Category Archives: life lessons

I is for Immigrant

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You look out the window and spot the howling trees and the sunlight that is waning slowly but swiftly, the way wintery days go.

You scroll mindlessly through Facebook and view all sorts of depressing articles on Trump, a Muslim ban, and more.

But there is hope. You know there’s a protest going on at the airport, a protest to welcome refugees and immigrants. A way to take a stand.

You are not just the daughter of an immigrant.

You are an immigrant.

You know what it feels like to be neither here nor there.

You know what it feels like to reach a new country where even the air smells different, the birds sound different, the water tastes different.

You know what it feels like to feel painfully out of place.

You know what it feels like to slowly grow roots in a new country. To slowly unfurl and blossom once more.

You feel for all the people hurting in this topsy turvy world right now.

But right now it’s not your turn to go to the protest because there are two little ones who need you right now at home. There is hair that is wet. There is outside wind that is chilly.

There is a simmering daal that is stubbornly cooking on the stove, angry and refusing to become tender soon enough.

There are people protesting outside, angry and refusing the ways of the hard world, begging for tenderness to come now.

You look at the faces of your children who know bits and pieces of the world around them, but who do not know that the world is hardening around them. They do not know about the deep and dark struggles that people are undergoing around them. They do not ask the questions of worriers yet.

You need to ground yourself and find peace.

You know what to do.

You preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

You pray with them when sunset seeps in around you.

You melt butter, mix in sugar, eggs, flour, baking powder, a smidge of salt. You accidentally forget the vanilla.

Your daughters’ smiles are sugary. Their fingers buttery. Their cheeks floury. One of their hair braids is floury. Or salty. Or sugary. You can’t decipher yet.

Later, you will show them a picture of their grandmother and grandfather protesting and tell them how we welcome people. No matter who they are. No matter where they are from.

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Your heart will warm when you see the protest photos, the numbers of people who care. People of all kinds taking a stand.

You will read your daughters this book and talk about the tumultuous journey of a Syrian refugee boy, a boy who misses his pet birds he left behind.

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The boy will befriend new wild birds at his camp.

The world will befriend immigrants and refugees.

You will hope and pray that for now it is enough.

O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of God is the most righteous of you. Indeed, God is Knowing and Acquainted. (Quran 49:13)

 

 

Faces of my Neighborhood

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We should all do what, in the long run, gives us joy, even if it is only picking grapes or sorting the laundry. E. B. White

I am in line at the post office. A cheerful older gentleman who works there greets me and double checks that all is ready to be mailed.

As I wait in the line and my turn pops up, I am directed to a lady behind the counter. I ask her a question to which she barely answers with a mumble. The jovial gentleman looks at her and teases her, “I don’t even know why you’re up here – you can barely answer the customer’s questions!”

Visibly annoyed at him, she continues to scan my packages. I refrain from asking her questions. Maybe she’s having a bad day. Maybe she’s tired of me.

I wish that I had been served by the jovial postal worker instead.

It’s only at the end when I’m all done and I thank her, she hoarsely whispers “You’re Welcome.” I realize abashedly that her voice is gone.

 

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After dropping off Z and A in the morning, I am driving home to see the big, yellow school bus pull up earlier than usual. No students are waiting. As I drive into the neighborhood, I see a sleepy looking middle schooler ambling along. I feel like I should warn him. I slide down the window and yell, “The bus is here!” Panic awakens the sleepy features on his face and he is off running.

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The dryer churns clothes but refuses to dry them. Round and Round. Damp and Damp. At the laundromat, I am able to focus on one thing. Laundry. That in itself is a mild treat. The row of gleaming metallic dryers, the finicky machine that will sometimes give you coins for a dollar, the spacious tables to fold clothes, the wheeling trolleys to push your clothes around all greet you.

