The Power in Your Pocket

We don’t have to be wealthy to change the economy of our neighborhood.  A business degree isn’t necessary to lower the unemployment rate. If we have money in our pocket and buy things, we are job creators. That 1% at the top would like for us to believe that they are the job creators in this country and that to enable them to open up more jobs, they need more tax cuts and benefits. But think about it, even if they choose to expand and hire more workers instead of lining their pockets, it is not sustainable unless enough of us are purchasing those products. You can read more about this here. We hold incredible power in our hands.

Even if our budget is limited to the basic necessities of life, we can choose who we help create jobs for by choosing where we spend our money.

We can frequent your farmers market to ensure local farmers and bakers stay in business.

We can choose to eat at the taco truck or local diner to ensure that families in our home town can keep paying their bills.

We can meet our friends at a coffee shop run by a mom and pop nearby instead of lining the pockets of some CEO at the head of a large chain.

Hire the electrician who is just starting his own business.

Somebody’s got to cut our hair every now and then. Why not make sure it’s a local business owner?

Buy our bicycle directly from someone who actually cares about your neighborhood.

Order coffee beans from someone who knows the farmer who grew them.

Buy gifts from the quaint little shop in town where the owner loves to tell you stories of the people who crafted them.

We must stop waiting for someone at the top to make this country great, improve our neighborhood, make our lives better. It starts with us.

Let’s be thoughtful…be purposeful…spend with intent…love our neighborhood well.

Photo courtesy of Adrienne Gerber Photography.

 

 

Turning Strangers into Family

Bangladeshi BBQ MealToday is Eid al-Adha, the festival of the sacrifice. Muslims around the world gather in memory of Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son.

I remember being a young exhausted mother of a wall-climbing toddler, with a second child on the way. We had just moved into a new apartment in Dhaka, Bangladesh and barely had our boxes unpacked. The morning of Eid, our toddler had us up bright and early, as usual. It wasn’t long before we heard a knock on the door. Much to our surprise, seven gentlemen from seven other homes in our apartment building, were standing there, eager to invite us to each of their homes to celebrate the holiday with them.

We were humbled and honored to be their guests. And we did, indeed, visit every one of their seven homes that day. Each family shared their finest feast food with us. We were welcomed to their table, even though we were different. Foreigners of a different faith. Speakers of a different language. Welcomed as family.

I’m sitting here today with a lump in my throat that will not go away. I get goosebumps on my arms as I remember their kindness, their generosity, their welcome. I cannot help but contrast it to how my country is treating those who are foreign, those who are different.

When we lived in a Muslim country, we never spent a holiday by ourselves. We were always treated as family. Here in our “Christian” country, many immigrants never see the inside of an American home. Here we too often treat them as the “less than” and automatically assume they have broken laws to be here. Our “Christian” nation is in a frenzy, trying to rid ourself of those we believe do not belong here, stooping to unspeakable violence and indecency.  Last week in Mississippi alone, nearly 700 people were rounded up by ICE, leaving many children without parents to come home to on their first day of school.

Most of us agree that the system is broken. But any system, broken or not, can only go so far to make or break a country because a country is made up of individuals. As individuals, we can open our doors wide.  We can practice hospitality and turn strangers into family.  My Muslim friends taught me that family is any human being who is near you. So let’s keep an eye out for our family. Let’s make sure they are safe and that they know we see and value their humanity. We don’t have to wait for the system to change to become the change that our country desperately needs right now.

Eid Mubarak. Happy Festival!

 

National Avocado Day

It’s National Avocado Day!

Here are some things we have learned about avocados.

