Help Syrian Children Smile Again

Our Visit to Syria

It has been 8 years since we vacationed in Syria.  In Damascus, we stayed in a beautiful boutique hotel called The Talisman Hotel de Charme.

Damascus is reputed to be the longest continuously inhabited city in the world.  Later, we were impressed with the bustling city of Aleppo and the UNESCO world heritage covered market where we bought up kilograms of olive oil soap.  Next, came the water wheels of Homs. There, we were able to speak at length with a reporter for a national newspaper who said he wrote what the government told him to write, and the village of Ma’loula where Aramaic is still spoken.  It is believed that this is the language spoken at the time of Christ.  Only three cities are left in the world where it is spoken.  Ancient antiquities spoke of the rich history of the country in the form of Palmyra, and Crak De Chavalier and the ghost cities of   Sergilla where families wandered to enjoy a family picnic on a warm Saturday afternoon. Syria was at the centre of the ancient Silk Road where buyers searched for vibrant silks, aromatic spices, and other luxury items.  Yet in spite of the wonder that was Syria, there was an underlying feeling of deep unhappiness amongst the people that was very palpable, and two weeks after we left, war broke out.

The Effects of War on the Children

Sadly, we watched the news as Damascus was bombed, as the covered bridge in Aleppo was destroyed, Palmyra was desecrated, and the water wheels of Homs were demolished.  While this destruction is sad, the even greater travesty was reeked upon its people and most notably its children many of whom were not even born when the war started. The Syrians who remained in their country have suffered unspeakably.  Many Syrians decided to escape the country.  Of the 6 million people who have been displaced, 2.8 million have been children.

Today after eight years of war, Syria has a generation of children who have never known anything but war.  Today the war seems to be de-escalating, and, yet oddly, the effects on children has grown.

  • 910 children were killed in Syria in 2017, 50% more than the previous year, and the highest recorded since the conflict began in 2011
  • 961 children recruited to serve in a combat role
  • 361 children injured
  • 244 children detained
  • 175 attacks on education and health facilities and personnelGuardian Graphic | Source: Unicef. Note: verified data, Syria, 2017

Introducing Alison McNulty

I would like to introduce you to a former colleague and friend of mine.  Her name is Alison McNulty.  We met at the Tashkent International School in Uzbekistan where she was the English Acquisition Coordinator and teacher for the school.  Ali was and continues to be a passionate, and talented language acquisition advocate who was responsible for developing effective support programs for students and for running strong professional development sessions with staff. Since 90% of TIS students are English language learners, it was imperative that we utilize teaching strategies that were supportive of this group of students at TIS.  She is a teacher, wife, mother, language advocate, published author, and international traveler. After leaving TIS, she became involved in an organization called Happiness Again an organization that provides treatment and care for the displaced Syrian children now living in Jordan.


Ali volunteering at the Happiness Again Centre in Jordan

In a recent email, Ali described her work with Happiness Again which is an NGO based in Amman, Jordan that works with Syrian children who are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.  The centre offers a three-month programme and is entirely self-funded.

“The programme includes a variety of different therapy sessions including; sand, play, music, psychodrama, and yoga.  We are working in collaboration with yoga centres to both raise funds and awareness of the campaign.

The aim to help more children attend the programme.  If you would like to be part of making this happen, we would be really happy.

An Email of Support from a Friend

A friend of Ali’s was able to visit the facility and sent the following email to Ali describing what she saw.

Helen and I visited Happiness Again in Amman on Sunday 22nd of April. Initial impressions were of a calm and peaceful centre with lots of bright colours and child-friendly activity rooms. We sat and spoke to Susanne Darwan about the centre and its history. We learned a little about Susanne herself and some of the people who have been involved in setting up the healing programme for children. We had a frank discussion about the programme itself, how it works and it’s limitations. The people dealing with the children need more support and training but even with their limited resources, they are giving these severely traumatized children hope for a better future. We met some children and watched their Yoga class, they then showed us their tree of life on the wall. Each child has their photo on the tree of life and a card with a wish written on it. Visitors to the centre can take a card and fulfill the wish inside. These children want normal things like children the world over, dolls, bicycles and electronic gadgets. We felt privileged to be able to grant a wish each. We explored the sand therapy room, the music therapy room and the kitchen where the children learn to make their own food. How lovely it would have been for them to have a garden but that is not possible so instead they go on day trips. I feel honoured to have met some of the children and their carers. I was moved to tears by the compassion and love on display in Happiness Again and I will do all I can to help raise much-needed funds for them. All the best, Eileen” 

