Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Magic in the water, magic in the sky

Last night the 8 of us visited the Bioluminescent Bay here in Vieques, an island off the coast of Puerto Rico. (Our annual WP trip with Farida and Husain). 

Our guide met us on the boardwalk where we were scarfing down french fries and staring at the Caribbean Sea. We piled into his van and turned onto a bumpy dirt road. Eventually we stopped at a gap in the mongrove trees, put on life vests and discarded our shoes, and squelched through the mud to the kayaks. We boarded - 2 people per kayak. 

At this point we were giddy with excitement. Barefoot in the mud, we felt some creatures walking over our feet. We were told they were female violin crabs who were here to lay their eggs. (Upon finding out they were crabs, we obviously did the requisite squealing and screaming.)

We then rowed out into the bay. The night was perfectly quiet and still. The only movement came from our paddles. We glided through the water in a group and marveled at the warmth of the water.

The guide explained to us that the glow we were about to experience was caused by plankton which, when agitated, initiated a defense mechanism that causes their bodies to shine from within. 

And then the glow began to surround us. As we splashed our hands in the water, they glowed. The glass bottoms of the kayaks glowed. The stars on this clear night- they twinkled, they glowed. 

We couldn't decide whether to gaze above us at the bedazzled sky or below us at the stars in the water. It was glorious and exciting and relaxing and serene at the same time. 

I found myself exclaiming happily; I found myself contemplating our place among the stars. It was joyous; it was calm. 

As we scooped water in our hands and let it trickle down our forearms, our arms became covered in sparkling light. 

Thank you, plankton. You made that night one of the most magical of my life. 


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Monday, June 27, 2016

A Non-Processed Sherullah

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Summer begins

Summer has begun. Our morning routine has evolved over the years as the kids have grown and changed. As of now, we are going to bed late because of daily masjid in Sherullah. So the kids get up a little bit before I do, and they know their summer schedule.

Get dressed, pray fajr namaaz, come downstairs and eat your breakfast, do your academic and madrasa homework, do your tadreeb, and then go play! 

They have been spending hours and hours outside with the dozen neighbor kids who are their age. It's been wonderful for Taher and I to watch them play and explore and run around outside. They found a baby bird and helped it back into its nest. They found a dead garter snake. They collect bugs. They are planning a lemonade stand with the other kids. They play City and cops n robbers and sharks n minnows and they have soccer tournaments. It's awesome. Alhamdolillah for the million kids on our street.

The kids are impressing me in their own unique ways. It is fun to watch.

Nooriya is beyond confident. During tug of war at Field Day two weeks ago, she told me that she singlehandedly won the contest against much bigger kids and that her team, behind her on the rope, weren't doing anything but chit chatting while she pulled their way to victory. Not sure how accurate this is, but I love that she assumes that she is stronger than several larger children.

At her ballet recital, she didn't want to leave the stage. On rehearsal day she was actually disappointed that there were so few people in the audience, and I had to reassure her that on recital day there would be hundreds of people. That satisfied her. She was a total ham up there- she loves the attention. It's cool to see someone brimming over with confidence this way.

Yusuf meanwhile made a hifzing niyat for Sherullah. And he woke up for sihori today and ate like a champ and then went back to bed after fajr. He is taking his rozu very seriously and is now playing outside. 

He is showing dedication to namaz and rozu this Sherullah and I am impressed that he is absorbing the spirituality of the month. 

Alhamdolillah :)

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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Proud Momma Moment

Nooriya came home today and told me that a few kids (friends of hers, actually) were being mean to her and calling her names. I asked her what she had said back to them, and she said the only thing she said was "Please stop calling me names." But they didn't listen to her and kept calling her names.

I asked her how she felt about it, and she said it was their problem if they were rude, and not her problem. 

Which is something I have told the kids a million times.

If someone is unkind, that doesn't mean you lower your standards of behavior towards them. Stay kind. What others do isn't your problem.

She has clearly internalized this message. She told me they were being rude, and then she shrugged it off and went on with her day. Back to her usual cheerful strong self.

I could not be more proud. If she has the tools to deal with these situations at age 6- tools that I don't even know if I fully have yet - then she will be a happy person all her life, inshallah. She has power over herself and she knows who she is. The poor attitudes of others isn't going to change that.

