On having a slow year

As I lay in bed last night listening to the pop of fireworks I thought back to the year that was 2018. Of course, no New Year’s Eve is complete without a reflection back to the events of that year, and usually I write an entry in my diary, processing all that happened and looking forward to the new year with new perspectives and goals.

I didn’t do that this year. In fact, I don’t think I’ve done it for the past few years because… kids (a most convenient excuse for everything I “can’t” do anymore). Instead, my yearly reflection was spurred by watching other people’s IG stories sharing their “best moments” or achievements throughout the year. Welcome to the new age right?

What watching these stories did for me though was ponder on what I myself had achieved through the year. What were my “best moments”? I didn’t travel extensively as others did, I didn’t start a new job, I didn’t complete my degree. We started homeschooling but I struggled to establish a routine or any consistency due to my efforts of juggling three young children, one of whom was breastfeeding for most of the year.

This year, I felt like I was constantly on the cusp of something happening, but I couldn’t quite get there. It was endless days spent overwhelmingly alone at home navigating the world of motherhood and raising my young children. It was me, constantly grappling with myself, my frustrations of not being able to do all the things I wanted to do in the way I envisioned myself doing them and trying to come to terms with my sense of disappointment and ultimately, a sense of failure. It was the year of some hurts settling and easing and making their way out of my heart, to experiencing new griefs and losses. I turned 30 this year, entering a new decade of my life and wondering if I was the person I had envisioned myself to be at this age. It was the year that my children pushed me to question my perceptions of who I was, of what my character was made up of and what my values truly were. Was I a worthy example for my children to imitate? Were my actions reflective of the values I proclaimed I ascribed to? It was a year of constant mistakes… every single day was as full of mistakes as an egg is filled with yolk. I made mistakes up until the very last day of the year…

This year could be described with one word: slow. It was slow, but it dawned on me that it was not stagnant. I may have not taken great strides in a worldly (shareable) sense, but all the struggles I just described have set me on the path of progress. Progress in the form of self actualisation, of inward growth and for the first time in my life, a deep understanding of who I am.

Because staying at home with my three young children grounded me to one physical place which became our battleground, our haven, our fertile plain for growth. Sometimes it may have seemed like we were stagnating in the four walls of our home, unable to step out into the wider world, becoming too comfortable in our safe space, but on the contrary we were breaking comfort zones. Being forced to spend every single minute of every single day together ultimately resulted in a deeper understanding of each other, of our characters, of our weaknesses, of our faults, of our strengths and therefore, of how to love and nurture one another in a way that was sensitive of the other’s unique personality. It forced us (parents AND children) to learn how to put our self aside and prioritise the other.

When day by day I found the reality of life reshaping my former dreams of what life would look like, of what homeschooling would look like, of what I would look like as a parent, even as a person, I felt keenly the paradox of choice and destiny. Of not being the One who has ultimate control. I learnt to recognise signs, to respond to them and allow them to shift my perspectives. And that doing things differently to what I had envisioned was not failure, but a sign of growth, of being flexible and responsive to my reality.

I learnt that navigating loss and grief and hurt demands to be talked about. With the right people. With people who will listen without judgement and offer the right advice at the right time. I learnt that hurt is a prerequisite for growth. It takes time for the lessons after loss, anger and betrayal to be learnt, and therefore, we should afford ourselves that time. Sometimes though, some hurts are so great that we, in our limited capacity as human beings simply cannot understand the wisdom behind that hurt. Such as having a miscarriage, or witnessing practically your entire race be thrown into concentration camps, ahem “re-education camps”.  And sometimes we are not supposed to know the wisdom behind such things. They are beyond our capacity as humans to fathom. We leave it to God, and our faith in Him and His Wisdom carries us through the hurt. I was reminded that hurt is universal. That suffering a miscarriage for example is not unique to one person. Even witnessing the genocide of your people is not unique. And it helps in those times to remember that you are not alone in your suffering. It may not take the hurt away, but not feeling alone in your hurt helps.

And finally, I felt that this was the year that I learnt to stop falling back on excuses and to simply act. If I felt lonely and unable to find a community that I felt comfortable in, then instead of waiting for one to fall in my lap, I should go out and make my own community. Instead of railing at the lack of a village, I should form a village of people around me by making the effort to be in contact and be a support for them. Instead of constantly thinking “I can’t do this or that because of kids etc.” I should do what I can within my confines for my health, for my spirituality, and that ultimately, working on bettering myself as a person will naturally make me a better parent and result in healthy, happy children.

