Aging Gracefully, Are We?

By Naazish YarKhan

It’s 16 years ago that I graduated from college. A newborn that year is now entering university. What a thought. When I visited a local community college for some classes recently, I realized that I was double the age of the kids there. Weird, especially since I’d caught myself thinking some of the guys on that campus were really cute. Jeepers, talk about robbing the cradle.. even if only in thought.

Worse, my age shows. There I was imagining myself as a youngish-thing when one of the above mentioned ‘cute guys’ addressed me as Ma’am. You have to understand this. I don’t think of myself as middle aged, even if I may already be there, if you think that most people live till they are 75 years old. But I’m not really, supposed to be middle-aged. It’s what other people are, like my parents and all those aunties and uncles. Then it dawns. I am now one of those aunties. But no, I really am not. I refuse to be. I insist I will make every effort to stick to ‘young at heart’, instead, even when I am inclined to be older and wiser.

“We don’t think we’ve changed, beside the weight we’ve put on over the years, but our faces, actually, have grown older too,” said Farah, a relative by marriage, and mom of three. Her observation came on the heels of a comment I made as to how my friends from college looked on Facebook. “And some of them don’t even have kids so what excuse do they have for belly fat?” I stressed. Note to self: When you notice how much older your contemporaries look, you probably look the same way too.

It was in the midst of all this attention to my ‘changing’ ( or was it deteriorating) physical self, that I made a very startling discovery. But first let me back up. I am the kind of person who often leaves the house without make-up on. I am the person who had a facial last when I was preparing to become a bride. Now more about my ‘startling discovery’. All those pretty women you see in the grocery store or at the bakery, well, they aren’t naturally pretty. It’s at least partly the make up, partly the facial, the manicure, the clothes and partly the eye of the beholder. Their hair has been curled or straightened or blow dried before they ventured out. It’s not gorgeous hair by birth. That has been my number one realization this year. And to think I actually used to think some women, my friends included, were just stunning naturally.

I also discovered quite by accident that friends are skinny because they are on a perpetual diet. I thought they exercised and watched what they ate. Somehow it didn’t translate in my mind to mean that they were either on the cabbage soup diet or the South Beach Diet or the Jenny Craig diet or on Weight Watchers. “There’s no way, anyone can be naturally skinny if you eat,” says my close buddy, Faryal, another mom of three. She revealed she too lost a lot of weight with Weight Watchers after her second child. “You grew up in India, so being skinny wasn’t the first and last thing on your mind,” she said. Grow up in the U.S.A and apparently it is the stuff of ones every thought, in addition to make-up and nice hair, I mean.

Well, my goal is to drop 7-10 kilo’s. But before I dole out my husbands’ hard earned money to Weight Watchers, I had a thought. How about I try and follow some free advice first. ‘Smaller portions’ – my husband’s vote. ‘Don’t eat after six p.m., cut down on meat, switch from rice to whole wheat chapatti and drink lots of water.’ – my cousin Huma’s voice. ‘Graze on healthy foods through the day so you’re never starving. Have six small meals instead of three big ones. Eat lots of fresh fruit and vegetables. Visualize yourself as slim and trim. You’ll attract what you think. Sleep early because people think they’re hungry when they’re actually tired or thirsty. Fuel up on fiber since it takes longer to digest. Take the saying ‘one-minute-on-the-lip-is-a-lifetime-on-the-hip’ to heart.’ This is some of the other how-to-lose-weight / be healthy advice I’ve heard here, there and everywhere. I have converted to whole grain, so that’s a beginning. Whole grain bread and whole grain cereal. (Incidentally, did I tell you I am the person who takes honey instead of sugar in her tea, but binges on chocolate and pie?) We don’t eat out often and fast food, including pizza, is a choice no more than once or twice a month. Only catch is I am awful when I’m hungry. Awful, Impatient, Snippy. What’s a gal to do? Seriously graze so I’m never starving?

So is there such a thing as aging gracefully? Well, I guess, for some, it will be a question of how much youth money can buy. For the rest of us, there’s the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty. The ‘Dove Evolution’ video is on You Tube and will shock you. It transforms an average girl into a stunner, with the stroke of a hair brush, the stroke of a eye liner pencil, the stroke of a computer key. And you must check out the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty online. Dove soap - long considered America's beauty bar, with its ad campaign, boldly challenges us to revise our view of what is considered beautiful, shapely and young. “Dissatisfaction with body image increases as girls move into adolescence, according to a 2000 study by the Girl Scout Research Institute. Although 75 percent of 8- and 9-year-old girls in the study said they like their looks, only 56 percent of those ages 12 and 13 did. And of the 33 percent of girls ages 14-17 who said they're too fat, two-thirds were dieting. Ninety percent of eating disorders are diagnosed in girls. The data prompted Dove to launch the Campaign for Real Beauty in 2004 to help women feel more beautiful by widening the definition of the word.” Older, non-blond and heavyset women have all been featured in the dove campaign.

I doubt those ads made it to billboards in Oman but they all have real women, with real curves as models. Dove soap is also promoting the idea that 50 is fabulous – even in the face of America’s youth-obsessed culture. You have to see it to believe it.

So where does that leave my battle of the bulge? I guess as long as I do make the effort to eat healthier and exercise more for the right reasons, I’ll be on the right side of the track. It will be an effort for me, and not so much an effort to impress other’s or manipulate what others think of me. And when I catch myself putting myself down if I’m not the ‘ideal’ image, I’m going to remind myself that I have a young daughter whose watching and listening to my every attitude. That I am responsible for the ideas I plant in my child’s head, even when I do so unconsciously. That it is young girls who are driven to anorexia and bulimia by the messages we bombard them with. That I have to be careful not to let her sense of self be governed by something as fleeting as physical appearances. And that bit about being ‘older and wiser’ versus ‘young at heart’. Why does it have to be either-or? Let me say it’s going to be and-and. I’m going to have both sets of attitudes and have the best of both worlds. Amen.

C’est La Vie… Such is Life

By Naazish YarKhan

I’d almost given up on being able to get my act together. Each day more or less resembled the other and procrastination had usurped the place of my shadow and followed me everywhere I went. My deadlines for this column came and were missed. Other target dates too arrived and were left to slip by. I saw, first hand, the truth to the saying, ‘if you want something done, ask a busy person.’ Ask someone with too much time on their hands, as I am these days, and apparently procrastination takes care of it. I don’t know what I do online, but I can spend hours on the net, reading into the late hours of the night. My husband, usually, will ask what task I’m avoiding when he sees me like this. How can I tell him I’m neglecting that scholarship for school I meant to apply for, that job I had my eye on, or even the vacuuming? Someone once called it ‘moving furniture’ when your activities don’t build towards a goal and make you feel like you’re simply drifting. My friends put it down to this lousy weather. Is it? I don’t quite know. The rare spot of activity is when I volunteer at Yousuf’s school. I don’t really care to except that Yousuf loves to have me there and it’s a blessing to be able to. As one little boy asked, ‘Why doesn’t my mom help in school? I always ask her but she doesn’t.”

Then my sister called saying she still needed some paperwork from me to submit to the American embassy. She had her interview for her tourist visa in two days. Well that compelled me to get on the ball and I swung into action with all the force of a Jane alongside Tarzan. A flurry of activity filled my day as I compiled and then faxed whatever missing information was needed. That push was all it took because while Naazneen, sadly, did not get her visa approved, I did get my groove back. Talk about spillover and ripple effects. Today, with just a little planning, I was able to bake and drop off a cake for a fund-raiser, attend a meeting, cook for us and my in-laws, make fresh carrot juice in a real juicer (5 minutes) and clean up (25 minutes!), and drop and pick Yousuf from school. I felt so good about these little accomplishments
(vs. dropping Yousuf at school and coming home and getting nothing done) that I even rewarded myself with a visit to my friend and neighbor Ruth’s house for a chat. Usually, if I haven’t been productive, doing anything fun seems less deserved, and therefore less enjoyable. This visit, I’d earned.

Ruth and I were catching up after ages. Winter does that to you. The freezing cold dissuades you from even venturing across the street and our hello’s are contained to when we spot each other pulling into our respective garages, or taking out the garbage. I knew that Ruth’s mother, Mrs. Barnes, had been hospitalized – for years she was taking larger doses of her prescription medication than her doctor had recommended for her Asthma. All those steroids in her system ended up giving her a heart problem and that was why she was hospitalized. Once there, reducing the medication, apparently all too abruptly, left her mother psychotic and hallucinating. After her almost three week stay, Mrs. Barnes has now been discharged from the hospital, the situation fairly under control.

