Sunday 29 June 2014

Ramadan Kareem 2014/1435

Assalam-alaikam everyone and Ramadan Kareem,

I hope this Ramadan is full of blessings, forgiveness and mercy. I hope that my sisters and brothers find ways to make the most of the blessed month regardless of the situation they find themselves in insh'Allah. I always find that this is a time that Allah (SWT) makes it easier for us to do good deeds, let go of bad habits and instil good new ones.

May Allah (SWT) bless this Ummah during this month with an increase in iman, with forgiveness, mercy and with the acceptance of their dua’s. May He increase the rizq (income) of the believers and make it easy for them and take away all of their hardships.

Please remember our brothers and sisters who are suffering in Burma, Palestine, Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan and across the world. Please don’t forget to make dua for those who are being persecuted for their faith, who are questioning their beliefs and who are alone because of their faith.

Please remember me and my family in your dua’s insh’Allah and please forgive me if I have ever said or written anything that hurt or upset you.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) declared, 'Three men whose dua is never rejected (by Allah) are: the fasting person until he breaks his fast (in another narration, when he breaks fast), the just ruler and the one who is oppressed.' ~Ahmad, at-Tirmidhi – Hasan.

You are also welcome to download my free Ramadan and Eid Planner 2014/1435 which covers:
  • Simple goal-setting for Ramadan
  • Some practical suggested activities you can undertake during Ramadan, with space to include your own actions and thoughts
  • Space to plan ahead for the month of Dhul-hajj and the Sacrifice
  • The Sunnan of Ramadan and both Eid’s
  • Deciding what you want to get out of Eid and how you can do that
  • A short reading list of useful materials on Ramadan and Eid
  • Prompts to reflect on Ramadan after the month has ended and retaining some of the benefits of the blessed month

You can also visit my Ramadan Resources and Link Love page which links to resources and information about Ramadan including religious information, recipes, crafts, children's resources and inspiration.

As always if you find something that you think I should add, please leave a comment or e-mail me (see top of right sidebar).

"Oh you who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that you many learn piety and righteousness" ~ Qur'an 2:183

Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah’s Apostle (peace be upon him) said, “When the month of Ramadan starts, the gates of the heaven are opened and the gates of Hell are closed and the devils are chained.” (Bukhari - 31:123)

Narrated Sahl: The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “There is a gate in Paradise called Ar-Raiyan, and those who observe fasts will enter through it on the Day of Resurrection and none except them will enter through it. It will be said, ‘Where are those who used to observe fasts?’ They will get up, and none except them will enter through it. After their entry the gate will be closed and nobody will enter through it.” (Bukhari - 31:120)

Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah’s Apostle (peace be upon him) said, “Allah said, ‘All the deeds of Adam’s sons (people) are for them, except fasting which is for Me, and I will give the reward for it.’ Fasting is a shield or protection from the fire and from committing sins. If one of you is fasting, he should avoid sexual relation with his wife and quarrelling and if somebody should fight or quarrel with him, he should say, ‘I am fasting.’ By Him in Whose Hands my soul is’ The unpleasant smell coming out from the mouth of a fasting person is better in the sight of Allah than the smell of musk. There are two pleasures for the fasting person, one at the time of breaking his fast, and the other at the time when he will meet his Lord; then he will be pleased because of his fasting.” (Bukhari - 31:128)

Picture of the Day 28.06.14 - Curious Doll

We finally got to visit my new niece yesterday and see Fashionista Sister.  I couldn't get enough of holding her.  You know the relative who barges in and hogs the baby, that was me.  It reminded me too how much work a newborn is - feeds on demand, constant rounds of nappy changes, trying to wake the baby, feed her, finally think you're done, to find heer hungry again.  It reminded me too of how powerful the love Allah (SWT) places in parents for their loved ones, so that they endure through lost sleep, anxiety, pain and exhaustion with only thought for their little one.

