Autumn is Sneaking In

School opening again sort of means summer is over, even though it’s not and the weather is still awesome and there may be some more beach days. However the trees are being sneakily “Autumnized” with brilliantly painted leaves. School opening definitely means more time to write though and more time to “art”. I was up to some artsy stuff when I got the chance, kids joined in and we made some masterpieces together. I am trying out the photo real stuff, need lots of practice, but I love it.

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Did this scenery for someone.

Practised plenty in the sketchbook too…

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Would you like a jelly bean?

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Place Masterpiece Here

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Most writers write because they love writing. It is not a big money maker for the majority of us, most of the time our payback is simply having people read and share the article or post. A comment that shows the reader actually read the piece is always greatly appreciated.

Not many people want your writing, you pretty much have to get down on your hands and knees begging for your piece to get published on websites and magazines. But writers keep writing anyway. Even if the only place their writing gets published is on their own little blog in their own little world of fellow unknown writers that appreciate the efforts. We try to keep each other motivated.

Writing just makes writers happy. We can’t stop. And sometimes some of us get lucky, then we all celebrate, like it was our own little victory. We get so happy we share the achievement wherever we can. I have had a bit of luck, a few posts I had written got featured. I was also approached by a couple of people to write some pieces for them. If you get asked to write something out of the blue when you least expect it, it is like Eid/Christmas/Hanukkah/ Diwali/fill in appropriate festival here.

Seeing your work somewhere is an amazing feeling. I wanted to help other newbies have that feeling, it is so motivating.  I didn’t have a whole lot of resources, the only thing I could think of was to put up a website and offer writers, artists and bloggers a place to share their work.  When the website was finally up I sent the link to my friends and asked them to share it with their friends and family with the message that anyone interested could send me their work to be put up. I started getting submissions and excited ‘thank yous’. That is a great feeling, being able to help someone. I also got some people ask me how much I was going to pay them for their submissions. They hadn’t even sent in a sample of their writing or artwork. It was kind of funny, but I am assuming they haven’t actually tried creating anything and getting it ‘out there’ yet. They are in for a rude awakening! I am keeping my fingers crossed though that eventually the site will pay for itself and I will be able to pay contributors. Right now it is using up all my pocket money!

If you are interested in sharing your work I would love to help get it ‘out there’.  I am going through submissions and hope to have them all up in July. I have put up a ‘floor model’ so you can see the website, the email to send in a submission is under the ‘Contribute’ heading.  This is the first time I am doing something like this, so your suggestions will be appreciated!

Attention all writers, bloggers, foodies, parents, artists, photographers, travellers, event planners and readers: come visit Café Mosaic.ca!

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We Need Less Barbie, Less Fake Cover Girls and More Warriors.

Dear Darling Daughters,

I overheard you talking to each other while you played with your dolls. I was relieved for the few minutes of conflict free cooperation amongst you. But what you, my youngest munchkin, said was far worse for me than one of your epic battles.

“I wish I had blond hair and blue eyes and was pretty like Barbie.”

I read about stuff like this all the time. It didn’t really matter of course until you said it because I thought I was doing such a good job by giving you confidence that looks don’t matter and everyone is beautiful in their own way etc etc.  But of course you do not live in a bubble and I cannot shield you from our increasingly shallow world. I suppose it was my fault for buying the damn dolls in the first place, but you know the thing is every mom wants her little girl to have nice toys. I just misjudged what nice is. Thanks a lot Mattel.

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(No. Just no! Pic from here.)

I tried to fix this problem by going out and finding some brown skinned, black haired dolls. Voila, thank you Disney for Mulan, Pocahontas and Jasmine. Although they should have done their homework because no, that is not what Arab princesses wore.  Belly dancers yes, but Jasmine was not a belly dancer. Also Pocahontas was only about ten or eleven and apparently she never saved John Smith.  Yes unfortunately women are objectified. A lot. I will explain what that means later, right now let’s just stick to My Little Pony. Okay yeah it has something to do with how they look in certain clothes. Yes, a certain lack of clothes. Thanks a lot Disney! Yes the bumpy parts that are barely covered by their skimpy clothes. No, it is not something good to walk around like that. Your body is yours, it should not be on display for everybody to ogle at!

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(What exactly is the message here?)

Anyways looking pretty means different things to different people. There is not just one way to look pretty, in some countries the idea of pretty is very different and many of us wouldn’t see it as pretty. Like the giraffe women of Burma.

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Yeah long neck.

And some countries in Africa have tribes that take great pride in lip plates….

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Ouch, but it is beautiful to them.

