flipping the surprise coin


Easter Sunday and April Fool's Day, and my morning to deliver the children's sermon at church. I hand-painted these wooden tokens with an eye open on one side and an eye closed on the other side. I also painted one token with an open eye on both sides and another token with a closed eye on both sides. I just wish I was better at flipping coins and rolling them around in my fingers. It would have been pretty awesome if I could do a coin trick. Well, anyway, here's my text:

Today I brought in these special coins, they are my surprise coins. The choice is either eyes open or eyes closed. Have you ever had a surprise that wasn't that surprising? Sometimes you can think you are ready for surprise. Your eyes are open and you are expecting it. Maybe you have thought through a lot of possibilities and feel that you are prepared for all of them. But sometimes, something completely different happens. Something you weren't at all prepared for. In those times, it is as if your eyes are closed to surprise.

BUT, have you ever run into those trick coins? Where you ask a question and the answer is always heads? And it turns out there that both sides of the coins have the same answer? A lot of what Jesus was responding to in his time was that the people asking the questions kind of seemed like they had trick coins.  

People would ask: who knows the most? is the grown-ups? or is it the kids?

Who has the best ideas? is it the men? or the women?

Who can be most helpful? Someone we know who is a neighbor to us? or someone we don’t know who came from far away and never really liked?

Who is best? the people who have money and power? or the people who have nothing?

In a lot of cases, the answers were always the same: the men, the leaders, the people with power, the people we know, the people who look the way we look, the grown-ups. That was true in Jesus’ time. It is still true today.

But Jesus challenged these answers. Jesus says: your eyes are closed to the possibility of everyone around you. Your eyes are closed to surprise. What if you listen to the poor? the people you don’t know? the powerless? the women? the children? Why do you close your eyes against them?

It was kind of like Jesus’ coin had a closed eye on each side. And he challenged us to think about answers to questions in ways that we never thought of before.  He challenged us to think about the ways that our eyes were closed to surprise. He challenged us not to be satisfied with the answers that were always visible. Every single time. Every single question. Your eyes are closed. You cannot see everything.

Which brings us to Easter morning. The biggest surprise of all. The women go to Jesus' tomb. They already know what to expect. Their eyes are filled with tears but they are open. But the stone is rolled away - it is like the eye of the tomb has been opened but the surprise is more than our eyes could ever expect. Our eyes may as well be closed because what we see we cannot believe. Jesus once again flips the coin that has closed eyes on both sides, he invites us to the awareness that we cannot know all the answers, conquer all the surprises.

That is the gift of Jesus. That is the gift of Easter morning.


Please join me in a prayer:

God of surprises

We go out into the world with eyes open, and shut.

Help us to be present to the surprises that we cannot possibly envision

Open our eyes to the possibilities of all people


When we congratulate ourselves on our wide open eyes

Remind us of the ways our eyes are still shut


When our eyes are shut

Help us with all the other ways of knowing the world


Lead us not into the temptation of thinking we can see all

and deliver us from blindness to love.




well, darn

So that was a really discouraging night last night. Election results called Scott Walker the winner really early on (illogically so in my opinion) and even though we held out hope for some late reportings, the best we could end up with was his lead narrowed down to 4% of registered voters. When I first tuned in (around 9 pm) and he had over 62% of the vote, I will tell you, quite honestly, I WAS ready to wash my hands of this state.  Of course, whatever reasons propel me to leave Wisconsin would also propel me to leave this country. Am I really ready to live in Toronto?

I still feel like I am on the verge of tears, as I felt when I cast my vote, when we ate dinner and toasted the state we love, as I probably will be throughout the next day/week/months when I have to be a cheerful and brave shopgirl. My heart hurts for the state, and I don't see Walker doing a lot to alleviate that. In my dream last night I went on an angry tirade at an old school friend so, yes, I am feeling mad as well. I am frustrated on both the state and the national level that people seem to be making choices based on fear and anger that only reinforce their situation. You want a better life for your children so you vote Republican? I just don't get it.

But here's what I am coming back to. And, yes, some of these are cheesy, we take our comfort where we can.

1. Do you ever remember the movie "Strictly Ballroom"? It was a cheesy movie back from the 90s, from my days of ballroom dance obsession. Anyway, there's some line in there about a life lived in fear is a life half lived. This is my underlying problem with the Tea Party and with much of what is going on around our country: it seems like people are living in fear and anger, that comes with a deep pain of dissatisfaction and frustration in their own lives. In my own opinion, they are directing that fear and anger at the wrong source (and purposefully being led by the actual sources of their pain and poverty to said misdirection). And, of course, we all have fear and pain and disappointment and sorrow. I do not at all mean to dismiss those feelings. I have very real concerns for this state with another four years of Walker (not to mention Vos and Fitzgerald et al). I'm worried about the environment, I'm worried about my customers' take-home pay, I'm worried about school children, I'm worried about the level of vitriol that Walker seems to encourage. I'm worried that all those years of thinking we're so much better than Alabama/Mississippi/Florida is now being paid back in spades as the rest of the country says "what is going on with Wisconsin?! It used to be so great!" Oh, the list goes on. It is so easy to give in to those fears and angers, isn't it? But I'm going to be like that little grandma in "Strictly Ballroom" who says, "you just got to not be scared." I am going to try and take a deep breath and live my loves and my hopes.

This is one of my favorite pieces of text. I find I'm returning to it a lot these days and can tell I will continue to do so:

An old man is teaching his grandson about life. "A fight is going on inside me," he said to the boy. "It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil - he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego." He continued, "The other is good - he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you - and inside every other person, too." The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, "Which wolf will win?"

The old man simply replied, "The one you feed."

(I just found out I've been misattributing this to an old Cherokee legend and it turns out it is an old white man (Billy Graham) who originated it. The most irksome thing to me is there are people who call themselves Christian, who probably consider Billy Graham a revered elder, and yet are one of the biggest sources of the hate and fear that I see in this country. But I still think the words are valuable.)

2. Viggo Mortensen, Lord of the Rings. "There's always hope." Hey, whoever your Viggo is, spend some time with him/her. It helps.

3. Back during the protests, customers came from all over the country. A memorable pair came from Illinois and one of them said to me: "I hope your Governor gets what our Governor got: an orange suit." So, yes, there's always that. I expect that Walker will run for President, I don't really expect that he's going to make it through the national spotlight but, golly, let's just savor the thought of something really unsavory and totally illegal coming to light that lands him some prison time, shall we? We take our comforts where we can.

Is it wrong that some of my comforts are fictional? All right, I'll throw some math in.

4. Scott Walker won because of 4% of registered voters. This was not "sweeping" or "decisive" no matter what any pundit says. In the world of math, 4% is usually margin of error. It is not enough to write off an entire state. 30% of registered voters did not vote. That is maddening. I read recently that non-voters tend not to be a representative sample of the population and that they skew Democratic so it is entirely possible that if 10% more had voted, the election could have gone the way I wanted it to. Was this supposed to be comforting? The comfort is that unlike last time, Scott Walker did get 37% of registered voters to vote for him. Last time, fewer people voted for Scott Walker than declined to vote. As a friend said, she can hear the rest of the state saying: "yes, Madison, we really DO want him for Governor." Well, I can hear 37% of the state saying that, and I guess that's not enough to make me leave.

In fact, the more that I think about that, the more comforting it is. 37%? Does that really seem like much? Would I be content if 37% of my customers liked me? I think I'd want more. Granted, I'm pretty sure that Scott Walker translates the math differently and will look upon this election as his "mandate" to go forth and do evil, but, really, 37%.

5. The pendulum. It exists, right? At some point things have to start swinging in the other direction? Wisconsin had McCarthy, we had LaFollette. We have Walker, Johnson, Ryan and Grothman - surely we must be reaching the lowest we can possibly go? The robber barons of the 19th century aren't on a continual line to the present, right? We had a time of expanding social protections, a contract as it was, and people understood that their wealth and prosperity depended on others. We will get that back, right? Just say yes.

6. When all is said and done, there are only about 5 counties in the whole state with such a high percentage of votes for Scott Walker that I would feel really nervous about visiting with my "blue punch" bumper sticker. I already wait to buy gas 'til I'm in Milwaukee county. I think it is easy in this age of polarization to feel like the enemy is everywhere, but so are friends.

