Sunday, November 21, 2010

My Journey Out of The Mormon Religion

Here is an update that is long overdue, and will explain things to a fair few people who have been asking.

At the risk of continually repeating myself, I felt it more pertinent to write this blog post and make my explanations here.

While I understand that this may shock and offend some reading it, it is not my intention to hurt anyone. This is simply my story, my experience. I still have many friends who are members of the church, and I love them dearly (even if they chose to no longer associate with me, my friendship will always be open to them); and to them I only wish love and happiness.

To a fair few, I may be looked upon as a "traitor" to my faith, and an even greater sinner for "luring" my husband away from the Mormon religion, and thusly I will burn in the depths of hell for eternity.

To you, I will only say that I wish you peace; and that if you decide to continue reading, you do so with an open mind and heart. This is nothing but MY story and MY experience. How I have envied those of you (over the years) who have your faith so firmly planted, who have not continually been seeking, how I have wanted to BE YOU, with your peace and your confidence steeped deeply in the church's teachings. But alas, that was not my journey.

To start at the very beginning, I have to go back to the end of May/beginning of June 2010..

Two weeks after we were sealed, I fell into a deep depression which seemed to come from nowhere. I mean, we'd just been sealed in the temple right? It should have been the happiest time in our lives and I should have felt elated and on top of the world, in a new "honeymoon" period. But instead, I felt myself withdraw deep inside, I wanted to see no-one, I wanted to speak to no-one, and I became a literal hermit in the privacy of my home.

As the time was leading up to our sealing, excitement was exchanged for almost dread and fear. These emotions were so incredibly far from the dream of the 16-year old girl who had first learned about being married for "time and all eternity". A dream I had held on to for 20 years, like some fairytale, and kneeling across an altar from my "Prince Charming" as we made a solemn and eternal vow to each other.

I tried to dismiss the feelings as "pre-wedding jitters"; the only thing was, Ben and I had been married for 7 1/2 years already by that time. Then I dismissed it as Satan trying to step in between us, and the more I had these feelings, the more "right" what we were planning to do was.

Originally, my dream was to be sealed in the Salt Lake Temple, I mean, that is the "princess - fairytale - castle/like" temple right? It is THE temple that is synonymous with the Mormon faith. So we tried every which way to make it up there, even having a huge garage sale over two weekends to raise capital to make the trip. But we fell way short. My dream of Salt Lake City was slowly dissolving into thin air. I exchanged my fairytale castle temple, for a "shoebox" temple.

I wondered if my disappointment was clouding the fact that I was going to be "sealed" to my husband for time and all eternity? Was I simply acting like a spoiled-brat in my mindset and protruding bottom lip?

And we were fighting more and more often too. Neither of us were at a point where we even wanted to go through with this any more. We turned to the young missionaries who had practically made this their "second home", and were assured that it was nothing more than Satan interfering, but we had to persevere and once we were sealed, "everything would change".

On the way to the temple the afternoon we were to be sealed, I was almost sick to my stomach, I did not feel like this when we married the first time; what was different? I had to wear my mask and dismiss the nerves as nothing more than excitement; show our guests a 'good face'. I was excited too, I can't deny it; but it just felt "weird".

Afterward, we did feel the "glow" of the experience, and in realising that we had been connected and joined together as a husband and wife for all of time and eternity. That idea does still give me somersaults in my stomach, but I no longer believe that it is something that man can divide, and I know with every ounce of me, that we WILL continue to be together forever.

I wanted to go back to the temple immediately and do a "session". To be with my eternal companion for the first time together in the celestial room, AS eternal husband and wife. But Ben kept pushing that notion away. He felt he was not "ready", and this lead to the fighting again... not even a week after we were "re-married", the honeymoon was "over". He told me that if I wanted to 'go to the temple so much' he'd drop me off, but that was not the point. I had worked myself into a place of that fairytale romance that would now (finally) begin our eternities and I wanted desperately to be together in the Celestial Room with him to experience that "sealing" of our eternal union.

He could not understand his feelings, but he kept resisting.

We never did return to the temple.

After my Dad passed, the very next morning I had a most profound experience, which I learned later in the day, my Mother too had a most profound experience and that they both happened at the exact same time concerning the same thing - she on the east coast of Canada, and me here in the South-western part of the United States!

It lead me to want to learn more about Islam and in it gain a better, and deeper, understanding of my Dad; and in doing that, learning about my history and who I really was. What I did not reckon on finding were the answers I had been seeking for most of my life. And therein, I found a deep seated peace and a belonging; I finally felt that I had found "Home".

When I learned that Islam was more a way of life than a religion, that the word Islam simply means to "submit" and is from the Arabic root word for "Peace"; and a Muslim is simply "one who submits to Allah [God]", I felt every ounce of myself KNOW that this was truth. While man-made religion dictates so much, in Islam the relationship lays between an individual and God. In the end, it ONLY matters what is in a persons heart and Allah knows best.

This began my journey into Islam and my "coming home".

On September 13th 2010, I reverted back to the religion of my birth, the religion of my father, and the religion that is locked deeply within my very Be-ing.

While the video of my conversion/reversion was posted to You Tube, and I have had 'witnesses' to my reverting from all over the world, I did not feel any need to go and tell people from the church, or my bishop. I was "inactive" and that was pretty much where I was happy to let it stay.

After my husband's journey, and final reversion to Islam, the cards began to stack against us as far as friends from the church began to seep out and verbally, and openly, attack us. We kept our respect for one and all, and we kept a level head.

This past Sunday (November 14th 2010), we received a surprise visit from the bishop of the ward; he wanted to know if the "rumours" he had heard were true in that we were studying about Islam and were we doing it for knowledge sake or the reason of conversion. While Ben did not tell him that we'd already reverted he did admit that he was looking at it for the reason of conversion. At which point, the bishop immediately demanded we turn over our temple recommends and when I came out to give them, he told me that we had to write him a letter asking for our names to be removed from the church records and if he did not hear from us, we would "hear from" him in no uncertain terms (in other words if we do not willingly resign as members of the church, he will convene a church court to excommunicate us). To which I responded "that's the only time we ever hear from you people".

Over the years, we have had a myriad of issues with this bishop; and while some can be claimed to be misunderstanding, there is a definite "dislike" for us on the part of this man. And he has been trying for years to find ways to get us to "disappear" and out of the church/ward.

He has burdened us with abusive words over and over again during our years with this ward. While he has been somewhat "pleasant" on the one hand, on the other, he has been emotionally, verbally, and psychologically abusive.

In the past, we have gone inactive because he has pushed us away, and in the time that we were gone from the church (one was a 2-year absence), he only ever came to our door one time. I recall the date freshly in my mind, July 4th 2004. I had borrowed a sewing machine from the church and had not been at church to return it, so he came round on that day simply to pick it up. He did not bother to stay or to even ask how we were doing, seeking after our welfare as a bishop... the "father of the ward", should be doing as he "tends to his flock". This bishop would rather lose two of his flock than to search, seek, and bring those he has lost back.

We have several Muslim friends who were born and raised Mormon, a couple have successfully completed full-time missions for the church and NONE of them have been asked to have their names removed from the church records. They have simply been allowed to be, and are classified on church records as being "inactive".

