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A Date With Doha – We Needed That!

Last weekend was the Qatar International Food Festival. This was our third year attending and it just keeps getting better! The first year was basically in a big parking lot. The Qataris know how to make any place comfortable. Maybe because of the 1% chance of rain spoiling an event, they’re not afraid to set up couches and chairs and beautiful carpets anywhere! Parks, deserts or parking lots. This seems to be the only picture I have from that year. It doesn’t even depict the lovely couches. At the time, this was the extent of my daughter’s culinary curiosity. She’s grown since then – thank goodness. Honour at QIFF 2012 The following year and this year they moved it to the beautiful MIA (Museum of Islamic Art) Park. It’s a perfect waterfront setting with grass and palm trees and one of the best views of the city skyline in Doha. On any day the MIA Park is a beautiful place to visit. Pimp it out with food from around the world, music and entertainment and it’s a big hit. I think the parking situation was handled a bit better this year. Apparently there were shuttles…although we never found one. We parked in our secret parking garage about a block away. Based on the traffic there’s still likely some improvements to be made there. WE NEEDED THIS DATE DOHA! What I liked best about the QIFF, and any other festival Qatar has to offer, is that it’s a chance for all of us to enjoy time and space together. If you don’t live in Qatar, let me explain. The numbers fluctuate a lot, but at any given time Qatar’s population consists of 85-90% expats. The Qatari population (10-15%) has to deal with their country being invaded and greatly changed by the masses. Now, you might say…”they invited us here! Without us they wouldn’t have the wealth they do.” And you’d be right. Technically. Did each and every one of them invite the world to their doorstep? Did they know what it was going to mean, day-to-day, when we all arrived? Does this mean they don’t have frustrations with a rapidly changing culture? And then there’s the rest of the population. We are a mix of people from all over the world. This might be the most culturally diverse place on earth (I have no idea if this is true so don’t quote me on that). What I do know is that most days we are bumping up against each other, trying to identify the proper way to queue up in line, an appropriate way to treat each other and how to deal with so many different driving…”styles” on the roads. If you have to deal with much traffic (and if you live in Doha you do) it’s a constant exercise in self-restraint, breathing and staying alert to save your life. Some drive too fast, some drive too slow, lots are texting (LOTS!), everyone is pushing in to get ahead. Yesterday we saw a motorcycle driving down the road and the driver was standing on the seat…yup, mid-afternoon traffic. So, when there’s an opportunity to get together when we’re all just being humans who enjoy food and music, families having fun, cultures celebrating the food from their home countries….well, that’s a good day. We really needed that Doha. I needed to laugh and celebrate with you. (If you live in Doha, there seem to be a lot of things going on these days. Make sure you’re on Facebook and you have ‘liked’ the pages that keep you in the know. Qatar Happenings, Doha News, What’s Goin On Qatar and Katara Cultural Village, to name a few.)

The city was all decked out for the occasion.

The city was all decked out for the occasion.

 

The Museum of Islamic Art is a gorgeous back drop for...just about anything!

The Museum of Islamic Art is a gorgeous back drop for…just about anything!

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City behind the food tents

City behind the food tents

 

Islamic Cultural Center in the distance.

Islamic Cultural Center in the distance.

 

The MIA again and the Dinner in the Sky. I will do that one day...I will.

The MIA again and the Dinner in the Sky. I will do that one day…I will.

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Dads and babes hanging out, having fun.

Dads and babes hanging out, having fun.

 

Music! What is food without music!

Music! What is food without music!

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Celebrating culture with dance!

Celebrating culture with dance!

 

Beautiful!

Beautiful!

 

Pizza Pie Theatre. Comical and fascinating.

Pizza Pie Theatre. Comical and fascinating.

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Random Fair Attendees

Random Fair Attendees

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Our 12 Days of Christmas

Would it be worth it? That’s what we’ve wondered as we’ve missed the last 2 Christmases at home. It’s a long flight. With connections, over 33 hours to get there and 24 hours to get back, jetlag, busyness, visiting, but never feeling like you’ve seen anyone enough, and it might just speed by and feel like a weekend. It was time to find out if 2 weeks is enough time to take a trip home.

Our conclusion? Definitely. It didn’t fly by as we thought it would. The time spent away actually felt like a decent amount of time. The best part? Having all my kids in one house for 10 days doing Christmassy things. Magic for my soul.

We even enjoyed the unseasonable (I think it’s safe to call it that) amount of snow and the ice storm (because it didn’t leave us without power, sorry to the Torontonians). We took beautiful pictures, drank eggnog, sat by the fire every single day, visited with friends and family, ate too much poultry, had the fun of last minute shopping with everyone at the mall, got some dog lovin’ time in, a Christmas Eve party during the day and a cozy Christmas Eve with close friends at night and then….Christmas day, all together, just our family, relaxing in one place, breathing and enjoying the day. Oh yes, it was worth it.

All of this was made possible because some of our friends also had a trip planned. They went to Saskatoon to visit their family for the exact same 10 days we needed a place for all of us to stay. In fact we were at the train station picking up our Annie and Vic just arriving from the west when they were leaving on their train. So their lovely farmhouse in the vineyards of Jordan was the backdrop for all of this fun. Immense Gratitude.

Once again we’re kicking ourselves for not taking enough pictures. Mostly Dave took pictures on his walks with Grommit, the dog who guards the farm. So there are fields and snow and ice storm pictures for your enjoyment and some of Christmas day. We really need to get better at pulling that camera out.

Tomorrow we head back to school and this clingy jetlag will have a rude awakening. We have great memories to carry us through to the summer and a renewed appreciation for the sunshine of Qatar. I think I’m cured of my complaining about the “cold” winter here. For now anyhow.

(Also, please forgive the inclusion of all these pictures. This blog also serves as somewhat of a memory trail for my family. And all the sunsets? How could I choose?)

There’s a P.S. Story at the bottom.

Farmhouse in the Vineyard – we are lucky ducks!

