post those things each day on the left side of Just Frances, just under the block of photos. I will also keep a running list of those things here if you miss a day. (But you’re on here every day, right?)

And here’s a challenge for you: Take some time to look around your world and find something to be thankful for. You can do it just once, or for a week, or a month, or a year, or forever—that’s up to you. Just remember to take some time to reflect on the good things and on the thankful things in your life. And feel free to share some of them with me on this post or the running list.

(Oh! And if you want to know what I’m thankful for today, I am thankful for the love and support I’ve received from family, friends, and strangers over the past couple of years.)

Sugar high

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

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

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

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

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

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

Times, they are a-changin’

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

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

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

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

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

One man’s junk

We’ve heard it a million times before: “One man’s junk is another man’s treasure.” Well, let me just say that I’ve found a treasure in amidst the junk—The Junk Rooms, that is. And now, it’s become a Cocktail Mecca for me and my friend, Rebecca, who introduced me to the place.

The Junk Rooms is filled with, well, junk. It’s a mismatch of jumbled tables and chairs with trinkets, nick-knacks, and pictures all over the place (most of which are available for sale). Once you ascend the stairs to the main dining area, you feel as if you’ve entered your grandmother’s attic (in a good, nostalgic way; not in a bad smelly old person way).

But there is no culinary junk! No, the food is fabby. And the cocktails are even fabbier. (Is fabbier a word?)

Anyhow, last night was Cocktail Night and I really had a fantastic time. I don’t know if it was the martinis, the company, or the fact that the owner had just gotten several boxes of old books from an estate sale and we found ourselves sorting through the paper treasures most of the evening. Actually, it was probably a combination of all three.

I know this sounds like a sales pitch. And I suppose in a way it is—after all, one way to ensure a business you like stays in business is to make sure they get business. But I promise if you go, you’ll not be disappointed. (If it helps: The staff are not only friendly, but they’re easy on the eyes, too.)

A word to the wise, however: Be wary about having that third drink—no matter how lovely it sounds at the time. It might make your Saturday morning a bit groggy. (Thankfully I wasn’t silly enough to go for a forth!)

[Note: The photo is one of my homemade martinis. I was too busy enjoying myself last night to snap a photo!]

Secret smiles

There is something to be said about a smile. People who smile are more approachable. They seem friendlier. They seem carefree. They seem happier.

For me, I’ve found that I smile when I’m happy. And when I’m happy I have a spring in my step. And when I have a spring in my step it makes everything brighter. And I’ve found that when I’m stressed or sad, I don’t smile. But I’ve also found that if I fake a smile, I can turn a not-so-happy day into a better one (sometimes).

There was a time when I was that happy person who smiled all the time—and rarely was I faking it. Oh yes, I was that overly chirpy person who always saw the good in everything and everyone. People would comment about how bright and cheery and happy I was. (Oh, and I hummed. A lot. In public. And I didn’t care. And I skipped at times, too.)

But widowhood stole that part of my world away. No, really. Since Paul died I’ve lost that naturally occurring joy. For more than two years now, I’ve struggled to be happy and cheery. I mean, it’s not like I’m never happy and cheery, it’s just that I’m not that person all the time like I once was.

Of course, I’ve been trying to re-claim that person for quite a while now. In fact, my 2010 resolution was ‘Finding Joy’—which helped me to see a glimpse of Old Frances. And that glimpse reminded me that I need to get back to that person all together.

For the longest time, I’ve struggled to find my smile. But now that I’m back in Scotland, plunging head-first into my future and my dreams, it’s time to put the search for my smile at the top of my list because I don’t want to be the girl who always hears “Cheer up, love” from strangers as she walks down the road. No, I want to be the one who always hears “You have a lovely smile” from strangers as she walks down the road.

But how do I do that? Well, I guess that I need to fake it. I need to plaster a fake smile on my face and walk out the door with fake confidence.

So that’s what I’ve been doing for the past week. I’ve been reminding myself to smile when I’m walking down the street or when I’m waiting for the bus. I’m even smiling when I’m cooking dinner or sitting on the couch. Now, I don’t know if I’m in a better mood because of these forced smiles, but I do know that I have been feeling a bit peppy. (Maybe that’s the excitement of a new flat?)

Of course, this means that I’m walking down the street with a smile plastered on my face. Everywhere I go I’m aware that I have an ever-so-slight smile. A Mona Lisa-like half smile—you know, the sort of smile that you can see but you don’t know why it’s there. No one knows why it’s there because it’s a secret. And it’s a secret because I daren’t let anyone know it’s fake. (Well, other than you, obviously.)

And as I walk around with my smile, secretly knowing that it’s a smile for no other reason than to smile, I’m finding that I have a little spring in my step. And I’ve even caught myself humming as I walk down the street or singing along to the music in the shops. And it’s making me happy. It’s making me smile without thinking about it—without forcing it.

So I guess that the secret to being a happy, smiley person is to just smile. It’s that simple. Just smile. (And if you’re faking it, that can be a secret!)

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.

Re-packing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday will be here before I know it.

A box of love

You don’t need words to know you’re loved. Not really. Sometimes, a box of stuff says it all. Take, for example, the box that came in the post for me today.

It was a simple box filled with simple things. No note to explain the occasion or the contents. Just a simple box filled with simple things. But I didn’t need a note to know that the box was sent because I’m loved.

You see, the box was sent by my Ant Elizabeth—all the way from America! And the contents were (I’m assuming) chosen because of my list of foods I would miss when I moved. You see, she reads my blog regularly so she knew just what to send. It’s just another example of how amazing she is. She is, after all, the woman who so kindly took in my cat when I left. And she is, after all, the woman who I used to want to be when I grew up. (It’s not that I don’t still look up to her, it’s just that I learned that I can’t be someone else, I have to be me.) And she is, after all, the woman I call my twin! (Really, we look quite a bit alike. Yes, she’s gorgeous just like me!)

