First Snow and Family

IMG_1529 First Snow and Family
When the first snow of the season arrives, we pause to take in the beauty, and reflect on happy memories; then we remember how much we dread driving, shoveling, and tramping through its aftermath

I realized my kids were adults when they too matched my pattern of thinking. Now that the long driveway is shoveled, I recognize another habit of mind. It is gratitude for a warm house and someone to share it with, ample food, indoor plumbing-even though the water is initially very cold now—and appropriate clothing for this weather. My mind wanders to refugees and homeless folk who are suffering from the elements and so much more.

The world has been in a frenzy, which rose to an especially high pitch with events in Beirut and Paris, and my work has been cathartic and distracting me from depression over blatant hatred, ignorance, and violence. I’ve been immersed in research, editing, writing proposals, working on websites for a variety of clients in business and education sectors.

This snow made me pause, regroup, reflect, and commit to getting the people in my life back to top priority status. I feel bad to have had to delay visiting a small relative to celebrate a birthday, but first I need to schedule some parent time with my husband and our children because like the first snow, they don’t last for long.

Multipotentialite: How I Connect Business and Education

IMG_1473 Multipotentialite: How I Connect Business and Education

They said, “You have to choose between Business and Education.” But they complemented each other, and I always knew it in my gut that I belong comfortably in both realms. Similarly, students are relegated to silos of educational disciplines via courses or major declarations, but reality dictates that integrated knowledge provides greater bases for decisions. That is one of the reasons I created Genius School, Inc.

There is a term for people like me, I am a multipotentialite. That is, I have a lot of knowledge, strengths, and areas of insight and experience. Chalk it up to 50 plus years of living and having a low threshold for boredom. In fact, I have a joie de vie for learning all kinds of things, which I believe garner me the right to crow a bit about them.

With humility, I do have some weaknesses; but at the end of the day I am a teacher. And although my LinkedIn profile chronicles my professional climb, there is much more in my bag of resources and network.

Through my escapades I have designed and sold both residential and commercial security systems. There were also sales ventures of clothing, fine furs, skin care, Native American pottery and jewelry. I’ve mastered a number of eclectic cuisines, created various marketing campaigns, taught myself and made money while staying home with my kids doing medical transcription, taught elementary Arabic, middle and high school social studies courses, homeschooled one of my children, taught standardized test reviews, became a school guidance counselor, managed a diverse staff when I served as a school administrator, provided training to schools, managed a number of professional development events and am an accreditation specialist. I have sourced and shipped container loads of products overseas through one of my companies, counseled business owners, taught entrepreneurship workshops, put together a trade magazine, written articles, promoted other companies and organizations, and designed and managed websites and social media campaigns. On the home front, I have painted, gardened, fixed plumbing, changed countertops, installed ceramic flooring, changed the sump pump, repaired electrical wiring and installed fixtures, and handled basic automotive maintenance. Lately, I am exploring several aspects of visual content creation for another of my businesses. Besides these, I enjoy dabbling in foreign languages, various forms of athletic pursuits, and reading up on the environment, geography, nutrition, and medicine.

In some cultures, one gets shot down for bragging about accomplishments; but I think having done a lot has seasoned and gifted me with wisdom and the capacity to teach and help other people to learn, create, and build.

Education is the common denominator; business is the instrument to actualize that knowledge for the benefit of mankind. I have been truly blessed that I can indulge my curiosity on a number of fronts. That diversity is what characterizes a multipotentialite. If you want to know more about this topic, visit puttylike.com. Who wants to join me?

Health is Wealth

Picture1 Plenty of olive oil, halal meat and poultry, gentle exercise, sleep, and I try to use organic produce. Joy of joys! I’m back from my annual physical with great news that my C-reactive protein (CRP), which indicates systemic inflammation, is the lowest the doctor had ever seen!

These results are a gift of good genes, but I also attribute them to my lifestyle. As I am self-employed, I have the ability to design my day. Not many people enjoy that luxury, but it certainly can be done with planning. I feel like Superwoman and am charged up!

Another mainstay of my habits is to indulge in quality organic coffee, served black, and I typically keep a filtered water bottle close by. And I share this with you so that you can check your own habits because although the body can compensate for some assaults in dietary choices, it is best not to drive it toward too much acidity. Now that the autumn clouds are rolling in and we are less likely to process vitamin D from sunshine, our immunity typically pulls back. Sweets, processed junk, and too much food take a heavier toll.

Let’s face it, life gets more stressful in these months too, but I have effectively mitigated that with prayer and reading Qur’an. Also, it is important to like what you do, for how you spend your days is how you spend your life. Make it grand! Learn, love, share, and remember the special people in your life.

