Saturday, January 13, 2018

Astonished by Joy: Glimpses through Doors and Windows


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.

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



Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Qatar: Happy National Day 2017!


A little girl celebrating at the parade for National Day
Qatar just finished National Day or "Founder's Day." This year's theme was "Promise of Prosperity and Glory." The country celebrates when Jasim bin Mohammed Al Thani united the tribes on the Qatar Peninsula on December 18, 1878--conquering all external forces, such as Britain. Most everyone is given off the day off of work and school. In fact this year, the emir gave two days off for everyone.

Crowds of expats and Qataris waiting at the parade for the emir to come.
This is my fourth year of being an expat in Qatar. Last year National Day was canceled due to the Battle of Aleppo in Syria. With an economic blockade that is now into its seventh month, this year was meant to be unifying--to bring stronger connections between Qatari residents and expats. About 2.5 million people live in Qatar, about 80% of them being expats from all over the world. Even with huge crowds, people from all sectors came out to celebrate.

Kids watching the parade at the Corniche in Doha.
This year we headed to the Corniche (the harbor where there was a National Day parade, to the Souq Wakif (a huge outdoor market with hundreds of stalls and restaurants), a festival (think state fair), and watched the school National Day celebrations. More than any other year, I observed tremendous pride--among the Qataris and expats. One American visitor who watched the parade was surprised at the complete and total solidarity--especially among the expat community too.

The entire country is decked in maroon and white, Qatar's flag. Flags hang from cranes, freeways, and some are fix or six stories high on skyscrapers.The celebrations last for about a week with festivities all over the country with parades, concerts, Quran readings, sword dancing, fireworks, camel riding, and being with family and friends. Here are just a few glimpses of National Day here in Qatar:

One student singing from the Quran.

Young boys practicing their sword dance, an ancient way to banter and speak with a sword.

Elias at his school celebrations on National Day.

At the Souq Wakif, the largest outdoor market in Qatar--a place that is like an endlessly fascinating outdoor museum.


All kinds of planes and gliders promoted national unity. 

At a wall near my house where many walls were covered with Qatari pride.
Flags and the picture of the emir were everywhere to celebrate Founder's Day.

Elias in front of a huge flag made of flowers for Qatar National Day.

At a large festival or carnival, you can get free camel rides.

Children dress in maroon and white or in military attire for about a week. 

Balloons for the kids at the carnival. 

A photo of Sheikk Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani with one of his sons. The emir was born on June 3, 1980, making him the youngest current sovereign worldwide. He has increased Qatar's profile worldwide with his emphasis on sports, especially with the attainment of the 2022 FIFA World Cup. 

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Ancestors tapping our shoulders....

"Human beings require stories to give meanings to the facts of their existence. This is why people everywhere ask, as soon as they have the command of language to do so, 'Where do I come from?' They require a story to give meanings to their existence. Without air, our cells die. Without a story, ourselves die."   
                                                                           --Neil Postman


Feeling the strong and steady gusts blow in an Iceland fjord, close to where Jon Jonsson was born in Iceland. We all couldn't believe the ferocity of the cold wind in June where our ancestors farmed. We watched birds furiously flapping to make it to the shore.  This is a harsh and unforgiving land; a mistake at sea may cost you your life.  Clearly, there were lots of stories on that landscape to tell.

Sometimes Vikings walk the halls of our house. That's what we say when we read our family history and feel "Thin Places." Or sometimes the story of the Icelandic ship captain, Eggert, who sailed to Denmark to bring back food to Iceland in near-famine graces our discussions. Another one is a Puritan named Samuel Fuller who decided to change residences: from the Old to the New World. Or Peter Shumway, a Huguenot, who fled France to Holland and then to America in 1640. Others are English immigrants who went to America to find "Zion" in Utah.

As many more people are finding their family history and DNA, precious stories are excavated that inspire and delight us. We discover our ancestors are real people who reinvented themselves in New Worlds, fought for noble causes, laughed at jokes, rebelled against tyranny, and rocked their babies goodnight. Maybe a few caused some mischief. We are intricately connected to them, and they to us. We belong to one another.

Eggert Magnusson Vatnsdal, my second great-grandfather, an Icelandic ship captain who helped to stave off a famine in Iceland when he sailed to Denmark to retrieve food for his community in the West Fjords of Iceland. My blog on Family Bonds and being Icelandic

This summer I had the wonderful discovery of a third great grandfather named Frederick Weight who worked at a factory in England as a young teenager in around 1840. I never knew he played the cello like me. Yet, I learned that he carried his cello miles for his lessons, waking up hours before dawn to practice. Later he made cellos, violins, a guitar, and even an organ in Springville, Utah. He set up bands, choirs, and hosted a monthly music gathering for anyone who wanted to come. He called it the "Oh Be Joyful" night where everyone in the community was invited to share their musical talents with one another. Interesting fact: in Qatar where I lived I started a musical soiree (gathering) every month three years ago when we moved here. We have a potluck where friends perform. When I pick up my cello now, I think of that cello connection I have with my ancestor.

