The Greatest Power

Green hummingbirdAmid the horrific headlines bringing distress over Syria, continued subjugation of the Palestinians, vituperation and bullying of immigrants and minorities, and environmental and economic dangers, it is time to acknowledge the greatest power in the universe.

Recently returned from Costa Rica, one of my children shared divinely inspired photos and videos of their adventures to the Pacific Ocean, Arenal Volcano, and the cloud forest of Monteverde. Awareness of the vitality in nature struck a contrast to the fragile, artificial urban environment we call home. The disconnect with the greatest power in the universe has led to greed, arrogance, violence, despair, and predatory injustice. Many people are drowning in depression, drug and alcohol addiction, and mind numbing pastimes in order to cope.

As the NFL draft picks are taking place in Chicago, my husband noted the high degree of commercialization and profiteering he has witnessed. It is with apperception that I find parallels with ancient Rome when corrupt aristocrats led the ignorant and impoverished people to be placated with bread and gladiator events, which were meant to quell potential rebellions. We are being “entertained” so as to not rebel against the sources of our distress, and “others” are being cast as scapegoats to account for the common man’s plights.

Such contrasts are apparent. We try to educate to promote critical thinking; yet, our media feeds us predigested sound bytes and program our expressions. Several pop celebrities debase humanity’s morals and seduce us with false confectionary-like goals of fame, fortune, and public affection. The majority of presidential candidates offer us two-faced lies and demonstrate ill manners with aplomb, while we educators try to promote virtues like honesty, mutual respect, fair play, and honor. It is vexing how convoluted society’s values have become since my youth. Yet, with reference to history, I am not optimistic, but I seek refuge from the greatest power in the universe.

This power has given us capacity to decide and act, and I choose to resist by exemplifying virtue, reliance on my own senses, prayer, and diligence to keep aware of corrupting influences for myself and my family. I believe that if we work as a tribe for goodness, regardless of nationality, religion, or other polarizing divisions, we have a chance to live on our own terms as one identity-Humanity.

“The truth has arrived, and falsehood will vanish, for falsehood always vanishes!”               –Al Isra’, (The Night Journey, 17:81).

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.

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!

Love and Home

Doorway to English class

Love and Home
Is home the familiar place you land each night, or is home where your family gathers? I’d questioned this after being away from my home to attend the very successful and gratifying West Coast ISNA Education Forum recently in Anaheim, California, and also pursuant to shuffling several consecutive days between my home to cook the daily dinner, sleeping at my elderly father’s home to care for his needs, and working a temporary teaching assignment at my former school.
There are the comforting aspects of my home, like my own bed, my routines, seeing my husband and kids in our identified abode, known as home. Somehow, checking in over the telephone was not the same as face-to-face verification that they were healthy and happy.
Yet, while I evaluate, again, the prospect of getting the house ready for sale, I ponder if changing the familiar place in exchange for another is risking the setting that bonds us. If I move, will I disrupt that feeling of being home? Will I regret my decision? Or could it be that home is wherever the people I love are?
My extra few days to enjoy the companionship of friends in Redondo Beach and Glendale, California were enjoyable. Spending time with my dad in the home where I was raised was equally comfortable. Going back to teach in my former school, but in the new building addition, has also been touching a familiar chord. These clues may indicate that home is wherever the people I love are. The adage “home is where the heart is” comes to mind.
Could it be that with every place we go we may leave some favored aspects behind, but we can also create or design new niceties? I believe so; as life is full of change, the adaptable are those who thrive.
Fear may hold us back from opportunity if we are not open to new experiences, and that may mean that happiness may be unrealized. Yet, we never know. I recall many people who have left Chicago only to return because they tried some place new and did not find it to be better for them. Often times, they cited the fact that they missed their family and friends. Therefore, perhaps the strategy when relocating is to meet new people, contribute to the community, and grow new roots. Nice people can be found everywhere, and each new place needs leaders who can help.
Instructive to this point, my son mentioned that he likes community-based video games. He was chatting with three guys from Brazil yesterday, and he truly found satisfaction in connecting with them. He and his friends love this, and it is where he finds his community. Knowing this, I think that relocation will not be disruptive to him, as long as we still have the ability to physically be present to debrief each day. That will be the ultimate challenge though if we are distant from our other children. As a wife and mother, I realize that that is what defines home to me. It is not so much the place, because even meeting at a coffee shop to chat about the day can work; it is seeing those I love and knowing that they are doing well that brings me satisfaction. Home is wherever those I love are, and I want to enjoy my “home” everyday.