We introduced Darling to her new cousin, to find that she didn't seem very interested at first.  She has some of her sisters old dolls at home and isn't much interested apart from occasionally poking them in the eye before throwing them aside in favour of her brothers toys which have lights and sounds.

She didn't even seem that concerned when I held her which is surprising considering how territorial she is.  If Gorgeous ever gets into my lap he gets pushed or dragged out by his bossy little sister.

It was only when the baby started moving and making noises that she caught her cousin's attention.  When bubba started crying, Darling followed her up the stairs for her nappy change fascinated.  Perhaps she thought this doll was a bit more entertaining.

Taking a Breath and Starting Again

Yesterday morning I had a miserable time, made worse by an argument with a Dr's receptionist that pushed me right to the edge.  I am a very honest and open person, I blog about how my real life is  - both the good times and the hard ones.

I am by nature upbeat, positive and happy, it's just how I am.  That's why this blog is called "Happy Muslim Mama", but when I have struggled, felt insecure or found things too tough, I write about them honestly.  I also write about how my faith has sustained me through all of these times.  Writing helps me by clearing my head and helping me to work through my thoughts, and occasionally venting.

One of my sisters read my post yesterday and thought maybe I should have written the post, but not pressed publish.  I disagree, I believe in telling a story as honestly as you can and the challenging times are as much a part of the story as the good ones.

The strange thing is that I am a bit of a turncoat when it comes to my feelings.  If I am ever sad, angry or down, it lasts for about as long as I have the chance to let it out and then passes like a cloud over the sun.  So as soon as I had published the post, I felt 100 times better and got on with my day - which involved more trips to the Dr, school, classes, chemist and mums.  In fact, giving in to my feeling of being fed up and just being done with all that I had to do, was the best thing I could have done.  Because as soon as I was done and handed over my affairs to Allah (SWT), He made my day get soooo much better and He turned things around for me.

I went to the kids school to pick Little Lady up for her DR's appointment and her teacher asked after me in the nicest way, sometimes that's all it takes - being treated with a little respect and kindness.

Then when we got to the Dr's surgery, the Dr that saw us turned out to be the nicest brother.  He welcomes us with salaam and called Little Lady "beti" (daughter) before chatting to her to put her at ease.  He checked her out thoroughly and explained carefully to us both what the problem was.  He prescribed her medication for what has been a long-standing issue for her, but which finally looks like it is being properly diagnosed and treated.  He was also very supportive and encouraging regarding options for her if she wanted to fast in the coming days.

I dropped her back at school and started making lunch and my neighbour dropped by, so I made shawarma for both of us - soft nan bread, grilled chicken all broken up, layers of  chilli sauce, ketchup and garlic mayo and a liberal layer of shredded iceberg lettuce, tomato and cucumber finely sliced.  Washed down with cola which I usually try to avoid - it was seriously good and we had a good old chat.  Of the uncountable blessings from Allah (SWT), food is certainly one of my favourites.

I went for a walk and I found this gorgeous scarf for less than half price - perfect with a black abayah and my new favourite GOSH antique rose velvet touch lip liner which is a soft, easy to wear colour.

I have been after these round drop earrings since last year, but thought they were too expensive.  I found them for half the price and bought two different coloured sets of three, enough colours to go with pretty much most of my outfits and small enough to wear at home when hubby is back.  (Yes they are in colour order and grouped with the blues - I am very anal and put everything in colour order, that makes me happy too).

Whilst I was out, my mum popped round and left some clothes for me with my mum-in-law.  I've been wearing the same two or three tops and trousers in succession and even my loose abayah's are running out of space.  Coupled with constantly being too hot and uncomfortable, I was at my wits end.  She is a lovely seamstress, but doesn't like to sew any more because of her eyesight and sore hands.  She made and left me a very lightweight, cool abayah, two pairs of soft, wide and light cotton trousers in black and cream so they go with everything and this lovely tunic.  It is Irish linen, I like the print, it's long and loose enough to last me to the end of the pregnancy and best of all, I can feel the air through it and stop feeling like a big, damp mess.