The mental breach was supposed to have healed in five days, but Ruth suspects it may continue for months since there is a pre-disposition to mental ill-health in their family history. Her mother’s personality seemingly altered, “I don’t know who I was talking to,” said Ruth of her most recent, acerbic conversation with her mother. She’s not quite sure if the accusations Mrs. Barnes made comprised an episode of mental ill-health or if it was just her mother being angry and resentful due to the turn in events.

Ruth isn’t in tears but she is visibly distraught. Her sisters and she live in three separate states, and their parents in a fourth state. They aren’t quite prepared to handle this. But then again, how often does bad news come with advance notice? But Ruth agonizes that this was a train wreck she had seen coming for years. She related how often she and her siblings had advised their mother not to over-do the medicines, to stick to the prescribed dosage and how Mrs. Barnes dismissed them as ‘over-reacting’. Ruth’s words leave me thinking. How often have I myself brushed aside my husband’s advice that I exercise? How often has he asked me to have a check up because I run out of breath climbing ten steps or laughing too hard? I think what we don’t realize is this: Maintaining our health is the best gift we can give our loved ones. In this day and age, when we grow ill, we don’t usually die. We become a burden.

But it’s not like I’ve thrown caution to the winds. I bought the juicer specifically because the nutrients in juice are absorbed quicker by our bodies and is good for health. I even use the pulp that’s left behind as fiber and add it to my cooking. Celery, fennel (anise) and cucumbers are good choices to begin juicing since they’re easier to digest. Cabbage juice has one of the most healing nutrients for ulcer repair as it is a huge source of vitamin U.
(I didn’t know there was a vitamin U!) Dark green vegetables, such as spinach, are very nutrient rich. Other veggies worth juicing are asparagus, string beans and cauliflower (including the base), though I haven’t tried any of them. Key is to listen to your body. Make sure it’s not growling and grumbling after you’ve done drinking the juice. I bought a big bag of carrots but learned that carrot juice is full of sugar and adds to insulin levels, as do other fruits, so is better in small dozes, if at all. has details.

Two nights ago, I also spent a good deal of time online researching the benefits of raw honey. It’s a panacea for almost every ill from asthma to aiding weight loss. It’s not pasteurized and so retains more of the nutrients than the honey that is processed and sold in bulk. I then called a place or two to find out if they sold raw honey and am going to pick some up. So how does one make sure one’s day is action packed and productive when there isn’t much going on? Does ‘research stuff online’ cut it?

“Why did you cut his hair?” I suddenly hear my husband yelling in the background. Er…he’s not quite thrilled with the trim I gave Yousuf. Well, that’s what you get when mama has time aplenty, (and no coupon in hand, that’ll gives two dollars off at the barber’s.) C’est la vie mon ami.

Room To Grow

By Naazish YarKhan

With the year slowly coming to an end, it’s always worth it to take stock of where one has been and where one wants to be financially, spiritually, intellectually, emotionally and yes, physically, in the year coming up ahead. Psychotherapists and self-help books encourage one to put it in writing, to visualize in your mind what you want to have and even create a visual image or picture of it. Cut pictures from magazines, pictures of and quotes from role models, create an image – a roadmap to the year ahead. As the author of Rich Dad, Poor Dad put it, before the journey or even the planning for a journey comes the idea of one.

Here’s what I know about myself and know that I must change. Hope it gets you thinking about your list.

If it’s not on my to-do list, it doesn’t happen. In fact, not only does it not happen, it doesn’t even cross my mind that it’s a matter to be taken care. Imagine how much gets left undone! So have a to-do list at hand.

Misplaced To-Do Lists. Would that mean I make multiple copies of to-do lists or perhaps figure out how to use my cell phone to the fullest. My husband tells me my cell phone can easily double as a planner. I only have to figure out how. Hmmm….??

Mulling and mulling over a matter, getting increasingly anxious about it, instead of tackling it and getting it over and done with. Too much analysis leads to paralysis they say, and it’s true. Note to self : Stop self when descending into this unholy mess.

Dreading the enormity of a to-do list, instead of tackling it and chipping it down in size. This has to be one of my worst and most unproductive habits. Sometimes I forget Rome wasn’t build in a day.

Shock when I do actually do it and discover how simple it was all along. Next time fear stops me from getting on the ball, I promise to remind myself how easy it was to actually get done the previous thing I had similar sentiments about.

Being a people pleaser and allowing my sense of self to be based on others think of my accomplishments. Freedom comes when you realize you don’t need external validation of yourself.

Procrastination. I need to remember that half the issues on this list stem from procrastination. That it’s not a vice to take lightly.

Making excuses as to why some things aren’t on my to-do list. Remind self that where there is a will, there is a way.

Once in a while, giving myself permission, not to have a to-do list.

Dealing with criticism and difficult people. Reminding myself that it’s okay to be frustrated and it’s okay to give myself permission to vent about the person, but that everyone has a point of view from which I may learn something. There is no one reality. There are always two sides to a coin. In life, there are many perspectives of an issue.

Reminding myself to step outside my comfort zone. Comfort zones keep you small.

Life isn’t a spectator sport. Be a participant. Make decisions, take chances, grow be it as my role as a mom, wife, human being, daughter, daughter-n-law, or woman.

Mirror to the Soul


And so it happened that I began to write again.
Began to whisper onto paper thoughts that were my own.
Ribbons of light, rising from places deep.
Feelings uncoiling
Me so clueless they even lay within me
Now spilling onto the page before me before I could stem the tide.
I wondered about the strength of such things;

Things so potent, so powerful.
And the more I wrote, the better I knew me,
And the clearer I could see that my life
as I knew it -
It was over.
I was on the brink of changing forever.

The View In the Mirror

By Naazish YarKhan

The Shema in the Torah, starts: (Deuteronomy 6:4) Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one! Likewise, Jesus said: (Mark 12:29) “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one”. Likewise, God says in the Holy Qur’an: Say: He, God, is One. / God, the Self-Sufficient Besought of all. (Al-Ikhlas, 112:1-2). The Unity of God, love of Him, and a love for his creation form a common ground upon which Islam and Christianity (and Judaism) are founded.

But that’s not what the media covers, nor is it the message anyone sees when they read the news related to Muslims or Islam, or when they read blogs on the topic, or when they learn of another suicide bombing.

According to Business Week, Jan 2007, “59% of Muslim adults in the U.S have college degrees, compared to 28 % of all American adults. Surveys show that the median family income amongst Muslims exceeds the national average of $ 55,800. A 2004 Zogby International Poll, reports that one in three Muslims earns more than $75,000 annually.”

But this too is not the stuff of most news reports. It’s just not juicy enough for sustained play in the papers. And that’s where a magazine like Muslim Girl steps in, (

In Muslim Girl Magazine (MGM), Muslim girls see themselves – both hijabi and non-hijabi. We see ourselves portrayed as normal. We are portrayed as beautiful, as smart and as capable and it’s a breath of fresh air. It reflects the experience of teenage Muslim girls from all over the Muslim world – Bosnia, Africa, Palestine, Egypt, India. It shows Muslim girls a mirror to what they know exists in the Muslim world they live in.

And for a change, it’s not selling you bad news. It’s fashionable, it’s trendy. “Being able to find modest clothes and yet being trendy at the same time can be an uphill battle,” said one girl I spoke with. “ The magazine lets you see that you can be a fashionable yet modestly dressed Muslim,” she said. For many hijab wearing Muslim girls, MGM is a support group of sorts. For still others, it is a source of information to share with their non-Muslim friends. (Incidentally, my son, who is only five, is now hankering for a magazine for Muslim boys!)

Most importantly, a magazine like Muslim Girl, gives Muslim girls a voice. It reflects thoughts echoed by many teen girls in dorms and at dining tables across Muslim America and Canada. In it, Muslim girls see themselves and for once, find that they are no longer the invisible minority, or the minority which is visible only when another bomb falls. For parents too, it is many things. For starters, it’s a better alternative to Cosmo or YM magazine.