Anyhow, since I told you what my parents sent last week, I’ll tell you what Ant Elizabeth sent this week!

  • Black olives (3 cans)
  • 1000 Island dressing (1 bottle)
  • Ranch mix (2 packs)
  • General Tso’s Chicken seasoning mix (2 packs)
  • A bag of ‘Fun Size’ Butterfingers
  • A bag filled with a variety of mini-sized candy bars

And this all means that I have olives not only for tacos, but for Thanksgiving—where I might have to teach my guests about the American tradition of putting olives on your fingers before eating them. And it means that I can have yummy Rueben sandwiches. And it means I can make Ranch dip to share with my friends on Halloween and Thanksgiving. And I can introduce my friends to the greatness of General Tso’s.

And, if I’m feeling generous, I can have my friends help with a comparison taste test to determine—once and for all—what the difference is between American and UK Milky Way bars. (If I’m feeling really generous, I might even share a Butterfinger or two. Maybe.)

Thank you, Ant Elizabeth. You have no idea how amazingly happy I was to receive goodies from home today. No, really, my face hurts from all the happy smiles. I love you!!

Music to launder money by

There’s an ice cream van that comes around the neighbourhood most evenings around 6:30. When I first heard the magical music, I smiled as I realised that I could grab my money and run down to buy a frozen treat if I wanted. Oh yes, my inner child was oh-so-happy.

Then, one night, the music came on and I mentioned it to Rebecca. And Rebecca then mentioned that ice cream vans are sometimes used as a way to launder money. And hair salons launder money, too, apparently. (And in a quick search, I’ve learned that ice cream vans have been known to sell smuggled cigarettes, too!)

Now when I hear the melodic vehicle I still smile—no longer with naive innocence, but instead with the wryness of knowledge.

But here’s the deal: If it’s true, am I breaking the law by knowing aiding in criminal activity by purchasing a Cornetto? I mean, I don’t want to risk a criminal record over a lousy frozen treat.

Chalk it up to intelligence

Since the beginning of June, I’ve been a bit remiss about organising my digital files. I think I got a bit crazy with my foster daughter moving, followed by quitting my job, leaving my house, moving to Scotland, starting school, and well, just life in general!

But the point is this: Tonight I got around to looking at some of the photos that I’ve taken over the past few months* and I found one of the sidewalk chalk drawing my foster daughter made for me a couple of days before she left. She was so excited to drag me out of the house to see it and I was so excited to see her so excited about it!

Yes, the kid thought I was pretty awesome. When we’d go into town, she insisted on introducing me to everyone as her ‘awesome foster mom’. She failed to acknowledge, however, that I couldn’t have been an awesome foster mom without having such an awesome foster kid.

Anyhow, I just thought I’d share the kid’s artwork. I miss seeing her drawings every day (I miss seeing her every day!), but at least I know she’s still happily drawing away in her new home. In fact, when we spoke on the phone last week, I asked if she needed/wanted anything and her only request was a new sketch book with the Loch Ness Monster or a Scottish flag on it.

I wonder what I’ll find the next time I flip through my photos …

* Don’t worry! I’m not one of those people who keep photos on the camera for months and months at a time. I’ve been transferring to my computer and backup drive; I’ve just not filed all of them in their respective folders.

Budgeting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cutting out the middles

So I’m working on a new design project for my parents. Just a little something that will make Mom smile—and me. (Likely others in the family, too, but I can’t be sure yet.)

Anyhow, part one is underway: Photoshopping a photo of me and my sister, Celeste. Together, we share the ‘middle child’ position in our family. We also share a birth month, but not a birthday, as I was born two years and six days before her. I know this is all more information than you needed, but I felt it was warranted to explain the silly title of this post. But I digress…

It’s a bit tedious because I have to cut out the two of us from a busy airport scene—and I have to do it without trimming too much off of our shoes and hair. It’s hard, especially since I’m self-taught on the software.

But this is where I am so far. Now I just need to clean up the edges a bit and figure out what the background will be. (No, it won’t be green.)

There is a lot more work to be done and I don’t know when it will get finished, but I’ll be sure to share the finished design when it’s complete!

Happy Friday!

Trick of the treats

Oh, what a sweet day it is! I arrived home to see that the postman brought me a parcel all the way from America. Oh yes—a parcel filled with yummy candies from the homeland.

Inside the parcel was a selection of some of my favourite American candies—and a sampling of candies I requested for Rebecca, after having a conversation last month about them. (I mean, if my Scottish friends are so kind as to introduce me to their cultural yummies, it’s only fair that I introduce them to mine. Right?)

So, here’s what my wonderful Mommy and Daddy sent me (all the miniature trick-or-treat versions):

These are all great candies that I can’t (seemingly) get in the UK. The 3 Musketeers and Butterfinger bars are great because those have always been my go-to choice for candy bars. The Milk Duds and Whoppers are my ‘nice to have at the movies with a big container of popcorn’ treats. The Smarties and Jolly Ranchers fall into my love of chalky sweets and sucky hard candies. And the Hot Tamales and Mike and Ikes* (whilst also on my go-to list of sweets to buy) are ones that I’m excited to share with Rebecca.

Of course, I did have to laugh since there were no Candy Corns in the parcel. No, Mom forgot to put them in. Or is it that they got eaten before she made a trip to the post office … ? Either way, I’m very thankful to my awesome parents for sending me candy.

Now the trick is going to be not eating the treats until Halloween.

(And if you’re looking for a way to get rid of your leftover Halloween candy, give me a shout and I’ll send you my address… she says only half jokingly…)

* It seems that you can, in fact, get Mike and Ike Tropical flavour here, just not the originals, and since Rebecca likes the tropical ones, I thought she should try the others. And, if you don’t already know, Hot Tamales are actually a secondary product. They are made by re-melting all of the ill-formed Mike and Ikes then they add loads of cinnamon flavour to mask the mis-match of flavours from all of the other candies. Really.

