Archives for category: life

One day I woke up and I was in my 40s. Early 40s, but when did this happen?

I know the truth is that I forever will feel these four ages: three, seven, fourteen and twenty-one, with bouts of thirty-six. My husband pegs me as having the heart of the second of the ages I listed. After seven solid years of marriage, he’s still in awe of my marveling at simple joys and amusements.

But I think the feeling of forty is creeping up on me. So I anticipate the dawning of wisdom. I’ve heard that’s what happens during your forties. (As long as your forties are not the new twenties. Please God no.)

Looking back from this wisdom-awaiting position, I see my thirties were my pivotal years. I felt the most at peace with where I was headed, because I changed directions. I left my stagnant marriage, had a good divorce, as outlined in the Qur’an, and worked on my self, my deen and my relationships with loved ones. I started this blog in 2006 to capture some of the journey back.

I believe the work I did on finding the best me led me to be able to meet the love of her life. There was no bitterness or defensive chip on my shoulder when I went for coffee with my soon-to-be life partner. I presented myself, the one I’d uncovered.

So my thirties were beautiful.

And my twenties? They belonged unconditionally to my children – I sprang to be The Most Devoted Mother with gutso. I shoved myself, squashed myself actually, in tending to them. My early thirties taught me to balance me & them. My mid-to-late thirties forced me to balance me, the children and my husband.

What do I want of my forties? I want big wisdom. The kind that sees beyond the immediate situation immediately. Not after the fact, when the deed is done, and I’m holed up reflecting. Is it too much to hope for that first-aid kind of wisdom? The type that can stop the flow of blood, the flow of wrong decisions, word-choices, actions with paramedic calm?

I want my forties to be when I get published. Big-time published. I love writing too much to have it sit there accumulating in my dad’s old university bag from the sixties (because it is). In the ten years I’ve turned back to my craft, I’ve learned that I can be patient and that I can plod-on and that I can keep up. Now, it’s time to make my mark.

My son, in third year University, tells me that everyone’s talking about intersectionality. I looked it up and read about it. I couldn’t completely understand it, like I would’ve understood it when I was in University and my mind was in Derrida-land, but the seven year-old in me likes the simple intersection(s) idea. That my identity is made up of multiple identities, a series of crossed lines and the point in the middle is the me no one else is.

That’s the point from which I want to make my mark as a writer.

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– posted on my other writing blog on January 7, 2011

my son, a Boy?

Tomorrow I’m going to spend a part of the day at the bookstore with my son. The other two children will be socializing at birthday parties and such, so it’ll be just me and my fifteen year old.

The other day (which was like six weeks ago), I suddenly realized that my son had become a Teenage Boy. This fact hadn’t imprinted itself into my brain even though the child is over 6 feet tall and has his dad’s jock build.

But then, there we were at the supermarket, and the cashier girl suddenly began acting all coy. You know that awareness that alerts us humans when we spot a potential someone? Especially when us humans are in the teen versions of ourselves? Well, this teen-girl cashier caught it right then and there.

Her eyes changed, she kept tucking her hair behind her ears (though none of it had fallen into her face) and was kind of too quick in her movements handling my cereals. When she started biting her lips periodically, I started to wonder. Then I looked at exactly what she was sneaking glances at, between scanning my yogurt and granola bars.

This? My boy? My itty-bitty child?

Yeah, and he knew it too. I could tell by the stoic, mature, yet coolly-withdrawn way he was passing the items from the grocery cart. That’s when I saw the man-on-the-way emerging from the faint figure of the seven year old playing in the park that I seemed to perpetually see when I looked at him.

If it had been a movie, the soundtrack to the emotions and images in my brain would have been kiss the rain by Yiruma.

Life passes and I hadn’t fully understood that I am the mother of a teen boy.

I can’t wait to spend some time with him tomorrow. I want to imprint the fact that yes, he is coming into himself and I love him as he is now.

And this time, I promise to refrain from scrutinizing the cashiers. Those brash young things.

The last time I posted about my daughter’s bff sleepover, there were 6 girls sleeping in our condo.  Fast forward two years later, and the number has grown to…TEN.  Ten girls and oh yeah, now it’s no longer a condo, it’s a house (we moved in December) so that’s how it got to be so big suddenly.  It’s 1 a.m. and I still hear loud laughter, screams, screeches and whatevers coming from the family room.

Before all this “sleeping”, they were all dressed to the nines as guests at our solve-the-crime party taking place in the 1920’s.  We had the jazz music playing as they mingled and tried to find out just which one of them had stolen the Duchess’ ring, the Rani’s crown, the Museum Curator’s ancient relic, the abstract artist’s painting and the Russian businesswoman’s Faberge egg.

(It was the abstract artist.  She was a starving artist (her work was quite horrible).  She stole her own painting to throw off the scent.)

The boys are gone – my hubby to his mom’s and my son to his grandma’s. Yay, it’s just us girls!

I just heard my daughter informing everyone that there is no curfew for bedtime tonight.

Now I just heard her story-obsessed friend informing everyone that I promised them a bedtime story.  Wasn’t the solve the crime party a big story already?

I just muttered loudly, “Hmm, I don’t remember promising any stories”… I think they heard.  My feet are killing me – I was “the butler-who-didn’t-to-it”  for the whole party.  I literally was the butler, the scullery maid, the cook (though my husband made the delicious chocolate cake) and the handmaid.

Now I’m hearing someone saying this is boring (it’s 1 a.m., the dress-up party started at 6 p.m., they masqueraded, they danced, they ate, they solved, they laughed their heads off, they watched a movie and now it’s boring?)

Someone else just said, yeah, this is boring.  I was about to leave my blog posting to tell them that if it’s so boring, they should all go to sleep when I hear the DS’s coming out…ooooh, suddenly everyone’s having fun.  Again.

You know when you love a song the first time you hear it?  This is one of mine.  It reminds me of my teens.  So sadly much.

This past month has felt like a year.  It felt like a life – with all that comes with it: anticipation, hardships, joys, tests, relief, grief.  But I will only say Alhamdulillah.  I’ve been shaken with such small, miniscule shakes in the grand scheme of things and I don’t feel like I stood as tall as I could have, as I should have – given the enormity of blessings that weigh down my life.

A new friend phoned me the other day and called me graceful in the way I handle things.  She was speaking of what she knew of on the outside.  Would the One who knows the whole, the inside and the outside, call me graceful?

I hear my sister’s voice and it is asking me not to ask so much of myself.  But who else to push myself to a true state of submission and all that goes with it: sustained patience and sincere attachment to truth, to Him?

So I  remind myself of my central blessing:

“Love begins by taking care of the closest ones
– the ones at home. “
Mother Teresa
My family: overcrowding with love, brothers who cry with you, for you, so you feel like comforting them in your time of grief; parents who love unconditionally with inhuman sacrifice; a sister who bears and shoulders with you; in-laws (parents, sisters, brothers) who are beacons of kindness and understanding; children and nieces and nephew who are love in cuddly form and a husband who is all that I have ever asked for in love.  And friends who don’t forget.

That is A LOT to have in your life.  Thank you Allah.

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I also wanted to share in this post.  Share 9 things.

1.  I’ve loved a beautiful, inspirational photo blog for a long while now: Daily Colours Photography
I love her pictures and her gleanings (see the Mother Teresa quote above).   Her photography is soft and observant and reminds me of being attentive to how God measures beauty and how easy it is to find it immediately and so nearby. The words she chooses to accompany her pics are often just right for the moment I’m in.

2. The most appropriate, best?,  umbrella in the world:

3.  When I grow up, I want to blog like her: Maira Kalman, of “And the Pursuit of Happiness” fame
(and psst, her husband, now deceased, designed that most appropriate umbrella).

4.  A Story Before Bed (http://www.astorybeforebed.com/) is such an awesome idea.  If you are far from a treasured child in your life, connect with them by reading them a favorite book via this service.  The child gets to access the book you chose and your recorded image and voice reading it.  There’s a small fee – but it’s worth it if you cannot be close in proximity to a little one who would really appreciate hearing from you.

5. Islamic Relief Fair Trade Partnership: bring it to a mosque near you.   Equal Exchange (with over 2o years in the fair trade “trade”) is the partner – and yum, their quality is as good as their integrity .

