Many of you know that I’m Lebanese and that I try to go back to Lebanon at least once a year. Last year, I posted two blogs about my visits: one about my March 2016 trip and one about the Feast of the Assumption, which falls on August 15th. You all enjoyed my posts so much that the former post appeared in the Aramco Expats online edition and the other one resulted in my getting more emails than any other post!
Given that it’s August 15th today, the day of the Feast of the Assumption, I thought I’d show you, in pictures, how much the Virgin Mary is celebrated in Lebanon. It’s a national holiday there, and everyone named Mary is celebrated! I drove my dad crazy when we would go for walks as I stopped to photograph every shrine we passed. Making it a challenge to find unique and hidden shrines added to the fun.
In these photos, you’ll find shrines dedicated not only to the Virgin Mary, but to other saints that are important to Lebanese Christians. These include Saint Sharbel (also spelled Charbel), Saint Elias, and Saint Thecla. You can read more about the saints specific to Lebanon here.
This post is meant to give you a glimpse of what it’s like to walk and drive around the small Christian mountain village of Broummana, 20 minutes east of Beirut, in the Mount Lebanon Governorate. You will hear church bells ringing all day on Sunday and on other days of the week. Going to church is a daily activity for many. Outings to visit churches or larger shrines are common all year round. It would be an understatement to say that people in this small village are religious because they are very religious! Many activities revolve around the local churches. Check out this huge church square overlooking the beautiful mountains of Mount Lebanon:
The mini shrines are typically at the front of people’s properties, near the road, for others to see and enjoy. They can be on trees, set high on pedestals, or set in the woods. And, they can be indoors at public places like hospitals.
These shrines are so much more than the physical structures because they represent a devotion to God and to the saints they depict. They’re a daily reminder about the blessings of life and the need to pray and feel connected spiritually to God, nature, and each other.
These shrines are well-maintained and you will often find fresh flowers or lit candles that have been intentionally placed by passers-by and devotees. It’s common to cross oneself every time you pass one of these shrines and to say a quick prayer. There’s a sense of peace, belonging, and comfort as you walk around and see the number and variety of shrines.
Have a look at all of the different mini-shrines and bigger shrines dedicated to saints, below. The captions will tell you more about each one:
So, what do you think? Have you seen so many shrines in such a concentrated place before? Many Catholic and religious parts of the world have such shrines and I’d love to hear where you’ve seen some!
It’s Valentine’s Day and last year I wrote a post (link here) about why I’m okay with Valentine’s Day.
Valentine’s Day is as good a day as any to talk about love because every day is a good day to talk about love. But, what is love, really? It’s lots of things and it’s about describing how you feel about lots of things. It’s about falling in love with a person or your first-born child. It’s about loving something inanimate like your first home. It’s about forgiving people and accepting them for who they are, and that, to me, is the most important part.
The title of this post comes from my Dad, who, since I’ve become a parent, has repeated to me: ‘always with love’. By this, he refers to how I parent, discipline, guide, and teach my kids things. It’s so hard to be patient, to forgive the things your kids say to you or about you. It’s so hard to punish or tell a child you don’t approve of what they’re doing, nicely. But, that’s what you have to do, and, to do it properly, you have to do it with love. Continue reading →
Do you have an electric or hybrid car? Have you ever thought about owning an electric car? My family doesn’t own one, but after recently test driving the Chevrolet Volt, I’m wondering why it’s taken me so long to seriously think about the perks of owning an electric car.
We’re in a car industry revolution now, like it or not. The rules of the game in vehicle technology and how we think about transportation in general have changed significantly over the last few years.
Not only do we have connected cars, but automated or self-driving cars are here, with the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers forecasting 75% of cars on the road will be automated by 2040. And, electric cars are becoming easier and more economical to own, in part due to advances in clean energy, increased battery life, and wider availability of charging stations in buildings and malls.
