Wednesday, December 26, 2012

2012 from Athena to Zambia and beyond...

        Additions (meet Zambia, our Patagonia Cavy)
        Experiences (Markham joined and thoroughly enjoyed the football team)
        Endeavors (Macallan giving wildlife talks with her band of pets)
        and New Producer groups after the South African government sent me to work with SA artisans.

Promising changes include Macallan’s quest for just the right school. Wildlife Biology isn’t available in every college, so we’ve been in the throws of visitations, applications and stressful examinations (SAT and ACT’s?!? We didn’t have ACT’s when I was applying for colleges!) Sadnesss also came to us in 2012. While we did not experience any hardship during the storm called Sandy, our family lost one house and had another damaged. Peter was called in as an engineering consultant to be one of the first to inspect
homes on Staten Island. He returned each day saddened by the total loss some residents encountered and visibly moved by the stories he heard as he went from house to house.

In December, we said good bye to Peter’s mom, Grace. After years of living in an assisted living community, she is finally at peace.

Workwise, I was honored with several awards, one from the UN for Best Practice using the principles of the Millenium Goals, and another one from AAUW for my involvement in a women’s empowerment movement. I was named an Athena honoree by the Dutchess County Regional Chamber of Commerce and then chosen to represent the Chamber at next year’s Athena Conference in Chicago.

Hudson Valley magazine also named me one of this year’s business women of the year, complete with a wonderful magazine spread! While the business community and our customers have been supportive of my work, my staffing situation has been very trying. I am down to one sales associate, with me working 12 hour days before Christmas!

I’m tired but happy. With two articles appearing in regional publications, I’ve been blessed with new customers and ultra-loyal shoppers who made my holiday season the best since opening the store in the Poughkeepsie Plaza three years ago. Thank you, Thank you, one and all!

While many parts of our lives are in flux – my store, Macallan’s schooling, Peter’s concerted effort to get a job in Africa (again!) – we are open to the possibilities that may arise. Looking forward to 2013, we can’t help but wonder what the new year has in store…Whatever it may be, we’re grateful and hopeful… and we wish you all a year of wonder and joy!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Happy Birthday, Peter and Peace Corps

Tomorrow, I turn 48. Brave of me to fess up to that, huh, except that I'm not bothered by my age, nor about where I am at 48.
While I would never have thought this would be the life I lead, I must say, it's not really a surprise.
Sure, I'm not the person I was in high school, or the woman I was when I first met Peter, not even the woman who would marry him just a short two years from the time we met, a young naive co-ed non-committal in my relationship with a then, Peace Corps volunteer.
Peter turns 50 this year, the same 'age' Peace Corps will be. 50 years of existence - wow, what both of these beings have seen in the the past 50 years!
I'm particularly thankful for the Peace Corps, because I wouldn't be here, wouldn't have gone to Botswana, wouldn't be connected to the San women if not for Peter's volunteer assignment 27 years ago.
In 1984, I was failing out of Rider College - going nuts after a very strict upbringing and self imposed perfectionist ideal to perpetually please my parents.
Thankful to finally have a reason to focus and gain my life back, I embraced the relationship with Peter to keep me afloat, alive in a sea of drugs and drinking.
When we first met, we were ready to say good bye. He had just graduated from Villanova and was waiting for Peace Corps to come through. His first choice was Botswana.
He got his wish and we made the best of the summer ahead of us before he left in early September.
It was the best relationship I would ever have because neither of us had any expectations - we both knew that he was leaving. No ties. No strings attached. . . or so we thought.
By the time he boarded that plane for Washington DC, we were in love. We wrote to each other every day. His letter only left Botswana once a week, but every letter was as if we had spent them together.
When I met him, I admired the fact that he had joined the Peace Corps. Thinking he was altruistic, I put him on a pedestal only to have to take him down a few steps. He claimed he was going to Africa because he loved animals - which is still the case, but as I read (and today, re-read) his letters, it wasn't the lion, the elephant or snakes he would tell me about. It was and still is, the people of Botswana that kept Peter engaged and committed.
Peter would use his final PC check to buy me a ring. He had a long recovery from slipped discs jostled and twisted on the very same roads we would travel happily over with our family some 20 years leter. His time in Bots with PC was cut short, but had they not been, he believes he would never had returned or had he come home, he would not have needed to go back with me and the kids later on.
All carefully orchestrated moves by a force greater than ourselves. Peter and I can look back at our lives together and see how each movement and monumental moment made for a life of meaning - which is exactly what the Peace Corps, what President John F. Kennedy had in mind when he created the organization 50 years ago.
I'm glad I have lived through the 'me' generation so that I can face the 'we' generation with some substance, some meaning, some value to offer, for I don't ask what my country can do for me, I ask what I can do for my country, my fellow human beings, my world.
Here's to making this year better than perfect, let's make it an ELEVEN - you know, that's one more than 10!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

