The smoldering seeds of our dreams

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My toes had gone numb from the cold but the tip of my nose was burning as I listened to the lapping of tiny waves against the shoreline. Kneeling on the damp sand, leaning over the short concrete barrier, I blew small puffs of breath into the glowing embers of a bonfire. Squinting to avoid the emerging billows of smoke, everything I saw was through an orange tinted filter. As I continued to blow on the embers and the small pieces of wood, the flames grew taller, brighter and warmer.

Bonfires are a tradition in the beach towns of southern California that I have grown particularly fond of. Something about moonlight makes the ocean that much more regal and S’mores always satisfy the sweet tooth in me. I learned how to start a fire back in my days as a Girl Scout. I even have a badge to prove it. Though I don’t particularly like hauling the wood or having the smell of smoke coat my clothes, breathing those first breaths of fuel into the sparks of a fire is empowering. With a whisper from my mouth, flames arise.

Which makes me think about dreams.

Like tiny sticks and tinder, we collect ideas, goals, and visions of what could be. We stack that all up and pour on some lighter fluid in the form of advice, wisdom, research, and funding. We then strike a match, say yes, sign the documents, open the doors and get started. We step back, expecting an instant burning, hoping for sky-high flames, waiting for a warming glow.

But perhaps your sticks just sit there, soaking, and the match has burned out. The knees of your pants are getting wet and your toes are just too cold. The fire is not igniting.

And that’s a very hard place to be. We’ve all been there, at some time or another. We’ve done everything right, everything we were taught, everything they told us to do, and… nothing. No fire.

Did you breath on it? Have you knelt down, gotten really close, took the time to get lower, and breathed?

Perhaps it’s time to stop collecting wood, to stop relying on the lighter fluid or the gasoline. Perhaps your dreams need a little bit of your own breath. Perhaps your breath could help ignite the dreams of other people. By breath I’m referring to pep talks, prayers, positive reenforcement, and petitions. What’s the one little thing that could turn dreams into realities, turn the embers into flames? Maybe it’s asking someone for help, encouraging a friend, asking yourself hard questions, offering advice, listening to your heart.

Making dreams come true is no easy feat. You might get some smoke in your eyes, singe your finger tips, get your knees dirty. But our best dreams are like embers, smoldering little seeds of possibility just waiting to be kindled into reality. Chase your dreams. Help others achieve theirs. Don’t forget to take deep breaths, and figure out the little fuel that your fire just might need.

Beads that buy hope

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What are your top three dreams?

This is a question we like to ask here at Ember. It’s a question we asked of our artisans in Uganda at the very beginning of our partnership. There is hardly a more beautiful sight than the radiance of an African woman’s face when she lights up and shares her dreams.

And it’s amazing that the women still dream. After surviving the brutality of civil war, poverty, domestic violence, and social injustice their dreams are fully fueled. The women each have individual, unique, and inspiring dreams, but one thing made it to the top three of every single one of their lists.

Education.

We asked each of our partners what she was dreaming of, and every women answered with dreams of education. Stella dreams of seeing her children graduate from university. Agnes dreams of owning a computer and finishing her own schooling. Lucy has nieces and nephews who she wants to purchase school uniforms for.

The women have dreams and incredible work ethics, now all they need is our support.

This is why Ember Arts is so proud to introduce our Library Bead Collection. Made from recycled book pages, the jewelry is a testament of hope. With every purchase of Ember Arts jewelry, our Ugandan partners are one step closer to earning the finances they need to fund their dreams of education.

We hope that the Library Bead Collection will inspire you to make a difference in the lives of Ugandan women, remind you of the value of education, and take you deeper into the journey of cultivating beautiful dreams.

Library Bead Collection Look Book 

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I will always remember him

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When I was eight years old I went on a trip to Swaziland, Africa and brought with me my diary and imagination. There I met a boy who could not have been more different than me, yet we became instant friends. When I was eight years old, I began to understand things like race, social status, and what money could buy, but I hadn’t yet allowed those things to determine my perceptions of people. I became friends with that boy because he had a nice smile, his dog would lick my hand, and we could together throw rocks into the hillside. We had nothing in common and were from completely different worlds. I had years of opportunity ahead of me. He had very little to get him through the day. 