While this week has brought a myriad of emotions, most of which have been anger at this person, and finally releasing and letting go of that which was deep within me; I am trying to also find the peace and harmony of this release. I have been a part of the church for 21 years, and I fought SO hard to BE a member and then to STAY a member, but I now have to look back and wonder what all that stemmed from and what was the "fighting" really for? Was it the need for a 16-year-old child to feel wanted and to be a part of something, to simply belong? Or was there more to it?

It has been a week of learning, knowing, releasing, and then be-ing; only to return and complete the cycle once, twice, thrice more.

The biggest feeling of relief has come in, for the first time in my life, finally feeling free to be me. No airs, no graces, no masks, no "double life"; no conforming into what those in the church deem to be appropriate. I have finally shed that thick layer of skin that I created in conforming to being the person that they dictated me to be. The burden is released, and the reaction has been fantastic on my psyche.

Many have felt that the main reason we left the church has solely been because of the people and us having had a "bad experience" with the church. I have to make a correction here, while we have had a terrible and devastating experience with the WARD we were in, and the bishop; what I consider my "home ward" was/is wonderful. The people were true as we read in the wonderful "fairytales" that we are taught about in the history of the church, or in the monthly Ensign. The people in my ward in Ottawa, Canada are living the gospel as it is supposed to be lived. They are welcoming, inviting, engaging, and loving. You must understand that I have been seeking, for years, many answers to questions, and I could not find within the walls of the Mormon-faith. The people had a lot to do with how easy it was to look outside of the faith, and to continually push me/us away, but the only reason why we left had nothing to do with the people, it was much deeper than that.

But yes, my experiences here were devastating to me who had grown to know the members as being a strong foundation of what was my world, and my faith.

It was devastating when the very first time that I attended the ward here, NO ONE bothered to say "hello" or "welcome", I was observed like a freak at a side-show. The woman with whom I shared a pew sat staring at me in a freakish way the entire Sacrament meeting (I only spoke with her for the very first time in 2009 when someone introduced us, and this after 6 years of being members of the same ward). Then, at the close of that first Sacrament meeting, she literally climbed over my lap/legs to "get out". As I got lost in the maze of corridors trying to find Sunday School, no one stopped to ask if I needed any help or was I new, I was left completely and totally alone.

Later, in a meeting with a counselor in the Stake Presidency, I brought this experience up and suggested that more needed to be said from the Stake Presidency to the members of the Stake in making people feel more welcomed, and that members truly DID need to live by the motto of President David O. McKay "Every member a missionary". The counselor answered me by saying that my husband and I could be that example in leading the way as we attended our meetings. That there would be no address from the stake presidency and that if we wanted to see the change, we had to be the change and example for others to follow.

As I sat amongst "my people" those who are supposed to by my "brothers and sisters", I felt more alone than I had ever felt in my life; and I would say that for me, this is when the first stirrings of questions began to enter my psyche. But, as a "member in good standing" Mormon, those questions had to be pushed as far away as possible.

But the problem with opening Pandora's box is that the flow is continual. Not only was I now pondering, questions that I had lingering from years prior began to intermingle with new questions.

When I sought answers to the questions, many were never answerable in the church. I was told over the years to pray more, fast more, read my scriptures more, go to the temple more. So when none of that gave me answers, I was then handed off the standard, "well we'll find out the answers when we die and are in the Celestial Kingdom."

More and more I questioned my faith, my beliefs, the very things that I had held on so strongly to over the years and what eventually brought me back to the church time and time again from inactivity and seeking questions from outside of the religion.

I wanted SO hard to believe and understand everything. I wanted SO hard to be a part of a religion that I loved, that I did fight so hard to join; that had embraced me, but also abused me; and eventually, abandoned me.

It was a classic cycle-of-abuse, and it kept drawing me back time and time again. And each time, I wore down a little more and a little more; but I still could not find the answers I so desperately sought. At one point, I was even told that I had not found answers because I was not asking "the right questions" or asking them in the "correct way"!

When Dad died, it literally took the ground out from under me. The morning after he died, I had a very profound experience. That experience was the beginning... Over that very busy, and emotion-filled week I had a very strong feeling that after the funeral and celebration of life service we were holding, I would start to look into, and study the religion of my birth in an effort to understand and know my Dad on a different and more deeper level, and maybe begin to understand myself more too.

Through the week of planning, things came up that made this decision to learn become more solidified in me. I never expected that it would lead me to a new path and eventually finding my peace and my truth.

It was almost as if Dad was orchestrating things from the other side, as more and more opportunities were presenting themselves to me.

As I delved more into my past, learning, absorbing, seeking and then finding, I found ALL the answers that I had been seeking in Mormonism. I could deny it no longer, this is where I belonged.

It was an amazing, and releasing feeling, stepping back onto the path that I had been born onto, but my inner-turmoil regarding the church did weigh heavily in me. I did not feel that I had to officially "leave" the church and never felt that I should write to have my "name removed from church records". However, interestingly enough, a friend of mine had contacted me and asked me how she would be able to do that. After some searching on the internet for her, I found her the information. I never thought that I would be the one having to use the information I provided for her.

In speaking with my Muslim friends (sisters) who reverted from Mormonism, I found out that they never petitioned the church for their names to be removed from church records; and, like me, never wanted to.

So, last Sunday, when this man stood at my door telling me that this was what he "required" of us to do, the sting was swift and painful. It was somewhat amazing to me that he so easily "let us go". There was no questions as to why, or what could they possibly do to work with us to help us come back, to ask what it was that caused us to want to leave the church, just simple cut and dry "you're gone".

This bishop has wanted us out of the church for years, but he never was able to find anyway to do it, well now he has.

In this action, if there was ever a remote possibility that we might potentially ever consider returning to the church, aside from the teachings which we no longer believe or adhere to, it has nipped it in the bud completely and totally.

As the bishop stood outside our front door, in his overbearing and manipulative way, attempting to psychologically torment us in the manner that he is so good at; to make us feel "guilty" and chase back after them, plead and make our case for him to shut us down in a final, glee-filled slap-in-the face; something inside of me snapped and instead of the submissive person he had always dealt with, with each lash of his tongue, instead he met with "Me". ME who is filled with balls and who has NO problems speaking my mind (a person he has never met before because in the church's conformity, is not   "proper"), and in a single sentence "That's the only time we ever hear from you people"; this foreboding man cast his eyes downwards and the small glimmer of defeat and shame crossed his face.

To the counselor who requested a hug after my being kicked to the side like some dirty rag, came my reply; a simple, but absolute "NO", shock as he quickly followed up by telling me that he and his wife "loved" me, and my reply "that's nice".

It was an ending. And they knew they had no more room to budge, wished me "the best of luck" as I unceremoniously closed the door on them and the religion, for the last time, forever.



Ben and I right after he had taken his Shahada and converted to the Islamic faith

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Coming into Be-ing, Because of My Dad's Passing

I want to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to all of you who wrote with condolences, expressed love, showed support, for your kind and deep words, when my father passed away. You each have touched my heart very deeply.

It has taken me several weeks to get to a place where I am able to write and to do it without the tumultuous pain that was overwhelming me. The pain is still there, and I guess it will take a long time (if ever) to ease completely.

I am so grateful for the support I have received from my good friends, and the support that has been extended to my Mum, Marlene; sister, Hetty; and brother, Christopher. This has been absolutely devastating to us all, and we are each grieving in our own way.

On Tuesday (August 24th 2010), it will mark 30 days since Dad's passing (4 weeks ago today), and as tradition goes, it is the day when we are supposed to officially "stop" the mourning process. But how does one turn that off? How does one suddenly go from such intense grief to living again? How do we go on?