On the way to pick up the kids from school, I stopped by the Islamic shop across the road and found these - Palestinian dates for Ramadan (you can see why this is important to me here).  It's been heartening to see too that lots of the main groceries near me are selling dates from Palestine, Tunisia and Jordan alongside those that are being boycotted because they are grown on illegal settlements.  Usually it seems that most Muslims here don't care, but seems like people are starting to get the message and retailers are responding to consumer trends and demand.

When I went to pick the kids up, about four of the mums I say hello to realised I was pregnant (it only took almost seven months for people to start realising, I think people just thought I was getting fat before then).  I got the nicest hugs and comments and it lifted my spirits.

Later in the evening, Shutterbug Sister popped by with fruit, juice and treats.  She has always looked out for me and calls me most days on the way home from work to ask if I want her to pick anything up from the shops.  Of all my family, she is probably the least irresponsible or careless  - but the most likely to take note when I said the same about my family in yesterdays post.  I have been craving fruit and cold juice of any kind and I am on a mission to get the kids eating more fruit and veg, so her treats were more than appreciated.

The same evening, mum called and asked to come round for dinner.  She usually makes extra on Saturday night and encourages us to come around, but as she didn't know if it would be Ramadan on Saturday, she made extra and invited us around.  Mum's food is my idea of soul food - she made pilau rice, chicken koftay (meatballs), chickpea and potato curry and mince lamb kebabs.  Not only did I and the kids really enjoy dinner, she packed us enough for lunch the next day. 

I've also been fretting that I haven't been able to see my new niece.  I went to visit my sister, but as the baby was still in hospital we weren't allowed to see her.  I don't drive and hubby isn't here and as it's Ramadan, I didn't think anyone would be going that I could cadge a lift with.  But Allah finds ways where the heart yearns.  I got the kindest offer to take me to see the baby as she is out of hospital now and not only did I, my mum, mum-in-law, sister and my two girls get picked up, we got dropped home too.  As Fashionista is an hours drive away, the person (my brilliant brother-in-law) drove four hours so that we could see the baby.  May Allah (SWT) fulfil all his needs and reward him for making so much effort for us.

In other news, after five months of absolutely no movement and scaring the living daylights out of me, this baby now has ants in it's pants and is behaving like Gorgeous - i.e. extremely boisterous, full of energy and very strong.  I'm exhausted by the end of the day of getting beaten up from the inside out - but extremely grateful for the movement.  Today and yesterday I have also had moments when I didn't feel pregnant - it was very strange just feeling normal - no heartburn, no pain, no chronic exhaustion, no breathlessness.  I even managed some of my prayers with relative ease compared to what I have experienced over the last seven months.

Little Lady has found her entrepreneurial spirit and seems to have started a small cottage industry.   These loom bands are massive amongst the kids right now, both boys and girls and all the local shops keep selling out.  

The girls have been making bracelets and selling them for 10p, LL decided to make football colours for the boys and shapes like butterflies, flowers, panda's and strawberries for the girls and is selling them for 50p-£1.  She has both of the neighbours girls (one 12 and the other 18) helping her and both of her brothers taking orders. I heard her telling someone she is only taking three orders at a time.  She even met a girl from school whilst we were shopping and sold her a strawberry for £1 which I didn't realise till later.  I suspect like most of these things, the whole trend will be over very suddenly in time for the next big thing.  But in the meantime, I am quite pleased to see the entrepreneurial spirit in my children, although I am confiscating the money because the last sales got spent on junk food.

Finally I am grateful to all of the lovely sisters who left kind comments, e-mailed me and made dua for me.  It means more than you can imagine and I count you amongst the any blessings Allah (SWT) has bestowed on me.

In my last post a few people mentioned that hubby should come back from Germany, where he is currently doing dawah work.  I don't agree.  I am proud of him and I am grateful to Allah (SWT) for giving us this opportunity.  I know it was hard for him to leave me, his mum and the kids and especially Darling who he adores.  But we believe that this faith came to us on the back of many sacrifices by the Sahabah RA (Companions of the Prophet SAW) and those that followed them and that the message of this faith should not stop with us.  So for that I believe we have to make some sacrifices too.

