Saturday, May 30, 2015

I’m grateful to receive any gift and I love giving even more. But what I appreciate more than the generic gifts that can be bought at the mall or some chain store are personalized gifts that show me the person put in some extra thought and made that extra effort. I cherish the gifts that remind me of the unique relationship I have with that person. So before you head out the door for the jewelry, perfume, chocolate or flowers, pause and reflect if perhaps you can give something a bit more personal and unique to that person. 

Here are some things to keep in mind in choosing a gift that will truly be appreciated (then scroll down for images of some of the gifts I've received or given!): 

Of course, even customized gifts can seem generic if you don’t consider the recipient’s interests and personalities. It is important to take the time to think about the person for your gift to be really appreciated. Think about what makes that person unique. What do you like and value most about him or her? What are they passionate about? What do they like to do most often in their spare time? 

Many people appreciate getting gifts that they can actually use rather than something with no purpose that may only clutter up their home. On the other hand, there are also many instances where gifts don’t really need to serve a practical purpose (perhaps it's something to commemorate through a sleek display of their favourite photos).

When I was planning the giveaways for my son’s birthday this year, the supplier I used sent me a photograph of what they typically do. Engraved on the giveaways was: “Thank you for coming to my 7th Birthday” with a cute icon and the name of the birthday boy and the date of his birthday. Instead, I chose sturdy water bottles engraved with each child’s own name and, in keeping with the theme of the party, the boys got ones with a Batman logo and the girls went home with the Wonder Woman version. I still kept a message from the birthday boy but it was on paper tied to the bottle with a ribbon. I wanted the children to have something practical and timeless they may actually use.

For me, the way you present a gift is just as important as the gift itself. I know I’m a lousy gift wrapper – crumpled, wrinkled, ripped…I’m always left covered in balls of tape and torn paper. Fortunately, I’ve discovered there’s a way out of this mess! If you’re getting help with your customized gift – perhaps you’re using an artist, photographer or designer to turn your vision into reality – you can ask that person to take special care in the presentation of the gift. If you’re using a retailer, they’re likely to have a gift wrapping service. But instead of using their store branded wrapping paper, bring your own. The best wrapping paper and gift boxes I have found in town are at Limited Addition – they’re reasonably priced and the staff is always helpful and courteous.

Photo Inspired Gifts
People love photos! Rather than have them sit in an online album or in a generic frame, how about a more creative display?

My brother and his family had a memorable time in Kenya so for my sister-in-law's birthday, an artist drew this African-themed artwork on picture frames. I left one frame blank for the birthday girl to choose her favourite photo. Where to go for customized frames? Mariam Gallery which is connected to Mariam Centre for Arts & Crafts

My parents-in-law went to an artist with our wedding photo as well as photos from the university where my husband and I met. Check out what the artist came up with! I love this because it represents the place that brought Oliver and I together and holds many special memories. Instead of the typical gold or wedding registry gift, which your wedding couple will get plenty of, think of what brought your couple together and tailor your gift around that. Another wedding gift we really appreciate and continues to grace our wall is our wedding invitation framed (see above) from my former piano teacher and dear friend Elaine Brown. It's a creative way to display a wedding invitation instead of having it stored in a dusty box somewhere you don't even remember

Perhaps you have a talent for photography or your gift recipient does? For my father-in-law's birthday, we gave him a framed photo that my husband took of the Blue Lizard of Petra!

A collage is always a popular choice but not all collages are nice. You'll have to spend a lot of time going through photos to pick the best ones and don't just go with any photographer or studio to print your collage. I went to Salam Center Studio to put this one together for my father on the occasion of his 70th birthday. I made sure to see the designed version and give feedback on it before print
You can turn a favourite photograph into a piece of art by simply having it printed on canvas. This photo of Jerash was taken by a local photographer and was a gift to my husband on his birthday a few years ago

So this is not a photograph but it is a creative personalized piece of art! Here, Miya's Handwork worked off my concept of using branches and birds to depict a couple who're Jordanian-Italian with their three children. This photo of the 3D art piece doesn't do it justice as Miya used fabric beads, pearls, buttons, wooden flowers and crochet, which just have to be seen and felt up close! 
Welcome Baby & Make a New Mama (or Baba) Happy!

