Sunday 30 January 2011

Searching for that Flow

I had this last Friday off and had planned to blog, write my pieces for Mum and Muslim and answer e-mails whilst the kids were at school. I am terrible though for spending my time doing what seems pressing rather than what is actually important. So I spent the day cleaning the house from top to bottom, cooking and trying to engage in my Friday worship at an unhurried pace. Although I did get a cooking lesson in from the Aunty who lives with us, we made aubergine curry with strained yoghurt – delicious.

Once the kids were back home I had to give up on any thoughts of writing (I went to pick up Gorgeous from nursery and I could hear his teacher asking him “who’s that then?” very jovially, but I think she actually meant it. She sees me so rarely she never recognises me).

I tried again Saturday and managed to write a few articles for Mum and Muslim, but I don’t think mum’s couch is the best place as I get lazy and eat too much and concentrate too little.

This morning would have been the perfect time, but I decided to be kind to myself and catch up on my sleep. Sunday’s we have a Sisters circle from 2-3pm, so this gives me a deadline to get my act together and clean the house, get everyone fed and get the Zoher (midday) prayer in on time. Alhamdlillah the Sister’s circle has started to get better-attended. We used to have four or five sisters attend regularly, but the support from the men at the masjid who have helped spread the word and encouraged their wives to attend as well as in many cases mind the children for an hour. The last two weeks and today there were approximately 12-15 sisters (and still numerous children) but I felt very inspired and refreshed at the end of the hour Alhamdulillah and there were suggestions that from next week we will split off into two groups so we can conduct study circles in Urdu and English so that no-one is left out.

I needed a break after that (notice – still no writing going on) and was craving sugar. I had also promised to get someone some black seed oil to try on their husband’s balding scalp (I’ll let you know if it works), so took the kids to the Islamic shop nearby. Never a good idea. I always go crazy when I go near the books. There was also a sale on.....

You would think with this lot, that I would refrain from adding any more to the pile:

I bought these 24 books for £18 approximately. There were a few on the Mothers of the believers and the daughters of the Prophet (PBUH) which is an area I am passionate on, so I was happy to pick these up. I just have to prioritise time to read them now insh’Allah (and review them insh’Allah). They are currently all sitting on my husband’s bedside table and I don’t think he is going to find it as funny as I am going to find his reaction.

I also picked up this Palestinian olive oil from a fair trade company called Zaytoun, which I had heard about which I could not previously find locally. Dear Sis Rainbow, advised me last year that very good quality olive oil mixed with a small amount of black seed oil is great for the skin and particularly clearing blemishes so I intend to make myself a mix and use it on hair and skin insh’Allah.

I also managed to find the answer to my sugar cravings:

They were still full of beans by 7pm, until I turned my back long enough to wash some dishes and Gorgeous came up to me to show me his update to the haircut his Dad had taken him for this morning:

I wanted to scream, but just didn’t see the point, plus I had lost most of my voice. So I just explained gently he was in biiiiiiiiig trouble, some reeeeeaaaally biiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiigggg trouble when his Daddy got home. That wiped the smile off his face. I think my quiet calm had the kids worried (not the reaction they were expecting) and they quietly got down to doing their homework. Little lady is great at helping Litle Man when he gets stuck.

I held Gorgeous, read him his bedtime story and put him in bed, he was out like a light, so his dad might get a surprise in the morning! Funny how now that it is time to get ready for tomorrow and start thinking about getting into bed, I have found my flow and concentration. I’m going to ignore the two loads of laundry on my bed to put away, the ones in the basket and the machine to put out and the things I have to iron for tomorrow. That’s if the iron works – there was foul stink emanating from it for the last two days until I clocked that the water inside it was slightly yellow. Little Man had poured juice into it. So I rinsed it out, but it is “temperamental” at the moment.

Instead I am going to write till hubby gets home and eat cherry cola bottles.

