Friday, December 17, 2010

This Moment

These days, I am struggling to find time for even the most basic necessities. Blogging, to my very deep regret, has taken a seat waaaaay in the back.

[this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. Inspired by Soulemama.

Marvelous Winter
To our friends and family on the East Coast, come visit us. Houston winters are marvelous. The children live in the backyard.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Friday Moment

{this moment}


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Learning that a sunset cannot be enjoyed behind windows.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Slow Living

Our baby boy was born three weeks ago on the 15th of Ramadan Alhamdulillah. I prayed up until the last minutes of Ramadan that Allah swt would make the upcoming months easy, as I struggled to manage a house full of little ones, homeschooling, and all of the other duties of a mother, wife, and housekeeper. I cried several times the day my mother left, as though a safety net was taken away and feeling that I was totally on my own with four kids.

Five days later, I feel very peaceful and content, thanks to Allah. Yes, it is crazy and I have to remind myself to breathe in between the long sequences of mechanical activities: feeding, washing, nursing, changing two diapered bottoms, cleaning up messes, laying babies down to sleep, and satisfying endless pleas for attention. At one point, I laughed at the scene we created: me in my rocking chair nursing the baby, the toddler in my other arm singing (yelling) very loudly in the baby's ear as I restrained her from putting all of her weight on the baby, my eldest giving a long narration about the different characters in her drawing, and my three-year-old whining for more yogurt at my feet.

But my mantra has been, "Smile, Breathe, and Go Slowly." No outings, no cooking (thanks to a freezer-full of food), no to-do lists, and no obligations. My expectations for myself are zero--if I can get through the day without yelling or losing my sense of compassion, and incorporating a little bit of Quran for me and the children, then I had a good day. Ironically, those days are also when I surprise myself with how much I actually end up doing to educate and nurture my children, physically, mentally, and emotionally. We've made playdough, collected tree bark rubbings, decorated sugar cookies, learned some yoga, read tons of storybooks, and spent lots of time on the couch with a blanket, pillows, and a nursing baby, talking and learning. Being confined to the house has calmed the pace of our day and my older ones are forced to tap into their own creativity to entertain themselves.

This week has been an experiment in slow family living and I'm very inspired by this new rhythm of home life!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Five-Year-Old Fears

I know I haven’t been writing for some time, and probably will be quiet for at least another month or so. We’re expecting our fourth baby any day now and I am slowly chipping away at a long to-do list and several challenging projects, but in a non-stressful and trust-in-Allah (swt) way.

I wanted, however, to share a few thoughts and happenings while they are still fresh in my mind, so I may come here to post intermittently in the next few weeks.

My five-year-old recently made the most interesting proclamation.

“Mama, there are two things I am so, so, so, SO afraid of.”

“What are they?” I was expecting a deep confession.

“Onions and Elevators.”

And then she took a deep breath and launched into a dramatic, aggrandized monologue.

“Onions because they hurt my eyes and you ALWAYS cut onions at the table and we have to run away. And they hurt my eyes so, so, SO much. And I’m also afraid that the elevator doors will close on Noor. I am so, so, SO afraid of the elevators. They open and close SO fast and we never know what button to press. And we might press the wrong floor sometimes and Noor might get out when it’s not the right time…”

Onions and elevators. Reminds me of a Shel Silverstein poem. Only a child could have thought of such a pair!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Grand Canyon


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When you visit the Grand Canyon, there is not much to do but hike and look. You can spend the whole day gazing at it, watching the light play off the cliffs and the shadows move across the expanse. Two days of looking though wasn't enough for me. The first time you see the canyon, and for a long time after that, you can only stare at it. If it weren't for the restless children, I would have found a spot on a cliff, brought my lunch, and sat there in meditation from morning to dusk, watching the shadow and light give shape and dimension to the canyon's peaks and ridges, an entirely different view unfolding every hour. It is so vast that it is unsettling, as if your mind has an idea how huge it is but your senses cannot grasp the proportions. So you just stare into the enormous chasm before you.

