Thursday, November 27, 2014

Attention Walmart Shoppers...

Good morning, and a Happy Thanksgiving to you all! I am not shy about my political views; I am a fiscal republican with what I consider a pretty big heart, so sometimes it is difficult to balance the capitalist in me with the giver in me. That said, I do not feel people should just get something for nothing. It is what it is, and of course you are welcome to feel your own way, disagree with me, and call me a name or two.

When I was a kid, I remember having a Barbie Dream House and both Andrea and Kristen drooling over it. I remember boxes and paper absolutely everywhere. I remember making cookies, year in and year out, at Mom's house. I remember carrying my Cabbage Patch Kid into my cousin's house in Bolingbrook and everybody oohing and ahhing over it.

My point is that the positive feelings associated with Christmas was more because those things were mine and the day surrounding them, and less because of the moment I received them. Now, I was recently at a birthday party for a five-year-old, and when he opened one of his gifts, he started running from the living room to the playroom and back, yelling, "I'M FREAKING OOOOUUUTTTTTT!" It was hilarious. I just don't know if the lasting impression will be the yelling and running, or playing with the toy afterward.

And it could have been any toy. Or game. Or article of cute clothing. The lasting effect on kids is the entire day, and not that one gift that they open and lose their minds over.

I say this today because, up until June of this year, I managed a retail outlet overnight for the largest company of its kind on the planet. Last year, on Black Friday, I was in the middle of my rotation and had to leave Thanksgiving dinner at Mom's house to go to Walmart. My first job of the night was to be backup for our Asset Protection manager, so I was directing traffic in the parking lot. "Excuse me!" I yelled. "This is a fire lane, so sorry!" I got "Fuck you...everyone else is parked here!" Okay then.

After that, I went inside to help control the flow of the lines. Every register had a cashier on it, but our fire code allowed for (if I recall) 33 people per register in the store at a time. Think about this for a second, and picture how close together the registers are, and how everyone wants to get checked out all at once. People were in line for three hours, barely moving for the majority of that time. Meanwhile, the person you claim does not make enough money to survive without food stamps (not true, by the way...most of these kids are either supplementing their income, or they know what they are getting into when they take the job...that is THEIR choice and not Walmart's...I also had hourlies that made forty grand a year) is getting harassed by one person at a time, plus the two or three people behind them in line within ear shot of the cashier.

I was in the middle of a swarm of people with shopping carts who were threatening each other, and they started to threaten me and my safety if I did not take care of things. This is a mob mentality I have trouble understanding. I actually did something I do not often do...I put on my Mom hat, and I told these people I would take care of things the best I could, but that they had to shut up and cooperate or they could leave their full shopping carts where they were and I would be happy to show them the door.

Then, later, I had eleven customers at the door of my office (the capacity of the office was three, maybe four if someone was in a dispute and you were willing to stand instead of sit). Apparently, one of the associates gave out tickets for a Playstation before the right time, so customers were threatening my job and my safety again unless I could do something for them. I took down all of their names and phone numbers, talked to our Electronics manager later that evening, called each and every one of them back the next day, and offered for them to buy the product online and I would refund them the difference. After a night's sleep (on their end) and their mob-mentality hangover wearing off, they were fine with that and they thanked me for my help.

But not that night. It was all about blood and anonymity that night.

So I ask you to consider a few things on this Thanksgiving, which now has the greatest commercial misnomer EVER, "Black Friday":

  1. Do you remember Thanksgivings of days past as being a beautiful day of family, football, food, and togetherness? If your answer is "yes," then stay home and shop tomorrow. Your kids will be pleased with whatever they receive for Christmas.
  2. Retailers (not just Walmart...all of them) have made it difficult to afford Christmas without missing Thanksgiving. Are you willing to do that? Are you willing to sacrifice family time to get hot under the collar with a thousand people fighting over the last Wii, or would you rather make the holiday yours and just afford what you can, so you can focus on love instead of money?
  3. Do you honestly believe that your kids will grow up resenting you if you get them a smaller tablet for Christmas than what they wanted?
  4. If you do venture out, can you please take a breath now and again and remind yourself that the people waiting on you are also missing their holiday, not so they can buy things for their kids, but so you can buy them for yours.
I do not normally bleed my heart out for anybody...I love to make money, and sometimes you have to take advantage of people to do that. But there are so few togetherness-themed times in our lives that are left; cars have DVD players so kids no longer play the alphabet game with their parents on road trips. We miss little moments because we are so busy documenting crap on facebook that we do not look up in time to see the next thing that happens. We go to little league games where no score is kept because heaven forbid a kid get their feelings hurt for losing, so we no longer have the chance to comfort our kids and help them get strong enough on their own two feet to accept the fact that life goes on after defeat.