Sunday Morning Musings

2015-01-11_10-24-58_167 Sunday Morning Musings — As I peer out my living room window, a lady in a black maxi-length parka walks her little dog, the species unknown, encased in a pea soup green dog sweater. They gingerly cruise over the shoveled sidewalk and become yet another moment of this peaceful Sunday morning.

My Turkish coffee has no sugar, but I’ve grown used to it, while I ration my quota of sweets for the day. I’ve become more cognizant of what foods yield inflammation in my body, and I’ve limited gluten and foods that process into higher blood sugar. Not that I have diabetes, but in trying to avoid that becoming reality for my husband, we have modified our dietary choices. He reportedly feels better, and he starts each day with about 16 ounces of filtered water before breakfast.

The quiet morning is disrupted by the sizzle of the gluten-free steel cut oats boiling over onto the stove top and I hasten to switch burners because the first was doused out by the overflow. We’ll put walnuts, cinnamon, butter, and use monk fruit or stevia to sweeten it, in lieu of sugar.

The house remains still at 9:38, although we are now five in our family sharing this abode. One son has moved out and is working in the city as a nurse, and one has come home to visit before returning to his studies and job at college in Chicago. There is a lot to do before splitting my time this week between my home, my work at school, my father’s house, and a trip to LA scheduled for later this week.

For now though, I take in the white view and once again the lady with the dog appears, but this time she is on the opposite sidewalk allowing her dog to make his deposit by the red fire hydrant. She turns squarely to face me, but her focus is on her dog’s duty and her own trained hand to retrieve his waste in a doggie baggie.

The temperatures have risen to the mid 20’s Fahrenheit since last night when my youngest son and I trekked nearly 3 miles while listening to tunes on our phones and breathing the fresh air while most neighbors either were asleep or watching TV. I hope that today someone from my clan will join me for a hike in the woods nearby. We may even be lucky enough to see deer, as we did last time.

Next, I’ll need to write lesson plans for the temporary high school English teacher position I assumed at my former school. It’s great to see the kids!

Cookin’ & Scramblin’

2014-12-19_17-26-46_396 Since Dad fell Thanksgiving morn, life has been more race and juggle–with three different hospitals and encore stay at the rehab facility– instead of lithe and symphonic. The words don’t flow, although thoughts cascade from my mind and dissipate through the ether. Surely, there is a correlation between being outdoors reveling in nature and the fluidity of creating prose, but I’m blocked and choked inside by deadlines, dinner times, Dad’s physical therapy, and bed alarm chimes.

Yet, my favorite way to start the day is to have a cup of Turkish coffee in my pajamas while looking out my living room window in a quiet house. There I assemble my thoughts, check the weather, email, calendar, and task list from my phone. Then it’s time to dress, prepare breakfast for my clan, and start the day’s calculated plan.

Like a swarm of bees, the priorities shift within a menu of options…

  • Preparing to substitute for an English teacher who starts maternity leave in January, and I will get to teach Gatsby!
  • Working on a short-term accreditation project for a school in GA
  • Participating on two planning committees for Education Forums with a presentation in January
  • Completing design of a new iteration of a non-profit website with a Halal directory and discussion threads; plus the usual social media work I do for them
  • Posting and monitoring social media for a local college
  • Researching and writing another 1500 word magazine article
  • Promoting Zilzar.com. Zilzar should be a great platform to facilitate Halal trade globally
  • And several people have requested me to do presentations on entrepreneurial topics

Somehow a sense of balance is achieved by occasional relief activities like adding a few pieces to a jigsaw puzzle, catching a brief recovery nap, reading a magazine during a haircut, and taking time for a few YouTube clips.

It may seem a bit crazy, but I love the autonomy and variety in my life. Caring for people dear to me brings the best fulfillment. Here’s hoping 2015 provides the chance to keep what I like, learn and earn more, and keep health, happiness, and my loved ones on a solid track of success.

The Mad Scientist in Me

msc50cvr Before the regular football season games begin, I scurried to book activities into my schedule. For starters, after waiting about 30-some years for my parenting responsibilities to decrease, I’ve finally committed to a Motorcycling Basics and Licensure course along with my daughter and her fiancé. It has simply been one of those things, probably since watching James Bond films in my youth that hung on my bucketlist.