For the grade

I now have less than two weeks to complete my first assignment as a postgraduate student. It’s a bit strange doing school work again, but I am really enjoying it.

My first assignment is a book review for my cultural theory class and is due by noon next Friday (Oct 21). The book, Matt Hill’s How to do Things with Cultural Theory, is not one that I would ordinarily choose to read which makes it difficult, but it’s not the worst book I’ve ever read. I think the hardest part right now is that, unlike when reading for pleasure, I can’t just give up on it and toss it aside.

Of course, the awesome thing about a book review is that it’s not too difficult to write. Basically, it will include an outline of the subject and a summary of how the book is organised followed by my comments on the content including any thoughts on the usefulness (or lack of usefulness) the book has.

So, in between now and next Friday, I need to read 181 pages (including the introduction and conclusion, but not the unfeasibly long bibliography) then write a 1,000 word (+/- 10%) review. And it needs to be double spaced using APA referencing. And it needs to be submitted in both hardcopy and electronic forms.

And I get to do it all for a grade. I think that’s the part I’m worried about. I mean, can my ego take the hit if I get a less-than-awesome grade? Can my emotions handle it if I find out that I’m not as clever as I think I am? It’s a lot of pressure you know, especially for someone who spent the first many years of her life thinking she was stupid.

The hardest part, as regular readers will know, is going to be keeping within the word limit. After all, I tend to go on and on and on and on and …

And I promise not to bore you with details and musings about all of my assignments. (Some, yes. All, no.)

Solo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When sadness comes

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

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

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

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

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

Job done!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why run?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three more sleeps

Oh my goodness! Do you realise that there are only three more sleeps until the Loch Ness Marathon? Well, restless sleeps would be my guess, but I’m sure I’ll get a bit of sleep in between now and then.

I know I’ve not talked much about my training lately, and I suppose that’s because I’ve not managed to get as much training is as I should and I’m really feeling quite guilty about that. Then last weekend I thought I might be coming down with a cold so I feared I’d not be able to do the run at all. (Have no fear—I think it was a case of mild exhaustion, not a cold, and I’m feeling much better now. Thanks for asking.)

Anyhow, I am now in hydration mode. Yep, I’m drinking water like mad and am trying to eat loads of good training-type foods in an effort to be ready for the big race. Not that someone of my meagre skills can see an improvement in ability that way. But still, I’m being a good girl and eating my veggies. (And fruits and carbs and stuff.)

So that’s it for today really. I’ve had all the water I can handle for the day and am now heading off to bed.

Oh! And did you notice the swirl drawing? Well, that’s one I started working on a while back but I haven’t had time to complete it. And since I just got a groovy new printer/scanner combo for school this afternoon, I thought I may as well test it out by sharing more swirls with you! I hope you like them!

Nighty night!

Not quite the answer

Today is my eldest sister’s birthday. Yep. The big something-or-other. I’ll give you a hint: She’s a year shy of being the answer to life, the universe, and everything. (More hints can be found here.)

I don’t know if it’s fair for me to post a happy birthday message to her since I’ve neglected to do so for three of the other four this year, but who said life was fair? Maybe next year I will succeed in public birthday greetings for all of my sisters. Stick around to find out.

Happy birthday, Veronica!

(And apologies for stealing this photo from your Facebook page, but it made me smile.)

Another light bulb moment

Today my Dad gave me a quick call on Skype to tell me that a parcel arrived for me (I’ve had my post forwarded to the folks’ place) and he wanted to know if he should open it. The parcel was from my utility company and it seemed strange that they’d be sending me anything other than an electric bill, which I get by email anyhow.

So I had Dad open it and as he did so, he mentioned the label on the side saying something about my ‘CFL have arrived’. Odd, I’d not ordered any CFLs. What are those anyhow? Oh, wait! It’s all coming back to me now.

About three years ago I sent away for free compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) from my utility company and promptly forgot about it. But sure enough, once Dad got that box opened, there were eight brand-spanking new CFLs nestled inside for me.

And that means that whilst the energy company might be keen to get their customers to use energy efficient light bulbs, they are not very efficient with sending them out!

I’ve declined Dad’s offer to send them to me, even though I know that he’d do it in under three years’ time. Instead, I’ll let my folks use them. You know, so that they can say I’ve brightened their lives.

Rationalised spending

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

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

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

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

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

Classy lady

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ripples for me

For the first time in my life, I am crocheting something for me. Yep, I’m making a pretty red ripple afghan throw for the couch in my new flat—with a goal to finish the throw before I move in toward the end of October.

OK, that first part isn’t 100% true because I was once working on a queen-sized ripple afghan for my bed, but later decided I would make it for my Mom. And that didn’t get finished before I left for Scotland so I left the project in the hands of my baby sister, Royann, who is only just learning to crochet and will be taking over my left-handed project with her right-handed stitches as her first-ever project. (Royann: Remember you can Skype me or go see ANT Elizabeth for help if you need it!)

But I digress…

When the throw is completed it will be the width of a twin blanket and about 4 feet long—or longer. But at the moment it’s about the size of a scarf. So, um, more hooking is needed!

I know that one little throw isn’t going to be enough to make my new flat feel as much like home as the home I left behind did, but it’s a start. And I like the idea of having something that I made in my new flat.

Note to self: Don’t become that crazy lady who spends every Saturday night at home crocheting lace doilies for every surface of the house and knitting tea cosies for everyone in her address book!

Sign here

Remember how I said that I think I found a new flat? Well, yesterday I paid the deposit and today I picked up the contracts, which means I’m one step closer to a home of my own again—even if only a temporary one.

I have to admit that yesterday was a bit of a hard day for me and I nearly didn’t go to pay the deposit. Several little things made me question myself and sent me into a bit of mild hysteria as I wondered if I had chosen the right flat and I even began to stress about the stress that might be waiting for me in a year’s time when I have to figure out the next steps for my future.

