Brian Andreas: Love and Magic (Or Something Like It)

FallingIntoPlace
By Aryn Henning Nichols • Images courtesy StoryPeople

There’s magic in that cup of coffee (tea, beer, water) you’re drinking. Also in that stack of papers sitting right next to you. Definitely outside that window. Here’s a little (big) secret: There’s magic in everything.

“Finding magic is simple if you just let go of all the things. Just stop,” says Brian Andreas, artist/writer/magician behind the internationally known art and publishing company, StoryPeople. “People forget the world is magical, so we need to be reminded. To remember. To enjoy the moment.”

SLM coverThere is definitely magic to be found at the StoryPeople studio in downtown Decorah. Bright walls plus busy doers and makers create a scene filled with energy. Brian stands in orange pants and a tee shirt behind stacks upon stacks of the latest – his twelfth – StoryPeople book, Something Like Magic. He’s in town from Santa Barbara signing copies – 2,500, to be exact – to be shipped out to the lucky folks who pre-ordered before the October release date. Also on the visit’s agenda: Plan “all the things” with the StoryPeople crew. Everyone munches on raw cacao beans and dark chocolate as they happily tack “Yay! Actual signed copy – Woo-hoo” stickers on the books and wrap them up.

Brian takes a break when his hand stops working –“It just started moving by itself!” – and sits down to chat over a cup of tea.

“The past few years I’ve really started rethinking life and identity. What does love want from me? What lights me up? This carries through in the work I do. It’s all about enjoying the moment. I want to tell everyone about it. It’s the legacy of our future. It’s a big f-ing deal!” he says, throwing his hands up in the air between sips of Earl Grey.

This exploration is prevalent in Something Like Magic. It’s the first StoryPeople book that doesn’t follow a he said/she said point of view. Instead, it’s an I/you.

“The divine in you/the divine in me. Love with a capital L.” And love, as Brian says: “It’s the most important thing.”

He continues, obviously passionate about his mission.

BrianAndreas“How do I tell the world how much everyone’s loved?” he asks. “It is so simple. Love is the most important thing.”

It was this phrase “sometimes you just need to remember the most important thing” – uttered to him on a garden bench outside a party – that “cracked open,” as Brian says, his consciousness. It was like a secret he just forgot for a bit – and he’s not the only one.

“These are secrets because a lot of us know them and along the way, a lot of us forgot. That’s exactly why I call them secrets,” Brian writes in the Something Like Magic introduction. “Each one is something like magic, because all it takes is a moment of remembering them and suddenly the whole world sparkles again. The funny thing is it never stopped sparkling. We just stopped seeing it, because it was too simple and we were convinced it must be something different. We let ourselves be convinced the most important thing was something different than the love and magic that’s been here all along.”

Love and magic are, of course, no strangers to the whimsical StoryPeople tales. Since its inception in 1993, the stories and drawings have pondered, prodded, and delighted in life. Readers can find them adorning everything from wood sculptures to colorful prints to coffee mugs and more. They’ve also been collected in a series of books for adults and children, and have twice been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.

Brian Andreas’ own story, like most people’s, has taken him on a zig-zagging journey. From Iowa City, Iowa – where he was born in 1956 – to Chicago to Luther College in Decorah – where he met his now former wife, Ellen Rockne, – to California – where he and Ellen founded StoryPeople – back to Decorah and finally back to California.

“Life isn’t this linear path, even though when you look back, you can see, ‘Oh yeah, that led to that, and so on,’” he says. “When you’re dancing your way across a stream, you pick up the rocks that aren’t wet.”

While Brian currently resides in Santa Barbara, California, StoryPeople has kept its heart (and headquarters) in Downtown Decorah since 1994. Brian travels between the two states frequently to keep up on business, family, and friends.

The company technically began while Brian, Ellen, and their two boys, Gabe and Matthew, were living in Berkley, California in the early 90s. But Brian’s stories started long before then – in college, he wrote lots of letters, and each contained a quote from his own fictional character, “John O’Keefe Beefheart.” Nudged by Ellen to put some of that into his artwork, Brian made his first StoryPeople piece: A 4×4 block, covered in layers and layers of gesso, hand-stamped with a story. Well….a little story, anyway.

