Wednesday, November 26, 2014

And I'm Bringing My Yarn With Me

My husband calls it an addiction. I call it my hands get bored and my mind wanders.  Folks have seen me at sorority conferences, PTA meetings, family gatherings, swim meets, basketball games, school plays, on an airplane and train, waiting for a kid somewhere.  I bring my yarn and will crochet or knit during those hours of sitting still.

Have yarn, will travel. What shall I make next?
I take small on-the-go projects, a pair of gloves, a hat, a scarf, that have a simple pattern so I don't have to keep referring to patterns for meetings or an activity where I need to be paying attention and possibly taking notes.  I save my bigger or more complicated projects, a blanket or a sweater, for sporting events and hanging out with the family, activities that do not require my undivided, undistracted attention.

And I know I'm not the only one.  I've watched one woman work on a beautiful afghan at our PTA meetings.  There's scarves being made in sorority meetings.  At the swim meets, the moms are working on blankets while the kids are in the pool.  And surely, any yarn-y worth their skeins packs up their hooks and needles for an evening or weekend hanging out with the family for the holidays.

On Ravelry (if you crochet or knit, you are on Ravelry, right? Find me as "love2crochet"), there are discussions where folks have noted that their family members actually get upset when they stitch "in public." Really? They say it's distracting and/or rude.

But what about the guy playing Angry Birds or whatever's the newest phone game app or her over there clicking through Facebook?  Or the kids lined up in a row with the headphones on and texting other kids, presumably with headphones on also not talking to the people in their room?  Nobody's bothered by that, but my yarn bothers you? I can still carry on a conversation and make eye contact with you while I'm stitching.  The guys are transfixed watching the game and I'm supposed to what, sit and watch them?

I've got a stash of yarn, a list of projects to do, and my to-go kit for my hooks and needles.  I'm always ready for sitting around somewhere for hours. AND I will have a new pair of gloves by the time the evening's over.

Do you stitch while at family gatherings? Or some other crafty activity?

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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

It's Your Family - Love 'Em Anyway


It’s that time of year where everybody – I mean e’rbody – gets anxious about the family holiday get together.  Even for those who do love each and every one of their family members, the cooking, cleaning, baking, packing, weather watching, traveling can still make you a bit stressed.  So – cue “We Are Family” and read on for a few tips in getting ready for dinner with your favorite people.

Endure the craziness.  You probably think you are the only one with that cousin that everybody is keeping an eye on, with that aunt that folks are just nervously waiting to see what she’s going to say.  But we’ve all got our own form of family craziness. Embrace it.

Everybody needs love (unless they are violent.)  You may be tempted to not invite that uncle because he doesn’t know which is the proper dinner fork versus salad fork or the cousin that is, uhh, just coming home (and not from college) or the sibling who ticked you off at the 4th of July picnic and you haven’t spoken to since.  You may be justified in your indignation and annoyance. But they’re family. Love them.

Give warnings on the food you bring. The pecan pie is obvious, but the ground almond and peanut butter cookies, might need a sign for the nut-allergy sufferer. Save yourself from making the 911 call and someone from a trip to ER.  Be considerate.

Know your family. If your people like Kraft mac & cheese, don’t show up with Gruyere and brie with truffle oil macaroni.  Or vice versa.  Each year, my made fresh that morning cranberry sauce sits next to the cylindrical, ridged cranberry jelly on the holiday table. Don’t be mad.

Know your own limitations. If you know that you can’t boil water, don’t volunteer to bring the sweet potato casserole.  You can be in charge of the beverages. Be sure to bring enough for everybody. Be generous.

Don’t forget your friends without family.  Perhaps they’re family is far away and its so expensive to go home, or perhaps their loved ones have passed and they are alone.  Maybe they’ve had a falling out with their family and can’t go home this year.  Invite them to join you. Yes, warn them that the crazy family is coming, but do invite them.  Be thoughtful.

Pour yourself a drink.  (Actually, you might want to start with that.)  But do drink responsibly. And don't drive while intoxicated, high, or texting.  We want you to be around for the next family gathering. Be safe.

Enjoy your family and have a safe, happy holiday season!

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Monday, November 24, 2014

Mary J Blige Heads to London for #TheLondonSessions

I've done 30-day writing challenges and it's hard to come up with a good, complete, creative project in that amount of time.  It takes dedication and commitment, and, at least for me, a lot of coffee.  Perhaps, next time I should grab a bunch of songwriters and producers from the UK and pull up a seat for them next to my writing desk.  We can listen to Mary J Blige's upcoming album, The London Sessions, while I work.

