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Eyes Playing Tricks

30 Dec

These days have been diluting, one into the other, in that otherworldly strain, when we break free of our routines; the moment we’ve been waiting for after weeks of toil. It’s called vacation, and this time we opted for largely a stay-cation, intending to truly rest.

Six year old Nelly asked her father: “Did you get fired from your job?,” curious to know why he is home for so many consecutive days. The cousins came to visit, towing along my sister and her husband. Sandwiched in between two snow patches was a crisp, clear, chilly day, fit for strolling and hot chocolate.

I marched us into the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, the perfect place I soon discovered to spend an afternoon WITHOUT six kids, if you really want to marinate in all the yumminess of folk art. Some of it is just plain kitschy, and other pieces spell-binding, helping to reveal things you want to know about yourself.

The boys lasted almost 45 minutes between the Lithuania replica made entirely from toothpicks (130,000 of them!) and the kinetic art display, featuring a gaudy boat made largely from styrofoam. Their uncle, who doesn’t like olive tapenade, vegetable pizza, or touring a three-story museum blaring the oft-repeated phrase: “Don’t touch!,” took the boys to the top of an enormous hill behind the building, overlooking Charm City.

I explored the gift shop, full of unpretentious trinkets where I nabbed a vintage-looking pin of Oscar, my favorite Sesame Street character. One wall featured an array of wooden placards with catchy phrases and emotive quotes – basically bumper stickers tastefully drawn up to double as wall décor. Three spaces down, on the far right, was a saying that gave me pause: “You’re the One You’re With.”

Ohhh….I like! Over and over again, I repeated it to myself, slowly and measured. You’re. The One. You’re With. Huh. Well that’s odd…but then, I get it. I totally get it! I should buy this, I thought, and hang it on the wall at home, where I’d be sure to see, say, and meditate upon it often.

You’re the One You’re With. Ain’t that the truth? Indeed, isn’t the root of every pain the absence of exercising that mantra? Aren’t the deepest heartaches, so sour they left a bad taste in my mouth for days on end, the result of trying to live outside myself so that I didn’t have to be with myself? Wasn’t every disappointing relationship only the result of trying to extract from another what I could not cultivate within my own skin? Didn’t every diversion that let me escape, only end up enslaving me?

If you are with yourself, deeply loving, and faithful to your purpose and nature, aren’t you truly joyful and merciful to everyone around you?

“The Faithful is the mirror of the faithful,” (narrated Anas ibn Malik; quoted by al-Tirmidhi). Is there any other means to absorb this prophetic wisdom and the teaching of the spiritual masters: “He who knows his soul, knows his Lord,” then to be (happily) with myself?

There was a tugging on my hand, and then a pulling, throwing me off-balance, into the adjoining room of posters and books. “Come on Mama, come look at this!,” Nelly led me to an assortment of vintage saris, hanging like swinging vines above our heads, as well as heaped up in a massive pile along the glass wall- ripe for the picking. We fed our hands into the silky trove, lacing our fingers through layer upon layer of tired things, worn by people, now old or maybe even gone.

I was eager to return to the sign board to pick up my soon to be mantra, ‘You’re the One You’re With,’ but Nelly had a few more things to show me. Finally our foot-path widened to the place where I had stood and grazed for wisdom. Far right, three signs down, it was there….but, no, it was gone. Another sign sat in its place. As clear as day it read. ‘Love the One You’re With.’ I turned my head away, like a taste-tester trying to clear her palette, then I looked back again, and again…and again. Love, Love, Love, it said all along, ‘Love The One You’re With.’ I scoured the wall, thinking that perhaps I had mistaken its whereabouts, but it was nowhere to be found. Had someone bought it? Was it so quickly replaced by another sign?

My eyes had played tricks so fluidly and masterfully, that I felt a pang of fear, tinged with the hem of sad fortune. I wanted the other sign, the one I read, not these 1970s folk-rocker lyrics. The irony riddled me- this vision of myself pining for the material advantage of possessing a thing to hang on my wall, in order to remind me of some intrinsic value- an irony so thick, it cast a smirk upon my face all the way to the check-out line. I paid for the Oscar pin, among a small scattering of other knick-knacks, and coasted out of the store, leaving my sign behind.

Outside, we climbed over that enormous hill and ventured to the edge of an overlook. “Let’s take pictures,” I sang out, which is such a predictable thing for me to say. My very Arab husband held the camera, but we had not yet converted our expressions into postured, spastic smiles. Rather, there was a loud, lingering hostility among our two youngest young’uns about pop rock candy and who should be made to share, which was thoroughly kicking this picturesque feeling in the gut.


Then, we changed pace.

Baba in Bmore

We nibbled on pizza at Brick Oven in Fell’s Point, then lingered over the cardamom gelato swimming in espresso and drinking chocolate at Pitango, thanks to the prompting of activist and cookbook writer, Gaza Mom. Yes, you should definitely go there, even if it means multiple flights and lay overs. My three-year old niece, sporting a swaggering satin bow, ordered anything pink. Nelly quickly exchanged her chocolate/strawberry combo for my grown-up choice, with a short, syrupy, “Mama, please,” ring – such a Nelly thing to do. Off and on she played with her cousin and then sporadically, and characteristic of her quirky charm, settled into a pensive mood.

Salma pitango

I love this way about her…so blunt and sovereign is her sense of self that it never seems to cross her mind to provide fodder for the merriment. She would never be anyone but herself, or ask you to love her for any reason.

Once, when she was four years old, she drew a very sloppy picture and asked for my opinion of it. Feigning rapture, I marveled at how “spectacular” her art work was, heaping grain upon grain of praise. Instead of beaming, she recoiled in visible horror, wanting to know why I had gone to such extremes of outward display; after all, she stated hotly, “It’s not even a nice picture!”

This is not something I’ve ingrained in her. You have to own wisdom to impart it. She makes it look so easy -eschewing the ego for truth; loving herself more than clinging to the false need to be loved by others. I wonder if I was ever as big a girl as Nelly. Was I ever this comfortable in my own skin? Did I ever value myself unconditionally? Did I ever truly love the one I’m with? Pondering all these questions makes me very still, in that kind of paralysis evoked from ruptured melancholy.

Some have hearts which know the truth, and some have eyes which feed the heart, if only for a glimpse, to satiate the self’s longing to return to its hearth.

So it is. You’re the one you’re with. Love the one you’re with.


Winter’s Thorn

9 Nov

Winter is creeping in. I don’t like her. O Lord, help me {because I sincerely do not like her} I know how dang-awful it is be of that mind-set. I have chirpy, yankee friends. They’ll preach to me of winter’s charm – the snow-covered hills, crystilline icicles, sledding, hot cocoa, fuzzy blankets, snow angels, anyone? All I can think about are skinny animals dyeing from starvation and the way snow looks two days after it falls – like a pile of dirty laundry on the side of the road.

Ya’ll, I’m a Southerner, from as far south as you can go before needing Spanish as a second language. I love sunshine, sweat, and aerifying myself with ‘funeral home fans.’ Really cruddy thoughts come to mind as winter approaches; the most gruesome of all: how am I gonna keep my brood occupied inside all the live long days?! 

Having said all that, however, I actually do have a soft spot for winter, because as a fitting allegory for life’s struggles, it provides teaching moments. When I am under winter’s spell, I think of the winter of the soul, and this warms my center considerably.

