Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Ottawa's Blue Nile Ethiopian Restaurant - Review

--> One thing I am most grateful for is my parents’ insistence that I try “just one bite” of new foods. Encouraging that practice expanded my curiosity about new flavors. As an adult, the habit of curiosity helps me scoff at all kinds of fear and leap into new adventures. Over time I’ve been dubbed a foodie (kindly) or a food snob (perhaps not so kindly!) Title notwithstanding, I love exotic flavors, finding fabulous restaurants, and sharing great food with wonderful people.
In 1982 a friend introduced me to Ethiopian food at The Blue Nile (yes, same name) in Berkeley, California. It was a unique and addicting experience. The spices were new, the variety was lovely (being vegetarian at the time, I was craving variety—ok... I always crave variety!) In addition to the heavenly flavors, we got to eat with our hands!
My friend explained that Ethiopia is a large and extremely poor East African country. Beef is used as currency there, so is quite rare in everyday cooking. When meat is prepared it’s usually chicken or lamb, but in general, various beans, peas, vegetables and grains are the staples of Ethiopian diet.
Upon arrival in Ottawa, I discovered a website called “Ottawa Foodies.” One of my first goals was to find the city’s best Ethiopian joint. There are a few in town, but the Foodies’ top choice is The Blue Nile, located at 577 Gladstone (at Percy). I agree wholeheartedly, and find no reason to try any of their competitors.
Here is what you will experience if you decide to visit Ottawa’s Blue Nile Restaurant... The pace is slow. This is not a dash-in-and-out restaurant, so give yourself plenty of time. My top menu recommendation is the Vegetarian Combination ($10!). This gives you the chance to taste many flavors at once. Ranging from mild to hot, the Veggie Combo contains servings of cabbage, carrot and potato stew, yellow split peas, green beans, either collard greens or kale, spicy red lentils, cottage cheese, and a small green salad. Each has its own unique, delicious flavor. If you eat meat, there are a number of beef, lamb and chicken options as well. Our favorite is a medium-spicy saucy beef dish with the fun name of Zilzzl Tibbs ($10.99). If you’d like to go a bit spicier, Ye-Doro Wat ($10.99), the traditional wedding or celebration dish of chicken leg, boiled egg, onion, and pepper is served with home-made cottage cheese to cool the pepper bite.
Part of the joy of this food is the manner in which it is served and eaten. Injera, a thin, spongy, sourdough pancake made from the high-protein, gluten-free grain teff, is laid out on a metal tray (like a pizza pan.) A serving of each of your choices is then poured onto the injera, and it is set down into a colorful lidded basket called a mesob. An additional plate of folded or cut-and-rolled injera comes on the side. The food is shared, family-style: one central mesob per table. You eat by tearing off small pieces of injera and pinching/scooping up each bite. Beware: injera expands! You will be full.
I highly encourage you to experience the adventure of dinner at The Blue Nile. Dinner for two, without spirits—including tax and tip—costs under $30.00. Especially for starving-student-foodies, finding delicious, exotic, healthy food within our budgets is a gastronomical delight.

Sunday, March 14, 2010


This week I’m expanding on my answers to a question asked on our Human Sexuality discussion board. And I’m curious whether you have considered your answers.

Q: What are your top relationship priorities?

My A's:
Honesty and Trust
-- Being honest, both with myself and my partner, is crucial to the health of my relationship. Knowing that we are both committed to telling the truth builds trust and belief in our own and each other’s integrity. Trust creates safety and security, allowing us both to open up even more. It’s a lovely, expanding, self-perpetuating cycle.

Respect -- Respecting each other and ourselves keeps our attention on the positive, encourages kindness, and boosts our self-esteem and sense of value. Choosing to (1) be respectful and (2) not invest time and energy in disrespectful people are empowering practices. I have been in relationships with a lack of respect, and will write more about that in my next blog post.

Shared values, interests and sense of humor -- Sharing values gives us a common world view to live from. For example, if I see the world as benevolent, attempting to have a relationship with someone who believes the world is hostile is pretty difficult. Additionally, I learned the hard way that no matter how much I love someone, if we don't laugh at the same things, or have at least a few things in common that give us both a charge, the connection does not last, no matter how hard we try.

