Monday 29 February 2016

Mean Babies or Mama’s Me Time

Most of the time, I Iove being a mother. I love watching my children grow and change, I love watching their personalities unfold and grow. I love it when they learn something new or do something kind. I love it when we hang out and have fun. There is nothing like the warm, weight of a small child asleep in your arms or the bear hug of a little one that needs your arms. Like every mother I think they are the most amazing kids in the world and sometimes I am even in awe that I have blessed with these awesome little people.

Alhamdulillah, I am grateful for my children and for the opportunity to mother them, but this doesn’t mean that parenting is all that I want to do in my life. In fact I sometimes find parenting hard going, demanding both physically, mentally and emotionally. There are times when it leaves me shattered and feeling as if I have given so much and I don’t have anything more to go, or occasionally I don’t want to give any more. But of course you have to carry on.

This weekend was a case in point. I somehow managed to get through three days at home and still be behind on cleaning, laundry and tidying. I was so tired but hadn’t achieved anything. Because we spent so much time indoors, the boys were going crazy and wrestling their way round the house, Little Lady decided to give the noise and chaos a miss and disappeared to my mum’s house. The babies are both currently keeping me on my toes. Darling can be the sweetest soul in our home, but she is so sensitive that anything can set her off. Once she goes down the slippery road of feeling frustrated, telling her off or trying to get her to calm down just sends her into a whirlwind of crying with her sobbing until she falls asleep. The only things that works is holding her close, telling her you love her and letting her sit quietly with you. Most of the time this is a balm to us both, but there are some times when I am so fed up and furious and she has managed to wind everyone up with her demands that the one thing I don’t want to do is sit and hug her.

Baby is her usual demented self. Mash’Allah she is the only one of my children to have my strength and energy. Of course she is using it against me. Nothing that is not nailed down is left unturned, or pulled out, or spilled over. She wants my chocolate, she wants to eat from my plate not hers (as does Darling), she wants any glass of water or juice she claps eyes on, leaving me slightly dehydrated because I have given up on putting a glass within reach of anywhere I sit down where it will be spilled. The child has even run off with my lukewarm coffee, spilling half in my lap and taking a swig from the rest, so now she has decided she likes that too. I love her mischief, I love her curiosity and resilience. But I can forget doing anything for myself. I used to sit in the middle of my big bed when I wanted to put things out of reach (like my laptop or jewellery making supplies), but this weekend she managed to climb up by standing on a pair of my shoes and pulling herself up. So now my stuff is safe nowhere, especially as she gave me a scare by running off with a little tray of my beads and trying to eat them at the same time.

So by the end of the weekend, my brain was numb. I couldn’t think straight and I felt depressed and miserable. I didn’t manage to get anywhere with house work, I didn’t get to do anything I enjoyed and I didn’t feel relaxed. In fact I felt like I was going back to another challenging week at work feeling frazzled and fed up. In the end I vented a little at my husband who helped talk me down from my miserable place a little and just gave up and had an very early night for a change.

I might sound like a miserable, ungrateful cow. But the experience was quite instructive, as these usually turn out to be once you have had some time to mull over them. There is only so much you can give until you start to feel like a drudge. You begin to feel unappreciated and everything you do starts to feel a little pointless because the kids are still fighting, and still swearing and after a whole day of trying to be a peaceful parent you still flip and end up shouting loudly enough for the neighbours to hear you and the kids to get a little scared.

The weekend was a reminder of the need for nourishment for ourselves: rest for our bodies, a break for our minds and spiritual and emotional sustenance. We are in it for the long haul, twenty years or more, for the rest of our lives even, the most important thing in our lives will be the wellbeing of our children. No one can sustain that kind of investment, without investing in themselves as well.

Once we make the investment in ourselves, we are refreshed, happy and positive. We can take better care of those around us and do so happily, giving our time, attention, our hugs and our patience. So taking better care of ourselves is not selfish or a luxury, but an essential part of being generous, loving parents.

So today, I gave the kids an early dinner, watched a TED Talk (on parenting funnily enough) and wrote this blog post. I spent most of the hour I have taken telling them to go away and leave me alone and getting mostly ignored. At the end of the hour they have finally gotten bored of complaining to me about each other and disappeared. I can hear Baby talking to herself in her baby language in her brother’s room, which means she is probably emptying all of the football cards and toys out. Darling has cuddled up next to me and is day-dreaming quietly after telling me “Don’t worry Mummy, I had enough of the boys too”.

