Friday, December 28, 2007

The Elders - Wisdom for The Global Community

When the world was young humans lived in small groups and tribes. Each family looked to their elders and shamans to find solutions and solve conflicts. Populations grew, tribes expanded into communities, communities to towns, towns to cities, cities to countries. As we increased in numbers something interesting happened..instead of expanding our community responsibility and relying on a larger group of wise counsel, we contracted and isolated ourselves.

We do not know our neighbors. Our families are fractured, living hundreds of miles apart. Grandparents no longer play an integral role in education our young. For the most part we do not trust our political leaders. We feel isolated in a world of billions and inept at solving the problems of even our small circle of friends. This is especially true of industrialized nations like the USA.

In 1999 Peter Gabriel and Richard Branson decided to address the issue. They envisioned a new gathering of world leaders who would come together to guide and support the global village: leaders trusted in their homelands and free from political, military or economic pressures. The Elders only purpose - to ease suffering in three essential areas:

1) Offer a catalyst for the peaceful resolution of conflict.
2) Seek solutions to seemingly gridlocked global issues.
3) Share wisdom, reach out to a new generation of leaders and amplify the voices of good from all over the world.

Branson and Gabriel approached Desmond Tutu who enthusiastically helped to gather some of the most respected humanitarians and diplomats to form The Elders. At the launch ceremony in Johannesburg, South Africa Tutu introduced the members. On the stage were Jimmy Carter, Nelson Mandela, Graca Machal, Kofi Annan, Ela Bhatt, Lakhdar Brahimi, Gro Brundtland, Fernando H. Cardoso, Li Zahoxing, Mary Robinson, Aung San Su Kyi, and Muhammad Yunus. Read each of their biographies on

Their first act as a group was to resurrect interest in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 2008 marks the 60th anniversary of this important document. Every country in the world has signed the declaration but few live up to all of its tenets. Now, we can all sign our names to the declaration, pledging to uphold the principles as individuals.

Since the launch of the project a group of the Elders visited Darfur - you can watch them as they travel around Sudan. The website is full of information about each member and the purpose of the group. They urge you to act and have gathered many resources for us to do so. They are also utilizing as a forum to share individual human rights stories from around the world. The Elders believe that once we see and hear we will no longer be able to ignore.

Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, said, "Part of the wisdom of the Elders is to remind the young of remind the world that we actually have universal values that are accepted by every government in the world and yet they are not being implemented."

Theirs (and ours) is a noble cause indeed.

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Reality Of War - Links and Information

Eighty Deuce On The Loose In Iraq Please spend some time with this important blog. I can't think of a better way to learn about Iraq than from the writings of one young soldier who lives it every day.

USO/ progam Help a military member stationed in a hostile area call home for the holidays. Views and reports from citizen journalist from around the globe. Search under Iraq for specific reports.

USINFO The State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs official website for news reports and articles about international relations.

The Reality of War-Send Some Love To Lighten The Load Orignal post that relates to the links.

The Reality of War - Send Some Love To Lighten The Load

This video was made by a 26 year-old soldier stationed in Iraq. He is the owner of the provocative blog "Eighty Deuce On The Loose In Iraq". I admire this young man for his honesty, conviction, and dedication to his country.

His video is important for many reasons. Since the day I contacted him, asking for permission to post his video, I've debated about how to approach this post and how much of my own opinions to add.

I've decided that my opinion doesn't matter. His video and blog speak for themselves as should you, my dear reader. Watch. I dare you not to be moved by what you see.

Please remember our soldiers during this holiday season when they are separated from their family and loved ones. If you'd like to do something special and make a difference in a soldiers life, please contribute to the USO/ program to provide as many calling cards as possible so that our men and women can hear a comforting voice from home.

I'll add the links to this extraordinary young man's blog and the phone card contribution site in my next post.

Please speak out and up about issues that are important to you and the future of our country. No matter your view on the war in Iraq and the state of our country - EXPRESS IT through all the avenues at your disposal. Make your voice heard. Call congress, the White House, write Oped's for your local newspaper, organize marches, exercise your right as a citizen of the United States to be heard.

Whatever you have to say...the best gift you can give our country, our soldiers and the world this Christmas is to SPEAK UP AND BE HEARD.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

In The Spirit Of The Season - Relax

The crowds, the frantic people, the short tempers, the craziness of shopping for gifts - is this what the last days before Christmas feel like to you? If so, go in your room, close the door and take a deep breath - maybe take several. Look, I'm doing it, too.

