Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Do The Kindest Thing

Good morning, everyone...I am surrounded by a buffet of knitting projects that, while I have been making an effort to finish, I cannot talk about all of them. One is for an afghan pattern that I am designing, that will be entered into a contest, and another is a shawl pattern that I can't decide if I should submit or self-publish. Any and all suggestions welcome.

There are also two St. Baldrick's hats and two baby hats here. The baby hats are gifts, and the St. Baldrick's hats are for me. I am shaving my head for St. Baldrick's on Sunday, and of course March is still in like a lion so my head will be cold. More on that later.

I told myself I would not write unless I had something to say, and if you read this post and disagree, then I apologize. However, I feel the lesson of always doing the kindest thing has been lost in my life lately, so I wanted to bring it out in the open and maybe encourage others to look in the mirror and do a self-check. I haven't written in nine months because everything I have had to say, has gone straight to an individual and did not necessarily benefit the masses. But here I am, and all I can think about is an impact an individual can have if they choose the kind path over the unkind one.

Sometimes, shit just happens. It does. Pets die. Neighbors get robbed. You get a flat tire. Someone called you a name or took your baseball cards or said mean things about family members or destroyed your book on purpose. There is always, always someone who has it worse than you do, but then again, things can always get better.

That said, I am not a parent. I am an accessory who spends quite a bit of time with two kids in particular. I feel my job as an accessory is to show them what happiness and integrity looks like, above all. Happiness and integrity are intertwined, and both are necessary if you want to be a good grownup. So when something bad happens, neither extreme can be an acceptable approach; there is no winning in playing the " think that is bad!" game, and there is no winning in playing the "Suck it up, buttercup!" game. You need to find balance. Yes, see how it can be worse so you know how fortunate you are that you are not dead, and find a solution to make things better so you feel how fortunate you are that you are not dead. You cannot find this balance without looking upon both the fortune and the misfortune of others.

This is where kindness comes into play. Kindness is economic; sometimes you have a little extra to give, and sometimes you need a little extra to get by. If you live in the mindset that you never, ever have enough in your life to be happy, you will not be kind because you will constantly be taking from others. If you live in the mindset that you have enough to be happy, but that you can be happier, you will find yourself with more than enough to give others. Seriously! You don't have to have everything in order to ask yourself what you can do to help someone in need. You need just enough, plus a little bit. That's it.

After the seven-year-old ran into a situation which had him in tears, his dad and I tried to think of a way to show him that he can turn lemonade from lemons. In the past, he has dropped off food at a food pantry, raised money for the American Heart Association, enjoys doing chores when he feels like he is contributing to the house (and they are not just jobs so he can get his allowance), and asked me all sorts of questions about why I give blood every couple of months. He wants to help. We decided to hold a St. Baldrick's event to raise money for childhood cancer research. Here is the link to the event:

We are encouraging people to donate five bucks by skipping their lattes once this week, as every dollar makes a difference. Kids had a 20% chance of survival from cancer fifty years ago, and now they have a 20% chance of dying. In other words, their survival is now 80%, compared to 20% fifty years ago. All because of donations for grants that help find kid cancer cures.

Kindness does not have to be money. None of us know what someone else is feeling, even if it is our best friend and they have rehashed the situation ad nauseum on our messenger windows for days. We never truly know. But what we do know is that everyone is going through something, and that they are feeling something. Ask yourself what you can do to make someone's day better. It very, very rarely backfires.

Donate to a charity where you know the money goes to something you believe is good. Buy a coffee for the person behind you in line at Starbucks. Go through your closet and donate a bag of stuff to a thrift store. Organize a prayer circle at your church. Write an "I'm thinking of you!" postcard every week and mail it. Surprise your spouse by washing his or her car, taking out the trash, or something they generally do for you on a daily basis. Knock on a neighbor's door with a plate of cookies and say, "I just wanted to see how you were doing." Walk dogs at the local pet shelter for a few hours. Knit a hat for a NICU baby. Offer the crying stranger on the train a side-hug and a Kleenex. Read a book out loud in the activities room at a nursing home.

I know I have talked about kindness a ton here over the past several years, but it really is that important. Some people you perceive as the worst people in the world will benefit from you being kind to them, even if they are assholes back to you for it. Don't let one unappreciative person cloud all of the times you did something nice, and the other person was grateful. Keep at it.

