Boxes and Banners by Mississauga Arts Council

I have always admired the street art that adorns Toronto so I was overjoyed when the Mississauga Arts Council started their Boxes and Banners Project to beautify (artify!) Mississauga streets. I am humbled to be one of the lucky artists who painted a Bell box.

Here is my box’s transformation!

It was unveiled amidst a bit of fanfare with the Mississauga Arts Council and some of its board members, the local Councillor and singer Arlene Paculan to serenade us. There was ice cream for everyone who attended the unveiling, and yes it was one hot day!

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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.

Balance: Veil, Hijab, Topless Women

Rania El Alloul

(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.

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.

 

 

You know you are Desi when…

I don’t want to make other races feel left out or anything and I am sure a lot of you could relate to the following traits, but there are just some things that really let you know you are desi.

You know you are desi when…

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“We are out of groceries” looks like this.  Desi people have this insane fear in the back of their cranium somewhere that when the apocalypse comes we won’t have enough groceries. So we should always be prepared with a surplus, no amount of groceries are ever enough.

You know you are desi when…

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Your freezer is full of containers that are highly misleading as to their contents.  For example you will not find yogurt, ice cream or cream cheese (who keeps cream cheese in the freezer?) in any of these containers. Surprise! If you are desi you will know that they all contain some type of curry. You can never have too much curry, never know when the zombies might come.

You know you are desi when…

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This is something you use for an earache.

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You have used these for toothaches.

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This solves every gastric trouble in medical history.

And this…

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…is the solution for every other ailment under the sun.

You know you are desi when…

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…every cupboard contains a bag …that contains countless bags. Every. Cupboard.

When the zombies come we will have plenty of bags to tie them up in. Of course up here in Canada we won’t have a zombie apocalypse,  that kind of stuff only happens in America.  We will of course send the bags to our American neighbors. Polite Canadians.

You know you are desi when…

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This bin is overflowing every two days.  I fear the day when garbage pickup will be scheduled for every other week.

You know you are desi when…

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…you still think the kids are feeling cold.

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Dear white lady, please excuse my curry aura.

Rural Indian Woman cooking food in the Kitchen

Desi cooking. It is the epitome of a love hate relationship. Love to eat it. Hate to smell it. The smell of spicy curry on rice is slightly different when it lingers on your clothes. Your walls. Your couch. Damn it even the cat.

It takes a small fortune on fabric fresheners, candles, and what not to keep our houses free from the infuriating curry smell. Curry which we cook many times throughout the week.  Dry wall loves curry. The entire house just soaks all that spicy smell up and that contraption known as the kitchen exhaust is a useless noisemaker.

There needs to be some kind of innovation in house making seriously, special materials for people who do a lot of eastern cooking. Yes I have to include the entire east because our lives depend on garlic, onions, and spices. And bak choy. Have you ever smelt the after effects of cooking bak choy?  Ugh!

We eastern cooking people are the reason the scent industry will continue to flourish, prosper and cause the remaining ozone layer to vanish completely.  We have cans of air freshener in every corner of the house, which we use fervently especially in winter when windows can’t be opened. Winter is the worst when it comes to curry…aromas.

The day of the winter concert my daughters were super excited to be performing (for the one millionth time). We were invited in the evening to watch them. My husband had forgotten about it and suddenly came down with every ailment in the book when reminded of the evening’s agenda.

I let him off the hook and offered to just go by myself. Even I had been trying to talk the girls out of it. (Don’t judge me, I usually get excited about watching them perform every year even after hearing the songs every day for two months from all three of them.)But it had been a very tiring week.

I was running late, I wanted to get dinner cooked before I left so the kids could come home, eat and we could just wind the evening up. By 7pm I am so sleepy I can fall asleep while eating dinner. Curry facials are not good for your skin.

Spaghetti and meatballs for the kids. Desi guy doesn’t like pasta. At all. So I had decided to cook bihari kababs that day for him. Biggest mistake ever. In my haste to get to school I just grabbed my coat after I turned off the stove and ran outside. Ignoring the yells of the spray cans containing various scented toxic liquids that decorated our house.

I herded the girls in the direction of their classes and then went to the gym to await the performance. There were no seats left so I had to stand at the entrance. Where it was nice and airy. Till my friend spotted me and dragged me back with her because she had an extra seat (she pulled her youngest out of said seat and sat him on her lap for the whole evening-I love my friends). It was crowded. Packed. You could smell snow and salt. And bihari kabab.

I felt like kicking myself. I whispered my horror to my friend who smiled and said, “yeah I wondered what you had been cooking. Great korma smell!”

“Bihari kabab,” I said.

“Well I don’t mind,” she giggled.

