Sunday 31 January 2010

Jumping off the Tightrope

I have been struggling to find opportunities to blog recently with work and family activity keeping me busy. My new role and the loss of a colleague due to office conflict has meant that my workload has shot up leaving me struggling to share my energy fairly between work and the rest of my life. This week I had to organise a service-planning workshop for managers, write and present a presentation on one of our local wards and the effects of regeneration on it, implement a project review process for our regeneration service, present my paper on electronic data management and make recommendations and work on updating our intranet site. This at the same time as dealing with my manager who veers between being very nice and rather noxious.

The ward regeneration presentation had me seriously nervous until I found this dua which helped:

Rabbi Ishrah Li Sadry, Wayassir Li Amry, Wahlul ‘Uqdatan Min Lisany, yafqahu Qawly.

My Lord, I ask you to expand my breast, make my task easy, undo the knot in my tongue so that my speech will become comprehensible.

What also helped was turning up to find that many of the senior managers and external visitors (Councillors and CE of development agencies) were more nervous than I was – I was shocked, but reminded that these were only people. Before the presentation I had seriously got the impression that because I am softly-spoken and small, my manager wasn’t convinced I would be able to do this presentation. It was ironic then that my part went well and I enjoyed showing off (sorry I can’t help it, I do like an audience) and she managed to fluff her part.

At home, the school term is in full-swing with trips and plenty of homework, but without my in-laws staying and my mum still unable to do much because of her broken hand, I and hubby are really having to do a juggling act with taking care of the kids and everything else between us, alhamdulillah for hubbies patience and good nature.

I am aiming to do Arabic with Little Lady five days a week, but managing 3-4. I am also trying to get Little Man started but progressing very slowly. Gorgeous wants to learn but disrupts everyone by making the others giggle.

With extended family, we are in the full throes of wedding planning with my brother and this seems to be the only topic of discussion we are capable of at the moment. Things have not gone smoothly and I have been learning a lot about diplomacy, holding your tongue and letting things go. It has brought me closer to my brother though and we should have a lot of things booked and ready in the next two weeks for his big day at the end of March. We also have the henna night to plan for and this should be a blast. We are planning it as a crazy party for our family and friends (think sweet bar, Cilla Black, games, henna, food mischief and a lion). Our theme for the event is a very traditional green and yellow that you find at Pakistani henna's like the one below:

I still have to do something about the shopping list my in-laws have given me for my two brother-in-laws weddings (most likely in February/March too). I have made clear that kids cannot miss school or they will lose their school places and that I don’t have enough leave from work until April, but I keep getting the feeling that hubby will suddenly decide nearer the time that we are all off to Pakistan for the wedding, which gets me stressed every time I think about it.

So it is a learning time for me. Dealing with my manager and being more assertive, trying to be well-organised at home, trying to share my time and energy fairly and reserving enough of em for my husband and children, trying to communicate effectively with family and extended family, dealing with family politics fairly and without getting bogged down. But alhamdulillah, it is all good. I always think of my gran with her lucid mind and broken body wishing she could do so many things and knowing I might get to a point when I wished the same, for now I can do the things I have to and I am grateful for that – life feels full and colourful (alhamdulillah I think of her a lot right now, with fondness and gratefulness for what she taught me about dealing with life and family).

I did get to the thinking where you start to feel that you are walking a tightrope, trying to balance numerous plates. But I decided not to take that approach. I jumped off the tightrope, when I decided that I will do one thing at a time and only what I can manage and make sure I make plenty of play time (although I WILL resist the urge to creep out of bed at midnight to read or play with my beads).

Book Review: Marina Lewycka - A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian

I kept seeing this book in the best-sellers section of my local W H Smiths and thinking what a curious title and assuming it had to be some kind of red herring. I ended up with the book in my winter reading stash and eventually decided to make a start on it.

