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London And The Old Man


 After being a female for 35 years, you'd think I'd understand what all it entails, but it hasn't been until recently that I've finally begun to see the pros and the cons of my sex. My eyes are slowly opening to the differences in the ways male and females are socialized. I won't speak about what it's like as a male, but I will speak to the realization that females are socialized to be pleasing, helpers, peacekeepers and peacemakers...

And I, somehow, was built with a personality that automatically made me a failure of all those attributes. I am not altogether pleasing, though I have a desire for people TO BE pleased with me (just the way I am, good and bad). I am a wonderful helper, but don't always WANT to be a helper. I am miserable at peacekeeping because I have thoughts and opinions that might be problematic to other people; and I have too hot of a temper to be very good at peacemaking (unless you fall into line and do it my way, cause I'll jerk a knot in your tail).

Basically, I am really bad at being a woman that's pleasing, helping, peaceful and kind. I've always thought it was because I am too masculine and wanted to grow up to be Maverick from Top Gun. I wanted to be the hero and the champion that saved the world. But I wanted to do all of those things while having awesome hair and wearing a pencil skirt (I have never owned a pencil skirt, by the way).

Anyway, I am telling you these things to share with you an eye-opening moment I had in public with my newly minted four year-old daughter who also possesses a bullheaded personality that prevents her from being pleasing, helpful, peaceful and kind (comes by it honestly). We were standing in line at the store and an old gentlemen behind us smiled at her and said, "Good afternoon, young lady." London turned around and scowled up at him, but she added a growl for good measure. Me...slightly embarrassed, smiled back at the man on behalf of both of us. He just chuckled softly and said, "You look like you're about four years old." She turned on her heels so she was facing the man full on. She knitted her brows together and glowered up at him through her lashes. I blushed and patted her head, whispering that she was perfectly fine.

"Yesterday was her birthday," I said with extra kindness. The old man smiled. "She's not very nice, sometimes," I hear myself saying with a note of sympathy for the old man.

He looked right up at me and his face grew sober. "Oh, that's okay. Unfortunately, we live in a world where it is no longer safe for a young lady to be kind to a man."

Y'all...

I could have fallen right over in surprise.

THIS OLD MAN WAS SPEAKING SOME IMPORTANT TRUTHS!!!!

Not only was I personally reverting back to the societal norms of how a female should be in public, but I was automatically leading London, and expecting her to comply, to those norms. And this angel of a man shot me down in a graceful and powerful way. He instantly and compassionately reminded me that my daughter doesn't HAVE to be smiling and speaking and responding to a man, any man, in a way she doesn't feel safe doing. He kindly reminded me that it's perfectly okay to scowl and not speak if she doesn't want to.

Yeah, there's still a big part of me that wants London to be kind (and she IS kind!) but more importantly, I want her to know without hesitation that her boundaries matter more that societal norms for women.

Thank God for men like that stranger.

He is making the world great AND safe.

~Gia

Noonday Ambassadors Who Bring Change

I have beautiful women in my life, inside and outside. Each of them has their own story and passions that I find fascinating. One of these women is my sister-in-law, Beccy. Unlike me, she has been that bluebird that’s flown around the world and visited faraway places I may never have the opportunity to see. In India, she developed a heart for the women and children there. But like most of us, she grew up, married and had children here at home. A very "grown-up life" can makes it all the more difficult to see the world and do big and magical things that change people’s lives…

((Well, not really, because two souls being knitted together in love and creating other humans out of that love is more than likely the most important, and most beautiful work of all.))

Last year, however, Beccy still found an admirable to way to not only provide for her own growing family, but to help artisans in distant parts of the world provide for their families as well. As a Noonday ambassador, Beccy is changing bits and pieces of the world—perhaps not the entire world (as we often wished of doing as little children), but the worlds of individual human beings. To me, that’s amazing.

I’d like to take a moment to share Beccy’s words with you on what it means to her to work for Noonday.




“I think many of us struggle with what our lives are for, whether we matter, if we’re making a difference. As a teenager, I was able to travel the world and make an impact working in orphanages or teaching school in places like India and Bolivia, but I sometimes still felt insignificant. I figured that if I didn’t go, if I was unable to go, someone else would.

