Friday, May 12, 2017

This lovely young lady... graduating with her Bachelor's degree at the end of the summer.

She is graduating a semester early, but for the purpose of graduate school, it puts her a whole year ahead. She has made the decision to stay in Auburn, since she has been accepted as a grad student in the Communications Disorders department. That works great for all of us, and she will be able to continue to live with her brother, just off campus.

We are so proud of her, and have faith that she is going to accomplish great things in her life!

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Spring Break- Beach vacation

Thursday morning we headed out to Destin, Florida, for the last four days of spring break week. Late March and early April may not be the best time to be at the beach if you like to go in the water, but we had done our research ahead of time, and had planned some activities even before we left.

The first stop we made we we made it down to the Gulf Coast, was Stinky's Fish Camp for lunch. The restaurant has been recommended to us in the past, but it was our first time eating there.

We stayed at a hotel that was just across the road from the beach, with its own private access, so we headed to check it out not long after we arrived.

Then Bilal and I let Baba rest for a while, and I took him down to the pool for a swim. It may be an outdoor pool, and it may have only been March, but he thought the water temperature was perfect!

We took a trip to the outlets in the evening, and got stuck in a thunderstorm while we were there, but those couple of hours were the only time the weather wasn't perfect for our vacation.

Another trip to the beach, after finding Bilal the perfect pair of goggles.

Harborwalk Village was another great place to visit, with various activities to keep our guy entertained. Ziplining!

Rock wall climbing!

And lots of quaint shops to browse around the marina.

Lunch was funnel cake. Only on vacation!

In the evening we visited the Village at Baytowne Wharf, which we realized, is actually a lot more enjoyable in the summer even though the crowds are a lot bigger. Still the walk towards the Marina was lovely.

The next day, we ventured out  to a small amusement park called The Track. Go-karts and putt-putt golf, what's not to enjoy?

Another trip to the beach, and another day doing some shopping.

Plus a delicious sashimi dinner; the platter looked almost to pretty to eat!

Bilal enjoyed having Mama and Baba's undivided attention, without his older siblings around. But he admitted that it would have been more fun with them! Sadly, vacations as a family of five are becoming quite infrequent, since Safa is at school all this summer, and spring/fall breaks all fall on different weeks. In fact, for the five of us to all be under the same roof is not too common anymore. Such is life, when our children grow up.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Spring Break- the staycation

Spring Break was staggered this year; Safa and Hamza were back in college before Bilal even had a day off. That puts a damper in things when you're trying to plan a family vacation. However, this year we decided to go out of town for a few days, even if it would just be with Bilal. We decided to split the week, and stay home for the first half. I worked Monday and took the rest of the week off to hang out with the little guy.

On Tuesday, we put the dog and the bike into the car, and headed to Railroad Park. The weather was perfect!

As you can see, Atlas loves his occasional car rides (as long as he's not headed to the vet's office!) At the park I enjoyed a stroll with the dog, while Bilal zoomed ahead on his bike.

 We paused to watch the freight trains go by.

After the park, we stopped off for special treats on the way home. Oreo cheesecake milkshake for B!

Wednesday was spent packing, and mostly around the house. We dropped Atlas off at the kennel in the afternoon, and spent the evening walking around the neighborhood. Part 2 of Spring Break soon to come!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Out with a bang!

2017 is Bilal's third year doing GaTE marketplace, the fundraiser for Trussville City Schools' Gifted and Talented Education program. And by now, he's a pro. In third grade his waffle business turned a $77 profit for the program, but was a lot of hard work (especially for the moms). The fourth grade guitar pick jewelry was a lot less work during the day of Marketplace, but the $68 profit (after donating the cost of supplies) was a little more modest. This year's product was a bit of a hybrid, some at-home prep and on-site cooking. But quite a successful one. We again capitalized on the human olfactory sense, and it didn't fail us. The business, called 'Wacky Wings', was another hit!  This is one of the ads posted as we entered the lunchroom, where the businesses were set up.

Bilal worked in a partnership with two other classmates, selling chicken wings. The wings were baked at home and transported to the school, along with an induction hotplate, serving supplies, and three different types of sauces: honey barbecue, honey mustard and teriyaki.

