my love for smithfield: block t

The Studio

The old doors of the lift rattle open before I prop them wide with a green and white weave basket filled with eight sewing machine peddles and two coiled extension leads. Out come the machines, two by two, and then the bags of sewing notions and left over sewing projects from a class I taught that morning. It might only be one flight up but the lift makes my weekly workout just a little bit easier. Inevitably, I will open the door to the first floor of Block T and Chris will take one look at my stack of machines and immediately offer help with moving everything down the hall to the studio. Chances are that I probably had collected the machines that morning on my own, taught a two hour sewing class and have just lugged everything back again. With each week the machines get lighter as I get stronger and my appreciation for Block T grows.

I was a latecomer to Block T but an early enthusiast for sewing. Following a run of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in secondary school my drama teacher told me that I should really take up costume design as a career because I came alive while doing it. “Yes,” I said, “but there is something I love more.” I pursued the first dream while maintaining and developing my sewing skills as part of my oasis of self-care. I would sew dresses for friends here and there while up-skilling in courses that were relevant. In my visits to Canada I began to take up quilting too and was adopted into the great big quilting family that is somewhere in every Canadian town.

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Two years ago I found myself in a fairly important transition time and was looking for a way that I could contribute to the community as an act of love for it, no strings attached. Generosity that is genuine and wholehearted changes places, it changes people and it can change communities. Sewing came to mind even though I had never taught a class before in my life. When I told family and friends they confirmed what I had been thinking – this made sense! It was a natural progression from some of the community work I had been doing before. At the same time, I was terrified. Theoretically, it made sense. Practically, I was recovering from some emotional wounds that left me afraid of anything I thought I was good at before. I was even having panic attacks when sitting in front of a sewing machine about to stitch a straight line. Friends patiently walked with me as I breathed through fear and took a courageous step in asking a local school if they could do with a sewing teacher. Within a month we had scrounged together ancient sewing machines and a diverse class of students. Soon I was getting calls from other local services asking if I could teach a group with them as well. Some generous people donated money for me to put together proper equipment for classes and in summer of 2015 all of this moved with me into Block T where I began sharing studio space with my good friend, co-founder of C Squared and visual artist, Laura Pettit.

Sharing a space with a visual artist is inspiring. Each week I enter into a space that is charged with eyes that see differently and shapes and colours that express intangible realities that resonate deeply. As I drift through the hallways of Block T, I am reminded that the world can look different. This old probation office building has been a Petri dish where new hopes and dreams for the future are given a chance to start incredibly small in order to become something that grows big enough to shape the culture of a city. Our practices interact with each other. During one Tuesday evening before Christmas I was in the art classroom with a sewing class. Paint was splashed across surfaces and well used easels stood as our backdrop – a room well loved with the lingering affects of art. Our gift in return was the calming smell of lavender from making scented heat packs. On evenings that I have ended up staying late to prepare for a class the next day, Kevin will knock on my door and ask if I have listened to this artist or that song. He helps me find them on my computer and they become an unexpected and very welcome soundtrack for my work. It has been an absolute honour to teach basic machine sewing skills as a part of their skillset programme as well as in the community. It is one way that I have been able to exchange generosity for the environment, opportunity, plasters (for when I cut my fingers open by being careless with a rotary blade) and helping hands every week.

Block T is a generous place. A dreamer’s place. A culture maker’s place. I, for one, will be sad to see it leave Smithfield Square in the coming months as it seeks a new home. Homelessness is a problem in this city. Meanwhile, I will be thankful as I think about my love for Smithfield and the role that Block T has played in strengthening many things that have been weak.

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my love for smithfield: cibo creative kitchen

IMG_5536Dreaming of days where you can just tuck yourself into your favourite corner? That place where the world disappears as you meet with friends, or where you don’t feel like anyone is watching you spending quality time with story-lines coming alive off a page? That corner where you can hold onto your cup of coffee or tea and have someone bring you something fresh from the oven? Take a walk to the north end of Smithfield, to the corner between Brunswick Street and Grangegorman. A two story, old brick building stands there with its dimmed old florescent light sign “Italian Restaurant” is scrawled across the top and weather beaten menu hangs beside the window. Cibo Creative Kitchen has found its home here for just less than a year now, thanks to a couple of warm-hearted Italians who have made this city theirs.