Wednesday 26 January 2011

Hoodie Baby

This little one has been coveting the hoodie his older brother got from his Nan for his birthday since the minute he laid eyes on it. Both of my boys are clothes horses and particularly like their warm cosy hoodies. I finally got Little Man to take off the hoodie at bedtime and change into his pyjama's and turned round to find it had been appropriated:

It wasn't long before Little Man spotted Gorgeous wearing his hoodie and all hell broke loose (and time outs ensued). Gogeous will just have to wait three weeks till his birthday for his one. In the meantime, I am having soooo much fun teasing, cuddling and holding this little one, even though he is as big as his big brother now (he is still my baby). Subhan'Allah, no matter how I feel, holding this little mischief-maker brings me so much peace and comfort.

Saturday 22 January 2011


I lost it today.
I really, really lost it. BIG time.

So much for “peaceful parenting” and articles in the NY Times on the topic – I feel like a bit of a hypocrite at the moment.

Boy did I lose it today.

image source

After a stressful week at work with longer hours, lack of sleep, exhaustion, wishing I could spend more time with hubby, catching a nasty cold from Gorgeous, non-stop fighting from the kids (Little Man is going through an uncharacteristically aggressive phase) and just realising I need a break I decided to have fun with the kids. I had plans today to spend a good Saturday with the children – shopping for fruit (which the kids love to do with me) and birthday treats (all three have a birthday in the next two weeks mash’Allah), a trip to the library, which again everyone loves, pizza for lunch and then an afternoon at my mums.

Of course the icky cold, skipping breakfast and trying to fit too much into one morning left me tired and with a sore head. We got to Pizza Hut to find three children’s parties happening simultaneously, more than my sore head could handle. So I decided to take the bus home, pray my midday prayer and have a quiet lunch at home and then get everyone to nap (me included).

I have really noticed in the last few months how rude some people can be towards me when my children are with me – getting annoyed if I don’t get out of the way quickly enough, getting annoyed if my kids are in the way, making rude comments (and assuming I can’t understand English), giving me dirty looks. I really have at times found it hard to keep my patience with these people (who were obviously born as perfect fully formed adults, therefore giving them the right to judge me).

I also truly hate the way mothers with prams are treated by busses in London – we pay up to £2.20 a trip to be treated as a nuisance by bus drivers who may let three prams on, or decide that only one at a time can get on.

On this occasion as always I checked there were no other prams were on the bus and boarded. At the next stop another lady got on and I told her I would get off at the next stop. The driver noticed that Gorgeous was out of the pram and that I had shopping bags in there and started giving me a lecture about prams not being shopping trolleys and why didn’t I shut the pram (with three kids, ten bags of shopping, my handbag and a pram to manage with two hands?). I never, ever shut the pram – I don’t have enough hands and drivers don’t wait long enough at stops for you to get the pram/kids/bags off again. I have been known to walk almost a mile with the kids in to rather than shut the pram to get on a bus for the above reasons.

But with the sore head, exhaustion, rudeness from people over recent months and my dislike of rude bus drivers I just could not handle his comments. Out of the blue I totally lost it.

People who know me know I am usually quite cheerful and fairly softly spoken. People who know me really well know I have a very nasty temper which I have tried to manage over the years, slowly getting better at it. They also know I have a very, very loud voice inside this petite frame which occasionally is allowed out.

I YELLED at the bus driver at the top of my lungs to just let me the F**K off NOW!!!! Everyone on the bus just went dead quiet and stared (to my satisfaction). I yelled at how I was sick of people treating me badly because I had kids. The bus driver sniffily suggested I park the pram next to the other lady’s. He got another earful with a few more expletives and opened the bus doors quickly. I have never seen the kids do as they are told so quickly either. I don’t think people could believe a sound with so many decibels could come from the little Asian mum.

I am always aware that because of the way I dress I am very visible as a Muslim and therefore have a responsibility to speak and behave well. I am very conscious of the fact that the way I behave has implications for the way other Muslim women are treated. But everyone has their limit and today I reached mine. Plus sometimes I think it might be good for people to know we are not always pushovers just because we choose to behave nicely. Funnily enough I have to say that I felt incredibly calm after I had gotten off the bus.

