She wants to lead the glamorous life!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year!

It is the last day of the year and I'm reflecting on my 2014 journey.  When I woke up to a cold, single digit temperature Chicago morning, the sun was shining bright.  Through my windows, a warm golden glow spread throughout my apartment.  The kind of glow that makes it seem like the day is personally welcoming me to it.  As if the sun was shining just for me.  After thanking God for bringing me to the last morning and work day of the year, I mentally reviewed the past year.

When I think back over 2014, I realize how much got accomplished and all of what happened throughout those fast-paced 12 months.  The year flew by, but so much took place.  It's weird because there are things that seem so far removed from now and where I am today.  I had a surgery to remove a suspicious lump in my breast (all is well).  I traveled to Paris, Amsterdam and Las Vegas.  I got a new job.  I dated a creepy man from St. Charles, IL who taught me how to make a traditional lamb cake for Easter.  A Ukranian man who took me to my first Puerto Rican Festival.  And a Nigerian critical care nurse who gave me my first boyfriend administered flu shot.  There was the death of my mother's eldest brother, which I thought I was handling well until I stopped to realize I spent a month eating my feelings, crying in the midnight hour, angry at everyone and everything and finally a dermatologist explained that my grief over my uncle's passing, was the obvious cause of the clump of hair that fell out- leaving me with a clean circular-shaped bald spot at the top of my head.  (Thank goodness, my hair is finally growing back.)

I meditated and prayed more.  I read books that elevated my understanding of myself, my spirit and soul, like:  Why You're Not Married...Yet: The Straight Talk You Need to Get the Relationship You Deserve, Calling in "The One": 7 Weeks to Attract the Love of Your Life and When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times.  Two of those books I got from watching Oprah's Super Soul Sunday on OWN, a show, I discovered, feeds my soul when I don't make it to church.  Another shocking thing that happened this year, was that I lost an old friend who succumbed to complications of HIV and cancer.  He and I had not been 'friends' for years after a major blow-up, but we still had a couple of mutual friends and acquaintances.  From time to time when we might run into to each, it was always cordial and nice.  We would even muster up a joke or two.  He was younger than me and his death reminded me of my own mortality.  On top of all these events, I joined my gym's bikini challenge and managed to lose the weight (23lbs) I vowed to get rid of by June, with dieting and exercising.

Whether it was seeing Beyonce and Jay Z, Usher or Ledisi in concert, witnessing my best friend get married or reuniting with old friends, it has been quite the year.  I cannot believe it is almost over!  Tomorrow I plan on spending the day cooking my collard greens and black-eyed peas for good luck and good measure while creating my 2015 vision board and making plans for next year.

How did 2014 treat you?  Any plans for 2015?

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Can I Get a Ride?

My car was recently out of commission.  I needed brake pads, rotors and calipers- I think, I'm not really sure what that all means, except my car was smelling and loud as hell when I drove it.  Apparently, my calipers (or was it my rotors?) locked and caused my car to feel like I was driving with the emergency brake on.  I was quoted a price for the parts and service and scheduled an appointment for this past Monday.  The cost caught me a bit off guard and I wasn't prepared to pay when I first got the diagnosis.  So for about a month, my car sat in my building's parking lot, un-driven.  For what had been at times a very inconvenient month, I schlepped through the city on bus, train or on the passenger side of whoever was willing to drive me wherever.  The rest of the time I spent in the house catching up on my DVR recordings (I had 'Tonight Show' episodes that dated back to the end of summer), cooking, eating and reading.  I had not been to the gym; I didn't just tool around town.  When I grocery shopped, it's my mom who usually took me.  Or my good girlfriend and neighbor would give me a lift on her way to work, and I rode the bus back when done.

Besides my car being out of commission, my budget has been hard to resuscitate as well.  Funds are low.  Through it all, I didn't complain, but rather exercised truth-telling and humility.  Asking for a ride to or from my mom's house is not always easy.  Informing your beloved book club that, although you would love to, you're unable to meet the group at Fig & Olive for the next meeting, but instead could host a brunch potluck at your place, is not fun.  It took me several days to muster the energy and courage to do so.  Yes, taking the bus and train everywhere, even on the weekends (I'm a public transportation commuter for work during the week) can give you that New York feel.  I think of all my New York friends who hop on and off subway trains to go to parties, the movies, meet friends for dinner, etc. and I think, 'You're being a baby.'  But I'm a South Side Chicagoan, where everything is spread out and not walking distance.  Plus, I am spoiled by organic, natural and specialty foods and products.  I find myself having a hard time buying my meats, cheeses and poultry anywhere other than Whole Foods or Trader Joe's.  I read labels obsessively sometimes, making it hard for me to just shop at any grocer in the neighborhood.  What the fuck is high-fructose corn syrup anyway?!

