Thursday, November 24, 2016

Turning Thanksgiving to Thanksliving.....

"Thus out of small beginnings, greater things have been produced by His hand, that made all things that are. . . and as one small candle may light a thousand, so the light here kindled hath shows unto many. . . yea in some sort to our whole nation."    --William Bradford, founder and governor of Plymouth Colony

"Behold our family (and friends) here assembled. We thank Thee for this place in which we've gathered, for the love that unites us, for the peace accorded us this day; for the hope with which we expect the morrow, for the health, the work, the food, and the bright skies that make our lives delightful; and for our family and friends in all parts of the earth. Let peace abound in our small company. --Robert Louis Stevenson

Today is my third Thanksgiving here in Qatar. I have celebrated with people from India, Pakistan, Jordan, UK, Canada, and many other countries in our Thanksgiving feasts. Some of them have heard about Thanksgiving from movies, and they wanted to get a peek into our American holiday. I have not always had a turkey and the usual pumpkin pies with them, but a more varied mix of food, like curries and meat pies. Yet the familiarities can, with some effort, be somewhat duplicated here. But today I find myself stripped of many traditions, and thinking about my abundant blessings.

I am thankful for wonderful family and friends who inspire and support me every day--at my daughter's wedding in September.
A few days ago my brother-in-law sent me a picture that said, "In case you have forgotten the summer of 2016, here is a picture to have a laugh." I am standing with one boot (feeling very lucky and blessed to be standing) at my daughter's wedding. I had already been sitting in a chair for almost two months after my ankle was broken. From my experience this year with my injury, I have decided to have a life of "Thanks Living." I want to be grateful every, every day for dear family, friends, my faith, health, nature, raindrops (they are very scarce here in the Middle East), music, art, good books, savory soups, and thousands of things.

I am grateful, more than I can ever express, to be able to walk again--after a bad fall. I never want to forget, ever, ever how lucky I am to walk. I want to always remember to walk in better paths. Blog post on Learning to Walk Again

A few years ago, my good friend, Joy, began a tradition on Thanksgiving Eve. Friends and family gathered at The Old Stone Church in St. Louis, a familiar spot on The Underground Railroad where a few slaves are buried. On those Thanksgiving Eves, we gathered to express gratitude before the feasts with music and stories. There was no heating, not much light, and an old organ that you had to pump to hear the music. As we shivered and saw the cold breath spout from our mouths, we listened to others' blessings. Our hearts united; for a small moment in time, we remembered our blessings. It was the perfect preface for the next day of turkey and pumpkin pie.

Now living far from Turkey Trots, Turkey Rolls (sliding a frozen turkey across a gym floor like a bowling ball) to knock some pins down, and more particularly family and old friends, we will continue our Gratitude Gatherings or Thanksgiving Eves. I can spend dozens of hours shopping and cooking a feast, and it can be gone in a few minutes. But the real bonds happen around the table, the UNO game, the nature walk--and those can be done anytime of year.

So light a large candle, and let the melted wax drip--until it vanishes away. Talk about your blessings. Express your love. Make every moment count. Turn your Thanksgiving into "Thanks Living."

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A few autumn days in Praha (Prague)....

"The streets of Prague were a fantasia scarcely touched by the twenty-first century--or the twentieth or nineteenth, for that matter. It was a city of alchemists and dreams, its medieval cobbles once trod by golems, mystics, invading armies. Tall houses glowed goldenrod and carmine and eggshell blue, embellished with Rococo plasterwork and capped in roofs or uniform red. Baroque cupolas were the soft green of antique copper, and Gothic steeples stood ready to impale fallen angels. The wind carried the memory of magic, revolution, violins, and the cobbled lanes meandered like creeks.   . . . Marionettes hung in windows, making the whole city seem like a theatre with unseen puppeteers crouched behind velvet."                 --Laini Taylor

A view from a park, looking into the Old Town of Prague. Towers and red roofs dot the landscape, an endless expanse of gargoyles, spires, and watchtowers. Praha, known as the "Golden City."
In the Czech language, Praha (Prague is the German pronunciation) means "threshold." Truly, it is an entrance into a majestic world. In fact, Hitler banned bombing Praha with its array of diverse architecture. You can meander down a street and see Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque styles. The oldest astronomical clock in the world chimes hourly in Old Time Square.  Old cathedrals abound everywhere, with spires and towers that have defied destruction with army invasions for over a thousand years. Despite wars, such as the Thirty Year's War and 20th century upheavals, Praha still proudly stands--a medieval city that has been remarkably, blessedly preserved. It is a place of heroes, saints, revolutions--seeing both sorrow and joys. The entire city is a walking tour of the ages....