"I've learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends on our dispositions and not on our circumstances." - Martha Washington

With 2011 fast approaching, I have to reflect on the year gone by.

In 2010,
  • In February, I closed Women's Work in Cold Spring after nearly four years in business in our former "hometown" it was a difficult decision to make.
  • In July, I accepted an invitation to go to Pakistan for a buying trip. From that trip, I opened up another part of the world to WW, bringing beautiful Sterling Silver designs and the potential for hand embroidery and leather handbags from gifted designers.
  • In August, I opened up a store in Sugar Loaf, NY where we were able to reach the Westchester/NJ market. Unfortunately, the long distance and my time constraints limit my efforts at that location and just over the holidays, we have decided to close that store.
  • In September, I went to Guatemala for a New World Craft Expo where I met El Sol Maya owner who has a team of women weavers and artisans from remote regions. From that trip, we now carry fair trade items from Mayan Hands, UPAVIM, recycled acrylic sign jewelry, recycled pewter jewelry from Honduras, and recycled inner tube bags from El Salvador.
  • From Guatemala, Goody Goodies now has a new line of fair trade friendship bracelets custom-made to say school names and slogans through Mayan Hands and El Sol Maya to benefit Safe Passage.
  • My new association with AAUW as member and co-chair of the My Sister's Keeper Initiative helps with WW's mission to bring the plight of women around the world to the attention of women in the USA, not only for awareness-sake but in an effort to empower women and girls to make a difference. AAUW's MSK initiative gave me an opportunity to give a Fair Trade talk at their Professional Women's Group meeting, help to organize MSK Celebration at the Poughkeepsie Plaza and GG was graced with an induction into their MSK Hall of Fame.
  • WW won recognition as "Best Boutique with Heart" from Hudson Valley Magazine
  • We had articles in the Poughkeepsie Journal, HVBiz, Hudson Valley Business Journal and Goody Goodies was featured in USAToday!
  • In December, we saw our Poughkeepsie Plaza sales double from last year, leading us to believe that our move to the Plaza was one of our single best business decisions to-date!

What does 2011 have in store? I'm not sure, but I am looking fore ward and looking forward to the possibilities.

I know I have insights into what makes me happy, what I've enjoyed working on and with whom I want to work.

In 2010, I have seen a huge jump in the level of confidence I have in the market, the products I carry, the loyalty of Women's Work supporters and thus, the competence I feel in continuing and continuing to grow the WW ideal.

While I never started WW in order to advocate Fair Trade, I see how I have defined FT and how ethically the ideal has defined me. Women's Work has become a platform for beautiful, well made, ethically and environmentally conscious products that are produced sustainably. I have grown to not only believe that all products should be made this way, but also to believe each person has an obligation to strive to live this way, to the best of their ability.

And so, in 2011, my presence will be all about hope - not a campaign slogan, not a flippant holiday greeting, but a genuine embodiment of positive living.

To paraphrase Paulo Coelho, "From the Greek - In Pandora's Box, Hope was the only thing that remained, because it was the only thing one could use to combat the misfortune that was scattered throughout the world."

