Friday, 8 December 2017

Author Interview with Zanib Mian

Zanib Mian is a Molecular Cell Biologist and Founding Director of Sweet Apple Publishers. She grew up in London, where she still lives with her family. Zanib wrote her book The Muslims in response to the surge of faith-based bullying as, reported by Child Line and the NSPCC. She hopes it will help counteract some of the negative stereotypes of Muslims.

Many people dream of becoming writers, what made you put pen to paper and actually write a book? 
When I had my own kids I realised that there were little or no books available that were representing them or other kids of minority ethnic backgrounds and that’s why I decided to start writing. I gradually then moved into writing Islamic books

What authors do you like to read? What books have had a strong influence on you and your writing? J.R.R Tolkien, Patricia Highsmith, Carlos Ruiz Zafon.
Roald Dahl and Dr Seuss – I used to read their books a lot when I was younger and I absolutely loved them (and still do!)

Other than books, my kids and all other kids that I have interacted with have great influence on my writing.

What inspired you to write your book? I think my 9 year old son gave me a lot of inspiration to write The Muslims – I wanted kids of his age to have a book in which they could see themselves – and a fun and exciting book at that, something that would represent them and help them to be more comfortable in their own skin and with their identity. I couldn’t find a children’s book that was about a main Muslim character, so I thought Omar in The Muslims could potentially be a young boy that other Muslim children could relate to and laugh with.

Where do you get your ideas for your books? I’d say I’m very much in touch with my inner child! Ideas can come to me from the simplest daily things that I might hear or say myself. For example, my son came down the stairs one day wearing two un-matching socks which gave me the idea to write my book Oddsockosaurus. It’s very rare that I will sit down and think about things to write about.

What do you love most about writing? Making kids feel and consider things that they might not have maybe otherwise felt. Opening windows for kids into different worlds that they might not have explored yet.

For the Islamic aspect I try to develop a deep love of Allah in kid’s hearts in a way which I haven’t currently seen conveyed in kid’s books. I love the idea of making Islam relatable for kids, be that in a book about hadith, duas or stories of the prophets. It’s phenomenal if the books are able to impact a child in such a way that it can influence their life and relationship with Allah.

Do you ever suffer from writers block and if so, how do you overcome it? If I ever feel like I am experiencing writers block I take myself to a place where I can work on the task at hand without any distractions, like a café maybe. This helps me to get into the right frame of mind.

What have you learned about yourself or your world through the process of becoming an author?
That I’m very much in touch with my inner child. I learn quite a fair bit of Islamic knowledge too for example I learnt a lot of the various prophets when writing Migo & Ali – Love for the Prophets.

When writing The Muslims, I felt it helped me become more comfortable with my own identity as a Muslim, that I don’t have to hide who I am, for example I don’t have to be shy about asking for a place to pray if I am out of the house.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers? Be yourself, write how it comes naturally to you. Your voice is unique!

Do you have a final message for your readers? Thanks for all of your love and support. Be Muslim with confidence!

You can find out more about Zanib at the website for Sweet Apple Publishers and about her latest book The Muslims here or even watch the book trailer here.

We have a copy of The Muslims so look out for a book review to follow.

See also:

Friday, 24 November 2017

Dressing Up For Roald Dahl Day 2017

My children's primary school is celebrating Roald Dahl day today, which is odd because the late author’s website says it is on his birthday on 13th September.

I liked the idea anyway, I grew up devouring his books and always think of his irreverent and very funny books with lots of affection.

Gorgeous went as Charlie from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Darling went as Matilda.

Both of the babies (as they are collectively known in our house) woke up way too early and very excited at the prospect of dressing up:

Darling is in nursery and too young to know about Roald Dahl's books, so her teacher suggested we dress her up in something from one of her favourite books.  We ended up with the butterfly from The Hungry Caterpillar.

The wings were two pieces of card we spray painted silver.  Then everyone helped to finger paint (Little Lady’s idea) and sprinkle glitter into.  I made holes with a hole-punch and wove some ribbon through as you would shoe laces.

Then ribbon pushed through holes in the middle of the wings to make two loops to go over the wearers arms.