Kindness also does not have to be outward. If you are listening to someone talk, and all you can think of to say is, "Shut up, you money-grubbing, fake little bitch!" then the kindest thing might be to just smile. If you see someone bleeding, the kindest thing is not to preach to the person who hit them. It might just be to tend to the victim somehow.

I would love for you to use the Comments area for suggestions on little things human beings can do to be kind. The recent presidential election has brought out quite a bit of anger in us, not to mention the trials of our own lives. Channel your Inner Mister Rogers and just ask yourself a few times a day, "Who can I help right now, and how?" Yet another benefit of being kindness:  that anger dissipates at a pretty direct ratio to how much you return kindness to the world. At the very least, it will not hurt.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Hate Is An Odd Feeling

Good afternoon, everyone. A few bits of news:

I haven't written lately because I have been doing my best to move forward with my life, and it turns out that when you marry someone with two little kids and no immediate place to live, your forward movement looks more like the flight pattern of a bumblebee.

Secondly,, my knitting home for five years, is shutting down this Sunday. That means when I fire up my column again, it will either be housed here, or it will find a new home all on its own. Don't give up hope.

I am writing today because I was sitting at Starbucks, knitting this great Mr. Rogers-style sweater for Erik (he must REALLY love me), and I was thinking about the events in the news the past couple of days.

First of all, we are all racist. There are degrees of racism, and while I am sure there are some on the end of the spectrum of zero racism whatsoever (maybe the clergy?), most of us fall somewhere between "I hate everyone who is not a white man" to "I am angry and don't know why." It is subtle, but it is there. And it stems from three main things:  1) fear, 2) ignorance, and 3) upbringing.

A black man was shot and killed during a traffic stop in the suburbs of Minneapolis. The officer...and I am not justifying his behavior by any means...had some moment in his life that made him fear coming in contact with a man who told him he had a legally-registered weapon on him during the stop. Police officers are trained to keep people safe, but they also trained to act fast and in the best interest of their own safety. Somewhere in the crosshairs of this officer's synapses firing, he was fearful.

Chicago has had over 1,500 shootings in the first six months of the year. If I were a police officer, I would fear for my life every time I left the house.

On the other hand, had this man been white and told the officer he had a legally-registered weapon, I feel with all of my heart that this traffic stop would have ended differently.

What is the solution? Well, it starts with acknowledging our own fears and our own beliefs. One of my nieces was watching a Barbie movie once, and she told me that she thought the princess belonged with the other prince in the movie because his skin was lighter. I asked her what she meant, and she said, "Dark goes with dark, and light goes with light." She was eight years old at the time. I told her that the dark prince was born that way, just like the light prince was born light-skinned, and you can't help who you fall in love with on the inside.

Hell...I can't imagine choosing someone eleven and a half years younger than me with two kids under the age of six if you COULD choose who you fell in love with.

My point is that the belief she spewed at me must have come from somewhere. Maybe another kid at school? Television? Her parents or grandparents, or some other member of her family that she sees on a regular basis? A book? A message within the Barbie princess movie that I did not catch myself? I have no idea...all I know is that we are equally accountable.

It doesn't matter if you have a chance encounter with a child or you are raising one. You have a responsiblity to not only your own generation, but the next one. Perhaps random acts of kindness are not newsworthy because they happen every day, and black men getting shot by police officers is newsworthy because it doesn't happen every day.

Wait. But it does, though. And it is getting increasingly difficult for police officers to do their job when they are shielded by their own fear. Twelve officers shot by snipers in Dallas, with one of them telling arresting officers that he wanted to kill white people before dying himself? It may not happen every day to the tune of twelve officers, but someone on the bus with you, in line behind you at Walmart, or passing you on the sidewalk while walking his or her dog wants to kill white people.

Right here, and right now.

Don't tell me you have black are still racist. Don't tell me you saw so-and-so's police record, so it's are still racist. And please, for the love of god, don't tell me you don't see that in your everyday life. You do. But because you are racist and so is everyone around you, you accept it to a degree. So do I...nobody is a perfect lover of all creatures and things equally. But we need to strive for it anyway.

Do me a favor:  thank police officers for their service the way you thank the military. Buy them a java. Show them respect. Yes, there are bad cops. I was told when investigating internal theft at Nordstrom that 3% of employees are thieves. I assume it's not just retail; that 3% can probably be applied to every profession across the board, and it is not just thievery.