The day is grey and a bleak cold outside, but inside there are two women folding dozens of sunny yellow shirts. The perk to the laundromat is that next door is Figo’s Pasta so we find ourselves doing laundry and savoring pasta coated in spicy tomato sauce. Instead of spending a few quarters for laundry, we end up spending more for laundry, dinner, and memories.

 

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Book Review: You Will Not Have My Hate

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I was approached by Penguin to review You Will Not Have My Hate, written by Antoine Leiris.

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I reviewed the advance copy of the story. It’s available for pre-order here on Amazon, and is set for debut in 4 days, on October 25th.

The memoir is a short 129 page read, but gripping. In the story, Antoine’s wife Helene is killed in a terrorist attack in France. Suddenly, Antoine is left a widower. Their seventeen-month-old baby son Melvil cries for his mother, but never gets back. In the light of such tragedy, Antoine writes a powerful letter to the terrorists, “You will not have my hate.” His letter went viral. In his letter, he also says, “There are only two of us -my son and myself- but we are stronger than all the armies of the world.”

“We were like two little Lego bricks that fitted together perfectly,” he says about his wife.

Antoine has to deal with being alone and navigating the left over reality as a single papa. At his son’s daycare, the other mothers rotate making him and his baby homemade soup. Soup that his son does not like to eat. As a result, Antoine simply discards the soup each week.

I love how Antoine writes, “I didn’t have the courage to tell them that Melvil never tasted their homemade meals, and that the little pots could not stay in our house. Maybe this is because, even while still full, sitting on the dresser, these pots nourished our hearts with a sweet, maternal tenderness.”

Antoine’s paragraphs are short but full of emotion. The story is touching but inspiring. It’s a read that makes you yearn for a world full of peace and wish that everyone had Antoine’s courage.

 

 

A Sealed Book

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I was driving through my neighborhood when I saw a couple of other mothers strolling with their toddlers in the neighborhood. Meantime, I was rushing home from the drop off of my now mostly school-aged little ones. The sunlight was just spilling over onto the road and I couldn’t help missing my days that were slower paced, more rush-free. Less Car. More Home. Less Drives. More Strolls.

I drove back home where the sunlight hadn’t reached my kitchen yet, where the eggshells were still on the counter.

Reading blogger and author Kelle Hampton’s blog, I found her words resonated with me. Kelle talks about being in the Middle Stage of Childhood where she says,

“The introduction of my parenting book is over, and the relentless work of the middle place is here where rewards aren’t as shimmery as feeling newborn baby breath on my neck. And yet, they’re here…

I have similar answers for all the “Do you miss?” questions.

“Do you miss teaching?”

I miss the first day of school. Pencil boxes. Memorizing all my students’ names in one day. Making them feel loved. Writing lessons. Taping great vocabulary words to the wall and seeing them pop up in the kids’ stories. After lunch read alouds.

But…I look for, find and create what I miss: the homework corner in my office with the jar of freshly sharpened pencils that smell like September. Tucking my kids in bed at night, nailing all the character voices from another chapter of Ramona Quimby, Age 8. Tagging along for field trips. Guest speaking about memoir in my friend’s 8th grade writing class.

“Do you miss when they were babies?

I miss fingers curled around mine, snug sleepers, nursing in the middle of the night, walking into their rooms to check on them sleeping only to find them peeping through the crib slats. I miss sandwich bags stashed with Cheerios and peach puffs, tiny bodies glued to my hip, heavy heads resting on my shoulder as they fight their naps.

But…I look for, find and create what I miss: tickling their faces to put them to sleep, big-kid sleepers that still fit snug, catching occasional pincher grasps for goldfish crackers and pretzel stick snacks, nose-to-nose bedtime snuggles, holding little hands as I lead them into classrooms, mispronounced words, so many firsts still to come.

I too am like Kelle where I am in this middle stage where my little children are not-so-little. Where frantic school-drop-offs replace late morning walks on weekdays. Where Z’s teeth are all sorts of wobbly and it’s amazing how with one tooth missing, the faces of children all of a sudden look so big!