It doesn't have to be this way. I think my stress comes from wanting to make everyone I love happy (my chronic need to please syndrome). I have to find that special gift for let's see...6 people and counting. My house needs to be perfect to entertain guests on Christmas Eve. I want to make the most delicious meal ever on Christmas night. And I still have to keep up with everything else I do each day. So when I looked in the mirror at my frazzled face, I thought, "Something has gone very wrong. This is supposed to be fun and I look like I'm about to jump off a cliff."

If anyone else feels the way I do then follow me in making this declaration:

I will have a joyous Christmas. I will slow down and take time to BE part of and in the season. I will remember that the holiday is a celebration of love and love comes in many forms (not just in a perfectly wrapped present that I spent hours searching for). I will be aware of and pay attention to the people around me. I will not subject anyone to my irritation, impatience, or self-importance. I will remember that this time of year is for sharing of myself (just a smile will do) and receiving from others (I really do deserve it, sometimes I have trouble remembering that I'm taking the joy of giving away from others when I try to do everything myself).

And after all of that, I will take more deep breaths, be still for a moment in the joy of the season and remember it can last through out the year if I chose for it to. I will head to my car with quiet contentment and finish my shopping with a grateful and loving attitude.
Here hoping I can pull it off....:)

Happy Holidays to all!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Free Rice - Help Feed The World

According to 25,000 people starve to death every day. Let that sink in for a moment. In my town that's equivalent to number of the students enrolled in six local high schools. If all those children were lost in one day to some sort of disaster how would we cope? Would our nation ever be the same? Putting a recognizable face on hunger has a sobering affect.

I bet if you knew that you could help feed a starving child by playing an online game you would jump at the opportunity to help. Well, get Free Rice is a program developed by John Breen and partnered with The game is easy and educational. When you pick the correct definition of an English word twenty grains of rice is donated to United Nations' World Food Program.

Twenty grains is about a teaspoon full, so what's the big deal? Keep playing for a long as you like and the number increases with each right answer. My children and I played yesterday and today, compiling a total donation of over 10,000 grains. Still not much but what happens when thousands of people play this game?

Since the site went live on October 7th of this year, a total of 9,868,446,910 grains of rice has been bought and paid for by advertisements that run unobtrusively at the bottom of the gameplay banner.

Companies such as Sirius Satellite Radio, Personal Creations, EToys and ITunes see the value in using their advertising dollars in altruistic ways, not only promoting customer loyalty and brand name recognition but helping to end the ravages of hunger at the same time.

The icing on the cake for this novel idea is that the player increases his/her knowledge of the English language and their ability to communicate effectively. And at the same time it raises their awareness of world issues and their own unique ability to affect change.

The prestigious publication, The School Library Journal reported, “A teacher of fourth and fifth graders on the Yurok Indian reservation in Klamath, CA, . . . emailed the United Nations' WFP. ‘My students absolutely LOVE the free rice site. Almost daily they earn several thousand grains of rice!’ she wrote. ‘You cannot imagine the joy in my heart when I look out and see 25 kids doing vocabulary work and enjoying it.’”

What's more...I bet many of these school children are making the connection between playing the game and social activism. Maybe is helping to raise a generation who will speak up freely and act on behalf of the world's disenfranchised. Maybe by then there will be no more hunger.

Please take a moment to check out the statistics on As a citizen of the United States, they are quite shocking and embarrassing. someone today.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Cleaning...Really, I Am

I wish it wasn't so. I wish I was blogging but eventually I have to pull myself away from my love of writing and do mundane tasks like clean my house. So today I am doing something good for me and my family...making our house pretty for Christmas.

Check back tomorrow for your regular diet of LifePrints. I hope everyone who celebrates the holidays is enjoying the season and rejoicing over the happiness that this time of the year brings. Merry Christmas and more to the entire blogging community!


Monday, December 17, 2007

Bloggers Unite To Do Good - Random Acts of Kindness

Bloggers Unite challenged bloggers around the world to move away from their computers and do something good offline - in the real world - and then post about it, letting others know the collective power of the blogoshpere. Bloggers Unite wants bloggers to put a human face on our actions so that the non-blogging world might see what we've done and be moved to action.

I was so excited to participate in this challenge. After all, this is what I write about every day - people helping people, people changing the world because they care. So why was I so reluctant to actually go do it? Why was I procrastinating?

I finally called Child Haven, my local area Department of Family and Children Services group home. I planned to answer their call for volunteers to come rock and play with the many babies in their facility. This was Saturday, no one answered the phone. I had to do my good deed by Monday so helping Child Haven was out.

