The Blog

Surviving My Syrian Winter Holiday

The recent turmoil in the Middle East brings back memories for me. Memories of a family vacation that could have gone terribly wrong.

In November 1981, I was living in Amman, Jordan with my family.  Within the next couple of months my husband’s job with the American Embassy would be completed and we would return to the United States. So we decided to take one last vacation, to Damascus, Syria.  We were excited, knowing that Damascus was the oldest inhabited city on the planet.  Syria also had wonderful food, endless shopping and fabulous history. We made reservations at the Old Damascene Hotel in the inner city.  Staying at this particular hotel would make sightseeing easy since everything was within walking distance.

Arriving in Damascus after four border crossings was an eye-opening experience.  A socialist nation and allied to Russia at the time, the poverty was evident. The city was drab, dirty, and depressing.  We were surprised to see so many military installations – tanks, young men and women dressed in military uniforms holding large and intimidating rifles.  The narrow streets were packed with dust-covered cars and the wide boulevards were heavily congested. Cars jostled for position, honking loudly and repeatedly. I saw factory towers spewing black smoke out into the air.  It was not quite the city I had envisioned.

The first morning after our arrival we planned to see the Shrine of Saladin, the Umayyad Mosque and to shop at the Al-Hamidiyeh Souk.  It should have been an easy ten-minute walk.  So with our baby tucked into her stroller, we began our walk.  But within minutes we realized something was happening around us.  Everyone was walking down the wide boulevard toward the Al-Hamidiyeh Souk.  Twenty people became fifty, fifty became hundreds – all spilling over from the sidewalk on to the paved street.  Before we knew it we were part of a large and growing procession.  People held large hand-made signs with words written in Arabic. Words that we could not understand. But we did understand that we needed to quickly detach ourselves from this crowd – feeling more and more uncomfortable as the numbers grew.  Carefully, we edged ourselves over to one side of the mass of people and stealthily made our way down an adjacent side street.

What was that all about? What was written on those signs? Why were all those people marching together?

We had no answers to our questions.

Before long we felt safer about being tourists again and decided to enter in to the famous Damascus souk and do some shopping.   Content and safe, we did not give another thought to the mass of people we had seen earlier in the day.

Until a few days later, when we returned to our home in Amman.  You can imagine our horror and surprise when we learned that during our vacation, a massive anti-American demonstration had occurred on the streets of Damascus. And unknowingly, we had been part of it!

How lucky we were to have walked away before the crowd boiled into an angry mob.

All these years later, as I think back to that day in Damascus, I am amazed that this event happened to my family.  The story could have ended very differently. My infant daughter is now thirty years old, and when I talk about this story she is awe struck.

Do you have an unforgettable vacation memory to share? We’d love to hear about it.

Photo credit: Sacredsites.com

11 Attributes of the Perfect Gift for the 2011 Holiday Season

We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.
- Winston Churchill

Scratching your head to come up with a great present for your loved ones? Every year we give presents, yet somehow picking out gifts only seems to get harder as time goes on.

To make your life a little easier, we’ve done the research for you. Our team of expert gift-givers has come up with the 11 attributes that make for the perfect holiday gift.

For the 2011 season, your gift should…

1. Be fun to receive. Gifts should bring a smile to the face of the recipient. They should create an immediate impact. Think of the sight of a kid riding his brand new bike for the first time. The perfect gift brings that level of excitement to adults and children alike.

2. Be fun to give. The best gifts are the ones that you’re proud to give. When was the last time you were excited to give dad a new tie? In the words of Leonard Nemoy, “The more we share, the more we have.”

3. Provide long-term enjoyment. A gift’s instant gratification doesn’t mean the joy should be short-lived. On the contrary, a gift should create a lasting impact. The ideal gift is so meaningful that 5 years later, the recipient remembers not only what the gift is, but who gave it and the emotions they felt when it arrived. Think of the moment you received your first pet, and how it changed your life forever.

4. Bring people together. The holiday spirit is all about bringing family and friends together. Studies have shown that strength of relationships and amount of time spent with family are the keys to happiness. The best gifts create quality time with loved ones.

5. Be meaningful to the giver and recipient. Gifts that have a deeper meaning are the ones that create the biggest impact. Experiences are often more meaningful, and provide longer-lasting happiness, than material gifts.