There are roads we take, others we are tossed on; sometimes we want to escape – still we march, tight-fisted, brazen and determined. Our surface looks depleted, yet within us new life is forming deep within the quiet darkness of our contemplative selves.

We turn the corner, nearly unrecognizable to passerby. Others underestimated us, but worst of all we underestimated ourselves. Until when…we bloomed- content to be still and perpetually at peace, not because the thorn had been removed, but because it lost that quality of vexation.

Pain is pleasure.

In the dead of winter, we shedded a few needs   – the need for comfort, assurances, safety, promises, perfection, power, position, appearances, validation, pay-backs, attachments, affiliations, perks, recognition, revenge.

We cry out, My Lord! I am well pleased; am I well pleasing? We crave no sustenance other than the answer.

May you and I be granted the winter of our imaginings and the spring of our aspirations.

All I Want for Ramadan

10 Aug

Ramadan, the special month of fasting, prayer, and contemplation, has already come and is almost gone. This year it was preceded by a series of unordinary encounters in my life – events that put me in touch with people I would otherwise never chance to meet.

In early June, while riding with my kids in the car on a two lane country road, my serpentine belt popped off, which I quickly discovered shuts down every important function in a car. All at once, the power steering quit, the engine light turned on and the car came within seconds of overheating. To make matters worse I was already straining to see the road because of a heavy downpour. With my husband many, many miles away, my first instinct was to freak out, but since my brood was watching, I had to act like a sane human being- not a freak-out mom. Slowly, over the period of an hour, I managed to inch the car into a gas station. My first question was to ask the attendant where I was and the next move was to call a mechanic. I knew I was in the middle of nowhere, I just didn’t know which nowhere. It was a farming town in north Maryland- a place of rolling hills, rich soil and old stone facades. Richly idyllic, unless your serpentine belt pops off, leaving you stranded with kids.

The rain stopped abruptly, mimicking the kind of weather I’m used to back in Florida -a quick flash of lightening and sharp rain, then poof, like it never happened. Even more spectacular, the sun was receding, revealing a horizon swathed in blushing hues, lending the imagery of a seamless, silk blanket rolled out above the earth.

I was disappointed to discover that the mechanic was miles away and not likely to be lulled from his pub on a Friday night to rescue the likes of me. A couple of men stood around and scratched their heads trying to figure out why my belt suddenly popped off yet remained in tact. If I could just find a mechanic to loop it back on, I’d be on my way. These swarming Yankee-Doodle-Dandies, however thoughtful, were proving themselves completely useless in the rescuing a damsel in distress category. A Collard Green man would have called me honey and popped that belt back on by now.

There were clearly no rent-a-husbands here. My own husband was scheduled to head out on a business trip early the next morning, so I held off calling him to drive several hours back and forth to come get us. Plus, that would have required leaving the car in the middle of nowhere. AAA was no help; we’d used up the service calls on a mechanical issue weeks ago. Surely, I could find a way to solve this problem. Then, poof, a petite woman, carrying a half gallon milk jug, came by and informed me that a mechanic lived behind the gas station. Really?! Perfect! Why didn’t anyone else mention this, I wondered.

After knocking on the fiberglass door of the trailer, a woman peeked out. We looked at each other for an awkward moment, but she didn’t say a word, just smiled. Realizing that there was a communication barrier I attempted to dust off the mental file containing all the Spanish I learned in college – it hurled from my tongue in a gnarled, grating  pattern like the hinge of an old screen door which hadn’t been oiled, and flew open in the wind. Despite the awkwardness, I managed to communicate my predicament, only to discover that the mechanic, her husband, was out working his dishwasher job until the wee hours. His two older sons, however, were available; they’d only been in the U.S. a couple of weeks- badly homesick and completely shell-shocked, they seemed eager to plunge into some project.

Fortunately, although my spoken Spanish is very bad, my comprehension is decent, so I was able to understand when the boys told me they had just crossed the border illegally on the famed La Bestia – a ghastly train service which by default carries many a eager man and woman, non gratis, for free a top its boxed cars from Central America. They managed to stay awake to avoid falling off and permanently maiming or losing a limb. Men, women and children fail prey to it regularly. If they are fortunate enough to ride all the way, then walk through the scorching heat undetected, with only a few drops of water, and a square meal a day – they have the pleasure of working a back breaking job in landscaping or at a greasy fast food joint, completely off the grid of health benefits and 401Ks.

While the brothers set off to work, and with the night sky fast approaching, my son and I had to perform the fourth prayer of the day known as the Maghrib prayer. I settled our straw mat on the grassy margin bordering a farm next to the gas station. The men followed me with their eyes, perplexed.

Not knowing the word for prayer in Spanish, I tried to announce my plans as best as I could.

“Yo voy a Dios”, meaning literally, “I go to God.”

“Si, Si,” they smiled, and motioned me with nods of their heads, like ushers, making shooing gestures with their palms down, “You go to God,” they affirmed. “We understand.”

And so I did and felt all the better for it – very relieved and soothed to be praying near my son under a blushing night sky, with fire flies twittering about and the murmur of cicadas beginning to erupt. After the prayer, I bought the gas station out of its crispy fried chicken, as an initial offering, and was invited to sit with the boys’ mother in her tiny cubicle of a kitchen- its floor of brittle, pale linoleum peeling up in the corners, showing its underbelly of plywood. She made homemade tortillas while my kids happily depleted their attention spans on a slew of cartoons via their bulky, tubular television set. At this point they weren’t sure if they could fix the problem without their father’s tools, so they invited us to spend the night, as eagerly as if they were inviting a member of the family. I called my husband and he said something to the effect of: “Woman, have you lost your mind!? Where are you? I’m coming!!” Where am I?  Err….in a very nice lady’s kitchen on a hill top, eating warm tortillas. Kids are watching Tom n’ Jerry re-runs and have red juice-staches. I’m not sure exactly where I am but I’ll call you very soon. Don’t worry! Love you. Bye now. Click.

While the brothers continued to work, the mother told me her story of immigration – how she escaped to the U.S. from the bandidas (bandits) who had gashed and broken her leg because she couldn’t pony up the cash to pay them protection dues for the hardware store she owned with her husband. “You see here,” she pointed to a thick mass of lightly pigmented scare tissue splayed out and contrasted against the rest of her thin, olive colored shin. Before her husband fled, the bandidas kidnapped and tortured him for a week for refusing to pay. The police, either in concert with the bandidas, or out of plain fear did nothing. The trouble was her husband simply had nothing left to give. They had already closed up the store, but the bandidas were unrelenting. They fortunately paid no mind to the four penniless children; after all, it was nothing personal, just business.

In progression, after the father arrived in the U.S., he got down to working odd jobs to earn the transport money for a coyote to bring them “safely” across the border. The mother followed on the illicit Bestia. She fell into the clutches of drunken co-passengers, who at knife point ordered her and all the women huddled to strip naked while they humiliated and molested them. After the ordeal, other riders threw them clothes from their own bags- merciful gestures, trying to restore them as if it never happened, but their kindness never erased it from her mind. Every time she hears the train whistle just beyond the perimeter of her trailer she twitches and wrings her hands – she’s haunted, she says, she can feel them touching her even though there is no one there. She was later captured by U.S. Border Patrol and spent several months in an Arizona prison before she managed to get out and make her way up North. She is currently working to be able to bring her two other children to the U.S.. They fend for themselves now, she sends them money enough to survive, and they wait.