How You Can Help

The aim to help more children attend the programme.  If you would like to be part of making this happen, we would be really happy.  The cost of the programme for one child is  455 British Pounds.    Ali is hoping to raise 18, 200 British Pounds so that 40 children can attend

  1. We hope you will join us on this journey by doing three simple things.  Make a pledge; follow us and share our posts with your friends and family; spread the word by simply tagging #Happiness Again.  We will keep you regularly updated on our progress.
  2. If you would like to participate in the fundraising campaign Ali would be most grateful for a donation which you can make here.
  3. If you belong to a yoga club and would like to arrange a fundraiser please email Ali at for further information.
  4. Another option to consider and both Alison and I would be most grateful if you would be willing to advertise this opportunity on your blog as well.  This would enable us to increase the exposure of this fundraiser even further.

Thanks for taking the time to read this!








First School Adventures



86 Queen Street Kirkland Lake

My House Built By My Father When He Returned from the War in the late 1940’s in Kirkland Lake, Ontario


This is another entry written for my memoir class in Newcastle.  This class is funded by the government as a project for involving seniors meaningfully within the community.  Next fall, students from local schools will form partnerships with the participants in the program and will create books, movies, pictures etc. that will further document the lives that have been lived.

“You aren’t going to see me around much anymore”, my six-year-old- self  explained with an air of importance to our next-door neighbour.  Peeking through the wire fence that separated our houses, I could see the kind smile on his friendly, amused face his hair topped off with a canvas beige hat and with gardening tools in his hands. My mother had taken me to school earlier in the day to register me for the first grade. I would be the youngest kid in the room because the cut off age for first graders was seven years of age by the end of the year.  Since my birthday was December 24, I just barely met the requirements.


St. Jerome, my new school was a red, brick three-story monolith with rows of small-paned windows, and large front doors at the top of a massive block of white cement stairs.  Its large treeless front yard was devoid of anything inviting except for a very small patch of green lawn, and it really didn’t seem very child-friendly. Yet, I remember being excited to go to school.   The students didn’t enter the school through the grandiose front steps.  Instead, we were relegated to the back door.  I remember the backyard being covered with cinders. I wondered how it would feel to slip and fall on them.

My Grade 1 Teacher

I do not remember my grade 1 teacher’s face, but I do recall she wore a white short-sleeved blouse and a black billowing skirt cinched at the waist by a patent leather belt.  Her name was Miss Stanga and she led us into the basement of the school, and into our classroom where the school windows were above my head, thus preventing me from seeing outside.  Before my eyes were row upon row of wooden desks. Each desk was for one person and had an arm on the right-hand side attaching the back to the table on the front.  A large drawer was under the seat where we could store our belongings.  Somehow I knew that we were supposed to sit down in one of them. Seeing no alternative I chose one of the desks in the closest row and threw my leg over the arm in a very unladylike manner, hoisted myself over the arm, and then stepped on the seat before sitting down.  We must have learned there was a better way to sit in the seat later in the day, as I don’t recall ever doing it that way again.  I glanced up at the words above the board and panicked as I convinced myself I would never learn to read and write.  The next thing I knew we were handed notebooks and fat primary sized pencils.  That was it.  No introductions. No soft entry.  It was down to work immediately. We learned all about pink lines and blue lines within minutes of entering the classroom for the first time.