Sometimes I miss the old stages where my children’s cheeks were softer and fuller and where their first footsteps were still wobbly and unsure. I can see an old photo or watch a video of their first steps, but I can never go back.

And as much as I want to skim the pages forward in these chapters of life to get a sneak peek of what’s to come, I can’t. The past pages are glued together, and no matter how much I pry to get back, I can’t. The future pages are blank and I hope full of promise. I don’t know how many pages or chapters I will get though. It’s like life is a sealed book and the only pages we are on are today.

A Sealed Book. A reminder to me to focus on today. Sometimes so hard when emails are flurrying back and forth, meat is defrosting in the microwave, saucy pots await you in the sink, and laundry likes to take its company quietly with other likeminded items slowly piling on the floor. Hard to focus on today when children need to be picked up, dropped off, homework checked,

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and so much more!

But trying to find a little bit of peace here and there …

img_7663leaves that beg to be picked up!

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a broken winged, yet beautiful, butterfly enjoying its lunch on our deck! Harsh sunlight forced me to try different angles to capture more compelling images.img_7462img_7455img_7435img_7384Post Eid-Mehndi-Fingers!img_7382img_7381img_7274

my brother’s homemade eclairs on Eid!img_7275img_7221img_7223img_7222img_7225

The $3.29 for pre-rolled-out-Publix-Dough is worth the price as the effort is cut in half! Just bought it yesterday and was much quicker!img_7241img_7251img_7254img_7218img_7210img_7194img_7186img_7159img_7154Peekaboo dolls in my bowls cabinet!

More later!

“And with Him are the keys of the unseen treasures– none knows them but He; and He knows what is in the land and the sea, and there falls not a leaf but He knows it, nor a grain in the darkness of the earth, nor anything green nor dry but (it is all) in a clear book.” – Quran 6:59

 

 

 

 

 

Assortments of -ing

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Appreciating–
the golden ray of sunlight that reaches the exact spot in the room where I am sitting. Golden Ray that makes the room look special all of a sudden.
Wondering—
on the phone, I am telling someone about what everyone in my acquired little family is doing tomorrow. I realize with a numb surprise as I pack my husband’s lunch, Z’s little lunch, and A’s littler lunch, that I don’t have a packed lunch. Where’s my lunch? Who makes my lunch? What am doing tomorrow?  Where am I in the picture? Am I to always remain behind-the-scenes?
Adjusting —
to children who are bigger, yet still so small. Adjusting to a here-and-there preschool routine of A and trying to find smidges of time to get writing done, or to just sit and stare out the window and try to avert my eyes from the smattering of things everywhere.
Feeling—
the tingly warm feeling return to sore fingers as I rub an ice cube chip over my wrists, fingers, and joints. Note to self to do wrist circles and wrist bends and general exercise. Must avoid Carpal Tunnel Syndrome!
Welcoming–
hummingbirds and butterflies (a monarch even!) to a couple of finicky zinnia blooms. Further welcoming the upcoming weekend in which aforementioned lunches do not have to be thermosed, foiled, and refrigerated.
Reading–
Claire Bidwell’s memoir, The Rules of Inheritance, about losing her mother (and then her father!) is raw and real and her words strung together are like little treasures.
Reminiscing—
on Hajj. I still remember my mother telling us that Hajj would fall in December and that my brothers and I wouldn’t have to miss work, that this was an opportunity to go. I thought I would perform Hajj in my 40’s, not 20’s. Shrugging a “Sure, why not?” in response. The uncertainty of applying for visas and being told that there wasn’t space for us in the Hajj group to go. Then by chance, the person on the phone happened to ask my mother our ages. We were in our early 20’s.
Then to be told they always encouraged young people to go, were we still interested? Yes. Yes. We Were. Then being swept on the journey of a lifetime. Being one minute person in the midst of millions of people, but being in exactly the right place to be.