When I was a teenager, I read the following verse in the Quran:

"Let there arise out of you a group of people inviting to all that is good, enjoining al-ma`roof (i.e. Islamic Monotheism and all that Islam orders one to do) and forbidding al-Munkar (polytheism and disbelief and all that Islam has forbidden). And it is they who are successful." ~ Quran, 3:104).

I thought at the time, how lucky are those in this group, that they would be promised success in this way.  Years later, when I started to see opportunities for dawah, I started to understand who these people might be and I pray that Allah (SWT) includes me and my family in this group.  And what better time to do this work that during Ramadan, and if I can support hubby, I can hope for a reward equal to his for taking care of his affairs whilst he is away and allowing him to do this work insh'Allah.  So certainly I will not be asking him to come back before the time period he has committed to.

The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “Convey from me even if it is (only) one aayah.”  ~ Bukhaari, 3461

“Whoever calls others to guidance will have a reward like the rewards of those who follow him, without that detracting from their reward in any way.” ~ Muslim, 2674

“God, His angels and all those in the Heavens and on Earth, even ants in their ant-hills and fish in the water, call down blessings on those who instruct others in beneficial knowledge.” ~ Tirmidhi

“By Allah, if a single person is guided by Allah through you, it will be better for you than the best of camels.” - Bukhari

“By Allah, in who’s Hands is my soul, you will enjoin the good and prohibit the evil (or else), Allah will soon send upon you a punishment from Him, then you will call upon Him and He will not answer you.” ~ Tirmidhi

If you are grateful, I will certainly give you increase, but if you are ungrateful, My punishment is severe.” Al-Quran 14:7

"Therefore remember Me, I will remember you, and be thankful to Me, and do not be ungrateful to Me." Al-Quran 2:152

Allah’s generosity is connected to gratitude, and gratitude is linked to increase in His generosity. The generosity of Allah will not stop increasing unless the gratitude of the servant ceases” — Ali ibn Abu Talib

Friday 27 June 2014

All Done

Today I am done.
It's not even 10am and I have argued, cried and pushed myself as far as I can go.
I woke and was so tired to the bone that I could barely move, it took about half an hour to stop feeling like I was going to drop.
I had to go at 7am to get bread for the kids packed lunches.
I had to go at 7:30 to queue up outside the Dr's surgery which opens at 8am , to get an appointment for my mum-in-law and daughter.  I couldn't believe the queue outside already, including a poor woman that looked about 85.
I got an appointment for mum-in-law in the one and only slot they were offering on the day I had taken off to take my daughter to her high-school taster day, so will have to drop her off a mile and a half away and then come back to take mum in law to the Dr about half a mile in the opposite direction.  I'll then have to drop her home and go back to pick Little Lady up for midday and take her back to her normal school.
There was no appointment for Little Lady, so I picked a fight and got promised a call from the Dr, if I get one I have to go and get her from school and go to see the Dr straight away
I had to get back to home in time to get the kids to school and found them all sitting around not having had breakfast with 10 minutes left to leave.

I was fed up I just yelled at them to eat something, anything and get out the door - of course the boys headed straight for the chocolate spread.
I headed upstairs, shut the door and just sobbed for ten minutes.
I begged an pleaded and fought with Allah (SWT) for some strength, some ease, some comfort, some relief.