It’s impossible of course to fully explore all that I have learnt this year. And no doubt every year will serve to teach me more with new experiences, losses, hardships and hurts. Before I used to fear future challenges, uncertain of whether I could face them with strength. Now I am comfortable with the idea of meeting challenges, knowing that challenges and mistakes and failures are inevitable, that the lessons to come from them take time, but that ultimately, this is what growth looks like, that having the freedom to experience mistakes and lessons is a treasure in and of itself and that this is living…

If you are scrolling through Instagram watching other people’s highlights of their year and feeling inadequate because you have nothing to share, know that you are not alone. If you have had a great and successful year, hats off to you. I am truly happy for your success and achievements. But know that some years are slow, some years you feel stuck in the same place, seemingly unable to move forward. And that’s ok. It’s a long life (insha Allah) and there will be many many years ahead of you, all different to one another. And sometimes, those “slow” years (that actually whipped right on past and left you behind) are sometimes the years that sow the seeds of true growth and progress.

So that’s the recap of my year. Not exactly something I can share on an IG Stories Highlights Reel, but necessary for me to put on digital paper, so to speak. After all, we do live in the new age right?

 

The List: Islamic Children’s Books

Hi everyone! I know it has been a long long time since I’ve written over here. I’ve been more active over on the Instagram account because let’s be honest, it’s just easier. But, I shared some of my favourite Islamic children’s books over on my stories and decided to follow it up with a blog post with the links to the books included. So here goes, my first proper blog post in months.

There are certain things I think make a great children’s book. It has to be beautifully illustrated, with thought and attention given to the presentation and images that inspire wonder in the child. It should also be well written, either in rhyme or in prose, with words chosen carefully to best relay the intended message to the child.

Here are some Islamic books that I think meet such standards and that my children have enjoyed…

  1. The Boy and the Owl by Siraj Mowjood & Aisha Changezi

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This book is a staple for the Muslim home. It explores the basics of our creed (Aqeedah) through a story and beautiful illustrations. The wording is simple and concise and it ends  with a profound message. Available here.

2. Montmorency’s Book of Rhymes by T. J. Winter & Anne Yvonne Gilbert

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Written by Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad, this collection of nursery rhymes range from playful stories and silly rhymes to poignant reminders and short stories which aim to teach children about basic vices such as greed and obstinance. Available here.

3. Painting Heaven: Polishing the Mirror of the Heart by Demi Hunt & Coleman Barks

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Drawing on Imam Al-Ghazzali’s “Marvels of the Heart” this book explores what is required to purify the heart through a story and accompanied by Demi’s characteristic illustrations. My children are always left in awe when we read this book, and I think its one that is just as relevant to the adults too. Available here.

4. Muhammad (pbuh) by Demi

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No list of Islamic children’s books is complete with a biography of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). This one by Demi is my favourite for its stunning illustrations of course, but also for its narration of the main events in the Prophet’s (pbuh)  life. Available here.

5. The Genius of Islam by Bryn Barnard 

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This one is a non-fiction text that explores the major contributions and inventions that stem from Muslims. I’d say its aimed at older children, but the illustrations and facts can dazzle younger children as well. Available here.

6. Golden domes and Silver Lanterns by Hena Khan

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This one ticks all the boxes for me. The illustrations are stunning and the premise of the book simple and accessible. Available here.

7. Ramadan Moon by Na’ima Roberts

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We take this book out every Ramadan (with numerous readings beforehand) and the girls just love every page. In a time when we lack community and therefore exposure to Islamic customs in real time, such books aid to fill that void. Available here.

8. It’s Ramadan, Curious George by Hena Khan

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Universally loved Curious George goes on a Ramadan adventure. It’s fantastic for the kids to see a well-known character engaging in Ramadan activities as well. Available here.

9. The 99 Names of God by Daniel Thomas Dyer

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A recent favourite of ours, this book goes through each of the 99 names of God through activities, stories and illustrations. As part of our homeschooling program we are currently going through each name, creating an illustration of a sign of the name and reflecting on how we can see His Name present around us. Available here.

10. TURKISH BOOK “Daha da küçükler için allah’ı merak ediyorum”

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This is a Turkish book, but it is so good that I had to share it with you all. If you are Turkish, then this series is a must in the home. It explores difficult concepts related to Allah (Swt) through narrative. The stories are beautifully written and convey the message clearly. Not sure if this site delivers internationally but it seems to be available here.

I’m sure there are plenty more books out there, so if you know any please do share them in the comments below.

Our Ramadan set-up

We are very excited about Ramadan this year, simply because we are more prepared than ever before, and yet we still have a million things to do, so that should give you an indication of how NOT prepared we were in previous years.