But we do. We each do. And, while the process is not an easy one, we manage, we adjust and we just do.  As one dear friend so aptly put it: “you sort of adapt your life around the grief.... it's a bit weird to explain, you get on with it, but you don't really get over it because no one will ever fill that void.

I had been living away from home for the past 7 1/2 years, and only had one chance to spend 5 momentary months with my Dad in all that time. So the reality of his not being there (in the physical) is hitting me very hard.

I had not spoken to him for two weeks prior to his death (we had tried to make a concerted effort to speak regularly, so I could “cheer him up” and “make him laugh” in the weeks prior after he had come home from the hospital), and that weekend, I felt a strong prompting to call. But truth be known, I'd had a disagreement with my mother two weeks prior, and just did not want to have to "deal with her" at that time. So I put it off. I had planned to put those harsh feelings aside and call them that night to speak with Dad, but it was too late; he died before I got that chance.

This experience has taught me so many things. For one, no matter how we don't see eye-to-eye, pick up the phone and just continue on. After all, are petty disagreements really that important in the grand scheme of life?

Tell those you love, that you love them, each and every day, no matter what. Hug them, kiss them, love them (if you are close enough to do so); if not, drop them an email, or pick up the phone and call, just because.

Treasure each and every opportunity that you are together with those you love. Record your most loving, and favourite moments in a journal to look back on and laugh, reminisce, enjoy.

Another dear friend wrote me a lovely letter of comfort, and shared with me a poem that had been shared with her 20 years prior, when her mother passed away;

Don’t Cry for me

Don't cry for me now I have died, for I'm still here I'm by your side,
My body's gone but my soul's is here, please don't shed another tear,
I am still here I'm all around, only my body lies in the ground.
I am the snowflake that kisses your nose,
I am the frost, that nips your toes.
I am the sun, bringing you light,
I am the star, shining so bright.
I am the rain, refreshing the earth,
I am the laughter, I am the mirth.
I am the bird, up in the sky,
I am the cloud, that's drifting by.
I am the thoughts, inside your head,
While I'm still there, I can't be dead.

Yesterday, I was reading in the Bhagavad-Gita something that goes in line with that lovely poem;

"For the soul there is neither birth nor death at any time.
He has not come into being, does not come into being,
and will not come into being. He is unborn, eternal,
ever-existing and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.

For us, we see each other as being that "person", but in truth, we are nothing more than the shells that transport our souls. I have always known this, but I SAW it the moment I saw the photos of my Dad, laying in such peace in his coffin.

Once I got past the intensity of the pain of seeing him like that, I realised that I did not fully recognize him. He was not the man I knew. This "body" was nothing more than the shell of the father that I loved, and will continue to love, forever.

It was in that moment, through the pain of loss that I "got it", 100%; saw that the body was not my Dad, it was just the vessel by which I knew my Dad in this physical realm.

As the days and weeks have progressed, and my burden of sorrow is slowly easing, I am finding a deep comfort in that knowledge.

While I miss my Dad's presence, his voice, his laughter, his jokes; his Be-ing is even more present that it ever was before. Now I can experience him constantly, whereas before, it was only when I saw him, or spoke with him on the phone.

Again to quote the Bhagavad-Gita;

"This individual soul is unbreakable and insoluble,
and can be neither burned nor dried.
He is everlasting, present everywhere, unchangeable,
immovable and eternally the same

Today, as I thought back over the past four weeks, I did not sorrow. For the first time in so many days, tears have not fallen from my eyes. Instead, I feel intense pride at being my father’s daughter. I look back over the past 37 years, and I see the lessons I have learned; directly, and through the experiences that he went through. And I am who I am today, because of the person my Dad shaped me to be. So, as I felt this peace and this comfort wash over me, and could sense Dad around me strongly; I penned this poem in honour of my Dad…

Because of you, I am.

I am an indelible woman, because of your example.
I know how to love, because you loved me.
I have deep-seated kindness, I learned from you.
I know love, because you showed me.
I am proud of me, because you were.
I am generous, because you taught me.
I stand tall, because you raised me up.
I reach for the stars, because you lifted me.

For all that I am, I am because you taught me,
You raised me,
You loved me.
You left your mark, your legacy,
And now I carry on,
Because of you.

I wish to express my thanks to you for the thoughts you have sent to me via email and Facebook postings; your words which touched me deeply, your support, your love, and your prayers have left a strong mark on my soul. I am so filled with gratitude for your friendship and love; I send you loving embraces and heart-filled appreciation, gratitude, and love.


Friday, August 20, 2010

Dancing With Daddy

Ibrahim "Abe" Suleyman Hur
April 2nd 1922 - July 25th 2010

My beloved Dad passed away suddenly on July 25th 2010.

The past three (almost four) weeks since Dad's death has hit me in a way I could never imagine possible.

This is a poem I wrote this afternoon. It expresses my pain in the best way I know how right now.

Dancing With Daddy

My heart feels like
It’s ready to burst.
I wish it would already;
Joining the millions of
Stars that reside in the night sky.

When will this pain end?
Where can I run to escape,
Reality, is a bitch
And I stand here with empty arms.

I long to hug you, hold you, hear you;
But you now reside on my mantle.
No, it’s not you; the real “you”
Is gone, gone far away and untouchable,

Lost, I feel so completely lost.
My compass is continually pointing north
And that’s where I want to go,
Up, out, away;
To you.

Daddy, you left my sight;
My ears no longer ring with your voice.
Gone too far, but still right here;
But I can’t hug you, hold you, hear you.
I miss you, I love you.

Come and take me in your arms,
Let us dance among the clouds;
Laughing, joking; Be-ing.
I await our waltz,
Daddy and daughter, forever.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

We Got Sealed!!!

I have really been awful at keeping up with this blog post, but I wanted to update you on all that's been going on.

Well, as many of you following us know, we were planning to get sealed in the Mesa Arizona Temple on May 15th, 2010. And boy, when they tell you that Satan is going to do all he can to try and prevent it, they are not wrong! Even a week before, we were tried and tested.

Then, a few days beforehand, we went to the temple and we did sealing's to get us prepared for our big day. I am SO happy we did that because it really was amazing, took a lot of the mystery out of it for us (of course there is always still some mystery), and it connected us.

On the Thursday prior to our getting sealed, we had our official photos taken by friends of ours who did such an amazing job. It was fun walking around the temple with two photographers, and we felt kinda special since everyone else only had one. Of course photographers are SO expensive, so we were really blessed that Calvin and Amy did this for us and did such an amazing job too.

Saturday rolled round, and I gotta say, i was so nervous! I felt like I was a blushing bride all over again.

My friend Jenelle and her sister, Ashely, helped me with my hair and make up for the day, and did such a wonderful job. I was truly pampered and felt so special.

All too soon, it was time to get dressed and head off to the temple. Oh boy, did I feel sick to my stomach with nerves. Of course, Ben was a bit nervous but the more I asked him if he was nervous, the worse he got.

But it was absolutely beautiful.

I was taken to the brides room which was so beautiful, and seeing all the other brides getting into their gorgeous dresses, I really felt special. The room was so glamorous in an "old fashioned" kinda way, with ornate mirrors over dressing tables, and chandelier-type wall sconces that just gave it that perfect ambiance.

Soon, I was kneeling with my beloved and we made our sacred covenants and we were sealed together as a husband and wife for time and all eternity. The moment was amazing, and while the room was filled with dear friends, we felt as if we were swept away.