Sunday I called an assisted living facility near my house. I told the nice woman who answered the phone that I'd like to come visit the residents, bring a stack of Christmas cards and help people fill them out for family and friends. I'd even mail them when we were done. Her answer, "You need the approval of the activities director. She's off on Sunday's." But I need to come today! "Can't help you without approval."

By yesterday evening I was back to square one and running out of time. My husband suggested adopting an angel from the Salvation Army Angel Tree. "But we do that every year," I said. He shook his head, "So just tell everyone about it this time." I grabbed the camera to chronicle everything for my blog and my stomach tightened. Suddenly I knew why I'd had so much trouble with this assignment.

You see I was brought up to believe that one should do the right thing for no other reason than it's right. To ask for praise or talk about what I've done as if it was something special makes it about me and diminishes the act itself. The Bible verses imprinted on my memory are found in Matthew 6:1-4 of the New Testament. As a result, I never took my camera out of my purse.

I've been blessed with excellent examples of sharing love. I've witnessed the kind and selfless acts of many humble spirits. Their lives are daily reminders of how God wants us to care for each other.

If you meet my mother she will never tell you that for twenty years straight she made weekly visits to nursing homes (one of them was over 40 miles away) to help care for two of her sisters and an aunt. She'll never tell about the times she made entire meals for sick friends or sat by the bedside of dieing loved ones while they drew their last breath. She just did those things because that is who she is.

I've known my mother-in-law since I was a teenager but back then she was just my friend's mother, the one who answered the phone when I called her son. When Todd and I started dating, I learned how special she really is. Just like my mother she goes out of her way to care for others by taking part in special projects in her church. She is always contributing, always helping someone in need. She's never told me about these things, I discovered her good nature by watching. The first time I celebrated her birthday I stared in awe as she gave gifts to all of her grandchildren. By knowing her, I am constantly reminded of the kind of woman I want to be.

So back to me and what I did last night. I'm happy to report that my local Salvation Army is doing well this year. The tree was almost empty of angel tags. All the children had been chosen. But the program was in need of filler gifts for teenagers so Todd and I chose tags for a boom box and a music gift card. We shopped and returned the items to the table. I have to admit that I've enjoyed it more in previous years when we've been given a specific child to shop for.

Last year we chose a little girl and a little boy and took our children to buy the gifts. As we shopped, we talked about them as if they were our children's friends. The kids had fun picking out clothes they thought were cool and toys that would elicit screams of joy on Christmas morning. It warmed me from head to toe to think of the boy's and girl's faces when they saw the wrapped stacks of presents. I find value in this program because it teaches our children to share and give and to think of those who have less with love, not pity.

I'm glad I participated in this challenge but at the same time I learned a great deal about myself. like - I'm much more comfortable shining the light of praise on others.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Big Head Todd and The Monsters - It's More Than Music

Big Head Todd and The Monsters - Never heard of them? Think you might have but you're not sure? That's okay.

The Colorado Trio, now four-some, have been making music together since their college days in the mid-'80's. They experienced radio success with hits like BitterSweet, Broken Hearted Savior and Circle but when they refused to sell out to the desires of the major record labels things changed - for the better.

Twenty years later Todd Park Mohr, Brian Nevin, Rob Squires and Jeremy Lawton make the music they want, have a fan base that follows them from one venue to the next, and are one of of the most celebrated concert bands in the country. If you ever hear them live you'll be hooked. Park-Mohr's gravelly voice and expert guitar playing is exhilarating. The band jams together like nothing I've ever seen before. It's as if when they play they become one mind, one instrument. It's good ole American Rock 'n Roll at it's best.

The music won me over years ago but that's not why I'm an ardent fan of these men. They live in the real world with the rest of us. It's not about the fame. It's about the music, the life, and what's left after the music stops. The guys from Big Head Todd go to the merchandise table after every show. They TALK to their fans and actually have fun spending time with them. It's not a burden, they really enjoy it and seem to thrive on the interaction. I've had the pleasure of meeting them twice and hope to again next spring when they make their annual trip to my town.

For the past few years they've used free podcasts and downloads on their website and ITunes to distribute their music to an ever growing fan base. Todd Park Mohr believes that art should be free. "We don't really make our money off the music," he said during an interview. "We never have, not even with a major record label."

To further that sentiment, BHTM is giving away 500,000 copies of their new CD, All The Love You Need. 25,000 copies were mailed to fans who requested them from the BHTM website and the rest are to be distributed by radio stations around the country. My copy arrived yesterday with a personal note from the band thanking their fans for the support. When was the last time you got a free thank you from your favorite band? It doesn't happen often, unless you're a BHTM's fan.