Given all of these exciting advancements, my husband and I were definitely interested in test-driving the latest Chevrolet Volt at Hogan Chevrolet, in Scarborough, Ontario.
We test drove the Volt Premier which operates with elements of automated technology such as Side Blind Zone Alert with Lane Change Alert, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, and Lane Keep Assist. These are fancy ways of saying that the car’s technology is scanning the area for potential accidents, which made us feel safer. We actually liked the red lights in the side mirrors checking our blind spot and helping us switch lanes safely.
Driving and Pricing the Chevrolet Volt
Although our drive was on a typical snowy Canadian day, we felt it was ideal for testing the Volt’s performance.
The first thing we noticed is that the Volt’s beautiful blue color added to its compact, sleek look. When we got in, we felt like we were in a sports car because the car was somewhat low to the ground. With the engine on, the Volt is very quiet and you wonder if it’s running. The dashboard is actually a screen with very cool graphics, like a top-down view of the electric motor, and information about which energy source is being used to run the car. I could see myself wanting to keep the energy source electric at all times!
In terms of acceleration, the Chevy Volt was responsive, fast, and performed like a gas-powered car. You could’t tell it was an electric car, even at over 100 kms/hr on the highway!
The Volt took corners comfortably and we were impressed with how quickly and smoothly the brakes reacted on the snowy road surfaces. The car handled well and we felt in control, especially given the wet weather. Our very patient and knowledgeable salesman, Paul, explained that part of the appeal of the Volt is the regenerative braking which recharges the battery as you brake.
The interior of the car felt roomy, especially in front. The back seats are okay but only seat two people comfortably because the middle seat requires the third person to straddle the battery cover. I was very impressed with how spacious the trunk is and the two back seats fold down for more room.
The Volt Premier has an MSRP of C$42,490. With government incentives, the price is closer to $34,000 – higher than the average compact car. Our salesman told us that the cost to run the Volt on electric charge is about $30 a month. So, there are big savings. We currently spend about $3500 a year on gas, 10 times more than the electric running cost. You must factor this in when making a decision to purchase an electric car!
The Chevrolet Volt Customer
The Volt is a bought car. Buyers have done their homework and thought about their driving and charging needs carefully. You need an outlet to charge the battery, so you need to live in a house or an equipped building. You also need to consider your daily driving needs. If you want to keep your drive electric, your daily round trip should be kept to 85 kms unless you’re headed to a place with a charging station.
What about a long trip or getting your Volt from one local electric driving area to another? With a total range of 672 kms, you could, under ideal driving conditions, take the Volt between Toronto and Montreal, without recharging, thanks to the gas-powered generator. That’s amazing. Purely electric cars just don’t have that range yet.
The best part of our test drive came at the end of our visit when a customer who already owned two Volts came over to tell us how much he and his daughter loved them. By the way, I just want to say here that we got the impression that customers were like family at Hogan because everyone seemed so friendly and wanted to talk! Anyway, this gentleman especially liked the low charging costs as well as the fewer gas station visits. He also drove his car regularly to the cottage, explaining that, even if the gas powered generator kicked in on the way to the cottage, once he reached his destination and charger, local trips would be back to electric power.
Owning a Chevy Volt gave this customer pride of being part of an environmentally conscious community. There’s a non-profit organization called Plug ‘N Drive that helps customers set up their charging station at home and educates the public about the electric car industry. And, resources like the PlugShare app locate nearby charging stations.
The Bottom Line on the Chevrolet Volt
After this test drive, would I buy an electric car? Absolutely. The no-compromise handling, advanced features, and quiet operation of the Volt make it very attractive. An electric car would suit our needs as we are city drivers, 99% of the time.
The best part about owning an electric car, other than the $3200 I would save on gas, is being part of an environmentally savvy group of like-minded people who are proud to add new meaning to the concept of driving responsibly.
Our Chevrolet Volt test drive opened our eyes and mind to a new way of looking at transportation in general, and electric cars in particular. These are exciting times for the car industry, and I think we’ve only scratched the surface in terms of options, savings, and social responsibility!