For those near Chicago, Whipping Up An Income (for Entrepreneurial Women) may be for you. It will feature Yvonne Maffei of My Halal Kitchen and Susan Labadi of Genius School, Inc. It happens this weekend, so get your tickets now.

The Ferry Pilgrimage

IMG_1355 Following a hot (literally) and happy time with extended family in Amman, Jordan this August, I relished a reuniting of our own children and their significants at Devil’s Lake State Park in Baraboo, Wisconsin. It has long been our favorite sanctuary for over 30 years, and we consider it our family’s mecca because it offers the best hiking anywhere around the mid-west, in our estimate. With 500 foot bluffs, and a mile long lake which restricts motor craft, we longed to return this past weekend after the Labor Day crowds evaporated and we could revel in nearly exclusive ownership of its charm.

Leaving Illinois gives relief, as we notably live in what has become termed the most stressful city in the country. But we elate when along our route we take the free ferry over the Wisconsin River at Lodi. The ferry crossing is brief, as it holds only 16 cars and traverses to the other shore in less than 10 minutes. Waiting for the ferry lends us time to breathe and enjoy the view of water and greenery. Sometimes we see folks fishing, we check out their motorcycles or bicycles, and we tend to see people dressed in casual gear from all walks of life. Yet, everyone seems to have appreciation for leisure, and we anticipate hiking, swimming, campfires and laughter. Old times are shared and new stories are generated.

Another aspect of our trips is that no matter what our accommodations, whether they are tents, cabins, or motels, we have always found decent, friendly, and welcoming people. Over the years, we have lent or borrowed access to other’s charcoals, water toys, volleyballs, and have felt safe to leave camping gear unattended while we enjoy the trails. There exists an unwritten honor system which I hope will always be, even for future generations.

I have succeeded in cultivating an appreciation for witnessing the genius of creation and healing power of nature in my own family. I trust my progeny will transfer that into theirs.

We cross the ferry to return home; as the sun sets, the magic fades and reality returns. But we have the memories…

Choosing Heaven or Choosing Hell

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photo 4 With my middle son’s return from Italy, where he toured this summer as an English language camp tutor, and daughter’s beautiful wedding day stresses resolved, I picked up The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis for a brief leisurely read. Don’t construe anything by the title; all is well on all fronts, but my son happened to spend some time in Narni, where Lewis derived his title for The Chronicles of Narnia. Therefore, it seemed appropriate to peruse this book which was required reading for my youngest son’s recent English course.

Evil can be undone, but it cannot ‘develop’ into good. Time does not heal it. ~C.S. Lewis

This quote caused me to pause my reading and finally stop the endless chase of to-do’s in order to write. I have to admit that nearly every day I think of writing on so many topics and observations; but with my mind always thinking of the next (you insert the number) things to do, I have not taken the time to record my thoughts until now.

Passion, expectations, conflicting cultural protocols, and a sense of being victimized by a grave injustice has flared much discussion and analysis within my household. And although I feel we are nearly at a point of resolution, I have pondered and taught my family that when bad things happen we should look for the good.

I believe, based on long-term observation, this to be true. Yet while C.S. Lewis may be accurate that evil its self cannot be good and that time does not make the wrong right, I have found that good can still grow from what evil has seemingly destroyed.

We humans have a fitrah, a primordial directive that expresses itself through acknowledgement of the Creator. We have potential to be the best that humanity can aspire to, and we also have the prospect of being the worst of creations. However, the capacities of free-will and intellect can differentiate us from other creations and give us the ability to choose our response to threats and injustices. It is in how we respond that we find who we really are, and evil gives us the path to perdition or Paradise. For now, I’ll seek peace and tranquility within my book so that I don’t lose my soul.

If we insist on keeping Hell (or even earth) we shall not see Heaven: if we accept Heaven we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell ~C.S. Lewis

My Ramadan

photo credit: Travelwide-Alamy

photo credit: Travelwide-Alamy

My Ramadan

Certainly Muslims from diverse cultures bring characteristics from their upbringing to Ramadan, and nowhere is that more apparent than in America. We find some communities segregated to mingle within their own identified culture, and others truly blend several traditions into unique experiences.

For me, however, although I appreciate the expression of tradition and culture, my Ramadan is mostly a solitary journey of reflection, connection, and renewal.

