Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Safe (and fun) Halloween to all!

It's that time of the year again and children will start negotiating for the spookiest or coolest costume very soon. If they haven't already! 

So in anticipation to the biggest candy fest of the year, let us remember some basic safety tips so Halloween remains what it is intended to be: FUN & ROTTEN TEETH!

  • Fire resistant: Choose costumes made of flame retardant materials
  • Tripping: Avoid long costumes that hit the ground and cover the feet
  • Falling: Avoid high heels or oversized shoes, not matter how fun they may look
  • Visibility: Always opt for bright colors and since black is a favorite color for Halloween, make sure you add reflective stripes to make sure you and your children are visible at all times regardless of how well lit you think the street may be (use stripes as accessories like bracelets, belts, etc)
  • Masks: Never cover the eyes or the nose as vision is a priority and you do not want to hinder breathing
  • Accessories: All accessories such as swords, knives, or sharp objects should be made of soft foam with no actual sharp edges and should be easy to carry (the kids will already have their candy bag/basket to carry)

  • Chaperon: Always make sure children are accompanied by a responsible adult and let them know they should never leave their group to wander alone
  • Familiarity: Opt for neighborhoods and streets that are familiar to the children and preferably well lit
  • Street crossing: Teach your children to always look both ways before crossing a street and make sure they understand this is the only time they are allowed on the street (while crossing) and at all other times they must  always walk on the sidewalks and never on the road
  • Fire: Make sure your decorations are not dangerous; if you must have lanterns or candles, make sure they are placed in a safe location away from the doorsteps or where children might stand and costumes could catch fire 
  • Strangers: Always remind your children to never go inside a stranger's house or vehicles

  • Poisoning: Instruct your children to only accept commercially wrapped treats
  • Parental control: Make sure you examine the candy before the kids eat them
  • Rotten teeth: Teeth will be the most abused victims of Halloween, so make sure you... BRUSH THEM when you are done with all the candy! ;)


Mamma Mia+Jad

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Mia and Jad meet Le Petit Prince at last...

We had been waiting for an eternity. From the moment we heard it was in the making, we just could not wait. And finally, two days ago, we took the children to a very special avant-première of Le Petit Prince.

Source: Wikipedia

I had refrained from reading about the film or even watching the preview. I really wanted to make room for fascination and I refused to go with preconceptions or expectations.

After all, Saint-Exupéry's masterpiece is a classic. We grew up with it. And it grew with us. It is one of those stories that you read and reread over and over again. And with every reading, you understand more. You see more. You discover more. It is truly beautiful. And quite frankly, I was a little worried the film would pale in comparison to the original.

And maybe because anyone who had read Saint-Exupéry would also fear nothing could possibly equal to the book, the filmmakers intelligently created their story around the original text and not as an adaptation of The Little Prince for the big screen. Considering the book itself relies greatly on visuals and the drawings of the author, it would have been sadly dull and redundant to simply animate those illustrations. And because nothing matches human imagination and so many have read the book countless times, any animation would have felt a little unimpressive.

Instead, these illustrations are left exactly as they are in the book. But they become the center and the catalyst for the film storyline. They instigate the main connection between the characters who will move forward to not only recount the story but even do what any child (or adult) does with characters they get attached to: go beyond what exists.

We have all taken characters of a book or film we love and imagined how their lives would be after the ending.

The film is basically the (theorized) future of The Little Prince as imagined by the creators. But it does not transgress from the core and gives another layer to the original messages conveyed in the book while establishing a coherent correlation to our modern lives. Humans are humans after all. Be it in 1943, when Saint-Exupéry published this beautiful life lesson (poem) or today.

Dreams, hopes, expectations, demands, values... They have not changed that much. Humans are still as greedy, vain and materialistic as ever. Children are still as pure, raw and open as ever. And humans are still required to grow up into that "adult person" that society imposes as "reasonable".

The film is beautiful. Visually. It is a pleasure to watch. The story of The Little Prince itself is revealed in a stop motion of the original illustrations while the rest of the "real world" is developing in modern animation style. Since the film has not been released yet in the UAE, I will refrain from going into the details but I will reiterate it is very well done. A beautiful production that honors the work of Saint-Exupéry.

The music is as fantastic as the visuals. I absolutely loved the soundtrack. It lifted the narrative beautifully and tells a story in and by itself. One would be tempted to sit there, eyes shut, just listening. It might come across as cliché to say that the music transported us but it truly was a vehicle to a deeper intensity and understanding of the themes.