Let's even give the media and anti-law-enforcement groups the benefit of the doubt. What if 10% of all cops were bad, and 3% of the population are bad? Well, I don't know about you, but I would much prefer 90% of a population of law-enforcement officers protecting me against the bad 3% of the population, than not having any law-enforcement at all.

Step back. Look at your life. Look at the news. It is okay if it makes you uncomfortable; if you watched the video that Philando Castile's girlfriend posted on facebook in the aftermath of her boyfriend being shot by police, and you are NOT uncomfortable, then that it something you need to examine immediately.

If you see news of a black man being shot by a police officer, it is possible he was a thug. It is possible he was resisting arrest. It is even possible he shot at the officer first. But most people assume this, instead of giving the benefit of the doubt to the black man.

While this case is still under investigation, it sure does appear that Castile did everything he was asked. And yet he was shot and killed in front of his girlfriend and her four-year-old daughter. What lesson do you think the four-year-old learned from this?

Ask yourself how you can be a better lover of all creatures and things. Hate itself is odd, because in some cases, it stems from betrayal. In most, however, it stems from something we can't quite put a finger to. When you feel hate or anger to something you can't attribute, is it because of an entire group or series of events? Then step back. Look at your life. Look at the news. Ask yourself if you are looking for a pattern, and look at the situation as individual instead of just another shooting, just another bad cop, just another black man as a victim...

Our kids deserve this, at the very least. If we end up better people in the end, then that is an even greater gift. The only way to stop being racist is to literally stop being racist. Do it.

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Benefits of Kindness

Good evening, everyone...My apologies for keeping the blog dark for a bit. I have had about a million life decisions that needed to be made, on top of the normal "What do I want to be when I grow up?" crap and the traditional "What should I do with my company?" mumbo jumbo.

Not the smallest of which is that I am getting married in just over three weeks. Yay!

I was thinking about the fact that I have cashed in probably every favor in the world to keep this wedding under an already-minimal budget (which is why there is a cap to the number of people we invited...we chose a venue that maxes out at 95 people). I was thinking about some of the people in the periphery of my life who do not see kindness as a state of mind. In fact, I have a few glaring examples of people in my life who do not even see kindness as an advised practice. None of these people are close to me; I think kindness is one of the most attractive traits a human being can have, and the lack of kindness one of the most repelling traits by the same token. This post, then, is a reminder for most of us, and a tutorial for the rest of us.

This blog post is almost a repeat of a previous one, but it's an ever-important message. Be kind, always do the kindest thing, and accept kindness from others as if everyone equally deserves it (we usually do deserve it, anyway).

Why be kind?

Because the world does not have enough kindness. Don't believe me? Well, if the world had enough kindness, we would not be gushing thank-yous to our buddy when he or she buys us a popcorn at the movies. If it were less of a surprise, that would mean that we were closer to "enough" in this sense. Hopefully, we will never have enough kindness.

Because it feels good. Since kindness tends to be a slight surprise, the recipient of the kindness shows his or her gratitude fairly emphatically, no? Selfish, yes, but it feels really nice to hear someone burst with appreciation for something you did. And there is nothing wrong with that.

Because you can make a difference. Sometimes, people have bad days. Sometimes, people have bad weeks, months, eons...whatever. And you giving up your seat on the bus may feel like the only positive thing to have happened to someone all day, week, month, or eon. He or she may not know your name, but the rest of the day will be spent remembering the sweet stranger who gave up his or her seat on the bus.

Because it doesn't hurt. Nobody ever died of too much kindness. Nobody ever went broke from too much giving. Nobody ever depleted their own resources from sharing too much. Just do it.

Because it is easy. Kindness is a state of mind, and the running thread through the psyche is, "How can I give of myself today?" You do not have to write checks to charity that will bounce out your bank account. You can open a door for someone, compliment an outfit, buy a java for the person behind you in line, help someone across the street, hold an elevator, smile at someone and make eye contact, tell someone to have a nice day, give a kid a quarter for the gumball machine, put out a bird feeder and a bowl of water, sweep an elderly neighbor's front porch...