The book is about Nadia and Vera, two estranged middle-aged sisters in England whose parents are Ukrainian’s who immigrated to Britain at the end of World War Two. When their loving, frugal, green-fingered mother dies, the sisters feel protective towards their elderly father Nikolai, a former engineer who has become quite eccentric in their old age. This is until he informs Nadia that he is marrying Valentina, a voluptuous gold-digger, because he wants to help her gain permanent stay in the country.

He insists he is only helping her, Valentina insists that she loves him, Vera insists that their inheritance must be protected and Nadia finds herself trying to keep the peace. Before long the sisters realise they must out aside their differences if they are to deal with Valentina and convince their father that he is making a mistake. He in contrast, caught between the women, decides to write a short history of tractors, which really serves as a potted history of Ukraine. In turn, as the sisters begin to reach out to each other, they find themselves picking over the skeletons in the family’s closet.

This book is a curious insight into what it means to be an immigrant. When you usually think of refugees you think of someone from the wider world, but not someone from Europe. I have certainly never thought about the Ukrainian community in Britain. This book describes some of the issues that immigrants from Europe have faced in the past and some of they are required to deal with today.

This book is not laugh-out-loud funny, but it did keep me smiling, in particular Valentina’s battering of the English language and her demands. Nadia’s description of her mother is moving and the way her parents life under Stalin affected the way they lived the rest of their life interesting to read (their frugality, their fear of the police, their hoarding of food).

This was an easy, engaging read, although slow in parts and predictable in others.

Monday 18 January 2010

Card Making – Frugal Embellishments

A while ago I wrote a post about frugal card-making and now reflecting on that a whole lot more has come to mind.

Central to my cards most of the time are embellishments. I love, love, love embellishments and most often use them as the centre-piece of the card from which I pick out the papers and colours to match. I like that they add the three-dimensional feel and a focal point of interest.

I find that they can be very expensive to buy, so I am always on the lookout for frugal alternatives.

One of oldest ideas I have used are broken hair bobbles and jewellery. The hair bobbles are from my daughter’s broken hair accessories and give a cutesy feel, the jewellery bits are from all over and really make the card feel special.

The flowers below are just simple shapes cut from felt and layered on top of each other with a diamond for a centre.

I have also acquired a few paper punches, so I can cut flowers out in different sizes and layer them to co-ordinate with the card as I have done in the two cards below

The scroll below is simply a small scrap of mulberry paper rolled up and tied with ribbon. It took seconds to make and my mum really liked it which is the biggest compliment I could ask for.

Also very popular at the moment (for example in this talented lady’s cards) are fake flowers, layered up to match the colours of the card. I find these quite expensive, so when I came across four bags of fake flowers for 40p (about 80c USA I think), I snapped them up. I took them home and took the layers apart, discarding the plastic stems and stamen and put them inside the pages of a heavy book to try and flatten them. They haven’t flattened entirely, but this means that when I use them on a card, it gives the card more texture.

The pretty, glittery shapes below are actually belly tattoo stickers which were another boot-sale find at 50p. I have yet to use these, but they look like they would really up the bling factor on a card don’t they?

Other things you can use are buttons, real dried flowers, mini kids toys (or bits of them), Indian bhindi’s, shells, scrap fabric, broken watch parts, ribbon scraps and basically anything else you cn think of
Of course the baby emptied the box out as soon as they had finished sorting the buttons.

Thursday 14 January 2010


I am sure everyone is watching as events unfold in Haiti, and I am sure that my brothers and sisters will rush to do what they can once more insh'Allah.

Below are links to those agencies who have already begun to co-ordinate a response to the disaster:

I know that those that have nothing, still have their precious dua's to give insh'Allah and will not forget these people. May Allah (SWT) grant the people of Haiti ease after their trial.

Monday 11 January 2010

Baby Boy Cards - January 2010

With all of the new babies recently mash'Allah and the weddings to come insh'Allah, I think I am going to be making quite a few baby and wedding cards to last me and other family members the year. These are the first few and the ribbons (and these) sent to me by iMuslimah certainly came in handy.