I wish someone gave me this when I had my children! You end up wanting to save your child's first tooth, first strand of hair and so on but wind up with everything stored in different places and perhaps even in an unsightly container or Ziploc bag! This Baby Memory Box Set (engraved with the baby/babies' name and birth date) from Limited Addition comes with  three boxes of 'firsts' (ID bracelet, first curl, first tooth), My First Shoes, My First Savings, Scrapbook and Photo Box

When I had Shareef, my boss at work was the only one who thought of the mother (not the baby) when she came by to congratulate us! Hind's basket was full of individually wrapped and numbered gifts. Between those extremely difficult days and sleepless nights of breastfeeding around the clock, opening one gift a day was a rare and oh-so-appreciated treat for me! Gifts included all the things a mother could really use, such as a lavender-scented eye pillow, foldable back scratcher and Furry Logic Parenthood, filled with truth-telling adages just for parents, such as "Whoever said 'just say no!' doesn't have kids." Where to go for such a gift basket? Virgin Megastore and Readers Fully Booked

You don't have to wait for the baby to arrive! I hosted a breakfast gathering for three relatives who were all pregnant at the same time. It was a chance for them to exchange pregnancy experiences and for me, and other mothers, to answer their questions about what to expect. In this gift box, I included a copy of Family Flavours magazine, a gift certificate to Birth & Beyond and other trinkets for both mama and baby

Spreading Lasting Birthday Cheer

Adiba Dudin handles Family Flavours' Yummy Fun corner, where she cooks with other children and showcases her kid-friendly recipes. With a passion for baking, I knew Adiba would appreciate this personalized gift voucher for a day with Pastry Chef Norbert Stanni of Grand Hyatt Hotel - he will even come to her home with all the ingredients for a sweet session with her and her friends! 

It was such an honour to see my father featured in Family Flavours for the Father's Day edition so for his birthday, I had his article printed on canvas!

I loved getting this elegant gift basket on my 34th birthday! It included a gift voucher to Solace Skin Care Center and a beautiful selection of home accessories from Jordan River Foundation Showroom. And a handwritten card is essential with any personalized gift!

This customized towel for Omar from his cousins was a big hit! You can order yours from Miya's Handwork  

Give Away a Smile with your Giveaways

These personalized water bottles are great for kid event giveaways. Rather than putting your message on the bottle itself, I recommend attaching your child's note to the water bottle (or whatever giveaway you choose). These are from Balconies (they take orders online or by phone only)

Olia's Honey Gingerbread Shop makes unique art on cookies! I used these as giveaways at a dinner with attached personalized greeting cards that I hole punched and tied around the cookie with white ribbon

Jordan River Wine is always appreciated but you can personalize it with a grape or wine themed note card and cookie or whatever the theme is of your (or your gift recipient's) occasion

Happy Colleague, Happy Workplace
I can appreciate when people's passions are connected to their work. If you know someone who's dedicated to their job and passionate about what they produce, then a personalized gift along the theme of their profession is a thoughtful gesture

I gifted this to Hind-Lara Mango, Publisher & Managing Director of Al Marji' Publications, which produces Family Flavours and Nakahat Ailyieh parenting magazines. It's an iPhone case personalized with the letter "H", magazine covers, logos and photos. To create and purchase your own, visit  


Here's what I did for my brother who works with Mr Chips every day that I thought he should be Mr Chips for a day! All I did was obtain a photo of my brother and a high-resolution image of the Mr Chips bag. Then the National Press put together the final design and printed it on canvas 

Marie-christine Mougin, Advisor to Family Flavours, gave me this thoughtful #1 Editor Trophy gift for my 34th birthday. In it were chocolates with customized wrapping and trinkets to symbolize different aspects of my personality (like the three cultures in my family and my hometown of Zarqa). Want to do something similar? This was from Suzy Q Gifts & Chocolate

Celebrating International Women's Day
Every 8 March I take the opportunity to recognize some of the women in my life as my mentors or colleagues

This year's gift to my mentor whose hard work and perseverance I admire. She deserves to be pampered! 
I love cheese so I appreciated this gift, especially since it's aged artisan cheese and dairy from the freshest local milk in season. If you haven't discovered Mistaka yet, you don't know what you're missing out on!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Sweet Smells of Childhood
Today, like on many days of eating strawberries, I have to take a moment to smell them. It takes me immediately back to my early childhood and precious memories I have of my dear grandmother, Sidonia, may she rest in peace. Maybe one day I can have my own strawberry garden. I know I will find Mom there.