Every national park I visit, I find that John Muir has described it as though he has seen what I've seen and felt what I felt. He described coming across the view at the Grand canyon, "as novel to you, as unearthly in the color and grandeur and quantity of its architecture, as if you had found it after death, on some other star …"

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The naturalist in the visitor center mentioned that the canyon gets deeper on average by less than a fingernail every year. When you look at the enormous space and vastness of the canyon, and imagine that all that grew by fractions of inches every year, you begin to have a vague sense of the canyon's age. The drops of water, snow, slow-drifting glaciers, and wind all shape the canyon in miniscule, painstaking ways, yet have created one of the most enormous geological wonders of the world. I was reminded of one of the sunnan (ways or laws) of Allah (swt) on this earth--that of gradual change. Within civilization and history, even when things appear to be hopeless, immutable, or impossible, there are the smallest, subtlest forces of change at work. Grains of sand blowing against the rocks, carving away at the walls, creating a new landscape. Tiny forces of erosion are working to build us up or wear us down, within our own hearts, as individuals, as families, as communities.

Nothing is still, not for even a second. Whether we are doing our best to raise our children, working for social change, or teaching others, we are responsible for the effort, the sweat and the toil, the long hours and sleepless nights thinking, discussing, planning, and praying, "HOW?" And then the rest happens through Allah (swt) in His power and in His ways. For those working for a better place on earth, it gives us hope and something to pray for-that the winds are blowing behind our backs, that the sunsets are softening the hearts, and the rain is making the soil firmer beneath our feet.

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(In case this post inspires you to visit the Grand Canyon, due to the current boycott of Arizona over the SB1070 immigration law enacted this summer that mandates racial profiling and unjustly targets the Hispanic community, I humbly recommend postponing any visits to this beautiful state and national park until the call to boycott has ended)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Sleepless

Sometimes I lie awake at night feeling sorry for myself. With a mixture of pride and self-pity, I’m impressed with all of the things I have to do by myself. I imagine myself self-reliant, strong, independent. I push away people in my life, because they have no idea what I struggle with and what I do every day.

I count my challenges and obstacles, my lack of any support system, my loneliness, my exhaustion. I go for weeks without a break, weeks without seeing or talking to a friend, and, even then, sometimes my long-awaited “break” is a trip to the grocery store. I don’t ask for help, because if ignored or slighted I would feel doubly trapped and bitter. And I would no longer have the illusion of stoic martyrdom to keep me company.

So, sometimes, I let myself go and start to feel impressed. I lie awake and count how many mothers I know who are in a similar predicament. I look at myself through the lens of an observer and feel a slight satisfaction at how they might see all I have to tackle on my own. In spite of how much I dislike it, I am unwittingly playing “Let’s Compare,” the game that makes no sense and leads to the worst places.

Then, somewhere beyond my garish, self-sufficient, and inflatable ego, I meet a mother sitting in the darkness of my bedroom.

Her child is sick. Very, very, very sick. She hopes that the pain she sees streaked across her baby’s face is not as bad as it seems and her only consolation is trusting in the mercy of Allah. She holds tight to her baby, but knows that he is not hers to protect. Everything in her life is still and at a halt, except for her child's weakly beating heart and her fervent prayers. There is nothing to be done but wait and bear it all patiently.

In seconds my thoughts are pulverized. I am jolted into awareness that my life and the sweet, beating hearts in the quiet house all rest between the fingers of my Lord. I dissolve into gratefulness, weakness, surrender, frightened helplessness, wanting only to flee to My Protector and find a safe place with Him. There is not one ounce of self-reliance, independence, or strength in me, and there never was or will be, except what comes directly from Him.

Sleepless tonight, I cry for myself and my children. I cry for the fragility of life and how close I come to forgetting to rely on My Protector. Sleepless, I dissolve into nothing but gratefulness that, tonight and in this moment, I am not that mother sitting in the dark.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Red Rocks


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We drove through Sedona, AZ on the way back from the Grand Canyon (pictures of that to come when I can think of the words to describe it first). It's an area of the mountains filled with red rocks and we barely had time to stop and look around. Although we drove through in the early afternoon, it must be spectacular at sunset.

I was surprised how these pictures turned out, given the one above was from the highway and the one below was during midday, not the best times to take landscape pictures. I had rented a 10-12mm lens for the trip which was great for landscape shots like these, and tried it out with a polarizer, which cut out any glare and made the skies so blue they almost look fake.