The fast entails not eating nor drinking in my locale for roughly seventeen hours this year; that means 3:30 a.m. until 8:30 p.m. Mercifully, the weather has featured a cool summer with frequent rain, so that even on the recent longest day of the year it was not as arduous as one may assume. That is, in my opinion, one of the curious aspects of Ramadan. Engaging in the rituals of extra prayers and sleeping odd hours is perceived as a gentle way of cleansing the body of toxins, healing and fortifying the nervous system and internal organs, and drawing closer to the Creator. Fasting also is about refraining from smoking, chewing gum, and intimacy from dawn till sunset, and one should be mindful to not gossip, or lose one’s temper. I don’t participate in some of those anyway, and I’ll leave it to your imagination.

Exemptions from fasting are permitted in the case of pregnancy, nursing infants, traveling, and menses; again, some apply to me and others not. Yet curiously, I have noted that when making up for those days, when I have been legitimately exempt, seems more difficult when it is no longer Ramadan. Somehow, the perception of Time changes in this month.

I sleep at 11:00 p.m. and wake for a middle of the night meal called suhoor some nights, but lately I might be awake until after the dawn prayer and sleep at 4:00 a.m. Lucky for me, I have my own flexible business hours and can nap if my energy flags in the afternoon.

The topsy-turvy schedules, viewing scenes of Mecca, and reading extra pages of The Holy Quran bring a clarity and closeness to my Creator. I have found the capacity to catch up on tasks, domestic, personal, and business related so that my life is in better order. It is the perfect “Stay-cation.”

Once I have settled my priorities, made progress in projects, and deepened my commitments to future plans, solidly convinced that I am on course, I find my communication to Allah galvanized. And when comes the 29th or 30th day of Ramadan, there is a melancholy sense of missing usual favored routines—like breakfast with coffee, bicycling, golf, getting a workout in the sun followed by a cool drink—contrasted by the realization that when Ramadan is over, we somehow lose the glow. The hand-hold of God and His scaffolding of protection somehow slips away.

Too many times while trying to discern if the crescent moon, signaling the end of Ramadan, has been sighted, we can literally sense it is gone. Someone starts a fight, the tensions ramp up again, our patience is less than before. It is explained that Allah chains the Devil or Shaitan in the month of Ramadan, and one gets the feeling that he has been let loose again.

Yet, we realize that if we have used the month to fortify ourselves, we have gained many blessings and have strengthened our own self discipline. My Ramadan brings me back to heal my body, mind, and soul. It is a gift, I wish everyone to cherish it as I do. One finds numerous facets of self discovery and awareness on this journey.

–Haroon al-Rasheed, the 5th caliph, stated on his deathbed, “All the wealth that I had is nothing, and all the power that I had is nothing. Oh God, You are the One whose power never goes away. Have mercy on those whose power leaves.

Summer, Summer, Summer Time!

SAMSUNG Summer, Summer, Summer Time!

With one son gone to Italy for a stint teaching English, we have swapped in our nephew who arrived early for our daughter’s August wedding. It promises to be an interesting summer, especially with Ramadan starting next week, as it will have the longest days of the year for fasting.

Due to family—and extended family—obligations, business took a backseat, but I’m back on track. Though I enjoy the benefit of a flexible schedule, sometimes I have to put a hard stop on letting other people map my course. It is one of the banes of working from home; but between the weather (seems like Northern Europe-rainy) thwarting my usual outdoor activities (biking, tennis, golf, and walking) and prioritizing family, I realized that I was neglecting my life design vision and it was time to retrench and do some strategic planning.

My group of entrepreneurial-minded women deserves so much credit for helping to objectively critique, give advice, and share resources. We brainstorm to find answers to a variety of hurdles. Probably the most valuable though, is the accountability it entails. I find myself rushing to do what I’d intended to have done before the next meeting just before deadline. Don’t most of us work this way?

In our last gathering, it seemed to be a common phenomenon to have naysayers, problems with focus, scheduling projects, and keeping family from resenting our business activities. When the efforts result in low returns, it is hard to convince family that the work is worthwhile. Yet, we know that priming the pump is necessary and that solid planning builds a firm foundation. Those who persevere and keep refining their strategies are able to stay in the game.

I recall Maya Angelou revealing that to write she often sought out a motel room and a bottle of bourbon to allow herself the chance to focus and work uninterrupted on her writing. I’ve dreamt of remote artist retreats where I could focus and let my thoughts pour out (without the bourbon) to complete projects long held in mind but unable to nail down due to distractions. However, my family is not ready to cut me loose to that extent yet. I’ll just have to find a way by pushing through with whatever constraints are there. For most people, they have regular routines and set schedules. One of the things I do like about my life though is that schedules change daily, and I resist, or more accurately rebel, against routines. It keeps me fresh.