Joseph showing off his talent of making bubbles for some onlookers. He had plenty of practice for our kids' birthday parties. Many people came to the Central Square in Prague that morning to watch his talent.
Here we are up in a clock tower, looking over all the spires and steeples.

Prague Castle, an endlessly fascinating place, filled with museums, little towns within the city walls.

The Charles Bridge, the most famous bridge, among the main bridges ( some say up to three hundred). It is one of the most beautiful bridges I have ever seen with the Vitava River flowing by. People have been walking from one side of Prague to the other for over 500 years on it. I would even say it is worth going all the way to Prague to walk back and forth a few times. There are musicians, clowns, food stalls. The views are stunning--seeing the many bridges built up and down the river. Catholic saints are placed all along the sides, for people to remember them.
If you ever go to Prague, you must visit the Jewish Quarters. It was a cramped ghetto where thousands of Jews lived in a space of seven or so blocks squared, for almost six centuries--gated and walled from the rest of the city. Today there are six synagogues to visit, thankfully that were not bulldozed or destroyed during WW2 or during the time of Communism. To walk the cobbled streets, that now are lined with the most expensive stores in Prague, belie the harsh poverty and injustice that once existed there. Blog post about Children's Art during the Holocaust in the Pinkas Museum

Almost 80,000 names are handwritten in the Pinkas Synagogue and Museum in the Jewish Quarters, all of them being from Morovian and Bohemia descent. It is a place of great soberness and reflection.

In the Jewish Quarters, there is a Jewish cemetery--one of the oldest in the world. The first grave stone is dated in the first half of the 15th century, and the last burial stone placed was 1787. The space was very tight in the Jewish Quarters, so the graves were dug ten deep. Several scholars, poets, and leaders are buried here, among them  Rabbi Jehuda LIva Ben Becalel who created the tradition of Golem. Golem was a anthropomorphic clay figure that he said would protect the Jews from pogroms.   The Pinkas Cemetery

Marionettes are everywhere in the markets and stalls. They were begun to be made in the 18th century here, and Czechs revere puppet making as a real art. You can find witches, kings, princesses, Mozarts, Don Giovannis--to just name a few.

One wonderful memory was going to a marionette show of Don Giovanni at the National Marionette Theatre. Some Mozart marionettes in the distance. Mozart debuted Don Giovanni in Prague in 1787. Praguers are proud that they recognized the genius of Mozart before the rest of the world. When others were skeptical of his music during his lifetime, Praguers only sang his praises.

Don Giovanni and The Magic Flute marionette shows are favorites among the Czechs. Music and opera are integral parts of their lives--even among children.

On the Charles Bridge, there were several musicians, and this one caught my eye since he was blind. My father-in-law was a blind musician. I sat and listened to his Czech folksongs for a long time, while the boats floated by.

First warming our hands in the coals, while the dough is made into a ice creams cone
Waiting in the line was worth it to try a "trdelnik"--called a donut cone or a chimney cake. 
A Czech ice cream cone, with the pastry dough wrapped around the ice cream, with some nutella. A strike of genius.
Music, music everywhere--on almost every corner. Most cathedrals had classical concerts nightly for tourists. We went to a Vivaldi and Beethoven concert. Czechs love their music--folk, opera, classical, modern.

Vivaldi concert in Prague music hall
Wherever I go, my favorite food to try in any country is their soup. Perhaps it is because I believe soup is created with pure love and devotion. My husband talked about this bowl of sauerkraut soup for several days. I even made it when I got home, and I will continue to crave the tang of this soup. Sauerkraut Soup Recipe I promise you won't be disappointed if you make it.

A bakery, with traditional gingerbread cookies.
At every cafe and restaurant that was outside, a fleece blanket was provided on the chair to warm their cold patrons. 
Some friends we met who shared with us their stories of escape and rescues.
At one of the harvest markets. I loved the decorative pictures made with vegetables that were displayed around the market.