But I am literally exhausted to my bones.
I am fed up with how much I have to do alone
I am fed up with going from bus to three trains and back again every day for an hour each way for an office which is barely five miles away.
I am fed up with coming home and then having to listen to complaints about the children - and having to discipline so long after whatever they did - which I don't see the point of.
I'm fed up of cooking when I don't want to eat what I have cooked and when no matter what you cook, there is always someone who won't eat that particular thing (because they get gas, or it's too spicy, or it's vegetarian, or it's meat - Allah help me!)
I'm fed up with cleaning and tidying and organising and the house still looking grubby because so much maintenance needs doing and the kids like to follow behind making a mess again.
I'm fed up with always having to watch my money and be frugal and feel guilty for days on end for spending on myself when I earned my money.
I'm fed up with constantly watching the clock for this appointment or that deadline and trying to be at two places at once.
Much as I love them, I am fed up with my irresponsible, self-centred, lazy, thoughtless family, who seem to think that someone else will always get the thing that needs doing done.
I am fed up of worrying and about and trying to manage the physical and mental health and diets and needs of others when they will not take responsibility for themselves.
I am tired of caring for so many others with no one to care of me.
I am tired of spending inordinate amounts of money and time on cooking for my family, only to be told by everyone that my kids are too skinny (cause for Asian mum's fat kid = good mum).
I am fed up of being told by sisters from the masjid that I should not work as Allah (SWT) will provide at the same time as my bills have shot up and I have another baby on the way.
I am fed up of always feeling like I need to do more hours and take shorter lunches at work despite being ahead of my work and having to ask for more to keep occupied.  Because sometimes it's how late you show your face and not how productively you use your time.
I am fed up of doing a job that has de-skilled me and which I don't see the point of a lot of the time when I yearn to do something meaningful and challenging.
I am tired of being in an office which is too hot and which leaves me with swollen hands and feet, soaked to the skin, watching the clock and a feeling of panicky despair to just get out.
I am fed up of a body that will not listen, which cannot keep up and which hurts somewhere or other all the flipping time.
I am fed up of praying in constant discomfort and still feeling as if my prayers are a mess lacking concentration, devotion and even the right number of rakaats because half the time I am too tired and brain-dead to know what I am doing.
I am fed up of having my emotions controlled by hormones and crying or getting angry for the stupidest thing.

I know that this is not how a Muslimah should think or behave.
I have been trying to count my blessings all morning - letting Darling's sweet face soothe me
I am grateful for the plenty that Allah (SWT) has given me, more than I can ever imagine or deserve
I know that Allah (SWT) does not burden a soul beyond what it can bear and he test us when he loves us, that this is the time I should feel his closeness and love for me.
I know that there are so many whose love, friendship, prayers and good wishes are behind me, more than I even know.
I know that I am blessed that my husband is treading the path of Allah (SWT) doing dawah work and creating our akhirah (afterlife).
I have argued, begged and pleaded with Allah and asked him to let me be strong and graceful in difficulty, or at least to be able to drop my kids off without red eyes and a red nose.

But today I am DONE.  
Today I will not care what anyone says or thinks and anyone that comes near me will get a very blunt and truthful side of me.
Today I will not worry about the bank account, what I am wearing, the state of my prayers, or my house or my wardrobe, my children's weight or education, or the number of classes or playgroups they are not going to.  Today I am not going to cook, clean, do laundry or pick up after people.
Today I am not going to be positive, graceful in adversity, humble or kind.
I'm going to let myself be grumpy, argumentative and stubborn as I want.
Today I am going to get take-away, buy myself some new shoes a size bigger, read, watch a dumb movie, ignore people's advice and ignore everyone's moaning and complaints.

Today hubby is just better off in Germany.

Tomorrow is likely the first day of Ramadan, I will make new intentions, renew my efforts at my prayers and carry on trying my best insh'Allah.  I will be positive and grateful to Allah (SWT) for my situation and see all of the good in it.   I will look forward to my day, make plans and be as productive as I can.

But today I am so done.

