Ramadan 2018: Post #9- No-cook Ramadan Neighbour Gifts

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As the years pass, and I learn more and more about myself, I’ve come to understand that one of the things that makes me feel most like me, is connecting with others. I crave connection and community and I’m happy that over the years, Ramadan has become a time that allows me to feed those needs.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I’ve also come to understand that gift-giving is one of my love languages and giving people gifts makes me happy.

Originally, I was hoping to cook/bake something with H and share it with our neighbours but the logistics involved with that while meeting the needs of a busy young toddler seemed daunting. Instead, I opted for purchasing something that I hoped would be meaningful.

I had similar intentions last year but opted for making these DIY soup jars.

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I love supporting small-businesses and local businesses, and really respect people who pursue their entrepreneurial dreams without waiting around for someone else to help them.  So this year, I was happy to think up something that could foster the intersection of these three areas.

I decided I wanted to share gifts with our neighbours, teachers and some of our non-Muslim friends and co-workers this Ramadan, not only as a way to share some information, but to sincerely show appreciation for the beautiful people that have become my village. Our family sat down together and we figured out that we needed to make 23 gifts.

I decided to include products from two Canadian-based businesses that were founded by Syrian refugees. The first was Alberta-based Aleppo Savon (who I blogged about here) and the second was Nova Scotia-based Peace by ChocolateI was intrigued by their stories and really admired their courage and contribution to Canadian society.

H and I went to the Aleppo Savon soap factory in person and bought a variety of scented soaps. I knew we would be wrapping them individually. As for the chocolate, ultimately, I decided on ordering the chocolate bars because of their clever marketing! The bars have labels that say “Peace” in various languages and include a pronunciation guide and the name of the language. Plus, there was free shipping on orders over $100!

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We did end up ordering a box of mixed chocolate for ourselves.

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H helped me decide who would receive which soap flavour and chocolate bar. She helped me punch holes in the bags, and glue on the beautiful labels that we downloaded for free from Sweet Fajr. She helped me measure and cut the twine to wrap the soaps and tie off the bags.

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Along with the soap and chocolate, we included some information about the businesses and their stories. The staff at these organizations were very open and helpful and provided us with the information in PDF versions (Aleppo Savon Story (1)   PbC Story). We also had a handout explaining Ramadan, which we modified for our purposes, from Waafia. Here is the direct link to their notecards. The header was also taken from Sweet Fajr and altered to better fit the space.

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H was very excited to distribute the gifts to her neighbours, teachers and coaches, aunties and uncles and even the mailman!

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I was excited about how this year’s gift came together- I drew on so many different people and their skills to make it possible and that reinforced the idea of community for me. If you have a moment, please check out their websites (I’ve linked them where applicable).

I wonder what we will come up with next year…

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Ramadan 2018: Post 8 – Factory Field Trip

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Last weekend, I took H to the industrial part of the city so we could finally go visit Aleppo Savon, a local soap factory committed to making natural handmade soaps.

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It was established last year by a fourth-generation Syrian soap maker who had come to Canada as a refugee. Along with two of his friends (one of who was also a Syrian refugee) he established Aleppo Savon. I will explain how this ties into Ramadan in a future post.

It was a quiet Sunday morning, and when we got to the soap factory, we had the chance to look around.

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In addition to a variety of soap, the shop also carries oils, and some foodstuff.

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H quickly started walking around to smell the different soaps. She decided the white ones (jasmine) were her favourite.

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We marveled at the way they were displayed before we were joined by Walid, one of the owners and soap makers at Aleppo Savon.

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He explained that the soaps were stacked the way they were to allow for air circulation- they take 6 months to dry before they’re ready!

He showed us what the famous laurel oil soaps look like when they’re ready. It was so cool to see how much the colour changes.

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He picked up on our fascination and showed us what they look like on the inside.

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He was very kind and obliged when we asked him if we could see where the magic happens. He took us on a tour and explained the various parts of the soap making process.

We saw where the soap is cooked and got to test the famous laurel oil.

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We saw how the soap is solidified (set in wooden crates) and cut into bars.

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We saw how the soap is stamped (this was H’s favourite part!)

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And we saw where the soap is packaged.

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We even got some lavender soap to take home to try.

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The soap we purchased smells amazing. With only natural ingredients, it is a beautiful way to stay clean and a great alternative to other soaps, shampoo and shaving cream.

This was a wonderful opportunity for H (and myself!) to see how something is manufactured, not to mention, an easy way to support a local small business started by a group that is very close to our hearts. All of the staff I’ve interacted with are friendly and humble and I wish them nothing but the best in their venture as they contribute to the Canadian economy and to Canadian society.

I loved seeing how engaged H was during our visit- how she was able to use her different senses to interact with this product. She asked questions, gave input and felt important as she was taken on a personal tour. One of the best parts for me happened after the actual visit.  Later that evening while H was playing with her blocks, she turned to me and said “These as my soap towers.”