6. Profound Aesthetic.  My husband likes their t-shirts – they strive to have meaning (profound?) in them. They have an interesting blog too. This is one of his favorite t-shirts (I think I need to get him another one) – the designer we talked to described it as asking one to consider the dichotomy/or synthesis (depending on your view) between nature and human-produced music:

7. Kareem Salama has a new reworked Generous Peace song – it’s more upbeat now.  He’s reproducing many of his tracks – look for them coming soon to his updated website or itunes.  Here’s the official video to the new Generous Peace, directed by Lena Khan:

I like that he’s continuing with his talent.  And with the new song and video, he has an added fan at our  house – my son, an avowed country-music avoider who would argue with my daughter when she would want to play Kareem’s songs in the car over and over.

My son actually made me buy the new song right away on itunes –  for HIS ipod.

8. Chicago.  I just got back from there – visiting my husband, who is designing a restaurant in the windy city.  Even though it holds a part of my grief, I still found it a fascinating city – one that I would want to spend more in.  I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.

pic by my husband

9.

Missed

a shadow dies
medically pronounced
it sounds mistaken

i grew ten more years
in the time you stopped your perfect heart
small, lifeless but still
it had filled,
so completely
taken over mine

I just made this post public.  After searching for solace – I found it in the words of God’s Prophet.  How perfect is Islam in that it addresses everything a human goes through.  How beautiful a Prophet who went through trial after trial, a simple human with all that it entails, yet again and again, he finds his fortitude in that which lies awaiting with his Lord.

My youngest uncle on my mom’s side passed away this past weekend.   It was sudden, unexpected and beautiful.  How can I say this about the death of a man with a quiet smile and a wide heart?  Perhaps this is why I can say it – maybe it only makes sense that a life of generosity and gentleness would end after fajr with the shahadah being the last words uttered over and over on the way to the hospital.  He died of a brain hemorrhage.  Unexpected and sudden.

The first and lasting memory I have of  him is of a thin young man, his arm outstretched with something – fruit, candy, something yummy – being offered to us – his nieces, nephews, the teen girl across the road who played with us.   The spunky, fun girl who would suddenly become shy when she got a glimpse of him.  And pretend she didn’t want those slices of mango all the rest of us were clamoring to get from his fingers.  Then he would look to the side, smile knowingly and say to me or my sister, “why don’t you take a bit extra to share with your friend?”  Oh, that would just make her shy smile glow.  I think that was the first time I understood what love could look like.

They got married soon after and though it must have pained them both, he joined the exodus of young men going to the UAE to work in order to support their families.  And it was here we would often stop by on our visits to India or while on Umrah.  On these visits, we would find ourselves in a surreal situation – watching my uncle in his cramped, simple quarters lay out a pricey feast of food for us – his roommates hovering nearby to help host us with an intense loyalty which surely must have been generated over the years of knowing Sidi Aaka.  It would feel awful at first and make one want to shout: Please don’t pamper us like this! We are overfed Westerners who just got off a plane which suddenly appears luxurious though we had just finished complaining about how cramped it felt! But…then, the sight of his eyes lighting up, his smile glowing as we ashamedly ate would quell these thoughts.  We would once more take from his outstretched hands  because we understood what love could look like.

May Allah have mercy on your soul Sidi Aaka and may your young wife, three children and all of us who love you hold those quiet, gentle and loving hands once more in the life to come.

A Saturday afternoon to myself! How did that come about? I can’t say I miss the old days as a single mom when I had many a Saturday afternoons to myself – to write, to take a nap on the white sofa in the sunlight, to swim and to chat with friends and make plans for the evening.   Wait, that sounds so lovely that it sounds like I miss it.  Ok, so while I absolutely love being married, the solitary Saturdays are like drops of… of… of something sustenance-ing.

My husband is working on a project, my daughter is at a BFF sleepover – extended version, my sonS (stepson too – with us for the summer) are with their uncle.  And I is alone.  Sigh (of sustenance).

The vestiges of the whirlwind of a summer we found ourselves in are still in the hallway to be unpacked – we just returned from a camping trip yesterday. My husband and I get exhausted when we rhyme off all the things we’ve enjoyed, done, encountered, endured, accepted, planned, etc just in the month of July.  Let’s just say that they involved, among other things,  3 separate road trips, baseball season for my 13 year old, a hospital stay and balcony gardening battling with the wind (he says he has learned not to garden 19 stories up, I say I’ve learned to choose more hardier plants – and you should see the extra tough sweet peas that bloomed!) And I forgot to add that the summer also involved two step-sibling 9 year olds lugging around their stuffed panda and dog, each stuffed into their very own mini-sleeping bags, all the way over to east coast U.S.A. , Quebec and Ontario wilderness – all the while alternating seamlessly between bickering and being the bestest of friends.

I think I’ll go nap on the white sofa now.

Who knew Jury duty could open up your (my) eyes to the hundred and one things you could be doing had you not been on Jury duty? Once released, I sprang upon my soul’s artistic pangs (and dramatic pangs) and fiddled with my husband’s photography (see below), fixed up some decoupage I had done on my daughter’s allowance box (see below), fonted a mug for my brother, bought a spring coat, edited my dad’s writing super-quick and met/caught up with 3 friends. All in one day.

I promise, absolutely promise, insha’Allah to record what tomorrow brings. I am positively itching to do something dramatically artistic.

lilacs

the lilacs are coming, the lilacs are coming

seagulls

this is one of my all-time favourite pictures. like dandelions, seagulls are much maligned. here, they are given their rightful glory.

i like decoupaging. she’s from the swinging somethings (2o’s, 30’s, 80’s, take your pick)

At this ripe ol’ age of mine , I’ve discovered that science rocks! Science is actually an ibadat – to examine, realize, understand and uncover the magnificence of Allah’s creation is so invigorating.

I say this after having worked with my science-loving 8 year-old daughter on her science fair project. She insisted that she wanted to find the cure for cancer…I was like ok, I know it might be part of your genetic make-up to whip up last minute stuff (having a mother who started and finished a year’s worth of a 30 page research paper in 2 days while 7 months pregnant with a strange kidney ailment), but I don’t think we can pull THAT off in 5 weeks. So instead the focus shifted to cancer prevention.

Her interest in science excites me because everyone else in my family and her dad’s family are pretty much arts-oriented. My uncle with the 3 doctor (and 1 dentist) children would often ask my dad, what happened to your kids? How come everyone ran away from the “hallowed” field of science?

If anyone could have done it, my sister, with her ever-inquiring mind and earnest quest for new research (and ability to retain it) would have made a fine doctor or researcher. Instead, she opted to follow her older siblings down the artsy route. I think once in a while she sighs about that decision.

As for me, I laugh at my inability to understand science – especially biology and chemistry – in the olden days. It felt so dead. I hated it. I struggled to come up with experiment ideas for classes and actually handed in an experiment on whether ice melts faster in open hot water or sealed cold water when I was in GRADE SEVEN! I laugh now but I cried then when I received a D on that ground-breaking project. It reminded me of a brilliant speech I heard from a science educator at a conference. He was speaking about how by junior high, science is not often taught in meaningful ways:

“If you ask a child in grade 1 to tell you about science, they answer it’s butterflies and water and windmills and if you ask them in grade 4, they answer it’s making cars and castle doors that move and if you ask them in grade 8, they say it’s period 7 on Mondays and Wednesdays.”

So, now as I see this awakening interest in science in my daughter, I hope to welcome and encourage it – and to engage in it with her (so that I can learn a thing or two myself). It is so exciting…did you know that I finally understand the scientific method?

* If you can, check out the Sultans of Science exhibit at the Ontario Science Center. It’s amazing and only on until the beginning of May.

…I’ve been busy

1. being in love (go ahead, say/think/groan/spit out the AAAAWWWW).
2. avoiding writing report cards (that’s as of this minute)
3. reading-laughing and sharing Asmaa’s latest blog post with the hubby.  Asmaa you are very funny.
4. watching my amazingly creative and handy husband transform our shared space into a comfortable, organized dream home.
5. cooking. And learning to tone down my spices and try different things.  And learning new dishes from the husband.  Who cooks. Like really really cooks.
6. being in love.

Besides all this, I’ve been blogging a lot in my head.  And then I start talking about my writing ideas with my other half. And it all comes out and we discuss it and then it’s gone. The urge to write is gone.

