Wednesday, November 26, 2014

On the way to a PhD. Or Not!

A friend posted a link to an excellent article titled "Parenting your way to a PhD". At first I was going to just share the article, but then I thought why not write my own story, and maybe I'll kill two birds with one stone (not that I would kill any birds, I love birds. I haven't posted here in a while, and figured I could use this space to share some thoughts. :-) 

So here goes my story...

It's been only a few months into the semester, and how many meltdowns have I had? ( I can't count really). But my family and friends keep motivating me saying, "Everyone goes through it.  It's a process!" And unfortunately, in my household giving up is not an option. 

In the meanwhile, I'm still trying to adjust since, I'm a total Type A.  I think I can do it all. But I'm finding out that it's harder for everyone else to get used to my new schedule.  

One of the questions I get asked almost bi-monthly:

"Honey, why can't we go to my friend's for dinner?  They've been inviting us for the last 2 years!"

When I'm down and think I'm ready to quit I ask a couple of friends for a I-wanna-forget-about-my-whole-life girls night out. I go out for an hour or two, dump all my I'm-gonna-be-a-loser-I-think-I'm- gonna-drop-out-I-am-the-worst-wife-worst-mom-worst-aunt worries on them. Then I... Laugh... Cry...Laugh and cry at the same time (oh yes, it's possible)
Go to sleep... Wake up...and... Repeat! 

Then the next day the question comes...

"Honey, if you have time to go out with your friends why can't we go over to my friends house for dinner?" :-)

Hi, My name is Elif. I'm a Type A and I, I, I can't do it all. I believed that I could do it all for the last 38 years. But I have come to terms that I can NOT do it all.

People have no idea what it means to do a PhD unless they have one. It's like being a mom. You can not explain to someone who has never gone through the stages of pregnancy and delivery or raising kids what it's like to be a mom. They just have to go through it. That's what I'm learning. 

With a household full of PhDs and MDs, and OVER achievers, I've been exposed to what it's like to do a PhD  but NEVER realized what it entails till I started my own journey. 

I'm trying to adjust. Or pretending to. But I've at least learned to be able to say "no" to people right away. 

I've already got my line memorized, in case you wanna ask me for something :-)

It goes something like this...

"My sincere apologies, but I can't. I'm a full time PhD student and am responsible for 7 people in my household as a mom/guardian/aunt/wife/cook/tutor/chauffeur etc (the list seems endless but the "etc" will have to suffice for the rest of my titles), I only have time for school, and family. This is all I can do right now"

Some people think I'm a snob.

Others are sweet, caring and understanding. 

When things get rough, I repeat to myself. "It's a process. It's a process. I'll get through it." 

When things get even rougher I email my sister and she says, "Chill! It's a process, it's a process..."

As I'm trying to rush-in a paper, having gotten only 4 hours of sleep within 48 hours, my daughter walks into the study asking for help with her Arabic homework.

At first I get frustrated, because I'm exhausted, my brain has already given up on me, and to imagine that my brain can think in Arabic... Well... Yah... This is so not happening! 

But my beautiful 13 year old who is trying to translate an ayah from the Qur'an is not at fault. She is up with me at 12:00am trying to end her endless 8th grade homework so she can go to bed too.

I stop. I help her. Give her a kiss good night. And, continue writing.

5:00 am my best friend whatsapps me: "Elif, I didn't see your paper in my email, I panicked, did you send it for me to edit?"

"No. I'm not done yet :-(",  I message her back

Now I'm all emotional because I'm tired, I wanna cry. "What a great friend, she wakes up from her sleep to check on me. It's not even time for Fajr yet. But she's right there with me!"

In fact if it weren't for whatsapp, I'm not sure if I would have made it through the last few months. It's my first semester for God's sake and I'm complaining as if it's my fourth. 

I guess I'll get used to it. Or learn how. And my whatsapp buddies will just keep listening to me complain my way to a PhD :-)))

10:00 am I manage to finish my paper. Shower, get dressed and drive to school to turn in my paper.

I love my Professor, and I love my class. But, why in the world would I have to drive to school during Thanksgiving break, when we don't have class, to physically turn it in to his office? Has he heard of email? :-)

Anyway, I'm just happy I made it there safe and sound and turned it in.  Now I can go on with the rest of my life. "What life?," laughs the voice inside my head :-)


I rush in to Costco to quickly pick up groceries because Ms. Little-I-Can-Do-It-All wants to make a nice Thanksgiving lunch. ("Good luck!" laughs the voice inside my head.)

I speed thru Costco, packed with hundreds of people, throw the groceries into the cart trying not to run people over, and make it to the register. After I hand in my membership card, the man asks.

"Did you get this card today?"

"No?" I reply, thinking, is my membership payment due?

I'm in no mood to converse, but now he got me all curious and I can't help but follow up with, "Why are you asking?"

"Because you're wearing the same clothes in the photo on your card" he says.

"Ha ha ha!," I laugh. Actually, I wear the same clothes every day!" I blurt out. "I got the card 4 years ago!" 

O-M-G-! I so did not say that! I think to myself. I'm too tired to explain to him that I have not worn the same clothes for the last 4 years everyday :-))) But, I just let it go. 


As I sit in the carpool line waiting to pick up my kids (and 2 other families kids) from school, I try to call the library to extend the due date of the books that are due. 