All of this put me in the position to have to ask for help and share my truth.  It tested my friendships and relationships with others.  I had to humble myself and say 'I need help'.  I hated it, but loved it at the same time.  Although I hated doing it, I love that people do care enough to help.  And it releases me from the unattainable goal of being a superwoman.  I stood blindfolded so to speak with courage, as I awaited someone's answer.  Yes or No- it seems simple enough, yet it was a real challenge.  But challenges are meant to be met, right?

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Done. And Done!

I recently started online dating.  Don't worry, I have given myself a three month max time limit which is fast approaching.  A young man expressed a bit of interest (he wasn't serious) and decided he would send me a quick questionnaire asking me generic (I'm sure he thought they were thought-provoking) questions like:  "what are you cooking for dinner" and "what do you plan to accomplish this year."  The dinner was kale, sauteed.  The question about my goals, which came across a bit snarky, like "what are your plans?  Do you think beyond right now?"  This actually made me think deeper, in between my chuckling at this little boy (he was late 20s or had just hit 30).  What were my goals for this year?  I answered him in an exact, concise manner, where he (a fellow gemini) should have been able to read my own snark-iness.  "I have hit all of my goals for this year."  Yep!  MJ has met all of her major goals and started on some smaller monthly ones.  Lose 20lbs- I lost 23.  Sucessfully complete my gym's bikini fitness challenge-done!  Finally visit Paris-traveled there and to Amsterdam in March.  Get a new job- I just finished my 4th week, yesterday.

I had to pat myself on the back- I DID that!  I found it funny, in June, when this exchange happened, that someone would ask the question about my goals for the year.  At that point the year is almost over!  If you've got a few 'to-do' items on your annual list, get them done.  Now is the time.  What are you waiting for? Tackle your goals hard and fast, but be sure you enjoy the journey.  Take time to give yourself more milder goals to discover along the way or do like I have done-keep it light and easy breezy.  There isn't anything I am feeling pressured to do for the remainder of the year.  So I can slow down and enjoy these next four months-creating new goals for 2015.

Friday, May 2, 2014

I Was There

My 93 (or 94?) year-old Aunt Edith, and I share a steady written correspondence.  She sends me greeting cards for all major holidays including Thanksgiving, Christmas and my birthday.  I, in turn, send her 'Thank You' notes and postcards from my travels out of the country.  It is very nice and old school.  There is something about getting a letter or package in the mail that surpasses the feeling of an e-mail, text or social media update.

Last Monday, I received an Easter card from my aunt with a handwritten (always handwritten) letter enclosed on beautiful stationary (classic).  It was sent to my old address and forwarded by the Post Office a few days late.  Her cards are always early or on time.  Her letter was written in response to the postcard I had sent her from my recent trip to Paris (and Amsterdam).  She started the note by saying how happy she was for me, that I am able to take trips and "see other parts of the world."  She went on to say that during her "travels Blacks [were] not able nor interested in other parts of the world."  A nurse, by profession, she would save up her vacation days and "take a month off and travel over the U.S.A."  Aunt Edith, whom at the time lived in Chicago (she later retired to her hometown of Gulfport, MS) was able to cover the West Coast, Canada and part of Alaska.  She said she would compare the "different scenery".

Even though Aunt Edith is closing in on 100 years of age, which she will no doubt reach (our family has a history of living to the upper 90s; her dad lived until he was 111), she is still thinking of travel.  "I would like to take one of [those] Amtrak tours out West, that would be interesting to sit back and see the scenery. Smile."  An avid amateur photographer, she said she hoped I took lots of pictures.  "So one day you can look back [and] remember 'I was there'".  She ended the note with her usual "Love Auntie".  