I feel like I have done something for myself, I can attack the crazy pile of laundry left over from the weekend and have another go at clearing my kitchen up (we have had a plumber in two days in a row to fix our boiler and he and hubby manage to rearrange everything in the kitchen).

I might even get the baby’s in bed shortly, pray in peace and spend a little time making myself a nice bracelet. That would be really lovely (The boys are complaining that the Baby has thrown all of their stuff everywhere, oh well).

Tuesday 23 February 2016

How to Create Gift Baskets for Special Occasions

We recently attended my best friends wedding reception and she asked me to make her some gift baskets for her husband's sisters and for her friends.  I enjoyed making them and she really loved them.  These can make a fun and easy present, so I thought I would share what I did.

The baskets I used were ones that we had saved from previous events.  There is a post here with some examples of some places I have bought different kinds of baskets cheaply.

I keep an eye out for bargains and clearance items and stash them: make-up, toiletries, jewellery, scarves, accessories etc.  So I usually have a collections of things I can put together as a gift.  I think the baskets look the nicest when they are collated along a single theme or colour, on this occasion, I just mixed and matched the girliest things I could find.

I line the bottom of the basket with newspaper, tissue paper or in this case chunky old napkins.

I usually cover this with some nice tissue paper in the colour of the theme of the basket or a neutral theme which will show off the items inside.

In the past I have made little circles of plain sellotape and stick each item down.  This time I used these double sided little squares to hold everyhting in place.  You don't have to, but if you are transporting the baskets, it is likely the things inside will move around and make a big mess.

I just started by arranging the items in the basket and then sticking them down with a small sqaure sticky pad under each one.  I added some loose heart shaped sweets and then used a large roll of cellophane towrap the basket, taping the ends underneath with a litle help from Little Lady.

We used sticky diamods from the local £-shop to decorate the cellophane.

The baskets contained a mix of scarves, make-up and toiletries, false nails and eye-lashes, hair accessories, make-up bag and brushes and mini gift sets.

It brought to mind the times we have created gift baskets before, and a quick search through this blog yeilded lots of examples (and lots of fun and happy memories alhamdulillah).

These fruit and Indian sweet (mithai) baskets were made by me and my sisters for our cousin's nikah.

These were for my best friend's sisters Henna and we tried to theme them by colour:

I and my sisters made these for my sister-in-law when she got engaged to my brother. It was such a big deal to us because we only have one brother and we really enjoyed making these.

This was the basket we filled with nuts, sweets and dried fruit for my brothers nikah (marriage ceremony). Once the marriage ceremony was complete we opened it and shared it out in handfuls amongst all the guests.

These were the baskets I made with my sisters for my sister-in-law to take on her henna night party. We spent forever putting these together and co-ordinated with pink ribbon.  It's become something of an tradition now for any wedding for us to hole up together with sister-in-law and have a good chat and laugh while we pack gifts.

This wasn't for a gift for one person, but rather we all wrapped our unwanted or unused bangles in cellophane and displayed them at our Eid party for people to take if they wanted.

This is from one year where we made cakes for Eid and displayed them in these heart shaped baskets to take to my parents:

This is probably my most favourite. I decided to make a Ramadan basket one year with dates, scarves, a prayer cap, a little book of dua's and some chocolate with Ramadan labels.  I gave these out at the start of Ramadan to family and friends and as gifts for when we were invited to iftar's and they were well received alhamdulilah.

I would love to hear if you have done something similar or had a theme or style that really went down well with whoever received the gift. Have you been able to do this in a frugal way that saved you money but still made someones day?

Monday 22 February 2016

Sunday To-Do List and Finding Down Time

I found myself fretting on Saturday night, realising that I had been busy with family and had allowed my chores to stack up. I often find that Sunday turns into a chore marathon, with me trying to get everything done before the weekend is over and in time for everyone to be ready for school and work. In the end I listed everything I needed to do, whether mundane, important or the sillyand put it on my bedside table so that I could get it out of my head and get some sleep.