Her American dream is to have all of her children in one home, and make a sky-high pile of homemade tortillas for them – to sit and talk with them and laugh, for no other silly reason than that it feels good. She wants to watch them breathing at night as they sleep unaware and kiss them on their foreheads, and never worry about another bandida at her door.

Within a few hours the brothers emerged and announced that they managed to loop the belt back on. I felt like hugging someone in a sigh of relief. I gratefully paid for the service, though they looked away, seeming shy to acknowledge a rightful wage. The next morning the mother called to ask if I had made it home safely.

I couldn’t stop thinking about them all day long, and the next day… and then the next. I hugged my children a little more, lingered longer at the breakfast table, and gazed at them with a deeper sense of gratitude in my heart, but tethered to an anchor of melancholy plunged into my stomach. It somehow doesn’t feel as good when you know that someone else is aching for the same morning, but can’t have it. The sun’s rays don’t illuminate with that particular lightness of being.

Two weeks later, I drove to Assateague Island to go camping with my kids among the wild horses.

My husband, again, could not come along because of work obligations, but I was determined to make the best and even better of it. Within less than an hour of arriving, while setting up camp, we met some campers about to have an all out Moroccan feast. I was pitching our tent when they came off of the beach. Seeing me alone with my children, and Muslim like them, it sparked their curiosity. The day was waning and high winds made the task of simultaneously holding down all four corners of my tent nearly impossible.  Every time my son and I would lay it down to figure out which side was which it would completely fold over and whip sand everywhere. One of the Moroccans enthusiastically jumped in to help. When I thanked him, he averted eye contact, and with that distinctly Arab gesture of hand on heart, simply replied: “bent bledi”, which means ‘daughter of my land.’

We gladly accepted their dinner invitation and sat down to this gorgeous tagine.

The spread was spectacular. I thought who else but a Moroccan would turn a camping trip into a foodie experience?! It was awesome down to the petite pot of mint tea brewing on the grill. Conversation dawdled on what each person did. The benefactor of the whole feast, co-operated a deli in downtown Washington D.C. with his brother. Another Moroccan in the group, originally from Rabat, was middle aged; she had settled into life as a nanny after the economy withered. The money isn’t bad, she explained; she genuinely loves the kids, but the parents are complete brats who never thank her beyond writing her pay check every two weeks. She wished she could get a little more recognition for kissing boo-boos, making oatmeal, reading books, and all the other things a stand-in mother must do. She never expresses these feelings to her employer. She needs the job. She wasn’t looking forward to rubbing elbows with upper class white women and their nannies during one of the hottest summers on record. I sympathized. She had tried to move back to Morocco at one point, but having been gone for so long, first in France and then in the U.S., she didn’t feel her place there anymore. Trouble is, she doesn’t feel her place anywhere; she has no partner or children of her own…she feels un-rooted and solemn most of the time.

The deli operator, when asked about Morocco, looked up to the sky, and smacked his lips over his right hand as if sending a greeting across the Atlantic.

“My country,” he says, “I miss my country,” he cries. “I never should have left,” he laments, looking about as one adrift, with deep set cavernous eyes, like a man who had heedlessly cheated on his one love, and can never return to hold her again.

I asked the obvious question: “Why don’t you return?”

“If it were that easy,” he shook his head.

“Why isn’t it?,” I ask bearing my plucky, American grin, with its over the rainbow all things are possible glitter.  He explained that he was an accountant with a solid job, enough money to spend and enough to save, but his big brother, aching for companionship of his own, had put visions in his head of streets lined in gold. He was itching for change because such is the condition of man – always convinced that just over the next bend, the next tier, is a whole new world, a better place waiting, and if he can just get there he will be happy ever after. Truly, man was created, very impatient (Qur’an, Al Ma’arij, 19).

Instead, of utopia he found a tasteless existence, with heaps of meat waiting to be sliced and served to the next lucky patron. He’s lonelier than he’s ever been in his life.  He sits in his deli serving lines of busy customers, all of them strangely eager to grab a swath of food and eat on the go -never stopping like back home to savor the sights and the smells; to sit, for no better reason than to eat, digest, and listen to their bones. He misses his home country but he can’t survive there anymore. His old job is gone, the economy has tanked, and frankly he’s scared to return with meager savings and no job prospects. There was a space of silence after he explained the reason. What more could I say?

Quixotically and impressively, he shook off his fermented sadness, breathed in the salt water air, and dug into his cooler to produce an elaborate, chilled fruit tray to share.

The next morning I brought breakfast to their camp and bid them farewell as they packed up for the day. I sat on the beach under an umbrella, digging my toes further and deeper into the sand until they reached the hard-packed, cool underbelly of the shore. The kids ran back and forth for sandwiches and juice. They spent several hours catching hermit crabs with their buckets, only to return them back to the ocean again and again- never tiring of the monotony. I thought of our hosts the night before. If only it were so easy to go back home.

The next day my camp stove malfunctioned and set fire – a big hazy fount of flames sprung up from the device while I said something to effect of: “Umm…someone…please HELP!” Fortunately, the father in the campsite next “door” sauntered over with a fire extinguisher and nonchalantly put the whole drama to rest. His profession had something to do with the fire department so he wasn’t too hyped up by our little emergency; his cool demeanor was contagious so that I was able to blow the whole thing off myself. Yeah, I almost burned down a national treasure, no biggie. That is not my modus operandi. I’m more likely to be seen jerking my body like I’m twirling an imaginary hoola hoop if ever a drama is in the works.

In my haste I’d forgotten a bag of Twizzlers by my car. One of the wild horses gratefully clip-clopped over, tore the bag open with his mouth and glutinously devoured its contents to the tune of my three year old howling in the background and pleading with me to call the cops to have the horse arrested. Fortunately, we didn’t go hungry. The family who put out the fire also generously offered their camp grill so that we could cook our dinner. Meanwhile, we shared a nice long talk about the primitive thrill of camping in the Adirondacks with bears- something I’ve determined from that conversation never to do. When the family left to take an evening drive, the horses came to their site and attempted to gobble up all of their left out groceries. My son and I swatted at them from a distance with long towels which herded them back toward the beach. I felt grateful for at least a small opportunity to repay their kindness.

The next morning just before dawn a storm blew in – a really, really big storm. I didn’t have have enough warning to break down my tent, so I had to throw my kids in the car and back it up against all of our camp gear to keep it from flying away. It worked, but the force of the wind snapped our tent poles in half. Our good Samaritan neighbors had their entire pop up canopy wrecked, which seemed entirely unfair given how downright nice they were. We spent the whole next day levitating like slothly castaways on the beach, weathered and grateful to have made it out relatively unscathed. I thought about all the kind people I’d met recently- contemplated on their generosity and also their personal tragedies. I felt grateful to carry their memories with me and made prayers for them along with myself and my family.

Now the month of Ramadan is upon us. Long days and nights of fasting, reading Qur’an and praying are this month’s focus- not getting myself into predicaments. I was feeling a bit depleted before Ramadan, plagued by the thought of so many people who want but have not. I could not reconcile the seemingly topsy turvy distribution of hardship and ease. My center was off, the place where you momentarily fail to glean the whole purpose of life. It is hard to grasp that notion, much less hold onto it indefinitely. I find I am always catching it and letting it go, berating myself, and catching it again.