Something that the officiant said that really stayed with us, was that we are often taught to "endure" to the end, but he told us to instead "enjoy" to the end. What a lovely sentiment.

After, we had photos with everyone on the steps of the temple. A childhood friend of Ben's was one of our witnesses and his parents and sister also came to support us, for Ben it was like having family there and it was so incredible.

The most amazing thing since that day is this intense, and undeniable connection we feel. Being sealed truly does something for a family if they live the principals and keep Christ (and the temple) central in their lives.

I am more in love with my husband today than I have been over the past years. We now share something so unique and special, and we know that our love and our marriage has been ordained of our Father in Heaven, and that we will be together forever no matter what.

Enjoying a private joke

The temple plays an important part in our marriage

Sharing a moment

Jesus Christ - Central to our marriage

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Updated Wedding News

So today I met with a dear friend, and sister in our ward, Donna; who is making my dress for me.

It is SO good to go to a place like Joann Fabrics and be with someone knowledgeable enough when looking at patterns and material.

After going through several pattern books, I finally made my decision on the dress. It is going to be gorgeous! Two types of material, a gorgeous trim, it's really going to be stunning. I can't wait.

So now the dilemma, discuss it with my husband, let him in on "the big secret", or play the blushing bride" part and keep the dress a mystery until the special day?

While we've been married, legally and officially for the past seven years, this is a brand new adventure for us. This whole process, which we are treating as if it is our "real" wedding, is truly turning out to be as stressful and daunting as a first-time wedding.

There seems to still be so much to do... arrange a photographer, hair-stylist and make-up, flowers... I am still not 100% set on a colour theme, but do I really need one? There are so many beautiful colours to choose from, how do I choose just one? Buttercup yellow, orange, spring green... goodness me, how does one narrow it down to just one? And looking at wedding sites and magazines just confounds the issue even more, as one colour scheme is nicer than the other, but all are nice.

Then we have to deal with budget... or the lack there of.

Thank goodness for the wonderful members in our ward who are pulling together to help us make this a beautiful day.

As I have explained the premise (in past posts) about why we do this, I have pretty much left emotion out of it thus far. So let me explain the emotion and symbolism with this special day from my point of view...

When I was sixteen years old, I was introduced to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, while living in Australia. After some discussion, investigation, and much prayer; I came to know that this was the true and living church of Jesus Christ in these last days. The Spirit which came over me was an intense and powerful witness to this fact, and one which I was not able to ignore then, or since. I determined within myself that this was the church, and these were the people whom I wished to align myself with.

At that time, I became very good friends with a girl who was LDS, and she was primarily responsible for teaching me many things about the gospel and life as a Latter-day Saint.

One of the things that she taught me was the importance of temple marriage, and also how important it was that we remain pure until our wedding night. She showed me photos of the temple, (mainly the Salt Lake City temple) and produced a very romantic ideal of eternal marriage and life in the eternities with my eternal companion.

My 16 year old mind was now filled with the romance of meeting and then being proposed to by a returned missionary (of course, he was to be a "return with honour" missionary), and then being led by him to the beautiful temple, there to kneel across a beautiful altar and make covenants to be together as a husband and wife forever.

I held on to this image in my mind, even when I married my first, non-Mormon husband where a temple marriage would not be possible. After he died, my hopes and dreams of my temple marriage started to diminish. But, being one who never gave up, I kept my hope... and my faith, alive.

Eventually, I met my beloved husband Ben. He was a returned missionary... "returned with honour" missionary no-less, and my hope returned. At the time we decided to marry, we were not ready to marry in the temple. But we persevered, and we prayed, and we kept our faith alive.

Finally last year (2009), we made the decision that this was the time for us to make these eternal covenants to each other.

One of the major factors for this decision was that we have, over the years, lost seven babies in miscarriage. The knowledge that there are seven babies across the veil waiting for an eternal family, has pushed us to take the steps needed to make our marriage eternal. Will this help us in our deep desire to conceive and have a baby of our own? All I can say is that faith and determination keeps us motivated. Whatever happens, we know that this decision and this step will bless us in more ways than we can even conceive at this present time.

The covenants entered into when we are sealed in the temple, are not ones to be taken lightly. They are binding upon this earth as well as in heaven... "Whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven" (Matthew 16:19)

So while I have focused on many of the temporal preparations for this amazing day; the dress, the suit, the flowers, the cake, etc... etc... etc..., the spiritual preparation and focus is even more strong.

And while I have been married temporally for the past seven years, Ben and I are embarking on our eternal marriage; and yes, the nerves, the excitement, and the "blushing bride" syndrome is all there.

This is a most exciting adventure, still tinged with some jitters of the desire for that "perfect day", but what it comes down to is this; at the end of the day, its not about the dress, the flowers, the hair, the cake, or any of those earthly and mundane things, its about Ben and its about me. Its about the eternal covenants that we will make that day. Its about the extreme sacredness of those covenants, and its about the intense love which we share.

But... all this said, I still wonder... do I tell Ben about the dress, or leave a little bit of mystery to the day?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Facebook Detox

My husband and I often have a battle over the computer and the activities which occur on the computer.

For him, his addiction is video games; and for me, Facebook has become rather addictive especially as it is a great avenue for catching up, and reconnecting, with friends from primary (elementary) and high school in Hong Kong and Australia, as well as other friends which have crossed my path over the years.

I have two predominant accounts on Facebook (yes I know, that is technically not allowed... but having a girlfriend who is a friend on both accounts, who works for the legal department of Facebook, nothing has been said, so we'll keep mum on it); one for business purposes only and the other, for play. And where have I found most of my time landing? Of course on the side that is set aside for play.

As I have found that I have lost my husband to his video game, he backfires and tells me that he has lost me to Facebook. Is there a double standard in what is better and what is not? Yes and no. Yes in that the content is different, but no in that both are extremely addicting, and anything that can separate a family for extended periods of time without any real productive results, can be detrimental.

Most of you who are friends, or regular readers of our blog, know that Ben and I are planning to enter in a very sacred covenant of Celestial Marriage (also known as Temple Marriage) on May 15th this year.

Since we've determined to do this and set the date, we have been hit left, right, and center with adversity. And when I say adversity, not in the sense that we've hit against brick walls, but rather in subtle and small ways which, added up, become mountains.

As members of the Church (of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), we've been counseled that Satan finds very subtle ways to intercede in our lives, straying us from the straight and narrow path, and leading us into a vast void of temptation and unfulfilled promises and lies. When we err on this side, we are headed in a one way street to destruction and devastation.

Distractions and discouragement are some of Satan’s most effective tools. He finds ways to help us make excuses about why we can’t do this or that. He gets us involved in wasting our time and resources in things that lead us away from improving our lives and developing our talents. He blurs our focus by diverting our attention. This can happen to the very best of you.Elder Donald L. Staheli of the Seventy

(See for full article)

And while I've been frustrated with my husband's playing of his game, I too have been distracted with Facebook. Oft-times in the past, I'd easily stay up all night on Facebook chatting and reconnecting with old friends, now living in different parts of the world, instead of finding myself where I was supposed to be, in bed next to my husband.

When I realised how destructive that activity was, I curbed it, only now oft times finding my husband seemingly preferring his game to being in bed sleeping.

What to do?

We are getting sealed in the temple in just over a month's time.