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Scoop of Monotony

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“In a child’s lunch box, a mother’s thoughts.” ~ Japanese Proverb

The packing of a school lunch can be the one thing that causes a scoop of monotony mixed with a pinch of dread to fill my soul.

Before packing a fresh lunch, first you have to retrieve the day-old lunch from a sticky slender 6 year old fingers or plump 3 year old’s fingers (in which the knuckles are still developing.)

First, I must figure out what to do with the leftovers, before starting to pack a new lunch.

First, I must tackle the lunchbox.

First, I must unzip the lunchbox.

I hate the way cool plump grapes return shriveled and lukewarm.

I hate the way brave cold peaks of hummus return huddled and hollowed in the corner of a Tupperware box.

I hate the routine of school.

I hate the way mornings are harsh and hurried, hurried and harsh. The once gentle morning light is now a reminder that time is passing rapidly and we must hurry to get to school on time.

I already miss the slow unhurried days of summer.

I am not a morning person so hurried morning routines are torturous for me.

But every negative has a positive.

The children gain a sense of routine and most importantly, knowledge.

With a few hours to myself here and there, I can attempt to get tasks done.

Or not.

The time in which little ones are at school sometimes flies the fastest.

So when dinner isn’t cooked and the time is hurrying by, there’s always the idea of breakfast for dinner.

Pancakes for dinner are quick and pancakes remind me of slow summer breakfasts.

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And if your little one starts the first week of school and decides to already catch a cold first week of school (!), there’s always chicken corn soup!

I am looking forward to the crisp bite of fall. By then I should be more adjusted to the morning routine! If you’re struggling like me, here’s a mother’s tips for speeding up the school lunch process as well as her routine. I tried her lunch tips this week and it’s an improvement!

Betrayal of Bodies and Minds

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I recently watched the Steven Hawking movie The Theory About Everything and was touched by Muhammad Ali’s death.

Muhammad Ali was a dynamic, strong, and vibrant athlete.

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Struck with Parkinson’s, he was forced to give up the athlete life he led. He found another path and became a passionate philanthropist.

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Steven Hawking was a happy-go-lucky scientist whose muscles slowly started to betray him. Not to worry, he too found another path and churned out a best-seller book A Brief History of Time.Eddie-Redmayne-stars-as-Stephen-Hawking.0.jpg

What do we do when something goes wrong?  Do we forge ahead and create another path? Or do we wallow? Or wallow for the time-being before creating a new path? Do we get stuck? Refuse to bloom?

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If we are a photographer, what do we do when we run out of film? or nowadays when our camera battery dies?

If we are a writer, what do we when our pen runs out of ink? when our words swim away into the impermeable ocean of writer’s block? when our ideas evaporate into a too-faraway cloud of writers block?

Do we keep trying? In Muhammad Ali’s case, fighting? Stephen Hawking, studying? For me– writing? photographing?

When we’re stuck, do we change it up and go outside, stare at the clouds, and feel the words that we’ve been searching for float back into our brains?

Do we put down the camera and see the world through two refreshed eyes rather than a bulky and tired camera lens?

Do we look for another path when our current path is blocked? When our bodies betray us, what will we have left? When our minds become soft become like butter left out too long, what will we have left?

Are we ready to leave this life to go to the next? (love Muhammad Ali’s words about this here.)

I hope and pray than even when obstacles turn up our way, and they will, that we have the courage to find our own path. To create a new path if needed. To bloom always and openly.

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President Obama on Muhammad Ali:

“Later, as his physical powers ebbed, he became an even more powerful force for peace and reconciliation around the world.  We saw a man who said he was so mean he’d make medicine sick reveal a soft spot, visiting children with illness and disability around the world, telling them they, too, could become the greatest.  We watched a hero light a torch, and fight his greatest fight of all on the world stage once again; a battle against the disease that ravaged his body, but couldn’t take the spark from his eyes.”