  1. The Avocado Tree is a tropical evergreen and never goes dormant.
  2. Avocados are loaded with vitamins, healthy fat, more potassium than bananas and no cholesterol and can actually help lower cholesterol.
  3. 86% of avocados are grown in Mexico. This equals 1.52 million tons. That number is so big I can’t even picture it. 3,000,000,000 pounds.
  4. Avocados are grown in California, Florida and a few other states, but on a much lower scale. If the border were to close, we would run out of avocados in three weeks.
  5. Americans eat an average of 7 pounds of avocados per person per year. Not so long ago, it was 1 pound per person.
  6. This surge in American consumption has made avocados more valuable than cannabis in Mexico. On one hand, this has created many jobs. On the other, it has caught the eye of cartels. Many farms are forced to pay exorbitant fees to cartels for “protection”.
  7. Avocados need a lot of water to grow. It takes around 70 gallons of irrigated water to produce one pound of avocados in the US. In Chile, it takes 97 gallons and in  Mexico, it takes about 32 gallons of irrigated water.  In contrast, it takes 10 gallons of water to produce one pound of strawberries (in California).
  8. California’s avocado peak season is May through August. If you buy an avocado during a different season, you can be sure it is imported.
  9. 1out of 5 avocados carry bacteria. Always wash the avocado before cutting and peeling. If you need it to ripen faster, put inside of a brown paper bag for a few days.
  10. The seed of an avocado can be use to grow a cute houseplant.

Avocados, to put it in a nutshell, are so good for us and create a lot of jobs, yet take a lot of resources and, in some places, people’s lives are daily in danger for the love of this fruit. If any of these things concern you, you can eat less, buy as local as possible, buy fair trade if possible and, as always, eat mindfully. Remember the hands that planted, watered and harvested your fruit.

Polar Bear Island

This beautiful story book has captured my heart. I remember mindlessly reading the same few favorite books to my kids, over and over when they were little. This is a book I would have gladly read and reread.

Using the power of story, author Lindsay Bonilla weaves words together in a simple way that even little ones can understand. Yet this story’s message is timeless and will warm the heart of the eldest among us.

Set on a snow covered island inhabited by polar bears who want to keep everyone else out, a lone penguin enters the scene and asks to stay just one night. When she gets out her Flipper Slippers, all the penguins want a pair. She freely shares her skills and soon everyone, but the mayor, wants her to stay.

Eventually she is joined by her family, much to the mayor’s chagrin and he plans to kick them out. But before they leave, each of them shares their skills until the whole island is having such a good time that no one wants them to leave. Their lives are so enriched by what these new creature brought to them and even the mayor ends up benefiting from their their gifts. He decides that they weren’t taking over the island, but were making it a much better place.

This book provides  the perfect medium to let the kids in your life know that when we love and welcome people who are different, our world becomes a better place. It is a beautiful reminder that each person has something unique to offer and if we try to keep others out, we are the ones who lose the most.

You can visit Lindsay’s website here. You can buy Polar Bear Island on Amazon, Barnes and Nobles or you can visit Indie Bound to find a Retailer near you. For wholesale inquires, contact Sterling Publishing at specialsales@sterlingpublishing.com or (800) 367-9692 to obtain pricing quotes.

The book also pairs nicely with Pebbles Penguin Rattle and Ornament.

Sunlight on Bullet Casings

The sky above is soft, giving the illusion of peace and safety as pink fluffy clouds float by, waiting for the sun to rise and fill the space with heat and light that will bounce off the metal roof and the golden bullet casings scattered outside the window and across the street. She looks at her daughter, finally sleeping in the pre-dawn quiet, and she wonders how many mornings they have left…if they stay. She is tired, so very tired, of the struggle just to survive. She thinks of her neighbors to the north and she ponders going to them for help. Her thoughts drift to the mothers in that country who are, even now, slowly getting up to make coffee, cooking their children breakfast before sending them off to school. She wonders if they have ever seen the morning sun reflecting off of bullet casings. She wonders if they even know what their country has done to their neighbors to the south over the past several centuries.

She knows. She has heard the stories, lost more relatives than she can count, seen the economy of her country totter and flail. She know the desperation of hunger, the weight of constantly having to look over her shoulder. When she looks in the mirror, she sees the lines of a woman twice her age. She looks at her sleeping daughter  and dreams of watching her grow up with a belly always full, a daughter who skips to a big yellow school bus with a backpack full of supplies to learn in a safe environment.

Should she go? She has heard the stories of those who have gone before. Some have starved on the way and never made it. Some have made it there, only to have their children taken away from them. She has heard of the deaths, the rapes, the torture. She looks again at her daughter. If she stays, she knows those things will happen here. But if she goes, maybe, just maybe she will be the lucky one to make it through. She reaches out in faith for her backpack, hand hovering in the air as the sun peaks up over the horizon, its light bouncing off of the bullet casings outside of her window.