More importantly I also want you to know that looks are not everything. Even if, eventually, the entire world goes crazy and thinks that they are. The thing that matters most is what is inside, and what you do with it. You can’t change the way you look, but you can change the way the world looks at you.

Mulan , Jasmine and Pocahontas didn’t actually look like that by the way. No one looks like that. Jasmine wasn’t even a real person. Yes models are real people, but no they don’t really look like that. Their pictures are photo shopped to make you think they look like that. Why? So women and girls spend their money on makeup and silly products because they think they will look like that. Yes there are people who make money out of fooling people. It is not a good thing, but it is a thing.

Never mind. So according to the legend, Mulan was an awesome girl who fought in the war in place of her old father who couldn’t fight. Do you think she worried about her hair? No.

What do I mean by legend? Well legend means that it might or might not be true, but there must have been something to  the story. Okay here’s a story that I can assure you is true.

There was once an Arab female warrior that fought in many wars hundreds of years ago, during the time of the Holy Prophet. Her brother, who was a knight, had always been very proud of her and taught her to handle her sword so well she became a skilled fighter. She was also a great poet. She was smart, brave and she eventually led an army into battle!

When her brother was taken prisoner during a war, she didn’t sit back and let someone else go save him. She led an attack, won the fight and saved all the prisoners including her brother. She fought fearlessly in lots of battles and stood by what she believed in, she inspired men and women because of her bravery. One time she was captured by the enemy, you know what she did? She motivated the other prisoners and together they fought their way out with tent poles and pegs as weapons! She didn’t let anything get her down and she probably didn’t own any glittery lip gloss or whatever it was they used back then.

I can tell that you like this little bit of history.

“She was awesome! Was she brown?” You ask me.

“Yes.” I answer.

“Did she have long black hair?” you want to know.

“Yup.”

“Was her name Jasmine?”

“No. Her name was Khaula. Khaula Bint Al-Azwer.” I answer with great satisfaction as wide grins spread across your precious coffee colored faces.

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(Pic from here.)

(Disclaimer: I have nothing against girls playing with dolls, but we need to teach our girls they have the ability to be so much more than just pink frilly show pieces. There are more important things than looking good and taking endless selfies. Warrior is meant in the metaphorical sense, I am not encouraging girls to pick up arms and start a war. However if they are keen to learn fencing or archery I say go for it!)

Polygamy, I get it. But no thank you!

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I wrote a post about polygamy for Blog Her, and they featured it. I had originally titled it “I’m Muslim, but if my husband thinks of a second wife, I’ll reach for my shotgun!” I suspect the title had a little to do with it getting so many reads ( I was pleasantly surprised to get that much attention).  You can read it here.

We are still waiting for spring weather to come, it gives us a glimpse then disappears again!

I also started a magazine style blog because I wanted people to share their cultures from around the world. I put up a few random posts to get it started but I invite anyone of you who are interested in contributing to please send me a post. You can see what it is all about here : Cafe Mosaic.ca I will share links to your blogs and websites so you get some traffic.

Weekly Photo Challenge : Ephemeral

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Millions of frozen diamonds shimmering. Ephemeral.  

Sometimes Bullies Need to be Bullied

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I am the kid who got bullied at school. All the time, yes, even in high school. I was brown (still am, but proud of it now) and my parents were immigrants. I was taught to suck it up and turn the other cheek. And of course tell the teacher. But there were some teachers who didn’t really care. And I was not the type of child to go home crying to my parents every time something happened, especially as I got older. I would ignore it as best as I could and then I had enough. I started to fight back. I did get into a couple of physical fights because I defended myself, the result of that was reinforcements were called in and I was beaten up by a group of racist little brats. It was not in school so not much could be done about it. The last incident I remember was in high school when this boy in math class continually called me “Paki” with an assortment of nouns added for color. He was also the child of immigrants but he was white. One day as he whispered profanities at me I turned to him and very loudly, whilst our (stern) teacher was explaining something, told him exactly what he was.  The class was deadly silent. All eyes were on us, and then the teacher continued. He did not send me out of the room, did not ask me to explain.  He let me have my say, he let the boy turn red in front of the entire class as he glared at him. He did not interrupt my victory. Sometimes you can’t turn the other cheek.

Things have changed a lot now. My daughters are not the only brown girls in the school. They do not get picked on for being brown.  But of course kids still get bullied. And I too give my daughters the same advice my parents gave me, walk away and inform the teacher. Stay away from those conflicts. And I know the teachers do their best now to keep bullying at bay. But sometimes they can’t be there and some kids just can’t control themselves. I don’t blame the kids, I know some times there is a serious issue that is affecting them. I do know that sometimes bullies have to be put in their place.

