Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Little Muslimah’s and the Teen Dream Life

I am debating whether to turn this post into a full on rant, but I think it’s sometimes more useful to be reflective than angry. We are more than half way through the holidays and the refrain of “we are bored” and “what do we do when you’re not at home” has been ongoing. I have made it clear that it is not my job to entertain anyone and that they must find things to do, although I have been taking them on day trips here and there.

The one thing that has been different this summer holiday has been the requests from Little Lady to be allowed to go out alone, to go to the park unsupervised with friends and to be allowed to hang out….

Up until LL has been so sensible and mature that I was happy to note that growing pains of teenage seemed to have passed us by completely. I was wrong, it lulled us into a false sense of security and then leapt us on fully fledged. Part of this was inevitable and it is only fair we get out share. I believe that there is a second cause also.

Earlier in the year, Little lady achieved good grades and did well in her mid-year tests. Because of this I gave her more freedom and allowed her access to the internet, which her brothers do not get freely. I think this might have been a mistake. She ended up watching back-to-back Vines and YouTube videos, all the time reassuring me that her homework was done. At the end of the year, at her parents consultation day I found her grades had dropped for both Islamic and mainstream subjects and her exam results were not as good, to the point that her teacher questioned if she should continue to study for the Alimah (scholars) course next year. I may or may not have overreacted…I did feel quite devastated. Having a child study to be an Alim (scholar) or Hafiz (Memoriser of the Quran) requires sacrifices. The least of these is financial, there is also the investment of time, attention, effort, changes to lifestyle. In addition there is the full attention on you as a parent of both those that disagree with your decision to put your child in Islamic child and those that wish you well and are considering the same for thier own child. This shouldn’t matter to me, but it is there all the same and people ask regularly about how LL is doing. So yes, I may have overreacted a little and gotten upset.

As a consequence, I have limited internet time and ask regularly what the children want to go online for. I have asked Little Lady to continue revision through the holidays and get herself up to a good level again. I have tried to focus on motivating her and reminding her why we went down the path of Alimah studies. Simultaneously I have this pulling away in a bid for more freedom. 

So is it fair to blame the internet, YouTube and Vines? No the responsibility lies ultimately with me as her parent and also with her to be respectful of my need to protect her even if she doesn’t agree with it. At the same time I think it is something we need to be aware of.

Many people won’t even be aware of what the Vine’s are. They are six-second-long looping video clips, often these are grouped together into a fast moving YouTube video. The Viners and YouTubers are a mixed bunch, but pretty much I am finding them to be focussed on gaming, beauty, life hacks for young people and humour. They seem to be self-aware, have a strong social conscious and revel in their youth and a sense of fun and play. The video’s my children like to watch (apart from the boring gamer ones my boys watch) are the ones where Viners and YouTubers play pranks on each other, gently make fun of their parents (look for “Brown Parents be Like…” videos for an example), undertake social experiments (reactions to hijab, reactions to homelessness) amongst other things. YouTubers and Viners are even the new equivalents of the boyband crushes for young girls.

In itself I don’t have a massive problem with these guys and what they do, although I do think the pranking is going too far in many cases. They seem less vacuous and more clued up than we were as kids. I think what concerns me is the subtle effect they have on children, well my kids anyway. Certainly my children have picked up the language. I heard Little Lady a few time start sentences with “Brown Parents be Like…”, before I asked her how I was a typical brown parents in any way before she stopped saying it. 

They also seem to be enamoured of the lifestyle – the fashion for instance for Van’s (from the “
Damn Daniel, back at it with the Van’s!” vine) and this strange trend of wearing very bright red trainers worn with everything. I am a bit annoyed with this, because bright red ballet pumps or heels with all black is one of my fave signature styles. Then there is the preoccupation with contouring, ombre nails, colouring your hair strange pastel or grey colours and the  re-emergence of the 90’s style, which I remember was completely hijab/modest dress unfriendly in the first place.

I think even that part doesn’t bother me. I think many of the Youtuber’s/Viners, even those that are very young, give the impression that they have a lot of freedom to travel, move around and try new things. Many of the most successful ones own their own homes and are seen spending all of their time hanging out with friends, going on road trips or attending big events. I think this creates an image of a lifestyle that becomes very attractive to young people, and this in part is causing Little Lady to bridle at the restrictions we have on her and is causing her to try and wrangle more freedom.