But I managed to calm myself down and I reminded myself how right this new place feels and how I can afford it and how I really believe I can be happy living there. It’s funny, because as soon as I paid the deposit I began to feel a bit better. (Yay!)

I now have the daunting task of reading through the contracts and trying to understand UK rental speak. Of course, I’m lucky to have friends who will read through them as well and will answer questions I may have about the wording.

The next step is to take in the signed contracts and wait. And wait. And wait. Because I don’t get the keys until October 24. That’s a lot of waiting for someone who hates waiting!

But to keep myself busy, I have a marathon to think about. Oh, and there’s always that master’s degree I’m meant to be doing to keep me busy, too.

And (I promise I’m nearly done) I have picked up my crochet hooks again so that I can make a pretty throw for the couch in my lovely new flat. Maybe I’ll share my progress with you on that soon.

Reflections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not today

I was going to write a post about my first day of classes, but in typical student fashion, I just can’t be bothered. So instead, I’ll just post a quick hello to test out my new post-by-phone application on my gadet-y new android phone.

I promise to post something later in the week though and will let you know how all of my classes are at the end of the week. Deal?

One down; one long one to go

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Olives

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

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

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

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

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

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

Potentially home

Earlier today I mentioned that there was some good news in my search for a flat and I have been asked by a couple of friends over the past few days about my progress, so here’s the update: I think I’ve found a new flat!

I checked out a place Monday morning that is very near where I’m staying now and is only about a ten minutes’ walk to the city centre. It is £25 more per month and slightly smaller than my second choice flat, but choice #2 is five minutes further from the centre, is a bit rough around the edges, sits just off a main road, and has a very dingy, small kitchen that would be horrendous to cook in. Choice #1 is modern and clean with a very well-fitted (though still small) kitchen. There isn’t as much storage, but realistically I don’t need that much storage anyhow!

The flat is a fully furnished property (with very well maintained and nice furnishings) and has a double bedroom with wardrobe, living room, separate kitchen, and full bathroom—in addition to two small storage cupboards in the entry hall. (Is this sounding like a sales pitch yet?) It also has a reserved parking spot for me (despite my not having a car) and plenty of guest parking (despite the fact that I don’t plan to have many guests). And, carrying on with the pitch, it has a security entrance, gas central heating, and double glazing throughout.

The down side? Well, it’s small—at least when compared to the massive four bedroom family home I left behind in the states. And it’s at the top end of my budget which means I’ll have to be a bit more mindful of my pennies. Oh, and it’s on the top floor of a four storey building with no lift. Which isn’t a problem for me since I’m fairly fit, but I don’t think Mom is going to like it when she comes to visit!

Of course, it’s not mine yet. As of now, I’ve said I want it and the agent has sent me a letter outlining the next steps. So, the next step is for me to pay a deposit then they’ll issue the contracts. After that, I just have to wait until the end of October to move in. That’s going to be the hard part—waiting for more than a month to move in after having found something I love!

So there you have it—an update on my potential new home. I know that things can change in between now and my moving, but I do feel quite comfortable with the process so far. Oh! And my connections tell me that the letting agent for this property is probably one of the most reputable ones in town, which is encouraging! (I will give a full rave once I move in, of course!)

I wonder how soon I can start planning my flat warming party … ?

Honestly, I’ll keep blogging

It would seem that I’m not very good at this whole blogging thing of late, and I apologise for that. I suppose that it has a lot to do with the fact that I am no longer living in near isolation—meaning I have real life people to talk to—and that I have been running around quite a bit visiting family and friends and getting ready for the start of term. But I’ve been meaning to write, really.

In fact, on Saturday I had thought I might post about how I am re-learning the art of solo site seeing. It was something that I always did before I met Paul (and did with enjoyment at that time in my life) but it would seem that now that I’m seeing the sites on my own again—and not really by choice—that it can be a little sad. But then I got sidetracked after a rather upsetting conversation and thought I’d blog about that because I needed to vent, but really didn’t want to vent here. Then Rebecca came home (as a reminder, she’s the friend I’m staying with until I get my own flat) and instead of blogging my emotions, I vented to her. It was actually good to have a real-life person to vent to, but I felt bad about burdening her. (It really helped, too, but meant that I was so emotionally drained that it was all I could do to drink half a bottle of Champagne and watch Doctor Who before going to bed.)

So then I thought I might blog about Sunday. Rebecca and I took the train through to Glasgow to check out a craft fair and to do some vintage shopping (I had success at both activities!). We also took a side trip to find the house that a former work colleague’s grandmother lived in before moving to America. (Sadly, the house seems to have been torn down.) But by the time we got home it was time for me to Skype with one of my sisters and her kids and by the time we were done chatting I was beat and ready for an early night.

That brought me to Monday—the first day of the first semester for my postgraduate career. I had looked at a flat in the morning that I decided was perfect for me (I will update on the flat hunt later—maybe even today!) which meant that I was all smiles for my trek to campus. Once on campus I met with my programme director and was so excited to determine my modules—one of which felt as if it was designed especially for me! But when I got home, I was too busy sharing my exciting day with Rebecca whilst we pigged out on curry that I never got around to blogging.

And then yesterday I decided that I would share all the details about my degree and what I hoped to learn and study. I even started the post. But then I learned that the module I felt was designed for me was being cancelled because only two of us signed up for it. I have to say that I was completely gutted! So instead of telling you about my courses, I spent time thinking about what module to take instead. (It’s between two and I hope to know what to do by tomorrow.) I also spent the day getting books and reading materials for next week—and actually reading in preparation. And, again, I was too beat (and emotionally exhausted) to blog about it all.

Which brings us to this post: A post about the things I thought about posting about over the past few days but never did. (Really, it’s more to update my Mom and a few others who’ve indicated that they’d rather have boring ‘what I did today’ posts than no posts at all.)

