Monday, 22 February 2021

Yearning

Almost a year into the epidemic and lockdown, I feel like both I and my family and the people around me have changed in so many ways. I have lost interest to shopping and new clothes, there is nothing I can order that would make me feel much different. Work and home-schooling fill my time, my main contact with family is over the phone and evenings spent journaling have got me unpicking all parts of my brain. So, we work, we wait, we hope for the best…and I find myself yearning.


I’ve been thinking about Pakistan these last few days – Lahore, my village near Jhelum, the stunningly beautiful northern areas - I wonder if I will ever see them.


Lake Saif-ul-Malook, Pakistan (image source)


I have a hankering to see the sea. I was mulling about our twentieth anniversary last year and how the two of us sat on a high grassy cliff full of flowers, picnicking and whiling away a day in the sunshine.


I would love to spend a day on a green hill or by a lake, with the sun on my face.


I pray to sit with my family again, all of us in one room, sharing food, laughing, joking and telling the kids to stop screaming and racing around the house. I miss the stories, the testing and everyone complimenting my mum on her food. Insha’Allah those days will come soon.



I miss meeting my friends for coffee and cake, we used to skip dinner, feed the kids and then meet up to eat cake guilt free. Every time I meet them, we chat, laugh and unwind. I feel the stress falling away as we catch up, I always come away feeling sleepy and contented.


I miss my bestie and her loving words and big heart. Sh has been through so much this last year and I could not be properly there for her.


I yearn for a time when the wanderlust gets me and I can walk out the house and go where I want.


I look forward to spring blossom season, which will be here soon.  I am taking pleasure in the longer, warmer days. I am enjoying taking a few stolen moments here add there in the garden, clearing away weeds and dead plants, wondering what the garden will be like this year.


When I yearn, it means my spirit is still lively, a bit too much in love with this world still perhaps, but refreshed and joyful by Allah SWT’s beautiful creation of nature.


Monday, 8 February 2021

Quarantine Stories: Schooling and Wellbeing.

We are now well into the third lockdown in London and the second stint of home-schooling. I remember how relieved I was when the children went back to school, thinking to myself: “I am never doing this again”, only to find myself there again less than six months later:


Home schooling five children

Navigating GCSE’s, A ‘levels, University application, a last minute sixth form application and GCSE options for next year.

Trying to support an eight your old that cried every morning during online lessons for weeks.

With one eye on a six-year-old little wildling that has no intention of sitting through a whole lesson.

Checking every hour between meetings on the boys to make sure they are not falling asleep mid class.

Trying to keep everyone talking to try and gauge how they are feeling.

Work with tasks piling up and meetings through the day (with various interruptions from various people, I have mastered the art of dirty looks and a viciously whispered “go away” now and again)

Trying to find a way to manage meals for five children and two adults, three times per day.

Studying for my Masters degree with online classes and research and reading for two assignments.


But something is different this time around.

At Christmas I took two weeks leave from work to coincide with the children winter holidays. I spent the time in rest, reflection, and to clear my head from work, study and home-school. It made a world of difference. It allowed me to get some perspective and set some boundaries:

No working long hours

Being clear on my priorities – worship and children

Weekly planning for things like meals, meetings and housework.

Protecting my “me time” for journaling, blogging.

Committing to learn to rest and not feeling guilty about it.


It takes me daily reflection and review of my day to try and stick to these principles, to stop myself working into the evening, stressing about home school and constantly overthink.


I have found doing less make me more peaceful and less stressed out, but also funnily, more productive.


I am still counting the days till they can go back to school. I am still very worried about my sons GCSEs and I still wonder how I am supposed to do everything I want at work and with my personal projects. But I am peace with the idea of imperfection, not finishing things, of a messy house and the art and practice of keeping my heart full of gratitude.



Sunday, 3 January 2021

Word of the Year 2021: Simplicity

I have been toying with my Word of the Year for 2021 for the last few day and struggling to settle on one word. My word for 2020 was belief – I wrote here about recognising the need to have greater self-belief in myself:


“Belief in my good intentions, in my capability, in my competence. Belief that I can achieve anything I set my will to. Belief that I do enough, have enough and am completely enough.”


In the past I have done better some years than others in using the Word of the Year to motivate or improve myself. During 2020, my self-belief grew exponentially. It was a year of hard work, at work, at home, with my children, in my community, alone for the last two months of the year. The hard work was accompanied by growth in my confidence and knowledge of my work.