Because kindness begets kindness. It is a well-known fact that kindness is contagious. See, people like to feel good. When someone makes them feel good, they in turn want to make someone else feel the same way. It's why "pay it forward" is a reality; when you have more than you previously had, often times you want to share it to help others. Those people being helped will remember your kindness, and they will be kind to others because they now know how good it feels. It is the best vicious circle in the world.

Why am I bringing this up now?

Well, I am not exactly known as a complainer. I try to fix my broken crap before I need help from others, and if I have to ask for help, I will catalogue in my head and do anything I can to pay the person back. I also dance to songs at work, sing while pouring coffee, ask customers how their kids are doing, and basically treat everyone like they matter (to the best of my ability). As a result, this wedding is a huge cash-in of favors, but it is also just people returning kindness they have received from me, a few of which were because I mentioned the one or two glitches we have hit:

I knitted a hat for a customer to replace a ratty one she occasionally wore, and she is thanking me by doing my hair for the wedding.
I mentioned to a guy who gets an Americano every day that my previous photographer and I are no longer speaking, and he offered to photograph the wedding.
A dear knitting friend is officiating the ceremony.
My big brothers (some biological and some honorary) are setting up and taking down chairs for the ceremony.
My mom is throwing parties, decorating, and basically keeping me as girly as possible.
Erik's friend is playing music for us.
And for the very, very few people who are not welcome, we have both a lookout and a rented crocodile.
The engagement ring was a trade-in of other jewelry, and a favor from Dad's jeweler.

I could have done the big nightmare again, with a banquet hall and a DJ and a bunch of strangers I would have to pay, but why? The wedding is already intimate, but kindness is what is making it feel like family, even for people who are not related by blood. I am of course paying some of these people, but I would much prefer my money to go to people I trust, who want to do their best for me.

Kindness. Try it. You will like it, I guarantee.

Oh...and this is the Eros Drifters Vertical Top pattern by Plymouth yarns. The yarn is Jacques Fonty and Wendy. I think I will wear this to my bridal shower...fresh off the needles (and I actually CROCHETED the arm holes!).


Saturday, January 16, 2016

Reverse Sexism at its Finest

Good afternoon, everyone! I actually have no knitting articles to share today...just a story.

I have a friend who happens to be dad to a six-year-old boy. While this little boy and I were on a field trip to Walmart, he passed the yarn section, grabbed a ball of orange yarn, brought it to me, and said, "You can make something with this!"

"Yes I could!" I said.

"Could I make something with it?" he asked me, curious.

"Sure," I said. "Would you like me to teach you how to knit?"

He got all excited, nodding his head, and he put the yarn back because he wanted to try out something more "disco" (I guess...the yarn he chose is silver with this awesome rainbow metallic thread running through it). I told him he could pick out one ball of yarn, and we would get the right size needles to go with it.

Now, understand that six years old is right around the age people in general can start to learn how to knit. I explained to did his dad...that it may take several tries before he gets it right, and that there was no pressure to learn. He asked me to teach him. We sat down for our first lesson, when I cast on for him, and I taught him the four steps to the knit stitch in the best way possible for a boy that likes superheroes and wrestling:

"Stab it! Choke it! Pull its guts out! Throw it off a cliff!" (This mnemonic is courtesy of a lesson I took at Vogue Knitting LIVE, by the way).

The next day, he sent me a message, asking if he could come to my work and learn how to knit again when I was finished with my job for the day. I told them both (he and his dad) that it would be fine. I am told the boy's grandmother told the father, "You know...all you are doing is setting him up to be made fun of at school."

This brought to mind two things about gender that I never was required to adhere to while growing up. The first one is this meme, which is probably the greatest contribution the internet has made, ever:

I got the impression from that statement that the grandmother thinks that knitting is for girls, and that kids will either make fun of him for it because he would be a boy doing a girl thing, or because it meant he was sissy, gay, or whatever other in-the-moment word is currently used for that sort of thing. It doesn't seem to ever go the other way, though, does it? The people who worry about things like that will complain about boys doing the things that girls like, but very rarely does one bat an eyelash when a little girl is wearing Superman Underoos, or she has a toy bulldozer, or other stereotypically boy interests.

When I was nine, I had this awesome clock radio cube that had a just-long-enough cord to pull into my bed, so I could listen to the Chicago Cubs when they were on the west coast and I did not want to go to sleep (sorry, Mom). I had a Barbie dream house, sure, but I also had a navy, orange, and yellow Big Wheel and I played little league baseball. I don't recall anyone thinking that was particularly weird, and I don't think anyone was ever worried about me turning into a lesbian because of it. I just had two older brothers, so I wanted to be them. End of story. I was never discouraged from doing something because it was a "boy" thing instead of a "girl" thing.

