Culinary genius helps raise money for March of Dimes

8″ x 10″ oil on wood panel
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Tomato and mozzarella salad in a martini glass to bourbon slushies, the signature chefs at this fundraiser for March of Dimes wowed attendees with tantalizing treats. Not a single guest was found without a mouthful, fork in hand, or jaw dropped at ballroom filled with cuisine as aesthetically pleasing as it was delicious. A few of the smiling faces in pristine white chef hats dishing out their masterpieces were Quang Dinh of Blu Italian Mediterranean Grill (one of his dishes painted above), Peng Looi of Asiatique and August Moon (as if one kitchen wasn’t enough), and Michael Crouch of Bourbons Bistro.

For once, the shame of gorging yourself on irresistible delicacies took a back seat to the pleasure in knowing that your ticket to partake in the gourmet feast was going towards efforts to combat premature births. Through research, education, community services and advocacy, March of Dimes is taking on the problem and strives to “improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth, and infant mortality.” Many parents are surely thankful that the organization is working hard to prevent their child from being one of the unfortunate 1 in 8 who are too early.

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Looking for a home

8″ x 10″ oil on canvas, $200
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I tend to volunteer for organizations that deal with people in crisis mode. In contrast, yesterday I snapped pictures of volunteers with possibly the most relaxing and fun job of all time; pet entertainer. The title is actually “dog walker”, but essentially it consists of walking (or being walked, depending on size), playing with, petting, and in general, giving some much needed love to a full house of “homeless” four-legged residents.

The Kentucky Humane Society runs a tight ship that far exceeds its means. I was incredibly impressed by learning the private non-profit finds homes for 5,000 animals each year, all of whom are spayed/neutered, tested for diseases and parasites, immunized, evaluated and approved by an animal behaviorist, and implanted with a microchip. Somehow, all of this is possible for an average adoption rate of $135.

As I was chasing rambunctious kittens with a camera, uselessly attempting to make them pose, I watched a couple pick out a new addition to their family. The cat seemed to bond with the woman as if she had just come to pick up the lifelong companion after vacation. Here’s another success story that tempts me to take one home myself (don’t worry boyfriend of mine, I can see the look of fear on your face already).

Think Christmas guys; nothing gets you more brownie points than a puppy or kitten under a tree!
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A little used furniture goes a long way

8″ x 11″ oil on board, $200 ($50 donated to CRIS).

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Here is the final piece from this past weekend’s furniture delivering adventure (see the pervious post for more). Although our time spent was intended to specifically serve the Somali refugee clients of CRIS, we had enough furniture to spread the love to this American family of 5 living in the same apartment complex. It’s amazing how one church congregation’s junk can make a tremendous difference in the lives of 3 families, 125 miles away.

The mother’s boyfriend of the family above was in the process of moving out and taking most of the furniture with him. The family was incredibly grateful for the couch and chairs we were able to spare. The 11 church youth group members, 2 CRIS employees, and I received hugs, smiles, and on going words thanks from the families we helped. Manual labor and used furniture was the least we could offer these families coping with burdens ranging from poverty to being forced to leave a home and familiar culture.

If you’re interested in getting involved, here other national refugee resettlement organizations that would love your help.

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Somali Muslim refugees are shown a little love by Ohio Christians

I was waiting for the rain soaking us to the bone to change to snow as our group of 11 Akron Ohio church youth group members and 2 CRIS (community refugee and immigration services) employees fumbled our way up several flights of stairs with 2 truck loads of donated furniture. Thank goodness Somalians keep the heat cranked up while adjusting to the frigid November temperatures in Columbus, Ohio.

My Saturday entailed attending an informative meeting about the refugee resettlement process, delivering furniture to 2 Somali families (as well as a third American family in need of our surplus), and finishing up with a hearty meal at a Somali restaurant. Although certainly needed and welcomed, our day’s work hardly seemed to put a dent in the broader problem. Columbus is a new home to thousands of Africans who fled their native country left uninhabitable by civil war. Columbus has the second largest Somali population in the nation (about 45,000). Many arrive in the US speaking little English, often with several children, and unprepared to acclimate to the American culture. It’s a far from perfect system they are given to work with, but nonetheless, deep appreciation was was felt for our efforts to contribute a small bit of help and support. And no matter what momentous struggles are ahead of you, having a bed to sleep in verses the floor still seems make all the difference. For more personal stories and info check out this blog.