Farmhouse in the Vineyard

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Infamous Ice Storm of 2013

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Brrrrrr

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Yes, there was this.

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And there was a lot of this! And Dad didn’t have to pull the car over once because of fighting kids.

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Christmas morning series coming up….

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Lots of snuggling….

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lots and lots of snuggling….

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This smile was seen an awful lot! Happy to have his girls (and their guys) all together.

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Happiness is sisters who know how to shop for each other

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Guess what Honour got for Christmas….

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Puppy Love

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Ruby, doing what Ruby does best…find two objects to make a bun…cuz she’s a weiner.

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Saskatoon Santa will be happy to know that these were a huge hit!

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The apartment starter kit to prepare her for next year!

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My constant companion…the warm shawl.

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Christmas dinner take 1 (the timer on the camera wasn’t working so we needed 2 pictures to get everyone in)

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Christmas dinner take 2 (It was so nice that my parents could join us…what a treat).

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Post Script

So far, on all of our return trips to Qatar, I have been determined to pack our suitcases to the max with food stuffs that you can’t get in Qatar or that are much cheaper at home. For example, gluten free products and farm fresh unpasteurized honey, just to name a couple. I should give a shout out here to my good husband who humours me and has become an expert packer.

On our last leg of the trip at the JFK airport we got pulled into a secondary inspection. They were looking through our purses and carry-ons. I panicked! Not because I had anything that I shouldn’t, but because my computer bag wasn’t just carrying my computer. It was also carrying 6 packages of brown rice pasta. This is going to be embarrassing!!! I was trying to spit out some kind of a warning for what the inspector was going to find and she laughed. She said, ‘that’s nothing, last week a woman told me to open her bag gently as the contents were very fragile.’  Turns out this woman thinks that the best tasting eggs are in the U.S. and that you can’t get good eggs in Qatar. She had 2 dozen in her carry-on.

Ok – I don’t feel like such a freak anymore! But if the egg carrying woman ever happens to read my blog…contact me. I’ll tell you where you can get farm fresh organic eggs, and they’re delicious. (Not that I can tell the difference).

Travel adventures aplenty.

My haul. All of it arrived safely. This makes me inordinately happy.

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And yes, the honey deserves a spot of its own.

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Answer The Phone….Life is Calling

This picture is the moment I started to laugh. The moment the whole crazy story of life made me shake my head and say…how did we get here?

Who would have ever imagined this scene 5 years ago!

Who would have ever imagined this scene 5 years ago!

Years ago I needed to find a Realtor in Winnipeg for clients who were moving there. There’s a method for me to do this,  and so far it has worked really well. After I’d employed my find-a-Realtor-who’ll-treat-my-clients-like-I-do technique of locating such a person, I do a final test. I like to have at least 2 in mind. The final step, is sending an email and seeing how quickly they respond.

Joanne was one of my final 2 for Winnipeg. She responded to my email within minutes and after a brief conversation she’d won my heart and was hired for the job. Instant connection. Since that day we’ve met in person only twice but have kept in touch. Joanne is the kind of person that feels like you’ve known her for ages. (By the way, the other Realtor called back 2 days later….uh no).

So when I got an email from her in September saying that she was planning a trip to Bahrain and Dubai and should she add Qatar to her itinerary I was beyond excited! Not only would it be great to reconnect with Joanne but I love showing people around Qatar.

Showing people the sights of Qatar always helps me to remember the beautiful things that are all around me that I can start to take for granted. Joanne is the 7th person who has come to visit us. Everyone has loved their stay. Everyone has had different takes on what they were seeing and how they were processing the differences in our cultures. Every single one was pleasantly surprised.

So, Royal LePage has once again brought people into my life, and is still bringing people into my life in very meaningful ways. I’m so grateful. (Side note…I can still help you find a Realtor in any city in the country. I still have connections and I’m still keeping in touch with them. Call me.)

My advice? Make friends, answer calls, talk to people, make connections. You never know, it could land you on the back of a camel in the desert in middle of nowhere laughing your head off and wondering what life will bring next!

As a record of Joanne’s trip, here’s what we did. In one short weekend we went to the Souq, Sheikh Faisel Museum (which I love and which deserves a post of its own), Museum Of Islamic Art, Katara Village, the beach with a dip in the sea (on Joanne’s list of wishes), a mall (yippee), listened to Reggae on the beach, took a trip around the camel race track (sadly not racing but we tried) and went dune bashing. Whew!

Apparently we stop taking pictures at the 7th guest. We do have some. The pictures below are of our day dune bashing. There is a video at the bottom of the page of what that looks like. It’s crazy, and one of my favourite things to do here. It is a drive through the desert (with a very experienced and talented driver) to the Inland Sea. We arrived there at sunset as you will see below. Across the Inland Sea is Saudi Arabia. But before we arrive there we have a hair raising trip through the dunes and a stop along the way to play in the sand and of course a camel ride.

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Yes….this is dune bashing. Can you hear me squealing from inside? At the bottom of the page there is a video of this excitement.

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The Inland Sea

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Joanne, soaking in the sunset.

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Happy Campers.

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Dune bashing you ask? This is it….with our expert driver Hazem. He’s the best. You’ll notice that Hazem really likes Canadians.

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When Your Kids Are Happy…

Joyfilled day!

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Feeling the joy

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Joyful joyful

Joyful joyful

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One year ago today my lovely daughter walked down the aisle, headed for her soul mate, headed for joy, headed for a lifetime of companionship. This is much easier to take, as a mother, when you wholeheartedly love the person she’s walking toward. I thought I’d cry. I thought I’d be overwhelmed with emotion, maybe even some loss. I’m not good at chapters ending in life. I can get emotional at silly finales of crazy things. I bawled when I vacuumed out our first apartment after we’d emptied it. It wasn’t pretty. The people who were moving in and watching this display didn’t think so either. It also didn’t help that I was vacuuming on my hands and knees because I’d lost the extension that would have normally allowed me to stand up. Ya. Not pretty. My daughter (not the marrying one) sang at a grade 8 graduation once. I was only there to deliver her and bring her home. I held back tears for the youngsters who were at the end of their elementary school days, for their accomplishments, for their beloved teachers, for the good memories and for all that lay ahead of them…even though I didn’t personally know a single one. Ok, I didn’t hold them back. I cried like one of them was mine. So I just pretended one was.