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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

3,000 Miles

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We recently took a road trip to Arizona, where we visited my grandmother and met my husband's sister at the Grand Canyon. It was about 1,500 miles each way, and we took it slowly, spending nights in small-town hotels, swimming in the pools to give the girls a break, and planning stops every few hours. I had a marvelous time Alhamdulillah.

I'll be posting some pictures from the trip in the next few days. I had a wonderful time with my camera, and at least in the first few batches of pictures, I went a little crazy with Lightroom presets. I don't think too much processing is my style though, so maybe in a few weeks or months I'll ease off the effects once they're out of my system.

The first "real" place we stopped, after two days of driving through barren Texas and southern New Mexico, was Tucson, AZ. We caught the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum an hour before it closed.

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There were all kinds of interesting desert plants. I wish we could have stuck around longer.

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The Elephant Tree. I couldn't stop taking pictures of this odd little tree.

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And an iguana (I think), for my husband, who always hopes I would take more pictures of the different creatures we see on our trips.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Unexpected Light

I finished reading Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. Or, should I say, listening to it in 10-minute spurts every time I got in the car to drive to karate lessons or the playground. It has changed the way I think about a lot of things, and although the author probably had no intent of inspiring a new sense of spirituality, it has given me a new perspective on the ways that Allah swt shapes our lives.

I will write more about it later, but for now, I will tell you how a simple trip to our local park was transformed by a “coincidental string of successes.”

We wanted to take the girls out somewhere on our weekly family outing, but it was late, my husband was tired, and there were not many options within a 20-minute drive. We drove to a nearby nature reserve, but discovered that it closed at 5 p.m. Wandering the roads, my husband decided we would just go to the neighborhood park.

I sighed internally. I went there at least two, three times a week. The kids rode their bikes, we watched the ducks, played on the playground. It was nothing outside of our ordinary routine. I wasn’t optimistic.

But it was no ordinary evening at the park, in ways that I would not have expected.

The way the sunlight shone through feathers and sparkled on the water.

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The light was just right, and I worked the manual settings on my camera. I was learning things.

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The baby was content and glowed in the setting sun.

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A couple was fishing with their grandchildren in the pond. When we came closer to see what they were doing, we discovered they were using chicken bones to fish for blue crabs. They gave us their improvised sticks and bones before they left, and our girls delighted in casting out the bait and instantly feeling the crabs tug at the rope. Slowly they drew in the lines and watch the crabs scuttle after the bones, sometimes coming out of the water. The children’s eyes danced with excitement well after the sun had set and we piled back into the car.

Moments in our lives can be transformed by the unexpected little circumstances that Allah puts in our path and situations that no amount of planning or money can guarantee—the light, the moods, the wind, the smiles.

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Monday, February 1, 2010

Hard Work

I still read parenting and schooling books whenever I can. But I've begun to read them more like a frustrated grad student than an interested mother. I read the first three chapters, and then the conclusion to make sure there wasn’t a good part I missed. While I come across an occasional gem, many parenting books are a mirage and I walk away with a few pennies instead of a jackpot. Instead of discovering something new or different, it is just more of the same, except more diluted, watered down, and unspecific. Again and again I hit against the same wall, the truth that parenting is less of a science than art, and less of an art than toiling in the hot, dry soil hoping that something will grow.

Though I keep looking for the secret formula, I am beginning to realize that it does not matter so much what I do as a mom, as long as I have the basics down. What matters more is how present, patient, and mindful I am with my children and how much time I spend in thoughtful engagement as opposed to a reaction mode. The theory is maybe 30% and the other 70% is just old-fashioned hard work and plain old patience. I may know what I need to do, but do I have the perseverance and courage to do it? In the end, it will be the hard work and sweat that will count, not the innovative parenting shortcut. While parenting techniques can be extremely effective to a mother who is applying herself, they will not make much of a difference for a mother who does not work hard at it.

I am a great parent—in theory. But what it comes down to is this: if I cannot “pull myself up by the bootstraps”, as the companions used to say using a similar analogy, all the theories and ideas and awesome parenting techniques will just be icing on a dry cake. I am suddenly filled with respect for all the mothers of the previous generation, our mothers. Although we can point to the things we will do differently, one thing they had down right was the effort and striving they put into their children. I hope someday I can work up to that same level of dedication.