Sidonia, with her big smile and big heart 

My grandmother, Sidonia, as a child on the left. On the right is me. My grandmother kept this close to her until her passing and my mother gave it to me on my 34th birthday

Thursday, May 21, 2015

“It's time to change the limited understanding of who we are” 
HRH Prince El Hassan bin Talal

As we celebrate Jordan’s Independence Day this year, I have to ask: do we even know our own Constitution? Or is 25 May simply a day to wave flags and chant slogans? 

A few years ago, during a meeting with HRH Prince Hassan bin Talal and heads of his institutions in Jordan, I recall his wish for the Constitution to become a living document in the minds and hearts of Jordanians – it should promote the larger goal of educating for citizenship, inspire change and empower individuals and communities, the “silenced majority”, in the words of Prince Hassan   those who are often victimised, excluded or marginalised.

The Jordanian Constitution: Historical Background
Jordan’s Organic Law was instituted in April 1928 under the guidance of Emir Abdullah. It provided for a consultative parliament, and Jordan’s first elections were held in April of the following year. This document was transformed after Jordan gained full independence in May 25, 1946, following the abolition of the British Mandate. A new Constitution was formulated and adopted by the Legislative Council on November 28, 1947. It was published as law in the Official Gazette on 1 February, 1947. 

A few years later, the Constitution was liberalised by His Majesty the late King Talal and ratified on 1 January, 1952. It led to a new structure of political power under which the government and Jordanian ministers would be responsible to the Parliament, and it is the Constitution in use today. 

Jordan’s Constitution stipulates that the country is a hereditary monarchy with a parliamentary system. It outlines the functions and powers of the state, the rights and duties of Jordanians, the guidelines for interpretation of the Constitution and the conditions for constitutional amendments. It mandates the separation of powers (the executive, legislative and judiciary), and outlines the regulation of the government’s finances, as well as the enforcement and repeal of laws. 

Most importantly, the Constitution specifically guarantees personal freedoms, including equality of opportunity through employment and education to all Jordanians and freedom from discrimination based on race, religion or language. Freedom from arrest, imprisonment, forced residence and forced labour, exile, expropriation of property without due process of law, freedom of worship, press, opinion, petition, and peaceful assembly are guaranteed within the limits of the law and with the provision that their objectives are lawful.

Jordan's National Charter was ratified in 1990, embodying the democratic values of the leadership and people. It reiterated the principles of human and civil rights and the equality of opportunity for men and women alike, and provided a broad range of democratic freedoms. 

Today, the National Charter, along with the Jordanian Constitution, serve as a guideline for democratic institutionalisation and political pluralism in the country and provides a compass for a national debate on fundamental issues.

With HRH Prince Hassan and our team during my time as Senior Coordinator of the West Asia - North Africa (WANA) Forum (now WANA Institute

Gifted, Humble, Compassionate 
By Laura Haddad
Published in The Jordan Times on 19 March, 2012

I had the privilege of knowing HRH Prince El Hassan bin Talal while I worked for the West Asia – North Africa (WANA) Forum (now WANA Institute), a regional initiative he launched in 2009. During my time there, I saw people who idolised him for his princely title or intellectual brilliance. Others resorted to character assassinations precisely because he is a prince. Then there are those who simply know him as the extraordinary ordinary man he is: gifted, humble and compassionate. 

I share the hopes and dreams we all have for ourselves and our children and join fellow citizens in prayers for peace in our turbulent times. While I support the right of demonstrators to shake up the status quo, I often wonder if there is substance behind the slogans. How do I know that the person who calls for positive change today won’t be my oppressor tomorrow? Democracy is noble, but as history and current events all over the world demonstrate, it doesn’t automatically ensure justice, equality and human rights and doesn’t necessarily live up to promises of social cohesion, economic growth and sustainable development. 