Another commitment has been to coordinate with my youngest son and his sister for an intermediate sign language course with our local park district. She has had two courses at university level and my son took the introductory course awhile back. I used to know at least the alphabet back in 7th grade when my girlfriend taught it to me so that we could have covert communications while our teacher’s back was turned! Wanting to keep the knowledge intact for my kids, I thought that I could bone up with some flashcards and join them in the advanced level class. You never know, as hearing is fading within some of our household bunch, it may come in handy one day!

We also have several MacBooks among us, and we have never taken any formal training. Fortunately, the Apple store offers free workshops in our area, so I’ve scheduled a suite of them over the next couple of weeks just to facilitate my use. I typically use a PC laptop and am entirely familiar with it, but there are certain features available to Mac users that I’d like to explore. Additionally, I have prospects of working with a colleague to coach teachers in the use of iPads, and I determined that I would benefit from picking up more tech skills that I can share.

Lastly, there are prospects to venture toward in open courseware. I am ready to make some decisions on what to schedule and in what order. While having some familiarity with several Learning Management Systems (LMS), I would certainly enjoy experiencing from a student’s perspective what notable professors are doing with online learning.

In the near term, I’m very excited about a photo shoot scheduled for tomorrow. My cronies have convinced me that I should consolidate my diverse businesses into a branded site. I envision a single portal which branches into each of my sectors that I am known for and for which I have already established some websites. We’ll see how that evolves. This is one for which I would appreciate any constructive feedback, www.geniusschoolonline.com. I’m aware that it still needs some edits.

My thoughts have been spanning space and time lately—while biking and weeding the garden—to my longtime friend Sheila, whom I met in 5th grade. To this day, we correspond twice a year, in the middle of winter and middle of summer. I was reminded of her today when a friend challenged me to cite 10 books that had somehow influenced my life. That list included the following:
The Holy Qur’an
The Mad Scientists Club
Siddhartha
The Road to Mecca
Rich Dad, Poor Dad
Fit For Life
The Jungle
Fahrenheit 451
See You At the Top
The Boy Who Sailed Around the World Alone

Sheila became my friend about the time I’d read The Mad Scientist Club, and that set my interest in science, skepticism of authority, and problem solving. I found a loyal friend in Sheila who was intelligent, industrious, and kind; while I was a bit of a tomboy, and found humor and novelty to be amenable to my personality–kind of like the boys of the book. Sheila was the voice of reason; I was the voice of “why not?” To this day, when we talk we find that we are still the same, and time and distance have not changed anything in our relationship and feelings are the same. In fact, we cry a bit at the conclusion of our calls. Writing is easier on the heart, and there is always so much to share.

Life has its struggles, and I suppose it is somewhat Freudian to be defensively impersonal while we course through each day mindful of how things are with each other. Work is cathartic and aspirations are running high for the means to be free and able to play like kids once more.

Difficulties Seek Resolve

2014-07-05_17-48-29_579 A pervasive sadness overhangs my days, as I see many images of the injustice toward Palestinians on Facebook, and I know the fear, anger, and terror because I’ve lived through it. Vulnerable is the word that comes to mind also, as I was very cognizant that if I had to run, there was little choice except to chance walking through heavily militarized desert and no chance for cover if attacked. In fact, I’ve had nightmares whereby I see myself disguised as a Bedouin trying to head east toward Jordan, but in the dream my children and I, except for one, perish.
I’ve witnessed armed teenage soldiers with little sense and plenty of bravado stick their rifles in people’s bellies, arrayed in body protection and a variety of weapons like tear gas and clubs. They walk in a group using their walkie talkies for communication, and seek to assert their authority. One morning, as they made their rounds, they came to our door and hauled my husband out to the street. Someone had painted graffiti on the wall bordering our property, and the soldiers forced him to use a bucket of white paint to cover over it. That was vividly cast in my memory because my spouse was wearing his red tartan plaid pajamas, and my son was horrified at seeing his father humiliated at rifle point. That certainly made a lasting impression on the lad. He was only about 5 years old, but it sowed seeds of anger.
Especially disturbing is when they go after the young school children, and raid the universities to destroy property and harass college students in the middle of the night. One night, as I peered through the kitchen window, I’d seen soldiers bang on the neighbor’s door. The owner answered and I saw those soldiers rough up the teen boy within their view, seemingly without provocation. Another evening, the street was filled with soldiers in their jeeps, and my teenage relative had to get home nearly two blocks away. I recall tucking my own children into bed, asking my sister-in-law to watch over them, and then I escorted my visitor past those soldiers to home. I was very scared, and the thought occurred to me that I might not live to see my kids again if I were unlucky enough to be picked for torture or persecution. Lessons like these affect one forever, and I empathize with those who have no way to escape the strain of occupation.

