Tuesday, September 16, 2014

My Favorite Shops

Being a kinda-sorta small business person, I pay a lot of attention to how other (real) businesses work. Turns out most of them do not use my "hope money miraculously shows up in my mailbox" method of self-marketing. (I still think that might pan out for me someday.) After writing about the difficulties many people find shopping and working at one of the big chain fabric stores, I wanted to counter that with something a little more positive, and I thought I'd tell you about some of the places where I buy fabric and why I like them so much.

I would love to shop more at local quilt shops, but the two that are nearest to me just don't serve my needs well. For one thing, they don't have The Avengers running on a continuous loop over large screens all over the sales floor. (Yes, I need that to shop—don't judge.) But they are also clearly serving a different target market and don't carry the kinds of fabrics I like, and they don't tend to move the fabric they do have very quickly. I went into one shop last year around this time and again just recently, and found the exact same fabrics, and discovered many bolts from lines that are 2 or 3 years old at full price mixed into the color walls. I suspect that the fabric that moves well in these shops are batiks and who can tell when there are new batiks? They're lovely, but it's not exactly an event.

So, online shopping works well for me, plus I can do it with no pants on while eating cheese popcorn. Honestly, I shop at a lot of different places, depending on what I'm looking for and price, but for this post, I wanted to focus on online shops that also have a brick-and-mortar storefront. It seems to me that these days, in order for a store to be competitive, they have to extend their reach as far as possible, and these three are all doing that in different ways (at least different ways that I have seen). They also all three have very friendly and responsive service, and our recent conversation shows just how vital that can be when trying to stand out in a crowd.

And this is the first time I have ever reached out to any businesses to see if they wanted to offer readers a little something to go along with all this love, and to my surprise they all said yes! I was pretty sure they were going to back away quickly when they saw it was me, but no! (This list was made well before I asked and would not have changed even if they had said no.) I'm not going to question that any further; I'm just gonna go with it. Each store has offered a coupon code for readers, so check the bold type at the end of each listing for the details. (Each one is a little different).

1. Fabricworm: Advertising Works

Fabricworm was one of the first online shops I took notice of when I started quilting, and that was because even back then, in 2008, they were advertising everywhere. So many blogs had that cute little worm somewhere on the sidebar, so of course I clicked on it. Back then, as I recall, Fabricworm was an Etsy shop, and they specialized in creating custom bundles of fabrics from different collections that worked well together. This was a big deal for a new quilter unaccustomed to choosing her own fabrics beyond what came in a collection. It wasn't long before Cynthia opened a brick-and-mortar shop, called Birch Fabrics,  and moved the online store from Etsy to a stand-alone site. Continuing her juggernaut, in 2009 she started her own line of organic quilting cottons, knits, and other fabrics, also called Birch Fabrics. Birch fabrics are freaking gorgeous and well worth the cost.

Seven years later, Fabricworm is still going strong and they have not let up on advertising, which I think is a very good thing. Back in 2008, after making my first purchase from her Etsy shop, I offered Cynthia an ad on my blog (even though nobody read me back then) and she eagerly took it, because even a free ad on an unknown blog will get seen by somebody. Fabricworm still advertises all over the quilternet, making sure they stay visible. (I am a big proponent of advertising, based on my experiences as the manager of a small, boutique business some years ago.) I recommend getting on the mailing list for them, as that is how you will get notice of their frequent sales and specials. Their selection is truly outstanding, and the sale fabric section is a great place to scout out some stuff you may need to complete a collection, especially when there are extra specials going on.

Fabricworm is offering $5.00 off a purchase of $25 or more with coupon code stitchb until December 15th! Big thanks to Andrea and Cynthia at Fabricworm!