I got misty-eyed when I read the card.  I truly enjoy traveling and take pride in my freedom to move around as I please.  But her letter made me understand how important it is to travel.  My Dad often tells me how when he and Aunt Edith discuss me and my latest trips, she tells him, "tell her to keep traveling while you're young.  When you get old no one wants to travel anymore."  In me she sees herself.  She is able to witness the evolution of the world, where as a woman, a Black woman, I am able to go where I want to go and see what I want to see.  In her, I see how golden life can be.  In a time when a lot of African Americans, and women alike were not educated beyond primary and high school, she received her nursing degree from Howard University.  She still drives herself around town and is an active member in her church community.  She has no children and I am still not clear on whether she has ever been married or not, but it (from the outside at least) has never been an issue.  Aunt Edith's life and encouragement inspires me.  She makes me want to live free in both mind and spirit.  She makes me want to travel more!

So in honor of my Aunt Edith, who doesn't even own a computer and who will probably never read this, here are some pictures from my Spring European holiday.  Enjoy!  P.S. Let me know what trips you have planned in the near future.



Monday, March 17, 2014

Let's Get Happy

I recently asked life and career coach, Rosie Guagliardo, to answer some questions; I wanted her recommendations for those who have not quite kept their New Year's resolutions, people who struggle with wintertime blues and to find out how to deal with loneliness during what seems to be a never-ending cold and snow season.

Do you believe in New Year's Resolutions?
No, I actually don't believe in them.  The main reason New Year's Resolutions don't work is that they are often based on what you think you "should" do.  It feels like a forced effort based on an external reason (e.g., the start of a new year).  Research shows that only 8% of people achieve their resolutions, and that's because they are only pursued using willpower- which wanes over time.

Instead, what I recommend is thinking about what desired outcomes you'd like to experience.  This allows you to have a deeper connection to what you're pursuing and you can create an inspired plan to experience it.  For example, I used to make a New Year's resolution to lose ten pounds.  But, then I realized I really didn't care about weighing a certain amount.  What I did care about was having energy and feeling fit.  So, I refined my desired outcome to reflect those two desires.  Now my health goals are based on what I value, and I was more motivated to achieve them.  The result is that I feel better than ever.  (And the weight came off, too!)

Do you suggest a person set smaller goals for short periods of time throughout the year, or focus on one large goal to achieve per year?
I think focusing on a few smaller desired outcomes is best.  Then, you can break those down into what I call "process" goals that lead you to experiencing your main desired outcomes.  So, think of the baby steps you need to take on a daily basis.  Like an athlete who trains for his performance, think about what you need to do periodically to feel happier in the end.  Ideally, you can ritualize these actions or behaviors to make them consistent so you won't need willpower to succeed.

Smaller outcomes help reduce the chance of feeling failure, too.  But remember, life isn't about being perfect, so anticipate some failure and make space for recovery.  You might even want to reframe failure to focus on the effort you're making.  If you weren't trying, you couldn't fail!  It's just part of the process toward feeling happier.  And, stay in tune with your overall desired outcome by asking whether you're going in the right direction, even if there have been some setbacks along the way.

The holidays are over, most of us have already forgotten about or altered our 2014 goals.  What do you suggest for getting back on track with those resolutions which were so important just a few months ago?
You can start by reviewing them to confirm they're still appropriate for you.  Gaining clarity on what you want may take some time, so be patient.  If you feel that you can easily create goals (or desired outcomes) but sometimes have trouble pursuing them, it could be because the ones you created aren't what you genuinely want in your heart.  Or, they just need to be modified to be more in line with what you want.  There are several ways to confirm or refine your desired outcomes to ensure you feel happier and more excited about pursuing them.  Here are a few examples I've used:

  • Ask yourself, "What is the purpose behind each outcome?  Is it something I want to pursue or feel like I have to pursue?"  If you feel that you "have" to pursue it, then get rid of it.  If it's an outcome you "want" to pursue, remind yourself of why it is important to you.
  • If you feel that you haven't made much progress towards your desired outcomes, visualize how you want to feel and what you want your life to look like when you're achieved each one.  Use that vision to identify an incremental next step that will move you in the right direction.
  • If you're still unmotivated to take next step toward your desired outcome, try to make that action step more fun.  For example, if you don't like exercising at the gym, bring a friend along who energizes you, or go for a hike instead.
And then, after you feel that your desired outcomes really resonate with you, make sure you have the structure and support needed to sustain the energy to achieve them.