I also feel remorse for senseless deaths that I’d learned of last night when two boys, in their early twenties, were drag racing on a busy street in a southern suburb. One was the nephew of a former colleague. They crossed into the oncoming lane and killed two innocent parents, leaving at least one child orphaned. Such stupidity; such a waste.

Have you seen ‘Inequality for All’? I highly recommend it. Robert Reich and the MoveOn.org movement have my email, and I get daily reminders about the 1 percent and inordinate power the wealthy have to corrupt our democracy. There was a terrific interview with Bill Moyers that recaps the salient points of the film. The necessity to flex the responsibility of citizenship is imminent.

Then there is my own father. If you’ve been following this blog, you know that over a year ago he had suffered a minor backyard tumble that ended up resulting in a severe infection on his foot. It was only recently that he has been able to walk without a walker or cane, but he is precariously unstable and his benefits for ongoing physical therapy have expired. He is not getting enough activity now to continue his progress, and I’m seeing regression that gravely concerns me.

I know, this is getting heavy, and there are a few more dear ones who have health battles that are on my mind, but it is Ramadan. I bear in mind that although things seem dark, there is a divine plan. Not to be preaching, but when I feel such weight from how much I care I turn to nature. For in it, I find timelessness, peace, the intelligent design, and it fortifies my patience.

2014-07-05_18-01-47_48

I believe that we all have a role to play; and that if we choose our responses to such trials with compassion we will prevail in some way. In nature, I connect to the water and rocks; the ground gives me comfort. It reminds me of my insignificance to the larger picture, and also humbles me. Gardening is satisfying, as long as the mosquitoes are kept at bay, but we are having the worst year due to all the rains we’ve had. Cruising on my bike and playing tennis with my youngest son helps put me back on track. We also like to visit Klein Creek Farm and commune with the sheep and walk the property.

For how can we remedy what may be in our power if we grieve too long? Granted, some things we endure are out of our capacity to affect, but some other things are able to be resolved. Lastly, my heart finds strength from the Holy Qur’an. I can read it, but it is easier to catch the recitation live on Mecca TV. With that, and asking for God’s help, I somehow recharge and find strength. Verily with every difficulty comes relief (94:6)

Realities

2014-02-01_09-39-19_491

Saturday morning, and I’m greeted with more snow and the promise of extreme sub-zero, (i.e., Fahrenheit) bitter cold on its way. This is my life, six people—four offspring—living together, and my husband and I shovel for them! We ditch the patio table in the garage and push the chairs in a row, as you see, to fit four vehicles on the driveway so that we can reverse without having to move another car for one to exit. Crowded, but we save the collective group money by staying together while the majority of them are in college.

It’s that time of year when we pine for springtime’s fresh air, smell of thawing soil, and the twitter of birds. Along with that comes emergence of preliminary flowers, like crocus that foretell the arrival of hyacinth, tulips, and daffodils. But we are not there yet, so I placate myself with photos of gardens I have visited, coffee table picture books for gardeners from the library, and I thoroughly examine the photos in seed catalogs, from which I no longer buy. The one year I invested in some catalog seeds, I traveled overseas with my kids and found someone—you know who you are—had not watered the garden.

Since moving into this house about eighteen years ago, I’d imagined my spacious property would evolve to parallel Monet’s Garden at Giverny. Alas, it has not because little did I realize at the time, my yard has too much shade in summer to adequately support many of the flora I desire. However, I do have trees. Beautiful, towering, strong, and like my kids, leave a huge mess of leaves and broken branches that we incessantly clean off the crop of weeds we call a lawn, over one-third of an acre.