So if you would rather get a good deal on a new TV instead of sit at home and laugh with your family, I respect your decision. But the people you encounter are either other stressed out shoppers just like you, or they are retail workers who are doing their best to get you the hell our of their store in peace so they can put things back where they belong when you are gone. They appreciate your business, but each of them will have thirty people asking them questions and complaining all at once, and quite frankly, none of them get paid enough to prioritize like that. 

I did. I made well over seventy grand a year there. But the hourly employees are there strictly to help you find what you need, and make your shopping experience pleasant. If you are miserable, ask yourself if it is because of something at the store, or if it is because you chose to go out into the swarm. I am not blaming anyone for holiday shopping. All I'm saying is that brought on some of that stress yourself. Retailers' jobs as a company are to entice you. If you fall prey to it over being with your family, that is on you. Not them.

Happy Thanksgiving to you. And ask for a manager if you need one.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Today Is Important

Good afternoon, friends! I'm currently in Freeport, Illinois getting ready to meet a potential customer, and I can't drive through this town without smiling about two things:  1) this is where Dad and I took rainy-day field trips when he lived in Mount Carroll, and 2) their high school mascot is the Pretzels.

Today is a very important day for me, for two reasons. One of them, I will keep to myself. The other, I will shout from the rooftops. My cancer was blasted to bits on this day ten years ago.

The first time I was sick, no big deal. Thyroid cancer is the most curable cancer out there; the younger you are, the more likely you will survive it. My surgeon, Daphne Denham, looked like a supermodel from Bowling Green, Kentucky and yet she was far from someone who liked to garner attention from the paparazzi. She photographed my tumor for me, told me to schedule the surgery around my life, and hung out with both of my parents long enough to answer any questions they had, even though I was 27 at the time.

Then, a year later, I went in for a follow-up, and the piece of tissue left on my vocal chord had grown pretty significantly in size. It was biopsied, and of course because this is science and not advertising, it was presented to me like this:  "Well, the cells exactly mimic the cancer cells, and the tissue's growth has us very concerned, and we would like to do more tests to be sure, and..." Basically, they said everything in the world except "Your cancer has come back and we want to blast the crap out of it for you."

But, that they did. If any of you happen to remember when I opened the coffee shop, I was off of my thyroid meds for several weeks while I waited for my body to be primed for treatment. My godfather, Uncle George, shaved my head for me because my hair was coming out in clumps in the shower. I held an auction that day for who could be the lucky one that got to shave my head. The winner was my dad, but he did not want to drive in for the shaving, so he asked his brother to do it. Everyone who bid ended up donating the money anyway, so my hair went to Locks of Love and the money went to the American Hearing Impaired Hockey Association. Wins all around.

After a two-day stint in the hospital and a two-week period where I was too much of a biohazard to interact with other humans and domesticated animals, I was clean. As far as I can tell ten years later, anyway.

I thought a tattoo would be a fun way to celebrate, so I sent an email to my friend Jesse's favorite tattoo artist. I told her I wanted a lily of the valley coming out of soil made from my cancer cells, and I sent her photos of what thyroid cancer looks like under a microscope. This is the result:

I have no idea why I was chosen to survive this. More importantly, I have no idea why people like Philip Turner had to die from it at 43, or my dad had to die at 63, or Estrella has to fight her ass off at 40. But here is what I do know.

You have to eventually ponder the why. You have to look around at your chunk of the seven billion humans that fit in your circle, and even the ones on the fringe of it, and compare your life to theirs. It is human nature. What you do not have to do, however, is draw any conclusions from it.

A common mantra is that there are no second chances. Maybe not, but why should we need one? We are not perfect beings, and we cannot control everything in our lives. If we screw up, we all have the capability of apologizing or trying to make amends, and then getting better by learning from our mistake. We do not need second chances. We need to just make every chance we get the best chance we have.