I have recently suggested to my husband that this sacred day is akin to having a baptism in that all our past mis-deeds towards one another be forgiven and forgotten, and that we have a chance to start over again. But how can we start over again if there has been no work done? Can a road simply be re-paved over cracked and dangerous pot holes, or does it have to be worked on a bit, smoothed over, before new asphalt can be laid?

So today, I made a decision for myself and suggested same for Ben; I'm giving up Facebook for one month to focus on growing, and preparing myself spiritually and temporally for our upcoming Temple Wedding, and I suggested that he give up his video games to prepare also.

This afternoon, I posted my last "update" on Facebook. In it I stated that I was going to take a break from Facebook for one month to focus on personal things. While I am saying "See ya later" to Facebook, I will still check my email and will still blog; but the thing which has been really getting in the way of my priorities, I am joyfully sacrificing.

During this next month, my goal is to read the scriptures daily, meditate daily and with real intent. I plan to visit the temple at least once a week. I plan to blog about this and how I am doing. In this month without Facebook, I intend to spend more quality time with my husband and smooth over any rough patches which may still be lingering so that when we kneel across from each other in the holiest of holy places, we will truly be there in purity, and with a spirituality that washes us clean of any negativity. In this, we will end our temporal marriage and begin our journey in an eternal marriage.

And while Ben has resisted my suggestion that he gives up his gaming for the next month and instead focus on other, more productive things, he is open to it.

While the outcome is still unknown, I know that the sacrifices which we are making will bond us together in a stronger, and more spiritual manner.

So, after my final update on Facebook for the next month, and catching up on last comments and emails, I logged off for the last time for the next month... How did I feel? I actually felt a bit of a weight lifted. For too long I have been updating, chatting, and getting caught up. Now I feel as if I can manage to have a bit of privacy, at least for the next month, without my nearly 400 friends (on my private page) knowing what I am having for lunch or cooking for dinner, or where I am going, what I am doing, or anything. Right now, I feel relieved to have that burden lifted.

This leads me to ponder on how it became such that lives are no longer kept private in this day and age of social media. We update constantly on what we are doing, where we are going, who we are seeing... Does anyone really care? So why are we putting it out there? Its akin to the parent who insists on showing you their portable photo album of their child's life almost from the moment of inception... do any of us really care, or are we just playing nice in our comments?

What really are our priorities today? And what are we teaching the next generation about priorities?

Family is always first, that has been most people's motto; and it certainly is within the church and in my family; so when did we start putting "updates" and "Tweets" and video gaming ahead of the family?

Today, I learned of friends who have separated because of his video gaming habit. While I know that she is not the easiest person to live with, escaping into a void that is the mindless side of the internet, never solved any issues. Escapism in general never solved any issues. But we do it because it is easy and it is accessible.

The same internet where we can learn vast amounts of information at the press of a button, or a Google search; can also result in detriment. I think there comes a time when each of us has to make that decision whether they are going to do what is easy, or make sacrifices wherein the blessings and rewards are immense and eternal.

This is my goal, keep reading and we'll see what develops.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Easter Weekend 2010

This Easter weekend was filled with awe and first time experiences for us.

On Friday, my Dad celebrated his 88th birthday. The week prior had not been a very good one as his health has been deteriorating and earlier in the week, the Ottawa Heart Institute said that there was nothing that they could do for him, or would do for him. His heart is so weakened that any kind of treatment they can do for (his kidneys) could possibly kill him. Of course I have my own theories which tend towards my beliefs in Canada's socialized health care; but I'll keep them to myself here.

But on Friday, my Mum said he was doing better and that he had a really good day. Two nights before I spoke with him, and quite literally, it broke my heart. He could not string together a single sentence without having to take a long, deep breath between words. I'd never heard him sound so bad.

However, true to form; he and I were able to make each other laugh. Call it a coping mechanism on my part, whenever things start to get too dire and dark, I tend to find something to make someone laugh and alleviate the moment. It seems Dad has become like this in his wise years.

So we are on the phone, and understand that both my Dad and I have hearing impairment, but his is much worse than mine. And we're talking about the lovely Easter Pageant that Ben and I will be attending the following night on the grounds of the Mesa Arizona Temple (, and I tell him "Next year you'll have to..." he interrupts me and says, "What's that Leyla, you're going to go have sex now?!" That ended the conversation as we were both laughing so hard.

The following night, Ben and I went to the Easter Pageant with a woman we've just met and the missionaries. We had a great time and afterwards went over to Denny's for some hot chocolate... wouldn't you know it, their hot chocolate machine was broken down. But the company was great and as we were about to rap things up, a blast from our past walked in. A former friend who we'd not seen in about five years came running over with all the gossip of her life over the years.

We were looking forward to the 180th Annual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, this weekend. It was the first time that Conference occurred on Easter weekend since 1999 and won't occur again until 2016.

Part of our preparations include getting as many snacks as possible to keep Ben awake through all sessions. As he has sleep apnea and narcolepsy, he falls asleep easily.

Saturday morning, we got up early, I made French toast for breakfast and we set in to watch conference on BYU-TV (one of the advantages of living in this part of the world).

President Monson opened conference with a wonderful message, much laughter, and the opening of the Spirit. The day progressed well and the messages most inspiring. As we came towards the close of the afternoon session, Ben tapped me lightly on the arm, "I think we might have a baby bird."

Our budgies had five eggs which
Lucy had been well incubating for the past month or so. In fact, she'd taken SO long in incubating that we wondered if they were duds or not.

But sure enough, we could hear the definite "peeps" of a baby. Later I opened the nest and saw the little critter. SO tiny it was, about the length of the first digit of my index finger. And SO ugly it is cute; naked of feathers, with big black dots that seem to take up its entire head (where the eyes are).

Sunday's sessions were very inspiring also, although with snacks almost all gone, it was a bit of a battle keeping Ben awake for the entire four hours.

After the final session, as we were preparing to head next door to our neighbours for Easter dinner, I had a little lay down with the cats. Well, Sayge has put on a tremendous amounts of weight and I thought she was shaking the bed while cleaning herself. The bed was literally moving back and forth and I was starting to feel a bit "sea sick". I looked down and saw her and Ainey both looking up at the ceiling fan; obviously she was not responsible for moving the bed. So I said out loud, "Well if you're not moving the bed, who's moving the bed then?!" As if the clear air would answer me back. Then it stopped.

I looked up at the ceiling fan and saw that the chain and fob were swinging back and forth.

I called Ben and told him that I thought we might have had an earthquake. Of course, he didn't feel anything so didn't think that that was what it was.

Well, immediately I started to think that I should get back on my blood pressure meds ASAP cos I was getting vertigo even while laying down... that's pretty bad.

A half hour later, I finally got round to turning on CNN and learned about a 6.9 magnitude earthquake in Northern Mexico (and while I was watching, they increased the magnitude to 7.2). I immediately told Ben. And yes, the reports DID say that it was felt in Southern California, Northern California, Seattle, and... Phoenix and Scottsdale, Arizona! YAAY! I am NOT crazy and I didn't have vertigo!!!

Glad to learn that I was not the only one who thought she was crazy when I asked my neighbours at the party later if they had felt it; two had, two had not. The two who had thought that they were going crazy too.