But it’s not just teenage girls who are reading the magazine from cover to cover. Yours truly here, does the same! I’ve also just finished reading another young adult novel – Does My Head Look Big In This. The writing is great, the pace never dulls, but I see and hear myself in it and that’s what keeps me turning the pages.

Another must read for Muslims and Non-Muslims alike is Being Muslim. I remember in college, having a friends’ dad say that Muslim women had no rights. At the time I didn't have a come-back because I didn't know much about Islam. But it was what pushed me to learn, so that I could defend my faith if I ever had to do it again. BEING MUSLIM allows teens and adults to do that. I talked to the author, Haroon Siddiqui, as to why he wrote the book. For one, the book talks facts about contemporary issues facing Islam and the West these days. Once readers have an understanding as to what's going on in Iraq or Afghanistan or in their backyard, they can argue their case with eloquence and facts instead of being tongue-tied or reacting defensively or being in denial. For instance, yes, in today's worlds, most terrorists are Muslim but that doesn't mean all Muslims are terrorists. In another age, and another era, Catholics and Protestants in Ireland were at it, and in another time Kamakazi's were the main terrorists.

Being Muslim is ammunition for every reader who has ever been put on the spot post 9/11, or anyone who has had to shoulder this collective guilt every time an act of terrorism occurs. It is the book for those with questions about the West and Islam.

Anne Frank in her diaries wrote that when a Jew is at fault, all Jews are held accountable and when a Christian is at fault, it's the fault of just that one Christian. Islam is going through that period now. Former Secretary General of the U.N. Mr. Kofi Annan, had the good sense to see through the smoke and mirrors and point out that acts of violence by Muslims were rooted in anger at U.S. policies and not because of the freedom’s enjoyed by America, as the current administration and the media have led the people to believe.

God willing, these negative times will pass and when they do, as they most certainly will and when society finds the next scapegoat, God willing Muslims will raise their voices against it. Having been at the receiving end of it, we know how unjust and far from God’s way it is.

White Space

By Naazish YarKhan

Blank space….I never look at the screen before me as white space needing to be filled. It’s much the opposite, most times. It’s too many thoughts whizzing around, needing to be downloaded, offloaded, shared. Summer is ending and school will be back in session next week. It’s all come to an end much too quickly. With me working, it wasn’t too many days that were free to do with as I pleased. That’s not to say the kids haven’t had a great summer. They’ve spent hours and hours playing or riding bikes. They had sleepovers with friends and spent time at their grand-parents. I had, however, wanted to drive down to nearby Wisconsin, have the kids experience the Dells – one big town, made up of water parks galore. But four years ago, we skipped all that and went further north into this state of cows and cheese to Door County. That was easily one of our best vacations and I wonder how the summer has slipped by without us making the time to visit there. Neither did we go camping. Still, there are 10 days or so left. Maybe fewer. I wonder if summer time is a microcosm of life. Blink and its gone.

But summer is far more relaxed that the school year. Although I do get a bunch of hours all to myself in the school year, with swimming, Arabic and homework, it does get very tight. Still, Taskeen who is nine, did take her first dives into the high end of the pool, on her last day of swimming lessons last month. I wouldn’t want to compromise her learning, just when she’s getting to be a stronger swimmer. This past year was the first time she took swimming lessons. They began in fall, and went on through bitter cold temperatures in winter. I didn’t think it was possible. It is an indoor pool but wouldn’t it be freezing when they stepped out to get to the car, I had wondered. But it wasn’t bad. In fact we did it and I don’t remember it being miserable. Another lesson learned about assumptions.

Talking of lessons, I’ve been reading two books that I loved. One is ‘Cracking the Millionaire Code’ ( and the other is ‘The Secret’
( Both tie financial success in this world, to success as a person of faith. Both emphasis consistent gratitude to God, regular charity from one’s earnings, asking God to show us the way, prayers and meditation first thing in the morning, exercise and working for a win-win situation for all those involved, as keys to material success. Both look at money as stepping stones to improving the lot of humanity, for example, as evident in the actions of Bill Gates.

‘The Secret’ is all about attracting more of that which you think of. For instance, why do we suddenly start seeing cars similar to the one we just bought, all over the place? It’s not like they didn’t exist. They did exist, but we are now more aware of them because our own new car is now on our own radar and we see more of what we think about. The book talks of putting up visuals and pictures of your dream objects and attracting those into your life. I don’t really know reading this book had anything to do with it, but we recently went looking at homes that cost half a million dollars. Let’s hope we attract one into our lives!

Both books say that generosity attracts wealth because we’re saying, “we have enough.” Stinginess, on the other hand, sends out a message to the universe, that says, “I don’t have enough” so the Universe delivers on that thought. One of the best part is when the authors say, give in charity but without expecting anything back from God. Don’t treat charity as an investment in God’s company, for dividends in this life. Instead, you’re your charity poor, by giving it as your way of saying thank you for each aspect of your life, including hardships, for those hardships are the kernel of great tomorrows. One of the exercises, in fact, involves listing down all the good things and all the bad things that happened to you in life, as a way to show how even the worst incidents in one’s life, opened the doors to better things. I guess in a way, it’s like the pangs of childbirth do eventually do lead to the joy of having children.

The Secret is all about visualizing what you want and asking for what you want, while being positive. The author asks to not to ask God to end famine but to provide everyone with food. A peace rally will bring peace, while an anti-war rally, attracts more negative emotions around it. They talk of asking the right questions, and allowing God to answer it for you. Isn’t of saying ‘Why Am I Fat?’, which in turn will give you only negative answers that endorse that self-perception, the authors recommend you ask, “How can I get slimmer?” I’ve heard this same advice at a Tony Robbins seminar. Instead of saying “Why am I not succeeding?” we should ask “How can I succeed even more?”

So backtracking to what I began writing about. Maybe if I visualize long, languid days filled with memories, I’ll attract those. If I say the days of summer are short lived, they will be short lived. If I say we didn’t do all we wanted, there’s no chance we will do those things.

So here, now I am going to say, the days of summer are long and full of everything I ever imagined them to be. We’re going to go down to the beach, visit a museum or two, travel perhaps, spend time as a family on vacation. The weather is going to be amazing, blue skies, cool breezes. When the school year starts despite all the activities and commitments, we are going to have time for prayer and time for each other and time to laugh and play a board game or two. I am going to be calm, collected, and gently encouraging. When school starts we’re going to wake up way early, we’ll always be on time for the bus, maybe even early. We’re always going to be organized with not a back pack out of place. Yousuf is starting a new school, God Willing, and he will love it there and want to go back for more each morning. He’ll learn a lot and enjoy the challenges and make lots of friends. Taskeen will too. She’ll love school and they’ll both excel. Homework will be a breeze. There will be laughter and sun shine each day of our lives. In the spring, we’ll visit India and my parents, God willing. And somewhere in there, I will find a full time position at a university or college. It will be the beginning of great new things. Amen. As I write this down, I see that what happens to be unfolding is a prayer. This is the stuff of prayers!

In the Quran, it says that when we make a prayer for others, Angles say ‘Unto you to’. So these are my prayers for your family too. As you begin the school year, or continue a year that has already begun, may all these wishes come true. Amen.

Reality is not what you see, but how you see it.

By Naazish YarKhan

One sure fire way to stay in vacation mode – or at least enjoy its last remnants, is to be afflicted with jet lag. The first two days or three days it was great. Here was our whole family waking up when it was still dark outside and getting a move on the day. It felt like being kids and reading under the covers past bed time. My children had never been so dressed and ready to go to school, so not ‘You’re getting late!! Go! Rush or the bus will leave’. By evening, we hit the covers by 7:00 p.m. because we couldn’t keep our eyes open anymore. So it was fun, as I said,… initially. But today, the fifth day I’ve awoken in my own bed, but at the holy hour of 4:30 a.m. I tell you, I did try willing my body and mind to stay asleep. No such luck. My mind filled with thoughts re: the day’s doings and I just had to get cracking. I had a deadline for Oman Observer to meet so here I am.

I like to hit the road running so I sent the kids off to school the very next day after our return. They were up at 4:00 a.m. anyway so why not? Yousuf, my son, complains how everyone has some work to do ( his being school) and how mama does nothing. I am, of course, offended by this observation and ask who does the laundry and the cooking. “Baba and I do the laundry,” he shoots back, not batting an eye-lid. Jeezzzz!