A cello made by Frederick Weight, my third great-grandfather, in the Springville, Utah HIstory Museum. Frederick was an ancestor who was born with music in his heart and hands. Sometimes when I pick up the cello to play, I think of him. I am told he was not the most prosperous farmer, but his aim was not on the plow. It was for anyone he could gather to sing and hear music on a new frontier.

As I have spoken to a Russian friend about learning more about his ancestors, he says, "Knowing  they lived and that they are there makes me feel less alone." An African friend said about her mother who had died prematurely 25 years ago, "I feel her influence in my life often. I listen to her." And then with a smile, she added, "If she were here with me, I probably wouldn't so readily listen." Just yesterday my hair stylist told me about learning to play the piano, a seemingly impossible feat for her.  She forges onward, however,  because she wants to be like her grandmother who was a musician.

When my son was diagnosed with autism, I read several ancestor's stories who had their own trials and afflictions. Their words deeply resonated with me--turning my heart around. My second great-grandmother, Grace Wignall, a pioneer, spoke often of being of good cheer when she barely survived starvation and freezing in Martin's Cove, Wyoming on the trek to Utah. Her words, like an echo through the Wyoming canyon, descended on me in my sorrow. Reading her words, I knew I had to find the cheer I had lost for a while. She had survived blizzards and near starvation, and even tried to find cheer amidst the frozen nights. And so could I.

Her words, spoken more than a century and a half before, filled some emptiness in a hard time for me. When I ventured to that remote canyon in Wyoming several years later where she had been stuck one winter, I felt as if I were rescued. Maybe not receiving food supplies. But her written legacy rescued me from inconsolable pain over my son's diagnosis. With her example resonating in my heart, I knew I could climb "my autism mountain."

When I realized the power of family stories, I resolutely tried to fit the tales into family car trips, bedtime stories, and dinner conversations. I painted a family tree, like a mural, on my dining room wall--kind of a monument to help us remember all the people we belong to. I wanted my own children to know these people. All of my children have told me on a few occasions those family stories have fueled them--especially when life has given them unexpected twists and foggy views. They have felt ancestors tap on their shoulders.



Here is the tree, in all its glory that spanned our dining room wall for many years. You can see it was not painted with a true artist's eye. The branches had my kids' names on it, with the trunk filled with ancestor's names. I liked the idea that the roots had the ancestors' names painted on it, signifying where we all came from. The fact that tree bark can be several inches thick signifies that it protects the tree from fire and disease. I always felt that tree, with all the ancestors' names on it, shaded us, protected us. As we looked at that tree in our dining room, often their names and stories would become intertwined in our dinner conversations. The names written on the trunk of that tree became real to our imaginations. We came to know them and see ourselves in their life stories.


As I travel around the world, I am intrigued by how different cultures remember their ancestors. In every place I have traveled, whether it is in remote villages in India, Thailand, China, Egypt, or Mexico, all people want to pass their heritage on to the next generation. They want their children and grandchildren to know and remember the cherished people who passed on--their talents, frailties, and successes. Our hearts grow softer when we learn about who came before us, whose shoulders we stand on now.

On a recent trip to an Indian village in Adasarlapadu, India (in the district of Khamman),  I was touched by this woman's love for her mother at a wedding that we attended. Everyone was talking about this woman, this grandmother, neighbor, loved one who had passed away. They missed her. Although she is anonymous and unknown to most anyone outside of this village, she had a huge impact on the lives there. The pictures of loved ones, in the simplest of homes, were in the most prominent positions. No one can underestimate the ripples of love that one can share; they can last for generations. Blog about  International Women's Day
Here is a collage of portraits from the Roman times in Egypt (lasting about 700 years, after Alexander the Great). The portraits are on a temple in Luxor, painted over some hieroglyphics--about 25 feet above the ground. To stare up at them, I was reminded again of our universal desire to be remembered, memorialized, and live forever. Blog about Egypt: Time and Immortality


Pictures of the Dia of the Muertos (Day of the Dead Celebrations) in Mexico--used by permission from my friend Jesus Rosas. His blog about Day of the Dead is fascinating--especially with the newly released Disney movie called Coco.  I recommend the movie!



In a Vietnam temple, seeing the food left over for their ancestors, as they do all over Asia.

In India, the idea of ancestors is all around you is always there, just as it is in China, Japan, Korea, and so many others. Incense, food, flowers are there to remember loved ones. It makes me think that we need to remember them more--their stories and lives. We need to have a reservoir of stories to fill us in our winters.