For The London Sessions, Mary J Blige headed to London to collaborate with UK artists for a month. One of my favorite songs out now is Sam Smith's Stay with Me, so I looked forward to listening to what he and the others would do with her on this album for this review.  

To describe it over all, I'd say London Sessions is grown folks music.  At my particular age, I can say I'm grown folks.  I want to listen to music that I don't have to change when someone walks in the room and I don't have to worry about explicit content warnings.  These songs are about grown folks feelings – missing, loving, healing, wanting to be with that one person.  This is what R&B is supposed to sound like.

Folks are probably already familiar with the single Whole Damn Year that's included on this album.  My two favorites from the rest of the album are Nobody But You and My Loving. Perhaps it's the authentic feelings of love and longing that are the common factor; that, and the make-you-move beat in both songs.

Dancing is not my strong suit, but every time I've listened to My Loving I can't stop tapping my feet and bopping along – you know how you do the little in-your-chair dance while your supposed to be working?  This is the song that's going to have you spinning around, in your chair or on the dance floor.  I like the flirty vulnerability of convincing her man that she's the best girl for him: "I can be the girl you like, the one in your dreams… I'll let you try to think about the other girls, but you can't deny, that what you've got is the best in the whole wide world."  It has a bit of that Ne-Yo style and for a few notes, she even sounds like him.

In Nobody But You she tells her man that she's thinking about "Running away into your arms, a place where I'm gonna stay."  When there's so many songs out about that one-moment of physicalness, it's a welcome change to hear a song about staying for longer than one night.  Again, I like the make-you-dance rhythm of this song, too.

The one song I have to say I haven't put on replay is Therapy. It's unfortunate because I like the bluesy beat and tone to it.  But there's a small grammatical bug that bothers me – she sings "I can go therapy," and it seems that there should be a "to" in that phrase. Perhaps it was dropped to fit into the right number of beats, but it catches me every time.

There are few artists who seem like they are going to be able to stay around for a long time, for a real career beyond a one-hit wonder.  Mary J Blige is one of those artists with staying power, repeatedly coming back since her 1992 debut album.  Perhaps, it's the surprise of what she's going to come out with next.  Most of her albums, I've liked one or two songs, so even if I wasn't crazy about her last song, I liked the next one.  She keeps you interested, she keeps you coming back to see what she's got on the next track.  I would put The London Sessions, with her strong vocals and true R&B tone, as my favorite of her albums thus far.

The London Sessions album will be available on Dec. on Amazon and iTunes.

I participated in the Mary J Blige The London Sessions album review program as a member of bLink Marketing Network. I was provided a free album to review but all opinions are my own.

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Friday, November 21, 2014

Youth Financial Literacy & Entrepreneurship: Watching Seeds Grow

When we consider education, we focus on our children being well-read, able to figure out the area of a triangle, knowing who won the Civil War, and knowing what Ag stands for on a periodic table.  We provide little formal education on how to make money and what to do with that money once you have it.  But as a former business education teacher and a parent, I’d argue that financial literacy is just as important to our children’s success.  Or least, for us to successfully get them out of our house as functional, independent adults (the whole goal of parenthood, right?)

What I learned about money (at least before I went to college and actually majored in finance) was from my parents, with money earned through part-time jobs and allowance.  As a teenager, I babysat.  Many of my girlfriends did the same; the guys cut grass and shoveled snow.  We told people we were available to do the work, decided the fee, did the work, collected payment, and figured out what to do with all that money.  We didn’t think about it then, but these tasks are the essentials of being an entrepreneur.  I’ve reviewed the same steps with my little group who are involved in one of the largest youth business operations around – my Girl Scout troop and their cookies.

Watching Seeds Grow is a guide about entrepreneurship for young people written by son and father, Keith Greer and Peter Greer (President & CEO of HOPE International), which offers simple, easy-to-understand lessons for youth about financial management.

The book opens with a few stories of youthful entrepreneurship, starting with Keith’s (the son) haphazard beginning in business, selling beans in a Rwandan market when he came across a few handfuls of leftover beans.  The stories highlight product-related businesses (beans, candles, tacos, donuts), but children should also be reminded that service-related endeavors, such as tutoring, shoveling snow, and painting friends’ nails, also require the same steps.

The second part of the book lists for parents ten steps of entrepreneurship.  Even for the child who has no interest in running their own business, they are important lessons which can be scaled to the appropriate age: understanding finance and the concepts of hard work, ownership, investment, and generosity.

