The first week of the holiday countdown we offered you gifts you could wear, and yesterday we wrapped up the second week which was full of items and objects to decorate your homes. Today we're jumping with a fearless resolve and unrelenting giddiness into week three. Seven days with arguably the most enlivening collections of gifts, this week is a love letter to experience, play, and joy. A letter that leaves you with all the notes you need to conduct a life well lived this holiday and well into the new year!
Today, specifically, we swim into the pool of celebration, support, and profound appreciation of our societal diversity and our reassuring human commonality. It can be all too easy, when bombarded by the distractions of the day to day and the unacknowledged blinders erected by our routines, to become disconnected from one another. Especially during the pandemic, our worlds narrow and we slowly tune out the purring vibration of the lives lived around us—much to our societal and personal detriments. But this narrowness opens up the door to a realization of just how phenomenal the world is; those eye-widening, soul-enlivening moments that render you breathless with the profound joy and peace that comes with seeing people and populations for who they are and recognizing that you are a part of a global community full of spectacularity. These gifts connect us to those moments of universality and unity that make us feel whole so we share them with you in hopes that you and your loved ones can share in the immense heart-filling love during this season dedicated to comfort and joy.
Let's start in Providence, Rhode Island at Beautiful Day. During a quintessential late-night philosophical conversation in 2008, Keith and Geoff posed the question, "how could our community do something practical to help refugees rebuild their lives in Providence. The answer? Well, why not granola?" (1). With a motivation to make a tangible impact in the Providence refugee experience and fueled by a bottle of beer, the men hammered out an actionable plan that ultimately actualized as Beautiful Day Granola which offers distinct programs tailored to adult refugees, youth refugees, and community education in addition to their addictive granolas!
Within the walls of their kitchen, adult refugees facing "the most challenging employment barriers: [limited] English, lack of transferable skills and emotional issues related to the trauma they have experienced in their home countries" (2), are welcomed into safe spaces, surrounded by those with similar experiences. From measuring ingredients to obtaining the perfect level of toastedness, granola making requires an attention to detail and a commitment to quality without necessitating extensive communication in English. Refugees in the program are offered paid, on-the-job kitchen and production training and exposed to invaluable work and social skills that serve to acclimate them to American culture : "confidence, team work, English, punctuality etc."
"Beautiful Day helps refugees adjust to life in America by offering paid, on-the-job training. Every job in our company is designed to be part of a hands-on classroom where trainees gain critical skills and the confidence to enter the job market. At the same time, our award-winning products educate consumers about the refugee crisis. Every purchase, every bite or sip, provides a practical way to get involved with human displacement and start building more informed, welcoming communities." (2)
We are firm believers that immigrants and refugees make our communities better. Someone once very eloquently articulated the appeal of diversity to us by noting "everyone dreams of travel, of exploring unfamiliar worlds. Immigrants bring those worlds to us and share cultures and traditions that would otherwise remain inaccessible to the majority of people, those without the means to travel". We love that Kieth and Geoff and those at Beautiful Day give us an opportunity to indirectly welcome and support our refugee neighbors while we swoon over bags of Pistachio Cardamom Granola and bars of Bourbon Pecan! And, as Beautiful Day ships their assorted gift boxes, we're gifting granola to everyone on our holiday lists!
Speaking of refugee neighbors, we stay in Providence and stop by Youssef Akhtarini at Aleppo Sweets. Akhatarini learned to make baklava in his home country of Syria where he opened a string of bakeries in Aleppo and grew his beautiful family. But after the war turned his home and business to rubble and devastated his family's sense of safety, Akhtarini was forced to let go of the land where he built his life and he, together with his wife and children, made the arduous journey to Rhode island with their love for each other and a collection of treasured recipes. Initially, he introduced his tradition Syrian baklava—made with sugar syrup instead of honey in his American home—to his neighbors and farmer's market patrons but it wasn't until 2018 with the opening of Aleppo Sweets that the broader Rhode Island community was invited to Akhtarini's table. The restaurant is one of our favorites in Providence and we could spend all day sipping sweet mint tea and eating Aleppo pepper fatayers and warm musabaha but it's the baklava that sings with the melody of Akhtarini's passion and masterful touch. Aleppo Sweets is both a story of resilience and rebirth and a story of tradition, artistry, and a love of home regardless of place. And we can't imagine a better holiday gift than the reading of this story through the flaky pages of a slice of baklava bound by sweet Syrian syrup. And the best part: Aleppo Sweets, like Beautiful Day, ships their products so you can gift a box of baklava to anyone in your life!