 I have used various planners over the year to plan my time, sometimes in am/pm blocks, sometimes by the hour so that every activity has a time and gets done. But on this occasion I found that there is nothing like a messy to-do list with everything dumped on it and starting with some big wins. By that I mean, taking the hardest thing or the one you dread the most and getting it out of the way. This gives you a sense of achievement and you get some of the big things out of the way. I started with the bathroom, laundry and cleaning before I stopped for breakfast with the kids.

The girls opted for festive plates and Gorgeous ate breakfast while he watched The Blue Planet, a BBC documentary for his school project on the oceans.

Something else I found helps to get things done without getting too fed up, is taking breaks to do something nice. In this instance I made the kids a nice breakfast and sat down to savour my morning coffee. I also lit a candle so that my room would smell nice while I hid there for some quiet time.

I got on with my list until midday when my best friend popped in for a visit and treated me and the kids to lunch. She came by with this gorgeous cake which had all the kids asking if it was my birthday:

We did some grocery shopping and some gift shopping together before she headed off and I went back to my list. I got most of it done in time to take a break and hang out with Little Lady and watch a series she wanted to catch on Netflix whilst the babies were napping. We managed to waste time and eat too many sweets. I should really have been blogging and catching up with e-mails, but I find building in down time and some fun stuff in amongst all of the busy-ness of your day makes the chores and work so much more palatable.

I managed to get to the end of the day, with still ironing to do, school bags and PE kits to pack and left over items from the to-do list. I still ended up in bed later than I had planned, but for a change the house was clean, we were ready for the next day and I was not exhausted or fed up.

(my to-do list at the end of the day and after the babies got their hands on it).

Half-term Activities: Painting, Baking and Reading

I didn’t manage to make plans and the weather was unpredictable during the half-term holidays. So instead of planning every day, I ended up taking a different approach with the children. I asked them to choose activities they wanted to do and gave them the tools and freedom to get on with them. I love the idea of empowering children to find the things they love and take charge of their own learning journeys. In particular I love the idea that one of these things may well be activity that turns out to be the passion and life’s work and they are allowed to blow on the embers of that passion rather than stifle it.

Gorgeous decided that he didn’t need to do anything that required too much work and would be happy reading all through his holidays. So I took him to the local charity shops and pick out the books he liked the look of – anything with dinosaurs, football, animal facts and scary stuff basically.

Little Man asked if he could make some cakes for our neighbour. I asked him to find the ingredients and lists anything he needed, then gave him the money to go to the local shops. I liked that he got on with it, was careful about measurements and cleared up after himself. He has always loved good food (like his mum) and is practical at doing things for himself (like his dad), so his choice of activity did not surprise me.

His cakes came out looking really nice, but unfortunately tasted slightly bitter. He followed the recipe from the Usborne Children's Baking Collection book set very carefully, but I think the recipe didn’t ask for enough sugar to be added.

Little Lady asked to borrow my phone and watched watercolour tutorials and followed a few to create some watercolour landscapes. We both had a go and I really enjoyed myself. I hadn’t realised she would be such a perfectionist, she kept finishing, deciding she didn’t like her work and starting again until she was happy.

You can see the tutorials for the pictures she tried above here and here.

I really liked giving them free reign and leaving them to it. For their next holidays (Easter break at the end of next month), I am going to ask them to make a list of things they want to try and try and work through some of it with them.

Tuesday 9 February 2016

Word of the Year for 2016: Health – One Month On

As it is one month into the year already, I thought I would review myself against my word for the year: health.

My intention for this year was to focus on all aspects of health, diet and self-care for myself and my family.  My reasoning for this is that I feel that I have focussed so much on other aspects of my life that I have neglected my health and self-care to the point that it has an impact on all of the other areas of my life – worship, creativity, work, confidence, because of lower energy levels. I was also getting worried that the kids were picking up some bad habits regarding their eating.

A month on, my first reaction is that not enough has changed.  A kinder assessment would be that I have started making changes and need to build on that.

What have I done so far:

  • I have been having breakfast every single day – one slice of brown bread with butter and a skinny latte or coffee
  • I have been having a healthy salad for lunch most days, although on days I have been tired and not made it the night before, I have slipped and had whatever the canteen is offering.
  • I am drinking a 2-3 glasses of water at work and about 3-4 a day, which still sounds terrible, but is better than no water and lots of soda I was drinking at one point. I also have to manage my water intake because I make ablution for prayers at lunchtime and try not to go to the loo again until it is time to go home (as this invalidates the ablution).
  • I have been taking the stairs at work a few times a day instead of the lift
  • I have been power-walking 2-3 days a week with my husband for about 20 minutes
  • I have come to a place where I like myself as I am, don’t feel lesser in any way because I am heavier than I was and refuse to berate myself; but at the same time I know I will look better and feel more energised if I get fitter.

