Monday, December 28, 2020

Meet my Minika!

Some days we forget to look around us,

Some days we can't see the joy that surrounds us,

So caught up inside ourselves, 

We take when we should give.  --Josh Groban from the song, Thankful 

Little could I ever imagine, Minika, my dear friend who I knew in Qatar would represent my husband and me at our son's wedding in London on December 22. She had separately met my son in Doha a few years ago and then later, his fiance, on a London commuter train. No family was able to be at their wedding, but Minika drove them on blocked, rainy roads so they could be married in the London Temple. Everything was shutting down in London, but Minika was there for us. 

Sometimes, more often than we could realize, I believe God intersects people for us in our daily, ordinary lives. Often, we do not understand it until some time has passed for God to prove His point. And then again, sometimes, the same person keeps returning into our lives (like my husband, but that is another story), to teach, mentor, serve and love us. Because I have now lived many seasons, I am beginning to see the tapestry that is being crafted by The Master Weaver. Minika often says we are "sisters from different mothers."

Almost seven years ago, I met Minika in Doha, Qatar where we were living at the time. She is originally from Nigeria, but went to England as a young mother and later went to school there and received her Master's degree in Civil Engineering. When I met her, she had been working very successfully as an engineer for eight years in Doha. She was widely known for her attentive eye for detail (something she attributes to her tailoring skills as a teenager). It was not uncommon for her to climb high ladders and planks to investigate the construction quality of the buildings she was responsible for. And if you know Minika, she was never afraid to tell someone how to do it better. 😀

When I met her the first time, I immediately loved her. She has a very loud laugh like me, and I was entranced by her stories growing up in Nigeria. Once when she was six, her family was escaping from a civil war in the jungles, and she remembers also being close to a lion as they ran. I could listen to her for hours telling her stories of starting a Saturday School for the children of the area to help them (and her own children) to gain good test scores to enter private high schools. Or, she would relate to me stories of being a single mom to three bright, rambunctious boys. Sometimes she faced outright prejudice with a school or neighbor, but she successfully helped navigate her sons' careers and lives. As my eighteen-year-old son with autism matter of factly states, "No one messes with Minika."

In these pandemic times, I hope we can see the long parade of people who have marched before and with us in this life. For all of us, the line is long of others who have supported us when we needed it. I have learned a simple truth: some of these beloved people who have locked arms and embraced us later come to encircle our loved ones. When we cannot be there, people come to fill in our gaps--compensating for our absence. It happens more often than I think we see or understand. Indeed, there are angels on earth all around us. Thanks for swooping in, Minika! We love you!

Here Minika is with some of my children in Doha--way before Jonathan met his wife or Minika met her on that train in London. 

                          Here are a few of us all decked out to be in the Christmas choir.          

         One of our favorite things to do was to go fabric shopping and then take our material to various Indian and Bangladeshi tailors in Doha. She is just kidding around as she enthusiastically picked up this material with peacock feathers woven into it. We were on a hunt to find fabric to buy for another son's wedding. Ironically, the material she bought that night she made into a dress. That is the dress she wore to represent me at my son's wedding. 

      Feeding Muslims at a mosque in Doha during Ramadan. Although she is not Muslim, Minika fasted with her Muslim friends during Ramadan and encouraged me to do the same. I am so grateful I met Minika. Her influence spans wide and long--all over this world. 

Friday, December 18, 2020

Finding the Bright Star in us at Christmas 2020

There shall a new star arise, such as one as ye have never seen. --                                                                             Helaman 14:5

Every child is fascinated with stars. Their light punctuates our sky. Indeed, astronomy is the oldest science and has been used to navigate the world since time began. But ah, during Christmas time, stars have a special meaning: we remember the wisemen who followed them to the Christ child, the shepherds who stood under their canopy while angel choirs sang to them in pastures, and likely Joseph who as a refugee father looked to the night sky to escape Bethlehem for Egypt. Without stars, it would be hard to imagine the first Christmas story.

This year, for the first time in 800 years Saturn and Jupiter are merging together on the same elliptical plane. We have been viewing over here in China. with just our eyes (no telescope is needed) the conjunction in space of Saturn and Jupiter. Each night they become a little closer --merging like a glistening megastar. On December 21 it will seem like they will overlap. It is stunning to watch them every night getting closer together--our nightly ritual. My daughter says she is having an outdoor "star party" in Utah, USA. And I will be doing the same here over here in China. 

