Sunday, February 18, 2018

Florida Shooting: They will not live in vain.... We can do more!

Across the world I mourn and grieve for those families who sent their loved ones to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on Valentine's Day. My heart is broken, as I see the pictures of lives that were stolen and snuffed out way too quickly.  As a parent with a 16 year old son and innumerable friends who are young teenagers, I only know that as adults we can and must do better. We can listen to the cries and tears of those whose loved ones have been taken. We can take action by changing gun laws. We are the adults who can help these kids navigate the world with safety, comfort, and protection. Policies and laws must be changed. Young people must know we care enough to change.

A new friend I met in a high school cafeteria a few days after the senseless, war-zone-like shootings in Florida.

This weekend I had the inspiring, yet sobering experience to play in a "Soups and Bowls" concert at a  high school here in Doha. The purpose of the proceeds were to give money to an ailing school in Mozambique. I was playing the cello in our community orchestra, along with some high school choirs. Two groups of high school kids sang with not only great talent, but to me, a plea in their hearts for peace amidst the storms in this world. One 16 year old girl I watched the entire time as she sang "The Prayers of the Children" by Kurt Bestor with so much emotion and spirit. She had a T-shirt with all the 17 names of the people written on it who were killed in Florida.

Although she was half away across the world from this horrific and shocking tragedy, she was singing with all her soul to block the pain and grief. Although  I did not know her, I hugged her and told her what she did moved me deeply. We both agreed that music had helped us that day. The words and music of that concert are not lost on me. I know I must give more children and teenagers any refuge I can. I must fight more for needed changes.

As I spoke to her friends in the high school cafeteria, I could not help but think that my friends and I never had those fears as we joked and laughed in our carefree banters. I remember some tragic car accidents that wrung our school with sorrow. But we never worried about school shootings. I believe we owe these amazing kids more. We have the power to change laws, if we want. We can give some comfort and understanding to a child or teenager. No young person should never have to be scared to go to school.

Art, music, writing, and mostly conversation can bring peace. There are so many ways to bring cathartic peace to  the young people around us. It was such a privilege to be on the program with them this past weekend.
A "Soup and Bowls" concert was held at a high school in Doha. I believe young people have a yearning to make the world better, even at a very age, if we link arms with them. Sometimes we can collaborate and other times we can just let the rope go and let them soar. They have the power to make changes. Let us, as adults, hear their voices. #NoMoreFear 

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Feliz Navidad in southern Spain


Our hearts grow tender with childhood memories and love of kindred, and we are better throughout the year for having, in spirit, a become a child again at Christmastime.
--Laura Ingalls Wilder

Christmas is the day when all time stands together.
--Alexander Smith

Malaga, Spain--the city of lights at Christmastime

Southern Spain is a perfect place for the Christmas holidays. I wanted the Christmas spirit and my husband wanted warmth. Andalucia or the Iberian coast in southern Spain was the perfect combination. The days are sunny, with wafts of orange zest and a salty ocean air blowing through the city. Orange trees are practically exploding with fruit. But they are the decorative kind--definitely not to eat. Almost every street, house, and park is lined with orange trees, about to topple over because of the heavy branches of fruit on them. But freshly squeezed orange juice is everywhere for the taker in many vendors. You can make your own in many grocery stores. 

Malaga, the largest city in southern Spain on the "Sun Coast," displays one of the most lit up cities in Europe. On the Plaza de Las Flores, there were over 600,000 lights that lit up the streets, with the Cathedral of Malaga majestically looking over the festivities. The city is also known for the Tree Kings procession on January 5 when the Three Wise Men wander all over the villages and cities to give candy to the children. But many cities and villages all over Spain greet the Three Kings that day--giving the children their anticipated gifts.

The Christmas tradition in Spain I will always remember are the nativity scenes everywhere. The scenes could be found prominently in store windows, in churches, in yards, town halls, government buildings, and homes. Multi-generational families wander the streets to look at the lights, but to also view the creches that abounded everywhere. The largest and most grand nativity scenes could be found in the government buildings and cathedrals. The detailed scenes of the New Testament were spread out like a passion play. Every age group was memorized at the meticulous craftsmanship that brought the Christmas story to life. I was told that in almost all Spanish homes there are a few figurines in a nativity set. In some homes at the end of Christmas, the nativity scene can take over the living room.