2. Sew Modern: Kona, Kona, Kona - Sale, Sale, Sale!

Sew Modern's shop is located in Los Angeles, and pictures always show a bright and airy space that looks utterly inviting. Sew Modern is where the LA Modern Quilt Guild meets and so is really Fabric Central for the heart of the modern movement (heh, heh - movement). I first looked up Sew Modern when I heard that they stock every single color of Kona solids. Every. Single. One. I use a lot of Kona solids in my quilts and nobody around here carries much. Searching online for a specific color gets frustrating, especially if you need several colors and find yourself having to buy them from different places. With Sew Modern, I can get them all from one spot. And they are so fast!! I have never yet placed an order that wasn't shipped out the same day, and if they are low on a color, they let me know right away and work with me to get what I need.

After I discovered the Kona, I found the sale pages. Tons of great fabrics at great prices, with new stuff added all the time. This is where I go when I need to beef up a certain color in my stash. (Which reminds me, I'm always low on red for some reason.) Again, getting on the newsletter mailing list is a must because there are frequent sale codes and they are worth using.

And speaking of sale codes, Sew Modern owner Lauren Hawley is offering my readers 20% off until September 30!!! Use the code BITCHY20 at checkout to receive 20% off your purchase. Thank you so much, Lauren!!! Seriously, go check it out—you're going to love them. And remember the Laughter Quilt? Well, here's where you can get some Kona White to make your blocks. Now you have no excuse.

3. Quilter's Square: Social Media Masters

Quilter's Square is located in Lexington, Kentucky and from what I've seen in pictures, it's a biiiig shop. Quilter's Square first came on my radar when I realized one of the owners, Kela Curtis, was also a reader of mine and she friended me in real life on Facebook. Shortly thereafter, I began following Quilter's Square on Instagram, and this is where things got interesting.

Instagram, for those of you not familiar with it, is a social media app for phones and tablets (it also has a web-based interface) that is based on photos. You post by uploading a photo, which you can then say something about, and people who see it can "like" the photo or comment on it. If you are a quilter, I highly recommend jumping down this rabbit hole, as the quilting community there is active and very, very friendly. Many swaps and bees have sprung from Instagram relationships (a current Dr. Who-themed swap is called Make A Dalek - Make  A Friend).

I quickly noticed that Quilter's Square posts a LOT on Instagram, and many of those posts are about new fabrics that have just arrived, or they contain coupon codes (and they are sweet ones, let me tell you), or they might highlight some aspect of the shop such as CUSTOM JELLY ROLLS. Yep, want a selection of solids in a jelly roll, maybe in a specific color palette? Kela will pull the fabrics for you from Kona and Bella solids, photograph the pull for your approval, and cut your strips for you. Did I get one of these? Oh, hells, yes I did, in my favorite purple, blue, teal combo (along with a few other goodies):

Kela has been asking questions on Instagram and getting feedback and just generally using social media like a boss. In fact, her efforts paid off to such a degree that they were able to afford and purchase a POS system for the shop, which means they can now put their whole shop online! Woo hoo! Kela often does transactions through Instagram—tell her what you want and if she has it, you give her your Paypal email and she invoices you.

I really, really love Kela and her shop and if the physical store were anywhere near me, I'd probably move in and there would be cops involved and things would get ugly, but the depth of my love would be clear. They have both modern and traditional fabrics, though they mainly push the modern online. But don't be afraid to ask for what you are looking for—they are super helpful and if they don't have it, they often know who does.

Quilter's Square is also offering readers a coupon! Use code whatastitch to get 25% off your purchase from them until this Friday, September 19. The online shop doesn't show all they have (and they have a TON), so if you are looking for something specific don't hesitate to call or email or contact them through Facebook. Thank you, Quilter's Square!

Did I miss one you love? Tell me about your favorite place to shop in the comments.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Thank you

I'd just like to take a minute to thank everyone for the overwhelmingly positive response to my last post. The last two days have seen all kinds of records broken on how many visits this blog has seen, plus the Facebook post that linked to it has been seen by over 20,000 people and has been shared over 200 times. The discourse in the comments has been mostly civil, and most of the people who have not experienced bad service at Jo-Ann's have expressed their contrasting stories calmly and without resorting to all caps. Most.