Here are the business owners, just before the customers started lining up:

Each sauce was heated in a separate pot, and the wings were tossed in the heated up sauce before being served to the customers. The moms were able to stand behind, while the boys got to work, with minimal supervision.

As soon as the honey barbecue sauce aroma started wafting through the lunchroom, the customers started lining up. Less than one hour later, (including a bidding war for the last two chicken wings, which resulted in them selling for $4 each instead of $1 each), the wings were sold out, with a $82.75 profit to show for it.

So Bilal's third, and final, marketplace came to an end in a good way. Next up, preparing for middle school!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Growing fast, but holding on

So sweet that my ten year old still asks me to come to school to eat lunch with him. I'm not sure how long it will last, but I plan to enjoy it while I can. I met this guy for Valentine's Day lunch today:

Bilal will be headed to middle school next year, and I'm pretty sure parents don't typically show up for lunch with their child in sixth grade or above. So I don't have many more opportunities left. I will certainly be back before the end of the school year!

Next week is curriculum night at the middle school, the first step towards the transition to a new school. It seems hard to believe that, effective June 2017, I will no longer have a child left in elementary school. Despite the adversities we have faced with his health (open heart surgery at two months of age, followed by two surgeries to treat his chronic sinusitis, and dealing with his asthma), it seems as if the years have flown by. Each milestone is bittersweet; losing my baby, but gaining a respectful, maturing young man as a son instead.

Love you sweet baby boy!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016


I don't think I have ever felt so singled out in my adult life as I did today. Ironically, it was because of a very well intended comment.

As a Muslim woman, I recently started covering (Hijab). Great timing, right? Right. It was the right time in my life, so that's all that mattered to me. I didn't think of the looming Islamophobia, which has been the undertone in the United States, but has come into the forefront after the most recent presidential election. The stories we hear in the media about citizens being harassed and attacked due to Muslim clothing have been unnerving, to say the least. But within the past few of months, hijab has become a part of me and who I am. Every time I leave the house, I throw a scarf over my head without even a second thought.

Today, I was shopping for some office essentials at Sam's Club (a store I typically avoid like the plague, as my husband will affirm!).  As I stopped to snag a free sample of dish washing detergent (a brand I regularly use; nifty, huh?) an elderly gentleman came up to wait his turn. I was grumbling that the freebie machine was making me watch a video before dispensing the sample. The elderly, and I have to say, very loud gentleman, greeted me with "Hi, how are you doing?" and continued with "Good to see you!" For a moment I was taken aback with what sounded like a tone of familiarity. Was this someone I actually knew? Surely not a neighbor, or acquaintance, or (gasp) a patient I see in my medical practice and just didn't recognize? Then his next comment dispelled that notion. With his booming voice he then said "Don't you stop wearing that thing!" (pointing to the scarf I was covering my hair with). "I just wanted to tell you I'm an American. And I think you should wear whatever you want." I responded with a rather hesitant but pleasant, "Thank you, I'm an American too." Then he continued, in his very loud, almost shouting voice, "Don't you ever forget I'm telling you that! You wear whatever you want!" By then I had started backing away, although was able to smile at him, and get out a very polite, "I appreciate your support," before moving on to another part of the store. I understand, in his own way, he was trying to make me feel welcome; heck, it might just be his crude way of showing respect. But for those few minutes I wanted a hole to open up in the concrete floor of the store, and for me to disappear into it. I nervously glanced around the store, hoping that no other customers had stopped to listen to what this very loud gentleman was saying.  Thankfully, there aren't many other folks shopping at Sam's Club on a Tuesday morning, but I did see a couple of people glancing my way. And I'm pretty sure that some shoppers were definitely listening, because as I was checking out at the register, another elderly, but much softer spoken gentleman paused to say, "I like your scarf." A rather out of place comment, I thought.

Yes, I am Muslim, and I am very proud of that. But it doesn't make me fundamentally different from another customer shopping at Sam's Club, on a dull, rainy Tuesday morning (unless that other customer actually enjoys shopping at Sam's!).  I walk the same aisles, browse the same items, and probably make some of the same purchases too! I have kids and pets at home, I have a job and pay my taxes. I celebrate most of the same holidays, and send my kid to the same schools. The list of the mundane that we have in common, can go on and on. But in addition to the cozy sweater I wear to keep myself warm, I just happen to cover my hair with a scarf. Granted, the religion I practice is different from many, but that's a private thing for me, as it is for most practicing Christians, Jews, Hindus, and people of other faiths.