IMG_5533Soft twinkly lights shine their welcome from inside. Step into the entrance and open the door to your left. Warmth encloses you in a coming home sort of feeling. The music and cosy feel lend to sharing a smile or few words with strangers and unknown neighbours. Behind the tall, beautiful, carved and polished counter Rocco or Stella wave their hello. Small eclectic tables are covered in colourful oilcloth. Lights are covered with old soup cans. There is a corner nook with a round coffee table made of an old bicycle tire. Two small couches are pushed against a bookcase full of inviting and inspiring shared reads. This is that place of comfort – that corner of this house of Dublin that just feels right. From the kitchen come seasonal pastries, soups and sandwiches. Stella shares her creativity with something new every week, an invention of inspiration. If looking to have something warmer, you might just find she has made her grandmother’s lasagna that day.

On Wednesday afternoons if you arrive around 2:00 you will find Rocco helping us move two tables together so we can set up colouring books for the community. Colouring books for children, colouring books for adults, dot-to-dot and blank pages sit on the corner ready to be used by anyone needing a moment of downtime. Chairs surround the tables with jackets hanging off the backs of them. Young, old, rich, poor, local, international – the space is filled by anyone who adventures into the comfort of this hideaway. Conversation flows. They have given us a generous welcome into the treasure they have created for the community. They have become friends.

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Since writing this post, Stella and Rocco have both moved into other endeavours in the city. We were so thankful for them and look forward to hearing about what they are up to next!

why the ferris wheel might not be such a bad idea after all

IMG_5580Pastel coloured gazebos decorated the spokes of the giant wheel, as if it was a prize for making it through the sensory overload of games at the fair. “Let’s go on the Ferris Wheel,” I suggested to my adventure companions. “But Liesel,” they started, “you’re afraid of heights.” Mmmm, but I won’t remember I’m afraid of heights until I am on my way up. When we finally stepped onto it, the first symptoms came: increased heart rate, dizziness, short breaths. It wasn’t until we stopped a quarter of the way up that I clutched the post with my eyes shut, “this … was a very … bad … idea.”

Ten years ago today I was boarding a plane with a life’s worth of belongings and a plan to live in Ireland for a minimum of a four year term. As the plane took off from Vancouver airport I had the same gut reaction as I did two weeks ago on the Ferris Wheel. This … was a very … bad … idea. A commitment of four years to anything at that time seemed like a life sentence, never mind to be living it by faith. By faith, that God would work miracles in impossible situations. By faith, that he would provide for all my needs. By faith, that I wouldn’t turn into a permanent prune because of the cold and damp. With every hour that brought me closer to Dublin I fluctuated between feeling the thrill of freewheeling through the air in an indescribable leap towards whispered promises, and opening my eyes to see just how far from the ground I really was as the adventure appeared more of a teetering excuse for a safe pod up in the sky, nothing but a flimsy chain separating me from a gigantic fall to earth.

That feeling has never seemed to be terribly far away on any given day. I often find myself closing my eyes and grabbing onto the only thing that seems to be truly stable and explaining all the reasons why living life by faith is a very bad idea. In some magical and mysterious way, God just stays there while I rant at him, sometimes morning, noon and night, about how I just don’t have it in me to live hope where the only thing visible is hopelessness. When I am done reminding him (fairly loudly and firmly) about who he is and the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness …. that he has on offer to not just me but to everyone around me, he calms my soul and gives me courage to see the world from a different perspective. Up there, from a bird’s eye view, I peel open my eyes and breathe in measured breaths. The world looks different when we see it from above. He is safe. His view is more than I could have imagined. Hope stirs every time, without fail – 100% track record. It fills my words and directs my actions.

With feet back on the ground again there is an overwhelming feeling of “I did it! I survived it!” Every single year when I look back I can’t believe that “I did it! I survived it!” … by faith.

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almost as crazy as you might think i am

2015-10-10 15.12.52-1Sometimes I think I am certifiably crazy. I take a step back and listen to things that are packaged up as tidy little “Christian” things and suddenly my favourite animal is an ostrich and I want to believe in reincarnation so I can become one and stick my head in the sand so no one sees my red-faced embarrassment. Then it is made worse when I find myself being interviewed on national radio and am introduced as Liesel Reimer, career missionary with the Evangelical Missionary Church of Canada. I want to cringe as much as most of you at that. It is so full of words that have taken on lives of their own – and most not in a positive way outside of sub-groups that embrace them wholeheartedly. They are a walking advertisement for “weirdo” or “fanatic” or “um, should she be trusted?” Perhaps I’ve lost you already … wondering if you should go look up what I’m even talking about because you’ve never met anyone who has these labels attached to them.