I was nervous about posting something so serious on my quilting humor blog, but I felt it was important. I do believe it is okay—great, even—for corporations to make money, but I also believe that it's important to understand how that money is made, and for consumers to understand that the workers at the front lines are not always the ones at fault when your shopping experience doesn't go the way you'd like. Sometimes they are, yes, but understanding what they often go through just to make it through a single shift can change your perspective a lot. I've been the person behind the register at a bookstore, the cashier at the drive-thru at McDonald's, the salesgirl on the floor of a chain clothing store, and the well-trained manager of a high-end optical store. It's all hard, hard work, and so often you are treated like dirt by customers simply because you are in a service job. Personally, I think that staying on your feet for 8 hours or more, serving customers who often think that you are beneath them, while trying to keep up with 800 other tasks is pretty freaking superhuman and deserves more than we as a society have decided those jobs are worth. In my idealistic little noggin, I imagine a world where all work is valued, not just the kind of work that requires suits and desks and degrees that are getting harder and harder to pay for.

ANYHOODLE. On Tuesday, as promised, I'm gonna tell you about three places where I love to buy fabric and a little bit about what they are doing to attract and keep business in a changing and competitive market. This is just a short and completely subjective list based upon where I shop and what my experiences with them have been. But, two of the shops have already agreed to offer coupons to my readers! Woo hoo! So, after I tell you about how awesome they are, you can go and find out for yourself - at a discount!

Then we'll get back to our regular fart joke routine. Promise.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Behind the Bolts

We all go there. It’s usually convenient; sometimes it’s the only place nearby to get that certain thing we need to finish (or start) a project. Sometimes the coupon does make the price pretty attractive. So, we go. And then we bitch about it after. Naturally, I’m talking about Jo-Ann Fabrics, the retail chain we all love to hate. There is one just minutes from my house—I could walk there on a nice day—and I have purchased tons of thread and batting and pillow forms and elastic and other things I really wanted to buy without ordering online or traveling many extra miles to my LQS to purchase. And on occasion, when I have made these trips, I have walked in, found what I needed, paid for it and walked out. Other times? Not so much.

 When people discuss Jo-Ann Fabrics, they tend to have two main complaints: you can’t find anyone to help you, and, if you do, they are cranky. Recently, I posted this photo on Instagram with the caption: “Hello? Helloooo! I just wanna buy one thing. It’ll only take a minute, I swear! Hello?”

 It just so happened that one of my Instagram followers was an assistant manager at a Jo-Ann Fabrics store, and she responded, “That’s what happens when they don’t let us have the coverage we need and want cashiers to do more and more further away from the registers. This happens on a default basis in my store, despite desperately trying to prevent it.” I asked her if she’d be willing to talk with me some more about working at Jo-Ann’s and the policies they have in place for employees, in order to get a better sense of what makes our experiences there so universally bad, and just who is responsible. And she agreed.

I worked many years in retail (though almost always for small business owners) and so I know how difficult the work can be, and how company rules can create insurmountable problems for both the shopper and the retail employee. It seemed to me that there is a general assumption that shopping at Jo-Ann’s is so bad because they probably don’t pay well and so can’t keep enough employees on hand or can’t keep good employees very long. What I learned is more complex than that, and truly opened my eyes to some of the realities of big chain business practices and how that affects both consumers and employees.

 For obvious reasons, my interviewee preferred to remain anonymous, so we’ll call her Employee X. Employee X has worked at Jo-Ann’s for 9 months and she is an assistant store manager. She was hired on in this position and works full-time. She is one of five full-time employees (four managers and one full-time worker) and she tells me that most stores have this many full-time employees. Her store also has 18 part-time workers, and part-time means they each work less than 28 hours per week. However, she says, a store might have more if the sales volume for that particular location warrants it. Her store is one of the large ones with custom framing and classes, so it has more employees than a store that doesn’t.