Mia waiting for the film to start

We were lucky enough to score tickets to this avant-première in French as the original version might never play in UAE theaters. It was emotional to watch it in the language I have read and known The Little Prince. That being said, I am definitely going to watch it again, even if it is in English. The kids loved it and Mia has been bringing up intense scenes of the film (to my surprise, not the silly events at the surface). So I would like to give her the opportunity to watch it again and hopefully see new things that will mesmerize her and undoubtedly make her think and analyze every new discovery. She has not yet read the book and this will be an opportunity to explore the story now. I just cannot wait for that.

Jad just happy to be there!

Red carpet moment for Mia and Lynn before we enter the theater

The Little Prince will be released in UAE Theaters on October 22, 2015.
Do not miss it!      

This review was written for Mums Like Us.

Mamma Mia+Jad

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Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Summering in the Garden of Ehden

A few years ago, I would have dreaded spending two whole months in the mountains. I love the city. I love Beirut and when I go to Lebanon, I love being at the center of its universe: Hamra. It is where all the theaters, the cinemas, the music, the cafes, the restaurants, the life all come together. 

Everyday view from our garden in Ehden

I love all of this, madly! But when your days and night become tangled with those of smaller people, then everything shuffles. You want parks, greenery and nature. You want playgrounds and outdoors. You want so much of only the best you end up giving up on some of what used to be your best and you adjust. And you learn to love new things and different facets of what this world has to offer, as a family.
Mia enjoying the view at the top of Ehden's highest restaurant: Bab Al Hawa (The Door of the Wind)

Being originally from the town of Ehden in the beautiful mountains of North Lebanon, I have fond memories of the summers I spent there as a teenager. The first friends I made in Lebanon when we returned from an entire childhood spent France, were my Ehden friends. I cherish these times and cannot help but smile at the days and nights we spent being silly teens in love, singing our hearts out without a care in the world and walking the streets for hours going from one place to the next, completely unaware that a few years later I would dare travel these distances by car and by car only! We were young, we were fun and we were happy!  

My beautiful Mia enjoying the view from our Ehden residence: up above the clouds!

But now that I have become a mom, the beauty of Ehden is revealing itself in a very different way. We could not be happier living in the Emirates and Dubai definitely is home. But we still miss some of that Lebanese magic our hearts always long for. 

When we travel to Lebanon, Ehden has become our home back home. We have acquired a small place in a beautiful location which allows the kids to enjoy all that they miss in Dubai and Beirut and so much more!

Living above the clouds!

Ehden is situated between 1,500 and 1,600m above sea level. One of its most prominent churches, Saydet Alhossn, sits at a glorious 1,700m and from the top of her mountain, overlooks the entire town all the way down to the sea. On clear days, one can even take a glance at the faraway island of Cyprus! 

It is no surprise the locals like to tell stories of Ehden actually being the Garden of Eden where Adam and Eve descended and will gladly walk you to the fig tree off of which they picked a couple of leaves to cover themselves. 

Living above the clouds!
Airplanes, who needs them?

Whether you believe the legend or not, it is worth the trip as it would also be on your way to Mar Sarkis, one of the most prominent convent in Ehden and the location of the town's most famous and delicious restaurants that welcome guests from all over Lebanon all summer long. People will drive for hours to get to have lunch at the Nebe'e

Ehden is also home to one of the most breathtaking natural reserves in the region and the town people actively maintain what they consider to be their most valuable assets. Hiking and camping are part of the daily of life for all the locals who love to venture to the culmination point of the highest mount in Lebanon: Kornet ElSawda. Children and adult activities take place daily all around town where lifetime memories (and pretty mad skills) can be made!

Thank you to Marc Finianos and Ehden Mountains Activities for an unforgettable morning!
Sama Ehden: a large playground that welcomes children of all ages
Sama Ehden's bouncy castle
Bungee jump at Sama Ehden
Many, many fun rides and games to enjoy at Sama Ehden

When going to Ehden, one must make time for nature and beauty and exciting escapades all year long. Summers are gorgeous (and the weather is out of this world) but winters are also very busy with all sorts of snow adventures for all daredevils out there! We have had one of the best White New Year's Eve up in Ehden. Queen Elsa would be jealous!

