Monday, 24 November 2014

Picture of the Day: 24.11.14 - Gifts from Turkey

Kooky Little Sister has been on her honeymoon in Istanbul and brought us back some gorgeous gifts:

The kids got floral headbands, mini spiro-graph games and Turkish delight.  I got the gorgeous scarf above which I can't wait to wear, a very pretty journal (she knows I love stationary) and Turkish chocolate.

Some of her pictures from her trip are below: 

You can see more of her beautiful photography here on her blog full of pretty things, here on her blog full of smart and artistic things and on her instagram page.

Picture of the Day: 23.11.14 - If You Don't Like Someone...

...cover their face with your picnic blanket and pretend to have tea.

Darling has still not come round fully to the idea of a little sister usurping her place as the baby of the house.  We can't leave them alone for a second for fear of her poking the baby in the eye or putting a blanket over her head.  I turned my back for a minute and turned to find the scene above.

At the moment, Darling has banned Baby from using her nappy mat, her blanket, going in her cot or touching her "special dolly", a little red heart shaped pillow that I used to put under my arm when nursing Darling.

We are trying to counteract her occasional tantrums and anger with lots of love, cuddles and some firmness.  Mash'Allah these two are little stars in our home at the moment: hard work, but so much pleasure.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Book Review: Hend Hegazi - Normal Calm

Nursing my little one means I have to sit still, something I am not good at and so I thought that this would be a good time to get reading again. Normal Calm by Hend Hegazi piqued my interest after a saw a review on Muslimah Media Watch, particularly as it broached themes that I hadn't seen touched on in Western literature before in this way.

A Normal Calm is the story of the young Arab American Muslimah Amina who finds herself the victim of rape by someone she trusts. The book follows her on her journey as she tries to come to terms with what has happened to her and the impact on those around her. It also explores the way in her wider community deal with what has happened to her, in particular potential spouses.

All of this is set in the context of Arab American life: the immigrant work ethic, the wish to see children succeed, the anxiety of parents at the prospect of letting their children go as they move forward in their lives. The book also addresses the problems someone who can clearly be identified as Muslim might face in America and the way Muslims integrate and interact with those around them.

The subject matter of this book is dealt with in a sensitive way and the attack on Amina which is fairly early in the book is not graphic or portrayed in a sensationalist way. Instead the book takes the time to follow Amina as she goes through the process of dealing with what has happened to her and how it impacts on her relationship with her parents, friends and potential partners.

The book is written in clear direct prose and moves between events at a fairly swift pace, which is enough to carry you through the book without losing interest so that you maintain a desire to find out how Amina fares. Alongside this the author makes use of dialogue between Amina and her non-Muslim best friend Kayla to try and explain why, as a Muslimah, Amina does things a certain way. This acts as a useful tool throughout the book to explain the role of faith in Amina’s life, the way it helps her in her hardest times and the role of particular elements of her faith (i.e. hijab). You can imagine many of these conversations happening between Muslims and curious non-Muslims in the real world.

I really loved the fact that the author gives a voice to a young Muslim woman – a demographic that is much stereotyped but sometimes not well understood. The book attempts to shine a light on the difficulties that these young women face in the West and also the lack of understanding that can come from their own communities and the reasons behind these.

The book left me with affection with Amina and some of the women around her and also some curiosity about the male characters in the book. I would definitely recommend this book, particularly to anyone trying to understand the role of faith in the lives of young Muslims and how this impacts the way they see and are seen by the world. A necessary and important book.

You can find out more at: Amazon, Goodreads, Facebook

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Picture of the Day: 13.11.14 - Sweet Sisters

Some days my entire day revolves around my youngest two and I keep trying to find moments to get something else done apart from feed, change nappies and placate crying babies.  Today was one of these days and I just surrendered to it and decided to enjoy them.

I nursed throughout the day, played with them both and just enjoyed their baby talk ("No baby, why did you do that trouble my eye?" said Darling after being poked in the eye accidentally by Baby).

My husband came home with a big box of little girls toys from a house clearance and Darling immediately took control of the whole lot yelling "Mine!"  There was a little Doctor's kit that she used today to check the baby over with, including making sure her blood pressure was okay:

The afternoon was spent at the local clinic getting the baby's vaccinations done.  Poor Darling got the shock of her life when the baby got her injection and let out a screech.  Good job she has that big hat that Shutterbug Sister bought her last winter to hide in.