Life sometimes isn’t what you bargained for, but I suppose we have to find the good in things and work within our minds to cope and look forward to the next chapter. Maybe the trials and waiting periods we endure are meant to bring us closer to our Creator and each other. I do know that this morning, after writing the draft of this piece, we admired with amusement the many squirrels that scamper in erratic patterns throughout our wonderland of surrounding trees, as the snow lazily cascaded in billowy flakes, adding to the pile that blocks exit from the drive to the street.

Going back to work has brought another adjustment for my family, who had become blissfully accustomed to my availability and practice of the domestic arts. The location of my new place of employment puts me within fifteen minutes of visiting my father, who continues to progress in his ability to walk and balance. He is still using the walker, but again I am expecting him to upgrade to using a cane. I know he sees himself holding a golf club again, even if only to imagine himself a lion overlooking a fairway…from the 19th hole with his buddies. I also know that he misses his winter crew that goes to the indoor range and then meets for coffee and cookies at McDonald’s.

The power of our imagination is a gift, but it has in its capacity the potential to remove us so far from reality that it can become a liability. Someone recommended the film “Her” to my husband, and we went to see it. It’s about an affable fellow who is struggling within himself about his impending divorce from a neurotic wife who has blamed him, undeservedly, for things. The story takes place in LA in the not-so-distant future when everyone is thoroughly connected to technology, and that they unwittingly separate from real human connections and result in a type of anomie (Originated by Emile Durkeim and evolved to Strain Theory most recently by Zhang Jie). This portrays a society where although a populous place, it still leaves souls very lonely. The protagonist becomes enamored by a virtual reality prompted by purchase of an artificial intelligent operating system. It is like Apple’s Siri on steroids where the “personality” of the system becomes the seemingly perfect companion, except that “she” is not real. It makes a strong statement and a warning to us.

As I do have many residents in my household, I see the ubiquitous technology keeps us entertained, connected to people outside our home, and can easily inhibit us from conversing, sharing, and connecting with each other. It seems like the only bonding we do is when we watch a video or show together, or if we completely leave the home—spend money—and do something outside. Normally, the walk or bike ride would suffice, but in this season the options have a higher price tag. The least would be going to a restaurant or to chat over a cup of coffee. A family vacation would be ideal, but just not feasible now; and it won’t be when spring break rolls around, the kids buzz out to hang with friends, and we stay home to clean and pickup sticks in the yard. Then we may expectantly look for crocus along the edge of the driveway and whack a tennis ball with a real person on the other side of the court.

…Meanwhile, we’ll invite them to bond with us as we cheer the Broncos!

The Year that Golf Wasn’t…

half flower The Year that Golf Wasn’t…  

Crimson and gold, with yet a sun drenched array of green in varying hues, I relish these days and try to capture the images. For as the temperatures begin to make my hands chap, the reality of winter approaches.

Before the inevitable gloom and shivers, I commit to go outside more or venture at least to the gym in order for me to strengthen, lengthen, and tone because this is the year that golf wasn’t…played, except for once, and only nine holes at that.

Sadly, the lot of us, my father, husband, and I simply could not afford the time between houseguests and my dad’s injury. In my father’s case, he could not physically recuperate quickly enough to meet his goal, which was to golf again in October following a necrotic foot infection that is only now on the verge of completely mending. The result of this, from a simple tumble in mid-May, physically deconditioned us all.

It is curious how we are connected; and although the collective lapse in golf and its benefit to our fitness was missed, I’m sure that it gives a bit of comfort to Dad that he didn’t miss the season alone. We three now need to belly up to the barbells and stick to a workout schedule. Dad started outpatient physical therapy two days ago, and to see his eyes light up, like a kid anxious for a carnival ride, was a joy. When my husband and I worked with various weights and gym equipment yesterday, it stirred up some soreness, but that brought some joy—in a quirky way—for us too.

It’s always hard to start up again after a hiatus from a workout routine, but quickly the endorphins kick in—similar to what happens when springtime turns us into weekend athletes—and we want to run and bike at midnight…until we see the thermometer reminding us that it is freezing.

Then we once again scheme on how to relocate our family to the sunny side of California. It’s nearly two years since we first aspired to it; and as we wait for our eldest kids to wrap up their undergrad degrees, we dream of year-round outdoor play and superb fitness.

Skinny jeans need strong legs, and it’s time to hit the trail so we’ll be ready for golf, hopefully next year.