Thursday, December 24, 2015

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Best Christmas Gift?

It's the holidays and, as every year, my in-laws ask what I want for Christmas. What's the latest gadget, the latest trend, something I want and long to have? For the first 30 years of my life, I always had an answer for what I want, that gift voucher, that accessory, that camera or smart phone. Now I have my eyes on a particular watch but even that isn't so important to me as it once would have been. The best Christmas gift I know I'll be getting this year is the one I'm giving myself: Gratitude. 

Two old albums I listened to recently (one by the Indigo Girls and the other by Diana Krall) took me down memory lane as I reminisced of times I shared with the two people they remind me of. I knew each of them at different times in my life and both for a total of two years, yet those two years are worth a lifetime. I will probably never see or talk to them again but the impact they had on me is timeless. They were such an integral part of my self-exploration and self-discovery that a piece of them will remain entrenched in my mind and heart long after they exited my life. I am forever grateful. 

So who are the people you're grateful for? Why do they matter to you? And would they still hold significance to you even if they were no longer in your life? Even if they were to never reach out to you or you to them?

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

It’s Not About Perfect

Most mornings start the same in our apartment in West Amman. At six a.m., I fetch Omar’s undergarments and school uniform. In the kitchen, I spread paprika-seasoned hummus onto toasted German bread and top it with tomato slices. 

Guten Morgen. Hast du gut geschlafen?” I wake up Omar who's unresponsive and there begins the rush of seeing him out the door in time to catch the bus to school. 


It’s seven a.m. and Shareef has begun his morning ritual of wiggles and mumblings. “Five more minutes, habiby,” I murmur as I dry the last few dishes. At the start of “mama mama mama,” I spring to his call. 

Sabah al-khair Shareefo!” I greet him beaming. I know he needs to be changed and fed. A swarm of work emails need to be addressed. But this moment, with Shareef hanging on to me so tightly, is fleeting. With his little hands caressing my hair and hazelnut brown eyes gazing into mine, I can almost hear him say, “Mama, you are the world to me.”

It doesn’t matter to him whether I’m slender, smart, tidy or rich. He loves me just the way I am. Omar is a different story. At seven years old, he would rather watch Ninjago than read a story with me. This is the fate of most parents. Those morning smiles have all but vanished and, while he still hugs me goodnight, it’s usually prompted by his father’s insistence. With Omar, I rushed through those precious morning rituals to make sure I got to work on time. With Shareef, the world can just wait for a few minutes.

Shareef likes to take his time eating his breakfast, so between spoonfuls of oatmeal, he listens with fascination and amusement to my off-key singing of his favourite tunes, like ‘Baba wa Mama bihabuni…’. I try to savour this precious moment with him, but my to-do list starts to creep in. I have a dozen emails to write and just as many articles to edit. There’s housework. I have to give Shareef a bath, cut his nails and make his food (it’s mujadara today). Then there’s getting myself ready before we head out for errands – taking a shower and exercising are huge achievements for a work-at-home mother!


With my yellow mat out and blue dumbbells in hand, I’m set to sweat to Jillian Michaels, my kick-butt personal DVD trainer. 

I was a chubby kid who would sacrifice fun with friends and classmates to avoid being seen in a bathing suit and I never wore shorts. I don’t think I ever owned a pair. 

Just when I’m about to fold on that last core move and cave in to the inner voice that says, “You’re not worth it,” Jillian speaks to me through my television screen. “It's not about perfect,” she says. “It's about effort. And when you bring that effort every single day, that's where transformation happens. That's how change occurs.” 


The bus beeps, announcing Omar’s return from school. “How was your day?” I ask. “Fine.” “What did you do today?” I prompt. “Nothing,” he says. Between feeding the boys, getting Omar changed and sitting him down for homework, I try to think of other ways to ask the same question. “So, Omar, was Ms. Jackson happy or sad today?” I ask. This elicits a more specific response, if just as short. Of all the obscure courses I took during my undergraduate and graduate studies, Parenting 101 was not among them. I sure could use it now. 


With the kids tucked in bed, I unwind over back-to-back episodes of my favourite television shows. I’m supposed to be working: I should be editing articles, coordinating with writers and experts and planning future editions. When I reach for the fridge to get milk for my late-night coffee fix, the blank magnetic notepad stares me in the face. The laundry needs folding. But all of it can wait. 

