Seattle, Washington, United States
For those who love coffee, poetry, art, or stories - stay. Have a cup with us.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sunday Sip: Confidence

Confidence is something in the eyes. It's what you first notice when you look at a picture of Gandhi. It's what you first hear when the fourteenth Dalai Lama speaks. It is the essential attribute of popes and presidents. But, mostly, it is found in the random acts of kindness between people. Join me for a cup. -Michael

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

human & here

I am reading a fantastic book, Coffee Lovers. It is a rather famous little novel called Midnight's Children by (the ever fantastic and infamous) Salman Rushdie. The book has received a surprisingly large number of accolades and awards in its thirty years of publication. The most prestigious of its awards being "Best of the Booker Winners" given to it in 2008.

And while the awards of brilliant organizations and the words of critics mean a great deal to the author, only one review of many convinced me to read this book. On the cover of my copy, a blurb from The New York Review of Books is printed. It reads: "An extraordinary of the most important to come out of the English-speaking world in this generation."

Notice the reviewer did not choose a word like "entertaining" or "exciting". No, no, no. The reviewer of Midnight's Children thought it was the most important book to come out of the English-speaking world in its generation.

Why? What makes this novel by an Indian Muslim living on exile in Britain the most important to come out in a very distinguished generation of novelists?

The answer is simple. Rushdie presented - with the thought processes, common phrases, societal norms, and stories of his people - his own vast, beautiful and foreign country to an entire world who had never been shown India by a true Indian. He presented India in all her beauty, all her dysfunctional wonder, all her richness of culture and belief.

What Rushdie did was priceless. Sure, I paid sixteen dollars for it, but it is priceless. He built a bridge between two cultures. He did not romanticize his nation. He did not make it into anything more or less than what it truly is. Rushdie is an Indian teaching the western world to love India.

And this most vital of books is recognized as one of the most important in its generation. I choose to believe that we want to know, to love, to understand, and to believe in each other. It is NECESSARY that, as a world, we realize this. We are all people.

I love human faces when their eyes are smiling and they are laughing. But I also love human faces when they are weeping and crying out for comfort and help - for someone to cross over and understand. This is a difficult, fallen, painful world we live in. But we are here to build bridges by writing books, by speaking words, by teaching children, by laughing, and by pouring coffee.

So to our friends, over oceans and across streets, whose worlds are dark today - we are here.

We love you, Japan. We love you, Darfur. We love you, Haiti. We love you, Libya. We love you, Egypt. We love you, Yemen. We love you, Oman. We love you, Bahrain. We love you, Iran. We love you, Mexico. We love you, Afghanistan.

It will be alright. We are human. We are here.

May your coffee be strong, your passions electric, and your laughter easy.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sunday Sip: Fire & Ice

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To know that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

--Robert Frost "Fire and Ice" (1920)

Lately things have been, in a word, destructive. Earthquakes in Haiti, tsunamis in Japan, wars in Afghanistan, uprisings in Egpyt, genocide in Darfur, air strikes and promises of retribution in Libya. . .

It makes you wonder where it will all end. And I firmly believe it ends with books, with education, with friendships, kind words, handshakes, understanding, long conversations, language classes, cultural emersions, coffee shared. Yes. That is how it ends.

Join me for a cup.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Fire Birds

Once again, I am sorry for the lack of Sunday Sip this week, Coffee Lovers. I'm trying to get myself back onto a normal schedule, but things have been hectic lately.

This week I want to break the mold a little bit and talk about phoenixes. For those of you scratching your heads: yes, you heard me right. I am writing today about mythical fire birds.

The phoenix is one of mythology's most popular symbols. I went and did some research today and found that phoenixes abound across all of the ancient east, from the Hindu Garuda, to the Egyptian Bennu, on to the Chinese Feng Huang, and finally the Japanese Hou-ou.

It is obvious why. The phoenix is the most hopeful of all symbols. It lives a full life - filled, certainly, with the struggles and pains that life brings - and then it bursts into brilliant flame. But it raises itself up again from the ashes, refusing - it seems - to submit to Nature's course.

The phoenix seems, to me, to be one of the most human of the mythical creatures. The unicorn is too holy, the gryphon is to fierce, the syren is too beautiful. But the phoenix? The phoenix is nothing more than mankind in its inisitent, persitant, and unrelenting struggle and refusal to take anything lying down.

Hard times are something I've been thinking a lot about lately. It is no secret that life is hard. But phoenixes are, if they are anything more than a fun myth, a reminder that no fire is great enough to burn the soul. It may burn the body, shock the mind, leave one scarred and unsure of where to move. But no difficulty or obstacle can stop us from rising up in a bed of ash.

I watched someone I really love experience great hurt at the hands of someone they really cared about this week. It was difficult - so difficult! - to watch what this fight did to their spirit, and their sense of balance, and their eternally smiling eyes. I hate any event that puts lines on the faces of my loved ones (unless they are laugh lines).

But as I write this, I think of my loved one and of phoenixes. The flames rage now, yes. But the ashes are coming, and the ashes are a promise of new life, tomorrow mornings, and new wings with which to search the sky. So, my wish this week is to be a phoenix, and to be unafraid of the fire, which surely renews us all from time to time.
Also, let's not forget that from the seemingly insignificant, brown and ash-like dust we call coffee, rises the steam of new cups, tranquil mornings, and budding friendships. Phoenixes, I guess, are all around.