“Allah puts no burden on any person beyond what He has given him.
Allah will grant after hardship, ease.” ~ Quran 65:7

“Surely with every difficulty there is relief.
Surely with every difficulty there is relief.” ~ Quran 94:5-6

“When Allah has previously decreed for a servant a rank which he has not attained by his action, he afflicts him in his body, or his property or his children.”~ Abu Dawud

”There is nothing (in the form of trouble) that comes to a believer even if it is the pricking of a thorn that there is decreed for him by Allah (something) good or his sins are obliterated.” ~ Sahih Muslim

And there has to be a group of people from among you who call towards good and prevent from evil. ~ Quran 3:104

"0 Muslims! you are the best of peoples, who have been selected for the guidance of mankind; you 
enjoin them to do good deeds, and prevent them from forbidden things; and you have firm faith in 
~ Quran 10:104

Aa-ishah (Radhiyallaho anha) says: "Once the Holy Prophet (Sallallaho alaihe wasallam) 
entered the house and I guessed from his face that something of great importance had happened to 
him. He did not talk to anyone, and after making wudhu (ablution) he entered the mosque. I stood 
behind the wall to hear what he said. He sat at the pulpit and after praising 'Allah, he said, "0 
Muslims! Allah has commanded you to call people to good deeds, and prevent them from committing 
sins; otherwise a time will come when you will pray to Him, but He will not listen to you; you will ask 
your needs of Him, but He will not grant them; you will demand His help against your enemies, but He 
will not help you." After saying this, he came down from the pulpit."

Picture of the Day 26.06.14 - Chatpatta

Thursday evenings is usually the time I clean the bathroom, clear the fridge, empty the nappy bin and put all the bins out.  On the way home from picking my daughter up from Arabic class yesterday, I met my neighbour and her two girls heading out.  She told me that a new Indian sweet shop had opened and everything was half price.

The chores beckoned and dinner was cooked with just the chapatti's needing to be made fresh.  My mum always told me there was no need for a good Muslimah to be out in the evening without a man, especially before maghrib (the evening prayer).  

So I decided to go and take a stroll and see what was on offer.  Mum in-law didn't need to be asked twice and was out the door like a shot for someone with knee problems.  She invited my neighbour and her daughter on the other side of us to come along.

When we got there, the queue was massive, what we wanted was not half price after all and my kids decided to help themselves to the balloons so that they could breathe in the helium and sound funny.

Here's our haul:

The boxes at the front are papri chaat and samosa chaat - layers of chickpeas, potatoes, tamarind, yoghurt and spices over either a potato samosa or under a layer of crunchy savoury crispy noodles.  This kind of food is called "chatpatta" - or dishes that have a spicy hot-and-tangy flavour - usually Indian and Pakistani street food which is utterly irresistible.  A person who loves this kind of food is often described using the same word.

I often get the impression that for a woman to be "chatpattee" is not a good thing - wasting money on food that is not home-cooked and often not very healthy.  Sounds to me like South Asian culture just doesn't like a woman to enjoy herself and give in to her desires.  Being very "chatpattee" and from a family who is just not at all (reserved, disciplined, simple tastes), it something I tend to hide a little.  Doesn't mean I can't indulge now and again though.

Thursday 26 June 2014

Little Sweetheart

Finally got to go to Luton to see my younger sister.  Wasn't allowed to see the baby as she was still in the hospital, so had to stay at her home whilst both sets of grandparents went to visit.  What was really funny was that whilst my sister was at the hospital, her husband kept the rest of us sisters company and told us the birth story.  I'm sure Fashionista will tell her story on her blogg at some point, but he had us in stitches.

We had to make do with pictures of baby and tasty pakora's and samosa's made by my sisters mum-in-law.

This was the card I made for her:

I only realised after I had uploaded this picture that it could do with a tiny bit more tidying up.  When I was making it, I had to fend off darling who was trying to pull bits off it and scatter my craft supplies everywhere and get to the glue all at the same time.

While we were there, we got a tour of the baby's room which Fashionista's husband and his brother got ready whilst she was still in hospital.  Mash'Allah I thought it was lovely.  Fashionista picked out this wall decal:

The baby's crib will be in her parent's room, but this is a nice place for Fashionista to nurse her during the day.

I like how every item of clothing that the baby's dad laid out referred either to him or his football team.

I'm dying to go back and see the baby now that she is home from the hospital, but not sure will get the chance until after Ramadan unless I can hitch a ride with someone, otherwise I'll have to wait till hubby gets back from Germany close to Eid and make extra trips to make up for not seeing her yet.