My Studies

I did learn to read eventually, although the vocabulary was rather limited.  “Look Jane.  Look, Jack.  Puff can run. Oh! Oh! Oh! Funny, funny Puff.”  I also learned to sing.  We got put into singing groups after a private audition with the teacher at the back of the room.  The groups were named after one of three birds-the canaries, the robins, and the crows.  I figured out that the crows were terrible singers, and was relieved to be put into the canary group. Other than reading and music the only other subject I remember was health where we learned a lot about self-care and proper healthy eating.  We had to stand at attention beside our desk every day as the teacher checked our elbows and our nails to ensure they were clean.  I do not know what they did with the data on who had clean nails and who had dirty ones, as there didn’t seem to be any consequences either way.

We did have another class, although I never really counted it as a subject.  It was catechism since this was a Catholic school.  We started off each day looking at a big picture flip chart.  I remember pictures of angels and heavens all done in soft inviting colours and I was okay with those.  However, one day the teacher showed us what hell looked like.  It was a terrible picture with anguished people cast into bright burning flames.  The darkly dressed devil grinned as he thrust his pitchfork towards the burning people.  The teacher explained that this is what happens to people who do bad things so if we didn’t want to go to hell we should make sure we obeyed our parents and followed the rules in the classroom.  That just got me thinking.  I had always considered myself a good kid always doing what I was supposed to do after all Santa Claus came to me each and every Christmas since I had been born.  My mind just would not accept that I should ever be a candidate for hell.  That for me was a big learning from grade one.

Banking Day

My final recollection from my early school days included a special day called banking day.  We had to learn all about the concept of saving money and so every banking day, we brought our pennies and other small change to school where it was collected and then put into a bank account.  We each had our own little account book. One day, after the teacher had collected all the money, she asked me to take the white, cloth banking bag to the principal’s office.  I carefully climbed the big hardwood steps with the moneybag in hand and approached the office located in the centre of the first floor. I knocked on the door but there was no answer.  My teacher had coached me to just leave the money on the principal’s desk if she was not there.  I confidently did as instructed and placed the money on the desk and then turned around to leave.  Right at that moment, an ominous, tall slender creature in a grey lifeless suit and flat shoes stopped me right in my tracks and demanded to know why I was in her office.  Her short, straight brown hair, parted at one side and held back by a barrette on the other side, completed the principal look. My heart started pounding, all my confidence slipping away, and I blurted out the instructions that my teacher had given me. That story didn’t melt her heart.  Instead, she instructed me to get back to my room.  That was my first visit to the principal’s office and it certainly does not have warm fuzzy memories.

Moving South

I completed grade one at St. Jerome School (a replacement for the old monolithic structure I had attended) in Kirkland Lake, Ontario.  Soon my family would be leaving to live over 500 miles away in Whitby, Ontario.  We sold our house and headed on down where I would enter another school system this time in a brand new building where I could see out of the windows!

Not Just a Game


It is so much more than just a game.

The death of so many strong, healthy, young hockey players along with their coach and other teammates elicited such a strong response from all around the world and has resulted in hockey sticks leaning against front porches, against barracks in Iraq, and against the noses of the Snowbirds’ jets in honour of the boys from the Humbolt Broncos team.  A “go fund me”  event which has raised over $10 million dollars for the families of the victims became the highest amount that has ever been raised in Canadian history. Even several days after the accident, I still tear up when there is some follow up on TV such as a funeral for one of the kids.  I do not think I have ever witnessed such a widespread wave of human compassion in all my days.

Why such a painfully strong response to this particular accident when we are all so hardened by horrific news almost on a daily basis?

When you listen to people talk, they frequently mention their own sons or daughters who are, or who have been involved in the game. The experience of driving our own young children to freezing local hockey arenas every Saturday or Sunday and cheering them on like every game they play is for the Stanley Cup.  This bonds us to the Humbolt Broncos. We watch our sons, daughters, and grandchildren learn to be team members and to share in losses or wins.  We greet them as they come off the ice drenched in sweat from playing their heart out.  We watch them bond with their teammates as they go from one level to the next.  We drive them to tournaments.  We build shelves for them to display their trophies and medals.  We air out their smelly hockey equipment which they bravely put on seemingly unaware of the foul odor which permeates the dressing rooms. We listen to their account of this goal scored or that goal saved. We see the wide grin on their faces when they stop the shot.  We create heroes from our Atom or Peewee level teams as they represent the community from which they come. We know that many of these kids dream of being NHL players just like the players on the team from Saskatchewan.