Discovering technologies, learning new buzz terms, meeting people doing interesting things, these are what excite me and I am lucky to be part of it on a global scale. I’ve always felt that the whole world is home, and that there are many things to explore. With technologies today, I can experience it from the comfort of my home, and stay on top of trends. This is how I can help others as well, and I deliver a wealth of insight to my clients based on these observations.

Fortune has come to me from the wonderful people I have been blessed to meet and work beside. It is a privilege to train, advise, and promote folks doing important work in Education and the Halal industries, and soon you will see a new website for the American Halal Association with a Halal directory. Stay tuned for more, as I have entered into an accelerator program!

Hangin’ On Through Ups and Downs

Misty

Misty

Hangin’ On Through Ups and Downs

Crazy, never boring, always challenging…these are apt descriptors of life with my family. Especially as my children become adults, my empathy seems to magnify in amplitude. Each has their own set of dramas, and with gravely sad news of deaths of people connected to my acquaintances, I find solace in reading the Qur’an. Of particular timeliness was today’s surah Al-Jathiya, of which I did not recall its meaning, so I read it silently in English before attempting my practice aloud in Arabic. Coincidentally—or not—came the welcome news that another acquaintance had received a legal reprieve that is most fortuitous.

I’d mentioned dramas…one is getting married, another is going to Italy for the summer, one is worried about health issues, and another is hoping to graduate early, yet has much coursework to complete without definite future plans. Oh, and we’re between visits of overseas relatives for a short spell, so we are getting a new roof. When the dumpster comes to do that, we hope to purge the house of 19 years worth of clutter so that we can sell it, hopefully.

Actually, that roof job was scheduled for this weekend, but the forecast of rain has it rescheduled so that we can have more time and flexibility to fete my youngest who is about to cross his 18th milestone in life. That is, he is my youngest child, for we have recently acquired a new member to our family, a bearded dragon, as in lizard, named Misty.

I suppose I’ve been a sucker for feeling badly that my son finds his siblings all moving out of our home in close succession, and so a pet seems to compensate some for that void. Now I get to start each day with initiating the heating lamp and find myself feeding collard greens, crickets, and wax worms by hand to this companion while I write curriculum and work on various projects from home. In a weird way, she’s kind of cute, and I never thought I would ever take a liking, much less own, a lizard. However, one of the benefits of having her is that we are selling my son’s video games to pay for her; therefore, I have started to declutter the house. Next, will be separation from years old clothes.

A friend shared a video with me about Marie Kondo, author of
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.
The gist of it is that we pile and sort each item, while holding it in our hands, to introspect if it gives us a “Spark Joy” feeling. I’m willing to try it for I really must be aggressive in lightening my load in anticipation that I may be anywhere within the next year, as we have no solid direction about where to relocate. We just have that sense that it is time to unload the house, be flexible and free to go. We may stay in the area in a townhome until our kids are more stable, but at least for winters a Mediterranean climate sounds divine!

Reminders about our age keep surfacing; and although we enjoy good health now, the efforts toward organic, gluten-free, minimizing sugars, and increasing exercise are becoming more heightened in our thoughts. Moderating stress, getting enough sleep, and reducing inflammation are all part of our goals that will play into the decision about where to go next. Because while reading Qur’an may assuage my mind and soul, I still have to be aware of what the ups and downs in life are doing to my body. A votre sante!

Muslim Women’s Alliance-Celebration of the Muslim Woman

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With Yvonne Maffei of My Halal Kitchen

 

Each year the Muslim Women’s Alliance (MWA) luncheon hails the we’re almost there emergence of springtime with a sold-out gathering of 500 diverse Muslim women in Chicagoland. It attracts women from daughters to grandmothers and from a multitude of ethnicities, which is characteristic of Islam. They come to get reconnected after winter’s cabin fever, network, and celebrate accomplishments of their own cadre.

This year featured three award winners whose contributions to society were made public. Dorothy Habibah Collins, Founder of Sisters Nurturing Sisters, a non-profit that offers transitional and permanent housing on Chicago’s South-side, described her own start with sincerely wanting to help a woman and child who only earned about $300 each month and were having to set up their sleeping arrangements in a public park. She felt awful to not be able to do more than offer encouragement, but it galvanized her desire to do more for other women who she would help through her organization.

Another winner was Um Serage Rahima, the loving Prinicipal of Al-Siddiq Weekend School for over 20 years. She warmly related the gratification she feels when former students now enroll their children in her school, and she teaches classes in mosques and homes all around the city and suburbs. A life-long learning of several topics in Islam, she is certified in Quranic recitation and is a resource for many.