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Ramadan 2018: Post 7- Learning Arabic Rocks!

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I had an idea a while ago that I was hoping to do sometime in Ramadan to surprise H with. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, we’ve been dabbling with the Arabic alphabet for the past few years, but this year, I’m trying to reinforce what she already knows through various different games so that she can move on to start formally learning how to read the Quran.

So far, she has seen the Arabic letters in print (books and posters), on screens (often accompanied by a song) and on these cute wooden blocks I used to sell. (Note: I still have them in a variety of languages, other than Arabic so please contact me if you’re interested- the Farsi and Hindi ones are especially beautiful!)

I love the idea of a tactile resource so a few weeks ago, I finally decided to print the Arabic alphabet on rocks! I used paint pens I had previously purchased from Michaels.

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How cute would these be to make as a gift for someone? Slip them into a canvas bag and give a child in your life a unique and functional play resource.

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And because I like open-ended items and play things that can be used in multiple ways, I decided to paint moons and stars on the back of some of the rocks. I did this so that H could play a variation of Tic-Tac-Toe, a game she discovered a few months ago and loves playing on a dry-erase board.

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Someone could just as easily paint or draw whatever might capture the interest of their child: animals, geometric designs or just leave them in their beautiful, natural state. I love the variety of colour, shape and size!

H found these photos on my phone last week (before I had a chance to add them into her Ramadan Calendar) so we decided to play with them. She was so excited!

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And she went about ordering the alphabet (though as you can see, she doesn’t yet know that Arabic is written and read from right to left).

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Y loves playing with them too. He turned ONE 10 days ago and loves filling and dumping things.

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P.S. I hope you appreciated my carefully crafted pun!

P.P.S. I confess that I ran out of rocks! I still need to complete the other half of the alphabet.

 

Ramadan 2018: Post 6- Ramadan at Preschool

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H is in her second year of preschool. Last year, we recognized Ramadan by sending Ramadan Goody Bags for each student in her class. Along with fun things and dates, they also included a fact sheet for parents. This year, I wanted to do something different for the children.

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I had the idea to visit H’s class and share a story and activity with the children. Although we have many books about Ramadan, all of our books were in English. H attends a French preschool and so in March, I began my search for a French book about Ramadan.

I found a bunch through an Islamic bookstore based in Quebec but a few of the titles were out of stock. And to be honest, I’m picky about books and wasn’t sure what I would be getting. The bookstore’s website didn’t have a preview feature so I had to judge the illustrative style and writing styles by the cover (something I hate doing because you can’t judge a book by its cover!)

I was getting ready to order when I had the idea to check a mainstream bookstore in Montreal, so I checked Renaud-Bray online and found a few titles I was more comfortable about ordering. At least I knew they would be professionally published. I excitedly placed an order at the beginning of April and waited for them to arrive. After ordering them, I also checked Indigo and found one of the titles there.

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Once they arrived and I had a look, I spoke with H’s teacher and asked if I could come in and read a Ramadan story and do a craft with the children. She was very receptive. Since H is a part of two different preschool groups, we decided that I would come in to work with the older group (there were also less children) and her teacher would essentially copy the program for the other group. Better yet, I was able to bring Y with me so I didn’t have to figure out child care.

I asked H if there were other things about Ramadan she wanted to show her class. She wanted to show her new prayer rug and hijab as well as some of her Ramadan books in English. I also packed some dates and kufis.

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I shared the stories with her class. I say share, not read because it was more about giving them some basic information and showing photos/pictures while pointing out interesting things.  And I’ll be honest, my French is pretty rusty right now so I could explain so much. Fortunately, some of the educational aids that were in that day were able to better explain things to the children.

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I was surprised at how attentive some of the children were – it was the same children that I often see running around and “not listening”. They were intrigued and had lots of questions and wanted to do things like try dates (they aren’t allowed to because of school policy around food) and try on kufis. They sat and focused beautifully as they decorated their lanterns.

 

I wouldn’t say that they necessarily understood too much about what Ramadan is. But that was never the point. For me, it was more so that H feels a sense of belonging and confidence in sharing her life with the people she interacts with, even if it’s different. H decided to wear traditional Indian clothing to school that day to show her friends the kinds of clothes she may wear in Ramadan/for Eid.

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I left all of our Ramadan books and leftover supplies with her teacher to do the activity with Friday’s class. That class does have other Muslim children so I’m curious to see what they (and their parents) will make of it. We have something else planned for the adults at the centre later in the month.

Just a note about the books: “Ramadan” was a non-fiction book with dated photos but the text was simple and it was a good fit for her class. It provided a good overview. I just wish the photos were better quality/more recent. “Raconte-moi le Ramadan” was a fictional story but it was too advanced for her age, and I felt like it was overly religious to share in a public school setting. The illustrations were beautiful though.

