Ready, Set, Go!


Ready, Set, Go!

Believe me, every day I blog….in my head, but never get to writing. With the end of Ramadan, my chance to regenerate, I need to charge ahead to something I’ve been eager to pursue—besides breakfast and coffee in daylight.

Ramadan commenced with a very different start than my norm. As our son was unable to take time off work to drive a 2007 powder blue Mustang he’d purchased from an auction through a relative in Phoenix, my husband and I flew one-way to make an epic trip back to Chicago. Also, a long-held dream was fulfilled when we visited a dear girlfriend I’ve known since 5th grade. We stopped by to see her briefly for lunch in Ruidoso, NM. Since we were traveling, we suspended our Ramadan fasting but plan to make up the days. Yet, these being the longest days of the year, we’ll defer them until shorter, cooler days reappear. In Chicago, that should be in about two months.

Naturally, since I live in “flatland,” I love mountains, dry heat, forests, and bodies of water. Everywhere I go, I try to envision if it could become “home,” but although I can get along well in many places, the decision always includes consideration of where my children could live and work. Also, I reminded myself today that as Ramadan invariably puts athletic activities into dormancy, I value having decent biking trails and cheap golf nearby. It was great to pedal over to the library to pick up a book on negotiation skills today. And as we’ve not golfed in a very long time, and only visited the golf range once this year, it’s time to schedule some outings because there are only four months left to the season.

Yet, as Ramadan has multiple spiritual and physical benefits of bringing one closer to the Creator, improving the body’s metabolic efficiency, and vastly increasing socializing through multiple iftars (dinner invitations), it causes one to pause and prioritize how one wishes to become better and more on course with the vision of one’s life. Think of it as a time to make resolutions.

Typically, I would sleep after the dawn; many nights I’d be re-evaluating my choices and mapping new possibilities. Now, transitioning back to daytime work hours, coffee, and focus-enabling hydration, I’m juggling what Curly from City Slickers said, “…just one thing.” I’m READY to commit, SET with a plan, and it’s time to GO!

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.

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

The Trials

220px-Kent_State_massacre The Trials
Ramadan typically entails much reflection about one’s life and deeds, and this one has focus, sadness, and frustration over the increasingly dangerous situation in the Middle East.
From my memories of living under occupation in the West Bank of Palestine in segmented episodes over the 80s and 90s, recollections on the uprising in Tahrir Square and subsequent coup in Egypt, the massacres of civilians in Syria and Iraq, famine in Sudan, and smoldering discontent of citizens in Saudi Arabia and Jordan, there is a heaviness to this Ramadan like none other.

Fasting seventeen hours a day has not been as fearsome as anticipated, but neither has it been very productive. Mercifully, the cooler than normal temperatures are interpreted as a favor. I have many tasks to do, but I am not burdened with the worry of deadlines. My days typically start at 11 a.m. and end at 5 a.m., with an hour nap sometime between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. The disruption in normal working schedule gives me the night to attend taraweeh prayers at the mosque where I hear the recitation of Qur’an, and I have the chance to read, put time into my social media assignments, and write.

Listening to Qur’an is like putting salve on the heart’s wounds, and making supplication for the ease of people’s suffering may seem shallow in power. Yet, I am reminded of the Qur’anic ayah, “…Allah is the best of planners…” (8:30).

Though the situation may at times seem hopeless, I am also reminded that God gives the hateful people ample opportunity to rectify their deeds. When they eschew choosing compassion and are blinded by base desires, they set judgment against their souls.

A range of criticisms and areas of misunderstanding about Islam are explained quite well by a blogger I reference here. I hope it is useful.

Meanwhile, I highly recommend an hour long panel session from the Aspen Ideas conference, titled “What Will The Map of the Middle East Look Like?” In it, one of the experts cited our collective angst when our own government sanctioned the murder of 4, only 4, Kent State demonstrators. Think how people in other countries feel when whole groups of innocents are murdered by armed authorities?

When will people realize that we are one human family? Compassion is the weapon against hatred, and it is slipping from society.