Communication -- To quote my partner: "Silence may be golden, but communication is priceless." If we're not sharing ourselves with each other, are we really in relationship? Believe me, it is possible to be extremely lonely within a marriage. I wouldn’t recommend it. There are quiet people and chatty people and everything in between. Sometimes opposites attract here and it works. More often, I think finding a bird from a similar flock will be a better fit and be more fulfilling for both partners.

Love, attraction and passion -- I believe love is a practice, a verb coming from a moment by moment decision. Attraction to and passion for my partner may start out as lust or chemistry, but as time goes on it requires effort to steer clear of the taking-for-granted or boredom ditches. That effort pays off not only in better sex, but in a happier, closer relationship all around.

Regarding physical/sexual compatibility... Finding someone who has a similar desire (or non-desire) for sex is a delightful thing! I know VERY happy couples who are rarely, or no longer sexual. That works when it is a mutual choice. Talking about where my partner and I stand on the scale from “sex is ho-hum, and great for making babies” to “sex is one of my favorite adult play activities” (and listening carefully to your partner’s answers) is wise, especially before committing to a lifetime together.

These priorities have definitely changed over my life. When I was in my 20's, life was much more about having fun, without as much depth or regard for the consequences of my choices. Now in my 50's, I'm much more conscious of my values, how powerful words and attitudes are, and how much the people in our lives affect us. As much as possible, I choose to surround myself with positive, empowering people who are learning and growing and who enjoy life.

How about you? What is most important
in your relationships?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Please Get Fido or Fluffy Fixed (Opinion)

Is there anything cuter than puppies or kittens? Picture it: a blanket-lined wicker basket tucked into a warm corner, filled with a mewling, snuggling pile of fuzzy kitties. Alternately, imagine a fenced-in whelping pen with sweet, closed-eyed, whining pups nuzzling into their mother for warmth and milk. Precious, isn’t it? Perhaps not for long…

I can not count the times I have heard people say things like, “Oh, she’s such a beautiful dog. We are looking for a male to mate with her.” “We want our children to experience the miracle of birth at least one time.” “We already have people who will take all the puppies (kittens).” Or, “It’s more healthy for dogs to have at least one litter before they are spayed.” (The opposite is actually true.) Or, “I could never remove my male dog (or cat’s)… you know…,” usually accompanied by an anthropomorphizing* cringe, as if spaying or neutering a pet was something the animal would grieve.

The sad reality is there are nearly seven times more puppies and kittens born each year than humans. There are not enough homes for all of the pet animals that are born, and the overpopulation problem does not seem to be waning. Tracking the actual number of pets that are euthanized each year is extremely difficult. However, official statistics published over the past two years range between four and ten million cats and dogs euthanized annually in the United States alone. If we were to accept a relatively conservative estimate of six million, that translates to over 16,000 dogs, cats, puppies and kittens being “put to sleep,” “put down,” or—dropping the euphemisms—killed every single day.

“But those aren’t the puppies or kittens that my dog or cat had,” I have heard people say. Granted, that may be true. However, something that you may not have considered is that every puppy or kitten that you sell or give away means one less shelter animal that doesn’t get adopted, and probably one more euthanized animal.

Over the past ten years a new trend has emerged in the shelter business. In addition to the Humane Society and municipal Animal Control organizations, thousands of individuals, appalled over the millions of animals that are put to death each year, have established “no-kill” shelters. These grassroots rescue shelters are often—but not always—breed specific, and rely exclusively on volunteers and private donations. Most of these shelters are filled to overflowing, and constantly struggle to find foster families and funding to keep their facilities open.

The Humane Society operates low-cost sterilization clinics and, along with rescue organizations across the country, educates pet owners and encourages spaying and neutering. The sad enormity of the problem of pet overpopulation far outweighs the sweetness of a basket of kittens in your living room.

This article took approximately three minutes to read. During that time in the United States, 33 animals were killed. If you love pets, please, help stop the over-breeding and needless death by getting your animals spayed or neutered.

*anthropomorphize: to attribute human form or personality to things not human

PETA got a serious scolding for this ad, and it has been removed. I thought it was pretty funny!

Monday, March 08, 2010

Learning to Love

We created an online magazine for webwriting class. There were eight students in our first group. We each edited our fellow students' work, as well as writing a Feature article. The Feature was 1200 - 1500 words, related to the topic on which we chose to blog. Mine, as you might guess, was Healthy Relationships. Here, then, is my feature article...