After all, it’s not about perfect.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Gratitude for the New Year 

The beginning of every year is a hopeful time. We make a decision to improve something with ourselves. At the very least, we have intentions, if not an entire strategy, to edit aspects of our lives that we don’t like. 

But for 2016, I have a different kind of New Year's Resolution and that's gratitude. Rather than focus on changing the things I don’t like about myself, I'll be looking at all the things that I'm pleased with.

Being grateful for family, for deepened relationships, for good health and so on. It's about striving to embrace all that we have in life, all the people we love, and all the stories we create in the moments that we’ve been given.

In this "gratitude" post, I ask others, "What Does Family Mean To You":

Samar Sabha
Life Coach and Creativity & Design Thinking Trainer 

Family is a safe place that’s free of judgment, honours differences and is full of hugs, “I love you”, “I care about you”, “I support you”, “I will not let you down”, “I am here for you” and “You are great and beautiful as you are”. Where do I place my family according to my own definition? I give myself seven out 10. Some moments I give myself 10 out of 10 and sometimes I decide to do better next time.

Dr Sahar Jumean
Paediatric Dentist

Family is morning coffee with my spouse and mayhem trying to rush the kids out of the house in time for school. It's laughing uncontrollably with my siblings and a hug from a parent that feels like home. Family is strolling on a beach collecting seashells and opening gifts Christmas morning. It's hand-me-downs that are so precious. Family is chaotic order, it's knowing that someone is just a phone call away willing to drop everything in a heartbeat for you; unconditional love despite time or distance. 

Sheela Sheth
Food Contributor 

Family is inspiration, strength, support and providence. A light at the end of the tunnel.

Karma Khalidi
Early Childhood Teacher 

Family is all the people around me who have made a mark on who I am today – mostly in a positive way. Some of the people I consider family are actually friends who’ve shared special moments with me. As a mother, I also understand that family is unmeasurable love. I feel blessed to have a loving and supportive family that pushes me to excel and simply makes my life worth living.

Rula Wardeh Sakkab
Yoga Instructor

I see my yoga students as family – those I share similar interests, dreams and lifestyles. My second cousin is family even though we have totally different interests. My closest friend is like family because we understand and can forgive each other. With family, I don’t feel judged, even when I have unintentionally done or said something wrong. But I don’t take them for granted – family it is still a relationship that needs to be nurtured with compassion.

Dr Marwan Jumean

Family includes all those we love, trust and respect and these are the cornerstones of a happy family. My siblings and I are lucky to have been raised on such a foundation. My family is my support system; they are there for me when I need them the most. My wife and I try to raise our kids the same way our families raised us: to love, respect, motivate and support each other; what affects one family member, affects the family as a whole.

Razan Shwayhat


“My family is my life” may seem like a clichĂ© but when you read between the lines, you understand that it means: 

“I” is no longer “myself”
I take care of myself for them
They are in my thoughts, prayers and plans – everything is oriented around them
It’s the place I always want to go to and where I feel safe

Noor Sa'adeh
Blogger & Production Manager 

The passage and journey of life is much more apparent with a family. Birth, death, marriage, successes and failures are all shared and create many opportunities to see one another to check in and check up. You are loved by family “just because”. There is no need to prove yourself or to be sought after only for what you can do for others. The unconditional love of family, even when these relationships are tested by the stresses of life, overcomes all. 

Sally Hurst

Private Chef & Food Blogger 

Family are those we depended on to be the one constant in our lives. Growing up in different countries, friends would change, apartments would be different, languages unfamiliar, schools would be new, but my parents and sisters would remain the same. My husband's Jordanian Circassian family has embraced me warmly and with enthusiasm. Their smiles, hugs and habibatees break through any cultural barriers that might exist. 

Banan Gharaibeh
Food Blogger

I realised how much my family is truly my treasure this year when my youngest son graduated. At that moment, I truly didn't regret quitting and refusing long hours at a pharmaceutical company or having my own pharmacy. Nowadays, I’m happy as a food blogger and my whole family participates with food and setup ideas! 

Zeina Shahzada-Majali
Assistant Director at National Press 

Family is my heart, my strength, my happiness. I don't only consider my kin as close family but also some of my friends who’ve been with me through thick and thin. Even colleagues I've worked with for over a decade have become my family. One of the most beautiful qualities of our part of the world is how family remains deeply rooted in our society.