Again, I’m going to get better at this; I think I just need to get a routine sorted out. After all, blogging really is a great outlet for me and I find my life is much calmer when I’m writing. So here are a few post topics you can look forward to over the next few weeks: My first Scottish race, my first marathon, my first day of classes, my new flat, Ian Rankin, and an anecdote or two about the differences between Scotland and my part of America. Yay!

[The image with this blog was created by me with the awesome Keepcalm-O-Matic. Yay, again!]

I’ve been ID’d

Yippy! I picked up my student ID card today and am officially able to get student discounts now. Yay!! Though, funnily, the only student discount I’ve gotten so far was for my bus fare on the way to campus. I stepped aboard and asked if it was the bus to campus and was kindly told it was and asked if I had my student ID—to which I said no, as I was on my way to pick it up. But the nice man gave me the 50p discount anyhow. (So trusting!) And I thought it was pretty cool that he thought I looked like I could be a student.

So that’s the other cool thing about today: At 37 years old, I am finally holding a student ID card proclaiming me as a postgraduate student. Yay!

I’m back on campus on Monday to meet with my programme director and to register for my course modules. Then I’m back on Tuesday for a couple of orientation meetings. Then I think I’ll start attending classes later in the week. But I don’t know when…

Oh, and if you’re looking at the photo thinking ‘Wow! What an awesome student ID photo!’, you should know it’s been edited for my own amusement, because that’s how I roll!

Re-searching

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The flat hunt begins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boxed cat

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

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

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

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

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

And now on to the thank yous:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Wakey culture

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

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

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

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

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

By the sea

Today has been a seaside day. But not just one seaside—three of them! Or, really, I suppose it was all the same sea, but just three different seaside towns.

It started with a trip to Saltburn with one of my sister-in-law’s and her daughter where we took in the fresh sea air, walked along the pier, and enjoyed (of course) fish and chips. Our conversations there revealed that I’d never been to any of the other local-to-Billingham seaside towns (other than Seaton, obviously) and that my niece wanted blue ice cream—a treat we were unable to source at Saltburn.

And so, after departing Saltburn we headed up the road to Redcar (in a silver car) in search of blue ice cream (which we didn’t find) and later in search of the car (which we lost after forgetting where we parked it). Of course, being as we had time to spare, we decided to head up the road again to Seaton Carew where we hoped that we’d find that blue ice cream. Sadly, we didn’t, but they did have other flavours (and colours) of ice cream and a blue cone, which seemed to suffice.

The day wasn’t meant to be a tour of the regional seaside, but it was and I enjoyed it very much. Better still, I enjoyed the company! Better even still is that I know that I will get to enjoy their company more often now that I’m so near. (The bitter-sweet side to that, of course, is that whilst I’m happy to be enjoying the company of my in-laws and Scottish friends, it comes at the price of missing my own family and American friends.)

Oh, and to fill you in since I’ve been a bit MIA these last few days:
Yesterday was spent meeting with several of my in-laws for coffee at Starbucks before heading off gadget phone shopping with one of my nephews—a shopping trip that was hugely successful and saw me purchasing my first-ever Android based phone. And I love it! (I’m sure I’ll be posting updates from it soon enough!)

Tomorrow I’m off running so that I can prepare for my marathon, then the following day I’m heading down to Wakefield to see another sister-in-law. And sometime next week, I’ll spend some time sorting the long to-do list I have that seems to be getting longer rather than shorter!

Right! That’s most everything caught up so I’m off to play with that new gadget a bit more.

Home away from home away from home

Today I left my new home in Stirling to take a train journey to Billingham, England—Paul’s hometown and home to some of my in-laws. My sister-in-law, Liz, and niece, Rachel, met me at the train station to bring me to my English ‘weekend’ home.

When I got to the house, I was escorted to my room, which has been all done up for my arrival. But not only that, the night stand drawer has been filled with goodies for me—including my very own coffee mug for keeping in the kitchen downstairs, which means I no longer have to use a guest mug. (Yay!) And then, of course, we loaded back into the car with the dogs to head to Seaton Carew so that I could have fish-n-chips for dinner. Because no trip to Billingham is complete without a stop off at The Almighty Cod!

After enjoying our fish on the bench, we wandered down to the beach where the dogs chased balls into the sea whilst I collected shells to write a message in the sand. The sun was shining and the light breeze was just as you’d expect it. Later, walking back up the beach to the car park, I found sea glass for the first time ever—lots and lots of it! (I think a return visit for the sole purpose of finding more glass is in order!)

And now I’m back at the house, all cosy in my very own room, and feeling very much like this is my home away from the home that I live in now that I’m no longer home. (Did you follow that?*)

I’m down here in England for the next two+ weeks, with plans to return to Scotland the first weekend of September. I hope to be able to visit with all (or at least most) of the in-laws as well as train for my marathon and relax.

* My first home [hometown] is Cle Elum, Washington; my current home [or home away from home, and where my heart sings the loudest] is Scotland [Stirling, to be exact]; my home away from home when I’m already home away from home is Billingham, Paul’s hometown. Is that clearer?

The feathers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A palatial day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Got there

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In flight

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

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

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

But I digress…

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

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

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

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

Caledonia, I’m going home!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hello; goodbye

Today I said hello to an old friend from high school for the first time since high school. Sadly, I also said goodbye to her. (Or more accurately: I’ll see you again, and in less than 20 years this time!)

Amy and I were always friendly in school. Not always best buds and we didn’t really ‘hang out’ much, but she was always one of the people I liked very much. In fact, about five years ago I saw that she was on Classmates.com and I searched her name on Google trying to find out more about her. I was excited to learn that she was living not too far from me, and that she was in a similar career field to me. But I didn’t really know how to contact her because she was unlisted. Then we connected on Facebook and I realised that the Amy [Married Name] I Googled was a different person than the Amy I wanted to connect with! (This is all probably news to Amy; I never told her of my previous stalking before!)