It strikes me that the only solution is to stop the financing of war machines and mediate grassroots parties into a semblance of democracy or shurah, which is recognized Islamically as dialogue and collective decision making between relevant parties. Even the historic Iroquois League set the example of this model’s value, and the forefathers of our Constitution saw its utility.

This is my humble contribution to suggest that violence and military intervention are ill advised, but a framework of society building could best resolve the mess.

In tandem with this understanding, I learned of the death of one of my elder cousins. Over the years, he’d been what could be described as down and out, and he became typically inebriated and had failing health. Not many of the relatives cared to maintain contact, and he quietly lived out his days downstate until he peacefully passed away in his sleep.

What I consider his greatest achievement was that he patiently endured his problems and maintained a heart of gold. In spite of the cynics around him, through our occasional conversations I could tell that he stayed compassionate; and he leaves an adult daughter with the same quality.

Success has many definitions, but I think the greatest success is when one leaves this life Pure. Ultimately, the rites of Islam aim to purify us, and a soft heart is a good reflection of the quality of purity in a person.

May our hearts stay soft, our supplications answered, and may we endure our trials with dignity and with steadfast faith. Amen.

Routing Out of the Rut

2014-06-20_21-14-17_949 Routing Out of the Rut

Routines have value, as they can protect good habits and their associated benefits. However, sometimes schedules get disrupted, and it is like battling ocean tides to pull effective practices back in line. This is what has happened since we’ve had two children graduate from college, another one is living at another campus, and our youngest is on summer break keeping busy with tennis and video games before summer school reins him into a schedule around mid-July.

Somehow, we just can’t seem to get back to a proper sleep-workout-dinner schedule, and the commencement of Ramadan this evening will certainly bring its own need for disciplined planning. However, I have no right to complain, as Muslims in the UK will only have 5 non-fasting hours to rehydrate, infuse their bodies with nutrition, manage to pray, and sleep within those few hours as well. We expect to begin fasting after a light suhoor about 3:30 a.m. and break the fast with iftar about 8:30 p.m., with about a minute shaved off each day until the end of it which is predicted to be July 28th.

Perplexed by inertia and a general lack of life’s energy, I found that my Chi igniting routines have fallen aside, and they have been displaced by chores and responsibilities that suck time without adequate payback. Granted, I have deliberately chosen to invest time in some things related to supporting my family bonds, but enough! That is why I greedily had to read about Olga Kotelko, the subject of What Makes Olga Run: The Mystery of the 90-Something Track Star and What She Can Teach Us About Living Longer, Happier Lives by Bruce Grierson.

Apparently, Bruce was having his own issues with feeling crappy and losing vitality, and that prompted him to take a personal interest in the marvelous Olga. It this reading, I found familiar researcher John J. Ratey, author of Spark-The Revolutionary Science of Exercise and the Brain (and he has a new book Go Wild-Free Your Body and Mind From the Afflictions of Civilization), offering more tidbits of the bonus that exercise brings to the brain’s performance.

It seems that even if you exercise though at a very high level, your muscle mass will degenerate precipitously in your late 70’s, yet Olga seems to be still making progress in performance. The book shares current research and possible reasons, as Olga is examined from many perspectives.

The reader obviously assumes that Olga must have superior genes, and that is part of the formula, for most long-lived people have had long-lived parents. Yet, others do too, but they don’t all exhibit the same trends in performance. Olga has some advantage from some of her genes, but not in others. What she does possess though is a hallmark of most long-lived people, and that is a correlation between having experienced and survived life struggles and developed resilience.

One researcher commented that between late teens and early thirties, if one had not experienced such trials, then one might be weaker or disadvantaged when challenges arise again later. Olga and many people of advanced age have this in common.
Curiously, as my daughter is experiencing a post-grad adventure teaching English to children in Turkey, close to the Syrian border, she has had a few stressful encounters, but seemingly has found her inner strength. In discussing this with my youngest, whom we dispatched to live with relatives in Jordan for a couple months the year he was home-schooled for 8th grade, he recollected that he came to find how he “grew up” when he had to travel alone and switch planes on his own along the way. The fact that he was immersed in a significant amount of Arabic, which was relatively unknown to him previously, added to his sense of empowerment.