Hmm, is being in love killing my blog?

I’m a jumble of random, eclectic interests so I will succumb to myself and write about…

1. I didn’t think Maclean’s had it in them… but having given up on getting any sense of balanced news from the mag for a long while now, I was surprised when a brother from work indicated there was something worthy in the Feb 25th issue. Page 16 features an interview with ex-CIA spy Graham Fuller which tells it like it is. Apparently Fuller has an article in Foreign Policy under the provocative title: A World Without Islam which further describes his views.

2. Wilson Bentley. He spent his adult life taking pictures of snowflakes using a special microscopic camera. His work helped show that no two snowflakes – because of moisture, temperature, wind differences – were ever alike. “I found that snowflakes were masterpieces of design. No one design was ever repeated. When a snowflake melted…just that much beauty was gone, without leaving any record behind.” His work – painstakingly photographing snowflakes in the late 1800’s – was an attempt to capture a record of the Divinely designed.

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Wilson Bentley

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a modern interpretation

3. I smiled a tiny smile to myself today at school. We’d been studying black civil rights leaders and how they held on to their dreams for a better world. The students worked on imagining and recording what these dreams must have been on a sheet that had pictures of the leaders as youngsters in one corner and then them as adults in the opposite corner (all smiling because some of their dreams had come true!) As a follow up, the students were to record their own aspirations for the world on a sheet with actual photos of them now and imagined, drawn pictures of them as adults. One of the girls came up to me and asked me how do you draw a hijab? I showed her and then asked her why? Because, she said, I’m going to wear one when I’m an adult so I need to draw it on my later picture. I smiled into my dark blue hijab.

One of the March Break Madness events we took part in was Visiting Friends’ Houses. VFH is a big deal for my daughter because of the H part. We are among the few she knows who live in a non-House. She always makes it a point to go up to the VFH host and say, “I really like your house.” What she means is “I really like ANY house.”

She was too young to remember that we lived in a house once a long time ago. A house in a very nice part of Ottawa with a swing set in the backyard and an old piano in the dining room. With pick up baseball games in the park nearby, family biking trails right beside the house and neighbors who had cute little dogs. And white peonies, white lily of the valleys and white sweet peas in the garden (beauty: white flowers on dark green foliage).

That white-picket experience was one of the many diverse home situations I’ve experienced in my life and at the end of it all, I like the simplest home experience of all. I like not having to feel that I need a new this or that – besides saving money, it saves valuable energy and head-space trying to keep up with the Hassans (with apologies to all the Hassans out there). And I find it exhilaratingly challenging to my interior-design loving brain to make the things I have look good together somehow. As a good friend who came by and looked around yesterday said: only you artsy types can put together stuff like this (stuff like what? un-cookie-cutter, mismatched, weird? fusion, that must be it) and make it work.

Now I finally get to try to put William Morris’ rule to use: Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful. It’s been a LONG LONG time since I bought anything for the condo. As for near future plans: a coat of white paint and 2 chairs re-covered and I’m done.

It’s only when we’ve been VFHing that my daughter starts wistfully talking about a white picket life. At all other times, she’s grateful for the making-art space I set up in the corner of the living room and most especially, for the sunlight which always visits and crowds our condo – the most beautiful interior design of all.

I snatched some time from this unbelievably busy month to moon-gaze tonight from my uncurtained living room window so high up close to the sky and this is what I found:

“The most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched, they must be felt with the heart…” Helen Keller

The moon was almost full. The clouds were busily rushing past – they had places to go and rain upon. And the moon shone on… only it appeared sometimes to be dull behind the rush of clouds sweeping by…but it still shone on.

I thought of the moon and the Prophet’s face of light (peace be upon him). I thought of the moon amidst the incredibly environmental and profoundly important messages in the Qur’an. I realized that the moon was a signifier of God’s immense mercy to us humans – a means by which to measure the time He granted each one of us to use in the pursuit of the good, of His pleasure.

The time He granted us to shine on – even when dulled by the rush.

And only He allows us to feel these beautiful things in the heart. That is a great mercy indeed.

Do you remember the moments you learned something so new, your eyes involuntarily widened? Sometimes I think I live for these moments. Actually, a lot of these moments have to do with our ways of seeing – so yes, your eyes are voluntarily involved.

Like in painting class in University, when we had to take apart the colors we literally saw in our surroundings and identify and replicate them and you discover the green of the grass on a late March day was not green. It was grayish blueish brown. And so you discover that your brain tells your eyes to see what it wants to/been trained to – not what is there.

In my art period on Thursday, as I was showing the students how to train their eyes to see negative spaces in an image or a scene, I saw eyes widening with new learning. There is another way of looking at things they discovered. The picture of a cat did not only hold the cat but the space around it was a shape as well.

Those moments can feel refreshing or quieting. To know the palette you have envisioned needs to be mixed anew is interesting. To know how to break apart the spaces in a picture and see the “unimportant” shapes was stimulating. But to know, with a sudden realization, that a situation is not what you “see” is strangely stilling.

In the Qur’an, we are told over and over to look about us and see. See the ruins of past civilizations, the evidence of His presence, the splendors of nature, the plotting of humans, the miracles of faith…so much to see, be stimulated, be still and with widening eyes, accept a new awareness…

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This is a mountain…or is it a zebra? And do you see the blue negative space? Or is it the brown and white negative space? And are you sure that it’s WHITE, that snow? If you asked what snow, your eyes are probably wide right now. 

…and in other news, I had a wonderful day today. I spent most of it with someone I had baby-sat frequently as a teenager – fully grown now. We went to a get-together to support a mutual friend who followed her passion and went from engineer to jewelery designer. Check her stuff out at Etsy (Pepperberry Jewelry).

About my former baby-sat friend – she’s a volunteering dynamo alhamdulillah (the causes she works with are many, diverse and mainstream) with a grounded sense of her purpose in life. And today she picked up a new cause from hanging around with my sister and I – more information to come on that insha’Allah. May Allah grant her all the best in this world and the next.

“Prayer is a spontaneous outpouring of a man before his Lord” – thus begins my favorite book of duas: A Handbook of Islamic Prayers. When I first read that sentence, I knew the book was going to become pretty tattered as time went on. It has a whole section on comprehensive prayers – prayers said by the Prophet (peace be upon him) which “are couched in a few words but contain vast meanings”.

Recently I’ve been having a lot of conversations with people who, while acknowledging a “higher power”, don’t believe in the necessity of worship or appeals to that power. They admit to a fascination with people who live seeking constant guidance from God because to them it seems so “nouveau”. Most of these new friends grew up in religiously apathetic homes. I’ve been answering a lot of questions.

For me, trust in God is a beautiful elixir – it fuels a content life. I can pinpoint the times in my life when my awareness of what was involved in trusting God fully became more heightened.

When I first moved back to T.O. to live on my own and was worried I wasn’t going to get a job and was waiting on a reference from a supervisor who might have forgotten about me, I remember looking out of my living room window thinking, somewhere out there downtown, Steve is about to type a reference letter about me which might or might not land me the means of supporting myself and my 2 children. Then I looked up at the vastness of the night sky and my anxiety dissipated at the realization that it was God – looking over me, Steve and the whole world – who had the power to determine my future not mere Steve. I loved that moment and whenever I worry about something, my living room window brings me back to the reality of God’s power.

But I am a struggling servant of God. My poem migrant really conveys the way I look upon my consistency of trust in Him. I am very fortunate that I have friends and family who help one another stay on course. To my friend from yesterday, have faith – she who lives with trust in God will never be disappointed.

And, come spend some time by my living room window one of these days…

Illness fell shortly after I wrote this blurb on the 12th:

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On the weekend I felt like I was in a comic strip.

My parents have a smallish-medium sized wild backyard. It’s a maverick backyard because it’s the only one from amongst its neighbors which has a back fence totally lined with trees. There must be at least 15 – some growing into and out of the fence. And then there are three cherry trees (oh those cherries are the best) and a huge maple tree. Huge.

So you can imagine what it looks like in the fall.

So I went out on Sunday and proceeded to fill up some leaf collection bags. After packing down three extra-large bags, I leaned my rake against the shed and looked at my handiwork. Right at that precise moment, a HUGE wind blew and I kid you not, those trees all cooperated and decided to dump their remaining leaves on the ground.