Ramadan is here and all I want to do is be alone with it. This is the one time in the year, when honestly, I could detach from everyone for a month. That is completely impractical and impossible, of course. The days must go on and I must go with them, stretching to find that rhythm of spiritual balance, that place where you are in the world but the world is not in you. Life is full of tailspins and ending up for miles on other roads- some good, some bad, and what we at once perceived as lost, is in fact, exactly where we were meant to be.

Life is not always a happy ending- not always a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. That is about the most honest, Big Girl thing I can say at this moment. It’s hard to admit. It almost feels unpatriotic. The truth is, needs and wants are so relative and sometimes hardship endures. One woman wants a swimming pool in her backyard and another woman just wants her children. One man wants to take that New Zealand trip to go skydiving this year, and another man just wants to go home. Life is certainly not “fair,” and it isn’t meant to be. There is no enduring happiness attached to any momentary pleasure in this world.

Is it not through the remembrance of God that hearts find tranquility? Quran 13:28.

God asks me this question and I’m intent on answering it for myself. Sometimes the answer is beyond my reach because I am not still enough to ponder the question. Now Ramadan is here and I’m very still, and very alert. I can discern now what was woolly.

Rememberance, tranquilty – the later is completely dependent on the former. The only one who truly loses in this world is the one who never discerns his true purpose; the one who continually forgets.

Indeed, life is full of tailspins and ending up for miles on other roads- some good, some bad.

Nothing in it endures. Everything passes as it should. Life is a bridge. I’m walking on it right now, but I cannot always perceive it – my senses are so often dulled. The only abiding peace is in the redeeming act of rememberance. If I remember God, Al-Wahid (The One), I remember eternity, and if I remember eternity I perceive my own mortality and the mortality of everyone around me. I perceive the temporal space around me and the mechanics of my body as a holding place, as something that was never designed to remain. The only part of me that will remain is the part of me that is capable of remembering, with deep attraction and longing, my Creator.

Ramadan is a month in which our purpose is to learn self-control, and in order to gain that control, as a prerequisite, we must know the purpose of the self. In Ramadan we feel that purpose acutely – we sober to reality, which we are enabled to do because we give up the trivialities of excess food, speech and sleep.

All I want for Ramadan is to deepen to the remembrance of God, then to let it hold me the rest of the year, like a torch lighting each step through the sunken passages and sudden turns on my journey. Through each encounter, with each new experience, I want to discern the reality of the inescapable passage of time and purpose of life.

Imaam ibn Al-Jawzee a scholar from Baghdad in the twelfth century, said: “Beware of every hour and how it passes, and only spend it in the best possible way, do not neglect yourself, but render it accustomed to the noblest and best of actions, and send to your grave that which will please you when you arrive to it.”

May we spend the rest of this month ‘in the best possible way.’ May we discern ourselves, remember God, and be at peace.

Post-Fast: Brand Spankin’ New

1 Feb

Its been five days since crossing the finish line on my ten-day juice fast. Since then, I’ve made radical dietary changes along with my family. Yes, it takes some bribing (and culinary tigress) to get my kids hooked on plates of green leafy vegetables, but like any seasoned mom I’ve got a doctorate in bribery and a gazillion continuing education hours in the art of negotiation. And of course, I go undercover; over the weekend I simply nodded when my daughter assumed that (“YUMMY!”) tofu was eggs. When my ten-year old asked about the seared, white chunky blocks on his salad I said (non-nonchalantly) that it was croutons, of course! From the corner of my eye I glimpsed him stealing his little brother’s “croutons.” A fourth grader sneaking tofu! Who would have thunk it?

How did I celebrate after the finish line? With friends, of course.

Nuriman, my fellow-faster, threw a girly-girl party complete with green-juice,

one of her famous salads,

and home baked kale chips. I whipped up a mango salsa for added fun.

Its been five days and I feel brand spankin’ new! Here comes the bragging part; brace yourselves! (My smarty pants are about to un-leash, ya’ll).

I wake up and instead of wishing that someone could hook me up to a sweet, smoky java-infused IV drip, I’m ready to start my day. I don’t have to commit to faux-joy in front of my dewy-eyed young’uns in the morning. Now, I’m  bright-eyed –  ready at the starting-gate, and yet unflinchingly calm. I enjoy my mornings like I did as a kid and I enjoy my kids in the morning for a change.

In the past, after my morning cup of coffee I was good to go until….until….my second cup of coffee. Now, instead of quivering, make-shift energy, I’m charting my days on natural energy! Even though I’m off the juice fast, I’m still juicing at least once a day, and mostly with carrots and green leafy vegetables. My symptoms of hypoglycemia (one of my principal motivations for going on the juice fast) have vanished. I am now able to perform supererogatory, religious fasting (no food or water from sun up to sun down), as I did last Monday, without getting the shakes, vomiting, and sharp headaches suffered in the past.

I’ve also switched to preparing meat for my family just one night a week and on those nights only chicken – no red meat or cheese. My husband is acting as a very good sport; which, if you are a modern-day Moroccan, or are married to a Moroccan, you can appreciate this switch-over even more. This is one of those moves that is making me fall in love with him all over again.

I’m off refined sugars and onto small amounts of raw honey, maple syrup and organic cane sugar for baking and sweetening my herbal tea. I’m off cartons of bargain-brand pasteurized milk and onto spoonfuls of homemade organic yogurt (with fresh berries).

I’m off flavoring my savory dishes with vats of salt and too much olive oil and onto finding creative ways to make a saneful (not sinful), whole-foods plant-based meal.

I assumed my diet was healthy. After all, I ate salads, preferably looming with salty cheeses and buried under a scattering of lip-smacking olives. I poured olive oil on anything that would stand still, plus served up lots of piping hot home cooked meals, saddled with plentiful helpings of white basmati rice. Whilst living in my insular fantasy of good health I was forgoing a lot of brightly-colored, robust fruits and vegetables.

I was lulling my sweet tooth to sleep on late-night dark chocolate bars flavored with sea salt, and anything as moist and dense as a warm brownie. I had a decadent diet that made me feel fatigued and tethered to a cycle of sugar, caffeine, and salt (my terrible trio), and I too-often confused fine eating with healthy eating. What can I say, I’m a product of a few too many Food Network shows in my college days when I was taking off my training wheels and learning to become a “good” home-cook.

Going cold turkey on that toxic trio was easily the best move of my mamahood career and a fabulous starting-gate for my Big Girl Life.

In fact, I haven’t had an ah-ha moment this sunny since my conversion to Islam the decade before last! The best part is that the solution was so self-managing and so darn easy. After the initial detox from the terrible trio, I was able to easily forego a store-bought sweet or an extra crunchy bag of potato chips. I’ve made peace and bid farewell to those fried mac n’ cheese balls at the Philly’s Reading Terminal Market, Cajun station over the Thanksgiving weekend. The Italian Market can keep her cheesesteak too (gasp!). A healthy dose of heresy  is very good for my arteries.

I simply don’t want those “treats,” anymore. In fact, I imagine them draining my energy reserves and zapping the vitamin contents of my new sun-drenched, wholesome good eats.

A little imagery and a hearty mantra go a long way to paving the way for sustainable lifestyle changes. The equation is simple – the more good you eat, the more good you want; the more crud you eat, the more crud you want. I’m following that guide and reaping the benefits.