After a month of play time, as I was prepping to depart, the boy asked me to do one simple thing for him. I thought very little of his request at the time, but over the years his words have stuck with me. His words have changed the way I think about people, and the way I think about my purpose in this life.

“Don’t forget about me.”

The boy knew that I would leave Africa and that I would go home to America, and that I would return to a life far different from his. And all he wanted was for me to remember, to record his presence, to acknowledge his existence.

I have.

I don’t remember the boy’s name, or hardly anything about him, but I remember the way he made me feel. He didn’t make me feel white, or rich, or like a tourist in his town. He simply treated me like he would any other playmate. He was ready and willing to do life with me.

Market in Swaziland.

This is me, at eight years old in Swaziland. My mother and I loved shopping at the local markets and meeting the beautiful women.

I started working at Ember Arts just a few months ago, and with every story I hear about the work we are doing in Uganda, I am brought back to the memories of the times I spent in Swaziland with that boy.

At Ember we are all about doing life with our partners in Uganda. This means that we don’t care if our skin is different colors, or if many of our employees are separated by oceans. We will still throw rocks into the hillside, we will still laugh, and play, and hold your children. We will dream with you.

Zebras in AfricaI have learned that one of the first steps towards dreaming is remembering. When teaching people how to dream again, we must first acknowledge the past from where they come. We recognize the atrocities that our Ugandan partners have suffered through. We have cried over their lost children, their broken families, their wounded bodies. We have sat in silence contemplating what to do with those memories of hurt.

And we have been blown away by the brilliant smiles the Ugandan people still wear on their faces. The Ugandan women and men who we have grown to love and cherish and support have taught us that all we need in this world is to remember that we each are human, to acknowledge that we each long to be known.

When I wear Ember Arts jewelry, I’m acknowledging that those Ugandan women are alive, and beautiful, and so worth while.

I will continue to remember that boy who I met so many years ago. I will remember that we all have dreams, and that we all deserve to live them.

I promised him. So I will.

Get Excited in 2013

Belief + Love = Passion

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A few weeks ago I realized I was boring. Not boring to other people (or not more than usual), but boring to myself.

A friend asked me as I rode shotgun in his car through Kampala if I was excited about my upcoming travels—from Uganda to the USA and back. I told him that I was glad to make them, but not excited, really. This answer, honest as it was, unsettled me.

Later that day, still unsettled, I thought back over the last year. Often when someone asked me, “What are you up to lately?” or “What’s going on with you these days?”, I had nothing to tell them that I was excited about. My life wasn’t exciting to me.

Which is stupid.

There are things I’ve believed deeply in that, when I started actually working on them, just weren’t exciting to me. 

 

I don’t much care if my life is exciting to other people. But to spend my hours on things that aren’t even exciting to me is a waste.

The next day, on a layover in transit to the US, I sat in Ethiopia’s international airport and started writing. What would 2013 look like if I filled it with things that I was excited about? 

Excitement and passion are closely tied. We’re excited to do the things we’re passionate about. Everything else eventually becomes tedium. Being a pretty cerebral person I had long thought that passion just meant really strong belief. Like if I just really believed in an idea or a cause then I would, de facto, be passionate about it, and so would be excited to spend my hours, days, and years on it.

But this hasn’t turned out to be true. There are things I’ve believed deeply in that, when I started actually working on them, just weren’t exciting to me.

There in the airport in Addis Abababa I realized that belief wasn’t enough, that there is something more to passion. That missing piece, I think, is best called Love.

We just like them because we like them; we can’t give our reasons. Our love of them is defenselessly true, down to the bones.

 

Love in this sense is that deep, reasonless affinity we feel for certain things and activities and people, and not for others. Like preferring tennis over golf, or liking one friend’s sense of humor more than most, or the joy I find in writing that I don’t find in 100 other types of work.

We don’t like these things because we believe in them or have reasoned them out. We just like them because we like them; we can’t give our reasons. Our love of them is defenselessly true, down to the bones.

This sort of reasonless love mixed with deep belief makes passion. Or for the mathematically minded: Passion = Belief + Love. The overlap of belief and love, I think, is where we find the sort of sustaining passion that will keep us excited about our lives day after week after month after year.

At least that’s what I’m hoping. I hope that in 2013 every time someone asks me what’s happening in my life I have something exciting to tell them. Not exciting to them, necessarily. Exciting to me.