What hasn’t changed (yet!):

  • I am still eating too much!!! My potion sizes are too big , I am eating out too often and I am still defaulting to take-away when I am tired and being too quick to reward myself with chocolate.
  • I am spending a little too much time on my phone or laptop in the evening. Mealtimes are slightly chaotic with trying to get both babies fed, which means that I am slightly less mindful of what I am eating and how much I am eating.

What I would like to be doing:

I think a big part of trying to make a change or achieve something is knowing what the end point is and being clear about how that looks and feels like. I have focussed a lot on what I need to do and not as much on where I need to get to. The vision of where I want to be should also serve to motivate and encourage me. So for me this would look like:
  • Having a healthy breakfast of fruit, yoghurt, dates or wholemeal bread and green tea instead of coffee
  • Having a salad for lunch with lots of greens and drinking plenty of water
  • Taking a longer lunch break and making time after I pray to meet with friends or go for a walk every day
  • Feeling more alert and awake through the latter part of the day
  • Thwarting the 4pm munchies I get every day with a healthy option like dates, nuts or fruit
  • Having an early dinner which includes protein, healthy carbs and veg, but with a sensible portion size – and enjoying my dinner guilt free
  • Going for a walk every day with my husband
  • Being able to have and enjoy chocolate and stop at a small, sensible amount
  • Going gadget/smart phone free at least one hour before bed and spending the time reading
  • Sleeping early, as soon as I can after Esha (the night prayer)
  • Taking my suppements every day (Royal Jelly, multivitamins, vitamin D and slow releasing iron)
Reflecting over the last month has also given me time to ponder over some of the things I tell myself when I am making choices about what to eat and how to spend my time. It is easy to say that with the kids and work that I don’t have time to make healthy lunches and exercise, but as always you have to prioritise what is important at the cost of something else. So I know I have to make the time and most likely it will be at the expense of writing and creative endeavours.

Another excuse is too much information but not enough of the right information. I feel as if I am bombarded with information about health and diet and some of it is inconsistent or contradictory. So my intuition at the moment is to go with the elements I am confident about: less sugar, less salt, less of the wrong kinds of fat, more natural and whole foods, more water, keep moving and get enough sleep. I also aim to focus on the sunnah as a guide for the right way to approach diet, rest and sleep. Finally I will aim to read or study a little every day and develop my understanding and knowledge of the different things that contribute to good health, using some common sense as a filter for the multitude of information that seems to be out there.

I am finding the right kind of encouragement can also really help – for instance something we do with our children is model the behaviours we want to see, as the saying goes: children do what you do, not what you say. In this context, being told I have put on weight in a really judgemental/negative way didn’t really help me. It makes me feel indignant or like I just want to hide away. Being in an environment where everyone is trying to do the right things and succeeding has really helped me. In my team at work, everyone currently has a gadget called a Fit Bit which records the steps they have taken. They are all in competition with each other and it has made them work really hard to get the most steps each day including taking the stairs instead of the lift, which also makes me want to take the stairs instead of the lift. I am finding having everyone around me trying their best has really made me want to raise my game. The Fit Bit is out of my budget at the moment, but the reason I have not bought one yet is that I want to take a more natural measured approach, based less on competitiveness in short bursts and more on creating a natural rhythm that works for my daily life in the long term. For that I believe I need to listen to my body and try out different things until I find the right approach for myself.

I don’t find it easy to share my journey where it touches on health and weight. It don’t have any trouble admitting to myself and others my flaws and weaknesses, but it feels embarrassing to admit to what feels like a lack of willpower. Even if this is perhaps disguised as: I have better things to do, or I don’t have time or I’m completely happy as I am. I also hope that I am not boring you – there are plenty of people who are not interested in this topic and I remember during all of the years that I could eat what I wanted and stay slim, I would find it boring when women started talking about their weight and diets. At the same time, I feel as if writing about this helps me to unpick and get to the heart of where I am going wrong. It brings me back to what I need to do and it helps me to hold myself to account and not make excuses. I also think there are a heck of a lot of women that will be going through the same journey of finding their way back to being fit and healthy and I would love them to share their experience and what has worked for them and perhaps even gain a little inspiration or learning from my journey insh’Allah.