I see in my confident little girl the strong woman she will inshallah become. 



Sunday, November 29, 2015

Moving and Settling In

So it's been about 10 days since we moved into the new house. We moved last Thursday, and spent about 4 days turbo-unpacking so that by the end of the weekend, we had unpacked every box. Then the next week was spent arranging and organizing and even decorating.

So now I can comfortably say that we are almost done.

As T mentioned in his blog post, everything still feels very new. A few months ago, when the house was still being built and all around us were plywood walls and concrete floors, we had our "light switch walk through"- we told the builder where we wanted the light switches to go and what we wanted them to operate. At that time, I couldn't have imagined how the house would turn out. As I look around at the now-finished home, with everything we chose over all those months actually installed in the house, I am still taken aback at the fact that it's actually done. 

Everywhere I look, I see the items T and I chose together. The aspects, the features, the placements, the finishes, the very walls, the floorplan, the whole thing. And we had so much fun doing it- and even that fun is part of the house now. The experience, the teamwork, the discussions, the decisions, the delights, the disappointments, the deadlines, the shopping trips, and most of all, the fun- all of that is part of the house. And now we finally get to live here, and I can only say alhamdolillah for that.

I still don't quite know what switches operate what. I flip the wrong ones all the time. I am not on autopilot yet in this house. It feels like home, but it feels unfamiliar still. We aren't taking things for granted yet- we are not blindly walking a path from bed to bath or from kitchen to stairs or from mudroom to kitchen- these paths, inshallah, will become traversed thousands and thousands of times as we age in this house. But today, at this moment, it is all still so new. I still haven't sat on every seat in the house. I still haven't stood in every spot. I still haven't cleaned every crevice, haha!

The newness, once lost, will be lost forever. It will be replaced by familiarity, which is lovely and comfortable and will truly let us know we are home. And I welcome that. But for now, I want to savor the newness.


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Saturday, October 31, 2015

Mr. R comes to masjid

This past week, our jamaat lost some of its very valued members. The repeated hits have taken a toll on the psyche of the jamaat. Yet today, even as the rain fell upon this grey day, the sun shone brightly inside the masjid. 

We experienced a momentous and uplifting afternoon, for the man who saved so many of our mumineen visited the masjid. Our jamaat invited him to come and visit as our honored guest.

He brought his family with him, and from the moment they walked through the door, we made it our priority to make him and his family feel welcome and to try to impart to them how meaningful his actions were to our jamaat.

If not for Mr. Mike R, we would have lost 9 mumineen instead of 1. It is unthinkable. 

And it is deeply spiritually satisfying to think that Allah put the right person in the right place at the right time. Alhamdolillah.

I was asked to be a liason between the members of Mike's family and our jamaat. It was my honor and pleasure to be able to show them around, make them comfortable, explain our customs, get to know them. 

The family Mike saved was introduced to him. Many hugs ensued. Emotions were running high at this point- so many people had tears in their eyes. And before my own, bridges were being built. It was truly a beautiful moment amidst the tragedy of the past week.

My dad delivered a small speech to Mike. Mike took the mic and said a few words too. The jamaat then presented Mike with a shawl. When I explained the significance of the shawl to Mike's wife, she looked as touched as I felt.

Hundreds of people made their way over to Mike and his family to shake their hands and say thank you. Mike, you could tell, was overwhelmed with the outpouring. But as I told him and his family, we are all one. You save 8 of us, and you have 800 more who want to embrace you as their brother. In a way, he saved all of us - with his selflessness and his bravery, he gave us something to praise, to wonder at. To raise up and to gain strength from.

We took Mike and his family down to eat. They ate the kheemo and the daal chawal and we talked about the thaali and college and our customs and parenting and... well... life.

There was just love, love, love. Sadness, support, taziyat, dua, and love, love, love. Alhamdolillah. That's all it takes.

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Thursday, October 29, 2015

Post Ashara 1437

We just got back from Houston Ashara 1437.

Still reeling. Processing my feelings. Trying to absorb this incredible experience.

Hectic, chaotic, exhausting, amazing, beautiful.

