The Eyes Have It

•July 17, 2016 • Leave a Comment

I meant to write a blog last week. Really, I did. I had a topic that I was thinking about all last week. Something that truly disturbed me. Something I needed to get off my chest. Then all the violence began around the world and I just couldn’t do it. It was something violent and beyond acceptable for any member of the human race to participate in. But after a week of violence, I just could’t do it. I needed a break from the violence, but found myself speechless. That topic still bugs me, I still need to get it off my chest, but we’ve now endured yet another week of violence. So, I’m going to bring up a topic a little more fun, and a little less violent.


Did you know they’re now painting eyes onto the butts of cows in Botswana? Yep, no joke, they are actually painting eyeballs onto the cows’ backside. You see, lions have been eating the animals that the Botswana people depend on for so much. In response, the farmers kill the lions, which is slowly leading into a potential extinction situation. For the lions, to be clear. So, anyway, a researcher from Australia has done a study and discovered that painting eyeballs onto the butts of cows, tricks the lion into thinking they are being watched by a pretty large animal, and they go off to hunt elsewhere. The cow lives to merrily graze another day.

I’m typically not one to stand behind all the studies that are done. From how a bee buzzes to the pooping habits of sloths, I sometimes question the use of valuable money that could be used to fight disease or poverty. I’m not belittling the scientists or their work, but I do question what that money could have done to fight AIDS, poverty, or modern day slavery. That’s just where my head happens to be at. That being said, I’m all in on this one. I appreciate the value. You see, by learning that painted eyes protects the life of the cow, the farmer’s livelihood is also protected. That money will help keep those farmers, as well as farmers throughout the lion habitat, self sustaining. Self sustaining in a region consistently stricken by poverty is ALL GOOD.  So yeah, I’m all in on this one. Toss me a paint brush and I’ll gladly help paint a cow’s backside. Give me some color options, and I’ll make that rump a vision of loveliness.

When 45 Days Feels Like a Lifetime

•July 3, 2016 • Leave a Comment

45 days ago today, I was drinking coffee and trolling Facebook sitting in a Starbucks at the Ataturk airport in Istanbul. No joke. Exactly 45 days ago, I was lounging through the tourist stores, eating ice cream, napping in the seating area, and reading my latest issue of The Economist in the Istanbul airport. I have never felt safer in an airport. Security is tight. I don’t mean like the Akron airport tight. I mean the “holy crap, are you seriously going to pat me down again because I’m pretty sure we’re now dating” kind of tight. I kid you not. I have NEVER felt safer in an airport.

So this week, as I watched the video footage of the terrorist attack in the Ataturk airport I was stunned…saddened and stunned. I recognized instantly where the footage was filmed. I was standing in that same spot 45 days ago. My heart aches for the people who lost loved ones in the attack. But I also feel an incredible empathy for those who were injured as well as those who were present but physically unharmed. I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that in the seconds before the first explosion, they also felt safe. They were deciding where to grab a snack…whether or not to buy some Turkish Delight to take home…wondering if they should go for chocolate or strawberry ice cream. The furthest thing from their mind was the possibility that they were about to be involved in a suicide bombing.

And no, I’m not going to turn this into a political commentary on airport security or terrorism. I could go on for hours with my thoughts on those topics. Nor am I going to discuss the thoughts and emotions I felt this week. My emotions are completely irrelevant. Because every time I think of the bombings, I have only one feeling that matters…empathy. I can’t imagine how shattering it would be to feel that safety, that security, only have it ripped out from under you in a matter of seconds. So, with all my heart, my wish is this. I wish those grieving their losses some peace. I wish those traumatized by injury a speedy recovery. And more than anything, I wish everyone who was standing in that airport the eventual feeling of safety once again. I’m guessing it will take years, if not decades, if ever, truth be told. But I wish some day they can once again feel the safety that I felt just 45 days ago.