Easter weekend this year was awesome. There is something about having General Conference, my Dad's birthday, the birth of a new life, and an earthquake on this sacred time of year that makes one feel edified, glorified, and know of God's existence. In all these blessings and experiences one can't help but feel turned towards the Lord, and align oneself in thinking of the glory of so many experiences in one weekend and think of the sacrifice that He made for us, His resurrection, and our knowledge that we too can live after death and become resurrected.

This weekend, we were counseled to not make others feel unwanted, unloved, or judge others. We were taught against judgment but to (seemingly contradictory) use excellent judgment in making decisions. We were told that it is not a matter of "if" trials would come to us, but rather "how" they would come and how we choose to react to them. In the midst of trial and tribulation, we can find solace in our Lord and Saviour, and know that we are never alone.

And we were warned of the dangers in our midst's; such things as negative imagery that we can so easily view, hear, and watch how such seemingly innocent shows are being invaded by small, but spiritually deadly words, actions, and views.

What was really amazing was that we were counseled that we are in the last days and that we have been taught that in the last days we would be plagued with wars, rumours of wars, earthquakes, and the water levels rising and many deaths. In the past three months, there have been two great and devastating earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, and a great tsunami which hit the Samoan islands. Not two hours after conference ended, it was most interesting to not only hear about, but to feel the earthquake in Northern Mexico.

A sign of the times? I think that we are in a place in history where we can no longer ignore the signs around us. Maybe the Mayan calendar is right, and we should expect the beginning of the end in 2012. From a documentary I saw last year, they believe that 2012 will just be the beginning and by 2016 our world will be completely different from the one we live in today.

As we were counseled this weekend, in the midst of trials and despair, it is then that we need to seek to the peace and solace of the Lord and our Heavenly Father, for it is truly only in Them that we will be able to be armed with the fortitude to continue and "get through".

There was a lot of lessons which left me pondering this Easter weekend. I hope that you too had a wonderful one, that you were blessed with much to ponder and that you too, were edified.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Ainey Climbing the Screen Door

Our Ainey is a little monkey dressed in a kitten outfit... Here's my proof.

Mimi's Cafe Round-Up

After two days of sitting out, burning under the Spring sun, with our yard sale to raise money for our upcoming Temple Sealing*; I was exhausted just from the whole "working" aspect of sitting on my butt for two days, but also had a pretty good case of heat exhaustion coupled with lack of sleep exhaustion.

So last night, there was no way I was going to get up and head into the kitchen and make something to eat. Not only that, but an unexpected "run-in" with someone who had donated some things had me pretty upset. The women on my mother's side of the family have long said that an upset woman will make bitter food, so I thought it best that we head out for dinner.

I don't know about you, but when I am in need of "comfort food", I tend to turn to cheese. Of course, most times "comfort food" for me is something Chinese or Asian; but last night, all I wanted was something cheesy.

Setting out in search for something cheesey, we decided on "Mimi's Cafe" based on a Food Network show "The Best Thing I Ever Ate - Cheese" recommendation for their 5-cheese grilled sandwich. We drove all the way out to Chandler Blvd and the 101 only to find that they'd closed at 9PM last night for a "scheduled maintenance". I was not a happy camper and was close to giving into to... *gasp* McDonald's or another unappetizing fast food store scattered around on almost every street corner. But, my dear husband convinced me to persevere... So I did, all the way to Mimi's on Shea and the 101. While they were on opposite ends of world, or there abouts, the drive back to Scottsdale and up to Shea was worth it.

We pulled up to the cottage-like Mimi's Cafe, and walked in to a restaurant that resembled a family living room than a corporate chain restaurant. We were lead into a room with high ceilings and were instantly transported to some quaint place in the French Quarter of New Orleans.

While it was late, and we were (at that time) the only patrons in the restaurant, we were immediately welcomed by Katia (pronounced like Shania [as in Twain]), who took our orders for drinks.

The menu is very extensive with lots of "comfort foods" screaming out to be tested out.

Katia brought us a basket of fresh baked sour-dough rolls, and slices of carrot walnut bread which I could have easily enjoyed as a meal in itself; those alone are worth the trip out to Mimi's.

As I looked over the menu, immediately I was attracted to the Fried Cheese; which consisted of five slices of Parmesan breaded fresh mozzarella cheese served over warmed marinara with fresh Romano cheese grated over top. And it was delicious, although sharing a plate of five slices with a hungry husband did feel very much like a terribly small portion. We were both disappointed with only having 2 1/2 slices of cheese each especially for the price we paid.

Next we moved on to the dinner salad, which I had with blue cheese dressing and crumbled blue cheese on top. As far as salads go, there was nothing outstanding about that, and was rather disappointed that the cucumbers were bitter. Possibly using English hot house cukes would have corrected that.

But again, upon first seeing the salad, we were disappointed with the size; but strangely we began getting filled half-way through the salad.

Following our salad, we each had a cup of the soup of the day, split pea and ham. Now this impressed me because it tasted very much like my own split pea and ham only much thicker like a paste. Now THAT stuck to our bones; it was hearty, delicious, and I totally recommend the split pea and ham on Monday's.

Now for the piece de resistance; I ordered the Chicken Piccata with Asparagus off of the "Comfort Food" menu; this consisted of two broiled chicken breasts smothered with garlic mushrooms and a lemon caper butter. It was served with mashed potatoes and grilled citrus marinated asparagus. Ben ordered the Jambalaya off of the "Pasta" menu; which had good size chunks of chicken breast, a "dusting" of plump shrimp, Cajun sausage, and pork loin in a creole tomato sauce, which was served over penne pasta.

Mine arrived and was a picture of perfection; in fact to such a degree that I took a photo. The jambalaya arrived as if it were something I would serve at home, not necessarily picture perfect but it still looked good enough to warrant a photo.

I very rarely, if ever, send my compliments back to the chef for the food I eat. Not because the food is not good, but I have a pretty high regard for taste, and unless something is absolutely sublime and makes an impact on my taste buds leaving a lasting impression, I don't usually bother. After trying my first mouthful of the chicken piccata, I entered a state of bliss where my surroundings literally disappeared and all that was left was me with this plate of absolute delight.

The initial burst of flavour was that of capers, followed by citrus. The chicken had a hint of flavour, but not so overpowered that it was not identifiable. The asparagus was grilled to perfection and in itself had a burst of flavour. The mashed potatoes were nothing to really write home about and I suspect were a mix of real and instant potatoes.

Ben's jambalaya was also a burst of flavours in the mouth and was an absolutely delightful tasting experience. We both agree that it could have had more shrimp, but the balance of the spice and tomatoes was perfect. In the past, my jambalaya experience has not been pleasant, but Mimi's delivered last night and has restored my faith in trying it again.

We ended up bringing home doggie bags, and a little gift of four muffins that Mimi's makes from Katia, and not walking but rather waddling out.

Our total bill for a starter which we shared, two starter salads, soup of the day, main course, and soft drinks for both of us came to just over $50; which was not too bad for all that we ate and we've still go another meal each.

So next trip; and believe me, there will be a next trip, I'm planning to try the French Market Onion Soup and the Special Grilled 5-Cheese sandwich.

While we were disappointed on the outset with the portion size, the food is hearty and really does stick to your bones and is very misleading even for seasoned over eaters.

My round up, I highly recommend Mimi's Cafe, but I've been warned to stay away from the steak menu. The roast turkey is the most ordered food on the menu and I was assured that it is the best thing on the menu... Maybe another trip... after our next visit.

Chicken Piccata with Asparagus


* Celestial marriage (also called Temple Sealing, Temple Marriage, New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage and Eternal Marriage) is a doctrine unique to Mormonism, particularly The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church).