Dr Josi Salem-Pickartz
Clinical Psychologist

I owe who I am, in all positive and negative aspects, to the family that I come from. In our current family, we are a great team and very good, close friends. We can rely on each other, trust each other and understand and respect each other’s unique personalities. Family is the soil in which a person grows and the water that she needs to develop her personality and potential to its fullest.

Sonia Salfity

Family is sharing of laughter and tears during good times and bad. These memories are like a beacon of light that can shine on the darkest of days, bringing joy even when things aren't going my way. Family can encompass so much when we allow ourselves to open up and be courageous and authentic. I am grateful that I belong to a God who shows me how to love and how to accept love from others. Suddenly, I don't focus on shortcomings but on the endless blessings that flow through these relationships.

Dr Amjad Jumai'an
Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist

As a child psychiatrist and father, I know very well that a child’s wellbeing is dependent on his family’s wellbeing. For me, family is a group of people that work cohesively, are open to one another about their thoughts, are not afraid to share their shortcomings and to learn from their mistakes. They make decisions together and subsequently have self-respect and mutual respect.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Hidden Veggie Smoothie 

We already know the importance of children getting enough fruit and vegetables into their daily diet. However, finding a way to get little ones to eat two to four servings of fruit and three to five servings of vegetables every day can be tough – I know it’s tough with my two boys. Sneakiness is needed for my picky eaters. You too can help your child get the recommended daily amounts of both fruits and veggies with this smoothie.

1 cup low-fat milk 
½ cup orange juice 
1 banana, peeled
1 apple, cut up
¼ cup strawberries, blueberries or pineapple 
1 tbsp honey 
¼ cup plain yoghurt 
1 carrot, peeled 
1 cucumber 
1 cup cauliflower 

1. Pour milk into the blender
2. Add your fruits, veggies, honey and yoghurt. Add milk or orange juice if it gets too thick
3. Put blender on a high setting for a minute or two
4. Serve immediately. For toddlers, serve in a cup with a straw

Thursday, December 3, 2015

3 December is International Day of Persons with Disability
Only around 3% of children with disabilities in Jordan receive any form of education, according to the Higher Council for Affairs of People with Disabilities (HCD)

In an interview with Family Flavours last May, Prince Mir’ed bin Ra’ad, President of HCD, said, “Inclusion is important for all of us – people with disabilities and people without.” Inclusion is not just about ramps, Braille or signing, he adds. "It entails the adoption of an education philosophy for all.” 

You may recall The Jordan Times article last April about a 20-year-old woman with a mental disability who spent the past 15 years chained to the staircase in her family’s house, except at bedtime. You may also recall the case of a father who pushed his disabled son off a building and then burned his body. Sadly, there are many such accounts.

Although stories like these are upsetting to many of us who embrace people of all abilities and disabilities, are we doing enough to reach out to families who struggle? Sure, we can be angry with the parents who keep their children locked up or worse, but aren't our own stereotypes and judgement part of the large scale problem of abuse that we see across Jordan? 

Lina Masri, national coordinator of Faith and Light Jordan, once admitted to me what so many people think, "I was afraid of them [people with disabilities] and didn’t want to be around them. Their life has no purpose." 

Like Lina, I was deeply impacted by a visit to Bait Al Mahaba (Home of Love) in Ruseifeh for children with severe disabilities and are either orphaned or abandoned by their families. For Lina, it was "a test of whether or not I truly love the way I was taught to love all my life.” 

Lina began to visit Yousef there until his tragic death at the age of three. Although she was deeply affected by his passing, a nun reminded her, "There are many Yousefs out there, and they’re all in need of our love.” That was the beginning of Lina’s lifetime commitment to spreading love to an often neglected part of society. 

Faith and Light is made up of those with disabilities, their families and friends. It’s a community that shares in each other’s hardships and each other’s joys and celebrations. Faith and Light recognizes that people need more than food and shelter; they need love. “Everywhere now, people have to be intelligent, attractive and strong to be loved," Lina once told me. At Faith and Light, people are loved as they are, with all their shortcomings, and they don’t have to change for others to love them.

