Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Yeah, That's Dirt

This must be the simplest and most delightful product I've seen at any funeral convention. It's dirt. That's all. Well, almost all. It is dirt from Ireland that has been processed and approved, and brought to America (an otherwise illegal process) so that you can sprinkle some on your beloved pappy's grave.

How cool is that? Simple, economical (about $10), the real deal, and it has a sweet, sentimental quality. I spoke with an adorable, great big guy named Pat from Ireland whom I understood in intervals. (Did you know farm could be pronounced "fair-em"?) Pat and his cronies had this cool idea, and being an agriculturally trained lad he got it done. This is their first week in full-on business.

The auld sod itself comes in bags and in cardboard tubes that look like small Scotch cases. These gents are going to make a mint. At least I can say I knew them when. Check them out online and should you not have a pappy who wants the Emerald Isle to come to him, it can also be used to grow shamrocks, as birthday gifts for the Irel-lovers in your life, or just to sprinkle about when you need a little Ireland.

I know what you are thinking... hmmm... I have a sudden craving for Ireland. Me, too.

Handcrafted Silver Urns

The National Funeral Directors' Convention continues to amaze. This is my third year and in some ways I am getting used to it. I hardly notice the playing of "Taps" throughout the day, the mongo Escalade hearses, the airbrush make-up displays, and the tragically small caskets. I should get counseling for getting accustomed to all that.

Instead, I spend my energy seeking out the items and services that I think are most likely to be attractive to Unitarian Universalists at large, my congregation specifically, and the random funeral service groupie who might find their way to the blog.

This year, let's start with urns. Every year I pick a favorite urn style since my(our) religion cremates in way higher numbers than the general population. Usually I pick something eco-conscious or of unique construction. This year, I went for a more simple concept: stunning, jaw-dropping beauty.

These photos do not begin to capture the beauty and craftsmanship of these urns from the fine artisans of Lasper Imperial Urns. I had the pleasure of meeting with the designer, JP Lascurain, who explained the design, creation, variation, and properties of these urns. Sadly for you, he did so in a lilting, hypnotic Hispanic accent which made it hard to focus on utilitarian ash receptacles. Their booth felt more like being in a very upscale jewelry store without the attitude.

What I caught when I wasn't dreaming of the magic of Mexico was that JP comes from a long line of silversmiths. These urns are the visible and tactile expression of his family legacy. They come in sterling silver and the more cost-conscious brass nickel plate. Both are very attractive but, naturally, the sterling looks like it should be in a museum while the brass nickel just looks like it would be the best looking thing in my home by far. Then again, a sterling urn costs what you would imagine (over three thousand dollars) while the nickel is quite affordable.

The urn shapes that were most eye-catching to me were the Chalice (or was it just the name that attracted me) and the Classique. They are available with different little notches on top that ranged from simple to ornate, and will also be available soon in keepsake size.

What is keepsake size? You sure you want to know? OK - should this get uncomfortable, imagine a beautiful Hispanic accent. The keepsake size is for children, pets, or when the remains are split among various family members. (Don't look at me like that. You asked.) With the general feeling of hanging around Sr. Lascurain, I think you could also use the keepsake size for jewelry if its real purpose is bugging you.

These are not your usual urn, nor are they like the urns I am generally attracted to, but they are so beautifully designed, so stunningly hand produced, so striking in their appearance (shiny almost to the point of being mirrors, and the effect of seeing your own face in your loved ones urn was intriguing to me)... I could not resist them. Needless to say, these are for people who do not want to bury the ashes, and people who are comfortable with an urn that will invite constant comment in their home.

Here are JP and Sergio in front of their display poster. Please check them out at their website. I told them you would be coming, so they'll be waiting for you. And even though they are not on the website, they have some drop dead beautiful necklaces. Sorry. That wasn't meant to be a sick joke. Very pretty. The necklaces are very pretty.

In an unrelated observation, JP on the left is also in the top spot for being the best-dressed man at the convention. How I got out of that booth without finding myself $3000 poorer is a mystery.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Orlando - More Fun with Funeral Conventions

On my way with my wee daughter to have some family and work fun in Orlando. No, we are not doing Disney. She's 3 and can entertain herself for an hour with an acorn. Why mess with a good thing?

We will be doing everyone's favorite Auspicious Jots activity - the National Funeral Directors' Convention. Woo hoo!

My spies are already in place and they say the unstated theme this year is GREEN. As you know, I am the green burial maven so I say the more green the better.

Will be blogging from the convention again this year. Send comments to this post if you want me to look for anything in particular. After all, how many people do YOU know who go to this convention?

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Top 40 Under 40?

Have you ever been given a sincere compliment that ended up harming you more like an insult? It is a weird situation.

I was incredibly honored and excited to be recognized by a local weekly magazine for being one of what they call the "Top 40 under 40." This is a yearly listing they do. It is an honor for the lifelong Richmonder like myself and exciting to be affirmed publicly in a profession that is not generally recognized in this way.

The other 39 recipients of the distinction are a wide variety of advocates, public servants, business people, and interesting Richmonders. Reading through their accomplishments put me in awe. It is humbling to be in company like that.

The description that went beside the world's most flattering photograph of me, though, is unintentionally misleading. I recognize that I am a bit of a character. I boogie to the beat of my own drummer while most people are marching to theirs. I don't make conventional choices in very public ways. I can also be disarmingly blunt and honest. I think it was a combination of these personal characteristics exhibited in the interview that led to a profile that has become accidentally controversial.

The problem is that even though I am all of those things, most of my life is spent in small conversations with individuals and small groups as we try to make sense out of life's curve balls. That is how I am known by the people I serve. It's not print-worthy, however, and my unconventional side, though less frequently exhibited, evidently merits some ink.

I thought I knew how I felt about the profile: disappointed, hurt, confused. I felt like small aspects of my personality were caricatured and used to overshadow the hard, unceasing work of ministry. I wondered if they didn't know how to talk about my main ministerial interest -death and dying - so they went off on a tangent. But then I met with the editor and reporter today, and now I am really lost.

In their world, this was a compliment. In their world, my tendency to say exactly what I am thinking is a great thing. In their world, my willingness to reach out in unexpected ways is a gift. In their world, they portrayed me as straight talking, empathetic and approachable and are now bewildered that this has caused anything but celebration. Honestly, they said more kind things to me this afternoon than I am accustomed to hearing. If I had a fan club, the reporter would be secretary.

So now what? I am used to living with the thousand gradations of gray, but this is a little murky even for me. My family is upset. My friends are feeling the need to defend me. My congregation is wondering what planet the profile came from. (The planet is Richmond. Don't forget that we have our own galaxy.) Meanwhile the magazine people have been nothing but kind and apologetic, albeit perplexed.

If a ministry in death and dying teaches one anything, it is to get over anything that is not terminal. Since I can't even figure out if I'm wounded, I'm moving along. I won an award, there's one awesome photo of me, and my fan club has a secretary. Yay.