I ended the year with recognition at work and having learned lots of new things. I managed to network and start working with various community groups and finally I made sure my children had everything they needed while we remained in lock down on and off through the year: access to online learning and devices, continuous encouragement and some monitoring, and most importantly routine and support to make sure things didn’t get to much for them. I think this has been the first year in 17 years of being a mum, I could put the mum guilt to one side and say I did my best in the circumstances we were in.


By the end of the year, I was full of self-belief and confidence but also overloaded with a feeling of stress and burnout. I realised I had been so busy “doing” all the time, that I had neglected my spiritual health and my relationship with Allah (SWT). I learned the hard way that if you don’t nurture your faith and connection to Allah (SWT), for instance through the quality if your salah, dhikr or reflection, everything else in life starts to feel meaningless and you start to feel aimless and even sad.


Because I felt so sad by the end of the year and had to work my way back to feeling more motivated and positive (with great difficulty), I committed going forward to prioritise my faith over everything else insh’Allah. I also realised I had to stop trying to do everything. At work I need to say no more, delegate more and raise problems without trying to deliver the solution to all of them. At home, I need to set boundaries with family and friends and again delegate chores and be more specific and firmer in asking for help.  I don’t know how this will fit with the million goals I have set for 2021, but it did make me think I need to simplify what is going on in my life.


So words that I considered for this year included ambition (the next step after self-belief, to act on it), fearless (again setting big goals and continuously moving beyond my comfort zone) and purpose (making sure everything I do goes back to trying to please Allah SWT). But in the end the one I want to hold onto is simplicity:


Simplicity means identifying what’s essential, then eliminating the rest. ~ Leo Babuta.


That means cutting down on e-mail especially, screen time, finding ways to filter and minimise the deluge of information, content, tweets, Instagram posts, Facebook posts, WhatsApp’s that we get all day. All of these are other people’s noise and other people’s priorities, not mine.


It also means being clear on what benefits me and my goals going forward and saying no to most of the rest, especially at work. I am not sure how I will reconcile my goals for 2021 with my desire for simplicity, something to test and play around with in the coming year I suppose.


Do you have a word for the year? What would yours be and why?


Word for 2011: Courage

Word for 2013: Discipline 

Word for 2014: Focus

Word for 2015: Shukr 

Word for 2016: Health

Word for 2017: Salah

Words of the Year 2018: Quran and Khidmat (Service)

Word of the Year 2019: Acceptance

Word of the Year 2020: Belief

Tuesday, 29 December 2020

End of Year Reflection and Goal Setting 2020-2021

I usually spend some time at the end of the year undertaking some kind of planning process. Some years this has been about setting a few clear goals, other years this has involved a detailed process of planning goals and actions for thee coming year. This year I decided to take it slowly and allocate one week to reflecting back on the year and one week to do some planning for the year ahead.

 

I have found that there is real power in taking time to think about worked and didn’t work and then articulating what it is you want going forward. I have often looked back at previous years plans and been surprised at the things that have been achieved even when they felt unrealistic or out of reach.

 

Over the years one of the things that as shifted in my planning process is that I have dropped many things that I think I should achieve and become more honest with myself about the things that I genuinely want - a more heart-centred approach that has me feeling more inspired and motivated.

 

This year, although I gave myself two weeks, in reality it was a few hours dotted here and there over the fortnight. For me the magic happens in the late hours at the end of the day. Once the kids are in bed and I have had a chance to rest and clear my head a little, I can start to think about things sensibly, or maybe daydream a little. For others the best time will be first thing in the morning before the day gets busy.

 

I break the process down into some key areas of my life to provide focus:

Faith

Family and relationships (including parenting and marriage)

Health

Self-development

Home

Career/Business/Work

Money/Finance

Community

Travel, Fun and Creative

 

These are the categories that make sense for me, but you may wish to include others or have a smaller number. For instance "home" may not be something included in the past, but with lockdowns and working from home, the way we feel about the spaces we live in and how they support us to function may be much more at the front of our minds in the coming year.

 

For each area I spent a little time thinking about what went well, what didn’t in the last year. I used my mini journal (about A6) and gave each theme a page each. This was enough to get some thoughts down and didn’t feel too daunting or like too much work, but in hindsight, it is worth spending more time and giving this process more space to really get to the heart of where you feel you are with each area. This gives you a really good understanding of the situation and creates a better foundation for deciding what you want to do next.



 

Once I had finished with looking back at 2020, I set aside a page for each theme going forward, using the following format:

The Big Goal - your priority for this area in the coming year, this should be what really matters and what you want the most.

Example: Faith - improve concentration and devotion in Sabah (prayer)

Habits - list the daily habits in this area, especially the ones that will help you achieve your goal.

Example: Faith - pray on time, make effort to pray your nawafil (non obligatory) prayers.