•June 26, 2016 • Leave a Comment

It’s been a busy few weeks.  I returned from Kyrgyzstan, pulled off a Donut Daze festival, then flew out to Portland to sell at PCUSA’s General Assembly. I’ve been back 2 days and I’m ready to get settled back into life. What’s first on my fun list? Well, last night I took the time to make mango ice cream…from scratch. Yup, I cut and mashed a mango, mixed in some honey, heated it up a smidge to make sure the honey got all melty, added some half n half and threw it into my ice cream machine. It was delightful. I love mango…and I love ice cream. Now that I have a little time, I see this flavor recurring over the next few months. I also see my waistline growing. Did I mention that I LOVE ice cream?

Anyway, tonight I also got back into watching the Netflix show Marco Polo. I know, with everything out there, the books, the movies, the tv shows, why watch Marco Polo? I’ve always been fascinated with The Silk Road. I mean, seriously, I named my shop after it. You would hope I had at least a basic interest in what it was. Anyway, I watched the first few episodes months ago, but struggled a good bit with the violence. (I’m a total pansy when it comes to things getting lopped off, sliced, diced, skinned, branded, or stomped to death. TOTAL PANSY!) After walking along the original Silk Road, hearing the pride of the locals, and having a much better perspective on their culture, I’m digging back in again. Most episodes involve me shutting my eyes (and occasionally plugging my ears) at some point as something really unfortunate happens, but I’m enjoying it this go round. I realize a good bit of the story line is pure fiction, because, well, it’s a tv show. But the costumery and attention to customs / daily life are remarkable. Do I wish I lived in the time of Kublai Khan? Haha. Not a chance, but it’s still fascinating.  Amazing how a little bit of perspective can change your mind.

Sugar Shock Success

•June 5, 2016 • Leave a Comment

So yesterday and today we held our first ever Donut Daze Festival. The amount of sugar consumed in New Wilmington over a 24 hour period is enough to give me the jitters, and may have single handedly boosted the donut industry. How many donuts are we talking about here? Well, at the Donut Crawl Friday evening, we had over 850 donuts of our own, plus at least a 150 that the local shops brought. The Tour de Donut had 1500 donuts. Yep, you read that right. In a period of 24 hours, we pushed 2500 donuts out the door. That’s over 200 dozen donuts! And we could have done more. Being the first year, we weren’t sure just how many people were going to show up, so we didn’t have anywhere close to enough donuts. Next year I’m guessing we’ll go well over 3000 donuts.

So here’s my dirty little secret. As much as I loved the idea of the Donut Daze Festival. And as much as I celebrate the amazing donuts we have in this area. I’m not a big donut eater. (Shhhh…don’t tell anyone.) I like a donut maybe once a month…a bavarian creme that’s not so sweet. Could I live a full year without a donut? Sure, no problem. I enjoy a good donut, but I’m not a huge fan of super sweet things in general. I like savory. So even when I have a donut, I like things such as bacon on top, or nuts, or something to cut the sweetness. (You think asking Peace, Love, and Little Donuts to bring their maple bacon was a coincidence?)

Anyway, I hope next year is even bigger and better. I’m really hoping that some of the shops that chose not to participate this year will be on board next year so we can continue to grow this into something truly massive and sugary. I also hope everyone has a good dental plan, ’cause we’re doing our best to rot your teeth out. (Haha!) So, if you missed this year, or if we ran out of donuts on ya, make sure to mark your calendar for next year…you do-nut want to miss it!

