Kicking off Christmas in Jerusalem

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This past weekend we were invited to a German Christmas Market held at a church in the heart of the Old City of Jerusalem. It was a perfect day and start to our Christmas season, both surreal and totally normal at the same time. Much like expat life.  We drank fantastic cups of steaming gluhwien while the children ate German waffles and the moms eyed the tables covered in crafts and decorations.  All the while, the seemingly unaware market was surrounded by ancient churches, mosques, and temples, stone streets older than anything in the United States, and both old and new marks of a history of tension and religious conflict.

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Living in Israel does have a surreal affect on you, some days you could be anywhere in the world and others you are in THE Holy Land, eek! If I am being honest, the city of Jerusalem is not my favorite place in the country. The tension you feel there is palpable and many warnings about potential unrest make me want to run to the hills surrounding the Sea of Galilee. That said, in the last month I have made the 1.5 hour trip to the holiest place on earth twice, and both times were amazing and fulfilling adventures. I’d say Jru is growing on me, especially when the Christmas spirit is all around you and you’re with some of your favorite people in the country!

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Since it was a rather last minute decision to attend the market, we were unprepared with only a few shekels in hand. Thus, I wasn’t able to splurge on much. However, I did come across a Palestinian artist who was on a mission for peace and unity through her art. My creative heart was inspired by her project and I purchased two sketches, one of Bethlehem and one of Jerusalem, and a painted sketch on a postcard of some of the famous architecture from around Israel.  The whole interaction with the artist made me excited for my own shop this coming weekend.

The kids were less than impressed with the vendors and were waiting patiently for Der Weihnachtsmann, aka Father Christmas, aka Santa, to arrive. They sang Jingle Bells as they waited and finally he appeared ringing a bell and carrying a large sack full of chocolate Santas for each of the children. It was adorable how they sat and listened to him tell his story in German. Even though they couldn’t understand any of it, the heart of the story was clear.

Afterward our party of almost 30 departed and 21 of us attempted to find a place to eat together at 5:00pm on Shabbat (Sabbath) in a highly religious city. Which means the majority of places were closed for another 2 hours. We finally discovered an Irish Pub and it was perfect for our group, including our horde of children hopped up on chocolate.

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It truly was the perfect way to kick off our December –  loosely planned, a bit chaotic, full of joy, and drenched in the Christmas spirit. When you live an expat life, at Christmas time you sacrifice a lot of your traditions, but it can lead to a richer and deeper connection to the season and your family. I hope those of you far from home find your village to celebrate with and make the most of the holiday season as you add new traditions and memories to your collection.

Happy December,

kdg

What binds your family?

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Photo credit: Katie

How many of us fall victim to talking AT our children instead of talking WITH our children? I do. I recognise this and certainly do my best, where I can, to carve out intentional moments for conversation with my 3 littles. But lets go a step further, what do you talk about with your kids? First thoughts may be conversations around them, their day, their school, their friends, their activities or possibly even their favourite foods.

A lovely friend of mine sent me this article on Wednesday “The Stories That Bind Us” by  which touches on just this. In this article the results of the research conducted showed that a child who knows more about their family, i.e.: the history of their mom and dad, their grandparents, their aunts, uncles and cousins etc, proved to be more resilient, more self-confidant with a better mental health and were ultimately happier.

“The answers have to do with a child’s sense of being part of a larger family,” – Dr. Duke.

The author encourages us to think of a family motto, I challenged my eldest with this task and this is what she came up with:

“Live kindly, love completely and protect ever after.”

I’ll take that, thank you.

Please give this quick article 10 minutes of your time today, it may encourage and inspire you as it did me. {article}

Cheers

la

Mom’s weekend away

Just for perspective, it’s been over 8 years since I travelled anywhere alone, leaving both husband and kids at home. This weekend I took the plunge. It’s natural to feel out of my comfort zone here, but I feel it’s so incredibly necessary to create some space. You see, I have come to realize that as much as my family needs me, I need them too. This may seem obvious, but it’s more than that. I realized that as my kids emotionally depend on me, I in return have become so emotionally dependent on them. I wonder if this is magnified by our expat lifestyle, or the loss of my mom – my first immediate family circle, my safe zone, my green zone, my everything.