Goals - list your other goals for this area that you would like to work towards

Example: Faith - undertake Umrah (pilgrimage) this year, learn Quran in Arabic)

Long Term - Outline here briefly what the big picture is, where you want to be in 20 years, by the end of your life, or in the next life. This will help you make sure your goals are always aligned with your long term vision.

Example: Faith - Jannah, good death, closeness to Allah (SWT).



 

I’ve worked through this process and come to the end feeling inspired and motivated. I liked the simplicity of one main goal, giving you a sense of focus - the rest are a bonus. I like also that you can defer or let go of some things and clear your head of them. I have often felt down or aimless in the last year. Sometimes being busy doing stuff is not the same as being focussed and doing the right stuff. I intend to work less hours and less intensely this year

to bring some balance back into my life and hopefully having one goal or area for improvement for each area of my life will help me with this.

 

One of the things I have committed to is to write in my mini journal every day, whether a chance to create some mixed media art, reflect on my day and capture learning or record something I find inspiring. This means I will have to hand the goal pages and I can look back every day and ask myself if I am working towards the right things in the right balance insh’Allah.

 

Do you have a process to reflect on your year? Do you set goals, what do you find helps you to internalise and achieve your goals?

Sunday, 27 December 2020

Live Online Shopping

I had fun today online shopping, but not how you think. My husband is in Pakistan at the moment spending time with his parents and is due to fly back next week. I spent the whole day with hubby sending me pictures of clothes from different shopping centres in Lahore and asking me if I like anything.


The whole clan have insisted on accompanying him, so with elderly dad, mum in wheelchair and various siblings and kids in tow he has been traipsing around the shops looking for cloths for the girls and me. I am not sure if he just has really bad taste or can’t find the shops with the good stuff or I am too fussy, but I haven’t liked almost anything he has sent me:




So, so far, my response to each pic has been:

No

Not really

Not keen

A bit bright

A bit short

No


In the end he video called and walked around shopping mall showing me stuff and I found a simple maxi dress I liked.

I enjoyed seeing the kids getting in the way, shopkeepers pulling things out, my brother-in-law giving advice and the general chaos.


Made me think of two things:

Shopping is wasted on him

I really want to go to Pakistan myself.

Who knows, maybe next year if the world is a little less crazy and it feels safe insh’Allah


Wednesday, 23 December 2020

2020 Stories: Corona, Tier 4, Exhaustion and Gratitude

Assalam-alaikam to anyone reading this and especially to those who make an effort to stop by and read despite my inconsistency in writing.

I have taken two weeks off work and a quarter of the way in, my head has cleared enough that I am motivated to write again.

It’s a curious time with Tier 4 Lockdown, winter solstices and the “Great' Conjunction” of the planets. I am off work; the kids are home from school and hubby is on his travels in Pakistan.


I hope sisters and brothers reading this are keeping well and are not suffering too much from the physical or mental effects of corona virus or a year of lockdowns and isolation insh’Allah.


It has been a curious time for the children, my oldest two have A ‘levels and GCSE’s in the coming year and so have been studying without knowing if they will have exams.  My younger son has missed a lot of school between lockdown and bouts of an ear inflammation that made him too dizzy and nauseous to go school.  Thankfully after multiple doctor’s consultations and finally a trip to emergency, he is now well and managed to get back to school before the holidays started.  I can tell he is well because he is back to annoying his little sisters until they scream and teasing me non-stop. The youngest two have been playing catch up at school, with their teachers making sure they know how to use google classroom in case schools can’t open in January.


All of them have been inundated with homework and tests, but alhamdulillah have just got on with it. I have tried to focus on how they are getting on emotionally as much as on their studies and just make sure they have what they need. My work has really made me realise how many children are going to fall so far behind that they won’t be able to catch up. For reasons as varied as not having devices, or enough data, having to help with taking care of siblings when they are home, parents that don’t understand how to get their children online, or just the stress of households that have lost income or are dealing with sickness, mental health issues or domestic violence. I noticed when Darling’s class had to go online for the first time, only 6 children showed up (one spent the entire time shouting “I CAN’T HEAR YOU” and had to be put on mute by the teacher). Lots of the children in her school are from newly immigrated families, I suspect a good number from families that don’t have a right to stay in the UK yet or much income to provide a phone or tablet for the children to use.


