Tuesday, 15 April 2014

The Practicalities of Wearing an Abayah

When I think of the abayh, the long, loose dress that many Muslim women wear, I think of how elegant it looks:

or how chic:

or how smart and conservative:

When I see sisters wearing it, I usually think the same, especially some of the younger sisters who really know how to make it look stylish.  I have been wearing mine since I was expecting Little Man (who is nine now), dispensing of the need for maternity wear for the office in  the process.

In reality though, there are some things you find out only once you start wearing it.  Some are good things.  For instance it’s like the Muslim version of the Little Black Dress, you have a neat capsule wardrobe that goes from work to weekend, to evening just through changing your shoes and scarf.  My lovely husband hasn't had to listen to complaints of “I haven’t got anything to wear” for years:

My weekend/work look:

My interview/get serious at work look:

My going out/visiting/summer day trips look:

(The images above are from a guest post I did at Kook's fashion blog some time ago here).

I also like that you can camouflage things like weight gain or when you've had too much salad (ahem) for lunch.  I was wearing my navy abayah (which I usually wear for interviews) when I went for a job interview during the time I was expecting Gorgeous.  It was only after I got the job and negotiated my travel allowance that I mentioned I was seven months pregnant.  I will never forget the look on that managers face.  But I was a bit amazed that no-one had noticed.

It’s funny how it affects other people too.  I don’t believe that what you wear is an automatic indicator of your morals or character, but sometimes people just seem to think so.  They hold doors open for you, traffic stops for you and brothers seem to become a little protective of you too.  A friend of mine started to wear it and exclaimed to me – “I had no idea, traffic just stops for you to cross the road.  I think all women deserve to be treated with respect, but if you want to be extra nice to me, I don’t mind.

On the other hand there are some things that are not so elegant or chic.  I occasionally find myself falling upstairs.  Funnily,  it’s never downstairs, but only up when your foot catches in your abaya as you raise it to the next step.  So now alongside holding on to my bag, baby and anything that happens to be in my hand, I usually hold up the front of my abayah too.  I'm also quite scared of getting stuck in an elevator.  It’s never happened thankfully, but I wonder what I would do if it did.  I can just imagine people commenting on what a ridiculous idea it is to wear this kind of clothing anyway – “well what did she expect?”

Every time I need a pint of milk or the bread has run out, I have to put my abayah and scarf on to across the road.  At first this annoyed the hell out of me and I used to ask hubby.  But when I kept asking for a couple of things in a row, it started to annoy the hell out of him.  So now I go myself, or we take turns.  I can’t wait until Little Man is about 16, then I can let him go across the road with his big sister to get the ingredients I remember in the middle of cooking.

There’s also the length of abayah’s to think of.  Over the years my abayah’s have gotten longer, partly because I love how elegant it looks and partly because every time I give one to the seamstress to use as a template she makes my new one a little longer.  So when you walk, no one can see your feet.  I told my little sister Kooks, it looks like you are gliding along.  She replied, “Yes, just like a dementor”. 

The only problem with this is that unlike the elegant fashion shots, the bottom of your abaya gets absolutely filthy every time you go out, especially if it rains, which it does now and again in London.  So now I have my long ones for work or visiting and a shorter one that sits just below my ankles for weekends and running to the shops

Those things aren't meant to put you off wearing it if you are considering it.  For me the benefits of simplicity, elegance (if you ignore the mud at the bottom), practicality and comfort outweigh the inconveniences, which I am use to.  I suppose the main thing is the reason why I first started wearing.  It was because I felt in a good place with my faith at that time, had some strong, positive sister around me and wanted to please Allah (SWT).  I felt awkward, unattractive and unprofessional for work, but that did not put me off.

Now I feel great and love wearing abayah.  I have found a comfortable, modest A-line shape that suits me that I can throw over anything.  I also used to notice the Somali sisters in my neighbourhood holding up the front of their abaya slightly, ever so elegantly and wondered why they did it.  As mine got longer, I caught on and do the same and pretend I am ladylike and chic like them and I glide along (no when ever notices the grubby hem anyway).

Picture of the Day 15.04.14 - Cook Off

I came home from work today to find Little Lady in a bad mood.  After some sulky faces and a sullen silence, I managed to find out what was wrong.  She was annoyed she'd been stuck at home all day.  So I asked her to come to the butchers and grocers with me, which she did, but still looking fed up.  So on getting home, I handed her a cook book and asked her to make one of the recipes.

My husband brought this book back from a shop in Lahore called Ferozson's a few years ago.  I looked through it and the recipes didn't appeal to me at the time.  I recently picked it up again and some of the recipes had me intrigued.

The recipe I picked for her was Russian Salad (a version by the same author is here).  This cheered her up no end.  She found all of the ingredients, made the dressing, peeled the veg and once I'd boiled the carrots and potatoes and helped with chopping, mixed everything together.

While she cooked, I used this recipe to make a Chicken Jalfrezi.  Everyone loved it.