I described this weekend to a friend, before flying out, as a neat little present wrapped up with a bow waiting to be opened, and it has been just that.

Where did this weekend take me what am I doing you may ask? I flew to Dubai to watch Ed Sheeran live, of course. Wow! What an amazing concert. He is such an incredibly talented man.


If you ever get the chance to see him live, I’m putting it down as an absolute must!

To add the incredible show, my weekend has been filled with upgrades! Our room at the hotel was upgraded to a suite and our concert tickets upgraded to front pit! Thanksgiving moments for sure.

Yesterday, we attended the brunch at the Maridian Hotel. You buy your ticket ahead of time to secure your table and you just need to make sure you arrive on time and all dressed up. The buffet is waiting, the bar is open and the bill is already paid. Brunch was from 12-3 and then the music got louder and everyone moved outdoors poolside, and danced till 7pm, when we then fittingly went out for dinner. I wonder if this is what people who live in Dubai do on weekends.

For dinner we were recommended this gorgeous little Jamaican lounge called Miss Lily’s. We were early, it was quiet and it was gorgeous.


We escaped Miss Lily’s before the crowds and went back to the roof top of our hotel. We chatted and took in the night time views until we were ready for bed.


It’s now 9:30am and I’m still in bed. I will make my way down for breakfast soon, but right now as I write up this post and reflect on the weekend, I am just so thankful. Thankful for my friend who fetched my kids from school. Thankful for my husband who held down the fort at home and made this trip happen for me. Thankful for friends who did all the amazing weekend planning. Thankful for the blessings of upgrades. And now, most of all thankful to be going home to my beloved little family.

I hope if you are a full-time parent like me, that you take moments like this to make some space for yourself and come back refreshed and full of gratitude!

Cheers,

The Christmas Decoration Debate!

So when exactly is it ‘PC’ to start putting up Christmas Decorations? When I was a child, my mom made us wait until December 15th before putting up the tree and then she made us wait until January 15th before taking it down. I never could quite understand this and she never quite explained it either.

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Now it has become a tradition in my household to wait for the first week of December to set up the tree and decor, and pull everything down on the first weekend into the new year. Last year I managed to escape the madness slightly. You see, we went home for Christmas and I was able to convince my kids, 6yr, 4yr, 2.5yr at the time, that if we put the tree up in Kuwait, then all the presents will end up there on Christmas morning and we’ll be in SA with none, so they wonderfully agreed to only have one tree up, the one in SA, which saved me soooooooo much prepping, unpacking, cleaning and packing up.

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Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas, it’s my favourite time of the year and very special to our family, but I also enjoyed the opportunity to skip out on a little extra holiday work. Guilty!

And far be it for me to judge on what is too early or too late but I most certainly had a bit of a giggle when my sister-in-law posted that her Christmas decor was going up on November 1st. And just a week ago my friend announced that Christmas had thrown up in her house. My American friends argue that you need to get through Thanksgiving first. It really did get me thinking about when exactly is the ‘right’ time to set up and take down.

I suppose it really doesn’t matter, but there’s no denying that this is a special time of year. For Christians, Christmas is centered around the birth and life of Christ and is celebrated among loved ones. For non-Christians it’s simply a time to cherish those around you. You can feel the love in the air, and you can feel the power of that love with a tangible strength in the echoes of choirs and carols singers.

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Many people ask me what Christmas is like in Kuwait. Well, I can tell you that yes, they do sell trees, and yes, they have some lovely decorations around. It does lack a little bit of the magic that can only come from those big Christmas afternoons with the whole extended family, but at the end of the day Christmas in any country is what YOU make it. What’s in YOUR heart will be revealed in the kind of Christmas you experience.

I will post again about Christmas in December, when our tree goes up, and about the  magical little gems I find at the stores.

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But I’m curious, which of you are? The ‘wait as long as you can before putting up the tree’ like me, or the ‘is October to early to set up’, do let us know in the comments below.

