Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony - A Photo Essay

Step 1 - prepare
Step 2 - roast
Step 3 - boil water
Step 4 - grind
Step 5 - scoop
Step 6 - pour
Step 7 - savour
- do all this while burning frankincense on a separate burner (can be seen on the bottom left of the picture below - unfortunately I neglected to take a separate picture)
- generally, a snack like popcorn, nuts or roasted barley is served along with the coffee
- the third cup is considered the luckiest
- fortunately for a non-coffee-drinker such as myself, it's quite acceptable (and even expected) to drink it with lots of sugar
- for some reason (though I never managed to get an explanation as to its significance) there is generally dried grass spread out on the floor or ground where the coffee ceremony takes place. Even the airport coffee shop had grass on the floor.

When you first arrive in Ethiopia, and you tell someone about the things you hope to experience while you're there, if you mention a coffee ceremony, someone will probably look at you a little funny and say "well of COURSE you'll experience a coffee ceremony." It's not something that is out-of-the-ordinary and only done for special occasions. It's done every day. It is their time of connecting with community and family. It's when they catch up on the news of the day with those they care about.

My favourite coffee ceremony moment was fairly late one night, after a very full day, sitting on mats under the star-lit sky, listening to the quiet cacophony of a village going to sleep, and watching the fire glow under the coffee beans. It was too dark for pictures, but I have the memories.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Random bits

I'm at home with a sick child this morning, so my mind has a little time to wander to random places...

- I've been thinking alot about the Ethiopian coffee ceremony lately. It's a beautiful thing, where you watch them "create" rather than simply "brew" your coffee. I'm not a coffee drinker, but when someone roasts the beans over a small fire, grinds them with a well-worn wooden mortar and pestal, and brews your coffee in a elegant yet simple black urn, all while burning frankincense over a separate small fire, of course I couldn't resist. I've been thinking about it, because it was such a simple yet profound example of "anticipation". When we consume the instant meals and instant drinks we're so used to in our culture, we forget the value of anticipation. It's not just in the food we eat either. We want instant entertainment and instant gratification too. I want to concentrate on enjoying the anticipation. Unfortunately, my tendencies toward impatience and laziness get in the way all the time.
- I attended my aunt's wedding this weekend. She is a widow who married a widower who was a close friend of her husband's. I'm happy for her - this particular aunt has been through more pain than most, having lost 2 sons and a husband. A wedding like that takes on a whole new feeling, though, when you have been to a similar wedding where your own mother got married. I think I know a little bit about how their children are feeling. You want so badly for your parents to be happy, and yet you want to stomp your foot on the floor like a four-year-old and whine.
- I taught another leadership workshop this weekend. We've been working through the Leadership Challenge, and this session was on "Inspire a Shared Vision". Someone asked "don't you think it's true that it's virtually impossible to truly give birth to a fully formed vision without stepping away from day to day life for awhile?" Yes, I think that's absolutely true. Just like giving birth to a child, our dreams need to be given time to emerge, even though the birth might be painful. When I was a young child in school, I used to get reprimanded for daydreaming now and then. Now, here I am, teaching a leadership workshop, encouraging adult participants to step away for awhile and do exactly that - daydream. Take THAT, Mrs. S - my daydreaming WASN'T just a waste of time!
- In preparation for the workshop, I re-read parts of The Path, a book about creating your personal mission statement and vision. I first read through that book and did some of the exercises it suggests about a year and a half ago. One of the exercises was to write "a day in the life" of yourself five years in the future. The author says she is always amazed how many people who do that end up very near to their vision five years later. When I re-read my own last week, I was pleasantly surprised that some of my vision has begun to come true. Facilitating this workshop on the weekend was one of the things I'd written in the vision, and in the past year, I've gotten to do several of them for a variety of groups.
- My sister bought a house this weekend. Their househunting process has caused me to reflect on why we ended up in our house. It is far from our "dream" house, but I have come to love it none-the-less. When I was crossing the street toward our house this morning, I had a little memory of the first sighting of this house and why I was drawn to it. We have massive trees all around the house. When they are in the majesty of full foliage (like now, which is right around the time of year we first saw it), the house (an average-sized bungalow) looks dwarfed in the middle. I kinda like that - it makes the creation of man look so insignificant when completely overshadowed by nature.
- A few years ago, I facilitated an eight week workshop on unleashing your creativity. It was one of the best, most inspired experiences I've ever had. More than one of the participants has told me that it has had a profound impact on their lives since. This weekend, one of those people released her first cd, and she told me that she would never have done it if she hadn't taken my workshop. She said it had "given her permission to create". Hearing that statement made me realize that I have a longing to do it again. I think I need to make that happen.
- Marcel had to prepare a presentation for his class this morning. As part of the presentation, he included 2 video clips showing positive and negative classroom management styles. We set up a "film studio" in our dining room - Marcel played the teacher, Nikki, Julie, and Julie's friend played the students, I was the videographer, Maddie was my helper, and we all had a hoot!