For instance, Step 2: Start a Savings Account.  For the youngest child, the parent can begin this lesson with a simple bank at home – a jar, a plastic piggy bank, an envelope – and the discussion of putting away a little bit of whatever money the child gets for birthdays or holidays or A’s on the report card to save for the future.  Perhaps start with a tangible goal, like a particular toy or activity that’s relatively expensive, but reasonable.  As the child gets older, you can discuss more about short-term (that new iPhone) and long-term (college) savings goals.  Additionally, as the child gets older, parents can introduce them to the process of putting their money in the bank and earning interest (even if it is just a little bit), and then later the concept of investing (Greer’s Step 6).

An interesting parenting issue which Greer includes in the discussion on teaching children the value of hard work, is the debate about allowance.  Should allowance be tied to chores or other required activities or should it be given, no strings attached?  Greer suggests that by relating allowance to chores, parents teach children the concept of working for their money. Parents might even offer the opportunity to do additional chores to make a few more dollars.

The last section of the book is worksheets for the child who is considering their own business, even as simple as their own lemonade stand.  Applying the ten steps of entrepreneurship, the worksheets lead the child and parent through developing a business concept, considering expenses and setting a price, planning marketing and promotions, and selling the product.

Watching Seeds Grow is an easy-to-read guide which breaks down information about financial management into tangible, actionable steps for the young entrepreneur, the kid working a part-time job, or the kid getting an allowance for taking out the trash.

Peter and Keith Greer, Authors of Watching Seeds Grow

A complimentary copy of Watching Seeds Grow was provided for review; all opinions and comments are my own.

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Thursday, November 20, 2014

Lessons for My Daughters About #BreakingtheInternet

Many situations in life are what we call “teachable moments.”  They may be times when someone did really well, but sometimes (usually) the best lessons are from when something has gone wrong.

In the past week, there was one celebrity who tried to steal the internet spotlight by baring her a$$ on a magazine cover and everything else on the inside pages (although online, cover and inside pages don’t really matter, so we got a glimpse of it all, but anyway...)  Then, another who quietly donned a white jumpsuit and cape, had her husband-to-be suit up in white, and rode two white bikes to their wedding – and the pictures took the internet by a tidal wave.  Teachable moments.

So what can we teach our daughters from these two examples of womanhood?

Overt, aggressive, look-at-me, love-me self-promotion doesn’t always work out so well.  People don’t like being forced to look at you and give you compliments.  Have you noticed whenever a person or even business entity attempts the “make a meme of me” campaign, it usually backfires? A haughty “break the internet” push actually comes off as a little too much self-absorption, and while the buzz may be out there, it’s not necessarily good. I haven’t heard anyone say “wow, I was so happy that while I was drinking my coffee this morning, sliding through Twitter, her a$$ popped up on my screen.” (Yeah, I know some thought that, but I’m talking about the rest of us.) Same when girls are strutting around in dresses tighter then their underwear and just as short or posting 100 selfies a day.  Lesson: stop begging for compliments and attention; it’s not a good look.

People like genuine-ness.  As much as we thrill in the drama of “reality” lives, in our hearts, we want to see for-real real, true love and friendship (or at least the image of it.)  So when photos of Solange’s wedding in white popped on the screen, there was a big collective “awwww, how lovely!”  Here was a celebrity who got married like a person with some sense who was focused on her own happiness, not “likes” and RT’s.  There were no secret, teasing peek photos at the wedding by the paparazzi hiding in bushes (the cute video of her and her son dancing looks like a friend took it on their phone) or month-long live E! coverage of the preparations.  I’m not na├»ve enough to think that there wasn’t a little bit of publicity planning involved in all of this, but the feeling was genuine and natural.  Sometimes we like things not being crazy over the top.  Lesson: We like that natural, real you better than the made-for-TV version.

In the real world, where the rest of us live, “breaking the internet” is not a real, tangible goal.  Sure, people like having a bunch of followers and friends, there’s a jolt of cyber-pride when you get some “likes” for a photo or status post. Heck, that’s what we bloggers live for – a share, a tweet, a comment. But all that amounts to very little in your quest to be a real, good, happy person.  Lesson: please, please don’t base your self-worth on electronic clicks, but instead on warm, live hugs and smiles.

And a few more quick ones:
Lesson: How you start is how you will continue.
Lesson: Pick your husband and life partner wisely. 
Lesson: Have more to offer the world than what’s physical.

And one more:
Don’t overstay your welcome.  If you somehow slipped into the party through the backdoor and folks tolerated you to stay – enjoy yourself, grab a drink, dance a little bit, don’t be a nuisance, and realize when it’s time for you to go.  Take your goodie bag, thank your host, and move on.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

It's Cold: The Case for Fingerless Gloves (or Mittens)

Why wear gloves without fingers when it's cold outside?  