There is a boy (or two) in twin 2’s class that can’t control his arms and legs. He has to hit, he has to kick he has to push. The teacher can’t keep him in her sights every second, and I know she tries because Twin 2 has told me he is always being pulled aside and getting the ‘talk’. But it doesn’t stop him and he would be at it again in no time.

Then I told my daughter if he hit her again or hit any of her friends and the teacher was not there (something always happens at recess) she needed to tell him to stop and if he didn’t listen she needed to defend herself. Yes I told my daughter if he hit her she was to hit him right back.

I am not a violent person and neither are my daughters, they are gentle and caring. It was not advice I liked to give but I want my daughters to be able to stand up for themselves and I don’t want them to go through their entire school life before they learn to do it like I did. Bullies need to learn they can’t keep hitting with no consequences.

Anyways some days later twin 2 came home with a note informing me that she had broken said bully’s water bottle.  She told me that he had been hitting her in the hallway after recess and the teacher was nowhere close by so she had asked him to stop (he didn’t) and then she took matters in to her own hands, threw his bag thus breaking the precious water bottle. She was upset because she thought I would be upset at the note. I wasn’t,  but I had mixed feelings.  Would my baby now turn into a thug?

“Why did you break his bottle?”

“He wouldn’t stop, and I didn’t want to hit him. Are you mad?”

“No, of course not. Sometimes people don’t understand words, you had to make him stop somehow.”

I signed her note and gave her a hug. Being a parent is the hardest job in the world, I hope I have not given her the wrong advice.  So far she has not come home with any complaints of being bullied again and it is with great relief that I have not received any notes from school informing me that my daughter has taken it upon herself to bully the bullies.

Featured on Blog Her

A post I had written on Blog Her got featured. You can read it here. It is a rant on being balanced in life, and how we never follow this one simple rule and make our lives difficult.

Other than that if you have not been to Ripley’s Aquarium, then you must go there! If you live in Ontario that is, if you don’t then please visit whatever aquarium is near you, because sharks. And octopus..octopuses…octopusi? Google…yes it is octopuses (also octopi and octopodes. Doesn’t matter just go!

We took the kids on Saturday here are some of the amazing creatures we ogled at.

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I have about a million more pictures because everything was so snap worthy, you must go see the aquarium for yourself. But first go read my post on Blog Her!

Balance: Veil, Hijab, Topless Women

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(pic from CBC News)

The biggest problem facing society today besides reality shows, sorry I just couldn’t resist, is extremism. Extremists aren’t just a bunch of people (either dressed in all white or head-to-toe black) ready to kill anyone who doesn’t conform to their beliefs. Extremists are all those people who say I am right, and if you don’t agree you are Islamophobic, homophobic, white people phobic, Christian phobic, Jew phobic, or whatever-the-hell-else phobic.

Please someone tell me where has balance disappeared to?   I know what I am going to say next is going to get all sorts of glorious insults from either extremes. But please just hear me out, because we really need to bring balance back to our chaotic lives.

First Judge Marengo’s decision to ban Rania El-Alloul’s headscarf was unfair. The headscarf wasn’t disrespectful; it is a sign of respect in many cultures and religions.  It didn’t hinder any court room proceeding, wasn’t a threat to anyone, and since Canada gives equal rights to everyone should this have been made such a big deal? What was unsuitable about it? Canadian Nuns, Sikhs, Jews and Muslims cover their heads willingly because of their beliefs, they aren’t being forced to. So what is so offensive? Sunglasses and hats are worn for fashion, not belief. That is something quite different. And if the court is non-secular are they going to remove the Bible too?

So much time is being wasted on this issue when there are so many bigger problems to tackle. This could have been dealt with better using a bit of balance. Judge Marengo has every right not to like the headscarf, but does that really give her the right to make someone else take it off? I would understand if it was a big hindrance in her being able to do her job, but it wasn’t.  (Now before you rush to comment “go back to your own country” I have to tell you I was born here. Please continue to read before you judge me.)

On the other hand, although I respect Zunera Ishaq’s choice to cover her face, I have to say, that is exactly what it is. A choice. Scholars agree that covering a face is not mandatory. The head yes, but even then a woman can’t be forced. Her decision is between herself and God. Yes I am ready for the storm of condemnations to hell by fellow Muslims who will not agree to this fact. I should remind you before you do denounce me however that it is forbidden in Islam to denounce anyone. That decision belongs to God.