Notice people. Look around your chunk of the seven-billion-human population and see what is out there. You may not realize it, but you get something out of each and every one of them. They will either show you something you want to be, or something you do not want to be. Absorb both lessons with equal significance.

I was not the girl who woke up after treatment and all of a sudden started noticing the beauty in the sunsets. I was already a pretty damn happy person with a backpack full of flaws. But as I get older I realize how grateful I am that I get to age. I can pick and choose who shares my life, and I can gracefully bow out of the lives that are toxic to my well-being. I suggest everyone do the same.

Oh, and one last thing:  I did learn one major lesson from my little ten-year benchmark. Stupid, I know, but I have gradually felt less and less like I have the start of a serious illness every time I get the sniffles. After all, if I die tomorrow, some of your lives will be affected, but mine will just end. I may as well just live as though I have something valuable to offer, and hope that people find value in me.

I happen to associate today with a day of importance. You do not need to do that. We all have value in this world; offer what you can, and selfishly take their gifts as life lessons for yourself in return. The balance sheet is even at that point.

Excuse me, as I have to cast on a sweater for my Save the Children Pins 'N' Needles Challenge. The chances of me finishing are a bit slim, but dammit if I don't try.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Did Somebody Say Vogue Knitting LIVE?

I am currently sitting at Mapps Coffee and Tea in the U of M neighborhood of Minneapolis, and I am thinking that today might be the first day in ages where my overwhelm actually feels welcome. Generally...and correct me if I'm wrong...when you have too much to do, you want to crawl into a hole and do absolutely nothing until enough time passes where all of your deadlines have crushed your reputation. Or you have the intent of doing one thing at a time, but instead you start six different things and finish zero or them. look at your to-do list and you knit.

Right. So today is the first day where I feel like I did the right thing and actually tackled the to-do list instead of knitting, crawling into a hole, or starting everything.

Basically, I make about $250,000 a year and have no kids and no spouse, so my job is to use that money and my reach to promote the virtue of helping others. My arm of that virtue, of course, tends to be knitting. So get ready, because I have some ideas for you.

Tonight, the Windy City Knitting Guild meeting is focused on collecting hats for newborns and red yarn, because it's the American Heart Association promotional promote awareness of congenital heart defects. The drive is connected to a dozen or so hospitals in the area, so babies you may end up knowing when they come into the world could have a hand-made hat from you.

Then, Vogue Knitting LIVE is this weekend. You can help Save the Children by making a sweater (more on that later), bring a preemie or newborn red hat to the Windy City Knitting Guild booth, or just head to the Marketplace and see what other charitable ventures the vendors are supporting. It is not to be missed.

I am in the process of starting a non-profit geared toward the Safe Haven Laws, but I need some help. If you like to knit blankets, or if you are a politician or member of law enforcement or fire rescue, or you work in a hospital or church, or you work with anyone from DCFS, please drop me a line. If you know anyone in the above organizations, please forward on my contact info.

Other than that, hmm...I am driving quite a bit. More driving and less knitting. The good news for you knitters is that I am plopping Cascade Yarns into the hands of the owners of your local yarn shops, so you will have plenty to choose from the next time you shop. Buy Cascade Yarns, especially if you live in IL, WI, MN, ND, or SD. Then, I can eat.

Have a great day, everybody!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Oh So Grateful

So, I am a pretty horrible facebooker. I did not do the Ice Bucket Challenge, I do not tag friends when there is some sort of "Beautiful Women Unite!" post, and I skipped over the "Three Days Grateful" challenge as well.

Then, I looked back on my last few years, and at a few times this year where I pointed out that I have not been focusing on the positive aspects of the world as I should, and I had a mental slam on the brakes.

It is, in fact, not a challenge to come up with things for which I am grateful. Perhaps, though, I do need to write them down. If worse comes to worst, maybe someone is reading this in the dark somewhere and he or she is encouraged to crawl out of the hole that encompasses their sides and top to whatever their bottom is. So there.