Take me back....


A child looks on with wonder and awe at the large nativity scene at the Malaga Cathedral.

A scene of the carpenter's son in the sprawling nativity scene.

More nativity scenes. Notice the gifts that the Wise Men are giving.

King Herod and the Roman soldiers

A village scene in the large nativity scene in the Town Hall in Malaga.
A village scene in Nazareth in the Town Hall nativity scene. The detail was wondrous. People hoovered and gazed for a long time at the scenes that spread panaramically before us.

At the Cathedral in Malaga--one scene of the Wiseman coming to Bethlehem



More village scenes in Nazareth and Bethlehem

A Spanish nativity scene, complete with Mary in a flamenco dress


More store windows

Looking into a nativity scene that was about 150 years old that was in a jewelry store window.


A toy store window with a childlike navitiy scene.

People gathering to the see the nativity scene near a government building.


A realty office with their nativity scene

Another store window.

A gorgeous Christmas quilt hanging in a store window. 


Malaga, a city known for the Three King's procession. The lit up display was on the hill near the ramparts.

Oranges everywhere, whether they were on the trees or branches that had been pruned.
A few days after Christmas the workers beginning to cut down the bulging branches of oranges.

A tree near the Plaza de Flores in Malaga where people write down their wishes for Christmas and the new year.

Some Christmas wishes on the tree....

Children speaking to the Three Kings in Seville.



One of the things I love about Spaniards is their sense of fun and unselfconsciousness. Many of them were dancing and singing in front of the ancient Roman amphitheater in Malaga.

Spanish flags line many of the balconies and wave on the windows at Christmastime. A street in Savilla, Spain


I loved this sign at a cafe at the top of the ramparts in Malaga. I thought it represented well the Spanish people that I observed and met. They just wanted to talk and be with one another

Chocolate, pastries, patellas, fish, oranges abounded in Andalucia. But of course, we had to bring our own traditional Christmas pastry--flying all the way from Doha to Morocco to Spain. It is called vinarterta--shortbread layered with jam.

Paiella--the comfort food of Spain. Vibrant, nourishing, and a traditional recipe of Spain for centuries. Risotto Rice, mixed with vegetables or meat of some kind. This one is a seafood version.
Recipe for seafood paella

Lots of music on the streets--a high school band in Savilla, Spain playing Christmas songs.

A child telling her wish to the one of the wisemen.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Astonished by Joy: Glimpses through Doors and Windows


                   "Set wide the window. Let me drink the day."
                                                                   --Edith Wharton

A window at The Alhambra in Grenada, Spain--a place with so many intricate tiles and carvings that you could roam around for a week marveling at the Arabic artistry. The arched windows, with no screens or filters, frame the beauty of the gardens and the orange trees that were bulging with fruit.

At a gite in Provence. When you live in the Middle East surrounded by beige sand, every leaf gives your heart aflutter. In Provence, many of the shutters are painted in various hues of violet--in honor of the lush lavender fields that blanket the hills in the summer. This window I will always remember opening. When I pushed open the periwinkle shutters that first morning in Provence, I knew the day would never stop smiling.
Over three years ago I left familiar paths to be an expat in the Middle East. I wrote a post about opening new doors and gates at that time: Opening Old Gates and Doors in 2015   Sometimes I was a little scared, nervous that I could navigate the routes and roads in a very faraway place. To raise a teenage boy with autism in the Middle East was not our original plan or goal. Yet, taking that door over three years ago was the right trajectory for us. Since that time, I have traversed many corridors, trying to find the right door, not just any door, but the best door that would shape him and make him happy.

In our travels I have crossed countless gates and doors all over the world--always trying to glimpse new passages--exploring new possibilities. But more than anything the doors and windows have brought me to beautiful, hardworking, creative, festive, and delightful people. They have widened my heart, motivated me to learn new languages and brush up on ones I have studied before. My friendships and encounters with them have given me an astonishment of joy. Somehow people have almost magically entered my rooms and views to assist and even rescue me from falling. These last three years have shown me a renewed faith in all people, all countries, all faiths. There are so many friends in the strangers you meet. There are a multiplicity of handprints on my heart.