Sunday 10 January 2010

Extremely Stupid Conversation #1

I found myself at the hospital this week trying to get treatment for my mum’s fractured wrist. As they discharged her, I could see how much pain she was in and asked for some painkillers:

Me: Are you going to give her anything for the pain?
Nurse: No, she can just take what she has at home. Like paracetamol.
Me: But she’s in a lot of pain, paracetamol won’t help.
Nurse: Well we don’t have anything stronger than what you have at home [well you wouldn’t in a hospital would you?]
Me: Can’t you give her co-codamol or comething?
At this point the nurse had an extremely shocked look on her face – i.e. brown-faced women with scarf not only speaks English but knows what co-codamol is. (she can’t know about my out-of-body experience with pethedine whilst delivering Little Lady, my low pain threshold and my affection for pain-killers ).
Nurse:…er…no, well Panadol is just as strong, we don’t have anything stronger.
Me: ooo-kkaay then…

Good job I found some co-codamol at home then from when hubby crashed his car and got whiplash.

Thursday 7 January 2010

Poor Mum

Mum managed to slip on the ice today and land hevaily on her arm. She then managed a few more paces and fell again, on top of the same arm and almost knock herself out. Somehow she managed to walk and slide the rest of the way home without leaving her shopping or handbag behind. Fashionista was at home as she is a teacher and the schools were shut. She called an ambulance.

Mum spent all day at the hospital having x-rays and sitting in various waiting rooms. She has a fractured wrist and badly bruised back. Of course her main concern is how she is going to make Dad's dinner. We have all warned her don't you dare go near that kitchen and the girls are keeping an eye on her.

She was in so much pain and in tears, until she got to the waiting room at the hospital and saw everyone sitting there with exactly the same problem, busted arms and legs from slips on the ice and she burst out laughing. She was soon chatting away with the other patients.

She is still in lots of pain, please remember her in your prayers.

Weddings, Cousins and Baby-Sitting

We seem to have found another source of childcare for the moment, a rather unexpected one alhamdulillah. One of my cousins has come here from Pakistan to study hotel management in Plymouth. Usually family and friends that come from abroad stay with us. I don’t mind as guests are a blessing and it brings excitement and interest. However, over the last few years hubby and I have noticed that the rest of the family are palming their guests off onto us. Again, this is fine, except for their attitude: “Oh F and S have space”, “Oh, obviously they’ll be staying at yours”. Excuse me, we won’t say no to anyone, but try asking first?

Anyway, I reckoned that this cousin would end up with us, but hubby decided to tell the family no, we don’t have space and see what happens. I backed him up on this because I knew he didn’t mean it, he wanted the cousin to actually appreciate staying with us when he eventually turned up here rather than assuming it was his right.

It took one week. One week at an Uncle’s house, everyone at work, house full of morose teenagers that wouldn’t talk to him (and BOY does he like to talk), admonitions for making a mess in the kitchen or leaving a mess in the bathroom. When my husband offered to have him over for a few days and work with him at the same time, he was over like a shot. He likes it here – he says people talk to each other, we eat together, the food is home-cooked, the kids are friendly (too friendly - I had to stop them from calling him by his name and encourage them to address him as uncle). Hubby has him in the kitchen trying to teach him to cook for when his semester starts at the end of this month and he will be living out in student halls (okra curry, without any chilli).

He is a help for us too. He watches the kids for an hour after school while hubby comes to pick me up from work. They are not very impressed:

“He won’t let us watch cartoons”
“He wouldn’t give us cake”
“We don’t like him!”


In the meantime, my hubby is on a mission to get him salah-trained, trying to drag him to the mosque, waking him up for fajr and giving Little Lady lectures over lunch about the virtues of prayer and the punishment for missing them which are clearly aimed elsewhere, much to everyone’s amusement. I am trying to get him to be gentle as the Cousin will only be here until semester starts.

At the same time, we have mum calling me asking where the baby is and why we haven’t been leaving him with her (d’you reckon she misses him?).