I felt like Charlie Brown. Good grief.

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And I did get a good grief of an illness for most of a long week. There’s nothing better than a bout of something bad to make you appreciate a ton of things a ton times more.

I knew I was finally beginning to recover when my sister made me laugh without it hurting on Thursday. I don’t think I’ll ever forget her waving the latest issue of the Muslim Girl magazine around while delivering a spiel on winter and sparkly snowflakes (MGM has this whole fashion spread on winterizing your hijab).

It was so good to laugh again. And breathe.

I always think I’m a devotee of the four season balance of Canada’s climate; I grew up tobogganing on Montreal’s hills and skating on High Park’s Grenadier Pond. I even grew-grew up to live close to Ottawa’s Rideau Canal – the longest skating rink in the world. I thought it was fun to spent -30° evenings on the Canal with the rest of the crazy Ottawans once or twice a week. When T.O. friends visited that’s where we’d take them – come freeze yourself on the Rideau Canal!

I always think I’m a devotee of the four season balance of Canada’s climate. But I really am not. Winter is harsh here. With global warming, it’s weirdly harsh. It can do a number on your respiratory system every year.

I’m in Los Angeles as I write this post. And after having already spent some time seeing the benefits of living in a climate that’s even-tempered (except for the occasional, but extremely angry, earthquake “tantrums”), I’m seeing the potential of living unfrozen. You would be out more. Taking pictures like this more:

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and this one:

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I’m really enjoying being out here, pretending to be knowledgeable about photographing nature ;).

The experience I’m out here for – a conference on diversity, tolerance, openness – is really intensive and thought-provoking. Two phrases stood out for me today:

1. “Sparking Compassion”. The simplicity of this – and its inherent assumption that everyone is spark”able” – is beautiful to me.

2. “We don’t fear the people whose stories we know.” This reminded me of something I heard Amir Sulaiman say once in a prelude to one his spoken word performances: we have to keep telling our stories because if we hide them, they don’t exist and then it becomes easy for others to make up our stories. He meant the good, the bad and the ugly. And today, while viewing a powerful historical overview of American civil rights, I saw the connection between keeping our stories alive and keeping justice alive. In saying/showing/writing/blogging the truth of your experience you are adding to a collective anthology which is organically shaping and creating a new discourse.

The time for the discourse to solely consist of Muslim civil rights groups ambulancing to “the scene” to conduct a rescue mission is slowly fading (though, unfortunately, their services are still much needed – and of course, to be lauded). But now, more than ever, it’s storytime.

Dedication personified…

Terry left one of the best of things one can leave upon death: an on-going charity. Every year, mini marathons of hope take place around the world to raise money for cancer research.

Although he had often showed a temper at the circumstances surrounding his run/passion to raise awareness about cancer, at the end of his life, Terry demonstrated great serenity and calm. He said that he found it easy to face death because of his belief in God and in heaven.

Tomorrow is the Terry Fox National School Run Day (our school did ours today). Here’s a link to read more about Terry Fox.

The new Sami Yusuf video is somehow fitting here as well… (masha’Allah, the director, Hani Osama is excellent at what he does)…(and if you love to see Muslims at their multicultural/diverse best, it’s a must-view)…

What a beautiful song. That’s the only word to describe it. As a former piano-practicer, I always fall for endearing piano pieces.

And, I thank Ar-Rahman that I understand every Arabic word of it 🙂 (see arabic-angst post below).

update: This new Sami Yusuf clip (from Awakening Records, copyright holders) has English subtitles.

It’s something unpredictable
but in the end it’s right.
I hope you had the time of your life.

So take the photographs
and still frames in your mind.

Hang it on a shelf
In good health and good time.

– Green Day

We planted trees in our school yard today. A long line of young ash and birch trees in front of the fence fencing the old forest behind the school. It was a gentle, giving thing to do in the beginning of a personally busy week.

It’s interesting how busy-ness sneaks up on me. Maybe it’s because I’m a procrastinator. Wait, it is because I’m a procrastinator.

It’s also interesting how in the middle of the busy-ness, unpredictable things land with a thud (a nice thud) on top of the pile. I just received an opportunity to do something I’ve wanted to try before. As it involves traveling to a warmer clime, I appear to be open to it. ; )

1. In early June I had the opportunity to do a phone interview with Kareem Salama for a freelance piece I was writing (I’ve pitched it to a publication since then so keep me in your duas) and he told me about some of the songs on his second album, This Life of Mine. You can hear 2 of them, This Life of Mine and Generous Peace, on his website www.kareemsalama.com. From what I’ve heard – both from Kareem and from the songs – I’m getting a feeling this new album is going to go far, insha’Allah (God willing).

You can also read a great review of it at Hahmed’s blog. (I can’t wait to get the album even if it’s just to read the lyrics.)

kareem_cover.jpg I’m certain that many Canadians haven’t heard Kareem Salama’s music yet. It seems when I or friends mention him in terms of new “Muslim” music, we draw blanks (so we usually do a LOT of advertising – my sister even played it at a community picnic and then had an extremely lengthy discussion/debate with a brother who was saying that it was NOT Muslim music. I wish I had been there – I would have loved to hear what the definition of “Muslim” music was.) Just yesterday, a non-Muslim friend heard his first CD, Generous Peace, while in my car and though I’ve known her for almost ten years, suddenly revealed that she had always looooved country music and this was up there. I promised her a CD or 2 from the ISNA convention just for revealing such a secret.

2. There’s a whole bunch of cute 7 year olds wondering what life is going to be like (after two weeks) for the next ten months. I’ve met most of my incoming class and I’m truly excited – most of them already have well-developed personalities. A big part of a teacher’s job is planning but my detailed plans always fly out the window when I tap into what my latest class is absorbed by. So, while I, like all students and teachers out there, cringe at all the Back to School hoopla, the cringe turns into a smile when I think of the kids.

3. A good friend of mine is leaving Canada with her husband and young daughter for a university teaching opportunity abroad (young, adventurous and smart!) Today we had a get together to say good-bye to her. I’ve known her since I was 6 and though she’s only slightly older than me, I’ve always looked up to her as an older sister – and I don’t think I’m the only one. She’s thoroughly kind, always ready to help anyone and everyone, cheerful, so political aware (she’s going to be teaching international relations) and an independent spirit. I’m going to miss you and I’ll never forget the time you came to visit me in my colorful home in Ottawa, heart-broken and the time I came to visit you at that colorful Chinese restaurant, heart-broken. And the summers we spent riding our bikes all over High Park. And…

Alhamdulillah this summer is turning out to be very memorable and crazily busy – but a good busy. In the midst of it all, I’m trying to get a few pieces of art done for the Art Exhibit at the ISNA annual convention in Chicago over Labour Day weekend. (Anyone reading who’s going to be there please stop by and say salaams).

I’ve been going to ISNA since I was a young child and was really involved with MYNA on the organizational level in my teens, but each year I go to the annual convention, I feel like I come away with so much I never knew or experienced before. I especially enjoy the smaller workshops and discussion forums. It’s a great way to end a summer and begin a new work year.

I felt the same feeling this Saturday at MuslimFest here in Toronto. The most beautiful aspects about the whole event had to be the organization, punctuality, professionalism and dedication of the numerous volunteers. Although the culminating evening show with comedy from Baba Ali of Ummah Films, Preacher Moss, Aman Ali and spoken word poetry from Amir Sulaiman was definitely a highlight, I would have to mention the talent show earlier in the day with those from the greater Toronto area just beginning in the Muslim performance arts scene was on par. Omair Rahman, a 19 year-old comedian from Markham was a hit – as was rapper Mujahid LeGendre and, of course, the MC for the event, Hamza Moin of Maniac Muslim. The Arabic nasheeds by a very young group, Generation Muslim, were soul-touching as well.

Flipping to another topic, I’ve been really grateful this summer for the simple joys Allah has allowed me to experience in the last month and a half. Take cooking – which I only enjoy doing if there’s someone to enjoy eating it. And I mean enjoy eating it as in really mmmmm enjoy it – and then I cook with flourish. As my former was the enjoying type, with the unhitching, I didn’t feel that much joy in selecting the best cut of meat any more. This summer that all changed – I’ve been a hostessing like mad as I’m re-discovering there’s actually people to mmmmm it.