6. Provide a great value. As gift givers, we want to know that we’re getting a good value for the item we’re buying, especially in today’s economic environment. Ask yourself, “How much is this gift actually worth?” The answer should make the price tag seem irrelevant, or, in the case of the MasterCard commercials, “Priceless”. Another question to consider: will the value of the gift appreciate or depreciate over time? The best investments are those that increase in value as the years go by.

7. Be high quality. It’s often tempting to save money by buying a cheaper item. But less expensive doesn’t mean better value. High quality gifts will last longer, perform better, and look nicer. Luxury daily deal websites offer high-quality gifts at a lower price—the perfect combination!

8. Involve some creative effort. Finding a great gift should be a labor of love.  A perfect gift is meaningful in its creation, not just in delivery.

9. Be original. We’ve all asked the question, “What do I give the person who has it all?” The perfect gift allows the giver and recipient to realize that there’s plenty more to experience and appreciate in this world.

10. Be personalized. The ideal gift could only come from you, and could only be given to that special someone. It’s an extension of your relationship and strengthens the bond between giver and recipient.

11. Speak to the character of this holiday. What’s unique about the 2011 holiday season? Every family will answer that question differently. Think about how you want this year to be remembered, and give a gift that is special for this particular holiday.

Hopefully this has sparked some ideas of the gifts that meet these attributes.

Looking for inspiration? One gift that meets all 11 attributes is a professionally produced documentary of your loved one. This holiday season, celebrate the lives of your parents or grandparents with a broadcast-quality film from Reel Tributes. Capture the stories, the laughs, and the memories that have defined your family. It’s an investment that will only appreciate over time. And one that will be appreciated by the entire family today, tomorrow, and for generations to come.

Reel Tributes: the official sponsor of family spirit this holiday season. Contact us to start your customized film today.

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Happiness: The Family Experience

Ask anyone what they want most of out of life, and chances are he or she will reply: “to be happy.” But what exactly makes people happy, and how can you get the most happiness out of life? If you abide by the age-old adage, “money can’t buy happiness,” you may be missing a fine distinction: spending your money in different ways may bring you varying degrees of happiness.

Imagine that you have an extra hundred dollars to spend and want to treat yourself to something special. Scientific research offers you the following advice on how to spend it: choose an experiential purchase rather than a material one. In a 2003 paper on this topic, experiential purchases were defined as “those made with the primary intention of acquiring a life experience: an event or series of events that one lives through.” Meanwhile, material purchases were defined as “those made with the primary intention of acquiring a material good: a tangible object that is kept in one’s possession.” Examples of experiential purchases include family vacations, massages, or tickets to a baseball game. Material purchases, on the other hand, include clothing, an iPad, or a sleek new car.

Another recent study demonstrated that compared with material purchases, experiential purchases make people happier both in the immediate term as well as after the experience has passed, leading to longer-term happiness. Though evidence is mounting that experiences are more satisfying than material possessions, scientists are still investigating why this is the case. One possible reason, suggested by the work of Travis Carter and Thomas Gilovich,  is that experiences cannot be compared like material possessions, and because of that, the satisfaction you get from an experience is more robust. Think of it this way: it’s easy to compare two expensive watches, but it’s far more difficult to compare vacations in two exotic locations. In addition, the scientists found that people have more difficulty making material versus experiential purchase decisions, and that people also tend to second-guess and ruminate over material purchases more than experiential ones.

Happiness research can be applied to everything from public policy to psychotherapy to the choices we make in everyday life. The next time you are faced with the option of splurging on an experience or a possession, consider that an experience may not only make you happier, but can also bring happiness to the people you share it with.

That is why we at Reel Tributes believe so strongly in what we do. A family history documentary is a genuine life experience and an investment for the whole family. It is a purchase that allows you to preserve lasting memories, strengthen family bonds, and create long-term joy that a new toy simply can’t provide.  In the words of one client:

We staged a “premiere” of Nana’s tribute movie at her 90th birthday party to over 100 friends and family.  At the conclusion of the movie there wasn’t a dry eye in the room.  It has been over 2 months since the big unveiling and the family is still raving about how much they learned about Nana from the video that they never would have otherwise….The overall consensus is that Nana’s Reel Tributes Video was an invaluable gift to our family. 

If you’re looking for long-term happiness, think about what’s most important in your life. Most likely, it’s not the material possessions you own. Experiences and family bonding: the two sources of happiness that will stick with you and your loved ones.