Monday, July 23, 2012

Capture the Spirit of Ramadan

The 2012 "Capture the Spirit of Ramadan" International Photography Competition™ is underway and accepting submissions. It is a chance to bridge the gap between cultures, countries, and religions by sharing with and educating the world about Ramadan and its various traditions.

From their website:
"Capture the Spirit of Ramadan" International Photography Competition is a unique and unprecedented 30-day visual celebration that will educate and enlighten thousands of viewers around the world about Ramadan.

Please visit their website by clicking HERE to learn more about their program, the rules, and prizes, and to see last year's winners.  You can also check out their Facebook page by clicking HERE.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Ramadan Mubarak

RAMADAN MUBARAK to all my Muslim friends around the world! I wish you peace and happiness.

For those of you who are not Muslim, Ramadan is the holy month when Muslims fast from sun-up until sundown. Fasting includes abstaining from everything, such as food, drink, no sex, and no smoking. The purpose of Ramadan is to bring Muslims closer to God and the fasting gives Muslims a greater appreciation for the blessings they have and more empathy for those who are less fortunate.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Celebrating My Mom's Life: Trudy Johnson

My mom, Trudy Johnson, May 1925 - July 2012

Some of you have already heard about my mom Trudy's passing on from this world a few days ago at the age of 87. But many of you don't know what an extraordinary woman she was.

A friend just asked me what my mom's secret was - how exactly did she do it? Raising five kids all by herself, and all of us were motivated, with ambitions, and grew into successful productive adults. My friend wanted to know what she could do to instill these ethics and motivations in her own children.

My mom Trudy, age 5

The truth is, I really don't know how my mom did it. I think back to the those times, of the difficulties and challenges she was faced with, widowed in 1963 at age 38 and left to raise five kids all by herself, ranging in age from thirteen down to ten months. We had moved from New York City to the small border town of Douglas, Arizona, when I was just four - and seven short years later, we lost my dad. Even though both Mom's and Dad's families were back in New York and they begged her to move us all back there, she decided to stay in Arizona, feeling that it was a better place to raise her children. I can't imagine how different our lives may have been had she moved us back to NYC.

Our last family photo before my dad passed away in 1963.

I cannot say enough good things about Douglas, AZ. It was like we had this huge extended family around us. The town couldn't have been bigger than 15,000 people. I am so grateful that I grew up there. Even though it was culturally lacking in the types of events and activities that big cities have to offer, there was always plenty to do. Every summer, the Johnson kids went swimming, took tennis lessons, played on ball teams, and rode our bikes everywhere. We always had friends over to the house, and my brothers and I were in all the school plays and musicals and starred in those hilariously comical plays written by the fabulous Wynne Strom down at the church - the Johnson kids were such big hams that she actually wrote specific parts for us.

Christmas in Douglas, Arizona, 1958

My mom encouraged us to pursue our interests and she was a great believer in having a back-up plan. For example, my brother Barry wanted a career in music, so she insisted that he get his teaching degree so he could also teach voice, just in case. And Barry now does both - teaches and has a singing career. My brothers and I all had such diverse interests - we all went into such different careers and all chose such different paths in life.

The Johnson Clan starts growing, adding daughters-in-law and grandchildren - 1976

Mom supported us in whatever we wanted to do, never missing an event where one of us was performing, or graduating, or playing. She was even honored with a big trophy by the Little League Baseball team that all my brothers played on - she never missed a single ballgame in about 20 consecutive years, not even the week she gave birth to my baby brother. Of course, I kidded with her that she should have shared that trophy with me, because I too went to all of those ballgames to cheer on my brothers or to man the concession stand.

Backstage after one of my brother Barry's performances as Papageno in Mozart's The Magic Flute - Colorado, 1980s

She was involved in everything - PTA, several women's groups, church, Community Concerts, local politics, the Blood Bank - I can't even begin to name all the organizations she was a part of. She was always busy making costumes for this play or that, or hosting a meeting for one of her organizations. She was even named Lady of the Year in Douglas one year, and ran for mayor a few years later. But she narrowly lost. Probably a good thing.