7. Conversely, good job, Dane County! Great turnout, and almost 70% of you voted the way I wanted you to vote. I love this little bubble that I live in and I might never leave it.

8. Strong women at work for this state. In the Capitols: Gwen Moore, Terese Berceau, Chris Taylor and more. In our communities. The Wisconsin Alliance for Women's Health. Planned Parenthood. Our Mom and oh so many other women in our life who show us how to be strong and caring and how to work for a better world for all of our children.

9. When I first awoke and thought, "do I have to move now?" I started thinking about all the things and people I will have to move with me: my parents, my sister and her family, my studio/home, my store, my friends, my church, all the people who have known me since I was a child, all of my history. Seriously, packing up all my art supplies to move is a big enough hurdle as it is. I think I'm staying.

10. You. My customers, this store. Being a medium-sized fish in a medium-sized pond. Having people come up to me in the grocery store and saying: "Hi, Anthology! I love your store!" In this day and age, of course it is possible to keep in touch across geographical distance and it would be possible to move if I had to. But that would mean taking a few steps back from as far as we have come. And, actually, in spite of Scott Walker, business is going well. (No, I will not give him credit. Well, if he gets credit for that, then he has to take responsibility for our higher property tax bill, the payments we have to make because of the money the state borrowed from the feds to pay unemployment, the customers who come and and tell me they wish they could spend more but their paycheck isn't going as far as it used to). Sachi reminds me that we will outlast Walker. He will extract what he can from this state and then he will move on. The shop has grown each year that we've been in business and we are having a particularly strong year this year. Strong enough that the Capitalist in me has only been crabby a few times early in a month before she remembers to check the year to date sales. Strong because of our customers making the choice to support their local businesses, strong because of the amazing creative production of artists and crafters in the Midwest and beyond, strong because of people coming back to visit Wisconsin because they love this place. Strong not because of tax breaks (our taxes went up) or whatever else Scott Walker is doing but strong because of the work and passion of my sister and me, because of love and promise, not because of fear and hate.

So, there you go. I hope you will join me in your gratitudes and loves. Since Walker has been in office, we have sold almost 36,000 buttons. Sachi has said we would gladly give back those sales if it meant having someone in office we didn't have to protest but at the rate things are going, it seems like there would have been things to protest no matter what. Just as the morning after the recall election, when I came to work thinking I would have to clear away the buttons, it turns out there's only a small handful that no longer apply. Most still work, unfortunately, and in spades. Thank goodness for button therapy - idle hands are the devil's playground is no more true than in this situation. Plus, I have a proper selection of cards to suit the occasion.

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why yes, we're voting for Mary

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I know, I've been a bit of a slacker lately. I'll admit that we were a little tired from all the button-making and protest activity around the time of the recall. But please don't think we've changed our minds or our commitment to making this state the kind of place that is true to its citizens. Nor have we changed our mind about how poorly we think of Scott Walker as Wisconsin's Governor. So, yes, we ARE voting for Mary Burke! It's a no-brainer as far as we're concerned.

We had a slightly bizarre experience this week as we received an anonymous letter complaining about our hypocrisy of supporting Mary Burke while supporting the buy local movement at the same time. It included a tirade of (now shown to be false) talking points put forth by Walker about Trek's outsourcing and wages. Essentially, the writer granted that we could sell whatever we wanted to sell but that we should not be hypocrites about our buy local principles AND support an outsourcer at the same time. Trust me, I am not losing sleep over this. I mention it mostly because it elicits an interesting reaction in me which I'm quite sure the letter-writer was not intending, namely, we restocked our buttons, I realized I had to write this blog post, and I went and bought a Stand With Wisconsin bumper sticker for my car. I don't actually know what's a good approach for modifying someone's behavior. Because any time someone has criticized me for my politics, I mostly just double-down. Take, for example, the I <3 Wisconsin (except Scott Walker) notecard. I found it this week, removed from its pocket and all remaining stock hidden amongst some journals. This happens every once in a while with some of our political signs or merch - they will be flipped over, shifted to the back, generally removed from view. I imagine a Republican snickering as they walk down the street: 'that'll show them... they won't sell any and then they'll lose money ... and THEN they'll turn into Republicans ..... ?"  Right, as you can imagine, when I find the hidden merchandise, I just move it back into a prominent position, and the notecard-hiding-shenanigans just caused me to tell Sachi to order more of them (they were running low after all). I don't know, maybe no one is going to change anyone's minds we just have to be happy with our little shenanigans and feelings of triumph over little moments? I mean, I DO realize that not all our customers agree with me and I personally feel like I don't make the shop intolerable. I mean, it is clear where we stand but we can all be civil, can't we?

Well, anyway, the letter was civil enough so that's not my complaint in this instance. Mostly it is the anonymity that irks. This applies to internet comments too (as I have observed a huge kerfuffle over Mary Engelbreit's response to Ferguson... I mean, Mary Engelbriet?! Who can be hateful to her? Apparently a lot of people. As a P.S. to that, I will note that whenever I get discouraged with the level of hate generated in the internet comments section, I retreat to the SNL skit with the Devil). How is it that we can be so brave to say things, and yet not brave enough to claim our words? It's an odd incongruity and hypocrisy... which, I believe, trumps the hypocrisy of which I was accused.

I am willing to concede that I have my share of inconsistencies - letting slide behavior in people I like which I would otherwise abhor in people I don't. But the idea that Scott Walker is a more buy-local-friendly candidate than Mary Burke just makes me laugh. I'm sure that all of his WMC campaign donors called him up and said "ixnay" the outsourcing criticism, just as I am sure that he would be the first in line to outsource jobs if it would improve the profits of his CEO pals. I doubt the workers and small businesses of this state matter to him much at all. That is one of many reasons why I believe he is a poor choice for Wisconsin's Governor. And when it comes to creating jobs and improving the lot of the average Wisconsinite, I trust Mary Burke's experience in business at Trek as well as her committment to our local community, much more than his as a politician who believes in small government only as it suits him, but not enough to effect his paycheck or his ability to grant favors to people who have donated to his campaign. Sheesh... there I go again...  it is so easy to run a negative campaign!

But you all knew where I stood anyway, I just felt the need to reply to the anonymous letter-writer and since there wasn't a return address, this is what we ended up with. Not that I imagine I would have any success having a dialogue had there been a return address. Don't worry, I'm not that foolish.

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The real challenge as we approach election day, to my mind, is to resist the temptation to take only cheap shots and run a campaign that is entirely based on all the ways that Scott Walker is bad for the state. On the whole, I think that Mary Burke is doing a good job, but, actually, I don't watch campaign commercials. I change the channel if they come on, but most of the time I'm watching Netflix or running to the sewing machine during commercial breaks. There are many faults of Scott Walker and they are of great concern to me. Sachi has been making buttons that address that, but we have plenty of "Keep Calm and Burke On," "I'm voting for Mary," and so on. I do believe she will be a good leader for this state.

I revised my Keep Calm Wisconsin print and have an updated version for this campaign season.

DSCN3841 (800x600)Sigh.... Russ..... Remember how nice it was when the Senate would vote on things and he'd be the lone Progressive Left voice voting against? How good and principled you felt as one of his consitutents? Instead of embarrassed by those lists that come out with Ron Johnson's name on them - undercutting veteran funding, jobless benefits, affordable care... oh the list goes on. Sigh.

I also ordered the great Stand with Wisconsin graphic sticker for the shop. I really love the graphic - Lily calls it the blue punch. We got it at the shop for the casual shopper, but we'd also encourage you to get them from the AFL-CIO shop for $1 each if you buy ten or more.


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And, what else? Just please please vote. Even if you don't live in Wisconsin, vote wherever it is you live. We need MORE people participating in this system, as flawed as it is. I know, I'm an optimist, but I personally think that politics would look a LOT different if all the people who don't show up to the polls would. Even with the manipulation by Wall Street and the writing of laws by ALEC and lobbyists, I believe in the power of people to have an effect but only if we do not cede our power and our votes. I ran the numbers in advance of our primaries earlier this month and if my calculations are correct, Scott Walker and Ron Johnson came to office due to just 3% of eligible voters. And 12 times more voters than that simply declined to vote. Clearly the outcome could have been different. Especially in this "off" year which everyone says always leans Republican because Dems don't come out ( ARGH! come out! come out! Think what the years could have looked like if the Dems came out in 2010! We could have still had Russ! We could have Tom Barrett, who, not incidentally, is doing cool things in Milwaukee). I am glad to see various initiatives, particularly aimed at women (and, I hope also, in African American communities) to get information and tools in the hands of ALL people so that everyone can participate in our democracy (little nod here to Ask. Learn. Vote! which is working to connect women in Wisconsin with the tools to cast their votes).