Studies have shown that season depression does in fact exist.  What are some tips you can give to people who are having a hard time coping with the long winter months?  Everyone cannot get away for the season, what can a person whose budget or time will not permit traveling to a sunny tropical climate do to keep "sane"?
Obviously, getting the light you need (possibly through light therapy) along with proper nutrition and fitness makes a difference.  But, there are a few other ways to generate, maintain, and revitalize your energy.  One way to generate energy is to help others through volunteering.  Positive psychologists say volunteering helps provide you a sense of purpose by committing yourself to something outside of yourself.  You'll also create connections which can help safeguard you from feeling isolated and ultimately boost your mood.  Research actually shows that expressing compassion and generosity impacts your well-being, and reveals that when you give, the pleasure centers of the brain are activated (just like when you enjoy dessert or sex).

A way to maintain your energy is to visit with friends before you start feeling down.  Don't wait until you're feeling the effects of seasonal depression to reach out to friends.  They'll help you keep you good mood intact.

Finally, a way to revitalize your energy is to create and use a "Happy Box."  Remember that happiness isn't an absolute or a destination.  Instead of asking "Am I happy?" ask yourself "How can I be happier?"  Write down several actions you can take that make you feel happier (e.g. calling a friend, meditating, taking a bath, etc.) and put them in a box.  Whenever you're feeling disconnected from your best self or feeling down, reach for your "Happy Box" and do one of the things to feel happier!

Regarding both romantic and familial relationships in general, winter can feel lonely and isolating at times, what can single people or people who are away from loved ones do to keep their spirits up?
Because it's difficult being away from loved ones, it's so important to remain connected to them - even if only phone.  Connecting on a consistent basis will keep your spirits up because you can enjoy the anticipation of talking with them as well as the actual discussions.  Try to ritualize the behavior by planning ahead and blocking out time in your calendar to reach out to loved ones.

I'd also suggest contemplating what you love most about those relationships.  Is it how safe you feel, loved, inspired, or connected?  Whatever it is, take time to be grateful for those relationships and really feel the feelings associated with them.  A study by Robert Emmons and Michaels McCullough (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology) revealed that people who focus on what they are grateful for are both emotionally and physically healthier.

If you keep thinking about what you're lacking, you'll keep noticing what you don't have, and you'll keep thinking you're not getting what you want.  If you shift your thoughts to focus on what you do have and what makes you happy, your brain will continue to notice the abundance in your life, leaving you feeling grateful and ultimately happier.

What do you say to people who have the philosophy that winter should be reserved for hibernation:  "I'll start exercising, dating, looking for a new job, break up with him/her, eat better when the weather breaks"?
I think you can positively leverage the spirit of the winter season, which includes slowing down, resting more, and reflecting while the weather is cold.  But, I don't recommend waiting to live the life you desire.  My philosophy is to create your vision for the future and balance that with your current realities.  This approach allows you to effectively pursue long-term desired outcomes while living a happier life every day.  So even during the winter, let your vision guide and inspire you during your daily life and find the baby steps you can take toward your desired outcomes.

And remember, to remain motivated during the cooler winter months, confirm your desired outcomes are based on what you truly want and aim to keep your spirits high.  By the time the weather is warmer and Spring begins, you'll be in a better position to experience the renewing energy of the season ans even more inspired to pursue your desired outcomes.

     Rosie Guagliardo has loved being a life and career coach for 7 years and the founder of InnerBrilliance Coaching, LLC.  She is also a beauty-seeking, lover of life, Italian-American who wears "Rosie-colored" glasses while being pragmatic, purposeful, and results-oriented.  The combination of these qualities inspires her to help women honor themselves and each other by seeing perfection within and all around them -- in themselves, in others and in every moment of life.  This approach to life motivates a woman DAILY to realize her life vision with ease, joy, and grace.  
     Ultimately, Rosie's desire is for a woman to radiate her true essence and navigate life gracefully so she can experience her deepest wishes.  And, for her 80 year old self to have stories she would be proud to tell.  Rosie's philosophy is become passionate about your already perfect self, others, and life...and your path becomes perfect for you.  Click to find out more.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Designing Woman: Danaya Azure

Danaya Azure

What I like most about Danaya Azure, owner of Danaya Designs 4U, is that she stays busy creating and being creative.  I was grateful she agreed to take time out of her schedule to answer some questions about the many projects she is working on, her signature style and staying focused as an artist.