This post was created in partnership with the friendly staff and customers at Hogan Chevrolet, but, as always, all opinions are my own. (Photos are taken from chevrolet.ca unless otherwise indicated.)
How do you feel about a new year? How do you feel about making New Year’s Resolutions? If you made any last year, did you keep them? Do you set New Year’s Goals as well?
To quickly answer these questions: I find new years and new beginnings to be generally exciting and hopeful. I’m okay with making some New Year’s Resolutions and managed to keep most of mine from 2016. As for New Year’s Goals, I think they’re as important as resolutions. When I asked my family if they thought there was a difference, we all agreed that resolutions are more like daily habits we want to work on while goals are longer term items we work towards that can be measured and tracked. (If you want to read more about setting goals, you can check out this link to the Mind Tools website.)
As I look back on 2016, I would say that I had a great year, for which I feel lucky given the many terrorist attacks and tragedies we saw. I traveled more than ever, which is a big deal for me as I overcame a lot of anxiety over traveling by plane. I caught up with more family and friends than ever, and I’m so happy about being in touch with them more regularly, thanks to social media and long distance conversations over the phone or WhatsApp. And, I got to spend time blogging, connecting with new people, and learning a lot about freelance writing. Continue reading →
For the past few years, I’ve hosted a holiday luncheon for about 40-50 people, kids included. It’s the one big party I have every year to invite the people that have included us in their family celebrations throughout the year and that we see on a regular basis.
The first year or two, the party planning was stressful, mainly because I wasn’t equipped with all of the plates, cutlery, serving dishes, chafing dishes, and coffee maker that I needed and I wasn’t sure about the timing of getting things done. Recently, though, I’ve figured out how to make it as stress-free as possible and I can say that this year’s party was the easiest. It only took 5 years, but that’s okay! If you’re considering hosting some form of holiday party, I hope some of these tips will help:
Tip 1: Give as much notice of the party as possible. I try to give the guests about 3-4 weeks’ notice. Because I hold the party at least 3 weeks before Christmas, most of the guests are still ‘free’ and not caught up in the holiday shopping or other parties. It’s also a fun way for you and the guests to ease into the holiday season.
Tip 2: Start cleaning out the freezer and fridge two weeks before the party. Go through the fridge and freezer and make a mental note of what you can use in the next week or two and toss what is expired. Start buying fewer perishable items like fruits, vegetables, meat, and dairy products, so that your fridge remains clean and empty. Cook meals that won’t have too many leftovers. And, consider ordering in or eating out for the last two days before the party… bonus for you and the husband and kids!
Tip 3: Bake ahead. Sounds easy enough, but this means that your freezer, from the tip one above, has been cleared out and can handle all of the desserts you are making ahead and freezing. It also means you have made a list of the desserts you are planning on making and that you have on hand storage containers, plastic wrap, waxed paper, and all of the required baking ingredients. Start baking two weeks ahead so the last week can be spent on prepping the house and buying fresh food for the party. Continue reading →
With all due respect to Tom Hanks’ character in A League of Their Own, the fictionalized movie about the All-American Girls Professional League, and the infamous line ‘There’s no crying in baseball’, I’m here to tell you: there IS crying in baseball – and that’s okay.
I’m talking about the kind of crying on players’ faces as they realize what it means to become World Series Champs. The kind of crying by loyal fans because ‘fairweather fan’ doesn’t apply when 1908 is the last time your team won. And, the kind of crying that overcomes you at home as you watch the players’ own emotions become your own.
Let me stop right here with the baseball jargon, because I’m in no way qualified to talk baseball with any authority. Rather, I’m a fan who appreciates what baseball teaches me about life and how I weave these lessons into my parenting.