But on my daughter’s wedding day I was not so overwhelmed. I was proud. I was joyful. I was peaceful. I was inspired by the love they had for each other, for their friends and for their family. Their friends had been their friends since they were kids. Their families of course knew them even longer. Friends, families, histories converging all knowing a piece of the past, all having played a part and all standing on the precipice of the unknown. The future. The story yet to be written.

Jenn and Josh stood with open hearts, humility and confidence in equal measure.

“I will be fascinated by you for the rest of my life.” ~ Josh

I’ll admit to a lump in my throat for that line in Josh’s vows. I wonder if a year later ‘fascinated’ could also be ‘amused’ and ‘confused’. I’ve seen that look in his eyes. The confused look. But with Josh, there’s always a laugh not too far away, always joy, not too far under the surface. Which got me to thinking….

This is what inspires me about Josh AND Jenn, this is what inspired me one year ago today when I watched them exchange promises of love and watched them interact with their guests….their capacity to love such a variety of people seems to be in their approach. Fascination and joy.

When fascination appreciates, without the need to change and observes, without the need to judge and is laced with joy, always at the ready….there is hope for love to grow.

Happy 1st anniversary. Thanks for the lessons.

Still proud, still joyful, still peaceful,

Mom

Here’s the wedding video Dave put together. Good times.

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Paying Attention in England – Part 2

As we drove from Cornwall to London we had a conversation about the fact that we have become accustomed to living in a country with one of the lowest crime rates in the world. We’ve been put to sleep about protecting our personal possessions. We think nothing of leaving valuables laying around, or in my case, my purse in my shopping cart while I wander out of sight in the grocery store. So we braced ourselves for London. Bags in sight at all times, foot against luggage, eyes watching what’s going on around us at all times…we were braced.

We dropped off our rental car, stowed our big luggage at the airport and headed for our flat, on the tube, with only our carryon luggage in tow. We had about an hour to kill before our host could meet us at the flat and we hadn’t eaten much yet so we surfaced at Paddington Station, home of that sweet little Paddington Bear, and went looking for a pub to eat in. We didn’t bother going too far as we didn’t have much time.

We settled on a bustling little place and found a table nestled up against the wall. We took the chair closest to the wall out and carefully tucked our carryon luggage against the wall and Dave sat between it and any other human being. Safe and satisfied with that, we proceeded to peruse the menu and relax.

When we got up to leave….my purse was nowhere to be found. I realized that I had hung it on the back of my chair, which to ME was like I was still connected to it. In hindsight, Dave remembers watching a woman that struck him as odd. She was standing around but not ordering anything. At one point she sat with a woman close to us who she clearly didn’t know. We figure that she waited for a distracting moment (like the food arriving) and ziiiip…it was gone. It was NOT a small purse.

This did not really start our holiday off well. It was inconvenient and in the end, quite expensive. Usually Dave carries all of our documents, but not this time. So here’s what went missing; my passport, Qatari residency permit, Qatari driver’s license (this might be hurting me the most), health cards and my kindle and my nano. Also robbed were large portions of 2 out of our 3 days in London that needed to be spent in passport office.

So in light of messages that are being received about paying attention, I’m apparently failing. But let me paint this picture for you of the things I chose to pay attention to after the unblessed event:

* A woman at the next table came over to commiserate and apologize for London’s bad behavior. She said, “I know this area, I’ll run around quickly and check the dumpsters and see if they just took the money (not much) and dumped the purse. She left her dinner sitting and ran out the door.

* Waitress: “I’m so sorry this happened, I’ll go and check the CCTV right now!”

* Call to the Police illicited sympathy: “Ahh, that’s awful. I’m so sorry this has happened. We haven’t made a good first impression have we. So rotten.”

*Canadian Embassy/Passport Office: Security guards are sympathetic and helpful, people issuing the passport are so cooperative (even though I don’t have a smidge of ID anymore). They put a rush on it, stayed a little late waiting for the Canadian office to approve it and had me on my way as quickly as possible. They cheered when it came through. On the way out the security guards said “it’s not that we don’t ever want to see you again, you’re nice people, but please don’t visit here again for business, if you want to visit us you can though” – hearty laugh and a knee slap. They were above and beyond really.

*Aside from spending too much time with the jovial folks at the passport office we managed to see, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abby, Trafalgar Square, Big Ben, Piccadilly Circus, The Thames, bridges, St. Paul’s Cathedral (only from the outside) and Harrod’s (sorry, but it was on my list as it’s owned by Qataris and every little girl at school has a bag from Herod’s…I do too now…it’s all I could afford).

*Our friends made the two hour trek from Birmingham to come and have dinner with us, which was a highlight.

*As with most holidays, I generally have a culinary itinerary, like pizza in Italy…no brainer. In England it was fish and chips and tea and scones. We had enough fish and chips to make us all happy for a year but I missed out on tea and scones (that would need to be with cream and jam of course). When we arrived home we were invited to a themed party at our friend’s house called “Tea and Art.” It was an afternoon English tea (bring anything the Brits would eat) and art. Tea and scones were mine.

That’s what I’m paying attention to. The act of one desperate stranger was far overshadowed by the kindness of strangers, friends, and compatriots.

Feeling lucky.

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Paying Attention and Giant Inukshuks

It’s hard to pay attention all the time. To be present in the moment as they say. I’ve been paying attention to paying attention. What helps, what distracts, what the benefits are, that kind of thing.

We’ve just come back from a week in England. It wasn’t enough time, especially given the curve balls we were thrown. But it was great. There were so many things to pay attention to, to notice, to be aware of.  Like reminding myself every minute that the cars that appear to be heading toward us in the oncoming lane were in fact, not a threat. I never did get used to that. My heart stopped rapidly jumping up and down at some point but it never got comfortable.