As I look back on some of the thousands of pictures I have taken in 2017, I had to chuckle at all the pictures of doors. Since it is the beginning of 2018, I have made a new resolution: I already pass through many doors, even intentionally widening the door to bring the light and more people through the doorway. But I want to make sure I am always looking out through clean windows. With the recent death of President Thomas S. Monson, one of his stories of keeping clean windows has been swirling in my mind:

"A young couple, Lisa and John, moved into a new neighborhood. One morning while they were eating breakfast, Lisa looked out the window and watched her next-door neighbor hanging out her wash.

'"That laundry's not clean!'' Lisa exclaimed. '"Our neighbor doesn't know how to get clothes clean.'"

"John looked on but remained silent."

"Every time her neighbor would hang her wash to dry, Lisa would make the same comments."

"A few weeks later Lisa was surprised to glance out her window and see a nice, clean wash hanging in her neighbor's yard. She said to her husband, '"Look, John--she's finally learned how to wash correctly! I wonder how she did it.'"

John replied, '"Well, dear, I have the answer for you. You'll be interested to know that I got up early this morning and washed our windows!"

A complete house requires strong doors and gates, but it needs clean windows to bring in the views. My renewed goal is to really see the amazing people I get to meet every day--with crystal clean windows. As Sydney J. Harris said, "The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows." Look outward--not in. See the view with all its brilliance and color. But more than anything, really see the beautiful person in front of you--in all their splendor.  The best times in my life are when the people  I love have gone through the same doors with me. We are together and  looking at each other with clean windows.

The Real Alcazar Gardens Palace in Sevilla, Spain


My new obsession: going to artists' houses with Elias. If you enter this red door, you will be in Paul Cezanne's art studio in Provence, France   Blog about Cezanne


Budapest, Hungary, Imagine looking out those windows at the largest ice skating rink I had ever seen--two or three football fields? I loved watching the children twirl and glide around that lake of ice.

With Sarah and Elizabeth in Madrid, Spain--a window from the Madrid, Spain Mormon Temple

Budapest, Hungary, Now this is a mass of humanity looking out from those windows to the ancient, thermal baths below.


A new door is opening for a couple in Hungary.

Looking into the entrance of a Persian restaurant in Souq Waqif (a large market) in Doha, Qatar

From a gate looking in, Cordoba, Spain

At the Alcazar in Sevilla, Spain, a castle made by the Moorish Muslims.

Looking out from a window to an orange grove below me at the Alacazar. 

Just some normal windows in Cordoba, Spain, with a market below.


Two gates in the market in Marrakech, Morocco.


Peeking inside a market of stalls in Marrakesh, Morocoo.

Avignon, France

At the Alhambra in Grenada, Spain

At the Pope's Castle in Avignon, France

Autumn time near Geneva, Switzerland, wanting to enter this gate to roam through all the amber vineyards.

On top of Fisherman's Bastions, with St. Matthias Church in the background. The fog and mist mixed with the light as we looked out the arches that night will always be remembered. It was " a thin place."

The Yves Saint Laurent Garden in Marrakesh, Morocco. The French artist discovered the color of majorelle, and everywhere around the garden is surrounded by a bright yellow and blue majorelle.  


A door in the markets in Tanger, Morocco. 


Doors to a house in Qatar

Gates into medieval Manosque, France, a town with endless intriguing doors, windows, gates, and passageways

A school for children with disabilites in Provence. 2017 was much better because they let us in. Blog of Provence, France: Art and Autism

Sometimes you have to climb for up to enter into a door in Sierre, Switzerland. The old houses have a ladder so that they climb in the snow;


Looking out a window to Lake Como, near Milan, Italy.
Endless stripes and arches in the Cathedral of Cordoba said to be one of the best examples of Moorish architecture in the world. There are over 1,000 columns in marble and onyx.