Happy to kick off the Holiday posts 🙂

la

 

Side Note: Keeping with the American line, Katie’s tradition is to start Christmas songs the day after Thanksgiving (aka Black Friday) and decorate that Saturday – So we know where she stands. HoHoHo!

 

 

A little ‘no’ can go a long way…

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Truth be told, the art of saying “No” to demands outside my family is stretching me. As Lindy-Ann put in her NO-vember post on Tuesday, I am a “yes friend.” I would say “yes” so often I would triple book myself, and at times our family, which did not go well with my “no” husband, {love you babe and i’m sorry!}

It just feels so negative to say “no” but I am learning that when I say “no” to one thing I am actually saying “yes” to something else. Two days into the NO-vember challenge and I’m definitely trying to be intentional about the yeses I dole out. One such yes is to taking care of myself and working out with Vienna {GULP!}

So far, the biggest “no” I have decided to lovingly, but firmly, say has been to not co-chair the Halloween Spooktacular next year. This past weekend I had the pleasure of seeing my vision for this huge event come to life with the help of some fantastic volunteers. My event co-chair (aka chaos co-coordinator), our decorations chair, and I had been formulating the plan and vision for the 2017 Halloween Spooktacular since the week after the 2016 one, and it turned out to be an incredible success. That said, next year we all agreed it is time to pass the baton and spend 2018 experiencing the event with our families. Therefore, in saying “no” to a third round, we are saying “yes” to celebrating and experiencing it with our families, and that is a good thing.

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Hear my heart on this. I’m not saying I won’t be volunteering anymore (it’s not in my nature to sit on the sidelines), or that it is more important for me to enjoy someone else’s hard work. What I am saying is that I was super involved for two years and now it is time to step back just a little and let my family have that much more of me. It’s all about that elusive balance we are all aiming for, right?

That is truly the heart of the NO-vember challenge for me. To take a moment to reevaluate my priorities, give myself the headspace to ponder my calling, and give more of myself to my family.

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If you are a “yes friend” I encourage you to thank your buddies that remind you to say no, we all need them! Thank you Lindy-Ann for always being that person to encourage and challenge me to be better and put my family higher on my to-do list.

I miss your face!

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H A P P Y   B I R T H D A Y   W E E K   L I N D Y – A N N ! 

May your NO-vember be peaceful and refreshing! Let us know how you are doing and any ways we can encourage you.

Cheers,
kdg

PS – forgive the iPhone photos, my camera was on the back burner at the event!

Tree Climbing & Kids

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There’s one thing my kids cannot seem to get enough of on our African adventure – tree climbing. EVERY CHANCE THEY GET!

We get palm trees in Kuwait, lots of them, and they certainly add to the oasis look and feel of the desert. But it is very rare that you come across a tree that is climb worthy. It’s no wonder that when the kids come home to SA they are in tree climbing heaven. I am no professional and i’m not about to hash out statistics about why climbing trees is good for kids, all I can do is tell you what we have experienced first hand.

  • Outdoor play – the kids are always outdoors. The weather is amazing, the air is clean and they are constantly being drawn to the trees outdoors. I love the fact that it happily keeps them off their screens and tablets.
  • Creativity – its amazing what the kids come up with only one large earth grown prop around. Did you know that the ground is lava?! And apparently hide and seek can actually be played in a tree? And bark rubbing crafts are so much fun.
  • Gross Motor skills – they are constantly lifting their body weight, moving it around, pulling it up, pushing it through. They’re finding out what their bodies are capable of. Big movements left and right encourage both hemispheres of the brain to work together to solve problems. Excellent when you have a dual dominance child which means that both right brain and left brain competing for dominance.
  • Understanding their own limitations – they are discovering what they are capable of. They are figuring out when to climb higher and when to step down a little. And the joy in their faces when they climb higher than the day before is priceless.
  • Respect for nature – I am answering questions all day long about why we have trees in this world and why they are important, how do birds make nests, what animals live in trees, etc.

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We have only 3 weeks left of our holidays and I think the kids will miss the trees the most. Next to family of course.