For the disabled, they have the opportunity to recognise and use their gifts and discover the joy of friendship. Lina explains that friendship does wonders to help people with disabilities. Lina recalls Ibshara, a young man who used to hit people, but after joining Faith and Light and gaining trust in people, he ceased to hit. Raed is an example of someone who was emotionally scarred after hearing people in the streets throw insults at him. When he would hear the word ‘muaq’ (disabled) he would throw a tantrum, but not anymore. Lina says, “He doesn’t think of those bullies anymore. He knows he has people who love him. The word can no longer hurt him.” 

To parents, Faith and Light offers support and helps them to better appreciate the inner beauty and gifts of their children. A number of them become a source of strength to other parents who suffer. 

Faith and Light is always looking for volunteers to broaden their friendship network. Age doesn’t matter – they have children and adults up to age 70! What they’re mainly looking for is commitment. “Children and adults with disabilities find it extremely difficult to get attached and then find that someone gets married and discontinues the friendship; they feel abandoned,” Lina says. “Anyone can start something, but not everyone can continue the journey that is so important in what we do.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Can You Spot the Difference?

Can you spot the difference in this gingerbread house? If you can, there's a good chance you'll win a prize and you even get to pick it (from a choice of five gifts). There may be a couple of differences but I am looking for one in particular that is apparent in every photo.

If you reside in Jordan, respond to the competition announcement at or email with your answer. Please note that a draw will take place in the event of multiple correct entries and the winner's name will be announced here at Flavour of the Day ( Two more competitions are coming up! 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Happy 1st of December!

Monday, November 30, 2015

My tough critic gave me a thumbs up on this one!

Tis the Season for Carrot Cake!
The applesauce and pineapple in this recipe make this cake deliciously moist 

4 eggs
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup applesauce
1 can crushed pineapple, drained
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 tsp nutmeg
3 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp ground cinnamon
3 cups grated carrots
1 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup butter, softened
220g cream cheese, softened
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
Pecans for garnishing

1. Preheat oven to 175 degrees C. Grease and flour a cake pan 
2. In a large bowl, beat together eggs, oil, sugar, applesauce, and three teaspoons vanilla
3. Mix in flour, pineapple, baking soda, baking powder, nutmeg, salt and cinnamon
4. Stir in carrots. Fold in pecans. Pour into prepared pan
4. Bake in the oven for 40 to 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and cool completely
5. To make frosting, in a medium bowl, combine butter, cream cheese, confectioners' sugar and one teaspoon vanilla. Beat until the mixture is smooth and creamy
6. Stir in chopped pecans
7. Frost the cooled cake and garnish with pecans

Thursday, November 26, 2015

(Published in Family Flavours November 2015)

Giving Thanks in Style!
By Laura Haddad

Although Thanksgiving is traditionally a holiday in the United States and Canada, more and more people in Jordan are coming together to celebrate fall and give thanks. Here's how we celebrated with multicultural family members and friends.

The Decorations

Pumpkins are a fun way to decorate any gathering this season. Instead of using a traditional vase for flowers, put your arrangement in carved-out pumpkins!

I wanted to incorporate the beautiful colours of fall with green and orange. Bookstores and gift shops in Amman are selling Thanksgiving-themed decorations, including the napkins shown here
Guests got to share what they are thankful for. Each guest wrote down their response and hung them on the branches of the centrepieces

These white spray-painted pumpkins kept us in the Thanksgiving theme of giving thanks
Because our guests were from different countries, we decorated these candles with flags to add another personal touch to the festive evening

I displayed the dinner menu in this golden frame

The Food

The traditional main course for Thanksgiving is turkey, but stuffing comes in a lot of variations. Traditional American stuffing usually consists of dried bread, croutons, onion, celery, salt, pepper and other spices and herbs. For the Jordanian palette, we made a rice and minced meat stuffing. Of course, any turkey slice has to be topped with gravy! We served a variety of salads to please every kind of guest!

My American sister-in-law made sweet potatoes, another American staple
Our turkey and pumpkin-themed desserts were big hits. You can get any bakery in Amman to design a themed cake or set of cupcakes
Although traditional favourites are apple pie or crumble and pumpkin pie or cheesecake, our dinner was a fusion of cultures, so we served up knafeh, a Jordanian cheese pastry dessert 

Event styling 
Need some extra help with decorating for your holiday events? Check out: 
*Celebrations Event Planners 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Picture-perfect families. That's what we see almost daily on our Facebook news feed and in our monthly magazines. Big smiles. What we don't see is behind closed doors. For International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, we open the door. 

