True Life Through Golf

It has been liberating to not open a laptop for 5 days! Able to monitor emails and posts via my phone gave the chance to really enjoy our friends and family gathering at a popular campground in Merrimac, WI. Also, miraculously, was the lack of drama and sincere enjoyment of the venue and camaraderie as 6 families went on this first-ever attempt to celebrate Eid al Fitr this way. Although we were there for 3 days, it took me nearly 3 additional days to catch up in opening mail, cleaning and storing all the gear, doing laundry, and restocking the groceries to a moderate level. There have been a few attempts to read the backlog of email, even after I purged myself off several newsletters before the trip, but I’m still behind a few days and did not even attempt to view the 73 notifications from Facebook.

Part of the delay in getting back on track is because my two youngest started a new term in high school, literally within 7 hours of our return, and the second reason is my priority to accept my husband’s invitations to play golf. He is quite the birdie-par-bogie player, while I am still in training.

We managed to play the beautiful Glacier course at Devil’s Head Resort, and I found it truly gorgeous! Hopefully, we will try to get back one more time before the end of this season http://www.devilsheadresort.com/dhr/info/s.golf.aspx Yesterday’s 18 holes were at Maple Meadows, which is in our area, and for which I have acquired a discount card with intent to play the 3 associated courses with more frequency http://www.dupagegolf.com/course3/ However, Friday twilight was my first attempt, and it was fraught with frustration. We walked and sweated, for it was 93 degrees, but I also like to shoot and run for the ball because I find it fun and it usually gets a chuckle out of my partner. My first hole was a disaster, par 5, and I shot 10. Then I recalled excellent wisdom that was shared with me to not read the results of the first hole toward the whole game. I persevered only to come to the conclusion that my first 9 holes were a wash, since I am in training mode, especially not having practiced much in Ramadan. Unfortunately, the second 9 also resulted in a not much better score, but I did have more fun.

The problem as best as I can analyze is that strategically I know what to do, and I can even “see the movie in my head” before taking the shot. But there is a disconnect between my vision and my execution for which I can only surmise indicates that I need more practice. Teeing off, I can get great distance, but I’m vacillating between slicing and keeping it straight. I’m trying new things with my stance for that. Also, I either top the ball or hit too far behind, creating a divot before “bouncing” into my iron shots. Although I attempt to “hit down” on the ball to get loft, I top or ground it, so I’m struggling with consistency and learning where I meet the ball with various placements.

Golf truly registers a person’s character, just as my father always said. I was very disgusted with my performance on the front 9, and battled my own head to keep my focus in check before resolving the “rebirth” on the second 9. It didn’t help either that Riad accidentally lost our score card after the first couple of holes, because I had to tally my entire round mentally, counting up each shot while realizing the end score would seem astronomical. Ugh!

Then there was the 14th where my competitive, risk taking aspect of personality became evident. Envisioning a strategically safe tee shot toward the left of a right dog leg, my shot sliced right into the first of a string of 5 chained sand traps between me and an elevated green. Instead of taking the safe route, and potentially wasting a shot or more to get to the fairway, I risked the play to land successfully on little strips of grass while shooting a projectile out of the trap. The first landed safely on the turf, but the next shot just missed the green and I settled into the trap nearest the green. All in all, I’ve had great coaching on how to play sand, and the pulverant grit on my skin post-game proved it. Now I need Putting University, as it is literally half the game!

With that, I hope to return to more driving range and executive 9 hole courses for training, as I really want to master this…another telling sign of personality.

My husband says, “You shouldn’t be so stubborn,” but I contend that it is not so much stubbornness as a belief that the necessary skills are within reach and that the glory and satisfaction of their accomplishment is worth the effort. After all, isn’t that what we educators try to teach our students? Persevere, even through difficulty; apply consistent discipline, through adversity; and anticipate a just reward whether tangible or intangible for the effort. We have to walk the talk.

Perplexing Parenting

It seems that every year, since our kids were tots, the eve of Eid is an exhausting ordeal. When they were small, I’d wait for my little darlings to be tucked into bed so that I could have time to secretly wrap numerous presents and prepare the house for their eagerly anticipated awakening where they’d each find their own carefully arranged pile of Eid gifts.

Then, after slurping Turkish coffee until we were no longer catatonic from fatigue, we’d dress them up in nice new clothes; drive to the mosque while chanting “Here I am O Lord” in Arabic for Eid prayers; pick up doughnuts on the way home so we could indulge in sweets for breakfast; and feel satisfied that we survived the challenges of fasting, self-denial, and giving extra effort in prayers and charity in Ramadan.

The rest of the morning and early afternoon would be spent in calling relatives around the country and overseas to wish them Happy Eid. Later in the day, we would typically gather with friends and relatives at a restaurant for the end of their lunch buffet, which would suffice as our early dinner, and eventually end up at someone’s home to share desserts, catch up on visiting, and let the kids play. When the kiddies started to grow up, they would sometimes leave us to play basketball, laser tag, or go to a movie.

