By Laurel Lacher – April 10, 2019
LL: Tell me a little about yourself and your connection to Waldorf.
SJB: I’m a Thai-American native of Bangkok who moved to the US as a toddler. My parents brought me to the United States when my mother was accepted to a PhD program at the University of Iowa in Political Science and my father was finishing his medical residency working with military veterans. My mother comes from a long line of educators and I think that my she wasn’t entirely confident about raising a child so far away from her family. She read a lot of books about education and found some from Maria Montessori and Rudolf Steiner. I never attended those schools [Montessori and Waldorf] as a child, but it informed how she structured our playtime. She kept things open and exploratory with a southeast Asian twist of being super focused on academics. I spent most of my pre-adolescent childhood living in Iowa in a multicultural, multigenerational, extended-family household. Then, from the age of 7 to 17, I was a competitive figure skater and ended up training in the Broadmoor World Arena in Colorado Springs.
When I was looking around for a nursery for my son, Merik, I found Quail’s Nest at Tucson Waldorf School. It brought back lots of memories from my childhood, including a lot of rituals familiar to southeast Asian culture. We just felt right with Quail’s Nest and its echoes of my own childhood.
LL: What was your trajectory from childhood in Iowa to wine importer? How did you get where you are today?
SJB: I’ve always been interested in learning, so I was interested in a competitive college and ended up at Boston University and Colorado College for my undergraduate studies. I was a non-drinking, vegetarian, orthodox Buddhist when, one day, a friend asked me to smell a glass of wine and describe it. I was fascinated and confused by so many aromas, so I started researching viticulture. My academics focused on the connection between social and environmental systems like watersheds and farming. The culture and treatment of place led to me to the wine business. I started tasting wine (without out drinking it), and now I can’t help loving wine! I took the leap and started my wine-importing business at age 36 and got pregnant at same time. I feel that having my son in a Waldorf school has made this life possible for us. Interestingly, most of the wineries I work with have a strong organic or biodynamic farming focus – another synergy with being part of a Waldorf community.
LL: With your own business, a crazy travel schedule, two kids at home and one in Europe, how do you find time for fresh! and what drives you to do it?
SJB: I think the teachings of Steiner – his different temperaments – explain a lot of it. I fall into the Sanguine temperament, and my son is similar. Sanguines have a hard time staying still. In order to find focus, we have to get distracted. I have to have a lot going on to maintain focus in my life. Idle time is enjoyable for a little while, but my brain cooks up things to do. Then I can’t sleep if I don’t act on those things. I’ve spent a lifetime volunteering, as I was raised with an ethic of giving back. It’s important to me that my kids realize that volunteering is part of being a human being. As for time – what is time? I ask myself that all the time. Sometimes other things suffer, but it’s ok if my house isn’t perfect because I had to spend a half hour thinking about how I can help do a project. Some puzzles take time – like fresh! Part of my job is to find all the right pieces and put them all together. Part of that is finding time to inspire the right people to get the job done.
LL: You mentioned your Buddhist upbringing – how do you think that colors your view of Waldorf?
SJB: The type of Buddhism in Thailand is interwoven with animism and ancestor worship. Reverence for nature, ritual, and rhythm…like meditation and steps of prayer…do resonate with Waldorf. Steiner spent a lot of time reading about religions…there are shades of Buddhism all over anthroposophy. I think many parents would find aspects of their religion reflected in Waldorf.
LL: What are some of your dreams and hopes for the future?
SJB: Right now, I’m thinking about what I want to write in my Letter from the Chair for the fresh! program since I’ll be passing on the baton next year. The main thing I hope for is to inspire and encourage the spirit of volunteerism because it’s an important thing each person can do for him/herself. Not everyone sees it that way…many feel obligated to volunteer and see it as doing for others. I want to create a space where everyone on the fresh! committee walks away feeling that they got something out of it; whether that is new friends, good conversations, or just learning something about yourself. I would like more kindness, patience, and awareness in the world. We can wish, but how do we get there? We have to start with ourselves. Sometimes it takes a lot of bravery to volunteer – you have to be OK with exposing yourself to new situations. In the process of doing, you’ll eventually learn. It’s fun when you feel satisfied.