You are a woman who stays busy year-round.  What are some of the projects you are   currently on?
I am currently working on several projects with Model/Actress Dalila Torres, owner of D’Martiphotography, Daniel Martinez and Chicago performing artist and hair stylist Alicia Ya Yah Banks.  We actually just finished a photo shoot for my Danaya Designs 4U ad [which is] featured in the latest edition of K4S Entertainment HFLMagazine.  I am also working on some promotional projects with Lady Survivor, including a new collaborative called Global Media Branding with Ali Joseph owner of Phaze Events and Promotions, Ebony Brinson owner of Diva Spot Ent and Paul Muhammed owner of Identity 12 Branding.  I am working with a new Chicago reality show [titled] “Real Mommas”, for which I will be sponsoring the jewelry. I am also a host on Nexxlegacy Radio Network just to name a few.

You host a radio show and design jewelry, which comes more natural to you?  Why?
I would have to say jewelry design, because I am creative I have been creating things for years.  Whether it be writing songs or poems, co-choreographing dances with Nazaree Azure or re-writing a curriculum to help students learn better.

You have interests in two industries people often refer to as very superficial (fashion and music), how do you insure that the focus stays on your skills and talents? 
I’m an artist.  I have always been an artist. I survived school only because I was allowed to express myself through art.  Fashion is about expressing yourself which is why my motto is “Express What Makes You Unique”.  I create pieces that make a statement, pieces that cause conversations, pieces that make people feel proud to wear them and most importantly pieces that are affordable, but not inferior because they can last over four years for our jewelry and over 30 years for the dazzlers. We create pieces that are truly one of a kind.

Do you follow trends when you design your jewelry, or would you say you have a signature style?
I have my own signature style.  I don’t really follow trends because trends fade, but a quality product will never go out of style.

How much time do you invest in a line of jewelry, from the planning stage to actually creating a piece?
It depends.  Some lines come about from me just playing around with different shapes.  However, some lines have to be more thought out.  For instance, [for] The Sorority Love Collection I had to do a lot of research of the Divine Nine before I launched, to make sure every symbol was accurate and the meanings behind the symbols as well.

Who or what are your style influences?  
I love all things that sparkle!  I have always looked for unique jewelry and I know how it feels to find that perfect piece that fits you just right.  I feel blessed to be the person who can now give someone that amazing feeling and the ability to do exactly what my motto says “Express What Makes You Unique”.

Where would you like to see your jewelry line in the next five years?
I would love to see Danaya Designs 4U featured in a major movie, on every red carpet and on Broadway.

If you could send a specially crafted piece to anyone in the world, who would it be?
Mariah Carey, Christina Aguilera, Pink, Tyra Banks, Queen Latifah or Michelle Obama 

Advert for Danaya Designs4U

Connect with, follow and learn more about Danya at:  

Twitter and Instagram - @danayaazure

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

My Regrets

So I did something last year that I am ashamed of.  I did something that breaks my heart when I think about it.  Yes, I, MJ made a mistake.  I reluctantly did something I am still regretting to this day. I deleted my work.  My writing, that is.  For this very blog.  I made a decision based on love and a warped sense of loyalty to someone other than myself.  I thought I was okay with the choice that was (reluctantly) made at the time, until I was recently re-telling the story and started bawling my eyes out.

I posted a lamentation about the pains of double dating.  I expressed how in most double dates, two friends want to get together and expect the “dates” to instantly fall in love.  Sometimes it happens, in the particular case I was referring to, it did not.  The post was dated and the incident itself happened in 2012.  My boyfriend at the time was uncomfortable with what I wrote and how it might affect his friend’s feelings or their friendship.  He felt that although I was speaking the truth (the girl was socially awkward and a complete bore!) it may reflect badly on him.  I offered to delete the post because I wanted to avoid hurting or upsetting him.  I later talked to my best friend, who provided similar advice.  He felt that if I want to write something that could possibly upset others, I might consider just journaling my thoughts privately.  I took this into account as well.  I felt shaky about deleting the post, but felt that it was the "right thing" to do.  But it felt so wrong.  I am pissed off because I have no record of the post.  I completely deleted it from my life.  