This Eid eve is proving to be another endurance Olympiad, as we had to rise early for more home improvement painting, and I’ve spent the past 10 hours in the kitchen in preparing today’s and tomorrow’s dinners. Presently, it is 3:00 a.m., and I am cooking a second large pot of stuffed grape leaves which we will haul out of state to our favorite Wisconsin getaway locale. It should be quite the event, as we may have more than forty humans from six or seven families converging on this place for the first out-of-state Eid gathering, but we still need to be at Eid prayers by 9:00 a.m. I’m really going to need a double dose of coffee in a few hours.

While waiting for my Halal lamb and beef stuffed grape leaves to cook, I had a flashback of how last weekend resulted in late hours and exhaustion affiliated with parenting. Riad and I were blissfully watching the end of a TV series that we’d been following via Netflix for the past few weeks. We were around episodes 81-82, just before the end of the series, when we could no longer get contact from our high school senior. It was getting unreasonably late, past his curfew of 11:00 p.m., and we’d not heard from him since about 8:45 p.m. when he informed us that he was going to an unidentified friend’s house to wrap up an AP Biology project that was due that night by midnight. He’d been working on this project for weeks, and we trusted that he was working with a classmate with the same course. However, after not responding to texts and phone calls and it was 1:15 a.m., I called my super sleuth daughter, who was driving back with friends and another responsible adult from a wedding in Iowa. She became immediately concerned when she too could not reach her brother by phone. However, resourceful as she is—should be considered for espionage—she found the phone number of a female friend of my son’s. Pretending to be another mutual friend, she called the girl. Apparently, the girl had been sleeping, and categorically denied seeing my son, but then my daughter heard him in the vicinity. Immediately, the ruse was up, and she demanded to talk to him. The girl became flustered and hung up. Then my enraged daughter phoned her brother again, to which he sheepishly admitted to falling asleep on the couch. Skeptical, she phoned me to alert me to her findings, and informed me that he was on his way home. Needless to say, he was grounded for several days and still has limited use of the car so that he is deterred from being so careless again.

While that may seem to be enough for most parents though, there really was much more to learn about the next day. My eldest son, who has been struggling from several debts and limited ability to earn, devised a ploy to get a free seafood dinner to share with his friend. He learned several years ago, when we’d visited a relative out West, that casinos have lavish feasts for a pittance. Wise to follow in his relative’s footsteps, he discovered a similar “deal” whereby he could get his favorite food, seafood, through coming to a riverboat casino about 20 miles from our home. Ohhh! The frustrations to keeping on the straight and narrow path! I suppose that I should be thrilled that my son told me of his brilliant plan, gloating the next day; and he was sure to add that he hadn’t really indulged in gambling but just was really interested in the free food!

I know that as a parent I should be grateful, but the icing on the cake, so to speak, came also the next day when my youngest son inquired if I knew that my daughter, the super sleuth, was in a car accident on the way back from Iowa?! Apparently, when I’d called her, she was petrified because she thought I’d known something via mother’s intuition. However, when she determined that I was very deeply concerned about my missing son, she withheld the situation she’d just survived.

She was in a two-car caravan, about two hours away between Chicago and Iowa, when her car blew a tire and careened out of control swaying repeatedly across lanes until the car was stopped in a ditch. Police and paramedics were there, and miraculously no one was severely hurt beyond bruises and sore muscles. They were deposited by a hotel by the paramedics while the driver called parents to pick them up. The other responsible adult also waited and resumed the caravan with the newly arrived parents until they were all safely home. My daughter informed me that the wedding was causing their very late arrival and that she was going to simply sleep at the home of my trusted friend for safety sake. How apropos!

Within a single night, three out of four of my precious darlings were all in danger, and I was lucky to have them all back safe. This Eid is one which I will hold with special thanks and hope that we all live to see the next Ramadan. It seems that threats to our safety are swelling.

This afternoon, my neighbor told me that while she was away from home, about seven local thugs broke into her home, at 2:15 p.m.! Amazingly, nothing seemed to be taken; but the fact that some neighbors saw the intruders and yelled at them, and that the police were essentially ineffective was concerning. Last night, I was awoken about 3:15 a.m. when I heard siren after siren, and saw several series of flashing lights illuminate my bedroom wall. Peeking out the window, I spied a block long double row of assorted police vehicles from up the road to my driveway. Cops were opening their trunks and hauling out assault rifles, and there was tumult for at least twenty minutes while we flipped on all our exterior lights, verified that our doors were locked and children safely home. In fact, one was still out and en-route to home after staying out to chat with a friend after a movie. I commandeered the logistics of safe passage from car to kitchen door so not to provoke a potential hostage situation. Assistant Principal emergency training came in handy!

Seriously though, I cannot emphasize my hope to be able to relocate fast enough. And I am taking extra precautions with current plans to celebrate Eid away this time, as something is telling me that it is time to move on, treasure precious life and people I am blessed to know, and stay close to my Creator for protection.

Solutions From Solitude

Jesus secluded himself, they say, for 40 days, and the Prophet Mohammed regularly retreated to the mountain Hira for solitude and reflection. Ramadan’s final 10 days are also noted to be the time when many people actually live within the mosque to devote themselves more wholly to prayer, reflection, and worship. Those who cannot pull away to that extent from their daily duties do at least hold the final days in highest regard. Among these final nights is one special event known as the Night of Power, for which it states in the Qur’an that it is greater than 1000 months! Calculating the magnitude, one not only understands that this night is valued more than 83 years of prayer, it is known to be able to change the nature of individuals who are the most sincere. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laylat_al-Qadr

It is said that the first third of the lunar month of Ramadan, which lasts 29-30 days, is for Mercy; the second third is for Forgiveness; and the later third for Salvation. My own reflection and critical analysis of the past year resulted in some realization of turpitude on my part; and although it was not my conscious intent, I should have made some better choices. With that, I sincerely ask for forgiveness from anyone who has felt suffering from my deeds. No decisions of anyone’s need be acknowledged or are necessary, but I hope for kind regard.