Advice to the Breastfeeding Mother: Be Happy

With baby number five I felt confident about nursing and fully expected to get on with it and have a healthy, satisfied baby on my hands, so when I went in to get her routinely weighed at the local baby clinic, I was surprised to find she hadn't been gaining enough weight.

On answering some pointed questions from the health visitor I realised that I had been doing everything right for the baby: feeding her on demand and topping up with the bottle. What I hadn't been doing was the right things for myself which impacted on her.

I lost a lot of weight in a short time and was keen not to overeat and most of the time I was too busy running around to eat properly. I was also stressed at trying to keep the house in order and keep up with the kids (this coming from someone who was working with four kids and complementing a Masters degree). I suddenly seem to be slower, more forgetful and a lot more confused. I think I might be suffering from baby brain.

Anyway, I had to admit my diet was terrible, I was not remembering to take my vitamins, I couldn't stop feeling sleepy and I was not doing my little one any favours.

The health visitor instructed me on diet and agreed a plan for feeding the baby and I will be going back in two weeks to see if her weight gain has picked up. She also mentioned that breastfeeding is affected by a mothers mood and stress levels and that the hormones that encourage milk production are called the “Happy Hormones” – so a happy mum is better placed to nurse her child when she is happy and relaxed.

So I have been making an effort to sit down and eat properly including having a proper breakfast. The other thing I am doing is let go of my need for order. The mess and clutter in the house distracts me and makes me less productive, but I am dealing with it a little at a time instead of trying to tame the whole beast every day. I am also accepting that a house with five kids can be less than perfect (it has always been a matter of pride for me to keep the house tidy and I feel like a failure when it is not). Hubby has been supportive mash’Allah and the one thing we agree on is that if we have less possessions we could free up time for more important things, so that is something I am working on.

Picture of the Day: 12.11.14 - Grey Skies and Beautiful Rainbows

November means long nights, short days, lots of rain and very grey skies at the moment.  I've been grateful for the mild weather so far although the plants seem confused and are full of blossoms again.

I was walking back from the baby clinic with my youngest two and saw this stretched across the sky:

I had to take a picture people walking towards me kept stopping to look back at what I was taking pictures of and stare at the rainbow too.

It was such an intense double rainbow that it was reflected into the pavement.  Brightened my day so much alhamdulillah.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Super Quick Baby Boy Cards

I got a message from a cousin yesterday asking for some baby boy cards.  I've been meaning to make some wedding, thank you and baby cards as these are the ones that get used the most, but I just haven't had the chance.  As she asked so nicely and as her dad, my favourite uncle, was coming to pick them up, I rushed to put some together.

For both of these cards I had already created the backgrounds and never got round to finishing them, so just had to add the embellishments and sentiments.

The card stock was from the DCWV Sweet Stack (which is my favourite ever card stack) plus some textured paper I had some small pieces of.  The baby boy ribbon in the second picture was from my friend in the US who sent me a bundle of really nice quality (American Crafts brand I think) grosgrain ribbon that I have been using on numerous projects over the years.

She liked the cards and she also inspired me to make some more.  Little Lady has a half day on Friday afternoons and I have agreed that we can try and save this is our craft time together, so I am hoping to make some more new baby cards with her insh'Allah.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Pleasurable Parenting: Flexible Reward Chart

Considering that my children are going to be the focus of my life and parenting them in the best way I can is going to take up most of my time and focus, I want to try and bring as much pleasure into the process as possible.

I believe that my children are blessings and a gift from Allah (SWT); an opportunity for reward in this world and especially the next but also a source of pleasure and fun.  As parents we spend a lot of time worrying, stressed out, feeling guilty and feeling as if we are getting it all wrong.

I realised that we can go down the route of getting angry, shouting, smacking, constantly finding fault and trying to correct what we see in our children or we could accept that we are not perfect and we have no right to expect them to be either.  We can understand that they will have their faults and weaknesses and that is how Allah (SWT) made them.  At the same time we can celebrate their strengths, be gentle in the way we guide them and recognise when the right way to discipline requires a loving approach that tries to identify why a child might be rebelling rather than punishment.

In the end whichever route we take, I have come to think it's a reflection on us more than on our children.  I also love the acknowledging and appreciating when they are good.

