Friday, December 28, 2012

Christmas in Qatar ... a Photo Review

While opening up gifts from Canada on Christmas Day, I read a card from a good friend which said, "I am so curious to hear about Christmas in Qatar!" ... and the inspiration for this post was born.

We were "forced" to be here this holiday season, due to me being 36 weeks pregnant (!!!!!) as of yesterday. But once we got over the initial "Oh? You mean we can't go home?" we were actually glad to stay. While it's wonderful to see family and friends, flying home at Christmas is a big cost for a short amount of time, nevermind the week it takes to get over the jet lag. Doha is beautiful this time of year, and lucky for us, many of our friends chose to stay here this year too. AND we had a good friend visit us from back home, bringing a little Christmas along with her.

Being a Muslim country, Qatar doesn't officially celebrate Christmas. Stores don't go mad with the Christmas rush (they're kind of just always mad), there's no Christmas music playing, and there isn't that Christmas Day quiet. But I like all of these things. Because it means Christmas here is truly what you make it. You can still buy Christmas trees, even real ones, if you're willing to shell it out. And the stores are filled with decorations and special holiday chocolates. There are churches here, where you can celebrate advent... the Catholic church was busting at the seams Christmas Eve with its many, many services in multiple languages. And the large hotels feature special events, like Christmas Eve and Day dinners, with all the traditional fixings, along with massive, beautifully decorated trees and visits from Santa.

For our part, we chose to host a Christmas Eve open house, in the style of our former St. Catharines neighbours, and then to have a quiet rest of the holiday. After a busy, busy month, we Epps are in need of some serious rest and quiet. We filled the house with Christmas music, did a bit of baking, decorated with handmade ornaments, wreaths, and snowflakes, as well as some stockings bought from a craft show. Christmas Day we opened gifts, played, and then went to the park, calling Canadian family and friends in the evening. And lucky for us... we have till January 6th to enjoy this blessed quiet and togetherness time, with pretty much nothing listed on the calendar. And that, friends, is how we chose to do Christmas in Qatar.

Our itty-bitty Christmas tree, covered in homemade ornaments. Kaiya and I put it up December 1st, while Jeff was still in Canada.

Kaiya and Jeff at the Doha Mums' Winter Carnival, a great day full of Christmas-y arts and crafts.

Can't write about our holidays without mentioning National Day, December 18th. It's HUGE. I'll post more on that another time.

Kaiya took this one of Jeff in National Day/Qatari flag garb.

Kaiya and I making sugar cookies. They were delicious, but confirmed the fact that I am NOT a fan of rolled cookies.

She has become very good at posing for pictures.

Painting the living room, using our Christmas Eve open house as a pressure deadline. The hallway also got painted... a lovely deep red. I know... green and red... how festive of us!

Our "hand" wreath, and a stocking Kaiya made at daycare last year.

We decided to open our stockings Christmas Eve morning.

Kaiya was thrilled with her chocolate Santa. She ate it over the course of 3 days. Her comment on Day 3: "The chocolate man is dead. I ate his head." (insert slightly-evil laugh)

An amazing veggie tray Larissa made for the open house. Check out the snowman!

I think this is the only people picture Jeff took of the open house?

Thankfully Kaiya took Jeff's iphone and decided to document some of the evening. She's been doing this kind of thing a lot lately. Following daddy's footsteps?

Open house leftovers: cupcakes we made, yule log courtesy of Tracie, and baklava and assorted breads, store bought. We had SO MUCH food, but thankfully everyone mowed through it pretty good. ;)

Thoughtful homemade gifts from friends... as well as our favourite holiday chocolates.

Christmas Day was 30+ degrees. Gotta keep those plants well watered!

Christmas morning. We were all exhausted after the night before, but she was SO excited! The perfect age to "get it."

Jeff and Kaiya, Christmas Day. Can you tell Jeff went to bed at 3:30, after cleaning up and wrapping gifts?

Me and Kaiya, Christmas Day. This used to be my least favourite room. I kinda love it now. It's amazing what paint and pictures on the wall can do for the "cozy factor."

The cute outfit Auntie Dagmar bought for Kaiya.

Her BIG gift from Santa: a 3-wheeled scooter.

Already well-used. Down our street every morning, and at the park every afternoon.

And finally, we can't have "winter" in Qatar without a good old sand angel, now can we? Much easier than making a sand man, anyhow. :)

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!!

It's the most wonderful time of the year. People back home keep asking us, "Does it feel like Christmas??" And surprisingly, it does. Jeff keeps saying he hasn't "felt" Christmas like this for a while. We've had a crazy December. Since Jeff's been back, it's been a whirlwind. Work, exam writing, Robyn's visit, and then the lead-up to our Christmas Eve open house, with a couple days of baking and painting... Phew!