Anyway, because I was feeling badly that I am not the best of house-keepers, nor best of cooks, I actually pulled out a Khana Khazana cook book and went and purchased all the ingredients to make some delicious food. I am not the best of cooks, but seeing my kids eat so well at my mother’s has given me food for thought. If I am a stay home mom, I better have something to show for it. Funny, though, how email creeps up and mislays your best plans. I have spent more time fiddling with email than cooking. But I have faith. I will make a better cook of myself. And if I fail, that is the only way one learns. Like biking or swimming, you know. So in the end, to all the hats I wear, I can don a Chef’s hat as well. Ha haa. Taskeen, especially, misses breakfast being ready on the table, which was how it was at my mother’s house. It made me sad to think that I don’t even have breakfast ready for the kids before hand and have them drink a meal replacement drink on many mornings. What kind of mom am I ??? But I’m glad she brought it up. It is a simple request and one, I hope, I can fulfill regularly ( and not just when I’m jet lagged).

Speaking of Muscat, it was heart-wrenching leaving my folks and siblings behind last week. And it isn’t like family is sugary-sweet all the time and yet I miss being surrounded by people who undoubtedly love me and care for my well being, and who want to help me out when they see I need it. Plus, I’m plagued by ‘Who knows how long we’re going to be on this planet’, and that kind of thinking. A Nigerian neighbor of mine read my mind apparently and said he’d pack his bags and move back, if it hadn’t been for his American wife, and now American kids. This realization struck him last year after he’d been to visit family in Nigeria after a 12 year gap. His mother, in fact, didn’t recognize him!

This trade-off, we immigrants make emotionally, has really been playing on my mind. And then to affirm my thoughts that here in the U.S, we have thin relationships as opposed to thick ones, one of my students mother, a German woman, commented on how, in America, we have oodles of acquaintances but few people we know really, really well. Americans are friendly and because of that, they end up sending the wrong signals that they want to be your friends, but they really just want to be friendly acquaintances, she was saying. So I was right. Here, rare are the people who have the time or want to make the effort to have a thick relationship...and having lived here 13 years, I can be that person, very often, too. What’s odder is that many Americans do think acquaintance = friends.

I asked my husband, who is born and raised here, if the paucity of inter-dependent relationships, where friends need to bond regularly, where they feel revived and reenergized in each others company, whether the paucity of that was something that bothered him. His answer was a no-brainer, simple sentence. ‘This is all I’ve ever known.” So he doesn’t know if there’s something he’s missing because he’s never had an alternative. I, on the other hand, have lived elsewhere and have a frame of reference where I can make comparisons and yes, the relationships we have here, don’t hold a flame to those that people have in India or elsewhere in the East.

Not only that, it’s not going to happen in the US, because individuals are raised to be independent and not inter-dependent. And if you don’t feel the need to have another person and can do it all by yourself, then having another person in the picture isn’t productive – it only slows things down. But how precious is a support system. A real support system which can be the wind beneath your wings, the oil that keeps your machine going.

They call FaceBook this great way to keep in touch. To me it’s just another way to fool yourself that you’re in touch, and have a relationship. Sending a nudge or a poke, as FaceBook allows you to do, replaces having to make that phone call or download your thoughts in an email. Sending a mass note instead of a personalized one which reveals who you are on the inside, creates emotional ties only to the extent that reading a columnist regularly gives you the feeling that you are friends with the writer.. when, in fact, that really isn’t the case.

I end with a quote from an editor of the New York Times who’s in charge of a section called Modern Love, where readers send in essays about love and not just romantic love. According to him, “in pursuing love, electronic communication allows us to be more reckless, fake, distracted and isolated than ever before. According to the personal accounts I've read, men and women today are apt to plunge into love affairs via text message, cut them off by PowerPoint, lie about who they are and what they want in forums and blogs and online dating sites, …ignore the people they're physically with for those who are a keystroke away, shoo their children off their laps to caress their BlackBerrys, and spend untold hours staring at pixilated … stars when they should be working, socializing, taking care of their children or sleeping.”

On that note, give your kids an extra hug, tell your spouse you love them and can’t imagine a world without them and call your parents and tell them how much you miss them. Take care. Au Revior. Adios.

The Darjeeling Limited Derailed

By NaazishYarKhan

This evening, as it so happened, Farhat was home from work early. Early meaning at 5:30 p.m. Plus it was a Friday night meaning no school tomorrow, so no homework, no making lunches for the next day and so on. He and the kids planned to hang out at his folks’ and I had plans to watch a movie with a gal pal. Now, somewhere between checking who all were available to join me and Melinda, and which movie to watch, Melinda got scuttled from the plan and I decided to ask Farhat if he wanted to watch a movie with me. Watch a movie with ones’ spouse. Ah… After 13 years of matrimony and two kids, it’s quite a rarity that you and beloved can actually get any down time alone! His brother agreed to watch the kids and we found ourselves buying tickets to ‘The Darjeeling Limited’, that American movie made in India.

Now how should I put it? It’s not like I didn’t like the movie. Sure, it moved me. Sure it was engaging but it just didn’t do it for me. Now I go to a movie, for I guess, an “out of mind” experience. To be engrossed, enthralled, blown away. Hindi movie style, larger than life, mega entertainment, lush landscapes, witty dialogue, beautiful characters traipsing across the screen. I don’t go to the movies, to a read a book. That’s actually hitting the nail on the head. ‘The Darjeeling Limited’ was equivalent to reading a book. It had substance, it had character development. No flash, bang, kick, shove.
Boy, the indigestion I got when I got home. I was irritable and grouchy. I hadn’t signed up for our rare, once in a blue moon, movie night to turn out so hum drum, so devoid of dishum, dishum. I felt cheated. And then I began to write, because I had to figure out how I could be so emotionally affected by disappointment in a movie of all things. How could I be so emotionally involved in what a movie does for me. How could a movie turn me into Grouchola, with a capital ‘G’.

I write to figure out stuff. So I began writing. And as I write, I’m wondering, was it really the movie, or was it the fact that I have an 8:30 am breakfast tomorrow with a friend, then a 2:30 p.m. babyshower in the city and then a 7:30 p.m. get together at a friends – are thoughts of those impending appointments the ‘background noise ’ responsible for my turn of mood. I was in fact in a great mood when we set out to the movie.

The more I typed, the clearer it became. I like things just so. I like them to go smoothly, as planned. I don’t like them to turn out differently than planned. Maybe most people are like this. But maybe the lesson for me ( that’s one thing about me – I always have to find a lesson to learn) is that I need to relax a little – take a deep breath and get on with life even if it doesn’t go as planned – esp. if it’s a movie of all things. And the more I thought about this being the crux of the issue, the truer it seemed to be the crux. After all, lightening up seems to be something all of us in our home need to do.

My son’s teacher at the recent parent teacher conference stated how diligent and earnest Yousuf is about school. How particular he is about not having fun, and obeying rules and doing just as he is told instead. They preferred it when he was able to get a little light hearted instead and play the fool a little. Taskeen came home one day complaining how chatty and un focused the kids at her table in school were, and that it kept her from focusing exclusively on her work. I asked her to ask the teacher to move her to quieter, more focused table. Maybe this uptightness is something both kids are inheriting from me. I am uptight. I am very ‘this has to go as planned’ and every item on the to-do list must be done. I’m used to being productive. I think that’s the bigger issue here. Learning to let go….Take a deep breath. Hold it for 2 secs. Let go. Take a deep breath. Hold it for 4 secs. Let go. Take a deep breath. Hold it for 6 secs. Let go. Ah… oxygen straight to the brain.

Well, so much for The Darjeeling Limited. At least I got to hash the issue out on paper. Atleast I got to get it out of my system. As those who have a regular sounding board will guess, I’m one of those who needs a regular sounding board. My friend, Faryal, who is all ears as needed, in fact, is missing in action this week. Tonight is too late to call but tomorrow’s another day. So all I need to do is take a deep breath and walk away from the computer once I’ve added the last period to this article. I’ve mulled it over, written about it, gotten it out of my system. The Darjeeling experience is now past. No more breath, time nor fonts are to be spent on it. Amen.