My dear friend, Pauline, walked into my kitchen last Saturday and saw me stirring a pot of shaved soap – the makings of homemade laundry detergent. She gasped, then laughed, and cried: “I’m not sure if I like the new Danette! I liked the old Danette who used to eat fried chicken and not think twice about it.” “Don’t get too serious,” she cautioned me. I might mention – this girlfriend just got herself a brand-spankin’ new juicer to start her own juicing fast and was a special source of encouragement for me while I overcame my bad-food addiction. She watched her aunt make a stunning recovery from cancer, using as part of her alternative regime, juicing. She’s a bonafide friend, so she’s entitled to want to hold on to some relics of the old me.

Alright, Pauline, I shall try to temper my ye-haw! As for now, I’m a friggin’ zealot! I feel good and I don’t ever want to feel haggard again, if I can do something about it. I’m not burning my bra, but I am burning a TV star’s chili recipe (which involves Frito Lays and Cheddar Cheese).

That’s where I am folks. Thanks a billion for all of your support along the way. Pretty please keep your comments coming. I’m eager to hear about your own journeys, in your own ways, or ways that are similar to my ten-day, detox juice fast.

Much Love,


Day Three: A Kale High and Diving Deep

19 Jan

I always thought I needed caffeine to stay awake all day long. That was until I discovered the kale-high; this green juice is the fountain of youth. Listen to this, on Tuesday night I went to sleep after midnight and woke up very early Wednesday morning. I enjoyed a busy day with my kids, plus a half hour work-out, and I did not get tired until close to midnight on Wednesday.

Even after the fast, this drink is going to be a daily staple, God willing. It is a must-have, especially, in the last ten days of Ramadan when fasters seek to increase ibadah(worship), most importantly throughout the night. In the past I sipped on coffee after the adthan (call to prayer), but now I hope to grab a glass of kale. Sounds funny, I know, and not something I ever would have said before starting out on this mission. Without the best nutrition, spiritual practices can be difficult to sustain, especially for mothers who have to get up early no matter how late they prayed into the night.

I am loving this juice and the taste grows on me with every sip.

I’ve learned that leafy greens are the key to targeting a host of ailments. The Juicing Bible provides recipes that address specific illnesses and stages of life.

Green leafy vegetables target water retention, depression, skin conditions, ADHD symptoms, indigestion, headaches, hypoglycemia, and is highly recommended for pregnancy, breastfeeding mothers, and menopausal women.

This was my breakfast on day one. I tossed all of it into the juicer.

It was super tasty, as you can imagine; unfortunately, the acidity in the fruit did not bode well for my stomach after last night’s cranberry fest. No matter, the kids slurped it all up and I was thrilled to see them chugging sugar free, homemade juice.

Besides all the gushing, how am I doing? I have more clarity of mind and enough energy to tire my kids out instead of the other way around. Unfortunately, I still have painful salt cravings. I dream of tearing off a piece of white, crusty french bread and sopping up the juices of my favorite mediterranean chicken dish- pre-marinated in garlic, lemon, oregano and plenty of SALT! Even though I haven’t had a Star Crunch in years, I want to eat one, or two…or three!

A dear friend of mine in Texas, who recently gave up sugar, told me that her husband brought home boxes of Girl Scout cookies. She said it best: There is a certain sweetness to beating the temptation though. Stay strong! 

I am not just giving up food that is bad for my body as well as my psychology, I am struggling to break my strong emotional attachments to things that don’t bring me any closer to As-Salam (The Giver of Peace), Al Mu’Id, (The Restorer to Life), As-Samad (The Eternally Besought), An-Nur (The Light).

Today I am so grateful for a bag of crunchy apples that my friend, and fellow homeschooler, Aasma, left on my door and on the door of my fellow faster, Nuriman. It was a special gesture that speaks to the intangible, enduring value of sisterhood, and it sweetened my broco-carrot juice sublimely.

My plan from here is to use the next seven days to strengthen my resolve further. Besides one post that I am inspired to share about a worthwhile charity, God willing, I will sign off for the rest of my juice-fasting journey. I have miles to dive deep in order to serve my ultimate purpose for the fast. My Big Girl voice is telling me to savor this time in as many joyful, quiet moments as a mother of three can manage. I look forward to recounting my experience and telling ya’ll about my Big Girl journey after the fast.

Much Love,


Day Two: I Will Survive!

18 Jan

Day two and I’m already over my vegetable grudge. That wasn’t so bad! My friend and fellow faster, Jacqueline, gave me a recipe called green juice which was featured in the film Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead. It consist of kale, apples, celery, cucumber, lemon and ginger. I was afraid to drink it at first, it is slime green after all, but hunger got the best of me.

After two swigs of the drink I was sold. I even got a kale-stache with no hard feelings. The apples give it sweetness while the lemon and ginger make it tart. It helped me to endure the deep muscle aches that I experienced over a seven hour period – the result of toxins fleeing my body. Yeaaaah!! I finally succumbed to two Advil to cope with the aches in the afternoon. After three child labors, you’d think I could handle a little detox. Thank God, by night, the aches completely subsided.

In the early evening hours I tried a vitamin C mix, consisting of grapefruit, orange, lime, and cranberry.

It was ubber tart and refreshing.

The zing of it gave me courage to watch my family eat puttanesca sauce over a bed of steaming penne pasta, without having a fit.

I chased the drink down with a tall glass of water and a hot cup of detox herbal tea. I’ve even started cutting out the teaspoons of honey. I have to pinch myself since last week I was consuming cups of sugary, creamy coffee, and this week I’m sipping on unsweetened herbal tea. Can ya’ll believe it?! I’m impressed by my tastebuds’ ability to switch over in such a short amount of time, or at least endure with minimal whining. Someone is making du’a (prayer) for me, I can tell! Keep doing it, pretty please.

Conversations with three of my fellow-fasters is helping tremendously. Whilst in the vegetable market today I got a call from my buddy Kim. I dropped everything to talk to her, even though it required letting my daughter stand up in the cart and do a booty-shake to the store’s background music. Just chatting about our journeys gives me energy to keep going. I was there looking for coconut water that my friend Jacqeuline recommended earlier. Hearing about her success and challenges gives me strength and pause to make du’a for her along with my other fellow fasters. Calls and texts from supportive friends is also a saving grace. I am convinced that embarking on this challenge with a team is key to enduring the rough and tumble first 48 hours.

As for my husband, he’s in a little hot water right now. He thinks juice fasting is so funny; the extent of his support system is in chugging down the vegetable juice I make for him nightly. Since he is not even feigning support, it is giving me a little bit of selfish joy to watch him try to camouflage his own gag reflex.

If he makes one more joke about putting fried chicken in the juicer I am going to…going to….umm….actually, I’m not going to do anything. This juice fasting has had a surprising sedative effect on my nervous system. I am calmer and more optimistic than ever.

Can ya’ll believe that just 24-hours ago I was personifying vegetables as villains? After day two I can say that, God willing, I will survive! I am even giddy about the next eight days. I’m relieved that something as simple as dietary changes is making such a dramatic, positive shift in my feelings of well-being and in my ability to concentrate and be mindful in my daily prayers.

I still have strong cravings. I won’t bore you with the details of how I wanted to snort a bag of tater chips. Even still, the siren call of snacky food and dairy products is loosening its grip on me just a little. I expect that in the coming days my defenses will be even stronger. After the fasting period, I have plans to continue my de-tox program with a free, personalized Reboot Your Life plan.

Stay tuned ya’ll for more on my Be a Big Girl inner-make over. If you are on the same track, please be in touch. I want to hear all about it.