But the white lady sitting next to me did. A lot. Out of the corner of my eye I saw her stiffen. I saw her slowly rise and leave. To sit on some chair she was lucky enough to find in that packed gym away from me. Dear white lady from the winter concert at the school gym, I am extremely sorry, please excuse my curry aura.

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Arranged Marriage:Dear (Not So) Suitable Boy

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Contrary to the Indian movies that often portray every young girl’s goal in life as securing that Suitable Boy’s proposal, most girls just wanted to have fun.

Dear (Not so ) Suitable Boy,

I have been meaning to write to you for some time now (about 20 years) but somewhere along the way, after I realized you most certainly were not my knight in shining armor, I married someone else and had five kids. So yeah I was a bit preoccupied. No, I didn’t end up marrying the knight in shining armor. He still hasn’t shown up. Curse you, Disney. Curse you.

I remembered you and your audacious proposal yesterday night as I was scooping fat cat’s dehydrated poop out of the litter box. Please don’t be offended, you do not in any way remind me of dehydrated cat poop. I just get random thoughts scooping poop.

I just want you to know that it never would have worked. I was done the second I realized I was about to be shown off like prize cattle, when I saw you sitting there in my aunt’s drawing-room with your mom, your dad and your female sibling. I am surprised you didn’t bring your grandparents. I stopped at the door and I checked you out. Sorry I wasn’t raised in Pakistan, yeah I checked you out and you did not even make my “last guy in the world list”. But let’s be honest, you were there with your family to do the exact same thing. I just beat you to it.

Yes, in those few seconds I was able to sum you up and sweep you aside. I was a narcissistic nineteen year old what could you expect? I knew I was on every eligible bachelor’s mom’s list, most likely first or second, because I fit what every desi mother-in-law wanted. Tall, thin, fair, but most importantly, Canadian National. God bless our hypocritical, stereotypical desi double standards!

Besides being turned off by the fact that I was about to be paraded in front of a guy I did not know (why can’t people just arrange a normal lunch with lots of people?) it was the moustache. That ridiculously thick moustache that made Tom Selleck look like a fuzzy lipped female. Had you never heard of Johnny Depp? Apparently not. You looked like a forty-five year old, (yes I am aware that you were not actually forty-five, but damn that was some ‘stache!) a forty-five year old who was accompanied by his parents and little sister to check out a nineteen year old chick. That is not a good first impression.

I did my utmost to be as obnoxious as possible to your mom and little sis. I refused to go into the drawing-room to meet you, I didn’t see the point since I had already decided we were most certainly NOT meant to be. So they came to meet me in the other room. I disagreed with everything your sister said, I mocked the fact that she didn’t enjoy Jane Austen which she was required to read for school. I love Jane Austen. The second a tray of drinks was brought in I hopped up and rudely grabbed a drink for myself to the shock of both my aunts.  And your mom. I wanted her to realize what Canadian National meant. It meant I was not the standard docile girl who had been embedded with the concept that I had to marry whichever Suitable Boy thought I met his mom’s standards. I would not be cajoled into an arranged marriage just because everyone thought you were a Suitable Boy.

Fourteen hundred years ago my religion gave me the right to decide if I liked a guy enough to marry him, but along the line somewhere all that got lost in stupid cultural backwardness. Up till the point where girls were displayed to be evaluated by a boy and his family. To see whether or not she was good-looking enough, submissive enough, to make a good daughter-in-law and wife. Then the poor girl waited, hoping not to be rejected as Prince Charming went on to check out the next eight girls on Mama’s list.

The point of all this is, you probably have kids now. Unless you jumped off a cliff in a fit of drama, your ego bruised by a girl who had the impudence to refuse.  If you have a daughter please don’t parade her in front of dozens of young men and their families. Let her peek in the drawing-room first. And if she doesn’t want to go in and meet them, don’t make her.

Sincerely,

The Canadian National you are so lucky not to have gotten hitched to.

P.S. Do remind her however, that the knight in shining armor rarely shows up, she should not waste her precious time waiting for him.

Art Exhibit at MuslimFest 2014

MuslimFest was lots of fun for the kids. Jumping castles, slides and face painting. Lots of food and music. Big crowd!

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This was painted live (but I missed it ) just outside the art exhibit.

My stuff was right in front and got the best light (lucky me)

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This is the picture that sold. Yay!

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This is some other work exhibited there. I messed up the pic and the lighting wasn’t the best in this corner. But the paintings were good.

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These are prints someone had put up of their original work. There were a lot of other paintings but the kids didn’t want to stay more than five minutes and I couldn’t get any more pictures. The jumping castle was becoming a matter of life or death for them.

Gotta clean the house today (although I am really tempted to start another painting) before the health department puts a quarantine sign on our front lawn. Yes it is THAT bad. The summer vacation needs to end now.