The thought of suspending my blog posts occurred to me, but then I reconsidered that my words may be of actual benefit to others, and not for my selfish gain. When my desire to write swells, I can easily just keep a private journal, since I do not exchange correspondence with any reader; but in the chance that something I share can be of value, it does make sense to continue. The writings of other souls enrich my life, and I would like to reciprocate, if possible.

My favorite blogger posed the question: “Do our solutions derive from our institutional structures, from our own perceived values, or a combination of both?”

I lean toward a combined approach, but that is only relevant if the individual subscribes to the values of the institutional structure. There has to be a congruence or acceptable rationalization, or else a real solution is not possible.

An example of rationalization is from when I worked in an Islamic school. Pubescent female students and Muslim teachers were expected to wear hijab and modest clothing while at school or in the adjacent mosque. The hijab is a requirement for formal prayers. The institution dictated the expectation through an official dress code policy. However, at home and in the streets, several females shed their head coverings, sometimes while still in the school parking lot. Their solution, without apparent discord, was to differentiate between attire at school/mosque versus their secular lives. For other women and girls, there was no breach in appearance, as they saw no need for amendment in attire outside of the school. They more deeply internalized the value of the institutionalized structure as their own. The merits of hijab are numerous.

First, it identifies the female as Muslim, a woman who is generally identified as committed to her religious values and identity. However, I must acknowledge that such values cannot be exclusively determined solely by a person wearing hijab. We see plenty of examples these days whereby women are increasingly fashion conscious and are merging more figure revealing styles. My interpretation of this is that either they are asserting their desire to be viewed as beautiful women, or they are making a statement that they are capable women even though they are Muslims who wear hijab. Allah knows best, and we do not have the right to judge. Yet many women are naïve to not realize how males perceive them because women generally do not think of physical attraction so readily as men.

Second, the hijab serves as a reminder to the women themselves of their commitment to higher values of purity, honesty, compassion, service, and mindfulness of God.

On a more secular perspective, I again choose to think that solutions are derived from a combination of institutional input and personal values.

A friend communicated to the world about his “friend” who seemed to be going through the torture of endless analytical medical procedures to determine a diagnosis of a chronic condition. By the way, the true identity of the “friend” was always obvious to me. So my friend was cast with the lesser of potential maladies, but nonetheless it is serious enough that I advised exploring the Mayo Clinic for guidance. In doing so, the institutional structure of Mayo offers expertise beyond the present knowledge set of the individual. His personal values can then be considered for a potential solution.

Application of a very costly protocol involving IVIG does not align with his personal values. Steroid therapy is a better choice in the near term, but it can be very problematic over longer applications. For that reason, I would suggest an initial exploration with his medical team of an enzymatic protocol with Wobenzym N.

Wobenzym N is a German formulation that has existed for over 40 years, and it utilizes pancreatin from porcine origin. It does have some potential for allergic reactions and is incompatible with some other medications, so always consult with medical professionals http://www.wobenzymnreviews.info/

Now normally I would completely avoid consuming anything that comes from a pig; but in this case, the medical need warrants it. I believe there is a Halal Malaysian formula that does not have porcine properties, but I do not know its name or source.

Even I have the option to utilize what many consider to be a superior replacement for the major pharmaceutical company thyroid medication I use, but I presently choose not to because it comes from dessicated pig thyroid. However, my condition is not threatening, unlike my friend’s is to the extent that I think it wise to consider Wobenzym N.

Beyond medication though, avoidance of neurotoxins like MSG, prions from commercially factory farmed beef, and certainly pork should no longer be part of his diet. I hope to do further research and will blog about pork in the future. In spite of numerous allergies, which indicate imbalances in gut flora, some probiotics and raw vegetables that can be tolerated are alkalinizing can help stamina.

Content to be like a blade of grass, I am subdued as we approach the end of Ramadan. Existence is enough, and I have purged my demons. Yet, ignorance is around me; there have been many incidents of attacks on mosques in my region, and I ponder if I should take up the gauntlet to address Islamophobia. With a deadline for submissions to a peacebuilding conference only two days away, many resources I have to share, I believe that will be the topic of my next blog.

Till then…peace until dawn.

Deeper Questions

Someone mentioned to me, after a conference call with my American Halal Association cronies, that I was very quiet, and they were concerned enough to inquire why. Actually, I typically think of myself as rather quiet and introspective, but I do take the leadership role when necessary and if no one else steps up toward it. With Ramadan though, perhaps I have been more subdued than before because I have been pondering deeply, and I need to iron some things out in my head.

Often, I have these little dialogues by myself, silently in my private thoughts, but writing to the ether may yield answers…I hope.