To be honest, it is REALLY hard to prepare everything for Ramadan. Making sure the house is in order, cleaning out the fridge and pantry, meal planning for THIRTY DAYS, doing the grocery shopping, organising activities for the kids… phew…

And that’s just the physical, tangible, material things.

Ramadan is supposed to be about the spiritual… and let me tell you, I am definitely not spiritually prepared. But I am looking forward to making the time to work on it this Ramadan day because boy, do I need this opportunity.

So, let’s dive straight into the Ramadan set-up for the kids this year. I knew that I wanted to keep things neutral with pops of gold and black, with wooden elements. Because obviously it still needs to match my home right???? I also wanted to incorporate the house bookshelf we purchased recently, which we’ve designated as our ‘seasons’ set up (kind of a Waldorf inspired thing). I had to source a new Ramadan calendar, and although I really wanted to purchase one from Handmade beginnings, I didn’t get onto it in time and totally missed out. So instead, I DIY-ed this one with drawstring bags (which I very fortuitously found at Typo for $1 each, and the money goes to charity, sooo they were PERFECT) attached by fishing wire to a branch (which we used for our calendar last year). I still need to fill it up with gifts and activities, but I’ve got “daily good deed cards” in there from And then she said. I’ve been following Pepper and Pine on Instagram/Youtube and watched her “20 Candy free ideas for a Ramadan Calendar” post. I’m totally inspired to pop some seeds in every second one and having the children plant them in one big pot so that over the course of Ramadan they can see the seeds grow. They’ll be responsible for watering them and nurturing them, a great metaphor I think for what we do in Ramadan, which is to nourish our souls and connection to Allah (swt).

The Tent. Oh how much I love that tent. I really wanted an Itikaf tent, or a “Reflection Tent” and was thinking of DIY-ing it. And then I remembered how much I suck at DIY projects, especially ones on a bigger scale and I went and bought this one from Mocka instead. It was more affordable than other teepees on the internet and very easy to set up. Plus that “natural” colour was perfect. I added the string lights (from Kmart) and it’s just magical…

In the house bookcase there are a lot of books related to Ramadan. I don’t have the time to list them all now, but I’ll update this post in the next few days with the complete list. And finally of course, there is the Play Masjid from ZedandQ, which we all love.

All in all, the kids and I are very happy with the whole set up. I worked on it bit by bit over two weeks, mostly with things we already had at home, except for the tent and the calendar. I’m most pleased with the calendar, as I know that this is a design I can use year after year, until we feel the need to upgrade it. And the teepee is something we can continue to use after Ramadan. The kids are incredibly excited about Ramadan through all this preparation and I’m looking forward to a month of learning, reading and reflection all done in the spirit of togetherness.

How are you preparing for Ramadan? Do your kids get involved with the preparations? Do you think that this kind of set-up is overkill (lol)? If you are not Muslim, what kind of things do you prepare to involve your kids in religious celebrations?

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Mother’s Day Art Prints

We’ve been working on setting up an Etsy shop over here, and the first thing we’ve stocked are some beautiful digital downloads for Mother’s Day, which is this Sunday. So without further ado, here they are!

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A third will be added later this evening, so keep an eye out for it. We were inspired to make these for Mother’s Day and wanted to incorporate quotes that we loved. The first is from J.Piers, and the second is a Hadith (a saying attributed to the Prophet Muhammad). We think these prints are a perfect accompaniment to a Mother’s Day present.

So head on over to our Etsy store and get downloading!

Beautiful & educational posters for the kids

We love posters for kids that function on two levels, they are educational as well as being beautiful art. Creating a home environment for our children that is beautiful and not garish aids in their upbringing, as it teaches them to also appreciate and value beauty.

Here’s a selection of our favourite posters. Check out the other products these great businesses create as well…

  1. Kate Dolamore Insects posteril_570xN.1223125735_oaz1
  2. We are Squared has a range of beautiful but simple posters. Our favourite is the “Know the Solar System” poster. squared_solar_1024x1024
  3. BLINK colours wall chart is next on my wishlist for the kids’ playroom Colours_chart_1_e8d3bff2-2e8e-458a-a50c-7c14971380b1_grande

 

4. Love Mae Dinosaurs Poster

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5. Handmade beginnings Arabic Letters wall hanging

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6. Love Mae Alphabet Poster

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Featured image via Cup of Jo

Why conscious consumption is a lie

Off the back of Black Friday, which was incredibly stressful (anyone else feel that it stressed them out?), with every single business handing out discounts like drugs at a concert, even the ethical ones, I’ve come to a realisation about purchasing ethical, organic and sustainable.