Zunera Ishaq should be allowed to cover her head which is mandatory. Banning women from headscarves that they take of their own free will would definitely be stealing their freedom. She shouldn’t have had a problem with uncovering her face for a short while during the Citizenship Ceremony, although I understand her reluctance since she has been covering it for so long. She needs to remember that Islam is a religion of ease not hardship.

‘God desires ease for you, and desires not hardship’ (2:185) 

The Holy Prophet (pbuh) always exhorted Muslims to follow a simple and balanced approach to life. He discouraged all forms of extreme behaviors. One of those extreme behaviors would be making this a bigger issue than it is. Many people have argued that this is a feminist issue, it is not. Just like women who insist on going topless is not. That is a personal choice. Just imagine if all rights were based on what someone really wanted to do and believed that it was correct. Everyone would have an issue. Let’s please bring balance back into our lives and stop making living harder than it has to be.

Family Dinner Discussions: How to talk about politics, drugs, poop and bad jokes.

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Dinner time and weekend breakfasts are great. When you all sit and eat and talk about stuff together. With all the kids there. My kids have grown older so they spend less time with me now. Or should I say I no longer have some small child clinging to my ankles crying its little head off because the cookies are finished or the cat is sleeping or unicorns aren’t real. I know a time is coming when I will actually miss that.

That going crazy trying to cook and clean and feed and do laundry, all with kids fighting and crying and lacing themselves up around my shins. Ok I guess it won’t be too soon that I will miss all that because every time I see a pregnant woman I drop down to my knees and shout “Hallelujah that’s not me!” I do love my kids though.

Which is why eating together is great. You know food, talk, love blah blah blah. Food is an excellent catalyst when it comes to loosening up tongues and inhibitions. We talk about everything at the dinner table. From politics to lame celebrity news to drugs and farting. We use language that would be otherwise frowned upon, but food just makes everything ok.

A couple of days ago we were eating when one of my teenagers commented about weed. I have learned so much about weed since my annoying inbetweeners became teenagers. For example I had no idea you could make weed brownies. Not that I am planning to or anything. But I feel quite appropriately enlightened. My seven year old twins know what weed smells like. I always thought it was a skunk gone haywire somewhere. This was good motivation to convince the kids that anything that smells that bad can’t be good. They have assured my they won’t smoke it. I have assured them I won’t always be around and they need to make smart decisions and will be accountable for their own actions. I then went on to tell them the grisly details of drug addiction. I hope those nightmares stay with them forever and they pass it down to their kids someday.

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These are baked without weed. Really.

Political discussions usually come on Saturday morning when I am making parathas and Teen 1 makes the omelet (du fromage btw-always). No matter what we start out talking about, it always winds its way to politics. And then there is much shouting and screaming. Especially after Teen 1 claims I am racist. I then tell her, very loudly, exactly what racist it, I was born and grew up in Canada when people were less enlightened and very racist. I am not racist, I just have a keen interest in conspiracy theories.  War is a big money maker, wars are planned. For the greater good of the privileged few.  And I am Mom, I have seen the world. I am right. End of discussion. Go read some damn history books.

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Seriously though our kids only know what the media tells them, they need to read more books. I lecture on this at great lengths, I know they will retain some of it, and realize there are two sides to every story, someday. Just like I did.

Then of course there is poop. No discussion is ever complete without poop or fart jokes. Or some other jokes. Yesterday Teen 1 whipped out her cell phone in the middle of dinner to tell us some great jokes. They were awful. I hope you enjoy them as much as we did. (Note:extreme stupid ahead)

What’s worse than finding a worm in your apple?

The Holocaust.

Why did the boy drop his ice cream?

Because he got hit by a bus.

What’s red and smells like blue paint?

Red paint.

An Irishman walks out of a bar.

What’s green and has wheels?

Grass. I lied about the wheels.

A dyslexic man walks into a bra.

How do you confuse a blond?

Paint yourself green and throw forks at her.

Knock, knock.

Who’s there?

Dave.

Dave who?

Dave proceeds to break into tears as his grandmother’s Alzheimer has progressed to the point where she can no longer remember him.

What did the farmer say when he lost his tractor?

Where’s my tractor?

Why are black people good at basketball?

Dedication and hard work.

Roses are grey, violets are grey. I am a dog.

What do you discuss at the dining table?

(All ridiculous humor from here http://anti-joke.com/)

The art of chai or Dear white people that stuff you think is chai, isn’t

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I hate to burst your bubble, but that stuff you buy in paper cups that is sold as chai, isn’t chai. Chai is already perfect, you don’t turn it into a latte, or serve it iced and pour it into paper cups. Only a chai lover will truly understand the pain this causes to see chai that is not chai, advertised as chai.

