Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Happy Easter from Switzerland!! (Part 1)

One of my very first memories is a birthday party with my cousins that my grandmother turned into an Easter egg hunt. I remember us all running happily through her yard, baskets in hand, discovering the precious eggs amidst her blooming tulips and daffodils. Little did she know that my Easter egg birthday party would be a prelude to countless Easter egg hunts that I too would host--for my own children, family, and countless friends. I have waited in line for hours, even in cold temperatures, when my children were younger to go to the Easter Egg Roll at the White House. I have delighted in decorating Ukrainian Easter eggs, etching a design in the egg with wax. With my Swiss friend, Annagreth, I have boiled eggs tied with onion leaves, making them a soft, warm brown, and then gluing clover leaves on them with egg whites, a traditional Swiss country way of decorating eggs.

With our recent trip to Switzerland, the inner child emerged again--enthralling me with the bright colors of the spring season. It seemed almost every store window was decorated for the holiday in every town we visited, not to be accused of being meager with the Easter spirit. It felt almost like Christmas, with all the Easter trimmings in most every store front and yard. In some cantons (like a county) in Switzerland, fountains are decorated to celebrate the emergence of spring.  http://www.guide-to-bavaria.com/en/easter-fountains-easter-wells-in-bavaria.html In Zurich every year, they even hold a bonfire, with people clanging pots and pans as they circle around it, not allowing the blustery winter season to escape from the fire.

With the arrival of spring, it is time to reflect on rebirth--the resurrection of the Savior, the explosion of color in the world, and the new people we can become. The Easter egg, also known as the paschal egg, is a symbol of an empty tomb, as well as fertility and rebirth. Every Christian country has it's own traditions, worship, and festivities, but in our recent trip to Switzerland, I was reminded that those happy moments planted long ago can be relived again and again.  Thank you, Grandma, for being the source of so many celebratory moments--not only for myself, but that I now too can give to other children. Thank you, Switzerland,  for the wondrous awe and marvel at the beautiful world we live in.
Hoping to go on an Easter egg soon....

Grandma--the giver and the gatherer of so many happy memories.
After being in the Middle East for six months, the vibrant colors of spring and the Easter decorations were enthralling and magical. We felt like we just entered the colored version of The Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy meets the munchkins.  These tree branches were posted in the sidewalk, in front of a store in Zurich, with plastic paper folded on the trees. It was a simple technique, but to eyes that were starving for color, it was enchanting--like entering a wonderful new world.
A little box that was built into the wall on a storefront in Zurich (the building being hundreds of years old), charmingly decorated for the season. 

Every store had it's own version of creating Easter.

At a toy store in Lucerne....

Rabbits in every configuration were artistically shaped in all the bakeries; breads and cookies of bunnies were in festive abundance.

A store window in Bern, Switzerland, with egg cartons serving as the rabbits' chairs.

At a market in Innerlocken, Switzerland

An apothecary shop in Basal, Switerland 

A pharmacy window front in Bern

At a store in Basal that sold fine china.

Every window decorated perfectly for the holiday
Outside a boutique in Zurich

Walking around Basal with our friends one afternoon to view the Easter decorations in the windows.

Almost every home window was decorated for the Easter holiday....

Many home windows have bars in front of them, where they exchange decorations for each holiday.

Many houses, in every kind of neighborhood, had an Easter egg tree.

More decorated store windows

This was a bakery window in Lucerne
One storefront in Basal completely painted all the windows with rabbits--so very magical.

Many giant hot pink Lindt rabbits were perched on top of warehouses, gas stations, stores. Everywhere there was a reminder that spring had sprung, and Easter was coming....

Edelweiss flowers covered the hillsides and lawns in Switzerland.

Here is a great website to make some Swiss eggs with natural vegetable dyes and fresh flowers.
/http://gemperle.com/making-gemperle-farms-swiss-easter-eggs/  Have a wonderful Easter with family and friends, making memories that will fuel many happy hours for your loved ones....

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Shedding Layers in the Desert

Leaving St. Louis last September, where another world, far, far away awaited us....  Guitars are not superfluous, right?