Prince Hassan said that “passion is no substitute for discipline”. While most of us want to live in a society that upholds justice and curtails abuse of power, this society doesn’t emerge with solely calls for change to our leaders, but with a commitment to change how we live day-to-day; it’s in how we run our own homes and workplaces and in how we choose to live in our natural environment and treat our neighbours – both friend and foe. Government is meant to serve us but we also have a vital role in safeguarding rights and exercising our responsibilities. 

Prince Hassan’s life’s work represents a citizenship greater than superficial lines on a map, blind allegiance, partisan loyalties and arbitrary divisions. It is a deeper understanding of our individual and collective responsibility to what he calls our “shared humanity”. He would reiterate, “I don’t matter; it’s not we who count but the millions of people without a voice.” For the many interview requests he receives, he would ask repeatedly, “How can this help our region?” 

I’ve also seen his courage to stand alone and risk judgment, exclusion and marginalization; what matters to him is doing what’s right – not what’s popular. We can all disagree over what’s right but without civil discourse it won’t get any of us far. “We need to see an end of the eons in which we assume that those who disagree with us are disagreeable people,” Prince Hassan said. He welcomes everyone with the hope and faith that concerted action will prevail over hallow words.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Celebrate Jordan through Music!

When: 21 May, 2015 at 7pm
Where: Odeon Theatre (adjacent to the main Roman Theatre)
Who’s performing: Tareq Jundi trio, Al-Rajef Society Traditional Band, the Mahabeesh Ensemble, the Rababa player Bayan Fares, Al Quds Group for Palestinian Folklore, the children’s choir of the National Music Conservatory and the musicians of JOrchestra 
Sponsors: UNESCO Amman Office in partnership with TAG-Org, JOrchestra, and the National Music Conservatoire in celebration of World Day for Cultural Diversity
Cost: JD5 (you can purchase tickets online)

When: 25 May, 2015 starting at 1pm
Where: Blue Fig restaurant 
Who’s performing: An all day party with DJ Kitchen Crowd, Drum Jam and some surprises

When: 29 May, 2015
Where: Private residence (register for details)
Who’s performing: Cellist Fadi Hattar accompanied by pianist Rania Ejeilat
Cost: JD25 (includes light dinner) 
RSVP by 27th of May to the organizer, Amman Music Society, at

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The highlight of my day was visiting with the team of ARDD-Legal Aid for our partnership signing ceremony. I'm thrilled to continue working with a committed and dedicated team who work with passion and drive in helping to empower underprivileged  communities in Jordan

ARDD-Legal Aid joins Al Marji' Publications in empowering individuals and communities across the Kingdom

Arab Renaissance for Democracy and Development (ARDD) – Legal Aid and Al Marji’ Publications renew their partnership agreement with a focus on human rights, women’s empowerment and social justice advocacy for women and refugees in Jordan.

“With significant crises in the region, it is more important than ever that the role of women be emphasised, starting in the household and carrying throughout the public and private spheres. We at ARDD-Legal Aid aim to create peace and security and to provide information on how we all can work to accomplish this. It is our duty to work with publications like Al Marji' Publications to empower women and to help carry this empowerment to generations to come,” said ARDD-Legal Aid Gender and Media Unit Manager Lana Zananiri at the signing.

“This partnership renewal is timely not only with World Refugee Day coming up in June, but also because many of our own female readers are often denied access to justice,” said Laura Haddad, Editor of Family Flavours parenting magazine. “ARDD-Legal Aid’s work with us in raising awareness is crucial and it provides our readers with a call to action and the tools and resources needed to get them started, ” she added. 

Under the agreement, readers of Jordan’s only parenting magazines, Family Flavours and Nakahat Ailyieh, can explore options for addressing the challenges that inhibit their rights and access to justice. It also teaches them strategies for success in all aspects of their lives and inspires them with influential figures working to promote human rights and development throughout Jordan.

Lana Zananiri, ARDD-Legal Aid Gender and Media Unit Manager (left) and Laura Haddad, Editor of Family Flavours (right) at the partnership signing ceremony today

ARDD-Legal Aid works with refugees across Jordan. Here, meet Sigrid Pfaffle and Rawan Daas
(Photography by Rebecca Arnold for ARDD-Legal Aid)

At Za’atari Camp in 2014
(Photography by Rebecca Arnold for ARDD-Legal Aid)

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Flavour of Laughter 

"Humour is a serious business," Nickunj Malik tells me at a dinner she hosted with her husband, Mayank Malik, Chief Executive Officer of Citibank Jordan. 