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Dealing with Husbands, Lessons Learned from a Neurotic Budgie...

So the last few days have been interesting...

On Tuesday, we were out and the car started to overheat. We stopped in at a gas station and put in some water (which usually does the trick), but the gauge was still nearing the HIGH level. As we were in the area, we stopped in at an old Scout Master of Ben's, Gary Heffner who has a garage over on Center Road in Mesa (little plug there); after a nice catch-up-chat, we were given the dire news... The head gasket's are cracked which is causing carbon monoxide to enter into the radiator and whole lotta of other mumbo jumbo but basically, its not doing the job of cooling the car down.

Okay, so I am so not mechanical and the fact that I even remember "head gaskets" has me pretty super-impressed with myself.

So to fix it, it'll cost us over $2,000 and we've got a 1998 Ford Explorer SUV with near 200,000 miles on it... I am told that this is pretty good and that basically she has "given up the ghost", and the best thing for us is to trade her in for a newer model.

After a gallon and a half of water directly into the radiator, we're right to go... but with the dire warning to not take the freeways, but go for the slower side roads; no air-conditioning... OK so Arizona has not hit the heat yet, but c'mon! The sun shines here 300 days of the year and when sun hits the vehicle, I don't care HOW cold it gets, it gets darn hot inside!

So my brilliant husband decides that this problem is actually not something new and we can probably take it for another six months or so. Lets hope I'll not be flagging anyone down to help give us a ride if his "theory" is proven wrong! That'll sure be a blog and a half.

Well the stress of all that "excitement" had me falling asleep in the car; which really is so rare for me. By the time we arrived home and I wake up, I am in a full-blown fibromyalgia flare-up. The pain is so severe I can hardly walk to the house from the car.

Most people who I meet have no idea what Fibromyalgia is, so here is the "Google Health" definition to help you out:

"Fibromyalgia is a common condition characterized by long-term, body-wide pain and tender points in joints, muscles, tendons, and other soft tissues. Fibromyalgia has also been linked to fatigue, morning stiffness, sleep problems, headaches, numbness in hands and feet, depression, and anxiety."

WOW! It's common! Gone are the days when it seemed to be this rare dis-ease that plagued women and was mostly mis-diagnosed as Chronic Fatigue. So, I guess I am not that "unique" after all... oh well, who wants to be unique when it comes to such illness of the body, right? Quite frankly, you can take the darn dis-ease and shove it up... Well, I am sure you get the idea.

So with the flare-up this week, which BTW has been one of the worst I have ever had, came on so suddenly and I've never had it flare-up like that before; I've not been able to do much of anything but sit and ponder life. (The last time I did that, it lent to Ben shaving off his beard after over ten years! A good thing? Who knows anymore... Side note: Be VERY careful what you wish for, ask for a new man and you might just get the shock of your life. Gone with the beard are a lot of little things which added up to a lotta big things, he really is a new man, and I'm still getting used to him... Topic for another blog somewhere down the line. Possibly.)

And one thing I have realised in my endless hours of pondering life... waiting for a budgie to lay an egg is like waiting for a Tsunami to hit Hawaii, only to be fraught with disappointment... or relief depending on how you look at it.

I have literally sat for hours watching this neurotic budgie hop from perch to perch, into her nesting box, throwing everything out of her nesting box, then knock on her food dish until it too becomes dislodged and lands on the cage floor. I have seen her take the grit perch covering, which is about twice as long as she is; and try to pop it into her nesting box... cos you know, when those babies hatch, they'll be just making a mad dash for the grit. I've watched her twist off a metal nut and bolt which is attaching her nesting box to the cage; and I've seen her bite off the ties which are holding the cage doors down, and sit there lifting the doors wide open, much to the delight and hope of the cats sat watching her. She has near destroyed the box which contains her nesting material, only to take the material and throw it about the cage, then attempt to push it out of the cage. Of course none of this stuff is making its way in to the nesting box.

And poor Peter, our male budgie, tries so desperately to help Lucy out, only to get shut down and shut out time and time again. You can literally see her having a mood swing and having "words" with him. And boy she can scream at him with the best of them. And poor Peter, he sits and takes it; one can visually see his head getting lower as she chastises him. Then, he hops off and tries to do something else to please her, and of course is met with further disdain on Lucy's part.

Yep, in this past week of trying to alleviate my pain in my arm chair, spending too many countless hours watching these budgies with the fascination of a child viewing life for the first time; I have come to realise something... That is this, no matter what species we are, women will always find a way to have a mood swing and put our men in their places; and no matter how hard they try to please us, we never seem to find that satisfaction in them, even if we think we do.

So, I publicly wish to apologise to my dear husband for all the fault I've found in him over this past week and want him to know that I really DO appreciate him, even if he doesn't move fast enough or have sonar hearing, or can read my mind and just do what I want him to do without having to ask. For all those "faults", I love him dearly and am so incredibly grateful that he is my husband and my "burden"; and I am so grateful that each time I overheat, he adds a little bit of water and takes me a little further together with him. I just hope that he won't be looking at trading me in for a "newer model" anytime soon.

Am I promising to not ill-treat him again, well yes... until my next mood swing. ;-)

Friday, February 26, 2010

Chinese New Year of the Tiger

For the past two weeks, we have been celebrating two things... Chinese New Year and... well, the Olympics.

Many people will be surprised to know that Chinese New Year is not just a one day celebration, as is the western New Year, but rather it lasts for 15 days and each day has a special meaning.

I don't ever remember celebrating each day for 15-days, but as my previous post will attest, we did celebrate at least the first four days.

When I think of celebrating each day for 15-days, well it does seem like a lot of fun. What we have been doing is eating for the past two weeks... a LOT!

There are days like the 7th day of the Lunar New Year that is considered everyone's birthday. It goes back to the belief that the God's were creating all the creatures of the world, and on the 7th day, they created human's. So on this day, we eat special cakes and wish each other a "Happy Birthday"; although for many westerners, the idea that it means turning another year older... well, it just does kind of repel us doesn't it?!

Then there is the 12th day which is called "Diarrhea Day" as we've been eating so many fried and heavy foods over the last 11-days that when we get to the 12th day, well, I guess it all just has to make its "exit".

Let's just say that I did all I could to avoid "celebrating" on that day. I guess it could be called "worshiping the porcelain God day"... Even if it meant taking quantities of immodium, I was bound and determined to NOT celebrate.

The 13th day and the day when businesses in Asia worship the God, Guan Yu. He was a warrior in the 3rd century and was a very good general, very successful businessman, and also very generous to those less fortunate. Eventually, he was killed by being beheaded but because of all the good works he did in his life, he was elevated to God-head status; and today businesses will worship him on this day in hopes that the coming year will bring much prosperity, loyalty, generosity, and success.

On the final day, it is called Lantern Festival. This is different from the mid-Autumn Lantern Festival, and most of the lanterns displayed on the 15th and final day of the Lunar New Year, are the red round ones.

Backing up to the first day of Chinese New Year, I made a nine-dish dinner feast. How I did all nine dishes on my own, I have no idea... It was really good even though I did not get too much of a chance to sit, eat and enjoy; but my guests and my husband enjoyed so that was what was important... at least for me who is a true cook at heart.

Over the next few days, I am going to post a few recipes for what I made that night for you to try and enjoy. If you do make any of these dishes, please do let me know how you enjoyed it.