Last week we marked our six month anniversary of living in the Middle East. Sandstorms, prayer calls from minarets, and women with covered faces are now the normal in my daily routine.  Since I speak to many people from all over the world every day here, I can easily observe their expressions, mannerisms, looks, and language, and tell what country they come from. I can make myself understood in a surprising amount of situations when neither of us speaks the same language. Although I speak very minimal Arabic, I feel comfortable in a mosque or with my friends who wear abayas and burqas. 

But there is one thing that I have unexpectedly learned: as I have shed many possessions to come to this place, I have also chipped away at old fears and apprehensions. I now know I can do things I wasn't certain I could do, like driving with 500 cars on a round about and playing in an orchestra. Just like a desert snake sheds his skin periodically, abandoning it to decay in the sand, I too am stripping away layers that needed excavating, probing, removing. I came here with only what I could carry on the plane, and have found I want/need/require so very little. The most important things bubble to the surface here, and I am content without the extraneous. Put simply, Lao Tzu said, "Be content with what you have, rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you."

24 hours later: arriving last September at the Doha airport with E. I felt like I was "a long way from Kansas"--or Missouri. Ha! We carried all the essentials, and probably a lot more than needed....

Leo Lionni, the four-time Caldecott Honor winner, was one of my children's best-loved storytellers as they grew up.  We had a very tattered, wrinkled anthology of his stories, and The Biggest House in the World was one of my favorite tales to read to them. Ironically, as I told the story and explained the message, "my own house" that I was carrying around/living in was heavy and required a tremendous amount of surplus energy to manage. Unintentionally, I was leading a cluttered life that needed some restructuring and lightening.
The children's storyteller, Leo Lionni, magically tells the story of a snail who was wisely reminded not to accumulate too many possessions. His father teaches him that carrying everything around with you is cumbersome, and can prohibit your destiny and dreams.  

One of the splendid things about living in the desert is that you must shed possessions because you cannot carry too much as a sojourner. It is a hot, barren place--where you need to use your wits and wisdom. If you are to thrive in an arid place, it is quickly learned that accumulations slow the progress of the journey. To obtain the replenishment you seek, sometimes casting off unnecessary things is critical, even life saving. Although desert living is not perhaps luxurious at times, I am finding a simple elegance as I discard not only the superfluous in my possessions, but in my soul. The old residues or layers of fears and pretenses are beginning to blow away, just like the sand that breezes by me every day here.

Here is a quote from a mentor, Lowell Bennion, that exactly portrays the glorious simple life, a life that requires not carrying heavy things in your soul or on your back:

“Learn to like what doesn’t cost too much.
Learn to like reading, conversation, music.
Learn to like plain food, plain service, plain cooking.
Learn to like fields, trees, brooks, hiking, rowing, climbing hills.
Learn to like people, even though some of them may be different…different from you.
Learn to like to work and enjoy the satisfaction of doing your job as well as it can be done.
Learn to like the songs of birds, the companionship of dogs.
Learn to like gardening, puttering around the house, and fixing things.
Learn to like the sunrise and sunset, the beating of rain on the roof and windows, and the gentle fall of snow on a winter day.
Learn to keep your wants simple, and refuse to be controlled by the likes and dislikes of others.”
–Lowell B. Bennion

A painting by a friend, Steve Chamberlain, that conveys the simple life Lowell Bennion speaks about. I love the frame Steve made from aspen trees. Simply beautiful....

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

"Sisters, Sisters, There Were Never More Devoted Sisters...."

We became parents for the first time on a frigid mid-March New York City afternoon. Suddenly, our lives were joyfully transformed forever, with a lovely rose-mouthed little girl. The following March, almost a year later, we brought another beautiful daughter home--making us the proud parents of Irish twins (defined as two children being born within the span of a year to some lucky parents). Annalise came home from the hospital on Sarah's first birthday. Yep, they are 363 days apart! Sarah, the older one, would not walk for a few more months. Sure, it was a staggering immersion of babies, but we loved it, and we felt abundantly blessed. Therefore, the second week of March has always been a hailed time of great joy at our house. Usually it stretched out for several weeks--just to make sure "the sisters" were sufficiently celebrated.

Our first Christmas with our Irish twins.
On a Vermont autumn day.... My arms were really strong!

