Ramadan 2019 – Post #1: The Plan

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This Ramadan I will be fasting inshaAllah, and so I have been thinking about what I can do to prepare before the Holy Month begins.

One of the most helpful things I’ve done is dedicate a little notebook to all of my Ramadan related planning, whether it’s food to be cooked, gifts in the works, activity ideas for the children or goals for myself. I’ve also been recording the children’s input in this notebook. For example, last week we had a planning meeting and I asked them “What do you know about Ramadan?” According to H, Ramadan is about:

  • Respect and being nice
  • Saying Thank You to Allah
  • We can bring food for people, like the poor
  • Adults fast
  • Making presents for others

It is important for me to know what knowledge or ideas she already has so I can meet her where she’s at, and direct her to more holistic understandings. For example, one of the things that I shared with her during this meeting is the idea that Ramadan is the month of the Quran and I hope that after the work we do this year, that idea is something that becomes part of her experience.

While Y didn’t have anything to add (he’s 23 months) he was very eager to sit with us and I realized instead of trying to work with H in his absence (which is rarely a reality for us), I can be more mindful of involving him in what we are doing. To be honest, at his age, he’s the more receptive of the two when it comes to more traditional acts of worship.

Another thing I was intentional about doing to lessen my distractions during Ramadan was to do the bulk of my shopping for Eid and Ramadan gifts in advance since this is something I enjoy doing and often spend quite a bit of time on. This last week before Ramadan starts, my focus is on getting groceries, stocking my freezer and getting things into functional spaces so everything is ready to go come next week.

This Ramadan, H will be turning 5.5 years old and Y will be turning 2. Because H is in school full-time, I thought about stepping away from the kind of pocket-style calendar I have typically done because I just assumed she wouldn’t have time for extra activity, and Y is still fairly young. But as Ramadan entered H’s thoughts, she immediately started talking about the calendar and how excited she was and we had this exchange:

“I don’t think I’m going to do a calendar this year.”

“But mama, you always do a calendar.”

“Not always. The year Y was born, we just did a simple sticker one, remember?”

“Oh yah. But I like the calendar.”

“Fine, I’ll do a calendar but it won’t be different activities each day. Some days, it will be other things, like verses of Quran or different things we can learn about.”

“Okay!”

So because I believe in child-led learning, we will be doing a “calendar” this year, but I will not be reusing our beloved homemade one which I first made four years ago.

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Instead, our plan is to have a learning circle every day at a consistent time (most likely sometime after she gets home from school and before dinner).

The plan is to spend 5 minutes on Arabic, 5 minutes on Quran memorization and then seeing what the special thing is for that day (equivalent to checking the calendar). Finding a consistent way to work Arabic and Quran into our daily lives has been a struggle for me so I’m hoping this is a habit we can continue outside of Ramadan.

I plan to use this diaper box that I wrapped in pretty wrapping paper (actually from winter but it works) and replace the contents every day. There will be a chalkboard next to counting which day of Ramadan we are currently on.

The contents may include the supplies required for an activity, a Ramadan-related book or an object that sparks discussion. I will try to include relevant hadith, stories or ayat from the Quran (this is something I’m currently working on getting together) where I can.

 

Here is an example of what it will look like. I will not be doing this particular activity on the first day of Ramadan but will be scheduling it for a weekend. H loves the book Bismillah Soup ( I love the story too) and she’s been asking to make Bismillah Soup at home for over a year now. A few months ago I looked up the recipe to make the special spice mix and bookmarked it. I saved the recipe card (all available through Ruqaya’s Bookshelf in addition to a wide range of Islamic children’s books, including Ramadan ones!) and planned to do it as an activity in Ramadan. A few weeks ago, I actually found the spice mix (pre-made) in a local grocery store so I bought because I wasn’t sure I would have the time to actually make it with the kids- it’s essentially a Somali garam masala.