A blog I read today struck my attention enough for me to post it on Twitter. David Warlick, who was keynote speaker at an educational technology conference I attended a couple years ago, posed the question and had four points to make about “What does it mean to be learned?” http://t.co/BhVT1PWI

It prompted me to parlay that logic into my own query, “How do I know if I lived?”

Allow me to explain. Ramadan often brings reminders about death–the inevitable experience that no one escapes—and while fasting, remembering one’s life, noting the differed energy levels, breaking from the usual routines, I take notice that one day my existence will cease. Even great monuments and people have passed before through the millennia, and there is no trace. The same will happen to me.

With that, I ask myself, “Then what was the meaning of my life?” And I am mindful that I have been given the catechism answer, “To worship God.” Which is all well and good, as I have dutifully acknowledged His gifts, creation, and mercy; and I have performed the ritual duties with honest intent. Yet, I feel that I missed something that I was meant to learn. Maybe it was something important that was to bring about a change in me?

This year I nearly lost some things very precious to me, and the future will result in losses of precious gifts. One of my sons was injured in a car accident, two pets have died, my family was rocked, my health and stamina were depleted, and a few friends and relatives have autoimmune diseases that I empathize with. Alhamdullilah, the feeling of crisis has subsided, but these incidents are reminders that all we are given will one day be retracted from our possession.

My sensitive heart has felt the pain; and out of curiosity, I’d asked my high school son, “Would you rather love and suffer the pains, or not have loved and have a run-of-the-mill life?” He has been keen to note that as a parent, I have ample concerns that emanate from who are my kids hanging out with, what time will they be home each night, how will they handle so many assignments, how can they afford to repair their vehicles, how will we keep up with their education and athletic expenses, etc. He knows that I worry because I care.

Yet, his answer was to love and feel the pain. I have influenced him apparently, because why else would one choose pain? What is it about suffering that deepens resolve? Why do mothers have to feel the pain of childbirth and both parents have these difficulties in child rearing? There must be some kind of gain from it. Does it bond us?

Marriage has its bumps in the road at times. Perhaps in successfully traversing that road and holding the commitment, we forge a stronger bond. I think that in Ramadan, when we feel the loss of energy, our days are disrupted, we stop taking things for granted. We resolve to do better when we can resume our normal routines, and we decide to make our actions count. We become deliberate in our choices.

So I think it goes with living. When our existence is threatened, we take stock and decide to do everything consciously, appreciatively, and I believe that we hold more dearly to our loves, our family, our sunsets. When we realize that they are all tentative, we relish them more deeply and know that the ultimate plan is to transfer into something else…hopefully greater. For there is no guarantee, only hope.

Live with pain as a compliment to what it offers us. Live with integrity and virtue.

Before the Lights Go Out

Presently, my 15’ x 8’ living room window set is a gaping hole, as we are replacing the front window assembly. This is a day long awaited, for it is a major improvement and milestone of progress we have established in the preparation to ready our home for sale. Still dreaming of California, there has dawned the reality that we will probably be here for at least another year, but that will allow the completion of high school for one child and undergraduate degree for another. After that, we may arrange for our eldest child to maintain the home for realtor showings as he completes his nursing degree by the end of the second year. Should it sell before his matriculation, he can easily move to an apartment. Transitions are never easy; and with a household of six, it is especially complicated.

This is also the third day of fasting in Ramadan, and the fast is extremely long beginning about 4 a.m. and lasting until about 8:20 p.m. with outside temperatures humid and hot, around 90 degrees. We’ve been mercifully able to sleep-in late and somewhat shift our schedule so that we sleep around 4:00 a.m. The past week had been chock-full of last minute business, so that there was scant time to write and do things of my own choosing.

Now that our overseas guest has left, and two of the three articles I have agreed to write are complete, I’m content that there is significantly less stress and I do not feel the time is my enemy. Another article I wrote, that was posted in a magazine, was picked up by a blog http://halalfocus.net/2012/07/15/opinion-keeping-fit-while-fasting-in-ramadan/

In glancing through the same blog, I noted a submission that confirms some of the research I enjoyed from reading The Phytozyme Cure  http://halalfocus.net/2012/07/20/opinion-what-happens-to-your-body-during-your-fast/ . It basically supports the concept that the produce we eat greatly aids in providing the body with vitamins, phytochemicals, enzymes, and minerals that fuel the repair of the body, especially from disease. In the book, mention was made that sometimes an overconsumption of protein in the diet may be taxing the body to the extent that it results in autoimmune responses and allergies. Ironically, the potential cure for disease is to incorporate more raw foods, but also to practice fasting as a means to boost the healing potential of the body.

In many ways, Ramadan is a time for healing. Naturally, one reflects back on the past year, and this year has been particularly painful and challenging, in retrospect. It affords one the chance to cast aside all worldly concerns, and the veil of the ghaib, the unseen, is not so obscure. It is said that the gates of Hell are chained, and the Devil is blocked from flexing his influence. For a fact, many mothers I know note a change in their children’s behavior and household climate after Ramadan…for the worse. It can be felt, that the peaceful spirit of Ramadan has evaporated once this time is done each year. With that, we are reminded that these days should not be wasted on superficial activities. Although, I do spend significantly more time in the kitchen preparing multi-course iftars or dinners, my mind does wander into the spiritual reflective mode.