I suspect Gorgeous' favourite part of his costume was the chocolate bar...I wonder if it will come home.

Picture of the Day 24.11.17: Butterfly Wings

 The children had to dress up as book characters this week for school.  So of course the cardboard, paints and spray paint were out.

Baby's costume is going to be the butterfly from the much loved The Hungry Caterpillar. 

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Review: MacNahl Raw Honey, Honycomb and Honey Cappings

We are a household of honey lovers with honey gracing our cupboards from both abroad (Pakistan and Czech Republic) and local (Essex and Kent honey's), some bought and some gifted to us.  We use it on toast, in green and herbal teas and as medicine for sore throats and coughs.

So when I was asked by the lovely people at MacNahl Honey if I wanted to review theirs, I agreed to give it a go.

MacNahl Honey sell honey that is organic and also raw.  That means that it is not heated or processed, i.e. blended with other honeys.

I chose the Thyme Honey and Eucalyptus Honey to try along with some Honeycomb and Honey Cappings, a by-product of honey.

All of the products came well-wrapped and packaged to avoid damage, along with some information about the two type of honey I had chosen.

The Thyme Honey is used to treat sore throats, wounds, burns and food poisoning.  It is also considered to be useful in the treatment of high cholesterol and even cancer.

Excuse me while we get carried away with the photo-shoot:

The Thyme honey was the lighter of the two in colour and the smell was what you would traditionally expect of honey, except much more intense.  The taste was almost fruity, but still light and easy to take - I expected with such a strong scent the taste would be very intense, but it was mild and pleasant.

The Eucalyptus honey was slightly darker, the website describes its benefits:

Eucalyptus honey is anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, decongestant, deodorant, antiseptic, antibacterial, healing wounds, ulcers, burns, cuts, abrasions and sores and is often recommended to patients suffering from rheumatism, lumbago, sprained ligaments and tendons, stiff muscles, aches, fibrosis and even nerve pain.

I found the smell once again intense, but the taste was fresh and light.  I could sense a hint of eucalyptus, but I couldn't tell if it was in the taste or small, it was so subtle.

More pictures with the honey dipper (Little Man was having too much fun helping out):

The honeycomb comes in a box with a lid that you can put back after taking the amount you need.  The honeycomb and honey cappings were both sent by MacNahl to be used in the same way as a treatment for asthma and chest problems.  This is done by taking a small amount and chewing every day for half an hour, then spitting out.

The honeycomb was very fragrant and quite intriguing to look at.

The honey cappings are a thin layer of wax that bees build over the top of dried honey to seal it in and is considered by some to be the best part of the honey.  The top was quite firm in texture, but once out of the jar it was soft and quite malleable.

We enjoyed trying the honey and my husband has been using the Thyme honey in his special winter tea (lemons, honey, fennel and ginger) and has made quite a dent in it, I have been enjoying it on toast.

I have passed the Eucalyptus honey and the honey comb and honey cappings to my mum to try as she has asthma.  I am going to get her to try the chewing treatment and keep at it as it is considered to be a long term treatment (at least a year), Insha’Allah I will be monitoring its effectiveness over time.

You can find out more about MacNahl honey and the honeycomb and honey cappings at their website here, or via their social media pages (Facebook and Twitter)

Disclaimer: I received this product at no cost to me for the purpose of testing it for review. The opinions expressed here are my own and from my own honest experience of using the product.

Monday, 6 November 2017

Curious About You 2: How Do You Keep Organised?

I would love to get to know more about who reads this blog, connect with them and learn from them insha’Allah.
But I know people like to maintain their privacy, or they feel shy, or they don’t think they have anything worth saying (which is simply not true).
So instead of pestering you with surveys or just going by my stats about readers, I want to pose a question every now and again and see what insight I get from people’s answers – I’ll start with my answer and look forward to hearing from reader’s insha’Allah.

How do you keep organised?

This could be at home, at work or to keep the kids organised. What are the tools, methods or approaches you use to keep your life organised?