Humour can go a long way in diffusing stress, she elaborates, and even at this business function, it took Ms Malik less than five minutes to connect with me, and others guests, with a genuine smile and laughter to break the ice. This was certainly no ordinary "stuffy" business dinner and empty conversation.

Although the gathering revolved around Citibank's standing in Jordan and in the world -- Mr Malik spoke of Jordan's stability as good for "not just what can be done in Jordan but from Jordan" -- popular talking points included education, Jordan's youth in the job market, raising children...all serious subjects but with an edge of humour. We're loosening up as a society and Nickunj Malik's acclaimed column in The Jordan Times, "Tale Spin", is also proof of this.

Just this week, The Jordan Times published Malik's 235th column. And last March, she launched the release of her book, Tale Spin, a compilation of these columns and just her latest endeavor after publishing other columns in South Africa, Tanzania and Bahrain. When she gifted me an autographed copy of her book over dinner, where we meet for the first time, I couldn't wait to start reading it - the cover itself is exciting (with illustrations by Osama Hajjaj, Jordan's leading cartoonist). 

Of course the title of the first chapter, "The Flavour of Love", grabbed me - it's well suited for Family Flavours! Seeking inspiration from daily life, Malik covers issues we can all relate to, from deep questions about love to a problem we all face on occasion - a bad hair day! Her writing style is witty without being perplexing and her observations about daily life reveal something deeper about human nature - with a good dose of humour of course! 

With Shareef tugging at my dress now, parenting duties call. But I know now which chapter I will be reading tonight: "Disciplinary Action" starts with, "Parenting is a task like no other and there is an endless trial and error method associated with it". So it is.

Me with columnist and long-time journalist Nickunj Malik and guest of honour at tonight's dinner, Tasnim Ghiawadwala, Citibank's Commercial Banking Head for Europe, Middle East & Africa. Phenomenal women not just for their professional achievements but for their global perspectives and insights too

Taurik Haddad of M. Haddad & Sons Co, Mr. and Mrs. Malik, Tasnim Ghiawadwala, Manar Aaibidi of Citibank and Firas Abu Wishah of Petra Engineering Industries Co.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Thank You Aida!

I've been a bit under the weather lately. So when my friend's mother, Um Basem (Aida) called me to stop by to pick up some food she made for me, I was so happy that I won't have to stand on my feet cooking that morning. And oh what a feast she prepared! 

Many married women in Jordan have the luxury of being able to count on a mother or a mother-in-law (and in some cases, a father or father-in-law too) to help ease the burden of a busy life, whether by looking after children or cooking for them from time to time (some even daily!). For me it's a luxury because I don't have it while for many other women, it's a blessing they, sadly, take for granted. 

With my mother and sister living in the United States, and my in-laws in Germany, Aida is that someone I can rely on to look after me when no one else does. 

We do so much for our children, our spouses and others that it's so nice to be able, once in awhile, to put up our feet and have someone else to do the work -- and with heart. This is Aida's way of showing love and we all have our different ways of showing it. In return, I offer my love in ways that I know how, ways she can appreciate.

Not everyone in Jordan has the luxury I mentioned earlier...some people have lost their mother or both parents while others, like me, have family members abroad. 

I hope you are lucky to have at least one 'Aida' in your life. 
And if you do, I hope you appreciate her (or him) and show it in your actions.

Mansaf, bamyia, musakhan rolls, mini pizza and chocolate cake on the menu today, courtesy of dear Aida!

Thursday, May 7, 2015


You just attended a wedding so, naturally, everyone around you will ask, “So how was it?” Usually, your answer revolves around the food, the drinks (or lack of), the music, what the bride wore, what others wore, the giveaways, the decorations, how early or how late food is served... All matters you have nothing to do with planning or in implementing. 

I just came back from a wedding in Ramallah, Palestine so it’s still fresh in my mind. Here’s one truth that I’ve learned after 20+ years of attending weddings: Whether or not you’re going to have a good time depends entirely on YOU! 

