It’s About Love & Gifts

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Appreciation notes from my students were gratifying aspects of my career as a teacher. If only I’d kept more of them. I found this one as I was cleaning out a dresser, and I love it when former students—now adults—care to “friend” me on Facebook and when I see them succeed various milestones of life.

After all, I always felt that each of them was my kid, and even though the boys and girls are now fully adult men and women, some married and some with children, I remember just about all of them. I guess that I must have done something right.

As we approach the start of another school year, I’m missing the classroom a bit, and have genuine appreciation for the gifts given to me. I am a teacher.

For this reason, if the reader will permit, I want to share and highly recommend a book I received from my daughter, who was gifted with it by her cousin prior to her two month journey to teach, tour, and connect with family in Turkey and Jordan.

Reclaim Your HeartReclaim Your Heart by Yasmin Mogahed taught me that all we tend to put in our heart—our relationships, the value of our intellect, looks, health, wealth, position, and possessions—are actually gifts. Such gifts should be kept in the hand though, not the heart. For the heart is only for the Creator, and gifts bestowed to us are eventually taken away.

If such valuable gifts reside in the heart, they become objects of coveting and obsession; and when removed, they create such deep pain from their loss. We miscalculate that they were given by The One, and we may not realize that the Creator gives what is best for us. Sometimes the revocation of a gift is meant to remind and draw us back to The One.

My daughter, despondent over the genocide in Gaza, asked her aunt if such a horrific situation—one of the most densely populated, essentially trapped and defenseless populations being killed like ‘fish in a bucket’—if it depressed her? Her wise aunt stated, “Allah created mankind to be forgetful, and it is a gift.” Those of us who have lost mothers never forget the strength of our bond; yet, we are able to function because we are able to forget, accept, and continue.

In Islam, families mourn for three days; then they are expected to accept God’s Will and people move on. The loss of a spouse is certainly more disruptive, and two months is acceptable before re-engaging with the world. The point is to realize that we must accept; and we trust that The One gives what is best, no matter how seemingly tragic on the surface.

Given the circumstances in Gaza, I surmise that the haters and malevolent perpetrators will determine their eternal justice. Yet how humanity can generally ignore or misconstrue the situation, in spite of obvious media manipulation, I cannot fathom.

The Palestinians have transcended this world; their faith so solid as to recognize that this existence is fleeting, and so they greet their fate with resolve and capitulation to The One who can best serve justice. When people no longer fear death and accept it, they cannot be vanquished.

Our gifts, our blessings are to be cherished and preserved, but keep them in hand, not in the heart. Hope for their return, and better, as destiny proceeds.

We are members of the human family, and those who remember, care, serve, and educate others will find themselves in rank just under the prophets.

Be glad, patient, and share.

Change Perceptions: Make ‘The Strangers’ Yours

Anyone can be Muslim

The picture you see is my family celebrating an Eid camping trip after Ramadan in 1998. The red, curly haired, very Caucasian peanut just secured his driver’s license today, and he is a towering 6 foot, 2 inch (183 cm) tall Muslim.

When people see him with brown skinned kids at school, they are very surprised to learn that he is indeed Muslim because most people think of Muslims as ‘Other,’ meaning other than ‘Us.’

Typically, the image that comes to American’s minds is that a Muslim is Arab or perhaps Asian, although a large proportion of Muslims are in fact from African descent.

I believe this is significant to how we tend to value the lives of Others, and in particular to the political perspectives and policies toward the Middle East and Central Asia in general.
What should be known is that anyone can be Muslim. It is not an ethnic or nationalistic reference; rather it is simply a comprehensive religion on the continuum antecedent from Judaism and Christianity that guides the lives and identity of about 1.6 billion people (23% of the world’s population), according to a 2012 Global Religious Landscape report from the Pew Research Center.

Most disconcerting though is a more recent Pew Research Study referencing How Americans Feel About Religious Groups. The study was conducted May 30-June 30, 2014, and cites feelings towards religious groups on a scale of 0 as cold to 100 as warm. A 50 would reflect no particular positive or negative feeling about a religious group. In this report, prior to the Gaza spectacle, Muslims were dead last compared to all other groups, including Atheists. Forty-One percent of respondents placed scores of 33 or below for Muslims, which I find pretty sad and perhaps not representative of where I live.

Fortunately for my family, we live in a relatively affluent suburban Chicago setting with an abundance of educational institutions, houses of worship for many religions, and a fairly large non-segregated population of Muslims. Many of them hold advanced degrees and professional employment.

In retrospect, I noted that when the U.S. economy took a hard pullback a few years ago, it seemed that store clerks were friendlier than they’d been in the past. Looking around the malls, I found a greater percentage of Muslim patrons making purchases than other shoppers. Maybe the cashiers were the first ones to realize the value of Muslim purchasing power.

Even yesterday, I was acknowledged with a smile and friendly “Hi there!” initiated by non-Muslim women in two separate incidents while walking through parking lots at the local community college and at Whole Foods Market. I felt hopeful that the gloomy implications informed by the Pew reports were not representative of every part of the United States.Strangers

With this data though, I am asking everyone to help make ‘The Strangers’ documentary a reality. My friends, Abdalhamid Evans and Salama Evans, who are also on the founding team of the American Halal Association, have been working on a film project which is critical to changing erroneous perceptions about Muslims. Their story about a misfit group of hippies who stumbled upon Islam, converted, and created a community about 40 years ago in the town of Norwich, UK, is a story which needs to be told. salama-profiledownload group-copy-300x175 Please read about their amazing story and see them in the film trailer. Then give a bit of help to this project and share with your friends. It could make a positive move toward reigniting compassion, illuminate hearts, and dispel the ignorance out there. At least get a T-shirt and warm things up for the next Pew report. knees-300x174 http://halalfocus.net/the-strangers-documentary-essential-viewing/

How I Survived March

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People who know me are keenly aware that I have a foul attitude about the month of March. In Chicago, particularly with the brutally cold and heavy snowfall winter season, the need to maintain a survival mentality will not be over for a while longer.

My mother used to say, “March, in like a lion, out like a lamb.” Well, I’d just as soon run from a lion like I were the lamb because I have known nasty snow storms even come in April at times, and local gardeners are advised to not sow seeds nor leave potted plants outside until mid-May, when night time freezes are no longer a threat. However, now that it is April, I am optimistic that I see no more snow in the forecast, and I would be content to have had my last fill of it last weekend when I took my sons and our nephew, who was visiting from Amman, up to our favorite healing place and sanctuary at Devil’s Lake in Baraboo, Wisconsin.

This past March though, instead of belly aching and waiting impatiently for the weather to clear enough to resume outdoor activities and to see the sun shine again, my strategy was to be so busy that I would not have time to think about my pasty and chapped skin, the evidence of using hot showers to remedy the chills. I also connived to use a hair dryer set to the hottest option a few times to relieve acute episodes of brrrr.

Not to think that I am a wimp, we’ve had to deal with a malfunctioning furnace, a broken water main, some seepage in the basement from a sudden thaw, and I’d swear that when I turned on the faucet in the morning, the water had to be just 34 degrees. Additionally, the first week of implementing my keep-so-busy plan rewarded me with getting a bit sick; but I must have burned out the germs and bounced back as healthy as ever. Even my doctor said she had no worries about me when I passed my annual physical.