The Muslim equivalent of the Youtuber’s/Viners are hardly a real alternative, because the level of Islamic behaviour I am seeing is questionable and people still seem to be presenting these perfect lives, these amazing Instagram-friendly homes, and these perfect marriages or relationships which young girls aspire to. Anyone who has lived life will know that it is a learning curve, you improve through your mistakes. You build your relationships through humility, tears and forgiveness, not through banter and the perfect wedding. A life well lived is directly counter to a perfect home without any clutter. Your teens and your 20’s are your time to be confused, mess up and learn things the hard way. Your 30’s are your time to find yourself and become sure and confident. But youthfulness seems to be where it is all at and anything after 30 is about being relegated to the irrelevant Aunty brigade.

All of these things on their own are enough to deal with, but when we have tried really hard to impart religious values such as modest dress, respectful behaviour and respect for parents, it almost feels as if everything we are doing has been undermined. So after weeks of negotiating back and forth, my husband has put his foot down and said he doesn’t want her going out alone to the park or into town. There have been tears, sulks and moody silences. For once I have decided not to try and fix things and cheer people up but to give her space to think about what we have been saying.

It’s interesting how we try to manage one kind of influence (TV) and it gets replaced by another that is even more influential. I can’t see an end to this and I suspect we will be dancing around this issue for a long time, at least until she is old enough to have less supervision. One thing that comes to mind is the 
advice given at a talk I went to about establishing daily taleem in the house:

This is taking time to study Islam with your child every single day, even if for five minutes. There was encouragement for the children to be encouraged to take the lead or for everyone to get the chance to read a little. The speaker emphasised that there are so many routes of fitnah (evil) into our homes and the lives of our children, that there is no way we can stop them. Instead the daily taleem or study is the only way to counteract these. Books like Fazail-e-Amal (the Virtues of Good Deeds) and Fazail-e-Saadaqat (the Virtues of Charity) were given as good examples alongside books that described the sunnah (traditions) of our beloved Prophet (sallallahu alaihi wasallam). The purpose is to inspire the members of the family and encourage them to learn and act on what they learn, so that rather than telling the children what to do, they are concerned for their own deeds e.g. reading salah on time. In our home examples would be books on knowledge (because Little Lady is studying to become a scholar), books on the virtues of Quran (because Little Man attends hifz, or memorisation class) and books on salah (because we are trying to get Gorgeous to pray and it is an uphill struggle). 

Accordingly I have started taleem in the house again which we have stopped and started in the past. I am encouraging Little Lady to take the lead. I am very mindful that this is just the start. My husband used to say that the Sahabah (Companions of the Prophet SAW) are our role models not footballers and actors, therefore we need to dress and act like the Sahabah (RA) (hence his decision to grow a beard at that time before it became fashionable). In the same way 15 year old YouTuber’s and Viners are not our role models and I will have to work hard to convince my children of this.

Dunstable Downs Kite Festival 2016

Last year we went to the Duntable Downs Kite Festival and loved it so much that this year we invited my family to join us there.

Dunstable Downs is designated a site of Special Scientific Interest because of its chalk grasslands and sits within the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  It has wide open spaces and the day we went along was very windy, so it seems near enough perfect to fly a kite.

We had the kite from last year and three more that my husband picked up at a boot fair for under £5 (a butterfly, a diamond shaped kite and fish).

These are some of the kites from the people who put on professional displays:

This was our butterfly kite which went up beautifully:

There was plenty to do alongside flying our kites: a small funfair for children, pony rides, a marquee full off craft stalls.  We even saw people hang-gliding in the distance.

We brought a picnic and between us put on a good lunch: bagels, biryani, chicken wraps, pizza, chickpea chaat (salad) and pakora's.

Midway through eating a gentleman came up to us and told us we definitely had the best picnic he had seen that day!  My sister-in-law asked if he would like something, but he politely declined saying he was on a diet.

We spent the rest of the afternoon flying kites, trying to spot interesting kites other poeple had brought and exploring the nearby greenery

Before we left we treated ourselves to a few bits from the stalls:

You can imagine what the boys picked:

It was such a pleasant day out and one that I would heartily reccommend.  The people at the event were very nice and we felt completely comfortable.  All the open space was so soothing and hubby and I even got the bright idea of taking a walk alone, although in the end mostof kids followed us anyway.

There was a visitor centre with toilets and a canteen as well a shop which sold kites, so the event was very family friendly.  If you would like to take your children, these events go on throughout the year at different sites, you can check if there is one near you on the Kite Calender or The Kite Society's Event Calender.