Come Join the Team

•May 29, 2016 • Leave a Comment

I’ve been back from Kyrgyzstan for a week now. I’ve dealt with the jetlag at this point…for the most part. I’m still not sleeping a full night, but I’m getting enough to function, so I’m good to go. It’s always a little weird the first month or so back. In a way, it feels like I’ve never left. Everything around me is the same. My friends are the same, work is the same, some of the topics of conversation that were happening when I left are still going on. It’s like time stood still and the world here paused a moment until I returned. On the other hand, I’m not the same. Things are different. I’m seeing the world from a different perspective. It’s not that I wasn’t aware of what was happening in the far off reaches of the world, or how people were living. I’ve been doing this way too long to live in that bubble anymore. But there’s something about talking to someone face to face, sitting down for a meal with their family, hearing their stories, sharing my own, working together to try and find a way to make things better that has an impact. I can’t explain it. I’ve tried. It’s one of those things that you have to experience. All I can express clearly is that I’m completely committed to these women at this point. Completely. The one phrase that came up at almost every tea was, “We’re a team. We’re doing this together.” We are a team. I give them ideas. They do their best to make what I’m looking for, which takes MONTHS of communication back and forth. When we finally get there (sometime as I pictured it and sometimes morphed into something different) I order a quantity, they make it and ship. But I think everyone realizes that the team doesn’t end there. You see, you all are also a part of this team. They can make it. I can bring it here. But if it just sits on the shelf, then there’s no need to ever place another order. If no orders are placed, the ladies don’t have work which means they don’t get paid. So, I need your help. The ladies in Kyrgyzstan need your help. Are you ready to come join the team?

One Last Little Bit of Fun

•May 18, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Did you hear the economy of Kyrgyzstan let out a giggle of excitement today? Umm hmm. I had myself some fun! Sharla, Phil, and I did the town. We started by walking to The White House. It’s a huge white marble building behind an iron gate that houses the presidential residence and the site of the legislature. Kind of funny that they have a White House as well, no? One major difference with this White House, though, is the brass placards on the gate listing 86 names. Those names are the people killed on site in the 2010 revolution. It all started peacefully enough with a demonstration. Then things got a little out of hand as the protest moved to the White House and two trucks rammed the gate. Security started out firing tear gas and rubber bullets. When the protesters continued to get rowdy, they switched from rubber bullets to live ammunition and started firing. By the end of the day, 86 people were dead. We then walked from the White House to the black and white marble statue commemorating that day as a time of darkness that needed pushed away to begin a time of light. Then it was back up the block to watch the changing of the guards. Having seen the historical sites (yeah um, there aren’t a ton), it was time for a little shopping! We started at Tsum. In the time of the Soviet Union, Tsum was the main market, with small shops with everything they might need…stock permitting. They would gather receipts for their goods from each little “shop”, go to a main cashier to pay, then return to the shops with their proof of payment to pick up their goods. It’s now independent shops, ranging from electronics to clothing to souvenirs. We walked around the souvenir floor, where I picked up one last thing I’d been looking for. Then it was lunch time! Today I ate at an Uzbek restaurant. I have to say, from a food standpoint, this trip has been outstanding! I have eaten Dungan, Kyrgyz, Russian, Turkish, and Uzbek. ALL of it was fantastic (aside from the fermented mare’s milk, that is). After lunch we were off to one last visit to meet Nina at her shop.

changing of the guard

Changing of the Guard

Nina has her own little shop in which she carries handcrafted items made by local women, but is a wool and upcycled Tush Kyiz artist as well herself. Tush Kyiz is one of those arts from years ago. A young girl would embroider a Tush Kyiz to hang on the wall above her bed. They were huge, and took forever to complete. These old pieces of art are now cut up to make purses, jewelry, pillows, scarves, and whatever else they can imagine. I bought a nativity with a Tush Kyiz yurt for the shop that was made by a woman named Aidjan, because it was just TOO amazing to leave behind. AND I asked Nina to make me one of the coolest wool nativities I’ve ever seen. There’s a chance I’ll have it by the middle of June. You just won’t believe this set. It’s simply fabulous. On the way back up the street, Phil discovered a small local chocolatier. It was almost too good to be true! We each had a piece as a snack and I, um, bought a small box to take home. I’m a sucker for a good chocolate, and these were delicious. The fillings were written in Russian, so I have no clue what’s in my box. I know there is one with mocha, one with hot pepper, but the rest will be a surprise. Hee hee! I’m already looking forward to grazing my way through. Our last stop was an outdoor market in the park called The Gallery. It’s filled with paintings by a number of local artists. Guess who bought herself a new little painting! Yup, it was me! I saw this artist’s work on the wall of our guest house in Naryn and immediately fell in love with his style, so I’m super excited to have a piece of my own.