We stayed with friends who are like dear family. And my parents stayed with us for a few days too.

I got to attend waaz daily with someone who is my dear bhen. We got deedar. We got qadmbosi. We got nazar. I attended my R2S meetings and there I got to connect with new people and old friends - all wonderful people. We went to a ziyafat where such intense and surreal and beautiful things happened that I haven't yet been able to journal about them.

And the waaz. The daily, incredibly rich, metaphor-filled, enlightening, reassuring, encouraging waaz, which charged our batteries and renewed our strength and readied us for the year ahead. The best new year's resolution one can make at the beginning of moharram, the first month of the year, is to spend the following first month of the new year exactly the same way. Letting these waaz envelop us.

We are lucky, blessed. Alhamdolillah.

I think the feeling of renewal and recharging has trickled into other aspects of my life too. I am noticing that as I read, I am picking out gems the way I used to, writing them down- I haven't done this for years, since I had kids and my leisure time diminished. I still read constantly, but I don't have the luxury anymore of easily transcribing the gems into my journal or this blog.

But let me try to get back into that.

I am reading "The Little Paris Bookshop" at the moment. Two gems I came across so far:

"Some stars had seen the dinosaurs and the Neanderthals; they had seen the pyramids rise and Columbus discover America. For them, the earth was one more island world in the immeasurable ocean of outer space, its inhabitants microscopically small."

"Perdu suspected that these small children, listening with eyes wide and in rapt concentration, would one day grow up to need reading, with its accompanying sense of wonder and the feeling of having a film running inside your head, as much as they needed air to breathe."

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Friday, July 17, 2015


Today was Eid. One of my very favorite days of the year.

I have been reading people's reflections as Sherullah draws to a close. People are thinking about what they want to carry forward from Ramazaan, what they want to retain. How they've done. Their resolutions, their wins, their shortcomings. 

While I am certainly also thinking about what the past month has meant to me, today I am fully in the present. I am no longer in the routine of the past 30 days. Masjid every night. Rozu every day. Nocturnal schedules, focused ibadat, dehydration headaches, so much Quran, so much satisfaction, so much striving.

I am also not yet in the post-Ramazan days. Withdrawal from the schedule has not yet set in, I have not yet figured out how the past month will affect my next months- spiritually, mentally. I have not yet reestablished a "normal" schedule. I have not yet slept a full night. 

Instead, I am only in the now. The one day, Eid, that is suspended between Ramazan and post-Ramazan. The day we celebrate. The day my community members - the people I have known since infancy - are so, so happy. So dressed up. Exchanging greetings and gifts and laughs with abandon.

I love Eid. I feel love and I feel loved. And whatever happens tomorrow, today is a remarkable day. A magical day. A day out of time, in which I don't have to reflect upon yesterday or decide about tomorrow. 

Side note- Eid 2015 was red-letter for Yusuf. He has been coveting the Xbox One that has sat on the raffle table for the past month, walking by it daily and telling me, "I hope we win that!" I knew that the chances of winning the one thing he wanted were slim, so all month, I have told him, "Yes, that would be cool! But if we don't win, it's ok! Alhamdolillah, right?" And he has dutifully answered, "Yes, alhamdolillah."

Today. The raffle began. They announced some prizes and winners. And then they announced the Xbox and Yusuf looked at me with hope in his eyes. I love that boy and his optimism :) But then. They called my name. I was in disbelief- there was no way this could work out this beautifully. But it was true, and Yusuf was cheering excitedly to prove it. I won the Xbox, and Yusuf got what he had been clearly doing the right kind of dua for all month :)

I am proud of my kids. They participated in the Quran competition and did beautifully. They were so comfortable on stage- they seemed to be enjoying themselves. Nooriya loved being up there. Yusuf was at ease.

All month, they have worked hard at hifzing. They have stretched themselves and they have achieved so much.

I learned from them this month. I decided to not only host family Eid dinner at our house, but to cook for it as well. I don't like to cook, and I don't hide that fact. But it occurred to me - I needed to stretch myself as well. I haven't cooked for my extended family in longer than I can remember. So I cooked. Yesterday and today, I cooked. I took a page from Yusuf and Nooriya's book and I tried something new. 