I originally had stuff I was going to include in Ramadan baskets for my kids including new PJs, books and crafts, but have decided to spread the items out throughout the month so we can intentionally work through things.

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These awesome PJs were purchased at Two Craftistas! These ones say “Ramadan with my Khandaan”  which I thought was apt for our family dynamics hehe (khandaan means extended family). They have a wide selection of styles and still have some in stock, along with many other cool items. I was so happy to discover matching family Ramadan PJs and knew the kids would love them.

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Last year, we ordered a set of matching family PJs for myself, my husband and our kids and my niece expressed her desire to also have matching PJs (coincidentally, H and her typically have at least one matching pair of PJs at any given time) but I know it will be a whole other level excitement to have their brothers in matching PJs too.

The books were purchased through Eastern Toybox, a wonderful retailer of high quality Islamic play items for children that I discovered when I used to live in Toronto (they’ve been around that long, mashaAllah). They have a lovely assortment of wooden and cloth toys that I know will leave some of you drooling! Their commitment to fairtrade and eco-friendly products and practices is very much in line with what I had envisioned for Discovery Dome when we were retailing products.

While I do a lot of shopping via Amazon prime, I like to support small business owners when I can! I encourage you to check out the amazing variety of clothes, books and toys at these three establishments.

 

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Ramadan Roundup – 30 posts!

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There’s only a handful of days left before the most beautiful time of year returns for many around the world. All year, we wait for the blessed days and nights of Ramadan, the month of fasting. Alhamdulillah, I’ve been documenting and sharing what I’ve been doing with H for the past four years, and now, there is quite a list. As we think ahead to this Ramadan, I thought I’d generate a post with brief descriptions and direct links so that things are easier to find 🙂

  1. Thinking critically about our role as parents and educators re. Ramadan
  2. Encouraging Dua in Ramadan – provides suggestions on how to engage children with various learning styles to make dua
  3. Different styles of Ramadan Calendars – provides photos and ideas to help mark Ramadan with your children; see the follow-up posts in subsequent years
  4.  Journaling in Ramadan – why journaling can be beneficial and some ideas about what journaling can look like
  5. Welcoming Ramadan in simple ways (toddler edition) – why I chose to decorate and how we welcomed Ramadan on a budget in DIY style
  6. Functional and meaningful calendars for toddlers – includes photos of the calendar that my 2.5 year old used
  7. Sharing Ramadan with new refugees – extending efforts and outreach to vulnerable populations, in this case, a newly arrived Syrian family that we brought food and decorations for
  8. Eid Gift Drives – how to meaningfully involve your children in buying, packing and delivering gifts for others
  9. Reaching out to vulnerable non-Muslim populations – baking and packing food to give local volunteers who help the homeless
  10. Creating a sadaqah jar (toddler edition) – includes the process we used and extension ideas to make it more meaningful for older children
  11. It’s Ramadan, Curious George – our reaction to the book and an easy and related banana pop recipe for young children to make
  12. Easy and unconventional Eid Gift idea – we bought tickets for train rides and mailed them to H’s other toddler friends
  13. Thinking ahead to Ramadan with a newborn baby – what that means for how activities will look for H
  14.  Our learning and activity plan for Ramadan – includes my personal notes on activity ideas and is divided into categories
  15. Setting the mood– stained “glass” crafts, Ramadan youtube playlists and starting to gather books; why I’m shifting some emphasis from Eid to Ramadan
  16. Treasure hunt and Ramadan baskets – I created a treasure hunt (free download of clues in post) and show you what I purchased to put in Ramadan baskets for my kids, nieces and nephew. Look at #20 to see photos of the kids actually doing the Treasure Hunt.
  17. Ramadan visual scavenger hunt – free printable showcases ramadan related objects (words and pictures) to buy you some time; recommended ages 18m – 6 years
  18. Paper Chains – how my 3.5 made paper chains as a Ramadan decoration and how we used the process to strengthen numeracy and math skills and second language learning
  19. Welcoming Ramadan – child-led cupcake and photos of the children doing the treasure hunt
  20. Ramadan Goody-bags for pre-school class – how my 3.5 year old made goodybags, how I supported her 10 days post-partum, and the skills that were reinforced through this process
  21. Gift for neighbours – Soup Jars – To coincide with Calgary’s official Neighbour Day, we made soup jars for our neighbours. in lieu of baking or cooking (I had a baby just before Ramadan started). All the ingredients were included. They just had to add water and cook on the stove. Recipe in post.
  22. Planning for Ramadan – how I involved my 4.5 year old in planning for Ramadan.
  23. Ramadan storytelling event – I recap some of the stories I shared during a children’s Ramadan event I was invited to participate in. I developed a story based on the increasingly famous story about a girl who takes over her father’s drumming duties. I will be working on polishing this story this year so that I can share it with more audiences.
  24. Easy DIY decorations – we share our homemade decorations from last year (the kids were 4.5 and 1 year old)
  25. Ramadan basket ideas – Some photos and thoughts around what I put into baskets for last year
  26. Connecting with the community to start off Ramadan on a positive note – read about our first Ramadan-themed play date and a community initiative that aims to bring food staples to families in need and how to involve the kids
  27. Ramadan at Preschool– story and craft – You can read about what I did to share Ramadan with the young children in H’s preschool class (it was a French school so there are some French titles as well)
  28. Cute DIY learning resource/gift idea – see how to use rocks to make this easy way to review the Arabic alphabet. It makes a great gift and the rocks can be used in a number of ways.
  29. Ramadan Field Trip to a soap factory – There’s a famous soap made in Aleppo, Syria. As Syrian refugees made Calgary their home, a few founded this successful business where they make soap. H and I went there to buy gifts for a project and we got to see how the soaps were made. You have to check out the photos!
  30. No-cook Ramadan gift ideas for neighbours (or colleagues or teachers) – We featured two companies founded by Syrian refugees who have made Canada their home (Aleppo Savon and Peace by Chocolate). They have some great products and it was a functional gift because once again, I did not want to share cooked food.