The first day of fasting, I’d been in the kitchen from 3:30 p.m. until 10:30 p.m. doing prep work, serving iftar to my family and two additional relatives, and cleaning up. Seven hours of kitchen work with a sore lower back, and frustration that I did not have time to read a few pages of the Qur’an, I intended to try again the next day. However, that day was consumed—funny that I chose that word—with partial meal prep of soup, hummus, and tabouleh salad before I had to race to a distant non-Muslim relative’s wedding. Riad stayed home and cooked a mélange of fried okra, round steak, onions, and tomatoes with allspice, serrano pepper, and Himalayan salt. When I returned home, I preferred his meal to the wedding fare, which was scant and stretched out from 7:30 p.m. until 10:00 p.m. I ate a second dinner!

Although much of the time at the wedding, my Dad and I shared the sentiment, “Good to go out, Great to come back home,” I did enjoy learning about the bride from her father’s sentimental address to the guests. She was a first born, and as he was an English teacher, and she a teacher, he described her as “A Girl of Words.” She was loquacious as a toddler, and had an ebullient passion for words, books, poetry, and crossword puzzles. Ever ruled by her heart, she gave love and was love, and so the father was very content to acquire a new son-in-law who also was a teacher with a soft heart so kind that his daughter had reported to her father that her new husband even shed tears over his own students at times. The resonance of the father’s description struck a chord in me, reminding me of my love for words, and the power and beauty inherent to them. Gifts from above, we understand everything better when enriched with ample tools of vocabulary and ability to express. The profession of teaching yields little respect and is rife with criticism. Yet, it is gratifying when well done.

My interest in learning more languages has hit a roadblock, as Riad stated that our attempts to learn Spanish did not really work well for him…by the book and traditional. In one of my newsletters, I’d read about Alelo (www.alelo.com ) and found the concept of using game technology with artificial intelligence to be quite the solution. Unfortunately, at this time it is only available for military and government participants, and is limited to very few strategic languages. One day though, this will be the ideal way to learn language and cultural protocols. Another intriguing approach to math instruction is highlighted by this TEDx video http://youtu.be/2VLje8QRrwg . With smart resources like these, I am hopeful that education in America will advance. Boredom and a lack of relevance need to be banished from the classroom. Then connections between corporate hiring and curriculum need refinement so that minds are not wasted, as many are now with unemployed college graduates.

Even though there is need for STEM graduates, I still contend that there is a need for liberal arts in each person. The value of “a well-rounded education” is immeasurable, in my estimate, because there is relevance in developing a richly immersed human with capacity to experience and express the subjective as well as the concrete aspects of humanity. The ephemeral comprehension that students experience from poetry and Shakespeare, even without specific indoctrination in vocabulary of the period, gives a dimension to living, like art. It is part of what makes us human, and in kindling that spirit, I maintain hope.

An extension of this is one’s relationship and acceptance of a Higher Power, and so liberal arts may also be considered the bridge to that. As the Bible and Qur’an have instructive analogies, Man’s journey through life gives insight to the reality of the larger scope beyond. We are like the grains of sand; yet, each has been created deliberately and with purpose. As a wise friend once noted, “People are important.” To do justice to our relationships, no matter how seemingly insignificant some may be perceived, is a significant task. If we can only serve well those within our sphere, I think we have lived with merit. Let that suffice. For to try to extend beyond for self aggrandizement, may be fraught with danger. Best to wait for clear invitation and signs of definite needs that one is reasonably certain that one can fulfill.

As the construction job continues on my front window, I sit comically guarding my home from a couch peering out over my neighborhood, typing this on my laptop, with hope that the hole will be closed up with new windows set before dark. Likewise, I hope gaps I need to address in my spiritual, professional,  and family life are secure before my lights dim.

Pure Joy

This 4th of July was particularly joyful because I truly appreciated the people in my life, and the time that I am privileged to have in enjoying them. Visiting my Dad, Riad and I were joined by my two sisters and one of their husbands. Our children and overseas guest had made their own plans, so we did not have the usual frustrations that come with hauling a bunch of teenagers with cantankerous attitudes bouncing off the walls of the family van. Each sister had brought what they had for a potluck, and Riad was kind enough to endure the 100 degree heat to grill the hot dogs, hamburgers, and chicken. Rather than sit sweltering outside, we chose to sit in the AC and feel comfortable in catching up with each other’s lives and joking with my little nephews.

Earlier and again later in the day, I tested out my knee on another 8 mile bike ride, and found it to be recovered, alhamdullilah! It is funny how when the threat of loss is posed and then rescinded, one feels compelled to more thoroughly utilize and appreciate what capacities one has. My gimped leg really affected my options for athletic activity. I could not play tennis, golf a whole course length, work on certain fitness apparatus at the gym, carry a load of laundry without undue delay in taking each step from the second floor of my home to the basement washing machine, nor run. Going down stairs was tedious, and I knew I’d cinched my recovery when I could again lilt down them. Now my mind is thinking about initiating a gradual running program to improve my conditioning. With Ramadan coming in two weeks, I am increasingly focused on the mental and physical preparation it will require. Yet, although it will be a challenge, as the days will be so very long, I am really looking forward to them starting July 20th-August 19th.