Tucked into a cubicle at the Police and Public Safety Institute, a tall, distinguished, soft-spoken gentleman sits at his computer, carefully perusing and commenting on the sex lives of 118 Algonquin College students. No, he is not monitoring your private emails or peering at hidden video cameras. Rather, he is the designer and professor of the College's most popular General Education Elective Online Course: Understanding Human Sexuality. Lindsay Harris not only teaches an unprecedented life-enhancing class, but he has a unique electronic window into the many changing trends of Ottawa’s intimate relationships.

Learning the facts about—and getting comfortable with—intimacy and sexuality can make an immense difference in your life. Lindsay Harris (who prefers to be called by his first name) makes that available to you and the 16,000 other full-time students on Woodroffe campus. Topics in his course span from understanding anatomy and behavior to the history and current state of intimate relationships and sexual practices throughout the world. His text book explores, among other things, facts on various forms of birth control and pregnancy issues, gender roles, risks of sexually transmitted diseases and sexual dysfunction. In addition, he presents 14 weeks of discussion topics and journals which help students more deeply understand their own beliefs and perspectives. Because he has been in the counseling field for 25 years, and has now lead this course since Fall of 2003, Lindsay has, well… perhaps not “seen it all,” but has certainly seen some changes.

Teaching Police Foundations to a population of mostly new high school graduates in the early 2000’s, Lindsay discovered, to his surprise, how misinformed and profoundly uninformed some of his students were about sexuality and relationships. Disturbed by this lack of basic knowledge, he began designing his course. Coincidently, at that same time, the Government of Ontario mandated that the province’s colleges require General Education (Gen Ed) courses for all full-time students. Algonquin readily accepted Understanding Human Sexuality into the curriculum. The online format of the Gen Ed classes turned out to be the perfect format for Lindsay’s topic. As he says, looking back over the past six years, “[The students] couldn’t have been nearly as honest if we had been face to face.”

But honest they were, and, seemingly, still are. As fascinated as most college students are with sexuality, it does not come as a surprise that this elective fills quickly and has a waiting list every semester. The course outline and directions that he posts on Blackboard are extensive and no-nonsense, setting a professional tone and adult expectations. Meeting in person the first (and only) week of the semester allows Lindsay to meet and greet the new students. I know, for certain, I was not the only one to be startled to learn that “Lindsay” was male. Did he really expect us to send our sexual journals to a man? Within the first five minutes of listening to his calm clarity and lighthearted humor, my concern literally melted away. This man exudes safety. He clarifies that this class may be different than what we expected: it is not a “how to” class. Since the youngest students are probably 17-18, he assumes that it is somewhat unlikely that class participants are virgins. What the course is about, it turns out, is an intense learning and quiz-taking schedule, forum discussions of typically hush-hush topics, and serious self-exploration. Perhaps most importantly, behind it all sits a respectful, intelligent, real person reading our thoughts, and posting comments and marks for participation. There is a bonus, as well: on our Discussion Board, he has a section called “Ask Lindsay” where anyone may post an anonymous question or concern for support, education or feedback.

Lindsay requested and received a “Custom Edition for Algonquin College” printing of the textbook, Essentials of Human Sexuality (Rathus, et al, 2005). Originally printed in the U.S., this customized text will be replaced next Fall with an all new updated Canadian edition. Of course, a new text means a re-vamp of the curriculum, so Lindsay is anticipating a busy summer. For now though, students are expected to read and take a quiz on either one or two chapters of the text each week. He posts a new open discussion topic every Wednesday on issues such as circumcision, infertility and prostitution. And three times each semester students send in three or four page journals—answering thoughtfully prepared questions about all aspects of relationship and sexual choices, preferences and beliefs. It is a multi-layered learning experience that receives rave reviews each term. Consistently, Lindsay hears, “Every student at Algonquin should take this class!”

Learning about sexuality has come a long, long way. Let’s rewind just 20 years (approximately one generation). In August, 1990, The New York Times printed an opinion piece written by a woman who headed a family- and sexuality-education organization. She quoted statistics from two national reports, pointing to the facts that high school sex education was sorely lacking (students were receiving an average of 6.5 hours per year—“too little, too late” according to thousands of teachers), and teen pregnancy was on the rise. While high school sex-ed funding and teacher expertise may still be lacking, the Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality (CJHS) reported in 2008 that this generation’s sex-education level is higher than any prior. The report also states that teen pregnancy rates are down across Canada (although there are alarming rates in lower-income populations). Sexually Transmitted Illnesses (STI’s) continue to rise. “What the research evidence suggests is that although there remains room for improvement, the picture of the sexual health and well-being of today’s Canadian teens is, in many ways, more positive than in previous generations.” (CJHS) The children of Lindsay Harris’ students are guaranteed to add to the health of the coming generation.