They also believe in using their notoriety to give something of value back to the world. For the last three years they've used their annual Red Rocks Amphitheater concert as a benefit to raise money for a selected cause. This year it's Soles United, a Crocs program committed to social responsibility and providing shoes for those in need.

With over 1 billion people living in extreme poverty, many households cannot meet the basic needs for survival including food, shelter, safe drinking water and basic articles of clothing, including shoes. In 2008, Soles United expects to donate over 1,000,000 pairs of shoes to those in need. To demonstrate their appreciation and support of BHTM, Soles United will donate a pair of shoes for every ticket purchased to a BHTM show in June of 2008. BHTM fans can be assured that their presence at a BHTM concert will make a real difference in the life of a child or adult living in poverty.

BMTH is conducting the first round of a charity auction that started on 12/10 that will benefit the Soles United Program. You can bid on several different VIP packages and seating for the Red Rocks concert. I can't imagine anything better than helping out a good cause and winning the bid for onstage couch seating at their biggest concert of the year.

On a side note, BHTM made national news this week when the Clinton campaign adopted their song Blue Sky as Hillary's new theme song. It's an inspirational song written in 2005 at the request of the NASA astronauts upon the first launch after the Columbia disaster. They are not claiming affiliation with any candidate but are happy for the exposure.

I'm proud to say I'm a loyal fan. Big Head Todd and the Monsters are shining examples of how to run a responsible, fun, compassionate music career. Go see them. It's an experience you'll never forget.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Dove Reality Diaries - Four Girls Share Important Insight

One expert, four girls, a few tears, six weeks, and a watershed of growth - that's the Dove Reality Diaries in a nutshell. But that is too simplified. How do I breakdown into a few paragraphs the transformations of Sydney, Chelsea, Jordyn, and Irene? I'm not sure I can. This morning I watched each of their video diaries and was amazed at how candid they were about their feelings and struggles. I marveled at how seriously these teenagers took the self-esteem exercises. They trusted Jess Weiner, author and self-esteem expert, to guide them along the way to their authentic selves.

No more hiding behind a mask of make-up, depending on boyfriends to complete them, or devaluing their reflections in the mirror. These girls are now armed with the tools to confidently face the world. The best part - Any teen anywhere in the world can watch the transformations and interact with the girls and others on the website. There is a message board and a link to ask Jess for advice. There are packets of information to download and tests to take that help evaluate where a girl stands in relationship to herself and the images pushed on her by the media. Every young girl/or woman/and I'd expect anyone who uses the tools on the site has the opportunity to confront their own issues and move toward change just as the four girls did.

On December 18th there will be a live chat with Jess Weiner and the girls from the diaries. Jump in, add your opinions and questions. Jess directs the conversations with thought provoking questions and topics. To get a feel for these live chats Dove has posted a transcript of the first conversation.

Here are some disturbing facts about what young girls and women are facing in our society today:

One-third of all girls in grades nine to 12 think they are overweight, and 60 percent are trying to lose weight.

Only 56 percent of seventh graders say they like the way they look.

Studies show that 57 percent of girls have fasted, gone on diets, used food substitutes, or smoked more cigarettes to lose weight.

Research also shows that messages girls receive from the media can damage their feelings of self-worth and negatively affect their behavior. More than one in four girls surveyed feel the media pressures them to have a perfect body

Girls who watch TV commercials featuring underweight models lose self-confidence and become more dissatisfied with their own bodies

As a result, girls question their own beauty: between 50 and 70 percent of girls of normal weight believe they are overweight.

Dove wants girls to know that it doesn't have to be this way. Their global plan addresses the whole girl/woman from body image to intellectual development. This is something that should be applauded in a corporate culture that values profit over all else. We have a long way to go and even Unilever, the parent company of Dove, could make a few changes to align their other products (i.e. AXE body spray) with this positive school of thought.

Even so that doesn't discount or diminish the good being accomplished by the Dove campaign for Real Beauty. Every movement starts somewhere. I'm hoping more companies and brands will follow this shining example.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Friendship Awards - The Most Cherished of All

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy explains friendship as a distinctively personal relationship that is grounded in a concern on the part of each friend for the welfare of the other, for the other's sake, and that involves some degree of intimacy.

My first friend, Jeanne, lived in the green house next door. We played dolls and cars. We planted dead tree branches in her yard and watered them everyday, dreaming they would grow into giant oak trees good for climbing. We alternately babied and ignored her little sister Stacey. We spied on her big brother Chris and his group of strangely intriguing friends. She stood up with me at my wedding and learned to dance the Cotton-eyed Joe at my reception. To this day I know I can call her and it will be as if we just spoke yesterday. We will pick up the conversation where we left off the last time we spoke and end it with "love you, girl!"