 If Employee X is working the opening shift, she arrives before the store opens and, among other tasks, walks the floor doing what is called a “daily store tour,” where a list is made of all the things that need to be done such as dusting, straightening displays, and cleaning up the stuff customers spill and leave on the floor just before closing the night before. Each of these tasks has to be ranked in importance and then assigned to an employee along with an estimate of how long each task should take. The list “gets added to as the day goes on, and can often span a few pages,” she says. After that, the manager on duty opens the registers, counts money, and does the daily deposit. The beginning of the day is also when any price changes are made, which usually happens twice a week.

 The management team has a LOT to do, and each manager may be a “lead” for a different aspect of running the store. There is the operations lead, who handles “audit(s) and charitable donations/discard, among other things.” The merchandise lead has to make sure all the displays are set up the way the diagrams (called planograms) sent to them from the corporate office dictate. Employee X says that whoever designs the planograms (she imagines his name is Roger) is on crack because there is always something wrong with the diagrams, which might not be evident until you are halfway through and you have to start over. There is also a store lead, and a freight coordinator (who handles unloading the truck, organizing the stock room, and stocking the store) plus another full-time person devoted to stocking. “Some stores have a full-time framing specialist; some have a full-time cashier—it all depends on their need and their volume.” The store lead, Employee X tells me, has, among other tasks, the job of “making sure we make payroll.” “Making payroll” is a phrase that crops up often in my emails with Employee X, and so eventually, I ask her to explain—and this is where things get really interesting.

 Each store has a fiscal week, and those weeks each have budget goals, both daily and weekly. The goals are determined by the corporate office and are a prediction based upon the previous year’s sales and an estimation of the cost to run and staff the store. Each daily goal added together gives the weekly goal, and a portion of the weekly goal goes toward payroll. So if the prediction is that the store will make X amount of money in that week, then a portion of that money is allowed to be used for payroll. “Every morning we do a calculation ((sales this week x scheduled selling hours) / earned hourly wage) to tell us how many staffing hours we have used. The summary tells us how many hours we have used vs. the calculation of how many hours we have earned.”

 So, if you have ever wondered why Jo-Ann’s doesn’t just staff every store with someone always at the register and someone always at the cutting counter and someone always available to help you find stuff (or multiple someones in any or all these places), this is why. Each store is only allotted a certain amount of money that can be spent each week on payroll, but the number of things that have to be done in a given day doesn’t also go down if the payroll budget goes down, nor does the budget for payroll increase if there is more that comes up to be done. On top of this, the payroll budget is somewhat tied to store performance, but is an esoteric calculation that is based on older sales numbers, not recent ones. So a store could have a suddenly busy season, but not get more payroll hours to use.

 Employee X says the corporate office “cares about payroll over everything.” Each store is pressured to come in “under payroll,” which means that they have to try and use fewer staffing hours than they have the budget for. And when I say “pressured,” I mean that they might get “written up” when they fail. Getting “written up” is another phrase that Employee X uses a lot, because apparently it’s a tool that is used a lot. Getting written up is a black mark on your record that can quickly add up to getting fired, so naturally everyone tries to avoid it. But that isn’t always easy at JoAnn’s.

 Because each store has to try to come “under payroll,” and thus keep staffing very lean, and because each staff member has a list of tasks that have to be done each day, it often happens that the staff on duty, and particularly management, has more to do than can reasonably be completed in one day. Jo-Ann’s doesn’t want to keep someone at the register all the time, because she could be doing one of hundreds of other things that need doing when there are no customers. Problem is, she has to get those things done by the end of her shift, or risk getting written up. Work overtime to get them done? No, because then the store would not make payroll. Clock out and do it on your own time? Nope—you can get written up or even fired for that. Employee X tells me she often goes with no breaks or meals for an entire day because of this, signing something called a “meal period exception” to keep corporate butts covered.