Friday, May 25, 2007

Pictures for Lucia

South Gondar, Ethiopia

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Looking for gold.

The pot of gold may very well be at the end of our street!
Maddie's ready to start digging for it.
Right after she's finished skipping through the puddles. Eventually, the sun came out, the rainbow faded, and it was time for some swinging.

Conversation just before the following video was taken:
Me: Maddie - you're going to fill your boots with water!
Maddie: I KNOW! That's a GOOD thing! That's what I'm HERE for!

In the end, the boot became a bucket for pouring water on the teeter-totter.
I think I found the gold - somewhere beneath the layers of mud on her face when she climbed in the tub.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


My kids want to stay up late tonight. Not because there's a movie they're dying to watch. Not because there's a sporting event that they can't bear to miss the end of. Nope - they want to stay up so that they can watch the results of the provincial election. They're pretty sure they won't be able to sleep until they know who will be Premier. And their daddy (who's currently out of the house volunteering for the candidate of his choice) couldn't be more proud.

Yes, that's right, our kids could very well be the only kids in Manitoba who begged to turn on the TV tonight so that they could watch the polls coming in. They know who's running for every party in our riding, they can spout off the names of the leaders of all of those parties as though they were the finalists in American Idol, and they can do a bang-up job of mocking most of the campaign ads. And they can even tell you who Nellie McLung is and what year women got the vote in Manitoba (the first province in Canada, by the way.)

Thanks to Julie's project over the weekend (which ended up consuming almost the whole family - yes, I suppose that makes us geeks), they could even list some of the policies of the four parties. Probably because our family already has a reputation (the same teacher marveled at Nikki's political knowledge last year), Julie was invited to be the "director" of the mock election in her class. That meant that she had to prepare posters for each of the candidates, research the policies of all the parties, and prepare ballots for the whole class. (None of the other kids had work to do over the long weekend.) She did it as happily as some kids might have planned a birthday party or designed a video game.

Yeah, okay, so we're raising little nerds. That's perfectly alright with me. They get so caught up in the political machine that even a walk in the rain couldn't deter them from joining me at the polls earlier this evening (okay, so the truth is, the rain added to the appeal - at least for some of them). For the first time ever (they've been to every federal, provincial, and municipal polling station with us since they were born) they were shooed out of the ballot box by a crotchety poll clerk. "Just in case they go to school tomorrow and tell everyone who you voted for." Um - whatever. The sign on our front lawn was probably a good clue if any of their friends had really cared in the first place - but thanks for looking out for my privacy, Mr. Crotchety Poll Clerk.

Gotta go now - the election results are coming in...

Sunday, May 20, 2007

If this is 41, when will I start feeling like a grown-up?

I turned 41 today.
Who knew 41 could feel so young?
Who knew I'd still know so little about the meaning of life?
Who knew I'd still have so many doubts and insecurities?
Who knew I'd still often feel like I'm just "playing house"?
Who knew I'd still get zits and blackheads like a teenager?
Who knew I'd still dream about "what I'm gonna do when I grow up"?

41 feels anticlimactic after 40. Last year there was a big party to celebrate. There was a new nose-piercing to mark the day. There was a jump out of an airplane to prove I'm still young and very much alive and haven't lost my risk-taking abilities.

Today there is little other than an occasional "happy birthday" greeting or phone call, a supper with Marcel's family, and an afternoon of quiet and perhaps even boredom. The weather's unpleasant, two people in the family are sick, and there's not much to do that can be done inside and doesn't cost much money. I think I'll go curl up under my blankie and read a few pages until my eyes drift shut.

Maybe I AM getting old if an afternoon nap is a suitable way to spend a birthday afternoon.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Good to go, good to come home

I just returned from another business trip in Toronto. This is what I wrote in my lovely room at The French Connection bed and breakfast...