Much Love,


Day One: A Vegetable Grudge

17 Jan

I am writing on day one of my juice fast. I was glowing about it last week here, but I’m not glowing anymore. I crave bread and butter, salty chips, and mocha ice cream, and I discovered in just 24-hours that I don’t really like vegetables; I love the stuff that you sprinkle on vegetables – plenty of salt! This is how I want to eat vegetables.

Even better is the stuff you can smear on vegetables -butter!

I’m writing on day three of my life without coffee. Pouring a cup was always a worthy excuse to consume sugar and cream. I can’t believe how much my life has changed since last Friday, when I comfortably sat in a friend’s kitchen, mopping up a tomato and feta love story with fluffy pita bread, and digging into a heavenly omelet. It paired perfectly with my piping hot, sweet and creamy coffee.

Why did I give it all up for tepid glasses of beet, kale and spinach  juice? Come to think of it, beet, kale and spinach should never be used as adjectives to describe a beverage! Beet juice is so conniving. It looks so sprightly with its dazzling red color; it begs to be gulped. Do you know what beet juice actually taste like? A mouthful of dirt.

You may be wondering what keeps me from quitting. Well, for one, I’m stubborn and when I decide to do something like this I am compelled to finish. Another reason I keep going is because I’ve joined a Dead Poet’s Society of kindred juicers – women who have vowed to detox like me and keep the health-nut momentum going even after the fast. The foundation for my detox is to strengthen my body, and dilute my nafs (ego), in order to strengthen my resolve to Be a Big Girl. I’m making a lot of du’a (prayers) lately.

Our first meeting, the night before Day One, took place at a local buffet which serves only halal food. I haven’t been to a buffet in ages, but it seemed fitting to swear off naughty food at a naughty place.

Here is a naughty moment courtesy of my friend and mother of four. I told her I was going to post this photo online. She just smiled and said, “Go ahead,” followed by more poses. That is just one of the reasons I love her. No big girl should ever take herself  seriously at a buffet.

Isn’t that the grossest thing you’ve ever seen, and yet, it did not give me half the trauma of raw, liquified kale and beet juice?

This is my new buffet – our local fresh food market. These vegetables look so innocent. They’re not.

I prefer to loiter in the fruit section; and of course, with a juicing fast one is not allowed to consume too many of the naturally sweet fruits. I want a “Vegetables are Bullies” bumper sticker.

I had such romantic visions of purifying my body with clean vegetable juices. After day one, in all honestly, I have a vicious vegetable grudge. My fellow juice-faster and friend coached me to visualize nutrition flooding my cells with each sip, but all that responds is my gag-reflex.

I did not realize how much comfort I derived from food and coffee; indeed, how tethered I remained to meal times and rituals. This is probably one of the most uncomfortable things I’ve ever done. Others who have tried this path and conquered it tell me that everything gets better at some point in the first week. I left a pitiful voicemail on my friend’s phone just to be sure. She called me back and reassured me again, as did my brother-in-law. They say that you will even start to crave vegelicious foods. Crave raw kale? Really?! I’m dubious on the veges.

In regards to coffee, I am a believer. After just 48 hours off the caffeine I felt more calm, and slept more peacefully. I even woke up without the customary fogginess. Regrettably, though, I did suffer considerably during the initial 24-hour haze and even ended up attending a fundraising event wearing my red house shoes. I forgot to change into my black pumps on the way out the door and did not realize the mistake until well after leaving home. I was so delirious I did not go to any length to hide my fashion hiccup.

As for the juicing, here I am, chugging along – literally. I hope to fully recover from my vegetable grudge. At this point, I feel that the only antidote is a warm, buttery croissant.

Much Love,


A Double Dawg Dare

12 Jan

Last week before I caught the stomach bug, Old Woman in the Shoe, mentioned a documentary called Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead. Then, another mom recommended the film through a homeschooling listserve. I intended to watch the movie when I found the time. As it turns out, the next day I was hung over the toilet vomiting up all those collard greens. If you did not read about that adventure it is here.

Once in a blue moon when I get sick on a week day and my husband’s work schedule permits, I can actually take a day off from the young’uns to recuperate. Last Friday was one of those days. No one ever told me before kids that I might be a little giddy about getting a stomach virus one day, if only, to be able to stay in bed. Had I known that, I might have elected to be in a corner office by now. Fortunately for the human race, moms find out later.

So what did I do on my barfing-sick day off? Well, for one, I wrote a blog post. I also listened to some excellent lectures from a deen-intensive retreat which had been held in Bursa, Turkey last year and is now available with a online subscription.  Finally, I watched Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead. It features two men with chronic diseases who were able to rid themselves of powerful pharmaceutical drugs by radically changing their diets and becoming more physically active. They started out with sixty days of a detoxing juice fast, whereby they only consumed fruits and vegetables prepared with a juicer.

I enjoyed the documentary so much I watched it again last weekend with my husband, and then I announced my intention to embark on a mini version of this detoxing program for ten days to see if it would help alleviate my  hypoglycemia and caffeine dependence. I have another health condition; it occurs when dinner is on the stove, and the house needs picking up, and the kids are getting cranky, and my husband isn’t home from work yet to help out, and my son reminds me that he needs materials for a science project, due soon, and I want to run like Forest Gump- far, far away. I’m sure there is a multi-syllable medical term for that illness, but I call it: Totally-Want-to-Freak-Out!

My husband snidely congratulated me, and when I prodded him to see if we might partner on this project, he said he’d drink the juice as long as he could eat his fried chicken with it. Never mind, I consoled myself, that’s what girlfriends are for. So, my friend and I are scheduled to go out this Sunday night for a last meal before going cold turkey on Monday, God Willing.

I needed a juicer, of course, to start the detox which I did not have, and soon found out that a swank Breville juicer like the one featured in the film can run upwards of $300. The last pair of never worn name-brand shoes I bought cost $3.50, thanks to my thrifting-swagger, so the thought of paying $300 for something that was intended to make me healthy actually made me feel a little bit sick. We’ve got orthodontics and tuition to blow our money on, we can’t afford to party on juicers.

So, armed with a recommendation from a subscription to a consumer reporting agency, I discovered that a $70 juicer ranked just a little bit higher than some of the ubber-expensive elite brands. Hamilton Beach, Baby!! When it finally arrives in the mail, it’ll go right next to my chichi Oster Blender.

As ecstatic as I am to start plunging my system with juice, I know, the minute a cold glass of kale hits my taste buds I’m probably going to have convulsions and beg one of my small children to inject a cup of coffee into my veins, ANY VEIN!!

As hard as mamahood is I have to go and do crazy stuff like this. That is true, but I feel that I need a jumpstart on my health. I don’t have weight problems, but having a high metabolism is not synonymous with being healthy. I have an active lifestyle, especially in the warmer months when I live outside, which is great. I even consume mostly a Mediterranean diet, sans the alcohol and with liberal helpings of collard greens. Still, I consume plenty – too much -sugar, salt and caffeine. 

I came across this hadith recently which increased by desire to rid my diet of creature-comfort food and my beverage of choice:

The family of Muhammad did not eat two meals on one day, but one of the two was of dates.” (Narrated Aisha, Sahih Al-Bukhari, Hadith No. 462, Vol. 8).

This statement stands in contrast to the amount of preservatives and artificial fuel we feed our bodies. Many of us, absent Ramadan, are constantly feeding ourselves and our children a constant flow of meals, snacks, and beverages. It is as if we are depriving ourselves of something if we go hungry between meals. This cycle makes supererogatory fasting more difficult and muddled with brain-fog.

