Today I am going to tell you about a few things that I would like never to see again, and no, they are not my usual litanies about War, Rape, Injustice, Power and grand subjects like that. They are only little annoying stuff that really irritates me and, a bit of fun too, since, hey, it’s New Year!

I will begin with Chewing Gum. I hope that I will never again see Anyone chewing gum in public. Full stop! End of story! I mean, Heavens! It seems people are chewing gum Everywhere: At funerals? Yes! At weddings? Yes! In parades? Yes! President Obama? Yes! Now, really, Mr. President, if you had, in fact, stopped smoking (as you said you had) when you became Prez then why, six years later, do you still need gum? And, to chew at public affairs and state meetings? Tsk! Tsk! Would you though, and everyone else for that matter, stop masticating in public? Pretty please? It is so unbecoming!

Next on my list are Spaghetti Straps. Now you ladies with whom I share a gender, spaghetti strap tops are cool when they are worn with a strapless bra. Strapless bra, ladies! And, it is so very déclassé to flaunt your bra straps underneath your thin spaghetti straps, especially if your bra color clashes with your top! Bras and Panties are called Underwear for a sensible reason – and, no, I’m not priggish! So no more! Please!

And, since we’re talking fashion here, flip-flops are cute but, not in Winter, not Everywhere, not Anytime! Fashionistas, please?!!

Garment makers insist on attaching an extra button to that nice top, or the cute sweater that I bought. That was an extra added touch that the haute couture designers came up with, because haute couture clothes lasted for umpteen years, by which time if you lost a button, you probably couldn’t replace it as it couldn’t be found! So attaching that extra button made sense. But the top and sweater that I bought yesterday from the mall might last the season or, maybe two. After all, they are made of the flimsiest materials and they’ll probably wear out before I even need that extra button! So is that extra touch supposed to give me the illusion that the garment is haute couture? Do we really need more illusions in our sorry world? Not, I say!

And, if one more retail clerk asks me if I’d like to get their store credit card, I am going to shout bloody murder!

Now I have to talk about foods (includes drinks, herbs etc.) that “keep you young, healthy, detoxify, prolong life, yadda, yadda, yadda!” Have you paid attention to the fact that one study tells you this is good for you, the other tells you the exact opposite? Think eggs, coffee, butter, milk, soya etc. etc. One pseudo-scientist writes a report extolling the virtues of some food, the inane media repeat it (because they have to plug in something or the other about health in their boring formats, not because they’ve researched its validity!), the irresponsible print media publishes it  . . . until another pseudo-doctor issues the counter argument and on and on and on. Please note that many of these so-called doctors and scientists are paid by the lobbyists and corporations who are pushing this item or that for their own nefarious and monetary reasons. Their so-called studies are conducted on two and a half people, over three and a half days!!! (OK! I am making a bit of an exaggeration here!) I remember Oprah on one of her shows going on and on about Water. Drink Eight Full Glasses a Day. Drink until your Pee runs Colorless. Really, I thought? So a 300lb. person and a 100lb. person need the same amount of water? Someone working outside in the scorching sun and a couch potato? An athlete and your grandmother? It’s the same for most hyped stuff! This leaves us to do our own research and to arrive to our own informed opinion. My Sensible Formula: Eat as healthy as you can, organic whenever you can, exercise reasonably, have a positive disposition, a dash of common sense and, hope that you have inherited good genes and you’ll be just fine! Seriously!

And, while I’m at it, that “scientific study” that said that the two most bacteria-laden items in your home are your toothbrush and your sink sponge? Well, lo and behold, before the ink had even dried on that “study” our retail markets were flooded with ads about newer, better toothbrushes and bacteria-resistant sponges!! Ah! Capitalism! Always inventing Opportunities for the cretins they think we are! Well, I don’t know about you, but a once-in-a-while good soaking in vinegar of both these items pretty much takes care of all the bacteria!

That germs and bacteria are everywhere is a given. That they are not all of Ebola crisis category is kind of . . . under-stated? The fear mongerers want us to believe that they are on every door-knob and handle that we touch; on every light-switch; every computer; every piece of cutlery in any restaurant; any money we exchange with anyone; on every can at the grocery store etc. etc. etc. By the end of a day of this hype, we’ll all be wondering if we’re even going to wake up tomorrow! The sadistic media love doing this to us! Don’t allow them! We all need a reasonable amount of exposure to germs and bacteria in order to keep up our immunity and resistance and we definitely do not need to be over-sanitized! Has every shred of common sense evaporated in America?

Frankly, I think it has. Let me tell you about “Experience.” See, the lucrative Marketers stumbled upon this word several years ago and, since then, everything in this country has been turned into an Experience (preferably with sexy innuendos and sexier actors): yes, going to the dentist, too! The Marketers will even put a spin on cleaning the toilet so that you are enjoying the Experience of that chore! After one of my husband’s hospital stays, and barely had we come back home, when I received a Survey from the hospital. Two Questions got me: How would you describe your Experience with us? Will you come back and stay with us? I gulped! The hospital is now an Experience? Come back and stay with us? No, believe me, I would really prefer never, ever, to come back and stay with you! What are they? A cruise company, a spa, a fancy vacation hotel? I went ballistic and wrote a scathing note! Well, after that I received a call from the hospital apologizing at which I vented some more poison! Marketers want every “Experience” to seem like Fun and Laughter! Guess what, America, not everything is Fun and Laughter, and trivializing Everything in this absurd manner is marketing gone way awry!!