Some of the pics are courtesy of Shutterbug Sister, you can see lots more here.

How to Make Friends and Influence People - Little Man Style

Little Man is due to start High School this September. I am amazed at how this milestone in his life has come around already and I have also been a little worried about how he is going to manage. Little Lady was always tough and vocal. Gorgeous is big and loud – everyone knows if he is not happy. Little Man in between is both physically slight and quiet. Probably not that quiet, but definitely in comparison to some of the other big gobs in our house. His new secondary school is very good alhamdulillah but also very big and full of tough kids (Little Lady spent a term there before going to Islamic School). I have visions of him being bullied or becoming very lost amongst so many children.

Watching him over the holidays has really helped assuage some of my fears though. There have been a few incidents where he has handled himself really well and shown how he can get on with people. A few weeks ago at the park, a much larger boy came over to him, immediately making me think he is a bully (my bad for judging, although Little Man had told me earlier that a boy had been threatening towards him). The boy had come over to ask about a mutual friend and once they got talking I realised he was from the school LM would be attending and they knew lots of boys in common from previous years that had moved from his primary school to the secondary. I was happy knowing he had a new friend at his school, especially one that looked so tough.

Yesterday on the way home from my office, we took the kids to the park. Little Man brought something called Fun Snaps with him. They are little twists of white paper with something like gun powder in them. You throw them on the floor and they make a loud bang. They are banned inside my house, because they also make a big mess. LM threw one on the floor and a little kid nearby freaked out – he was in awe because he had never seen such a thing. So LM explained what they were and poured him out a handful only for the boy to go into meltdown, jumping up and down, giving us all the thumbs up and yelling excitedly “You are my best friend!” You are my best friend!” This prompted LM to go back and give him the whole box. We could see him as we left, surrounded by his friends, testing out his snaps.

The little boy’s reaction made my day. I love people who are easily pleased or who are quick to show happiness or appreciation. But what made me happier was how LM had behaved and how easily he won this boy over. It reminded me of times he had done it before in different ways and it made me feel a lot easier about his move from being a big fish in a little pond at primary to being the little fish in a big lake at secondary

Friday, 22 July 2016

Turning a Miserable Day into a Great One

I had rather a miserable start to the day yesterday. I woke up with a nasty cough and to find that I had lost my voice completely (my husband asked if this meant that I had to stop talking and try listening instead). I got to work and decided to treat myself to a breakfast of latte, hash browns and toast, only to find that the hash browns were cold and cardboard like.  All of that I could have coped with, except, barely had the day started when I realised I had had a little accident… I got up from my desk to find that there was a pretty little pinkish design on the back of my brown abayah, I had managed to ruin my clothing like a careless teenager. This is something I am very paranoid about, but also super careful about, so I was horrified. I legged it to the bathroom and called my husband to come and rescue me. The poor man left his breakfast to come and get me and drive me home to get changed and drop me back to work again.

The funny thing is that almost no-one noticed I was wearing a different colour abayah and scarf (definitely black after that little incident). One of my colleagues had kindly covered for me, when I got back to my desk my manager even asked me how my meeting had gone.

With the heat, my cough and lost voice and the embarrassing incident, I decided to take my day in a different direction. I am a big believer in trying to make the most of each day and bringing a little bit of joy and pleasure into each day. I believe that we should work hard for the future goals that matter to us, but that the day to day journey towards those goals should be beautiful also.

So after I got home and got changed, I touched based with each of the children and my mum-in-law to ask how their day had been and to see how they were. I spent a little time putting the house back in order as I find this very soothing. Then I grabbed Little Lady and was back out of the door. We went shopping, I bought her some new dresses as she seems to outgrow things over night. I bought myself a lovely statement necklace which Little Lady has her eye on:

I bought a ton of ice-lollies and ice-creams for everyone (about 50). Everyone else seemed to have the same idea as there was a scrum by the freezers in the supermarket.

I got home and made everyone dinner (my friends the leftovers ). Then hubby and I went for a walk. It was one of those balmy evenings, where after a hot day, the evening had a beautiful cool breeze. Perfect walking weather. We always talk and catch-up and plan during our walks and I just love them. When we got back, he went out again with his mum and the kids to the park and for slushees. This meant that mum-in-law could take a walk too (at a slower pace) and the kids could get knackered out before bed time. It also meant that I and Little Lady could hang out together and enjoy the quiet for a little while.