Little girls who like hockey are much more accepted, I feel, than little boys who like figure skating, if all you do is listen to the chatter around you. Chatter may not be an accurate representation of life, but it stems from something. It is okay for girls to be boys, but much less okay for boys to be girls. Thankfully, nobody in my circle of life seemed to care while I was growing long as I didn't come home both pregnant and strung out on heroin at the same time while in high school, I was free to make my own choices in terms of which "me" I wanted to be. 

The other itch this statement causes to crawl onto my surface is that even if my first ponderance is misguided, kids will be made fun of for everything in the world. Let me take this kid, for example:  his name is not spelled in the traditional, character-in-the-bible way. He is small for his age. He likes the White Sox while the whole city is currently Cubs crazy. He likes tea.

None of these traits are particularly weird, but kids make fun of other kids. It is what it is. And in a world where we are trying to take a stand against bullying, something got lost in translation over the past two generations. Kids will be kids. Instead of trying to turn kids into non-kids...people who know better before they learn to know about we teach our kids to be proud of who they are, and let them explore their interests, and tell the bullies, "I knit! Would you like me to teach you? No? Then stand back, because my sticks double as weapons if I need them..." (you know what I mean)

We can't just blame the parents of the bullies for having bullying kids. Parents who teach their kids that victimization is the only option if they are different are just as much to blame as the others. There is a vast middle ground here, with a very broad spectrum of "acceptable" behavior. This means that no parent is 100% right or 100%'s how we learn from each other.

Incidentally, I would think any caretaker of a six-year-old boy would be thrilled that he is learning something that will keep his hands and brain busy, and is much quieter than playing explosive video games. But that's just me. Lesson number three...if he is still interested...will be next week sometime.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Common-Sense Resolutions

Happy new year, everyone! If you follow my column at all, you know that every year, I post an article regarding what people are resolving for their knitting habits and projects in the coming year. I assure you, 2016 is no different (mostly because I am predictable):

My knitting resolutions are pretty simple:  do as much of it as I can, be as creative as I can, and don't give a crap about spending money on yarn.

Other New Years Resolutions (capital letters added for emphasis), however, are more complicated. I tend to just reflect on the last twelve months, and decide what would need to change in order for the next twelve months to be better. This does not necessarily mean I resolve to change anything; I just like to digest what my life has been like, and be a realist about what it can be like in the future. If you are looking for inspiration, here are some common-sense resolutions to get you started off right in the new year.

1.  Give your haters the benefit of the doubt.  So, you are not perfect. You are probably not nearly as bad as your haters think you are, either, but heed their criticism before dismissing it. The outcome of a quick analysis of your haters is either, "That poor thing...they are just angry because their husband has been cheating for thirty years and they have never been strong enough to leave!" or, "Wow...I never really thought about it, but maybe I AM a gold-digger!" Either way, that dismissal can sometimes prevent you from closure. If you are someone who needs closure to move on, then get it, even if it is only in your own head.

2.  Own who you are.  I had a conversation with someone recently who was busted for probably the tenth time since I have known him, for cheating on a girlfriend. While he was beating himself up over it, I gave him some advice, figuring the last thing he needed was for someone else to beat him up over it. I told him, "You need to either figure out what makes you cheat, or just own it and be a cheater." If you own who you are, you can release a lot of the insecurities that plague your forward movement. Be a cheater! think being a cheater means you are an asshole? Okay, then. Ask yourself the next time you are putting your face between a girl's legs other than your girlfriend's, "Do I really want to do this? Because then I am an asshole." Force yourself to listen to the little voice. If it doesn't stop you, then just own it. Be the asshole. You will still have friends, I promise.

3.  Shift out of first gear.  Ask anyone on the planet if they like sitting in traffic. The answer, obviously, is "No." Why not? Because nobody likes sitting around, waiting for the others in front of them to get out of their way so they can move forward. And yet, many of us will go ahead and say, "YOU ARE IN FRONT OF ME AND YOU MAKE ME ANGRY AND I CAN'T MOVE FORWARD WITH YOU THERE!" to something in their life that has nothing to do with their actual happiness. So, your son is dating someone you don't like. Do you really have to let it sidetrack your day, let alone your whole year? Of course you don't; this is a choice. And by the way, if your response to this little section is, "Fuck them...I would rather be angry," then you may as well just admit that you love attention, no matter how you can get it.