I was thinking a few days before it had been some time since I lost my temper and that I had been doing quite well recently, including not having any rows with my beloved, patient hubby (in contrast to the first years of our marriage when it was a monthly, then quarter-yearly event for me to go off on one and then spend days in damage limitation mode). Lesson there not to be complacent or speak too soon I think.

Anyway, I got home prayed and go us all takeout. We spent the evening at my mum’s catching up with my sisters (they are such life-savers for me) and I finally found myself at home at 8pm with my headache and nausea just starting to subside.

The children were still squabbling at this point and I was getting continuous reports of “he said... she said...he pulled... she pushed...he stuck his foot in my mouth” (not even joking). So I called a shura (council) and asked for a suggestion as to how we should deal with hitting. We agreed our actions should have consequences. We also decided against Little Man’s gleeful suggestion that the perpetrators of the hitting should “get beats”, when I pointed out that this was mostly him at the moment. In the end we decide that anyone who hits gets 10 minutes in time out (facing the wall). We had three stints of time out before they got the idea. I also had to warn them not to peel wallpaper whilst they were in time out or they would be standing with hands on heads. We’ll see how this little initiative goes.

Whenever I am annoyed with the kids, or we get off to a bad start, I tell myself to stop, take a deep breath and do something to change the situation. So I told the kids to get the plastic mat we use for picnics and painting and their library books and we would have a midnight feast (at 8.30pm).

It certainly lightened the mood and Litttle Lady raced through her four books mash'Allah. They have finally fallen asleep, the house looks like a ornado has swept through it and I have Sisters Circle tomorrow, so I plan to get a good nights sleep insh'Allah and then do a blitz.

Long Necklace: Shades of Scarlet and Black

I often wear red with black and had some red wooden beads I wanted to spice up a little with some other, prettier beads. I also like the idea of mixtures of shades and textures in the same colour range together.

Because I wear my hijab quite big, a long necklace for me has to be quite long or will get hidden. This one was certainly very long even when worn coiled into three strands.

The beads are red wooden beads, 6mm faceted glass rondelles in black and red, 4mm faceted glass rondelles in black and opaque red, large pewter seed beads and black stone chips (no idea what material these are).

I wore the necklace with a black abaya, black scarf and a red under-hijab cap. Although, now I think about it, I quite like the necklace wrapped around my wrist as a bracelet too.

Monday 17 January 2011

Uncle Saddique’s Chicken Pakora’s

I tried experimenting with my usual pakora mix and loved the result. This recipe is inspired by one of my favourite people, my Uncle Saddique – one of the kindest, gentlest and good-natured people I know. Uncle Saddique has a thing for pakora’s and used to work in a takeaway. During Ramadan, at iftar (fast-breaking) time, he would mix up a pakora batter and drop pieces of fried chicken into the mix. I used left-over chicken from a curry made from cubed chicken-breast.

2 onions – peeled, quartered and cut into thin slices
2 potatoes – peeled, halved and cut into thin slices
2 cups of gram flour
1 cup pieced chicken, chopped into small peices
1 cup sweetcorn kernels (I use a small can)
2 green chilli’s – finely chopped
Handful coriander – finely chopped
1 ½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons chilli flakes
1 tablespoon cumin
Liberal pinch ajwain seeds
4-6 tablespoons of water to mix
Oil to fry

Mix all ingredients so that you get a thick batter. If you are making this a little advance then onions in the mixture will release water and thin the batter out, so you may want to use less water. If the batter becomes thin, just add a little more gram flour.

Heat oil in a wok on full heat. When hot, lower heat to medium and drop spoonfuls of the batter into the oil. Cook until golden brown on both sides. Remove and place onto tissue to soak excess oil. Yummy with tomato ketchup, sweet chilli sauce or mint sauce.

This batter keeps well in the fridge for the next day. If it gets runny, simply add a little more gram flour.

Satisfyingly Busy Weekend

I love weekends, I try not to live for the weekend, but come Friday, there is certainly an air of celebration in our house. One thing about weekend, it is certainly never boring...tiring perhaps, but boring never.