Learn about your candidiates. Register to Vote. Vote. YOU MATTER. YOUR VOTE MATTERS. The only people who tell you otherwise are the ones who profit from you staying home.


Sunday with children

It was my turn for time with children at our church this morning - that precedes the sermon and is a time when a grown-up sits on the floor with all the kids and tries to convey the message of the scripture readings in a more kid-intelligible format.  There are some who missed it... so, here you go:

Children’s Time. February 2, 2014

The first thing that came to my mind when I read today’s scripture was: Opposite Day. Have you ever played that game? Like when someone says they want a piece of cake, and you say, “ok, it’s opposite day, I’ll just give the cake to someone else.” Or when you say, I’m going to do my homework, but since it is Opposite Day, that means I’m actually going to play outside.”


In Micah we hear: Will God be pleased with thousands of rams, with tens of thousands of rivers of oil?


The answer, in short, is no. Will bringing lots of stuff to God bring God lots of happiness? No. Happy Opposite Day!


Honestly, I think it is really easy for people to forget about Opposite Day. We get caught up in what other people are doing, what they tell us to do, what we think we should buy, even though a lot of times these actions are the opposite of what will make us happy or bring us closer to God. The scripture readings that we hear today point out the ways that things are turned on their heads – the way we get things backwards, and the way God challenges us to think differently.


In Corinthians, we hear:

God chose what is foolish

God chose what is weak

 God chose what is low and despised in the world


God chooses, God values, what we so often do NOT choose and do NOT value. Happy Opposite Day!


Let me give you two examples.



First: recently I was driving with my 6 year-old niece and a box of stuff I was recycling. She looked over into the bin and said to me: You’re not going to throw that away, are you Aunt Laura? She ended up picking out three cardboard tubes that used to hold wrapping paper. She was very excited about the tubes and proceeded to tell me about the light sabers she was going to make, and also her plans to make storm trooper and yoda costumes out of colored tissue paper. These three empty cardboard tubes easily brought her more enjoyment than anything I would have purchased from a store. Happy Opposite Day!


Second: before my sister and I opened our own store, I worked for almost 10 years at another store. I thought what I always wanted was to become owner of that store. I had a very specific plan and when things stopped going according to plan, it caused me all sorts of anxiety and sorrow. I was so attached to my plan that it took me a really long time to realize that God had something else in mind for me. Now I am so happy that my plan did not work out. Happy Opposite Day!


And in Matthew, when Jesus spoke, he did not say, blessed are you who have lots of stuff or get what you want or hang out with the popular people or get to tell people what to do. No, in effect, Jesus said, Happy Opposite Day! Blessed are you who are sad, who are meek, who are merciful, who are persecuted, who work for peace and justice. Be true to God’s message of love, and you can rejoice and be glad. Happy Opposite Day!


Let us pray:

Dear God,

Thank you for Opposite Day

Help us to see love where there is hate, power where there is weakness, healing where there is pain, joy where there is sorrow.


Happy Opposite Day!



Sunday Sermon, August 11: Tales from a Shopgirl Life

The scripture readings are: Isaiah 1: 1, 10-20 and Hebrews 11: 1-3,8-16

These are my stories.

First. I use the term “shopgirl” to describe my life somewhat facetiously. It downplays what is my life’s work and what, I believe, is my calling. But to understand that, you should know that most of my Biblical grounding is in the early chapters of Genesis. I’m still stuck on the Creation. To my mind, creating is a fundamental expression of God’s love. Whether we garden, paint, sing, connect people, build places, in our own little ways, we create the stars and the seas, we create light where once there was nothing. I am endlessly grateful for this gift from God. As I see it, our obligation is to express our own creativity and to facilitate it in others; to encourage them to tap into that divine process and experience the satisfaction that comes from being a creator.

This is my offering to God.

Such an offering could be contrasted to the offerings rejected in Isaiah. God asks: “Do you think I want all these sacrifices you keep offering to me? I have had more than enough of the sheep you burn as sacrifices and of the fat of your fine animals.”

These were not trivial offerings in the material sense and yet they are a far cry from the offerings of one’s time and energy and passion, offerings grounded in the spirit of a Creator God.

I am reminded of the passage from Mark: “Pay to the Emperor what belongs to the Emperor, and pay to God what belongs to God.”

God, in my limited understanding IS creation, so it makes perfect sense that God would reject our limited offerings based on fear and desire to appease, our false sense of property and wealth.

In a more poetic way, Nan Merill rewrites Psalm 50: “Shall I accept your proud and boasting hearts, the oppression, the injustices brought about through your fearful deeds? Never shall I accept such burnt offerings! Rather, offer to the Beloved a gift of thanksgiving with grateful hearts; for what other return can you make for all that Love offers to you?”

And so the idea of our shop was born. But just like the first few verses of Genesis, before the light and creation, there was something formless and desolate, engulfed in total darkness. Ok, I exaggerate, but only a little.


Second: In the beginning..... I had been working my way up the retail ladder at Little Luxuries since 1999. I expected to eventually be store owner, a plan reinforced by my boss moving to Minnesota. And then, in 2007, she returned to Madison. “Nothing is going to change, I’m happy with the way you are running the store,” were the first words spoken on the subject. These were followed by: “why are you doing it that way?” That was the month of March.

So began a time of crisis in my life. I questioned the path I had been following, I doubted my worth and ability. I felt there was no place for me in the place that I used to consider my own. I was still stuck on my expectation that I would be store owner of Little Luxuries. Since that option seemed closed off, I felt closed off from my own possibility. So I began updating my resume and planning to find some sort of job, anything, just to get away from the place I was being exiled from. That was the month of October.

Now, honestly, when people talk about faith, I am challenged. There’s that saying – whatever doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger? I hate that saying. Because when you are in the midst of something? sometimes all you feel is that it IS going to kill you. Faith in the process and the pain? I can see why it is such a test. During that time, I can’t really say that I had faith in the process. I am thankful that I had people around me who had faith in ME, who saw value in me even when I felt devalued. It is only in hindsight that I can say those difficulties were setting the stage; that I had to go through that time in order for any other risk to seem small compared to the risk of staying where I was.

Perhaps that’s the biggest challenge when you read passages such as Hebrews. How DO they have such assurance of things hoped for and conviction of things unseen? For me, the evidence for such faith has accumulated in little things that end up being all right despite a multitude of worrisome scenarios, in unexpected gifts in the midst of pain and loss, in ways that sudden beauty and joy make themselves known. Those are the little things that might not make it into Hebrews 11. They are the little things that I tend to forget when I am in the middle of the big things, wondering if THIS will be the one that kills me. Yet remembering those little things brings me to faith, not so much in specific paths, but in ways that things DO work, in ways that beauty and love and God are there, even when there is darkness and pain and sorrow.


Third. And then there was light. Specifically, around 6 am the Wednesday before Thanksgiving when I awoke with an illuminated mind: My sister and I would open a store! It was so clear. Perhaps it was a foregone conclusion; perhaps my friends were just humoring me as we debated what skirt to wear for interviews. Perhaps there is no way for me to adequately convey how deeply I had connected being a shop owner to being at Little Luxuries, and how I had almost given up on being a shop owner simply because that particular path was closed to me.

At this time, I found the passage printed on the cover of today’s bulletin. "I don't know how long I can do this, he said. I think the universe has different plans for me & we sat there in silence & I thought to myself that this is the thing we all come to & this is the thing we all fight & if we are lucky enough to lose, our lives become beautiful with mystery again & I sat there silent because that is not something that can be said.”

This passage resonated with me because I felt like most of the year had been a battle with trying to keep myself at Little Luxuries and when I gave up on that idea, suddenly a whole new path opened up to me and my life became beautiful with mystery once again.

