Saturday, April 25, 2015

Happy Birthday Adiba!

Adiba planned every detail of her candy-themed birthday!

Adiba with Shareef enjoying the sunny festivities

I love Adiba's smile in this photo; here swinging with Omar 
and Shareef

Adiba is looking forward to her cooking session with Pastry Chef Norbert Stanni of Grand Hyatt Amman

Adiba made and decorated her own birthday cake

Don't miss Adiba Dudin's Yummy Fun corner in 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

I have had my One Race: Human T-shirt since 2003 and when it got worn out over the years, I couldn't bear to depart with it. So I went and had it framed and now it's become a permanent fixture on my wall that I pass every day. 

The T-shirt I am wearing depicts the legendary Egyptian singer and composer Sayed Mekawy. The Arabic text reads "Ya Halawet Al Dunya". Although Mekawy was blind since childhood, he could see the beauty in this world while many of us, blessed with the gift of sight, often cannot see the beauty in front of us. 

Which is the greater gift?
To see with our eyes or to see with our heart?

Monday, April 20, 2015

Special Guest Posts 
Our World's Young Artists 

Zahra Yousaf-Zaman’s Artwork

Submitted by her parents Saminaz (Bangladeshi-American) and Ali (Pakistani-British)

“Art is a wonderful way for even the youngest child to communicate and express themselves. It helps them use their imagination, create and play on their own. Last year, Zahra spent a night in the emergency room after she fell off her bed. One of the most important tests that the doctor performed was also the simplest. He asked Zahra to draw a picture. It looked like some squiggles and shapes but when my frightened and drowsy baby happily seized the crayon and explained that she had drawn Hatshepsut, her favourite pharaoh, I knew that she was okay. 

Art education and creativity in the classroom is crucial. At home, Zahra paints, colours with crayons and pencils, plays with clay and builds with Lego. Her teachers next year hopefully can introduce her to projects and materials that I can't imagine. They can connect art to subjects in their curriculum and help children collaborate while they create. Right now, in the United States, the emphasis is on STEM (or science, technology, engineering and mathematics) in the classroom. I think art is as important and I think it also contributes to a better understanding of STEM concepts like design, proportion and geometry."

This picture is very important to Saminaz and Zahra. Here’s why: “I had to take an important phone call and when Zahra wanted to play, I handed her a piece of paper, what she calls an ‘empty page’ and some crayons. I did not have high expectations. I thought I would have to turn on the television any second. Instead, she was quiet. When I was finished with the call, she showed me what she had drawn. She said it was a picture of me, her grandmother, and herself. Each of us held a flower. I was very surprised and moved. I recently lost my mother and have become very unmoored as a result. I would talk to my mother several times a day. I could not imagine a world without her and I still find it very difficult to live in that world. Because of my mother’s illness, Zahra has had to spend a disproportionate amount of time in hospitals. I know that children are resilient and the bad memories will fade from her memory.Yet I don't want Zahra to forget her grandmother and the picture somehow reassured me that there she was – somewhere in Zahra's heart and her mind. The picture was as therapeutic for me to view as it was fun for her to draw.”

Mayra Sonntag’s Artwork

Submitted by parents Rebecca and Ekkardt Sonntag (Germany)

“Art is a channel of expression and it complements words, music, gestures. I would love my children to explore different ways of expressing themselves, feel confident in using them and spend time finding themselves, which channels express them best. Our life is so full of structures and processes from early on but art gives a wonderful contrast. There is no right or wrong in art and our children can feel free to do whatever they want. Knowing that – and even more doing that from a very young age – I believe is a blessing. 

We believe school should help prepare our children for life in manifold ways. While preparing them academically for work life, children should also be encouraged in their creativity and freedom of expression. Hereby we honour the different talents of our children and don’t fall into the trap of overrating academic achievements.

Having been brought up in the German education system, we ourselves were encouraged to question and to learn independently. Rather than give the ‘right’ answers, we also want our children to be able to ask good questions and explore different ways of finding answers. Encouraging our children in their individual expression of creativity through art helps them to confidently walk creative, different paths later on in their family or work situations. They are given alternative ways of communication and expression and also feel the power of creating something new and beautiful. The more different materials, textures and colours the better!"