What was I busy with all month? Numerous initiatives as an administrator of a small college, I’ve worked to resurrect it from a series of technological mishaps that derailed enrollment for roughly 5 months. This entailed drafting policies, reviewing procedures, attacking marketing and out reach across a spectrum of media and events, writing blogs and website content, and working through various channels to resolve whatever may have caused the tail spin. Populating a new website template with content entails a large amount of time, analysis, and revisions. However, when it was nearly done, we chose to cancel our developer, temporarily put the old site back online, and will create a new one that gives us more editing control and less cost in the end.

Working with this college has been like being in an airborne plane with engines stalled. We’ve reduced hours, staff, and services like we are throwing ballast overboard, and now I stepped back my own hours to only work social media and events as a skeleton staff coaxes enrollment back up while all the marketing efforts are fully kicking into gear and admissions appointments are coming back in quantity. We’ll see in one month where we are, and then determine my roles.

It has been quite some time since I’d been on a school review team with AdvancEd, and I accepted a special invitation to evaluate a charter school in Chicago’s north side. I found it to be a successful model after some initial skepticism. From my experience at an Islamic school, I’ve seen board members who come with a corporate mindset. They think they can leverage the usual extrinsic rewards as incentives or use the restriction of them as motivators. What they had not seemed to realize is that schools are not quite like corporations, they are communities whereby stakeholders’ relationships and opportunity for growth and development are the real catalysts for action and retention. This makes the best effort come from people in corporate environs as well.

Instead of finding the corporate umbrella entity to be solely interested in profit, as I’d expected, I came to appreciate the advantages that it could bring to optimally scale so that supporting personnel could be shared among schools and grants could be secured to provide more working capital for all those schools under the parent organization. The overall design worked quite well, and I was impressed by the professionalism of all. As usual, students who “own” their education performed with decent progress, and these students—chosen by non-selective lottery—valued their seats. Some students had to take public transportation, and they would leave for school 1 ½ hours earlier just to attend. It was a tiring 2 day visit, but great to see.

Directly afterward, I went to emcee an event for my friends at Crescent Foods, many of whom also work with me for the American Halal Association. It was a warm hearted celebration of the individuals and their supportive families who have made Crescent Foods one of the fastest growing Halal brands in America. I’m looking forward to seeing more progress from the excellent people who work there.

March is also the month that the Muslim Women’s Alliance (MWA) hosts a luncheon to inspire, network, and celebrate women who have contributed in many ways. Philanthropy takes a variety of forms, and I am genuinely touched to see many faces of people I love and admire when we come together. This event brings teachers, community workers, entrepreneurs, and women who represent a range of professional services, as well as students and grandmothers. It acknowledges the reality of the power of giving, in whatever capacity, and the feeling of being with such “angels” is always savored.

The night of the MWA luncheon had my husband and I slated to see the musical version of “Young Frankenstein.” My father, who chose to not use his tickets, offered them to us. Typically, my husband is not a fan of musicals, unless it’s Yul Brenner in “The King and I” (I think he fanaticizes that he is the King of Siam), but the humor and pleasant melodies delivered much sought after stress relief in mid-month. The break from routine and cheap (free) tickets helped us enjoy it even more!

With our artistic and comedy cup filled, I finally made it to one of Elmhurst College’s Speaker Series sessions. How I’d wanted to see, but missed, Bill Nye earlier in the season. Zareena Grewal tickled intellectual neurons as she brilliantly interpreted for a mostly elderly Caucasian audience how several news items about Muslims were framed into perceptions that were perhaps not quite accurate, or were interpreted differently by Muslims versus the mainstream. I appreciated the historic overview and even knew some of the persons she wrote about in her book, “Islam is a Foreign Country: American Muslims and the Global Crisis of Authority. She is doing a valuable service as a liaison to help people understand more than one—often media fabricated—interpretation of events.

A few days after that, my darling daughter booked us for a massive promotional event at Nordstrom where we received a bag of samples and had our makeup professionally done prior to my niece’s bridal shower that was held at a friend’s home that afternoon. I’ve not been to very many bridal showers, but this was intimate, comfortable, and absolutely fun! I’m at the stage in life where I can be the sedate auntie, but I was snookered into a party game whereby a tissue box was sashed to my derriere, and I had to “twerk” ping pong balls out of the box before the rest of the competitors. Needless to say, I hope the video never surfaces!

The month wrapped up with my husband flying to Amman to attend a family wedding, connect with clients for our export business, and to remedy some eye and dental issues at bargain rates. It is wonderful that he can enjoy his family, for their meetings are few. I hope to be able to go the next time; but with last weekend being the only overlap between my 3 college kids and 1 high school student’s Spring Break, I took 2 sons and our nephew—a dentist from Amman—on an excursion to Devil’s Lake.

Over the years, I’ve seen the lake flooded, low, and just about normal. This place has the only 500’ bluffs and decent hiking trails east of the Mississippi River without having to go as far as the Appalachians. I’ve been there for over 33 years in all seasons except winter; but this time the 1 mile lake was frozen, and there was still slick ice on the trails. Yet, we had a blast, and those of you who know me will find the album of our adventure on Facebook hopefully within a couple more days. Our nephew brought a new toy—a GoPro—that captured the most amazing wide-angle, polarized still shots and videos. He used a telescoping pole so that all 4 of us were in the selfies. My shots were conventional, whereby I’m behind the camera, so I’m grateful that he left a copy of his work on my laptop for me to share before he left yesterday headed for Amman via Turkey.

And mentioning Turkey, in a couple weeks my daughter and I plan to attend the NAPEC Chicago conference where we hope to network with several B-school entrepreneurial students, Turkish investors, and CEOs. I’m always seeking new export opportunities and the reality of my daughter going to Turkey to teach English and do NGO work after graduation is starting to dawn on us. It’s time to start learning a little of the language, but meanwhile, we enjoy picking up some sign language from watching “Switched at Birth.” It is useful for one of her majors in Speech Language Pathology.

Several college fairs and promotional events are scheduled for the college this month, and I will be missing the ISNA Education Forum for the first time in 10 years. Yet, I plan to attend the Saturday night banquet with my husband—if he survives jet lag—and we hope to see dear friends. I miss the team, but chose to respect the sense that it was time to try something different, and not volunteer so much at the expense of actually producing income. Did I listen to my own advice? Partly; I do volunteer time for the college and the American Halal Association, but at least I get paid for some of my work for the college, and a 1500 word article on the New Economy to be published in the May/June issue of Islamic Horizons. Finally, I’ve bartered services for the first Islamic Finance conference in Chicago this June, and for a unique coaching course that I am very excited to participate in.

My strategy to be super busy through March has paid off, but I still have a back log of reading to do. This I hope to work on as the kids get back to their studies, and while the biking trails and golf courses dry up from the thaw and the April showers. It’s always something, but there are wonderful days to look forward to and old friends to catch up with.
–Hope this video of our departure from Devil’s Lake kicks out winter and drives springtime toward us faster!