Bonus post: To make some creative Eid gifts for the special children in your life, check this out

Cooking with Kids

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Cooking with your children is a natural way to spend more time with them. When H was a toddler, I made an effort to include her in the kitchen from time to time. Whether it was by helping to prep and measure ingredients, stir batters or do things like line muffin trays and wash produce, it didn’t feel like too much extra work to involve her.

 

I’ve been thinking about how I haven’t really given Y those same experiences, so these days, I’m trying to be more mindful in involving him. Examples include letting him smell spices, measure rice and lentils, scrubbing them (he strongly disliked this experience) and his favourite thing – passing me eggs!

I think part of the reason I don’t involve the kids in as much cooking these days is that I don’t make as many things as I used to. I enjoy cooking but hate the clean up (as is apparent by the typical state of my kitchen). Our days are often so busy, I try to throw a meal together in that small window between afterschool snack and dinner time, diffusing tantrums and engaging with the kids as I go. But the thing is, often the things that kids enjoy force us to slow down. They may be inconvenient in the moment, but slowing down is good for people, especially us ambitious, overachiever types, so there’s benefit in it for everyone.

As I write this, I realize that it’s a good time to start getting Y to help me prep his snacks. Not only will it help engage him and give him the opportunity to have great sensorimotor experiences, but it will help him become more patient, something that will help our family dynamics as he moves into a developmental stage where tantrums are becoming more frequent and intense.

Some time a few weeks ago, H and I were talking about pickles, and I reminded her that pickles are made from cucumbers (as we both had learned during a Magic School Bus episode, albeit, two decades apart). I asked her if she would like to try and make pickles at home, to which she responded quite enthusiastically.

It worked out so that H and I made these pickles on Friday night. While we approached this more as a science experiment than as cooking, it was fun to do nevertheless. The pickles were a little salty to eat on their own (we didn’t exactly follow the recipe) but I suspect they will be just fine in burgers. We used this method.