Perhaps these two planets seemingly joining together is a message for us--that the world needs to unitedly come together too. To find these two merging planets every night has made me look up and discover the sky this holiday season. I am a child again. Every night can hold unexpectant light-filled radiance. Also, we too can become new arising stars ourselves. But we can also interlink with others to be even brighter--just like these two planets.

The night skies remind me of slaves, sailors, explorers who absolutely depended on them to navigate across oceans and wildernesses. Stars brought them to freedom and new promised lands. And then when they were through journeying, they would bring them home again. Stars remind us we are not alone and to gather more hope. They direct and guide us to where we need to be. 

So wherever you are in the world, go out and view the heavens. Catch some stardust and surprise yourself by being even brighter than you could have ever imagined.

          Love these stars that are hung in many parts of Europe. We made these when my kids were little.                                                                             Here is a tutorial

                                            What would the Christmas story be without stars? 

Sunday, November 29, 2020

The Perfect Fit and Tailor Made For You...

The only man I know who behaves sensibly is my tailor; he takes my measurements anew each time he sees me. The rest go on with their old measurements and expect me to fit them. --George Bernard Shaw

My favorite tailor, from Karola, India, standing up, in Doha, Qatar. He owns a little shop with his brother called "The Union Ladies Tailor Shop."

First of all, I am not much of a seamstress (or as some are using the term "sewist"). I sewed when I was younger but usually wanted to create something more elaborate than my skill level. Perhaps I did not have the patience to always be plucking out stitches... My grandmother and mom would sometimes come to the rescue, and lovingly help put together the fabric pieces that sometimes were a complicated puzzle for me. 

I have learned that sewers and tailors are always observing, measuring. They inherently realize the possibility that something could have changed from the last time they calculated the measurements. Some lessons from people behind the sewing machine: They do not automatically surmise we are what we were when they saw us the last time. They adapt, reshape, modify, adjust, convert, and customize with the easy snip of their scissors and a run of stitches. Yet, they also have an understanding of the paramount responsibility to discuss new changes to be taken with the receiver. They do not only create beautiful apparel, but they repair, patch, and mend. They try to bring back to life our old treasures we do not want to discard. A tailor always has both precision and possibilities in his/her hands.

In my mind, they are design wizards of creating beauty out of boundlessness (all the fabric we give them) but also have the ability to remake the old. When you think about it, they are much more than the silent sewer behind a sewing machine. Stitch by stitch, they create the big vision. They are the mastermind of always seeing the scope of possibilities in the unshaped, the unformed, the misfit, and the unrepaired.

Living in the Middle East and China has rekindled a fascination with fabric for me. I have enjoyed creating some new clothes and restoring the old ones. I have a new appreciation for the world where people painstakingly sit for hours behind a sewing machine for their wages--often for too little money. Their craft means keeping the whims of others like me happy and content. And when they get it right and they know we approve, it makes them satisfied. Their toil was worth it.

When my son was getting married a year ago, I wanted to buy a dress for the auspicious day. I was living in Doha, Qatar at the time and spent many hours mall-walking to find the perfect dress. I try not to be too selective, but nothing appealed to my liking. I came home empty-handed each time. And then some friends invited me into a new world I had tread very seldom in my life. For them, the simple solution was to design a dress in your head you wanted. Bring a sketch or photo, and then visit the vast Doha fabric market. The material came from India, Korea, Britain, Italy, France, Africa, and of course the Middle East. The last step and hardest part of all: to find the right tailor that understands your idea and with magical precision, turns it into a reality. 

One night when my friend was driving to the fabric market, I felt like an excited child again--to walk down the fabric aisles and talk to the tailors. The tailors came from India, Pakistan, Egypt, Bangladesh, and Iraq. They spend long hours with a measuring tape around their necks, snipping with scissors that were about 18 inches long, and pumping their ancient metal sewing machines. As I began to show them pictures and ideas of dresses, we spoke in halted English together. My favorite term we both understood was "Same. Same"--meaning anything I found could be duplicated by them. With our abbreviated language, our hands flew out to talk, and the tape measure came out again and again. There was no pattern, just an eye for detail. Hopefully, with a picture, we both had our ideas on the "same-same" page. 😀

Driving home that night with my friend, we chatted happily about the fabrics, buttons, lace--the discovery of each find. Why was it so fun to design a dress instead of going to get a ready-made one in a store? To be sure, I went back several times to the tailor until they got it right. Sometimes their idea of "same" was not my idea of "same." But when the dress, suit, or shirt perfectly fit what I wanted, there was enough joy for both of us.