Little Lady's School Barbeque

Little Lady is nearly finished with primary school, after about four more weeks the school holidays begin and then the adventure of secondary school.  When I was a kid this meant the relief of primary school ending and an end to being pushed around because I was so small and the terror of big school after the holidays (there always seemed to be lots of scary stories about what the big kids would do to us).

Now it seems this means an end of school barbeque, graduation ceremony and party.  I've taken time off to attend these, but thankfully the barbeque fell on my non-working day (or I should say non-office day as there doesn't seem to ever be such a thing as a non-working day any more).

I dropped by for an hour or so to see what the kids were up to.  This was the stack of about 150 burgers that the teachers and parent volunteers had to cook:

At the rate it was taking on the two little barbeques, the kids were going to get their food after some time.  Kudos to the mums who bought the halal burgers and stood in the heat making all 100+ of them

The non halal food (below) looked much tastier than the processed chicken burgers.

My contribution was two trays of samosa's from the packet, which got gobbled up.  I was a bit embarrassed that people thought I had made them at home.  Even moreso when I realised that someone's big tub of home-made spring rolls were attributed to me too (I didn't realise till home time when Little Lady bought someone's tub home).

One of my friends has a daughter in LL's class and came in to do henna for the kids:

It was nice to catch up with some of the mums and LL's teacher, it was nice to chat with some of her friends, most of all it was nice when her friends kept thinking I was her big sister. 

Thursday 19 June 2014

Mid-Year Review: Word for 2014

About half of the calendar year has passed already and it occurred to me how many plans and good intentions I had at the beginning of the year, mid-year my position is very different as I am now six and a half months pregnant and trying to stumble through the day rather than achieve my biggest life goals.

I remember I had a word for the year, but I couldn't for the life of me remember what the word was. So I looked back through the blog and found it was FOCUS. Which is perfect, and still very apt. At the beginning of the year I wrote:

“I am looking forward to the coming year with a really positive feeling alhamdulillah. I feel a lot clearer about what I want from life and what I have to do to achieve those things. I have clear goals regarding my children, my writing, work, my business and my finances. I think I might just be able to screw up some courage and actually get on with trying to achieve some of them.

So my word for the year 2014 is FOCUS.

Insh’Allah, I hope to focus on one project at a time, work hard and get it done. I tend to have lots of ideas and love capturing them and then instead of focussing on delivery I am busy getting excited about the next idea that I think up. Ideas are useless until you act on them and do something with them. For that reason, I need to focus on one thing at a time and then keep my energy and attention on it until I can bring it to fruition.”

I think this is still very the much the case for me. I stopped everything else and worked on my Eid and Ramadan Planner 2014 until it was done. I am currently trying to work on another three projects and not getting anywhere because I have so little time and energy. This is the perfect reminder to pick one, take whatever time I have, even if it is five minutes at a time and focus on doing it till it is done.

Regarding my health I wrote:

“In terms of my health I have been trying to manage my eating better and found that although I have managed to improve some habits, I find it hard to eat less. So this year my focus will move from dieting, abstaining and feeling dissatisfied to focussing on feeling good about my body and mindful of its genuine needs, focussing on health and in particular focussing on movement and physical activity.”

Although I haven’t been consciously making this my approach, this is the direction I have gravitated in during this year. I know I can’t diet because I am pregnant and I have to find ways to get the nutrition I need to manage my energy. Finding I have low Vitamin D, B12, iron and who knows what else has forced me to stop feeling guilty about eating, make sure I eat lots of fruit, raw veg and nuts and doing my research about the best supplements to help me.

The word focus resonates, because that is the only way I have been able to get through my day. To wake up and focus on standing up. To get ready in the morning and focus on getting through the commute, even to focus on putting one foot in front of the other when I am getting off the train and walking the 100 yards or so to my office, when in reality all I want to by this point at 7:40am is lie down on the pavement in a star shape and not move for along time.