Yesterday evening, I had the best time hosting long-time friends for a “cultural” evening…and I got to thinking how Allah places the right people in our lives to enrich and beautify our journeys to Him. And it also doesn’t hurt if they’re a blast to hang around with (and to cook for).

I relish in being uncultured. As in brought up without the norms of a particular culture.

There was a point when I strongly wanted to fit into a certain culture (that of my ex’s) and tried so hard and for so long to “learn” how to be with it but I was woefully unsuccessful. Perhaps I took it (the learning) too academically, but dupattas (do not like those things) never sat properly on me (why are they always either stiff or slippery?), my Urdu would not progress beyond jee and aap keso hai and tika due to a language-acquisition disability (so please pardon the awful transliterations) and my rotis were always rolled into oblonged triangles and came out stiff as dupattas.

I know people get great pleasure from their cultures and all the elaborate details that bring pizzazz to otherwise “bland” rituals but with all honesty, I’d rather take a backseat in a good, solid, American-made Ford when it comes time to participating in the pizzazz. Maybe it’s just because I don’t get most of it and I like to get things.

Maybe it’s because it’s usually the mothers who pass on cultural traditions to their children and my mother was brought up with deliberate simplicity by her father. He was a successful landowner but his children were permitted 2 sets of clothing plus an Eid outfit each. He sent my mother and her 2 sisters to the local men’s only mosque to pray and when they came back because they were barred, he sent them back again and again until they were allowed. He had them busy learning things other than how to drape a dupatta properly. (But my mom does make awesome rotis – like silk dupattas).

My father? Let’s just say he has no idea what a dupatta is.

(By the way, for all of you other uncultured people out there, a dupatta is a long rectangular material that is arranged – usually “artfully” – to adorn an Indian or Pakistani outfit.)

Being uncultured, I get to marvel at all cultures and borrow from whence I please (the non-pizzazzy things). Currently I’m going through a great affinity for things Somali, Japanese and Louisianan. I was just SO happy on my trip to umrah last summer to discover a store in Madinah right across from the Prophet’s mosque which had abayas with traditional ethnic Indian embroidery on them (Muslim fusion fashion at its best) – and best of all, they had NO dupattas.

Of course, we hear enough – with wagging fingers – about people who mix up Islam and cultural traditions. To be fair, at the time that I was trying so hard to be “cultured” properly, no one held the this-is-Islamic-so-you-must-do-it card above my head. It was just always pointed out that this was THE way it was done. Back then, I just loved THE way – it was so exotic and such a novelty (until the dupatta started acting up).

Is there a wisdom in keeping to the “way things are done back home”? I sometimes wonder this because I have no clue as to the “way things are done back home”. Perhaps if I left to live in another country, I would think about the “way things are done back home” here in Canada (like lining up, obeying traffic signals and other such traditions) and start passing them on to my children in a nostalgic fashion.

Until then, I’ll remain uncultured.

The Final Analysis (a version of Keith M. Kent’s The Paradoxical Commandments)

People are often unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered;
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true friends;

 Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you;
Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;
Build anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.

People really need help but may attack you if you try to help;
Help people anyway.

If you give the world the best you have, you may get kicked in the teeth;
Give the world your best anyway.

You see, in the final analysis, it was between you and God;
It was not between you and them anyway.

In my relatively new stint as a blogger, I’ve heard of being tagged and I was inadvertently tagged once but ducked quickly – and luckily, avoided being found out. But when a writer-buddy, fellow corny-joke lover like Noha, daughter of one of my most favorite older people in the world (her mom), tags me, I have to stop, turn from running, stand as straight and tall as my 5’3” self can and graciously accept. So, here’s 8 random facts about meself. (And I’m tagging Asmaa (before you leave for Egypt), Hajera, Safiyyah, Lalla Mona, Proggiemuslima, Margari Aziza Hill (before you leave for Egypt – hey, is there a running theme here?), Precious Modesty, Debra from Little Imagination – that’s 8 but I also want to include Yasmine from Sweep the Sunshine). And I’m waiting for Hadeel‘s (who’s in Egypt [?])because I KNOW you’ve already been tagged, girl.

1. I like wooden spoons. Not to eat with of course but to stir, boil, saute, bang, and slide around a pan while I imagine my next creative pursuit – in short, use up til they get that nice, much-used, patina-ish look. Then I like to put them in a container and gaze at them – a bouquet of wooden spoons. Hmm, that could BE my next creative pursuit: painting a bouquet of wooden spoons – oh, I really like this tagging business.

2. No one in the world believes me as they watch me struggle for oh so long to figure out a tip or work out what 40 % off $30 is but I WAS IN GIFTED MATH IN HIGH SCHOOL. And I GOT THE HIGHEST MARK IN PHYSICS. But…yes, I did almost fail my requisite biology in first year university so I guess there’s a wheel unclogged in the science and math department up there (but if you tell me the velocity at which it fell off, I can calculate its force for you). But this year, I did try to even it all out by raising little caterpillars (one for each student) into butterflies and then releasing them to take off (at a speed of 10 km/h) into the sunshine. Biology + Physics. Now do you believe me?

3. Commonplacer’s law: even if I love a song and have heard it trillions of times, I will mix up the lyrics (and sometimes, just sometimes, sometimes a lot of the times, the tune). And just as every action has an opposite reaction, God gave me 2 children who can correct me every single time with the exact itty bitty vowel, verses, tune and inflection in place. Why, oh why must I be corrected while in the shower?

And just so you know, I come from a family of talented singers on my dad’s side and just this past summer when I visited her, my cousin in the Middle East told me an ancient truth – EVERY single one of my dad’s siblings has one child who is a musical prodigy; she wanted to know which of my dad’s children had this title. I told her as my siblings never dabbled in music, it could be yours truly – I used to know how to play the piano, I was chosen to play violin in a trio at an important children’s music festival (and faked the whole thing out of stage fright) and then I sang for her. She, a very beautiful person with an astonishingly beautiful voice, decided ancient truths may not always hold water. Maybe I just need voice coaching, right?

4. If I don’t catch the crossing guard’s eye to wave at her on my way to school every day, I am squashed inside. I am not a creature of habit – yes, I fit the mold of artsy, spontaneous, whimsical-let’s-stop-class-and-go-outside-to-draw-a-real-tree, but ever since I started discussing Maoon (small daily kind deeds) with my kids (and which prompted my son to spent half his day holding doors for people – he’s decided he wants to enter heaven on at least that good, small consistent deed), I NEED to wave and smile at the crossing guard to start my maoon tally up right. Just this week to boost my maoon sense, one of my grade 2’s came in beaming on seeing me and said the nicest thing on a day I was squashed inside and had other terrible things on my mind like report cards, tracking-student-growth-forms, reading assessment logs and other such dreadful things which keeps one away from living (and blogging): “Ms. K, you’re always smiling no matter what!” My dear girl, you just got an A+.

5. Just to let you know: that child will not be getting an A+ just because she said such a sweet thing. That’s another random fact about myself. I like to make sure everything’s clear as clear nail-polish. So once in a while, I’ll do a check in to see if you got what I was saying or not and if I offended you in any way. It can sometimes be annoying. But, I do have a friend who came into Islam because of this. She said she had never met anyone who called her after to make sure she was hip with our conversation so she was like, hey, let me hang around with her crowd more. And she did. Do you dig me? Or should I call you up to make sure?

6. I like ironing. Now. Ever since I discovered the secret to good ironing was using a faint misty spray while you pass the iron gently over your child’s school uniform every single morning five days a week for ten months of the year. It actually starts my day nicely. Oh. Oh. I am turning into a creature of habit.

7. I am ALWAYS game to take part in a good practical joke. A-L-W-A-Y-S. That comes from my dad’s side as well – every single one of them is a practical joker. That said, I cannot fake a good laugh for a million dollars. And while I can smile “no matter what”, only a few people in this world really make me laugh. My sister chiefly. My brothers – one who is a lawyer/comedian-at-home (who just came back from Egypt [? ?]) and the other who is a computer programmer/comedian-at-home – come close on occasion. Ok, and the brother-in-law. So if you’ve heard me really laugh (and you’ll know when it’s a fake one), then you are in a select circle – made up of mostly of my family. Hmmmm…perhaps I need to get out more.