Blogging opened a new avenue of friendship for me. Since I started LifePrints I've developed "virtual" friendships with a handful of writers on the web. Some I only know through their avatars and comments on discussion boards or blogs. Others I email regularly and feel as if I know them as well or better than my "real life" neighbors. I've met one of my new friends, even went on a trip to New York with her. What a hoot that was! She was a great traveling companion.

The Internet has certainly changed the way friendships are made and has opened a world of possibilities. As always, I believe that people come into my life for a reason, and me into theirs, as well. Recently, two of my best blogging buddies awarded me with badges of friendship. I cherish them just as I do my "real" friends, like Jeanne.

Francis at Caught In The Stream , one of my best blogging buddies, gave me The Colors of Friendship Award. He's my newest uber-intellectual, mind stimulating, idea challenging buddy. If I ever visit his city I'm expecting to at least go out for coffee with this interesting man. I've told him before that he thinks circles around me but he humbly denies it. His writing is concise and beautiful in the same breath. He's a poet as well as a man of big ideas. I'd be hard pressed to find better or more worthwhile reading anywhere on the web. Now if I could only convince him to run for public office, that would be great!
I've decided to give The Colors of Friendship badge to Wendy at La Delirante. Wendy was one of the first bloggers I made contact with and I've enjoyed reading her blog ever since. She intrigues me because her life is so different from mine. She's from El Salvador but lives on the little island of Malta. I have to admit when I first found her I had to look at a world map to figure out that Malta is off the coast of Italy. With each new post she opens a window to a way of life that I'd never have known about without her. Thanks Wen. Keep writing and I'll keep reading.

Heather at The Wishful Writer gave me this beary friendship badge. I know if we met in person we'd have a blast together. She shares so much about her personal life on her blog that I feel like I've known her, her girlfriend April, her Granny, and heaven forbid Blemish, for years. I know more about her neighbors than I know about my own. She always answers comments, making her readers feel included in the joke. I talk to my husband about her as if I'd just talked to Heather on the phone. "You're never going to believe what Heather said today!" At least now he's stopped giving me a look of total confusion when I mention her name. So thank you Heather. You're the best.

I'm passing on this cute badge to my friend Lisa McMann. She is an accomplished Young Adult author. Her first book entitled WAKE will be on the shelves in March of next year. Get it and say you heard about her when because she is going to be big. I can feel it. She has more in the works so don't despair, you won't have to wait too long to read the next installment of Janie and Cable's adventure.

Thank you again Heather and Francis. If we ever meet in "real" life just look for the blond with the big smile and open arms looking for a hug!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Nobel Winner, Al Gore - Are We Listening?

To launch LifePrints my first post was about meeting Al Gore while he was stumping for Tessa Haffen, a democratic candidate for congress from Nevada. My family and I staked out front row seats. We shook his hand and spoke with him for a few minutes. We told him how his work on Global Warming awareness had changed the way we do things in our household. He was gracious and genuinely listened to what we said. I've always liked the man.

When making decisions about politicians I trust my gut.For me it's less about the issues and more about the person who will act in Washington on my behalf. And I have to do this through media images, sound bites and debates because my chances of meeting an influential politician face to face are very slim. So I was very excited about meeting our former Vice President.

When I look into someones eyes I get a strong feeling about their general intentions (good or bad, honorable or corrupt). I've learned over the years that my instincts are usually correct. I looked former Vice President Al Gore in the eye and my feelings were confirmed. His expression was open and kind. His intentions good.

My feelings about him were again confirmed by his impact on the world's attitude about Global Warming. Since his documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, I've seen a shift in my country. We are talking, making plans, and committing to change for the first time since I first heard the words Global Warming over 20 years ago. But will it be enough. Mr. Gore is hopeful so I will be hopeful also.

Here is an excerpt from the speech he will give today in Oslo, Norway when he accepts his Nobel Prize:

Even though I fear my words cannot match this moment, I pray what I am feeling in my heart will be communicated clearly enough that those who hear me will say, “We must act.”

The distinguished scientists with whom it is the greatest honor of my life to share this award have laid before us a choice between two different futures – a choice that to my ears echoes the words of an ancient prophet: “Life or death, blessings or curses. Therefore, choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live.”

We, the human species, are confronting a planetary emergency – a threat to the survival of our civilization that is gathering ominous and destructive potential even as we gather here. But there is hopeful news as well: we have the ability to solve this crisis and avoid the worst – though not all – of its consequences, if we act boldly, decisively and quickly.