“After starting a family and committing to being a stay-at-home mom, I felt like I had lost my connection to the larger world. Then I heard about Noonday. Through Noonday, I can once again have an impact around the world by connecting artisans in other countries to a market for their product here. Selling their handmade goods creates dignified jobs in vulnerable communities. This is so important to me because I have been in those vulnerable communities. I have seen first hand the families that cannot afford medical care, or send their children to school.

“Noonday is different than any direct-sales company I’ve encountered. They are not multi-level marketing, which can sometimes leave a bad taste in people’s mouths. Instead, they are direct sales due to their desire to have a personal connection with the artisan, the ambassador, and the customer. As an ambassador, I want to sit with you and hear your stories, share my story, and the stories of the women around the world so we can all be connected. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting many other ambassadors and each of them are encouraging and supportive. We help each other out, give each other our tips and ideas. We aren’t competitive. 



Beccy with a Noonday artisan, Roopa, who is a partner in India.

“I joined Noonday to make a difference. When the problems of the world seem so big, I wonder what a small, quiet person like me can do. Noonday gives me a voice. When I wear a piece that someone asks about, it gives me an opportunity to share the artisan's story and how everyone can make a difference. I’ve heard first hand how Noonday gave someone back their hope, it built schools and daycares, provided clean water, and helps fight against human trafficking. It is so many things. But most importantly, Noonday is more than just pretty accessories.”

Click here to learn about hosting a trunk show or contact Beccy below
 
I've been lucky enough to have the privilege to attend trunk shows and also host my own with Beccy guiding all my friends through the process. What I love the most is hearing how the artisans choose what to use to make their piece with. Click on this link and lean more about how Ethiopian artisans collect bullets from the fields and turn them into stunning works of art.


Click here to read how when you wear their story, you share their story

In our nation, we are mostly a privileged people. I am an activist and vocal about human rights. I speak a lot about my own privilege as a white, American woman. A part of me was afraid that wearing these pieces would be yet another mark of my privilege. It is, too. But because I have that status, I need to use it the best way that I can. Artisans want to work, they want to create, and they want dignity. As an artist, I understand this as well. Instead of just giving money, shopping at Noonday gives employment and a market for their art and passion. The pieces tell their story and the story of their homeland. Purchasing and wearing their art gives them dignity and a voice. And I can help do those things because of my privilege. What an honor.


Perhaps one of the things that strikes me the most is that the Noonday Ambassadors don't live in their personal little bubbles here in the United States. They are actively learning about their artisans and the lives of their families. They're also traveling across the world to meet these artisans, sit at their tables, and hear their dream. Click on this link to read an Ambassador from Tennessee's account when she traveled to Uganda and met with Noonday artisans and their families. To me, it is clear that Noonday is working to change bits and pieces of the world through art, beauty, connection, community, and most important of all, opportunity.

If you'd like to learn more about Noonday and/or book a show or become part of the company, please feel free to contact Beccy.

noondayshiny@gmail.com
rebeccakyrie.noondaycollection.com

~Gia












The Darkness That Makes Us Yearn



Yesterday afternoon, I was tucked warmly away in my grandmother’s sun room. What an unusual place to sit and be warm, sipping coffee and having conversation while only a large window separates the human hearts from the heavy snowfall outside in the frigid temps. But there I was, reminiscing over the years I’ve been married—18 years this summer. My aunt said she would be married 30 (I think) and she said she didn’t know how many winters. I was confused for a moment. Did she mean literal winters? But she did not. She meant the trying times, the difficult parts, the areas in marriages that many wish they could speed pass or run from. I nodded with understanding. “Those are the best times,” I said. “They make us more beautiful, stronger people. I love my winters more than any of the other times.”

Then last night, while I was laying in bed, blankets piled high because it was freezing, I started to think about how much truth is hidden in the idea that winters are the trying times; the hard times; the times that shape and mold us; the times that make us stronger; fill us with more love that’s unbreakable; purify us….