I am grateful that while I am far from perfect, I generally make sound decisions. My dad was probably the most logical, practical person to ever walk the planet. My mom can step back and see the big picture and prioritize with the best of them. Not a bad combo to inherit. On that note, however, I also inherited the "freak magnet" gene from my mom and the "talk to everybody within earsho" gene from my dad. Not as good a combo.

I am grateful for the ability to stand up for myself. Sometimes I am wrong. Sometime, the universe is wrong. But sometimes I am right, the universe is right, and the person disagreeing with me is wrong and treating me like crap. Back away slowly unless you want to be put in your place.

I'm grateful for pets. Not just mine, but pets in general. Humans are not a guarantee of unconditional love...people estrange from their parents, their children, their siblings, their best friends, their spouses, and even themselves. But a dog can get loose in the yard, run away, and come back several years later. They will, in fact. And when I did have pets, I did not need television.

I am grateful my cancer was caught in time. I may not have direction, but dammit I still have plenty of decorating to do. For my ten-year cancerversary this November, I am getting a super-cool tattoo. If you remind me then, I will be happy to show it off.

And as long as I'm waxing medical, I am grateful for the human body to repair itself and bounce back in a timely fashion.

I am grateful to have (relative) financial freedom. It gives me the chance to focus on doing my little teeny part in making sure a retail industry owned 90% by women succeeds. If they succeed, then I get rich. Everybody wins!

I am grateful to Trisha Malcolm, who opened some pretty darn amazing doors for me as I was writing my wee little column about the Chicago Knitting Scene.

I'm grateful for my super-tight circle and its fringe:  Alex, PJ, Peter, Andrea, Jesse, and the probably dozen shovel buddies who circle THAT group so I always am protected.

I am grateful for being able to do math in my head. And knowing the difference between some commonly confusing English words. and knowing a little science, a little history, a little art, and a little geography without being a know-it-all.

I am grateful for being left-handed. Built-in conversation topic at any table full of strangers for life.

While I wish at the time that some lessons were easier learned, I am grateful to have loved and lost. It gives me an excuse to chase that dangling carrot again...the chase is fun!

I am grateful that I do not have a mortgage.

I am grateful that people turn to me for advice in difficult situations. Whether it is because I'm trusted or because I have already lived two lifetimes,'s flattering.

I am grateful for my sense of direction. That comes in handy quite often.

I am grateful that I never lost the ability to see the world through a child's eyes, and even more grateful that I still pay all of my bills on time.

I am grateful for double-pointed needles. Screw you, magic come in handy but I get a great deal of satisfaction just from fiddling.

I am grateful for my voice, both literal and figurative. I miss making the congregation at St. Williams Parish on Sayer cry for no reason.

I am grateful for Babe Hiland, CJ's mother. For so many reasons.

Thank goodness I have good hair, green eyes, and tiny means that I can wake up late and still have the main parts of my head looking okay with minimal shallow work.

I am grateful that coffee is not, and will never be...banned due to its controlled-substance qualities.

I am grateful for free-will and living in a democracy. Separate from feeling that your vote is important, I am so thankful that I can have chocolate cake for breakfast any time I want.

Even though it used to creep me out, I am thankful for my angels and guides who talk to me. They know I am here to listen, and I know they are there to pull me through. Plus, they have sent so many people to me who just needed to get to their next level, whatever that may be.

I am grateful for seasons, sunsets, and other immeasurable beauties in nature for which we would lose appreciation if we knew we were going to live forever.

This is enough for are welcome to post why you are grateful in the comments instead of me tagging everyone on the planet that I know. Be well, find peace, and make your own destiny before someone else does. ...xoxo

Thursday, August 21, 2014

In Praise of My Best Friend At Forty

I would like to take a moment to sing the praises of my most beautiful, bestest friend on her fortieth birthday.

Our families lived a few houses apart. Our lives were quite similar; she and her two brothers are each exactly one year older, in order, than me and my brothers. She lived in the same house design in the subdivision, except their house was a mirror of ours. Plus, she had a swingset! And mint growing along the side of the house.

She had this awesome yellow and orange swimsuit I wish I could have had, but alas...not only was it hers and not mine, but even then, she was smaller than me despite our age difference.