We visited our friends Duncan and Becky and their two little boys. (Is there anything cuter than little kids with British accents?) They live in the lovely little seaside surfing town of Newquay in Cornwall. The sea, the cliffs, the green… so many shades of green for our sand soaked eyes, it was all so beautiful. Even the clouds and little bits of rain were a refreshing change. It had been so long since we’d seen weather to speak of. We took lots of pictures (see below) and immensely enjoyed relaxing with our dear friends, seeing where they live now and getting reaquainted with their growing boys. It was wonderful. And it was cold! Coming from 45 degree weather our bodies were shocked by the the mid-teens and blowing wind but not quite as shocked as we were at the MANY people surfing in that weather!

I don’t actually look back at pictures very much. Especially scenery pictures. I’ve always wondered why I was so compelled to take such pictures when I knew I wouldn’t really appreciate them later. I’m beginning to understand that for me, this is a way of paying attention. For some, this is what painting is about. Looking so closely at something that you can replicate all the detailed shadows and colours and movement and flow, is like intense attention paying. Writing is obviously a way for me to pay attention. Anne Lamott (am I quoting her too much yet?) says if you’re overwhelmed by the magnitude of what you want to write, just pick a little portion and work on that. Pick 2 square inches of the painting to paint (metaphorically) today and not the whole canvas. I think that’s good life advice for anyone who’s overwhelmed.

We were driving back from Newquay to London and the pastoral views were beautiful but at some point I started playing a game on my phone. Now and then Dave would say in a warning tone, “you’re missing scenery”, and I would look up to see a beautiful hillside spotted with sheep, sloping down toward us, ending in a little stone cottage with a little stone wall with flowers cascading over it and shamefully I put my phone away.

During the time I had my head down, I didn’t notice the GPS switch off and somehow we got onto the wrong road. Turns out if you weren’t squeezing the charger into the GPS it would stop charging and eventually quit. So we were a little lost. We were still heading in the right direction but off the major highway and onto smaller roads. This actually suited us just fine. It was gorgeous and we weren’t in a hurry.

While I was fiddling with the GPS, trying to get the cord to stay in without draining the circulation from my fingers, Dave was watching me and giving me helpful suggestions (maybe) when Honour started to try to get our attention. Quietly at first, she said, ‘hey guys, look over there’. ‘Mom, Dad look at that’ and with increasing panic as we were almost past the site she yelled “REALLY MOM LOOK AT THE GIANT INUKSHUKS, THERE’S HUGE INUKSHUKS!!!!”  We quickly glanced up as the ‘giant inukshuks’ were passing by our windows. “Whoooooa…is that Stonehenge?” we wondered….of course that was Stonehenge, what else could it be?

Needless to say we doubled back to take in this incredible sight. Thousands of years old this mysterious structure stands tall in the middle of a farmers field. Thousands of years later people still come from all over the world to see it, gather around it, wonder about it, talk about it, speculate about it and generally, pay attention to it. I bought a sweater in the gift store because it was so darn cold and then we walked around Stonehenge (I still couldn’t believe our luck). We all took some pictures, listened to the audio tour, learned some things, marvelled and headed back on our way.

I love serendipity. I love getting lost (when there’s no where in particular to be at a particular time). And I love that we had a kid in the back seat paying attention or we would have driven right past STONEHENGE! Can you imagine? It made me wonder, what else am I missing?

When we got to London “paying attention” took on a whole new meaning (as many of you who have me on Facebook know). More on that later.

Here are some things we paid attention to in the first half of our week in England.

*Heading off on a walk around the town of Newquay, Roan says to Honour (insert English accent) “Honour? Would you mind if I held your hand?” (Our hearts melted)*

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Crazy surfers. Honestly…it was about 14 degrees.

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Looking like Jackie O – but really, just keeping warm!

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Wedding Festivities

The Big Day

Arrives the wedding day. The big event is to take place at 8:00 (Qatari time, we’re a little wiser as to what that really means now but we also want good seats!) and I’m very excited. I didn’t go to the salon to get my hair done for MY wedding, or for my daughter’s wedding…but I did go this day. Curls were in order as was a mani-pedi.

Curls!

Curls!

The dress I decided on was my Mother-of-the-bride dress. Anything less, I knew would be grossly underdressed. (Like my sparkly new shoes?)

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At the venue, the ball room, a wedding invitation is required to get in.  My generous friend who invited me to these events furnished me with 2 extra invitations. I took along my wild and crazy Latin friend (think Sophia Vergera…really) and a younger friend (American, and maybe less wild and crazy but still lots of fun). Both of them were just as excited. We knew that this was a privilege and we were prepared to soak it all in, to notice everything and to ask a million questions (and to try not to be annoying doing it).

So we arrived at the door to tables that looked like registration tables at a conference. They were just inside the door past the airport security type scanner that we had to walk through. Security was pretty high. At the table we gave our invitations and they confiscated our cell phones. I was warned that this would happen. This is a strictly women-only event and just the thought that someone might take pictures, while their abayas were tossed aside, would make them all nervous.

We hung up our requisite abayas (which were sparkly and beautiful) and got a coat check ticket.

(This picture doesn’t do justice to the abaya…sparkles all over and over the hood…so elegant).

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We then headed through a second set of staggered draped curtain doors. There was no way any of the men outside parking the cars or dropping women off could possibly catch a glimpse of the loveliness inside. This was a very private event indeed.

The ballroom couldn’t have been any more different than the room at the Henna Party. If you remember it was bright and colourful, this room was a wash of white! White curtains hung over the walls creating a circle around the room. The flooring, table cloths, seat covers and decorations, all white. There were white…something or others, hanging from the ceiling. It was like walking into a snowball. The similarities were the entranceway arches, the catwalk and the arches over the couch at the end of the catwalk. These were all white as well.