Monday, September 13, 2010

Guatemalan Guides

All the way back from Guatemala, I cried and cried. I'd missed my family terribly and was happy to get home, but that wasn't it. I also wasn't crying because I'd miss the people and place because of all of the places I've visited, I knew I'd return.
I'm not quite sure what exactly has made me this emotional. Could be the fact that I was insecure about going on a trip without Peter. And returning with miraculously no problems, I was relieved.
In Pakistan, I went without Peter but I had the US government to guide me. The Pakistan Handmade crew totally held our hands from dawn to dusk.
But on this trip, aside from a list of suggestions for hotels, the trip was completely up to us. Up to us to manage where we were to go and what we were to do. I wanted to take full advantage so I tried to plan some activities before and after the Trade Fair. Some plans worked, but others didn't and I was free for the last two days of the trip. I wasn't worried, though. Something always comes along...and it did.
The Trade Fair was a great surprise. Taking my job very seriously, I worried I would only find the typical Guatemalan crafts - weaving, worry dolls and beaded keychains which would mean not purchasing anything, which would be counterproductive. But there was very little of that. There were beautiful, elegant, unusual crafts made from recycled materials. There were weavings that were delicate and different from any other weaving I'd witnessed in the past. There were countries that I had not found crafts from in the past, like El Salvador and Honduras. And so many interesting dedicated designers and artists that I again overspent, but happily devoted my days to walking the show.
During the first evening of the show, I met a vivacious and bubbly woman with the same name as mine (coincidence). She proceeded to pull information from me that I would never ordinarily give up. She was a lot of fun and a fast friend. It would be the next day that I would get to know her friend and companion on this trip, Shelley. Seal and Shelley have great jobs as buyers for a high-end, well established store in Santa Barbara. I was able to pick their brains about so many aspects of their business - a business I could only dream Women's Work would one day grow up to be.
Another coincidence is that both are fans of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency with Shelley having read all of the books and has a special place for them on her bookshelf next to Nancy Drew. What an honor! We would spend some enjoyable evenings together, so I was glad I hadn't planned anything in particular.
I would buy from four new vendors and have promised to look into products from several others. One of the businesses I was most impressed with was La Casa Guatemala. Sandra, who works for Casa, was telling me about how she would be working on Saturday to visit one of the women's groups who were graduating from an incubator project and would be giving them their certificates. I boldly asked if I could go along. She agreed! And off we went.
I emailed my family that I was once again going to an out of the way place with a woman I just met to meet with women producers - much like my situation when I first encountered the San. And as luck/coincidence/fate would have it, the encounter deeply moved me and I spent the day with my mind racing with ideas about how we could collaborate. Before I left San Pedro and the care of Sandra, I gave her my card. As she shared the card with the others, someone asked what the woman and the baby were doing. I explained about the ostrich eggshell and the San women I worked with. All of a sudden, Sandra realized something. Now, I had told her this story during the Trade Fair and I made her cry. She hadn't put two and two together until just now. Her boss, one of the most respected people in Guatemala for his craft development, had visited Botswana, visited the San Bushmen of the Kalahari. His step father was John Marshall - renown documentarian of Bushmen culture. It turns out her boss and I knew the very same people. Wow, was all we could say to each other. What a coincidence!
But there are no coincidences, just messages, signs that tell you that you are on the right or wrong track, that guide you toward a better understanding and in my case, validation that what I am doing is the right thing for me.
I think I was crying because I had the understanding that most people could only wish for--a life with meaning and a purpose.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

New World Craft Trade Fair, New Ground for Me

I’m in Guatemala for the New World Craft Trade Fair. The Guatemalan government is hosting buyers from around the world to meet nearly 100 businesses located here in Guatemala plus other countries in Central and South America. There will be someone from Cuba here! Now, that’s interesting…

I got in midday the day before the Trade Fair, this gave me enough time to check into my hotel and walk around the city. From the beginning, this trip to Guatemala has been intertwined with coincidence (and we all know I don’t believe in coincidences). I, frankly, have never had an interest in Central or South American crafts. Everybody’s doing it, but the connections just kept coming.