However, despite a growing number of honorable exceptions, too many of the world’s leaders are still best described in the words Winston Churchill applied to those who ignored Adolf Hitler’s threat: “They go on in strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all powerful to be impotent.”

I applaud Mr. Gore for his continued efforts on behalf of our future.

Friday, December 7, 2007

In The Moments Before Flight

Life is filled with simple joys, moments of clarity that are gone in a flash. I have to remind myself to stop, take them in, letting them become part of me and my memory. Simple moments of pleasure with my teenage son are few and far between. His time is precious and divided between friends, work, and school. He's almost eighteen, ready to burst onto the scene and be his own man - so family takes a backseat. That is just as it should be, as it was for me when I was eighteen, itching to leave my parents house and all I'd ever known far behind me.

So when he came bounding around from the other side of the Santa Monica Pier I had to smile because he was smiling in that wide-eyed way that gets lost as we grow older. He held a napkin in his hands. Inside the napkin was cold french fries from lunch earlier in the restaurant at the end of the boardwalk.

"Mom, you've got to see this!" He motioned for me to follow.

I'll admit that there are times when I am too busy, too caught up in my own head to notice, to stop the inertia of the day and just follow my children to "go see this cool thing". It's a painful flaw that I'm working to correct. This time we were on vacation. I was relaxed and I saw his excitement radiate across the space between us. "What is it?" I laughed.

"Just come on."

He led the way around the clapboard arcade building to the other side of the pier and looked out over the Pacific ocean for a moment. His face and body relaxed as he breathed in the salt air. He pointed to a group of sea gulls trotting across the sand below us, opened the napkin and took out a fry. "Watch this."

He threw the greasy morsel high into the air. The birds took off like jets. One lucky bird caught the fry in his mouth right in front of our faces. My son started laughing - laughing like he did as a small boy, the half-chuckle, half-cackle that always accompanied the opening of birthday presents.

"Oh my gosh! This is really something!" I yelled as more birds swarmed over our heads. They swooped and hovered close enough to count the leathery toes hanging between the loose webbing of their feet. I saw their stained belly feathers. I'd never noticed how their slick bodies glistened in the sun. I marveled at the miracle of flight and imagined for a moment that I joined them in the sky. I think my son wished to be airborne, too. For a moment he looked lighter, brighter, luminescent.

When the last french fry was thrown and caught, all the birds, except one, retreated to the water's edge. The lone gull perched on the railing in front of us. We looked at him. He stared at us. More food, anything? He waited. We watched silently, afraid to break the spell. Then he was gone and so was the moment of connection to something bigger, more important than our daily routine.
My son tossed the napkin in the trash and leaned on the rail, in the exact spot where the bird had just been. He stared across the beach to the mountains far away. I studied him as I'd studied the bird, silent and still, afraid to breathe.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Happy Toys Instead of Crap Toys

As a dazed and confused parent in a big chain toy store, I sometimes wonder what we are doing to our children. My kids room are full of toys that they love for a day and forget about in a week. Then every December I box up the ones that are not broken and donate them to charity, all in an effort to make room for the new toys Santa will bring on Christmas. It's not the smartest plan. I have to admit that for a woman who's attempting to live a more eco-friendly, self- aware life it's an irresponsible thing to do on so many levels.

I recently read an article by Lou Bendrick written for Grist Magazine that solidified my feelings
about the disposable toys I buy for my children. I want to show them love so I buy, buy, buy at birthdays and Christmas. Why?

I've fallen into the consumer trap that I preach to my children about avoiding but I'm in it struggling to break free.

Lou Bendrick reminded me of heirloom toys saved from our childhoods. My parents still have my Lionel train set. We take it out every time I go home, just for the sake of watching it go in circles at the center of the living room floor. They saved my dolls and Fisher Price Little People play sets.

What have I put back for my children to remember their childhoods? To date, nothing but a few special stuffed animals. The rest is broken, lost or donated. I mean how long can you actually keep plastic light sabers, McDonald's toys and Sea Monkeys?

And now with the scare over lead paint and other toxins in toys, I don't just wonder about my buying habits, I'm ready to change them. Katy Balatero did some of the legwork for me with her article in Grist. She researched several toy companies who use eco-friendly and toxin free materials to make their toys. And they are toys that will stand the test of time, unlike the Hannah Montana sing along stage complete with microphone and long blond wig.

Someday I might be able to play blocks on the floor with my grandchildren and tell them about the Christmas that Santa brought the brightly colored set for their father. And none of my children will have suffered from lead poisoning or been exposed to chemicals that can linger in their blood for years to come.