I remember her picketing outside the local movie theater when they were going to raise the price of admission. And I remember that my brothers had a paper route, and she got up with them every morning at oh-dark-thirty, helped them fold the papers and bag them, and then drove them around the route as they threw the papers while hanging off the open back door of the station wagon. I know because I went many mornings myself with them. We were a family and we did things together. And my mom was a great role model for us all, teaching us to never give up, to finish whatever we started, and to go after our dreams.

My mom and dad's wedding in 1949, with her parents

My mom tried her best to treat each one of us equally so we didn't feel that she loved one of us more than the others, while at the same time making each of us feel special. At Christmas she made sure that each one of us kids had the same number of gifts to open. But then she withheld those gifts until we had written thank you cards to everyone. At Easter, she carefully counted out every jelly bean or chocolate egg so we all had the exact same number of candies in our baskets. At Thanksgiving, our house was the place to be, overrun with adults and kids alike, with mostly the families of teachers in Douglas - the Huddlestons, the Rehureks, the Pierces, and the Levras. Since we all had no other family in town, they became our family.

Mom with three of her grandkids in 2003

Our house was always filled with laughter and jokes, and many times Mom was the butt of those jokes. There were funny things that happened that she was never able to shake off - like the day we came home from school and saw her leg dangling down from a big hole in the living room ceiling and heard her yelling "Help me!" She had been putting away Christmas decorations and lost her footing. Luckily she didn't fall all the way through, but she couldn't wrangle her way out of there until we got home from school. I don't remember how long she had to dangle there like that, but we all sure got a lot of mileage out of that incident.

Getting silly with two of her grandsons

Another funny memory of Mom is the video we have of her on a family vacation to Disneyland. All of us kids were filmed enjoying the rides, eating, and laughing, but throughout the whole video, each time we filmed Mom, she was coming out of a different restroom. It was those darn water pills she had to take half of her life!

Family Reunion celebrating Mom's 70th birthday - 1995

Being in the travel business for many years, I feel fortunate that I was able to take Mom on some nice trips to Hawaii and Europe. But I never heard the end of it when I took my mom to Australia and she couldn't find her passport when we got to the airport to return home. I had to leave her in Australia to find her passport, and I came back all by myself. Luckily she found it and came back the next day, but boy, did I ever get ribbed for abandoning my mom in Australia.

Clowning around in Austria with family in 1989

And then there was the time when my daughter Shaune and I were both quite pregnant, and we brought Mom to my home when she had just been released from the hospital after having had back surgery. Somehow she fell down as she was entering my house, and Shaune and I couldn't lift her up. So she had to crawl all the way to the bedroom, and then Shaune and I pushed her up from behind onto the bed while we were all hysterically laughing. Ah, good times...

Mom with two of her grandsons in Washington

Growing up I knew we weren't rich, but she made sure we all had everything we needed even if she couldn't afford to get us all everything we wanted. She taught us to be thrifty. I remember during the summer when she would drop us kids off at the public pool and she gave us money for our admission plus an extra dime so we could call her on the pay phone when we were ready to be picked up. But we had a special code when we called - we would let the phone ring twice and hang up, and this was her signal to pick us up. That way, we got the dime back because the call wasn't completed.

At barely 5 feet tall, her sons towered over her

She was well known around town as the Avon Lady - she sold Avon for more than 30 years. I used to love helping her put together her orders, and I can still remember the smells of those boxes of products and those small samples of lipsticks, perfumes or creams she used to give me.

My mom wasn't known for her cooking prowess, but that was probably because she had a houseful of finicky eaters. We used to tease her about her lumpy mashed potatoes and her lumpy chocolate pudding, and then we'd tease her that they weren't lumpy enough. I remember when we had a guest over for dinner one night, and my brother Roy brought out a plate of leftover pancakes, telling the guest that it was my mom's attempt at making bread and to just eat it and say it's good so my mom wouldn't feel bad. Mom usually stuck a pot roast with potatoes in the oven that baked while we were at church on Sunday mornings - there was always plenty of food for the extra friends we inevitably invited home with us for lunch.

A smaller family reunion in 2011, all but one brother was present and accounted for.