And so began the actual work of owning our own business. Life might have been beautiful with mystery but it was also really stressful and filled with long hours, hard work, low pay and a tremendous sense of risk. Yet I came to see that the flip side of that risk is the reward and satisfaction in even the smallest success. It is amazing how selling even just a note card becomes an affirmation of my work and taste. Though my tax bill brought me to tears, I was on a constant high that first year, making sales and overhearing customers’ enjoyment of the shop.Yes, it was scary, and not just because of the money. When so much time and energy goes into something, even the slightest lack of interest can lead to self-doubt; the person who stands in the doorway and then turns away makes me feel like running after them – wait! give me a chance! you might like me!

The reality, of course, is that I don’t expect to please everyone, nor do I expect everyone to buy something or even “get” what it is our store is about. At the same time, by putting so much of myself into our shop, even the slightest positive response acts as an affirmation of my work and of my very self. This acceptance of self brings a deep sense of satisfaction and joy, and it comes only by taking the risk of sharing myself with others.

So like Abraham and Sarah, we venture out into the wilderness that is the world; we leave what is comfortable and familiar and we take risks. But that risk is grounded in the love of God, in the sacred and genuine offering of ourselves.


Fourth (and last). The year was 2011. I think it is safe to say that I had learned a big lesson about the rewards that accompany risk, that I had strengthened my faith and trust in process even if the outcome seemed unclear. Our business was continuing to grow and I could see the path ahead for us, selling papergoods and locally made crafts. But faith isn’t just something you earn once; it has to be tested and strengthened, over and over again, apparently.

Now, from the start of our business, our button maker was an unexpected asset even though I had to twist my sister’s arm to spend the $300. It turned out that other people liked making buttons too and making buttons became a feature of our shop. It was not uncommon to hear a kid walking by and saying: “there’s the button store!” “Out of the mouths of babes” is not so out of place in this case.

And so came that week in February. When the Governor first introduced his budget, I had a strong sense that it was wrong – it went against what I see as the role of government, it went against how I think Jesus wants us to be at work in the world. The notion of Wisconsin being “open for business” seemed very limiting and short-sighted. The world of the small business owner is fiercely independent and yet utterly dependent at the same time; I had a keen sense of our dependence on our customers, and the threat this budget presented to their lives. So we stood in solidarity. We went to the protests, we watched as people streamed by our shop on their way to the Capitol, we wrote on our sandwich board and hung signs in our windows, we stood as the firefighters went by with their bagpipes and cheered the “cops for labor” signs.

On Thursday of that week, a regular customer came in and said: “where are your buttons?” Now, honestly, most businesses try to adhere to some notion of impartiality, even if that is betrayed by lobbying, campaign donations and partisan issue ads from their trade organizations. After our customer asked us for buttons, we hesitated. Although I felt strongly that the budget would have reverberations on all of our lives and that it very much concerned our business, we were still unsure. There’s a fine balance to strike between being Capitalistic and being opportunistic. But on Friday, an old school friend and union member commented: “You must be selling buttons like crazy! Union people love buttons!” I told her that we were still on the fence because we didn’t want to seem opportunistic. She said: “Make those buttons, girl!” Since that week in February, we have sold over 30,000 buttons.

There were plenty of times that I felt overwhelmed with anger and frustration, times when I worried about how our shop would grow when paychecks were shrinking, times when I feared for our state. But those are not the offerings that God wants from us. God wants us to take risks, to be daring in our expression of love and creation. Can you find a way to make an offering of your joy and love and creativity? Oddly enough, making buttons became my offering.

Though I was filled with the courage of my convictions, there was the risk that new customers would be offset by angry former customers, and we’ve all witnessed nastiness in the hyper-partisan world of the internet. But ultimately, what I objected to in others was the way they were letting their fear and anger set the tone for their lives. That is not the world I wanted to live.

So, yes, there was risk. But the rewards were great. I am filled with gratitude that we took that risk, that we participated in that moment. The button table was regularly surrounded by people, laughing, sharing their stories and pains; it was like a non-stop dinner party. To give you a taste, I’ve brought my offering of buttons to you today. I hope you’ll gather at the table after worship and pick out one out for yourself.

Big Union Men came in for buttons; sweet teachers near tears thanked us for our presence. So many people came to us who had never stepped in our store before. There was a strong sense that we were all overcoming feelings of being alone and being powerless. I grew and so did the store. We forged new connections to people and businesses; there was a lasting sense of togetherness and power. To my great joy, I witnessed a burst of creativity that jumped up to meet the challenge of the anger and turmoil. There was screenprinting, hilarious signs, chalk writing, decorated cars, t-shirt making, singing and songwriting... and yes, buttons. It made me proud to be a Wisconsinite, to be among Creators, and to be a child of God.


So, those are my stories. Like the texts we read today, like your own lives, there is faith and risk, there is doubt and fear, but above all there is love and creation and the offering of the very best I have to give to God.

May YOU find your buttons.

May you take risks and not be content with burnt offerings.

May you listen for God’s call to a more creative life.

And may you find your way to offer yourself to the world and God.

I promise. GOD promises. The risk will be worth it. The rewards will be great. Amen.

election eve, or thereabouts


As I was leaving work on Saturday night I was thinking to myself about blog posts that are overdue. To be honest, some part of me feels like whatever I say is a repeat of whatever anyone else says, but perhaps writing these things down is as much for my own sake as for anyone who happens to still be out there.

And then for dinner, Dad and I got take-out from our favorite Chinese restaurant. (It's a little thing, but my Dad is really tickled that the owner, Chinese, comes out from the kitchen and is always so happy to see my dad, Japanese. In some circles, the Japanese are still being held responsible for their war crimes against the Chinese; my dad famously cites the example of a schoolmate of my sister who was not allowed to play with my sister because we were Japanese). After dinner, I opened my fortune cookie.

Sund 003It brought home what I've been thinking about a lot - namely, how do I personally respond and live my own life, regardless of what is going on at the state or national or international level?

Can you believe that election day is nearly upon us? Are you wrestling like I am with anxiety, hope, exhaustion... and any other emotions that run the rollercoaster gamut from high to low? I don't mean to be naive, perhaps this is just a function of the optimist that I am, but I'm feeling pretty calm. Don't get me wrong, I have serious concerns about how the world will be if Mitt Romney becomes President. I truly believe that he will plunder the wealth of this country (our human AND natural resources), that he is both unChristian and unAmerican and totally unfit to be President. I think that the United States, and the entire world, would be much better off with Barack Obama for President and I have no doubt that there will be lasting repercussions from the results of this race.

If Mitt Romeny wins, I will also have serious reservations about whether or not we have a functional democracy or if it has been completely sold off to those with the most money and if voter supression and tampering have managed to win out over my rosy-eyed view of the world.

Sund 005

And I don't at all mean to imply that calmness equals complacency or confidence. At the same time, I have confidence in my own actions, certainty in the path that I have chosen (well aware that I have much to improve in my own life even as I am satisfied in the changes I have made over the course of the last four years).

I think maybe it helped to go see Forward Theater's 44 Plays for 44 Presidents. Perhaps a history lesson would be just as useful. In any event, it gave me a sense of larger history - even as we think that this moment and our lives are critical, so, too, have millions of people across hundreds of years. And somehow, life goes on. Maybe not exactly the way you thought it was going to but it goes on nonetheless. I also like to think of the British Empire, even the Roman one for that matter. There's no doubt those nations have had times of greater.. significance?... but I think that for someone living in any of those places right now, there is no more significant time. "All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well," right?  (Julian of Norwich)

Yesterday morning a friend on Facebook posted this little gem, which I have seen before, but which is certainly apt. I have concerns about the sorrows and angers and fears that I see expressed and manifesting around me, and yet I also believe very strongly in creating and reacting to life out of love and hope and faith. I think that both Republicans and Democrats, and various other actors in our system, profit from playing upon our fears, exaccerbating the seriousness of the situation and getting us to respond to threats. I am not trying to diminish the seriousness of the situation, rather how we react to it.

One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside all people. He said, “My son, the battle is between two ‘wolves’ inside us all.

“One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”

“The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.