 

Nips & Glugs

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Nips & Glugs
Long time since my last post; and this update is just a sampling of “this n’ that”, which is why it’s titled Nips n’ Glugs. For the first nip, winter stunts outdoor recreation, and it reminds me of the story of Persephone. This mythological character was one of my favorites as a child, and although I may better resemble her mother Demeter, strongly identified as Mother Nature, the blithe image of Persephone is who I fantasize to be. If you are unfamiliar with the tale, Persephone was youthful, feminine, and beautiful. One day though, she happened to eat six seeds from a pomegranate and was abducted by Hades, the god of the Underworld, who captured her and made her his wife. Because of this, Persephone stays with him for a time each year, and Demeter in her grief covers the land with a blanket of white until her daughter’s spirited return when Demeter celebrates her arrival with the graces of spring. But while it is not spring yet, I try to endure the long stretch from December until nearly April when I can once again revel in the outdoors without suffering from the elements that restrict my favorite sports.

Today, I am exhilarated to have done a little cross country skiing—alone in a local park—before being pummeled by the next blast of super cold. Expecting a high temperature for the day of -12 on Monday, I was pleased when finally my youngest son acquiesced to shop for a winter coat…on sale. God bless my kids, for doing all they can to keep costs low in some areas like textbooks and shopping clearance sales.

Skiing brought a burst of energy unexpected. The folks at the post office were chatting and informed me that this is the most snow we’ve had in 20 years, and it is reminiscent of the snows of my childhood, though that was more than 2x twenty years. Upon my return from trail blazing and working up a sweat, I tidied up the breakfast dishes— left behind leftovers for my sleepy gang—did some laundry, and made pickled turnips with beets that dye the concoction a lovely magenta color. One can’t underestimate the value of their probiotics. Soon I aspire to make a homemade giardiniera with cauliflower, celery, garlic, jalapeno pepper, and carrots, an exquisite condiment to many dishes. For you see, while believing in hibernating as much as possible in winter, I also succumb to my instinct to eat well.

As I trade apples, salads and spinach-protein shakes for heavier fare and dessert (eating caramel gourmet popcorn from my sister now) in this season, I have coined the term “winter body.” Provided I stay within about 5 pounds, I’m going to enjoy the holiday trimmings and indulge. Strong faith in the “set point” and years of knowing that I just have to contend with “winter skin,” allay stress. For the first time I am treating dry limbs with grape seed oil after the shower. My only hesitation is that I recently thought about what happens to all grapes…eventually. Well, can’t win either way!

Some days just make one feel strong, and this is mine. After skiing, I went with my daughter to the gym. The glute buster program on the stepper machine was a breeze, and I lifted like Wonder Woman. Examining callouses on the joints adjacent to my palms, I feel younger and optimistic.

Getting my driver’s license renewed recently brought a certain excitement, like getting it for the first time. Along with the fee, I had to take a vision test to be recertified. Mind you that I’ve had slight myopia for about 30 years, and I did tell the middle-aged lady behind the counter that some days my vision is better and some days a bit worse. That particular day was not my best, buy somehow even though I stated that the last letter in the second set was “a C, or maybe it’s a D.” And for the last letter of the third set, “Ugh…I think it’s an O, but it could be a C.” She said brightly, “You passed! You don’t need your glasses to drive!” I thought she was insane, but I was grateful for deleting the restriction I’ve held like a bit of shame on my license for so long. Now, I keep my glasses with me and usually wear them; but on a clear vision day, I drive around my town with no problem without their glare. Hopefully, I can resume wearing my circa 1980’s Vuarnet sunglasses this summer…while playing golf. Now that’s a happy thought.

Lately, hounding thoughts about my children becoming too spoiled and used to me being home have prompted me to look at local college employment ads; and while there were a few prospects, I usually found something disagreeable that made me hesitant to apply. With three children in college, the strain has been significant as we—and they—sacrifice in order to help them succeed. Often I have recited to myself and in my prayers from the Qur’an, “With every difficulty comes relief.” (94:5)

Even though I am constantly busy either with family, self-care, or professional activities, I really have not had a stable income for over 4 years. Furthermore, there are always goals I keep to self-improve. My last blog was about speed reading, and I leveled around 475 words per minute at 90% comprehension at final testing. A few of the books I intended to read have been completed; but then I found a new one to add and realized that another book was part of a trilogy, so I chose to start Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz.

Also, along the area of self-improvement, I became aware that it had been a few years since I attended a local conference featuring education professionals who are adept at technology. The ICE Conference has always provided me with new tools to make teaching more interesting and interactive. Staying on top of trends in Education, even in international settings, interests me. That is why I was invited to reconnect to an education institution this week.

Now for the “Glug”: Beginning Monday, I will commence a new project—while still developing my own company and volunteering with the American Halal Association—as director of admissions and administration for Northwest Suburban College. A critical accreditation visit comes in two weeks which could qualify this young institution for FAFSA. It offers 7 allied health curriculums and 3 in basic sciences. One of its unique features is that successful completion of its pre-med program guarantees acceptance to Avalon University Medical School in Curacao. As with any new job I have a lot to learn, but the school’s list of needs matches well to my qualifications. Although initially it will be only on a part-time basis until enrollment grows, it is perfect and flexible to allow my personal businesses to continue as well. The only caveat though is that now my kids have to at least do the dishes!

Not a bad New Year’s resolution!

Read With Speed for Achievement

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Bothered by insatiable desire to read with speed my books of latest action films, popular novelists, a number of e-books, and the lopsided pile of magazines stacked next to my bed, sometimes I just wish I could absorb and enjoy them sooner. Even the daily quantity of emails gets a bit overwhelming and consumes more time than can be justified. Yet, being an info junkie, I do not unsubscribe because reading gives me the edge in my businesses. A solution to this quandary was presented by Illumine Training, a UK based company that has made its claim “better brains for better business®” through various courses that run the gamut from writing, speaking, managing, and creative thinking training. Now they have tackled the bane of students who want to improve their study skills with their Advanced Study Skills for Students-Halve your study time AND learn more too! e-course.

For years, I’d attended seminars that tried to upsell me on additional self improvement programs, including speed reading, but they were costly and I hesitated to take the chance at making a wasteful decision. I just knew that compared to most people, I already read at a fairly speedy rate, and I thought, “How could those speed readers genuinely enjoy a book?” When I want to snuggle in my pajamas and robe to read, I didn’t match my fantasy to the site of myself speed reading. Therefore, many potentially enjoyable readings went unread for so very long.

Illumine Training has combined their speed reading and mind mapping programs into a hybrid study skills course designed for students. It is very reasonably priced and can be done in 1 ½ hours, perfect for students and others like me who are overly committed and have a bustling life.

Introducing the online course was Clive Lewis, author of The Extraordinary Reader. Objectives were presented, such as, “Double or treble your reading speed,” “Dramatically improve the effectiveness of your study,” and I felt a magnetic draw to the final claim, “Stop wasting your time.” Distractions and time suckers are my nemesis. I calculated that this was worth investigating.