This weekend involved another big cook-up:

Enough laundry to scare the pants off the washing-machine (this lot plus the piles the kids manage to create on their bedroom floor and various places round my house, as well as the clothing they left strewn all over my bed)

E-mails to answer and posts to write (7am on Saturday morning seems to be the only time I get), as well as mail, bills, kids schools letters and various bitty little things that clutter up the back of my mind and my to-do list.

We also had a speaker come round from the masjid for our Sisters Circle on Sunday (which was well attended this weekend with 15 or so ladies). It went well until Gorgeous decided to jump off the sofa and landed on the speaker (the one that plugs into the wall,n not the one that was talking) and it stopped working (the beother was in the front room with my husband). They realised, so finished off then and left us to finish up. I took notes and will try to type up and post (I always say this and have never managed since).

Have also been trying out new recipes and experimenting with my cooking (recipes to follow insh'Allah).

Did manage to get some quite time though...

Wednesday 12 January 2011

Umm Salihah in the NY Times - No I Haven't Done Anything Illegal


I had a bit of good news to share alhamdulillah. The New York Times parenting blog Motherlode reprinted my most recent column for InCulture Parent: "An Islamic View of Parenting".

You can see the column in Motherlode here and in InCulture Parent here.
Jazakh'Allah-khairun and many thanks to those who have taken the time to leave comments.

Please forgive me for my recent tardiness in posting, responding to comments and responding to e-mails (which always make my day by the way even if I am slow to respond). As the kids get older and more demanding alhamdulillah, the job gets more manic, hubby's work routine more random, and more often now my hands more sore from typing, I find it harder to write and often end up evading the computer.

Also to blog about life, you have to live it and various cooking experiments, trying to keep up with my noisy, crazy children and my penchant for indulging in too much me-time (can there be such a thing as too much me-time?) means the day comes to an end before I gave done a fraction of what I want to. I am also going through one of my irregular phases when I cannot stop reading - the book is winning over the laptop at the moment, plus Little Lady has appropriated the laptop for her Spanish practice.

Alhamdulillah, I have lots to blog about when I get the chance - some recipes, a few book reviews, my thoughts about looking after someone's child and what I learned from it and more articles for Mum and Muslim and InCulture Parent. Oh and a red and black necklace I have made, the "tactile" stone chip and glass crystal necklace I am making and some more bit's of jewellery I have to finish off and take pictures of. Which reminds me - I had forgotten all about the promised craft giveaway.

I better get writing insh'Allah...maybe in the morning...the kids have gotten out of bed again, I still have the ironing, school, work bags and packed lunches for the mornin (and I really want to read my book, in bed, under my warm blanket, maybe with that piece of rich carrot cake).

Saturday 8 January 2011

Word for 2011

There is an interesting challenge I have seen going around the blog world (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) - to choose One Little Word for 2011. This is a word that you can focus on, mediate on, and reflect upon as you go about my daily life.

I had a little think about this and decided my word for 2011 should be "COURAGE". A few days and much discussion with my husband and sister later, I thought of another word which really just requires the first - downsizing.

The public sector is undertaking massive job cuts and our office is no exception. Our managers have been given notice that only half of them will be retained and will all have to re-apply for half of the jobs they currently do. Once they are in place (or made redundant for half them) sometime in late February all of our jobs will be reviewed and cuts will be made. This has kind of become the norm in the public sector, particularly local government, where everyone seems to come under some kind of review every two years or so. But this time it all feels so much worse.

When the managers got their notice this week, I felt bad for them, but I also thought alhamdulillah, at least I have my faith and my belief that Allah (SWT) is the provider of sustenance and not any job or career.

I had a long discussion with my husband, every year or two we make plans to move, to buy a smaller or cheaper place so that we can reduce the financial burden on us. We have also been looking for something in the catchment area for the high school I want my children to go to. So once more we have had this discussion. We have explored how we can live in less space with three children and extended family and keep some amount of privacy considering I wear hijab and abaya.