”The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf wins?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

Also, I have returned to my own little home after a week of house-sitting. There are always perks to borrowing other peoples' lives, but, like travel, there is the best perk at the end, which is the reminder that you love your little life. And, little, in many senses it is. But I recently learned about this fundraising appeal from Kennedy Prints and am struck by many things - chief among them is my strong sense of optimism in the way that other people are creating their own versions of the American Dream, but doing so in ways that are mindful, connected, communal... and really cool. Ultimately, I think that is what is so threatening to the certain people (GOP politicians among them) - they see the world that they know it, the world they have prospered in, is changing, perhaps they view it as under attack. But however hard they try to fight it, I have every confidence that the change in inevitable. This is a difficult time of transition, but I have confidence in our spirits, our strengths and our creativity. As a person who often bemoans the lack of creativity in the world, and the way the corporate world seems to stifle the individual, new movement in individual- and business- and community-building is imminently cheering. But what has stuck with me the most this week is the words that were shared on the fundraising page: It's not about being so big that you have to maintain your bigness, it's about being just big enough that your craft can maintain you.

Wow. Just sit with that a little while. As much as I complain about square footage at the shop, I do also feel like there has been a very American drive to get big, bigger, bigger... and to do so without much thought as to why. We are paying a price for that unrelenting drive, but many of us are starting to look at other measures of success and growth. This quotation, I feel, is perfect, because it implores us to look at our underlying goals - not to mindlessly aquire or grow just for the sake of bigness itself. 

Sund 006So to some extent, I think that I am weathering the campaign storm and the pre-election jitters by thinking small. Thinking of my little world, the things that are within my control, my gratitudes and my own riches.

I have to admit that I've been kind of rationing the number of articles I read and links I click through. It gets a little overwhelming at times, and I do believe there is fear-mongering happening from all sides. But I appreciate the words of other people, especially those who might fit into one category in my head, but whose words cause me to put them into another category. Case in point is Badger Blue, Times Two, "full time detective and SWAT cop": "I will end with this thought: patriotism is more than declaring your love for your country. It means electing leaders whose actions match their words. It means choosing stewards of our society that care for all of its citizens, not a select few. It means valuing the ideals of shared sacrifice and prosperity that made this nation great. It means rejecting those who view the citizens of this nation in terms of profit potential. In this week before the election, my individual sense of patriotism compels me to cast my vote for President Obama. I may not be in the majority among police and military circles, but I certainly have quite a bit more company than I did four years ago." I love that guy! And the works of OccupyMarines, who give me hope in the ways that we as citizens of this nation and of the world can find common ground and work together.

I am grateful that I have my church background, though going to yoga would also be helpful - sitting still, taking deep breaths, stretching, reaching. For me, my church home is a reminder of the way that I am both connected and important, and yet also in a world that is so much bigger and beyond me - it terms of its marvels and its troubles. It is also a reminder of a sense of gratitude, of all that our lives are blessed with and the ways that others are not. And, no, I'm not demanding that you go to church, just that I do believe there is a sense of grounding which I have as a result, which I am especially grateful for during this challenging campaign season.

At work, I have my share of little comforts. I'm easy that way, just show me a few inspiring quotations and I'll be good. And, of course, there are buttons to be made. Sachi has a new series of Bruce & Barack buttons in honor of Monday's visit. I have a little sense of just...waiting...  What kind of buttons will we be making on Wednesday?! The "deep breath on the edge of battle/calm before the storm" kind of feeling.Sund 004

Oh yeah, and I watched The Lord of the Rings last night. That always helps me.

CAN we disagree without being disagreeable?

I read a blog post recently from a marketing/PR specialist: Brands and Politics Don't Mix and I have to confess that I've kind of been stewing about it this week.... while making buttons ;)

Of course, part of our brand has become our protest buttons so that might automatically exclude us from the topic of conversation. And maybe, even though we are brand, we are a brand of just two sisters, unlike, say, something like Chic-Fil-A which is so much more extensive. Maybe it works for us to state our views because it's just the two of us, and what I say does apply, for the most part, to both of us. It is harder to imagine that any statment made by a big corporation actually does speak for every single employee. And yet, we are essentially assuming that the weight of the proclamation comes from the size of the corporation: Chic-Fil-A speaks and it is speaking for all consumers of its product, all its employees, all its shareholders. Ah, yes, I can see how brands and politics become a tricky thing.

Still, there's no doubt that politics were not nearly as much a part of our brand in December of 2010. That we HAVE mixed politics with our brand.

I do realize that I am spoiled to have grown up in Madison, to live in my little island (as some people like to call it). In February last year, it felt like we were taking a tremendous risk to devote our table and our window to protesting the actions of the Governor. In other places, such a risk may well have been punished. The media is filled with tales of boycotts, smashed windows, stalkers and barrages of vitriolic emails... At the same time, we felt very strongly about taking a stand and about supporting our customers, many of whom we expected to feel close-to-immediate and negative results of having Scott Walker for Governor. It was a personal matter (as politics are) but it also felt like a business matter. Ultimately, as a small business owners, we are always thinking about our actions and how they necessarily relate to building our business. For us, it seemed that anything that would have an effect on our customers WOULD have an effect on us and was therefore not something we could be neutral about. I will return to the notion of neutrality later.

Our actions were not without consequences, mostly some under-the-breath mutterings; a few scoldings and some people turning on their heels and walking out the door. I am sure that we lost some sales as a result of our position. Meanwhile, the consequences of an increased connection to many of people, a sense of gratititude and solidarity - these have been very positive results of the risk-taking, not to mention the thousands of buttons we have sold and the many new customers we introduced ourselves to. Since last February, I have had more Union men come through our doors than I ever would have believed possible (there have been many Union women, too, but there's something about this store that seems to present particular hurdles to men - sometimes they stop dead in their tracks in the doorway and refuse to even step inside, and not just the 4 year-olds). So, yes, I am very much aware and grateful of the fact that what seemed like risk actually ended up being a pretty great business move. I am well aware that what seemed like a risk was taken in an environment which really wasn't that risky - like when I deliver the children's message at church when public speaking makes my heart race but I know that I am presenting to a receptive audience, to people who love me even if I do fumble and lose track of what I was saying. For us, Madison is that receptive audience, it is our home, it is our family, it is certainly well within our comfort zone. So perhaps it wasn't such a risk after all.

And as for neutrality, well, there are an assortment of quotations one can find if you search for "silence" and "neutrality." I am quite sure there are those who will say that I am exaggerating the seriousness of the situation if I compare silence and neutrality over who will govern the state of Wisconsin, or even our nation, to the neutrality of Switzerland to the Nazis (though I'm pretty sure that most citizens of Switzerland actually DID have an opinion one way or the other).

"Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act." Dietrich Bonhoeffer

"If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality." Bishop Desmond Tutu

In any event, I'm feeling rather skeptical about neutrality. I have a hard time believing that a person really could be neutral or impartial. I can believe that a person can see valid points in both sides of an argument, might choose not to enter into an argument with certain people, might see shades of grey when others are asking them to speak in black and white, but I'm not really sure there's long-term good in taking a so-called neutral position. Maybe it would be possible if our world was different but for the most part inaction and neutrality do confer a certain judgement upon a situation. Even the newspapers with their so-called neutrality: do they not have employees? customers? are they not then invested in how much they have to pay their employees? how many customers will buy their papers? how many businesses will want to advertise? I doubt their neutrality and, frankly, I'd rather know where someone stands so I can judge for myself what sort of  bias might exist. My old boss used to say: more knowledge is always better. And even though sometimes I like the "ignorance is bliss" approach, I do think that the more we know about each other, the more we find the ways that we are living in common, the more we learn of each others' joys and hardships, the more we know that we're really all the same even as we are each totally different.

I think in the business world it is common to try and maintain neutrality - there is a sense that picking sides will cause you to lose customers from the other side. And yet, there are no end to the instances of businesses sticking their noses (and wallets) into the political world. Just because their silence gives off an air of neutrality doesn't at all mean it is genuine. Have you seen how much money is spent on lobbying these days?! Ultimately, every decision we make involves picking one side or another, involves including some and not others: we are not a hardware store or a sporting goods store and thus have already narrowed our demographic. Even though as a business you might like to think that you appeal to everyone (100% of the world is your demographic and a potential customer), I'm more of the mind that if you try to please everyone all the time, you will fail; and thus you should just do your very best, commit your full heart to your vision and your journey, and the people who appreciate your work will find you.