“My stories are really, really short. They have to be! Hand-stamping those letters takes a long time,” he says with a laugh. This new style of work took off, and soon, so did the family – back to Iowa.

KindridSpirits“We were in Berkeley, and got a call from a friend. ‘Get down and away from the windows. There’s an armed man outside.’ We got down and pretended we were playing a game with the boys,” he says. “Later, we found out they were robbing the bank a block away, and we thought, ‘Oh good. No big deal.’ Then we thought, ‘What? No big deal?!’ Three weeks later we were on our way to Decorah.”

At that time, StoryPeople was at a massive growth point, expanding quickly from 50 galleries nationwide to more than 200. But Brian knew they could produce this art from anywhere…as long as they were willing to take the leap.

“It was either Decorah or Sonoma. But we had family in Iowa. And I’d experienced Berkeley studio assistants,” Brian says with yet another laugh. “Working with people from Iowa sounded a lot more appealing.”

Getting things off the ground in rural Iowa was definitely not without its trials, though.

“I wouldn’t say any of it was hard – it was all interesting,” Brian says. “I don’t whine about something that doesn’t exist. Creatives forget – you can create it! If you don’t want to make it, quit whining about it.”

A self-professed “practical Virgo” to a T, he knew if there was something he needed, he could make it happen.

“I came to town and said, ‘Where’s your [Internet] gateway?’ I asked if I could use Luther’s, but they said no. So I walked into our office and said, ‘We’re gonna have to start an ISP (internet service provider).’”

So they did. Brian launch the Salamander ISP shortly after they arrived in Decorah. And when they couldn’t find the right printing options in town, they opened their own print shop, CopyLand (which still exists under different ownership on Water Street in Downtown Decorah).

“Once you’ve invented yourself, that ‘not possible’ doesn’t exist,” he says.

In addition to inventing himself (and businesses), inventing moments is a favorite.

“I have this thing where I invent past memories with people – we did it at a conference I spoke at recently. We start off telling a story – remember that day we all went to that lake in the mountains? The sky was so blue… – and one person continues on until it feels like we’ve all had this shared experience, even though it wasn’t real. The mind can’t discern between real and fantasy,” he says. “It’s so fun!”

This willingness to play, to make-believe, to always find the love and magic in the world – it’s what keeps StoryPeople so popular. Followers world-wide find little pieces of their lives in the hundreds of artworks produced.

“The stories really do sneak in there – one that didn’t made sense to someone one day might crack open for them another day,” Brian says. “There are lots of people out there starry-eyed from StoryPeople stories.”

Brian hopes – no, believes – that this positive energy indicates a change coming.

“I’m excited about this time in the world – there’s this this new consciousness that’s emerging. I feel like there is a cracking-open process happening all over. Ah!” he says, holding his hands out one more time. “I love living in this world! It’s such a wonderful place to be.”

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ArynRoxie_MasksAryn Henning Nichols has long thought Brian Andreas was inspiring – meeting him solidified that notion; he was so much fun to chat with! She especially enjoys the idea that things are shifting in the world – positivity will reign! Let’s keep that moving forward, friends!

Connecting Stories:
Brian has literally written thousands of stories – on various napkins, scraps of envelopes, and in the pages of his journals. You can see many of his current stories almost instantly on instagram: instagram.com/brianandreas (“It’s a blast!” Brian says of Instagram). You can also follow StoryPeople at facebook.com/storypeoplebybrianandreas and at twitter.com/storypeople.

The number of stories that have been made into prints is roughly 300, with hundreds more offered through products (cards, apparel, wooden sculptures, ornaments, calendars, etc).

They have galleries in the U.S. and U.K., and fulfill orders worldwide. Learn more at storypeople.com.

K’uun Coffee

KuunBeansHand

The K’uun Coffee Bar in Decorah recently opened its doors, so readers can now grab a cup of brew right here in Decorah!