Pleasantly, Clive Lewis presents a logical case for students to understand the research base for the program. Initially, prior to commencing, my reading speed was 364 words per minute, and according to the course material, that placed me around the upper 20% of readers. Comprehension was clocked at 80% on a trial reading that I deliberately raced through.

Upon immediate completion of the program and utilizing the tactics prescribed, my reading speed rose to 516 words per minute—putting me in the upper 4% of readers, but comprehension dropped to 60%. Not to be dissuaded, Lewis presented graphs explaining this to be a normal phenomenon initially. What happens is that while one is focused on reading rapidly, it is normal for the brain to not absorb content as effectively because one is thinking about reading faster. However, when the habits inherent to speed reading become commonplace, through regular skill development and practice, comprehension will rise. Also, since focus is trained to be laser-like when reading, comprehension and recall are likely to exceed performance levels prior to taking the course.

Another intriguing strategy presented in the Illumine course that facilitates recall and expedites the ability to devour a book in less time, is mind mapping. I admit that I have dabbled a bit in doing some of these in the past, and as an educator have used graphic organizers. As I was trained to be linear in my formative years, it was stretching my comfort zone and I judge myself to be a bit clumsy in mapping 2D, 360° content from informational text. Yet, knowing that the brain seeks to organize, it made sense to follow Lewis’ prescription to preview and map a 200 page book within 20 minutes. I did it! And I found that I understood and was able to document the key nuggets found in an education themed book, ironically titled, “Checking for Understanding.”

Illumine offers the student insight to how we tend to read, that alpha brain waves are best for relaxed study and that baroque music elicits them, how our eyes tend to skip and back track, and that surprisingly if we can discipline ourselves to simply focus forward and not re-read what we just read, we likely comprehend just as well as if we hadn’t backskipped. All that is required though to be successful in speed reading is to understand what Lewis presents and then implement it in a mere 5 minutes, twice a day, for about 21 days.

Embedding effective reading habits is the key to success in acquiring superior speed and comprehension.

This is where most people fall short. For like any professional development, it is only as good as its faithful implementation. Yet, as the sun sets earlier, and my robe and slippers look inviting and comfortable, I’m ready to tie the habit to my morning and evening coffee routine. The best way to succeed in maintaining a new commitment is to hook it on to an existing one. As part of this course, I have been given access for one month to replay, and I have one more practice reading that I can use to clock my speed and comprehension rates.

This might be the year I finally get to the bottom of my magazine pile and read several of those young adult books I once bought for my kids and somehow didn’t get to enjoy for myself. If I am lucky, winter might not seem as long and cold this time, and I might teach another critical life enhancing skill to my brood.

Always finding something new to explore, all this has whet my curiosity about how video games develop cognition and can be used therapeutically. Lumos Labs has amazing work and a massive research database from their Lumosity site. Akili Interactive Labs’ co-founder Adam Gazzaley has worked with subjects 60-85 years of age to improve plasticity, even to the point where their performance in multitasking exceeded 20-year-olds who were thought to be more proficient.

I thought I’d start video games in my 70’s, but maybe I should begin as soon as I catch up on my reading?

American Merit and Pride

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Patriotism is not a subject that I have written much about, and it may surprise you that I do, as I fume over the faults of democracy in light of the government shutdown. Congress people are essentially government workers; why do they still get paid? I’m irked that they have feathered their own beds with elitist privilege while the masses and other government workers get nil. Yet, we, the voting public, are responsible for electing them, and we should be wise to demand a correction. What ever happened to the checks and balances system? We are out of balance, and it has become a farce thanks to permitting special interests to gain a foothold in politics. Where is the accountability?

Confucius had some insight and proposed a government administration designed on merit, as did Thomas Jefferson. Should we not reward people who uphold values of service, honesty, industry, loyalty, and integrity? These ideals are alive and well in the American public and in several corporations and non-profit entities.

As my brother-in-law, a retired international pilot just left after a month-plus long visit, he was so impressed by several experiences during his stay. These were contrasted, sadly, with the treatment he received from his own former foreign airline. It had been his dream for several years to own a particular model of a propane-fueled Weber grill. He had not visited us since his retirement as flight captain seventeen years prior. In his glory days, everyone practically genuflected to him, but now this is no more. For in many lands the concept of “wasta,” or clout, is the grease that makes things happen. No wasta? No chance, buddy!

To his frustration, since he is a retired pilot, some minion with a desk job first informed him that in order to receive his benefit of extra cargo allowance, he had to send a FAX with the company identification number of the flight captain assigned to his returning flight. An email would not be acceptable; and after tracking down the pilot, I made a trip to Office Depot and paid $3.00 for a FAX.

Then we were told that the pilot had to physically come to the cargo terminal, and we had to also physically be there within a half hour—during rush hour—in order to authorize the shipment of the grill. My husband and his brother raced through traffic just so the guy could then lie to their faces and make a new stipulation. They would have to ship the grill to New York from Chicago first in order for the airline to transport it. In the end, being such a fiasco, we decided to pack it ourselves with a shipping container as part of our export business.

Contrast this to the following experiences reported by my brother-in-law which make me feel grateful and proud to be American.

  • When purchasing an expensive sweater at Macy’s, the cashier volunteered a coupon that saved him 50 percent.
  • A sale price became available from a previous purchase at Carson’s, and he was given the refund and new sale price.
  • He purchased numerous items for relatives at Target; JC Penney; Bed, Bath & Beyond; Walmart; and Banana Republic, and had no difficulty in returns and exchanges to please the needs of many people he shopped for during his visit.
  • The Apple Store found that a broken iPhone he brought from a nephew—who purchased it from here when he was visiting last year—was twelve days over warranty. Apple honored it still and replaced the phone.

He ran numerous errands with me to all the major Chicagoland malls, post office, bank, grocery stores, and even to my husband’s doctor. We visited landmarks, museums, gardens, and restaurants, while juggling my kids’ needs and wound care for my father. Everyone was kind and very hospitable, a credit to our nation and those who serve.

At a time when we can be justifiably critical of some things in America, we also acknowledge that many of the American people are admirable.

Now, that my impromptu bed, breakfast, and tour service is wrapped up, I am eager to resume a large number of projects. I’m reminded, as my task list is long, of Lao-tzu, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” God willing, I will produce works of merit that preserve values and promote excellence in Education here and abroad.

So You Think You Can’t Write?

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Sue's kitchen So You Think You Can’t Write?

Yes, I started with “So.” Every day, for weeks now, I’ve been itching to write with funny thoughts, literary lines, and odd ramblings flowing from my brain. I’m the only one who gets to enjoy them.

I’ve struggled to settle on a single topic, and the possibilities range from humorous, reminiscent poetic, didactic, and even exasperated vents. Yet, I rarely sit with nothing to do, as I manage my household of 6, each day slips by without a word etched to my blog.

Want to Be Part of an Experiment? –in a few days I’ll tell you why

While starting my day with the usual morning bathroom routine (ahem), I contrived a strategy for keeping the writing skills juiced, as well as a potential method for those who think they can’t write or have writer’s block. Instead of formally composing, why not simply journal my odd observations and mental tangents to see what would be the result…?

…Looking at my face in the mirror, why do I have creases on both brow bones? I’m a side-sleeper, but should it really take 15 minutes to dissipate that evidence?!