So, when you walk into a Jo-Ann’s and there’s no one at the register or at the cutting counter, it’s not because the person assigned to those places is lounging on the fleece bolts and taking a snooze. She has a long list of tasks to get done, and when there is no one at the register, she has to be working on them and they might not be located anywhere near the check-out. If you need help finding some particular item, and the person you ask doesn’t seem interested in guiding you to the correct area and discussing the relative merits of item A and item B with you, her shift may be almost over and she hasn’t been able to finish what she has to do and she’s worried about being written up. It doesn’t take being written up too many times before one is fired, and that’s a specter that hangs over everyone’s heads, even more so recently.

 A few weeks after working on this article with Employee X, she informed me that she had quit. Recently, corporate had started implementing something called “coaching documents,” which, she told me, “are basically mini write-ups to document when you talked with a team member about not using the right procedure to sell the item of the day, or ask for coupons, or sell tote bags (which is our new thing, and they’re awful), and I’m not about that. It goes against basically every study about productivity and behavior change. You don’t get real, genuine change by having your employees feel scared to not do it or get written up; you get change by making them feel empowered to do better and focusing on positives and building them up.” She had already decided to leave, but told her boss she refused to implement these changes for her last two weeks. Her health was suffering from the schedule and from never getting meal breaks, and she’s looking forward to getting her system back in order.

 It is very easy to assume that the way most businesses hope to attract and retain customers is through a policy of superior customer service (combined with competitive prices and selection), and that when the service we think we are owed is not forthcoming it must somehow be the result of employees just not caring enough to do their jobs properly. But that is not always the case, and especially when we are talking about very large, national chain stores. The daily and weekly tasks and goals that each store must meet preclude the employees spending a great deal of time with customers. When employees are skipping meals in order to complete their daily tasks, they simply aren’t allowed the luxury of taking time with customers. It’s not necessarily an issue of someone with a bad attitude who doesn’t “get” customer service. It is an issue of how large retail chains keep costs down in order to also keep prices low, while still maintaining expected profit levels.

 Add to this a chain-wide system of “write-ups” that document each time you fail to do something you are expected to do. Imagine having so many things to accomplish, and no way to add time or people to get them done, plus being worried that you’ll get written up for not finishing them. Or for forgetting to ask for coupons. Or for not using the right language to sell a tote bag. On an empty stomach.

 The takeaway I hope you get from all this is that Jo-Ann’s simply isn’t set up to be the place you go in order to interact with employees and get tons of advice and hand holding. And that it isn’t necessarily because the people there don’t want to help you, but because the staffing and payroll system prevents them from spending the time to do so. And demanding that they do when you go won’t change anything, but may end up getting someone written up. “Asking us to plan, design, sketch out, or otherwise be involved in your project is well beyond what we get paid to do, and can actually get us in trouble,” says Employee X.

 I believe there is a place in the quilting and sewing world for stores like Jo-Ann’s alongside independently owned shops (and yes, I prefer to shop with independents whenever possible). I have had a lot of quilters tell me that were it not for the cheap fabrics and thread they can get there, they would not be able to quilt at all. Sometimes, there simply isn’t a local independent shop close enough. However, we need to stop thinking of Jo-Ann’s as a place that should function exactly like those independent shops, just on a larger, and cheaper, scale. They don’t. And it isn’t necessarily the fault of the people on the sales floor.

 That’s not to say that I don’t believe places such as Jo-Ann’s can’t or shouldn’t change, only that the people on the sales floor are not the ones who can directly change it. If you think a large, corporately owned chain needs to change, you need to let the higher-ups know, not the workers. Write them. Don’t tie your comments to a particular store or employee, because that could result in unintended consequences for them, but let the big wigs know that the system as is stands makes customers angry and employees miserable.

WRITER'S NOTE: For what it's worth, I do understand that this is not the story for every single employee in every single store. I am happy to hear from anyone who enjoys shopping or working there, and I have approved every single comment I have received that tells the good side of things. I may even contact some of those people to get their side of the story for a follow-up post. If you wish to tell me about how well your store is staffed and run, please do so, but not while insulting the people who have not been as lucky as you or implying that they must be lying. Read through all the comments and you'll see too many corroborating stories for that to be the case.