And the kids and I made stuffed french toast roll-ups on Saturday morning since I didn’t have a class to run off to this weekend. H enjoys helping me make breakfast on the weekends or during PD days (she loves to help with French toast and pancakes) but this was the first time we involved Y.

It worked out quite well. Y passed the eggs, H mixed the batter, H flattened the bread with a rolling pin, I spread the cream cheese, Y added the strawberries, H rolled them up, Y passed them to me to dunk in the batter and fry.

They tasted pretty decent. It was our first time making them so I would make a few adjustments for next time (I cheaped out on cream cheese and bought a no name variety instead of Philadelphia. It ended up being salty and some of the strawberries were sour). Y also ate half of a roll up and decided he didn’t like the stuffed version so I made him regular french toast with the leftover batter. You can see the recipe here.

Our latest cooking experiences coincidentally lined up with this drawing H made on Friday. This month they are learning about professions so the teacher asked them to draw what they wanted to be when they grew up. H drew herself as a chef. “I’m cooking Haleem” she proudly said. Haleem is a south Asian stew that I started cooking this year. I love the way she drew her white coat and chef’s hat, but even more, I love that she’s cooking something I make. And the size of that ladle is pure awesomeness.

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While cooking can be a great way for someone to make fond memories with their children, it can also be a cause for unpleasant ones. Ask any child who’s been shooed away or yelled at for not doing things right. I would suggest to set yourself up for success by:

  • Being honest with yourself – If you’re a perfectionist and will end up redoing what your children are doing, you may do more harm than good. If you are truly committed to doing this with your children, remind yourself before, during and after about your reasons. No one is going to judge your 4 year old’s cookies. Their product is not a reflection on your abilities. And if you react in a less than ideal way, forgive yourself and try again. Chances are, this is a learning experience for you too.
  • Choose a time when you are not rushed– children sense impatience. We don’t want cooking to be associated with stress or anxiety, rather joy and spending time together.
  • Choose a forgiving recipe – Simple recipes with a handful ingredients are a good place to start. Smoothies come to mind.
  • Allow time for clean up– This is something I struggle with on a personal level and have to be more mindful of in our home. Explain to your children that cleaning up is part of the cooking process and have them commit to helping you collect dirty utensils and wipe down counters.
  • Have fun! – It’s really not about the end product, but the process. If it turns out delicious, that’s great, but if it doesn’t, it’s a good place to start reflecting with your children and coming up with reasons why things may not have gone as planned- phrase it as a mystery and think of what you may want to do differently.

Most of the “cooking” I’ve done with my kids is either sparked by something we’ve read in a book or H has seen in a cartoon, or as to do with a special time or event, such as preparing food for playdates, parties or to share with friends and neighbours. I’ve also noticed that when I’m caring for other children, we often end up cooking, whether it’s chocolate chip cookies, special desserts or DIY pizza because I had nothing else for lunch when my sister-in-law visited with her kids one afternoon.

Although this was a last-minute thing, I was really pleased by how it turned out. H and my niece who were both 5 at the time, were super excited to play “pizza parlour”- a quick game I came up with so I could quickly prep ingredients without them asking me a million questions. Essentially, I used two whiteboards, listed all the possible pizza toppings we had on hand and put checkboxes next to the toppings. These were their ordering menus. Their job was to take everyone’s orders while I prepped the ingredients. Then they returned and consulted their order menus to customize each pizza. It was an excellent real-life application of literacy skills and they were so pleased to be the waitresses and chefs.

My goal as my children grow, is to shift cooking from a special experience, to a more typical one. I’ve already told them that they will be responsible for making one family meal a week in the years to come.

For an overview of some of the benefits children can derive from cooking, check out these past posts about making lemonade, apple pie, gingerbread cookies, banana pops, pumpkin seeds, pumpkin bread, and banana muffins. 