This week I am going to be pulling out a whole lot of what and why on this big world wide web because it marks a significant event for me – 10 years in Ireland … as a missionary. Some of you met me before I even knew how to form words. Others through school, in work, at play or randomly as you were looking for something good to read. So, I just want to clear up a few important things right now:

  • I don’t care if you join my church.
  • I think Jesus is pretty cool and I try to live each day as if he really is who he says he is.
  • I don’t have it all together and I get it wrong (a lot).
  • I will try to love you as best I can because I’ve experienced this insane love that continually changes my life making me a better person and Jesus says I’m not to be selfish and keep it all for myself but to love others too, even if they don’t like me very much. Some days I’m more successful than others.
  • I have chosen to agree with the original guys that wrote this but like the way these guys made it sound!
  • I don’t want you to believe in a Jesus that isn’t real.
  • Sometimes life is really shitty.

So, welcome to this week that I am getting a little sentimental about because it marks a journey that is littered with hopes, shattered dreams, darkness so deep I couldn’t see my hand in front of me and miracles only told about in story books.

In the meantime … other questions answered:

taking hospitality to the streets

DublinOf all the days to not have brought my car into town for work! After 13 hours in city centre I was left carrying half a tray of uncovered cinnamon buns through inner-city streets at 10pm. There are plenty of people who might think this is a bad idea. You just never know how safe it is (I’ve never had a problem). As I walked down the hill from my church in the dark a group of rowdy teen lads from the area spotted my tray full of “cakes”. My initial reaction was … relief! I might not have to carry all these buns home with me!! Sure enough the tallest lad, towering over me, stopped about two feet away from me, reached his hand out and asked for one. “Absolutely!” I said to him. Pretty soon I was surrounded by a wall of lads each looking for a late night snack. Their faces transformed into innocent joy as sugar coated their hands:

“You have just made my night. No, seriously, you have.” “Wow, thanks!” “I love you!” “Did you make these?”

In that moment it felt like they had experienced ‘home’ – the space where you are loved for no reason at all and experience nothing except good things without having done a thing to deserve them.

My load lighter, I crossed the river and walked to the top of the hill to wait for my bus. Late night buses to my community don’t have a fantastic reputation either. I haven’t quite figured out why yet. It was only when the bus pulled up that I realise I didn’t have enough money on my bus card to get home. I smiled at the bus driver and offered him a cinnamon bun. He told me I had enough money to just get me home. The bus was quiet. A few young adults sat alone with their headphones in. The only exceptions were two men who were having a conversation across the aisle from each other. One reached out for a cinnamon bun with a question in his eyes. “Of course!” I said to him and then proceeded to offer cinnamon buns to the others on the bus. “Communication!” He exclaimed, “This is exactly what we had been talking about. No one communicates anymore. They all just look down at their phones the whole time.”

The lines across both these men’s faces told me they had lived more lifetimes than their years would allow. So we proceeded to talk about anything and everything. Soon another man and his son came on the bus. The skin on their faces draped over deep hollows. One of my new friends offered them my cinnamon buns, confident that this is what I would want. Finally we convinced the boy to have one. He shyly took one and slowly ate it while the rest of us shook hands and introduced ourselves. One of the men then asked if I was a teacher. “I teach a bit of sewing,” I said. He knew it, he could tell I was a teacher right away. As we got closer to my stop the other asked me if I was a preacher. “You could nearly call me that as well,” I said through a smile. “A sister?” he asked. “Not quite,” I responded. He was working away with something in his hands before extending it towards me. “I don’t have much to give you,” he explained as he handed me a small candle. Shaking their hands and blessing them I exited the bus near my house.

I think they met God last night – him in me. The reactions they had were the same I have when I mysteriously experience his Presence near me. There is a rightness, a letting go, a vulnerability, an accepting of kindness. I was humbled. A tray full of cinnamon buns and perfect love that doesn’t leave space for fear, such a small taste of heaven. These small offerings of hospitality are my fish and loaves. Miracles are made of such things.

It doesn’t take much to create a huge distance between people

2015-08-30 13.55.34-2This past week I was in Berlin for a work conference aimed at equipping young(er) leaders across Europe to pursue healthy Christian leadership. For some reason, Berlin has never really been on my list of “places to visit.” With so much going on leading up to this trip, I hardly even had time to brush up on its history and figure out what I might want to see during down time. Well actually, in my ignorance, I didn’t think there would be all that much to see … and I wasn’t really counting on any down time. When Sunday rolled around I was ready to hit the ground running for five hours of exploring before heading back to the airport.