I then remembered a memory of my four-year-old self I had tucked into my memory long ago. My grandmother belonged to a ladies club where the winning raffle ticket was an appointment with a tailor. I have no recollection of why she generously gave me her opportunity to go choose some fabric and make a dress with a tailor. But she did. For a young child to walk down the aisles of striking, vibrant textures and colors was a new dream world. I still remember choosing a polka dot orange and white fabric with satin lining. The tailor not only made a dress but an elegant coat dress that matched. I was enchanted. Although I was only a child, I was intrigued by how a pile of material could transform into such exquisite beauty.

Forward many years when I entered this new world again: I was thrilled with the fabrics from all over the world. I could see how the tailors, (mostly men in the Middle East), meticulously labored to bring beauty into fruition. However, there are expert seamstresses are all over the world, in small corners and corridors, making the world better, more beautiful for someone else. Now I have more of a respect for the flow and cut of clothes, and the artists behind the scenes that try to get the perfect fit--that is "tailor-made" for their patron. I pay tribute to all those people behind the table, often sometimes way back in the shop behind the sewing machine. Thanks for teaching me how to alter and mend a little better--at least in my head.

           This is the picture of the final dress. It was cold so I had a jacket on in this one.

My friend, and a Bangladeshi tailor who made the "mother-in-law of the bride" dress.

              Rummaging through fabrics, sequined, feathered, pearl-laced. You can find it all in Doha.

                                    One of the dresses the Indian tailor made for me. Plain, but I like it.

                                                            Trying on some trimming....

                         Another friend who showed me the inner workings of the fabric world in Doha.

                                                   Beautiful embossed fabric from Italy 
                           Can't forget the bright red peacock feathers woven together...  I refrained. 😀

                                                                         Doha fabric market

                        Some fabric sellers who are trying to persuade me to busy some chiffon fabric

                                                           In the market in Marrakech, Morroco

                                                         Trims at the fabric market in Tianjin, China

                                           A store where wool for coats is sold in Tianjin, China

                                                      More bric-a-brac to choose from in Tianjin, China

                      This wholesale fabric seller only sells Cath Kidston material--in Tianjin, China.

Up close Cath Kidston fabric that I am going to piece together to make some aprons...

Sunday, November 1, 2020

On Human Touch and How to Make Words Shine....

Imagine my surprise when sent me a picture she had just painted for a local art contest in St. Louis with the theme of Human Touch. I met Sarah about 15 years ago when she was a new mother. She had put away her art brushes for a while but obviously has since brought them out again. Thanks, Sarah for continuing to speak your light with art.

We clasp the hands of those who go before us and the hands of those who come after us; we enter the little circle of each other's arms...  --Wendell Berry

In October 2014, after we had just moved to Doha, Qatar, there was an Eid holiday--a few days to holiday. We decided to head for Egypt. During that week, mostly in Cairo, we went to the famous Alabaster Mosque on the Citadel overlooking the city. During the time inside and then outside the mosque, there were some young girls that stayed with me for a while to practice their English. Joseph snapped a picture of us when I had to leave. The photo captures a marked moment for me--you might say a hinge point. Up until that point, I was nervous, a little scared, homesick. I had traveled a great deal before, but there had been much change at lightning speed in the previous month. I kept opening my eyes and remembered I was far away from home and all things familiar. That embrace in the picture changed my perspective for the new Middle East chapter that was beginning.

Although I am clearly the oldest person in the photo, there was this undeniable bonding that occurred in the hour we spent together. I have never forgotten the love I felt for those young Egyptian girls--so willing to befriend a stranger. Weeks before, I thought, I had just left everything: the old homestead house we had remodeled and painstakingly redone for 18 years was in the process of being sold, and family and loved ones were a world away. There were new smells, customs, traditions, and people I was trying to understand and decipher. It did not help that most people questioned our travel plans and kept saying, "You are going to Egypt?" Who would have thought a few Egyptian teenage girls could pour some courage in me?

The moment in time outside the Alabaster Mosque, high above the other minarets of Cairo, I can still remember because I was different when we unlocked arms. Those young girls gave me a precious gift in that hug where we are all snugly wrapped together in a long embrace. I felt pure love stream into my heart. Trepidation and uneasiness flew away. Light poured into the gaps or holes in my heart. Indeed human touch is healing. Pangs of sorrow can be swallowed up and grudges lifted. A feeling of connectedness with others comes with an embrace that can elude words. Holding someone's hand can bring needed solace that does not come in any other way.