And, guys! Guys, do all of you who are over forty really have low T(testosterone) as all this inundation of recent advertising is telling you? Really? And do you really need a pill so you can keep it up for four hours? Is that what it takes so you’ll feel manly? Listen; now that Big Pharma has ka-ching-ed on sagging women over fifty who want to have eighteen-year-old breasts, they want to snare you and ka-ching on convincing you that your fifty-year-old thing-a-ma-jig should have the stamina of a sixteen-year-old! Seriously now? And at the expense of screwing up your heart and kidneys and goodness knows what else? Are you such imbeciles? Truly, Big Pharma is the most criminal and lethal drug-pushing cartel in the universe! And while I do concede that many of us need a pill for this, that, or the other condition, and many of us could die without certain medications, we also need to be very wary of plying ourselves with pills for invented conditions and every little headache or sleepless night! Enough of that, no?

And America, can you get over your fascination with the British Royals already? I mean, what’s up with that one?

I could go on and on! However, I’ll leave it here . . . and now, I think I’ll just roll me a joint, imagine a better tomorrow for our world and sip my vodka as I wish you, my FB Friends, my Twitter Followers, my e-mail Recipients as well as all my Readers: Thank you for being the Glowing Candles that light up my heart!

Happy New Year!

Welcome 2015!


White Christmas

In 1937, Irving Berlin wrote what is probably one of the most famous Yuletide songs in the world: White Christmas. Since then (or, more likely, since 1954 when it was released by Columbia Records), Christmas has never been the same.

So what was it before then? My children and grandchildren have no idea! And, actually, were it not for the accounts of my grandparents and elders as I grew up, I wouldn’t have either.

Christmas in the Middle East (and dare I say, all over the world?) was celebrated quietly, with family. Christmas Eve was a solemn time when people felt a deep sense of awe in reliving the joy of the Birth of Jesus. There was a magical feeling in the air, especially for Palestinians with their close proximity to the Holy City of Bethlehem. Children were excited that they would get to wear their new clothes and shoes the next day. They would, most probably, get to see many cousins and relatives and many of the older aunts and uncles would give them coins to celebrate the occasion. Most people went to church in the morning, after which they gathered at the home of the eldest male in the family, whence a big lunch was usually served. There was no exchange of presents; no decorated Christmas trees; no Santa Clause came.

However, and especially after the Second World War was over and the sadness and grief of all who suffered through it had somewhat abated, the world, breathing a collective sigh of relief, wanted to celebrate, to enjoy life and the new affluence that had begun manifesting itself in the big cities, in the new stores, in cinemas and theatres and plazas, with huge Christmas trees, with Santa Clause and presents under the tree and, of course, with carols and songs and . . . everyone dreaming of a White Christmas as Bing Crosby or Rosemary Clooney crooned in the background!

I have no recollection whatsoever of any Christmas celebration when we were in Jerusalem (I was under five years old). But, I do remember our family celebrations in Egypt. Family members with all their children gathered at our home, Santa came (and, I would later find out, in the person of my youngest Aunt) and distributed multiple presents to each of us after which the Christmas tree candles (real ones, at the time!) were lit and a festive meal was served. There was lots of laughter and cheers and happiness. Yes, everyone then was still under the impression that “next year we’ll celebrate back home in Jerusalem.” However, there was no talk, or any instruction, in our home of the religious significance of Christmas.

Nonetheless, my tangible religious evolution and experiences began upon our arrival to Cairo when I was enrolled at a German nun’s school and made to hold out my hands while the nun’s wooden ruler rapped me on my knuckles as I was being told that the left hand is directed by Satan and that I should, therefore, write with my right hand which was guided by the Angels! After going home and crying for a number of days, during which my parents didn’t quite believe that I was being hit and attributed it to adjustment issues, the upheaval of uprooting from Jerusalem and being in a new environment, my father finally found out that it wasn’t my imagination, whereupon he took me to see a doctor. (Did he really believe that I had a curable condition?) The good doctor told him not to attempt correcting my left handedness because that was directly related to the way my brain functioned. I was petrified of nuns for years after that! Since then, I have heard of many people in my generation who had similar experiences at parochial schools.