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Happy Climbing,

la

As a disclaimer, I do urge you to please keep a close watch on your kiddos, safety first!

 

Fresh Starts & Fall Resolutions

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I love the Fall. It affects all my senses. The smell of the crisp air, the feel of the temperatures going down and the cozy sweaters, the taste of all the pumpkin spice deliciousness, the sound of leaves crunching on the ground, and the way the light changes to a bluer tone. It is definitely the season where I miss Virginia the most. I know, the first day of Fall is technically not for another month, but schools are starting and I can already see the light changing. No matter where we are, about this time every year, I feel energized and a thrill of excitement for the adventures Fall will bring.

Especially the start of the new school year, which is more motivating than New Year’s Day to me. It is a fresh start, ripe for new and better habits and routines. Like the blank pages of our new notebooks and agendas, this year is free of blemishes and scribbles and open for all the possibilities that learning and imagination will bring.

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With a new set of school supplies I always felt armed and ready to be the best student I could be. I would sit at my desk that first day, open-hearted and eager to learn. Now as a mom, I get that thrill for my kids. What will they learn? Who will their teachers be? Will they make new friends and rekindle their old friendships after a summer apart?

Whether it is a new school or a familiar one, stepping foot on campus that first day everyone will be able to feel the vibrations of excitement in the air, both nervous and joyful.

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This is the first week of school for my soon-to-be second grader and it is turning out to be busy. As I sat down with my brand new Simplified Planner, by our grace-guru Emily Ley. I was that little girl again, full of hope for a great year. I know this Fall will be busy for our family, there are already lots of events that need to be added to the calendar, but I am hopeful that we will find the balance between being busy and being overwhelmed. Rather than waiting until January for a New Year’s resolution, I’m committing to balance as my Fall resolution. I promise to be intentional with my planning and say “no” more to make room for the better “yeses.” Honestly, it is never too early, or too late, for a fresh start. Will you join me? #fallresolutions2017

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Download printable here

How are you feeling about the Fall coming? If you are already feeling overwhelmed then I want to encourage to take a moment to enjoy the spirit of Fall and remind you that you have a choice you can be intentional with your time and say “no” to the things that don’t bring you joy.  Seriously, the holidays will be here before we know it!

Happy Fall everyone,

kdg

 

My thankful heart

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Katie and I both seem to have the ‘feels’ this week.

As I sit at the deli up the road from the house, I watch the children playing in the sand. I’m always taken aback at how easy it is for them to make friends. Sometimes it’s literally a matter of seconds. I envy their openness and kindness and while I would like to take credit for this skill of theirs, I think I’m a lot more shy and reserved than they are. I praise them for this gift whenever I can as I want them to see the good in people every chance they get.

When you choose an expat life the first thing you lose is your support system. Everyone you know, everyone who knows you is gone, everyone who would be there for you at the drop of a hat is now at least 2 flights and a day away. You find yourself alone. Really alone. When I first moved to Kuwait I would never be caught dead in a coffee shop by myself or at the movies alone. Now it seems like such a simple thing which really isn’t a big deal and dare I say it, even nice at times. I think that shows how much I have grown and changed over the years and how living abroad has toughened me up. I will never forget the time I moved into my first place with a car boot (trunk for my American friends) full of Ikea specials. I dragged each box up to my apartment by myself one by one and when everything was up I began to unpack and build. I remember sinking to the floor in  despair when the instructions called for me to ask a friend to hold one side of the wardrobe while I set up the other. “Ask a friend?” I laughed, what friend?! And that was the moment I realised that life really isn’t always going to go according to plan, script, or instruction.

Over the years I came out of my shell and learned to make friends, friends that would ultimately come and go given the nature of this expat travel region. I still feel blessed to be close to each one of those friends to this day. As, Katie so beautiful puts it.