I fell in love with baseball in elementary school, when I had a crush on a boy in my class. It’s that simple. Thankfully, my two brothers played baseball, providing the perfect cover for showing up at games. Over time, I cheered on the teams, kept the score on the old-fashioned wooden scoreboards, and even sat in the announcer’s booths in my small hometown. I learned the rules and saw up-close the upsets and triumphs of the players, the teams, and the parents who so badly wanted their sons to excel at baseball.
Today, my love for baseball means cheering my girls on in softball games and taking them to watch the Toronto Blue Jays. I love what the game teaches my kids about life. And, the World Series last night did not disappoint. Here’s what I’ve observed. Continue reading →
It’s Halloween in a few days which means it’s one of my favorite times of the year! I’ve got childhood memories of wearing my costume and marching in a parade at school for parents and kids to admire. I’ve got adult memories of carving pumpkins in my college dorm. I’ve got lots of memories of going trick-or-treating with my kids over the years. And, handing out candy dressed in a witch hat is an evening I look forward to all year. So, in my opinion, Halloween is a great excuse to have a party!
I’ve thrown a few Halloween parties for the kids over the years, sometimes themed in with one of my daughter’s birthdays. It’s just too easy to have a Halloween party, especially when the dollar stores, drug stores, and corner stores are all so well-stocked with fun crafts and ideas. Did you know that, in the US, Halloween is about a $7 billion a year industry? Canadians spend about $1 billion, which is more per capita than Americans do on Halloween costumes, decor and candy, according to an October 2014 article in The Financial Post.
Here are my 5 tips for hosting a party, followed by photos of what I’ve done.
Let the kids be involved in setting the agenda.
Do kids come wearing their costume or not? What do they want the main activity to be? What do you want to serve? How many people is comfortable for you and your child to entertain? What time do you want to have the party? I think Halloween is more fun in the dark, so if you can do a late afternoon party, go for it. Continue reading →
This past Labor Day Weekend, my husband and I were invited to the most exquisite wedding celebration we have ever attended. My friend Paul married his partner Eliav, at the Calistoga Ranch in California’s Napa Valley, in a ‘Mad Men In Napa’, 1960s- themed wedding.
Friends and family participated in three days of wedding festivities which included lots of wine and food, love and laughter, and renewed friendships.
This is, by far, the most elegant, generous, and thoughtful wedding I have ever attended!
I will give you all of the fun and fancy details in a bit, but let’s begin with love and friendship which is what Mad Men in Napa was really all about.
Let’s Talk About The Love…
Paul and Eliav have been together for over 22 years, after Paul answered an ad in The Chicago Reader newspaper. Eliav knew before Paul that they were meant to be together, but it didn’t take Paul that much longer to figure this out! Both partners love traveling, fine dining, collecting wine, and taking in cultural events. They also love spending time with family and friends and, from the speeches given, these treasured relationships have only grown deeper over time.
Paul and Eliav’s wedding was even more special not only because we know how long-lasting and solid their love is after more than 20 years together, but because it was a celebration of life yesterday, today, and tomorrow, coincident with the landmark Obergefell vs Hodges case legalizing same-sex marriage in every state. As such, the grooms’ marriage is symbolic of the natural progression of rights over time as well as a blending of the grooms’ families, cultures, and religions.
…Let’s Talk About The Friendships…
I met Paul in London a long, long time ago. We were on a Junior Year Abroad program at the London School of Economics where we lived in a flat at 37 Nottingham Place, with about 25 other students from various American colleges. We had a group of friends that traveled together to places like Scotland, Wales, Spain, and the then Soviet Union. We explored London neighborhoods and attended the theater on Tuesdays when it was student discount day. And, of course, we spent many many nights at the local pub, talking about Ronald Reagan and politics! Although we were only in London for about 3 months, the friendships and bonds we made would last for a long time and attending Paul and Eliav’s wedding confirmed this.