Hubby left for Pakistan in early November, he worked throughout the pandemic but by that point in the year I could see how down he was and how much he needed some time to focus on his faith. He travels for dawah for six weeks every year, this year there are no dawah groups (or jamaats), so he stayed in one part of Pakistan in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region. He has finished his six weeks stay and is spending a few days with his parents before he flies back (if flights are still running…). We have the annual list of things we have broken ready for him 😊


Mum and dad-in-law didn’t come to stay this year due to the Covid situation being worse here than in Pakistan. That was until things got really bad there too, but by then the flights were grounded.  We will have to see about next year, it is always good to have them, but it was also a break for me from caring duties and the constant squabbling between my opinionated oldest child and her equally opinionated grandmother.


Work has been a non-stop fiesta of long hours, new projects, intense learning and often just sensory overload. It has left me fit for nothing for months but evenings of binge-watching rubbish or scrolling through social media. All of my focus, creativity and mental space has been used up working on projects as varied as youth participation, community engagement, sourcing translations for covid information, looking at how we support people with no status to be here (no recourse to public funds) during the pandemic, improving access for people with disabilities, work around racism and women’s experiences – you get the picture…lots of things to fill my brain.


I kept going full speed with work, home and the kids until about autumn and then started to lose sight of why I was bothering to do any of it. I found myself waking up every day sad and then spending the day sad and then starting to feel ok by about the time I got to bed. This went on for weeks and weeks of me feeling miserable and telling myself I have everything to be grateful for, to be positive, to pull myself out of it.  In the end, it took to the end of November and lots of prayer and being still and allowing myself to feel the misery, for me to find my mojo again. I slowly found my heart lifting and seeing the good in the day again alhamdulillah.

 

At the moment I am taking it easy, going through my to-do list of things I have been putting off (what I call “life admin”) and organising the corners of the house where bits and pieces have been accumulating. I am cooking whatever the kids want, having way too many movie nights with the youngest two and have started journaling after a very long time. I intend to spend these two weeks running in the morning, going for walks, filling out my Filofax like a geek, journaling and reading. More importantly, I want to spend the next two weeks reflecting on the lessons from 2020 and dreaming up my plans and intentions (Allah SWT willing) for 2021 insh’Allah.


How has the last year been for you? What has helped you cope? Do you have an intentional end of year process?


Thursday, 6 August 2020

You’re Fat! Unhelpful Comments and Some Helpful Advice Back

I received two interesting comments yesterday that made me think.

The first was from one of my husband’s “auntie” - a lady who calls him her son and who he helps out on occasion with chores and DIY. She sees me as her daughter-in-law; because we all need more than one mum-in-law….

She came to see us yesterday and commented “you must be sitting a lot for work, you’ve gotten fat”.


I get these kinds of comments from older ladies every now and again – I’m not quite sure what bothers them so much about my weight and body, but they don’t hold back in letting me know about it. I have to say it stung – not because I have hang ups about my body – I love this body that carried me through seven pregnancies and five children, that serves me day in day out to serve my family and community, that belies a strength and stamina that people don’t realise is there and that I genuinely believe to be a beautiful body. I don’t walk about thinking “poor me, I’m fat”, I tell myself “Damn you look good, thank you Allah”

It stung because once more someone felt the need to point it out. That this is what she could see before she could see any other good quality I might have. That’s all we come down to: thin and youthful and disciplined (implying good), or fat and lazy and greedy (implying we need to fix ourselves).


When she left my poor husband had to hear about it. I told him if there were no aunties, no husbands, no neighbours and no rude relatives then I would never have to hear comments like this or worry about what they were thinking or going to say. I told him I am happy as I am and I seem to be the only one that is.  He had the good sense to listen and make no comment at this point.


The second comment was from my daughter, she overheard the conversation with my husband and later mentioned to me that she could never remember a time when I was slim (it was up until baby number four, when she was 10 years old). That surprised me, as it didn’t feel so long ago.


The thing is, if all these well-meaning people who needed to help me see myself as the fat flawed creature I supposedly am, were genuinely well-meaning they could do better than make comments or offer useless advice. They could do the things that make a difference:


Offer your time – when I started walking after work, I found it made me late for the rest of the evening – cooking, evening routines, children’s bedtimes. By the time my children’s evening routines were done, it was dark and I didn’t feel safe to go out (the number of prostitutes, pimps, drug dealers, drunk people and aggressive beggars, including drug users desperate for their next fix, in our neighbourhood at night is crazy).

So, any help with watching the kids or getting things done, will help free up time to exercise.


Eat out healthier – every time we eat out its somewhere that has burgers, chips or oily curries. Healthy options are so limited locally – mainly grilled chicken or a basic salad with chicken in. So, when you look at options to eat out, look for somewhere that has better, tastier, and more healthy options.