Mine is:
Write everything down and then prioritise. I write everything down so that it is not all in my head making me feel anxious or stressed. I then either:
- Add it to my list of things to do today
- Plan into my trusty Filofax if it’s for another day
- Make a decision to discard it if it is not worth doing it.

What is your best tip for keeping organised?

See also:
Curious about You: Best Advice Ever?

Redundancy and a New Job

I got made redundant earlier this year and it was a pretty uncomfortable situation.  My service has been through four restructures in the eight years I have been here.  After the anxiety and stress of getting through each one and not losing my job, I knew that there would always be another one a year or two away.  For this, the fourth one, I was seconded (loaned) to another department for a transformation project.  I learned so much, but I was also out of the loop and an easy option to dismiss.

Of all things that you experience when you are called in to be given the news: stress, anxiety, fear for the future, the ones that were the hardest to deal with were shame and embarrassment.  At being chosen to be the one to go for the chop, at feeling like the least of the group to be dismissed, even though I know that is not the case.

It is at times like this that I am grateful for my faith.  Islam, teaches us that our rizq (sustenance and income) is written and will get to us no matter what.  We trust in Allah (SWT) to provide for every one of us.  So for all the worry and embarrassment, I was not frightened of being left in hardship.  I knew that there would be a way forward and that it would be the best course for me alhamdulillah.

After two months of moping, feeling upset and trying to find my feet again, I have secured a new job.  They say that when one door closes, another opens.  That after hardship comes ease.  I felt so bad, but when the door opened, it opened onto something that I could not have imagined.  If I had drawn up the exact job I wanted in the place I wanted, it would have looked like this job. It is a mixture of policy, strategy, community engagement and special projects that draws on my previous experience and the new skills I have gained.  It’s within walking distance from home, my mums home and my children’s schools (rather than a 15 minute drive or 50 minute commute as currently) and it is close to shops and a library (unlike my present job which has nothing but open space nearby).  It feels like a very generous answer to a dua.  I am due to hand in my notice soon (once references and documents have cleared) and I am nervous and excited and grateful beyond words alhamdulillah

I pray that I use this new role to help and serve others and that I am a source of benefit for people insha’Allah.  I also pray that I grow and develop in this new role into a better, more confident version of me and that this work is a source of enjoyment and benefits insha’Allah.

Monday, 30 October 2017

The End of Authoritarian Parenting

Most people in my parent’s generation seemed to have a fairly traditional approach to parenting.  It was the same as their parents and the many generations that came before them.  It generally consisted of “do what I tell you, listen to what I say, my word is law”.  The consequences for breaking that law were not always spelled out so clearly and generally involved a spanking.

Many people look back to those days as better times, when children knew their boundaries and behaved and adults were respected, people left their doors unlocked, neighbours looked out for each other etc.  In reality though, those days are long gone.  We move at a pace when the elderly and young become a nuisance, we have the internet which along with endless information brings pornography, anonymous trolls, the disconnection between people and an inability to just switch off and fully unwind.  We have sex and sexuality in every direction and through every type of media, we have plastic surgery and crazy ideals of what we should look all like, we have mass immigration and emigration leading to people feeling threatened and a hatred of people who are different, stoked by the broadsheets – Islamophobia anyone? 

We have a recession and economic hardship, but live in a consumerist world which acts as if money is endless and we must not stop buying.  We have wars that we can watch from a distance whilst being too terrified to let our kids out of our sight – they can’t go to the local shop alone, play on the street or go to someone’s house to play unless you have learned to trust them because the bogey man is lurking on every corner as witnessed by the daily stories of sexual abuse in the news.

Depressed yet or shall I go on?  Sorry that is a bit much and there is much in the modern world to be extremely grateful for.  But my point is that is a very different world and one that it has become very hard to raise children in.  My mum used to tell us about a saying from the Punjab – “children and chicken’s raise themselves” i.e. you give birth and leave them to it.  The whole village used to keep an eye on them, you could give someone else’s child a smack for misbehaving, societal rules were clear and internalised naturally including an Islamic-ish environment which kind of just rubbed off on children as they grew up.  That’s not to say people did not work hard at parenting, but raising children was part of daily life rather than a full time industry and job in itself.