I pray that this detox works to cleanse my physical state, with which I hope to climb more mountains in my spiritual life. In short, as part of my Be a Big Girl challenge, I hope it will be a catalyst to de-clutter my body and soul.

I hope to blog more on this in the upcoming days and weeks. If you are detoxing yourself, or if you have detoxed before, I’d love to hear your comments. Please tell me there is life after coffee. If you’ve never detoxed before then I double dawg dare ya’ to try it out with me. I don’t know about you, but when someone double dawg dares me to do anything it usually means I’m going to live to tell about it. How about you?

Much Love,


The Oil Lamp

10 Jan

“A person who teaches goodness to others while neglecting his own soul is like an oil lamp, which illumines others while burning itself out.” – Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) At Tirmidhi

Giving ourselves personal space to develop God-consciousness and self-awareness is a very Big Girl thing to do. Ironically, once we resolve to become grown up we have acquired so many duties, however joyful they may be, that personal space is deemed a luxury instead of a nutrient. Just a few months ago personal space was not part of my life. I was homeschooling my ten-year old son alongside my kindergartener, plus chasing after my two year old and keeping house. I was resentful which was not very big girlish of me. 

The story goes like this: when a mama raises children it is called motherhood, but when a mama homeschools her children it is called motherhood on steroids. (It’s just a joke, and I’m covered by the “unorthodox humor” disclaimer on my About page.)

Folks who find out that I homeschool my kids say roughly the same thing: “I just don’t know how you do it! I know I couldn’t do THAT.” This can mean one of two things.

If another mama gives you this line with her hand on her hip that is code for: I don’t believe anyone can do it, including you! This is true, especially if the next declaration concerns how anointed her kids are because they’ve all tested into elite classes and how much she just, “loves, LOVES, their school!!!”  Meanwhile I’d be saying to myself (hand on hip), that thar’ is a bonafide smarty pants! Then, I’d feel so pitiful and petty for fussing up my emotions like that instead of feeling plain old tickled-pink for her brood.

Now, if a mama gives you this line with her hand on her heart, then she really does think you are a saint and she only wishes you the very best. In that case, I’d wish to pour my heart out: tell her how strung out I felt, how exhausted I was, how insecure, and how scared I was to choose otherwise. I wanted to confess that it really is miserable to be potty-training one minute, critiquing a writing assignment the next minute, only to turn around and pretend to eat ‘princess cupcakes.’ Yuck! I’d want to fess up that the thought of waking up in the morning to be mama/teacher for the long haul depressed me to no end. I just wanted to tell her how friggin’ resentful I was. But, instead, I’d just give her some feeble, self-depreciating line like a good, little girl does and go about my day.

I wasn’t always resentful; most of the time, in fact, I was not. More often the satisfaction of being able to provide personalized lessons in a wholesome environment was highly motivating. In addition, I was learning along side my eldest on a wide array of subject matter so it was intellectually stimulating. What is even better, I live in an area where there are a plethora of resources and organizations to support homeschoolers, and homeschooling is not exactly the third rail. There are museums galore and it seems that all of them have a special event set aside for homeschoolers, or a series of classes catered to providing them with a hands-on multi-sensory experience.

Not only that, but I participate in a well-organized homeschool co-op with other families where my children take classes that indulge a range of their extracurricular interests. Even better, the co-op mothers are some of my closest friends and our children share a deep bond. That’s not all; a parent where I live need not strictly homeschool every subject. From science to history to writing courses – there are many series advertised at community colleges and centers which cater to homeschoolers. Minus the end of school year burn-out, homeschooling is mostly a sweet life. 

The crisis I encountered was not homeschooling, per se, but balancing my  eldest son’s educational foot-path with that of his younger brother and sister. Complicating life further was the fact that I was not using a prefab curriculum; rather, I was tailoring every subject with a special set of resources to try to offer the best mix. Everyday was an obstacle course, but not a course that one could study ahead of time; rather, it was a surprise obstacle course every day – no fail.

Younger children are less predictable in terms of their health and emotions which is why I never knew when I’d get surprised with a feverish child, one throwing a temper-tantrum, or simply one just wanting to squat down and play blocks with me for a while, just for the heck of it. While on one hand my adolescent excelled on structure, on the other hand, my younger children needed me to be more flexible. I was succeeding only by waking up everyday and performing lunatic acrobatics. As a result, my oil lamp was extinguished. For the first time in my life the only thing I could passionately identify with was the common phrase: going through the motions.

Strangely (and clearly a symptom of my condition) it wasn’t the fact that I was miserable that caused me to quit, it was the fact that my son was no longer motivated to study. School was drudgery. He started making careless mistakes on his work and the only clever edge he demonstrated was in trying to get out of assignments. 

 In retrospect I realize that the reason my son was no longer motivated to study was that I was no longer motivated to teach. My attitude had become infectious and malignant. The obstacle course I was running was stunting my spiritual growth because all of my resources were going just to running it. At the point when my light extinguished, and every day thereafter, I was of no benefit to my family besides taking care of their physical needs. Though I wanted to impart goodness; indeed, the very idea of it kept me on this blistering course, I simply could not succeed because I hadn’t been feeding my soul.

However terminal my condition, in the thickness of it I couldn’t sober up to the reality that no amount of tinkering was going to fix the problem. I felt guilty that I just couldn’t make it work and my guilt was shrinking my sense of empowerment to try something different and trust in Allah (SWT). It did not occur to me that my oil lamp had burned out. Didn’t it have some kind of auto-burn option!? Didn’t good intentions light it? If my ideas and my goals were so right, why did it feel so wrong? Why was it so unfair?! How come some women could do it and I couldn’t? Why couldn’t I just be more like sister so and so? How come my kids couldn’t just be more like her kids?! Maybe this is really my test in life; I need to keep a positive attitude and all will be well. Why can’t I keep a positive attitude for more than one stinkin’ hour!!??

I could only answer these questions after lightening some of my load and looking back on my circumstance. At the point when my oil lamp ceased to incandesce, I could scarcely remember that it once functioned, much less locate the means to light it again. My condition was so severe that it was not the loss of light which caused me to initiate a radical change, rather it was an event which happened outside of me to cause that shift. 

The fact that my son was no longer motivated to learn, of which I had tangible proof in the form of his written work- indeed, something out side of myself, made me sober up to the reality that would ultimately save myself. I picked up the phone, called my husband at work, blind with tears and said: “Baby, it’s time to outsource one of the kids.”

He immediately went into daddy-mode- enumerating the means and logistical steps to execute the outsource. Meanwhile, my alarm and skepticism grew under the impression that we were about to ship our eldest off to Kathmandu. What made it especially hard were the pleas of my son who was adamant that he wanted to continue homeschooling with his friends.

Armed with conviction, I steam-rolled the process of getting him enrolled. I made my first stop at a private school run out of our local mosque. I already knew mothers there, and best of all, my friend and former homeschool mom taught at the school. My heart sank when they told me there were no spots available. No mind, I got back in the car determined to go to the public school, which boasts a very good reputation. Two of our neighbors send their children there and since they are all sweet-natured, I was hopeful.