I'm a social person; I am quite comfortable making small talk with people I bump into while standing in line at the grocery store, the post office, the bank, etc. I greet strangers with a smile and a nod. But today's rather one-sided chat made me a little uncomfortable. It was almost as if he intended to make me feel different. I know I should feel grateful that the gentleman was 'supportive,' and not an Islamophobic citizen spewing expletives at me, or calling me 'ISIS', or even worse. But then, why did I feel that he was doing me a favor, allowing me to wear what I wanted? Could it not just be taken for granted? Wearing a scarf on my head should be as acceptable as wearing a hat. Or pink socks. Or a trench coat. Or any other item of clothing that serves a purpose. Or heck, even if it doesn't serve a purpose, who are we to just each other based on our appearances?

So, the next time you bump into me while shopping at the grocery store, let's chat about the weather. It has been raining almost non-stop in Central Alabama for the past four days. A much needed reprieve from the 2-3 months of extreme drought and wildfires, and 300 percent water usage surcharges. It's been so dry for so long, that no-one can seem to find their umbrellas. That's worth some friendly discourse for sure!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Our kids and our money...

... both go to Auburn University.

Who cares if Auburn lost the Iron Bowl?

War eagle!

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Playing catch up

I'm so far behind on blogging, so I thought I'd just share a few photos of the past month or two, in (somewhat) chronological order. How far behind? The boys haven't been in the pool for several weeks, but here you go, this is the last dip before the start of fall:

Although, honestly, the pool is probably still not too cold, considering we hit a record high of 86 degrees yesterday!

Hat day at school in support of the United Way. Bilal is sporting his squid hat:

A weekend trek down to the Cahaba River:

Can you tell how low the water is in the river? The kids are actually walking on the river bed. Currently we are dealing with a severe drought in Alabama. In fact, I don't think it has rained in our area, in about 2 months, at least, not enough to be detectable. There is a ban on outdoor burns and there have been several wildfires in the area. We have also given up on watering our lawn.

Just about a week ago, this is unseasonably warm, even for Alabama!

Morning game of Lego Star Wars and a delicious cup of tea:

A lunch time treat with the nephews, on the way back home from Sunday School last week:

On Monday we attended the Open House at Paine Elementary School; the new construction is finally complete. This is Bilal standing in front of the new centralized office, linking the North and South Campuses of the school:

And with our awesome fifth grade tour guides, inside the new library:

Annual costume party at the dojo. If you can identify my kid in the group, you'll see that he wore the most creative costume (NOT!), his karate gi. He decided to go to the karate costume party as a black belt:

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Truly Life changing

We are so blessed that we were invited to perform Hajj this year, the holy pilgrimage to the Kaa'ba in Makkah, Saudi Arabia. It is a trip that took a lot of preparation, both physical and spiritual. The few photographs I took really don't do justice to the trip, since it was an experience that transcends just a few photographs, but I can say in the true sense of the word, that it was life changing. Hajj is one of the pillars of Islam, to be performed at least once in a Muslim's lifetime. If performed with good Niyyah (intentions), it will wipe away all sins committed prior to the pilgrimage, and you return as pure as the day you were born. Of course, it is essential to continue to live your life as a good Muslim, trying to minimize negative actions, and essentially following the guidance obtain from our holy book, the Quran, and the Sunnah, the teachings of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, PBUH (peace be upon him).

We started the trip one day early, due to the potential threat of inclement weather in New York. Instead of departing on Sunday morning, we booked a flight for Saturday afternoon from Birmingham, in order to reach NY ahead of any storms. Fortunately the weather remained calm, but we were spared the stress of the 'what ifs'. As is typically prior to a long journey, sleep did not come easily for the couple of nights prior to our travel, so we were pretty tired before we even boarded our flight from NYC to Madinah. Caffeine, of course, helps.

Our flight departed just after sunset, so we had the opportunity to enjoy the pretty view of the sun setting over our prospective plane, just before we boarded.