We sat and took it all in, eyes wide open, each pointing to something different every few minutes. Oh, look over there! Look at that! Look at her dress! Look at that dress over there. And as if choreographed, the servers entered the room, wearing silver abayas covered in white lace. They almost glided in and around the tables like celestial beings. Even this was a thing of beauty.

They came out carrying big urns with burning exotic incense (as before) but this time they came by each table and to each individual person. I didn’t know what to do with it, and looked the helpless (read clueless) expat that I was. The server smiled and took the edge of my wrap and waved it over the incense. I, like all the others, would go home smelling of this beautiful scent.

The rest of the evening was actually quite similar to the henna party only with the intensity turned up. Coffees, teas, chocolates, elaborate cookie trees, small treats to take home, lots of waiting for the bride, really loud Arabic music and girls parading dancing up and down the catwalk.

The evening went on in some kind of unwritten, unannounced, known flow. Like a dance that everyone seamlessly and confidently moved to. Everyone except us of course we just kept watching and following along as best we could.

When the bride arrived, at the white arches, under the spotlight all 400 (or so) pairs of eyes were riveted on her. To my complete astonishment…she was dressed in a beautiful, white, wedding dress that we might see back home. I was not expecting that! Oh yes, my host (who’s been to over 70 weddings) said, they all wear western style wedding gowns. I have to say, I found that a little disappointing. Not for long though, as she made her way, painfully slowly, down the catwalk I saw that this was an incredibly intricate, stunningly beautiful dress. The train that came from her head piece must have stretched 20’ behind her. She had to keep pulling it along as she walked and it stubbornly hooked on the white carpet.

For me, the diamond necklace that graced her neck was the piece I couldn’t take my eyes off. Crassly, I kept wondering what something like that must have cost, who bought it, and what would happen to it after. My practical mind struggled to just enjoy its beauty. Everyone sat and watched as she made her way to the couch where she stayed for the rest of the evening. When she was comfortably seated, the dancing and the money throwing and the eating and drinking resumed. Friends and family would go up and take turns greeting her and having their picture taken with her.

The meal was served and friends that we’d met at the Henna Party came and found us and urged us onto the dance floor/catwalk. Two of us gladly participated…of course the Latina! A party? Dancing? She’d been waiting and wiggling in her seat all night and was ready and raring to go! Our young American friend was not so eager. She obliged for 2 minutes and scurried back to her seat feeling very self conscious. We had lots of fun.

What happens next (apparently) is that someone receives word that the groom is on his way to receive his bride. No announcement is made, the knowledge of this just seems to move through the crowd informally. Those who have left their abayas out at the coat check go and retrieve them and the brightly coloured room full of designer dancing gowns suddenly gets covered in a blanket of black and sits down waiting in anticipation. A white, wooden screen is placed in front of the bride to sequester her.

The groom arrives with an entourage of men we could only guess at. Presumably his father and the bride’s father were on either side of him as he walked down the catwalk toward the lattice screen. Behind them were, 15-20 men who I assume were brothers and maybe close friends. I’m told that sometimes there’s a sword dance at this point but these gentleman arrived fairly unceremoniously. When they got to the front there were many congratulatory triple kisses, head kisses, handshaking and the like between every conceivable pair but especially of the groom. Then the mothers, aunts, sisters…significant women in the family joined them. Mother’s threw money over the young men’s heads and more kissing ensued.

Certain of these men began to leave until there were only a few left. I assume that the men who left were friends or distant relatives, people who would not be permitted to see the bride without an abaya covering her. When just the few were left, they stood facing the lattice screen and it was finally removed. The brides eyes were on the floor and she didn’t look up. The groom moved over beside her and faced the room. Pictures were taken, money was thrown and after a few minutes they sat down on the couch together…sort of awkwardly.  Keep in mind, these two don’t know each other well. They’ve likely had conversations, albeit never alone, but she would have never been in front of a man who was not family without her abaya on. They were now husband and wife, together, for life.

The photographer urged them to move closer for the picture. They did. They smiled. They greeted family. After many minutes they exchanged a few words. Our expat eyes were glued to them wondering what they must be feeling, the arrangement being so strange to us.

Cake was served and not long after, people began to leave. It seemed kind of…anti-climactic. That’s it? Done?

We gathered up our goodies for the men and children waiting at home, collected our cell phones and were off to our respective homes. I’m sure all of our minds were buzzing with thoughts about the night.

It was eye opening to see women who normally looked so demure, and regal gliding through the malls cutting loose and having fun. You could tell that women’s friendships where strong, bonds between mothers, daughters and grandmothers were strong. A girl-only party of this magnitude seemed so self sufficient (or should I say gender sufficient).

I was so thankful for the opportunity to see behind the veil(s) and to see a joyful supportive community of women celebrating the beginning of family life for one of their sisters. It was truly remarkable.

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We Interrupt Regular Blogging for this news report….

Today is a big day in history for the Qatari people. Huge!

Qatar continues to show itself as a unique example in the Arab/Muslim world.

I have read this morning that it is the only country to have changed hands 3 times while all three patriarchs are still alive.

This country has seen tremendous change in the last 18 years and the visionary leadership continues to embrace the change rather than shy away from it.

Meet Sheikh Tamim:

French President Nicolas Sarkozy (L) sha Sheikh-Tamim-bin-H_2585265b

A couple of enlightening moments for me from the outgoing Sheikh’s address to the nation:

“…. I recall the words of the fourth Caliph, Ali bin Abi Taleb, May Allah be pleased with him, who said: ‘Teach your children other than that what you were taught; as they are created for a time other than yours.'”  Wow, thank you for the parenting advice. I’ve never thought about it that way before.

Qataris are deeply rooted in their traditions and this has made the rapid changes of the past couple of decades a frustrating challenge for many regular (read: not royal) Qataris as the country grapples with the onslot of modernity at a speed that not many others have had to contend with. Yes, they’re also now rich. It must cushion the blow. But those of us under the misguided notion that their new found wealth should more than compensate for the frustration of their loss of all things familiar (ok, most things) and the threat of losing more, need to acknowledge that we have no idea what that’s like. I would imagine that, depending on the personality, fear and exhilaration have become almost a daily diet.