And so when the news breaks of the terrible accident that claimed so many lives and literally destroys a team, our busy lives come to a screeching stop as we try to come to terms with the event.  Our hockey teams do end up on buses traveling to towns and cities for games.  They are billeted out with families as they get older. Their teammates become their second family.  Those kids from Saskatchewan could have been our kids.  That is the direction many of our young hockey players will travel just as the Humboldt Broncos once were Atom and Peewee players on those cold winter mornings in the local arenas.

For me, thoughts of wanting to protect our kids come to mind.  Almost immediately, our thoughts are juxtaposed with the passion and love of the game that emanates from our children’s flushed faces. Parents are left with a gut-wrenching spot in their stomach wondering what is best- protection or passion.   Meanwhile, the parents of the young men killed in Saskatchewan are left with a devastating hole in their lives as they face a parent’s worst nightmare.

It is so much more than just a game.



Here and There

Exactly a year separates these two pictures.  The left one is taken a few days ago in our backyard.  The one on the right was set in Uzbekistan at the home of our driver’s family.The Uzbek tradition of making Sumalak is similar in many ways and yet different in others.

In Ontario 2018

Even though the maple sap has been slow to run this March, we finally got enough to boil down.  This whole adventure of making maple syrup began over twenty years ago when I bought Walter the equipment that we would need to tap our maple trees as a Valentine’s present.  He loved the gift and when the time came, we ventured out to drill a few holes into the bark of our grand maples.  We drove in the spigots and hung the pails and waited. Eventually, the sap flowed and we collected buckets and buckets of sap.

Being new at this, we experimented with the best ways to boil the sap down.  One attempt was to use the kitchen stove.  After many hours of boiling, the humidity dripped from our kitchen walls and windows.  Not a good idea at all!  Then we thought we would use our old BBQ outside.  That was an even worse idea as the BBQ was old and the sustained heat tore a hole in the rubber hose connecting the propane tank to the burner. Flames shot out of the hose!  Not only that but we had put the BBQ close to the garage.  Way too close.  Walter made a dash for the knob on the gas tank and put the flame out.

Now that we have returned home, we thought we would try again.  This time we were older and wiser we hoped, and we knew we had to boil the sap outside.  This time we set out our large turkey fryer stand, propane tank, and a brand new large kettle outside and away from our house. So far so good.  We poured our crystal clear sap into the kettle and ignited the gas.  The sap boiled down and the results are looking promising. We have visions of bottles of light maple syrup and maple butter driving us to boil down more.

In Uzbekistan 2017

A few days ago, a picture popped up on my Facebook account of boiling down sumalak.  It is a part of the celebration of spring called Navruz.  Sumalak is traditionally cooked by women and usually done in a community festival setting.  When we went to our driver’s house for the ritual, women had been hired to take care of the sumalak.  We stirred the pot but only for pictures!  Unlike our process of tapping trees to get the sap, sumalak is made from wheat, oil, white flour and 7 small stones.  The wheat is put on a plate and watered over several days.  When the wheat sprouts, selection of the correct wheat sprouts begin.  The sprouts are then crushed and the sweetness goes into the water.  This water is boiled until a sauce the consistency of apple sauce is formed.  It is revered as a very special food and brings family and communities together to celebrate Navruz.




Nurnberg Christmas Market 2009

Nurnberg Christmas Market 2009

When we worked in England at ACS in Egham, a part of the perks included being able to take a few personal leave days off here and there.  Although we had worked in Germany years before, we had never had the opportunity to go to the famous Nurnberg Christmas Market.  So with the appropriate approval from our line manager, off we flew carrying only hand luggage on our flight from London, which connected in Switzerland, to Nurnberg. We had not remembered that Switzerland was not part of the EU and that the security lines and passport control would be so much of a hassle.   However, we eventually got to our hotel which was just down the street from the Durer House in Nurnberg.Durer statue

What a time awaited us!  Nurnberg’s reputation for having one of the “must see” Christmas markets in Germany is rightfully earned.  Whether it was feasting our eyes on the richly decorated storefronts, meeting the Nurnberg angel, drinking hot glugwein, eating the famous tiny Nurnberger sausages from a street seller, shopping for Christmas decorations, enjoying coffee und kuchen from a konditorei or dining in a German gasthaus, the sensual impact of the market was overwhelming,

We also visited the cathedral, a target for major damage during the war where we read this poignant poem posted inside, and which was marred by some graffiti.