On Facebook, Amy and I rarely connected because life got in the way. But after Paul died, she sent me the most amazing, heart-felt note and it touched my soul. After that, I found myself peeking at her blog from time-to-time, but never commenting. Then one day I was writing a blog post about saying goodbye to my car and noticed that she had a similar post on her blog—a post I linked to.

Soon, we were reading each other’s blogs regularly, and commenting on them. Even though my old friend lived clear on the other side of the state, she became an amazing support network for me. She was there when I needed her, offering words of support, wisdom, and encouragement.

For two years now, we’ve rekindled our friendship online. And today we met for lunch (with our sisters, Celeste and Maile, who were also friends and classmates growing up). It was like we’d only seen each other yesterday. It was so comfortable, and so long overdue!

I am sad that I am leaving behind such an amazing friend, but I am so happy that she will be on the other side of a keyboard any time I need her. I am so lucky to have such a wonderful friend.

Thank you, Amy, for everything! I love you and will certainly stay in touch. You’re the kind of friend everyone in this world needs—a true friend!!

[Left to right: Amy, Maile, Celeste, and me.]

The Doctor is in

Today is the long-awaited Doctor Who Marathon with my 14-year-old niece, Flik; 13-year-old niece, Cassandra; and Flik’s best friend, Hattie.

We are kicking back eating loads and loads of junk food whilst watching The Doctor save the world over and over again. He’s kinda cool like that.

You can give credit to Flik for the party, as she’s recruited as many Doctor Who fans as she could since I first introduced her to the greatness of the BBC sci-fi series about three years ago.

I’m looking forward to returning home to Scotland where everyone I know are Who Fans, but for now, I’m enjoying my newly-recruited Who Fans. Oh yes, Anglophiles in the making!!

Two full days of American life and three sleeps in the homeland, then I head to the airport. Yay! (But I’ll miss hanging out with my nieces and their friends when I leave!)

[That’s a picture of a TARDIS flannel (wash cloth) that a friend insisted I buy as a souvenir when we went to the Doctor Who exhibit a couple of years ago. It’s sat unused until tonight, and now belongs to a very happy Flik!]

Running goodbyes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eggs benny

Last night I drove out to Vantage for Girls’ Weekend at The Beach House—my second ever girls’ weekend, though sadly I was only able to attend one evening.

I was late in arriving because I was so busy with a million ‘must do before I move’ chores, but got there in plenty of time to visit with my sister, Celeste, and her best friend (and our host), Jenna, as well as their friends Rachel, Heather, and Sarah. And whilst Rachel and Heather were both lovely women and I enjoyed talking with them, it was Sarah who stole my heart—or rather, my tummy!

Sarah, it seems, is hoping to open a food cart soon. But not just any food cart—one that serves Eggs Benedict and BACON cookies! (Yes, really!!)

Now, I don’t know if you know this, but I LOVE bacon. So I was very happy to taste-test last night’s chocolate chip, sea salt, and bacon cookies. And I LOVE Eggs Benedict. So I was very thrilled to learn that Sarah was making breakfast for us this morning. And breakfast was (you guessed it!) Eggs Benedict! And can I just say, it was YUM-ME!!

Several hours later and I am at my baby sister’s house, in preparation for a race I’m participating in with my niece, Flik, and two 12-year-old nephews, Haden and Adrian, tomorrow morning. (I’m doing the 10K; the kids are doing the 5K.) But even though I’m here, where I’m awaiting an amazing dinner of barbequed tacos, I’m still thinking about my breakfast. It really was that good!

(Thanks, Sarah! I’m certain that your business venture will be a great success!!)

Fun with maths

[Please note that the ‘S’ at the end of maths was intentional, and not an error. It’s part of my attempt to use that funny British English stuff, since that’s (almost) home. However, I’m not quite ready to add the ‘S’ to words such as toward, forward, and backward. One day, I will completely acclimatise myself to the extra and replacement ‘S’s though. I think. But now onto the story.]

Once again, I’ve had a couple of great, fun-filled days. And much of the fun has included numbers. Like:

3+9=Golftastic!
Three friends came to visit yesterday and we were given the opportunity to play nine holes of golf at Rope Rider. The course isn’t open to the public for another three weeks, so it was a rare treat. It was also quite interesting to play since the course isn’t marked so we didn’t know where the tee-boxes were or what par was on each hole. Additionally, we didn’t have a course map and the pins weren’t out on the greens so we didn’t actually know where to aim! But we all had a great time and the course was absolutely amazing!

12+1+3+1=Runtastic!
So this morning I woke up bright and early (like, 6 a.m.!) for a 12-mile training run (12+1). I’ve been feeling a bit lazy with my running the last few days, so wasn’t about to bail on it! Thankfully, my Dad woke up early, too, so that he could ride along with me on his trike (that’s the 3+1 part, if you wondered).

NieceX3+Yakima=Funtastic!
After cooling down from my run, I grabbed three of my nieces (Flik, 14; Cassandra, 13; and Ivanna, 13) for a quick trip to Yakima. We loaded into my car and turned up the tunes (500 Miles by The Proclaimers was the first song request) then just sang and laughed on our way to ‘the big city’ (population 91,000 that’s big to us!). Our first stop was Target for some new running tops, then it was on to Miner’s for burgers and fries. After an enjoyable lunch we stopped off at the art supply and book stores before making the return drive to the homeland. It was really fun to be out with the girls, and I especially loved chatting with Ivanna about her dreams of being a tattoo artist when she grows up. (I doubt her mom enjoys hearing that career choice!)

36+Colours+Tin Case=Drawtastic!
Of course, I also managed to invest in some future fun! Yep, when we went to the art supply store, I noticed that they had a 50 percent off sale on premium coloured pencil sets. And since I have been frustrated with my $5 cheap-and-cheerful set intended for elementary students, I broke down and purchased a set of Prismacolor pencils. There are just 36 in the set, compared to 72 in the cheap set, but they are meant to be much better and come in a handy tin for carrying with me. And since we all know that I find joy (and therapy) in drawing swirls, it just seemed like $30 well spent!