Little Lady's dad loved her Russian Salad, so much in fact that he gave her £5.  You can bet she wasn't grumpy after that.

Monday, 14 April 2014

A Lovely Week at Home

I've spent the last week at home with the children and have a lovely week alhamdulillah.  I did want to go away for a few days, but decided to spare us the cost, planning an dpacking and take it easy.

In the end we spent a day in Brighton, visiting Brighton Pavilion, the beach, the pier and the museum.

We took a picnic: chicken sandwiches, lamb burgers, pilau rice and chicken pasta and after all of the activity, we absolutely relished it.

Hubby took the boys to Luton to get his car serviced and visited Fashionista sister and my brother in Law A, who they adore, so the boys could say hello.  There they were treated to a spin in her brother-in-laws convertible, which made their day and got treated to chicken and chips.  They conned him into buying them large cans of fizzy drink which they are not allowed, by telling him I let them drink them.

I and my girls took the opportunity to have our own girly day.  We went out and had hot chocolate and croissants for breakfast, hung out at the library and looked at make-up in the shop.  Little Lady tried out lots of colours and helped me pick some nude shades and a dark red lipstick.  By this time Darling was fast asleep, so we had lunch at a yummy Turkish meze restaurant, where we shared a mixed grill, chicken wings and chips and talked lots.

I spent lots of time in the garden, sitting out first thing in the morning with a glass of water and doing nothing for a bit.

Everything is blooming and there is lots of colour.  I also got the kids a little gazebo.  They promptly moved the bench in and made it into their club house.

We strung up some coloured solar lights that come on at night.  The kids love these and Darling likes looking at them through the window.

I usually do the cooking at home, but hubby makes fab paratha's.  He left for work early one morning and made me a paratha stuffed with leftover cauliflower and potato.  I wasn't hungry again for most of the day.

Towards the end of the week we visited Lullingstone in Kent which had lots to do.  We visited Lullingstone Castle and World Gardens which were really pleasant.

We also visited Eagle Heights which is a wildlife sanctuary and watched a very cool birds of prey display which my boys absolutely loved.

The kids have another week off and I am off at the end for a long weekend which includes Easter Monday, so hopefully will have more planned.  In the meantime, I have a weeks worth of work to catch up on.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Places to Go and Things to Do With Children

We are currently enjoying our Easter holidays.  I have the week off and I am trying to convince hubby to keep some days clear for us (it's very hard to turn down work when you are self-employed and he is trying his best to book jobs at alternate times).  We were hoping to go away for a few days, but in the end I wanted to keep it easy and didn't feel up to all of the planning and expense of a trip away.  So instead we are planning a few day trips, some local activities and some activities at home including a "craft day" that  I have promised Little Lady (which really involves doing stuff I like).

I've been blogging over the years about many of the places I've been to with the kids and some of the things we have done.  With the holidays here and the summer holidays not a million miles away, I thought I would collate a list of some of the places I have been.  I have tried to mention how practical some of these places have been in terms of accessibility (wheelchairs and prams), child-friendliness, places to pray and finding halal food where relevant (or where I remembered to mention).

I hope you find some inspiration here insh'Allah and I would love to hear your suggestions in the comments too.  I will keep adding to this list over time and add a button to the sidebar so it is easy to find insh'Allah.

Last year we had English Heritage membership which allows both me and hubby and up to 12 (!) children to visit their properties for free for fifteen months.  Our first two trips (to Dover Castle in Kent and Audley End House and Gardens in Essex) pretty much covered the cost of the membership and we still have a few months left, so plan to make the most of it.  The other option is National Trust membership which would also give access to land and properties owned by them, something we will think about as an alternate when the English Heritage membership ends in July.  I would suggest looking at their websites to see what kind of attractions or places are covered by either memberships and see if they are worth it for you.

Places To Go

Our trip to Loch Lomond, including the lovely village of Luss which had a secluded glebe was one of my families favourites (we returned in 2013, my post here).  I would certainly recommend a visit to Scotland's Trossach's National Park which Loch Lomond is located in as well as Tarbet and Inveruglas which we stopped at and the lovely Falls of Falloch.

Loch Lomond seen from the village Luss.

Hubby at either Tarbet and Inveruglas (I can't remember which) in the Trossachs.

The very cold Falls of Falloch which my dad-in-law decided to take a dive into...

During our two trips to Scotland we also went to Edinburgh Castle, strolled around the streets of Edinburgh during the 2013 Fringe Festival, saw the Falkirk Wheel and visited Glasgow's Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery.

One of our fave trips ever was to Cornwall (my overview here) - beautiful, child-friendly with an eye on conservation ans preserving the environment and with so much to do.  We visited Fistral Beach in Newquay, the National Seal Sanctuary at Gweek, the Eden Project (here, here, here and here), St Ives and St Michaels Mount which is one my favourite places.  The three days we spent were just not enough despite our well-planned itineraries.

 Flowers overlooking Fistral Beach above.

