Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A site that's always good for a laugh

Avid knitters should really appreciate this site. I remember to check it out every few months and am never disappointed, so I've decided to add it in the sidebar. Enjoy, but be careful if you're viewing it at work!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

My #1 fear

One day earlier this week I posted a list of things I want to do before I die on another blog I write. One of my last entries was my hope that God would give me the courage to get over my extreme fear of public speaking so that I could one day to a series of motivational speaking engagements, or perhaps something even more timely, like a book tour for my upcoming book!

In a former life, I did quite a bit of public speaking, mostly in a corporate setting. I usually did alright, and I even think my secret was safe. Because I was well-prepared, I doubt that people knew that I was utterly mortified the whole time - stomache pain, chills, sweaty palms - the works. I'd rather go to the dentist than speak in front of a crowd. But, I have a testimony, and I believe God wants me to tell it. So, I decided that if that's true, then He'll have to give me the courage and the strength to do it because I don't have it on my own.

Less than 24 hours later, I was asked to speak at a women's knitting retreat at a local church next Saturday.

So, of course I said yes, before my nerves had a chance to weigh in. It wasn't until the next morning as I was getting ready for work that the thought struck me - what on earth am I going to speak about? Instead of panicing, I decided to pray. Almost immediately, I had to run and get a pen and paper because God was giving me the outline of my remarks. My immediate reaction was tremendous thanks to Him for answering my prayer so quickly. My next thought was frustration and shame - at myself - for all those times I tried to figure things out on my own, and only screwed things up.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Design on a dime

I'm furiously working to finish a dozen prayer shawls that I'm donating to a network of sexual and domestic violence shelters at the end of the month (more on this later), but in between shawls, I'm working on a belated Christmas presents for my Mom and Dad. Mom wanted a brown afghan (not very exciting, I know). I'd just finished knitting a big black one and I was hoping for something a little more interesting, but when you have parents that have everything... well, you know how that goes.

So, I knew that Mom wouldn't want me spending a lot of money on this, so I went to Wal-Mart and walked around the yarn aisles for a while trying to come up with a plan. Of course, they didn't have enough of any one color in stock to make an afghan, and since it was already the week before Christmas, I decided that it was time to get creative. So, I bought what I hope is sufficient yarn of 3 shades and textures (but all with no dye lots, just in case) and decided to mix things up a bit.

Here's the result:

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Love is a verb

It's not often that a blog post moves me to tears, but this one did today. In it, WillThink4Wine (I love that name) writes so eloquently about the true meaning of love. I couldn't agree with her more when she writes that "I believe that when someone really loves you, really values you deeply, the words "I Love You" need never be spoken. You will feel the love, all the way to the core of your being."

WillThink4Wine's post reminded me to embrace my relationships with an open mind and an open heart, remembering that not everybody who says "I love you" really does, and that sometimes those who really do, don't say it with those words. It also reminded me that the same holds true for me.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

My Zen of Praise

This week, I purchased an MP3 player, a Zen by Creative Media Source. It doesn't look like much, and costs much less than the popular iPod (less than $40 at WalMart), but after just a few days, I can't imagine how I lived without it. The night I bought it, I spent a few hours downloading my favorite jazz/latin/contemporary praise and worship songs. So far, I have 98 songs by artists such as Donnie McClurkin, Salvador, Jonathan Butler, Ramsey Lewis, Yolanda Adams and many more.

My BOSE stereo system in my car died a horrible death nearly a year ago and the cost to replace it is more than my car is worth, but that was probably a blessing because now when I'm in the car, I'm listening to my new playlist. Now when I'm walking, my Zen and my camera inspire me to find God in unexpected places on my travels and to try to capture some of that on film. This morning I realized that I could copy the same playlist to my PC, so I'm listening to it as I blog. Some may consider this the "lazy woman's way to pray", and perhaps they're right. But for me, it works. I can't help but thank God and praise Him when I'm listening to this music.

My daughter is coming home for 2 weeks next month for my birthday - she's stationed in Iraq. We decided to wait and exchange Christmas presents when she comes. She doesn't need much, and certainly can't drag around a lot of stuff given where she is. When I created my Zen of Praise, I realized that it would be the PERFECT gift for her. It's much smaller than a credit card and easily fits in the palm of a hand. My version (the least expensive one) holds approximately 250 songs, and will play for 10 hours on a built-in battery that recharges in 2 hrs from a PC. And thankfully for me, I introduced her to all these artists when she was growing up so I know she's going to love my playlist. So, for Christmas in March, she's getting a Zen of Praise of her very own, complete with her Mom's playlist. Just listening to it as she sits on lonely guard duty for 4 hours each evening will uplift her, encourage her, remind her that her mother loves her, and most importantly, remind her that God loves her even more.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Life lessons I learned from my dog

Every now and then someone sends me one of those e-mails with Frequent Flyer miles that really resonates with me. Today, one came that was so beautiful that I feel compelled to share it it.