To counter all this misery, I'm working on a post that tells you all about some of my favorite online places to shop for quilting stuff and why I think they're so great. And what the hell, here's some Tom Hiddleston, too. See, I do love you.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Buck up!

Seriously, what is it with all the damn deer?

I like deer. They're pretty and the skittishness makes them seem all mysterious, especially when one slowly steps out of the misty woods and looks at you like it possesses magical secrets. Then again, I'm told they can mess up gardens and I know several people who have had major car damage from hitting one that darted into the road. For all I know they vote against feminist issues and talk loudly in movie theaters. Still—pretty.

So, what is it with all the deer on quilting fabric right now? Was there a memo? Because I have recently learned that I am a Quilt Industry Professional (that's a QUIP in industry jargon that I totally made up—I have a t-shirt and everything!), and I didn't get any damn memo. Did Momo start the memo a couple years ago?

Then Echino's hipster deer print was a thing that was cool for a while.

Joel Dewberry had a whole Deer Valley.

Then Birch Fabrics tried to pretend they were elk.

And Anna Maria Horner tried to slip it in last fall, like we wouldn't notice.

Then at Spring Market this year, it was like OH CRAP, I FORGOT TO MAKE MY DEER FABIC. BETTER GET ON THAT.

Violet Craft's Timber Valley:

Katarina Rocella's Indelible (which I grant you is a very interesting combo of motifs):

And now, my beloved Tula Pink has been taken over by the Quiltuminati, or whoever decides these things and makes everyone fall in line or Angela Walters won't quilt for them EVER AGAIN.

Now, I admit that of all the deer we are currently being subjected to  offered, Tula's are my favorite and yes I will probably buy them in every color and hoard them like I do all my other Tula fabrics. But, Tula, my darling, why? There are so many wonderful creatures on this earth that deserve to be immortalized on quilting cotton. For example:

The majestic platypus:

The star-nosed mole:

Forget hedgehogs. Puffer fish!

I'm sure Kaffe Fassett could do something spectacular with some freaky caterpillars:

This magnificent creature would make EXCELLENT pillows and other bed-related items:

See, fabric designers? There's a whole world out there just waiting for you to exploit it. You don't have to do what the Quilting Overlords command you. Break your chains and draw some stuff that doesn't have antlers on it. It will be ok, I promise. We might even buy some of it.

But no cassowaries. I have dibs on the cassowary.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Sale info

Just FYI, there is another sale going on on my Facebook feed starting tonight, though this one is not run by me. My friend Flaun Cline recently had to make a big move across country and our friend Trish (who also copyedited my book, BTW) helped her sort out sewing stuff to sell. I offered them both the use of my Facebook feed to help sell the stuff. I mean, what's the point of having a reach of a couple thousand people if you can't use it to help your friends sell their books, patterns, fabric, and assorted notions? Amirite?

You can get all the details on my Facebook page, but the sale starts tonight and you will be dealing directly with Trish who has admin access to my page. She will be the one posting, invoicing, and mailing, and the one answering any questions you have.

After my return from Portland, I had to get ready for my dad's visit and then I was felled by a diverticulitis attack, from which I am still recovering. I really hope to be back in good form next week and to thank you for your patience, I'll give away some Portland-purchased penis fabric!

I also want to address some of the questions I've been getting about whether there will be a calendar this year. No, I'm afraid there will not. The calendar doesn't make very much money and Lulu.com has had several issues with accurately reporting the sales I have had. This year has also been a difficult one for me personally, and I am finding myself unmotivated to work on anything at all. I know there are several of you who love the calendar and look forward to it every year, but my heart just isn't in it, especially when there is so little money to be made from it. However, I will be thinking about it over the next several months, and will be researching whether it might be feasible to print and distribute it myself, possibly through a Kickstarter program. This would eliminate some of the problems I have with using the print-on-demand service and might even give me a small advertising budget. Now that I have a distributor for my book, it's possible I could get the calendar distributed through them as well. All things I need to think carefully about. But I need to get past my sickness and past my funk to do it properly.