Ayed Arafah & Disarming Design
Poetic Nights Diary Pillow
We jump closer to Syria to find Ayed Arafah in Ramallah in the West Bank. Born in Jerusalem and raised in Dheisheh refugee camp, Arafah has a powerful relationship with home and place that can only be chiseled from the displacing and disassociating experiences that harden people in occupied territories. In these spaces, one finds nurture from the roots of home established by generations before but falters at the hands of the winds of uncertainty and the pressure of foreign staked soil. It's an existence that those with brilliance like Afrah transcribe into unparalleled works of art. Here, Afrah shares the intimacy of his connection with home by offering a comforting work of art to bring with you when you are your most vulnerable.
"Ayed Arafah reflects on how the occupation also takes part of the body and mind; to protect his dreams from this violence, he often reads poetry before sleeping. That’s why he made these pillow cases: to provide a warm and creative touch to the bedroom, with the lyrical content and meaning allowing poetic dreams to appear. [The] pillowcase shows a quote from Mahmoud Darwish's poem...‘Diary of a Palestinian wound’ and reads: 'Tell her I’m fine… My homeland is not a suitcase and I am not a traveller'”(3)
When our heads and eyes are heavy and we feel dispossessed of our security and of our sense of home, this Poetic Nights Diary Pillow is a lullaby that warms us with a breath of assuredness and a song of connection.
To Write Love On Her Arms
Presence Not Perfection T-Shirt
While at times we comfort ourselves with hymns of connection while wrapped in the embrace of our bedsheets, other times we feel empowered to remind others of our interconnectedness, our unwavering support, and our recognition and celebration of their individual validity. With that in mind, we dress ourselves in t-shirts that send a message of love to the world like the Presence Not Perfection shirt from To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA). Before TWLOHA became the phenomenal international movement that it is, it was a single shirt offered to raise money to support a single person through treatment.
"When Jamie met Renee Yohe, she was struggling with addiction, depression, self-injury, and suicidal thoughts. He wrote about the five days he spent with her before she entered a treatment center, and he sold T-shirts to help cover the cost. When she entered treatment, he posted the story on MySpace to give it a home. The name of the story was “To Write Love on Her Arms.” (4)
Now, TWLOHA is a movement "dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide" through opening community conversations, collecting and publicizing available resources and directly donating to organizations that provide treatment and recovery programs. TWLOHA offers a marketplace of truly wonderful merchandise to spread messages of hope and raise funds for relevant causes. The Presence not Perfection shirt, with its straightforward message, is one of our absolute favorite shirts. Over the heart on the front of the shirt, the word perfection is crossed out and replaced with the bolded word presence while on the back, the message is expanded to include THE WORLD NEEDS YOUR PRESENCE, NOT YOUR PERFECTION, YOU HAVE MADE THIS WORLD MORE BEAUTIFUL. To wear this shirt is to be a beacon to help guide people who are struggling out of the darkness but everyone, regardless of the state of their mental health, can benefit from the reminder that they are, just as they are, enough and that the world is better because they're in it. It's the perfect message of love and hope and we want nothing more than to spread it to as many people as possible this season.
Good Vibez Designs
Different Not Less Sticker
Another epic reminder piece comes to us from Austrialian brand Good Vibez Designs—and with a name like that you know they're right at home on this list! We couldn't be more proud to work with the several members on the ARCANISA team who are neurodivergent as they sincerely are the lifeblood of our company; but we are all too familiar with the discrimination and judgements directed at those who are neuro-atypical. While we don't believe in shaming people for their ignorance of the beauty and power of atypical minds and atypical communities, we have no qualms about spreading a message of celebration of all minds, all cultures, all orientations, communities, and people. And that's where Good Vibez Designs—which is run by a person on the autism spectrum— comes in. They offer a Different Not Less Sticker that we can't get enough of. A distorted wave of white text, reading DIFFERENT NOT LESS, billows in a pool of glossy black that's surrounded by crisp white ring. The tapering of the letters and the graphic black and white circle recalls the ying and yang symbol which feels all too appropriate as there is a remarkable balance and harmony found when neurotypical and neurodivergent people come together. Frankly, there is a natural harmony when we celebrate, encourage, and harness our individuality and love and this sticker is an aesthetic reminder of how magnificent life is when we appreciate each other for who we are. Let your loved ones celebrate what makes them unique by gifting them this badge!
