Friday, May 26, 2017

Rainy weather? Or respite from the heat?

We have all heard the "glass half empty half full" maxim. I was recently reminded of this.

I shared a screenshot of the weather forecast yesterday and captioned it with "Seriously ?!!!"

It was a horrible weather forecast for weary Torontonians waiting for the much promised summer weather. I mean, this is end of May, and nearly June!!! Where is the heat?

One of my friends then commented, "Barakah for fasting".

I was literally blown away with that comment. I never even looked at it that way. I mean, my last post was about how hard Ramadan could be for some people fasting here for 17 hours in the heat! And here I was, showing cool, wet temperatures and complaining about it. Not to mention that rain is considered a time when prayers are accepted, as is Ramadan, and here the two were together.

Truly, a Barakah.

PS. BTW the latest forecast has called for rain even on Saturday. So ...

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Ramadan Can Be Hard

This is the time of the year the our Facebook feed is full of articles about the 'wonders of Ramadan', or of how this is a 'magical time of the year' and how to 'increase our piety and good deeds' or even the occasional 'how to get fit in Ramadan' guide.

Without taking ANY thing away from those posts - really Ramadan IS a wonderful time of the year, it IS a time to get fit, both spiritually and mentally, and it IS something we wait for all year round, we also have to acknowledge one important thing.

Ramadan can be hard.

Yes, it's not a blasphemous statement to make that fasting at this time of the year can be hard for various groups of people. Rather than shunning those views, let's examine them and learn why it can be hard, and how we can plan for it.

If it wasn't hard, it wouldn't be a test. The Quran is clean in 2:183, that fasting is a way for us to attain piety. Piety is also tied to discipline, which means doing what is prescribed for us and abstaining from what is forbidden. That is not easy, but Ramadan gives us a training in discipline. So why can it be hard?

  1. Physically these are the longest times of the year. In Toronto, Canada Fajr is around 4 am and Maghreb around 9 pm. That's almost 17 hours without food, and more importantly, water.
  2. For those that work in a non-Muslim country, everyone around you is eating and drinking, and carrying on as normal. Meanwhile you are hungry, thirsty, and yet expected to be as productive and energetic as usual. Unlike Muslim countries, where Ramadan almost has a magical holiday atmosphere around it, this is missing in the West.
  3. For those that live in the northern areas, it's hard to find the time to pray full taraweeh, sleep, eat proper iftar and suhoor, and also put in a proper day's work in the office.
  4. For those that don't have too many other Muslim friends, it's hard to get into the spirit of Ramadan when you are the only one observing it.

I am sure there are other reasons (both legitimate and made up) on why Ramadan can be hard, but these are some of the main ones. Here's some of my suggestions on how to deal with it.

  1. First of all, know that Ramadan is a gift from Allah for you, so be thankful for it. It is important to approach Ramadan with a positive frame of mind. If someone you love gives you a gift, you don't criticize it. When the gift is from the Most High, you shouldn't find complaints such as 'oh it's June and it's hot' etc. Approach Ramadan thinking it's something you want to make full use of this year, and you will. That is Faith.
  2. If you have some health issues, address them beforehand. A Muslim doctor will know and acknowledge your beliefs, but a non-Muslim doctor who is familiar with your religion and respects it can provide useful information on how to deal with certain issues. Know that you don't HAVE to fast if it's medically harmful. If you are pregnant, for example, or sick, or travelling, you are given exemptions by Allah. Especially if you are pregnant you shouldn't be putting your unborn child at risk. If you need to take certain injections, for example if you are diabetic, there are ways you can do that and fast. Bottom line - clear it with your doctor before Ramadan.
  3. Find (and make) more Muslim friends. This goes without saying. Not only will they help you by providing a support system in Ramadan, but will also be helpful outside of Ramadan. A person is known by the company they keep.
  4. Attend the mosque for prayers. Maghreb is a good time to attend, as many mosques have iftars, but also attend simply to earn more hasanah and be imbibed with that Ramadan feeling. Even if you cannot stay for the full 20 taraweeh, at least stay for the 8. Or even just the fard part of Isha
  5. Do NOT make this month about food. Do not obsess over sumptuous iftars or speed eat through suhoor. Make a conscious effort to eat healthy, detox and take Ramadan as an opportunity to lose weight.
  6. Read (and try to understand) the Quran. Ramadan is the month of the Quran. This is a wonderful book. The more you read, the more you delve into the tafseer, the more you start to love the Book and the more you marvel at its beauty.
  7. If you have children, even if they are not fasting, involve them in religious activities (even if at least one a day). There's lots of facebook groups on Ramadan arts and crafts, for example.
Do you have any suggestions on how you make Ramadan easier to observe? 

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Condo Gardening As A Beginner

I was never a gardener. It always seemed too much work. I used to watch my mother garden, and see how she toiled away in the heat and how meticulous she was with her plants and think - wow, that's a lot of dedication for some greenery. So I never picked up gardening as a hobby. When we moved to our own place in a condo, I thought we would never have plants or even do any bit of gardening.

BCCB (which stands for Bangladeshi Canadian - Canadian Bangladeshi) is an organization that I am part of. It has over 20,000 members across its various chapters throughout Canada, and one of the chapters is a local gardening club, and I was on their mailing list.

They were holding an Aloe Vera workshop, and it sounded interesting, so I signed up for it. You attend an hour long workshop where they give you a free (yes, free!) pot, soil and a baby Aloe Vera plant. I attended the workshop, and at the end of the day, I now had a plant without any place to put it on my condo.

So I was intrigued. Let's see if I can keep this plant alive, I thought. I mean, water once a week and leave it alone. Shouldn't be too hard, should it?