8. I like to collect interpretations of hijab from my students. Every morning I have at least 3 drawings thrust at me. And I ooh and aah and secretly put aside the hijabi ones. Lately, I’ve been getting worried because I’ve been presented with some curious pictures showing me in hijab and a hula skirt and bikini top on a beach or as a mermaid lounging on a rock with a bright pink scarf on. Have I been letting my sense of modest dressing go or is the summer heat getting to these kids? But really, they are all quite heart-warming. Still, my all time favorite is the one I received from a special-needs student, John, in a grade 1 class when I first started teaching. I have it somewhere – it’s just one long hijab with arms sticking out and a circle for a face with two huge eyes and a long smile. Whenever I come across it, I remember his huge smile and tenderness. I love it.

Yesterday, while driving home from my daughter’s ballet recital, alone in the car (the kids’ weekend with their dad), I saw a picture I wanted to send to Muslim-A-Day: a very elderly Muslim man, dressed in his very traditional clothes, pausing on his walk to lean over, close his eyes and smell white flowers on a great green shrub. He stood there for a while and I could see he was a good man.

This image brought to mind my grandfather (dad’s dad), who passed away almost 2 years ago. Though he was a lean, strong man with a no-nonsense character, he would always tuck a fragrant white flower behind one ear when he went walking – and although he was extremely wealthy and could afford a driver, he walked everywhere (which accounted for his leanness). He educated each of his children in Islam and Arabic primarily but also supported the full extent of each of their educational priorities – including his daughters (which was odd for the time and place).

My grandfather never went a day without starting it with the Qur’an right after Fajr. That’s the image I have when I think of him: sitting on the porch in the lightening day, with a white scarf draped on his bent head, the Qur’an open in his arms. That kind of image stays with you and compels you to imitate it.

On Friday, June 1, my mom, sister and I took part in the Toronto Relay for Life to raise money for cancer research. I was walking for my grandfather, my mother for her sister and my sis for her mom-in-law – may Allah have mercy on their souls.

Strangely, our class visit to the zoo ended up being spiritual. There we were, in front of the gorilla exhibit, staring straight into the sorrowful face of the head honcho of the fam with me thinking the same thing I’ve thought every year that I’ve taken a grade 2 class to the zoo (4 years) – I don’t think I want to come again next year and marvel at these poor creatures staring blankly back at me – when a small voice piped up from beside me and invaded my private thoughts: “I think…I think it’s better if we went to the jungle and saw these animals there…then they would be happy and we would be happy. I’m not happy seeing them not-happy.”

It was one of my students, one of the lively, rambunctious ones that I’d especially selected to tour the zoo in my group (with the parent volunteers splitting up the less “explorative” rest of the class).

The other students heard this girl’s opinion and a strange silence fell on us. It seemed to be just us 7 and the old male gorilla with his sonorous face and slow-blinking eyes. Why do primates staring full into your face compel such bouts of conscience in us humans?

After that, the students couldn’t stop talking about the feelings of the animals. I was toting around not only gorilla-whisperers, but also elephant-whisperers, camel-whisperers, polar bear-whisperers and even red-tailed green rat snake-whisperers. At one point we went into a mock ranger cabin on the “African Savannah” and those students who were Buddhist and Hindu felt compelled to tell the presenter about some of their views on the sacred treatment of animals. One student gently touched a piece of zebra skin and asked how it had died. I could tell the presenter was a bit flustered. But then she came around and moved about the cabin gamely pointing out all the things that were fake (“See this lion skull? Guess what? It’s NOT real! We made it here at the zoo!” “Well, what about this tusk? Is that real?” “Well, er, yes but…we’re sure the elephant died of an illness…We’re the Zoo, we LOVE animals.”) I’m sure she was relieved when we moved on and the next group of bouncy, less-whispery kids bounded in.

The whole trip was obviously not like that – and as usual, the very same things that happen every year inevitably happened. In front of the spectacular view of the giraffes languidly moving across the field or the lion yawning majestically, the kids energetically pointed out “LOOK! An ant! An ANT!” or “Ms. K! IT’s A PIGEON! A PIGEON EVERYONE!” Every year without fail this happens in front of the most exotic animal exhibits.

But then…as we sat down in a quiet spot under a tree to eat our lunches, I pulled out my translation of Shaykh Al-Amin Ali Mazrui’s collection of hadith The Content of Character. I thought all the kids were involved in chatting with each other but a few of them drew near to me to ask what I was reading. I explained that it was something from my religion. What? they asked. It was about goodness, I explained. The gorilla-whisperer noticed the Arabic on the pages and wanted to hear me read it. So under the tree, amidst all the animal whisperers, I read in a lulling language which they did not understand but seemed content to just listen to without explanation. I read the meaning in my head: Those who show mercy have God’s mercy shown to them. Have mercy to those here on earth, and the One there in Heaven will have mercy on you.

henna-party.jpg

Henna Party: India Ink

muhajiba.jpg

Muhajibah: India Ink, Watercolor

1. I had a chance to update the Art page of the blog.

2. Swimming on Saturdays. I used to swim at least 4 times a week not too long ago. Now it’s once a week but I’m still not complaining. I think I was meant to be in close proximity to water (except if you ask me about the time our canoe capsized in the middle of a very deep lake). (Oh, and the time I almost drowned in a pond full of black water snakes). I find swimming in a nice indoor pool more civilized somehow.

3. A nice story: Once upon a time, there were three adolescent boys selling apples for their scout troupe outside a store. I was in a rush having been dropped off to get a few things. As I ran by, the boys thrust their wares at me, pressuring me to buy in loud voices. I said sorry, that I was in a hurry and that if I had time on the way out, I’d stop by. They made a face and sucked their teeth. Very noisily. And rudely. I ignored them and went into the store. Bought my things and came out again. It was in record shopping time so while I was waiting for my ride, I had a chance to observe these boy scouts in action. Every customer going into the store was being treated the same way – with a few getting some choice words hurled at them as well for not buying. The box of apples sat forlornly at the side of such worthy merchants.

There was a lull in customers and the three leaned against the wall sullenly. I went over. They eagerly looked up and reached for the box – a customer, at last? No, a teacher about to do something uncharacteristic of her – teach outside of school hours. I explained that there was a formula for getting people to think about doing what you want them to and it was called “being polite”. They looked totally confused and my heart softened…had no one told these boys the ways of the world? I had to literally give them a script: “Good morning sir/madam. We’re wondering if you would be interested in buying some apples to support our boy scout troupe? No? Well, thank you for listening and we hope you have a nice day.” They each practiced solemnly and my heart was now liquid.

Wonder of wonders, the first person who came by after this teaching moment and, who received this special treatment, stopped and pulled her wallet out. She told them the only reason she was buying was because they were such polite young boys. They looked at me in astonishment. My ride was late and I witnessed customers who weren’t interested in their apples coming back out and buying – again, just because of the boys. As I got into the car, they were recounting the story of their sales to their scout leader and waving at me, soft smiles over their noisy teeth.

My mother is the smartest person I know. My father, with doctoral studies from McGill University, a degree from the Islamic University of Madina etc, knows I think this. I think he agrees with me.

She had to stop formal schooling in grade five in order to help care for her bed-ridden mother. She was a spunky child and when I look at her gentleness now, I can’t imagine some of the “terrible” things she says she did – like always waiting for her friends to check their work with the teacher first and upon silently seeing them get rebuked for wrong answers, quickly erasing and fixing her own similarly wrong answers; this way, she was always all correct when she got to the teacher. My mom did this? The one who would make us all walk with her for three long blocks right then and there to return an extra dime the cashier had given her in error?

I can’t imagine what she must have went through to emigrate and adjust to a new country. A cold country – as she arrived in the middle of a Canadian winter. The first time she woke up and saw the white landscape of a Montreal snowstorm, she thought the Day of Judgment had arrived.

We sometimes sit around and laugh with my mom about all her misconceptions in those early days – with my father chortling the loudest. She laughs along and provides the best lines but when my father can’t get his breath from laughing so hard, she quietly turns around, smiles a knowing smile and says the same thing, “what about the egg coupon?”