Purifying the self in every aspect, is sure to benefit me. As Allah has promised that fasting is better for us, if we only knew, http://www.islamicity.com/ramadan/Fasting_in_the_Quran.shtml the benefits are physical and metaphysical. Besides having to wean off the caffeine, I tend to abuse, I will hope to be more mindful of avoiding as many processed foods as possible. Last night, my husband shared some delicious nuts from Jordan as we watched a video. They were so tasty, and I later realized that they were probably laced with MSG. I kept craving more, in spite of suspecting that they were not very healthy for me, but I wanted to eat more. Around dawn this morning, I’d had an unusual headache, and I recalled associating MSG—and its multiple names that it is disguised by—with ALS, MS, and a host of other diseases. The neurotoxin collects in the body and is not metabolized in some people, and I may have a genetic predisposition toward this. Here is an article that shares more information http://www.rense.com/general52/msg.htm and a listing of aliases for MSG that I intend to print and post on my refrigerator to inform my children to be wary of

 Monosodium Glutamate

Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein

Hydrolyzed Protein

Hydrolyzed Plant Protein

Plant Protein Extract

Sodium Caseinate

Calcium Caseinate

Yeast Extract

Textured Protein (Including TVP)

Autolyzed Yeast

Hydrolyzed Oat Flour

These ingredients are prevalent in so many of our foods, including a favored potato soup from a brand featuring a bear and my kids’ favorite tortilla chips. Since noting this, I’ve opted for homemade potato-leek soup and Trader Joe’s organic corn tortilla chips, as this also eliminates the GMOs also typically found in processed food (sometimes I refer to them as non-food) products.

 As the days for Ramadan approach, I’m also deliberately putting dinner later on the schedule since we will break fast around 8:30 p.m. at its commencement. Also, after investigating a 24 hour gym, we did not like the fast talking sales rep and apparent shell-game with payment options. We opted to suspend our regular gym during August, and we will have to improvise on how to maintain muscle with night time workouts. That is why the running idea seems appealing as well, for cardio and to burn off the carbs we are bound to indulge in as compensation for fasting.

With appreciation for each day, I’m inclined to read more about using foods to combat maladies increasingly affecting myself, family, and friends. I’ve added another title to my Kindle collection, The Phytozyme Cure, by Michelle Schoffro Cook. I’ve not started it yet, but hopefully it will motivate me to get cranking on the articles I have to write. Deadlines are approaching, and I need to buckle down. So much to do, and stamina is still an issue. I pace myself though, and fully hope to procure something brilliant from the cosmos, inshaAllah.

Gifts are to be used, knowledge shared, and joy spread. Giving joy is a form of sadaqa, a type of charity, that demonstrates gratitude and expectancy that blessings will pour from this act of faith. I have so much to be grateful for, as-serah wa derah, the apparent good and the covert bad, because even what seems bad may actually be good in the long run.

Relief and Solace

As my town survived the onslaught of severe thunderstorms, it is slowly is regaining electricity and clearing debris from many fallen and broken trees, suffered from heat stress due to a string of 90 plus degree days and drought. We count our blessings that no one in our area lost life or suffered damage to their home. Our electricity was knocked out for 13 hours; and mercifully, as we struggled to sleep amidst sticky, sweaty conditions without air conditioning, the relief came about 12:30 a.m. Seeing the bright side, we noted that all the neighbors came out to check on each other—sometimes we only see each other when scurrying from house door to car door—and we all had our trees pruned and received the attention of the news cameras.

In this scene, I received news that a dear friend is facing the breach between life and death from an autoimmune malady. At first reading of it, I shed some tears because of the immensity of it. Then a memory came to mind of when the prophet, Mohammed, told his daughter, Fatima, that he was going to die that night. At first she cried; then he whispered something in her ear that made her laugh. He told her that she was to be the first among of the family to join him. http://www.sunnah.org/history/Life-of-Prophet/Life_Story_of_Fatima_bint_Muhammad.htm   Recollection of this story gave me solace, and a feeling that everything will be okay. I keep thinking about it, and chose surah Al-Rahman http://quranexplorer.com/quran/ as I took my morning walk today. Somehow everything is unfolding as is meant to be, and I sincerely hope my friend receives each milestone with patience and fortitude.

In a way, we never die; as the passing from one reality to another is continuous. This I know from being with my mother at her time. She taught me even how to die, with calmness, faith, and hope. We just can’t see the other side, but we do sense the continuity, at least those do who have been honest and mindful of Creation and our place within it. Nature is the greatest healer in these moments. Our respective place in the history of creation takes on its due proportion when we admire the miraculous balance and intelligence in nature’s design, patterns, and obedience to the Will of the One who oversees all large and small among the universes. While our bodies return to the Earth, our souls return to our Maker, and it is as natural as the sun rising and setting each day. Knowing that the time is approaching, forces us to examine our priorities and choices in life, and that is a favor when we are given the gift of Time to do this analysis and preparation. A most generous and gracious favor it is really.

The cycling of seasons bear witness that we are part of that Nature too, and so we give our best to each day. Savor the joys, bear the difficulties, and prepare to go Home…one day. It’s going to be okay.