By Kristine Kopperud Jepsen • Photos by Aaron Zauner

There’s nothing like that first warm-sweet-nutty sip of coffee in the morning. At our house – maybe yours too? – it practically constitutes a food group. Coffee brings order, wakefulness, and even, yes, a certain assurance that we’re right with the world – especially on dark winter days like these.

We’re not alone in this dependence, say Honduran natives Fernando and Barbara Vaquero, and they’re betting their combined 25 years in food and agricultural engineering on it. In 2012, they founded K’uun Coffee, a micro-roastery based out of their home in Calmar, Iowa. Their mission? To reveal the soul of Coffea Arabica and the memorable flavor and aroma that makes it so indispensable.

More than 2 billion cups of coffee are poured every day over the world, and the beans that make it happen change hands at a pace second only to crude oil among commodities traded on the global market. As Fernando, the roast master, explains coffee’s origin, his animated eyes leap from topic to topic as his hands sweep points along, like phrases in an orchestral score.

Barbara, who wears most other hats in the business while also caring for their two daughters, ages 10 and two, interjects with subtle but telling clarifications. This is, after all, the third business they’ve built together, all while one of them – sometimes both – is employed full-time elsewhere. In this case, Fernando works as Assistant Plant Manager for Swiss Valley in Luana, Iowa.

Barbara apologizes for the split-seconds, really, that it takes her to translate phrasing from her native Spanish language; but she needn’t have to. Her words are as clear as her passion for the roast. “We just wanted people to really taste the coffee – not the over-processed version of it that is so common,” she says.

The craft of custom coffee roasting is a part of their heritage – having grown up, literally, in coffee production in rural Honduras. Unfortunately, the more displaced the coffee drinker is from coffee’s origins – predominantly Mexico, Central and South America, Africa and Asia – the more misunderstood the process, Fernando says.

“People don’t know what they’re drinking, or how it can taste if it’s crafted right.” Ever had a dark, dark roast that scraped the buds from your tongue? he asks. “That’s what failed roasting tastes like, and it’s been giving ‘dark’ roasts a bad reputation for years.” His other favorite myth? That lighter roasts contain less caffeine. “The roasting process intensifies the nuanced flavors of the bean,” he says, “but it also extracts the caffeine.” In other words, that ‘blonde’ roast really is more of a bombshell.

At K’uun, they roast to order – to order! – and deliver the freshest coffee available, making batches as small as one pound or as large as 20, and hand-delivering them within a week. This prevents the oils that surface after roasting from oxidizing and getting stale or rancid. They specialize in helping customers hone in on the flavor and feel they most enjoy in their coffee, then creating it from their current inventory of beans.

Roaster

“I really enjoy it from a food science point of view,” Fernando says. And no wonder. Growing up, his family produced oil palm, coffee, and livestock. By trade, he became an industrial engineer, fascinated by how things work, and, more specifically, how to help farmers in developing countries build profitable enterprise and trade relationships.

That’s where his interests overlapped with Barbara’s. They met when she applied for an agribusiness position – like him – at the Department of Agriculture in Honduras. Fresh off a degree program in agricultural economics at the University of Illinois, Barbara was among many applicants leading a peer discussion as part of the job interview. “Fernando almost killed my presentation, asking question after question after question,” Barbara says with a laugh. “I thought, ‘Who is this guy? And what does he need to know all this for?’ But, that’s how he gets from the start of something to a solution: You ask a lot of questions. He’s still the same man today.”

Together, the Vaqueros moved their interests north, settling first in New Mexico, where Barbara worked as a health inspector for the State, and Fernando in plant management for Leprino Foods, the dairy conglomerate that produces cheese for many pizza companies.

With their older daughter, Barbara Cecilia, in the mix, they started their first business together: A donut shop, Daylight Donuts, they built from scratch. Needing to pair their fresh-baked pastries with the best coffee around, Fernando turned his attention to coffee roasting, creating a blend that met the New Mexican culture’s requirements for a light but bold roast.