Public Apology

By Naazish YarKhan

As those who read this column regularly know, I’m working on arranging discussions and book signings for author Haroon Siddiqui, whose book ‘Being Muslim’ is a Canadian bestseller. But my! The wrath my email invites have evoked amongst a few! Outpourings of hate against Islam and its prophet. Outpourings of venom against the faith and its people. To all of that, I have only one thing to say. I am sorry your experiences with Muslims and Islam has been so negative. You speak based on your experiences and if those have been bad, it can be easy to react accordingly. To all those who haven’t had the best of experiences with those of my faith, a public apology. The prophet would be hurt that you met with Muslims who misrepresented the faith, and pushed you away from it. He was a gentle, soft hearted man, one of great patience, and capable of great love, one who would call on you in sickness and in health, even if you despised him. He would never have wanted for you to feel hurt nor made you feel unwelcome, even if you followed a faith other than his.

I acquired this manner of reacting from my daughter and a friend, Shaheen. Shaheen was at an inter-faith gathering at which an attendee spoke up in full-fledged opposition of Muslims and Islam, much to the chagrin of the Christian organizers of the event. Following the speeches, small groups came together for more intimate discussion and Q&A, and Shaheen found herself at the table with this angry woman. I am not sure I would have handled the situation as well as Shaheen did, but when selected to speak in this small group, Shaheen began by thanking Americans for being as gracious as they were to Muslims in response to 9/11. Shaheen narrated that area churches, in fact, wrote letters to her mosque, offering Muslims their support in this time of crisis. She added that had 9/11 happened in some other country, riots would have erupted. In America, this never happened. Here, many, many people responded with understanding and Shaheen acknowledged that. Shaheen’s words made an unexpected impression on the lady who had, until then, only hateful things to say about Islam and Muslims. This lady now turned gracious and carried on for the rest of the session, speaking only gracious words. What an about- turn. “Sometimes one needs to be gracious, in order to teach another to be gracious too,” said Shaheen, simply.

I also learned to react in this manner from my daughter, Taskeen. We try, as much as possible, to end our prayers with five things we are grateful to God for, and with five requests or prayers for ourselves, our community, the environment and the world at large. When I first read the hateful emails, I felt actual pain that my prophet, so beloved to me, was being abused so much. I hoped that God would punish these people. Then I recalled Taskeen’s prayer. “Make the bad people into good people.” She didn’t pray for them to be chucked into hell. She didn’t ask God to punish the bad people. It was an approach that was far better than mine. So when I read some more of the vitriolic emails being written in response to my email, I did two things. I emailed the moderator of this email list, and all the other readers, to keep tabs on when a discussion was becoming a hate fest. It is one thing to express contradictory thoughts, it is quite another to stoop to abuse and insults. I also wrote an email to all those on that list, recognizing that a bad experience or two, could paint ones whole perspective towards another. And I apologized for the experiences that may have pushed these people away.

It is common sense and yet not commonly remembered that human beings are not one monolithic group. We cannot all be painted with the same brush. Let not your grouse against an individual, become your filter when you view an entire community. I am as guilty of this myself, when I rush to judge a group of people based on past poor experiences, before getting to even know them. Also, let not the actions of those who misunderstand a rule, mar your perspective of the rules or laws themselves. Just because I bungle a recipe when I cook it doesn’t mean the recipe is lousy. I, the cook, alone am responsible for how the end result tastes, not the recipe. So also faith. Those who practice a faith, may or may not do it correctly. Just because someone has misinterpreted or misrepresents the faith, doesn’t mean the faith itself stinks.

Having grown up in an inter-faith community in India, and now as someone with friends of every faith in my adult life, I have one small request. Life is too short for hate. Do take the time to read and discover for yourself more about some of the questions you have. Do get to know others of a faith you have questions about, if those you have already met have been disappointing. Peace and harmony are so fragile. If we are to avoid wars like Iraq, we must make sure to nip smaller rivalries and hate mongering in the bud first.
As many a bumper sticker in the USA asks, ask yourself, “What Would Jesus Do?” Ask yourself always, “how can we build bridges instead of destroying them?”

Lost in Transition

By Naazish YarKhan

My mother noticed it first. All your articles are beginning to sound the same, she said to me. I thought little of her comment. Then she said it again… and then once again. That’s when it got me thinking. Yes, it’s true. Iraq and Islam and its related U.S. politics are all that seem to be on my mind. That’s what I read. That’s what I give talks on, those are the topics that I interview others on, those are the topics I give interviews on, that’s what interests me and that’s what I write about I guess. What goes in, must come out.

But what does that say about me? That I surround myself with nothing but this? What of the kids, my friends, my social life. There’s a line in the movie, Blood Diamond. I don’t remember the exact line but it goes along the lines of the journalist having become a drama junkie, because all she does is cover conflict zones. I guess, in a way, that’s what I am. A political drama junkie – save the world, stave off horrible Bush from taking the planet to hell in a hand basket and write about it till the readers beg you to stop. Eerrrr …. let’s stop with the drama shall we?

Firstly, there won’t be that many political stories from me.. hopefully… despite how much I love them. Ever since I dropped my job as Editor of Chicago Crescent we are all breathing a little easier. I miss the stories we did and I still keep track, diligently, of all the stories we can be doing, but I don’t miss the chaos and the last minute haphazard dash that went with running a paper. Luckily, before I phased out of that, I got into publicity for authors and arranging speaking engagements. That truly is setting my own hours and it’s spaced out between months so actually works better for me, rather than the mad dash to replace 50% of the Chicago Crescent newspaper, in two days time, just because my boss didn’t have time to go over it when he should have and now all the news is old. That was not fun. Nor was it fun hearing: “wehavetogetapressreleaseoutthisminutebecausesomeonewentandthreatenedtobombthe searstowerandwe’recondemningtheallegedplot.” Whoa.

On another side, 4th grade has new concepts introduced each week and I didn’t want to see Taskeen flailing under any circumstances. She cried last week that she hadn’t gotten a 100% on any spelling test, all of 3rd grade, last year. Had I spent more time on her and less on the Crescent, that wouldn’t have been the case. All the math foundations are being taught this year… if she doesn’t get them right it can have a life long impact. A whole difference between a career in the low paying humanities versus one in the decent paying sciences or commerce related fields.

That said, I miss someone to talk to.. even if it’s your boss whose hours you hate (I’m just plain sadistic, aren’t I). Farhat suggested I go get a job in telemarketing - selling over the phone, because I don’t want to work full time. I did it when I first got here 13 years ago. Apparently I so need someone to talk to that even that looks like a good idea, when fact is I had sworn off telemarketing. All those people hanging up on you. All those people saying ‘thank you, but no thank you’. But I like people and I like talking. I mean I need to talk. It doesn’t seem like an option, to securing my mental health, to be able to get things off my chest. The answer could be as simple as making the time to see my friends. I don’t. For some reason, I rather hide behind a schedule than sit still for 60 minutes (without a computer screen in my face) and actually have a heart-to-heart.

I still have my job as managing editor of a quarterly and to pass the hours, I volunteer in Yousuf’s Montessori. And yes, I do publicity for Haroon Siddiqui and am considering expanding that to other authors. But something tells me not to look for more work. Focus on the kids, says the voice. Focus on your column for the Observer, it says too (My mom notices all the issues I haven’t written for). Then another voice chimes in.. Shouldn’t I finish editing for the nth time that novel I once began? And when do I plan to begin studying for entrance exams to law school.

Should I even do law school at this point in our lives. Now is my time to focus on the kids. Hmmm..seems to me, a life that’s a little bit in transition. A life swinging between motherhood and a life that’s mine.


By Naazish YarKhan

When all you’ve been is a busy bee, it takes some getting used to when you have down time. Surprise! Having been a worker bee for the longest, what’s ended up happening is that I’ve lost the ability to just chill. I feel compelled to be doing something, even if it’s aimlessly window shopping and that’s saying a lot considering I don’t really like shopping. But as duty-bound as I feel to do something, I really am not doing much. I’ve discovered that I need stress to function. The less time I have, the more I can get done. The more time I have, the less I am able to focus and the less I get done.

I’ve also discovered all the little lies I told myself when I was a busy worker bee. “If I had more time, I’d actually read the books on my shelves” is one of them. “If I had more time, I’d read more Quran,” is another. Add “work on my novel, exercise, clean the house, sort the closets, vacuum and so on” to that list. You get my drift. Truth is too much time, for me, translates into too little structure which translates into nothing gets accomplished. I’ve taken to setting a timer when I do household chores, so that I work against a deadline and get it done .