…Why do I have grown children who leave their clothes, even after I remind them countless times, for a week on our bathroom floor (sigh)!?

…Breakfast is my favorite meal. Today, we have tea, bread, olive oil with zaatar (Greek oregano, sesame seeds, sumac), scrambled eggs, and fried sheep cheese from Palestine, which I share with my husband, Riad. Over breakfast, we review happenings on the stock market, the 60-some degree weather this morning, the fact that one of our adult children is leaving for college in one week, and the bank account. Oh, and the prospects of going to a water park, as Riad has never been initiated.

Over a robust cup of freshly ground coffee while enjoying my view from the patio, I calculate and negotiate the options for my schedule. Among them are the following:

  • Capture the chance for a morning bike ride
  • Grocery shop because it must be done today
  • Tackle the long “to do” list for developing my professional work
  • Visit a relative whose mother came recently and deliver to her my Eid gift
  • Pack a box of books from my basement and run them to the Book Rescue

As a former assistant principal, I’m trained to prioritize, constantly reevaluate and prioritize again. However, first I’ll choose to read two pages from Qur’an. It’s better than vitamins, and keeps my Arabic skills intact.

Decided. Pack a box of books, drive in a loop to the next town to drop off, after a bank deposit, and pick up groceries at 3 stores en route before returning home. I have an appointment with my Dad at a wound clinic in 2 hours. The race is on!

…On 2nd thought, the van is still a mess from the Eid weekend camping trip and needs a wash and vacuum. With Dad about 40 minutes away, who am I kidding?! Pack books, jump in van and plan to shop after Dad’s appointment.

While power washing the van to blast off the sticky residue of blackberries—or was it raccoon scat with blackberries?—I recollected the monumental blackberry tree we had in our village in the occupied West Bank. One of the nephews cleared it in order to build some market stalls on the property, which enraged the family, but that led my mind (incredible what thoughts come while washing your car for 3 minutes) to a little flashback.

I had baby #3 in Jerusalem and lived with my sister-in-law and my other two youngsters in the West Bank, while my husband went to explore business prospects in Saudi Arabia, staying with his brother for 6 months. One night, Israeli soldiers came banging on our porch door wanting to take a population survey, a sort of census. In our nighties, we covered in prayer dresses and felt vulnerable because they had rifles, but my sister-in-law stayed calm. She said that the “man of the house” was on a business trip. There was tension in the air. Even the soldier interviewing us seemed a bit uptight. Just then, my 4 year old daughter came to the door, sleepy-eyed; I spoke to her in English to go back inside the house.

The soldier asked in Arabic, “Do you have a car?” At that, my dearly clever sister-in-law covered her mouth with the hem of her headcovering and giggled, Wallah ciara, walla tiara!” (Not a car, not an airplane!). The rhyme gave ease to the situation and the soldier smiled and ended his intrusion, but the realization of potential alternative outcomes stayed with me.

Done with the bank; going to Dad’s– a 30 minute trip from here. The books are in the back of the van. I’m not planning on bringing the wheel chair. He uses a walker now, but we may opt to dose him with a bit of hydrocodone after debriding his heel and Achilles wounds. Today marks 3 months since the tumbling incident that started this.

Waiting at the Wound Clinic for the doctor, Dad came early and is ahead of schedule. After this, he wants to shop for produce; I may shoot two birds with one stone and do some of my own errands this way! His spirits are good and he said that sometimes he forgets his walker when moving about the kitchen. I can tell how active he’s been by how many sticky spots I clean off the floor each visit. Previously, I had to attend to change his bandages each day, except when his home health care nurse would come. Now, my sisters can also schedule in time using a Google Doc we share for that purpose.

The Wound Clinic doctor and main nurse are Irish-American; Dad chose to don his kelly green St. Pat’s sweatshirt. Tick Tock…even though we came twenty minutes early for our 1:00 p.m. appointment, it is 1:05…thinking of all the other things I could be doing. Surprisingly, Dad is not cantankerous yet at the delay. Perhaps he is listening to the court update on Jesse Jackson, Jr. and wife, or the chit chat between an elderly Chinese lady and her attending son, in Chinese. The world has changed a lot since he was a boy in Brighton Park, a neighborhood in Chicago.

1:10 Dad is funny. We have a new nurse today, Elizabeth, who is not Irish. He asked about Kelly, the Irish one, and mentions that he wore his sweatshirt just for her. Kelly is at lunch and may not see him today. For the millionth time over 3 months, he is asked about if he has pain, on a scale of 1-10… He looks at me and rolls his eyes at this point.

Alright, wound doc was optimistic and cited progress. That is only in millimeters, but still positive. He pulled the perimeter scabbing, hurting Dad. Better him than me doing it. Wound dressed and ready to go grocery shopping with hopes to get him back on the golf course by the end of September, if even only on the practice putting green. I had my own first foray of the year on Monday; 9 holes and wishing for more, but the short game killed me. Practice…

2:00 We are on the road again toward the produce market.

3:10 I’m running a tune-up on Dad’s computer because he complained that it was horribly slow. While waiting, knowing he has eaten nothing but a banana, coffee, and orange juice all day, I offer to make him lunch. What does he choose? Corn! “Where’s the wound healing, body building protein in that?” I ask him. We agreed he add some Greek yogurt to that order. Sugar/carb addiction runs in my genes, but fortunately we have no diabetes.

Two of my kids and a friend send texts to me about dinner, my whereabouts, and evening plans. I’d check in with Riad, but assume he is busy now.

Decide to email my siblings about Dad’s doctor visit. We will go to every other day bandaging since his drainage is decreasing. Computer is still in tune-up mode.

3:45 Done! Need to run to buy my Halal chicken and specialty items from the Mediterranean Market close to home and get cooking. Checked in with Riad; business was good today. Whew!

Remembering the books in the back of the van and the folding chairs we packed to see Perseid meteorites a couple days ago by our relatives in the boondocks, exurbs of Chicago.

4:05 Very sleepy, I have 2 more miles till the next tollway exit.

Yay! The Book Rescue was still open to take my donation. Next, I’m going to the health food store to buy some Redmond (UT) salt and coconut oil, then to the Mediterranean Market.

Upon exiting the health food store, I saw a man I recognized as a parent from my former school. “Assalamu alaikum,”  he greeted me kindly. It’s nice to see people in my town that recognize each other. We have a rather large population of Muslims of diverse backgrounds. This man I recalled worked at McDonald’s headquarters nearby.

If you’ve been following this blog, you might ask, “What happened to California?” Well, we would still love to relocate, but the reality is that 3 kids in college and their still unstable, dependent statuses have us pigeonholed here awhile. We also have a teenager who has decent friends, and is still at an impressionable age. It is sensible to keep that support for him. Truth be known, there are many positive aspects to living near Chicago, but I do take exception to the weather, especially the long cold season that inhibits our love of doing things outdoors. For now, if we can afford to escape a few times during that long spell, I would be satisfied. However, I do hold visions of relocating in the future when parental obligations lighten.