Tomorrow I will be working on a painting from this weekend’s activities so I will leave further details for that post. But I’ll leave you with this last sketch which was one of the highlights of my day. As we repeatedly walked past the home of the boy on the right (PJ), we stirred enough curiosity to get him, his 2 brothers, single mother, and aunt outside to watch. We ended up giving them several pieces of much needed furniture that honestly was more than the 2 Somali families needed. The 2 youngest boys were completely enamored with the us and especially the boy on the left (Michael), who was one of the youth group members from Akron. I snapped a picture of both them as PJ, without missing a beat, affectionately took Michael’s hand and vigorously tried to warm it between his own after Michael had complained that his hands were cold and freezing from carrying boxes and furniture outside in the elements. I couldn’t feel my fingers, feet, or the end of my nose, but the warm fuzzies were at least keeping my spirit dry and out of the cold.

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Did you pass a Cherokee Indian Chief on your way to the office?

6″ x 8″ watercolor, $60 ($10 donated to the Wolakota Foundation).

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Downtown and surrounded by office buildings; not a setting where you would expect to see a Chief Cherokee Indian fully outfitted in authentic clothing. Today was an exception. This week marks the Center for Interfaith Relation’s 11th annual Festival of Faiths. One of the many events scheduled for the festival was the tree planting ceremony I attended this morning, summarized in the Festival of Faith’s program as, “Many of the sacred mounds of the Cherokee in the area that is now Louisville were destroyed during building construction. Several of these sites are downtown. Chief Arvol Looking Horse and the local Cherokee and Iroquois communities will lead the tree planting in honor of Native People.”

Chief Arvol Looking Horse is quite the recognized leader as founder of the Wolakota Foundation, which has established spiritually grounded “programs for sustaining traditional teachings of the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota Nation as well as researching and demonstrating practices for sustainable, ecologically-balanced living.”

An eclectic mix of participants (Buddhists monks to businessmen) gathered in a circle to watch the ceremony, which closed by the circle folding in on itself as one person initiate a chain by turning to the left and shaking the hand of each person down the line. A great way to start any morning.

Election day

8″ x 11″ oil on masonite, $200 ($50 donated to CASA).
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What a day it’s been! The polls seemed to have a steady flow of traffic. Fido waited outside my polling station in the rain this morning while its owner cast his vote.

Get all of the latest national news at CNN and local results here.

Technorati tags: Kentucky election, election, voting.

Highlights from the “Engaging Our World” conference

Whatever your social justice concern, you would have found educated voices speaking about it at the “Engaging Our World” conference. Paul Loeb, who researches and writes about citizen responsibility and empowerment, was a key guest speaker. Other participants included many faculty members at the University of Louisville, representatives from various nonprofits, and religious/spiritual leaders.

To squeeze in as much as possible, I brought along a friend to divvy up the workshops. Between the two of us, we heard panelists field questions on environmental issues (panelists sketched above), watched an Oxfam video presentation, learned about the cleft palate corrective surgeries that Dr. Mark Chariker performs (glad my friend was assigned to that one),

listened to representatives from “Women in Transition” explain how they help women rise above poverty (speaker and conference attendee sketched above), attended a lecture on Humanity and Sustainability, and created models of “ideal communities” with ACTIVE Living that best enable active lifestyles that fight obesity.

The conference planning committee didn’t just stop at booking knowledgeable speakers and organizing wonderful workshops. Everything was covered, down to the biodegradable, sugarcane fiber cutlery used at lunch. My friend took her knife back to Columbus to test the claim that it would decompose in her compost pile.

I left the conference feeling a mix of shock at the reality and severity of numerous looming issues while also inspired by the enthusiasm generated by the participants. Although possibly skewed since I am devoting an increasing amount of time to these issues, it still seems that many of these topics are gaining momentum and beginning to move mountains.

Technorati tags: Oxfam, Engaging Our World, social justice, Paul Loeb, University of Louisville

A transitional home for “advanced recovering alcoholics”

8″ x 11″ oil on canvas, $200 ($50 donated to Hotel California, transitional living facility).

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Somewhere in between rock bottom and self-sufficient, recovering alcoholics have a place to get their bearings at “Hotel California.” The small transitional living facility can assist up to fourteen men who have pushed their friends and family away with their addiction, crashed, burned, then made a turn, gone through detox, attended AA meetings, completed extensive rehab programs and are now flirting with attainment of a full recovery. You might call them “advanced recovering alcoholics.” Shortly after leaving a traditional live-in, 12 step program many find themselves very susceptible to falling prey to their demons. The learning curve seems harsh. For those that know the ropes and are determined to win the fight, a place like Hotel California is an ideal place to take a breath, take comfort in a professional support system, and take advantage of social services such as job placement.