This happened to me a month ago when I was about to get shoulder surgery. I had a few tears dripping down my face because I was thinking of my own father. One of the last times I saw him in this life, he was wearing a sling and waving goodbye to me from his porch. The head nurse saw my emerging tears and reached out her hand to me just before I received anesthesia. All she said was, "My name is Sarah" and then held my hand. Those were the last words I remember. But her words brought peace to a scared soul getting shoulder surgery in China. You see Sarah is a special name to me. It is my daughter's, daughter-in-law's, and mother-in-law's name. Plus, many other beloved Sarah's I have known. Holding her hand gave me courage when I needed it. 

In the hospital after the surgery, and Sarah who came to see me (in the headscarf). 

In these times of social distancing and isolation, I know many people are missing a warm embrace, or a "high five" to comfort them and give them strength. With that gap, we must all compensate more to fill the voids of those who are lonely, sad, and missing their "old world." Words, in the shape of our voice, whether it is spoken or written, can renew and transform a wobbly soul.

 I am trying to learn to use words to build bridges when I cannot give a hug to reassure, comfort, or make amends. I am trying to listen with devotion to who is in front of me and be more creative with my zoom calls. I am trying to connect with others, some of who are in long-ago previous chapters of my life. Currently, physical touch and connection can elude us, but we can use our voice to love in new and unprecedented ways. As Emily Dickinson says, "I know nothing in the world that has much power as a word. Sometimes I write one and look at it until it begins to shine." Also, I would add the words that spill from our mouths can shine too. They can give light to fill up crevices that have not seen the sun for a while. In these COVID times, we need all the rays we can get. 

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Opening new doors in uncertain times, and. a lesson from Grandpa...

My two daughters at a colorful door in Greece. 

A few years ago on a trip to Madrid, we unexpectedly stumbled onto a Spanish artist's home and museum. His name is Joaquin Sorella and is pretty much unknown outside of his native Spain. He was an Impressionistic artist who was fascinated with light and very much influenced by Monet. On the day I discovered him, I was riveted by his luminous paintings. Somehow the light and sun in his paintings filled me up and gave me remembered warmth. In case you want to read more about Sorella, here is my blog: Joaquin Sorella: Painter of Light

Since I have spent some time painting, I was interested in what he had to say about how to navigate a painting or how to start the process on the canvas. A quote in his museum describes his approach to painting, "You do not need to know what your picture is eventually going to look like. Just watch the picture that is coming and emerging. It will come together, and you will be happy."

If I could make an analogy to art and life, it would be that we need to be more comfortable with the paintbrush or tools we have been given and blessed with. Life does not give us a manual for all our decisions. Will the painting be executed in the exact way we intend or want? Probably not. But we have it within us to make a grand, glorious, and gorgeous masterpiece--if we choose--much more beautiful than if we painted it by ourselves. If we push aside our tentativeness, we can open doors that bring us to places where darkness falls away and light descends in the crevices. 

I have to say in the painting (my son with autism) and I do together, we have gessoed a lot. Gessoing means you use white, thick paint (gesso) to cover part of the painting you do not like or want to be there anymore. Sometimes we have gessoed the entire canvas several times--starting over and over again. As I have taught young teenagers art, I reassure them with their discontent about their painting, "You can begin again. Nothing is really permanent." They look at me sometimes with a surprised or incredulous look and say, "Really? I can do it again?" The answer is yes, Just gesso what you don't want and start over. It is a liberating thought for them. And it holds true in our lives too. If we don't like the colors, perspective, or texture we have been using, we can change it. Another door can open. We don't have to stand outside dissatisfied and unfilled. There is a rescue on the other side of the door.

We need to be nimble and willing to see with new eyes. The process requires a tenacious determination to understand when and where we need to go in another direction--just like a painter works on different parts of the canvas. Perhaps we need to stand back and pause a moment at our emerging masterpiece--to recalibrate, recharge, and look for what is missing before we pick up the paintbrush again. Pausing to see the perspective is important as we live in the process of becoming. Perhaps we need to try another brush or mix a new color of paint.

One of the great friends of my life was my father-in-law, Hyrum Smith Shumway. He was blinded about six weeks after he landed on D-Day in Normandy, France at age 22. He helped to liberate several French villages that still celebrate and revere him today as he tried to lead his group of soldiers across France to Paris. He was young, fearless, and strong. But he was uncertain as he fought in France that he would ever go home again. However, he hung on, believing and having hope--even when he was blinded--that God had a purpose for him. He was brought to a make-shift hospital in Normandy, and then secretly taken across the channel to a hospital in England. Months later he sailed to America on the Queen Elizabeth ship with other wounded soldiers. For the next two years, he would be in rehabilitation in America. 