Also, this past Ramadan, a segment of my community started a new mosque. Lacking a building for worship though, they contracted the local high school gym during the month long evening Taraweeh prayers and hired a wonderful reciter (Qari) of the Qur’an. There, I saw many former students and teachers that just made me feel wonderful to be in their company. Even a former teacher is First Violin of the DuPage Symphony Orchestra; she was so kind to offer me tickets to their October Tchaikovsy concert. I have invited my nephew, a young cellist, to join me, and I am so much looking forward to that!

At the Mediterranean Market, I saw another lady who referred me to her brother-in-law in Ohio. He was my expert consultant on an article I wrote about keeping fit in Ramadan last year. I noticed through Facebook that he has been having some health issues requiring surgeries, so we had a chance to catch up and I learned more details on his struggles.

I thought about squeezing in a bike ride as I drove home, but Riad greeted me and did not feel like biking. Quickly, I pray the last few minutes possible for Thuhr, the mid-day prayer, and also catch the starting time for Asr, the mid-afternoon prayer. Finding the best way to acquire good habits is to tag on to existing habits, I do 15 push-ups and 30 squats for exercise. We have yet to return to the gym schedule after Ramadan.

Throw the folding chairs from the van into the garage and replace 3 broken slabs of jalousie glass panes before making dinner.

5:00 Time to Cook!

Cooking time usually is when my kids know that they can get my ear when I’m in the kitchen. I really don’t love cooking, to tell the truth, but sometimes I can get into it. During Ramadan, it was not unusual to be stuck there for 5 hours at a time, but my family is spoiled to an extent. The kids generally don’t eat breakfast, but they do want a hearty dinner. That is where I put effort and often about 3 hours of my day, but I have plans for 7:00 p.m. so I have to rush.

Why did the recipe state that 3-4 minutes on each side would brown chicken thighs?! It took 30 minutes! I had Moroccan Chicken Stew (magazine recipe) and a steamed kale, turkey bacon, and apple combo as a side dish. Sure enough, two of my sons take time to brief me on their day while I cook, and one acquiesced to take the picture of me cooking for a new Facebook profile pic.

Wolfing down dinner, it is 6:50 and I have to race to mid-town to see my friend, Yvonne of My Halal Kitchen, present at 7:00 at our local library. My daughter, her friend, and fiancé will attend too.

“Ramadan Food Rituals: 30 Nights of Foods That Nourish”

Presented by Yvonne Maffei, she outlined the basics of Islam, the wide array of Muslims representing many cultures and nations, aspects of the lunar month of Ramadan, understandings of Halal and Tayeb (Wholesomeness), fasting rituals in a typical day, the growth of fusion cuisine in America, Eid traditions, and my favorite…dessert demo: Stuffed Dates with Crème Fraish!

Back Home Again and Still Crankin’

9:00 Home again after Yvonne’s presentation, and I have to perform the sunset prayer. The kitchen needs post-dinner clean up, since I ran out the door with my husband still eating.

9:45 It’s time for a 4 mile walk with Riad, whereby we talk and listen to background tunes on Pandora via our phones.

11:00 Back from our walk; one of my sisters calls with news of a conference she recently attended for promotional products professionals, and we trade opinions on Dad’s care. I’m snacking on grape tomatoes and Gouda cheese. My eldest son comes home from a camping and fishing trip, and he debriefs with me by the kitchen table.

12:15 Time to pray, shower, and then my daughter visits us in the bedroom to re-cap on Yvonne’s presentation and how pictures of samosas inspired her and her fiancé to go to an Indian restaurant for late dinner. I’m really tired, but now everyone has touched base with “Mom” and one kid is still out running a nighttime neighborhood blitz type of game with friends. I decide to finally check in on Facebook, as I’d not had a chance to do so yet in the day.

12:50 My last kid is in and I’m signing off with plans to be up at 4:00 for my thyroid medicine, 5:00 for fajr, the dawn prayer, and start a new day by 8:30. Love the summer schedule!

—Next day—

There never was time to write a formal blog, per se, but time to write throughout the day. Somehow it gave me relief to purge out the extension I wished to make and document what seems like a crazed existence, but a happy one. Would you consider this a valid exercise for getting students/writers to express themselves and practice editing? 

Ramadan: Cooking, Qur’an, Collaboration

Quran Ramadan: Cooking, Qur’an, Collaboration

School’s out, but there are plenty of opportunities for learning. With Ramadan coinciding with summer break, I have plenty of thoughts toward trying out some new things. After all, life-long learning is what it is all about, and these ideas are not just for kids.

Cooking

Why not begin with expanding culinary skills? The reality of Ramadan is that we do spend a lot of time thinking about food, cooking extra special feasts, and breaking our very long fasts with family and friends. To inspire you, Yvonne Maffei of My Halal Kitchen has published Summer Ramadan Cooking. She hails from a Sicilian and Puerto Rican parentage; and she has such fondness for many cuisines that her cookbook features many traditional and fusion dishes. Yvonne is very much in demand as a blogger, is often interviewed by the media, teaches cooking classes, and is an advocate of a Halal lifestyle. She is also a talented food photographer, and you will enjoy drooling over her pictures even if you don’t lift a spoon!

Quran
In Ramadan, we don’t merely dwell on food, we also seek to improve our knowledge of the Holy Qur’an and the Arabic language. The Qur’an is recited each of the 29-30 days of Ramadan, and hearing a beautiful recitation is one of the best aspects of the month. We usually finish our sunset meal, known as iftar, and quickly clean up the kitchen to ready ourselves for the evening and night prayers, isha and taraweeh. Taraweeh involves reciting 1/30th of the Qur’an each night, and it recharges one’s spirit, commitment, and relationship to Allah. However, I can attest that the benefits of Ramadan are proportional to the efforts one applies to it, and we all could use some supportive reminders to use time well because the holy month features bonuses not received at other times.

The Prophet Mohammad said, “Whoever reads a letter from the Book of Allah will receive a hasanah (good deed) from it, and the hasanah is multiplied by ten. I do not say that Alif Lam Meem is (considered) a letter, rather, Alif is a letter, Laam is a letter, and Meem is a letter.” [At-Tirmidhi, Ad-Darimi]

In Ramadan, good deeds are multiplied by 70 or more. The Prophet said, “Whoever draws near to Allah during it (Ramadan) with a single characteristic from the characteristics of (voluntary) goodness, he is like whoever performs an obligatory act in other times. And whoever performs an obligatory act during it, he is like whoever performed seventy obligatory acts in other times.” [Sahih Ibn Khuzaymah, no. 1877]

While for non-native Arabic speakers, the task of reading the Qur’an in Arabic is a significant challenge, take heart. Aisha, who was the youngest wife and frequent transmitter of testimony about the Prophet’s daily life, quoted him, “Verily the one who recites the Qur’an beautifully, smoothly, and precisely, he will be in the company of the noble and obedient angels. And as for the one who recites with difficulty, stammering or stumbling through its verses, then he will have twice that reward.” [Al-Bukhari and Muslim] –Nice to know that I’ll get a generous recompense for my efforts!