Monday 8 February 2016

One Muslimah's Career Path: Tales of Work and Woe

A sister recently left a comment in a blog post asking for career advice on whether she should take up a position that she felt that she might not be up to.  From her writing on her blog, I can tell she is intelligent and insightful, I have no doubt that she could do what was asked of her and undertake what learning she requires to rise to the occasion.

What is it about perfectly capable women that makes them doubt themselves?  It made me think about my own progression in my working life and how I have held myself back at almost every stage through lack of self-belief.  I wrote the post below a few months ago and at the time I didn't feel ready to post it, but this sisters comment brought it to mind and I thought this might be the time to post:

I have had my ups and downs with work the last few years, but I am really enjoying my job at the moment. I am six months into an eighteen month secondment to a programme team that is trying to design what our organisation should look like in the future. This involves lots of research, planning and learning at quite a fast pace. The working day goes by really quickly, which is how I like it and I feel like I am stretched and challenged continuously.

The change has been more than welcome after doing spreadsheet based performance work for the last few years. I felt that I was bogged down in the detail of work I didn’t fully believe in and that I was learning nothing new. What this did give me was time for my mind to wander elsewhere and really spend the time thinking about what I wanted to do with my life.

Looking back on the last almost 20 years of my working life, I sometimes wonder if I could have achieved more and ask myself if I should have taken a different path and made different decisions. Sometimes I feel as if I should have been at a different place in my career by now and then I question if that is really realistic. Sometimes it has felt a bit like climbing through an obstacle course with numerous deep pits and high walls blocking my progress. I don’t believe in looking back with regrets if you have tried your best, because I accept that each outcome was meant to be. I also believe that each time there is an opportunity to learn and grow. I think that learning becomes even more valuable when you share it with others who may be treading the same path and asking some of the same questions of themselves.

My first block came when I graduated and had to think about what to do next. I studied psychology at university because it fascinated me and I knew I would enjoy my three years of learning. At the end of the course I had some ideas of what I wanted to do, but no realistic idea of how to get there. I also learned that the to do something with my degree I needed to study further. I learned that I should have dome some thinking about what to do with my degree and have a plan in my final year to guide me on what to do next. I also felt that when choosing a degree its good to go with something you are passionate about and would enjoy, but it really helps to identify where the professionalism is with your subject – do you need a post graduate or years of experience at the end of it to be able to use it and is this something you can commit to?

Once I started looking for work, I found employment in the Civil Service fairly quickly.  This came after navigating lots of thinking and advice around what people in my family considered a suitable job for a Muslim woman (teaching, teaching and maybe…teaching?). I had to make it clear that I didn’t like the idea of zoo-keeping other people’s children and I didn’t want to be a teacher at all. That still left me trying to work out what could be appropriate work – nothing that required me to work late hours or travel away from home, not vocations that typically had a male-dominated environment, something family friendly. An admin job fairly low down in the civil service seemed to fit the bill. I spent eight years in the civil service and enjoyed much of it, proceeding through the grades fairly quickly. I also got bored and frustrated enough to start writing this blog. I learned that what people say, what they think is appropriate for you – it’s all noise. It blocks out what is important – what you think. What you really believe is your purpose and what you desperately want to be and do. I also learned that there are benefits to being bored and miserable – the discomfort gets so bad you are forced to search for meaning and purpose and direction and take some step towards them.

Whilst I was in the Civil Service I was encouraged by my manager to apply for the fast-stream, the service’s fast track development programme for future leaders. I assumed it would involve long hours and travelling from one job to another. I decided it wasn’t appropriate as I was a Muslimah and a mother and turned down the chance to apply. I was asked to apply a few years later by another manager and did the same. I look back now and think it was a mistake to talk myself out of it without even trying. I realised you have to get your foot in the door before you can start negotiating things like hours, location and family-friendly working practices. By not even applying I didn’t even give my self a chance to see if there was any way I could have made it work for me.