Here are some of my favorite companies from Katy Balatero's list. If you have children in your life, take a moment to read these two well informed ladies articles. Then decide if you are ready to jump off the crap toy bandwagon with me.

Tumbleweed Woodworks

The worst we will suffer is a few heated tears from our toddlers when we walk away from the majority of the toy isle but in the long run that's so much better than the alternatives - sick youngsters, landfills overflowing with mountains of plastic Disney figurines, and no tangible memories of childhood.

This sounds more like a rant than my usual happy post. The happy part is that we have alternatives. We can make better choices. The United States Government can ratify the same restrictions over toys that have been passed by the European Union and we can rest easy that our children's toys are safe. We can buy toys that make them squeal with joy while being vigilant about the well-being of our children.

Happy shopping.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Woodhull Institute For Ethical Leadership - Attention Women! Free Education!

"We believe that it is time to learn about, engage in and share stories of real women with real success," so say the fellows at the Woodhull Institute for Ethical Leadership. No a bad opening statement in a time when women are led to believe that cellulite free thighs are more important than an engaged mind.

Woodhull and Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty are working hard to change that perception. They want girls and women to know that they don't have to buy into the images they are sold by the media and large corporations. Woodhull and Dove have partnered to share success building tools through online training sessions that promote ethical development and empower women to act as agents for positive social change.

Young women care about the world around them but are so easily distracted by a culture that tells them there is no time to care. Girls have to update their MySpace and Facebook pages, shop at the mall, download MP3's, buy expensive clothes and cosmetics, watch the shows they TiVo'ed while they were at school, and text their friends on their new Envys. There just aren't enough hours in the day to be socially aware, too. This is hogwash. Girl's, please don't buy in.

Use your mind, develop your intellect and your heart. Use some of your time to learn about the
world around you and how others live outside your neighborhood. The Woodhull Institute has made it so easy. Instruction by women who've walked the path before you are just a click away.

They've provided fun and interesting video lessons on financial literacy. It is just as important to know how to manage your money as it is to know where to spend it.

Learn how to be an activist who gets results. There are positive and proven ways to publicize a cause and ways to push for the changes you desire. Every woman has an issue burning in her heart, something she cares passionately about. Learn how not to be afraid to make it happen.

Public speaking is an important skill that all women should embrace. It's been said that people fear speaking in public more than they fear death. Why are we so afraid to express ourselves and share our views? Move past the lump in your throat and speak out and up for what you believe in. Rashmi Sharma will teach you how.

As a mother, a partner in a relationship or in the business world, negotiation is key. What's even more important is how we negotiate. This is not a win at all costs world and when we realize that all of our lives will be better. Listen to a Woodhull fellow share the concepts of positive negotiation.

All of this is available FREE online in the form of video seminars at the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty website. This is one corporation that is making concerted efforts to empower women around the world. Kudos to them. And Kudos to an organization like Woodhull for providing this great resource of learning for all.

The Woodhull Institute is a prestigious retreat center for women located in upstate New York. They are non-profit and non-partisan. To understand Woodhull all you need to do is read their Credo. The last line is particularly meaningful...To understand that what we send out into the world comes back to us.

Amen and thanks to Dove and Woodhull for sending out into the world such a great and positive message. No doubt it is coming back to them in a joyous way. Take advantage of the free video seminars and start sending your best self out to the world.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

One Million Masterpiece - Collaborative Giving Through Art

When I opened my email this morning there was a pleasant surprise waiting for me. My little drawing on One Million Masterpiece was chosen for inclusion in the OMM 2008 Calendar! My drawing is part of February. The category is love. How fitting, considering what I spend my mornings writing about. I posted my drawing on the sidebar so you can see it. So are you wondering yet what One Million Masterpiece is and how to buy one of these great calendars? Can you find my art in the snapshot's not easy. I'll give you a's 12 across, 7 down.

One Million Masterpiece was launched in 2006 with the goal of becoming a record breaking piece of collaborative art. One million people from around the globe would each be given a small square of the 80 meter by 30 meter finished product. They would use the adobe flash drawing tool provided on the site to create a work of art, doodle, whatever they wished. Then the completed art would be unveiled in London, UK on July 11, 2008 (World Population Day), as a sign of unity between people around the world.

Selling pixel space as advertising is not a new idea but the twist of using the concept for art and the betterment of mankind instead of profit is.

This ambitious effort is run by a group of volunteers who believe in the power of art not only to bring people together but to help change the world. Signing up for OMM is free but the staff hopes that you will upgrade your account to use the added features of the drawing board. When you do this the money is directly donated through their website to a charity of your choice. You can send the modest $6.50 fee to Save the Children Oxfam, ActionAid, World Cancer Research Fund, or the World Wide Fund for Nature.