The grounds of the school were very tidy; as soon as I walked into the building on the left was a large, colorful display of a world map with a fanciful marker on every country to note all the places in the wide world where the attending students come from. A quick scan put my heart at ease that my son would not be the only Muslim there. Then, I walked into the front office and proceeded to wait in line. Naturally, no one gave me the familiar, warm welcome of “Asalaamu’Alaikum,” peace be upon you. Actually, I didn’t even get a hello, which is understandable given the busy mass in the office. As time passed it did feel a bit like the DMV, only much cleaner and without any Mountain Dew.

While waiting our turn, my two-year old started flailing because he thought we were in a pediatrician’s office and said he didn’t “want to get shots!” This scene, however embarrassing, did invite them to process me faster. They gave me a shiny stack of papers to fill out and sent me on my way. I asked if there was anyone I could talk to just to answer a couple of questions about the school’s pedagogy and policies, but they reminded me that I would need to first fill out those shiny papers. 

I left and went home to do what any aspiring Big Girl would do. I set my kids down to a kid-flick in the basement, proceeded to my bedroom, called a good girlfriend, sat on the edge of my bed and loudly sobbed over the phone. She said she’d come over later, but in the meantime I needed to chill out. The next morning I received a call from the private school that they would be able to squeeze our son in after all. After a prayer of istikhara (special prayer when facing indecisiveness) my husband and I decided to enroll our son in the private school. On the first day, we were all restless and scared, but it did have the edge of making us feel like we were merely outsourcing him to his cousin’s house for the day.

Our son made a relatively easy transition to school and, academically, he has excelled so far. Even better, I see his old ways coming back to him – that of getting excited about his subjects and crafting his own questions. He claims that he wants to return to homeschooling next fall, but he is just as likely to look forward to an upcoming project or period at school. I am still teaching my kindergartener and find that I enjoy homeschooling as much as before. I feel my lamp rekindling a little more each day.

A major life lesson I learned on my way to becoming a Big Girl, was to never wed myself to an idea so passionately that I starve my soul in the process. It is not that I must put my needs before others; it is that I need to prioritize my missions. 

When duty calls, I must interrogate my own persuasions to determine what relevancy they have juxtaposed to my daily pursuit to live courageously and authentically as a true servant of my Creator, and in proximity to my Lord. If I cannot truly seep into the pursuit of closeness to The Most Loving (Al-Wadud); if I can only speak of it to my children, whilst hibernating in the cloistered cave of my lofty ideas, then I am useless to them. My light will have gone out and they will, eventually, find no place near me to keep warm and seek sustenance for their own journey.  

The resolve to Be a Big Girl is a stranger odyssey than I ever imagined. It is sprinkled with mirages, no doubt. When I’ve mastered my thirst to the point that I no longer cry out for water…when I should be forgotten, at once, large founts of crystal clear liquid burst out, and I am brought back to my center. I remember the spiking, levitating stabs of thirst, which are remarkably more comforting than the narcotic of my former state.

Alhamdulilah. All Praise Be to God.

Much Love,



Judge a Book by Its Cover

4 Jan

I’m somebody’s mama so when I go to the library I spend a lot of time in the children’s section. By the time we’ve had a sit down with Fancy Nancy, Harry Potter, all the kids at Magic Tree House, Pooh and Piglet, my kids are ready to go home. I have a few minutes to skim the adult section before my offspring start talking to random strangers, or my wandering ten-year old traipses upon a book which claims to inject more intimacy into your sex life. Time to GO!

In this predicament I’m a repeat offender of the sagely rule: DON’T JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER! I’ve judged oodles of books by their covers and most of the time I hit the jackpot.

By this method, three years ago, I discovered the culinary prowess of Alice Waters. My eyes caught the contrast of the cover’s mustard yellow and red with orange hues. My photo doesn’t even do justice to the loveliness of this cover’s outward form.

Because of this book I can now roast the perfect chicken and make a comforting, hot pot of carrot soup with tarragon. Her method for preparing pouring custard is divine.

I hit the jackpot again when I glimpsed a white-lettered arial font set against a deep mahogany backdrop. It read: “An Everlasting Meal,” by Tamar Adler. I quickly pulled it out and looked at its face. The subtitle read: “Cooking with Economy and Grace,” and beneath that lay a scattering of leafy greens and cream-colored turnips with sassy, upturned tails.

I slipped it into my designated library sack and headed for the check out line, my five year old daughter hop-scotched behind in my footsteps, and told me to take her to Tutti Frutti – her favorite frozen yogurt shop.

After I paid my dues at Tutti Frutti, where she ordered a giant bowl of frozen sugar topped with a splattering of pomegranate seeds and Fruity Pebbles, I went home, ordered the kids to bed, and sunk down into my reading chair.

What a beautiful book, I thought to myself, and studied its cover more closely than I had a chance to do earlier. At the very end of the front-cover was a notation that the book included a foreword by none other than Alice Waters- the author of “The Art of Simple Food,” whose cover I also judged, and by that virtue learned to roast chickens.

Hitting the jackpot is an under-statement. This book has revolutionized the way I think of ingredients, cooking tools and food preparation. This book is more than a collection of recipes, it is a book about life. Adler encourages home cooks to get the most out of a single ingredient and to use instinct to light our path. This reading paired perfectly with my resolve to Be a Big Girl.

She warns readers not to follow recipes to a fault; rather she encourages us to : ….simply pay attention, trust yourself, and decide.

She says: We’re so often told cooking is an obstacle that we miss this. When we cook things, we transform them. And any small acts of transformation are among the most human things we do.

And this advice deserves to be hung on the wall:

…..there is a great dignity in allowing oneself to keep clear about what is good, and it is what I think of when I hear the term ‘good taste.’ Whether things were ever simpler than they are now, or better if they were, we can’t know. We do know that people have always found ways to eat and live well, whether on boiling water or bread or beans, and that some of our best eating hasn’t been our most foreign or expensive or elaborate, but quite plain and quite familiar. And knowing that is probably the best way to cook, and certainly the best way to live.

I’m pleased to have judged this book by its cover. It is very Big Girl material, and I will now have to purchase my own copy to refer back to every now and then.

I think one of the biggest obstacles to living a Big Girl life comes from so-called expert advice. We are bullied into detaching from the big girls who came before us. Their hard-won, simple advice is supplanted with expert “wisdom,” which teaches us to mimic rather than to live courageously and authentically. I realize it’s ironic that I would advise myself to take expert advice with caution considering the fact that to “Judge a Book by Its Cover” is total heresy to sagely scripture. I feel confident, however, that if my great-grandmother could sit down and have a nice motherly chat with me she would tell me it’s alright to judge a book by its cover- if that is what drives you to choose and if it has worked out so far so good.

To be a Big Girl, I think, we have to more often decide for ourselves, no matter the pulse and sway of expert advice. We have to decide for ourselves even if the expert bears a slew of lower case letters behind h/er name. We have to ask ourselves, What is my perspective? What does hand-me-down advice have to say on the matter? We have to give that the same or better degree of attention before considering which steps to take. I’ll leave you with a favorite quote from Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren which increased my resolve to live life authentically.

In this scene Pippi answers a shop keeper trying to peddle a freckle-remover potion:

“No, I don’t suffer from freckles,” said Pippi.

“But, my dear child, your whole face is covered with freckles!”

I know it,” said Pippi, “but I don’t suffer from them. I love them. Good morning.”

She turned to leave, but when she got to the door she looked back and cried, “But if you should happen to get in any salve that gives people more freckles, then you can send me seven or eight jars.” 

Much Love,