She turned 87 this past May and since I couldn't be there with her to celebrate, I wanted to do something special for her that I knew she would appreciate. A few days before her birthday, I put a message out on my Facebook page calling on friends and family to wish her a Happy Birthday. I had my sister-in-law Sandy print off all of the messages and after the traditional family birthday dinner, everyone sat around the table and took turns reading aloud the more than 150 birthday greetings I had collected. Some remembered something special about her, and others remarked about how influential she had been in their lives. My mom was very touched and moved by all of the greetings from people in her past that she thought had long forgotten her. It was the best gift I could have given her. There are so many more wonderful memories I have of my mom. I could go on and on, but I think you get the picture.

My mom's 87th birthday in May 2012

At the end, her dementia had gotten worse and getting her meds at the right dosages was a real challenge. The side effects of the meds gave her terrible diarrhea and extreme tiredness. She always asked me when I was coming back, but the last two times we spoke, she didn't ask. She sounded like she had given up and was just ready to move on to the next life. She was admitted to the hospital with severe dehydration on Friday, July 6, 2012, went into kidney failure and was in a semi-comatose state. By the next day she seemed to be improving, producing urine which indicated that there wasn't any permanent kidney damage.

Family Reunion photo in 2003 in Gig Harbor, Washington

My brothers Roy and Barry live in the area, and they and their wives took shifts being with Mom. They played the music she loved from her favorite musicals - The King and I, Sound of Music, and Oklahoma. She had her eyes closed and she couldn't talk or sing, but she mouthed the words and moved her arms to the beat. I can just see her doing that. Mom passed on very peacefully in the wee hours of Sunday morning, July 8th. I am thankful that she went fast and didn't suffer and that Roy was with her at the time, to usher her gently into the next life where my Dad has been waiting almost 50 years for her. I'm sad that I couldn't be there with her at the end. It's hard living so far away - every time I would leave her these past few years to go back to Saudi Arabia, I always thought, is this going to be the last time I ever see her? And this time, it was.

Mom helping me celebrate my 60th birthday in October 2011

She was a very strong woman and had more common sense than anyone I've ever known. I will miss her pretty blue eyes (although she insisted they were green) and her sense of humor, which she had to have raising her five prankster children. Our mom never remarried and took great delight in all of her children's accomplishments - Roy, the oldest, now a retired airline pilot; Me, her only daughter and the cause for all her gray hair; Doug, a retired mining engineer and once mayor of his town; Gary, an author and a statistician with the NCAA; and Barry, the youngest, who is an opera singer and teaches voice. She also leaves behind 11 grandchildren and 4 great grandchildren. My mom always wanted a big family - she was a lonely, only child and longed to have a houseful of kids, which she got. Sometimes later in her life, when she was feeling rather useless as she aged, we needed to remind her what a wonderful job she did in raising us. Heck, not one of us has ever been in jail, and not one of us even smokes cigarettes! How did she do that?

4 generations - Mom, me, my daughter Shaune, my son Adam, and my granddaughter Kayla

We have chosen to have a "Celebration of Our Mom Trudy's Life" instead of a traditional funeral, and I think she would approve. This memorial service will be held on Friday, August 10th at 2pm at St. Luke's Episcopal Church, 3615 N. Gove Street in Tacoma, Washington. I am making plans to go the US in the next 2-3 weeks so I can be there with my family and my mom's friends to say goodbye to our amazing and extraordinary Trudy. All of my brothers and their wives and families will also be there, along with my own two kids and my granddaughter Kayla. My husband Adnan won't be able to come because it will be the middle of Ramadan, and it's quite difficult to travel such a distance when one is fasting. But I know he will be there with us all in spirit.

Trudy Johnson, still beautiful in her 80s

If there is any way that you can join us to celebrate our mother's life, we would love that. If you are in one of those hot places like Arizona, or Florida, or Texas, I must say that Tacoma is quite heavenly in August, and it would be a great respite for you from the heat of summer. And "heavenly" is a good way to describe the sendoff we will be giving our wonderful Mom.

Thank you all for your friendship, concern, and love that you have shown for my family and our very special Mom.