Paul has been the one who has kept us all connected over the years. He has been the hub of our friendship network, spending time with me when he would come to Toronto on business. On a couple of these trips, Eliav joined Paul, and our families met. When Paul and I saw each other in Toronto, we would visit an art exhibit or a local antique store. Paul would always send me an email in advance with lists and links to the best new restaurants in my own city! Yes, if you know Paul and Eliav, you know what I’m talking about.
Paul would also fill me in on our ‘LSE friends’ that he would see over the years. Sometimes I would just get a quick email saying that he had been in Chicago or New York over the weekend and that he had seen one of our friends. So, bringing us together after all of these years seemed like the most natural of things. Meeting each other’s spouses and significant others was a real treat. And, by extension, meeting and getting to know invited friends and family of the grooms was easy because of the close connections with the couple that we all share.
…And Now, Let’s Talk About All Of The Fun!
As you’ve read, this is no ordinary love…and the celebrations were no ordinary celebrations!
The planning for Mad Men In Napa was a year in the making, the wedding lasted for three days, and the memories are forever. Here’s the journey we experienced as guests.
In January, we received a ‘Save the Date’ in the form of a boarding pass, with the wedding dates and a pin indicating Napa Valley as the destination. In other words, consider your Labor Day Weekend 2016 plans made. We also received a website address to keep us informed of up-to-date wedding details. Did I mention that a Mad Men in Napa logo had been developed with the silhouette of two men holding wine looking out at vineyards? The grooms are fanatics of the 1960s and Mad Men (the TV show depicting the lives of advertising executives on Madison Avenue in the 60s) and even own pieces of furniture from the set like Don Draper’s office couch and Roger Sterling’s cocktail table. You already know they love wine, hence…a Mad Men in Napa wedding it would be!
In June, guests received another box full of wine corks (the Save the Date also came in a box with wine corks and a corkscrew), a Mad Men in Napa Game, and more wedding details. My daughter commented “They must like wine” to which I answered “How did you guess?” (By the way, Ceci New York designed each part of the amazing custom invitations that you see below). I planned my 1960s outfits and asked Paul to approve my Day One outfit. He asked me if I had the Jackie O glasses to match. I told him I would try to find some…
In July, we received a tube with some parchment paper: in lieu of gifts, all 180 guests were asked to fill a scrapbook page with a message, a memory, advice, something meaningful, for the grooms. We had homework, but I knew what I would send in right away. I had made a scrapbook from our London days and so I copied and submitted the page with all of the theater stubs. My husband submitted his favorite poem.
And so, on September 2nd, we arrived in Calistoga to begin Day One of Mad Men in Napa. The first activity was a wine-blending competition held at the Franciscan Estate in St. Helena. Guests were put into Mad Men character teams like Team Roger, Don, and Megan. Each team had a variety of red wines, pipettes, funnels, and colored pencils. We had to come up with a blend, bottle it, and label it with a name. Our team came up with Lucky Strike ‘The Perfect Blend’ and we won the smoothest wine category. As each team pitched their ‘wine and reason’ to the grooms, guests enjoyed a cheese board and wine.
The second activity was an appetizer cooking class and a cocktail making class at The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone. This time we were Team Fleishmann’s, as in the mayonnaise. Chefs taught us how to make 1960s appetizers like onion dip, deviled eggs, ambrosia salad, and pigs-in-a-blanket. We all wore aprons and Mad Men chef’s hats. Then guests had a cocktail making class where we learned how to make Manhattans and Old Fashioneds. An elegant dinner and family speeches followed in the wine cellar of the Culinary Institute with Baked Alaska (what else) for dessert.
The wedding ceremony took place on Day Two, at the Calistoga Ranch as the sun was setting. The chuppa was elegantly decorated (by Fleurs de France) with white flowers and stood against the vineyard. Naturally, the grooms walked in down the aisle between the vineyard rows! A reading about Obergefell vs Hodges and the history of rights in America set the stage for family and friends to read poems and share memories before the vows were made. Paul’s niece beautifully sang Etta James’ very fitting ‘At Last’. The ceremony ended with the breaking of a glass and the grooms blending Israeli and Greek wine to symbolically represent their union, in a cup presented to them by Eliav’s family. And, they took their first selfie together under the chuppa, as a married couple!