This story was written to give voice to parents south of our borders who are facing an incredible struggle to survive. I was recently made more aware of our country’s involvement with our southern neighbors and it got me thinking. We have invaded them again and again over the years, sometimes under the guise of helping, but always with our own interests in mind. We have toppled government after government. Imagine the trickle down effect of that. We can only imagine because we have been at the top for so long. Please take a moment to read the brief summary below of our involvement South of the border.

  • 1846 US went to war with Mexico over land issues and took 1/3 of Mexico’s land, including most of present day California, Utah, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico.
  • 1903 US helps engineer Panama’s independence from Columbia and gains, in return, exclusive possession of the Panama Canal. The US kept possession until 1999.
  • 1809-1903 US helps Cuba gain independence from Spain, continues to occupy Cuba and refuses to pull troops until it gets something in return – long story short, the perfect spot for a Naval Base, Guantanamo Bay.
  • 1914 US invades Vera Cruz, Mexico, hoping to help take down Mexico’s leader.
  • 1954 CIA backs a coup to take down the Guatemalan president.
  • 1961 CIA launches full scale invasion of Cuba, in hopes to topple Castro from power.
  • 1964 US backs coup that takes down Brazilian president
  • 1965 US sends troops to the Dominican Republic in hopes of preventing a communist dictator from taking over.
  • 1973 US backs military coup in Chile to overthrow the democratically elected president. He is replaced by a brutal dictator.
  • 1970s US plays a significant role in Operation Condor, and intelligence operation that resulted in an estimated 60,000 deaths.
  • 1980s Regan fears communism and interferes in both Nicaragua and El Salvador. The US backs forces against the Sandinista government in Nicaragua and sends $3Bn to El Salvador who is fighting left-winged guerillas, The US also invades Grenada to take down a communist ruler.
  • 1989 US invades Panama and takes down the dictator.
  • 1994 US leads invasion of Haiti to restore the former president to power.
  • 2002 US backs coup in Venezuela.
  • 2009 US backs coup to overthrow Honduran president.

While I am sure that there are more details that could be added to this list, I hope it can spark a chain reaction in your brain. Imagine that each state of the US were its own country and that for the last 150 years, Canada had been either invading various “countries” or backing coups, always manipulating outcomes to grow it’s own wealth and protect its interests. Imagine what our economy and infrastructure would be like. Imagine what our family dynamics might be. Imagine, if you will, waking up to sunlight on bullet casings and deciding you have had enough. Would you look at the opportunities and the security of your northern neighbor and want that for your children?

What would you do if you woke up in those shoes?

 

Photo courtesy of Adrienne Gerber Photography.

 

 

Human First

Two weeks gone in a blink and we are in line at the airport to travel home from Bangladesh. We battle mosquitoes and crowds for four hours, standing in one line and then the next, until we finally board our 3 am flight at 4 am. We miss our connecting flight in Doha by minutes and spend four more hours in line, waiting for new tickets for the next day’s flight and hotel vouchers. Deep thirst drives me to ask for water, having been given nothing since breakfast on the plane some six hours prior. I’m sent to a shop where I begrudgingly bring out the plastic card, cringing at the price this liquid gold is costing me. When I return to the group, I return with a new friend and soon meet another. We share this liquid gold and it is worth every penny. I return to the shop and throw down the plastic again for a pack of biscuits and we share this too. Who knew that airport liquid gold and packaged Marie biscuits could be the holiest of communions. Four exhausted Americans and our new friends – a young Bangladeshi lawyer from Minnesota and a sweet Bengali Auntie from Kolkata who spoke no English.

Together the six of us move forward, a weary cluster of travelers, and squeeze ourselves into the hotel shuttle bus. After check-in and a lovely spread for lunch, we set out with our new friends for the Souq. We walk on clean city sidewalks, past bank after bank covered in beautiful mosaic, we walk in cool but bright sunshine, my new friend asking occasionally for directions. We cross busy streets and turn a corner and there it is, like something out of a storybook. Ancient architecture, paintings, textiles, pottery, jewelry, stalls spilling over with treasures. We forget our tiredness, the long lines of waiting that landed us here and we soak up a girls night out. We buy treasures to tuck into our luggage, sip coffee under pink-soaked clouds and laugh with the thrill of this adventure. Our new Kala (auntie) gifts each of us with a magnet that says Qatar and we insist of buying a bracelet for her, something to keep us connected after the initial memories of this day fade.