Somehow, we imagine an abuse survivor to appear visibly weak, timid, victimized. We assume we would know and see from their faces the trauma they are going through or have endured. But this is far from true. In fact, you can be sure that someone you know is or has suffered physical, sexual and/or emotional abuse and that someone may very well be masking this secret behind a bright smile. 

This is not surprising when "in Jordan, 57 per cent of female victims of violence refrain from reporting it because they fear the social stigma and the reaction of their families," UN Women Representative to Jordan Giuseppe Belsito told The Jordan Times. Today, the Jordanian National Commission for Women (JNCW) launched a 16 Days of Action Campaign with stakeholders that include ARDD-Legal Aid and USAID Takamol Gender Programme

And, as local and global statistics indicate, abusers are more likely to be people we know, and could well be people we care about, including close family. What makes it even more difficult for abuse survivors is functioning in a society where an individual's needs, including her safety and wellbeing, are often overlooked or suppressed in order to protect and safeguard family reputation.

In an article published in Family Flavours magazine, "Off Limits", the author debunks myths, including our stereotypes of what an abuser looks and acts like: "My predator was – and remains today – a kind and soft-spoken person, a family man and an exemplary member of the community who’s always the first on the scene to help anyone. How can such a ‘good’ person do ‘bad’ things? This is a question that has driven me most of my life to try to understand – not excuse – what happened to me."

More from Family Flavours' "Off Limits":

Sexual abuse can entail the forcing of unwanted sexual activity by one person on another by use of threats or coercion. It includes oral sex, intercourse, fingering, fondling – anything sexual – that you didn’t agree to and that makes you feel uncomfortable, scared or threatened. “Most sexual abuse doesn’t start with rape, but a form of ‘grooming’ that gets the child comfortable with increasing degrees of sexual intimacy,” says Wendy Merdian, an Amman-based resident expert in sexual abuse, having trained over 150 women in Jordan as well as others in Turkey, Iraq, the United States and across Europe in principles of emotional and spiritual recovery. “This emotional hooking that often precedes the physical act can include exposure to pornography, ‘helping’ pre-teens bathe or shower, ‘checking’ for supposed infections, using sexual terminology that’s inappropriate and offensive, making the child a confidante to ‘help with problems’,” she adds. 

The ultimate betrayal 
Despite the stereotypical image we have, abusers usually do not look like monsters and it is relatively rare for them to be strangers. The majority of abuse is based on coercion rather than force; giving in doesn’t mean that you agreed to have sex. Often times, abuse is perpetrated by someone we trust and care about within our social sphere – a relative, a family friend, a teacher or trainer. It can affect anyone regardless of age, gender, socio-economic background, religion, physical appearance, sexuality, intellect or ability. 

My predator was – and remains today – a kind and soft-spoken person, a family man and an exemplary member of the community who’s always the first on the scene to help anyone. How can such a ‘good’ person do ‘bad’ things? This is a question that has driven me most of my life to try to understand – not excuse – what happened to me. 

The emotional toll 
The majority of survivors never report the abuse often because they are afraid of other people’s reactions; they may feel deep humiliation and shame at having been victimised or they may fear getting in trouble or being judged. As a child, I wasn’t believed by my parents and the shame and judgement that sprung from ignorance only deepened the long-term emotional wounds of abuse. Throughout it all, I seemed ‘normal’ to everyone because I would automatically numb myself, deaden my emotions and mentally escape my body; I could function without fully experiencing the emotional impact as a self-defence mechanism 

Dr Josi Salem-Pickartz calls dissociation, its clinical term. Dr Salem-Pickartz describes the emotional toll abuse has on many survivors: “Be they men or women, common symptoms include anxiety and mistrust, feeling powerless, self-doubts, self-disgust and feelings of guilt. For the survivor, even the protective environment of a clinical setting or self-help group does not lessen the pain of acknowledging that this happened.” 

Shutting down is a learned response that continues even today as a protective mechanism for avoiding anxiety and having to confront my emotions. Merdian explains that ‘shutting down’ is a method of protecting oneself from further pain. “Others do this in different ways: becoming aggressive and using anger to keep others away, becoming very outwardly religious to try and ‘earn’ God’s favour, while others develop a carefree attitude where nothing matters,” she says. Each method affects the victim’s ability to achieve intimate emotional relationships. 