If an alternative that ticks all the above boxes exists, I want it. I convince myself that I totally need it, even the ethically made organic wooden plane toy that my son does not give a toss about and will literally throw onto the floor because he’s only 11 months old and cares more for opening every drawer in my kitchen to give me a heart attack over the safety of his fingers.

My daughters’ room is starting to look cluttered again after I decluttered it a few months ago because I purchased them dolls from Vinnies (which they have forgotten all about as they sit perched up on a wicker doll’s chair because wicker/rattan is #trending right now and of course I need it so their room looks Insta-worthy) and ethically made girl’s dresses in pretty florals are taking up space in their closets. And on their floor. And on their beds.

I got my keep cups in my kitchen cupboards, and my glass drink bottles to use instead of buying plastic bottles (but I keep buying bottled water whilst out because I keep forgetting to take the glass drink bottle with me).

With all this spending, I’ve had an epiphany, also aided by watching depressing apocalyptic videos of 50% of the world’s animals going extinct and how our children are basically facing a future of wars over food, land, water, ALL THE NECESSITIES OF SURVIVAL AND FML WHY DID I HAVE THREE KIDS?!! and the fact that my house is being cluttered by stuff all over again and I feel guilty every time the postman delivers something to my door and my HUSBAND IS HOME AND IS TOTALLY JUDGING ME as I try to justify the eco-friendly, ethical, organic purchase I’ve just made for the 100th time…

You guys, we’re all being jibbed. Conscious consumption is a lie.

There.

I said it.

It’s a lie because it is still based on consuming. It still requires us to keep spending on stuff. Stuff we don’t actually need. Stuff that is actually very expensive.

This article here argues why conscious consumption is failing. It also outlines what we can do instead.

And the solution is brilliant.

In short, spend your money on supporting organisations, politicians and movements that are trying to make the big changes. Changes in the way businesses trade, and use resources.

It also suggests that we should be giving our time to volunteering, rather than giving our money to companies “who are getting it right”.

Personally, I think it is still important to make ethical buying decisions, where you can.

But I have the increasing sense that what we need more than seeking out these ethical companies to purchase from, is a shift in our paradigms. We need to tackle our consumerist mind frames, our need, our urges, our desire to spend, to buy new things, to accumulate things, before we start seeking out ethical companies to purchase things from.

And most importantly, we need to recognise that giving our time in service, in volunteering and in activism is the most effective way to make our voices heard.

We need to make our voices heard in a way that goes beyond the constrains of money, because let’s face it, this is about the future of our children and our children are worth the struggle to change our consumerist paradigms… aren’t they?

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Photos by Z by Zahrah. Not to be used without permission.

Four great children’s books

What makes a great children’s book?

To me, it needs beautiful illustrations, an engaging story, fantastical facts and interactive activities.

I picked up the following four books recently which have all of the above and they have been on high rotation with the girls lately…

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“Women who Dared: 52 Stories of Fearless Daredevils, adventurers & rebels” 

This one had me at the title. It’s the second book I’ve bought for the girls about women who have dared to achieve their dreams. We haven’t gotten through it yet, but we have loved reading stories of strong and courageous women, and the illustrations are just lovely.

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Day of the Dinosaurs

My daughters are obsessed with dinsaurs, thanks in part to watching marathon sessions of Dinosaur Train whilst I clean the house, or put baby to sleep. I love how this book is interactive, jam-packed with facts and beautifully illustrated.

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Nature’s Day: Out and About

To be honest, I picked this one up because of the pretty front cover. Don’t judge a book by its cover? I’d have to disagree in this instance. Once we brought it home and opened it up, I realised just how brilliant this book is. It’s a companion to the book “Nature’s Day”, which we happen to have… in Turkish… we bought it from Turkey whilst holidaying there last year.

This one takes the reader through each season and has colouring pages, activities and craft ideas. A must for every child. Seriously.

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The Anti-Boredom Book of Brilliant Outdoor Things to Do

I think the title sums this one up.

It. Is. Brilliant.

My kids have been making paper planes, and paper frisbees, and… that’s all we’ve done so far lol. BUT! There are some solid ideas for outdoor activities, for all ages.

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What do you think makes a great children’s book? Which books are on high rotation at your house?

Will the real YOU please stand up?

As I scroll through my Instagram feed lately I feel like I am literally seeing the same picture over and over again.

Everybody obviously follows accounts that interest them, so as a mother I follow a lot of parenting/home decor/mummy bloggers/lifestyle accounts.