So I found a place on top of my souvenirs shelf that received a good amount of sunlight throughout the day, and left the plant there. I would water it once a week as instructed. After some time, I saw one of the leaves wither, but the rest seemed to be fine, and even seemed to be growing. This isn't so bad, I thought. It was actually nice to come home and check on the plant.

Then I saw another workshop by the same BCCB group. They were having a lau workshop. Lau, also known as bottle gourd, or kaddu. Now which Bengali doesn't like bottle gourd? And once again, seeds would be given out free, along with soil and pots.

Can I do this, I thought? I mean, for this I would need a proper garden, eventually. That's what my parents' place was for. So this time both my wife and I signed up for the workshop.

The workshop was certainly interesting. We even learned about plant sex! If we ever meet up in person, ask me about that story. But it was definitely enjoyable. I never realized I could sit and listen to an hour of someone talking about lau and be fascinated by it. So when we came home, we found a sunny spot beside one of our windows, put some boxes there and then out pots, and waited.

For some time, there was nothing. I looked every day, and waited. Suddenly, one evening my wife excitedly called me to the window. The baby plant had emerged!

The growth was soon very rapid. It was amazing to see just how fast this plant could grow from nothing. The way the seedlings turned into a plant reminded me of this verse of Allah.

"So observe the effects of the mercy of Allah - how He gives life to the earth after its lifelessness. Indeed, that [same one] will give life to the dead, and He is over all things competent." Quran, 30:50

The instructions were to keep the soil moist, but not wet or over drenched. We took care of that, and also made sure there was enough sunlight.

It was soon time to be planting them in the soil, but we had to take care of sudden dips in the temperature. Even in May, we had a frost warning early in the month. The temperature during the day was good, but at nights it dipped rapidly. The instructions we got was to wait for Victoria Day or even the last weekend of May to plant these.

Yesterday I saw creeping vines come out of the plant. This was the sign that it is almost ready to planted into a garden, along with a supporting trellis. So that is my next project. Waiting for next weekend so I can plant them into my parents' garden, and then build a trellis for them.

I also bought a small mini rose plant (called a kordana rose). So that is the extent of my mini condo garden right now, all on top of a box by the window sill.

The plan now is to build a proper shelf by that window, and then start growing sprint onions and perhaps even some micro-greens.

Wish me luck this growing season!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

7 Tips on How to Enjoy a Family Vacation

Now that summer is almost here (we have 29 degree weather tomorrow!), it's time to think about vacations. And with kids in tow, here's some ways I found you can completely enjoy a vacation with toddlers and infants.

0. Start rested and excited.

I put this at number 0 as this is something you need to do before your trip. Finish your packing one day (or even days) before, NOT the night before. Take a deep breath and relax, before your trip. And start to read up on things to do or what to see, and get excited! You can even involve your kids in this activity. Before we visited UAE, I saw a few things on YouTube with my son, and some interesting facts about them, so when we were there he could get excited about seeing it in real life.

1. Make the journey enjoyable.

Half the hassle of vacationing with kids is the journey to get to the destination. I shared 7 tips from my experience on how to ease this "pain". Another tip many people share is that don't go too far, but far enough to feel you have gone somewhere. I don't share that view - we have gone halfway across the world with our kids and they have been fine.

2. Rules are meant to be broken on vacation.

Before kids, we always thought we would be the ideal parents: give our kids proper, nutritious food like broccoli, restricting their screen time, making sure they go to bed on time, and so on. Of course, reality means at some times we are just happy if they are eating anything ... ANY THING ... and I don't care if they need an iPad to eat. But, generally, we have SOME rules. No watching TV at this time. Bedtime is strict. Mobile screen devices are restricted, etc.

When it comes to vacations, relax those rules. Kids don't really care if they are in Bali, Miami or Bluffer's Park, Toronto. A beach is a beach. Similarly they are not really interested in the delights of Barcelona's unique architecture. Let them also enjoy they way they want.

3. Travel within your budget.

A family vacation is expensive. Tickets are now not just for two, but more. Kids need their own beds, food. If, on the top of that, you are stressing about money, you won't enjoy your vacation. Unexpected costs come up during trips, like the $15 collectible drinking cup your child HAS to have at Universal Studios. So go somewhere you can afford to.

4. Co-operate with the "Planner" and be flexible.

Any vacation has to have a planner (unless it's just a beach vacation). In my family, I like to plan things and outline a vacation plan. When everyone co-operates with that plan, things go like clockwork. Of course, as planner, I also have to be flexible. I would LOVE it if everyone is up by 815 am and ready to go out by 930 am, but it's not going to happen.

5. You don't have to see everything.

This is something I realized even when we were just a couple. There are always too many things to see and too little time. Highlight the priorities, do what you can, and if you can, leave extra time that is unplanned so you can fill it as you need.

6. Document happy memories.

One of the best ways to make ourselves happy in the present is to recall happy times from the past, so making the effort to take pictures and videos, keep trip books, or gather souvenirs. I collect fridge magnets and souvenirs from every new destination I visit, and take pictures of every thing. I also found out that it's not the perfect picture of the sunset on Miami Beach that you will cherish, but the funny faces your children are making as they are running around on the sand.

7. Recognize your limits (and your kids).

Right now I am planning a vacation for visiting Canada's eastern coast. While it looks on paper that I can do a 8 hour drive every day, I know that once our trip is underway, after 2 hours I would be thinking "are we there yet". Learn from past experiences and recognize your own limits, and realize kids get sleepy or tired before you do. And they are less likely to be tolerant and adjustable.

Happy Vacationing!