Saturday, July 01, 2017

Happy Canada Day, eh? The Top 5

 It's Canada's 150th birthday, and we are throwing a grand party from coast to coast to coast. I am glad my parents came here oh so long ago from the Middle East to pursue a better life for themselves and their kids, and I've always been really proud to be a Canadian. So from memory, here's some top moments of being a Canadian.

1. My West Coast trip.

If you wanted to see some of the most beautiful scenery in the world, it's right here at home in Canada.

2. The time when we won the Olympic hockey gold.

Well, there's several.




But the greatest of them HAS to be the 2002 victory. Everything was in place for a great story. The game was in United States, our biggest rival, AND they were playing the final against us. The return of the NHL stars. The lucky loonie. The late equalizer.


3. Justin Trudeau's Election Night Speech, 2015

It had been a bruising election. On one hand was an ego-driven Prime Minister campaigning on policies of hatred and bigotry targeted at Muslims, and against niqab wearing women in particular. It would be a precursor to the campaign of hate in the United States to follow in 2016. The election grew particularly ugly in Quebec, with incidents of attacks against Muslims and minorities reported. The Prime Minister then spoke of "old stock Canadians" and seems to have been hell bent on wining by dividing the country. We Canadians needed to repudiate that, and to reject that so thoroughly that the mere thoughts of such bigotry would be buried, at least for a little while.

Enter Justin Trudeau, the son of the late Pierre Elliot Trudeau, the man who built Canada as it is today. He won, and won a majority. And in his very first speech as Prime Minister-elect, on his election night victory, he gave speech for the ages. One particular section (19:30), about a hijab wearing Muslim woman, even caught the attention of Americans and one of my American friends mused that we would never hear an American politician say something like that.

4. The kindness of Canadians when I broke my foot

Toronto is a big city. It's a busy, bustling, and often chaotic city. Yet, in early 2016, when I had a broken foot and limped to work on crutches, I never had to stand on public transit. People would rush to offer me their seat. This was also the time when I saw a women being racist towards a minority woman, and the whole train basically turned on that lady and forced her to get out at that next station.

5. The day when I became a citizen

Canada is not a perfect country. It's a work in progress. Some injustices, especially towards the First Nations, are still quite recent. Yet, over all countries in the world, it has something that others don't.

You have to live here to get it.

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!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

What 'Love, InshAllah' and other so-called progressive Muslim feminists don't get

Look at the rubbish that Shahla Khan Salter wrote on Huffington Post.

Titled "To Our Muslim Sisters: Don't Let Faith Stop You From Getting Married", the article makes the point that Muslim ladies should feel free to marry non-Muslim guys.

I first saw this article when Love InshAllah linked to it from their Facebook feed. Even before I read it, Ihad an inkling of what the article would say, and why the authors of Love InshAllah would promote it.

To all Muslim feminists: You want to solve issues in Muslim societies? Solve them. Don't create new ones. Especially when the solution is already given and you don't like it because it doesn't fit your Western "feminist" views.
This article, like many on the progressive left, relegates religion to "do what feels right". In essence, they elevate an individual and their own feelings/desires over what is revealed by God and understood as such for generations.

Islam, like almost any religion, has laws. If someone doesn't want to follow those laws, that's fine, but calling oneself Muslim and then saying those laws are not really laws is like saying I am vegetarian but it's OK to eat chicken. These laws are not a buffet that you choose what you want. Like any religion, Islam severely restricts marriages to outside the faith. Only in some exceptional circumstances is it tolerated.

This article is saying you are Muslim but don't need to follow the law, it's OK. Marry outside the faith, it's fine. Islam says it's OK (actually it clearly doesn't). 

The article, and the author, tries to fit Islamic law to some Western sensibilities. The author is saying a husband doesn't need to be Muslim, but only has to "love" his Muslim wife and her "Muslimness" (whatever that means). The article adds that a woman has the ultimate freedom to choose her husband, any one she wants (not really: if she's Muslim she has accepted to live under some moral laws defined by God). The author goes on to say that since we face other challenges we should be able to marry whoever we want (not true, those other 'challenges' can be dealt with other ways).