In 2011, they sold the shop and moved to Calmar for Fernando’s position at Swiss Valley, bringing their commitment to really good, affordable coffee with them. Today they source the majority of their single-origin beans through a Fair Trade certified broker in Minneapolis that represents Honduras, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Peru, Chile, Colombia, Ethiopia, Mexico, Brazil, and more. Knowing how U.S. customs work, they’ve also established a direct-trade relationship with a grower in Cameroon. Plus there’s Barbara’s favorite coffee – their Peruvian decaf – decaffeinated by a natural washing method using pure water, not chemicals.

Barbara delivers the finished product, most often to Decorah’s The Perfect Edge, a local pick-up point where they recently opened The K’uun Coffee Bar. They also sell through Oneota Community Food Co-op, their (newly relaunched) website, www.kuuncoffee.com ($11/lb), and in bulk, as they do for the dining services at Luther College and other business around Northeast Iowa.

KuunVaqeros

(Above photo courtesy K’uun Coffee)

“Coffee is unbelievably complex – it’s true! – followed by cigars, wine, beer and cheese,” Fernando says, offering a taste of the different ‘notes’ of beans from each of the coffee-producing regions, ranging from chocolate to earthy to citrusy to floral. Each is affected by the growing location’s altitude, the latitudinal climate, the composition of the soils that nourish the trees, and that growing season’s particular weather.

But it’s in the roasting that all that potential comes to full bloom – or goes up in acrid smoke. There’s the physical heating of the beans – at K’uun, that’s in state-of-the-art Ambex roasters – and then there’s the seasoned intuition to sense – in the aroma and sound and feel of the beans as they heat – when a particular batch has reached its potential.

“Roasting is the perfect release of what’s already in the bean,” Fernando explains. “I can’t ‘put’ flavors into it – it’s my job to bring its natural complexity out, and there’s no ‘second chance.’”

Their incorporated name, Bean Masters, Inc, leaves room for another native of Central and South America: Cacao. But with the addition of their younger daughter, Isabella, now two years old, the Vaqueros are intent on growing their cottage business as sanely as possible, enjoying the way roasting, distribution, and marketing offer teachable moments and routines for their young family – without over-committing their time.

“You get back what you put into it,” Barbara says. “We come from a culture that’s very social, made up of very small, close communities. You have to be honest with people, make them a good, fair product, and take the time to share it. It’s the right thing to do.”

Having won some of their start-up funding in 2012 through Winneshiek County Development Inc, K’uun Coffee is also intent on giving back to the community through a fund-raising initiative called “Growing Together.” The program helps organizations such as The Family School of Religion (CFSR) of Calmar achieve fund-raising goals. K’uun also partners with Luther College, designating five percent of total coffee sales on campus to a scholarship fund for students. In October 2013, they presented the first installment – more than $900.

That fusion of culture and enterprise is, in fact, the origin of their business name. “‘K’uun’ means gold in Mayan, the foundation of our ancestry in Honduras,” Barbara explains, “and agricultural products are the currency of our region’s culture. So we combined them –‘gold’ and ‘coffee.’”

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Disclaimer: While the heaven of great coffee brewing is a welcome start to Kristine Jepsen’s midwinter work routine, she isn’t usually the first one to the coffee pot in the morning. She’s more of an early afternoon devotee, which perhaps explains why her most creative hours are in mid-evening!

How to Order Custom-Roasted Coffee

Intimidated by having to pinpoint the winning characteristics of your favorite cup of coffee? Don’t be. The Vaqueros love the opportunity to connect with customers and share both their knowledge of the roasting process and the unique personalities of the beans they have on hand. Just call them (563-562-9033) and ask! Are you looking for a caffeine kick? (This might mean you’re after a light or medium roast.) Complex, full body? (Perhaps a medium or dark roast, using beans of the origin best suited to produce desired flavors.) Earthy? (Asian.) Chocolate? (Central America.) Citrus or floral? (African.)

“There’s no single ‘perfect’ answer – it’s what you like,” Fernando says with a grin.

How to Meditate: Some Tips!

Meditation

By Thea Satrom LMT & Certified Zone Therapist • Photo by Aryn Henning Nichols

Become present, calm, and inspired. Begin meditating for 5-10 minutes today!