A culture of silence 
Our society perpetuates huge double standards, where sexual feelings and expression are acceptable for men but unacceptable for women, and maintains that women provoke unwanted sexual advances – and even rape – by their appearance, behaviour or mere existence. Sexual harassment or rape is never the victim's fault; it is the result of a culture (be it in Western societies or here in the Middle East) that promotes male dominance. It's the extreme expression of a continuum that ranges from sex-role stereotyping and sexist remarks to sex-based discrimination and, ultimately, to actual sexual harassment and violence against women. Merdian further explains the deep seeded cultural belief that “men innately can’t control themselves”. This widespread assumption gives men a carte blanche for sexual abuse and places the sole responsibility on women to keep men ‘safe from temptation’, she says. 

How we raise our children 
A great number of offenders are unaware that their behaviour is offensive or they are unaware of the seriousness of it. Some otherwise ‘good’ men have a thwarted idea that if a woman doesn’t verbally and forcefully express alarm then she must welcome the advance. 

Most ‘respectful’ teenage boys learn about sexual intimacy through their friends and what they see portrayed on television and in the movies. These sources promote disrespectful behaviour by teaching males that if they are ‘smooth’, they can just make their moves and the person will want them. 

This is why our role as parents is about more than seeing our children succeed in school or in their career path. It also entails teaching self-respect and respect for others. It doesn’t mean teaching our boys to simply open doors for a woman, but teaching our children to: 

*Not curse or name-call using words for sex and sexual organs 

*Hold their friend, girlfriend, fiancĂ©e or wife in the highest esteem which means not pressuring her to do anything she is uncomfortable with 

*Not tolerate any forms of disrespect. When a person believes in herself, she is more likely to make the right decision in difficult moments. Those with low self-esteem are more likely to lower their standards to please their partner or another abuser — a very dangerous and unhealthy practice 

*Avoid disrespecting any woman (or man) by making crude comments or advances, regardless of how they dress or behave 

Your body is yours alone 
No one has the right to force or pressure you into sex – not even your husband. Even if you have already had intercourse, it is still rape if on a particular occasion you did not desire sexual contact and the person forces himself upon you or uses psychological manipulation by threatening to end the relationship or to find another woman. 

Even in our conservative society, a couple could be engaged and have already partaken in kissing and possibly light sexual activity. The man may feel that ‘going further’ is his right and tries to pressure her by saying she had led him on or she would do it if she really loved him. Even a friend or colleague may want to sexualise the relationship and keep raising the issue. 

You control your body and have the right to decide what you are comfortable with. You don’t owe anyone and you don’t have to do anything you’re apprehensive about to prove you love someone. Saying no means no and anyone who continues to pressure you after that is not someone you want to be with anyway. Make decisions that are best for you, and don’t just focus on what your partner or others may think. Learn to communicate in a direct, confident way. If you don’t clearly say no, the other person may be unsure about what you want. By communicating clearly, there is no doubt. Put the message across – no means no. Merdian suggests training children to ‘yell and tell’. “Give them permission to speak up and to keep speaking up until an adult listens,” she says. 

What I learned about sex is forever shaped by my early experience of abuse. During abuse, your needs don’t matter; you have to cater to someone else’ sexual needs. Because I internalised this message well into adulthood, I wound up in a number of situations where I compromised myself sexually and emotionally. Because sexual abuse is a major violation of trust, I find it difficult to trust others but even more so, myself. Finding my voice and building self-respect and trust in myself – in my feelings, thoughts, beliefs, intuition and perceptions – is only a recent stride I’ve made and have to practice one day at a time. 

Where I once felt alone in my pain, I now know that I am not alone. Merdian, who’s a survivor of child sexual abuse herself, has taught me how God can redeem the deepest pain and even use it as a way to help others on their journey. 

Common myths 
*All molesters look sleazy – you can just tell 
*Sexual abusers are monsters and just look evil 
*Most abusers are strangers 
*This could never happen to my child, mother, sister, wife… 
*My children would tell me if anything like this happened to them 
*If my child had been abused, I would just know 
*It can't happen in my family 

Friday, November 20, 2015

Inner Peace, One Sip at a Time 

Some of the best memories I cherish from childhood are trips to the barren desert in Jordan. We didn’t have gadgets and gizmos back then but I was thrilled just running in the vast, boundless landscape, feeling the fresh breeze on my face, listening to the soothing sounds of wind blowing and picnicking with homemade sandwiches. 