We finally pull ourselves away from the Souq to begin the long walk back to our hotel. As we rush to cross one of the busy intersections, I turn back to make sure Kala is still with us. What I see utterly melts my heart. My new Muslim friend grabs the hand of my new Hindu Auntie and walks hand in hand with her for the rest of the journey. It was a reaction of the heart and it moved me profoundly and it makes me want to be more like them and the hundreds of others I met on my journey to the East. This ability to see another as human first blurs the lines of labels and boxes that we of the West cling to so fiercely. What would our nation look like if we saw each other as human first? Imagine if the lines of race, gender, socioeconomic status, religion, and education could be blurred enough that we could see straight to the core of each other. Imagine the beauty of looking into the eyes of a complete stranger and seeing your own soul mirrored back?

Human First.

 

Parallel Threads

It was a journey into the sacred. Each step of our pilgrimage of stories led us deeper into the heart and soul of this amazing country.

The constant tension of of beauty and ugliness called something to life within us as we heard story after story with parallel threads of utter pain and glorious triumph. As we walked past piles of raw and putrid garbage, we were also aware of artistically painted, brightly colored rickshaws passing us on a road filled with beautiful people wrapped in colors that brought the city to life on a breezy evening.

We walked in paradox. Endless honking and exhaust from four-lane roads somehow transformed into ten-lane roads contrasted with palm trees, bougainvilleas and dahlias taller than I. A weather-worn 15th Century palace with crumbling buildings surrounded by teenagers taking selfies on smart phones.

A patriarchal society where women are rising up in the best of ways, stitching together a future of hope for the next generation, while young girls learn CPR and basic rescue skills. Discarded women who became leaders and work together to change entire communities. Worn and torn saris stitched into quilts of love by hands that were once held immovable by forces too strong to resist.

A national forest given up to become a refugee camp, swelling at the seams to hold a million of the world’s most unwanted people. Hungry hands reach out to me while vibrant green rice fields stretch from the road, as far as the eye can see. Endless crowds of people and obvious poverty overshadowed by unbelievable generosity. As outsiders, foreigners, we were welcomed and treated as family. Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, all treating us as equals with enthusiastic hospitality. Muslims called out to us wishing peace upon us and sharing their food with us. A Hindu friend wrapped me in her arms and asked about my family. Buddhist hands served us tea. Beautiful diversity, woven together with the warmth of Bengal.

How is it that one of the most impoverished nations on earth can be so generous and welcoming of those who are different, while one of the wealthiest nations on earth is building walls and has collectively forgotten simple kindnesses? A famous prophet once said that if you want to be great, you have to become the least and serve others. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out which nation displays this type of greatness.

I took my friends to Bangladesh to learn and collect stories. Perhaps one day people from Bangladesh will be able to come here to learn and collect stories of greatness. Perhaps someone will write a story of how the nation that grew powerful on the backs of slaves finally became great by serving others. Perhaps there will be a story about the descendants of immigrants who welcomed other immigrants and together transformed the struggling economy into something vibrant and thriving. I dream that someday a stranger will come, be welcomed and write a story about the land that built hope instead of walls and finally figured out that love is the strongest force of all. I hope that someday my nation will display some of the greatness that I discovered in Bangladesh.

 

Courage Itself

It’s quite possible that you are closer to danger than you know, but you are always closer to courage than you know.