As always, thank you for your support and your patience with me as I try to get back into my groove.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Thank you, Mr. Williams

When my brother came home from the Navy, newly divorced and still healing from a terrible motorcycle accident that shattered his leg, what he brought home with him—besides his impressive record collection—was his sense of humor. He was naturally funny, and though he was a big guy and could be imposing when he really wanted to, he had a sweet smile and the most infectious laugh. His laugh was always more like a giggle—a high-pitched "hee, hee, hee hee!"— and he was the first person I remember who would pointedly look me in the eye as we laughed over something. It was like he delighted in seeing other people laugh along with him and wanted them to know it.

Jon and I devoured a lot of pop culture together: movies, music, music videos, TV. I can't remember when or how we saw that first Robin Williams stand-up special—whether it was on TV or we rented it on our new Betamax tape player—but it was Robin Williams Live at the Roxy.

I won't go to the trouble of listing every joke and line from that show that became a part of our shared scripts, but I'm sure you know how it goes. You see a comedian and from then on you grab every opportunity that presents itself to repeat a line so you can share that laughter again. Which is why for ages we would crack each other up by quietly singing, "Pop goes the weasel" whenever we used a microwave.

Robin Williams certainly wasn't the only comedian whose work wormed its way into our lives, but he was always the one I loved the most. I don't know if his influence can be felt or seen in my writing, but I guarantee you it's there when I put my kids to bed every night and they beg me to perform our traditional bedtime ritual in as many accents and voices as I can.

To me, the life of Robin Williams is proof that making people laugh is a worthwhile calling. It couldn't save him from a lifetime of depression, but how many people did he save in some small way each time he performed, each time he gave of himself—risking so much by throwing his entire being into every word? I know there are people out there who felt the bleakness of life lift, and maybe only for a moment, because they laughed at and with this fiercely intelligent, brave man.

The last time I saw my brother, he was bedridden and was staying in a rehab facility, where they were making a last-ditch effort to help him regain some use of the left side of his body after his stroke and second brain surgery. I hadn't seen him since before the stroke, and so, when I walked in his room, I was gutted by the sight of him. He was unable to walk on his own, and was propped in bed watching TV. His left hand was being held open by a special strap to keep the skin of his palm from getting sores. He had lost much of his facial and vocal expressions, so at first he seemed distant and monotone. He had developed a large skin cancer on one side of his face that was not being removed because, well, there was no point. My sister and I sat with him for a while and chatted, and then decided to give him a rest while we went to get some lunch, promising to come back after and bring him a burger.

When we got outside to my sister's car, everything that I had held in since we entered his room burst out, and I sobbed and sobbed until I thought there would be nothing left of me. He was really dying, and for the first time, I could see it. It wasn't just a dent in his skull, or a propensity to nap or to be cold. The physical, immutable reality that he would soon no longer exist and that it would not be an easy departure hit me so hard I buckled. My sister sat with me, talked and cried with me, and eventually I pulled it together enough to go eat.

I worried about going back for the afternoon, uncertain if I could handle it, but the rest and the food (and the cry) was good for all of us, and we all seemed looser and more comfortable. We started talking more like we always had, about anything and everything, and we started to laugh again. As we talked, Jon would occasionally change the channel on the television. He liked to have it on, even when he had visitors, and at one point he turned it to a golf game. I had recently been farting around on the internet and had come across a Robin Williams performance where he imagined the crazy Scot who invented golf—who obviously did it just to fuck with people. I asked Jon if he had ever seen it, and he hadn't. So, I did it for him. As much as I could remember and in my best Scottish accent. By this time, the three of us were laughing like loons, and the next day, when his son came by while we were there, Jon told him to look it up on You Tube, and the two of them watched it together and there was that beautiful giggle again. It should have become one of our refrains: "Fuck, no! Eighteen fuckin' times!" The laughter we got from that opened us all up to more and more, and though we moved on to other topics, we giggled and laughed more easily thereafter. Or at least it seemed so to me. His wife later told me that she called him after we left, and he was practically giddy—lighter in spirit than he had been in months. Because that's what laughter can do.