Looking back through Lindsay’s eyes at what has happened over these past 25 years, we can see astounding changes when it comes to how people create and maintain their intimate relationships. With the caveat that generalizing always excludes individuals, Lindsay outlines a picture of continually opening options, and changing stress patterns. Many of the stigmas that historically have been huge issues, are falling by the wayside. “More and more now, people are engaging in serial monogamy,” he explains. Because of the difficulty of accurately mapping the numbers without traditional legal documentation (marriage and divorce), it is nearly impossible to know how many common law relationships there are. That being said, the officially recorded numbers have more than tripled in the past 20 years. Additionally, he states, “Adolescence has extended easily into the mid-20’s. Over 50% of children are still living at home (many of them paying off student loans) by the time they reach 25.” Beginning relationships later in life, often without official sanctions, choosing to have their own children later in life are all extremely new trends in relationship with unique benefits and stresses.

Another major difference Lindsay points out is that, “People are much more comfortable with diversity in relationships. We have become a heterogeneous culture.” More often than not, we take it in stride when learning about couples of the same sex, mixed race or ethnicity, or of disparate ages. With the advent of instant- and video-communication on the internet, meeting and creating close relationships with people in different cultures, and maintaining those relationships over long periods of time is not only possible, but is happening every day.

All of these new trends and our new world-wide mobility have opened the doors of possibility to ever more honesty and fulfillment in our intimate relationships. With the encouraging sound of Lindsay Harris tapping away at his keyboard in P Building—sharing his knowledge and highlighting our unique value—we are all given the opportunity to learn to become the lovers of our dreams.

A Gem from a Master

[This was originally a blog post for a college webwriting class - Feb 27, 2010.]

In 1987, my dear friend and teacher, Jordan Roberts, hadn’t yet contracted HIV and died of AIDS. He was, rather, a strong and healthy 40-something-year-old psychologist. Working from his beautiful craftsman-style home on Seattle’s Capital Hill, Jordan held classes and group therapy and met with clients, both individually and in couples. He was an extremely private man, even though hundreds of people came into his home every month. He was also one of the wisest men I have ever known.

I met Jordan via a small, free newspaper, bundles of which were dumped into the doorways of health food stores, coffee shops, and libraries around the city. The Experimental College advertised short, low-cost adult classes which ran the gamut from pottery and dance classes to self-esteem building.

Earning a psychology degree had not put an end to my shyness and struggle with feeling not good enough. I knew I had low self-esteem. It was time to do something about it.

[Confession time: it took three times of attending Jordan’s self-esteem class before the dramatic shifts really happened. Consequently, my life and relationships changed profoundly.]

I would like to share with you the shining jewel that forever changed the way I conducted myself in relationships, the most empowering tool that Jordan shared with tens of thousands of students. It is called The Drama Triangle. Designed by Stephen Karpman, a teacher of Transactional Analysis and respected psychologist, many therapists today still use his diagram to help clients create healthier relationships.

Karpman Drama Triangle


Imagine a triangular-shaped board game with three positions, one at each corner. We, as players, unwittingly play this game, attempting to get our emotional needs met. We are usually not aware of how caught up we get, nor that there is a much healthier way to live. The object of the game is to Get Off The Board.

The first step is to become aware that we are playing. The second is to learn a different, more healthy way to interact -- one that can authentically fulfill our emotional needs.

When caught in the game, people generally play a favorite position, but often jump to the other two corners when things get uncomfortable. It’s nearly impossible to STOP playing until you recognize you’re on the board, but once you do, jumping off can stop a cycle of shame and disempowerment you may have been unconsciously living for years.

 The Victim role is by far the most influential (read: manipulative) and destructive to healthy relating:

THE VICTIM – “Poor me” “It’s not my fault” “Life happens TO me” “I’m incapable”

While the Victim may look like the least powerful person, the truth is, Victims run the game. If you find yourself in this position or someone in your life is playing it, the key to getting off the board is for the Victim to 
realize there are always options and 
move into problem solving.