4.  Quit the cries for attention. Which brings me to my next common-sense resolution. Are you always late? Do you hold up a line, telling your sob-story to a cashier or bartender instead of being considerate to the people behind you? Do you like to repeat your same list of complaints to every new person you meet? Do you have a "blame others" mentality, where you start sentences with something like, "I don't know what her problem is, but..."? Because if any of these sounds like you, then you need to do a little bit of a self-esteem check. When we are not happy with ourselves, we do teeny weeny things to get attention, be it positive or negative. Don't believe me? Let's start with being late...what does everyone do when someone walks into a room ten minutes after they are expected? Yep...they stop what they are doing, and all eyes turn to that person. When you are comfortable with yourself, you get enough attention. Not only is typically positive attention.

5.  Be kind.  This is the ultimate common-sense resolution, but it never ceases to amaze me how many people make this look difficult. If someone is crappy to you, and you are crappy to them back, does it really make you feel better? In general, no. The reason doesn't have anything to do with getting even, either. Most of us just really like being kind, and we can't get pleasure out of watching others suffer. If your enemy is drowning, pulling him or her out of the water feels way better than pushing them under, every single time. And again, it's not because you are sitting there and saying to yourself, "I just saved a life!" It's because you are saying to yourself, "I did the right thing."

6.  Do what makes you happy.  I don't just mean career-wise, I mean every damn day of the year. Does eating a doughnut in the morning set the mood for the rest of the day? Do you like organizing junk drawers? Do you knit? (Oh, you didn't see that coming). Then do it. If all of your friends think that live-action role-play is nuts, and there you are, sewing your costume by hand at Starbucks, then maybe you need different friends. If you love your raw-vegan diet, if you love knife-throwing class, if you love reading about the American Gold Rush in the 1800's, then do it. Anyone who gives you a hard time about something you love is either the most boring person in the world, or the best at keeping secrets. What so-called "weird" thing do they do that they don't want you judging?

7.  Prioritize.  We are a compilation of a million little factors. Priorities can either be a most-important to least-important list of tasks, or it can also be a list of qualities we see in people, and in what order of importance they are. Put the good stuff ahead of the bad stuff, not just in you but in everyone else as well. Maybe you think I am weird because I have a whole list of qualities incompatible with your "mainstream" ideals:  I don't own a television, I knit in public every chance I get, my close circle of friends ranges in age from mid-20's to mid-60's, I don't have an I-Pass, I am "just" a barista at Starbucks...the list goes on. But if you see that stuff first...the stuff you don't agree with...before you see that I am kind, loyal, intelligent, financially independent, etc...well, then you are telling me more about you than you are pointing out about myself. How about making 2016 the year we all try to see the good in people before noticing the bad?

8.  Live.  If you have put something off all of last year, then do it this year. If you get bogged down in your office every day, then start to take your lunch break outside. If you spend too much time on your smartphone, then put it in airplane mode for an hour per day. Take a day-trip in your car. Find the nearest forest preserve and plop your blanket down in it...along with yourself and a sandwich and a book...for a little while one day. Sign up for the damn guitar lessons. Write that novel. Start that company. Write a hand-written letter and mail it. Send thank-you notes. Buy the stranger's coffee behind you in line. Kiss the girl who makes your heart go pitter-pat (bonus points if you kiss her in public). Tell the world how awesome you are without following up by telling them how crappy they are...they are just as awesome as you. In short, live. And live your best, brightest, most imperfect work-in-progress life you can live.

Resolve to make this year better than last year. And then just go ahead and do it. No matter the teeny details, let's make the balance sheet on 2016 end in the black, shall we?

Friday, December 18, 2015

Are You Happy?

Good morning, everyone...I am sitting at a Starbucks (not the one where I sling lattes), taking a break from getting about sixteen-hundred bits of paper together. I need a break, or I can already tell I am going to start filing things in the wrong place. That said, something has been on my mind for about a week, and I wanted to share my thoughts on it. Seems silly, but I want to talk about happiness.