Do you cook with your kids? If so, what are some of your favourite things to cook? If not, what are some of the barriers holding you back?

LabbaykAllah humma Labbayk: A Hajj Story Program

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Just over a month ago, millions of Muslims took to Mecca to carry out the pilgrimage that’s been going on in some way or another for thousands and thousands of years.

As someone with no firsthand knowledge of visiting Mecca, I knew I needed to learn about it and inshallah educate H in the process.

I was fortunate enough to work with ICNA Relief- Calgary’s Little Muslim’s Library to bring to life a story program for children aged 4-8 to learn about Hajj; the history, the rites and the significance of this glorious journey.

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In preparing for this session, I learned much more than I anticipated and something was awakened in my heart. It was also a great opportunity to spend some one-on-one time with H. She was so excited to do something together without Y. She actually wanted to help with the storytelling (inshallah she will have the chance to in the future) and went as far as insisting we wear our matching outfits.

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Because of time and logistical constraints, I was only able to consult resources I already had at home, including a handbook from the popular Weekend Ilm Intensive classes from a course I attended in the past. However, I did come across cool and innovative things I hope to use in the future, including Hajj-themed image files that can be purchased and downloaded online.

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And with the intention of benefitting as many people as possible (I know that many people are trying to start children’s programs in their own communities), here’s what I did:

Duration of program– The program was advertised as a 2-hour program. Even though I knew it would not take this long, I wanted to factor in for lateness and for the children to have a chance to work at their own pace and socialize with each other. I knew that for children like my daughter, this was a rare opportunity to be in a traditionally Islamic space and among this many other Muslim children.

Age of participants and maximum capacity– I was intentional about the age of participants and the limit of how many children we would accept based on past experiences and my own need for calm. The program was designed to be an unparented experience for children between the ages of 4-8 however if younger siblings were attending, a parent had to stay and supervise them. I wanted between 12-15 children so we accepted 20 because there are always last minute cancellations. This approach worked out as we had 12 children that fell into that age range, one toddler and two 9-year old volunteers. Had the program been designed for younger children, it would have been structured differently and would definitely have been shorter.

Format of program– From my experience working with children (and people in general), I know that it’s important to appeal to various learning styles. I make it a point in my story programs to not just read a book, but instead appeal to children’s visual, auditory and bodily senses. That means that in my programs, there is a good chance that children will listen, speak, chant or sing as well as move around. I also like to include opportunities for creative expression when possible.

Room set-up – The room was divided into informal areas that supported the order of the program. There was a sign-in table outside where children received a name tag and parents communicated important information (including allergies). This space was in the same area as the actual little library, piquing the children’s interest.

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Once the children entered, they were invited to pick from a variety of pre-printed activity pages that were clearly displayed at one end of the room. The children took their pages and sat at one of the three tables that were set up with chairs and colouring utensils. This gave the children something to do while we waited for everyone to arrive. The space in the middle was left open to allow for movement and an allocated space for a more intimate experience during the actual storytelling.

 

Volunteers– Even before our program formally started, I could hear the children sharing knowledge with each other as they made new friends. The addition of the two 9-year old volunteers turned out to be a great symbiotic relationship. The younger children had less-intimidating people they could connect with and look up to. It also allowed the 9-year-olds to review their own knowledge and develop their leadership abilities as well as help their self-esteem by feeling valued. The sister volunteer from ICNA Relief Calgary not only helped me organize the program, but she set up the room, took care of the registration and lead the craft. She was also on standby in case I needed an extra pair of adult hands (a few parents stayed for the program and they were able to help too).

Delivery of the program– I formally started the program by inviting everyone to sit with me. I introduced myself and invited the children to share any thoughts or ideas they had before I began our first story. I was pleased to see that H shared something that she didn’t know earn from me, but from one of the volunteers just moments before.