Chai is an art, with a history of 5000 years. Made through a time-honored process that needs no further innovation, it should be served in vessels made of something more substantial than cheap waxy paper. It is too royal for that, legend has it that chai was invented by some ancient Indian king. So you are welcome dear white people, from all us brown people, for both coffee (walla habibi!) and chai.

There are of course different types of (authentic) chai.  Masala chai, dhoodh pathi chai, Kashmiri chai and just the basic dhum ki wi chai (steeped chai) which is my favorite. Now allow me to enlighten you all.

Basic Chai

Tapal

This is the stuff we use. However…

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…this also works.

First of all you need really good tea leaves. I am sorry Tetley you just don’t have what it takes.  A lot of desi people will swear by Lipton. I honestly feel sorry for those poor lost souls. You have not had tea until you have had Tapal. Brooke Bond is the only one I trust if I can’t find Tapal. You should be able to find Tapal Tea at the local Indian/Pakistani grocery store. And if they don’t have it, ask them why the hell not.  When we were in Karachi, we used to buy a brand called Flying Horse. It was excellent, but after we had Tapal we never looked back.

1 tsp Tapal tea leaves per cup (I never use tea bags)

Water-cups per people you want to indulge

Sugar to taste

Cream to taste (I use 10%)

Tea pot (very important!)

Tea strainer (also very important)

Boil your water, and do not let it boil away if you are using a saucepan. Over boiling the water spoils the taste. I am serious, it makes a huge difference. I use an electric kettle, so the water is never over boiled.

Pour some hot water into the tea pot to warm it up, swirl it around and throw away the water.

Add your tea leaves to the warm tea pot, pour in your boiling water. Cover the tea pot (very important!) Let it steep for at least five minutes. Do not pour the tea out before this! Tea is an art, it has to be done properly people!

Take a quarter teaspoon of sugar and stir it in the tea pot. Strain out your tea into cups, add your cream and sugar and enjoy the best cup of tea you will ever have. People come to my house and ask me to make them this tea, it is that good.  I have been told by countless people I make the best tea ever. I brag not. Well actually yes I do, because it is really that good. What can I say?

You might be thinking cream? Not with my diet or whatever, the fact is if you use milk, the tea tastes a little too watery. And it’s not like you drink ten cups a day. Unless of course, you do drink ten cups a day. In which case I suggest you cut down and settle for very well made morning and evening tea rather than ten cups of watery stuff.

Dhoodh Pathi Chai

It is just basic chai without using any water at all. So whatever number of cups of milk with an equal amount of teaspoons of tea, on medium heat in a saucepan. Stir occasionally and cook till you get the color (strength) you want, add sugar and strain out into cups. Some people will use a ratio of half water and milk. But I follow Nigella’s philosophy (“I don’t believe in low fat cooking”) and use cream and milk. Damn it is so good.

Masala Chai

Masala chai is just dhoodh pathi with some spices cooked with it. I personally don’t like this chai at all. But it is very popular with most desi people. It is a specialty of dhabbas (roadside restaurants and truck stops). You can add any or all of these:

Cinnamon (1 inch piece should be good for 1 to 2 cups)

Green Cardamom (about 1 per cup)

Ginger (few thin slices per cup)

Black pepper (ground- 2 or 3 per cup)

Cloves (I’d say 1 per cup- it gives a really strong taste)

Nutmeg (to taste)

I’ve given the minimum amounts as I feel these are really to overpowering and spoil the taste, but people seem to like it, so it really depends on your taste. The common dhabba recipe usually just uses cardamoms and cloves.

Kashmiri Chai

This tea takes a little patience, but it is oh so heavenly. And it is pink, the most perfect pink ever.

4 cups milk

4 cups cold water

2 tbsps heaped kashmiri tea leaves

½ tsp Baking soda

¼ tsp Salt

5 to 6 Cardamoms

1 star anise

3 inch piece of cinnamon

Sugar to taste

Finely sliced almonds and pistachios to garnish

In a saucepan add your cold water and all the dried ingredients (except sugar and nuts) and boil. Once it starts to boil, let it simmer for about half an hour till the water is reduced to about half a cup. Turn off the stove and add a glass of cold water. Pour this mixture back and forth between two saucepans to cause it to froth. Do this about 15 to 20 times (pouring from one to the other). Return the saucepan to heat and add the milk and sugar. Boil then simmer covered for about five minutes, leave the lid open a little so the milk doesn’t boil out. Strain out into cups and garnish with nuts.

Don’t forget to read this post on chai, on one of my favorite blogs: Communicating Across Boundaries.