She was the reason I took dance classes. While I'm thankful, I am sorry to say it did not improve my coordination one bit. She did teach me how to get taller, however; one summer day, we were hanging out on the swingset when she taught me a trick for getting taller that she learned on The Brady Bunch. "Hang," she said, and climbed high enough to hang from one of the monkey bars. It only worked for one of us, as she does not quite clear my nose at present.

Her grandmother made these excellent grilled cheese sandwiches. I liked my mom's, but Grandma Sicola made them with different cheese. It was good stuff.

My mom took me to get my ears pierced. She called me while I was at my best friend's house. Her ears were already pierced, of course. I assume we were playing Strawberry Shortcake that day.

Running down the stairs and yelling "BANGBANGBANGBANG!" was hilarious to us. It still is, actually.

It turns out that I actually did bring something to the table in our friendship. I did not find this out until I was in my thirties, but it turns out I am the reason she is a Cubs fan. I had dinner with her parents one night in 2008 when her dad told me he had been mad at me for that. I did not understand, until he explained that right after they moved to Connecticut as a family, I wrote Andrea a handwritten letter (back in a computer-free era), complaining about how the Cubs blew it in the playoffs yet again.

She took the letter to her dad and said, "Who are the Cubs?"

As it goes, he was a White Sox fan and a Houston Astros fan, which was his hometown team. She had no idea there was another baseball team in Chicago.

Oh, by the read that correctly. Her family did not move from Downers Grove to Woodridge...they moved from Downers Grove to Ridgefield, Connecticut. And we stayed good enough friends where were were Maids of Honor at each other's weddings.

When she was getting married, her friend Heather hosted a bachelorette weekend in Miami. I did not tell my best friend that I was going to the party. Instead, when she was walking from the airport to the car, I popped out of the back seat and took her picture. She looks so excited in that photo, but the hilarious part is that she did not realize it was me until after the photo was taken. That was when the real freakout happened.

On my way to Sydney in 1995, I scheduled my layover in Los Angeles, where she was living, for the entire day. We laughed. We cried about boyfriends. We hugged. And then I flew to Sydney.

She brought her boyfriend to Chicago for a visit. It was my big chance to meet him, size him up. It took me all of ten seconds to realize she found the right guy. That was around the turn of the millenium, if you needed perspective.

I went to her high school graduation. She visited me in college.

When my dad died, she drove the seven hours from Tampa to Santa Rosa Beach for the memorial and started crying the moment she walked in the door. She then looked at me and started laughing because she knew she was going to cry the moment she walked in the door. I thought the best thing to do was to laugh and cry at the same time with her.

I high-tailed it to Florida, where she was living, shortly after she had her baby. Kayli was nine months old when I was there...Kayli was crying, so she went into Kayli's room. She looked at her child, not even old enough to talk, and said, "You're faking it!" Kayli stopped crying. Magic.

We saw Dane Cook together. Earlier that day, we went to Starbucks.

Some of her favorites:  Target, Rush, The Karate Kid, her old Nissan Pathfinder...and obviously, Dane Cook and Starbucks. Rush...well...there was mooning and a moving car the weekend of her high school graduation, and that is all I will say on that topic.

I met up with her in Seattle once...I was living in Portland, and one of her other best friends was getting married. I was invited to the wedding on a whim, and I had the honor of driving a bunch of bridesmaids in puffy blue dresses around downtown Seattle in my teeny car. She felt one of her friends was not treating me well, and she made that known in a classy but firm way. She defended me when I didn't even know defense was necessary.

I am behind. She only knows goodness, passion, love, charm, and right from wrong...nothing else. I am a year behind, and about seven thousand steps behind in the "good person" department. As she likes to say about others, but needs to hear it more about herself, "She is just as beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside."

So I thought the least I could do was sing her praises a day early.

Miss Andrea, here's to another forty years, and if you don't mind, I would like to continue being your oldest, bestest buddy at least until I figure out how to be you. Thank you for making me realize, pretty much daily, that I still have a ways to go to reach amazing. It is the most flattering form of envy. Take it that way.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Such Is Life

Have you ever felt like your brain was too unoccupied? I do not mean that you are bored, or inert, or even too scattered to formulate a coherent thought. I mean that your brain clears itself, and then it suddently collects sediment and you mentally start trying to clear out what is settling. For me, it happens on long drives.