Our flight took us directly to Madinah, where we were scheduled to spend a few days prior to departing to Jeddah buy plane, and ultimately to Makkah where the actual rituals of Hajj are performed. Arriving at Madinah airport:

We took buses to our hotel in Madinah. The unnerving thing was having to hand over our passports to the Saudi officials as soon as we boarded the bus, but we were promised that they were in good hands and would be closely monitored.

For the first night we were given a small room, facing inwards, so our view comprised a few interior walls of the hotel. But on the following day we received a new room assignment, and this was the view of Masjid e Nabawi (the mosque of the Holy Prophet PBUH) from our room:

This is how the courtyard looks during daylight hours; it is shaded but multiple automated umbrellas, which keep the ground cool, and people can pray in the courtyard, without being scorched from the sun. Of course, the inside of the mosque is also open for prayer, but many Muslims preferred to pray out in the open here. At dusk, the umbrellas all closed down into pillars so you could see the courtyard.

And at night, as the lights went on, it was a beautiful sight. This is one of the minarets at night:

A wider view of the mosque:

We were blessed to be able to enjoy this view throughout our stay in Madinah, just by stepping towards the window of our room. The inside of the mosque was beautiful too:

Due to our schedule, and the days we spent in Madinah, we had a couple of days when the mosque was not crowded at all. It was an amazing experience to pray behind the Imam here, five times per day, something that is extremely difficult to do while living at a certain distance from our local mosque in the United states, and of course, with our work schedules.

After an entire day of prayer and relaxation, we visited some holy sites in the areas surrounding Madinah. We started the trip early in the morning, in order to be done before breakfast, and before the temperature hit the typical 115-118 Fahrenheit we experienced during our entire stay in Saudi Arabia. The first stop was at Masjid Quba, the first mosque in Madinah. We made prayers here, which is Sunnah, i.e., was performed by the Holy Prophet PBUH.

After praying, we took some time to shop for dates at the stores built around the mosque. You can't leave Saudi Arabia without stocking up on dates! Then we drove by (but didn't stop at) Masjid al Qiblatain, another historic mosque. This is the only mosque that has two qiblas (prayer directions). This is the mosque where historically the entire congregation changed their direction of prayer from Jerusalem to Makkah, after Muhammad PBUH received a command from Allah.

We also drove by a location where the Battle of the Trench had happened. Finally, we stopped at Uhud, another historic battle site. Here, we made prayers for the martyrs of the battle, where many Muslim lives were lost.

Currently there is a mosque under construction there.

We spent the rest of the day making prayers at Masjid e Nabawi, and attending lectures from some very learned Imams, some were guests and others traveled with us from the United States. This is how we spent most of the time in Madinah. The lectures were extremely insightful, and have had a great impact on making me realize what improvements I need to make in my own life. Between lectures and prayers in congregation, we rarely got over 2 hours of sleep straight, but there was an amazing burst of adrenaline that kept us going.

One night at midnight we had the opportunity to attended a guided walking tour of Masjid e Nabawi and its surrounding areas. We learned a lot about the history of the mosque and its expansion.

We walked to the exhibition of the glorious names of Allah, the glorious names of Muhammad PBUH, and the Quran museum, with the plan to return later and actually see the exhibits.

Here, at a distance, you can see Baqee, where 10,000 of the companions of the Prophet PBUH are buried:

The green dome over the Rawdah of the Holy Prophet PBUH (where he is buried) was built in the time of the Ottoman Empire:

Another one of the highlights of the time spent in Madinah was the opportunity to spend Jum'aa (Friday) prayers there. We arrived at the mosque a couple of hours early, so that we could find space to sit inside before the start of prayers.

It's quite surreal, walking underneath the shade of these huge umbrellas. Zakir and I dressed in local attire; it was quite amusing when several ladies started to talk to me in Arabic. Of course I didn't understand a single word! But I suppose it means we fit right in!

The rituals of Hajj begin with the Haji (person performing Hajj) changing into Ihram. For women, this is essentially showering and putting on clothes that appropriately cover their body, except face and hands. However, for men, this comprises two pieces of unstitched clothing, one worn to cover the lower part of the body including your knees, and the other for the upper torso. Men are prohibited to wear anything on their head in the state of Ihram. Showering and changing is permitted while wearing Ihram, but no products can be applied that contain any kind of fragrance. We changed into Ihram in Madinah, before heading to the airport to fly to Jeddah.