The leadership seems very aware of what most people are going through and has a clear vision of moving into this new future while doing their best to perserve their past. Also in the outgoing Emir’s speech: “I am fully certain that you will be his (the new Emir’s) support as you have always been mine; simply for the reason that in our nation run deep between the ruler and his people pledges of alliance; deep solidarity; and profound originality, cemented by our deeprooted traditions and glorious history.”

“Profound originality” – well today’s handover of power is certainly more proof of that. In an area of the world that is marked by struggles for power and changes and reforms in leadership, Qatar today is definitely profoundly original. And “cemented by our deeprooted traditions” must be a comfort to those struggling with the change.

My hope and prayer for the Qatari people is that they do indeed strike that perfect chord that has been articulated today by the act of one leader voluntarily, even lovingly, ceding power to another, of progress and tradition, and most of all, of change and peace.

When we first came here we were so excited that we were getting front row seats to a country undergoing such historic and almost unprecedented change. Although we’re very aware that anything can change, and quickly, we did not expect to be priviledged to see this change, this day.

What does it mean for us? In the long run…who knows? Only time will tell. Thursday will see most of the existing cabinet step down and be replaced by new and younger versions. To be honest, this makes me nervous. While embracing change and progress and innovation I would hate to see Qatar lose valuable wisdom and experience. In truth though, I’ve very aware that I don’t have a clue about what this means. I have witnessed that this culture respects its elders in ways that mine does not so my hope is that there will be mentoring and counsellors and wisdom being sought by the new leaders. I would not be hopeful of this in my own country, but here, I am cautiously optimistic.

In the short run what does it mean for us?…well, they’ve abruptly announced that today is a national holiday. Two days before the end of the school year, a national holiday. These are the things we folk from democratically run countries are not accustomed to. No warning, no votes, no passing through legislation of some kind, just a wave of the Royal wand and poof, a day off.

So for me, it means found time and that means, laundry , cleaning the kitchen, obsessively checking the news, a trip to the gym and a lay by the pool and a jump start on packing for holidays. I’ll take it. So far, so good for me and the new Emir.

Below, the twitterverse is filled with this kind of gushing over their loved Emir and what he has meant to them over the last couple of decades.

@AlMannai_M Leader, visionary, humanitarian & the list goes on but above all he is our father #ThankYouHamad

tweet sheikh hamad

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Cultural Wedding Festivities – Henna Party

Before I even set foot on this sandy ground I’d read blogs about spectacular Qatari weddings. I hoped that one day I could be lucky enough to be invited to one. I waited two years, but the day finally came. Not only did I get invited to the wedding, but there’s a party that happens before the wedding (think shower, but…no, don’t think shower) that is usually reserved for family and maybe some close family friends. I was neither, having never laid eyes on the bride-to-be. My ticket into these events was a friend who is a teacher in a Canadian college here in Qatar. The bride was her graduating student. Her “plus one” at the wedding events – the-lucky-me.

This first party happened on the Tuesday night before the Thursday night wedding and was called a “Henna Party.” Just from the name you can get the idea of what this is about. Or, what the original intention of the party was, at one time. I imagine when these folks were Bedouin, not that long ago really, that a couple of nights before the wedding they all got together with the henna artists and got gussied up for the wedding. As with all cultures moving into the modern world, this event has evolved.

First of all, there was no henna to be found. I’m told that there is still henna sometimes and indeed Honour was invited to a wedding the week later (complete with the insider privilege of the henna party) and she got some beautiful henna done.

We arrived at a beautiful facility; my car was shuffled away by a valet. The event took place on the second floor and only guests (and only females) were allowed on the second floor. This allows the women, who are usually covered, some freedom to relax.

Not being Qatari, we didn’t know that arriving at 7:30 for an 8:00 invitation was really, really excessive. The next people to arrive came, maybe around 8:45 and the bride, not for another hour. It gave us a chance to relax and chat and take the room in. Yes, the room required ‘taking in’.

The entrance had two archways to walk under, pink and green, and a white cloth walkway. The room was the biggest splash of celebratory colour I’ve ever seen. Things sparkled; lights glittered. The decor went right up to and stopped right before the…tacky-Vegas-like point. Let me be clear, it wasn’t tacky. It was clearly party-time glitter. There were pink plush fainting couches, bright green, pink and blue decorations and a catwalk in the middle of the room. At the end of the catwalk was another huge, fuchsia pink fainting couch sitting regally under two more arches of pink and green. This was obviously for the guest of honour.

There were maybe 200 people at this event, and each arrival was a treat for the eyes. There’s no picture taking of women without abayas so have a look at these children and imagine them all grown up. I have often looked at the brightly coloured, sequin adorned dressed at the souq and wondered who buys these and where do they wear them? I’ve certainly never seen anyone in one. It was all coming clear to me now. Here they were, on parade. I was so disappointed because I would have loved an excuse to buy one of these dresses.

*Little side note. The invitations to the wedding were handed out on the Sunday before the Thursday night wedding. Yes, everyone who is a family/friend connection knows it’s coming so they’re ready with their clothing, but us expats are caught off guard. This to me is a reason enough to go and buy one of these dresses, just to be ready for the next time. Justifying myself you say? Duh. Of course.

Each new beauty who arrived was greeted by just about everyone. Each person entering was kissed three times on one cheek. As they are kissing they are saying “how are you?” “are you well?” “you look lovely”. I was triple-kissed many times throughout the evening with this ritual conversation repeated but I never got the hang of how to make that kissing noise while talking. There’s a definite rhythm and I didn’t get it.

I’ve seen this kissing taking place many times in public places as friends are meeting up with each other, but one thing that is scarce in public places is elderly women. So it was a sweet revelation to see them meet. It is a sign of tender respect for the younger (even if you’re 60) to kiss the matriarch high on the forehead or on the top of the head. I’d never seen this and I found it quite moving. The respect for matriarchs is very deep. They are a celebrated part of the culture.