All my life I've been a cat-person, but for one brief period, when I needed her the most, God brought a beautiful shepherd-collie-chow into my life. I adopted her from the local animual rescue league, so according to conventional wisdom, most would say that I saved her life, but Gracie and I know that in truth, she saved mine. Gracie loved me unconditionally whether I was having a good day or a bad one. She could sense how I was feeling and always knew what to do. She protected me with her life and she trusted me with hers. We were a pretty formidable team, Gracie and I, and although our time together was short, she will always hold a special place in my heart.

Here's the part of today's e-mail that rang so true for me:

Remember, if a dog was the teacher you would learn things like:

When loved ones come home, always run to greet them.

Never pass up the opportunity to go for a joyride.

Allow the experience of fresh air and the wind in your face to be pure ecstasy.

Take naps.

Stretch before rising.

Run, romp, and play daily.

Thrive on attention and let people touch you.

Avoid biting when a simple growl will do.

On warm days, stop to lie on your back on the grass. On hot days, drink lots of water and lie under a shady tree.

When you're happy, dance around and wag your entire body.

Delight in the simple joy of a long walk.

Be loyal.

Never pretend to be something you're not.

When someone is having a bad day, be silent, sit close by and nuzzle them gently.


"Life isn't about how to survive the storm, but how to dance in the

Live simply.

Love generously.

Care deeply.

Speak gently.

Thank you, Gracie.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Volunteer knitters and crocheters needed

It's a brand New Year and I can't think of a better time to make a commitment to doing more charity knitting/crocheting this year. I'd like to invite you to join me in supporting the WarmUp America! Foundation. Warm Up America! (WUA!) is an organization made up of volunteers from across the country who create handmade afghan blankets, clothing and accessories to help those in need. These items provide warmth and comfort to people who have lost their homes, fled abusive relationships, or are being cared for in hospices, shelters, hospitals, and nursing homes. Amazingly, more than 250,000 afghans have already been made and distributed through this program.

So what does this have to do with Soulful Knitting Ministries and how can you help? I'm so glad you asked! Caron, manufacturer of Simply Soft, a wonderful (and wonderfully inexpensive) yarn that I use a lot in the SKM Signature Prayer Shawls, is sponsoring a Sofen the World Simply Soft Sweepstakes. Participants are asked to submit any number of knit or crocheted 7" x 9" sections in any Simply Soft yarn. All stitched sections will be donated to WarmUp America! And, in addition to knitting and crocheting for WarmUp America!, you'll also be supporting Soulful Knitting Ministries, because the group that submits the most sections by the deadline will win a check for $300, which if we won, would be used to purchase yarn to make more prayer shawls. How's that for the ultimate charity knitting/crocheting two-fer?

The only requirements for the sections, is that they measure 7" x 9", and that they use Simply Soft yarn, which I know is available at Wal-Mart and can probably also be found at other craft stores or mass merchandisers that sell yarn. It's less than $3.00 for a 6-oz skein, which will make lots of sections, and is also available several places online (try searching for "simply soft caron" on google). You can use your own pattern ideas (just remember it must measure 7" x 9"), or use any of these free patterns from WarmUp America!

You can send your completed sections to me either a few at a time or when you've done all you're going to do, but please make sure that I receive them no later than April 15th so I can get them shipped to Caron before the May 1st deadline. Please send your sections to:
Sydney Thomas
PO Box 6233
Ashland VA 23005

Thank you in advance for your support. And please feel free to pass this request on to all of your knitting friends and knitting groups. It's a great way to support two organizations who are helping others, one stitch at a time!

Friday, January 04, 2008

The politics of hope

I know this is going to sound corny, but I was so excited about what happened in the Iowa caucuses last night that I couldn't sleep. And here I am this morning, still riding the wave of optimism that appears to be taking hold across this country.