What is it about hardship that helps us? I imagine that through it we learn that we are psychologically strong, and we realize that we can dig deep if we have to in order to become resourceful. We grow a carapace of protection and may even utilize a support network to weather the storms of life. Therein lies the cliché “If is doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger.”

Back to Ramadan; besides detoxification honing the efficiency of my metabolism, there should be the benefit of further refining self-discipline and mental fortitude. Calorie restriction and intermittent fasting have benefits too. My eldest son, who lives for building muscles in the gym, used to balk at fasting because he bought into the belief that more protein, calories, and lifting weights would build bulky muscles and make him resemble Wolverine from X-Men. The paradox is that calorie restriction actually forces the body toward efficiency. He found that fasting elicited a rebound in lean muscle mass, giving him the desirable “cut” physique.

The stress of cold may also discipline the body to suffer some shock then stabilize. Similar to the cycles of hardship and resuming homeostasis, or interval training that we’ll mention in a bit. Perhaps this is also why folks who live in northerly, colder climates have generally better longevity too.

Chronic stress though is another matter. It’s important to have a sense of control and some autonomy, and that is why research has indicated that managers fare better than workers. Olga, as a career school science teacher, rarely had a boss. She called the shots, tackled her life on her terms raising two children as a single parent, and it was not easy.

Body and mind seem to complement each other. Arthur Kramer, cognitive psychologist at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana, studied Olga. He found that sedentary elders could be placed on an exercise protocol over 6 months, and they literally grew brains while improving their decision making 15-20 percent. Kramer changes the way he drives to work occasionally and even uses his left hand just to utilize different parts of his brain. Olga regularly challenges her brain with Suduko.

Analysis of Olga’s brain left observers awestruck. Between vigorous exercise, travel, and Suduko, her MRI revealed a marvel of preservation. Additionally, researchers have found other significant correlations that hail the benefits for college education, the teaching profession, the ultra-stimulating joy of world travel and studying foreign languages as having favorable effects on avoiding dementia and improved longevity. Contrast that with two factors known to erode life, namely sleep deprivation and poor diet.

Yet, between exercise and novel brain enriching experiences, exercise—using the body—keeps brain mass, plasticity, and processing speed. I know from my own biking excursions too that putting time and energy into fitness calms the mind, helps put all life’s chaos in order, and even new creative ideas bloom. It lifts mood and makes life’s difficulties seem less threatening.

Comparison between aerobic exercise and resistance training–like weight lifting–is revealing value in both. Even dancers are the focus of a current study at the Beckman Institute. Like Olga, who competes in eleven Olympic track and field sports, they move in a variety of planes, thereby utilizing more of their bodies than most.

This too reflects my observation that yoga and the movement in Muslim prayers yield mental and physical benefits. I’d heard that prayer to a Muslim is exercise, and the prostration position was suggested to me from my obstetrician years ago as a way to relieve pressure when I was pregnant. Even my mother mentioned that when I was a toddler, she knew I was not feeling well because I would go into that position intuitively. Furthermore, the motions inherent to yoga have benefits to circulate the lymph, and supposedly benefit the joints and connective tissue. A hospice worker, my husband met, expressed his commitment for yoga and cited that it has anti-cancer benefits.

Intensity in exercise and interval training challenge the body by throwing it into short-term stress, and then allowing the body and mind to recover. This seems to set up the capacity to handle this cycle repeatedly in life situations. Doing so actually increases the youth-enhancing human growth hormone (HGH), improves insulin responsiveness, and increases testosterone. Some say that one hour of exercise adds two hours to your life, and it’s a bit of a motivator to psych one’s self to push harder.

Reading how Olga has joie de vie helped me want to fight for the benefits it can deliver, because I hope to go long n’ strong to touch my dreams and fill my heart’s purpose.

Wishing you well this Ramadan!

So You Think You Can’t Write?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5:00 Time to Cook!

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

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

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

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

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

Back Home Again and Still Crankin’

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

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

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

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

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

—Next day—

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

Ramadan: Cooking, Qur’an, Collaboration

Quran Ramadan: Cooking, Qur’an, Collaboration

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Technology & Arts

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

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

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

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