Here is my issue:  I have done something for the sake of others and their feelings, when all the while, my feelings were not being considered.  And for what?!  Neither of the couples are even still together!  I have decided to train myself in being more direct and authentic in my feelings and beliefs.  This includes being true to my craft.  It may not fit everyone’s fancy, but in the words of Erykah Badu (who celebrates a birthday today), “keep in mind that I’m an artist, and I’m sensitive about my shit”!  

One of my main goals this year is to continue to discover and in essence heal myself.  What I have learned thus far is I am a natural nurturer.  I am a caretaker.  I try to please and not rock the boat.  In the process, however, I have found my boat sometimes has water seeping in.  I have been secretly and subconsciously harboring my true feelings about deleting the post, until last Saturday when I retold the story to a virtual stranger.  I was so very upset.  I write because I enjoy it, because it is a necessity- because I have a lot to say.  I deleted my work to pacify someone I am not even with today.  I did it so he would not upset someone else.  All along, no one worried or cared about my feelings.  

This blog has alienated me from “friends”.  I have been talked about because of it.  I am pretty sure that a certain someone who is no longer my friend, still reads and keeps up with it.  What the what!!??  I think it’s good, but not good enough to read if you do not like the person who creates it.  

I have been subtle and concerned.  I have hemmed and hawed about clicking the “publish” button.  I have a whole shitload of content I want to release that’s floating in my head.  All I keep thinking is, what if this person reads it?  Or what is so-and-so going to think?  There are thousands of blogs available.  There are blogs about style, decorating, comedy, hell, I know of one solely dedicated to Bloody Mary drinks.  There is enough to write about.  There is enough to read.  Find one that suits you best.  My blog is mine.  I created it.  I create the majority of it’s content.  It is my baby.  My love.  My outlet.  One of my 2014 goals is to be my most authentic self.  My initial fear was, in being this person, in being me, I might offend others.  That’s no longer my problem.  It’s yours.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

My Journey of Journals

Last week, on Wednesday, January 1, 2014, I did something for the very first time in my life.  On the first day of this year, I closed the book on a goal I set out for myself, unsure of the outcome.  When I say book, I mean that both figuratively and literally.  I finally completed a journal!  It sounds weird, me being a writer and all, but I have never finished a journal.  The crazy thing is, I have a boatload of journals that have been gifted to me by many people (including myself) dating back to the 1980s- none of them completed.

Some of my journals stand absolutely empty, as if nothing of importance or value has occurred since receiving them.  Each one has either been started as a method of healing or as a a way of documenting something that I feel my future self needs to remember.  The journal I just completed, the only one with the distinct characteristic of having it's pages filled from cover to cover, was started for the former reason.  I needed to deal with a breakup that caught me off-guard.  I had to find some way to release my feelings without calling my friends up every hour to discuss the different angles of my sadness, anger and frustration.  I wanted to get off of my chest, what I felt was pinning me down.  I needed to be my own sounding board.  

The first entry of the journal is dated 2/26/13.  I reflected on Joshua 1:9.  I was sad.  It was seven days after the dissolution of my most recent relationship and I was still reeling.  My best friend, Antoine, had suggested journaling.  I told him about my challenge with finishing journals.  He said write anyway.  I wanted to pick up an old journal that I had written in last, but Antoine said it may be important to just start a new one, with the goal being to finish.  Here I am, a little less than a year from my first entry and I have done what I set out to do.  After my last entry, I found the hardest and most therapeutic thing to do was to actually go back and read my previous entries.  To see where I had come from was heartbreaking and liberating at the same time.  How could someone so broken, be renewed in just less than 12 months' time?  It seemed like hell then, but now it feels like nothing.

So what does one do when a journal has been completed?  One keeps writing, with the same goal in mind- to complete it and to heal and grow from the process.  I decided to finish another journal that I started in 2009.  It too focuses heavily on a relationship gone sour, but also of my employment at the time.  I hated my job then and you can hear it through my words.  I was almost in tears reading my words from the past.  My frustration and hurt is palpable.  I think this will be a good journal to complete next.  The contrast between my life then and now is plain to see, which makes it all the much sweeter to end it on a high note.