My kids have been asking for a reward chart for the last few days.  They know I call on them quite a bit to help me, especially since we have Darling who has just turned two and a newborn who is now two months and they liked the idea of getting something out of it for themselves.

I have used reward charts on and off over the last few years, mainly to get Gorgeous to brush his teeth.  The ones I have bought from the shops haven't always catered to more than one child and often cover a defined daily routine (reward for brushing teeth, getting changed for bed, putting toys away etc.) which three of my children are too old for and Darling is too young for.  Also there are clear things in my mind which I would like to see more of (Arabic practice -the boys) or less of (the sheer volume of mess Little Lady still manages to generate for me to clear up) that I could incorporate into my own chart.

The chart I came up with isn't too complicated, it had nine broad categories of activity that could generate a reward (or merit) and each child had a different coloured dot to identify who did something good.  The bar across the top shows weeks from now to the end of the year.

The categories I chose above were:

  1. Tidying away all clothes (including uniforms and night clothes) - this one is mainly geared at Little Lady who manages to create piles of clothes on her bed and also the boys beds.
  2. Brush teeth twice daily (aimed at Gorgeous who tries all sorts to get out of this)
  3. Pray five daily salaat - Mash'Allah LL does so, but sometimes has to be reminded, we are now working on Little Man to get into the habit of ensuring he prays all of his prayers.
  4. Keeping your bedroom tidy - mostly LL and her clothes, books and stationary again, although it was her brothers that rushed to tidy up and then asked for a merit.
  5. Helping with housework - I do ask them a lot to help and try to give them daily chores to help with, but this way they do it happily instead of moaning that they do "everything around here" (Gorgeous again).
  6. School - good school reports or grades, good feedback from teachers or an exceptional piece of school work or homework.  LL loved this one, she really does put a lot of effort and time into her studies mash'Allah and I try to acknowledge this, I think she would love it to be more tangible though.
  7. Helping care for the babies - mainly watching the baby when I have to leave the room so that Darling doesn't try to poke her in the eye, but also helping to distract Darling
  8. Excellent Quran recitation or Arabic lesson.

The kids favourite bit that really motivated them is the bit about rewards.  I let them choose what they would like as reward and we will be adding on new things we think of.

Mash'Allah, they were so excited about the reward chart and the rewards they could earn.  The boys have been trying to get merits for everything they do and I have tried to explain that they are not going to get a merit for every time they put something in the bin or pick a toy up but for exceptional good behaviour or actions.

I'd love feedback or suggestions from people who have used reward charts in the past.  I might try and create a PDF version in A4 or A3 for readers to print off, what kind of things would you like to see in a reward chart?

Picture of the Day: 3.11.14 - Go Smash an Egg

My husband was given this little spoon by a friend that collects things like this.  It says "Go smash and egg" and when he gave it to Gorgeous, who breaks things without even trying, I knew it was a bad idea.  So after carrying it around for a day or two and laughing to himself every time he tapped his head with it, I found an opportunity to sneak it away and hide it.

He clearly found it:

When I found the tray of eggs like this, I wondered if someone had put something heavy on them and broken them all by mistake, but they were all clearly tapped from the top.  So I asked the kids if they all knew anything about it.  They all denied it, including Gorgeous.  One of the things I love about him is how transparent he is.  He cannot look you in the eye and lie and he cannot lie with a straight face.  Which is handy because I always catch him out when he makes any mischief and if it isn't him and he looks me in the eye and says so,  I catch his brother out by default.

So I asked him if he broke the eggs and he burst out laughing.  He said he wasn't laughing because he broke the eggs, but because it was so funny.

Someone is going to be eating a lot of eggs for the next few days.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Little Lady and Big School: Reasons for Choosing Islamic Scholarship

I have been worrying and praying about Little Lady’s secondary education for the last few years. As she was my firstborn I had no experience of how the system worked or whether the local school or an Islamic school would be best for her.

There is massive competition for the one local grammar school and she did not get in, following the secondary school application process she got a place in the local state school that I had attended.

We had tried to find a place in an Islamic school a year earlier, but all of those that offered an Islamic education that included the Alimah (Islamic scholars) programme were full and sent out applications to include her in their waiting list.