Elias: Everyone Sees the World in Different Ways

Hey, My name is Elias. I like my art. This is a new picture I did with my new art teacher. I did stripes and then drew designs on it. I like putting the shapes together. It reminds me of a rainbow and a blanket. I want to be an artist when I grow up. I like to remember that we all see the world in different ways,with different colors and designs in our eyes.
It is always warm here in Doha, It looks like it is going to rain here.
Love, Elias

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Netherlands: The arrival of Sinterklaas (Santa Claus) in mid-November from Spain

Christmas just came a little sooner for me this year--from my recent trip to the Netherlands. And I could not have been happier to begin to celebrate my favorite holiday. To learn the Dutch traditions and hear their memories of Christmas and Sinterklaas made me feel like a child again. It seemed everyone in the Netherlands turns the clock back (in my case, many years) in mid-November as Sinterklaas arrives on the boat from Spain. There are parades, canal rides, and thousands of children to see. Everyone is jolly, festive, and smiling.

St. Nicholas is the patron saint of Amsterdam, and his image is everywhere. The large Catholic cathedral in Amsterdam is named for him. He was born in the 4th century in Greece, and died on December 6 343 AD. His origins are legendary and folklore. But there is also historical truth too. He was known as a 'The Good, Holy Man"--a bishop who generously gave to the poor in his many wanderings. In fact, he is known as the "The Wonderworker." When Dutch immigrants came to New York City in the 18th century, they blessedly brought the traditions of Sinterklaas with them.  History of St. Nicholas

Sinterklaas, after arriving on the boat the day before from Spain, parades through the streets of Amsterdam. He will be in The Netherlands until December 6, and then will return back to Spain. He wears a long red came over a a traditional white bishop's alb. He has long curly white hair that matches his billowing beard. He carries a large, tattered book that tells him if the children are good or naughty,

            A glimpse of what it was like to be at the parade of Sinterklaas in Amsterdam this year
Sinterklaas arriving from Spain, on a canal of Amsterdam. He comes every year in mid-November, staying in the Netherlands for about three weeks to visit the children in schools and communities. 

Children all over the Netherlands put out their shoes on the eve of St. Nicholas Day (December 5) to receive candy and presents. This picture was taken in a museum/old church called "Our Lord of the Attic"--a small Catholic church that was secretly built and used for several centuries in a house.  Our Lord of the Attic Church   Children receive candy and goodies in their shoes or cinder (ashes) if they are naughty.
Cookies that are set out for Sinterklass' coming....
Tiny gingerbread cookies called kruidnoten abound everywhere. You can find them in market stalls and hotels. There are huge bags of them on the street, especially on the day of the Sinterklaas arrival to Amsterdam. Candy and cookies are thrown everywhere to remember when St. NIcholas saved three girls from being prostitutes. The story goes that he threw gold coins in the window to rescue them from a horrible fate. Kruidnoten recipe
Zaarte Piete, St. Nicholas' companion, wears a lace collar, red hat, and happily prances around. He has streaks of charcoal on his face from climbing down chimneys.

Another dressed up Zwarte Piet, standing on a high ledge in Dam Square in Amsterdam. St. Nicholas is the patron saint of Amsterdam so his image can be seen on buildings everywhere. This relief is on an old house, near the square--now next to a H and M store.
Many people, dressed up like Zwarte Piet, hang from buildings, and prance around singing, dancing, and throwing candy. 

An owner of a shop in Haarlem, Netherlands who said this would be his busiest part of the year--the next three weeks of St. Nicholas' stay. He provides make up and costumes.
The window of his shop, and the outcome of many who will come to get ready to be St. Nicholas.

I didn't know anything about Sinterklaas arriving on a boat from Spain, and coming to the Netherlands.  My Santa Claus drove a sleigh of reindeer through the sky. He didn't ride a majestic white horse and meander his way through the canals of the Netherlands. But I was glad to see him this year. Christmas just happily came a little earlier....

