Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year!

Here we are, at the end of another year, and ready to step into a new one. Before I get too wrapped up in my New Year's Eve plans, I like to put the focus on the year I'm still standing in. Unlike some, I'm not so eager to push 2011 out into the cold. It's been an amazing year, and I want to pause to properly thank it. No point in going into all that's happened. If you've been reading here, you know. If not, you can back up and find out if it interests you. I'll just say, it's been one helluva ride, and I'm grateful for every twist and turn.

I also look forward to 2012. I love a new start, and I love making plans for a fresh new year. One of my many mottos is, Make a plan, and plan to change it. I believe in putting out there what we want, and then staying open to things we haven't even thought of. Most often, the Universe gets it even better than we do.

Things are changing faster than ever in this world, and it's hard to keep up. Sometimes I think it's best to just throw our hands in the air and holler Weeeeeeeeeee!!! as loud as we can. It makes it easier to enjoy the ride, turn fear into thrills, and know that we're buckled in, and ultimately safe, so matter what.

Here's to 2011. I hope you have some fond memories of it, or at least some gratitude for the lessons it brought. And a big warm welcome to 2012. I can't wait to see what happens next.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

For The Moms Who Make Christmas

i am 
the partridge in the pear tree

i am
the ho ho ho
the fa-la-la
the jingle all the way

i am
the roast beast
(or better yet, tofurky)
the stuffing
the cranberries
the green bean casserole
the cookies
the pies
the egg nog
the figgy...

i am
the grinch

but mostly 
i am
the mistletoe
the stockings hung by the chimney with care
the tree full of lights
the brightly wrapped gifts
the tinsel

i am
the silent night

i am
peace on earth

i am
the mom

i make the magic

and when all this is over
i am
taking a spa day

i am 
in fact
the sugar plum fairy

i am

image by Anne Taintor

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Goof-Off Week

By this time each December, bead sales trickle to a stop, I guess because there's no guarantee of Christmas delivery at this point. I always panic a little bit, and then I relax and enjoy some time to wrap presents, put up the tree, plan fancy meals, bake, and just generally goof off. That's something I rarely do. This time of year I clean up my computer, sort and back up photos, ponder new directions for my blogs and website, and sift through a year's worth of mysterious bookmarks. There are dozens of things I mark for later use, and then never go back to. Some of them are no longer even valid links, and to be honest, I don't really know what most of them are. So I go through one by one, clicking, deleting, renaming, and re-filing. It's actually sort of fun - especially when I run across a really good one, like I did yesterday.

Allow me to introduce you to PhotoFunia. But don't go there unless you have some free time. It completely sucked me in, to the point where we almost had popcorn for dinner, instead of the lovely pasta I had planned. With minimal computer skills, you can take your average family photos, and turn them into fun, silly, cool, beautiful works of art. Here are some of mine... Go have some photo fun of your own!

You too can be on the cover of Vogue!
My sister, in pastels
Me, on a brick wall
My beautiful daughter turns heads wherever she goes
My baby sis and her sweetie - fun with graffiti
Jacob and his mama at the mall
Julie and Danny are worth a good long look
Rick and Jacob become a beautiful pencil drawing

Friday, December 16, 2011


We have our winners for the December Bead Giveaway!
Congratulations Serena Thomas! You've won the Gem Globe!
And Congratulations Vicki Brunberg! You've won the Snow Globe!

I'll email both winners to get your addresses, and will mail your prizes promptly.
Many thanks to everyone who joined in! I'll be doing another giveaway soon, so please keep playing!

Last Chance to Enter the December Bead Giveaway!

I had a great day at Taos Feeds Taos yesterday, and I'm a total pig for that "volunteer high," so I'm going back today. It's distribution day, which means people who have qualified to receive boxes of food will show up at the National Guard Armory, where the volunteers will cheerily push shopping carts loaded with goodies out to their cars, load them up, and send them on their way. There will be lots of smiles and hugs and Merry Christmas wishes, and even some heartfelt God Bless You's. This day always, always gets me in the Christmas Spirit.

Today is also the day I set for holding the December Bead Giveaway drawing, before I knew I'd be busy all day. This gives you until this evening to enter, if you haven't already done so. I'll do the drawing tonight, after I get home and take some ibuprofen. I'll post the two lucky winners names here and on Facebook, so check in to see if you're one of them. I want to get these prizes shipped right away! Good luck!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

This is a long one. Please make some tea and sit with me here. I need you to read this...