I am currently going on several long drives per week, which is why this is coming up now.

For some reason, no matter how awesome our lives are, it only takes a few of these periods of brain-clearing to get into a bad mental place. Perhaps it is an out-and-out depression, or something less severe, such as a darker version of pensive. Either way, it only takes a bit to get there. It is a sign that we are not settled, not relaxed. Something is keeping us off-center and we have a nagging fear we will not be able to right the ship, and we will always be pulling the mast with force to keep going both upright and forward.

I found myself reflecting over the past few years, and then the period of time increased to ten years, and then fifteen, and then all the way back to college, and finally, childhood. Something has changed in me over the most recent period of my life.

My brain started using every negative life event as a time marker in my head. Moving to my teeny condo, taking a $50,000 pay cut at Planet Walmart, selling my house, getting divorced, buying the Money Pit, losing the animals, enduring three years of misery and banging my head against the wall, moving to Texas, losing CJ, losing my dad, moving to Portland, moving to Phoenix, buying a car for the job at Kare, closing the coffee shop, leaving Nordstrom so abruptly, getting sick a second time, getting sick the first time...

Why in the world would I do that?

Perhaps the tragedies were more profound than the victories. Maybe there were just more of them. Maybe, just maybe, in some weird way this was my way of remembering all of the times where I learned something and came out of the other end of the tunnel stronger than when I had entered it. But I doubt it.

I was sitting on the front porch of the Money Pit yesterday, making my last sales calls of the day and waiting for a prospective tenant so I could tell them that, in fact, I was unable to show them the unit. I have a tenant who is leaving because she thinks I do not do enough to keep her safe. Here is what I know for sure:  if you (as a building) do not keep the bolts locked on the door, and then your husband thinks someone is breaking in, and he calls you at work, and then you call me at work, I simply cannot help you. Twenty minutes have gone by, nobody has called the police, and I am thirty miles away and unwilling to stick my body in front of a bad guy like Captain America's shield.

She is currently not speaking to me, not taking my calls, and not allowing me access to my own unit to show it to prospective tenants. I filed and injunction and emergency motion to get access, and then I asked the judge to deny it. If I have gotten to the point where I am using this period of my life as a time marker, "the time where I could not show my unit because I was getting played by my tenant," then I have hit the bottom. I refuse to call this The Bottom. It's not cancer, it's not cancer a second time, it's not losing a parent, it's not losing a fiance, it's not losing your identity in a miserable marriage. It is my brain and big heart against somebody else's anger. Neither of us wins.

I was approached by a photojournalist, who wanted to talk city diversity. She saw a bunch of neighborhood kids, plus the tenant's three children, on the porch with me. I must have looked like the best foster mom in the history of the world. She asked me what drew me to Chicago, and I thought about it for a few seconds before answering. "Community," I said. "People who welcome with open arms, people who come from different places."

When I spoke to her off the record, I told her about the tenant. My demeanor, and therefore my outlook, changed in a moment. "I feel bad for her," I said. "Here she is, obese, a smoker, and incredibly angry. She is going to die before she turns fifty and those three kids will be orphans." I do not want this woman to die. I do not want anyone to die, really...I do not have that streak in me at all.

I want her to realize that this petty crap is not worth it. Dwelling on the negative, conscious or unconscious, is not worth it. Look around you:  there is so much taken-for-granted good that all you can see in the forest is the couple of dead trees that stick out and cloud the view.

Ironically, the last time I saw this tenant, she was cheery and bubbly, friendly, and interested in my knitting. "I could never do that," she told me. I offered to teach her, and told her it was a great way to quit smoking.

I guess I do not ultimately care if she knits or not. But I know one thing is certain:  whatever vessel has brought her to this insanely angry place - even if the catalyst was me - that vessel can be broken down just as it was built. It was yet another moment when I realized that anger is just not worth it, and that seeking out the positive if you cannot readily see it will trump swimming in the negative any day of the week.

Maybe after she moves, she will have a similar moment of clarity. I will provide the worsted-weight yarn, a pair of US8 (5.0mm) needles, and the patience of a saint if it would help her get out of the mindset that will ultimately kill her. Because then I can look back and say, "Remember that time I mentally helped someone off the ledge and saved her life by teaching them a way to relax and help let the bad crap go?"