And since we’re talking about maths, here are some more figures for you:

  • 7: Number of sleeps left until my flight
  • 39: Number of sleeps left until the first day of classes
  • 59: Number of sleeps left until I run/walk the Loch Ness Marathon

(Not bad for a woman who hates maths, huh?)

[That’s a photo of today’s burgers. Yum, huh?]

An awesome Monday

I’ve had a pretty awesome Monday, if you wondered. It started when I woke up at 6 a.m. and checked my email. That’s when I learned that I’d been awarded a £2,000 Scotland Saltire Scholarship toward my tuition at the University of Stirling. Then I went for an eight-mile run, where I shaved two minutes off my time on the same route last week.

After cooling down with some refreshing mountain water and a cup of coffee, I decided to call HM Revenue and Customs to sort my UK tax refund. Only I read the wrong number from my list and called my sister-in-law in England instead which meant a nice, unexpected chat with Liz, after which I called the tax man. And the tax man agreed with me that there was an error on their end and is sorting out a cheque for me for nearly £700.

By this time, it’s only about 9 a.m. and I’ve already managed a successful training run and have increased my bank balance by £2,700! Then about 40 minutes later, my eldest sister showed up with her daughters so that we could all head up to Tumble Creek for a round of golf. It was potentially the longest game I’ve ever played—despite us playing a scramble format—but it was so great to play with the girls!

When I finally got home (around 5 p.m.?) I got the chance to relax for a bit before my friend, Marv, arrived for a trip up to Fifty6 Degrees for a wee dram of single malt. (We chose Talikers; yum!)

And now I’m home again and ready for bed. It’s been an active day, but an awesome one. Thankfully, tomorrow appears to be considerably less active, but also enjoyable since I have a lunch date with Jennifer!

Widow dreams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Running into excuses

So I’m training for this marathon. Only I’m not doing that great at the moment. Last week I was pretty pleased with myself: four miles on Monday; six miles on Wednesday; then 10 miles at the ocean on Saturday. And I made pretty good time with all three runs.

This week, I planned to do six miles on Wednesday and 10 miles on Friday (today) followed by a 14-mile run on Monday or Tuesday. But it’s all gone a bit wrong. You see, on my Wednesday run I was really pleased with how it was all going and was excited to see that my time was 3+ minutes better than the same run last Wednesday. And as I finished, I saw Dad’s bike parked out front, all loaded up for his overnight trip. So I grabbed one of the water bottles to quench my thirst. Only it wasn’t water, but rather white gas for his camp stove! Thankfully, I realised just as I was going to drink so whilst I did get a mouthful, I didn’t swallow. Also thankfully, there really was water in the other bottle to rinse my mouth with.

Then that night, my lower legs and feet were extremely swollen. Like really, really swollen. Now, I don’t know if the white gas incident had anything to do with it or if it was a combination of the run, the heat, and my lack of water intake. But last night my feet were a bit swollen, too. Again, I stopped to wonder if that was a white gas leftover, the heat, or a lack of water again.

Anyhow, today’s run was meant to be 10 miles, but I opted to turn a mile early for an eight mile run instead. And several things made me do that: 1) I hadn’t slept well the night before thanks to ‘Widow dreams’ (more on that tomorrow maybe); 2) my running clothes seemed to be ill-fitting, likely because they’d been going through the tumble dryer (will now air dry running gear); 3) my feet seemed unhappy; 4) the sun was beating down like mad; and 5) the winds were really strong on the return.

I think that everything combined made my determination waiver a bit. And when my mind was processing the previous night’s dreams, it just made the run even more miserable. So I’m two miles behind on my training now, but I know that I can catch up and will still get my 14-mile run in before my flight leaves.

And as to not leave with just excuses for a shorter-than-planned run, here are some solutions:

  • I am working to increase my water intake again. It’s really fallen since I stopped working.
  • I am looking into some better running clothes. I noticed today that it was too hot for the jacket I had (which is actually a golf jacket and not a proper running one) but the wind on my sweaty arms made it too cold not to have long sleeves. So a proper running coat and/or long sleeved top is needed!
  • I am going to try to get up earlier for my longer runs—like before the sun gets so hot. (Though I did start before 7:30 this morning, so maybe that won’t matter.)
  • I am going to get some new, more motivational music on my running iPod. The stuff I have is good, but I need new tunes!
  • I am going to just try harder!

I’m taking the weekend off since tonight and tomorrow night is class reunion stuff (my 20th is next year, but with such a small school we often combine a few years, since we all know each other so well!) and tomorrow morning I’m having a yard sale to try to get rid of some more stuff before my move. Oh, and Sunday is lunch with a friend in North Bend—about half a mile from the Nike store where I plan to get a new jacket and even look at new running shoes.

Then I suppose Monday I’ll have to pound pavement again… Yay for running!

At the beach: A holiday recap

I suppose it’s time for a holiday recap, since my Washington Coast holiday is over. So, here goes!

Day 1: I arrived at Copalis Beach, Washington, where I was attending a fun-filled family reunion, with more than enough time to eat food and visit with loads of awesome Eberles. Because I was playing in the family golf tournament the next morning, I stayed sober and went to bed early. Because I was staying in my sister Jessica’s tent and everyone else was staying up late drinking, I didn’t actually sleep. But I suppose that’s OK because everyone was having fun.

Day 2: Up bright and early, I loaded up my niece Cassandra (13) who decided to golf with us at the last minute, then stopped off to pick up Celeste’s kids, Flik (14) and Haden (12) who had also signed up to golf. Once we got to the course, I learned that Cassandra had only played miniature golf. I also learned that Haden and Cassandra would be on my team with Cousin Jack. Yeah, by the 9th hole it was just me and Jack. Haden called his mom for a lift and Cassandra went and read a book. It was also at the 9th hole that my completely rubbish game turned to just a half-way rubbish game. [Flik’s team, for the record, won the tourney. And Flik won the ladies’ long drive competition. Yay Flik!]