Another distinct memory is the powerful aroma of sage leaves boiling in black tea and sugar on an open fire. Maramia as we know it in Arabic, is naturally grown in the desert and is known to ease the common cold, act as a digestive aid and relieve menstrual symptoms. 

On a recent trip to Azaq with my family, I got to introduce my kids to the aroma and taste of Bedouin tea – and the experience of boiling the tea in a pot on an open fire…that was exciting for them! While they relished in the preparation, I delighted in the sips that followed as no tea can compare to this! 

Our simple tea time in the desert reminded me of the importance of getting outdoors, taking a break from city life and the technologically driven lives we lead. Kids get to explore and act out their own adventures. For us adults, we get some well-deserved respite and peace of mind. 

Happy sipping!

Friday, November 13, 2015

13 November is World Kindness Day
Hearts, kisses, habibties. Our text messages, emails and social media posts are full of fluffy warm fuzzies. Sure, those blow-a-kiss emoticons are cute. 

Every day I wake up with a conscious decision to love but it’s not that sunny bright feeling kind of love that warms our heart. The love I’m talking about here is based on the faith background I come from – Jesus and the apostles spoke about love but they never described it as a feeling. Love is presented to us as a choice, as a mind-set. 

In Paul’s characteristics of love in 1 Corinthians 13, every attribute involves acting out love, not feeling love. And when Jesus taught about love, He always described a conscious choice. John tells us Jesus “loved His disciples fully” right before Jesus started washing their feet, even the feet of the one who would betray him. 

As we commemorate World Kindness Day, I remember Paul’s letter to the Colossians (3:12), “…clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience." Not just on November 13th, or during Christmas season or the month of Ramadan, and not just with those who extend compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience to us. It’s not a point of weakness to love, to be kind – it comes from a place of strength and freedom. I will feel anger. I will feel pain but I choose not to act out of anger and pain. And this brings me peace. 

I may not blow you kisses or send you a heart-shaped box of chocolates. I may not sign off an email with a quickly, loosely worded “Love, Laura”. But you can trust that I won’t hold grudges. I won’t keep score. I won’t be vengeful or resentful. I will know the darkness in you (and in myself) but I will choose to also see, love and appreciate the light in you.

Family Flavours (November 2015)

Kindness to ALL
Muslim and Christian reflections on our spiritual health

We ask our religion experts to address the everyday issues that matter to you. This month, Noor Sa’adeh and Sonia Salfity stress the importance of practising kindness.

"Every act of kindness is a charity"

By Noor Sa'adeh, a Muslim Perspective

We all appreciate acts of kindness, particularly when they are unexpected. Offering acts of kindness to others is truly a win-win situation: the person you are being kind to benefits from your help and you feel good for having helped someone. With kindness, the world becomes a better place.

Very often, though, we feel we don’t have time for kind gestures. Here are some sweet and simple things we can do to practise this essential part of our faith. As Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) said, “Every act of kindness is a charity” (Bukhari, Muslim).