Lucky Fin Project
For Every Hand CURVD Mug
When it comes to wholehearted celebrations of individuals, few organizations are as sincere and successful as Lucky Fin Project. After giving birth to a beautiful and healthy baby girl with an unexpected hand difference, Molly Stapelman, the Lucky Fin Project founder, started creating bracelets that celebrated people with limb differences like her daughter. 20,000 bracelets and nearly 73,000 instagram followers later, Lucky Fin Project stands proud as a supportive community, a movement of self acceptance, and, most importantly, a voice of veneration of individuality. What we love most about the Project is that it's a platform for unwavering happiness that isn't tainted by even a whisper of saccharine insincerity. Their Instagram is an excellent example; the page is an invitation to join an incomparably welcoming community and each image is an introduction to and celebration of community members, their daily lives, and their joys. It's a celebration of people in their natural elements, living without pretense or performance. The people featured have limb difference but when we view the page—unlike other pages in the atypicality-acceptance space— we beam seeing the unfiltered fun had by kids, gush over tender photos of sleeping babies, and are awed over how gorgeous the subjects' eyebrows are. Lucky Fin Project celebrates people, including but not limited to their disabilities, a distinction that, as people with disabilities, we find empowering and hugely refreshing.
Recognizing that differences may come with a need for accommodation, we absolutely adore when products are intentionally designed to be accessible to a wide community of typical and atypical people alike. Like this For Every Hand mug from CURVD and Lucky Fin Project. The white mug is accented by a pair of vibrant palm prints, one typical and one suggestive of limb difference, bellow which LUCKY FIN PROJECT and HUMAN FRIENDLY are boldly written. Each mug is thoughtfully designed "with everyone in mind...from average bodies to those with upper limb difference, Parkinson's, lower dexterity, and invisible disability"(5) and, as one of our team members has a loved one with ALS, we can attest that not only does the tapered handle offer a fantastic aesthetic accent, it also makes a tremendous difference to those who rely on their morning cups of coffee but for whom most standard mug handles prove inaccessible.
"I believe everybody is different. Some people’s differences are on the outside and easier to see than the differences others have on the inside. But EVERYBODY has got something and God doesn’t give challenges to those who can’t handle them. And in what ever your challenge, is a blessing worth celebrating".-Molly Stapelman (6)
We fully plan to add a skosh of hot chocolate and an inappropriate but unapologetic amount of marshmallows to these Little Fin Project Mugs when we cozy up by our holiday fires. Whether you could benefit from the unique CURVED mug design, you know someone who could, or you just love to participate in movements that spread love, these mugs are a great item to gift this year!
Nicaraguan Sign Language Project
Where Lucky Fin Project accommodates difference with a tangible object, Nicaraguan Sign Language does so with knowledge. As we've discussed before, a few of our ARCANISA members are proficient in American Sign Language and spend a great deal of time with the Deaf community in the United States. We feel, with inarticulable conviction, that language should not be a privilege and that everyone should have the resources to communicate comfortably. Unfortunately, there is a societal desire for adherence to an accepted 'typical' standard and, when it comes to communication, this standard is spoken language. Consequently, an educational practice known as 'oralism' began which prohibited the use of sign language and instead prioritized lip-reading and spoken communication to encourage 'normalization'. Not surprisingly, this resulted in generations of Deaf people who were deprived of proper educations as they were unable to absorb taught information because they were denied the use of appropriate language. In the United States, the increased visibility and acceptance of the Deaf community has prompted a transition back to formalized sign language teaching but, in much of the world, deaf children go uneducated and, even if they are given access to education, oralism remains as the predominant education strategy. But, in the face of absent language, the brilliance of human adaptability prevails and small clusters of deaf people and their families create their own sign language systems known as 'village signs' and 'home signs' that allow them to communicate with one another even without formalized instructed language. In Nicaragua, deaf children created their own language that would ultimately become Nicaraguan Sign Language.
"After the 1979 revolution, the new government embarked upon a "Literacy Crusade" aimed at bringing at least a fourth grade education to all members of Nicaraguan Society, including children with disabilities and at bringing at least a fourth grade education to all members of Nicaraguan Society, including children with disabilities. The special education school in Managua was re-opened, but this time with hundreds of deaf students attending academic classes...[but] Sign Language was not taught....