"Our daughters Mayra and Annabelle love their chalkboard. It has a prominent place next to the entrance door to our apartment and is a constantly transitioning piece of art. Here, you see Mayra explaining her picture: 'Rectangle Mummy with Rectangle Baby in her tummy, next to Circle Mummy with Circle Baby in her tummy.'”
"This piece of pottery is the ‘Treasury’ in Petra, Jordan. Mayra made it in her kindergarten and was extremely proud of her piece. While for others it might not be particularly pretty or attractive, it represents for us an intimate expression of our daughter, who was born in Jordan and calls this place her home"

Submitted by PinkTaxiBlogger, Dubai, 
United Arab Emirates 

“I am not an art mother in the proper sense of the term. While my children participate in art activities and I encourage them to do so, what I am is an art appreciator and historian and I have educated my children to share my passion.

We live surrounded by art. We seek it, we travel for it, we are intensely pursuing the next show or revisiting the classic collections. We hoard books on art, we discuss artists, we photograph, point and question. 

We is myself, a single mother and her three children. I am an Arab and my children Afghan. However, we are French educated and I took many Art history classes in my American higher education as well as my Swiss courses. 

French literature and history books are littered with art illustrations. My children study poetry and history with their eyes familiarized with art. These photographs are discussed as documents. They are now 14,10 and 8 years old and they recognize the famous painters, sculptors and architects because they have been exposed to them academically.In fact, history of art is part of high school curriculum and my eldest did very well on the state exam, which covered film, museums, architecture, music, sculpture and painting. He was tested on the Louvre, its satellites and their activities. 

My discovery of art is a long voyage and I take my children along. They don't seem to notice as it is incorporated in their lifestyle the same way sports is. We will stop by an art gallery casually, we will play in a park next to a Henry Moore, we will run to a square because there is a Kapoor, we will take a train ride to see the Richard Serra show, we will attend Art Dubai because of the electric vibe. I will explain why I love Opie or Vasconsuelos. I will point to the enormous Venet's in Nice and explain his background. I will always ask them to approach art, to explain it to me, to tell me how they feel. We will cross the Zaha Hadid Bridge and shout her name or‎ make the detour to see that LeCorbusier residential building and don't you love the Index building in Dubai by Foster?

I will show them the technique of Pollock, or repeat the vocabulary specific to cathedrals. I will explain the relevancy of a Delacroix painting or the specifics of Islamic architecture. They will meet the painters, they will visit sculptors in their studios. I bring them along, passionate as I am, to learn with them."

Snakes or Ladders? Sadek Alfraji at AyyamGallery Dubai (PinkTaxiBlogger)

At the park with Bernar Venet in Nice (PinkTaxiBlogger)


Matthew Salfity's Artwork

Submitted by Sonia and Marwan Salfity 

"Art is so important at a young age because it provides the child with a different outlet and a safe place to express their thoughts and feelings, their joys, their fears and anxieties. 

Art education and creativity in the classroom is essential to exposing a child to a wide variety of art. As each child's masterpiece is different and unique, it's beneficial for the child to understand that there's no right or wrong way to do art! That knowledge and discovery in and of itself opens the floodgates of their creativity and gives them a boost in their confidence and self worth." 

Matthew's artwork

Ishan, Arjun and Rohit's Artwork Submitted by their grandmother Sheela Sheth (India)
The Christmas countdown from Rohit, a Valentine's message from Arjun with fingerprints and a sea turtle by Ishan

Omar & Shareef Schwarten

Submitted by Laura Haddad (Jordanian-American) and Oliver Schwarten (German)

I quiver when I recall my early childhood education. Teachers would look for that one “right answer” and I would find myself fearful of being wrong. I didn't have an outlet for self-expression. I felt increasingly shameful as my questioning was met with either ridicule or contempt. My questions, much less my opinions, were nowhere valued. I
 eventually stopped entertaining my own ideas.