After eight years in the Civil Service, I felt that I was stuck in an operational role when I was interested in strategy and policy. I couldn’t see a way to get from one type of career to the other, so took a random sideways move into a managerial post. I did this for a year, having my third baby Gorgeous right in the middle of it and decided that it felt like a dead end and left to work in local government, starting again in a low post. I realise now if I had been patient and stayed a year or two longer I would have ended up in the corporate centre where I wanted to be anyway and possibly ended up doing something more interesting. After much thought on this I came to the conclusion that these choices were neither good nor bad. I gained managerial experience, I gained experience of working outside the civil service instead of wondering what else the world had to offer and I moved from working in operational posts in the outer reaches of an organisation, to working in the corporate heart and learning how organisations worked.

Throughout this time I had to contend with a long line of well-meaning, but sometimes very judgemental, sisters and aunties telling me that I should be at home with the kids. I was told that my priorities were wrong and I must be money hungry, that my children would suffer, that it was neglectful and bad for them. Lots of sisters encouraged me to stop working so that I could stay at home and wear niqab. One lady even told me that a woman who works wages war on God and his Prophet (PBUH) – that one really hurt. For years I worked hard, spent everything on my family, juggled all the elements of my life and then just felt guilty and selfish. Every time I had an opportunity for growth or development, I asked myself if it would suit my family. It took a good seven or eight years as a mum for me to come to the conclusion that I hadn’t ruined my children’s lives or brought them up terribly. I came to understand the thing that has the biggest influence on your children is the kind of person you are yourself and how you conduct yourself, regardless of whether you work or not. I learned that you should not hand your power, self-respect ad dignity as a mother into the hands of others who have absolutely no understanding of your circumstances. I also realised that some people are so busy looking at others and judging them, that they have no time left to look at themselves.

After a year working with residents and elected Councillors I moved into the performance service and learned business planning, performance management and project management. Various re-structures meant that scope of the role was narrowed down to just performance work, leaving me bored to tears.  Despite working for short stints on interesting projects like the boroughs planning for the the Olympics and the use of the Olympic Stadium, I was coming to the conclusion that I was at a dead end and something had to change. I left work last year for a stint on maternity leave with my fifth baby, with lots of gentle teasing and some pointed rude comments about going on maternity leave “again”. While I was away I spent most of the time trying to find my feet and stop feeling so lost and overwhelmed with baby number five coming at the same time as trying to sort out my oldest daughters secondary school.

I had no time to think or plan for the future. Instead I prayed for a breakthrough. I asked Allah SWT to guide me towards work that was fulfilling, satisfying, would let me learn and move me closer to my purpose. I returned from maternity leave to be told that I would be working on a new high-profile new programme. I have to say at that point I felt slightly mind-blown and very, very grateful.  I felt as if my dua's had been answered. I am really enjoying my work at the moment and learning so much. I also found that all of those years of tedious, thorough work - detail, thoroughness,  are standing me in good stead now. The skills and techniques I picked up are really coming in useful in this project, a bit like the kid in The Karate Kid – he had to do the wax on wax off before he could actually bust the karate chop moves.

So in answer to my sisters questions - don't let others dictate what you are capable of doing.  We grow into the roles we find ourselves in and we grow as a result of being challenged.  There is nothing like being thrown in at the deep end to make us learn quickly and find solutions to make a situation work.  The only thing I would do differently if I was starting my career again would be to aim higher, not to doubt myself and to always step outside of my comfort zone.  Of course istikharah is a big help and should guide your final choice for the most barakah, but if it is positive, then never underestimate how much good you can do.

And We have certainly honored the children of Adam and carried them on the land and sea and provided for them of the good things and preferred them over much of what We have created, with [definite] preference. ~ Quran 17:70

“[Then] when you have decided on a course of action, put your trust in Allah: Allah loves those who put their trust in Him. If Allah helps you [believers], no one can overcome you. if he forsakes you, who else can help you? Believers should put their trust in Allah. ~ Quran 3:159-160

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” ~ Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of "A Course in Miracles"

Tuesday 2 February 2016

Free E-Book - The Happy Muslimah's Bucket List Guide!

I love making lists
I love making plans
I love dreaming about all the places I would love to go and all of the things I would love to do.
So of course I love the idea of a bucket list.