All markers of time should look more like that.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

That Stress Scale Again

If I go back the past...let's say...six years, since my dad died, I bet I have lived an entire lifetime of just events in that time frame. But to be fair, let's use the Holmes Rahe Stress Inventory. I'll go back only two years.

I dare you...score yourself and compare.

My score was 545, and that was with me trying to eliminate as many duplicates as made sense.

That said, I have been grieving, changing, and finding myself as much as I humanly can. My two-year plan has been quite successful; I just was not expecting all of the shedding of baggage, tears, and crap that was going to come with it. I have a self-sustaining real-estate investment company, new home paid for in cash, new gig blogging for, and VERY new gig selling yarn to yarn shops for one of my favorite companies. 

Win, win, win, win, and win!

However, I realized that I was not finished...or in some cases, had not started...grieving some events in my recent past. There was CJ, of is difficult to grieve a lost spouse when you marry his best friend, and the two of you have incompatible grieving processes.

Then...and this one took me by surprise. It was a year ago this past weekend that triggered the worst period of depression in my memory. I had to remind myself to get out of was that awful. So, as I was walking to Starbucks, I started to cry. You know those big, cleansing tears where there is no accompanying weep? Yeah...those.

So I stopped at the church across the street from the starbucks, and they have a good-deed box. I wrote the following note, as close as verbatim from memory (except with some parts deleted, due to a ridiculous confidentiality clause I signed):

One year ago this weekend, one of my dogs attacked the dog of my dog-sitter and dear friend, Renee. The dog had been socialized with both children and other dogs, but she was in an unfamiliar environment, and neither of us saw a problem initially since I had never seen her aggressive like that, and Renee had obviously cared for many animals. When she took her dog to the emergency vet, she left my dogs in her yard, accidentally leaving the gate open. By the time I arrived, I found out from Animal Control that Penny (my one dog) had attacked and killed a second dog. Lily, Renee's dog, died that night as well. The other person involved was so angry that first he blamed Renee, then me, then he did not know who to blame beyond that. Renee forgave me instantly; in fact, she did not see anything to forgive since it was just a horrible accident. I was going through a nasty time, and my remaining two animals ended up moving to Texas because of questions regarding my fitness as a pet owner and me just finally being too tired to argue. I know as well that it was a horrible accident, but I still had to put Penny down; it was the only right decision, and it was absolutely horrible. I hope you can please pray for the following:
Pray for Renee and her family, who continue to be models of His grace and of forgiveness, despite suffering their loss.
Pray for the family of the other dog, who just wanted money from me in their anger, and for hoping they get past it and are able to move forward.
Pray for Penny, Lily, and the third dog who are hopefully running together in Heaven and all is forgiven.
Pray for the other person involved, who will hopefully see one day that blame and anger is just preventing him from loving himself and others.
Pray for Bluto and Axl, who I hope are as loved in Texas as they were loved by me.
Pray for me, who knows it was nobody's fault but who still hurts from it, and wishes the best possible for everyone involved.

Writing this down in the back pew of the Baptist church at Irving and Kostner with tears constantly streaming down my face made me feel like Penny finally had a voice. Completely stupid, I know. But I firmly believe that sweet dog had no idea she did anything wrong, and the guilt I carried was certainly enough for both of us.

So in related news, sometimes, I am asked why I knit so much. My silly answer is "So I don't smoke." I have no desire to smoke; I'm a singer. Doing both is not a possibility, and I will always choose health over death, and singing over silence.

So I knit. Knitting prevents me from engaging in destructive habits like smoking, overeating (although sometimes I think the entire chocolate cake is a serving size...sue me), doing hard drugs, biting my nails, or even mindlessly scratching some benign thing, like a kitchen table.

I do not just love to knit. I need to knit. Reviewing yarns for means I get to knit a simple, one-ball piece every singe week of my life. I will always have something to break away from my stress level. And now I get to sell Cascade Yarns to yarn shops, which is an excellent choice for every yarn shop in America (as far as I'm concerned, anyway), so my creative juices are flowing nonstop. If the creative juices flow, then the pipe does not have much room for holding onto guilt and shame and despair and disappointment and...

My goal for the next two years, however, is to get that stress score down just a bit.