The Gallery

Phil and Sharla had an appointment this evening, so they dropped me at my hotel to get packed and get rested for my early departure tomorrow. Once I got everything situated, I went out to find a restaurant for dinner. People always ask if I’m nervous about roaming around a strange city on my own. 99% of the time, that answer is no. I love trundling around, seeing what’s what. Tonight, though, I felt a very brief moment of anxiety as I was walking down the sidewalk. You see, my hotel is tucked back on a side street. I walked out the hotel, down the street, and halfway down the next block before I suddenly realized I had no idea where I had come from. I was walking along with my mind on something else, and wasn’t paying attention. The buildings all looked the same. The street signs are in Russian, so I can’t read them. I can’t ask anyone because I don’t speak the language. It was a split second of panic. I turned around quick, got my bearing, found a building name that would serve as a landmark, and continued on feeling confident yet again. (And obviously, since I’m sitting in my hotel room, writing my blog, I made it back just fine.)

There’s a lot running through my mind at this point. People I’ve met, products we’ve discussed, things to do, thoughts to process, experiences that have been like a dream. I’ll have a nice long trip home to process. See you all on Friday!

A Beshik in Bishkek

•May 17, 2016 • Leave a Comment

This morning started with a tag-a-long on my part. Sharla had a meeting with a business contact first thing and they had plans to visit a leather shop. When she invited me, I was delighted. It had nothing to do with me or my own business dealings, but I just love getting into areas of production I’ve never seen before. Leather is one of those areas. We ended up at a small business, talking with the owner. I asked if he’d be willing to share how leather is processed, and next thing I knew, we were on a tour of his facility. And by facility I mean maybe 7 rooms, 12 employees at most. We’re not talking about mass production here. Every single hide gets special attention. I’ve never seen the process…had NO idea there were so many steps. It’s a little crazy how much time and care goes into something that looks so easy.

leather finishing.jpg

leather finishing

Our next stop was the Osh Market. It’s a must see for anyone visiting Bishkek. If you’ve never been to an outdoor market, this is a great place to start. As you walk up and down the aisles you’re bombarded with clothing and home goods, crafts and souvenirs, and my favorite section…food. (I suppressed my germaphobic self and bought some dried apricots and dates to snack on tonight). You can find pretty much everything you need at the market, and quite a few things you don’t. I say pretty much, because they didn’t have the cookie I’m looking for. I found THE BEST cookie in Naryn last week and hard as I look, can’t seem to find it again. We looked through at least half a dozen bulk cookie vendors and not a one had my cookies. Granted after eating tonnage of bread over the past week, I don’t actually need any cookies. But the calorie caution ship has sailed…never to be seen again during the trip. At this point, I just want my cookies. (sigh)

food vendor.jpg

Food Vendor

After the market, we zipped over to Kolbu’s house and had? Yup, you guessed it, we had tea! Kolbu makes my felted wool potholders, so I was thrilled that she took us to her workshop to show us the process. It’s a much longer process than I had imagined. MUCH LONGER. She has more patience than I could ever dream of. Kolbu is actually the niece of Asel (from Naryn last week). Asel was trying to explain to us the tradition of a beshik, a crib used starting at 40 days through about 6 months. Since Kolbu has relatively recently had a baby, Asel suggested we ask her to show us her beshik. We did, and she did. It was fascinating. The baby is actually bound tightly in swaddling clothes and strapped into the beshik. A rope is attached to the handle so the baby can be rocked back and forth. How did we ever get on the topic of a beshik? Asel has changed the manger in the nativity set she makes to a beshik to reflect even more of the culture of Kyrgyzstan. It’s adorable! And now that I know and understand the tradition, I love it even more. Kolbu was the last of my ladies and tomorrow is my last day here. Phil and Sharla are showing me the sights of Bishkek, including Tsum, the department store. I GET TO GO SHOPPING! How can tomorrow not rock?!?!


Kolbu’s Beshik