The first story was told orally and was essentially based on the life of Prophet Abraham, peace be upon him. I wanted the children to have a point of reference for the different rites of Hajj when we learned about them later in the program. In retelling the story, I emphasized certain aspects like how special it was that God had taken Abraham for a friend, and I had been more cautious about the idea of sacrifice, making sure to avoid words like “kill”. It’s always a challenge to present complex ideas to young, impressionable minds that are still developing and prone to fear. I didn’t go into specifics and was mindful of the direction that the volunteers may take the discussion so I did not call on them during this sensitive time.

The second story was one that I had created to introduce children to the different aspects/steps of Hajj. It was framed around a young girl who’s parents would be making the Hajj pilgrimage, her feelings about missing them and what her parents would be doing while they were gone.

I wanted this story to have visual aids and told it in an interactive style. I found images that fit the story and printed and laminated them before sticking magnets on the back. I used a dry erase marker (and big magnetic white board) to tell the story, using the marker to show the physical path that the pilgrims took and accentuating ideas like going around the Kaaba seven times (I circled the picture on the whiteboard seven times, inviting children to count out loud with me). The children also joined me at points throughout to recite the talbiyah (the prayer often made during the Hajj).

This story gave the children a pretty good overview about the steps of Hajj. To review the steps (and to get up and move around) we sang a song called “We will all go to Mecca on the Hajj” to the tune of “She’ll be Coming around the Mountain”. This is a song I found floating around online (you can find it on google), but added lyrics and amended some of the existing ones to better suit my purposes (to better match the story and so the children could learn the Arabic names of the different parts of Hajj). We added actions to all of the parts of the song. The younger children really seemed to enjoy this part of the program.

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While the children were standing, we demonstrated how to wrap an ihram.

We then talked about how Hajj is not an easy journey and how it takes a lot of planning and a sincere intention. We read a beautiful book called Yan’s Hajj: The Journey of a Lifetime by Fawzia Gilani. This book makes me tear up every time I read it. I had actually pre-ordered it from Amazon in the spring.

The next step involved the lovely volunteer from ICNA who gave children bookmarks to decorate however they chose. She laminated the bookmarks for the children to take home with them. Once the children finished, they were free to continue colouring their pages, browse the books or re-enact the stories.

On their way out, children were given a snack. It was a bag of popcorn decorated like a sheep. I had come across this cute DIY idea a few years ago and had added it to my daughter and niece’s Eid al Adha gift basket. I thought it would be a simple, nice thing to send the kids home with.

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All in all, the program felt like it was a success. We received good feedback from the kids and parents. I know I saw the themes from the program continuing in my daughter’s own play in the weeks to come.

For example, my daughter and niece were playing in their grandparent’s backyard. It has an open gutter running through it so that rainwater can drain. They were running back and forth counting out loud, pretending they were doing the sa’ee and that the water from the gutter was the spring of zam zam. I also heard them singing bits and pieces of the song and asking to play with the story magnets.

A big thank you to ICNA Relief Calgary who has been supportive of the various initiatives I have approached them with. I was so impressed by how well organized the program was- they put so much effort into the registration process, setting up the room perfectly and creating the props I envisioned (sourcing the ihram, creating the Kaaba and prepping activity pages was all them!)

I look forward to doing more story times sessions throughout the course of the year.

 

For the love of literacy: DIY gift idea for young children

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Over the course of this year, I have been observing how H and her same-aged cousin’s interest in literacy has been developing. There came a time, that whenever I saw my niece, she would be holding a pen and some sort of notepad or notebook, writing down “important” things. Like many children, she would draw squiggly lines to represent the words she wished to capture. As she got older, the squiggles started resembling letters and numbers.

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H’s writing development followed much the same path. She started by learning how to spell her name, and then moved onto “MAMA”, “PAPA,” her cousin’s name, her brother’s name and “RAMADAN.” Since I don’t believe in just making her memorize a list of pre-written words, I left her to her own devices (although one time, I did show her how to spell CAT and how that word can change into so many other words by replacing the first letter). Soon I found H copying the titles of her books and copying other things I had written. She eventually started asking me how to spell specific words and would often add written details to her pictures. She even decided to make her own hopscotch and write numbers.