Friday, November 18, 2016

Netherlands: Corrie Ten Boom and a life of "Living Faith"

“Today I know that such memories are the key not to the past, but to the future. I know that the experiences of our lives, when we let God use them, become the mysterious and perfect preparation for the work he will give us to do. And our wise Father in heaven knows when we're going to need things too. Don't run out ahead of him.”
                                                           --Corrie Ten Boom

Corrie's bedroom, a small room furthest from the entrance, was "the hiding place." On the bottom shelf in the closet, there is  a lever that could be pulled to enter behind the wall. Bricks were put into place to hide the hole. Nazi informers could not find the hiding place. For three days, four Jews and two Dutch resistance fighters stayed in a small area of 2" X 8" feet. All were set free, but Corrie's family went to prison near the Hague.

Every few years I read The Hiding Place. It is the story of an endlessly fascinating person to me: Corrie Ten Boom, a Christian Dutch woman who was a clockmaker by trade, but helped to save 800 Jews during the Dutch Resistance in World War II. It is a book that resonated with me as a teenager, and in many chapters of my life since then. Corrie was an ordinary woman who resolutely chooses to rescue, to do good--even if it meant the possibility of going to a concentration camp or being beaten by Nazi interrogators. Now decades later, I am the same age as Corrie was when she came home from the concentration camp, miraculously being saved due to a a clerical error. Her decision to not only ostensibly save people, at first her neighbors and then strangers, but then to tell the world how her "living faith" was shaped, continues to move me.

The Ten Boom Museum and Watch store in Haarlem, Netherlands today
A few days ago I was in Amsterdam, Netherlands, and took a short train trip to Haarlem to visit Corrie's home. The first floor is still a watch and clock repair store, with three levels of stairs above the watch business. It was the perfect house for a hiding place; the passages link around like a rabbits's burrow. Corrie's bedroom, the smallest room from the front door, was "the hiding place." Upon entering the floors upstairs, you can hardly not do some soul searching. What side would I have leaned if I had lived in the Netherlands at this time? What choices would I have made? Would my choices be comprised by a "living faith"?

Sometimes when we reread or hear a true story several times, we forget that people made decisions without knowing the outcome of their choices. We, the hearer of the story, know the ending, sometimes in scrupulous, familiar detail. With each retelling, it is embedded more in our psyche. But to a person in a real life setting, where decisions are made with cautious deliberation and fear of danger, the ending is unknown. Important choices are sometimes made in a fog--not knowing when and if the clouds will lift. Corrie's choice to hide Jews and people working in the Dutch resistance, get ration books for Jews, and live a life of commotion and insecurity stir me. With the Nazi occupation in Holland already swallowing any normality or most daily joys, Corrie chose to rescue in very uncertain times. She choose what she believed was good, moral, right--without knowing the ending of her story.

What was the ending of her story? Her 84 year old father died ten days after they were arrested in a prison near The Hague. Her sister, Betsy, whom she loved and revered, died in a concentration camp about two weeks before Corrie was miraculously given her freedom. Some of Betsy's last words to Corrie in the concentration camp where she died were, "There is no pit so deep, that God's love is not deeper still." And then she said, "Go and tell people about what we have experienced, Corrie." Corrie Ten Boom spent the next almost 40 years explaining her "living faith."

Corrie Ten Boom died on April 15, 1983 at age 91 years old. She was born also on April 15. According to Jewish lore, only a tremendously special person is born and dies on the same day.

My Life is But a Weaving 

My life is but a weaving, between my God and me.
I cannot choose the colors He weaveth steadily.
Oft' times he weaveth sorrow, and I in my foolish pride, 
forget He sees the upper, and I the underside.

Not 'til the loom is silent, and the shuttles cease to fly, 
Will God unroll the canvas, and reveal the reasons why.
The dark threads are as needful, in the weaver's skillful hands, 
as the thread of gold and silver in the pattern He has planned.

He knows, He loves, He cares, nothing this truth can dim.
He gives the very best to those who leave the choice to Him.
                              --By Corrie Ten Boom

On one side of the stitching shows all the loose strings, and a matted mess. This was a tapestry that Corrie often shared with others, and liked to see the reaction when she turned it over to show them the other side. (Pictured below)

If you flip the needle work over, you see a glorious crown with a jewel on top. The tapestry she showed often to remind people that our experiences, both painful and joyous, are all woven into our individual canvas. Sometimes we don't know the reason for the delays or sorrows, but someday we will understand the Master Weaver's stitches in our lives.