The kids enjoy the local market with their grandmother
And since all great explorers need to eat, it is quite lucky that Ehden is celebrated for its culinary talents: a wide range of Kebbe must always be at the center of the table. Preferably with a dish of "Laban soup", either Kebbe in Laban or Shishbarak. These delicious dishes are cooked differently in the North. Usually, you will find them served over a plate of rice. In Ehden, they will serve you a bowl of mouthwatering soup where Kebbe or Shishbarak have been marinating slowly. Absolutely exquisite! But the most delectable Kebbe that people come from all over to eat, aside from raw Kebbe Nayye, is the grilled Kors! 

Mia enjoying some home made Shishbarak

Home made Kebbe lovingly cooked by my mother!
Home cooked Shishbarak by my talented mom
Dreamy wines leaves also by my super mom!

Naturally, you cannot consider your meal over unless you head to the town square, Al Midan, and have local sweets. My favorite is Mshabeshle and if you must only have one bite of something, this is what you must try! Should you find yourself sitting there at night, make sure you enjoy a hot cup of Sahlab too. A must!

Delicious Mshabeshle!

Hot Sahlab
Fantastic Kneffe by Douaihy Sweets on Al Midan

My Jad enjoying a drum moment at one of our favorite restaurants: Adan Ehden

So many restaurants will serve these traditional dishes and more and more recently, hotels and resorts are offering the same, within a complete Ehden experience. If you make the absolutely perfect decision of staying for a few days, you must do so at Kroum Ehden one of Lebanon's greatest venues. Blessed with a location that opens up to horizons of beauty, the pool and various restaurants will leave you wondering why you should ever abandon this piece of heaven! Ehden is well known for its nightlife as well and people from neighboring towns will come to party until way after the sun rises.

Closer to God

Breathtaking views will transport you to a place of peace and meditation even if you have never meditated in your entire life. Maybe that is why I feel so close to God when I am in Ehden. And apparently, I may not be the only one if one considers the large number of places of worship in such a small town. Ehden is home to the oldest Maronite church in Lebanon, Mar Mema

Inside Saydet Alhossn at the top of Ehden's mountains
Inside Saydet Alhossn's old, small church

One cannot speak of Ehden's churches and not mention Saydet Alhossn. A popular choice for weddings and baptisms due to its beautiful setting and large open spaces, the gem of this location is actually the tiny old church around which the new one was built. The idea of people building it so high up in the mountain hundred of years ago is just impressive. 

The view from the modern structure of Saydet Alhossn: literally up in the sky
Saydet Alhossn rising up high

Another church worth visiting is Mar Gerges Cathedral near Al Midan. Home to Ehden's hero, Youssef Bey Karam where his body has been laid to rest in a glass coffin.

Mar Gerges
Youssef Bey Karam
Youssef Bey Karam's body in his glass coffin

From Ehden, many people enjoy hiking to the Kaddisha Valley and the Monastery of Qozhaya which are also accessible by car. The Monastery is literally built inside the mountain and its church is basically a grotto with only one man-made facade. It houses the first printing press in the Middle East in its beautiful museum which is worth a tour. A dramatic and imposing grotto where people with mental illnesses used to be chained can also be visited. It is as chilling as it is mesmerizing and one can feel the weight of its history after a quick glance at the chains that are still heavily present.

Hiking in Kadisha Valley
Inside Qozhaya's grotto

Finally, it is not possible to mention places of worship and dismiss Eid Al Saydeh which is one of the biggest event of the summer. Devout crowds of all ages hike yearly from Ehden all the way down to Saydet Zgharta for over five hours on foot. They literally walk down the mountain all the way to sea level (almost). On this day people celebrate the Assumption of the Virgin Mary with a massive festival in Zgharta that starts with people washing the church the night before the holiday. Then crowds will walk and pray all the way from Ehden until they reach the church where they will find the most delicious Ya'asma (an ice cold Rose juice), grilled corn, and many more delicacies. But most importantly, everyone will wait until evening comes and massive cauldrons of boiling Hrisse are open for everyone to share, for free.

Saydet Zgharta
Inside Saydet Zgharta
Refreshing Ya'assma

Inside Saydet Zgharta
The cauldrons of Hrisse
The Hrisse being prepared
The Hrisse being prepared
Mia celebrates Eid Al Saydeh

When visiting Ehden, make sure you save a day for Bnachii's Lake which will delight children and adults alike.

Lunch at Bnachii

Lunch at Bnachii

Fancy some exercising?
Pedaling around the lake
The hungry ducks!
Riding around the lake
Delicious lunch with a view at Bnachii

A few more photos, for your eyes only:

Thank you for reading and hope to see you soon in Ehden!    

This review was written for Mums Like Us.  

Mamma Mia+Jad

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