And my sasu sasra were happy, and proud, and they told me so. They are used to seeing me do interviews and have literary accomplishments, and they say they are proud, but when I cooked for them, they were truly delighted. And I was proud of myself.

So. On this magical day, Yusuf's wish came true, my enchiladas were delicious, I spent the day surrounded by family and friends, and all I can say is this: may my last word always be


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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Touching Base

It has been a while since I blogged. Lots of balls in the air :)

The new house is coming along well. Alhamdolillah. We had another walkthrough last week, and it is very exciting seeing everything framed out. It is becoming so easy to imagine the house being finished, where our furniture will go, what activities we will do where. 

We have had several of our family members come to the house and sign the wooden frame of the house in various rooms. All 4 parents and Yusuf and Nooriya came after Nooriya's ballet recital. Some of the brothers/bhabis/nieces have come, and the rest intend to. 

It's neat, having their signatures and well wishes and funny messages on the walls. When the drywall is up and painted and we live in the home, we will know that right here, inside the wall, this person wrote this, and that person wrote that. 

Built on the foundation of khaki shifa from Karbala, and framed with the love of our family. Alhamdolillah :)

On a different note, I lost a friend on Sunday. She wasn't well for a long time, and her passing wasn't a surprise, but the loss of her has reminded me of how much there is to do shukr for. I am eternally grateful that I got to speak to her on Saturday, the day before she passed. That she heard me and knew I was thinking about her. That her pain is over. 

Onward. We just have to keep spending our days teaching Yusuf and Nooriya to do shukr and to be kind. That's it.


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Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Making a Home

Taher and I started the process of building a home a while ago. Almost two years ago. There were a lot of steps between then and now. We found the right spot. Bought it. Sold our house. Found the right builder. Made plans. Revised them. Waited through the winter for the ground to thaw.

And today, the process of actually constructing the house has finally begun. They demolished the old home that stood on our property and inshallah the digging will start later today.

I am excited. I am grateful to have the support of our family. I am grateful to be starting this journey with Taher, whose presence and involvement make everything fun for me. 

We have been picking brick and stone and roof colors and bathroom fixtures over the past 2 weeks. Ahead of us lie many many more decisions. And although the prospect of making 1,000 decisions, one after another, is daunting, the reality of making them hasn't been all that stressful. 

Instead, it's been cool. I feel like we are on a shopping spree. In a sense, I guess we are. We find ourselves calling each other throughout the day and talking about the differences between wrought iron and flat black finishes. 

Then we convene at the computer after the kids are in bed and try to finalize some of our choices. When we get tired, we call it a night and go continue binge-watching The Office ;)

I know the idea is to get these choices made and to move this process along, but I hope it doesn't go by too quickly :)

More updates will follow. In the meantime, alhamdolillah!


Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Moula TUS in LA!

We had an incredible weekend. Deedar, qadmbosi, sharaf for the kids, sharaf for us, reuniting with old friends, spending time with dear ones.
Moula TUS brings us together. 

Later: more on the mini-miracle in the way Nooriya's mysteriously remembering my cell phone number led to not only her qadmbosi, but mine as well. And the green pass that magically appeared when I needed it to.

For now, alhamdolillah barely covers it :)

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Friday, January 16, 2015

Morning Routine, Winter 2015

Sometimes I like to write a post about our morning routine, just so I can see how much it has changed.

It represents how much the kids have changed. 

And it reminds me that the changes are good- they may be moving further and further away from chubby babyhood, but that's ok. They are relying on us in different ways than they used to, and they are closer to us in ways that wouldn't have been possible when they were still infants.

So. Nowadays, Nooriya wakes up first, around 6am, and goes potty and brushes her teeth. Then she changes into the clothes that I laid out the night before. Then she goes downstairs and grabs the cereal bowl and spoon and cereal off the counter, and puts them on the table, and then opens the fridge and grabs one of the two cups of milk that are on the lower shelf. She has her breakfast - sometimes early enough where Taher gets to have breakfast with her - and by this time, Yusuf is usually up. He goes through the same potty/teeth/change/breakfast routine that Nooriya just completed.