KEY QUESTION:  Why do you want to meditate? Do you want less stress? Less worry? More focus? Sometimes the day goes by, and we realize we didn’t take any time for ourselves at all! Write down your meditation goal. It’ll be the driving force when things get rough or you fall off the meditation wagon.

First, let me say this: Meditation can be difficult. It isn’t like exercise where you can see and feel results immediately. It can be hard to see progress or to justify “simply sitting.” And yet, the brain is a muscle we can train. Britta Hölzel, PhD, one of the leading researchers of mindfulness meditation, says: “It is fascinating to see the brain’s plasticity and that, by practicing meditation, we can play an active role in changing the brain and can increase our well-being and quality of life.”

Step 1: Choose a time of day to sit for 5-15 minutes. This could be in the morning after a nice cup of tea or coffee, during a break in the day, or even before bedtime. It is helpful to choose the SAME time of day to meditate.

Step 2: Find the right space to sit. A quiet space, free from distractions, is preferred.  Dim the lights or sit in darkness, if you can. Sometimes lighting a candle can also help calm and focus the mind.

Step 3: Get comfortable! It is best to keep your spine straight as the mind becomes easily distracted. Find a few blankets or a cushion to sit on in simple cross-legged position on the floor. If this isn’t comfortable, you could try sitting in a chair with your feet on the floor or lying down on the floor. However you can get comfortable, a straight spine is ideal. Make sure to note what relaxes you most – music/no music, special scents, warm or cool – every person is different.

Step 4: Focus on your breath. Begin breathing in and out through your nose. Notice how your body feels and become aware of your thoughts. Then, bring your attention to the breath. Bringing your attention to the breath connects us to our bodies and helps us become present.

Meditation #1

Begin to count your exhalations. Inhale and on your first exhalation, internally say “one”.  Inhale again and on your second exhalation, internally say “two”. Notice that the “monkey mind” may have already brought you back to your work or the stress percolating or all the way to your dream vacation in Fiji. If your mind wanders, start back at “one.”  See if you can get to “five” the first time around. This is surpisingly easier said than done. Our minds love to wander as they have not been trained to relax and be still.  Practice this for a few days and see if you can get up to “ten.”

Meditation #2:

Envision your spine as a hollow tube. As you inhale, imagine a cold blue wave coming from the bottom of your feet to fill your spine up to the crown of your head. Once you reach the top of your head, on your exhalation, envision a warm red light coming down all the way to your feet. Repeat this for 5-10 minutes depending on how much time you have. Take a few breaths through your nose again and check in. How is your body/mind?

Notice some days are easier than others. Be gentle. This is for you. No one else knows what’s going on inside your brain so be content with your progress whatever it might be. It can be incredibly frustrating, but try to bring your attention back to the breath. It takes discipline and determination, but once we can drop the baggage and simply be, this process will lead to peace of mind.

Step 5: Stretch. Stretching before or after meditation brings better results. It is important to be comfortable when you sit.

Step 6:  Get a meditation book or attend a class. There are many different styles of meditation: mindfulness, transcendental, Zen, Kriya, and Buddhist Meditation, to name a few. Experiment with different styles to see what resonates with you. I found it easiest, at first, to be guided through the meditation practice. After attending various meditation classes, I discovered the style that resonated best for me, and you will too!

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Thea began Vedic meditation in 2001. In 2005 she attended Naropa University, an accredited Buddhist University where she was introduced to Mahayana Buddhism. Shortly after, traveling to New Zealand, she studied Iyengar yoga and Zen meditation with a former Zen monk. In 2009 Thea was initiated into Kriya meditation in Seattle, Washington and was fortunate to travel to India with her mother last March to study Kriya from Gurunath Yogiraj Siddhanath at his ashram in Pune.

Thea and her mother, Sonja Satrom, Licensed Mental Health Counselor and seasoned meditator, currently offer ongoing meditation classes in Decorah. They invite you to come and learn simple, effective breathing and meditation techniques during a 7-week meditation series. (at 402 Upper Broadway in Decorah) Please call or e-mail Thea Satrom 303-913-6326 theacamellia@gmail.com to register.

Or check out other meditation classes in the area here!