In any event, I do question that any person or business can be neutral. But, WHAT IF we could learn to work together DESPITE the different sides we are on? I'm just not sure we do a service to ourselves and to others if we are not living our full and genuine selves. If we cannot come to a point where we say, I don't like his politics, but I do like his donuts. Do we really want to be the ones who dismiss the 47%, the 10%, the 88% who don't agree with us in this one particular (though big) respect?

I have had a few people on Facebook inform me that my political views mean they will steer away from our shop. In the small term, that is my loss because I won't get a sale from them. In the larger term, they have just lost the opportunity for both of us to learn that Democrats and Republicans might actually be able to find other things in common - a shared interest in creating things, or in supporting local artists. I am fortunate because I have had the chance to learn that, to experience the wide range that exists between the person who storms up to the counter and scolds me for my politics, and the people who have had tears in their eyes as they tell me how much they appreciate our actions. In that very wide in-between ground there might not be any news stories but I think that is the place where we will find the ability to do more than just yell back and forth at each other, or be like the Zax, remember them?

Honestly, I feel that for much of our country, the dialogue, the media, has been hijacked by extremes on both sides, by people jumping to conclusions and generalizations, and doing so in rather vitriolic ways. It's perhaps a more interesting story to present only conflict and the idea that there are only two sides and n'er the twain shall meet. But I'm not really sure that's useful. Everyone knows Dr. Seuss' story of the Zax: one going North and the other going South, and there they stand in each other's way, to this day, unbudged in their tracks. Is that what we really want for this country?

If we decline to discuss politics because we are afraid of negative repercussions, then it seems less likely that we are the land of the free and home of the brave, and more likely that we have ceded to the terrorists of speech who lurk within our own lands. In another country, if we saw that people were not speaking out because they were afraid of repurcussions, we would pity them and think about sending in our military.

And then there's the matter of silence, which I have been less and less inclined to adhere to. Naturally, when someone has some rigid ideas that are opposite of yours, speaking up is unlikely to change their mind. And there's certainly no need to speak out in ways that are antagonistic or hateful. Yet in many cases, people seem to take silence for agreement. For myself, I find it grating when people presume to speak on my behalf ("small businesses feel x, single women are thinking y, 40somethings must be wanting z"), especially when the statements are exactly opposite of the way that I feel. My resentment is when silence is responded to with assumptions, when mostly (for me) it just means that I couldn't think of the right words fast enough (the bane of an introvert's existence).

I had a short discussion with a long-time customer of ours early on in the protests. Basically, I posed something political on Facebook and she simply replied that she felt different from me. We CAN agree to disagree. I don't at all think that everyone needs to think exactly the same as me. I don't demand that people who disagree with me read all of my opinions and posts. I don't necessarily enjoy hearing dissenting opinions, but I consider that part of living in a democracy. Just as I feel it is important to state my beliefs, I do not begrudge that customer the right to state hers. It is when it gets into hostile, threatening and abusive language that I am troubled. But there is a lot of space between silence and arguing. Additionally, I think if we are silent, there is the risk that a person (myself included) will just proceed on the assumption that everyone thinks the same way. Of course that's oversimplifying, but I think if would be better if we were all not silent, not hostile and concerned about our own egos, but also always open to the differences between us, and learning how to still get along and be a part of a functioning community.

So, I'll just have to agree to disagree with the author. Because I think policis and brand should mix.

you didn't think we'd stopped making buttons, did you?

Thursday 086
It's true that I've been a slacker about writing blog posts, thankfully Sachi is more on top of things when it comes to button-making. Shortly after the Paul Ryan nomination, she made a series of buttons, including "I stand with the nuns, not Paul Ryan." (Speaking of, have you heard Sister Campbell speak? She is really inspiring.) In addition to the small vintage ladies continuing from the 2008 campaign, Sachi's added many more vintage catalog people including: smokin' hot women, students, teachers, social workers, librarians, dads, beer drinkers.

Thursday 087

On the one hand, as summer winds down and I've been doing some last minute bike trips around town, I am more in love with this place - this city, this country - than ever before. I know there are people who say there's no point in voting, that we as individuals have no power compared to the lobbying and the politicking that goes on in Washington.  I know that in the grand scheme of things, our small lives continue - did the life of a Bristish commoner change that much when it went from being part of the British Empire to being what it is today? I don't really think so. There are many things that we have power over, there are many ways that this country will remain the place I call home no matter who is President.

ON THE OTHER HAND, I don't think I'm alone in my very deep concern for the fate of this country, and for democracy itself. What I love best about this country - the sense of equality and possibility, its newness and openness - these are things that I feel are in grave danger at this moment. I feel confident and optimistic about the many ways that all of us will adjust to changes in economy and society, but I realize there are those who will not adjust, and there are those who are being left behind, as well as those who are stacking the decks and generally not operating in a manner that fits with Liberty and Justice for all. As Americans, I feel like we have the ideals of the liberty part down just fine, but the justice needs work. A lot of work. In many ways, I am coming to see that justice and liberty temper each other - often one's individual liberty comes at a cost to someone else's, in which case you run into issues of justice, but we must not forget that it is liberty AND justice for all. I feel very deeply that the American ideals that we hold up as a "shining beacon" around the world, are being undermined, by the very forces that Mitt Romney would advocate on behalf of - large corporations that don't consider themselves citizens of this country even as they reap the benefits of being considered "people," militarization of all foreign policy approaches, faux austerity measures (enforced in ways that selectively target the middle and lower classes), restrictions in who can participate in voting and in elected office, restrictions in who "counts" as a citizen and a worker and a "job creator" and as a human being (personhood for a cluster of cells? Excuse me, but why is no one calling for personhood for the many sperm floating around inside a man's body?!).  Argh.

All of that is to say that I AM voting, I am paying attention. I believe that Barack Obama is the best choice for the job of President. I believe we have challenging times ahead of us, but we need to face them head-on, not rely on our old ways of coping, but act mindfully in ways that will continue the American ideals that we take so much pride in. The world is changing, our country is becoming more diverse - why not embrace the many things that the many people bring to this country? Why not live up to our ideals of welcoming the poor, the tired, the hungry? Women are a part of this world and this economy; why not value their contributions? Climate change IS happening, exploring alternative sources of energy only makes sense, particuarly in a world where our power may be on the wane. We do need to address the deficit, but to do so without considering military expenditures and raising taxes, is, I believe, equivalent to shooting ourselves in the foot. We NEED a good infrastructure for this nation to continue to grow, we need our children, ALL of them, to receive education that will prepare them for this world. We cannot continue to ignore the sacrifices of our soldiers and leave them to unemployment or homelessness. Barack Obama is the best choice to steer us through this changing world.

I believe in Hope and Change. Change, which is happening always, and to assume otherwise is really ... crazy, I think. And hope, what are we if we do not have hope? Isn't that the very premise of the American Dream, that a person can hope to have a better life - not without a lot of hard work, true, but if there is hard work with no hope and no promise of improvement, it seems unlikely that will continue very long (but check back with me if there are another 10 years of Republican/corporate stratgies demanding high worker productivity while keeping wages stagnant - that, I believe, is a recipe for civil unrest).

Thursday 089

So, perhaps I should be making more phone calls, pounding the pavement, watching more commercials and debates (or instigating debates?)... my approach is to make buttons. I've made several trips to the copy shop to stock up and now we have quite an array to choose from, vintage men and women, as well as the simple black text on white. I'm quite pleased to say that in my little world, people of all ages are buying buttons; young women and men are as involved as old, and the button table is back to being a lively community/commerce center. We are closing in on 27,000 buttons sold since last February and if anyone tells you that President Obama has done nothing for anyone, feel free to tell them that he is helping to pay the rent on a little shop on State Street. Last weekend we put out this sandwich board and, if not for the fact that I feel his grumpiness would have put a damper on the day, I really wished that the Mayor could have been at our store to see how many people came into the shop, just because of our sandwich board (no, I haven't let go of that issue. It seems to have been moved to a back burner, but I am no less determined to keep our sandwich board).

Thursday 083

Sachi was asked recently if she'd be part of a commercial supporting Obama. So last night we were brainstorming what she would say. Of course, anything that I come up with cannot fit in the space of a commercial, but here's why I am voting for Barack Obama:

1. As a Christian, I believe in Jesus' words "whatsoever you do to the least of these, you do so unto me," and I believe that we have the responsibility to help our fellow human beings, to use the collective prosperity of our nation to ensure a quality of life for all. That, I believe is the fundamental role of government, and is also not something that the churches of this nation can accomplish on their own. I realize there are Christians who will say that the "least of these" must mean the fertilized egg in the womb, but at the bare minimum, I would like them to acknowledge that Jesus is as much talking of the poor, the hungry, the children, the homeless, the sick, those among us without money or power who are in our midst beyond 9 months after conception.