Although requirements of the residents to stay at the facility are less rigid than traditional half-way houses, these men still must participate in classes, complete homework, check in with counselors, volunteer for the organization, and abide by a curfew. I took the picture above of a board in the common area where meetings are held. Clearly the counselors encourage the residents to focus on developing characteristics that were checked at the bar door.

Hotel California, which opened its doors in June of 2005, nearly always has a warm body in each bed. The facility was mellow and calm the rainy morning I was there. Appartently many were at work. I did sit and talk with three gentlemen who laughed at their awkward behavior as they tried to “forget about the camera.” We chatted about what other facilities they had lived in and how this one compared. Their situations were across the board, but all seemed very content to be where they were. I hope they find encouragement in that they are in a community that is closer to freedom from their addiction.

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Pink Fashion Fete to benefit Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation

8″ x 10″ oil on masonite, $200 ($50 donated to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation).
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After a childhood crammed full of pink dresses, bows, blankets, and yes, even wallpaper, I have developed a slight aversion to the color. Personal taste aside, 21C Hotel recently hosted a fabulous “Pretty in Pink Fashion Fete” featuring knockout pink ensembles that put my Laura Ashley Easter dresses from the 80’s to shame. The event included a fashion show and silent auction. Auction items came from retailers such as Clodhoppers and artists like Emily Maynard. Even the tables were painted with pink M&Ms, and who am I to discriminate against any type of chocolate?

It’s amazing how aggressively the awareness of breast cancer has come to the forefront of my attention. Finding a cure is a tremendous task for such a monster of a disease that only represents a subset of cancer in general. In 2005, the National Insititute of Health estimated the cost of all health expenditures related to cancer to be $74 billion. Sounds like we can’t have enough pink-themed fundraisers.

I’m inspired by women like Sylvie Fortin who blog about their experience with breast cancer, giving us insight into the hardships and courage associated with the disease.

I’m glad pink has planted roots with the concept of activism and shied away from being every husband’s home decor nightmare.

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Artisan visits Just Creations

8″ x 10″ oil on canvas, $150 ($50 donated to Just Creations).

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The mechanics of a nonprofit retailer, Just Creations, were spelled out for me by an artisan who visited the store this past weekend to share with her arts and crafts loving audience how her products get from developing countries to your living room. Retailers such as Just Creations “purchase exclusively from Fair Trade Organizations such as Ten Thousand Villages, A Greater Gift and Equal Exchange. These groups work directly with artisans and farmers to ensure that Fair Trade principles are practiced.

With the enthusiasm of a child beaming at show-and-tell, the artisan walked us through various explanations such as batiking. Like a premature Santa, she had beautiful desirables in tow that made distant places such as Ghana seem a little more “real.”

It’s wonderful to know that pots (like the ones above) will end up stuffed with flowers on someones table or in a gift bag awaiting “oh my gosh, I love it!” Not just any pots, but ones that were possibly sculpted by someone like Kartick Pall, of Paul Para, Bangladesh who, thanks to his fair trade vendor tells us, “there is no end to my hopes.”

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Building green

11″ x 14″ watercolor
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Nestled in a historic neighborhood, established nearly 90 years ago, now stands a new home boasting energy bills that surely put its antique neighbors to shame. The owner commissioned me to paint her stunning new home built to green architectural standards (think solar panels, incorporating sustainable building materials, insulating correctly, energy efficient windows, etc.). Meeting people like this gives me the warm fuzzies by reassuring me that going green is gaining momentum. Soon the home owner will be taking it one step further by expanding her green reach into the yard with a completely edible landscape!

Do you wonder how much your household is contributing to the crisis that is our environmentally battered planet? I found a great website where you can find how your household compares to similar homes by providing basic info such as square footage, number of occupants, etc. as well as including information from previous utility bills. Once you get the results you are provided with recommendations on how to make improvements. If you’re not motivated to take action, maybe this will spark a little interest.

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Paying fair wages to keep the caffeine flowing

Heine Brothers Coffee Cafe
8″ x 8″ oil on board

“Independent music for independent coffee drinkers” is the brainstorm stage theme for a new compilation CD that resulted in this painting as a possible cover image for the album. Heine Brothers’ Coffee is the small chain that will be offering the album as an independent, local version of Starbuck’s HearMusic.

Heine Brothers’ Coffee is all about the spreading the love of happy coffee drinkers. They are very vocal about the fact that they, “import and sell only Organic, Fair Trade, green coffees from small farmer cooperatives. This effort supports a more equitable and sustainable system of coffee trade that directly benefits these farmers, their families, their communities, and the environment.” Even the walls of every store are adorned with larger-than-life murals depicting coffee growers in their local environments.

Maybe you’re not in the fair trade coffee know. If not, here’s a site all about it with a quick and fun intro that sums it up.