One was Alanna who now works for me. She had gone to Guatemala and was planning to volunteer with a group that works with children who live off the scraps they collect in the dump – Safe Passage. Alanna, I knew, was working on helping children in India who live off a dumpsite. Only after I had met Elizabeth Benjamin and her dad, did Alanna tell me that was the very project that set the India interest in motion. For one reason or another, she couldn’t go to Guatemala but instead stayed on to finish her degree at Marist.

Now, Elizabeth and her dad live in Garrison and had come into Women’s Work one day that I was working there. This would be one of the last times I would be staffing the store, it turns out, because shortly afterward, we closed that location.

Elizabeth’s brother, I come to find out this summer, went to the Millbrook School where the headmaster is a board member for Safe Passages. It was his influence that gave Elizabeth her impetus to volunteer, something she was determined to continue to do when we met. Her father was encouraging her to stay and work with me somehow (I was thinking sales person in the store, but John wanted us to forge another partnership where Elizabeth could live in the USA and work instead of in Guatemala.) John and Elizabeth’s mom were positioned to go to Botswana as Peace Corps volunteers when they found out they were pregnant with Elizabeth. Another coincidence and the one that brought them into the store since he had seen the Botswana Baskets.

So, when I went to Pakistan this summer, and one of the organizers told me he’d put me on the buyers list to take this trip to Guatemala, I said yes. I’d love to go, more, quite frankly, because I want to go on other trips and I will go on this one because there seemed to be a pull for me to be here. And after I decided to go, I decided to go to visit Elizabeth’s project, Safe Passage.
There was a board member in the area whom I had contacted. He responded with the Millbrook School email address. Now, Millbrook is a school we’ve talked about Macallan going to since she wants to be a Vet and it is the only high school in the country with a zoo. I brought Macallan to meet Drew because she wanted to learn more about Safe Passage for Goody Goodies. We had a few minutes to kill so we went into the building right next door to the Deans office, the Arts building. Of course she loved the arts program, she already loved the zoo and after this visit, she had convinced herself that new friends were what she needed. But then another of our favorite pass times came about – the Dutchess County Fair and another of her dreams came true, which was getting a coatimundi who would need much of her time, she wasn’t too disappointed that financial aid and the new school year was upon us too quickly.

So, here I am in Antigua, Guatemala. I don’t have my husband to help me navigate the streets. I don’t have my daughter to share in the shopping experience. I don’t have my son to draw my attention to all of the other things around me that doesn’t involve shopping or women. And I am free to do what I want all afternoon and evening.

I am not happy with my hotel. There are so many in this small city, all hidden away like secrets behind walled facades that only leave telltale signs, literally, some hand scratched, some in wrought iron, some within the windows that are too high for me to peer into. I recognized the names of some, and inquired about room availabilities. I knew one tha t John Benjamin recommended sits right next door to Safe Passage’s Antigua office was reasonably priced but was across town. As my bad directions would have it, I wound up on the very street. Tired and feet hurting from walking on cobblestones (always charming to look at but killer to walk on!) I was looking for a cab to take me back to my hotel. It had started raining with the sun shining (what we were told in Africa was called a monkey’s wedding) when I looked up at a building with some indistinct writing high above the door. This was Safe Passage and I was delighted to find Quinta De Los Flores right next door. They didn’t have any room until the weekend (my previous reservation) and so I’d have to stay put unless I found another place. But I left happy and validated that this trip is on a trajectory all its own.

I wonder why I’m here. I go to the Trade Fair this morning and I’m excited to find new products to complete my new vision of Women’s Work Shop in Sugar Loaf. All new ground this Guatemala, Safe Passage, and House Parties, but somehow I think they are fitting in quite nicely.