2. As an American, I believe in liberty and justice for all people. I think we have to uphold at home the ideals that we try to export around the world, most notably the right of all citizens to have a voice and a vote in the governance of their country. We infer that all humans are created equal but it seems we have a long ways to go before that becomes a reality.

3. As a woman, I believe that I know my own situation and my own mind better than anyone else, and I believe that I am capable of deciding how my life will be. I am personally not sure that I would have had an abortion if I was ever in such a situation, but I believe that the way to prevent abortion is to create situations where women never have to make that choice - provide access to birth control, provide education, give our young women the knowledge and power to decide that, hey, this isn't the right time for me to have children, and to do so BEFORE they get pregnant. 

4. As an aunt, I want all children to come into the world and be as lavished with love as that adorable girl is. I have seen the repercussions that people live with - their entire lives - from being brought up in ways that are careless or even downright evil. We owe all the children, not just life, but happiness, quality of life, promise of satisfying careers and prosperity that come from the simple action of devoting more energy to education than to imprisonment and punishment. Those 9 months are a miracle, no doubt, but the 90 years that follow afterwards are even more so. No child should live any part of its life feeling unwanted.

5. As an aunt and a feminist, I want my niece to have as many opportunities as if she were a nephew. I strongly believe in equality for all people. No, a woman is not equal to a man, just like a Wall Street investor man is not equal to a plumber man. I know who I'd be calling when there's trouble with my bathroom sink, and in that regards, the Wall Street investor man is sub par. Just so, all people have their strengths and their weaknesses and are incomparable, but they are PEOPLE, and they all deserve the same rights that we grant to any other person.

6. As a scientist, well, quite frankly, I can't believe anyone still thinks there's "debate" about climate change. The evidence is weighty and industries like insurance are already adjusting how they set policies as a result of human-induced effects. It is way past time for the U.S. Government to deal with this issue. The way the GOP currently shrugs off the evidence of science in all matters is truly frightening to me.

7. As a small business owner, I recognize the true job creators. It is my customers who have created my job, and have created jobs for the many artists and vendors whose work we carry. We owe our livelihoods to our customers. Every business is different, of course, but my customers are women, are middle class, are teachers, are government employees. If that is not the case for your customers, I will bet money that they are only one or two degrees of separation away from the people that I just listed. I want a President who will support MY customers and I believe that Mitt Romney is not the slightest bit interested in my customers, which pretty much matches the level of interest that I have for him.

Thursday 090I could probably go on, but there's some value in the list that comes to the top of my mind. Of that list, there are none of my beliefs that seem to intersect with those of Mitt Romney and the GOP. I don't believe that Barack Obama is perfect, but I do believe he is the better choice for the kind of country that I hope to be a part of.


the day after

Well, that was disappointing. I'm sure you are well aware of Wisconsin's election results. I didn't get what I wanted (stomp foot).

I say that somewhat facetiously.  Because I HAVE what I want. I HAVE the life that I want, the friends, the place, the work that I want. There was a sign in someone's yard that said "Recall Santa.  I didn't get what I want."  I found that sign rather insulting because it implied that the recall movement was about petty little things when I felt that the actions of the Governor were a threat to my business, to my friends and neighbors, to people's abilities to have meaninful and prosperous lives bursting with creativity, to my niece's future life, to the lakes and waters and other natural resources.  I am still left with the sense that some people felt that the recall was not the approach to take, that such actions should be reserved for someone who has committed some crime.  But I feel Governor Walker has, and will continue to, commit crimes against the people and the resources of this state.  Clearly others in the state disagree with me, but I will not retract my feelings on the matter nor my actions in the past year.

I certainly can't help a feeling of frustration (which echoes for me on a national scale) that people who are mad or unhappy or desperate in their own lives are being manipulated into actions which will only make their lives worse.  It's a downward spiral that makes me sad and fearful on their behalf. So I fear for them, I fear for my customers, I fear for the school children, I fear for a double-dip recession (or in some places, a continuation of the 2008 recession). Then again, I happened to be flipping around on TV a few nights ago and ran across the movie "Strictly Ballroom."  Did you ever see it?  It's a corny movie, but there's this moment when the downtrodden father yells to his son, "We lived our lives in fear!"  The mousy heroine blossoms and lives under a motto, something like: "a life lived in fear is a life half-lived."  And you know what?  I choose faith.  Happiness.  Gratitude.  Not fear.

I know I haven't written much in the last week. I had a partisan and non-partisan note started, I was editing down a letter to the editor (made it under 200 words but didn't make it to print) and was wrestling with how I should push myself beyond my comfort zone. Writing here is definitely within the zone - that's a compliment.

Anyway, perhaps I should have written earlier. Perhaps anything I write will sound like 20/20 hindsight but I thought it was important to mark this moment.

To tell the truth, for about a week, I've been thinking about all the relationships that have been fractured, the hurt feelings and hurtful words, the ways that other everyday tasks have been set aside. I am merely making an observation not a criticism. I feel no regret at all for what has happened in the last year, for the actions that I have taken, for the connections that have been made, for the work that has been done by people all around the state.

But I was thinking how, with all that energy, all that emotion, all that effort, there is nothing that could happen in a single day that would "fix" this state. I mean, obviously, I think that having a new Governor would do a lot towards that end, but at least half (or more) of the state, would feel exactly the opposite. Even as I was being told that "the entire world is watching," even as I had a feeling of the great import of this one day, I also had a sense of how small the moment was and how very much still must be done by each and every one of us.  How do we get back to "Wisconsin, Forward" for everyone?  I still don't know. I know that people who have money and power are unlikely to cede that readily and so, all along, this was going to be a long battle.

Yet the word that came to me was: resolve.

I have this growing sense of my committment to this state and to my city (I know, everyone calls it an island, but I LOVE my little island!), my ideals of democracy, my desire to follow through on all the promises and slogans that we put in button form in the last year. After Obama was elected, I had a sense of dread, quite honestly - a feeling that all the people who had invested so much in his election were going to expect quick hope and change, were bound to be disappointed, and then? were they going to return or be turned off? My worry at the time was that they would not follow through on their committment and to some extent my worries came true. But yesterday, I really just had this sense that we're all in this for the long haul. We would have liked our moment of jubilation to come sooner rather than later, but we have bolstered each other up, we have made connections, we have built a community.  I think Democracy can only be stronger for that. Anyone who did not participate in this last year, they missed out.  The DNC, Obama, the naysayers and the doubters.  Because what we have is something strong and awesome, something that I am proud to be a part of.  History will judge us, and I am confident that I can say I was true to my beliefs and my faith, I was true to myself, I did not live my life out of fear but I created it out of passion and committment.

My mom went to an event with Carrie Newcomer and Parker J. Palmer and Gary Walters called "Healing the Heart of Democracy: A Gathering of Spririts for the Common Good."  Her program is lying here at the computer so I've been mulling over the quotations that were on it for this past week:

"We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land , will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."  Abraham Lincoln

"The human heart is the first home of democracy. It is where we embrace our questions. Can we be equitable? Can we be generous? Can we listen with our  whole beings, not just our minds, and offer our attention rather than our opinions? And do we have enough resolve in our hearts to act courageously, relentlessly, wihtout giving up - ever - trusting our fellow citizens to join with us in our determined pursuit of a living democracy?"  Terry Tempest Williams


So, those were my thoughts in the week leading up to yesterday.  We spent yesterday at the shop, making customized buttons (turns out the "I Voted" sticker fits perfectly into a button, and I added the date), treading...carefully.  I found myself taking lots of deep breaths.  And I was reminded of that scene in "The Return of the King" when Gandalf and Pippin are waiting for the battle and talking about waiting and the End, which Gandalf reassures him is no end at all, which is to say that I didn't have a sense that things were going to end that night.