Nobody looks forward to funerals. I actively avoid them for the most part, and can come up with all sorts of excuses and justifications for not attending. Since we live in a pretty out of the way place, travel from Taos is inconvenient, inefficient, and expensive. I usually choose to go to the parties rather than the funerals. But in the case of Noel Cunningham's death, something told me that Rick and I both needed to go to Denver for the funeral.

I knew the Noel was an amazingly generous man who worked tirelessly in his restaurant, Strings, and more importantly in his many philanthropic projects. He was a great talker, but he also put his words into action. And he could talk anyone into lending a hand, usually by sitting them down for a wonderful meal, and then spelling out exactly what he wanted. Rick and I came to know Noel and his wife Tammy through the Hope Bracelet Project, which was started by the Cunningham Foundation, in support of Project Mercy, in Ethiopia.

When I first started with the project, I was somewhat tentative, and held back from throwing myself  "all in." I was able to round up record numbers of bead donations, but I resisted going to Ethiopia, saying that I thought I could be of more help from here. Noel knew better. He knew that if I went there and met the people, and breathed the air, and felt the earth under my feet, and ate the food, and hugged the children... he knew if I did all that, then he would really have me. He arranged for Rick and me to meet Marta and Deme, the founders of Project Mercy, in Yetebon, Ethiopia, which is a three hour drive from Addis Ababa. We met at Strings. Noel fed us, and we talked and listened, and were somehow convinced that we were needed, not only as long distance helpers, but in Ethiopia. We agreed to go because of Marta and Deme, two of the world's true Earth Angels, who gently took our hands in theirs, and asked us to please help them.

We went to Ethiopia for three weeks in November of 2008. (Read more about our trip here.) We were told that we were of great help in the bead studio, but we knew that we were the ones who benefitted the most. That trip changed us forever, and we'll never see our life here in the US in the same old way again. We came home, as many volunteers do I suppose, ready to sell everything and move to Ethiopia. Instead, we sold and gave away much of the excess we had accumulated, and went on our year-long RV adventure, in search of a smaller, simpler, more manageable life; one that would allow us more freedom to travel, volunteer, and make better use of our time than just working to support a house and a lifestyle. We didn't find it... We didn't find it because it wasn't "out there." And in the process of all that searching for something that was actually inside of us all the time, we lost touch with our friends in Ethiopia, and lost track of what we had set out to do in the first place.

This brings us back to Taos, three years after our trip to Ethiopia, and to the call to go to Denver for Noel Cunningham's funeral. The weather was clear, the roads dry, and we have friends to stay with there, so at a moment's notice we got a friend to stay here with our dogs, and we were off. As funerals go, it was a great one. Some 1400 people turned up at the cathedral, and it became clear to me just how far Noel had reached with his work, and how many lives he had touched. While we were there, we saw Marta and Deme, who spend part of their time in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where they landed as refugees in the 1970's, and part in their homeland of Ethiopia. When they're in this country, they're like rock stars. People clamor for their time and attention, and it's nearly impossible to get even a moment with them. I think maybe Noel had other plans.

We had breakfast with Marta and Deme before the service, which was wonderful, but rushed. We didn't get to catch up completely, so they asked us to meet them later for coffee near their hotel. This in itself was amazing, and we knew something important was brewing if they wanted so much of our time. During our afternoon meeting, we got down to business. The bead project in Yetebon needs help. The Cunninghams had been doing less there, as other things were demanding their time, and I had backed away during our travels. What got my attention was the fact that the bead studio is still operating there, and one of the beadmakers I worked with is now teaching new beadmakers who come to the program. It's a common belief that when humanitarian organizations start a project, think it's ready to become self sustaining, and then leave it, most often the project fades and fails. This has not been the case at Project Mercy, because Marta and Deme are so dedicated to their work, and they simply won't allow failure.

Even now, both in their 80's, they continue to nurture Project Mercy. In the short time since we were there, they've completed a beautiful new high school, and have built the first six of 30 homes for orphans in the area, where small "families" of children will live with house mothers who are trained in meeting the physical and emotional needs of orphans. There is also an adoption program in the works, that will allow Project Mercy to be the adoption agency, bypassing all the usual government red tape, and allowing parents to adopt these children free of charge. All this, on top of everything else they've already done, and they came to us for help...