Gasthauses were dressed up for the Christmas season and we feasted on many of our favourite treats! Nurnberg delivered on being one of the best Christmas markets in Europe.

Our Christmas Tree Story 2017

Our Christmas Tree Story 2017

I had originally thought of writing a story about how our Christmas really is a compilation of all our travel memories, and it will have some of that.  However, our Christmas tree story for this year took a bit of a turn-more of that later.  Right now its back to the original story. It usually takes alot longer than it should to decorate the tree because each ornament brings back memories of our travels. Here is a sampling of some of those memories:

Our Gaudi Christmas Decoration from Barcelona


Each decoration on our tree reminds us of times shared during our travels.  This one reminds me of time spent a couple of years ago with our friends Eugene and Vida.  Together we explored the amazing The Sagrada Familia and Gaudi’s houses. We walked down Las Ramblas a beautiful street filled with history.  News of the terrorist attack on that street and the Catalonian independence vote were far more meaningful to us when they happened recently.

Memories of Belize


 A trip to a beautiful resort outside of Placencia with Aztec ruins and the heart stopping sound of howler monkeys.  Walking around the artist community with  our grandchildren and their parents.  It was a wonderful trip.

Rainbow Row in Charleston SC

Charleston ceramic

Christmases and times shared with our Charleston friends Don and Marjorie, Barb and Rick, and Lori and David in that beautiful city. Boating, crabbing, shopping for handbags at Moo Roo’s, spotting dolphins out on the water, visiting at the Saturday morning market and kayaking during a full moon on high tide. Oh what a time we had!



Not sure if this is a Christmas decoration or an Easter one, but it is on our tree.  What a beautiful country!  Definitely in our plans for a return visit.

Shopping at the City Stars Mall in Cairo, Egypt


Egypt brings back many wonderful memories of friends like Barb, Elise, Randa and her family, Medhat and the Nile River cruises that we took visitors on over and over again.  We couldn’t get enough of the Hany’s off road trips.  Everytime friends would visit we slyly asked them if they wanted to go on one or both of these trips-mainly because we wanted to go again!

Our music trip to Nashville and Memphis

Elvis in Graceland

One of our very favourite trips because it evoked such strong memories from our childhood!  We headed west from Charleston to visit Nashville and its Country and Western hall of fame.  The museum is organized according to decades of music.  Starting at the top floor were songs that my grandmother sang as she baked in the kitchen.  For me it was a strong connection to happy days from my childhood.  In Memphis, we visited Sun Studio where Elvis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Kris Kristofferson played.  We finished off the trip with tickets to the Grand Ole Opry and Graceland.

Four Years in London


During our first year in London, we suffered from cold weather and clouds.  We had grown used to sunny weather in South Carolina and Egypt.  Finally, we accepted the weather was just going to be what it was, and we ventured out to fall in love with London’s Oxford and Regent streets, Borough Market, the South Bank walk and so many other places.  We lived in Surrey but took the train into London almost every Saturday to explore. Again, when friends visited, we took them to our favourite haunts!

Uzbekistan Crafts People

Uzbekistan copy

This ornament is made from ceramic and painted in a typical Uzbek pattern.  It is done by local crafts people.  We bought many variations of these for gifts for people back home.

The Black Forest in Germany

Pewter from Germany

These are made of pewter and the precision of German craftsmen is evident.  They are worked so Santa’s front shows his face and the reverse shows him from the back. Attention to detail is typically German.  We loved Germany for its clean streets and tidy houses, for its excellent food, for its amazing destinations like Rotenberg, Baden Baden (Caracella Baths), Nuremberg (Christmas market), Triberg (cuckoo clocks and grandfather clocks), and for its events like the spargeltoast celebration  (white asparagus in the spring), new wine celebration in the fall and fasching (like a mardi gras) in the winter months. To top it off we had an amazing landlord who made sure we saw everything that we should.