This was my thought when I first came across this concept of fingerless gloves a few years ago.  (And as an aside, I'm not sure why they are considered gloves, rather than mittens; since they are fingerless, how do you know which they are?  Something to think about over coffee.)  It didn't make a whole lot of sense, but since I found a pretty easy pattern for a pair and I could use some practice in making things in the round, I gave it a try.  And now, as it's getting cold, I'm making another pair (probably my 3rd or 4th.)

As for the yarn - don't you just love this natural color?  It's the actual color of the sheep that is was shorn from.  I bought these skeins last year in a little needlepoint shop in Middleburg, Virginia when I went out there for dinner at Salamander Inn (oh, you didn't know I can find a yarn shop anywhere, anytime?)  Gum Tree Farm is located nearby.

So, back to the gloves - why fingerless?

Because gloves with fingers are great, but sometimes they get in the way of doing stuff.  You have to stop, pull them off to push buttons on the ATM, sign the little credit card screen, count on your money, dial the phone.

When you go inside somewhere - the store, the school, the library - you look like a bank robber if you keep your gloves on, as if you are being careful not to leave fingerprints.  But with fingerless gloves, nobody cares.

Sometimes it's cold inside, too.  I was at school all last week and my hands were freezing. I don't know how the teachers and kids can stand it.  I wanted to put on another layer of socks and cursed the days I forgot my gloves.  But I was working the book fair, so I did need access to my fingers to write, ring up books, count money.  In my own home office space, sometimes its cold, too, 'til the heat kicks in.

There's a theory that you only need to keep your wrists warm to keep your whole hands warm.  Something about keeping that pulse point in your wrist covered, keeps the blood going to your fingers warm.  I'm not sure I agree with that yet, but I'll throw it on the list for now, in case it works for someone.

And most important for a crocheter or knitter - they are quick and easy to make!  There's gazillion patterns out there and you can make them as simple or as fancy as you want.  Simply - it's a long tube with a hole for your thumb.  If you are an experienced crocheter/knitter, you might be able to figure this out on your own.  If you need help, of course you can check Ravelry and Pinterest for ideas.

(Note, I also have a pair of toeless socks for the primary purpose of getting a pedicure in the winter, not messing up my nail polish, but keeping the rest of my feet warm.)

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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Warning: In Service, You Will Get Trampled #GivingTuesday

I’m still thinking about a line I lifted out of the message this Sunday at church: To be a bridge for the hopeless, you must be ready to be trampled upon.

I’m adding this as a sub-text to one of my most-repeated phrases, “No good deed goes unpunished,” something a former boss used to say to me whenever I complained about my latest bruising.

Doesn’t it seem like whenever you are trying to help somebody, whether a specific person or a general, ideal of a group (the “homeless,” “those kids”) you get stepped on a little bit, jostled, and pushed around.  And then you wonder, what the heck am I doing this for? I could instead be sitting back, reading that book that I’ve been stuck on chapter one forever because I’ve been so busy doing this thing and sipping a glass of wine.

Being of service to others isn’t easy. It requires sacrifice of time, energy, emotion, and, often, personal resources. And as a Veteran who spoke at an event I went to last week reminded us, it requires a sacrifice from your family and loved ones around you.  When you go to volunteer at the food pantry, you might be missing dinner with your family.  When you help coach the basketball team, your own kid is missing out on the time to play catch with you.  When you are sitting in PTA meeting, planning the bake sale to buy books for the reading room, you are missing a conversation with your spouse. Dropping those clothes off at the job training center is cutting into happy hour with your friends.  So the sacrifice is your’s, but also your family’s and friends’.

On top of all that, sometimes, folks don’t appreciate your service. Sorry, it’s true. Whether the recipient, other people you are working with, or other people who would like to be doing what you are doing but for some reason are not.  You will have detractors and nay-sayers, unfortunately.  Someone will complain that you should’ve bought canned beans for the food drive, not macaroni and cheese.  You should’ve donated hats, not scarves.  They will whisper that you drive a Benz and just came back from a vacation in Hawaii, but only bought two tickets to the school play.  Sorry. It’s going to happen.

When all this happens and you are looking at the footprints up and down your spirit, look outwards.  Look toward the other side.  Where are you trying to help people get to. Are you trying to make sure kids are warm this winter?  Do you want to make sure families are fed?  Do you want women to have a safe haven when they are abused or assaulted?  Are you trying to get a crosswalk at your school?  Do you have this crazy notion that every child should be able to read, no matter their country of origin?  Keep your eyes there, on that distant side.  Keep in mind the destination you are trying to help people reach.  Dust off some of those dusty footprints.  And keep leading people to a new place.

And in case no-one else says it, “thank you for your service.”

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