The Eden project below

In one of the domes at the Eden project above

Our trip along the Jurassic Coast in Dorset for beaches and fossil hunting, stopping at Lyme Regis, Lulworth Cove and Durdles Door, which is simply stunning, the ruins at Corfe Castle and sandy Bournemouth Beach.

Lulworth Cove

Durdle's Door

The ruins of Corfe Castle

Our trip to the Lake District including Lake Windermere, Ambleside and Castle Wray.

I loved our trip to Kew Gardens and plan to go there again this holiday (also here, here, here)

You can read about our tip to Hever Castle where we watched jousting here and here.

Audley End House and Gardens in Essex which we enjoyed., including the Organic Kitchen Gardens.

Audley End House above.

Leeds Castle (also here, here and here) in Kent which wasn't cheap, but had a lot to do and see, plus when we went you could visit any time again for a year within the cost of the same ticket, so if you plan t make multiple visits, then I would say is worth it.

Clacton beach which I didn't enjoy so much.

We found quite a bit to do during a day at Dover including Dover Castle (here and here), the South Foreland Lighthouse where we flew kites and the famous white cliffs.  I think Dover is a good option if you are on a tight budget and do a bit of research in advance.

Barleylands Farm and Sunday Market in Essex is fun if you are not too far away.

Go fruit-picking (especially during strawberry season).  We love to go to Hewitts Farm in Kent (another post here and another here).  It's a nice place to spot wild flowers too.  The very pretty Orpington Park is nearby so we often take our picnic there as Hewitt's charge for their barbecue area.

Just a stroll through the park on a spring day.  Or take your paints and sketch book.  I did this with Little Lady a few years back and it is still one of her favourite memories.

We like driving around London now and again (like when we are picking someone up from the airport) and seeing the lights.  It's handy too because thee kids get over-excited and then all fall asleep on the way back.

Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park has re-opened recently and I am keen to visit as I have heard good things.  We went during the Olympics (here, here and here).

Greenwich is great if you are on a budget and don't want to travel far out of London, also everything is near each other: The Rose Gardens, The National Maritime Museum, The Planetarium, The Queens House which houses art, all of which are free.  The Prime Meridian (which has the GMT line) and the restored Cutty Sark ship are also here (there is a charge for these).

Find a boot fair in the countryside nearest you (here, here, here).  Oh okay, you'll enjoy this one too, but the kids will love getting cheap books and toys (you can see some of the craft hauls I've found for myself as well as other loot here) for next to nothing.

(Some of the loot we have picked up in the past from boot fairs.)

Visit a forest or woodland near you, we have Epping Forest which has been has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (the age of the forest and the range of habitats it contains make it a valuable area for wildlife) and the lovely Hainault Forest and Farm which we hope to visit soon to see the spring baby chicks and lambs.

Visit Lee Valley Park.

Check on your local Council's website or at your local library, museum or masjid for a local exhibition (here, here, here, here, and here).

Visit an art exhibition, I love local art (here and here).

Visit a stately home or local restored heritage building.  We often visit Valentines Mansion.

The kitchen at Valentines Mansion above

A bit out of the way, but if you ever visit Pakistan, we enjoyed our trip to the Wagha Border.

Things to Do

Let the children experiment with photography using your camera or phone.  It can be so interesting to see what catches their eye.

This was the result of experimenting with interesting objects, light from the window one morning and the camera on my phone.

Cupcake Crayons

Creating a kids craft box.  

Throw the kids a mini garden party or teddy bears picnic or even have an indoor picnic.  We also love to have midnight feasts (although these tend to be late evening rather than midnight).

Card making - there are some frugal suggestions for materials here and here.  Or bead craft or designing and colouring a t-shirt.

Make a nature basket or nature table (we had less space so went for the basket).

Trying to grow something (here, here, here, our strawberries here and other veggies here) or make your garden lovely (here, here and here).  My kids have had a patch each in the past and loved tending to it and checking it everyday, although you'll have to stop them from drowning everything by watering it all the time.

Experimenting with henna.

10 Great Ideas for Fun with Kids.

Make a den with whatever comes to hand.  We've had dozens of variations of this over the years in almost every room of the house.

Get them to write a letter to someone.

Go ice-skating (we usually only think of this in winter).

There is a post about some of our favourite toys here.  A list of our favourite books here and some Islamic books we use here.

Creating a dress up box and playing at dress ups for Red Nose day, for Book Week, or just because it's fun.

In our house we have come to love board games and jigsaw puzzles despite the squabbling and cheating.

Or you could make them do chores.  What?  It's an activity isn't it?  Certainly makes my lots think twice about whining about being bored (although it can backfire).

Sometimes its nice to let the kids take the lead and be silly.

If they love reading, get them to keep a journal of the books they've read.  They can write reviews or just a note on what they have read.  They'll be so proud of how many books they've read and they can take it in to show their teacher.

You could create a sandpit (although I am seriously never going to let them do this again).

Throw a summer party or go to one.

Create a journal for the children to work through.  I made one for my daughter and she treasures it.

I would love to hear your ideas, how do you keep your children occupied during their weekends and school holidays, what are their favourite things to do?