 
In the year 2018, winters are still quite literally difficult. We have to work hard to fight back the wildness of it all. We put up plastic over the leaky windows in our old houses. We prepare our cars that sometimes still can’t keep up in the sub-zero temperatures. We fight to unfreeze pipes and then run about screaming when the pipes burst and begin spraying cold water all over the basement (okay, perhaps I was the only one screaming). We are beyond frustrated when the busted pipes require immense cleanup and repair and then they only freeze once again a few hours after fixed. We worry about the roads that become treacherous with snow drifts and ice, both seen and unseen. School is delayed or canceled. Job shifts are rearranged to accommodate the children, stir crazy with cabin fever. We stock up our pantries and fatten ourselves up on hot chocolate and endless pots of chili.

2018…(take THAT Y2K believers!)

We are still fighting to live through the winters. It’s hard. It certainly isn’t easy…and people are often wishing to escape the winter and run to a safer, warmer, more inviting place.

Our ancestors--the legacy that has grown into us--they knew that winter would quite literally bring life or death. They worked hard to prepare and then battened down the hatches, hoping that they would arrive through the dark and enter back into the warm life of spring. They needed hope, filling every surface of their homes with the green hope of life with cuttings of evergreen.

They were superstitious.

They were vigilant.

They were tough.


And they lived through it.



At the end of winter, they took the winter greens and readied a large fire. Some wrote notes of things they wanted to leave behind with the winter—tucked the notes into the evergreen, and burned it all to ash. It was a cycle. There would be another winter, but for now, there was Spring.

But there would be a spring after, if only they fought hard to see it.

This is marriage.

This is relationship.

This is friendship and life.

Be thankful for the winters.
They are tough and sometimes they hurt. You may want to run away and find something more comfortable, but each time the winter darkness turns to warm spring, you will find yourself stronger, more capable, and purified to keep moving forward as time walks with you.



I will leave you with this Celtic prayer of thanks for the seasons:

There is a winter in all of our lives,
a chill and darkness that makes us yearn
for days that have gone
or put our hope in days yet to be.
Father God, you created seasons for a purpose.
Spring is full of expectation
buds breaking
frosts abating and an awakening
of creation before the first days of summer.
Now the sun gives warmth
and comfort to our lives
reviving aching joints
bringing colour, new life
and crops to fruiting.
Autumn gives nature space
to lean back, relax and enjoy the fruits of its labour
mellow colours in sky and landscape
as the earth prepares to rest.
Then winter, cold and bare as nature takes stock
rests, unwinds, sleeps until the time is right.
An endless cycle
and yet a perfect model.
We need a winter in our lives
a time of rest, a time to stand still
a time to reacquaint ourselves
with the faith in which we live.
It is only then that we can draw strength
from the one in whom we are rooted
take time to grow and rise through the darkness
into the warm glow of your springtime
to blossom and flourish
bring colour and vitality into this world
your garden.
Thank you Father
for the seasons of our lives



~Gia Cooper

The God In Me And The God In You


These days, I have a lot of my own ideas and thoughts about who God is. Very few of these thoughts still hold the fundamental ideas of my childhood religious upbringing. Almost all my ideas about God have been stripped of what I was taught the Holy Bible said about God. It isn’t that I stopped believing all of that (I did stop believing much of it), but rather that I came to my personal revelation that God is unique to each of us.

I suppose I think about it in the same way that I do when I think about who I am. I know who I am (most of the time), but all the people that come across me and get to know me in various intimate ways, or just friendly acquaintance ways, see a different version of me. They all have their own ideas of who I am and what I’m about. They look at me differently and make judgements on my character flaws and strengths. To me, very few ever get it right. Sometimes I don’t even get it right! But after all, we are all looking and searching and understanding from different vantage points.

And I think this is the same with God.

We are all on different paths. We have all been taught different things. Many of us worship differently, call God by different names, and feel that everyone else that’s not doing it just like us are the real ones that don’t actually know him. Some of us are looking at God from a valley and have to squint to see, while others are standing high on a mountaintop—vision clear.

This is why I like the expression often used in Buddhism: The God in me honors the God in you.

I’m not saying that we are all individual gods. I am saying that we all have the imprint of our Maker within us. We hold a fraction of God—that spirit—that divine love that is timeless and unconditional—that DNA of kinship. All of us. From the saints to the scoundrels. This is what connects us despite race and gender, religion and creed. This is what makes us a family…all human together…all created…and bearing that image of Almighty within us. Some of us know that God is there, some of us haven’t found the Spirit yet, and others do their best to bury the Truth and Light and run hard from it with all their might.