These are a few recipes which I grew up with, and they come from my home, and my heart, with all the memories of my youth, to you. Enjoy!

My Memories of Chinese New Year

The typical greeting at Chinese New Year is "Kung Hei Fat Choi" (Kung pronounced "Gung") and often this is done with one hand made as a fist and the other hand clasping over it almost like you are going to punch the palm of the other hand, or you can also "fit" the fist into the other hand that is clasping over; this is the symbol and old time respect. Nowadays, just saying it will suffice.

As kids, we want to get lots of red packets (filled with money), also known as "Lai-cee"; so if we want to be naughty, or irreverent about it, we say "Kung hei fat choi, lai-see do lai", which means to give me lots and lots of lai-cee. It’s looked at as a joke, but the more old timers will get quite angry if you say this.

I remember that we always had a week off of school for the holiday, and it was at this time that Hong Kong was its most quiet as many people would go back to China to visit family there. For many, it was the only time of the year that they would be able to go back.

After the second day of Chinese New Year, we would get lots and lots of visitors, from people who worked for my Dad at OOCL as well as the staff from our family business. It was a sign of respect to come and visit, to give me (and my brother and sister) Lai-cee, and bring gifts. This was a time when there was no business discussed and it was when the employees would tell about their latest, joyous, news; babies being born, marriage proposals, etc. Often, we’d be quite surprised to learn of this “news” as it seemed their colleagues already did; but such is the distinction in Hong Kong between the employee and employer.

Weeks prior to Chinese New Year, we would have a day which was for the "Kitchen God". I remember we took everything out of the cabinets, we dusted and cleaned (mainly our Ah-mah "maid" did) and lit incense and laid out special sweets and oranges. This was the day he would make his annual report to the Gods about how we were doing and we wanted to make sure he was appeased. The sweet was for him to say sweet things, the oranges were like offerings of gold (money) so that we will get more in the coming year, and the incense was to help him find his way there and back.

Also, at this time of year, in Hong Kong, all the markets have pots and pots of little orange trees (kumquat). Every home would have these trees, and many people would give these as gifts. The more oranges the tree had (and the more trees one had) the more prosperous the year would be. So many people would buy the trees with many little blossoms on them and the trees were treated SO carefully to allow for the blossoms to remain and turn into oranges.

I remember being fascinated with the oranges and each year I would pick an orange to "try", but each year was spitting it out because they are SO sour and can even be bitter. My family laughed each year because I SO wanted to eat them, so enticing they are; and the smell of citrus is wonderful.

One year after Chinese New Year, I was with my Mum outside of my primary school (which was just down the hill from my house), and she was talking with a friend when suddenly this orange hit me very hard on the back. I looked up and saw a head duck back. Of course, my Mum was furious because of how dangerous it could be from such a height to hit me on the head could have killed me. But it was a little orange from the trees. For many, many years I wondered who would have thrown that orange at me, why, and who was that girl with the dark hair (the hair was long enough to know it was a girl).

Then, a couple of years ago, I “met” her… On Facebook. It turned out she was the daughter of my school principal at the time who was living in the flats (apartments) at the top of the school. She wanted to wish me lots of money, and so she threw it at me… and it was supposed to signify a money bag. We are very good friends now, but a little orange thrown so many years ago connected us.

Also at this time of year, it is tradition to have blossoms in the house. This too signifies money, and people would even buy the fake blossom plants to use year after year and ensure that the blossoms don't die.

In our home, Mum would buy flowers weekly from the flower man, almost all year long; but at Chinese New Year, our flowers she would buy would include long branches of blossoms, and catkins, ginger flowers, and these beautiful yellow flowers which were like orchids, but were not. From the long stems of catkins, Mum would hang lai-cee envelopes to signify more money for the year.

Red and orange really is a significant colour during this festival, and NO white or blues are really allowed to be displayed. White and blue, in Chinese are traditional death and funeral colours.

Prior to Chinese New Year, people would do some mega “house cleaning”, where they would throw out furniture and things which they had used that previous year to make way for new things, and with those new things, hopes for better Feng Shui in the New Year. We had a place where all the garbage was collected from the entire neighbourhood and then picked up by the garbage men, and at Chinese New Year time, it was really difficult not to pick up a thing or two.

I remember one year, I found a lovely rocking chair and brought it home. My Dad and sister went crazy when they saw it because I had brought someone else’s bad joss (luck) into our home. I had to get rid of it immediately, and then the Feng Shui man was called to help restore balance to the home.

In Hong Kong, prior to Chinese New Year, you can find the most beautiful items thrown onto the garbage heap, and most of these items are brand new and hardly used; but no one with any good sense would pick it up and take it home. You see, the people who have thrown these items out have generally had a very bad year, either financially, or health, or otherwise and so they throw these items out to get rid of this bad joss. Then they will buy all new things to restore better joss for the coming year.

Call it superstition or manifestation, but generally it always did work.

The foods we ate were also very important and each was also significant. We would eat long, unbroken noodles to signify long life and unbroken luck for the coming year. We would have whole fish (usually steamed) as “Yu” (fish in Chinese) is similar sounding to the word for money. Shrimp in tomato sauce, a vegetarian dish with specific items and number of items in it, chicken, sharks fin soup, abalone, meat dumpling called sui jao or gwo tia (either cooked in soup water, or fried) which signified the Yuan Bao (old gold nuggets which was currency), special desserts, many items that one would not ordinarily eat during the year, including many items which were more expensive than normal but the idea is that when you eat these expensive items, you will ingest that which will bring more money, prosperity to the person that year, also good health, good luck, and happiness.

During Chinese New Year, it is tradition to not cry, for to cry means that the year will be filled with tears and sorrow.

One also does not cut their hair and the first few days, to not even wash the hair for fear that the good joss will be cut or washed out. So before Chinese New Year starts, all the salons and barber shops in Hong Kong will be booked and packed with people (especially ladies) beautifying themselves.

Anything to do with cutting is not advisable at this time, so no cutting of toe nails or finger nails either, and also no shaving.

Of course, many of these traditions has died away with the new generations, but for those of us who grew up in the old customs, there is still a part of us that holds on… just in case.

This time of year was very important, and being a Eurasian child, with a full Chinese sister who still held all the traditions, it was even more important for me to know, learn, and live. As a woman with my own household, I still maintain many of the traditions I grew up with and plan to pass these on to my own children when they come.

As I am now living in Arizona, many are harder to come by… Things that I miss most are my family, and having all of us gathered around the family dinner table; my sister having cooked up a mega storm. These days, that task has fallen on my shoulders, and I still will cook up a mega Chinese storm at New Years.

I miss the visitors coming and telling us about their latest joys and just the company of having them over. It was never an imposition because we knew they would come. Even though they only stayed a short time, most of the day was taken with one wave after another of people visiting their “Lao Ban” (Big Boss).

I miss the little orange trees, the blossoms, the smells, the energy of excitement that filters through the air. The little traditions in offerings, and incense, and observing which is more tradition than anything. I miss seeing the open trucks driving past filled with orange trees for delivery, and the big fireworks over the harbour with the crowd’s collective “WAAA’s”.

While I miss home most of the year, at this time I miss it just a little more. The pull to go back gets stronger and stronger the longer I have been away, and each year as I sit at my fully laden table of traditional delights, I think quietly to myself the old Jewish saying reserved for Passover, with words rewritten; “Next year, in Hong Kong”.