It is interesting to read his autobiography and see the developing character on the canvas in a young man who had experienced tremendous trauma. I am sure as he looked at his life, he saw so many doors closed to him that were beckoning before his accident. The emerging person, like a painting in progress, was taking shape. He later said that when he was lying on the ground after the landmine exploded next to him, that he wasn't sure he was going to live. He knew his life was in balance. But he said a prayer, and begged, "God, I want to live. I think it is possible because I took a breath. I want to live." 

At the time he was laying beside a hedgerow in Normandy, he did not know in his darkness that blindness would be his fate for the next 67 years. From his words later, he wrote that he became discouraged and frustrated with all the doors that seemed slammed shut for him.  It was a blow like a hammer to hear in an English hospital that he would have a permanent life of physical darkness. He had wanted to be a doctor and knew the dream was over. Nightmares of battles and warfare stalked him for many years. However, little by little, or brushstroke by brushstroke, he repeatedly turned to God in the uncertainties and darkness.

Much later, after he had learned to push and tug at some doors to be opened, he succinctly summarized his life, "I might not have sight, but I have insight." Indeed, he was happy, even joyful with his life,  and radiated an uncommon cheer I have seldom seen. His life was a masterpiece--created with ambiguity and darkness. With uncertainty and new doors, grasping for his answers, he found light. He continues to teach me that sometimes as we turn to the darkness, (and we must know darkness to know light), the light is switched on and dimness disappears. Yet, most of the time, our questions are answered by the sunrise/sunset variety. The door opens ever so slowly, little by little, impression by impression, and then we create a beautiful masterpiece.on our canvas of life. 


                       My father-in-law,  H. Smith Shumway, who learned how to be certain in uncertainty. 

Thanks, Grandpa, for your example in complete darkness and in uncertain times. It makes me remember to pause, stand back, and see the whole perspective--to not be afraid to open unknown doors. And as Joaquin Sorrella said, the beautiful masterpiece we wanted all along will come.  

         A few favorite doors of mine... What doors are you planning                                                on opening soon?

The Alhambra in Spain

 Marrakesh, Spain

                                                  A farmer's shed in Sierre, Switzerland
                                   In front of Rembrandt's house in Amsterdam, Holland

                                                  With this door, I received a new son...

                                                             The portals of Egypt

                                                                     Egypt beckons...

                                                  At the  Shiek Fasel Musem in Doha, Qatar

                                                         Notre Dame, Paris France

                                                                      Sofia,  Bulgaria

                    Normandy, France--talking to an eye witness of World War II on his farm who knew                                                                                  Joseph's father. 


                                                           At the art barn, Teton Valley, Idaho

                                            Henry David Thoreau's house at Walden Pond, Massachusetts

                                                       Shakespeare's house, Stratford, England

At Shangrila, China, on the border of Tibet

                                     Paris Temple for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints

                                          Meeting new friends in Doha, Qatar at their home

                                                     A welcome door in Stockholm

        Some dear French friends in Normandy who have taught us about the French generosity of spirit.

The colorful houses of Capetown, South Africa

The Ypres, Belgium cathedral that was burned to the ground in World War II, and then was built up again.

Beijing hutong or house. Red banners are put on the outside of houses for the New Year saying the family wants peace and prosperity. Often, they are left up all year long.

                              Shoes being left out of a mosque in Doha, Qatar during the prayer time

Istanbul, Turkey

My mother giving our sons a pioneer tour in Pleasant Grove, Utah

                         Doha, Qatar (This was not my house when we lived in Qatar). Ha!

                                                                            Marakesh, Morocco

One of the reasons I love the Middle East and North Africa so much was their rich motifs and designs. I was endlessly fascinated by how they fit geometric spaces together.

                                                                    Lake Como, Italy

                                                                        Lake Como, Italy

Marrakesh, Morocco

                                                                   Budapest, Hungary

                                                                       Seville, Spain

                                                                The  Alhambra, Spain

                                                                        Marrakesh, Morocco 

Aix-de-Provence, France. What a door! I wonder how many times this door has been opened?

Our Doha house door, and our little, delightful neighbor who would always visit us to show us his artwork (even at 7 am) Of course, I adored his every effort. He was often rewarded with small gifts. I could never resist his dimpled smile. 

    My grandmother's house in Springville, Utah. This door opened to a magical and enchanting world--a                                 place where childhood was sacred and joy was always to be found...