My father stops laughing at that point and usually exits to read in his library. Then we laugh at him and the time he was send to the grocery store to buy a carton of eggs using a coupon from a flyer. My mom told him to cut the coupon out and submit it before paying. He came back from the store saying he couldn’t understand why the cashier hadn’t discounted the price. He had done as he was told and produced the coupon for my mom to prove it: he had neatly cut exactly one round egg out of the picture on the coupon and handed it to the incredulous cashier. He’s never lived that one down.

Now, my mother reads books and newspapers fluently, attends classes every week, understands complicated financial things which my father (and I) don’t and increases her understanding of the relationship between nutrition and health by researching/reading/discussing at such depth that her young grandchildren are convinced she was a doctor before she married my father.

I’m just convinced, from a lifetime of experience, that she’s the smartest person I know.

A Simple Love Poem

there is
the earth
but it’s not
round
when you’re
standing on it

it is
small and flat

i can see
you
everywhere

there is
this smile
i still remember
from the
first time
i saw it

wide and deep
heart-beaming
inside out

there is
this hand
freckled, supple
in motion, soothing
stirring, stroking,
in motion

soft and generous

your spirit
pulsing

there is
this soul
but it’s not
contained
inside

you spill it

it is
light and a light

i see
my way
by it
– commonplacer, 2007

Yesterday was like a heart rate chart. Up and down and up and down.

It officially began with a down when I snipped my finger (the one next door to pinkie) while I was cutting sticky notes for the students to use during their social studies projects to pretend they were real researchers (you know, walking around with books with yellow strips sticking out all over the place with their jotted notes on them). The bleeding wouldn’t stop and had the kids all tizzied up. Some had their mouths open in fascination (the scientists), several were running to tell others (the reporters), a couple had rushed to the office to get bandages (the doctors), one had brought tissue over to press the wound (the paramedic), two were reassuring me and informing each other they had experienced such cuts before and survived (the Oprahs), one was examining the scissor’s sharpness (the forensic investigator), a couple were muttering darkly about its sharpness (the unionists), one special guy was announcing the fact that there was such sharp scissors around a school wasn’t good at all (the lawyer), three were asking me if I was ok over and over (the therapists), four were still working hard on their projects after shooting a single steely glance at all the commotion (the CEOs) and a handful, a precious handful, were patting my arm with tears in their eyes (the gems). And all I was thinking was… a cut on my newly empty ring finger? I can get a poem out of the tragic irony.

Such is the mind of (the writer).

I’ve been blogging but not publishing.  There’s still more posts to post. I’ll timestamp them and add them later.  April is looking like my busiest month yet.   Besides all the regular home stuff such as taxes and a speeding ticket (blink, blink), there’s poetry month and environmental club at school…

Here‘s a humorous and critical essay about National Poetry Month.

April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers…
From The Wasteland by T.S. Eliot

Being born smack dab in the middle of the cruelest month, I sit amidst it hoping for sunshine to visit the condo through its best feature: huge windows facing east. Yet I want the trees to stay bare a bit longer for purely selfish reasons: the starkness of gray-black lines against steel-blue skies never fails to revive the artist soul in me and never fails to nudge the servant soul in me to whisper Alhamdulillah (all praise is to God) in reverence of the True Artist.

I began my birthday weekend by gaining some new lines on my face thinking about aging. The shock that I was even thinking about it when for every previous birthday I couldn’t have cared less, gave me a couple of gray hairs as well.

In this scary state, I hosted a quickly put together sleepover for my daughter and her 2 best friends (her cousins) at my sun-less condo. As expected, no one was intent on going to sleep and they were requesting (no, jumping on the bed and demanding is more like it) their usual dose of the patented commonplacer bed-time story which always involves comedy, tragedy, mystery, pathos, suspense, opera (the quality of which has turned these 3 children off “High Culture” forever), ballads and a Big Baby all in one package. Oh yeah, there’s also sometimes a motorcycle transporting 3 niqabis from Mecca to Medina – across deserts strewn with excitement, adventure and no petrol. These 3 children are convinced that there’s nothing cooler than being a niqabi spy-adventeress who does not like, sniff, “High Culture”.

The 3 lay down, one clutching a blankie, the other clutching her pull-ups and the third clutching my gray hair and I began by telling them that tonight’s programing had been changed due to my b-day. Instead, as I wanted peace and quiet to worry about the year ahead, I was going to treat them to an account of what I had learned each year of my life. I figured they’d be snoring by my ninth year.

Surprisingly, they hung on beyond that – my daughter falling asleep first, at my twelfth year when I learned that friends who stand up to a huge boy named Jay Jay who pulls off your hijab every day in class, are friends for keeps; my littlest niece (pull ups) falling asleep at my thirteenth year when I learned that when you forget you have violin practice after school and decide to uncharacteristically and, for the first time, take part in teasing a bully in Gym class, and you’re walking home alone after violin practice, the bully will ALWAYS be there waiting with friends, BIG friends; my story-obsessed niece drifting off in my eighteenth year – when I learned that picking up your extremely cool Eid clothes (off-white wide pants, antique-rose wrap n’ tie shirt) from the dry cleaners while riding a bike beside a speeding van will result in a scar on your nose, an off-white bandage to go with the pants and a deep desire to stay home on Eid day.

The B-day itself was nothing fancy – my family and I are not into birthdays as a tradition. I did go out to lunch with a friend and my students gave me a little party at school the next day.

However, I did begin a few of my specific 43 things in this cruelest month and each of them have me relying on Allah’s help every step of the way. I’m hoping that, insha’Allah, next year during part 2 of my birthday account of All-That-I-Have-Learned, I will be able to get the 3 children caught up to my age and say this year, 2007, was the year I learned huge goals are achievable if you seek help solely from Allah. Then, only then, are they allowed to fall asleep.

Today’s Reading Group: The yellow group (four seven year-old boys)

Their group’s reading focus: The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch

A good teacher excites students by engaging them in conversation about the topic of the book pre-reading (book unseen) so this gleeful teacher set about conversing…

(Setting: round reading table. Other students are reading silently.)

Me: So, boys, let’s talk about… princesses!

(Boys look at each other sheepishly.)

Me: What do you know about princesses?

Boy 1 (the original let’s-throw-the-ol’-football-around boy type, holding his face stretched to keep it from dissolving into howling laughter): I dunno anything about princesses.

Boy 2 (confident, leader type): Princesses are locked up in a castle waiting for their true love to come to rescue them.

Boy 3 (catching on): They wear high heels.

Boy 4 (wrinkling nose but eager to give his 2-cents): They like to wear high heels.

Boy 2 (trying to set higher tone): Princesses will only marry their own type, like a prince.

Boy 3: Some princesses have to kiss a beast.

Boy 4: or an ugly thing like a frog.

Boy 1 (face still stretched into submission): They always dance.

Boy 2 (working his way to Harvard): Sometimes witches try to stop princesses from their true love but they still get their true love. And sometimes witches turn themselves into a princess but a prince will only marry a TRUE princess.

Me: What do they look like?

Boys (popcorning [teacher term] answers): lots of make-up, shiny shoes, wear lots of jewelery (Boy 3 emphatically corrects: Not ALL princesses wear LOTS of jewelery. They have lots but some use SOME of it), have curly hair (light brown, blond), earrings, small, tall.

Me: Can princesses do anything?

Boys (popcorning): They can become a queen, turn into a witch/frog, can kiss people to turn them normal, can marry handsome princes, have different hairstyles.

Boy 2 (now working his way to Oxford): A king is NOTHING without a queen.

Boy 3 (still emphatic about things, next stop: Law School): But we’re not talking about queens here.

(Now they’re really getting into the topic.)

Me: So what’s the difference between regular girls and princesses?

Boy 1 (face relaxed now, amazed topic is so interesting): Well, they don’t wear crowns. Regular girls don’t wear them.

Boy 4: They don’t wear high heels.

Boy 3: Actually they do wear high heels. My mom has high heels.

Boy 4: Well, they don’t wear sparkly ones.

Boy 3: My mom does.

Boy 4: Okay, my mom does too.

Boy 2: But they don’t wear sparkly, shiny, magic ones like princesses do.

Me: What do regular girls do that princesses don’t?

(Now all “regular” girls in the class have their ears tilted this way, one eye on the boys.)

Boy 2: Regular girls can do more.

Boy 1: Like they punch!