People used to ask me how I accomplished things when I was neck deep in multiple projects for multiple bosses. I guess the secret to my productivity was that I couldn’t let anything pile up, or I’d be in a royal mess. When there’s no time to spare there is no room for one of the seven deadly sins - sloth – nor its cousin, procrastination.

These winter days are garbed in gray clouds and it’s pitch dark by 5 p.m, so I can’t tell if it’s me, or the lack of light that’s robbing my brain of serotonin and with it, attentiveness and focus. Norman Rosenthal, a pioneer in Seasonal Affective Disorder ( SAD) research, has estimated that the prevalence of SAD in the adult United States population in winter is between about 1.5 percent (in Florida) and about 9 percent (in the northern US). Symptoms include feeling sluggish, muggish, snail-ish, sadder. To be on the safe side and since this is only the start of a long, dreary winter I have ordered a light therapy box, which promises to do wonders. The light box makes up for the absence of natural, God-given light, flittering across our horizons these days and sitting in front of it for 30 mins a day, apparently gets the serotonin humming in our brains. So we’ll see in a week or so, if I’m any sharper, smarter, focussed. Plan A incidentally is air plane tickets to Muscat for some real sun, in late December. Yummmm.

Now if our weather was better, we’d probably do more with our free time. We’re not at sub-zero temps as yet, but besides eating out, movies, reading and shopping, I can’t think of much else to keep myself occupied. (No, no, I am not thinking housework and cooking. That never gets done! ) Or so I thought. All that changed this weekend when my husband decided to drive us to Wisconsin, which is the state next door. We were off to a state park, two hours away, to roast marshmallows and some hot dogs. This is something I absolutely love about my husband. He has the ability to turn a-day-going-nowhere into an adventurous, back-to-nature scenario. He’ll pick a state park or town we haven’t visited, located within an hour or an hour and a half’s drive from us, get directions off the net, pack some apples and juice boxes, and off we’d go.

Chalk it up to the way my brain is wired, because memories of all the road trips my parents took us on kicked in and I thought driving down to Wisconsin was a great idea. So we got the kids into two layers of clothing, gloves, hats and scarves. If we were going to be outdoors, we had to be prepared for the cold. At the last minute we switched cars, because my car has issues and no one wants to be stuck in the cold, on some highway in boonieville.

Two hours later, we were there and it was beautiful. The kids romped down to the water’s edge and I followed them, trying in vain to not step in goose poop. One of the fall outs of global warming has been that the Canada Geese refuse to migrate South sooner, and it’s near impossible finding a single patch of unsullied ground. So there we are at the Lake’s edge. It was beautiful and picturesque, only more so from inside the car with the heat on. I shivered, missing my jacket, that lay forgotten in the car trunk when we’d switched cars. Farhat was braver. He stuck it out without gloves that he’d left in the back-seat of this car.

‘Don’t walk into the snow, or your shoes and then toes will get wet,” was my constant refrain. Just because we in Chicago didn’t have snow as yet, we’d forgotten that wasn’t necessarily the case in another state. So here were the four of us in sneakers instead of our insulated snow boots.

Then we tried building a fire. There are match sticks and then there are match sticks for campers which light a huge fire in a jiffy. Remember that car switch-a-roo? Yep, we’d left the campers matches in there. Anyway, twigs, papers, coal that the last campers had left behind and some match sticks did get a fire going. My family roasted maybe four marshmallows while I sat in the car, clicking pictures. After all, we had made it all the way, and there had to be proof! They braved the weather for a good hour before Taskeen scurried in, followed by Yousuf, runny nose et al. They peeled off their double layers of socks and warmed their toes against the heat vents in the car. “I am so happy we’re here,” said Yousuf, as I rubbed his toes. My heart sang as he said those words and I was so glad we’d made the trek.

Once we left the lake, we saw it was less of a state park and more of a clump of wooded area in the middle of wheat fields, cordoned off by busy highways. Still Farhat, didn’t want to miss spotting deer, nor scaling Powder Hill. So he and the kids took off, waiting to watch the sunset once they’d reached the top. It was still only 5 p.m. The day was still young, when we hopped back onto the highway, only to be thrust almost immediately into a bustling town. Why does everyone think of Wisconsin as the boonies, I wonder? Parts of it are, but where we were it looked as much of a suburb, though less dense and with more fields, as where I lived.

On the way back, we stopped at a huge outfitters store, with every kind of rifle and all possible equipment necessary for hunting, fishing, and boating being sold to customers in ‘Green Bay Packers’ T-Shirts, all indications that this was Wisconsin and not Illinois.

Wanting to show the kids the city, we looped through the town of Milwaukee, where the official baseball team is the Milwaukee Brewers, thus giving away the main trade of that city. Before long, we were back in Illinois, passing up the exit where Farhat’s company is located. We’d left behind fields, and now sped past houses and buildings. Gurnee Mills Mall was our next stop. Back to the stores we knew so well. Back to our world where winter past times are reading, movies, shopping and dining out. We hadn’t ventured too far from home, but far enough to treat ourselves to a refreshing change in scenery.

How Schools & Society Have Been Short-Changing Boys –

By Naazish YarKhan

Taskeen and I are part of a mom-daughter reading group with two other moms/ daughters. The girls pick a book by turns and we all read it, then discuss the lessons in it, what made us laugh, cry, think, or giggle. This group is yet one more indication of how Taskeen’s development, by default, has dominated much of my mothering.

What I heard recently, in a brief exchange with a 30 something, professional, single girl, however, set me thinking. Let’s call her Asma. Like many girls these days, she was raised to be strong, independent, educated… discerning too. She was given credit for her views and had been taught to express them with confidence. And now, there just weren’t enough single guys who she found intellectually compatible/ as financially stable/well-rounded enough… take your pick. As young people say these days, “We weren’t clicking”.

According to her, this was partly because over the past so many years we haven’t been giving boys what they need to be all they can be, while girls are getting plenty of special attention and are being groomed to be super girls.

Whenever you’re giving your girls what they need emotionally, intellectually or physically, make sure your sons are getting what they need too, or they grow up to be half the men they can be and really aren’t interesting or the kind of person we girls want to spend the rest of our lives with, Asma continued.

Asma’s words touched a chord in me, because that was the scenario playing out in my home. Taskeen has always been the star. Yousuf’s activities have taken a back seat - it’s sometimes been because I think that I still have time with him since he is just five, while Taskeen is mine to mould only for eight more years till she leaves home for college. But other times, it’s because I want Taskeen to be this incredible young woman, who will one day be President of the United States, or this fantastic world-famous artist, or a bright star on the horizon in whatever capacity. It’s not that I don’t want the same for Yousuf, but I just haven’t funneled all that energy into him as I have into Taskeen.

Asma, by her comment, showed me that if more mother’s weren’t fostering that same intellectual curiosity and a determination to live life loud and bold in boys AND girls, we were raising girls who could very well end up single because the men around them just wouldn’t measure up.

Around this same time, I happened to have another interesting conversation with a match-maker aunty. There were 250 boys on her list and 1000 girls. A majority of these girls were professionals and many were 30 and over. I listened, a little surprised that there were as many as 1000 single girls and just 250 men enlisted for her services.

All these conversations, of course, prompted me to go online and do some reading. My behavior patterns were reflected in trends in education in the US and world wide. So much attention had been paid to honing girls’ confidence and girls’ abilities that some of it had come, unintentionally, at the expense of boys and their development. “An 11th-grade boy now reads and writes at the level of an eighth-grade girl,” I read from a report. “According to the National Center for Educational Statistics: Boys are 30 percent more likely than girls to flunk or drop out of school; When it comes to grades and homework, girls outperform boys in elementary, secondary, high school, college, and even graduate school.”

More single women were just the tip of the iceberg. Less educated men meant a host of other issues – men earning smaller paychecks do mean more dual income homes, more family stress, more crime by men due to higher rates of unemployment and so on.

From my reading I learned, it wasn’t that men weren’t smart. Nor did the research call for girls’ education to be put on the back burner. But a common theme was to first acknowledge that ‘yes there was a crisis’. Men were in trouble.