The final advice itself is dangerous: "Follow your heart".

The whole concept goes against Muslim ethos which is "do not give in to your base desires if it goes against God's desire".

The so-called "progressive" Muslim feminists who form the bulk of Love InshAllah's fan club do not understand one clear thing: no matter how many times they post rubbish like this under the guise of "furthering dialogue" or "promoting an interesting point of view", real Muslims will stick to their religion, no matter how tough. 

Islam hasn't come to create problems, but to provide solutions. Muslim Feminists don't like this solution, so their create problems of their own.

Other articles on Muslim Feminism:

Why Muslim Feminists Don't Win

Why (Many) Muslims Have a Problem With (Most) Feminists

Friday, March 10, 2017

Woodbine Mall Fantasy Fair

Amusement arcades and rides inside malls seemed to be common in big malls in UAE. Even when I visited Sharjah, one of the malls there had a little amusement park with rides and arcade games inside. It's not something that's common here.

There was a huge amusement park inside West Edmonton Mall which we visited, and it was huge, but that's an exception. In Toronto, we have the Woodbine Mall Fantasy Fair.

We had a Groupon deal that let 4 people ride unlimited for $30, so we went there last Saturday. The centre opens at 10 am and we were there at 11 am. It was great, there wasn't much of a line up at any of the rides, and we got to do everything at a relaxed pace, which is no mean feat with two toddlers.

The train ride is a popular one, and it goes all around the "amusement park", and the kids thoroughly enjoyed it. I reflected that with the groupon deal, this was the first time I was actually riding the rides! Usually as father I am the one paying and taking pictures and not enjoying the rides.

Even though some of the rides had height restrictions, most of the rides were suitable for all kids (and adults).

If you were not into rides, they had some other activities like "rock climbing". What I liked most was that even the most "extreme" attractions were geared for being suitable for kids.

So even the ride usually known as 'drop zone' or 'freefall' was made sure it didn't go too high, and kids could ride in it, although this particular kid didn't seem to have enjoyed it a lot!

They also had dinosaurs all over the park, for some reason! Almost all types of dinosaurs, from the big to the small, herbivores to carnivores, were there on display, and these were moving and roaring! I don't really know why they were there; it didn't seem to fit under any theme and did nothing for the rides.

If you are visiting this place, I would suggest going early. It fills up very quickly and gets really busy on some days, especially long weekends.

There's no halal food food in the food court except a shawarma place. So if you are not a fan of that, and you can't eat anything else at the mall, you should either bring your own food.You can go in and out as many times as you like, there's no real "gate". They check you for tokens or tickets at every ride.

We had a stroller with us, but we could leave it beside the ride while we went on it. A stroller was also useful as the youngest one decided to sleep in the afternoon while one of us accompanied the older kid on the rides. It's also a great place to dump your jackets, caps and mittens!

Over all it was a fun morning and afternoon. Although the mall itself is nothing to write home about, you can have a good time at the Fantasy Fair, provided it doesn't get too crowded. Come early, and enjoy!

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Toronto Light Festival

It's hard to get people to get out of their houses in our cold Canadian winter, even if the area to head out to is as fashionable as the Distillery District. So when I learned of the Toronto Light Festival, happening over there, I just waited for the right evening to head down there. Tonight the temperature was a balmy 12 C in the evening (very unlike our usual February weather!) so we decided to check it out.

The Distillery District is often the choice for bridal photo shoots and couple engagement pictures. It has an old work charm, with brick buildings and trendy shops and cafes.

The light festival has on their website one simple statement.

Winter sucks, and we simply want to make winter not suck so much. And oh, we really like pretty lights.

And I have to say, they got it right. The exhibits were bright, spirited and fun. And it was crowded (it was a nice evening) and everyone was taking pictures (and selfies) with all the cool exhibits.