At this point, I am wide awake but trying to stay in bed until 7am. I usually accomplish this. I then walk out of my room and call Nooriya upstairs so I can brush and braid her hair, and I remind both kids to make their beds. If Nooriya doesn't have her glasses on yet, I remind her to put them on.

While I am getting ready for the day, the kids are either playing together or reading side by side. When I come downstairs and I see them sitting next to each other, noses buried in books, I am reminded of how different life is now. When they were babies, the morning meant crying and milk and diapers and wrangling and juggling - and I rarely got to shower in the morning. 

But alhamdolillah, although we have left the wrangling behind, they are still so cuddly. This morning they don't have school, so they came into my bed and we just hung out for 20 minutes before starting our day. 

Alhamdolillah. Did I say that? Is it even possible to say it enough?

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On Tuesday, I began my new position as Adjunct Professor of English at Elgin Community College.
I am only teaching one class per semester until Nooriya is in school full time- the flexibility associated with teaching is awesome. I am so glad I finally got around to applying to do this.

Tuesday was my first day teaching- there so much anticipation leading up to this day! I wanted to just get in there and meet my students.

I don't think they knew quite what to make of me when I walked in. How old is this girl? What in the world is she wearing? Why does she talk like a surfer?

I have never been a formal person, and although I can be professional, I can't pretend. So when I walked into this class of 20 freshmen/sophomores, I was being myself. And I knew that that was the only way I would make connections with these kids, the only way they would learn to enjoy writing, the only way I would enjoy teaching.

Tuesday went ok. I liked the experience, but I didn't feel a connection to any of the kids yet. However, since it was only the first day, I wasn't too worried about that.

And then yesterday, Thursday, was my second day. And it went so wonderfully that I am now not only "not worried" about this semester, I am looking forward to it and very, very happy.

I got a chance to walk around to every student and read what they were typing and chat with them and impart to them the idea that writing should not be torture. I told them that my job this semester would be to show them how to look at a blank Word document as an opportunity, not an intimidation. I spoke to them about writer's block. I encouraged them to choose topics for their Formal Research Paper that they actually felt passionate about or interested in. How that would make the difference between researching and writing this paper feel like a job versus a joy. 

I think I got through to them. They opened up. They told me about their difficult stepfather, their drug-addicted parents, their chameleons, their future plans, their poodle, their lives.


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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Changing it Up

Farida mentioned to me this morning that the past two months have brought about a lot of changes and transitions in my life. She said, why don't you write about it? Post to your blog! And she was right. 

So. taking a moment here to process the changes whirling around me. In the midst of Sherullah I haven't been reflecting much- I have been doing, going, preparing, helping, caring, fasting, praying... but not much reflecting. It hasn't been a quiet month for me, as it can be for some.

Six weeks ago, we moved from our house into the masjid house, and put our house up for sale. The house that we moved into when I was pregnant with Yusuf - the house in which both Yusuf and Nooriya were babies, took their first steps, spoke their first words, made countless memories with us. I did take a moment to say goodbye to that house, but even as I was doing so, I was looking forward. Stripped of furniture, with new carpet and new paint, ready for sale, the house looks so different. The house is still there, but the home we made within it in not there anymore. 

For now, it's here. Masjid house. New, large, filled with people much of the time- it's our temporary stop on our journey to Home. We moved and unpacked and settled in within a day. One long day. And now we have set up our routines and our habits here, and I am trying not to think about the fact that inshallah, next year, we will do this all again. In the meantime, though, I can only do shukr. For this house and the family support that this house represents. And for the family itself. Alhamdolillah, we are blessed people.

More on this later. Someone is calling Mummy :)


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Little Science Guy

Yusuf loves science and experiments. Yesterday he was asking Taher about evaporation (pronouncing it EV-aporation instead of EVE-aporation, which was adorable- and he set up an experiment with two glasses of water. He placed one by the sunny window and another on the counter and he wants to see which evaporates faster. He even made a little chart to note times.

I love the things they come up with.


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Women's Ijtema in India

A couple days ago I returned from a week-long trip to India. I was there because I was asked to speak at a Muminaat Ijtema (a women's educational forum) that was taking place in Mumbai. 