The Australian government, taking this problem seriously, had a committee work on addressing the issue in 2002. The result was Boys Getting It Right[1]. “Research has found that, in effect, boys’ capacity for hearing and processing verbal instructions is, in general, less than girls’, from the early years of schooling on. This is a remarkable finding, and one that was not well known prior to the inquiry. It has important implications for classroom instruction and pedagogy.”

According to many of these articles, boys became disengaged from school and homework, because of the manner in which school is conducted.[2] Boys need recess. They need play time to get rid of their energy. A huge trend has been cutting down recess or throwing it out altogether. Without that outlet, it’s but obvious that boys will fidget more and be distracted rather than sit and learn.

Another recommendation was teaching reading via phonics (rather than learning whole words by sight) was a better suited to boys since they have shorter attention spans. Still another recommendation was that boys learn by doing, rather than how most schools teach – taking notes. Also, girls are good at processing things so are apt to excel at essay type questions, for instance, whereas boys can come up with the right answer but can’t always explain how they got to it. So, in a way, the way schools work, can put your son at a disadvantage.

The less involved any child feels with school and studies or the more trouble they get into at school, the less likely they are to do well…When their inability or difficulty becomes their identity, over time boys are unlikely to find themselves motivated, possibly activating a downward spiral.

What I see as a related trend in the US is the ever increasing numbers of kids, especially boys, who are diagnosed as having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). In fact, “four of every five children taking medications like Ritalin for behavioral disorders are boys.” For a while now, I’ve wondered how on earth there could be such an upswing of this. So yes, they perhaps didn’t know to label this behavior all those years ago when we were kids. But my more dominant feeling was, ‘people are expecting kids to act like little adults rather than expecting them to be kids.’ And boys, especially, aren’t girls, so they aren’t going to sit as long as girls do. Somewhere along the line, the expectation that boys would sit or learn just the way girls do, became commonplace. No wonder boys who are genetically programmed to be active, are getting stuck with the label ADHD.

I’m no expert but my guess is another reason for this upswing in ADHD diagnoses, is us parents who don’t have the time to be parents. When both parents are working, we don’t really have the time to put up with kids who don’t toe the line. We have little energy and get exasperated faster. End result? Boys are apt to express their genetic coding and we adults think the kid has an issue. (And if you live like us where winter keeps us indoors, you definitely think your son is hyperactive, what with having no outlet.) If we step back for a moment, it’s really pretty obvious. It’s us, the adults, who don’t have any bandwidth to spare, and need all our ducks in a row and the world to function just so, so that we can accomplish all we have to do, in whatever little time we have left over from our careers. Others call it a juggling act or a balancing act. I call it a tight rope walk. That is how life is when both parents have to work.

The long and short of it is this. I have a son who is still young, so I’m still on the right side of the clock. I also have a host of 20 something male relatives who haven’t quite kept up with their female cousins as ample proof that this, indeed, is a legitimate issue. While there will always be those who will look at this research as controversial, my job as a parent is to become aware of all the research out there on this topic and to use it. I need to do whatever it takes to meet the distinct needs of my son and my daughter, in order that Tomorrow, God Willing, brings out the best in both.

A Penny for your thoughts

By Naazish YarKhan

I’m folding laundry and picking stuff of the floor and such and my son, who is five, thinks that should be part of my job rather than a family chore, since I am home and don’t have a job, while the rest of them are busy going to school or work, including him.

So while I do intend to make him tackle his nonexistent list of chores, I do household work which I hate and find mind-numbing. Amidst it , I find myself match making, answering emails, watching for emails that haven’t arrived, flipping through websites, shifting things from one corner to the next on the counter, in other words, I’m wasting time.

In between wasting time, I chance upon a collection of my hand-written notes of advice gleaned from here, there and everywhere. Some writer called quotes the literary equivalent to popping some Vitamin C into your system.

Here I share some with you:

1) Every decision ever made has been destructive or constructive or it wasn’t really a decision at all. It was being passive. Making any decision is better than making no decision.
2) Every time you do ‘courage’, you get a reward – a boost of confidence. A feeling that you can tolerate risk or change or loss. That you can go out and make it happen. Courage is how you father/mother/parent yourself. ( My fav!)
3) Courage = Wisdom + Action. Motivation = Energy + Will
4) You can never lose by making a decision, even if it goes wrong. From mistakes we grow, and the more decisions we make, the better we get at it. The cure for feeling trapped, is making a decision.
5) The more decisions you make, the more leadership roles you get and the more freedom you have.
6) To be able to stand up for oneself, you have to have an identity. So it’s a very good idea to give kids preferences and choices so that they can develop an identity.
7) Friendship is enjoying each others positive, emotional energy.
8) Assertiveness is mothering yourself, without forcing others or manipulating others, to get your needs met. Finding out what your needs are and finding ways to meet those needs, without depending on others to fill the voids for you. ( very important advice for stay home moms).
9) Courage is to face the fear of ridicule. When we do courage or assertiveness, those are the loneliest times. You may be swimming against the tide, but that’s okay because it’s going to allow you to grow.
10) When we suffer over things we have no control over, that’s when our positive energy is being replaced by negative energy. So train yourself to listen to the word ‘no’more often and train yourself to say the word ‘no’ more often too.

Tid-Bits to Chew On

By Naazish YarKhan

Have a craving for Halal Quiche or Brownies? Check out Love and Quiches. Susan Axelrod set up shop in her small family kitchen thirty years ago. Today, her company Love and Quiches operates out of a 65,000 sq. ft. state-of-the-art facility and is synonymous not only with quiche, but also with her carefully selected, handcrafted line of desserts. Her line of desserts began as a simple request from a loyal customer for pecan pie – one with that special home-baked taste her quiches were known for. Using all-natural ingredients, including real butter and Georgia pecans, Susan developed her now famous recipe, baked the pies and then froze them to capture the just-baked flavor her customers requested. She is a supplier to restaurants in USA, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain, Jordan Syria, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Nigeria, Yemen, Mauritania, Sudan, Libya, Iran. Want her goodies at a store near you? Just ask the manager to get samples from her at :

Corn. Is it the (Wise) Fuel of Choice?

With corn becoming the fuel of choice, it came as no surprise that corn prices more than doubled from their decade long average price of $2 a bushel, amongst ethanol producers. A ripple effect wasn’t long behind. The primary feed for cattle being corn, rising prices leave cattle owners with no choice but to hike up the price of milk.

Rising prices, however, don’t seem to impact sales of milk. Especially amongst families with young children, there really isn’t a choice. According to Cindy Haren, chief executive of the Thornton-based Western Dairyfarmers' Promotion Association, in an interview with The Denver Post, “when the average price of milk rose 19 percent in the spring of 2004, milk purchases declined less than 4 percent.” A gallon of whole milk at the supermarket is expected to cost almost $3.35 by October, vs. $3.07 in January, according to Ken Bailey, an agricultural economist at Penn State University who specializes in the dairy industry.

No doubt the international market will feel the burn, given the growing demand for skim-milk powder, dry whey and whey protein concentrates, all of which are exported for feeding programs in regions including the Middle East, Asia and Cuba.

Sugar Substitutes…. The Healthy Kind

Our recent vacation to Mammoth Cave National Park was restful… the times we weren’t hiking the trails, that is. “Wait up for me!” was my constant refrain as hubby and kids sailed up or down steep hillsides. I had no clue, I was that out of shape. As soon as I returned home, I made a mental note to myself. Either I get healthier now or pay the price as I get older. Maintaining health is easier and cheaper, than regaining it once it’s lost. First thing on my list was to kick the sugar the habit. I can avoid sweets but with 4 cups of tea, per day, on average, I consume close to 10 teaspoons of sugar.

That’s when I learned of Industrializadora Integral Del Agave’s Organic Agave Syrup 100% Blue Webber and Inulin Fiber, both available as retail products in health food stores.

But what is Agave syrup? Developed in the 1990’s, it’s a relatively new, 100% natural sweetener being imported by the U.S. It can be used as a substitute for sugar. Three-fourth of a cup of Agave can replace a cup of sugar in the original recipe. Agave syrup can be used in equal amounts when replacing honey. Some chefs also reduce the oven temperature by 25°F in recipes requiring baking when using Agave syrup.

