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. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

More than Just a Story 

I grew up watching She-Ra so when it came out on DVD, I bought the set and my son loved watching it – up until a friend came over and told him “This is for girls” just because the main character is female. 

We know our children are confronted with this on a daily basis – “you can’t do this, like this, be this…because you are a boy/girl”. I can’t control what other people tell my child and the impact their words have on him but I can at least provide him with an environment at home where he knows that he can be himself. It is an open environment for experimentation and discovery where my child can choose the toy, hobby, book or colour that best represent him, regardless of the gender, race or cultural background of the characters in his books or movies.

Books and movies allow children to peek into each other’s worlds and also to find an affirming reflection of themselves. Boys need to see girls play sports. Girls need to see other girls play sports. White children need to see black and Asian children as princesses and football players. Children shouldn’t only see images of Arab boys in the context of conflict or African children in the context of poverty. 

I want my boys to see images of comfort, their world reflected in pictures but also images of inspiration and imagination. Essentially, these are not just words and pictures on a page; they tell our children who they are and who they can become. 

Amazing Grace
One of the books on my son’s bookshelf is Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman. It is about a girl named Grace who loves stories. Her favourite thing to do is to act out any story that she comes across. She's been Joan of Arc, Hiawatha, a pirate, and Mowgli to name a few. 

One day her teacher informs her class that they will be performing a play about Peter Pan. Grace was so excited! She wants to be Peter Pan! However, some of her peers tell her that she can't be Peter because she doesn't look like Peter. But, she didn't look like Mowgli, Hiawatha, or Joan of Arc either. How can her classmates say this to her? How does this make Grace feel? Does she get to play Peter? 

Distraught by her classmates reactions, Grace returns home and tells her mother and grandmother about what happened. With a little encouragement from her family and inspiration from an actress who plays characters that don't look like her, Grace overcomes the doubts of her peers and fulfils her desire to play Peter.

I use Amazing Grace to pass on a few important messages that I hope my son will pick up on, including:

*Let’s follow our dreams, regardless of what people tell us
*Let’s remember that we are all capable of doing amazing things regardless of our gender, race, culture, etc
*Let’s stand out as individuals in spite of criticism. In other words, let’s remain true to ourselves even when we are teased for being different

Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Superhero In Us
Last week when children at my son’s school could go dressed in any costume they wished, predictably, most of them went in as their favourite superheroes. Batman, know them all. But when a fight ensued between boys, it got me thinking: are punches and kicks all that our children see in their superhero stories?

Every week my son brings home from the library a superhero book and every week I roll my eyes. I love superhero movies but I would rather my son show some interest in more things in life! 

But when we came this week to reading Robin’s First Flight, it dawned on me that these superhero books actually have a lot of valuable lessons for both children and adults! So it was time for me to guide my child in a direction where he could figure these lessons out on his own and then apply it in his own life. Now instead of rolling my eyes, I’m eager for the next superhero book my son picks out!

Here are some lessons from our superheroes (you can pick out more, I’m sure!): 

Superheroes aren’t perfect
Kids don’t typically get this – they see strength and assume that their hero is perfect. They may see shortcomings in themselves (lack of confidence, for instance) which they can overcome only by acting out their superhero fantasies. But when we take a deeper look at our superheroes, we’ll find that they all have faults and questionable traits. 

Superheroes persevere.
Again, while kids typically see superpowers or physical strength in their hero, what really stands out is their will to persevere in the face of frustrating circumstances. Talent and intellect are important, but, just like Batman’s physical prowess, they can only get you so far.

Even superheroes know the value of teamwork 
Most major superheroes ended up joining a team (Batman and Superman in the Justice League and Wolverine in X-Men). But even on their own, superheroes always know the value of collaboration. Batman, for example, collaborated with the police, he had Robin and Alfred got the cool tools ordered. 

You don’t need superpowers to be a superhero
Bruce Wayne (Batman) and Tony Stark (Iron Man) don’t possess any superpowers, and they have a few personality flaws (Stark’s arrogance for instance). Yet they all possess powerful minds, ambition and persistence. They all have a strong commitment to justice. Ultimately, true power doesn’t come from our talent or skill; it comes from our character. 

So let’s get our children well acquainted with the character of their favourite superhero – after all, it is the characters of our superheroes that make them awesome, not so much their superpowers!

"You showed compassion, you were calm under pressure and you studied the facts before acting." (Robin's First Flight