Bill Clinton helps Kentucky Democrats

8″ x 10″ oil on canvas, $200 ($50 donated to CASA)
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Bill Clinton spoke last night to a sea of Kentuckians who, fortunately for the democratic candidates, came with fat wallets. I met a fellow blogger in the press area who devotes his time to politically geared vlogging, when most men his age would be fishing with grandchildren. I was inspired by his devotion to citizen journalism and truly impressed by his tech savvy. He video records events, such as this, in extended versions to supplement the short snippets fed to us by TV media. He and I both were curiously glared at by reporters and camera crews wondering, “how did they get press passes?” Times are changing.

Prior to Clinton’s talk, the event was a crash course in 2006 democratic candidates 101. The massive audience cheered to “Are you ready for change?!” from various speakers like high schoolers at a pep rally. The enthusiasm was strong and all ears were attentive to the election issues. A few of the speakers included Jerry Abramson (Louisville Mayor), Jerry Lundergan (Kentucky Democratic Chairman), and John Yarmuth (Ky Democratic candidate for US Congress).

In addition to attending this unique event, I also finally answered a question plaguing my mind for years. Estimated from the number of mouths moving during the singalong to “My Old Kentucky Home”, I would guess that just over 50% percent of well educated Kentucky residents know the lyrics to the state song (or maybe some just don’t like singing anywhere but their own shower). Odds are in your favor for being able to join in on the Stephen Fosters number if you are 60 years of age and up. Now I don’t feel so shamed by staring at my feet at derby while those around me bellow mint-julep-intensified lyrics.

Hobnobbing with CASA

8″ x 10″ oil on canvas, $200 ($50 donated to Court Appointed Special Advocates)
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Sunday night I got to see a side of CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) that I, as a volunteer for the nonprofit, rarely ever see. My usual involvement, which includes advocating for abused and/or neglected children enduring the burden the legal system as a result of the abuse inflicted on them, was far removed from this evening’s activities. Instead I found myself surrounded by an incredibly colorful mix of party-goers at the organization’s annual “Hobnobber’s Ball” in Millionaires’ Row at the legendary Churchill Downs.

Before the event, I asked my volunteer supervisor for some pointers as to what to wear. Her answer confused me further. “Well, some people will be wearing formal dresses, some in jeans, others in costumes. I think a few people came dressed in drag last year.” She wasn’t kidding. I saw derby hats, fishnet hoses, fur, sequins, face paint, tiaras, garter belts, lots of stilettos, even more cleavage, and one kilt. Possibly the most notable of fashion displays was put on by the Derby City Rollergirls. Believe me, your mother would not approve of their fun and scanty outfits (but hey, this way you can see all of their cool tattoos).

Local wineries and distilleries lined the perimeters of the enormous venue, caterers enticed the palate and great musicians kept the chairs empty and the dance floor packed. All of this for the most worthy of causes.

If you’re looking for a organization to contribute to in some form, I highly recommend finding a CASA near you. These fundraisers make transformative change in the lives of many children possible. It’s stories like these that might pull at your heart strings and get you involved.

Congressional candidate fundraiser

8″ x 10″ oil on canvas, $250 ($100 donated to John Yarmuth’s campaign)
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Last night I attended a fundraising dinner for Kentucky congressional Democratic candidate, John Yarmuth. I accepted the last minute invitation with a resounding “yes” and immediately began to think about possible compositions for the painting I would create for today’s post.

If you ever feel dulled by a lack of individuals to engage in intellectually rigorous conversation with, I suggest you frequent political fundraisers. It was an inspiring evening with no lack of enthusiastic proponents for positive change and growth in Kentucky. I was surprised to find that some of the attendees were republicans. There doesn’t seem to be much grey space for the “undecided” voters to stand in nowadays, but apparently even some firm republicans are looking for a new voice for Kentucky in congress.

I will admit that, although I lean left, this election has often left me inclined to bite my tongue when I’m surrounded by my democratic friends. The issue that personally leaves me on the fence is healthcare. I am sorely reminded of my self-employment when my friends talk about their employers’ health benefit packages and I feel at a disadvantage. Given my OCD involvement in my own healthcare, I’m a huge advocate of consumer driven healthcare and Health Savings Account (here’s a great blog post about HSAs). But at the same time, my volunteer work with disadvantaged people, especially children, pulls my heart towards the universal healthcare model that Yarmuth stands for. Clearly, I’m not certain where I stand. Having said that, I will add that I have met John on several occasions and feel confident about his sincerity and competency.

If you’re interested, here is John Yarmuth’s site, his opponent’s (Anne Northup) site, and further info on all the candidates running for office in Kentucky.