Stop giving sweet stuff – every time there is a family gathering, or dinner, or visit, we bring chocolates, cake, mithai (Indian sweets) and all manners of unhealthy, sugary sweet stuff. I have stuff still piled up in my kitchen cupboard from Eid. Replace it with fruit, or something else useful (don’t give me a crappy candle). The only exception is Krispy Kreme donuts on Eid – my two guilt-free, eat whatever you want days of the year.


Offer your company – I always struggled to find a walking partner, none of my friends, family or neighbours have ever been able to commit to a regular, brisk walk, esp. when I am available - early in the morning. I find exercising with a partner that is good company helps the time go more quickly and with greater ease.


This all sounds a bit demanding and entitled, but if you are really concerned enough about my weight to point it out or give me unwanted advice, perhaps you can concern yourself in ways that are useful and effective. If this sounds like too much effort, then you may wish to consider if your concern is genuine or just superficial and more about you than me – in which case, shove your advice and your comments!!


Getting Organised: Our Mini Pantry

My husband has been saying for years that he needs to clear out the storage cupboards under our stairs and create some organised storage. I have been asking him if I can have the smaller of the two cupboards to use as a mini pantry to free up some space in our kitchen.


He finally got round to tackling his project.


This is the smaller of the two spaces after we cleared it out and he set me to stripping off the old wallpaper from the walls and ceilings.




I found a little friend to help me…



He filled the various holes and dips in the walls, sanded it all smooth (creating a big mess in the rest of the living room), painted the walls and ceiling and tiled and grouted the floor. He then cute, painted and installed all of the shelving from planks of wood.


This is a pic of it done, but not yet cleaned out. He finished it and left his tools on my shelves for the next two days as he was busy working.



Moving in some of my bigger items: flour bin, rice bin, big pots and the hotpots that are mainly used during Ramadan (these are getting old now and damaged and need to be replaced, any suggestions for a good long-lasting replacement are welcome):



I also moved in multiples of items - like pasta sauce and spaghetti. We are a big family, so I always have one or two extra of things. This space is a life saver when I am cooking after work and have to keep sending the kids to the shop across the road for the one missing ingredient. This way I just have to walk over to the pantry. I can add items to our shopping list as I move them from the pantry to the kitchen.




I’m really happy with this space, and really grateful to my other half for doing all of the work himself alhamdulillah.





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Wednesday, 5 August 2020

Handmade Girls Bracelets

I recently bought this chain of glass crystal beads (details here) and wanted to make something for the little girls in our family with it. The beads have an AB (Aurora Borealis) finish which gives them the sparkly, rainbows that catches the light so beautifully.



I took the necklace apart, setting aside the smaller thinner spacer beds and setting out the round beads with some coloured glass rondelle beads – these are not perfectly round, but slightly flattened into a faceted doughnut shape which I really like.






I created a pattern with two clear white beads and a coloured bead from each colour. In hindsight I should have used one white bead for every coloured bead, as that would have saved me enough white beads to make one or two matching necklaces. The positive thing about using a greater ratio of the white beads is that it made the bracelets lighter, brighter and sparklier.



I ended up making five little bracelets as Eid gifts – one each for my two girls who loved them and three for little girls in my family.  I hope they enjoy wearing them.


Bracelets ready for the knots to be sealed and the stretchy thread to be cut.

Frugal Muslimah: Boot Fair Bargains July 2020

We managed to make it to one or two boot fairs in July. The best one being Boreham boot fair in Essex. On this occasion there were a lot of sellers, not many buyers and a lot of bargains to be had. We went late and before long people started packing up, so we grabbed a few bits:


This was only £1, but I knew it wasn’t a good idea as soon as I bought it. I got it home and the kids argued over it then managed to get tiny sweets all over the place before I had to confiscate and hide it.





The Horrible Science books were 50p for the whole stack and the two at the bottom (picked by the Babies) were 20p each. My younger son loved the Horrible series and learned a lot from them.



These learning books were around 50p each, with the Crayola handwriting practice board £1



GCSE practice books for £1, my older son has missed so much school, hopefully these will be some help for his GCSE exams next year insh'Allah.



These books were for me and were 50p each, except for The Bone Clocks which was £2. I really love this writers first book (Cloud Atlas), so was keen to try another by him. I’ve just started reading We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler and have heard good things about it.



Somebody kindly gave these to me for free. I may not keep them and will either pass them on or donate to a charity shop, as I use the internet for recipes. But I think I’ll have a quick flick through for inspiration.



This was my fave bargain: a rope of glass crystal with a sparkly, rainbow AB (Aurora Borealis) finish for 50p. I have a project in mind for these (see next post 😊)



I really enjoyed bargain hunting. I hope to do one more boot fair before the summer is out.