“my heart has been left in pieces around the world in the hands of our family and treasured friends”

(she’s one of them)

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My friends and my family back home support us from a distance with understanding and love. Overtime as we travel home for holidays they are there with open arms and open hearts and even more so… open homes. It’s not easy living out of people’s homes as a family of 5 and yet they take us in so graciously. They babysit my kids so I can make doctors appointments, they drag us to remote places to experience hidden gems, they feeds us with familiar tastes from home, but most importantly, they love us as if we never left at all. So to all the friends and families supporting loved ones over seas, from the bottom of my heart THANK YOU! Thank you for keeping the connection across thousands of miles and many years. Thank you for making the world a smaller place and thank you for making my world a colourful world indeed.

Cheers with a thankful heart,

la

Home is where {a piece} of your heart is

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“I have so many feelings!” This is my exclamation when my beloved husband asks what’s up? I am a jumbled up, hot mess of feelings these days. We are heading back to Tel Aviv soon and I’m excited for this next year and the adventures awaiting us there and of course getting to see our pup – every dog makes us miss her. That said, my heart is breaking just a little, all over again.

They say “home is where your heart is.” If that is true, my heart has been left in pieces around the world in the hands of our family and treasured friends, with most of those pieces in Virginia. Oh, the bittersweet life of an expat!

I’m typing as we weave our way around the the streets of our old neighborhood in Alexandria, Virginia pointing out favorite spots to the boys and my nose is tingling. It was a good life we lived here. Our boys were born here. As you can imagine, there are so many memories flooding back. We truly loved living off the beautiful George Washington Parkway, all the colonial brick buildings and streets of Old Town, and the small town feel right outside the metropolis of our Nation’s capitol. Oh the feelings!

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Although Alexandria was a literal home for us and holds our little family’s history, there are pieces of our heart scattered across the state.

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Warrenton, VA is where our love story began and where I tearfully moved for my senior year of High School from Kansas. It’s where I started Young Life and grew so much of my faith. It is a quaint little town that is simply booming! From old town and Main St. hosting shops and restaurants to the bustling businesses and amenities we didn’t have 15 years ago. Driving west on Route 66 to Warrenton may be a nightmare some days, but once we arrive it has so many good memories for us. Not to mention, it is on the way to the mountains.

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Visiting the Shenandoah Valley is like a family tradition. It is where I experienced my very first hike and camp adventure. There is a lot to appreciate up there including the glorious views, walking and hiking trails, well kept campsites, flora and fauna, local shops and restaurants, and the knowledgable rangers, staff, and volunteers – a couple of which we call family. I highly recommend Fall up there it is simply awe-inspiring to see all the warm tones!

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Fredericksburg, VA was my home for 4 years while I attended the University of Mary Washington. Those were great years full of laughs, learning, and growing up. Another growing town with new things every time we visit. The old town streets are charming with shops and restaurants, including one of our post college favorites, the Capitol Ale house. The college itself expanded in the decade since I graduated with new buildings and a pedestrian bridge across Route 1, and new amenities. Go Eagles!

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Williamsburg, VA holds a big chunk of our hearts from our college years. The College of William Mary, Colonial Williamsburg, Bush Gardens, and Water Country USA, are all attractions that keep us coming back annually. Williamsburg is a part of the Colonial Triangle, along with Jamestown and Yorktown and we definitely recommend checking them out and diving into all that history. In Colonial Williamsburg (CW) we visit the Cheese Shop for Virginia ham sandwiches with their special house dressing, stroll around the historic streets, and visit the W&M bookstore. Go Tribe!

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South of the Colonial Triangle is Virginia Beach and some of our favorite beach bums. From the Bay to the boardwalk there is a ton to do! We particularly enjoy playing on the shore and going mini golfing with our family and friends. Meeting at Chick’s Oyster Bar for a meal is also one of our family traditions. This is one stop on our usual tour we sadly didn’t get to make this year.

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A couple of years ago my parents moved to Woodbridge, VA near Occoquan and although I didn’t grow up in their new house, it is where one of the biggest chunks of my heart lives, which is why it feels like home just being there with my family. We spend our days relaxing and spending time on the Potomac River. It is glorious!