People. I literally see the same photo OVER AND OVER again. The same kids bedroom styled with EXACTLY the same products from EXACTLY the same stores. Let me give you the formula:

Canopy + vintage bunting + IKEA Minnen kid’s bed frame + folkloric wallpaper + wooden accordion peg holder + something rattan + creepy big eyed circus hybrid human/animal picture art = INSTA PERFECT KID’S ROOM.

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I basically see this room over and over on my IG feed… 

And guess what?

THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT MY DAUGHTERS’ ROOM LOOKS LIKE. Minus the creepy big eyed circus hybrid human/animal picture art because, creepy.

The other day, I looked around my girls’ room and realised that I had been victim to the Instagram Effect.

What is the Instagram Effect you ask? I’ve provided an authoritative (authority being me of course- I hope you’re picking up on my very dry sarcasm here) definition below…

Instagram Effect (definition): Best described as the way Instagram subconsciously shapes your interests, likes, dislikes, tastes and consumption habits and results ultimately in everybody looking exactly the same because all purchase the same products because all “influencers” are “sponsored” by the same businesses. 

So whatever subculture you find yourself in, I can guarantee that you all look like, think like, act like, consume like, each other.

Now you might say, hang on, doesn’t that happen anyway, regardless of social media?

Yes. I suppose to an extent it does.

But social media has taken it and increased the potential for creating sameness in subcultures to another level.

When I had my life-changing, earth-quaking realisation that my kids’ room literally looked like a copy-paste of all kids rooms on Instagram, I literally felt sick. I mean, did I even really like this look? DOES IT EVEN MATTER WHAT A 3 YEAR OLD AND A 5 YEAR OLD’S ROOM LOOKS LIKE?!!! And I felt sick at how much their room had become cluttered with stuff… stuff that I had wasted money on, stuff that they did not care an inch about. Sure they liked their rooms, but left to their own devices, they wouldn’t care what their room looked like.

What I’m trying to say, but obviously failing to do so in an articulate manner, is this:

Social media has not only made it so easy to copy one another, it is actually resulting in everybody thinking and being the same. It has legitimised the sheep potential of human beings. And companies are making big money from it.

Not only does everybody now look the same, and their homes look the same, but more dangerously, everybody now thinks the same. What does it mean for a hashtag to be “trending”? It means that everybody is jumping on that hashtag bandwagon and giving it legitimacy without questioning whether they believe it is right or not because a celebrity used the hashtag (most of the time accompanied by a picture of themselves with no extended caption explaining their actual thoughts).

What does it mean for someone to have millions of “followers” on Instagram or Twitter? I know for a fact that when I’m scrolling through IG and see that someone has less than a few thousand followers, I would be less inclined to follow them. Or have a proper look through their feed.

And then I realised that I was doing this and again, I felt sickened by myself.

Social media is increasingly creating a mono-culture, a culture that pressures people into sameness. Sameness in the way we dress, the way we consume, the way we style our homes, and even in the way we think, what opinions we are allowed to have, and therefore, even in the experiences we should be having.

So, the next time you are on social media, stop and think if what you are reading or seeing is right for you.

Maybe step away from social media, and even the news for a time, and read a book. Spend time understanding who you are, what your values are.

And don’t be afraid to stand by them. You don’t need to get judge-y, you don’t need to trawl people’s pages and become keyboard warriors and shout your values at them. That’s not what I mean.

Just know who you are. 

And be quietly courageous in this knowledge.

Don’t get swept up in the tide of hashtags, and “influencers” with their millions of followers. Take back the power to decide who/what influences you.

Make it a conscious choice.

Inspiring kids’ learning spaces

Even if one is not homeschooling their children, having a “learning nook” can be useful. And I say “nook” because let’s face it; not everyone has the luxury of having a separate room just for the kids.

Even a spare wall in the house can suffice, with various shelving systems like the first one below acting as storage for the kids’ craft supplies, books and toys.

Keeping it playful makes it appealing for the kids as well, rather than taking it too seriously and “suitable for the minimalist/boho/modern/california cool (whatever that means) aesthetic of my home”. It’s a space for kids; it should look like one.

Bright pops of colour, fun wallpaper, chalkboard walls, cute (and educational) posters and whimsical toys can really make the space appealing and beautiful.

Also, it need not be very expensive, because #IKEA and thrifting. I find that exploring second hand stores, op shops and flea markets yield beautiful and unique toys and educational material.

Take a look at our favourites below…

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*Click images for links

Featured image via Pencil and Paper