Inulin Fiber is being called the ‘in’ fiber by Food Processing magazine. Comparable to sugar in taste, it too can also be used as a sugar replacement. It is considered a ‘prebiotic’, as it stimulates the growth of friendly and healthy intestinal bacteria, specifically bifidobacteria and lactobacilli, which inhibit the growth of harmful pathogens and support good colon health. Since Inulin fiber has a very low glycemic index, it is suitable for those on restricted diets.

Why not check your local health food store for supplies? Even if they don’t have Agave Syrup or Inulin Fiber, ask for Natural Sugar substitutes. It’s better than ingesting chemicals such as Nutrasweet and the like. And for those who are diabetic, throw in a small stick of cinnamon and see the difference in two weeks flat.

Take care, seriously !

Until later!

The War in Iraq Etc


By Naazish YarKhan

Spring is in the air. How would I know if I were oblivious of the longer days, the warmer weather? Well, I’d know because I’d have allergies. Yes, tis’ the season for sneezing and wheezing, but I guess I take comfort in the fact that I’m not alone. Naw.. it’s not like everyone else I know is in the same boat… it’s just the multitude of commercials selling anti-allergy prescription medicines that are suddenly hitting the air waves, that tell me I am not alone.

This week hasn’t been impossible. I only have to finish up a few pages of proofreading the magazine I work for, Halal Consumer magazine, and send it to the designer. Anyone out there, who wants to advertise to Muslims in Chicago, give me a holler and I’ll send you the rates. Halal Consumer Magazine reaches 40,000 Muslim families and organizations in the US and abroad and according to Business Week,( Jan. 2007), "59% of Muslim adults in the U.S. have a college degree, compared with only 28% of all American adults. Surveys show that median family income among America's Muslims exceeds the national figure of $55,800. And four out of five eligible Muslims are registered to vote, slightly higher than the overall rate." So it’s a great audience, to market to.

This week I did get, and then lose, a contract to do some web content, leaving me feeling very dashed at the lost, potential income. The deflated hopes flitted around my head despite my telling myself that if I lost the project, I’d have more time to actually work on my novel and sell it. So this is the last time I am going to think of the loss. Split milk. No crying. After all, I do have other work, other income.

Last week wasn’t that bad either. The weekend however was choc-a-bloc. Attended a Peace Rally to Bring the Troops home from Iraq. About 50 people were in attendance that crisp, chilly, sunny Saturday morning. Bush’s ratings are at an all time low of 30 percent and he has nothing to lose since there’s no reelection on the horizon, so he continues to do as he pleases.

Talking of politics, Barack Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton are already doing fundraisers for the 2008 presidential elections and their respective campaigns for the seat. Hillary hasn’t apologized for voting to invade Iraq when the idea was first presented to Congress, four years ago, so I won’t be voting for her next year. That aside, what kind of woman, stays with a husband given to extra-marital affairs? Monica Lewinsky made the most news, but there have always been women in former President Clinton’s life, and as much as I am impressed by his/her work ethic, I am not quite sure if I’d vote for a woman who stayed in a relationship for, what to me seems, like little more than political gain. Why wouldn’t you leave a man who constantly cheats on you? It’s not like Hillary didn’t know what Bill was up to. But then again, ask me if I would vote for Bill Clinton, and I’d say, “Yes. He makes a great president, why drag his personal life into the picture.” Go figure!

Barack Obama doesn’t have my vote for president, so far, either. I am not going to vote for someone, just because they happen to be a charismatic person of color. While President Carter is going blue in the face calling the situation in Palestine ‘Apartheid’, and while the media can’t stop hating his guts for doing that, Congressman Obama still comes out in favor of Israel ‘having the right to protect itself.’ Sure, let Israel protect itself I say, but then when the Palestinians ‘protect’ themselves, don’t call it ‘terrorism.’ I am disappointed that Obama choose to tout the party line instead of thinking for himself. My naivete annoys my husband. ‘He’s a democrat, representing the democratic party. Of course he’s going to spout the party line. That’s why it’s called a party line,” my husband reminds me. Well, yes. And in the end, everything is political, but I’d like someone who has the courage to stand up for the truth as well. To see things as they are. I guess the consequences are dire, for doing things like that when you’re a politician.

To those not in the US or not into following politics, all this talk of an election that’s going to take place in Nov. 2008, must seem so ludicrous. But really, it’s not. The main issue, is Iraq. The Democrats won both Houses of Congress in November 2006 because of Iraq. It was a mid term election with the largest turnout of voters, because of Iraq. Iraq continues to be a defining issue and hence, all this early interest in the 2008 presidential elections. On this the 4th anniversary of the Iraq War, 500,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed. Tens of thousands have escaped to Syria and Jordan. Only 500 were permitted entry into the US. 2000 plus U.S soldiers have died. Where does the candidate stand on this issue, is what’s on everyone’s mind. How soon will the troops be brought home? What is to become of the Iraqi people? Big Questions. How our presidential candidates answer them, could potentially make or break their bid for president.

Being an Immigrant - The emotional costs

By Naazish YarKhan

Twelve and a half years ago, I was 22 and a big city girl from India. I arrived here as a new bride, with stars in my eyes only to run, slam, bam into culture shock. Not the kind of culture shock you expect though. This was different. ( It did take time to wrap my mind around the fact that everything in the burbs closed by 11 p.m. Where did people go for a bite if they got hungry at midnight I mused. But that was merely a hiccup.) The hardest obstacles were emotional. The Indian immigrant community is large and yet small enough that everyone maintains their connections. New husband, new family, new social circle, not withstanding, the void came from not connecting with others at a deeper level, either intellectually or emotionally.

My husband and I attended at least two dinner gatherings given by one of our many family friends each weekend. Our hosts were the older generation of aunties and uncles, who had become my in-law’s extended family when they first arrived 30 years ago. I felt at ease and fit in seamlessly. Or, we’d hob nob with my husbands’ friends and their wives, many who’d married that same year as well. Again, it was almost effortless to become friends with the women. We were all in the same boat in many ways.

Come spring and summer, there was at least one wedding every two weeks that we were invited to. I was attending more weddings here and knew more people here than I ever did back in India. If not weddings, were we at a bridal shower, baby shower, engagement ceremony or a graduation party. And yet, there was that gnawing, emotional void. The need to connect at a deeper level, to be understood for who I was intellectually, a short hand to one’s heart and mind, were missing.

It wasn’t that the friends I was making in the immigrant community were too Americanized. Far from it, many of the ‘desi’ girls I befriended here, had lived far sheltered lives than I had ever. They cooked better Indian food than I ever did, and some even spoke better Urdu, than I. And yet, there is something to be said about the comfort of cultural short-hand, and shared histories, growing up watching the same TV shows, owning a similar sense of humor. As an immigrant, I didn’t have the same baggage. My loneliness perhaps was magnified by the fact that my husband’s elementary school was still a hop skip and jump away from where we lived. That his parents’ home was still very much his own home. That he didn’t have to make the adjustments or carve into existence relationships he wanted.

It often fell to him to play the role that my aunts and grand-parents had played, my siblings had played, my parents had played. My cheerleaders, my rock of Gibraltar, he had to be all those things and no one had prepared him to do any of it. How could one man do what an entire family, an extended one for that matter, had done?

Making and maintaining friendships really was what became very important in my life. I was committed to creating for myself the support I had before coming here, the security I had felt when I was back in India, the confidants and cheerleaders I could always depend on. It took a while to realize that I had to create the same for myself, off line too. Emails to school friends and college friends and my siblings weren’t enough to sustain me for life in America.

It meant pushing myself to be vulnerable and wholly present in every relationship…just as I had been when I was growing up in India. It meant realizing that I didn’t have to have the same interests, or even the same background, as some else to become close buddies. It meant realizing that age was no consideration when picking a friend. It meant being committed to friendship and being an accessible, good friend. And as I now see, it meant having patience. A garden grows slowly. The friends I made 12 years ago, are my inner circle, my emotional and intellectual sounding board today.
Lately, I tend to get too wrapped up in my professional pursuits and need to remind myself that friends are an integral part of my life and who I am. I need to remind myself that friends make my life richer and scheduling down time with them is vital to my existence.

I’ve been in a place where not many really cared to know who I was on the inside, or what I thought or what I had to say. When I remind myself to make time for friends, I guess I am also reminding myself, not to return to by gone times and with them, to that sad, lonely place.