With love and peace -
Susie of Arabia / Susie Johnson Khalil

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Embracing the Abaya

It’s been more than four years now since I moved to Saudi Arabia. I must admit, I’ve never been a big fan of the abaya. My internal body thermostat always runs way too hot to start with, so wearing a black cloak in this brutal heat is like torture to me. In the summertime, there are days when I have taken up to 4 showers!

BEFORE:  Woven Abaya
I’ve decided that another reason I have disliked wearing the abaya is because I just didn’t like my abaya. Since I don’t work, I have only had one abaya at any given time.

When I first arrived, I had a hand-me-down abaya, which quickly started deteriorating after I washed it a few times. A new one that I had bought also wore out, so the past couple of years, I have worn a very thin lightweight woven fabric loose-fitting abaya.

Abayas made out of woven fabric are very hard to find. The most common ones that I have seen in Jeddah are some type of polyester blend, and they range from very thin fabric to quite heavy. There are also abayas made of silk, crepe, stretchy polyester, and many other fabrics. The styles, details, and trims are endless, what with crystals, beads, hand-painting, ribbons, and on and on. And I’m happy to report that colorful abayas, including prints, are becoming more and more common here in Jeddah.

AFTER:  Woven Abaya
The woven abaya that I had been wearing had been purchased on sale at the mall for 99 riyals, which is about $26 US. It was like a big loose tent and the very narrow sleeves only ran from right below my elbows to my wrists. I had cut off these tight fitting sleeves and replaced them with wider sleeves in a black eyelet fabric and also added big pockets of the same fabric. (NOTE: It is also very rare to find abayas with pockets, for some reason.) So I had worn this woven abaya constantly for the past two years. It wasn’t fancy or much to look at, and it was not very flattering as it was so big and loose, but the fabric was much cooler for me than most fabrics out there.

When I returned to Jeddah in January, I decided that I wanted to have abayas that I actually liked, instead of feeling like such a slob in mine.

I refashioned the woven abaya by again replacing the sleeves with new fabric, a thin satiny print.

I also made three large tucks at the shoulders, so that the armpits were no longer at my elbows.

I changed out the pockets with the new satiny fabric too and also added on to the length at the bottom with the same.

I feel like I have a new abaya, and I really like it now.

AFTER: Woven Abaya - Tucks at shoulder, new sleeves, and new pockets

Recycled Abaya - New Sleeves and Gold Trim
I had another abaya that I also refashioned - one that I never really wore because I just didn't like it.

I cut off the lower sleeves and added a turquoise blue Indian print ruffled sleeve.

This fabric came from an old skirt that I never wore but I loved the fabric.

I also added a shiny gold braid trim that looks like it has jewels in it.

I haven’t worn this one yet because it’s a little heavier, but I like it so much better than the way it was.

So this one too was recycled at a cost of just the gold trim, which was very inexpensive.

Recycled Abaya - Close-up of trim and sleeve fabric

Stretchy Purple and Pink Print Abaya
I have also gone out on shopping expeditions for new abayas with friends.

I ended up purchasing two.

This first one is a stretchy knit fabric with a pink and purple print over a black background.

It’s a simple style, but I love the colors and the print.

I have worn this one a lot already!

I paid 170 SR for this one, which is about $45 US.

Close-up of new stretchy Purple and Pink Print Abaya

New Abaya with velvet detail
The other new one that I purchased has panel details in a sheer fabric with a velvet pattern in it over a green satin which shows through.

It has this in the front where the abaya comes together, around the neck, and a wide panel of it all the way down the back.

This abaya has a checked trim added to it for extra pizzazz. I love it!

It’s very comfortable, looks nice, and makes me feel great when I wear it.

I am saving it for more special occasions, even though it’s not really glitzy.

This one cost 275 SR, which is about $73 US.

Close-up of detail on new abaya with sheer velvet fabric and trim

The last abaya I now own was given to me by a friend who was leaving the country. It is a heavier fabric but it is a beautiful shade of periwinkle. Since it was plain, I added a glittery trim down the front and down the sleeves. I haven’t worn it yet, but I just love the color.

Periwinkle Abaya with new trim

So now I suddenly have five abayas! And I like them all. It has helped tremendously with my attitude about the abaya. So even though I still feel hot all the time, at least I feel better about myself wearing them - and like Martha Stewart says, "It's a good thing!"