Mother-in-law is also keen to come back to has but has two weddings to arrange. Brother-in-law’s no. 3 (who lives with us) and no.5 have both gotten just engaged and should be getting married in the next month or two. Being my oh-so-organised in-laws, the date probably won’t be announced until two weeks before the big day(s) and then there will be panic (although the mother-in-law has given me a shopping list, bless her). Unfortunately we won‘t be able to fly out to Pakistan, but I look forward to celebrating when they come here with their wives insh’Allah….oh and there is my brother’s wedding in March…

…this is going to be a busy year I think alhamdulillah.

Oh and why does every single person who comes to this house from Pakistan manage to explode an egg in the microwave at least once?

Wednesday 6 January 2010

Book Review: Annie Proulx – The Shipping News

I have been reading Annie Proulx’s short stories with much enjoyment, but kept seeing this novel on the library shelf and ignoring it. Much as I liked her tales, a book about ships, shipping news, stormy seas or widowers moving to the coast did not seem very interesting to me. In the end, the Pulitzer-prize winning tag and the fact that it had been made into a film (which tells you absolutely nothing), reeled me in.

The Shipping News is the story of Quoyle, a shy, recently widowed New Yorker and father of two young girls, who is completely lacking in confidence or self-respect. Quoyle’s world is shattered when his cheating, cold-hearted wife is killed in a car-crash, leading to a forceful Aunt he has never met to move in and take charge. She convinces him to move back to the Newfoundland coast where his family originate from and take up a job in the local paper.

He arrives to find an eccentric community of sailors and delinquents in which he attempts to rebuild his life, raise his daughters and discover what it means to respect and defend yourself.

This book is written in Proulx’s archetypal style - dry, detached, wry, wickedly mischievous at times, occassionally very funny. You feel strongly for Quoyle’s character and Proulx creates a convincing back-story of the way his family and society have managed to turn him into a downtrodden “loser”. His dead wife is suitably horrendous although the Aunt is an interesting creation: strong and decisive on the surface, vulnerable and lonely deep down. I almost felt that this character was a version of the writer herself.

At times the book can feel too rambling, too dry and too technical with it’s descriptions of ships, stormy seas and even types of knots. At the other times, some of the characters fall slightly short of convincing, so eccentric and odd are they.

Although this book was readable enough, I think I preferred Proulx’s books of short stories which put a constraint on the level of detail she can put in to her writing. In the medium of a novel sometimes it feels as if she is going on too much.

Book Review: Juliet Marillier - Wolfskin

After finishing off Marilliers “Sevenwaters” quartet, I thought that was it for me for this writer, until Kooky Little Sister started singing the praises of this book.

This is the story of the Norse invasion of the Orkney Islands off of Scotland’s northernmost end.
Eyvind is a Norse “berserker”, or fearsome warrior, called a Wolfskin for the pelt worn by all those who attain this honour by slaying a wolf with their bare hands. Loyal to his “Jarl” or Lord, strong, handsome, good-natured and well-loved, his only desire is to die with honour in the midst of battle. When his friend, the wolfskin Ulf sets out on a journey to find fabled, verdant isles in the South, he finds himself aboard for the trip against his wishes.

Somerled is Eyvind’s best friend and “blood-brother”, a damaged, easily-slighted, but brilliant young man. Disliked by his half-brother Ulf for being cruel and too-clever, he manages to find his way onto the ship for the journey.

Nessa is a princess of the Light Isles and a priestess, in touch with the secret life of the island and wary of the strange tall, fair, fearsome newcomers to her world.

The initial engagement between the two groups is friendly, but before long there is murder and both sides look to the other with suspicion raising the prospect of a bloodbath being unleashed on the island.

I enjoyed the level of detail in this book. You can tell that Marillier has taken the time to do her research and her description of life amongst the Vikings is interesting and engaging. I have always found the Orkney Islands an interesting place which seems full of mystery. Marillier brings life to the place with what she conceives it might have been like for the people before the Norsemen invaded and they were lost completely to history.