I was making arrangements to go and visit him again a few months later when he passed away.

Robin Williams will never know that one day in a rehab center in Tennessee, two sisters and a brother spent two last days together, and that a part of those days were spent holding our sides over one of his many, many performances. And that's okay, because I trust he knew how much joy he brought to the world, even as his depression stole his own joy from him. And I know that my brief moments of sorrow over his passing are nothing compared to the overwhelming grief those who truly knew and loved him are feeling now. I'm all too aware of what that grief feels like. Still, I would have liked to have told him what he did that day.

Anyway. Thank you, Mr. Williams. I wish you well on the next leg of your journey. Say hi to my mom and brother if you see them, okay?

For what it's worth, this is the bit:

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Great Bitchy Sewing Room Sale, Part Deux

Do you ever just look around your house and think, "How the hell did I get all this stuff?" We are acquisitive little beasts, are we not? Quite frankly, my sewing room has gotten to the point where I don't even want to start a new project, because that would mean figuring out where to move all the stuff that lives on my cutting table, not to mention all the stuff that lives on my sewing table. And all the other tables. And the floor. Basically, if there's a flat surface anywhere, it's covered in junk.

When I start to look longingly at my tables and wish I could use them, that means it's time to get rid of stuff. Do you remember the last Facebook sale? We had a grand old time, and I believe the time has come to do it again. So that I can fill your sewing rooms with stuff to cover every available surface. It's the Circle of Life!

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the semi-annual Great Bitchy Facebook Sale, it goes like this: Starting on Saturday, July 27, I will be posting pictures of stuff on my Facebook page. Each photo will have a description of the item being sold and the price. The first person to comment with the desire to purchase said item gets it. That person must then communicate to me, either in a comment or via direct message, their Paypal email address and their zip code. I will invoice everyone after the sale is over, and it will probably take a few days to get through everything.

Included in the sale are: fabric, scrap bags, books, notions, and maybe a couple handmade items. Almost everything will be sold for well below retail, except for the newest fabrics, which I will still try to keep below full retail, just not as far below.

And afterwards, there will be a BONUS SALE! My friend Flaun recently made a big move from Minnesota to Tennessee and my friend Trish not only helped her clean out her sewing room, but took home her extra stuff to help her sell it off. I offered the use of my Facebook page for the sale, so once my stuff has been picked over, Trish will take over and start posting Flaun's stuff. At that point, if you purchase anything from Flaun, you will need to re-post your Paypal address and zip code, and you will receive a separate invoice for those things.

Because we are civilized folk and we do not want to descend into chaos, there are rules and guidelines.

1. Be nice.
2. I have to run the sale when it is convenient for me. I realize the times I choose to post may not be convenient for you, but I can't help that. You can write me snarly emails about how unfair it is that I posted the one thing you wanted while you were at TaeBo class, but I will ignore them.
3. There are times when two people claim things very close together. Also, Facebook in a browser is all funky with the way comments appear, so it may look like one comment was first when another really was. Fortunately, my phone app shows the comments in chronological order, so that is how I will decide who gets the item.
4. It will take me time to create the invoices after the sale (spreadsheets are involved), so please be patient. I will announce on Facebook when I have emailed the invoices. If I have made this announcement, and you do not receive an invoice, please let me know. It usually means I made a typing error with your email address.
5. Shipping is not included in the prices and will be added on at invoice time. Rest assured I will cram everything into the smallest box/envelope possible.

I think that covers it, but if I have forgotten some detail, you can excoriate me for it in the comments and I will address it.

I am going to try to start at 10 am EST on Saturday, but that can change depending on my kids and what we decide to do over the weekend. I may schedule a bunch of posts, and get back to them later if we need to go out.

Have fun and thank you!!