...Hundreds of these deaf children, ages 4 to 16, suddenly found themselves in an environment where their communication needs were no longer met by family members. These children were now forced to come up with a better way to communicate with each other. They copied each other's gestures, expanding their repertoires as a common vocabulary began to develop among them. There were not using a language -- not yet. But, they were becoming better at communicating their needs and experiences among each other. ...In 1986, the teachers and administrators...were mystified that the children appeared to be using their hands to communicate with each other. That year, the Ministry of Education invited [a] linguist from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Judy Kegl, to come to Managua and explain this unexpected phenomenon....Kegl quickly realized that the Nicaraguan government had supplied the triggers that would enable deaf children to create a rich, complex and rule governed new sign language.Armed with video cameras, Kegl endeavored to document the birthing of Nicaraguan Sign Language." (7)
Nicaraguan Sign Language is one that emerged organically and spontaneously in the absence of any external influence and, unlike all other Sign Languages, has been documented since its inception which is just crushingly cool. There is an organization known as Nicaraguan Sign Language Project that works to empower the now vibrant Nicaraguan Deaf community by "fostering nationalization of the indigenous signed language and by training natively fluent Deaf Nicaraguans to be school teachers and sign language role models" (7). The Program holds a firm commitment to respecting and preserving the Deaf culture and identity and therefore advocates for the immersion of Deaf Nicaraguans in their uncontaminated indigenous sign language. While they don't yet offer merchandise—and we sincerely hope they will in the future—consider making a donation to the Nicaraguan Sign Language on behalf of your loved ones in lieu of a material gift this year. The magic of participating in the history and preservation of language is one of the best gifts we could imagine!
While Nicaraguan Sign Language Project focuses on education, Gnome Surf is all about fun. Gnome Surf, with "a world class research team, comprised of neurologists, doctors, and world renowned researchers and activists", works tirelessly "to create a cultural shift toward kindness, love, and acceptance for all kids, of all abilities...by providing families with surf therapy, art therapy, eco therapy, and yoga experiences locally and globally regardless of their socio-economic status" (8) Any organization that hopes to make acceptance and kindness the norm and creates spaces for everyone to be exactly who they are is one we definitely want to be a part of!
If you've ever watched someone surf you likely can appreciate how invigoratingly joyous a sport it is. There is something inherently, perhaps primally, soothing about being near an ocean and, when kissed by the salty air under an endless shower of sun rays, it's hard not to feel the pulse of nature. Add to that scene the sensation of motion, accompanied by a rush of excitement and an indescribable sense of freedom, as one slides along the surface of the water. Surfing offers everyone a brief but profound adventure, and Gnome Surf extends that opportunity to everyone.
"Time stands still in joy. Pure communication, compassion, and love is being exchanged out on the waves, at times without even a spoken word. (8)
As Gnome Surf is based in Little Compton, Rhode island, it might be difficult for some of you to engage with them in person. But fear not! They offer some killer merch so you can support them and represent their movement of kindness and acceptance regardless of where you're based.
If water doesn't appeal to you, then maybe you'd prefer to take to the sky. If so, Project Airtime has you covered—literally! Covered by a canopy of colours, illuminated by the Utah sun above, the team of paragliding pilots at Project Airtime sets off into the endless sky as they take their co-pilots on an adventure through the open air.
"We take EVERYONE flying. When we say EVERYONE, we mean it. No exclusions. From special needs individuals to those with brain and spinal cord injuries. Individuals with illness, as well as the elderly and veterans. Our co-pilots have one thing in common, they want to fly!" (9)
Paragliding offers an incomparable freedom, a sense of sheer weightlessness that is only introduced by flight. Beyond this, paragliding presents a new perspective, transforming the urbanized outcroppings within an arid southwest landscape into a tapestry of texture, a topographic map denoting the chronology of the touch of man. Towers of mountains greet you at eye level and clouds welcome you with a cool breeze before you slip below their veil and follow the comforting call of the grass as you glide back down to Earth. It's not difficult to imagine how spiritual an experience this is, and we find it visionary and stunningly intimate that Project Airtime invites everyone to join them as they fly. Project Airtime doesn't offer merchandise but we are unwaveringly confident that supporting their mission to share flight with a donation in the name of someone you love is a gift your loved ones will cherish.
If you're looking for more physical gifts, we've featured a huge variety of phenomenal and meaningful products already during this Holiday Countdown.
Or woven bowls made by the hands of Zimbabwean caretakers for HIV positive orphans—the profits from which go directly to paying for schooling for these children?
Maybe a blanket, designed by a seventh generation Diné weaver and skateboarder? Did we mention that 100% of the profits go towards providing firewood to at-risk elders on the Navajo nation and that for each blanket sold