It is good to be here. In this place.
Good to wander on Queen Street where the city pulses with life.
Good to meander along the path at the bottom of the ravine where trees and bird song muffle the sounds of traffic far away.
Good to sleep in this lovely bed with smooth green sheets, while stripes of muted light reflect on the ceiling above me.
Good to eat with Karla and Mark and meet the beautiful and longed for baby Nate. Good to see them so in love with each other and their son.
Good to light the candle at the end of a long day and sip on a cup of tea brewed in a pretty white teapot.
Good to finally realize, after a long walk on the first day, that I have finally left the baggage of delinquent designers and projects past deadlines behind me for a while.
Good to eat Mexican food with Dan and talk about the places the open mind wanders.
Good to eat the bountiful breakfast Diane provides at her stylishly set table with the faint sounds of Vivaldi softening the room.
Good to talk to colleagues and associates with common visions and ideas, as well as common bumps and bruises.
Good to have lunch with Uncle Menno and to hear him use the word "repulsive" as his personal reaction to churches that won't let women lead.
Good to wander in the drizzly rain with and without an umbrella.
Good to ride the subway, to hear the screech of the brakes and click-clack of the tracks, to feel the heartbeat of a traveler in my veins, and to watch the myriad of people coming and going.
Good to meet Sam and Pauline, fresh from Kenya, so out of place in their high-rise visitor suite in downtown Toronto but such gracious hosts even here.
Good to eat Indian food with people who have wandered the world in many directions and always found a way to value their place in it.
Good to be alone and let the solitude clear the clutter from my mind.
Good to feel confident and alive and on the road to something important as I present my ideas again and again to fresh faces at each meeting.
Good to listen to music in my room and let it move and soothe me.
Good to talk to travelers around the breakfast table - the American who left the air force, the Italian woman expecting her first baby, the Belgian computer programmer who surprises his colleagues by choosing b&b's, and Diane, our host, who has traveled the world, lived in Africa, and found her calling making other travelers feel at home in her own comfortable space.
Good to feel equally comfortable surrounded by people or wandering alone.
Good to eat Diane's fresh homemade croissants.
Good to wander around the mighty castle on the hill, committing the images of flowers to digital memory.
Good to find four good books at the Goodwill Store for a dollar each.
Good to be confided in by a new friend and kindred spirit.
Good to curl up in bed reading Of This Earth, almost as though my dad were reading over my shoulder, chuckling at the memory of his own Mennonite boyhood.
Good to have the fullness of these experiences and then go home to my beloved.
Good to be alive and feel it.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Another Mother's Day post

In some of my favourite moments today, I got to watch my children pour their hearts into some of their favourite pastimes.

Like playing soccer...

planting a garden with Pépère (using his back-saving contraption)...

and dancing!

Watching my sister parent also ranks as one of my favourite things to do.

Mother's Day

Forget Hallmark greeting cards, forget roses or expensive chocolates, forget all those things the marketers tell you you HAVE to buy for your mother. Just give me three big smiles, a lovingly prepared breakfast in bed (that is eagerly shared), three hand-made cards, a lovingly made chocolate rose, a pair of home-made earrings, a hand-painted jewellery box, and the odd "I love you, Mom", and I'm a happy, happy mom.

Because Robin over at Pensieve wanted to see my morning look anyway, I allowed a camera into the bedroom this morning to capture the mother's day festivities. Here I am in all my morning glory...

Friday, May 11, 2007

Just a simple mistake

A few weeks ago, a three year old child was killed in the town where Marcel grew up. In a freak accident, she was run over by her own mother. While her mom was in the store, the little girl crawled out of her car seat and climbed out of the car. Her mom got back in the car, assumed her daughter was still where she belonged, and backed up – right over her daughter. A simple mistake. She’ll have to live with the consequences of that mistake for the rest of her life.

Today I read about another little three year old girl who went missing from a resort in Portugal. Her parents were dining in a restaurant about 100 yards from the room where they’d left their children sleeping and unattended. They checked on them every half hour, but the last time they checked, the door was open and their three year old was gone. A mistake, the parents say – they made a simple mistake.

In both cases, people have commented about the bad decisions the parents made. Shouldn’t they have been more careful? Couldn’t they have avoided it?

Last night, I made one of those mistakes. We’d parked the car on the side of the road at the soccer field. While I put my purse in the trunk and Marcel retrieved his lawn chair, Maddie asked if she could run to the playground. I said “Sure. Go for it.” I assumed she meant the soccer field, which was on the same side of the street as us. She didn’t. She meant the play structure on the other side of the street. As she darted into the street in front of the oncoming van, I realized my mistake, spun around, shouted, and grabbed her. The van slowed. Nobody got hurt. We were all just a little shaken. A simple mistake.