We have had to accept that the conventional way of living we daydream about: nice bedrooms for the children, walk-in-wardrobes and endless space for all of the things I seem to accumulate/attract, plenty of extra guestrooms to contain out in-laws and visiting guests and relatives – it’s just not going to happen. It’s not sustainable or affordable. And it’s not necessarily the best way to live for us either. I knew when we made the choice not to have a television in our home, to make Islam the love of our lives and our homes and our passion, when we started to focus on dawah and travelling as we did last Ramadan (1 and 2), that our lives would be different. We have come in for stick because of this from both of our families and from numerous other people who think we are extreme, or too religious or can’t see why we are not doing what everyone else’s son/daughter/friend is doing it. But travelling and exposure to different people has really taught me there are different ways to live and the conventional one is not always the most satisfying one or the one that pleases Allah (SWT) the most.

We talked with the children about finding a smaller place to live, so even if Mum does keep her job, she can work fewer days and spend more time with them. In terms of space it won’t be such a big change initially because they have always had to share and have their grandparents in with them for half a year too. My only concern was as Little Lady gets older she will need her privacy. I thought of something I read a while back about Palestinian families (I have no idea where) which described how parents and daughters get their own bedrooms and boys sleep in the living room with bedding they can roll up and stash away. I don’t know how accurate this is, but it sounds workable in the future for me.

A smaller place would also mean that I would not be happy to having all my in-laws staying with me. My husband’s parents are my parents and I would be happy to have them with me, but after almost five years of having brothers-in-law live with me, I am not able to accommodate them and their new wives if they return to the UK – so they will have to either find somewhere else to stay or move into some kind of annexe or something.

Moving could also mean a much larger garden than the little one we have now, and in true desi fashion, my husband has already dreamed up plans for an extension and a room at the end of the garden with a built-in kitchenette and bathroom (where the brothers-in-law would be installed if they came back). Sounds daft? It’s actually been a growing trend in East London and people even rent these little “Studio flats” out to families (probably illegally).

Anyway, I am getting waaaay ahead of myself. We will be looking for somewhere in the area we want to move to. Hubby also has a cab licence which he may have to make use of (although I don’t like the idea of seeing even less of him). So deep breaths, perspective and COURAGE!

Other thoughts for the coming year are to do with travelling around the UK with the kids once the weather improves, hopes and prayers for Umrah (pilgrimage) with my children this year. What little redundancy money I get will probably get eaten up by the house move, but if it doesn’t, there is a hope for investing in some further study for me (possibly to do with counselling and Muslim women insh’Allah). This year is also turning out to be about food, with cooking becoming a major interest and finally about business. If I do lose my job, I will be helping my husband with his business and looking at how to channel my energy into making it grow.

So lots of plans and happenings in 2011 already and one little word – COURAGE leading to another – downsizing. Let’s see how things pan out. What is your word for 2011?

image source

Thursday 6 January 2011

Bead Inspiration and Childsplay

I had a long evening alone with the kids and the prospect of spending hours stopping them from bickering, so got them helping me with some bead therapy.

Little Man threaded the big brightly coloured beads which will become bracelets, including a rainbow one someone has requseted.

Little Lady helped by making the long black necklace in the same pattern as a bracelet I had made. She was ever so proud of her creation and I think the set will make a nice gift for someone.

Gorgeous, managed to thread the same four beads onto a peice of wire about eight times, before dropping beads on the bed (along with some crisps which I am still trying to get out of bed).

The white crystals are a necklace I am making for Little Lady as she turns eight soon insh'Allah.

I dug these beads out again - I just love the way they look and feel. I have started various projects with these and taken them apart again. Nothing seems to do them justice. I have another idea, this time for a long necklace. You never really know how it will look until you start putting it all together, so we will see.

I also have these pretty blue glass beads which I keep picking up, but can't decide what to do with. Let's see where inspiration comes from - any ideas?

By the time, I got the kids in bed, the house clean and the bins out, it's too late to do anything with these. I'll try again tomorrow insh'Allah.