I am proud to be a supporter of Mike Huckabee, and as my family, friends and co-workers know all too well, I've been supporting him since last spring when none of them even knew who he was. As an African-American, converted Republican who hails from a long line of die-hard Democrats, my early support of Huckabee was considered by many who know me as yet another example of my being out in left (or in this case, right) field, bucking conventional wisdom, marching to a totally different drummer, and perhaps being just plain rebellious. Yet I've been pleasantly surprised by how many of those nay-sayers actually started listening, first to me, and then to Mike Huckabee, and have begun to see what I saw.

Now, I must also be honest and admit that while I could not in good conscious vote for Obama because he is African-American (or Hillary because she's a woman), and while my values are much more closely aligned with conservative Republican values, I was almost as delighted about Obama's win in Iowa last night as I was for Huckabee. I'm excited that last night sent a message around the country, and around the world perhaps, that integrity and values trump money and "establishment". Honor and character trump pandering to the audience and telling them what they want to hear, even if it's different from what the last group was told. And that as a country, we may finally be ready to move beyond the trappings of race. The pundits can pontificate and speculate until the cows come home, but at the end of the day, it's not what they say that truly matters, as last night's election results proved.

But to me, what happened last night hits home on a personal level as well. The startling, against all odds, "they said it couldn't be done" results last night provide an important lesson to each of us. Both directly and by implication, so many of us are seduced into focusing on all that we supposedly can not do, for whatever reason, rather than encouraged to focus on all that we can do. We're told to set "realistic" expectations, settle for less than we dare to dream for and to focus on simply making through the day - one day at a time. We are constantly reminded of all of the limitations we face, but rarely about the possibilities.

The bottom line is that the choice is ours. We can chose to limit ourselves by allowing others to limit us, or we can take a page from Mike Huckabee's and Barack Obama's playbooks and decide that what we're put here to do is more important than what anybody else tells us we can't do.

History, both past and recent, is full of examples of people who have overcome tremendous odds, many that are much more challenging than ours, to achieve incredible things. Do you doubt that? Search the Internet and read about incredible artists who are blind, or who hold their paintbrushes with their teeth or their feet because they have no arms, or about athletes who complete entire marthons on crutches. Read about children who are born so severely disabled that they were never expected to read or write, yet who're graduating from college. Learn more about the Special Olympics. If you do, I bet you'll start to realize that life is too short, there's way too much to see and do, to waste time at the pity party.

It's time for us to stop feeling sorry for ourselves and believing the lies about what we can and cannot do. It's time to prove the pundits wrong. It's time to figure out why we're here, what our purpose in life is, what gifts we have to offer, what it is we're meant to do, and then, in the words of that simple yet profoundly powerful Nike ad... JUST DO IT!

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy New Year!

It's another New Year - a time of new opportunities and new possibilities... a time when many of us are pledging to ourselves, and perhaps even to others, that we're going to let go of unhealthy habits and replace them with more positive and uplifting ones. I go through this process each year, some with more successful results than others. But this morning, I saw something in the newspaper that crystallized the idea of New Year's resolutions brilliantly for me.

This is apparently a frequently reprinted post from Dear Abby that I'm guessing appeared in syndicated papers across the country today. But just in case you missed it, here it is:
JUST FOR TODAY: I will live through this day only. I will not brood about yesterday or obsess about tomorrow. I will not set far-reaching goals or try to overcome all of my problems at once. I know that I can do something for 24 hours that would overwhelm me if I had to keep it up for a lifetime.

JUST FOR TODAY: I will be happy. I will not dwell on thoughts that depress me. If my mind fills with clouds, I will chase them away and fill it with sunshine.

JUST FOR TODAY: I will accept what is. I will face reality. I will correct those things I can correct and accept those I cannot.

JUST FOR TODAY: I will improve my mind. I will read something that requires effort, thought and concentration. I will not be a mental loafer.

JUST FOR TODAY: I will make a conscious effort to be agreeable. I will be kind and courteous to those who cross my path, and I'll not speak ill of others. I will improve my appearance, speak softly and not interrupt when someone else is talking. Just for today, I will refrain from improving anybody but myself.

JUST FOR TODAY: I will do something positive to improve my health. If I'm a smoker, I'll quit. If I am overweight, I will eat healthfully — if only just for today. And not only that, I will get off the couch and take a brisk walk, even if it's only around the block.

JUST FOR TODAY: I will gather the courage to do what is right and take responsibility for my own actions.

And so, Dear Readers, may this New Year bring with it peace and joy. — LOVE, ABBY

I'm printing a copy of this for my refrigerator and another copy for my planner. If I can do these things just one day at a time, I know that this is going to be an awesome year!