The ijtema was organized by Zaenab Bhensaheb, the wife of Moula's (tus) oldest son. Over 300 women attended. The event primarily consisted of a moderated panel discussion, but also included videos, visual presentations, and a couple of poetry readings/speeches.

The point of this ijtema was to open up a dialogue and reach out to the young women of our community- to create a space in which these women could gain perspective, ask their questions, and be heard. Not too different from the mission of ISFM :)

I was proud to be a part of this ijtema. I think honest dialogue is powerful, and in widening an individual's perspective, you are giving him/her the tools to affect positive change in this world. We all have so much to learn from one another, and united in our desire to carry out Moula's (tus) khushi, we embody potential in the very best sense of the word. I have never been so proud to be a muminah as when I looked out at the audience and realized that I can count myself one of this group of strong, intelligent, curious, beautiful, caring women. It was a powerful moment for me.

I was supported by many people as I endeavored to go on this trip. My mom came with me, so that I had her company and her solid presence with me throughout; Taher gave me immense peace of mind as he beautifully handled the kids, his job, and the house while I was far away; my dad told me he was proud of me- praise that continually ranks higher than any other I have ever been given. Thanks to the women who attended the ijtema and to those who have been sending in their feedback- thanks especially to the lovely young ladies who approached me during and after the event to tell me they were inspired by what was discussed and that they gained fresh perspective.

Alhamdolillah- a great experience :)

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Saturday, November 23, 2013

Madrasa big girl

Nooriya starts madrasa today. Another milestone. She is so excited and I am excited for her. I am also sad that my baby is already 4! 


Friday, November 15, 2013

Morning Routine

Our morning routine is constantly evolving as the kids get older and able to do more things independently. 
I was thinking about that this morning as I told Yusuf to get ready for school. When he was a tiny infant, I used to dread mornings. Taher would leave and I would be nursing Yusuf and mentally willing Taher not to leave me alone with this colicky, demanding baby. He would start the day by wailing and would continue the wailing all day long.
As he grew out of the colic, the wailing stopped but mornings were still plenty demanding. He needed changing and feeding and entertaining and often getting myself fed and changed was low on the list of priorities. I hit the ground running every single day. Of course, all of it was lovely and I cherished- and I still do - my time with Yusuf. 
Nowadays, mornings are very different. Both kids come into my bed for some cuddling and I love that. So much. And then as I begin helping Nooriya through her morning routine I simply tell Yusuf, "Get ready, Janoo" and he proceeds to use the bathroom, change into the clothes I've laid out, fold his pjs, make his bed, brush his teeth, and eat his breakfast. All on his own. I step in to wet comb his cowlick and he is done. It's a far cry from the crying of 6 years ago. 
And by now I'm smart enough to wish the days would go by more slowly. 


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

ISFM volume 4!

"A woman's destiny, they say, is not fulfilled until she holds in her arms her own little book." 

The ISFM series welcomes it's 4th book! I am proud of what we have accomplished and hope to see the dialogue continue. We are putting it out there and encouraging others to do the same :)


Saturday, October 12, 2013

Speaking gigs

Since the first ISFM book came out, I have been asked to do speaking events around the country. Usually at universities but sometimes other venues as well. Lately I have been doing more of these- including the ones during last year's State Department trip, I have done maybe 20 in the last couple of years. 
I am really enjoying these trips. They do unfortunately take me away from my family for a night, but they are so rewarding that I do not mind. Especially since Taher has everything taken care of on the home front :)
The audiences at these events vary- sometimes there are more non-Muslims, sometimes less, sometimes mostly college students, other times more adults from the local community.
But every time, I am met with open minds, challenging questions, and a feeling of gratitude that I get to connect with people and learn from them and give my perspective and affect change on this small grassroots level. 
Sometimes people are encouraging. Sometimes they are contentious. But they are always there because they want to be part of a conversation, and I am thrilled that I get to use my brain and answer questions and think on my feet. I remain informal and make sure the audience knows they can approach me. And when they do indeed approach me after the event and tell me their own stories, I am struck by how unique and wonderful it is that in a room full of strangers, I am having genuine moments with people and walking away feeling supported, thankful... and successful.