Monday, June 16, 2014

A week in NYC!

Back in the middle of April we took a very spontaneous and amazing trip to NYC all thanks to a work project suddenly assigned to my husband. Everything really worked out great! I was in my 2nd trimester so my energy level hadn't quite taken a nose dive yet, so Ali and I took advantage of this opportunity and joined him. We spent an entire week like tourists discovering the city I had lived near for SO many years but never took the chance to explore. Wajih left after his work ended, but Ali and I hung around at my mom's place for an extra week and got some much needed time with Nana, Nani and Unga (what Ali calls my little sister, a word he created all his own).

Weather wise mid April was nice to be out and about in the city. We wore jackets or layered on light sweaters and even had two days of beautiful 75 degrees and sunshine; perfect for a day at Central Park!

I had created a basic list of things I wanted to do with Ali so I had sort of a game plan for our trip while keeping in mind alternate options in case it rained. I also Googled reviews for some of the best parks and playgrounds for kids.

Places we went or hoped to go
Dylan's Candy Bar
FAO Schwarz
Times Square: Toys R Us, M&M's and Hershey's store
Central park: sailboats, Umpire rocks, playgrounds, hike in North Woods (12pm free tour Tuesday), zoo ($19 for both)
Metropolitan Museum of Art (Alice's Teacup nearby for lunch)
Thursday- pay as you wish at Children's Museum of Art 4-6pm
Washington Square Park - Greenwich (PB&J company nearby for lunch)
Pier 25 playground - Tribeca (whole foods nearby for lunch)
Brooklyn waterfront park pier 6 (dumbo park)
Hippo park - upper west side

Now I'll let the pictures do the talking about how great our trip was:

A beautiful shot of Tampa Bay as we took off, surprising my parents when we showed up at their door!

Oh Wawa how I miss thee!
 Closest one to us in FL is 20 mins away :(

So happy to be back home with my Jersey Girls, little impromptu family BBQ to enjoy the sunshine!

First night my parents joined us and we did the Times Sqr thing

Obligatory Time Sqr picture

Next morning outside Rockefeller Center

St Patrick's Cathedral
Easter display outside Rockefeller Center

playing with sailboats in Central Park

my favorite painting at the Met

So I'm officially obsessed with tea and scones.
A trip to NYC is no longer complete without Alice's Teacup!
Ali learned how to take pictures that day.
this one actually came out artsy!
I have never before had scones that tasted this good.
Every single one was just divine!

View from our room at the Hilton on 52nd St

This kid was in Toy Store heaven.

The next day was rainy so we did another toy store
We both loooved FAO Schwarz, you can easily spend hours here!

Dinner at an Italian restaurant near the theater district.
Really wasn't as good as it looked.
Molcajete Taqueria in Greenwich. Delishh!
I did not find riding the subway to be kid or stroller friendly! 
Gotta love NYC street art!

the most heavenly creme brulee I ever did eat!
Hubs took me out to a fancy dinner at Aquagrill in SoHo

Mango Mousse!

Selfie with subway! #totallydangerous
View outside the Waldorf 

This chandelier was in the women's bathroom!
I'm realizing I have a selfie problem

We totally sneaked around the hotel to check out the snazzy ballrooms
while my poor husband worked late, I sent him pictures like this

Second trip to Alice's, this time with my bestie Aisha!

We get off the subway and before I know it
 Ali runs into Mickey's arms like he's a long lost relative! #Disneykid

Beautiful displays all over Dylan's Candy Bar

Cookie Monstah milkshake!
Oh how I wish those giant swedish fish were real

Central Park playground fun
Ali makes a friend!

Our last day there I finally dragged the hubby to Alice's for yet another lunch of tea and scones!

Even though I've been to NYC many times in the past, I had never spent an entire week there walking around the towering buildings or navigating my way through the subway. Honestly, I loved every bit of it, there's just something so magnetic about this city it fills you with hope and potential just being around all that energy. My husband is not a city guy, he loves the country life but there's a part of me that has always wanted to experience city life. I was so thankful to have the opportunity to do that now. I was happy to find that there is so much you can do with young children too! Can't wait for Hubs to have another work assignment so we can do it all over again ;)

Friday, June 13, 2014


The below definition is taken from Wikipedia (which I know is not always accurate, but in this case I can say I read through it and can agree it is).

Ihsan (Arabicإحسان‎), also spelled ehsan, is an Arabic term meaning "perfection" or "excellence" (Ara. husn). It is a matter of taking one's inner faith (iman) and showing it in both deed and action, a sense of social responsibility borne from religious convictions.[1] In Islam, ihsan is the Muslim responsibility to obtain perfection, or excellence, in worship, such that Muslims try to worship God (Arabic Allah) as if they see Him, and although they cannot see Him (due to the belief that Allah is not made of matter), they undoubtedly believe that He is constantly watching over them. That definition comes from the Hadith of Gabriel in which Muhammad states, "[Ihsan is] to worship God as though you see Him, and if you cannot see Him, then indeed He sees you". (Al-Bukhari and Al-Muslim).[2]

At a recent gathering I attended this word was mentioned and it really stuck with me. Something along the lines of 'God wants us to constantly strive to be perfect. All of his creation is perfect. Man he created perfect also, but we err and make mistakes so we must continuously work to return back to perfection. That's what He wants from us.' I really love this ideology. Probably because I'm a major perfectionist myself. But it just makes sense! As parents, don't we want our kids to be perfect? We know and accept that they won't always be. In fact we are well aware they will make mistakes and we will love them regardless. Their mistakes will never change the immensity of our love, no matter how badly your child wrongs you if he sincerely turns to you and asks for forgiveness you know you will grant it. So while we know they will inevitably do wrong, don't we strongly believe they're capable of doing better and wish to see them doing that? No parent thinks their child is just mediocre or tells them to be average. Yes, we do say its okay if you don't always succeed, but try try again right? We push them to work past tasks that they struggle with because more than themselves we have faith that they can do it.

Now, anything can be taken in a negative light, even perfection. If you become too harsh with enforcing perfection it can be overbearing. But I find that encouragement is key. This week I enrolled Ali into a summer camp program which has a heavy focus on literacy. He's only 3.5 and the rest of the children in his class are already 4 or older plus many have been attending the school all year long while Ali was home so I knew they had an edge over him. It's cute seeing my shorty among all the other kids, he may be small but he's got a ton of personality. I was aware he might struggle in some areas but in others he would be fine (verbal skills, this kid can talk your ear off!) but if I didn't push him towards excelling higher then we would never know what he's capable of. Week One was a great success. Not only did he cry because he didn't want to leave school (please let this continue forever), he's already recognizing sight words 'see' and 'the' and letter tracing has also been less of a struggle. I'm so proud of you Ali, I know you aren't perfect. Some people may tell me I'm biased as your mama but to me you always will be. This week, like always, to see that when I push you to achieve higher you always surpass my expectations fills my heart with so much joy that words cannot describe!

Ali, as you grow older you will realize quickly that your Ammi will constantly push you to be better, to be excellent. I will not stop telling you to think about your actions and words before you execute them. I will repetitively remind you to think of others, to share your things (toys and time being just a few of them) selflessly and to reflect on where you did something wrong and how it can be done better. I will appreciate you and cheer you on when you do succeed. I will also hug and console you when you don't. But I will not stop encouraging you to do everything you do with Ehsan. Be it reading and writing today, but over time you'll see you will want to do it in every aspect of your life.

We speak a lot about good vs bad in our house, you are well aware of Prophet Muhammad and often ask about how he dealt with people who were not nice. How he used prayers, 'talking to Allah' to be a good boy and to win over the bad guys. In life, there are lots of 'bad guys', I hope I can arm you with the right tools to overcome them. One aspect I want you to focus on is prayer. Perform your prayer with Ehsan. This is something that perpetually throughout life you will have to work towards, everyone struggles with it. Everyone has some basic staple prayers we say as we rush to complete our daily 5 prayers among the other million tasks we have to do in the day. 'Please keep my family safe and healthy. Forgive us for our mistakes and help guide us on the right path away from harm and evil." Sometimes we say them so mechanically we lose the essence of what we're saying. Try, try and try again to not let your prayers become mechanical, focus on each word you are saying and truly mean it. I realize now as an adult, God is well aware that we will lose the essence when we're doing this 5 times a day, we may even stop doing the obligatory five times because we let life's demands (or laziness) get in the way. He will love us and be merciful regardless of it. But it's our job to keep striving for Ehsan, nothing will bring Him more joy than to see that.

**Alert: this may get long**
Before I end, I want to take something off my chest that really irks me. I hope one day Ali, that it irks you too. Because if it does that means I did something right in my life. There is this word 'bidah' I kind of like hate it and I know I encourage you not to hate anything but in this case it gets really hard. Bidah means innovation/change, and there's this whole group who says you shouldn't do anything that may be a change from what the Prophet did himself. (there's good change and bad change, but for fear of deviating from the right path people want to avoid bidah overall. Yeah its complicated and there's a lot more to it, but that's it in a nutshell) While I understand their fear of our posterity veering off away from the fundamentals of our religion if we add in all these supplementals I feel they're driving a lot of us crazy with all their 'bidah police-ing'. And in fact, this 'bidah' calling has stopped a lot of people from going further in their devotion, it's like no one wants to get extra credit anymore.

For instance, today is the 15th of Shaban (Islamic month, also called 'Shab e Baraat') and my family for as long as I can remember has a tradition where we stay up late and do supplementary prayers on this night. We ask for forgiveness for our year of sins and for guidance for the year to come. My mom would make special food and after dinner we performed our individual prayers or read Quran but we sat together as a family in one room. It's a wonderful experience and there are only a handful of nights in the entire year where we did this. Our parents let us know that this was a supplemental special night and while it was not a requirement if we did this it would make Allah happy to see us doing more than what is required of us. Now I just can't for the life of me see why this 'innovation' is wrong! Why would God ever not want us to go above and beyond the basic requirements? What is so wrong with supplemental; in school doing extra credit assignments was always a good thing! I'm not going to argue whether the Prophet did or didn't do it or if there is evidence in the Quran regarding it. I'm just asking you to use logic to think about it deeper, instead of letting fear misconstrue your thoughts on it.

Ali, I will not be around forever and I know after I'm gone you will forget many things I've taught you or stop doing them the way I did. I will always tell you to look in your heart and ask yourself if what you are doing is something that would please Allah. Whether it's honoring Prophet Muhammad's birthday or certain days of the year like 15th Shaban and 10th of Ashura by staying up all night to do extra prayers or cooking up a special meal that day or holding a Quran khani (event where sections of Quran are read in a group setting often done at funerals or auspicious occasions). Yes, this is all supplemental, not required and I will always encourage you to perfect obligatory practices before you focus on the extra credit, but my point is that I don't want you to discount the extra as not being worth attempting at all. I hope I have taught you well enough so you are capable to know better. In fact, if I had to choose I would rather you do this than anything else this world is full of that keeps you away from praying. Prayer is just a form to remember Allah, to truly love Him as He should be. So perfect your prayers, do them with ehsan and soon you will find that your heart will seek all ways to stay in constant remembrance of Him.

(Yes, that last bit is the Rumi loving, Sufi soul side of your mama!)

Monday, June 09, 2014

Recipe: Herb crusted chicken with sautéed veggies

A quick and easy 20 minute dinner!

2 chicken breasts, sliced in half to create 4 pieces
1/4 bag of frozen broccoli
1 tub of fresh baby portabella mushrooms
thin slices of vermont sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 tsp dried parsley
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp crushed red peppers
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp Italian seasoned bread crumbs
2 tbsp whole milk
4 tbsp butter
2 cloves finely chopped garlic
2 tbsp olive oil

In a bowl mix sliced chicken breast with olive oil, salt, pepper, cumin, paprika, garlic powder, dried parsley, bread crumbs and milk. Make sure the herbs and spices are well rubbed down on the breasts and they are fully soaked in the milk. Place in the fridge for 10-15 minutes so the ingredients can absorb well. Preheat oven to 400F, in a lightly oiled pan place the chicken pieces, top with cheese and sprinkle more bread crumb on top to choice. Bake for 20 minutes. Meanwhile prep your vegetables. In a saucepan melt butter on medium heat, add in the chopped garlic and defrosted broccoli. Saute broccoli until its a bright green color and not too limp in texture, leaving butter in the pan remove the broccoli and add in mushrooms. Add more butter/garlic if you feel necessary and saute mushrooms until they began to form a sauce. Once you're chicken is ready, plate with veggies and serve. This recipe makes enough for 2 (or 1 hungry person!).

As a bonus I thought I'd include below my absolute favorite go to breakfast meal. I love this recipe and haven't gotten store bought pancake batter in almost a year! My son requests pancakes at least once a week and loves to help me make them. I love how fluffy these turn out and its the best way to add in fruits like blueberries, strawberries or craisins without my picky eater creating a fuss.

Super Fluffy Pancakes