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"It's a Beautiful Day. Have You Had Your Coffee?" (Introducing the FoodShed Planet Gift Guide for Holidays and Other Beautiful

Posted Sep 26 2010 2:24am
So my friend Ashley and I walk into the Clarkston Community Center, right smack in the middle of a community that has served as a prime relocation destination for refugees from more than 52 war-torn countries over the past 15 years.  I had been to this location to visit its community garden not long ago.  It's also just across a parking lot from the blue house where the Fugees Family, whose story is told in Warren St. John's excellent book Outcasts United , is holding its school while building at a permanent location.

We hear a group of people in a large room at the end of the hall and head towards it.  We find out later that they are Bhutanese refugees (I don't know enough yet to know this instantly). I discover later that the majority of them have come with the help of aid organizations in 2008, and that there are more than 5,000 here in Georgia already, that they were peasant farmers with little formal education, that they don't have the skills needed to find jobs here, and, of course, they don't speak English. (Here is a Bhutanese refugee blog with lots of information.)

That's where Jay comes in.  Jay is a volunteer teacher of English as a Second Language.  He is tall and lanky and commands the room easily.  He seems to know everyone's name and smiles often.  He is standing in front of a blackboard and he writes today's lesson on the board.  It is a sentence.  It says, "It's a beautiful day."  
Ashley and I smile when he writes it, and we notice some of the women are watching us closely.  One older woman next to us had said tentatively but proudly when we walked in, "Good . . . morning" and had smiled broadly when we answered her in return.  She seemed relieved that her words were understood.  I realized then that we were the token American women here.
Jay asks who can read the sentence.  We hear murmurs throughout the room, and suddenly an older man wearing a traditional Bhutanese hat says haltingly, "It's . . . a . . . beautiful . . . day."
There are smiles all around, and Jay moves on.  He writes another sentence, "It is a beautiful day" and then spends time showing the difference between "It's" and "It is" and how they mean the same thing.  He accentuates the "is", as in "It IS a beautiful day."  And increasingly, both Ashley and I realize, it is.
Jay goes on to one final sentence.  He writes, "Have you had your coffee?"  This one is easier for the students because, we find out later, the Nepali word for "coffee" is the same as in English.  Or, as Ashley suggests, the English word is the same as in Nepali.
These simple sentences echo in our heads all week.  In fact, each time we talk now, one of us says:
"It's a beautiful day." 
The other answers:
"It IS a beautiful day." 
And the first one asks:
"Have you had your coffee?"  
I am so moved by the simplicity of these words that I create a blog with a daily photo as a meditation or reminder of that ESOL class.  See here .  I don't know how long I will keep it going (the last thing I need is another blog), but for this week it has been nice.  In fact, it has been a gift to me to take a moment to look back at photos I've taken on or around each day's date since I first got that "magic camera" over four years ago.
And this gets me thinking about gifts, and I remember just last year that I bought a basket made by Bhutanese refugees at my local farmers market.  It has been sitting on my desk all year, holding things on which I'm working. 
The baskets are made with kudzu, an invasive vine brought to the Southeastern United States 50 years or so ago (and which I still believe have bio-fuel or cancer-fighting potential, and will turn out to be a major plant of importance) (See this post about Channing Cope and His Vine of Hope .)  For now, people with nothing but hope use it to make something beautiful.  Because it IS a beautiful day.
And back to the idea of gifts, I'm thinking of the holidays already and my ever-growing go-to list for "gifts that give twice" (to a recipient and to people in need somehow) and so, today, I launch the: 

FoodShed Planet Gift Guide for Holidays and Other Beautiful Days 

I'll add to this over the next two months, but please know that these are all gifts I have personally purchased for myself, given as gifts over the years, or have on my list as things I want to try as gifts this year. 
I'll mention a detail or two about them and link to stories I may have written in the past.  So, kick back, relax, and take a look at these gift ideas.  
But first, have you had your coffee?

1. Land of a Thousand Hills coffee 2. Equal Exchange Chocolate, Tea, Nuts, and Coffee.  Equal Exchange's fundraising option for schools let schools earn money and it offers lesson plans to teach children about how these products are farmed and sold in a way that benefits local communities.   3. Fugees Family watch  (buy one and two refugee students each get one as well)
4. Ten Thousand Villages This is my hands-down, number one, never-fails place to buy gifts.
5. One World Futbol  That link takes you to my friend, Betty's, post about this project, which is where I heard about it. For every ball you buy, one is donated.  I love this ball! (Meet Betty here.)

6. IdBids .  My friend Debbie designed these products to teach children about the environment.  They are now distributed nationally at REI and other stores and are finding their way specifically into kindergarten classrooms (a great teacher gift!)
7. Inca Kids .  Fair Trade gifts from Peru and other South American countries that support local artisans. I haven't bought from this company yet, but a woman named Gigi owns it and wrote me such a beautiful story about how and why she started it that it is on my radar for this year.  I especially like this belt for teens (shhhh, don't tell my older daughter), and there are terrific Alpaca hats and gloves.  In the Atlanta area, Inca Kids products will be sold at a new shop in Buckhead (326 Pharr Road) named 5Continents , opening October 8.  You can bet I'll be there this holiday season!  Here--from the media release: 5Continents is a new concept in retail in the city; collective of artisans and fair trade initiatives focusing on eco-friendly and sustainable products from all five corners of the world.   8.  Klean Kanteen .  This BPA-free, stainless steel water bottle now comes in a wide variety of options, include the I-wish-I-had-it-when-my-kids-were-little sippy cup.

9.  Books, books, and more books.  This is the gift-of-choice in our house (both my daughters are huge readers.  In fact, my younger daughter has her own little book review blog thing goin' on).  Here are two of my faves , by the same photgrapher/writer team.  Here are the rest of the books I recommend .

10.  And of course, TOMS Shoes (for every pair you buy, a pair is donated.) FYI, I wore my TOMS shoes while walking an average of 10 miles a day in New York City and Washington D.C. this summer and my feet felt terrific the whole time.

10.  A whole year's worth of ideas from Betty's blog . Betty has been giving away $100 a day every single day in 2010 to various causes, and writing about them.  If you are trying to match a gift to the recipient's specific passions (which is a nice thing to do), then you're sure to find one that works for you here.

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