Book Review - Rani Manika: The Japanese Lover

Rani Manika’s debut novel, The Rice Mother is one of my favourite books with its somewhat epic feel, fascinating characters, engrossing story and beautiful imagery. Her second book, Touching Earth, left me disappointed despite interesting characters, due to its depressing and somewhat cynical feel. I liked the first book enough though, to be hopeful about this third book from the author.

Like The Rice Mother, this book charts the journey of a young woman travelling to Malaysia to marry a man she does not know. Parvathi is a young Sri Lankan girl, raised in poverty and isolation by her father who hopes to marry her to a rich man. He manages this by showing a marriage broker a picture of a different girl and arranging her marriage to the older, immensely rich Kasu Marimuthu living in Malaysia. On seeing the dark, unsophisticated Parvathi, Kasu realises he has been tricked and threatens to send her straight back to India. Taking pity, he allows her to stay, and what follows are many years of loveless marriage and two children who threaten to bring nothing but further unhappiness.

World War Two breaks out as a miserable Kasu dies from alcoholism and the invading Japanese take over Kasu’s palatial mansion. Parvathi becomes a “comfort woman” for the Japanese General Hattori who now lives in her house, initially to protect her beautiful daughter, but when given the choice to escape, she chooses to stay with Hattori, finding she has fallen in love with him. With the end of the war, he is forced to leave with the promise he will return.

The blurb really captured my attention, but the book itself left me a little lost. The book tries to be epic in the way The Rice Mother manages and fails. It tries to explain the cosmic order of things – love, destiny, death, eternal, beings of light (or something like that, I lost track) but just sounds all new-agey and silly (well to me anyway). Manicka draws the characters in a way that you come to sympathise deeply for them and root for them despite their myriad flaws, and yet their unwillingness to fight for themselves and their love, to blindly accept fate, is frustrating.

The book takes us through the Indian experience in Malaysia over the course of almost a hundred years; through Colonial rule, World War Two, independence, civil unrest and finally the attempt of Indian-origin Malaysian’s to reassert their identity and self-respect. Given the scale, this could have been an epic novel, but falls short, dwelling too often on the sadness of the characters.

This is still an enjoyable and interesting novel, but the long passages discussing the purpose of life and death went on a bit and at times you felt like you were being lectured. Similarly, where the novel touches on social and political issues it can feel heavy-handed – for instance the discussion at the end about our how light-skin is preferred in some cultures and how we need to learn to love our brown-ness almost felt like one of those turn-to-camera moments you get in films where the actor suddenly starts talking to the audience.

Not in the league of The Rice Mother and depressing in parts, but still interesting with characters who I felt for deeply and a story that moves along at a reasonable pace.

Book Review: Rani Manicka – Touching Earth

Tuesday 4 January 2011

Crafts, Sales and Thrifting

I love both crafts and thrifting, but with no decent boot fairs not until summer, I have avoided buying new materials. A recent trip to a PDSA charity shop though, led to these stamping and embroidery materials. The stamping kit cost £2, and the mini stamps came with it.

A second package for 75p had the embroidery kits and tools and stickers. I think I will put the embroidery stuff in a pretty box as a gift for Little Lady (p.s. a little serendipity, I just hopped over to Umm Aaminah's blog and found that she has just posted a thrifty post too).

These scrapbooking kits and papers are from TK Maxx where they were on sale. There were quite a lot and they are specialist items, so I am expecting them to go down further.

If you do visit TK Maxx, I suggest you take a look in their children's books section, which will be tucked away in an obscure corner somewhere. I found within this section a clearance part which was selling some interesting books of a kind you don't usually see for very cheap (100 Best Poems - £2, The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper's Feast £2 and 501 TV-Free Activities for Kids - £3.99, which I am loving - review soon insh'Allah).

I hope to put the kids to bed and sort through all of this stuff insh'Allah whilst hubby is out (look out for a give-away insh'Allah - maybe I should ask people to e-mail me with their favourite quote that I can post?)

Sunday 2 January 2011

InCulture Parent January 2011


It's that time again. InCulture Parent has published my column and my article on language. Please do visit and leave your comments and thoughts