Eyvind’s character is supremely likeable, almost too good to be true perhaps, if a little thick not to recognise what is happening around him. As always with Marillier’s heroines, Nessa is feisty and strong.
The book is easy to read, an untaxing and escapist adventure. I would find it hard to criticise this book, considering how much I enjoyed reading it, it certainly left me with my curiosity about Vikings reawakened (initially raised after reading The Saga of Eric the Viking) and made me want to see the Orkneys for myself.

Castle of Yesnaby, a two-footed sea stack off Orkney. (image source)

Sunday 3 January 2010

Black Crystals and Ribbon

I had these black beads and wanted to do something special with the bead with the small shiny crystals. I came up with this assymetrical long necklace which I would wear over a black abaya.

The beads were from a cheap set of bracelet from Primark (£1 per set) that Fashionista Sister sourced some time ago for me. They are rather lightweight and just acrylic, so don't have the pleasant weight of glass or crystal or jet, but sit fairly well once you are wearing the necklace. The bow was made from a peice of old ribbon and threaded through the string that holds the rest of the beads together.

Book Review: Bernhard Schlink – The Reader

I picked up this book on Kooky Little Sisters recommendation when I saw it in the quick reads section at the library (I have just been allowed back in there after hubby paid off the latest hefty fine of £15 out of a series he keeps getting landed with every time I ask him to take my books back).

The book was on my radar also partly because of the film of the same name released this year to critical acclaim.

This book is not an easy read. Schlink sets down the story of Michael Berg, a 15 year old schoolboy who has an affair with Hanna, an older woman he meets whilst recovering from hepatitis, despite knowing virtually nothing about her. The affair lasts one summer and is over abruptly and painfully. Many years later as a law student observing war trials, Michael sees Hanna in the dock charged with actions carried out during the second world war in her role as a concentration camp guard. As the trial progresses, Michael realises that Hanna is not defending herself adequately because she is hiding something.

The bulk of the book is taken up by Michael’s musings and reflections. The book is not really about the holocaust or the Nazi’s, although these are key themes, but more about the effects of these elements on the generation that followed. The question has been asked numerous times: “Did the German people know about and participate in what happened during the Holocaust?” with different answers each time. This book highlights the efforts of Michael and his contemporaries to come to terms with what happened and the fact that their parents were involved in a time when the information about the camps and death marches was not available in the way it is now.

Another theme that is explored is the effect of early experiences on the remainder of a person’s life. In this case the effect of his relationship with Hanna on the rest of Michael’s relationships throughout his life.

The book deals with a sensitive matter which inspires strong passions in people in a cool and somewhat detached way. I found it a little depressing by the end with rather too much introspection for my liking. I also felt uncomfortable with there being a Nazi as one of the main characters and out being lead to virtually sympathise with her.

Sweet Medicine and Some Thinking.

We are all recovering from colds at the moment, multiple-month long colds. How I crave for the warmer weather!! I asked the kids to bring me a spoon for their medicine. I finished my prayer and turned around to find all three standing there with spoons at the ready. I think there is waaayy too much sugar in the baby Calpol (I remember being caught between knees and having my cheeks squeezed to get my mouth open for medicine).

I finally managed to get in touch with a sister who I e-mail sometimes. She says she saw me walking along with my kids (she recognised them from this blog). We were making a spectacle of ourselves as usual. Myself and the boys walking one way down the road and Little Lady running the other way and getting to the end before realising her mistake and running back to our amusement. Hope to meet up with her and also another sister soon insh'Allah (seems like such a small world sometimes).

Have managed to get to the end of the winter holidays without having done very much at all except read, eat rubbish, sleep too much and trail around with the kids behind me like mother duck, which was kind of nice. Things will be back to normal tomorrow with work and school and I have lots of thinking to do about how I want to manage things and which things I really want to invest my energy in.