By the end of the day, it just felt as if I had had a beautiful day and I felt so content alhamdulillah. Sometimes the smallest things make all of the difference. A change to your routine or a decision to give yourself a break and unshoulder some of your burden: letting the kids go to bed later, or ordering take-away instead of cooking. Treating yourself to something nice, enjoying a food you love or catching up with a good friend. At any given time, we can make the decision to change the trajectory of our day by taking steps to make a day that is not going well into a great one.

Who’s Body?

We are now two weeks out of Ramadan and well into summer. Most of Ramadan was characterised by cool, rainy days here in London, including some significant torrential rain and thunderstorms. It turned out to be quite a blessing during the long June days of fasting.

Now that we are out of Ramadan, London is finally getting it’s summer, with a mini heatwave and everyone melting in the heat. I wonder if I am the only one who has taken quite some time to get back into a normal routine. My body seemed to take such a long time to get back into the non-Ramadan sleeping and eating patterns that for the first two weeks I felt almost as if I had no control over it.

This has segued into a nice little cold I have picked up in the middle of summer which I treated by ignoring it, shouting over the noise at my Eid party and having lots of cold drinks out of the fridge. This has left me with no voice, which has been a source of hilarity for everyone both at home and work. As someone commented at work having no voice has not stopped me from continuing to try to talk to everyone.

The messed up sleep, no voice and bunged up head are quite strange in a heatwave. It’s like having a body and not much control over it – you talk but you have no command over your voice, you can’t think straight, you can’t stop falling asleep and you are so hot and sweaty that everything seems twice the effort.

The only thing to do is give up. Lie down in a shaded room, switch on the fan and let the babies jump up and down on you until the fog subsides a little. I always find the best antidote to heat is stillness. When I was a kid I read about an exercise that was designed to teach you how your mind can influence your body. This involved being still, closing your eyes and imagining yourself in a very cold, icy place and feeling the chill creep up your body from your toes. It works better sometimes than others.

The thing I do like when it is very hot, is when people look at my scarf and abayah and ask “aren’t you hot?”. I always reply “Cool is a state of mind”. I love the look of confusion I get in return! 

Today is a bit cooler and I am getting my voice back, although still not giving it much of a rest. I am back to normal sleep patterns and not eating during Ramadan means I am now finding it easier to manage my eating and have smaller portions as well as say no to junk food. I have gone back to walking again which I cut down in Ramadan and stopped in the post-Ramadan Eid busyness, although it doesn’t feel as easy as before. Alhamdulillah it’s good to get a reminder every now and again that your body is a trust from Allah (SWT) and that our ability to control it is a blessing and a gift that can be taken away at any time.

Picture of the Day 16.07.16 - Eid Party 2016

Last Saturday was the our annual sisters Eid party.
It was colourful, fun, loud and exhausting.
The food was so good.
Somehow we ended up with a LOT of kids.
We all got overheated.
I think next year we will have a small party.
Something a bit more relaxed, just family and neighbours.
No more big parties for a couple of years I think.
But then I always say that after our Eid party :)

Picture of the Day 15.07.16 - Colourful Cakes and Cake Recipe

Fashionista knew I would be a little sad that she couldn't come to my Eid party last week.  She is the furthest away of my sisters and the one I get to see the least, although we have our daily WhatsApp conversations and pics of my beautiful niece alhamdulillah.  She had a prior booking with her husband who does everything for everyone and never asks for anything in return.  Because of this I could not begrudge their family day, especially knowing he would have cancelled his plans if he knew I was disappointed.

Being a smart girl, she visited me the day before the party with her little girl to hang out and brought along the next best thing to her: cakes for the party to match our colour scheme:

The cakes were so pretty to look at:

The best thing was they tasted amazing too  - soft cake and mouthwatering icing, they went down a treat at the party. Everybody was asking for the recipe, which Fashionista was kind enough to share and I have posted here because someone left a comment requesting it:

220g sugar
220g butter
220g self-raising flour
4 eggs
Tsp vanilla essence
2 tbsp. milk
Preheat oven at gas mark 4, cook for about 20 mins or until top is golden brown

Buttercream is 250g butter and 500g icing sugar

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Eid-ul-Fitr 2016/1437 - The Coolest Gift

I really enjoyed finding gifts for my sisters and sister-in-law this year.  They all got a cheeky Disney makeup bags like the ones below to reflect their personality:

Shutterbug Sister got Jungle Book, Fashionista got Ursula from the Little Mermaid, My sister-in-law got Alice in Wonderland and Harlequin Sister got Ariel from the Little Mermaid.  I filled them with jewellery, a small scented candle, little treats, mocktails jelly sweets and Swiss milk chocolate discs.