After the ceremony, guests posed for photos and enjoyed champagne at the reception. The grooms drove a 1965 Pontiac LeMans Convertible to the elegant wedding dinner site on the lawn next to Lommel Lake. We all ogled over the wedding cake, which was layers of cheese wheels with a 3D printed cake topper of the grooms, created at doob‘s digital studios in New York City. The likeness was uncanny.
We found our seats at one of two long tables set for 90 guests each. The tables were exquisitely decorated with purple, green, and white floral arrangements and succulents. Each guest had a menu indicating the salad, starters, main entrees, and dessert, with accompanying wines for each course. As the sun set, we enjoyed the most delicious food, wine, impeccable service, and company, with candles lighting up the night and the milky way visible above us.
When dinner was over, we walked the short distance to the Wine Cave where dessert, coffee, a Whisky Bar, and dancing awaited. After the grooms’ first dance to ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You’, we danced to ‘Thriller’, ‘I’ve Got a Feeling’, ‘It’s Raining Men’, and ended with ‘Last Dance’. What a magical night!
Day Three, we had to return home, but the remaining guests were treated to a champagne tour and brunch at Domain Chandon which included a doughnut machine, a crepe table, fresh prosciutto, seafood and sushi tables, and frozen whipped nutmeg puffs in liquid nitrogen as coffee toppings.
You should also know that the grooms, along with their wedding planners Cole Drake Events, thought of everything: buses took guests from their hotels to all of the wedding venues and brought them back. Every part of each meal had an accompanying wine. Open bars served whatever you ordered. Multiple photographers and videographers recorded each event. A drone took a group photo at the Culinary Institute. All programs, menus, napkins and bottled water had the Mad Men in Napa logo on them. The caterers perfectly attended to allergies and food preferences. Golf carts shuttled guests as required. Pashmina shawls, heel protectors, and flip-flops were provided for the outdoor dinner and for after dancing. Every need and want was met and it all seemed effortless. Guests were treated like royalty.
We felt very very special to be invited to this celebration of long-lasting love, this blending of cultures and friends. And, we wish the grooms a continued lifetime of love, laughter, and adventures together…Mazel Tov!
(Photo of the LSE friends, grooms in the car and the brunch buffet were taken by other wedding guests and used with permission)
It’s the first day of September and, in Ontario, it’s still peach season! You can find peaches in the grocery stores and at farmers’ markets. And, they are delicious.
For the last three weeks, I’ve made a Peach Crumble every week because I can only eat peaches cooked. My family has been enjoying this recipe, too. We seem to eat it for breakfast or snack or dessert.
Last summer, I shared a recipe for Peach and Strawberry Crumble. You can read that post to understand the difference between crumbles, crisps, and cobblers. Personally, I love oatmeal, so I go for the crumbles.
This summer, I went for a straight peach crumble, and I made it in a 9 by 13 inch pan. If you want to make this in a smaller pan, go ahead. Just make sure the crumble doesn’t go past the top of the pan.
You can serve this with ice cream, cream, or milk. I use the latter if I want to have the crumble for breakfast. Go ahead, live a little! Continue reading →
Today is August 15th, The Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Sounds like quite the esoteric topic for a post, but I wanted to share this day with you in the form of pictures and anecdotes because it’s a big deal in my family!
In Lebanon today, it is a statutory holiday and it is highly celebrated. You go to church, you visit and spend time with everyone named Mary, and you even give them presents. And, because my name is Mary, today is my day!
When my grandmother was alive, this day was her day, too – basically like a birthday celebration. August 15th was bigger for her than any other day of the year because her name was Marie and she was very religious. We would go over to her house and exchange gifts and have lunch with the extended family.