Our plans to spend a second day visiting Pebble work centers fell through, due to an attack on German journalists that happened nearby. Rayhan, our incredible guide, instead made plans for us to visit the Bangladesh Girls and Boys Surf Club . We left the dazzling sunlight of the beach and stepped into a dimly lit storefront, lined with surf boards and gear. As our eyes adjusted to the change of light, we saw and felt a bright force as three beautiful young girls came in to join the young men who were running the club. These girls, who once survived by selling hard boiled eggs and jewelry to tourists on the beach, now master the waves. With spirits too free for desks and classrooms to hold, they are courage itself in this sparkling stretch of beach that cradles Bangladesh where it meets the Bay of Bengal. In a place where most girls marry young and traditionally spend their lives at home, these girls are breaking the mold in the best of ways. They have learned CPR and are proud of their ability to rescue others. They command skateboards and surfboards and refuse to be intimidated by the jeers, leers and threats that constantly come their way.

The water pulled them like a magnet and it wasn’t long before they were gracefully riding the waves. Their courage rubbed off on us and soon they were teaching us how to surf (with the exception of yours truly, who does not know how to swim and decided to let their courage rub off in different ways). These young women are incredible teachers; they are the role models our girls need today. They master the very things society tells them they cannot do and they teach others to do it as well. They will never have to sit around and wait to be rescued, they are the ones out there doing the rescuing. They refuse to let threats and leers from men who surround them stop them from pursuing what gives them life. They hold their heads high. They push through until they can ride the waves again. They are courage itself.

Live what you love, Be what you dream, Conquer what you pursue, Become all you can become!

Visit here for a more in depth story about the girls and the Surf Club.

Photos courtesy of Adrienne Gerber Photography and Liga Mullins.

Unconquered

She stands where the water kisses the sky. No longer afraid of the waves that roll over her bare toes or the sand constantly shape-sifting under her feet, she is drawn to the perpetual motion of the sea. An ancient whisper calls her, tugs her further on, lifting her hair as it dances round her shoulders. She listens, her whole body breathing in the movement of air, water, and the gentle kiss of sunset.

For too long she has lived in the darkness, cowering under a blanket of shame that they gave her. Tears her truest language, despair her closest friend. When she cried out, they shushed her and she almost became accustomed to having no voice. Almost.

They almost had her. Almost convinced her that an existence of inferiority, voicelessness and powerlessness was normal. Almost.

But the ancient whisper would not let them have her. It crept relentlessly from the womb of her truest mother, the earth. Like an umbilical cord, it fed her and nourished her and grew her until she could open her eyes and see for herself, her truest self. As she drank from the waters that both healed her and reflected her truth back to herself, she laughed for the first time. For she saw her self as she truly was.

Enough

Powerful

Beautiful

Strong

Brave

Wise

Unconquered

Stunned and afraid, they came running after her with the blanket of shame, desperate to cover her up again. But she refused and left them standing there, left them awkwardly holding their blanket of shame.

She stands where the water kisses the sky. She tilts her head as the wind calls her name and she realizes with deep gratitude that she is not alone. As the names of her sisters are called out, she turn to find them and together they move and change the world.

She is me. She is you. She is us.

 

Photo courtesy of Adrienne Gerber Photography.

World Fair Trade Day 2019

Today is a day to celebrate!
We celebrate innovations that empower women.
Pebble is giving over 12,000 women in Bangladesh a powerful voice in their communities. Not only are they able to provide for their families, they now help to make decisions and plan for the future.


We celebrate innovations that create economic opportunities.

Pebble is working hard to create equal and fair earning opportunities in areas of Bangladesh where traditional jobs are only available for men. Pebble guarantees these women are paid well above minimum wage.


We celebrate innovations that save the planet.

. Pebble is concerned about the environment and works in areas where natural forests and animals are endangered. By giving the women of these communities an alternative job, the natural habitat of the Bengal Tiger, among others, is now protected.

Pebble toys are handmade, without the use of electricity. The centers are within walking distance of their homes. We order in large quantities and have the toys shipped to us via sea, to keep the carbon footprint at a minimum.


We celebrate innovations in product development.

Jasmine, pictured in green and black below, is one of Pebble’s designers. The founder of Pebble can send her a picture of a new product, and Jasmine is able to quickly create a knit or crochet version of the item and then teaches others how to do the same.

Pebble is only one of many product lines that are changing the world. The Fair Trade Movement has made it incredibly easy for us as consumers, to daily impact the lives of families around the world, by making mindful purchases. You do not need to travel far to make the world a better place.

Happy World Fair Trade Day!

Photos courtesy of Adrienne Gerber Photography.