My stepmom called me last Thursday, and to tell you how rare this is unless it is a federal holiday of some sort, my first thought was, " who died?" My stepmom is excellent at actively loving her family in the truest sense of love, but correspondence just is not her thing. Knowing this, I call her every two weeks or so, and we catch up on each other's gossip and any events that are worth noting.

So, after establishing that I was me and she was herself, she said, "Greg has asked me to marry him." I took a breath and started to freak out on her behalf, because that's what girls do, repeating "Omigod omigod omigod..." over and over again until both of us stopped giggling. We talked about how some people have expressed concern...or, at least that is how she interprets it...regarding her and Greg moving faster than they think is appropriate, or that she isn't thinking things through, or being irrational, or whatever.

"But you know what? I'm happy." Meg's words should slap every naysayer in the face.

She started dating him around Thanksgiving last year. He moved into her house shortly after that, and they talk on the phone often when not next to each other, and they tell each other everything. In fact, they have been like that pretty much since they met. I saw them in August, and they sat on the same side of the table at a restaurant, ordering one meal and splitting it down the middle. They did that the next morning as well.

So I ask you...the next time someone says anything along the lines of "Are you sure this is the right decision?" remind yourself of two things:  they probably actually do mean well, and they do not determine your happiness. You do.
So, if someone feels the right to question you on something that makes you happy, then ask yourself if you are truly happy. My guess is that most people do not know the difference between forced and true happiness, until they have had an event or period in their life where they can look back and realize that their happiness was forced. Also, the ones who are asking may also have never felt true happiness. I am not saying their concern is unjustified; just know that true happiness is more rare than we give it credit. Look at anyone's facebook page for proof of this. How many times do we see someone smiling in a single photograph, but we know the history behind the smile plastered on his or her face? We are all guilty of it.

I am truly happy. I have work to do, decisions to make, and will always have the typical stressors in my life like never-ending bills, but I do know the difference between truly happy and manufacturing something I want people to see. Happiness is relatively easy, and when you have to work at it, you enjoy working at it. Happiness feels relieving, peaceful, and genuine. Forced happiness feels more like a balance sheet, where we take stock of our problems and our good qualities, and justify having 50.00001% good in our lives.

When I get questioned about me being happy, especially regarding my relationship, the questions are pretty typical:  How can you be in love with someone almost twelve years younger than you? But...what about his kids...have you thought about that? Are you sure you want to get married after how the last marriage ended? Do you really think a year is long enough before you know if you want to be with him? Don't you think you should live together first? How do you know he is not after your money? You know that his ex-wife and mother are part of the package, right?

Because when you are truly happy, you know the difference. Of course there are always compromises, negotiations, details to work out. But another major component of happiness is the ability to communicate, and the two concepts (communication and happiness) are absolutely intrinsically related. There is an incredible amount of contentment that comes with knowing I can say anything at all to him, and there will be a discussion but no irrational yelling or accusing. We talk. A lot. About a lot of different sides of the same issue. And we figure out what is worth continuing and what is worth dropping as a two-person unit.

With regard to all of the questions above, my response in my head (and sometimes out of my mouth) is, "Why does it matter to you?" Otherwise, it is not really anyone's business. If I say I am happy, and I seem happy, and most importantly, if you can tell the difference in how I am when I'm happy and how I am when I'm not, then just wish the best and move on. And I will wish the best for you, whether or not I understand it.

Sometimes I fail at that. But I try. Because everyone...everyone...should find happiness, no matter what.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Swatching and Those Red Cups

Good morning from Chicago! I am sitting in my sun room, which is not particularly sunny during autumn and winter, and I had a dream last night that someone tried to hit me with their car while I was swimming (because that is how my brain works).

Also, I touch upon swatching about once a year in either my column or the blog, because yes, it is that important. Here are my top eight reasons I think you should swatch:

Many of you know that I work for Starbucks now. After Cascade, I wanted a sort of breather. I have worked for Walmart, Gap, Inc., and Nordstrom as well, because working for large, established companies means that if you ever need or choose to go back to them for employment, you can do it in almost any city where you land. This time around, it was Starbucks.

And I have yet to encounter a customer who cares that our holiday cups are red, or that they do not say "Merry Christmas!" on them, with a bunch of snowflakes.