What do you do when Earth Angels take your hands in theirs, look you in the eyes, and say, We need you...? This is what they said to me. And I'm even more pleased that they need me as more than just a beadmaker. They're also interested in my cooking, which thrills me more than I can say. I don't know that a vegan diet is practical or possible in that part of the world, but I do know that meat is at the expensive end of the food chain in any country, and it could be of great benefit to introduce some simple plant based food combining, which would make it easier and cheaper for people to get enough protein. After I told them briefly about my love of vegan cooking, and my plans to go to cooking school in the spring, Marta said to me, We need both of your talents, and then looked at Rick and said, Now what can you do? That made us laugh, but also made it clear that they need everyone's skills. No one is along for the ride, and I don't get to have a Lovely Assistant. Bring something to the party, buster, or just stay home. Fortunately, Rick is a very handy guy. He has a handyman business here in town, and he gardens too, which is a useful skill anywhere. I think they need both of us to visit Ethiopia again, but first they need us here.

I was glad to have the opportunity to express my own concerns, and to ask some questions that have gone unanswered for a long time. I got to tell them that one of the reasons I backed away from the bead project was the lack of communication. They heard me, and assured me that this would improve. That, combined with the fact that there's a real dedication to the bead project there, makes me want to jump back in and see what I can do. I'm not sure what that will look like yet, but I think it will start with going after bead donations again. They're making beads there, but can't produce enough yet. I'm working on ways of enticing my fellow beadmakers to pitch in. I might even take Noel's lead here. If I feed you, and ask you for help, chances are you'll say yes. Noel had a way of bringing people together. He knew who needed to meet, and he was shameless about making it happen, because everything he did was for the good of someone else. I have a feeling he's doing the same thing now, nudging people together, and making sure the good work he was doing continues.

I'm going to be asking for your help. Be ready to say yes! Sure, there are people in this country who need help. Help them! Everything we do to make things better, no matter where we do it, counts in the big picture, and helps the world as a whole. There is no Us and Them. It's all Us. Our job is to make connections, do what we can, and go where our hearts lead us. Some people are willing to do the work, and others are there to support it. It's all important! I'll do the work, but I'll need some help.

I'm no Angel. Let's be clear about that! But one way or another, whether it's in my blog, in an email, on Facebook, or in my kitchen, I am going to look you in the eyes, hold your hands, and maybe even feed you, and then I'm going to say, I need you. Will you help? It's a trick I learned from Marta and Deme, and also from Noel, one of the greatest Earth Angels ever. Now who wants to come to my house for dinner? The reservation book is open.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Good-Bye Noel

I'm posting this on both of my blogs today...

Rick and I are on our way to Denver, to attend the funeral of a very dear man, Noel Cunningham, who left this world last week. Noel and his wife Tammy took Rick and I to Ethiopia in November of 2008, changing our lives for the better, forever. Noel will be greatly missed by many across the world, and I hold the belief that given all the wonderful and loving things he did here in this life, he has even greater work to do now, from the other side.

Just because this is all we can see doesn't mean it's all there is.

I am so very sad, and yet so hopeful and inspired, and so proud to have crossed paths with Noel Cunningham. I'm setting aside business as usual for a few days, and I'll be back here with you next week, beading, cooking, musing, and celebrating life.

Carry on.
Love each other.
Know you are loved.

Thank you Laurie Maves for the beautiful video...

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

More Phone-tography

I'm still having fun with my iPhone, particularly with the camera. A friend told me about the Photoshop Express app the other night, and I'm totally diggin' it. I only have free apps on my phone because my monthly bill is high enough already, thank you. Some of the free apps I've downloaded have been a silly waste of time. I delete those within moments of installing them. But this one is pretty useful, as it gives me a few more editing options than the auto-adjusting editor built into the phone/camera. I can crop, brighten, adjust contrast and such, and also play with borders and special effects.

Here's one I took the other morning. I'm fortunate to have such a photogenic view from my dining room table. The original picture is nice. Maybe it's good enough. But I have to mess with things and see what else they can become. The edited version is more dramatic. I'm not sure I love the border, and I could do it over a bit differently, although I probably won't. I'm not selling these, after all. It's just for fun.