At last update 27,123 artists are participating from 174 countries. That is a far cry from the 1 million needed to complete the project. The unveiling was scheduled for last July but has been postponed until 2008 in hopes that the target number will be reached by that date. As of May 2007, OMM had raised over $19,000 dollars for the listed charities. They hope to raise over 1 million by the completion of the project.

OMM is also an interactive community filled with active members. It's a social meeting place for artists and everyday people from the four corners of the globe. To quote the One Million Masterpiece website, "The One Million Masterpiece is an attempt to reunite people with art by turning an established relationship on its head. Instead of asking people to interpret the work of individual artists - we are asking the artistic community to embrace the collective work of every day people. Who is more qualified to deliver a message about our complex society than the people that live in it?"

I tend to agree but I found some people with descending views. They poo-poo the effort saying that it is nothing but chaos on canvas and that the world community will lose interest before it's completed, like a child with ADD. I say they are wrong and I'm proud to be part of history.

Go here if you would like to see a snapshot of all the pages of the calendar. To purchase an OMM 2008 Calendar go here. All the proceeds will go to the OMM project to cover fees for producing the art. No one, artists or staff, are paid from these sales.

Join me and claim a square. You can sign up to make your own drawing. Be one of the million to reconnect with art and charitable giving.

Monday, December 3, 2007

The Harlem Renaissance - A Spiritual Awakening

On a recent trip to New York City, my cab driver leaned out the window and said, "This is Harlem, you know, W.E.B. Dubois, Zora Neale Hurston, all that stuff." We quickly rounded the block. I barely had time to look back at the tall red brick buildings.

To my dismay, I had to admit that I knew very little about why this 3 mile square area of Manhattan was important. I'd seen movies about 1920's Harlem and heard the names of famous African-Americans tossed around at dinner parties but that was all I knew. In the small Southern town where I grew up, African-American culture was rarely discussed and if it was, it was always with a sense of dismissal or comedy. They were not to be taken seriously. As a teenager, I thought the only influential Black man in history was Martin Luthur King Jr. and even he was looked upon with a certain disdain.

I came home from my trip determined to learn more and fill the missing gaps in my history knowledge. Here is what I found:

The Harlem Renaissance, originally named the New Negro Movement, was a time of spiritual, intellectual, and literary awakening with an explosion of art, poetry and social thought. Between 1920 and 1930, almost 750,000 African Americans left the South, and many of them migrated to urban areas in the North to take advantage of the prosperity—and the more racially tolerant environment. The neighborhoods of Harlem drew nearly 175,000 African Americans, turning the area into one of the largest concentrations of Blacks in the world.

This instant community of determined, open minded people proved to be the perfect breeding ground for new thought proving the opportunity for group expression. It has been characterized as a time when social disillusionment was transformed into race pride.

Out of this environment came such influential people as poets Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen. Zora Neale Hurston and Nella Larsen wrote the first critically acclaimed novels by African-American women. They paved the way for giants such as Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Ralph Ellison and many others among a new generation of African-American novelists, poets and playwrights.

W.E.B. DuBois was the first African-American to earn a PhD. He once wrote to former President Rutherford B. Hayes, who in 1905 was the current head of a fund to educate Negros challenging him on his position that there was not one Negro in the country with the credentials to study abroad. DuBois anger about the statement caused him to apply to Hayes directly. DuBois was granted funding and sent to The University of Germany in Berlin. After which, Hayes assured DuBois that he'd been misquoted by the newspapers and never made the remark that angered him so.

W.E.B. DuBois went on to help found the NAACP and was the autocratic editor of it's journal "The Crisis" for over 25 years. He is called the father of social science due to his work in Philadelphia and tireless study and writings about his own social group. Martin Luthur King Jr. wrote of DuBois, "History cannot ignore W.E.B. DuBois because history has to reflect truth and Dr. DuBois was a tireless explorer and a gifted discoverer of social truths. His singular greatness lay in his quest for truth about his own people. There were very few scholars who concerned themselves with honest study of the black man and he sought to fill this immense void. The degree to which he succeeded disclosed the great dimensions of the man."

I love this quote I found - "Children learn more from what you are than what you teach." - W.E.B. DuBois 1987

I plan to keep exploring this part of history that seems to have been totally ignored by the adults in my life during my formative years. There are so many great Americans to discover and read about, so many to be inspired by, so many worthy of study by our young people. Maybe things have changed since I was in school and children are taught these things. It's sad to think that only college students who sign up for African-American studies are afforded this knowledge.