I have a list of things that I wanted to do that I write in 2006, long before I knew what a bucket list was. It included things like Hajj, Umrah, writing a book, learning to drive, planting a tree with my children and visiting Istanbul. The funny thing is that when I wrote the list ten years ago, many of the things on my list seemed out of reach or impossible, but ten years later I can tick some of them off. There is a magic of some kind in writing things down, in taking your dreams and making them tangible by putting pen to paper.

I think having a specific, clear list of goals or aspirations concentrates the mind and helps us to identify opportunities when they come up or even actively pursue them.

I wanted sisters to set goals for themselves, but in a way that was fun and without putting limitations on themselves, I think the idea of a bucket list allows you to do that because after all they are just pipe dreams, there is no pressure to be realistic or include things only that have a chance of happening, but those that capture your imagination and make you smile.

Bucket lists abound across the internet, what is different about this one is that it lists those things that are halal for Muslims and specifically Muslim sisters. So I have omitted many of the items found on conventional bucket lists (music, dance, sex, alcohol etc. related) and replaced with destinations in Muslim countries as well as non-Muslim, spiritual practises and goals that exist in Islam and places like Masjids.

I had soooo much fun researching and writing this e-book. I now want to do everything on the list. It was an eye-opening reminder of how amazing Allah (SWT)’s creation is, the oceans, the mountains, the beautiful landscapes – they inspire awe and remind us of His greatness.

There is a worksheet at the end of the e-book which allows you to list your own bucket list items, as many as you like.

I hope you find this list inspiring and enjoyable to go through. Life is short, as Muslims we are aware that we are not even guaranteed the next minute of our lives, this should encourage us to make good intentions to make the best use of the limited time we do have. I hope this guide is merely a starting point and that your list is amazing. Most of all I pray that Allah (SWT) guides you to making excellent intentions and gives you the time, resources and opportunity to fulfil them all in the most beautiful ways, Ameen.

You can download the free e-book here or by clicking on the image above.

If you enjoy the e-book, find it useful or beneficial, please do leave your thoughts in the comments or e-mail me at the address on the right-hand side bar. If you have additional ideas to add, please leave them in the comments. I hope to update the e-book in a few months with another few hundred ideas and would love your input.

Monday 1 February 2016

Gorgeous's Ameen Party and our Superhero Theme

At the end of last year Gorgeous finished his first full reading of the Quran.  I was over the moon as was he, if for different reasons (he thought this might mean he doesn't have to study Quran anymore - think again little buddy!)

I had promised him a party when he finished and picking the theme with him was so easy:  superhero's.  I stuck to a simple colour scheme of yellow, blue and red and had a mixture of printables and home-made decorations like the banner below:

The kids and my lovely neighbour helped with the balloons and the wall art:

The night before we got the idea for this selfie-corner with a cityscape as the background.  I think Shutterbug Sister must have had to put this back up about half a dozen times as it kept falling down:

On the day Harlequin Sister set up the dessert table as I was still busy cooking (I learned my lesson about using a paper table cloth, it got ruined).

The selfie accessories were printables with the little wooden skewers people use for barbeques attached to them.  We had sooo much fun with these and I have some great pics of everyone doing silly poses with these.

For me, if I have guests, my number one priority is to feed them properly.  I ended up making pilau rice, lamb curry, chicken pasta, macaroni salad, chicken sandwiches, and this baked chicken which always goes down a treat.

We had prizes for the most well-behaved, well-dressed and most helpful children as well as one for the one who recited Quran the most nicely.

We got Gorgeous to recite some Quran for everyone.  Usually he is the loudest one in the room and likes to play the jester, but on this occassion he suddenly got very shy.  Then all of the other kids had a turn to recite.  Mash'Allah even the little ones had a go at reciting what they knew.

Gorgeous was quite happy with his gifts including this crazy one from my mum.

Baby enjoyed being let loose on the dessert table while I was busy.

The most fun was when I brought out the pinata's I had filled earlier:

The kids went slightly mental and screamed the house down, thankfully both of our neighbours were invited to the party and had a good laugh, although I don't think any of the mums were impressed with the amount of sweets the kids ended up with.

We are now back in the routine of him practising what he has learned, improving his tajweed (pronunciation) and memorising parts of the Quran.  I make dua that my cheeky, beloved son has life-long relationship with the Quran and benefits from its wisdom and beauty in this life and the next insh'Allah.