While I am not a representative of the company in the sense that I have authority to speak on their behalf, I do have opinions about this as an old-fashioned human being that I feel may benefit others in their quest to get large companies heard, due to my employment history. I got into a rather colorful discussion about this on facebook, and I have come to a few conclusions that I thought I would share:

1.  Telling the barista that your name is Merry Christmas is all sorts of dumb. If you are protesting in outrage, then please explain to me why you are continuing to give the company money every day. Also, the barista will write almost anything you like on your cup, because if it is rush hour and your drink is being plopped onto a counter with six other drinks within mere seconds of each other, then we want to make sure your own drink is the one that heads to the train station with you.

2.  Continuing to talk about it on social media is all sorts of dumb. Many of your social media friends, believe it or not, are not Starbucks regulars. But suddenly, all of these people who never walked into a Starbucks, but most likely pass one every day if they live in a community of more than about 12,000 people, feel compelled to walk in and look at these red cups, live and in the flesh. Then, I know what happens becuase I am also a customer of Starbucks:  "Ooh! Chocolate croissant!"

3.  Worrying about it in the first place is all sorts of dumb. Do you have little kids? Are you living paycheck to paycheck? Do you need a new roof? Is your next-door neighbor worried that her kids do not have the proper winter gear for the upcoming weather? Did you hear about the gunshots in the Gresham neighborhood? From where I am sitting, all of these topics are more important than red cups at Starbucks, and yet they are not anywhere more forward than your cerebral cortex. Ask yourself why.

4.  The media reporting on it in the first place is all sorts of dumb. Speaking of gunshots, a nine-year-old boy was gunned down in a targeted gang shooting this weekend. How about we stop the stupid red-cup conversation and talk about where his parents were, the fact that the educational system let us down, how it may be horrible that it was gang-related but that little boy was still someone's child and family member, or even how we can use money we spend at Starbucks to help curb gang violence in our communitites, if you are still interested in "protesting?" And yes, here I am talking about it in the so-called media, but I am trying to nip it in the bud with this post.

5.  Hypocrisy regarding this topic is all sorts of dumb. Part of the facebook discussion (my facebook page is public, by the way, so feel free to read it) revolved around Christians saying, "Why me?" as a majority religious voice. Well, call me crazy, but victimhood is not exactly a fundamental Christian value. Why you? I, as a Catholic, can answer that question with everything from, "Why anybody?" to "What makes you think this is aimed at any one particular religious group in the first place?" If your brand of Christianity teaches entitlement, publicly-traded corporations using their reach as a platform for your agenda, or God taking care of you in the way YOU see fit instead of how HE sees fit, then you need to re-evaluate how you identify as a Christian. Just like you cannot shout "Less government!" while simultaneously complaining that the government needs more regulation on a certain issue, having it both ways just is not possible.

If you actually, truly are offended by Starbucks and their festive cups, here is my advice to you:  stop drinking their coffee, write a letter to CEO Howard Schultz, and send it to the corporate office. Or go to the website and offer your feedback. And the next time all six of you are "outraged" over desensitizing Christmas (my fancy algorithm in my head literally suggests the number of outraged people is less than ten), wear a string on your finger to remind you of that as you are standing in line for a television at 50% off on Thanksgiving night.

Also, if everybody lives like a true Christian (I mean values-wise, not converting anyone and everyone to Chritianity), then nobody will give a crap what Starbucks does on their cups. I only know my own personal relationship with God, but I have never been given any indication that He asked a Board of Directors at Starbucks to take "Merry Christmas!" off of their cups. But I am guessing that if any messages were received, it was more of a "giving" message than a "taking" one, as illustrated by the fact that veterans can get a free tall coffee tomorrow, on Veterans Day, as a thank-you for their service.

A Catholic nun from Chicago just won "Chopped," and she plans on using her $10,000 to help feed the homeless and underprivileged. That, my friends, is Christmas. Knitting mittens and hats for school-aged children in Nekoosa, Wisconsin so that parents do not have to skip a meal to afford winter clothes? That is Christmas. Celebrating the birth of Jesus by attending church, donating money and time to causes for people less fortunate, and re-telling His story regarding teachings of tolerance, acceptance, and unconditional love? That, from what I have learned, is Christmas. And I have worked a Black Friday for Walmart, so I have seen people drop their morals and values for material possessions literally in an instant.

Starbucks? Starbucks is coffee. And it is damn yummy coffee. Words on a coffee cup? Put it to bed.