The world has changed.  Boundaries are not clear anymore and what parents say at home is not consistent with what the media tells children, which again may be different from what society or their peers tell them.  Children have to make choices about who they will listen to and which values they will adopt.  Imagine for a moment – practicing parents that encourage hijab, friends that wear the hijab but with their highlighted fringe showing, boys in the classroom that always look at the girls without hijab, beautiful girls on the TV with big hair and an internet full of the latest hairstyles.  What do they do?  What do you do as parents?

Think back also of when we were young.  I remember very clearly having to modify my behaviour and language to fit in – I behaved differently at home and differently at school.  That dichotomy of the two sides of me – docile, obedient and bookish at home, loud and foul-mouthed at school, took me many years to reconcile until I could be brave enough to be the person I was wherever I was.

To get to the point, I think that the way we parent our children has to change.  The old fashioned authoritarian way of parenting is just not going to cut it anymore.  More than ever the “them” and “us” mentality that is created by authoritarian parenting is not going to serve our families.  Our children need our help and guidance to get through this confusing world and they need us on their side.

They need to able to come to us with their questions and with their problems – how many parents know whether their children have been sexted (getting sexually-explicit texts) or whether they are getting inappropriate attention from someone.  If they have friends that have tried drugs, or if trying drugs are not even considered a big deal in their peer group.  Whether they have accidentally or even out of curiosity looked up porn on the internet.  If they know someone at school that carries a knife or even a gun (this happened in my high school class over twenty years ago, so who knows what really happens now). 

Little Lady told me of a time her primary class were left unsupervised in an ICT lesson and two of the boys decided to Google naughty words and look at the images which the rest of the class could also see.  One of the girls told the teacher and both boys lost the privilege of using the internet and were reported to their parents.  I did wonder why the school didn’t had some kind of block on this type of content, but I think it’s the kind of thing that can easily happen as kids will always be curious.

Parents often think these things can’t happen to their children, that they would know or that they have raised their children better than that.  The truth is that more children that we think are exposed to these things and at a younger age. 

They are pushed into a kind of adulthood far sooner than we were.  When I deal with my fourteen year old daughter, it feels like I am dealing with an adult much of the time.  This doesn’t mean though that they don’t need the protection, love and guidance of their parents – they are still children whether they see themselves in that way or not (as witnessed by my daughter’s inability to stop leaving a trail of mess across the house or to let go of some of her old toys).

I am not advocating to stop disciplining our children or stop expecting a certain standard of behaviour.  I just think that the way we implement this has to be different.  Because if we find our child has done something we don’t like, the old fashioned way of dealing it with it – a slap, or smack with a slipper or even the belt, might not have the same effect as it used to of correcting the behaviour.  It can put them firmly in a position where they are at odds with us.  They are no longer listening to anything that comes out of our mouth and the value system or behaviour we are trying to instil can become then ones they just want to run away from (anyone remember being beaten or lectured during Quran lessons and just hating learning Arabic as a child?).  Most importantly, when they are witnessing or involved in something inappropriate, we are the last person they feel that they can come to because they expect censure, judgement, disappointment or even punishment, but we are the ones they need help from the most.

How have I changed my parenting from the way my parents used to do things?  I explain my decisions and why I want them to do thing a certain way – they are expected to do what is asked but they know why.  They know they can negotiate or disagree with my opinion, as long as they are respectful and understand that I have the final say.  Our values are rooted not in the authority of the parents, but our faith – we do things not because I want, but because Allah (SWT) commands and we trust He knows best and commands us out of his love for us.  Most of all the children know I will listen and will not immediately judge and go mental.  I learned this from my sisters.  They would talk to me when they were growing up about things that happened to them or that they had done because they knew I would not get angry or think they were bad, but maybe take a gentler approach to steering them away from something).