I think this is why it is so important to treat one another with love and kindness. Every person we come across and interact with are other beautiful beings that are walking around with the Spirit of God deep within them. Maybe you can see it when you look into their eyes? Or maybe it’s cloaked in darkness that tries hard to kill that person’s truth and identity? But whatever the case, we are bearing our hearts and God’s heart with every smile, every flicker of our eyes, ever tear, every laughter, ever ripple of anger and stab of grief…

How much would the world change if we viewed each other in this way? How would we begin to change the way we interact with who we think are our enemies if we believed that God was within them? Would we hurt them? Kill them? Hate them? Starve them? Leave them wanting for shelter and warmth? Or would we wrap them in our arms and hold them dear and close? Would we honor them and the Spirit that’s inside them? Would we take care of one another and tear down walls? Would we live together in a kingdom built upon mutual respect and honor?

We should.

Because if we believe we are created, then we must also believe the Creator leaves a part of themself within each of us.

So…

The God in me honors the God in you.

We are family.

We are all One.

"You don't have a soul. You are a soul. With a body." 
~C.S. Lewis

~Gia

Lunch With The Time Traveler


There aren’t many times when a mother can sit down and eat lunch without being in a hurry. Yesterday, with a toddler running a high fever, was no exception. So, as I sat down and began to eat, I was more than a little irritated to see a truck pull into the drive way. Who comes to visit me? No one. Everyone I know and love knows better than to spring surprise attacks—I mean “visits”—on me.

I watched as an old man slowly unfolded himself from the truck. He looked around, squinting in the afternoon sun. He had on denim overalls and a flannel button down short-sleeved shirt—trademark of an old Sheridan man. He started toward the back door and I quickly finished my bite of lunch and wiped my mouth. I glanced myself over and found I looked very much like the trademark stay-at-home-mom: cut off leggings (oh! and hey! I had on a button down flannel too! Go figure!) and a messy pony tail procured without the use of brush of comb. What a sight!

“Hello,” the old man said when I opened the back door. “I’m here to pay the rent.”

I should pause this story and explain.

When Roger and I bought our house, we kept the agreement of the previous owners that we would continue housing a 1969 Mustang Firebird in our garage for $10 a month. Crazy, right? You might be wondering how such a thing even happens. Why would anyone leave a perfectly good mustang sitting in a crummy off-site garage?

The romantic version of the story has been stitched together in my own imagination with what little of the facts I was given. And it as follows:

In the 70’s, a man loved that prized Mustang of his. He hardly ever drove it and kept it perfect and polished. When he died, his wife wouldn’t dare part with it. They lived around the block from this house, and apparently, an old grandma lived here at the time. She didn’t drive, so the garage was left vacant and in much better shape than it currently is in 2017. The two women (not so old at the time) were friends and one offered to the other to allow her to store the Mustang in her garage until she could convince herself to sell it. The poor widow simply needed to wait until the grief wasn’t so fresh. Ten dollars a month, the widow offered. Her friend accepted with a casual roll of the eyes. She didn’t actually need the money.

So in 2005, two much younger versions of Roger and Andrea Cooper stood in the garage of their new home. It was an old house that was going to need lots of fixing up. Everything about it looked like the 1970’s, but it had good bones and Andrea was in love with it. It looked like time travel…

But that Mustang. My word! Why would anyone leave it in this rundown garage hidden under a tarp? Yet, each March, an old lady would come knock on the front door with a check. “For the Firebird,” she would explain. The grief never seemed to fade enough to let the car go.


Last week, out of curiosity,
I went to make sure the garage still had the Mustang in it. I pulled back the tarp and took in the shiny paint job—the only thing that’s still looking great about the car. The white wall tires that were probably brand new when she was parked in the garage were now flat. I tried to open the door but found that it was locked. I wondered if anyone actually knows where the keys are. And I wonder why they parked the car in the garage and didn’t leave the keys. What if the garage caught fire? And then I worry that maybe I did have the keys and now didn’t know where they were. I am an irresponsible land lord, it would seem.