A Life Worth Living

As a sincere seeker of truth, I seem to have been gifted with advances in understanding in bits over time, as I became ready for them.  I had to live “in the dark” in order to choose “the light.” It is clear to me that I have been given ample gifts:  education, family, beautiful and good children, a wonderfully kind husband, overall excellent health and faculties, and very interesting experiences in life. It occurred to me a couple days ago that I felt that I had not done enough “good” with my life. I needed a respite from projects, stress, and stuff. Then BAM! Two days ago, I suddenly had opportunity to write 3 articles that require investigation, making new informational contacts, and that should hopefully result in more learning for me and progress in the drive to move the Halal Movement forward. Two articles will be in HalalConnect, one about animal by-products in feed, and another about gassing poultry and its effect on health and determination of Halal certification. The other article will be for Islamic Horizons about a marketing company on the East Coast that applies H decals on ShopRite stores to indicate that they sell Halal certified products. The company also does consumer education and promotes food sampling of Halal products to the mainstream public, emphasizing the health benefits of Halal foods.

Sometimes it becomes discouraging to be associated with the Muslims solely because there are many Muslims who are really messed up, and Christians—if we could judge—that are much better “Muslims” than the Muslims. Some people of other faiths have greater consciousness of our Creator than some people who claim to be Muslims. With this, I bear in mind that Allah has His reasons, and only He can judge. If we were all the same, there would be no impetus for inquiry. I believe in His genius; He plans this deliberately, but I also do know that Islam gives more guidance to the human than any other religion I have ever known. In this is great comfort.

It appears that people generally look at this life as the Waiting Room, a place to indulge, seek greater material gains and power, and generally wallow in the stuff of this world while waiting for their time to be up. Nothing could be farther from the truth though in how to perceive and act on the time given on Earth. This life is a grand opportunity to live as large or as small as one chooses. Most people are fearful of exploring new things, stretching and reaching beyond what they have known others in their crowd to adhere to. This applies to beliefs, political parties, social, and economic circles. Why people tend to act like a herd is beyond me. It represents small thinking, and does not do justice to the grand prospects possible for humans. We have choice, the ability to learn, the potential to organize and build upon the efforts of others. Why do we not break free into the highest heights of our capacities? It is such a loss, a product of complacency in a time when the world can ill afford such benign neglect. We need leaders, leaders who inspire others to follow. It also requires many dimensions of heart. And each dimension has its qualities, elements, and nuances to savor, to protect, and to develop.

At this time also, in the history of the world, we have transitioned from the lesser signs to the greater signs, I think, toward the end to come. Each day is a precious gift, and amidst the storms and challenges, the toils of life, the best guidance and advice is Trust Allah. This has been my mantra when times are rough, when we suffer and do not understand why we have difficulties and anxieties. We strive to do right, keeping in mind that the more we are given, the greater is our responsibility to give and be grateful to Allah.

One day the time runs out, and I hope I have enough deposits of “good” in my account when it does. I’m reminded of my mother who succumbed to ALS, also known as Lou Gerhrig’s disease. In retrospect, although it seemed tragic at the time, we were all given the time to prepare and positive things were derived that may not have been had she lived a longer term. Either way, I live with the prospect that I may have some genetic propensity to have the same disease, and I am keen to note any numbness, muscle weakness, and other signs I noted in my mother’s convalescence. Mentally, I am prepared—though not wishing for—the same to happen to me. If it were to be, I believe that I would handle the inevitable with dignity and would focus on preparing my family for it. We all go sometime, and I hope to have patience and strong faith that whatever happens is what is best, as I have sincerely tried to live with deliberate consciousness in balancing my life with enjoyment, appreciation, and good works. Naturally, I have fallen from the highest degree of virtue, as most; but I am hopeful that in correcting my ways, I may be redeemed. Meanwhile, I’ll leave it to the Judge of all mankind.

I continue to feel like I’m dragging from my lowered thyroid meds and irritated knee, but I have been able to run across a parking lot from a deluge of rain, and biked on an easy gear for 8 miles! It just pains me under the knee cap when bending it going down stairs. Time heals all wounds? It seems to be so, but scars are reminders of the life lived. Live it well…each day…enjoying the unfolding of revelation and favors.

Why is it so Hard?

Ahhh! Back to doing everything I like to do, with little of the have to do. Writing, I discovered, is the outlet that I use for creative expression. Whether for helping a friend, ranting about pet peeves, or capturing a feeling, words in fabulous flow bring me joy.

Last weekend, Riad and I went to inspect a stash of Home Shopping Network clothing for resale from a woman who invested in overstock and was unable to sell. Although the deal was great, we thought that we might get stuck with the merchandise, beautiful and inexpensive as it was. While in that area, we stopped by a restaurant owned by a dear friend’s daughter, and discovered that she found it very difficult to resource quality Halal food ingredients. That situation prompted a blog and newsletter broadcast titled “Why is it Hard to Get Halal Food in America?” where the situation is like gridlock now. With Ramadan starting July 20th, it should be a good time to prompt more of a push from consumers. Beside the difficulties in getting consensus from certifiers on unified standards, there is a lack of funding, and a seemingly complacent community who is not vocal or assertive in even requesting Halal products. We only have ourselves to blame, but I hope that I can contribute to the effort for progress.