As a result, I was moved to Manor House School which was run by a British woman. A few weeks after the school term began, Miss Bullen, our Assistant Principal, came into the classroom and asked all the Christian girls to raise their hands. I had no idea what Christian was! So, I looked around and none of the girls with raised hands were my friends. She then asked the Muslim girls to line up as they were going to Koran class. All my friends lined up, and so, indeed, did I! (I am sure that Miss Bullen called my father to tell him that I was participating in Koran class, at which, knowing my father, he would have told her to let me be!) The Sheikh taught us the “Fatiha” – which is somewhat equivalent to “Our Father” – and we were supposed to recite that by heart during the next class. When called upon to do so, my classmates faltered and hesitated. When it was my turn, I recited it perfectly! The Sheikh then shouted out to the class: This Copt knows how to recite your prayers better than you? For shame! Oh, I thought! So I am a Copt! (All Christians in Egypt were called Copts, which is an Egyptian sect of Christianity) A few days later, as I was at the birthday party of one of my friends, I was taken aside by some of the girls and told that, since I knew the Fatiha so well, I might as well become Muslim. How do I do that, I asked? Just say: ashadu an la illah illa Allah wa Mohammad Rasool Allah (I swear that there is only one God and that Mohammad is his Prophet) three times and you’re done! And thus, at the age of seven, I became Muslim!

In 1952, my parents moved to Amman, Jordan. We lived in a two story building. On the first floor lived our Catholic neighbors Elie, Salma and their daughter, Ellen, who would walk down to the neighborhood church on Sundays dressed in their finest, with hats, gloves, Catechisms and Rosaries in tow. It looked so nice! Why didn’t my parents do that, I thought? That was when I decided to become Catholic! So I walked over to the Church one afternoon, knelt at the Confessional and expressed my desire to the Priest who welcomed me into the Church, gave me a Catechism (which I still have) and a Rosary and told me: Jesus loves you now, my child. I was in seventh heaven! (Many years later when the words resounded in my head, I asked myself why Jesus loved me when I became Catholic, and why hadn’t he loved me before then?)

So there you have it! I was a Muslim Coptic Catholic little girl! Ah! Religion!

A few years later, we moved again, this time to Beirut where I was sent to a secular, nationalistic school. Religion did not figure anywhere in my very busy teenage life during those years. After graduating and getting married in my husband’s Melkite Church, and with the arrival of my children, I simply followed the traditional route: the three of them were baptized, the girls did their Holy Communion and we went to Church occasionally – definitely on Christmas, Palm Sunday and Easter.

Then, in 1975, the Lebanese Civil War broke out. It quickly turned from demands by the Muslim population to have as equitable a share in the running of the country as their Christian compatriots, to a bloody, vile sectarian war. My traditional, non-questioning religious identification up to that point was quickly overtaken by the blind fanaticism and inhumanity of the wicked events in which churches and mosques, despicable priests and hateful imams were stoking the fires of sectarianism and were as culpable in the horrid escalation of events as the corrupt political leaders. Seeing the fighters (criminals, really) wearing their big Christian crosses, or the Korans around their necks and murdering, sniping, looting, burning and terrifying innocent citizens was blood-curdling! My antipathy for all things religious went to an all-time high!

In London, I delivered my fourth child and wanted to baptize him so he would be like his siblings. Nevertheless, I was agonizing and wrestling with that decision and with what I knew was my own hypocrisy! However, I hauled myself over to the Catholic Church in the neighborhood where we were living so as to make the arrangements. The priest was sympathetic to our war status and after the niceties asked: Do you have a godmother chosen for your son? Yes, I said, she is my best friend. She’s Catholic, of course? No, Father, she is Muslim. Oh, no, no! She can’t be a Godmother. But Father, I argued, would you rather an impious Catholic rather than a good Muslim woman? If she is that good, he responded, why doesn’t she become Catholic? I will not share herewith the foul obscene words I was uttering in my mind! However, I just wanted to get this passage over with for my son’s sake and for all the in-laws and my mother who had insisted that he be baptized. I kept my mouth shut!

Then, we immigrated to the US. My sister-in-law and I decided that the children should receive some religious instruction, so we enrolled them in Sunday school. I went to pick them up on their first Sunday and found them finishing up a song with the refrain: Shalom! Shalom! I hit the roof (the revolting Israeli involvement in the massacres at Sabra and Shatila, the Palestinian refugee camps with which I was very familiar, had just occurred, and that memory was still very painfully etched in my mind and remains so) and asked the Reverend why the children were singing Jewish songs, and that if I wanted them to learn Hebrew I would have sent them to synagogue not to Christian church! Noticing my very obvious accent, he told me: This is how we do things in this country! Really, I thought? That was, of course, the end of their religious education! We’re done, I thought, and so, too, was my relationship with organized religion!

I guess what I am trying to say is that each of us arrives to their religious beliefs in our own way. Most people simply follow the religion they were born into. Some choose other sects or religions where to practice their faith. At the end of the day, whatever our beliefs are, whatever our religion is, whatever the experiences that have made us who we are, and whatever the evolutionary and maturity process that got us to where we are today it is our moral ethic that defines us and, whether that is based on our religion, our philosophy or any other values, it is what can, and should, give us a common purpose for being respectful and good to each other, to our children and to our world.

Nowadays, and despite my aversion to organized religion, I find that Jesus the Nazarene is a man with whom I strongly identify, perhaps because he was a rebel? No matter what the reason, Christmastime makes me relive his life, his birth, his death, his story and his message. It is one that, despite the hypocrisy and politics of organized religion, resonates profoundly in my life and emotions.

Having said all that, and whatever our beliefs, I feel that we can all sing White Christmas together and enjoy celebrating the story of the most famous and influential character on our planet.

Have a Very Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah Everybody!