And then I went home. I think I might have developed my new election-night routine.  Very early on, I left computerland (unlike past elections when I've spent the evening tracking results) and went home to watch "The Two Towers." Before I could get started, a Minnesota friend called to check in on me. I shared some of my feelings and said that maybe I was sounding like the losing team to be de-emphasizing the importance of this particular game; she said I sounded like I was running for office.  Resolve.  Perhaps a person shouldn't rely on fictional tales, but there's no denying that having Viggo Mortensen tell me there's still hope has a comforting effect.  In the middle of the movie, I paused to check results (ugh) and phone a few friends - my liberal Massachusetts friend was not home otherwise we would have raged into the night together; my Montana friend was home and kind of seemed like she needed more comfort than I did.  And then it was back to the rest of the movie, which ends more or less happily even though lots of people die grisly deaths and you know there are whole other battles ahead.  Then it was into pjs and a little reading of From Dictatorship to Democracy.  I haven't gotten very far in this book, but the documentary about its author was very inspiring. It is useful to be reminded of concrete steps a person could focus on, and also to be reminded of all the ways that people are SO MUCH worse off than we are.  Can you just imagine if Scott Walker installed himself as Governor with all the weight of the military behind him for FORTY years?!

And so I woke up this morning knowing that Scott Walker is still our Governor despite our best efforts.  But also knowing that the people of Wisconsin have awakened and, I believe, like me, have resolve.  I seriously doubt that he can put too much more crap on corn fields (literally or metaphorically) without serious challenges to his actions. I do fear that he will severely diminish the quality of peoples' lives but I also know that what I have control over is the way that I can enhance the quality of peoples' lives and go forward in my own life, not with fear, but with faith.

Sachi was off of work today though we checked in for some sisterly brainstorming.  During this last week, our button-making has been on hold just a bit. Someone came in a while ago and said, "and on June 5, this will all be over." I didn't really want to get into an argument, but particularly with what is going on with women's rights at the national level, it is SO not over.  I'll be making more panty pins for sure.  I went in to work feeling uninclined to clear out the store, to behave as if none of this had happened.  My "Keep Calm Wisconsin" print is still completely true except for one line, and I modified that so that we can keep it in the window.  I removed a few handfuls of pins from the table, but there were a lot that still apply.  As Sachi said, "My first thought this morning was, "Are we going to have to take down all the posters and stash the pins?" But then I realized that state workers are still sexy, and librarians sure as hell can do it."

And I spent much of the day in the re- section of the dictionary.  It occurred to me that perhaps "RECALL WALKER" doesn't work as a button, but there might be other RE- things we can do.  Turns out there's a lot: things to do to Walker (reveal, rebut, redistrict, remedy) and things that we can do (react, resolve, reason, rebel).

And relish.  Treasure the connections we have made and the joys we have in our lifes (isn't the girl adorable?!).  Move forward, Wisconsin, because that's what we do.  Remember all the other things that bring us together.  Regard each other.  Respect.  Rejoin.  Rejoice.  Renew.

 Tueday 001

Finally, twice this week Facebook friends have mentioned Paulo Coelho, who, I confess, I have not read, but who offers up some more inspiring words.  My friend writes: "After the events of June 5th, I find these quotes from "The Aleph" by Paulo Coelho helpful:

p. 83 - Don't be intimidated by other people's opinions. Only mediocrity is sure of itself, so take risks and do what you really want to do. Seek out people who aren't afraid of making mistakes and, therefore, do make mistakes. Because of that, their work often isn't recognized, but they are precisely... the kind of people who change the world.

p. 154 - We can never wound the soul,....but we can imprisoned by our memories, and that makes out lives wretched even when we have everything we need in order to be happy.

p. 157 - I also forgive myself. May the misfortunes of my past no longer weigh on my heart. Instead of pain and resentment, I choose understanding and compassion. Instead of rebellion, I choose the music of my violin. Instead of grief I choose forgiving. Instead of vengeance, I choose victory.




letter to the editor, long form

Well, honestly, I don't know how my sister does it.  But I guess there's a reason that I'm the blogger - I can never get my words down to the 200 that are required for letters to the editor.  I'm going to try, but in the meantime, here's the long version.  I really feel that the voice of business has been subsumed by the voice of the GOP (who assumes that tax breaks are what all businesses want) and the WMC (who are apparently rich enough that tax breaks actually make a difference).  I read a report a while ago that indicated for our size of business, the kind of tax break we'd get is a few hundred dollars in a year.  I can EASILY make that up on one good Saturday of sales.  Which all the more so gives me reason to support strengthening the buying power of my customers over any proposed tax breaks.  I honestly don't see tax breaks as a viable way of growing our state and I think that if most businesses were asked, they would take more customer spending over tax breaks any day.  Ultimately, you can have all the tax breaks you want, but if you don't have customers, you don't have a business.  Ultimately, you can give out all the tax breaks you want, but you are going to see major costs in terms of the services that we all know and love (schools, police, fire, roads... do I really have to go on?).

Anyway, after days of thinking and failed attempts, the 5:20 a.m. wake-up is hopefully worth it.  Here's the long version:

Dear Editor:
I am constantly hearing people say that government needs to be run like a business.   Leaving aside the question of whether that is actually true, I write to you as a business owner to give the reader a little insight into the way my business is run.  These are the basic things that concern me: 1. What is new? 2. What is unique? 3. How can I get more money?

1. What is new?  Change is good.  Change is challenging, but if I don't change, then my store looks the same today as it did two years ago and the incentive to return is substantially lower.  Blame it on our American consumer culture if you will, but the new and the shiny are valuable.  I am constantly on the lookout for new products and new trends.  If Wisconsin was my business, I would be searching for the new industries and new technologies and new "customers," areas where growth is occurring: oh, say, renewable energy and bicycles and tourism, for example.

2.  What is unique?  How do I differentiate my store from everyone else?  Rarely is the point to offer the lower prices, because someone else can always offer lower prices.  Rather, my goal is to find things that aren't offered anywhere else, to bring together a collection of products that reflects the uniqueness of my taste.  If Wisconsin was my business, I would not be competing with Texas or Florida to create the lowest priced jobs, I would be building up and building upon what is unique about this state, emphasizing what we have that cannot be found anywhere else: oh, say, hard-working and dedicated people, fabulous schools (my whole life I've been hearing people say they moved from other states because the schools were horrible there, and we want to be more like other states?), amazing natural resources.  I would NOT be spreading a load of crap on farm fields or doing anything else that might jeopardize the quality of our water.

3. How can I get more money?  There is a small part of my brain that is thinking about how I can save money.  However, there are only so many things that I can cut before the quality of my store starts to suffer.  Mostly I am thinking about how to increase revenue: what product should go where so that I maximize sales in every square foot, how to reach a variety of customers, what will sell well and when I should reorder.  For me, this means finding products in a range of prices so that I can appeal to a range of customers (big sales are nice, but our business also depends on every single person who comes in and buys a greeting card).  It means capitalizing on the new and the unique; it rarely means selling things at below-cost.  It means supporting women since they are the bulk of our customers and make a lot of important decisions, not the least of which is what present to send their mother-in-law.  It means wishing I had staff, artists to create product, and customers with more money in their wallets WAY MORE than it means wishing I had a tax break.

If Wisconsin was my business, I would be much more concerned with increasing revenue.  I understand that the theory of tax breaks is that the effects will trickle down in job creation and eventually income tax and sales tax revenue, but a more direct approach would be to make sure that workers and customers had enough disposable income, that they kept earning and shopping, and thus generate tax revenue (Even in this regard, tax breaks seem like the least effective way to go about this.  Anyone remember your Bush tax break check?  Didn't last long, did it?  Wouldn't it be more effective if your hourly wages increased at a faster pace than your cost of living?).  I think the focus on cost-cutting is a sign of desperation and also not a model for a successful business.  If Wisconsin was my business, I would be concerned with the welfare of ALL of my customers, and not just the ones who dropped a few thousand dollars on a campaign donation.  If Wisconsin was my business, I would be a heck of a lot more supportive of women; since the WDOR does not accept brownies or quilts as payment, I would be more concerned about their potential salaries.  IF Wisconsin was my business.

I initially thought I'd leave aside the question of whether a state should be run like a business, but you know what?  Wisconsin is OUR business.  It is all of ours.  It is up to everyone who lives and works in this state, not just a few people, to make sure this business runs smoothly.  Scott Walker is a poor business manager and an even worse Governor.  Our state deserves better.