01d59673cea20fedef28aee44749bb62bdadd4e913Climbing the steps out of the belly of the city into the heat of summer, I was surprised to see so few people near the Brandenburg Gate. It was large and impressive but not more spectacular than structures I’ve seen in Paris and Rome. As we passed through to the other side, my co-explorer for the day explained some of the significance of it during WWII. The significance of it isn’t tied to what it looks like but how it was used and what it meant to the people who lived on either side of it. As we walked further through the waves and blocks in the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, I looked up to see the colour and the shapes in modern buildings surrounding the square. There was a story in each of these – in the hands of the people who designed them. You could nearly feel the heartbeat of the architects as they tried to convey a message to everyone who can see the sky above and feel the earth below. Words were only introduced when we entered the Topography of Terror, explaining how the city under our feet took shape in the last 100 years. Exposed and free of charge, it felt like a public announcement of repentance for past sin and a warning to never return.

2015-08-30 11.51.28-1A good few tram stops north of there, we joined the bohemian crowds filtering into Mauerpark for Sunday afternoon festivities. Passing by musicians and artists we made our way into the large flea market where we jostled our way in search of lunch. Currywurst in hand, we sat listening to a couple of different bands performing under the shade of the trees. A hill ascended in front of us and at the top stood a piece of “the wall” – a colourful backdrop for the lighthearted summer Sunday celebrations of the city. In front of it swings lifted people up and down from sturdy, tall wooden frames. Swings: flying, freedom, play, peace. Families gathered to release a hiss of colour onto the wall, creating something beautiful.

2015-08-30 13.44.15-112 feet high – the wall was part of a death strip from 1961-1989, an area designated to make sure no one crossed from East to West alive. If I had been born near there, I would have grown up with death in my backyard until I was seven, not swings. At the end of that portion of wall, I stopped where a fence replaced the concrete. A security guard in a high viz vest on the football stadium side looked at me strangely through the fence as I just stared at the abrupt end. It was less than a foot thick. I was struck in that moment by how little it takes to create such a huge divide between people. The obstacles themselves are easy to overcome but it is our militant effort to ensure that no one overcomes them without our permission that makes them dangerous.

Leading people towards hope is deconstructing obstacles and helping people move from oppression to freedom, regardless of if they are one of us or not. It is public repentance of how much harm has been done under the false illusion of good. It is recreating something beautiful and useful in the place of damage. It is rebellion against symbols of death by setting up swings in front of them. Can you hear the carefree laughter? That is hope.

Thank you, Berlin, for what you have taught me.

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my love for smithfield: sparks bistro

2015-08-12 16.34.56-1“Good morning! How are you?”

Eyes shine behind a genuine welcome at Sparks Bistro whether it is a busy day or a quiet day. “It is good to see you. What can I get for you today?”

Service is laced with the joie de vivre of staff who love their place of work as much as the regulars do. It is a beautiful little gem in Smithfield where elegance is understated in the simplicity of the open plan cafe. Decadent sauces sizzle from the kitchen on the other side of the counter while the lunchtime crowd fills every inch of floor space. Chef, Guiseppe Cipolla, creates daily specials that intertwine an Irish style with exotic influence: sea bass, Wicklow lamb, steak, chicken, salmon, cod … all paired with veg and sauce that melt in the mouth. With good food in front of you and lively conversations you could forget the world for an hour.

2015-08-12 16.33.18-1In the morning, afternoon or evening you might just find a quieter table to have a more intimate conversation or get some work done. That is how I ended up in Sparks for the first time. Laura and I met at the table beside the window shortly after Sparks fully opened in January of this year.  Comfortably situated, we began putting together plans for C Squared – the community creative project we are working on. It didn’t take long before I began to bring everyone who came to visit or suggest to friends that we meet for coffee, lunch or dinner either in the main room of the bistro or, on a special occasion, in the beautiful tea room in the back.

2015-08-14 12.50.13-1On a long summer evening, Sparks takes on the feel of a classic European local in the making, situated in its perfect corner of the world. Confident in good food, good wine, good service and good friends – what more do you need unless you are searching for the chaos of hurried crowds searching for a night out. And in this city, Sparks is affordable with a two course dinner menu for under €17. You’d be hard pressed to find something equal in quality of flavour or service off Grafton Street for twice the price.

Perhaps Sparks is a small influence on the city that Dublin will become. With rich hospitality and excellence in the smallest things, Hassan Higazy and his staff take the finest things of local community living and create something extraordinary.