That doesn’t mean I am a perfect mom, that the method works perfectly or that my children are perfectly well-behaved.  Ask my neighbours, I am sure they can hear me shouting when Gorgeous has just thrown wads of wet tissue at the bathroom ceiling, or Little Lady has left her clothes in three different rooms, or the boys have broken another door off the kitchen cabinets (that makes two now).  It does mean that we “negotiate” a lot; I have to be mindful that I am consistent in what I am saying and doing, because your kids catch you out very quickly.  It can take longer to get them to adopt a behaviour because the children might not agree with you about it (I think computer games will be one we disagree on for the next ten years or so).  But it leaves me hopeful that if they are worried about something or something happens to them that they know is wrong – they will come to me knowing I will listen and help them without over-reacting or flying off the handle.

What do you think?  Do we need to hold onto traditional discipline in modern times, are parents too soft today?  Or have you taken a different approach?

Things That Make Me Smile - 12

It feels like time to be frivolous for a short while and celebrate the things I love and enjoy.  I feel as if after a dark and painful summer, I have emerged into the beginnings of a winter that has left me feeling positive and hopeful.  So I intend to be grateful and rejoice in all the beauty and colour and the good things around me.

I have thin ear lobes and have seen both my mums and mum-in-laws ear piercings elongated over time due to wearing hoops over the years, so I rarely wear earrings unless they are pearl or coloured studs to match an outfit.  The colours of these are so pretty

(Kate Spade studs - image source)

I am a fan of Arundhati Roy's writing, both fiction, and even more so non-fiction.  She recently published The Ministry of Utmost Happiness and I am looking forward to reading it.

One thing I like about winter is I can wear as many layers as I like, including jumper dresses at home or under my abayah.  In fact I could live all year in jumper dresses.  Maybe not as colourful as the ones below (although I do like it), but in shades of black, grey and navy and in fine knits and chunky cable knits.

Little Lady has me on a 21 day junk-free challenge.  I have been trying really hard to eat lots of fresh veg and fruit, but I am craving chocolate, preferably Belgian milk, medium-dark, hazelnut or something slightly soft and gooey.  Actually I don't care, any chocolate would do, mine has all been confiscated.

Every now and again I like to use my oil burner with scented oils or wax melts, either to relax or mask the smell when Gorgeous leaves his stinky socks in my room.  At some point I will take the time to work out which essential oils are best for me, but until then anything fresh and sweet will do.

I have some bangles from my wedding that my mum saved up for and bought with great love.  She haggled with the jeweller until he was almost in tears (mum is an awesome shopper).  They are beautiful, delicate filigree work with enamel and very rarely worn as I don't want to damage them.  But I like the idea of some beaten gold bangles, old fashioned like the type my grandmother's generation wore with minimal design.  Either that, or simple gold bangles, one for each of my children with their names engraved inside.

I love organising things and making a place for everything, whether it's putting things in boxes, baskets, organising cupboards or just lining things up.  I managed to get hold of a very strong wooden ottoman from the charity shop earlier this year.  A bit like the one below but with a black leather seat on top and wheels.  It cost £15 including free delivery to my house and it now houses all of my scarves, cardigans and handbags.

What is making you smile right now?  What's currently on your wishlist?  What brings you joy?

Friday, 27 October 2017

Capel Manor Gardens: Hidden Objects and Art

In amongst the animals, formal and hidden gardens and beautiful blooms, Capel Manor Gardens has  ahost of objects, sculpture and art on display.  I enjoyed spotting the art and reading about it.

See also:
Capel Manor Gardens: Autumn Splendour, Holly Mazes and Secret Gardens

Capel Manor Gardens: Beautiful Blooms in Autumn

I had wondered if going to Capel Manor Gardens so late in the year was a good idea.  The pictures I looked at of the Gardens online showed greenery and flowers.  By this time of year the flowers would be gone and everything withering away.

I was very pleasantly surprised to find that even in mid-October there were flowers and greenery everywhere.  We have had a very mild autumn and although the golds and reds of autumn are showing in the trees, the Gardens were still vibrant with colour.  I was surprised to find bumblebees and butterflies in some parts of the Gardens.

I might have got carried away taking pictures of flowers…

I love how the blueish foliage of this marigold complements the orange of the flower, nature has a stunning way of pairing colours.

There is something old-fashioned, but so elegant about a simple pink English rose.

The bees just seemed to love these purple allium

See Also: