one praying mama

Dear God, thank you for my children. They make me complete. A complete, yet happy, nutcase.

The best chocolate mug cake for a family

My husband says I give in to my children’s sweet tooth way too often. I admit I’m guilty. Because I have a ginormous sweet tooth myself. And I hate waiting until the kids go to bed to satisfy my cravings for chocolate or baked goods.

If I could, I would be baking cookies and cakes every day. But I don’t – for the sake of our waistlines. Yet all my daughter has to say is, “Can you bake cookies today?” and before she finishes her sentence I am already pulling out the flour container. What can I say, sweets are my weakness. And I enjoy baking for my kids, too.

That being said, we all know that sweets contain way too much stuff that our bodies don’t really need. So I try to bake as healthy as possible.

While looking for a quick fix for my chocolate cake craving, I came across this awesome recipe for a chocolate mug cake that you – get this – bake in the microwave. A little bit of flour? 2 tbsp cocoa powder? No eggs? Only 60 seconds in the microwave? I was sold.

The recipe I saw on the Table for Two blog was for only one cake. Now I don’t know about you, but since having kids I never bake for one anymore. More like one army. So I adapted this recipe for a family serving of mug cakes. This recipe makes 4 mug cakes. The mug sizes I used hold about 3/4 cup liquid, and I filled them to about halfway and they came out perfect. I also added applesauce to sub for oil and a little date syrup for the granulated sugar. Just to make things a little bit healthier.

Chocolate mug cake for a family

(Adapted from Table for Two blog recipe for The Moistest Chocolate Mug Cake)

Ingredients:

1/2 cup flour

3 tbsp. cocoa powder

1/2 tsp. baking powder

3 tbsp. granulated sugar PLUS 2 tbsp. date syrup

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. of milk

4 tbsp. applesauce

Optional

1 tsp. of Nutella or any hazelnut chocolate spread, dropped in the middle

1 Hershey’s Kiss dropped in the middle

Sprinkling of chocolate chips on top

Directions:

1. Whisk together flour, salt, baking powder, sugar, cocoa powder

2. Then whisk in milk, applesauce, vanilla extract and date syrup.

3. Batter should be smooth, not lumpy

4. Evenly distribute batter among cups. You can even distribute among 2 large mugs. Just make sure there is room for the cake to rise without spilling over.

5. Add any optional ingredients.

6. Microwave for 60 seconds. (90 seconds for a larger mug) Of course this all depends on the wattage of your microwave, so if you are unsure, start with 60 seconds and see how it sets. Cake should not be liquidy or jiggly. But be careful not to overbake.

7. Top with caramel sauce, whipped cream, or more chocolate! The possibilities are endless…and dangerous.

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That understanding nod

Recently we were traveling by plane and had the wonderful experience of waiting at the airport (our flight was delayed), while one kid was sleeping in the double stroller, one had a diaper leak, and one was hungry/tired/bored.

Finally as time comes to board the aircraft, we lug past business class with our bulging backpack, a diaper bag hitting every seat, plus a sleepy-now-awake-and-angry-and-also-throwing-a-tantrum toddler. Did I mention another kid was now also sleepy/cranky/screaming?

And as I plop into my seat, I couldn’t help but think about the faces those business class passengers were making at us. Definitely not like the understanding nods that fellow parents give you as you tote around your kids and their seemingly never-ending necessities.

Ahh, business class. Sharp dressed men and women with no toys or huge bags around them, maybe a laptop propped comfortably in front of them. Or swiping on a tablet they don’t have to share. Or reading a newspaper. A newspaper!! I remember those… I used to work at a newspaper and have an unexplainable love for flipping through the pages and getting ink on my fingers.

You want to know the last time I read a newspaper? When I spread them out on the floor so my kids could paint and not get the floor messy. Yes, it was an old edition and yet, I still kept reading…..

The last time I looked at a tablet? I only get a minute of tablet time anyway, just enough time to scroll through the news headlines on the lock screen before a kid comes to me grabbing it and wanting to play some game involving making a pizza or feeding a cat.

While we sat squished in coach, I told my husband to let’s travel business class when the kids get older and we are able to enjoy having our tray table down without a kid banging on it. He gave me a weary smile.

And I think flight attendants never have children. Or it seems that way. Because they will always give you anti-kid friendly directions, like, “Please put away that LeapPad until after the plane takes off,” (cue crazy child screaming).

Or the best one is when your toddler is trying to run down the aisle and you are trying to contain him, and the flight attendant comes by with those wonderfully attractive child seat belts. Yes, I can see my child will now certainly calm down for this.

As I wrangle with my son to get the belt on him, the lady next to me sees my son flailing about, she brushes off the flight attendant and says, “Just put it around him so it looks like it’s on.”

I smile at her and do exactly that. (Disclaimer: Yeah, I know it isn’t safe. But I had my son with me under my belt.)

It felt nice to finally have someone understand me and what I was going through. This nice lady didn’t grunt when I accidentally dropped my shawl onto her seat, or groan when I bent down for the 10 millionth time to pick up a pacifier from around her feet.

Even as we departed the aircraft and made our way onto a bus to get to the terminal, the odds were still against us. I had a toddler now sleeping on my shoulder and no stroller. My husband had a 3-year-old sleeping on his shoulder, and he was practically dragging our 6-year-old who was also sleepy. With my bag hanging in the crook of my elbow, I just leaned against the side of the bus and prayed to get home NOW.

God must have heard my prayer, because all of a sudden a woman traveling with her mother motioned to me and gave me her seat. I thanked her with my words and my eyes, and every fiber of my being. Her mother asked me how many kids I had, and she smiled this smile that said, “Oh yes, I’ve been there.”

It really makes a difference when you sympathize with people. We all have been in different life situations. Whether it is dealing with children, spouses, parents, neighbors, coworkers, certain health issues, etc., we have all been there. It just takes a smile and an understanding act of kindness to show that yes, I am also human. I understand where you are coming from.

Isn’t this why God put us all on this Earth together? To learn from each other. To learn to live with each other. And more importantly, to become selfless people who care for one another.

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Going yum-yum for Mum-Mums

Why do all baby snacks taste dreadful? Like cardboard or really tasteless Cheetos? I used to care but then I figured, who cares? As long as my kid eats it, I am good.

When I had my first child, I wanted her to have only the good stuff. So I bought a box of Baby Mum-Mums. Organic rice rusks, said the box. She never cared for them. So I tried one. I ended up throwing away the whole box. Yeah, definitely didn’t make the midnight snack cut.

Then I bought some for my second daughter. Same story. So I gave up on Baby Mum-Mums. Although they seemed like a great snack. Easy to carry. Easy to chew on. And simple flavors like banana or apple.

When my son came along I gave him the tried and true baby snacks. You know the puffs and melts, etc. But one day we were outside and a friend gave her daughter a Mum-Mum rusk and my son swiped it. He LOVED them. In fact he loved them so much my friend ended up giving me extras.

He liked the Baby Mum-Mums so much, that I decided to try the Toddler Mum-Mums, too. And he just inhaled those. Especially the apple version.

I was so happy that he liked them because they seemed healthier and better than chips and cookies. But to my dismay, my happiness was short lived. I ended up finding out (from Alexandra over at the Mum-Mums company) that the Toddler Mum-Mums contain beef-derived gelatin and that’s a big no-no for our diet as Muslims.

But for the while it lasted, I was happy with the Mum-Mums. I do hope they find an alternative to beef gelatin, considering they are an organic snack.

Of course now that I have three little ones, snack time takes on a more creative turn… we make our own potato chips, pizza pockets, etc. What do you all do for snack time?

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The little creatures in our home

We are moms. And we know how to do a lot of things. It can be hard to not let all that power go to our heads.

But a big part of being a good mom is exerting patience and letting our little ones learn the right way.

My teacher said it best: “We have to remember that we have been given these kids from God. We can’t exercise power over them simply because we have the power. We have to take care of them and remember that they are creatures of God.”

I know for myself it can be really hard to remember that even though I am mom, I am also responsible for my kids’ upbringing. Through my actions and words, my kids learn how to navigate through this world. Am I setting the best example? Or do I just tell them what to do because I can? Because they have no power over me?

It can be nice to end the argument with, “No. Because I said so. Because I am mom.” But I am trying to explain better, and especially with my eldest daughter, I am trying to include her opinions and suggestions in our daily routine so she feels involved.

Sometimes it all feels like too much. Sometimes I think – can’t kids just eat, sleep and play? Sure, it would be easier. But when you really, really think about it, these kids are the next generation. Think of all the power we have in creating a better generation. I pray we put that power to good use and raise humble, kind and generous children, who will hopefully make our world a much better place.

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Mac n’ cheese with a secret

Ever since moving to the IRI, I have found myself searching high and low for different ways of preparing meals and snacks for the kids. Sure, I miss the convenience of just running to a local Kroger and picking up a meal-in-a-box or fish sticks. But now that I have been forced into cooking and baking from scratch, I have to tell you it’s quite rewarding.

So the other day FZ was craving mac n’ cheese – the “orange” kind. Yeah, which kid doesn’t love the “orange” kid. Unfortunately for me and many other cheddar lovers, there is no cheddar cheese readily available here. I know, I know. My jaw dropped the first time, too. There is a nice alternative – gouda cheese slices. And most of us moms use that here to make the “orange” mac n’ cheese.

But I realized through my own experimentation, that adding carrot or butternut squash puree to the final mixture makes your mac n’ cheese, not only delicious, but nutritious. And in the words of my 6-year-old: “awesome.”

When I told FZ what was in her pasta, she looked at me funny and my husband told me now she wouldn’t eat it again. But she actually was surprised that a veggie could taste so yummy!

Mac n’ cheese with a secret
Serves: approximately 4 kids, or 2 kids and 1 hungry mom/dad

1. Boil 2 cups of your favorite pasta – usually shells or fusilli work best

2. Have a cup of carrot or butternut squash puree ready.

3. In a small pot, melt 2 tbsp. of butter. Once melted, add 3/4 cup of milk, 1/2 cup of cheddar cheese, 1 tbsp. of heavy cream, 2 tsp. of garlic powder, salt and pepper to taste.

4. Let cook on low heat until mixed thoroughly. Then add carrot or butternut squash puree and heat through.

5. Add cooked pasta to the sauce mixture.

6. Done! Goes great with homemade chicken or fish nuggets.

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Sticking it to nasty colds and congestion

When it’s cold season I dread congested noses. Poor sniffling kids who can’t sleep, can’t nurse, can’t breathe. It is just horrible.

Sure humidifiers, Vicks, and steam baths help, but it just takes time. And you really can’t explain that to your kid.

So you have a cranky kid who can’t breathe and therefore cannot fall asleep, and you have your fingers constantly dipping into the Vicks. But there is a light.

Enter the Babyganics Cold Relief Chest Rub in stick form! That’s right! Perfect for post-bath smearing and pre-bedtime touchups.

I have to admit it was a bit pricey (I got it for $6.99 from Babies R Us), but it is worth it. At least to have one ready for the bedside so even a kid can apply a little to their chests to feel better at night. I also buy the tubs of Vicks (Love Target’s Up and Up version of the baby rub) for massive application.

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Talking death

Since the Islamic new year just started with the month of Moharram, FZ always has questions regarding the story of Karbala and Imam Hussain.

I try to give her small doses of the events of that time without overdosing her with too many tangents. I talk to her in simple terms about simple issues that she can relate with. And when she asks about something too philosophical, I just say, “We will talk about that when you are older.” There is only so much young kids can chew on, and you don’t want them glazing over with information overload.

A big concern she has these days is death, and why people have to die, especially those we love.

“I am really sad for Nano, because she doesn’t have a Mama or a Baba anymore.”

And, this: “I don’t want you or Baba to die. I would be really sad.”

Sigh. I know, kid. It’s a tough one.

I’ve read to just approach death matter-of-factly without too many details. So when she gets sad, I just tell her she doesn’t have to worry about that right now.

But it does hit me straight in the heart.

And I think about Imam Hussain and the Battle of Karbala, and his 4-year-old daughter weeping over the death of her father, uncle and brothers.

And I think what is that beautiful love for God that would make Qasim ibne Hasan call death “sweeter than honey”?

———–
Do you hear the cries of Hussain?
Do you hear him calling you?

When he brings his family to face hardships in the lonely desert,
Feeling their hunger and pain
He is calling you toward sacrifice

When he embraces the dust mixed with the blood of his kin,
Prostrating to God for the last time
He is calling you toward prayer

When he offers a second chance to his enemies,
Knowing they are ready to slaughter him mercilessly
He is calling you toward kindness

And when he stands alone –
Fighting for truth over falsehood,
Fighting for justice over oppression,
Fighting for humanity –
He is calling you toward Allah

Are you ready to say Labbaik ya Hussain (I am here Hussain)?
Are you ready to live with honor?
Are you ready to die with dignity?

If you are ready, then the Imam is waiting –
Labbaik ya Hussain, we are ready
Labbaik ya Mahdi, we are here

-S.B. Zaidi

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So, so hard

Some days seem so hard. You know those days when you pound the dough just a little bit harder and mutter more under your breath.

But it’s because you don’t want to lose your cool. Because as a mother there is nothing worse than letting out a barrage of anger-filled words only to regret it later.

Does that mean that a good mother never gets angry? I doubt it. I doubt that mother exists. Just like the mother who never lets her kid watch TV doesn’t exist.

Sure we get angry. We get frustrated. We lash out. And then we cry. Well, I do anyway.

I wonder when it will get easier. I wonder when M will get potty trained. I wonder when Moose will stop throwing things at my head. And I know those of you with older kids will all tell me – “Oh but it will get easier! Don’t worry!”

But you see, right now I just see the hard things. Not the easy things. And this, I know, must change.

I must see beyond the toy throwing and see my boy with two hands.

I must see beyond the relentless questions and see the girl who is able to communicate.

I must see beyond the potty accidents and see the toddler who can put on her own pants and shoes.

Then I no longer see problems, but instead I see the many beautiful faces of my children. Their soft smiles, the way they share, and the way they call on me.

Once I see past the hard stuff, I become grateful for the many blessings I do have, and this makes it easier.

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Overcoming stage fright

It was hard picturing Fatima Zahra stand up on the stage at her school program. For one, I was worried she would forget the verses of the Surah (Qur’anic chapter) she was reading. But not because of me. FZ is a perfectionist. And if she stumbled over her words, she would be in a bad mood and dwell on it the rest of the day. And maybe even the next day.

But my heart was full of pride as I saw my first born chatting excitedly with her school friends when we arrived at the school. It was a Quran program at school and FZ had been chosen to recite a surah at the program. She would be reciting Surah Ghashiya, a 26-verse surah she had memorized. I couldn’t be prouder of her. She even practiced the lines before time, and the day of the program, when I asked her if she wanted to go over the lines again, just in case, she was adamant that she knew all the words. Alright, alright, I said.

I had been surprised that the fact she would be reciting a surah from memory in front of people didn’t bother her. That was, until, a day before the program. She came up to me and was nervous.

“Mama, I’m going to be scared reading in front of all those people.”

“I know it seems difficult, but just relax and try your hardest. Inshallah you’ll do great.”

When we got to the school, FZ was cool and calm. I was happy that maybe her jitters had disappeared. Soon the girls were called by the teacher to line up and get ready for the program.

Now I could see worry on FZ’s face. She wouldn’t even look at me. One by one girls came up to recite and they did really well. The parents clapped loudly after every recitation. Then the teacher called up FZ and I beamed as I saw her get up and go on the stage.

She grabbed the mic and quietly started reading. In fact she was so quiet, the teacher had to turn up the volume on the microphone. But she kept on reciting. I noticed her right foot tapping the stage, and I couldn’t help but smile. But she kept on reciting. I was recording her reading and as soon as she was done I went back to my seat. FZ climbed off the stage and ran to me, giving me a great big hug. I fought back tears as I held my now big girl and told her how proud I was. She read the whole thing and didn’t forget a word.

Parents are wired with this innate desire to see their kids succeed at everything. That’s why some parents are guilty of actually doing everything for their kids so they don’t have to fail. Ironically this behavior is just setting them up for failure. When kids struggle at certain tasks, they value the outcome more. They learn the value of perseverance. They get a huge boost in their self-confidence and self-esteem.

I would’ve been proud of my daughter no matter how she performed at the program. The fact that she got up on stage, faced total strangers and recited something from memory, is success for me. It means she has confidence and guts. It means I did something right, and that is humbling.

I am so grateful to God for these milestones that are slowly uncovering the young girl with so much potential. To my beautiful, charming, intelligent Fatima Zahra – I love you and am very proud of the strength you have. I pray God gives you success in your life, every step of the way. And when He does, I’ll be right here cheering you along from the sidelines.

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Failure is not an option

Imagine a hamster on his wheel. But with no option to stop. This is a life of a mom. Unless it’s nap time, of course. Then if your stars are aligned correctly, you get a few moments of rest.

I’m not complaining. But this is how it is.

I find it hilarious when some new parents talk about how they won’t let their kids “change their lives.”

“They have to know that I am the boss. They can’t change me.”

Yeah. Right. Come 3 a.m. when Junior wakes up screaming and you have NO IDEA what’s wrong, let me know how that works out for you. Kids are supposed to change you. Now wait, before you start the hate mail, let me explain. Kids aren’t supposed to change who you are, but they do change how you are.

I won’t lie, I have a short temper. When FZ was born, I let simple situations get the best of me. Blame it on the “new parent” syndrome. The one where you read everything, believe everything and yet nothing works. But we waded through the waters and ended up (so far) with a well-adjusted, bright and sweet girl. But fortunately for me FZ, by her nature, was a relatively calm and easy child. She listened and was a good follower. If I told her she was in trouble, she would quietly obey.

When my M came along, the world shifted. I’m not kidding. Here was a girl who made me rethink my whole parenting philosophy. She was sweet and good, but aggressive. We had a short hitting/biting phase when she was 1.5. She had horrible tantrums – screaming, fighting, kicking, with no end in sight. All in all, she threw us a curveball. At times I felt like just giving in and giving up. But I knew with my kids, failure is not an option. The moment they would see that I am not on my game, they would make a break and run for it. Because of M’s sensitive nature, I couldn’t be sarcastic. I couldn’t be mean. I had to be “nice” all the time. Even when disciplining. If she even notices a tinge of sarcasm in my voice, she crosses her arms and tells me not to be mean. “I’m really, really angy. Don’t yell at me,” she says. Hmph. OK, OK, I am sorry. I think this is God’s way of telling me to change my temper and ease up. Duly noted, God.

In my opinion, kids are like those tall towers made of blocks. They go up, and often come back down, and go back up, etc. But the best towers are built with the best blocks. You are going to go up and down with your kids. You are going to sound like a broken record. You are going to sound like a broken record. You are going to…. ahh, you get it. But that’s not the problem. The problem is letting go completely. The problem is thinking that you don’t have to care about sleeping, discipline, feeding, etc. Sure I have learned to let go of a lot of things – but I still have control. You have got to be the best for your kids. My kids know that Mama is the boss and in return, I offer my services completely to them. They are not devoid of my attention, love and care. Even when I lived close to my mother, I never abused her availability to care for them. They knew Mama and Baba were their official caretakers and Nano was an awesome distraction from my evil ways. FZ often begged to go to Nano’s house; heck if she could she would live there. Heck if I could I would leave her there. But I had to teach her that we are first, and that was the order.

Kids are a gift from God, and we can’t play with them or treat them as decoration pieces. They require, and rightfully deserve, our full attention and the best of us. Does that mean we pretend? No. We are human after all. But that does mean that we need to make ourselves the best we can so our kids have good role models. It’s not easy task – but then again having kids isn’t easy. And once you’ve jumped in this ocean of parenthood, would you consider drowning an option?

Here, grab a floatie and hold on. It’s going to be one hell of a ride.

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