I distinctly remember, as I pushed them in a stroller around New York City, Beijing, and Los Angeles (where we lived) as young girls, yearning that those two little bundles would someday be companionable--even hoping for a wonderful sisterhood between them. Occasionally, people would scold or stare at me for having them so close together, but I continued with my heart-felt wish. I hoped their constant proximity with one other would bring mutual comfort and support to them. Of course, I knew there would undoubtedly be misunderstandings and tangled dreams, but I cherished the idea that they would be loyal, loving friends. Now after 20+ years, it is satisfying to see them play music, share favorite authors, hike, bike, and cook together. But most of all, they have smoothed life for one another, making the other more happy and fulfilled.

A very happy dad for a Valentine's Day dance!

This was the era when the "Sisters" song began to be performed. In one of the many bedrooms that they shared throughout the years....

When we were living in Baltimore for a few years  (when they were about 6 and 7), they saw White Christmas with Rosemary Clooney and Vera Allen singing 'Sisters' for the first time. Well, they were enthralled,  absolutely mesmerized. A tradition and always go-to talent emerged. They even carried fans to wave around with matching dresses a few times. Through the years, they sang it at many gatherings, talent shows, family reunions, etc. It was always something they could pull out of their pocket, and everyone would chuckle and laugh--whatever version or costumes they appeared in. As they got older, the requests did not stop. Ha! Maybe singing those lyrics about "Sisters, sisters, there were never any more devoted sisters" created bonds I never would have understood at the time because they sang it so often.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PG7x8HWbDzU

Now my desire has changed for them: with these bonds of sisterhood, I hope they will reach out, embracing and encircling those who don't have a sister in their midst--or maybe never had one in the first place. When I see them including, loving, embracing those around them who may not speak the same language or are different ages than themselves, my heart sings with happiness. The sisterhood that began chapters and songs ago, as they made sure the other had enough Easter eggs or hugging the other's tears away is now shared--with strangers and/or someone who needs some familial love. As I watch from afar or close up, I more fully understand this gift of sisterhood that I was so lucky to view all these years--with its many seasons and stages. I tell them it is now their turn to share their wonderful sisterhood with the world. 
"Helping one another is the religion of sisterhood."--Louisa May Alcott

Some of my favorite memories are when they play music together....

Graduating together from BYU... Happy Birthday week from across the world to my favorite daughters! Thanks for your legendary example of sisterhood-across all the years, miles, and stories.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Desert Adventures in Qatar

Sarah jumping on top of a sand dune, with Saudia Arabia in the background.

There is a simple, yet distinct beauty, I have discovered, that belongs to a desert. The vast, open sky empties any signs of boundaries or hindrances because nothing obstructs one's vision. Anything seems possible because there is a limitless horizon surrounding you. At the top of a sand dune, one can feel a sudden clarity of perspective--with the wide expanse of sand that strips away extraneous, irrelevant concerns. If there is a sunset or ocean view in the scope, all the better. To merge the everlasting horizons of sand, water, and sky together, with no other obstructions, is a view that reveals we are indeed part of a shared cosmos. Wendall Berry, a favorite poet and essayist, describes one of those moments: "And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free."

A Middle East desert can be liberating, even alluring, but it is also full of contradictory surprises that can be hilariously unpredictable and entertaining. One can even be unexpectedly invited to tea at a remote Arabic movie set in the middle of the desert. In typical Qatar fashion, we have stumbled upon some amusing, but beautiful discoveries in our explorations. Each time we drive home, we all marvel at the captivating beauty of the desert, laughing, but sometimes reflecting, at what we have chanced upon in our travels.

                              Lessons from the Desert:

1) Every bush or tree is a special revelation, a new grace all its own.

2) As long as one has a supply of replenishing water, the desert holds a stunning splendor. Unexpected beauty is on each crest or plateau of sand--if you watch for it.

3) You can be entertained by unforeseen friends in surprising places in a desert.  Travelers and sojourners who were strangers minutes before can quickly be friends. Desert nomads know the desert can bring harsh conditions so provisions are freely shared and given--even to strangers.

4) There is a simplicity found in desert living, a deliberate choice to live in a more uncluttered, uncomplicated way. The desert sheds pretension.  One realizes there are so many things that are unneeded and unnecessary; a traveler cannot carry everything on one's back.                           

No snow in Qatar this year so we have sufficed to make sand a winter sport.