We recited the intention of Hajj and Umrah, collectively, while on the plane. Arriving in Jeddah:

We took chartered buses to our hotel in Makkah, and again were assigned a room with a beautiful view of the Haram, or Masjid al Haram. Even more spectacular, since we were on the 43rd floor. I don't think I've ever lived that high up before! There is expansion going on around the Haram, so the crane did mar our view a bit, but still, amazing! In the center is the Kaa'ba, where tawaf is performed (circling the Kaaba seven times while reciting prayers). This was also part of our Umrah. Since there were few people there the first day we arrived, the ritual did not take long. It was followed by drinking Zamzam water and Sa'i, which was walking seven times between the hills of Safa and Marwa. I admit, it was a little hard with my sprained ankle (it happened two weeks before our trip), but we completed it, all, during the first day in Makkah.

After Sa'i, inside the haram:

And this is the famous clock tower in Makkah, in front of Masjid al Haram:

The Kaa'ba by night from our room:

After performing Umrah we traveled early next morning to Arafat, which is the most essential part of performing Hajj. The Hujjaj spend the day and most of the night in tents. The first part of the day is spent resting while the important part starts after the midday prayers. The day was spent remembering Allah, and reciting prayers, both personally and collectively, as well as recitation of the Holy Quran and a couple of very inspiring lectures. The tent we had was well decorated and even had air conditioning!

In the evening we headed to Muzdalifah for a few hours. In this location, there are no tents, and very few amenities. We spent the evening and part of the night, resting on rugs in the open air. It was quite a humbling experience. You can tell we look pretty worn out! After leaving here we traveled by train to Mena, to perform stoning of the Jamaraat, another ritual of Hajj.

We returned to Makkah during the morning of Eid, and had to walk a quite a distance to our hotel because of the road closures during Eid prayers. We again performed tawaf; this time the Haram was much more crowded, and then we removed our Ihram garments back at the hotel. Part of coming out of Ihram is that men either cut their hair or shave their heads, and women cut about an inch of their hair too. I admit, Zakir was relieved to be back in 'real' clothes!

In the evening we traveled to Mena, where we again spent time in tents, listened to lectures by scholars, and performed prayers in congregation. We also has some opportunity for quiet prayer and meditation. We returned to Makkah for a few hours, and then back to Mena to spend the entire night in the camp. This night coincided with the 30th anniversary of Dar el Salam travel, the agency we used to plan our trip, so there was a special celebration, and a huge cake!

I have to say, we were very well fed during our entire trip, with something for every palate during each meal. We again performed stoning of the Jamaraat (a total of three times). Last year, sadly, there had been a stampede during this ritual, and several Hujjaj had lost their lives. This year was much better organized, in spite of the huge number of people there. Returning to the Mena camp after stoning the Jamaraat:

In Makkah, there we many more people at the Haram, performing tawaf. Our last part of Hajj in Makkah was returning to the Kaa'ba for our third tawaf. We actually performed this on a higher level in the mosque, due to the mass of Hujjaj on the lower levels. So it took over an hour and a half, compared to the twenty or so minutes during our first day, but hey, that's just extra time to make prayers! You can see how much busier it was during the day and night:

After Tawaf al Wida (the farewell tawaf), we packed up and prepared to travel to Jeddah, where we would be boarding our flight to JFK airport. We met with friends at dinner time and had the chance to snap a few photos. We actually made great connections on this trip and hope to remain in touch with the friends we made.

 Headed from Makkah to Jeddah:

So, we arrived at JFK, and took a shuttle to La Guardia, headed back to Birmingham, via Chicago. Of course, by the time we reached La Guardia we had been awake for about 24 hours straight (who can sleep in cramped plane seats anyway?), so it was back to square one.

A little caffeine to keep us going!

It still feels a little surreal that Zakir and I have completed the most important journey of our lives. I believe that, in many ways, these two weeks have been truly life changing, and I am already trying to implement what I have learned in my day to day life. Praying that Allah gives me the strength to do so!

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