The final recipient of the MWA award is Joohi Tahir, who has had a successful corporate career in sales and marketing for over 20 years and is the mother of a 13 year old daughter with Autism. In her story, she related the challenges faced by many in the Muslim community, and she recently went into the non-profit world as Executive Director of Muslims Understanding & Helping Special Education Needs (MUHSEN). Her organization seeks to create awareness, build programs, and provide much needed services across America that will strive for inclusion of all members of the Muslim community. Their first fundraising banquet is this Saturday, March 7th in Garland, Texas.

MWA awards scholarships, provides events every month, and is actively seeking volunteers to empower, support, engage, and build leadership and community service by women. Embodying the spirit of a woman who humbly sought to do something in the interest of social justice, the keynote speaker was Linda Sarsour, Executive Director of the Arab American Association of New York, she is a Brooklyn-based activist who is gaining much publicity nationally for her accomplishments.

Sarsour spoke of the day she realized that she, a mother of teenagers, could make an impact. She simply helped someone for whom she felt she should offer assistance, and the effect raised her consciousness to learn that simply doing a little something can have a major boost to help someone who could not help themselves.

During the luncheon, the attendees were reminded of the many names and headlines from this past year that have born introspection about injustice and feelings of helplessness. Sarsour struck a note with the crowd when she related that upon learning of the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, she hopped a plane to see for herself what was reality. She shared several observations, but among them was one that again jolted a revelation. When the protesters were bombarded by police with tear gas, Palestinians in Gaza were Tweeting about how to deal with tear gas attacks. The connection and desire felt from a subjugated population who sought to help Americans was astounding. It was from this that Sarsour cited that no matter how small we think we are, we must speak up. Together, we are a significant power that can bring positive results.

She reminded the audience that politicians are supposed to work FOR THE PEOPLE. The People have a responsibility to engage in dialogue and qualify their representation. That is America. We have to speak up to pave a better future for our children. We have to engage and contribute more to our communities. Give a little, for you never know how great that can be for someone today.

How Hard Should You Press? Motivating the Unmotivated

 How Hard Should You Press? Motivating the Unmotivated

“Whiplash” (2014) yields the question, “How hard should you press?” It is a film written and directed by Damien Chazelle which brings a surge of nostalgic appreciation for grit, as an elite competition jazz band director, played brilliantly by J.K. Simmons, squeezes primal rage, and ultimately a perfect performance, from a protégé drummer, also exquisitely cast with Miles Teller. If you like a sublime hyper percussion thrill, you will have to seek the jolting 9 minutes raw performance finale.

Wrapping up a 6-week stint teaching high school English, I pondered one of the classic lines of the film, when Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), the director, states, “There are no two words in English language more harmful than ‘good job’.” He refers to how soft our expectations and work ethic have become.

Since when did it seem acceptable to be “good enough?” Have we litigated our society into fear or complacency? I remember when we lauded personal sacrifice and commitment. I counsel teachers, “If you take garbage from students, this is exactly what students will give you.” Imagine my chagrin to find short responses to simple essay questions reminiscent of 2nd grade level from 9th graders! It is not rocket science, nor is it wasted effort to employ the “re-do”, multiple times if necessary to learn to do things correctly. The recent teaching assignment validated that this tactic works beautifully to encourage small successes that further motivate students to employ effort, and this is relevant to business management as well as within school communities.

Back in the day, Coach Vince Lombardi of the Green Bay Packers had Greek god aura for how his no-nonsense, hard-core, driven methods that brought men to meet their potential. As a Chicago Bears fan of the early 80s, I witnessed Coach Mike Ditka, known for his crusty, crabby, take-no-crap stance, who also brought solid performance from a team that inspired fans.

We have a book, Relentless: From Good to Great to Unstoppable, by Tim S. Grover, that is being read among us at my house. Grover was a trainer for basketball greats Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, and Kobe Bryant, among others. He describes the common denominator in these stellar athletes as their ability to find their “dark side” of competitive intensity and blind commitment to work themselves toward super human excellence, whatever the cost.

Both Whiplash and my own sensibility though questions, to what degree? The legendary coaches that come to mind are Bela Karolyi, Bill Bowerman, Tom Landry, and Pat Riley. They certainly actualized potential into reality for countless fans, and we praise their efforts. However, there undoubtedly had to be some casualties along the way. Not everyone can play in the highest league, but everyone should play to their best for the league in which they reside. The Special Olympics come to mind, and I appreciate the message they give to society. With effort, everyone can elevate themselves, and the ultimate competition is within one’s self.

I’d say though, that every teacher, every coach, every parent can do no wrong to at least set the expectation, and like spring rain on good seeds within fertile soil, see what grows!

Some are destined to be “good enough,” but let’s not gyp those who with challenge and encouragement can aspire toward greatness. We need to raise the bar by our own example and help our youth to rise.