But it's been satisfying, so satisfying. We were nervous about the open house yesterday, not knowing what to expect. But it ended up being the perfect blend of food, drink, friends, music, laughter, and kid chaos. All day today, we kept talking about how lucky we are to have the friends we have both here and back in Canada. Life is rich. It is full of love and blessings.

And the days to come will be filled with blessed quiet and family time. Trips to the park, to the beach, to the pool. Or not. Or just sitting around enjoying each other's company. God knows we need to enjoy this last little space of time before baby comes along to totally change up the mix!

So for now, it's back to my cup of tea, and a couple phone calls to people I love back home. We wish you and yours a wonderful Christmas and a time of quiet to reflect on 2012 and all that it's been. And whatever it has been, we wish you even better things in 2013. We're certainly looking forward to ours.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

In Memory...

About two hours after I posted that last blog post, we got the kind of news that flips your world upside down. Jeff's sister Karen called to say the nursing home had called, and that it didn't look good. There were hours left, days if we were lucky. And we were sent into a tailspin... phone calls, flight arrangements, lesson plans, exit permits, and very little sleep as we dozed with our mobiles next to the bed, awaiting any news that might come.

And it came quickly, too quickly. Jeff's mom passed away in the middle of our Friday night. And on Sunday morning he was on a plane home. To Canada. To grieve with family and friends while Kaiya and I and the belly stayed back, awaiting his return.

It was a very bittersweet time. Long phone calls, where he tried as much as he could to make me feel connected, a part of the family, a part of the grieving. I spent a week at home, listening to the old hymns she loved, staring at pictures, obsessively checking my phone, my email, my Facebook. Wanting to be there, needing the connection. Sleeping very lightly at night, knowing the events of each day in Canada were passing me by.

He's home now. But instead of the quiet times I'd hoped for, sitting together and accompanied by cups of tea and long, hushed conversations, we've been thrust right back into the grind. Three exams for him to set, and a sick but energetic child for me to occupy and care for.

And I still need to grieve. I look at pictures of her, and although I know it happened, I know there was a beautiful funeral and touching eulogies, I still don't understand. How is it that she has passed... that she is no longer with us? Only 66. A well-deserved retirement and growing numbers of grandchildren before her... all ripped away by the evil that is dementia. It's not right. We were meant to have many more years together. Summer barbecues in the backyard, Christmas dinners squished too tightly in the dining room, many more memories to make at camp. All ripped away.

We are just left with the pictures, and the memories...

I met Margaret Jane Lampshire Epp when I was about 14 years old. And although she later became "mom" to me, it was always hard for me to think of her differently than "Mrs. Epp," my bright and energetic math teacher who always intimidated me more than just a little, probably because I had a crush on her eldest son most of my high school career. Mrs. Epp loved the classroom, poured her heart and soul into it. Former students still quote her little sayings... "x intercept (snap!) y = zero."

But there was so much more to Marg's teaching than just the classroom. I was one of many students over the years who participated in her regular "service visits" to local nursing homes. On weekday nights, we would meet to sing, share with, and cheer the elderly people of the Niagara Region. Before the visits, we'd duck our heads at lunch, whispering, "Oh no... here she comes..." as she trolled the cafeteria, looking for her regular gang of volunteers to come out once again. But the truth is, we loved it. We loved the harmonies, the stories, the warmth we felt as we shared our lives. And the joy we saw in Mrs. Epp too. It didn't matter to her if we could even carry a tune. Everyone knows she couldn't. She just loved to see our willingness to come together and the joy we were spreading.

Many people say Marg had a servant's heart. And it's true. She was always giving. And even when life dealt her some big, bad blows, she was not one to sit in self-pity. She did not like to accept charity. She was much more comfortable forging on, looking outward, focusing on the needs of those around her. She loved and she gave with a large, cheerful heart. And even in times when we wished she would just slow down, her enthusiasm was infectious... life-affirming.

In the last couple years of her life, as we already began to grieve what dementia was taking away, we saw through and through that while Marg had been a Niagara transplant, moving so seamlessly amongst the German Mennonite crowd, in her heart and at her core she was a Thunder Bay girl. Camp Bay. Silver Islet. More and more her stories and memories revolved around Camp, around the family she had lost long ago. She loved looking at the pictures, remembering the old times. I'll never forget how hard Karen worked, against all medical advice, to give mom one last summer at Camp. It was the best gift anyone could give.

While I've written much, the words are really failing me. It's difficult to express what is deep inside, especially when I still feel a great disconnect. We will miss you, mom. We are thankful your pain is gone, but we will miss your stories, your great big heart, and your love for your family.

Mom holding Kaiya when she was just a pudgy baby.

She loved how Kaiya had the same jowls Jeff did as a baby.

One of many summer barbecues. She loved reading to her grandkids.
And they loved listening.

Mom and Hailey
I love this picture. Our last Christmas in the family home. We knew, somehow, that it was the last. 2010.

One of two squishy tables at Christmas.

Just this summer, with all the grandkids.

Jeff's last visit with his mom, in August.