Boy 3: Yeah, they punch! And they karate chop like this (does a pretend karate chop in the air and then rubs his eye).

(Other 3 boys rub their own eye/arm/leg in memory of encounters with “regular” girls.)

Boy 4: They can drive.

Boy 1: They can climb stairs.

Boy 2: So they’re not stuck in a locked tower because they can climb out.

Me: So who do you like better?

All 4 Boys together and emphatically: Regular girls!

Boy 2: Of course.

(“Regular” girls smile at each other.)

The world feels pensive to me right now. And yet it’s March Break and I’m supposed to be looking forward to a lot of fun things this week.

What I really need right now is a pensieve. For un-Harry Potter people, a pensieve is a bowl which allows you to collect your thoughts and memories – to look at objectively or just to relieve your mind a little from all the thinking that’s happening at that moment. It’s a sieve for your thoughts.

And yet it’s March Break. I have lots of to dos – chief of which is to spend time playing with my two children. I’m glad to say I’ve been doing that very responsibly, at least. So far, I’ve consistently rearranged my pensive face into the silly, goofy ones my children love when I’ve got oodles of time with them. Writing about my children actually takes me out of this pensive mood. I’ll never forget the first Eid – during March Break – I had on my own with my children. We were in another city, away from family and housebound because the kids had chicken-pox. In order to keep up the Eid spirit, we set up the whole Eid prayer experience with my son’s action figures. I think Spider-man gave the Khutbah but was kidnapped when he sat down to pause in the sermon. Needless to say, it was one exciting Eid prayer.

The thing is when I play with my children, I really play with them. So when real life starts again next week, they’ll be bothered and continuously say, “can’t you play with us?” I find it hard to really play with them when I’ve had a whole day with a class full of seven-year olds. The reason I became a teacher was because I loved kids and now that I have my own kids, I do so love them more.

This weekend I spent some time with a couple of old friends – one of whom was here on break from her university position teaching law in China. We had a lively conversation over dinner…and it put to my mind how each of our lives had taken such unforeseen courses. I remember the time when we were all squashed into a car going somewhere and there was a sudden silence and someone asked what the others were thinking about. Somebody said that they were thinking where would each one of us be ten years from now? We laughed about our ideas – most of which involved husbands, children and picket fences – but in the end we did a solemn prayer that we would all be guided right by God.

Those friends in the car back then are all over Canada and the world now. And our ideas about the future? Well, I like to remember these lines from the song Come Now by Kareem Salama,

Don’t worry if your life doesn’t play out with perfect symmetry
I say there’s nothing wrong with a life that grows like a tree

That’s my life now: totally like a tree. It’s a good thing I love trees.

P.S. I still need the pensieve though.

Woke up at 5:21 a.m. to blaring news on radio alarm clock (which says 6:01 but which my gifted math brain figures out to really mean 5:14 – and which it figures out each and every time no matter how many times I play tricks on it by randomly putting the clock ahead by x minutes; the frequent mentioning of the time by the radio news helps too),

hit the snooze button but first put closet light on (makes it harder to fall into deep sleep – try it),

slept fitfully, woke up next at 5:28 a.m., hit the snooze again but first put washroom light on – really, really hard to fall into R.E.M. sleep),

lay with eyes open, pushed the snooze again 4 more times (great morning exercise), (if my dad is reading this I know he’s frowning and saying to my mom see, here’s the proof, I knew she gets no sleep – dad, don’t you have to be working on your khutbah?)

finally woke up at 5:56 from the exhaustion of listening to scraps of news and wondering what is going on in this world,

woke up son, daughter, put tea kettle on, showered, prayed Fajr, changed into super warm clothes (have outdoor recess duty), packed lunches (sandwiches and fruit for kids – nada for me, no time; aw shucks, it’ll have to be my favorite falafel place), checked school bags, made breakfast, at 7:15 took children to my parents for their Islamic classes before school (they attend an interesting Islamic school – that’s why it’s important they have Islamic classes before they go), drove to the school I teach at (public school – which begins really early for some odd reason), stayed in car finishing my morning duas,

went in, checked mailbox, picked up attendance folder, spoke to a supply teacher who works at the Rogers Center during baseball season to see if he can give me tips on best package plans for tickets, adjusted cute schedule cards for day on white board (blackboards are no-nos, instead the new schools in our school board single-handedly support the dry erase marker industry), turned classroom helper wheels (so today, yesterday’s chair stacker is the board cleaner, yay!), rotated literacy center cards (so today, yesterday’s reading group gets to record their visualizations, yay! – the kids do really get this excited. seriously), went over daily plans which sits on top of literally 6 inches of books and papers on my desk (but ask me to find a certain important piece of information and I’ll whip it out from the exact place I remember putting it – definitely method to the madness), greeted first students entering with a smile and … was there with/for them for the rest of the school day – it’s called teaching but it’s every job you can imagine rolled into one:

today, I played nurse (splinter), psychologist (student crossing boundaries with others repeatedly), U.N. peacekeeper (2 students misunderstand each other’s communications to the point of tears, frustration and calls for escalation by allies), engineer (materials and weight suitable for building load-carrying boat), matchmaker (student bought in a tiny rose plant as a gift for me – I saw our old classroom creeper plant, the lonely Yugi, which some of the girls had adorned with hearts on valentine’s day and immediately matched them – the kids voted Rosey as our new plant’s name; nice couple that Yugi and Rosey), talent scout (encouraged students from another class I overheard singing to try out for the talent show – even though they were singing Hilary Duff), coach (jump rope), chess master (grade 2 geniuses are scary), lay-out designer (put up hall display of student work taking into consideration symmetry, balance and content), web expert (parent request for list of literacy based websites) and on and on till I am not me but everything to everyone immediately as they need me to be… but I’m not complaining – it’s just the sort of career for someone who’s interested in too many things…

in between, I find 3 chestnuts in my desk drawer for snack, read a disturbing e-mailed article about a new Canadian government initiative backing an Israeli lobby group, grab a falafel for lunch, pray Dhuhr and Asr in my classroom, book tickets with a colleague for a Red Sox/Jays game in May as a surprise for my son, laugh with colleagues about pregnancy, little mosque, messy desks, safety, etc…

after school, my kids are visiting their dad today so I stay and work on lesson plans for next week and report cards in order to get a free weekend to…get the washing machine fixed and catch up on laundry and ironing, yay! and to check out a new private school for my kids and, well, it will also free up time to meet a good friend for sushi downtown on Saturday (only cooked rolls for me – is that still sushi?) so I work like mad – no dinner, Maghrib in the computer room – until it’s time to pick up the kids from their art classes (imperative classes as art is an after thought at their current school),

along the way, I get a cappuccino (liquid dinner; if my mom is reading this I know she’s frowning and saying to my dad see, here’s the proof, I knew she wasn’t going to come home and cook biryani for herself tonight – mom, don’t you have to be working on…sitting down? ) and hot chocolate for the kids, meet them at their classes and ooh and aah their work (son: sketch of basketball player, daughter: giraffe puppet and Chinese New Year drawing); on drive home, discuss Chinese astrology with my daughter who informs me that she is a snake according to the zodiac but which my son, who is a renaissance man, corrects by pointing out that being born in 2000, she is a dragon,

we discuss the importance of learning about other cultures, religions, traditions and respecting them but not letting them impress upon our hearts if they contradict our beliefs and I’m glad my kids go to these classes outside of Islamic school where they can learn about the world and how to share in it while standing strong with their identities as Muslims,

finally, we get home to our condo. at 8:30 p.m. – past my daughter’s bedtime (but for art, we make exceptions), kids drink hot chocolate, shower, pyjamas, pray Isha, drink milk, brush teeth,

practice words for her Friday spelling test by daughter’s bedside, teach her how to draw stars, by-pass bedtime story but not night duas, she drops to sleep, I’m sure dreaming of dragons drinking hot chocolate,

son finishes left-over homework, pretends to sleep but really reads past his bedtime until I shut off the lights with a kiss,

I make lunches, lay out clothes for next day, prep. breakfast, call my parents, check e-mails, upkeep a website my sister and I launched in December, write this blog entry.

Still to do: pray Isha, finish The Language of Baklava (I’m riveted by it and will read past my bedtime as I’m on the last 2 chapters) and read Qur’an. Tomorrow? TGIF.

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