My friend Gregg sent me a big box of persimmons last week, from a 100 year old tree in California. They're absolutely gorgeous sitting on my kitchen ledge, waiting to ripen. I'm going to miss them when they're all baked into breads and cookies, and of course eaten like squishy, sweet apples, dripping over the sink. The first photo is the original, and the second one has the color popped and the border blurred. It doesn't look exactly "real," but I tend to think reality is pretty overrated.

These tools we have that double as toys are getting more and more amazing every day. We might as well explore them and see what they can do. Maybe the play will us lead somewhere, and maybe it's just for fun. But isn't "just for fun" reason enough? I think so.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

December Bead Giveaway!

Happy December! I love giving gifts, and haven't done a Bead Giveaway for awhile, so this month I'm giving away TWO gorgeous beads! One is a snow Globe, valued at $89, and the other is a Gem Globe, filled with hundreds of sparkling CZs, and valued at $150!!! Find more beads like these in my BeadShop!

There are 3 ways to enter, and you can do each of them once!

1. Sign up on the Beadist Mailing List. You'll automatically be entered in the drawing, and you'll get friendly little emails from me, letting you know when new beads are ready to go, and special deals just for those on the mailing list.

2. Leave a comment on this post. Only once!

3. Leave a comment with the Secret Word "BEADS" in it on any post on my other blog, Positively Vegan. Again, only once!

Two winners will be chosen by random drawing on December 16. You must be "present" to win, meaning if I can't find you to get your address within 24 hours, I'll pick someone else. Check back here to see if you won!

I think that's it. Good luck, and Happy Holidays!!!

Babette's Feast

The first time I watched the film Babette's Feast, it was at the recommendation of a nearly 80 year old friend who said I reminded her of Babette. I watched it, but I really didn't get it. This was at least 15 years ago, and I was busy raising 3 kids and being the "pizza queen" at our family shop in Seattle. I didn't connect with Babette, who lived and worked in a tiny, desolate village in Denmark, with a group of humble, simple religious people. Babette was from Paris, and the feast referred to in the film was the one and only over-the-top gourmet French meal she prepared for the villagers. I made pizza. Not hardly the same thing. And most of all, my vanity wouldn't let me find commonality with Babette because she looked... old.

Rick and I watched the movie again last night, and now I think my elder friend might have been looking into my future. Fortunately, I don't live in a stark, windblown village on the coast of Denmark, but I do find myself surrounded by a small group of people who are important to me, and I cook for them at every opportunity. It's also fortunate that my "village's" tastes are not constricted by their spirituality. In fact it's more the opposite, and so we all encourage each other to enjoy, appreciate, and share the abundance of our world. And now, of course, since these years have gone by, I think I look like Babette now... and I no longer see her as old. Funny how that works.

Babette and I do have our differences. I'm not a French chef, but I do alright. I would never import a sea turtle to make soup out of, and a cage full of quails would become residents in my yard, not baked into little pastry coffins. Still, we cook, Babette and I.  And we cook with love, for people who matter. And I do hope one day to be as skilled as a French chef, only the vegan equivalent.

The more subtle themes of the movie jumped out at me this time. We all make choices in life, some more difficult than others. We can look back at our choices with regret, or with acceptance. We can live gracefully, or make it a struggle. And we all have gifts to share with the world, even if the world is only as big as we can reach with our arms stretched wide. Greatness is, well, great, I suppose, but it certainly isn't a necessary ingredient in a successful life.

In our society, we tend to hope for, dream of, and expect greatness. We want to be discovered, or hit the big time, or strike it rich. Rich and Famous has become a normal response to the old question, What do you want to be when you grow up? I used to think I wanted that too, but these days I want less, which is actually more. We've been back in Taos, back in our house, for a year now, busy with settling back in to a life we thought we'd left. The bigger world had no room for us though, so in a way, we're back in our village on the coast of Denmark, even though it sits in the high desert of New Mexico. It doesn't matter. We are where we are. We do what we do. And the most important thing to remember, over and over again in my case, is that all of our choices are the right choices, and the only true way to waste a life is to live it with regret. Regret is easy. Contentment takes work.