We decided to let her start in the local school as there didn’t seem to be any other options. The local state school has come a long way from when I studied there. At that time it had a bad reputation and not the best results for GCSE. I remember that being good at your studies was not something to be proud of amongst students but something to be masked, with even teachers occasionally joining in at making fun of the bright children.

I was one of the smallest kids in my year and had to learn to make up for this by being extra loud, rude and by swearing a lot. I made it to the end of high school with good grades and to the end of sixth form with reasonable grades but knowing I could have done a lot better. It left me with a legacy of for many years thinking how much better I could have done as an adult if I had better schooling as a child and with a foul mouth, both of which took many years to overcome.

So you can imagine I had my worries when that was the only option for us. A visit to the school and talking to friends and neighbours who had children studying there assuaged some of my worries. The school has a new strict head teacher and has had millions of pounds of investment in new buildings and equipment. It has expanded to a primary and nursery school and the sixth formers look like they are dressed for the office.

Little Lady loved it there and made friends straight away. She became a school council representative and volunteered for everything. Best of all they had a massive library full of every book she had ever been looking for.

I still had my worries. For instance probably over half of the children in the school are Muslim and many of the girls wear hijab. This doesn’t stop them from listening to music, swearing and generally assuming a very cocky attitude. This just isn’t part of the beautiful character I want to develop for my children and I feared that Little Lady would pick up bad habits. As she is so strong willed I could also imagine a situation in a few years where we would not be able to rein her in and discourage bad habits.

It was hard to explain my reservations to my husband, but once he was picking and dropping her from school for a few weeks he could see the behaviour of some children for himself – giving adults dirty looks, swearing, shouting, chatting or fighting with people of the opposite sex - all things normal teenagers do, but things that I don’t believe are part of the correct upbringing of a Muslim teenager who we hope one day becomes a good Muslim.

One option I was considering was putting her in one of the after school alimah courses that have started locally recently which would cover her Quran studies also. This would have been tough with picking her up from school and then dropping and picking her up from a second place whilst juggling the boys school run and Quran studies also, especially as I don’t drive. It seemed to be our only option.

As the first few weeks of term progressed, my husband got more concerned about the way students at LL’s school behaved and the influence this would have on her. So one day on the way to look for a new double pram for Darling and Baby, he suggested we pick up forms for the two nearest girls Islamic schools. One had no spaces and did not offer the alimah course but did provide a very positive environment and is run by a masjid that my husband has strong links with. The other school was attended by a cousin of mine and a few of my friends’ daughters and I have heard mixed reviews of. We filled the form for this one and submitted straight away and LL was called back for a test the following week. She did well on the test and was called back for an interview. The head teacher listened to her recitation of Quran and asked her about why she was interested in the school. They offered her a place for the following Monday and also allowed her to join the alimah programme (they have three strands: Islamic studies, alimah course and hifz programme where the whole Quran is memorised).

We were over the moon but I was also worried about how the transition would affect her. She would have to leave behind the friends she made and the hours are longer with a 7:30am start due to alimah studies in the morning,

Following her first half term there she has settled in well and is catching up quickly with what she missed (Memrise has really helped with Arabic and French). Her Quran teacher was brilliant and supplemented Quran studies with Islamic knowledge and memorising prayers and reading Islamic books, so this meant that much of what was covered in the first half term that she missed she already knew. Her Dad had also been helping her learn Urdu which has the same script as Arabic and this helped her with learning Arabic too.

There are some things she misses: having the latest IT equipment, swimming pools and a greater emphasis on sport, the library she loved so much, switching from Spanish (which she loved) to French (which I like) and also missing out on certain lessons (such as Drama) to accommodate for others (Arabic). I have agreed that we can work on subject areas which she liked that are not covered in her current curriculum and she sees the value of the Islamic environment and studies Alhamdulillah.

The cost of her education means that we will have to cut back everywhere else that we can and it will also mean that we have to conduct ourselves even more carefully as the parents of someone engaged in this kind of study – it has certainly made me think about what kind of qualities should be present in the mother of a scholar and has made me face up to where I lack in these.

Some might question why we would only put one child in private education and possibly not the rest. As my oldest child I believe that she will have a significant influence on the others, particularly on my two youngest girls who will be of an age to benefit from what she learns by the time she finishes high school and sixth form (the alimah course is seven years and the girls are 9 and 11 years younger than her). I also believe that I was still learning to parent with my oldest children, I made all of my mistakes with them and now that they are older those mistakes (shouting, screaming, being very impatient etc) are staring me in the face in the shape of their behaviour. I feel like Allah (SWT) has given me the chance to do things better with my younger children, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that I feel as if I messed up with my older children and I would do anything I can to put that right. So rather than worry and feel miserable, I want to give them a positive environment and keep trying to put right the things I could have done better in any way that I can.