I have to focus on my screen during the day, so I don’t get staring off into space or give in to my inclination to get up, leave the overheated office and just lie down in the middle of the open plan office and pretend no one else is there (although thankfully the air con kicked in today after weeks of suffering through the heat in this glass box of an office).

I have to focus on the commute home as I switch between trains and busses, edge my way through the rush into any seat I can find and look forward to the minute I set foot in the door. I swear this is the best time of my whole day, the time I can let go and lose focus for a little while. The best time to just be in then moment and feel the coolness of my hallway, to take my shoes off and feel the cold wooden floor under my swollen, sore feet, take my hijab and abayah off and feel the air on my skin, see Darling’s enormous smile and excitement at seeing me and pick her up and squeeze her into the most delicious hug. I have a few minutes and then I have to focus again.

Focus on getting washed up for prayers, pray, make sure the kids have prayed, clear away their school things and then back out of the door to get Little Lady to her Arabic class (although thankfully her grandmother is taking turns with me on that), pick up any groceries I need on the way back and cook dinner and food for the next two days packed lunches. The rest of the evening is an exhausted fizzling out of focus as I pick up Little Lady, feed everyone, do a short study circle before bed and get everyone into bed before cleaning up the kitchen and getting everyone’s things ready for the next day. I think I will have to keep working on this focus thing. My second best part of the day is getting back into bed. I’m sure I am just counting down to this moment from the time I stumble out of bed in the morning. I can finally do what I have wanted to all day and lie down in a star shape and let my mind spin off to wherever the heck it wants to go.

Anyway, my next focus will be on preparing mentally and in practical terms for Ramadan, in getting to the end of this pregnancy one day at a time and in picking one project and working on it until I am done.

Book Review: Toni Morrison - Home

My concentration is pretty shot at the moment, I keep getting books from the library, reading a few pages and then returning them without finishing them. Because of this Toni Morrison’s Home appealed to me for two reasons: it is a very slim book and I thought I should at least be able to manage that and I am a fan of Toni Morrison’s books, so I knew they should be able to hold my attention.

Home tells the story of a brother and sister, Frank and Cee, born into a rural Georgia town populated solely by black people and characterised by poverty and sadness. The book tells of their desperation to get away from a town too small for them, whether through service in the homes of the rich or through joining the army, and their subsequent return to the small town, drawn by the love between them.

The small town of Lotus is a place where the local black population have settled, many of them having been chased out of their previous homes at gunpoint. They make it their own with their own version of small town life: church-going ladies, quilt making, vegetable gardens and canning season.

Frank has returned from the army suffering from survivors guilt and what seems like post-traumatic stress and vows never to return to his home town, only to receive a letter asking him to hurry back urgently to help his sister. We join him on his journey witnessing along the way the effect war has had on him and the indignities he suffers despite his service for his country.

The book is frank in its portrayal of the brutality of war and the treatment of black soldiers following a conflict, racism and the way women are exploited. It turns a spotlight onto all of the main characters highlighting their weaknesses and vulnerabilities, so that few are left with our sympathy, although some still have out pity.

It is also an narrative on the concept of home, how a place can feel restrictive and too small for the young, but offer solace and a refuge from the wider world for those same people later in life. How the same people that seem staid or judgemental can appear strong and wise when the need arises.

Through the separate journeys of Frank and Cee we are also offered up alternative versions of home: the beautiful home full of plenty where Cee finds work but where dangers lurks, the home that Lily, Franks partner, yearns for, only to find money alone is not enough to buy it

Home is a short book, but certainly not an easy read. The language is blunt and direct and the experience of the characters painful. Not only are we not left with a neat happy ending, but we are left unable to fully sympathise with the main character as his experience of is finally laid bare. The book does stay with you after you have finished reading. It feels as if a dozen more stories could emerge from the layers beneath this story , there are so many events and experiences that are hinted at and alluded to that you end up with endless questions and half-stories in your mind that pique your curiosity and keep you thinking after you have set the book down.