I thought I had outdone everyone until Shutterbag Sister handed everyone scented candles and told us to choose one we liked.  We all squabbled and exchanged until we had one we wanted and then she announced that these candles were special.  Inside is a ring valued at between $10 and $5,000.  We just had to burn the candle and wait for the wax to melt down to the ring.

You can bet there was some excitement and merriment after this.  Harlequins husband suggested that we microwave them all to get the rings out then put them back in the fridge to set again.  He was joking, but I was almost tempted.  You can bet I lit mine the same day.

I didn't get very far and lit the candle again the next day.  After a couple of hours, we (okay Shutterbug) spotted something poking out of the side of the candle jar.

I fished it out with a spoon and found it was a little foil wrapped package.  I was Whatsapping pictures to the girls (my sisters and sister-in-law) the whole time.  Fashionista suggested that with the spoon and foil it looked like I was doing heroin...

I unwrapped the littlepackage to find this gold coloured ring with pink and white stones:

The number attached to the ring is a code that you can enter on the website of the company that make the candles: Charmed Aroma.

I entered mine on the "ring appraisal" page, and the ring turned out to be worth $50, which is more than good enough for me.

I think Shutterbug Sister totally won at the gift-giving this time round :)

Abu Huraira (RA) reported: The Prophet (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) said, “Give each other gifts and you will love each other.” (al-Adab al-Mufrad 594).

Eid-ul-Fitr 2016/1437 - Eid Henna

My lovely neighbour did our henna this year.  She did mine, Little Lady's, Darling's and both of the neighbour’s girls the day before Eid.  She is very talented and always so gracious about doing it:

I love that she always does Darling's henna too.  She did put a dot on Baby's hand to see if she would tolerate it, but Baby just licked it off, so that was a no go.

She always looks exhausted by the end of the day after putting henna on family, neighbours and friends.  I noticed also that her own hands get ruined with henna marks in doing everyone else's.  May Allah reward her for adorning all of our hands with the adornment of jannah insh'Allah.

Eid-ul-Fitr 2016/1437 - Eid Day

Alhamdulillah Eid day was lovely, with family gatherings, meals together and lots of presents for the babies.  I was so busy I didn't get many photos, so these are a mix of mine and Shutterbug Sisters pictures.

I started the day early by beginning preparation for lunch and cooking a traditional sweet breakfast of vermicelli cooked in milk (Sevaiya) as well as a snack that my husband used to have on Eid in Pakistan - channa chaat (chickpeas, tomato, boiled potato and onion with yoghurt and spices). 

We had decorated the night before with banners and balloons.  I always wait for the babies to come down in the morning because their reaction is just so beautiful to watch. I remember when Gorgeous was tiny and would come down in the morning and would just in awe of the balloons:

This time round it was Baby, although she seemed more confused than anything else:

We spent the night before making these sweet tubs.  After the ridiculous amounts of sugar that the kids have consumed in previous years, I made them a bit smaller this time.  The stickers are these ones from theMuslim Sticker Company which I have been using for the last three years but still have plenty left.

This pot of Lahori style kheer (rice pudding) was made the night before, my husband looks forward to it massively for Eid.  Thank God I only have to make it on Eid because it takes about 4-5 hours to make and a few minutes of taking your eyes off it to burn and get ruined.

Everyone was invited to mine for lunch: my parents, siblings and their families and my uncle’s family.  On the menu was lamb curry, chicken curry, pea pilau, salad, mint chutney and tandoori chicken.  I was anxious about cooking for everyone as my mum usually does Eid lunch, but a bit of planning ahead and prep the day before meant lunch was ready on time alhamdulillah.

Fashionista Sister made us chocolate cupcakes for dessert:

The afternoon was spent hosting neighbours, clearing up after lunch and napping because our bodies are still in Ramadan mode.

We just managed to get up in time for dinner at my Uncle's, where the whole family met up again.  We feasted on good food and reminisced with the older ladies.  The guys watched Euro Cup football.  Alhamdulillah a sweet, happy and blessed Eid.