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Out near the mountains between Fredericksburg and the Charlottesville is Orange County, VA. This picturesque county is full of small towns and history. For us it is where our boys experience farm life – running in fields, feeding a horse, working in the garden, climbing trees, getting dirty, and a cookie jar filled with Grandma’s cookies.

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This is by no means an exhaustive list of places to visit in Virginia, there are so many other towns and cities in Virginia that make the state a great place to live, explore, and adventure. There are wine and ale trails, fantastic eateries, arts and crafts, music, museums, and outdoor activities; all covered in warm hospitality with rich history. I highly recommend visiting or touring the state for lovers of all the above! For more information or help planning your trip check out the tourism site. #LoveVA

I am so thankful to call Virginia home and for all the people who loving keep the pieces of my heart here with them – I miss you all dearly!

Do you have pieces of your heart scattered around the world? How do you cope with leaving home? Travel safely everyone and cherish each moment in each place you call home.

from Virginia with love,

kdg

Painting, if my kids can do it, so can I

IMG_1311 copyWhen I was in Junior High, my top 3 subjects at school were Art, History and Accounting, 97% for all 3, but who’s counting right?! With my heart in the arts from the beginning I continued down that path with a skip in my step. My grade 12 art finals were the last time I painted anything of significance. I mentioned before how my gran is an artist and how she really inspired me as a child and into early adulthood to embrace my creative side.

Almost 20 years later I find myself inspired once again to pick up the brush and dust off the old easel. I have started painting again and I’d like to take you through my first few pieces. What I have found so many years later is that my skill set for composition has greatly improved from my experience in advertising and more recently in photography. My understanding of colour has grown in leaps and bounds with my studying of interior design. That last point was a surprise to me. I thought I knew all there was to know about colour, turns out there’s so much more to how, why and when certain colours go together, which is one of the many inspirations behind this blog –  you’re welcome.

Side note: There’s an important lesson here, never stop learning in life. You may find yourself using your newly found knowledge in unexpected places. With our whole lives ahead of us, and so much information out there, there are so many channels to enrich our characters and influence the people we will become, and ultimately, the legacy we leave behind.

Let me take you through my process. Go easy on me, like I said, it’s been almost 20 years.

The concept

  • Inject joy into the images that I capture in and around Kuwait.

How

  • With careful consideration of the use of colour in my painting of these images onto canvas.

The process

  • My starting point is photography. I go on many walkabouts in and around the city. After I select my personal, favourite photos I begin to work on these images, one at a time. I prefer to work from photographs I have taken and not from other’s work as this makes it personal and original, not simply a painted copy of someone else’s vision.
  • With a 4×6 print carefully taped to the easel I start with a loose sketch. From there I carefully pre-select my colours. With my pallet board prepped, my brushes and pallet knives ready to go, I begin the process of trying to extract the interpretation of the photograph I see in my mind and project it onto the canvas using acrylic paint.

Kuwait Water Towers:

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Photo: Kirrily Morris

Typical Kuwait Date Palm Tree:

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  • My most recent work explores mixed media. I do enjoy the structure that photography brings, but I prefer the depth I get from painting.

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The only way I know whether I am finished or not is when something inside me says: “Yes, that’s what I saw and that’s what I want to show people” 

Now that the painting is finished, what do I do with them? You may remember my friend and inspiring cultural photographer, Kirrily Morris, also based here in Kuwait, she has started an Instagram and Facebook art gallery called PhotoArt Kuwait. She invited me to join her gallery so this will be my main platform for now. It is a place where people can purchase slices of Kuwait life and hold on to the moments of joy that this season has brought them.

We would love for you to follow us and keep a look out for new work being added to the Instagram and Facebook account often!

Special thanks for the courage to pursue a long forgotten passion goes to my children. I saw them painting so confidently and so proudly and I envied that. I always thought that painting is something I’d love to get back into, but filled my head with lies thinking that it was something to be left behind in my childhood. But why? Why not paint? Isn’t it great that our kids are able to teach us something, that WE can learn from THEM! If my kids can do it, with such confidence and joy then so can I. And so can you! Honestly, no matter what it turns out like as long as long as you enjoy the process it is worth it!

Happy painting,

la