Anyway, after a solid moment of worrying about garage fires and Mustang keys, I press my face up to the window and shield my eyes to peer inside.

Mold.

Every inch of the interior is covered in mold.

Was I supposed to do something about that? Was that my fault? Did I fail the old woman and her husband by letting mold grow in his precious Mustang…??? But, at least, what I had actually been worried about hadn’t happened. I thought rodents would have gotten in there and chewed up the leather. Nope. No rodents. Thank God.

Okay. Back to yesterday…

Yet, it occurs to me that I have once again left out important information. Earlier in the year, we drove down Main Street and checked the big paper they tape to the police station window letting us know things like the date of big trash pick-up and who has died (because this is how they do such things in a small farm town). I always hate the idea of my own name one day being written with Sharpie on the paper notices. But it wasn’t my name—obviously—but the name of the woman who pays $10 a month for the Mustang in my garage. Well. Now what?

So here I am with this old man who tells me he is in his 70’s. He wants to give me $120 for the rent of the Mustang—I mean, the garage. He has a younger son who wants to take it and fix it up, but they decided they just don’t have the energy for it, so they will pay for one more year. Maybe this is what his mother said, too? “I don’t have the energy to think about that car—it hurts too much—so I will pay for one more year.”

He gives me the cash and I think about that mold. I don’t really want this rent money. It just sits in there, after all. Are they literally paying for the 4x8 feet of gravel for the thing to be perpetually parked on until my garage catches fire (I don’t think it will, by the way)? The old man asks for a recipet and I blink at him. “Would you like me to write something down on a sheet of paper,” I ask. He nods.  I invite him inside because I’m going to have to hunt through the house for a pen that’s not been broken. He says he will wait right there on the porch.

After stress sweating and running about looking for paper and pen, I scrawl out a little receipt and bring it out to him. I find him sitting in a lawn chair on my porch. He has a wistful smile on his face and he is blinking slowly, as if waking up. There is a sparkle in his eyes. He doesn’t stand up when I exit. Instead, he says, “I used to play in this yard all the time when I was a boy.”

When he says this, my breath catches in my throat. It isn’t because the idea of this old man as a boy startles me. It’s because I can see the boy in his face—in his smile—in his mischeivious eyes. I realize that his isn’t even seeing my yard—but a memory—a whole different time. Seeing this man travel through time and space sends goosebumps across my arms.

“It didn’t look like this, though,” he says. “That big tree wasn’t there.”

I glance at the massive maple tree standing in the very middle of the yard. “That tree right there,” I ask in disbelief.

He turns to me and chuckles. “I am an old man after all.” He looks back and lets his eyes scan the little lot. “Ray and I used to go down the railroad tracks (they’re not there anymore, either) and catch garter snakes. We’d bring them back here and put them right there in that garden.” He points to the spot next to the garage. There is not a garden, but a trampoline. His eyes light up like candles with the memory and he laughs. “His grandma sure didn’t like that much.”

And I stand for a little while listening to this old man who I have never met. He tells me that my mud room used to be an open porch. He tells me things about my home I could never have known. I listen to him marvel about how much everything has changed…and grown…and passed on. He becomes my own little time traveling friend to whisper to me secrets of the past.

Is that how it all goes? We all get our little bit of time? We live in our spaces and change them, grow them, ruin them, rebuild them and make them more beautiful?

Do we all get a little of time to watch old memories of others fade before our eyes as we live and breath new memories?

Do we all get to decide to drive that Mustang or let it sit and become covered in mold?

And all of it before our name gets written and posted in Sharpie.

As for me? I’m going to pour another cup of coffee and think about where those Mustang keys might be.

Oh! And also! Stop being irritated when unexpected visitors stop by. They may have some wonderful stories for you.

~Gia

The Two Little Gia Girls




It has never been easy for me to forge friendships with women.

Or even understand women.

I grew up feeling that women were weaker, and therefore had to work extra hard to be strong and equal to a man. But no matter how hard she worked, she wasn’t ever going to quite measure up. After all, how could she? This was how women were designed. This was their role? This was part of how she operated under the burden of her gender. So why not embrace that? Why not be proud of that? Why not fight for the right to be feminine: meek, quiet, and giving of all the care and affection?