*If someone owes you money, extend the time they have to pay you back or, better yet, forgive the debt altogether 
*Teach a child or new Muslim one short verse of the Qur’an 
*Encourage others to remember God and be patient when the going gets rough 
*Plant something edible! “If anyone plants something or sows seed from which a [person], a bird or an animal eats, it counts as a charity for him” (Bukhari, Muslim) 
*Help make peace between two people 
*Offer a drink, food, money, thanks or a smile to a worker 
*Help someone struggling with heavy bags 
*Say something nice to someone 
*Remove harmful things from the paths of others 
*Call your parents, spouse, children or friends to tell them you love them 
*Give an unexpected gift for no occasion 
*Praise the service you received from a waiter, nurse, mechanic or teacher 
*Refrain from backbiting by changing the subject 
*Visit a sick friend or relative 
*Take food to your elderly or sick neighbour 
*Wait your turn in line 
*Give a good tip 
*Hold the door for someone 
*Give up your seat for someone elderly or a person in need 
*Stop yourself from scolding a child who’s done something naughty but harmless 
*Let another driver take the parking spot 
*Supplicate for someone you are angry with 
*Forgive someone who has done you wrong 
*Make a donation to a cause or charity 
*Bite your tongue to stop yourself from saying something cruel 
*Give someone advice in a wise and gentle manner 
*Offer to hold a crying baby to give the parent a break 
*Thank every good driver on the road 
*Refrain from cursing the bad ones 
*Give charity to someone asking and speak to them for a moment. *A kind word may mean more than money! 
*Thank someone who helped you long ago 
*Put your phone away when talking to someone face to face 
*Buy something new? Give something else away 
*Don't interrupt others when they are speaking (this may be a tough one!) 
*Talk to someone who is shy 
*Engage a child who’s bored or acting naughty while his parents are busy 
*Share your favourite book 
*Hug a friend or relative whether they look like they need it or not (everyone can always use a hug) 
*Volunteer without expectation of reward or recognition 
*Treat all animals (God's creatures) kindly and compassionately 
*Carry simple food stuffs, outgrown clothing or shoes in your car to give to kids who beg at traffic lights 
*Offer an encouraging word 
*Be grateful at all times to God and others 

...and smile, smile, smile! It’s good for everybody!

"When I find myself with neither the desire nor the ability to share a kind word, I go back to our Lord and ask for more" 

By Sonia Salfity, a Christian Perspective

As I reflect on one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, namely kindness, I am fully aware that it's not easy to be kind to everyone all the time, especially to people who are plain mean! I’m thinking of that person who cut you off in traffic, almost causing a fatal accident, or someone who stole from you. I’m thinking of that person who lied to you or broke your trust. 

Relying only on my own strength, I'm only capable of being kind to those who extend kindness to me. However, if I draw on God's Holy Spirit, I can somehow extend kindness to the unlovable, unkind people. I'm not sure exactly how this works, but I do know it has something to do with seeing people through God's lens rather than my own. God made everyone, therefore He loves everyone. Think about how much we tolerate our own children, downplaying their negative attributes, yet how quickly we judge that same behaviour in someone outside our family. We pick and choose who to show kindness to, but as Christians, we are each called to put on our spiritual glasses and see in others what God sees in each of us.

A new freedom
"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness," says Galatians 5:22. How beautiful it is when God shows us acts of kindness that are blind to race, colour, ethnicity, economic background and past records. Unconditional love expressed through kind acts is one of the most rewarding experiences. We are blessed with a new freedom when we do something for someone else with no expectations of reciprocation. This type of freedom doesn't hold our hearts hostage as we wait for that person's next move.

Extending kindness to others should never be based on how we feel but on how God feels. If we live in Christ and He lives in us, then it doesn't matter if others have wronged us in the past or if they will never appreciate our actions. What matters is that these acts of kindness serve to keep our spiritual circulation moving. They prevent the hardening of our soul's arteries. They ultimately save us from suffering from a debilitating clot that can potentially stop our hearts, which were made to love.

Expressing kindness in the presence 
Kindness comes in a variety of different packages. It might be a big act like forgiving someone's debt or paying off their loan. But it can also be expressed with small acts like sharing a bright smile or acknowledging someone with a heartfelt hello or a hug. It might be actually paying attention to someone after you ask how they're doing rather than daydreaming or thinking about what you're going to say next. These are simple gestures that are sadly becoming extinct. 

These days, it's becoming the norm for people to check their emails and text messages right in the middle of a conversation. To be fully present at any given moment is an act of kindness towards ourselves and others, for that very moment will soon pass and it can never be recaptured. If we aren't fully present, then we can’t be aware of subtle nuances like a person's body language and facial expressions or the pain in someone's eyes as they desperately pretend that they're doing just fine. When we are only halfway present, we are disrespecting ourselves and the people trying to connect with us. We are, in effect, cheating ourselves out of our lives.

“Clothe yourselves with compassion” 
When I find myself running on empty and have neither the desire nor the ability to share a kind word or a sweet embrace with one of God's beloved children, I go back to our Lord and ask for more. God's unlimited supply of grace and mercy refills my tank to an overflowing abundance of joy and peace to be shared with those He puts in my path. 

In his letter to the Colossians (3:12), Paul wrote, "Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience." When we are dearly loved, we can love dearly; that is how we experience the transforming power of God's kingdom here on earth.