May your coffee be strong, your passions electric, and your laughter easy.

"Phoenix Rising" is an original drawing
by Megan Drews.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Truly Golden

Yesterday was my birthday. I turned 16 and I had what was, probably, my best birthday yet. I felt so appreciated and loved by everyone I ran into all day long. Friends brought me kind words, cakes, cookies, balloons, presents, cards, and took time out of their day to spend time with me.

As I thought about it, I realized how blessed I am by the people in my life. They are a constant reminder of how I want to treat people.

I sometimes wonder why any god would create us and then drop us into such an imperfect world. Why any god would create us and then allow us to make such a mess for ourselves. But as I think about it now, it is apparent that they did not just leave us to our fate. They, whoever they are, gave us certain gifts we cannot deny. Friendship is one of those.

The Golden Rule is Treat Others as You Wish to Be Treated. I wrote this little entry to let all of my friends know that you are truly golden, and that you are all some of the biggest blessings in my life. You straighten out the chaos; you light up the darkness; you bless the bleakness; you clean up the mess.

Thank you.

May your coffee be strong, your passions electric, and your laughter easy.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A Path Intersected

I have been excited for this post for several weeks now, Coffee Lovers. But, before I get into the meat of what I've been dying to write about for two weeks now, I have to say: I hope you are all enjoying Girl Scout Cookie Season. I certainly am. Don't know how much I'll be enjoying it in two weeks, when I have to by an all new (and larger) wardrobe. But for now it's simply fantastic.

I left for vacation two Fridays back and was gone for five days. I went to Sunriver, Oregon with my family, grandparents, and cousins. We went skiing and snowboarding at Mt. Bachelor and spent time in a fun, little house we were renting, and went into the village to shop and eat. It was just the break that I needed.

However, Mt. Bachelor is quite the drive from where I live. It is, roughly, six to six and a half hours south. We set out in the car armed with books, Cd's, and bracingly positive attitudes. My grandparents live in far Southern Oregon, so we are used to the long drives through the Northwest.

Anyone who has ever driven for a long time with me knows I do not take to car trips very well. To be short, I'm rather like a piranha who, finding itself uncomfortable on land, decides it will bite the finger off of as many smiling children as it can before it suffocates (you think I'm kidding).
Because of weather warnings we split the trip into two sections and stayed in a hotel in Yakima overnight. I was, if I do say so myself, quite pleasant the first day. But I woke up with a cloud hanging over my head and the idea of driving another four hours to Sunriver did not appeal to me at the time.
So I set out armed with books, Cd's, and bad attitude and continued south. Somewhere along the way, we saw a sign that read: Saint John's Monastery, Greek Bakery, and Espresso. I rolled my eyes and warned my family about the grounds-in-the-cup issue I have with Greek coffee. "I think we should give it a look," remarked my dad.

"Be my guest." That was my response. I was turning down espresso! It must have been a bad day.

After much argument, we pulled over. The convent itself looked like a small coastal Greek temple of sorts. Angry tongue in check, I walked in the front door. The first thing that greeted me was the undeniable scent of phyllo dough.
Let me take a moment to expound on the beauty that is phyllo. It is flaky, it is crumbly, it is buttery and crunchy and soft underneath. If I hadn't decided to write a coffee blog, I very well might have written Flakier Spanakopita for your reading pleasure.

It turns out, that a man had owned a great deal of land in the exact spot of the Saint John's Monastery/Bakery/Coffee Shop. When he died, the man, a Greek Orthodox Catholic, tried to donate the land to the Church as a retreat center. The location was not central enough, however, for the Church, so they relocated an order of nuns to the area. The first women in the Saint John's Monastery were little old nuns from Greece. They came over in their all-black habits with the red crosses on the foreheads and set themselves to opening a traditional Greek bakery, coffee shop, and Catholic trinket store.

The nun who helped us (I never did catch her name) was in her mid-thirties and had been living as a Sister in the convent for thirteen years. Later, we all remarked on the peculiar way she had set about making one latte and one Italian soda. She moved slowly and deliberately. She did not rush the steaming of the milk, nor did she try to complete both drinks at once. I was almost nervous, watching her, wondering why she wouldn't move faster. I wanted to tell her to stop her polite conversationa and steam, steam, steam! I'm used to unnecessary speed, I was literally uncomfortable in the face of this unshakable conviction that there is no problem in not rushing a thing.

My dad said an interesting thing about those nuns. He remarked that they had, probably, lost all concept of time and urgency. They lived lives that were completely theirs (or completely God's, depending on how you look at it) and they did not care whether you were on a schedule or not. These women gave themselves wholly over to a cause. Just because that cause meant making my sister an Italian soda, did not mean that my sister could define, rush, or limit how these women chose to go about their divine work.

You see, we pick paths in life. Often, our path runs so quickly and furiously that we never stop to look at the paths that intersect ours. The slow, steady, devoted, and - frankly - beautiful path of these nuns crossed mine that second day of driving. If I'd had it my way, I would blown right past the peculiar Greek building and missed a look at a life far removed from my own.

Nothing about my life demands I move quickly. That is just how I move. They say you should wake up and smell the coffee. But they're wrong. Waking up has nothing to do with it. Slowing down, looking around, and investigating the lives of the beautiful and unique individuals around you - that is smelling the coffee.
May your coffee be strong, your passions electric, and your laughter easy.

Original Artwork provided by Nalani Saito.
Inspired by the theme of "paths".