Now on to the Story of the 2017 Christmas Tree

These are but a sampling of our Christmas decorations – each bringing back a wealth of memories.  It usually takes a couple of days for us to put up the tree as we sit and re-examine each ornament and reminence.  This year the tree was put up after Remembrance Day.  It was beautiful, but within a week the pre-lit branches were flashing eradically. The transformer and wall plug had burnt out, and electrical fumes filled the room.  Of course, we unplugged it and we thought that the only solution was to rewire the tree with other lights.  Down came all the decorations!  And after the quick fix, they went back up again-this time with more efficiency and less reminiscing!

An Unsettling Feeling

I would have stopped there but a nagging feeling  that a pre-lit tree should last longer than four seasons persisted.  So I fired off a letter of complaint to Costco.  Within a few days, we were told to bring it back for a full refund.  Once again, down came all the decorations!  Back into the box went the tree and we popped it into our trunk for a journey back to the store. We received a refund of $242 which was put on a gift card.

A Replacement is Found!

We were a bit disappointed to find that the only replacement on display was a nine foot tree.  Too high for our sunroom where we like to have it.  A little annoyed, we decided to reconcile ourselves into thinking we would have to wait until next year to buy a replacement, and went to purchase the few groceries that we needed.  Then, lo and behold just beside the vegetable department tucked into a corner, a lit seven foot tree caught our attention.  When we inquired about it, we were told it was $299, and that since it was a display tree, they could lower the price to $249.  Our bargaining skills from Egypt kicked in and we asked for a final price of $200.  For that we were told, we would have to go to see Connie – a higher level of management.  A little flattery, some bad jokes and persistance with Connie scored us final price of $199.  Our gift card could cover it, and we could also throw in a storage bag!

Finally Third Time Lucky-we hope..

Our tree got redorated for the third time this year in record time.  We have bonded very pleasantly with good service at Costco. And we have a new tree with an amazing remote control device, and with  advanced technology that means we do not have to plug in the rows of lights.  Now our tree has a story and memories all of its own!


In Memory of our long time friend.

This announcement was made on November 24, 2017.  Our friend David whom we have known since elementary school and high school passed away after a horrific battle with cancer.  His wife Debbie wrote a beautiful tribute to him today which follows:

It is with great sadness and a broken heart that I post this message:

Dave passed away on Wednesday afternoon at home with Charlotte and me by his side. His condition in a semi-sedated state to free him of the horrible pain and discomfort of pancreatic cancer had been fairly stable for a couple of days, but all of a sudden his breathing pattern changed and he was gone within 10 minutes. It was way too fast. While I knew this day was drawing closer, I was not prepared to lose him so quickly.

From the moment we received the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer in August 2015, Dave never gave up hope and fought to have as much time with us as possible, despite the intolerable pain he endured at times. While we feel blessed to have had more time than most who have received similar diagnoses to create more memories, it does not bring me comfort at this time when I really just want more time. When we got married, I told Dave that I would rather have 10 minutes of wonderful than a lifetime of nothing special—Dave spoiled me and gave me way more than 10 minutes of wonderful; however, I just want more.

Dave was a loving and caring husband, father, uncle, son, son-in-law, brother, brother-in-law, cousin, and friend, and a well respected teacher, author, and colleague. He will be greatly missed by many.

I have lost the wind beneath my wings. The house is way too quiet and cold, enhancing my loneliness.

Dave’s wishes were to be cremated, without traditional visitation; however, there will be a Celebration of Life, with a reception to follow, on Saturday, December 16 at 2 pm at St. George’s Anglican Church in Pickering Village.

For those who wish to make a donation in memory of Dave, please consider Hearth Place Cancer Support Centre in Oshawa and Pancreatic Cancer Canada Foundation.

“I will always love you…for always and forever, then into eternity, plus one more day.”

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