Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Make Someone's Holiday Happy

Some of you may know that I once was a professional do-gooder. I spent well over a decade of my life working for a nonprofit organization that helped mothers and babies. I did their very large website (with help), and I always felt very good that I was contributing to the health and well-being of millions of people around the world. I want to do things that increase peace, increase kindness, and increase well-being in the world. Someone just wrote me an email re-iterating that I helped sooo many people back then, in response to me posting regrets that staying home with my kids when they were small then working in a non-traditional job in a non-traditional field has hampered my ability to do the kind of work I want to do. I do appreciate that I helped so many. It eases a lot of the pain.

Since I have had to take whatever job will pay enough to cover the household expenses, which has meant working as a faceless drone in corporate America, I have been trying to keep helping others. I do a lot of knitting help--having a hobby that can calm and soothe you while creating useful products does increase peace, kindness (giving away what you make) and well-being. That's good.

Giving to Real People

Yet, being a middle class parent on the brink of not having enough to get by for the past few years has made me realize that I am by no means the worst off. I am willing to sacrifice my principles and employment wants, and do whatever I have to so that the kids are fed and housed. Some people, and these are people I really admire, feel they just can't sacrifice their souls to multi-national corporations and try to earn a living doing what they are good at and what they love.

So, at this holiday season, when we are often asked to give money to nameless people via charities, I'd like to highlight two people I know who stick by their guns and do what they love, even when the money doesn't quite follow immediately. Maybe, just maybe, one or two of you will find that they deserve your support, even if it isn't tax deductible. Your bonus will be knowing you helped a hard-working, strong-minded person, and you get to enjoy the fruits of their labor!


Jeff is a close friend (lived with us for four years, even) who has been a musician his whole life. He is an amazing guitarist, has an incredible voice (he can sing Roy Orbison songs in the original keys), and has written some lovely songs. He has always lived for music and is one of the few people in Austin trying to make a living as a full-time musician. He's one of those people who fame and fortune kept just missing, which was always frustrating. Right now he is living with a chronic condition that makes getting most jobs difficult--his vision is bad and he can't stand for long periods of time. But he can make music and share his knowledge of it! And to top it all off, his step-father died, while his mom was in the hospital. Jeff is now trying to take care of her, in Florida, which makes working here in Austin a challenge!

Jeff has created a couple of projects recently that I think deserve more attention. One is his CD of "chill" music, called Lake Effect. I had to listen to this over and over while he was working on it, and never got tired of it. This is music that can take you to another world if you listen to it with headphones on, or that makes a great background for concentrating on other things, like knitting or writing. There are samples on Jeff's website, so check them out. And if you like it, please consider ordering a copy. They make good gifts, too--no offensive lyrics! And the cover photo, by Jeff, is really cool.

His other laudable project is one that really gives back to the folk music community. It's his podcast website, The Austin Connection. There are now 60 different podcasts here, all showcasing a different musician or group who wither lives around here or has passed through Austin in the past couple of years. I am totally blown away by the quality of the recordings and the fun it is to listen to the stories these musicians tell. Jeff has a great radio voice, so these podcasts are very, very easy to listen to. Another great thing to do while you knit if you run out of knitting podcasts! The Austin Connection project is completely funded by donations. And it is sad how few donate compared to how many download the podcasts, read them on their RSS feed or get them on iTunes. A donation to this worthy cause would really help someone trying to make a living doing what they love AND giving back to the local community. Please consider it.


I haven't known Ray as long as I have known Jeff, but I've gotten to know him pretty well through his blogs and email postings. Like Jeff, he's a real individualist who wants to earn his living doing what he loves, not sacrificing his principles. Ray had to leave Louisiana after the hurricane and set up shop in Houston, where he dyes yarn, designs patterns, and knits up a storm, all in a very small space. He also thinks a lot. I really enjoy his thoughts, whether I agree or disagree. Nothing's better than having a friend who makes you think.

Long-time readers have seen me knit with some of his Knitivity yarns, which I enjoy because the color combinations are not the standard ones you see everywhere. He also has some patterns and holiday stockings, hats and bags for sale that would make great holiday gifts. But the best thing he has is a deal where you buy someone a voucher for sock yarn (first item listed on the sock page), and then they get to pick the color, which Ray will dye right up for them and send right off! What a great gift for any knitter.

Also great for knitters are the shirts and other products Ray has on his CafePress site. He just designed a pretty amusing knitting-themed shirt that is brand new--no one on your gift list will have it yet! Or maybe YOU need one!

And anything you buy will keep a very small business afloat--that has to fill you with holiday spirit, whatever that is. I know it makes me feel good to buy things right from the maker, and knowing the kind of person Ray is makes me feel even better. A real American entrepreneur.

What I Think (as if you asked)

I'd much rather buy something from someone who is honestly trying to make a living than to just give people hand-outs. I think most of us would rather earn our livings. I know Jeff and Ray feel that way. And having some holiday income will certainly bring them cheer, while their music and yarnish things will bring YOU cheer!

Now if you can't bring yourself to do any holiday shopping via my personal favorites, don't forget the many indie dyers, local yarn shops, and other small craft-related businesses out there. Your purchases of items made locally or marketed via people in our local communities helps them feed their families. When we give straight to "real" people, it doesn't hurt those big businesses much, but really, really helps the small ones. Let's do it!

PS: Neither of these guys asked me to do this. I was just thinking of them and realized that, since I don't have anything monetary to give them right now, I could at least share their talents with my little bloggy audience. And this is my last infomercial for the season. I need to go concentrate on getting my own funding now!

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