Throughout the whole evening servers (decked in gold dresses and head scarves) were very busy. First they walked through the room carrying bowls of incense. The room filled with the familiar smell of exotic spices. Then came a stream of goodies. Some were to keep and take home, others were to eat. Cookies on sticks, dates covered in chocolate with almonds in the centre, chocolates to die for, nuts, pastries, sandwiches, traditional tea, karak, coffees-a-plenty, a fan of feathers, a pot of jam-type deliciousness called Halwa.

Sometime between 9:30-10:00 the bride arrived. The lights dimmed and the music changed and it was obvious something was about to happen. She arrived at the door, under the arches and under the glare of a spot light, dressed in an incredible green and gold-gilded gown. She had on the biggest gold necklace that hung down past her belly button in many strands of gold chains. My host (who has been to over 70 weddings) said “I’ve never seen anything like that!” and an American woman (who’s been married to a Qatari for, I would estimate, almost 30 years) said “Me either!”  Her head was covered in an Omani styled gold (surprised? Are you getting the idea here?) head piece. It was stunning. She walked incredibly slowly across the white cloth floor, to the catwalk and up to the pink couch. It likely took 10 minutes and it wasn’t that far.

After she sat down (by the way, that’s where she stayed for the whole night) a woman dressed elegantly in a white gown came and threw money, bills, one at a time over her head. I learned later that this woman was her mother-in-law-to-be and that throwing money over their head’s was to ward off evil. This woman looked very happy and was close by with hugs and kisses and money to throw throughout the evening.

I asked where the mother of the bride was. I was told that it was customary for the mother of the bride to feign sadness at this event. In days gone by apparently she wore old ragged clothing and sat in the shadows and looked sad. She was losing a daughter after all. Currently she is not required to be in rags, but she is not dressed in a celebratory way, she does not throw money and she definitely does NOT dance. The mother-in-law-to-be danced joyfully all night. I asked if the mother really wasn’t happy? Wasn’t this what they wanted? For their daughters to get married and have babies? Answer: “pfft, of course! It’s just a custom.”

At some point in the evening, young girls began to dance on the catwalk. Dancing up and down the full length of the platform. I learned that these girls were the single ones. Some of their dresses, well, if there were men there, some of their dresses would have been downright provocative. These girls were stunning and I couldn’t reconcile them with the demur, coquettish girls I see in the mall. I’m told that they are dancing, in their gorgeous dresses, strutting their stuff, for the mother’s in attendance who have eligible sons. The mother’s are the ones to make the marriage matches. As the girls dance, older women walk around them throwing money over their heads in a gesture of love, and blessing and warding off that evil.

Lest you think money is now foolishly carpeting the floor, there are people running around picking it up. Originally this money was given to charity, and sometimes it still is, but often, as in the case of this night, it was given to the D.J. in payment for services. (In my mind…I’ve concocted a new retirement plan). The Filipina waitresses also try to snag some of the lucrative snowfall while the D.J.’s representative races them for it. It all seemed to be a bit of a game. The Filipina’s laughed and played while the D.J.’s rep seemed more like a very humourless ninja.

Next, the bride was seated in the middle of the catwalk and a beautiful traditional cloth (you’re getting it now right? brightly coloured, gold and sparkly) was tented over her head. The young single girls all gathered at the edges holding a piece of the cloth while an older women sang prayer after prayer. A prayer for peace, a prayer for financial blessing, a prayer for fertility (of course!), a prayer for protection, and so on. Then she moved back to her fainting couch.

For the rest of the evening everyone danced. Well, almost everyone. Those at our table remained firmly seated but we were warned we would have to dance at the wedding. Ok, fine. But I wasn’t dancing there, not while I was dressed in my…well, in my best party clothes, but really in this company, in these dowdy things. Both my friend and I kept saying “WHAT are we going to wear to the wedding?” I hopefully asked the Qatari-wife at our table, ‘will they wear dresses like these to the wedding?’ Mentally picking out the one I’d buy. “Oh no” she replied “they’ll all be in designer gowns.” Swell.

At about 10:30, eyes sated with beauty and tummies full of goodies, the waitresses began to clear the tables. Whew, this must be a sign it’s coming to an end. The music was so loud you couldn’t have conversation. I saved my questions for between songs and blurted them out semi-automatic style. I admit my head was starting to hurt. A teenage girl at our table shouted, in between songs, “I HATE MUSIC!”  “You do?” I asked, surprised. “Well I do NOW!” haha, yes I was starting to feel the same. The music started again, I hadn’t had the chance to ask my question, ‘was this the end?’ when I saw the waitresses coming out of the kitchen with trays of food. Oh my goodness….the tables had been cleared so they could serve DINNER!

As soon after dinner as was socially acceptable, we said good night. It was nearing midnight and we both had school in the morning.

I summoned the valet dawling, and I was on my way home. Ears throbbing, mind buzzing and very happy.

Next blog post – The Wedding!

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Dreadful Day in Doha – 3D

I’m finally reading a book that’s been in my library for years. It’s called Bird by Bird (Anne Lamott) and it’s about writing. She says to write every day (I’m going to aim at three times/week, don’t tell her). Write about anything, she says, any part of life, memories, dreams, paint a picture for someone, take them there…just write.

Don’t worry…I’m not going to blog every time I write.

Yesterday was eventful here though. It was the kind of day that had lots of excitment and emotions. So if you don’t mind….I’m going to paint the picture for you.

Dreadful Day in Doha – 3D.

Yesterday, Honour was supposed to have 2 wisdom teeth out. She and I were on the way to the dentist, in the car, looking for food (she hadn’t eaten yet…like a teenager). She said something about the drugs she was going to get and I said ‘no, honey, you’ll be completely numb but you’ll be awake, no drugs’…apparently Dave told her she’d have drugs. He wasn’t even in the appointment so how would he know?! Nobody said anything to me about drugging her. I know they want her awake. Anyhow…she started to panic. Cry. Tremble. She got so scared. She just wasn’t prepared for this.