  Being a Rescuer may sound and look noble, but is actually a big part of the powerlessness game:

THE RESCUER – “Let me help you” “It’s for your own good” “Enabler” “Smotherer”

Whether you want it or not, this person will be your caretaker. The Rescuer is the classic helpful “co-dependent.” (This was my favorite role, and I still fight to stay off the board!) If this is you or someone you know, the key for the Rescuer is to 
recognize the habitual behaviour and
learn to encourage and empower others.

The Persecutor can be recognized as the angry-at-the-world role:

THE PERSECUTOR – “It’s all your fault” “Criticizer” “Always Right” “Win-Lose”

Desperately needing to be right, this person pushes, executing sophisticated power-ploys that keep everyone off-balance and one-down. As with all of the positions, it is a controlling role, stemming from a wounded self-image. If you find yourself or see someone playing this position, the keys to stopping are 
admitting you’re playing the blame-and-attack-role and 
learning to set clear boundaries. (“This behavior works for me, that behavior doesn’t.”)

Jumping out of this far-too-common game is not easy if it has become habit. The roles can become so familiar (every TV drama banks on it) that there don’t appear to be alternatives. 

The truth is, the fulfillment that comes from taking full responsibility for the health of your relationships is worth every step it takes to stop the game and learn new, empowering ways of communicating.

Once again, this reminder: We Can Only Change Ourselves. If you see this game happening in one of your relationships, consider that you may be an unwitting participant! At a time when you are NOT in the midst of a drama, you may choose to share this information with your person… not to change them, but to ask for their support in changing your pattern. Be kind and patient with yourself. Expect some resistance. Change is rarely easy.

Honesty & Trust

Webwriting blog post - Feb. 13, 2010

Ask nearly anyone to give you a list of attributes of healthy relationships and these two words are bound to be near the top. I’ve decided to take a little closer look at them.

Some questions that we may each want to consider …

* Is honesty black and white?
* Is it always the best policy?
* What about “little white lies”?
* Is there anything that justifies lying?
* Where do we draw the line?
* If we lie, how do we trust that others are telling the truth?
* Are there drawbacks to being honest or trusting?
* Since each of us will feel the pain of betrayal at some point in our lives, how do we heal and move forward when it happens?
* And, oh, what about diplomacy, discretion, politeness and tact?

The Honesty Scale, if you will, extends from “The Chronic Liar” (CL) to “Open Mouth Insert Foot” (OMIF). (I tend to fall into the arguably less-than-healthy OMIF category.) Along this scale are degrees of honesty where each of us tend to hover. When it comes to close relationships (defined subjectively as connections with the people we choose to allow beneath our “surface”) honesty and trust become much more crucial—and complicated.

*An aside: I’m going to limit my comments to adult-adult relationships (partially because I have no children, but also because I don’t want to open the Santa-Claus/Easter Bunny can-of-worms.) Between adult participants, acting in an honest and trustworthy manner--and our willingness to trust--are choices.

Most of us hate being lied to, right? Within close relationships though, situations will arise where we are tempted to lie to people we care about. The usual excuse is “to protect [our person’s] feelings.” I argue that--more often than not--the actual reason for these lies is because sometimes telling the truth is uncomfortable. It makes us face--and perhaps feel guilty or ashamed of--our human shortcomings. Rather than admit our mistakes and expose our vulnerable emotional underbellies, we “sugar-coat the truth,” tell a “white lie,” or exaggerate. After all, we rationalize, “What they don’t know can’t hurt them.” I don’t know that there is an adult on the planet who hasn’t done this at some point. Here is something I have learned: In our close relationships, telling the truth with sensitivity, especially when it is difficult to do so, can be key to deepening intimacy.

Healing from the betrayal of being lied to is something all of us will face at some point, and each will do in his or her own way. Feeling the emotions of anger, fear, and resentment are natural and understandable, and for some, can be crippling. As one of my favorite teachers says, “We will all go through the Valley along the way. The thing to remember is: Don’t set up camp there.” It has taken me a long time to realize that we are all fallible and sometimes make hurtful mistakes. Forgiveness is something I practice for my own peace of mind. My version of forgiveness is not a condoning of behavior, but a process of clearly setting boundaries, then releasing and moving forward. Is it easy to trust again when we have been hurt? No. Is it worth it? Absolutely.