Here are eight do's and don'ts for ensuring a good time at your next occasion: 

1. Do get to know members of the wedding party leading up to the wedding, even if it means getting a hair or nail appointment at the same time and place as the bride or groom’s family. In Ramallah, I had lunch with the groom, bride and her family the day before the wedding and got my hair done with some relatives. You may not have access to (or enough time with) the bride and groom who are busy and maybe anxious about their day, but any personal connection with the family before the wedding ceremony and party will make it much easier to connect with them at the party itself. 

2. Don’t go hungry to a wedding. We all know that food at weddings in the Arab world is served late, so just accept this fact and don’t expect appetizers on the table. When I’m hungry, I get moody and there’s little that can get my mind off that grumbling sensation in my stomach. Yet it’s not like I have time for a light meal prior to an event when I’ve been busy all day with barely enough time to pull off a decent look for the wedding! But I finally discovered those dark chocolate, peanut butter balls that fill me up after just having two (any small protein rich snack will do). That, with plenty of water, allows for an energy packed evening. 

3. Don’t wait for an invitation to dance. Perhaps you feel you are so close to the couple and the family that you assume they will make sure to get you up. Here’s the reality though – the couple and everyone else is so caught up in the commotion of a big bash that they don’t have the time to think about you; it’s their day so let go of any pride that you may have and enjoy yourself no matter what unfolds.

4. Don’t worry about what people will think. Sometimes, when it’s not your immediate family’s wedding celebration, you feel hesitant to let loose on the dance floor. Sometimes I feel that I need to be reserved in how I dance so that I don’t get judgemental looks. Sometimes I think that I will feel awkward dancing when most people up are clearly closer to one another than I am to them. Those moments where I gave into my insecurities assured a lousy time at the wedding. Just like in point 3, you have to remember that everyone is focusing on themselves and looking to have a good time – you are not the centre of their attention! Plus, if a few people are going to stare or talk about you, just remember…they’re usually the ones sitting down and bored out of their minds! 

5. Do dance not just to have fun, but to connect as well. You will be surprised how quickly dance can tear down walls between people. I know that I have family members, acquaintances, colleagues that I feel some kind of connection to for one reason or another but find it difficult to actually click with. Perhaps their personality is very different from mine. Perhaps there is a generational gap or a religious, cultural or social divide that I can’t seem to get around. When I spot those people on the dance floor, I go straight to them, at least for one dance. At first I’m usually apprehensive but I don’t allow myself time to think about it. I literally dance my way to them without a second thought and it never fails that I rediscover time and time again the power of dance to break through real or imagined barriers. 

6. Don’t let any expectations about venue, food, d├ęcor or anything else keep you from having a good time. I know people who decide on which weddings to attend based on the venue. I must admit, I can be picky myself about food – a wedding at the Four Seasons or the Hyatt somehow does seem more appealing than a random wedding hall in an area of town I have never heard of. But hey, don’t be fooled. Some of the worst times I've had were at five-star hotel weddings while some of the best and most memorable were at simple gatherings.

7. Don’t get caught up in family politics. There are always hints of family tension, some more obvious than others. It exists in all families, even the picture-perfect kinds. If you’re aware of the issues, be neutral. Weddings are not the time or the place to be taking sides. Mingle with everyone, smile plenty and show some grace, compassion and humility – you will shine more than the dress you’re wearing and find yourself having a spectacular time for it! 

8. Don’t judge everything and everyone. Sure, it is part of our human nature to comment on the bride’s dress and make snarky remarks here and there about one thing or another. But if you find that your judgements are more negative than positive, the problem actually lies within you. If you make a conscious decision to see the beauty in your surroundings and the good in people, you will find them as you should – you’ll discover that you’re happier and more at peace as a result! 

Do you have more ideas to add to this list? Email me at with your tip – your piece of advice may appear in a future edition of Family Flavours magazine! 

The Candle Dance
Here, Norma, the bride, leads a procession of women to the dance floor where they take turns sharing in the candle dance with the bride
Mimi (left) and I (right) follow the bride in the Candle Dance

The men have their Cane Dance!