The difference is, I don’t have to live with the consequences of my mistake. I get to play the “oops – messed up - try again” card. Other than reminding myself to pay a little more attention next time, I get to forget anything ever happened.

I hope the parents of those other two children will find grace in their lives. I hope there will be plenty of other parents around them who will admit that they make mistakes too. I hope that, over time, they will learn how to forgive themselves.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Today I am thankful for...

- the colour green

- rowboats on the river

- my lovely Trek bicycle, and the way it rode so smoothly this morning with the freshly pumped-up tires

- Maddie’s tag-along bike, and the way she bounces happily along behind me when we ride to soccer games together

- a shower in the basement of my office building for when I sweat my way to work on warm mornings like this one

- that my children are not as whiny or disrespectful as some of the children on the soccer field (yeah, I know I sound catty, but I'm still thankful)

- the flowering trees along my morning bike path

- that I don’t always have a rash on my chin, and that it doesn’t look as bad as it feels

- a few minutes to watch my beautiful niece play last night

- that this morning’s conference call went better than most

- creative ideas

- colour

- that Maddie hasn’t woken up during the night the last few nights and that her breathing is nearly back to normal

- sandals

- my new second-hand linen skirt that swooshes around my legs when I walk

- that I’ll get to relax in another lovely bed and breakfast next week

- the tulips someone planted amidst the wild grass along the river pathway

- the anticipation of a picnic

- a little break from soccer tonight

- jolly rancher candies

- a good book to read (Honeymoon in Purdah – I highly recommend it)

- a cup of tea

- sunshine

Monday, May 07, 2007

Pictures to go with the last post

To the right...

Straight ahead...
To the left...

The view from my front door

Vicki, in all her beloved nosiness, wants us to post pictures of our front doors. I’ll try to do that later, if I get there before dark after Nikki’s soccer practice, but in the meantime, I thought I’d paint a little word picture…

I stand on the doorstep on the all-weather carpeting Marcel installed a few years ago, in front of the door I painted green and then frowned at as it warped in the sun. Next to me is a pot of flowers Marcel was given when he finished his practicum teaching a few weeks ago. Just over the railing on the right is the flower bed that runs the length of the house and is enclosed by wooden logs. Poking out of the dirt, you can see bold shoots of green – hostas, irises, hens & chicks, and various other perrenials that I don’t know the names for but that don’t mind growing in a shady spot.

The lawn in front of the house is a little patchy under the massive elm tree that stands sentry in front of our house. This is the lawn I danced on with my children when it rained last summer. This is the lawn I’ve dug snow tunnels on. This is the lawn – just under that big ol’ tree – where I’ve taken pictures of the girls every year on the first day of school. This is the place where we hunt for lady bugs, watch bunnies hop across the yard, rake piles of leaves and then jump in them, spin circles with sleds in the snow, and have water fights after washing the car on hot summer afternoons.

At the edge of the lawn is a worn-looking pair of wooden lawn chairs with a built-in table between them. We inherited this from the neighbour who packed up and moved to the East Coast. It needed a coat of paint when we inherited it, but instead of painting, we sanded it down and went with the rough look. I like it better that way. It suits the place. It’s falling apart, but so far, Marcel has always managed to repair it and make it last just a little longer. We like to sit on those chairs at the end of a long summer day and watch the world go by. Sometimes we do it with the children, each of us sipping Slurpees or iced tea. And sometimes, Marcel and I sit there alone after the children are in bed and sip our glasses of wine in the stillness of the evening.

Across the street, behind three massive evergreen trees, and tucked in the middle of a fairly large housing co-op, is a rather bland-looking stuccoed wall with a wheelchair ramp wrapping around it and winding up the side. On the other side of this wall, our children have all, at separate times, spent many hours playing, laughing, making new friends, learning to trust adults that are not related to them, making crafts, and watching occasional Disney movies. It’s the day care – a place I at times resent because it’s gotten more of my children’s daytime hours than I have, and at times thank God for because it is close to home, convenient, friendly, and my children are safe and well-cared-for and offered training and inspiration there. (Remember the food-colouring and milk trick? It was learned there.) On that ramp at the side of the building, we've watched many children try out skateboarding tricks - with only minor mishaps so far.

Between that stuccoed wall and my house is a street that’s busier than I’d like it to be. My children can’t dash across it to the play structure in the housing co-op, or ride their bikes up and down the street. We’ve found ways to live with that, though, by using the sidewalk for bike rides and spending more time in the schoolyard and playground on the quiet street behind our house.