Stamina has been an issue lately, as my doctor has lowered the meds that replace the function of my thyroid. Never mind that I felt great, energetic, and was working out effectively with weights and lots of cardio as I enjoyed summer. We even biked 23 miles in 87 degrees the previous Saturday. It’s been a week now since reducing my dosage, and I perpetually feel like sleeping, gained 3 pounds, my skin is breaking out, and I somehow did something weird to my knee as I knelt down to prostrate in prayer yesterday. However, as a glutton for pushing the envelope, I will attempt an 8 mile bike ride this evening to test it out with hope that I may correct what may have slid off track. Also, I don’t want fatigue and my bum knee to mess up my golf game. Still a newbie, I already felt gypped because on our recent business trip to Kentucky earlier this week, we bailed out of town without playing since our truck loaded later than expected, and it was a muggy 96 degrees. The doctor has scheduled me for blood work to verify my levels in 4 more weeks. Hope he kicks me back up to my previous perky level, or I will have to find a way to compensate. All this will be in time for my article scheduled to publish in Islamic Horizons about how to stay fit in Ramadan. Wouldn’t it be nice to be fit again in time for it?

Father’s Day was a reminder that my formerly fit father, who was once a soccer team captain, and is 84, is slowing down too. He complained that he can only hit the golf ball 100 yards; and Riad reminisced that when he was just starting to play golf 30 years ago, Dad used to hit over 200 yard drives. It prompted me to muse that as we get older, we will have to find things to still excel at. After all, one has to find something to always grow and develop in order to feel content. Somehow I envision us sitting in La-Z-Boy rocking chairs playing video games when we are not so physically adept. Perhaps we will corrupt our grandchildren, assuming that our kids allow their offspring to play video games. In a surprising comment, one of my teenagers stated that he was considering not allowing his children access to TV. Wow, I thought. Is it because I was permissive that the pendulum will swing the other way for the next generation? Have I sired control freaks?! Time will tell.

With the crummy choices given to Independent voters like me, I am also frustrated by politics. Chagrined by the Senate vote to not label GMO products, it seems like every politician is on the payroll of big agribusiness and not on the side of consumers. California still holds hope for me, and Ron Paul seems to be the only guy who makes any sense. Will it be worthwhile to launch a protest vote, or will that pitch advantage to an unacceptable candidate? It would be nice to see Obama successful and taking charge to rectify some of the incongruities from his original platform, but let’s not be naïve.

Leadership then is a worthy topic to address, and I hope to read Chris Matthews’ book, Elusive Hero, to add a perspective to insights I’ve accumulated since initiating the prospect of writing about the topic…hopefully, next time.

Ode To Summer

May and June are exemplary months in Chicago with longer days, comfortable temperatures, and low humidity. That is why I have enjoyed casting off the pressure to complete my “to do” list most days, and am indulging in biking, kayaking, taking long walks, and getting serious about building strength and muscle through using weights at the gym.

With the kids out of school now, new emphasis has been placed on being available to share activities and time with each of them. And, as always, time is spent with Riad each day when we encourage each other to work out, work on home improvement projects, and dream about moving to California.

At this point, our kitchen has demonstrated the most improvement with new countertops, range/oven, and range hood.  My kitchen now features peach walls with an accent wall of milk chocolate brown, maple wainscoting, golden oak cabinets, mahogany dyed bamboo window shade, and appliances are black and stainless. Small appliances are mostly stainless finished Cuisinart. The new countertop blends all together in perfectly professional decorator quality. Pity that I fully expect, should we be able to sell this home, that the next dwelling will probably be a bland, eggshell, sterile, neutral apartment. With two kids committed to college in this locale for a couple more years, we may have to pay for two living spaces of some diminished status. However, the call for a better climate and hopefully more business prospects have us convinced that we really want to venture out toward the Pacific. We will see….

Each day begins with an hour to an hour and a half walk listening to the beautiful Qur’an, or an equally long bike ride. I feel that the rhythm of it is therapeutic and calming. If all things in the universe could be reduced to frequencies, I think the Qur’an has the dominant, guiding frequencies that promote health, and my preferred recitation is from Ghamadi. When I return home, breakfast is made for anyone still home.

Lately, my two youngest sons, one a high school senior and the other a freshman, have tennis scheduled from 9-11 a.m. So as soon as I finish breakfast, and clean the kitchen, it is time to fetch food for them. I am considering that they should just refer to me as “the Cook” because I am spending so much time in the kitchen and do not rate to claim the status of a chef. Although I have four hungry males to feed each day, I do not really feel my time is spent productively in cooking all day. Yet, I acknowledge their current need to be well fed, and I somehow picked the short straw and have become expected, perhaps from my own upbringing and norm expectations, that I am the one cooking. In a few hours, after visiting my doctor for a checkup, shopping for groceries, and checking my email, I will begin the dinner cooking project. Then it will be time to work out with Riad (we may bike or go to the golf range), eat my cuisine, and once again lament that I did not get the chance to steam the wallpaper from my bedroom walls in the slow process of fixing the house for eventual sale. That is okay though, because Riad is still earning the money to pay for a new roof, so I have some time to work on the interior. If lucky, I will get the chance to organize receipts and clutter from our export business, and sort through papers from other projects recently completed… just in time for summer.

Don’t lose the chance. Each day counts so much in these preciously beautiful days. Take time to enjoy!