Ramadan 2018: Post #5 – Community Collaboration

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One of my favourite things about Ramadan is the sense of community that can be felt. Greater than your weekly lift at Jummah but not quite as magnificent as Hajj, connecting with others during Ramadan is a beautiful annual tradition.

Enjoin Good, a local grassroots organization has been active since 2007. Their two main projects are the Orphan Sponsorship Program and the Food Hamper Project. They use the latter to provide basic food items and necessities for families in need. They run multiple drives a year and provide volunteers with the opportunity to contribute to various stages including donating money, going grocery shopping, packaging the groceries and delivering the food hampers.

Their most recent drive served roughly 180 families and took place the weekend before Ramadan started. It was a great chance for people, including families with young children, to volunteer together to help ensure that struggling local families can also break fast with hearty meals. Since many organizations require volunteers to be at least twelve years of age, this was a great avenue to do it as a family. Even Y, who was just shy of his first birthday at the time, joined us!

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Many parents opt to bring their babies and children with them in the cars during the delivery part, but the packaging step is also a great way for little leaders to get involved, assuming the children are accompanied by an adult for supervision purposes.

H had the chance to participate in this stage, and now that she’s older, she can remember the experience and also make observations. Not only did she love using her “strong muscles” to move items, but she delighted at the connections she made with older children who looked out for her and played big sister/brother roles (the organizers did a great job assigning older children to assist younger ones).

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She was mesmerized and inspired by her uncle who was one of the key organizers in making this happen. Later that night she confided in me that she wanted to be a leader, just like her uncle. She also wanted to have a laptop like him to do “very important work” although she admitted that she wasn’t quite sure what this very important work was.

Naturally, as a parent I wanted to foster this sense of self. I asked her if she wanted to be a leader during an upcoming play date we would be hosting in Ramadan, and she enthusiastically agreed.

This year, a fellow mother from a Mom’s group I’m a part of had a wonderful idea. She proposed taking turns hosting play dates during Ramadan so that our children could get excited about the month and we could get some time to engage in some remembrance and reflection. This sacred time is one that many mothers of young children are left craving, and yes, while caring for our families and helping raise the next generation also qualify as acts of worship we will be rewarded for, nothing compares to having ten uninterrupted minutes to connect with the Book of God without having to worry about everything else that needs to get done.

H is at an age now where I realize how important it is to spend time with other Muslim families since she doesn’t interact with any in her day-to-day life. Even as a Muslim, Islam and what a Muslim lifestyle looks like still needs to be normalized for her.  I want to broaden her perspective of who can be Muslim- how Muslims dress and look, what kinds of names they have and where we see them. I thought that connecting with the moms in this group would help with that.

In her capacity as leader, H decided that it could be a dress-up play date (this was an idea she had even when we were initially planning for Ramadan) but she was quick to add that “they [my friends] don’t have to dress up if they don’t want to.” Not to say that she wasn’t delighted when Batman showed up. She decided she wanted to make Ramadan cards during the play date and the night before our play date, she made an example card. She was asking me how to spell Ramadan and then quickly realized it was already written on the banner. “That’s okay mom, I can do it” she told me. I was so impressed by her resourcefulness.

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The next day our home was filled with 6 adults and 12 children (4 of which were babies). H started off her explanation by saying, “I’m the leader so make a card and ask me if you need help.”

Given that the purpose of these play dates was to give moms some downtime to reconnect with Ramadan, we made the cards an open-ended process, meaning there was no template they needed to follow. There was a variety of stickers/shapes that could be glued along with some other basic supplies so children could make unique pieces.

The results were gorgeous!

These two events were a wonderful way to welcome Ramadan in collaboration with other families. As a stay-at-home-mom who misses regular adult interactions, this was not only a great learning opportunity for my kids, but a great way for me to connect with others at the start of Ramadan. May God accept everyone’s efforts and continue to allow all of us to serve others.

For more information on the Food Hamper Project, or to get involved, check out the website or Facebook page. Donations can be made there ahead of their next drive on June 10, just in time for Eid.

Ramadan 2018: Post #4 – Ramadan Baskets

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Last year, I put together Ramadan baskets for the kids in my family. I decided to use them as a surprise gift at the end of a “Welcome Ramadan” treasure hunt.  You can read about it and download the clues  here.

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I was planning on putting together another basket for H this year. A few months ago, she expressed an interest in wearing a hijab when she “prays.” I’ve never been one to enforce things before their time, but seeing H’s interest was something I wanted to include (as I do with learning about any interest that she shows).

Around the same time, I discovered a brand called Little Pearls that made stylish and functional hijabs for young girls. I was so excited because like many local moms, I’ve been scarred by the ugly lace and overly gaudy hijabs that young girls are typically limited to.