This is not the education I want for my children. To be afraid to make mistakes. In fact, they should make mistakes. And not just to learn from mistakes so they don't make them again... mistakes can in themselves be opportunities - maybe a chance to question conventional wisdom and realize it was not a mistake to begin with or see the beauty in the mistake and discover another path worth exploring. This is what art education can unleash.

I love how art can serve the Perfectionist who has to make every line and every curve just so while also serving the Nonconformist who blurs the lines, softens the edges and evades the rules. Our world is in need of both.

As someone who's studied and worked in diverse fields and across cultures, I know the importance of making your own mark and unleashing your creative potential. Art nurtures these skills and ways of

Before this artwork was sent home, Omar's teacher Imke Herold at the International Community School in Amman, wrote me an email with: "Just wanted to tell you how proud I was of Omar today. He really has been enjoying our art topic and he did a lovely Kandinsky piece yesterday...but today he finished this butterfly and I was so so amazed by his effort and patience ...he worked on it for at least 40 minutes." We loved it so much, Imke gifted it to us framed. Although I love it visually, it's the care, effort and patience that went into it that I value more. 

Here, Omar embraces Shareef in front of our Whirling Dervish piece. Omar particularly likes this because "the poetry pops out"!

Omar and I enjoy reading together at bedtime. Two simple but profound books that Omar likes and I value are Beautiful Oops! and The Dot.

Beautiful Oops! uses interactive pop-ups, lift-the-flaps and other forms of three-dimensional tools to show us the opportunities that come from making mistakes. The book tackles different “oops” and shows what they may become.

The Dot is about a frustrated girl in art class. "I just can't draw!", she says. Her teacher's response, "Just make a mark and see where it takes you" is a takeaway for all of us! Read the book to see what comes of Vashti's "dot"!

Some more of Omar's artwork from school 

Shareef's artwork from Book n' Brush preschool

I also know that exposing my children to art at an early age helps facilitate an appreciation for art well into adulthood.

Check out Invaluable, the world’s largest online auction marketplace of fine and decorative arts, antiques, collectibles and more. Invaluable is an advocate for all forms of artwork, whether it be children's paintings or classic fine art.


Saturday, April 18, 2015

Imagine your dinner guests arriving ready to share their talents and passions with you and fellow guests. Well that was my weekend highlight - welcoming Grand Hyatt Amman's Pastry Chef Norbert Stanni and his lovely family to our Springfest gathering of family and friends. What made our event extra special was Norbert's gift to us - his personal "sweet" touch.

While we wait with great anticipation for the "Chef's Special", Norbert takes great care in our kitchen to put the final touches on his Black Forest special, made with Kirsch, a German cherry brandy, and crowned with a leaf of gold. I admit that half of us couldn't wait - hence the "behind-the-scenes" photo we snap!

An artist's creation but our enjoyment isn't just in the viewing...

Here's my dessert after a few bites. Since our multicultural dinner was held in honour of our German family and friends, Chef Norbert's distinct style brings subtle meaning to the occasion. Can you see the colours of the German flag? Black chocolate, red cherries and a gold leaf. Now this is priceless! 

As I try to follow the conversation at my table, part of my brain switches off - good chocolate does that but this Black Forest puts me at an entirely new level of pure decadence and enjoyment!

So I had to start this post on a chocolaty note but our true starter this evening was Chef Norbert's own homemade bread. I scouted out dozens of bakeries in Amman in search of good bread but to no avail...until this fateful evening. Now I'm tempted to put this Master Baker's number on my "favourites" list - he invited us to text him whenever we're at or near the Hyatt. An offer too good to resist?

 You can get a sense of someone's passion from the simplest of things

I can't tell you how many disappointments I've endured (and I'm sure you can relate) from setting eyes on masterpieces of edible art only for my palate to discover the inside isn't what the outside promises. But not only is Chef Norbert's creations as deliciously tasting as they are pleasing to look at, after having him and his family as our guests, we discover the person is as rich in character as our evening's savoury beginning and sweet ending

These candles represent the multicultural diversity of our guests this evening. I took special care to ensure that the Indonesian flag is accurately displayed with the red on top. My blunder? I didn't think of the German flag! The entire evening, the flag of Germany was upside down! Do you know which candle above is the correct one?