To foster the girls’ interest in writing, I decided to create letter-writing kits so they could play and practice their letters before they headed to kindergarten in the fall.

To make these inexpensive kits, I included various types of paper and notepads, pencils with eraser toppers, a special pen, a sharpener, various types of envelopes, cards and some printables that would allow them to design their own postcards and stamps. I made up a custom wordlist with words that I thought would be personally relevant to H and her cousin and included a tin mailbox.

I had purchased H’s mailbox at a garage sale for 50 cents a few years ago- It’s been living among her dress-up costumes since. I found similar smaller ones at Target during Valentine’s Day when it was briefly open in Canada circa 2014. Since I genuinely enjoy gift giving and love DIY gifts, I bought a few and put them aside for the day I could make this gift idea a reality. I put the items together in a nice sturdy box (in case you haven’t been able to tell, I love re-purposing things. This red box was originally home to either a pair of gloves or a scarf and hat set). All of a sudden, I had a flashback to my childhood and remembered the book, The Jolly Postman or Other People’s Letters in which a postman has mixed up the mail for the residents (all fairy tale characters). The coolest part of the book is that it contains actual letters, cards and postcards that can be removed (the pages are bound together like envelopes). I remembered what joy that book had brought me- not only was it creatively bound, but in elementary school, I entered a writing contest based on the book at my school library and won a prize. I quickly ordered the book and included it with the writing kit.

I gave my niece the letter writing kit as part of her Eid gift along with a personal letter from me.  What followed was an exchange of mail between us. I could not believe how much time she must have spent writing and copying words and trying to express her ideas. It’s been so nice writing back and forth with her- a bond that I hope we can continue to develop as she starts school.

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I gave H the gift later in the summer and she got to work, drawing pictures mostly, and making cards and postcards. She seemed to care less about making letters and cards for actual people and instead used them as props in her play about mail delivery. In fact, she did create a postcard for her cousin but ended up keeping it so that she could play with it instead.

H made lots of pieces of mail (she also asked me to create some) and filled them in her mailbox. She then arranged her stuffed animals through the room and went on her rounds, delivering the mail to them. She turned one of Y’s ride-on cars into her mail delivery van.

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During the days her postal work play was unfolding, she received a special piece of mail, all the way from New Zealand! Prior to Ramadan, I had connected with some moms from different places with the hopes that our children could share their Ramadan experiences and traditions with each other.  Given H’s interest in different places (as blogged about here) I thought this would be a good connection. What arrived was a letter from a 4 year old boy about his Ramadan experience in New Zealand alongside a magnet with a map of New Zealand and stickers of the kiwi bird- what a treat! We are working on writing back to our new friend.

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Along with reading the Jolly Postman book (seriously, check this out if you haven’t heard of it before), we also read these books. H really enjoyed the fictional world of Mr. Postmouse’s Rounds and was intrigued by the real information presented in La Poste, a book from France that explains the postal system via the story of a girl who sends mail to her relatives in Nice, France and Quebec, Canada. Even if you don’t speak French, this book provides great pictures that visually demonstrate how mail is collected, sorted and delivered. It even shows historic methods and reasons for mail delivery. I was able to make a cool connection to Islamic history for H by telling her the story of letters that were sent (including the one to King Negus of Abyssinia, or modern day Ethiopia) and the importance of seals.

A few weeks later she drew this picture of two postal workers who are gasping because it started snowing while they were in their rounds.

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Both the kids love watching our mail being delivered (to a community mailbox) but I don’t think either have them have actually been to the post office with me. I suspect when we go to mail our letter to our friend in New Zealand, it will be a good field trip for H.

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 Chocolate. I 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…

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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