The colour I liked quickly sold out and they told me they would be getting some new colours in before Ramadan started so I figured the beginning of Ramadan would be a good time to gift H her first hijab from me. I thought a child sized prayer rug would also be a nice gift along with some kind of book (because when do I not gift books?!) and a pair of new PJs because I had seen that idea years ago at Aasiya’s Homeschool and really liked it.

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My thoughtful sister in law had already put together a Ramadan Basket of goodies for H this year. It included Ramadan related crafts and activities, treats to eat, some play items and a pair of sunglasses that my daughter had coincidentally asked me to buy a few weeks ago.

 

In light of this influx of fun things,  I decided to just give her the basic items I listed above and spread out the fun things throughout the month. This way I could carryover any unused items as part of an Eid gift considering she had asked for some of these items at some point this year.

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I decided to just use a purple paper gift bag I had in my closet instead of a basket. To make it more festive, I added a (poorly cut) gold glittery moon. While I wasn’t trying to explicitly include the #purpleramadan concept in the holiday, some things were just working out that way. I ended up including the bag in our decor after she had opened up her gift.

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H loved her hijab and prayer rug. She instantly decided it was time to pray and has been toting them along everywhere. Her cousin got the same hijab making it even more cute Mashallah.

 

The Ramadan basket tradition has become quite popular in the circles I belong to. Too often, Muslim families place a huge emphasis on Eid (and Eid-ul-Fitr at that) but recognizing the start of the month is something that I think holds a lot of weight, not just for children, but for adults too.

Happy Ramadan! Wishing you and your family a blessed and transformative month.

Ramadan 2018: Post #3- Decorate!

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We don’t really have annual decorations that we use in Ramadan. So far it’s been mainly homemade items that tie into some other area of learning or craft projects. But as the kids get older, I suspect more of a theme will emerge.

Like many adults, I swoon at the beautiful colour schemes and minimalist Ramadan decor that has taken the Western Muslim world by storm. But I know that that just wont work for my family right now (given the type of space and furniture we have and our children’s ages). We very much advocate for them feeling like this is their home too so as tempting as a magazine-inspired spread is, we aren’t there yet. Everything that’s up in our house is intentionally there- there is a story, a deeper meaning, a specific learning that happened. So I take a deep breath and let go of my expectations and do what I typically do: I consult H and then we collaborate.

The Monday before Ramadan started, we began to decorate. The first thing we did was add to our calendar. I created our Ramadan calendar 3 years ago and we have been reusing it since. It’s made from foam board, felt and a glue gun. I typically use cards made out of card stock or cut up cue cards and draw pictures on one side (because visual literacy is important and helps children make connections to text when they’re ready). Typically, the cards have activities or tasks, often linked to caring for others. As the kids needs change, I will also include more specific learning like Quranic ayat and hadeeth. See how we have used it in years past here and here.

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This year, H and I decided to make a dome. I cut out the shape from cardboard for H and she painted it. She initially chose green and then changed her mind when she saw the gold paint. I said she could add glitter to her dome so she chose purple glitter.The newly minted dome definitely gave the calendar a lift.

I had a DIY banner lying around that I had previously purchased from Dollarama. H helped me punch holes. I added yarn (we didn’t have twine or rope on hand). I was getting ready to write letters when H reminded me, “I know how to do letters!” so she ended up writing the letters I dictated. The “D” is upside down because the paper was upside down when she was writing it (I was chasing after Y in that moment).

The perfectionist in me wanted to micro-manage how she drew the letters (heck, the perfectionist in me wanted to do the letters myself!) but the educator in me rose above and recognized how meaningful and empowering it would be for H to do this herself.

I cleared H’s past artwork off of the toy shelf after asking her permission and we added some lanterns. I decided to to add some prints in some new frames I had lying around the house. (I did a Google search for free images and downloads because I didn’t feel like I had the time to browse more and pick one out but I plan to do so in the future).  She chose to add the glass candle holders and flower candles.

H has been reviewing the Arabic alphabet for what feels like years. As a fun way to review her letters (and for me to seriously assess how well she knows them) I included a little chalkboard. Each night, I write one of the 28 letters on the chalkboard (in a random order). I include a corresponding block and in the morning, H can tell me what letter it is and she attempts to draw it in the small sand tray I’ve incorporated into that space. We haven’t been very serious about learning Arabic but I do feel she’s ready to take it up a notch.

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We also have a lamp that we’ve been hanging decorations off of, including some of H’s past and present creations. This is Y’s favourite section as he loves to hit the hanging decorations and watch them sway.

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Lastly, I gathered all of our Ramadan related books and put them in H’s Ramadan basket from last year so we could easily find them.

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Decoration for us is going to be an ongoing thing this Ramadan. As we create more and more things, we will integrate them into our decor. I’m curious to see how the space will look by the end of the month.