Collaboration

Although the mainstay identifier of Ramadan is the fasting, it should be acknowledged that relationships are a priority to reflect upon and improve. Tahera Ahmad, another wonderful soul I have had the pleasure of knowing, wrote about the importance of Relationships to Ramadan, and I was very pleased when the deeper essence of Ramadan and our understanding of it came up in conversation within my home.

My daughter has a friend who recently took a break from college to complete a ten month program in Texas at Bayyinah Institute, and she gained great insights from the esteemed founder Nouman Ali Khan. The girls’ discussions and subsequent study of online resources produced by him evolved in an initial gathering of moms and their kids to open a number of topics related to being Muslim in America, wearing hijab, studying the Qur’an, nuances of the Arabic language, and we hope to continue these meetings with husbands included. We’ll see how it goes; but it occurred to me that this type of gathering, featuring multiple generations and perspectives, may also provide a venue to transmit oral histories and wisdom to be passed to our progeny. It is said that the Devil is locked away in Ramadan, and I hope topics can be discussed with mutual respect, devoid of discord.

Technology & Arts

With these unstructured days of summer, it is my hope that we can all explore some new applications of technology. Whether we are teachers, students, or just casual dabblers in nascent apps, there could be no loss in acquiring practice in something new. This video presents possibilities and features links to further resources.

On a concluding note, it has been nearly two months since my father fell in his yard, and although he has suffered and continues to convalesce at home with me and my siblings rotating constant supervision, our relationships have greatly improved and I have treasured the fortification of our family bonds.

Thoughts of death, and preparation for the eventual absence of my life, have helped the depth of my worship (ibadah) and connection to Allah. I am reminded of my responsibility to prepare myself and those around me for the inevitable journey, and I greatly appreciate the time, people, and experiences that have been gifted to me. I am optimistic that soon my father and children will be able to be more independent by the end of this summer, and I have many things I wish to pursue with a renewed sense of mission and energy. This time of reflection, course correction, salutations from distant souls, and chance to gain exponential good deeds (barakat) and warm memories with those close to me is precious.

Every dua’a that is good is answered, they say, and I have known it to be true. Ramadan Mubarak!

Hospital, Hope, and Historic Legacy

Hospital, Hope, and Historic Legacy

Perched on the 7th floor of a suburban hospital, I peer at the Chicago skyline in the distance. Here for five days after my father suddenly “lost power” in his legs while feeding the birds in his yard; it was 92 degrees and he was stranded, baking for a few hours before a neighbor miraculously found him. While the event was unpleasant, he feels blessed as his children have risen to the cause as his advocates with numerous staff and specialists, tests, logistics, and he instigated a chain of reunions and collaborations that give him satisfaction, and above all, the feeling of love. We anticipate discharge to a physical rehabilitation within days.
1367685774908 With all the nasty news headlines, political and economic stresses, it distills down to this—we prevail when we have Hope. In Dad’s case, all testing so far was mercifully unspectacular, and an additional benefit, as I ponder it, is that rehab guided by professionals may speed up his recovery from winter doldrums to result in out-performing me in golf! I had better get my own training on track, in spite of numerous overseas relatives who have added to the complexity of my task schedule.

Yet, before spring sprang with its tulips, redolent lilacs and hyacinths, I was prompted to read Tariq Ramadan’s Islam and the Arab Awakening. It was not part of the Muslim Journeys book list, but I wish it was because he has a global following. This review will summarize contents and some of my own perspectives derived from his ideas.

Ramadan analyzes historic, geopolitical, and currently relevant perspectives. In his prescription for Arab and Muslim majority countries, he echoes a call I have heard even from OIC business research circles, that there is need for reform in education to foster innovation, critical thinking, and establishing a mission based stance toward collective responsibility, which may even question leadership if a better solution may be conceived. He recognizes the need in light of economic ripples from globalization, and the necessity of guidance and requirement to utilize young people in work. In particular, the value of women’s education and autonomy is acknowledged, and resolving poverty and corruption, which has undermined societies.

In timely manner, he qualifies that Islamic shariah implies a call for justice, dignity, and freedom. It supports religious, cultural, and political pluralism. Ramadan’s expertise is qualified, as he holds a PhD. in Arabic and Islamic Studies from the University of Geneva (Switzerland), and he contends that shariah is not constitutionally rigid and reductive. He also explains that the often misunderstood term of jihad “resists racism, dictatorships, corruption and oppression.” He states that “only when Muslim societies actively envision and work for nothing less than these values can they achieve liberation.” This is a far different portrayal of these terms—shariah and jihad—than what the American public has been led to believe.

Efforts of a deliberate misinformation campaign have been revealed, as I have learned of several reports in the past year. Truly Machiavellian, there are enough well plotted schemes that convince this to be reality, not a conspiracy theory. Yet, Ramadan does not address these at all. What he does note though are the inequities of powerful nations in their willingness to engage in resolutions within Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia as contrasted with Syria and Yemen. Specific interest was abetted to unrests in petromonarchies of Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. Meanwhile, we also see further power plays and economic polarization in Greece and Cypress, and we question when will the purge end? Who loses and who gains? How can “they” get away with it, and can the juggernaut be halted without a hard landing? The printing of fiat currency is heading toward Jupiter with futile hope of ever meeting debt obligations on every scale. It’s a house of cards, and even my overseas guests—who sport the shopping malls have reported that designer brands are selling out, while middle-America is not even in the mall or they’re just window shopping.

My eldest children have commented that nearly all their classmates from high school and college have no job, and this we see in Arab societies as well. Educated and un or under employed, we have too many PhDs. What benefit was their education for? A better effort is required for guiding students toward employable fields and majors. Ramadan writes that “critical intelligence is mandated to resolve the waste of human capital. Globalization and unemployment needs some turnkey solutions, and although not everyone is an entrepreneur, we must utilize resources in a fulfilling and sustainable manner.” Working to eliminate poverty is a solution; yet, the widening gap of haves and have nots is directly oppositional to the solution required.

Ramadan’s writing expresses hope for Muslim majority societies to take the initiative in building its own alternative order. In my mind I sense powerful potential parallels with the Dark Ages and subsequent rise of the Golden Age of Islam which eventually catalyzed into the Renaissance. However, with the internet and social media’s pan-identity of “we” there is optimism to breach entrenched nationalistic, gender, and religious divisions in exchange for a united, humanistic bond with willingness toward inclusion.

The power of the people was just a glimmer in the Arab Spring, and we wait for its awakening to cure the malaise threatening our existence. To build, Ramadan calls for the following three priorities
• The dignity of the individual and labor
• Defined conditions for fair and equitable trade
• Compassion and efforts to relieve the poor

While Arab and Muslim majority societies seek solutions, it is fair to evaluate weaknesses, in order to recognize their vulnerabilities. Since Ramadan clearly rests the responsibility to ultimately lie with the people, irrespective of corrupt leaders and plots, he diagnoses that many greatly lack Spirituality. Of course, there are deeply spiritual people scattered in every society, he qualifies that the masses are not devoid of “religion,” rather they lack its deeper infused essence. “Adherence to rituals, and even moral concern, fall short of spirituality depicted as having a rock solid base in a meaning to life and peace in one’s heart resulting from an unshakable belief that permeates one’s personality resulting in inner security and serenity.”

