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!

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

How I Survived March

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!