My favourite was the ring of lights. It took some positioning (and practicing my crowd navigating skills I picked up in India) to get myself into the right spot to take the pictures I wanted.

Another crowd favourite were the tiger exhibits. I couldn't take every shot here that I wanted as it was simply too busy and our children decided they had enough and wanted to go home.

There were just white lights hidden underneath paper sheets (of different colours) held on a wire-frame structure. I know these were paper sheets as one girl accidentally managed to damage one of them!

There was no name to this next exhibit, but it was a series of images of an athlete doing some running and jumping.

Overall the Light Festival was fun (and free). Parking nearby was $2/hour. We spent nearly two hours here and while we finished seeing most of the exhibits, we didn't manage to check out some of the exhibits there were housed indoors. It's a great spot to spend some of the now not-so-sucky winter nights. On a crowded night, budget easily 3 hours here, especially if you are into photography.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Ducks in the Park On a Cold Day

It was the day after the snow storm. A few friends and I were taking a photography workshop, and after the class decided to venture to a nearby park for some practice shooting.

While our aim was to get some portrait shots in outdoor conditions, the park we went to had a (semi-frozen) pond with lots of ducks (loons) in it. Now there are beautiful creatures, and you don't often see them this time in the winter as many of them head south.

So it was to our surprise that we saw a huge bunch of them. Flying, swimming and people were feeding them bread, even though a sign asked them not to!

It was something to see these ducks walk so sure-footedly on the frozen part of the pond. Even the banks of the small brook were completely covered with ice (we had freezing rain as well), so it was tough for us to walk on, but these ducks were racing each other.

It was really the first time I had ventured out to a park in the winter, and I guess I should do it more often, if only for the photography. Winter (and the dead trees and the desolate landscape) can often make for some really dynamic pictures, full of drama and mood.

Girl on a Bridge
This picture above - "Girl on a Bridge" - remains one of my favourite shots from the day. Everything about it, from the bridge framed in the lower one third of the picture, to the girl and her stare across at something, and the barren yet tree laden landscape behind her tells a story.

Finally, our enthusiasm for pictures and photography could not compensate for the fact that it was getting colder (and it was evening too, so high ISO settings), so in the end we decided to call it a day. But I won't forget the Ducks in the Park.

Monday, February 13, 2017

A Snow Day in Toronto

You know you are a Canadian who lives in Toronto when you take pictures of the white snow covered landscape after a snowstorm in the city. After all, it's Canada, it's winter ... snow is therefore expected. But we live in Toronto, so we are a little spoiled when it comes to weather..

We got 10 cm of snow today, starting early in the morning. A snow day is not bad if it happens on a Sunday. I mean, you don't have to go to work, so there's no traffic to beat.

However, there's lots and lots of shovelling to do. Driveways are covered in snow and you have to clear it soon after it stops snowing (or there's an accumulation of a certain amount). I am not exactly sure of the law, but you DO have to clear your own driveway and sidewalk.

And then as soon as you get it all clean (and you are really proud of yourself, as it's hard work!), it starts snowing again!

You really have to marvel at the evergreens. Snow, hail, sleet - these little trees shrug it off as if it's no big deal. These coniferous trees never loose their green hue and are common across Canada.

Meanwhile, if you HAVE to go somewhere, make sure to give yourself plenty of time. We had to head to the airport during one snow storm, and our flight was one of the few that wasn't cancelled. We took double the usual time to reach the airport. And not to mention, have a car that has winter tires installed, especially if you are going away up north.

Our backyward is now a far cry from the oasis it was during summer. And it's amazing to think that such weather could only be 3 months away. How soon things change in a 100 days!

This slipper is the only remnant of summer still out in the yard. It's patiently waiting for sunny weather and long days. Soon, sandal, soon!

Winter is synonymous with short days and long nights. Great for fasting, or for khichudi. Which is what we had.

And there's one more way to enjoy the winter at home.

How do you enjoy your snow days? Let me know in the comments.