After golf it was off to the Ocean Shores senior centre for a BBQ potluck with 100+ cousins. At some point, Daddy and I went out to map out a 10-mile run for me to do in the morning. Of course, after not getting a good night’s sleep the night before, I opted to crash on the couch at the cabin my folks and sister, Celeste, had rented instead of back at the camp site with Jessica and the cousins. It was another early night, but what a great night’s sleep it was!

Day 3: Yes folks, it’s 10-Mile Run day! Daddy got up early with me to take me up to the start line for my run. The weather was nice and cool and there was a nice foggy mist for the first nine miles, which made for a cool and enjoyable run. Even better was that Dad showed up on his trike around mile 3.5 with a bottle of water then paced me until mile six when he rode back to meet me at the finish with his car. I had originally hoped for a two-hour finish, but was very pleased to have finished in 1:46:44—about a 10.36 minute mile, which is great for a training run!

After my run (and shower) it was back to the senior centre for more BBQ and potluck followed by a photo scavenger hunt that my team won. I’ll spare you some of the carry-on that ensued to make that happen, but I will share with you the names of Team Awesome: Me; my awesome baby sister, Royann; my awesome niece, Flik; and my awesome cousins, Carson and Dylan. Oh yeah, we had a blast! (And did I mention that our team won? Well, we did!)

And after that fun, it was back to the main camp ground for a dinner BBQ and potluck with more visiting with cousins. Only this time, I was drinking. And one of the cousins was making martinis, so you know I was happy! (Thank you, Flik, for your idea that we sleep in the car that night instead of in the cold tent. I was far too drink-filled to crawl into a tent anyhow!)

Day 4: Yeah, one too many drinks the night before, so I was a bit slow for day 4. Still, I managed to make it through. Most folks were heading home, but my folks and Celeste had their cabin for one more night, so Uncle Mike (who’d ridden over with me) and I decided to stay one more night, too, pitching our tents in a site just down from the cabin. Oh, and my baby sister’s kids (Adrian, 12, and Brendan, 7) were left off with my folks, too.

Once camp was set, we walked to the beach to fly kites. Only, Uncle Mike had these massive, fancy kites with loads of lines to operate and I just wanted a little pretty thing on the end of a single string. Thankfully, Brendan let me use the kite he was flying, so that made me happy. And after kite flying ended, it was back to the folks’ cabin for pizza before heading to the tents for some much-needed sleep.

Day 5: It’s leaving day, which means packing up the rigs. Only all of the sudden I had two more passengers (Adrian and Brendan) who needed a ride home to their mom. And that meant figuring out how to get all of mine and Uncle Mike’s gear back, since the back seat was no longer an option. Luckily, the kids’ legs were short enough to use some of their floor board space, and the folks had a bit of space in their rig, too. (My golf clubs appreciated the lift!)

Once on the road, the kids and Uncle Mike napped whilst I drove. Then it was a quick(ish) stop at the Old Spaghetti Factory in Tacoma before giving the boys back to their mom. Then it was on to Cle Elum to where Uncle Mike loaded his stuff into his rig and drove off whilst I warmed up LittleGreen. After all, I knew that you really wanted to know about my holidays. (Yay!)

[I’ll post loads of photos later. In the mean time, here’s what you’re looking at for this story:
Day 1: Camp fire at Echoes of the Sea, Copalis Beach, Washington.
Day 2: My golf team, Team Awesome, with members Cassandra, Jack, Haden, and me. [Photo by my niece, Flik.]
Day 3: Me, at the five-mile mark of my 10-mile run. (It was more fun than my face may let on!) [Photo by my Dad, Roy.]
Day 4: Brendan flying the fun kite.
Day 5: Me, Daddy, Mommy, and Celeste in the face-in-hole cut out at the camp grounds. [Photo by The Jeanne.]

On my holidays

So here I am at Copalis Beach with my pretty new gadget, LittleGreen. Yes, my holidays have officially begun. Well, that’s if you can have a holiday when you don’t have a job.

The reason for the holiday is a family reunion. The Eberle Family Reunion, to be exact. Oh yes, there are 100+ Eberles gathered at the ocean.

And because I’m in the midst of having fun, I’ll leave this as a short post. After all, I have to go back to having fun, then I need to get to bed to rest up for tomorrow’s 18 holes of golf. Yay!

[Oh, and since I’ve been enjoying myself so much, I only now got around to a photo, so this is some of us awesome Eberles around the camp fire. That deserves another Yay! so, Yay!]

Now about that marathon…

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

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

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

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

Green means go

Today was Shiny New Gadget Day, which is always a celebratory day for me. And today’s gadget was a Dell Inspiron Mini 1012—a wee green computing machine!

It was a hard decision to get a new gadget as I’m trying to save every penny I can for my year of relative unemployment, but I decided that I really did need it to make my studies easier. My main laptop (a lovely, robust little HP called Happy) is great and will continue to be used, but she’s just too heavy for toting to-and-from classes. And with her limited (3-4 hours?) battery life, there is the added weight of her power cord. Add to that, I will be living car-less which means the long walk to campus, to the library, or to the coffee shop would just be too burdensome with the extra weight.

(Have I convinced you that I really did need to make this purchase yet? Because I feel I need to convince you that I need it so that my guilt will lessen…)

Anyhow, LittleGreen (that’s her name) is lightweight and can run about six hours on a full battery charge. She is quick and speedy and will run my graphic software with ease—though with her small size (just 10”) I won’t use her as my main design friend. I haven’t gotten a chance to bond with LittleGreen just yet, but we will soon. Oh yes, come tomorrow I’ll have set my preferences, downloaded Skype and TweetDeck, installed Office and Adobe Creative Suite, and networked her with Happy.

All just in time to pack up and take to the ocean this weekend!

(Yay!)