Now, I need to be clear and explain that absolutely no one in my life taught me these ideas or lead me to feel as if they were truth. They were my own sad observation as a skinny little girl living with four brothers.

But here’s the secret:

Even though I thought these things and tried hard to accept them, there was another skinny little girl standing with arms crossed and spine straight, glowering at the other skinny little girl who thought herself weak. She was always yelling, “Who are you kidding? We both know that you’re the strongest of all!”

I watched my mother stand with spine straight and arms folded against the odds all her life. I saw strength in her, more strength than I saw in the men around her. She had this quiet resolve to rise up and conquer. She fought for a life and made it strong and tall…

And that stubborn skinny little feminist inside me jabbed the other skinny little girl and was constantly saying, “See that! That’s strong! That’s a woman!”

It has been a hard road for me to discover and accept feminism. I am just now starting to openly and publicly embrace it without fear. Even though the two skinny girls are starting to grow into one, not-so-skinny Gia, I still worry. Strength is scary, after all. It has power. Power can be good, or it can be bad. The trick is figuring out how to handle your new strength. Don’t grip things too hard or you might break them. Don’t pick things up so possessively or you might shatter them. Don’t love people too hard or you might smother the life out of them. Don’t be fully yourself or you might scare people—you might be too much.

Once in a while, I circle back to those skinny girls and I stare at the one full of fear and envy of her mother’s success at conquering adversity. Why did she feel like a failure? What was it that kept her feeling as if she HAD to put herself down and be less than? What was it that made her feel she should let others do that to her as well? And I realize it’s the pain. It’s the fear. It’s the possible rejection, the humiliation, the loneliness…

It can be much easier to be small and hidden away, weak and cloaked in shame
. People don’t notice you hiding in a dark corner, cowering, arms hugging yourself tight…

But people always notice the woman with the straight spine walking into the room with her chin held high. And sometimes, people hate that woman. She’s too tall. She’s too strong. She’s too sure. She’s too happy and content and capable. That woman is dangerous. She challenges those of us still hiding in the corners to get the heck out of there. And that’s the bad part; even though we think we can’t be seen hiding in our shame and fear, that woman sees us. She levels us with her eyes and she holds a hand out to us. “Stand with me,” she beacons…

This is it. We have to choose…
We either look away and bury our face in our hands—letting the fear completely swallow us up.

We can either stand up and take her hand—feeling the warmth of light on our face…

Or we can look at her and find hatred and resentment in our hearts for that woman.

 ***

Today, I’ve just now switched from strong black coffee to cucumber water. I am wearing cut-off leggins and a flannel shirt. My hair is a day old and in a pony tail I shaped with my hands in lieu of a brush. The house is a mess. The toddler puked all over my bed clothes last night. The cat shattered my screen on my phone. There is nothing exciting or strong happening in my normal life today…

But, the Feminist Gia inside me?

Well, she is burning up with light and warmth and openness. Even with dishes in the sink and cat poop outside the dang litter box, she will work hard not to tear down other women. She will promise herself every single day to rise up and seek light rather than sink low into the dark. It isn’t easy…especially with all the puke and cat poop and ants making a buffet out of the Popsicle someone let melt on the kitchen counter.

But an old man just came to my door. I wasn’t expecting him and I felt insecure about the fact that I was still chewing the last of my hasty lunch and that my hair was coming out of my pony tail. He didn’t seem to notice. He asked me what I did for a living. Instead of feeling small and shrugging, “I’m just a mom,” I lifted my chin and answered, “I’m a writer. I’m a photographer, and I love to take care of my children.”

Slap hands, Feminist, Skinny Gia.

You are growing.

We all are.

~Gia

Audrey's Birth Story :: Giafoto Fine Art Photography


A few weeks ago, I was able to shoot my first birth story. I shot the entire thing without a flash and worked with the natural light that was thankfully pouring in through the windows. It occurred to me how distracting a flash might be for the doctor and nurses, and I really wanted to remain a positive member of the room.  It was a great afternoon, and I couldn't thank Lisa enough for allowing me to capture these moments for her. The photos will have no commentary attached, as they tell the story sufficiently on their own.
















































~Gia