He calls out that rhetoric and formality have taken precedence over the spiritual core, and that some people incorporate Sufi practices while maintaining parallel to them secular lifestyles. We’ve seen this in American society where there was a rising interest in Buddhism and yoga. While not all who choose yoga as their form of exercise connect to the spiritual relation to it, the popular rise of it into mainstream was sparked by people seeking to fill a void.

Who could blame them for casting away religion when it seems that all dogmatic religions “take away” and “restrict,” rather that enrich? Moreover, the argument that religion “gives comfort” can easily be dismissed because many other less polyanna-ish pursuits can also give at least a temporary comfort.

Ramadan contends, “What lies at the heart of spirituality is the willingness to not resist against life’s challenges, because at some point exhaustion sets in, if unabated. When the human reaches its limit in its ability to suffer, the only recourse is to reach beyond one’s self to an entity who never fatigues, who creates all, and can deliver ultimate relief. Certainty of this entity’s existence and a personal connection to it defines one as a Believer. The depth of the relationship between Creator and Believer determines the degree of spirituality. Just as muscle improves with effort, spirituality is deepened with effort to connect with one’s Creator. In our often busy lives, this requires an investment of time and consciousness. That justifies why Muslims pray 5 times a day, to maintain that “hand hold” and bond.”

Far from simply hiding and praying, a spiritual person is called upon to actualize virtue in caring for themselves, their fellow humans, plants, creatures, and the environment. The manifold aspects of this can be applied to all realms of life. For me, Ramadan’s clarification reminds that aspects of this should resonate throughout education, social, political, economic, cultural and artistic work. For every type of occupation, I can easily perceive its relevance in serving for a greater good, whether it be through social work, fine arts, math and science, literature and communication, law, health care and fitness, politics, agriculture, animal husbandry, travel, logistics, trade, manufacturing, marketing, finance, and defense. All are acceptable if they serve toward building and preserving a legacy of dignity for all, and respecting the benevolence and wisdom of the Creator. This respect and acceptance of the Creator’s higher authority is what feeds spirituality. Behaving contrary to one’s inherent autonomy, status of trust, honor, and responsibility erodes it.

My vocation in Education—inclusive of the plurality of languages, customs, arts, cuisines, and other facets of culture—can help us discover our own pan-identity. Giving meaning and worth to other cultures gives respect and bonds humans as global partners.

——-Enough heavy analysis; levity also bonds humans. To that extent, I’ve a hankering for reading something by P.G. Wodehouse. After all, balance is a characteristic of Islam, and much time hanging out at the hospital with Dad has me chomping at the bit to get moving outdoors as soon as I can assure he is comfortable in an interim setting to get his legs and lungs ready for golf.

“Bee” an Advocate for Earth

541871_10152735073770564_466614551_n When travails of life wear us down, I have taught my children to seek solace in nature’s wonders. Last weekend, for example, I’d really needed a “fix” and went to a local park district owned farm to commune with the sheep. A particular sheep really “connected” with me and followed me around the property, probably to get more petting. Somehow, after that encounter, I felt better, at peace, and happier. The long drawn out winter had taken a toll, and this gave me resilience.

Similarly, my kids have acknowledged that they find the same comfort from being outdoors, and they reminisce about camping trips we tried to take each year. Alhamdullilah, I feel that I gave them a valuable resource and coping mechanism in appreciating the creation and grounding comfort it provides; for where we live, we really don’t get to feel comfortable outdoors from November until April, and this April still features “April showers” that have kept us bound indoors…except for the recent foray to the farm. Too much of a good thing, we have a bit of flooding in our basement that I will attend to after writing this piece about resources you can use for class in acknowledgement of Earth Day, this Monday, April 22nd.

Earth Day Ideas

Introduce students toward stewardship of the Earth and citizenship with the power of petitions. There is one for support of organic farmers at http://tinyurl.com/d6l8sbo. Students need to be at least 13 years of age.

Edutopia.org, one of my favorites, has a blogger, Matt Davis, who posted “Earth Day 2013: Lesson Plans, Reading Lists, and Classroom Ideas” http://tinyurl.com/d4kqbt8. This has many resources for lesson plans, unit plans, games. Also, there are handouts, activity sheets, online games (really fun!), and contest links. Note that the EcoKids Canada link within Matt’s piece has resources for First Nation and the Inuit as well. From here you can get ideas for activities, projects, and scavenger hunts.

What About the Common Core State Standards for ELA non-fiction?

My latest interest, as prompted by speaking to a 40 year veteran of beekeeping at the farm, is learning about bees. One third of commercial beehives have been decimated in the past year, and the impact is dramatic on several levels. The crisis has been labeled Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), and it might qualify as an intriguing topic integrated across several academic disciplines for the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) that increase the quantity of non-fiction reading expected of students.

Peruse WKSU’s Vivian Goodman’s “Why You Should Care if Honey Bees Can’t Find Their Way Home,” www.wksu.org/news/story/35148. The site has a 7 minute podcast as well that gives a bit of history about legendary bee expert A.I. Root and serves as a hook to the article.

There are many amazing things about bees. Their antennae are smell detectors, and are up to 100 times more sensitive to odors of flowers, nectar, and propolis than humans’ odor detection abilities. Pollution dilutes bees’ sense of smell, for which the antennae operate independently, similar to our ears. They navigate by the sun, and communicate the location of nectar plants by “dancing” to direct members of their hive. What is spectacular I found is that their precision in direction is in single degrees of orientation and that they also home in using the same. Commercial beekeepers that travel all over the country know to relocate the hives only after sundown so that bees can reorient their location somewhere new each day. How they know exactly where to find their hives, the inner workings, efficiency of labor, and processes are miracles. I have learned these things from my current read, which is A World Without Bees by Allison Benjamin and Brian McCallum.

Much of the book gives insight to research conducted about CCD and potential reasons for 800,000 colonies being lost in 2007, and 1 million in 2008. This crisis has affected bees in Canada, Europe, Asia, and South America. Theories include implications from disease, fungus, pesticide toxicity, viruses, and electro-magnetic disruption. France and Italy reported associating a nicotine-based pesticide, imidacloprid, manufactured by Bayer CropScience, with CCD, and it is now partially banned in France. Neonicotinoids are sometimes called “neonics” and are neurotoxins that have been implicated in affecting the bees’ sense of navigation and immunity, according to an article in Mother Jones by Tom Philpott, “3 New Studies Link Bee Decline to Bayer Pesticide,” http://tinyurl.com/cdjqwlk .

With high stakes on both sides, Big Agriculture vs. Bees there is a petition also against the use of these pesticides at http://tinyurl.com/bbekaqj .

Films that may be of interest are:
“Silence of the Bees” http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/episodes/silence-of-the-bees/introduction/38/
“More Than Honey” http://ecowatch.com/2013/dwindling-bee-populations/
See bonus material from “More Than Honey”—enjoy the German! http://youtu.be/00u30q0XqUw

In Closing

Now, as the “great outdoors” doles rain/snow/showers/wind at 40 degrees, I’m ready to slog through the mess in my basement so that I can not feel guilt when Spring–whenever it comes–gives us 60 and I get back to the farm on my bike to visit “my” sheep.