I was trying to talk her down. She won’t feel pain, it’ll be ok. She’s going to be alright. When….our car was hit from behind.

doha trafic

The kind of chain reaction you can so easily imagine happening often here in Doha. We were the last car in the chain so it wasn’t a big bump at all. Neither of us was hurt in the slightest but the already shaken up Honour didn’t need this.

doha traffic

I was just reassuring her that it was alright, we were ok, nothing serious, when a man came running up to our car, tapped on our window and said “call an ambulance there’s a man on a motorcyle under the truck two cars back!”  I jumped out of the car and ran back. I stopped just before I went around the last truck, aware that there was a possibility that there might be something there I’d never be able to “unsee”. I looked back at our car and mouthed to Honour “stay in the car”….someone had already called an ambulance and the police were there very quickly.  In the meantime someone jumped out of a car and started reefing on the motorbike…this seemed unwise to me, not knowing the extent of the injuries, but he pulled the man out and he hobbled over to the grassy median and sat under a palm tree. He’s a very lucky young man. I watched for a few minutes and made sure he was mostly alright. He was rubbing his hand and one leg but he was ok. It’s a dangerous job here. All the food delivery seems to be done on motorcycles that weave in and out of traffic. I’ve often said, “I wouldn’t do that job to save my life.”

I headed back to our car…to find Honour hyperventilating, having a full on panic attack. “Is he dead? Is someone dead?”  I didn’t realize that she hadn’t seen him walk away. Poor thing.

We had to sit there for quite sometime while reports were written, accounts were told by all parties and waivers were signed for the ambulance attendants – no, we didn’t need to go to the hospital. The time lapsing was a good thing. Honour was gaining a little stability and the need for them to let us go so we could find a bathroom and some food was eclipsing the trauma. As we sat we called the dentist who said ‘take your time.’ Breathe.

Finally we were allowed to leave and continue on our now urgent quest for a bathroom and food and to get to the dentist. I was still doing lots of calming talk for Honour but of course inside I was dealing with my own jitters. Every car that came near (and we were in high traffic time) I could feel my heart beat pick up. But I was ok. I was ok. I was ok.

Each food vendor we drove by was turned down…’do you want to eat that?’ ‘how does that look?’…she was starving but nothing looked like something she could eat. I knew how she felt.

In the sky a huge plume of dark smoke billowed over some buildings. Honour let out a yell…”Mom, what is that?!! This is a terrible day! It’s a sign! I shouldn’t have my teeth out today! I’ll probably die! What is that smoke?!”  I continued to reassure her. It probably looked worse than it was. (Turned out to be a bus on fire, at a construction site).

doha fire

It seemed that every turn we took was wrong, we drove by turns we should have taken, making us have to double back. All in thick traffic. I put the car in reverse once when I was pulling out of a parking spot that I had to go forward in and almost hit the car behind me. It was exhausting.

Finally we arrived at The Mall. Yes, it’s literally called “The Mall”.  We wondered if it was called that because it was the first one in Doha? I dropped her off at the door so she could run to the bathroom. Cars behind began impatiently and persistently beeping their horns. I jumped and gasped at the sound. It was jarring, abrasive, and I was in no mood. I proceeded and parked. One of the rude, honking cars parked beside me. It was an if-looks-could-kill moment and they got the full force of my highly developed skills in this area.

At some point in the next few moments the dentist called and said ‘we’re about to close, why don’t you reschedule.’ I was relieved. Honour had mixed feelings about it as she was still bracing herself and trying to make herself ready to get it over with. We were both feeling quite weak so I think it was really for the best. Funny though, once I didn’t need to be the calming agent in this percolating situation, my legs became like rubber and my hands started to shake. This is how I knew we were safe. Aftershock. This is always my response to trouble. Keep everyone calm. When the worst is over….crumble.

But we weren’t home free yet…

So we went into The Mall. Sat down. Ate some dinner and tried to collect ourselves. Our dinner went down…kind of shaky. We walked around the mall. We tried to see a movie for distraction but nothing good was on. We tried to be interested in shopping but neither of us could really engage. But we walked and talked and moved around the mall waiting for the knots in our stomach to disappear, the almost-17-year-old occasionally holding my hand. When does that happen? We both knew, but weren’t saying, that we were just avoiding the long drive home through the Thursday afternoon traffic. We were about as far from home as you can get in Doha and I knew no other way than straight through the traffic.

At some point we knew. It wasn’t going to get any better. We were delaying the inevitable. When the exhaustion of wandering the mall and pretending it was a normal day got too hard to do, the drive home seemed a better option. Let’s get this over with.

There were a few spectacular examples of bad driving on the way home. We were cut off a couple of times. This is normal. To be expected. Today, it produced an overreaction every time. The incredible thing was…that while traffic was gridlocked everywhere, we were amazed at how our lanes had a lot of space in them. I don’t know if we were going the opposite way of the majority of people needed to go, or if there were a hoard of angels circling our car…I picture them pointing at the other cars, eyebrows raised saying “don’t even think about coming near here”.

Here’s what I love about days like this. (Oh yes…there’s almost always an upside).

When you’re shaken, little things don’t matter anymore. Life gets really bare-bones-no-frills-stripped-clean real. The important things take their rightful place once again. The things I was mad at Honour for in the morning were not important now. Our car getting bumped was not important. Holding hands was important. Telling each other that we were ok, taking care of each other’s emotional state, that was important.

My husband, who had been staying in close contact the whole time by phone, was waiting for us, well past dinnertime. “Should we stop and get you some supper?” ….”No, just get home.” Being together and safe, this is important.

Home, sweet home, is important. Breathing is important.

Doing something exciting to start the weekend…even watching a movie…NOT IMPORTANT!! Not even possible. Not yesterday. I was in bed and asleep by 9:15 letting sweet sleep wash over my body and administer recovery to every cell.

This morning…the sun is shining and it’s a new day.

Thank goodness!

New day...home sweet home.

New day…home sweet home.

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