Friday, April 17, 2015

“People need more than food and shelter; they need love. Everywhere now, people have to be intelligent, attractive and strong to be loved. Imagine loving people as they are, without them having to change for us to love them”

The Jordan Times published an article this week 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. 

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.”

To find out how you can get involved in Faith and Light, email

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

It's a tradition in my family, since childhood, to make this fluffy semi-sweet bread for Easter although it's yummy still all year round! It's super easy to make so it's a great recipe for your kids too. My mother's recipe is below in case you're interested in trying it out yourself. 

Omar is happy with how his bread turned out!

You can refrigerate dough before braiding and baking in case you want to bake it fresh a day later. Dough will keep one week in fridge. Make sure you store it in an airtight Ziploc bag

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Happy Easter to those celebrating today in Jordan and in other parts of the world! 

Recently at a hotel in Amman, where I hovered around the dessert table for some time before making my final selection, a Muslim member of the hotel staff came up to me and asked, pointing to the extravagant Easter egg chocolate display, "What do these eggs have to do with your holiday?"

Wow...I knew I couldn't explain centuries of history and tradition during the time it took him to scoop up the caramel ice cream for my dessert bowl, but I tried to sum it up before the ice cream melted!

Spring, eggs and bunnies remind us of rebirth and renewal and although they predate Christianity, they continue to serve as a powerful symbol for the resurrection of Jesus Christ and thus, also a renewal of our faith. 

For Easter Sunday in Jordan, I invited a guest poster to offer her reflections. Sonia Salfity is author of Christian Perspectives in Family Flavours' Divine Perspectives corner, shared by her amazing Muslim counterpart, Noor Saadeh.

Here, Sonia gives us a visual picture of how her life changed as a result of her spiritual renewal and below is her testimony: 

Sonia's life before trusting Jesus
"I was a 'Martha', distracted and annoyed, as I let the hectic everyday life and challenges suck the joy out of my life. I was too busy, trying to be a perfectionist and trying to control circumstances that are beyond my control. It was a part of my 'helicopter mama' personality, trying so hard to keep my family safe instead of fully trusting God. It was as if I asked God to sit in the back seat while I drove! It's exhausting to be 'Martha' because you end up falling victim to your fears."

Sonia's life after trusting Jesus
"I became a 'Mary', trusting my Savior with my insecurities, so that I could be free to sit and savor every moment at His feet. I am so grateful to belong to such a merciful God who extends grace, love and compassion to me on a daily basis, allowing me to overflow with His blessings as I share them with loved ones in my path. Instead of the joy being sucked out, I now can enjoy His continued renewal of my spirit regardless of circumstances. Keeping my eyes on Him rather than on this doomed world we live in."

If you're not aware of the famous account of Mary and Martha, you can refer to Luke 10:38-42 in the Bible. I like these paintings that illustrate this moment. He Qi uses a mixture of Chinese traditional style and Western contemporary art.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Sahar Madanat

Sketching Innovation
Locally, Regionally, Globally

Sahar Madanat was one of the exceptional people who made our top five list of women with "The Power To Empower" 
(Family Flavours, March 2015)

I dropped by Sahar's office, excited to present her with the featured article on canvas
I absolutely love this! The front includes sketches from Sahar's own projects. When opened, it's the team's sketches and inspirational notes

"Design is a delicate balance between science and art, just as humans are. Innovation is when such a balance is perfected"
(Interview with Sahar Madanat
by DesignPRWire, May 2011)

Sahar's design innovations

My father Samir Haddad joined me on this visit and stands here impressed with Sahar's numerous international awards. As a businessman and community leader, he supports innovative thinking and rewards hard work and dedication, all values that Sahar espouses

Sahar welcomed my in-laws, visiting from Germany, and my kids! She got out play-dough for Omar and Shareef for an early start in design, and specially ordered these festive cupcakes for them