On the left, just on the other side of a large and unruly shrub, is a wide yard with a house perched in the middle. These are our neighbours M&J who just had a little baby boy. They’re moving away in a few months, to a newer suburb. We’re going to miss them – they’ve made great neighbours.

I don’t think I’ll give you the same tour of the backyard. It’s a bit of a sore-spot right now, with its rotting deck, falling-down fence, and weed-infested lawn. It needs some major work, but that’s not really in the cards for another year or two. For now, we’ll do most of our living in the front yard.

This is where I live – an ordinary home on an ordinary street in an ordinary suburb in an ordinary city. Nothing grand or elaborate. Nothing dream-worthy or idyllic. Nothing quaint or full of character. It’s just home. It’s where my daughters are growing up, where I’ve laughed a lot, cried a lot, dreamed a lot, ate a lot, painted a lot, written a lot, and loved a lot.

Just like I will never make the pages of Vogue, my home will never make the pages of Better Homes and Gardens. We’re both simple, ordinary, but mostly happy and well loved.

Friday, May 04, 2007

It says Fumbling for WORDS, you idiot!

To the hormonal teenager who found my blog by googling fumbling her boobs, step AWAY from the computer, go find a soccer ball to kick around the backyard with your friends, and get a REAL life! You won't find the naughty pictures you're looking for on THIS site!

The same goes for whoever was googling skinny-dip. Believe me when I tell you, there is no web cam dangling over the sorority sisters backyard pool ANYWHERE on this site.

And if you were trying to find out how skimpy can your bathing suit be for men and women, well, that just makes me giggle. C'mon, have you SEEN my bathing suit? It would terrify you how much fabric there is. Nope. No skinny-dipping, and NO bikinis here.

As for the person trying to find Moody Manitoba Morning lyrics, well, I may have had a few mornings that feel that way now and then, but I haven't got the lyrics committed to memory. Thanks ALOT though, for making that song (or at least the part I can remember) get stuck in my head ALL afternoon. Next thing you know, I'LL be the one up in the middle of the night trying to find the lyrics because it's driving me stark raving mad just repeating the first line again and AGAIN. If that happens, I will blame you.

Just one more thing... if you are the person who typed it has been my long time dream to build a home studio into the Google search engine, I'm so sorry. Here you go bravely trusting your dream to the internet, hoping some genie will pop out of the bottle and make your dreams come true, and all you got was me. Bummer for you. I hope you get your studio some day. It sounds like a lovely dream.

(Maybe this wasn't such a good idea for a post - now someone's going to find me by googling web cam dangling over the sorority sisters backyard pool.)

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Not much to see here

10 reasons why you may not see much of me this month:
1. Not much time to blog when soccer takes over your life.
2. Blogging and reading blogs takes up more of my time than I want it to. I feel the need to cut back. It's all about balance.
3. I'm "fasting" from the internet (and food) every Thursday during the month of May. (If you catch me commenting on a Thursday, you have permission to slap my wrists.)
4. It's Spring outside.
5. The Thursday fast has something to do with the big launch we're planning for work, so my time is fairly consumed with that.
6. I'd rather be biking.
7. I haven't submitted anything for publication for a long time. I want to sink some of my writing energy into that instead - at least for a little while.
8. I just don't feel much like it these days.
9. I'm starting to think May is my "month of navel-gazing". Maybe it has something to do with it being my birthday month.
10. I feel inspired by neither deep thoughts nor witticisms right now.

Who knows - I might have a change of heart tomorrow when I'm cut off from the internet and all kinds of posts come flooding through my brain. But for now, this is where I'm at.

Oh - on another note, if the generous person who anonymously left a lovely Ethiopian gabi scarf in my mailbox at church is a blog reader, then thank you, thank you, THANK YOU! I love it! I keep meaning to post a picture, but - well, there's the soccer thing. I haven't had time. But know this - I felt very blessed by your little gift.

And, since I don't have a picture of myself in the gabi scarf, here's a picture of Ephraim in Ethiopia wearing a traditional gabi. They're usually large white blanket-like wraps made of loosely woven Ethiopian cotton and trimmed with various colours and sometimes silk fringes. They're worn by both men and women, especially in the cool morning air in the highlands region. The scarf I got is a much smaller version. (I brought back one of the large gabis, but not a scarf, so this was an especially nice surprise.)