I am so very grateful to Allah (SWT) for this opportunity for my daughter, after 3-4 years or worrying and two years solid of praying for her education and correct upbringing (tarbiyah) in every salah, I feel as if my prayer has been answered insh’Allah. Now it’s Little Man’s turn. I have left it a little late for training for the eleven plus exam that has to be passed for entry into the local boys grammar school. The exam isn’t until next September, but the competition is intense. So we will start planning and thinking for him, but in the meantime I am going to have to resort to the only measure I can really rely on and which has gotten me results: praying for him in every sujood until Allah (SWT) creates the best path for him and trusting that Allah (SWT) always does what is best for us at the right time.

Huzaifa (RA) said that, whenever the Prophet (Sallallahu `alaihi wasallam) happened to face any difficulty, he would at once resort to salat. (Ahmad, Abu Dawud)

Anas ibn Malik (RA) narrated that Allah's Messenger (Sallallahu `alaihi wasallam) said: “One who goes out to search for knowledge is (devoted) to the cause of Allah till he returns.” (Tirmidhi 220)

‘Abdullah ibn Abbas (RA) narrated that Allah's Messenger (Sallallahu `alaihi wasallam) said, “Acquiring knowledge in company for an hour in the night is better than spending the whole night in prayer.” (Tirmidhi 256)

Abu Hurairah (RA) narrated that... the Prophet (Sallallahu `alaihi wasallam) said, “... He who treads the path in search of knowledge, Allah will make that path easy, leading to Paradise for him and those persons who assemble in one of the houses of Allah (mosques), recite the Book of Allah and learn and teach the Qur’an (among themselves). There will descend upon them tranquillity, mercy will cover them, the angels will surround them and Allah will mention them in the presence of those near Him.” (Muslim 6518)

The superiority of the learned man over the devout is like that of the moon, on the night when it is full, over the rest of the stars. The learned are the heirs of the Prophets, and the Prophets leave neither dinar nor dirham, leaving only knowledge, and he who takes it takes an abundant portion.’” (Abu Daud 3634)

Picture of the Day: 28.10.14 - Keeping Calm and Carrying On

Yesterday poor Darling managed to drop and break a plate at my mum’s house and then trip and fall on the broken pieces and cut her hand in three places. One of the cuts was quite long and bled quite a bit. I felt so sorry for the little mite, but by now I’m used to a litany of cuts, bruises and grazes. In the past I have panicked and freaked out completely. Once when Gorgeous had a fit following a high temperature as a baby and once when Darling was a tiny baby and had a very nasty allergic reaction that spread across her body as I watched and scared the heck out of me. Both times I panicked and we ended up in the hospital.

This time, Shutterbug sister helped me clean it up and dress it and I stayed calm and went back to having my dinner with her in my lap. I did wonder if Shutterbug thought I was a bit too laid back and not fussed, but I could see she wasn't distressed, just curious and the bleeding stopped after a short while. Plus being allowed a lollipop helped her mood tremendously 

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Islamic New Year 1436

The Islamic New Year started a few days ago with the advent of the month of Muharram. I am not aware of any tradition of celebrating this; certainly until recently there didn't seem to be that much awareness of this annual milestone here. 

My husband came back from a lecture this weekend at his local masjid that he really enjoyed. The speaker used the start of the new year to encourage people to refresh their iman:

Abu Hurairah (raa) narrates:
Prophet Muhammad (saws): Refresh your Iman.
Companions (raa): How can we refresh our Iman, O Messenger of Allah?
Prophet Muhammad (saws): Repeat the kalima, la ilaha illa allah, very frequently and abundantly.

The speaker focussed on the need for each of us to take care to refrain from sins, even if we are unable to undertake in great good deeds, we can try to prevent our sins from piling up. The other thing he mentioned was to ensure that we do not neglect our fardh (obligatory) responsibilities (salah, fasting etc) even if we can’t manage much more.

Alhamdulillah, a useful message I thought and as good a time as any to refresh our iman.