The lady asks for the last 7 digits of my library card.

Since there are way more than 7 digits, I first count the last 7 and begin reading them to her from (right to left, as you would read in Arabic). The librarian says, "But that doesn't sound like anything like our numbers, are you sure you have the right location?".

I laugh with embarrassment. 

"Oops, sorry. Hehehe. When you said last 7 digits, I read them from the end to the beginning." 

Then she asks. "Can I have your name?"

"Yes. It's E-L-I-F. 'F' as in London," I say proudly, only to realize the word 'London' does not begin with an 'F' :-). Since people can never understand how my name is spelled, especially over the phone, I always spell it out as 'E' as in England, 'L' as in London. 'I' as in India, and 'F' as in Florida. But this time I got it all wrong.

I catch myself in time to burst out another embarrassing laugh. 

"Sorry, I meant 'F' as in Florida," I say.

The nice lady extends my books, by the time I reach to the front of the carpool line. It's only 3:30pm and the rest of my day is just beginning :-)


"Honey, my friend just called. He's inviting us over for Thanksgiving dinner. What should I say?"

"But, honey! Remember I called and cancelled our invitation to R's house so we could have Thanks giving lunch at home as a family and maybe watch a movie."

"But we're having lunch. This is a dinner invitation." 


Inhale. Exhale. and Repeat. "It's a process, It's a process..."

And if you care to know, we are going over to my husband's friend's house for dinner. Oh, No, it's not the friend who invited us for Thanksgiving dinner. And it's not the friend who has been waiting for the last 2 years.  It's another friend who invited us in September, but I agreed we could go on the last day of finals, mid December, instead. 

Hi. My name is Elif and I think I'm headed for a PhD. 'D' as in Disaster. :-)

Friday, November 14, 2014

Halal Poetry for the Heart

It's so hard to find anything to read these days that has an intellectual context and does not use bad language. I mean, it's one thing for us adults, but what do our children read? The toddlers have a small number of options to read from, not that most of those are not full of silly fairy tales, but they still have a larger option that does not use improper language.

There is a lack of literature for our Muslim teenagers to read. My daughter, who most of you probably already know, loves to read. Yet as a mom, I have no option of offering her books that have a good message, or proper language, because there are NONE! I know all her friends also read profusely. 

Luckily, Janna also loves to write. I had told her a long time ago that I would like to share her writing here on our blog because I enjoy reading it as an adult, and there are so many Muslim girls or boys her age who could take advantage of her stories.

Anyway, long story short, Janna now writes her stories on a site called Wattpad. This site does not allow us to copy the works, but we are required to provide a link.

Janna writes regularly on Wattpad and as a mom, Alhamdulillah I am so proud of her work and her talent. I love seeing her strong Islamic values portrayed in her writing.

Just to give you a background in case you don't read her bio before you read the poems, Janna is a hifz student whose heart has been touched by Qur'an in many ways. Thus, many of her poems quotes an ayah, or has a title related to the five daily prayers. One of her poetry books is about a Muslim homeless girl, and the challenges she faces. 

Please share her work with your kids, or anyone who enjoys good, clean writing with a wholesome message.

Profile: @fadedblue

Link to one of her poems from the "Faded Blue Book Chapter of "Fajr" in which she writes about the daily challenges of a homeless Muslim girl.

Jumaah Mubarak, and my love to all...

Elif Kavakci for HijabiTopia

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

What Can You Do to Be a More Beautiful Person

As'salamu Alaykum dear HijabiTopians!

I am grateful for the opportunity to connect with you through this beautiful blog of our lovely Islamic Fashion Designer, Sister Elif Kavakci.

Don't we all love fashion, glitter, beauty? But we should never forget that beauty is not just about the external features of our persons. It goes deeper than that. It's the character, the manners, the heart.

Do you often struggle with finding the ability to be kind to others while feeling tired and irritated with daily struggles of life?  Do you ever ask yourself: am I kind to MYSELF? What do I mean by kind to yourself? I mean care enough to pay attention to your own physical and spiritual needs. Once you are kind to yourself, your entire attitude towards life and fellow humans changes too.

As Muslims we are obligated to pray five daily prayers, which should take care of our spirituality. Well, does it? Everyday? Not for me... unfortunately. Sometimes, as I am praying, going through the prayer with my body, but not with my heart. I struggle to achieve the true connection with Allah Almighty. The Satan is working his hardest to divert my concentration during this time.

Working on improving our prayers, listening to Islamic lectures (here for an example), reading the Qur'an or the translation of the Qur'an, supplicating and dhikr (remembrance of Allah) may help us a lot. It all brings more contentment to the soul.

"Only in remembrance of Allah (swt) will your heart find peace" Qur'an 13:28

Here is an excellent post on how to improve khushu (humility) in our salah (prayer), which leads to successful and fulfilling connection with out Maker Allah Almighty.

We are also obligated to take care of our bodies. Our beloved Prophet Muhammad pbuh said, that the best gift from Allah after imaan (faith), is health.

The final messenger of God, Prophet Muhammad, pbuh mounted the pulpit, then wept and said, "Ask Allah (swt) for forgiveness and health, for after being granted certainty, one is given nothing better than health." Related in Tirmidhi 

Aren't we supposed to appreciate our health, never take it for granted and care of it by taking care of our bodies as well? Connection with Allah, the certainty and health go hand in hand to achieve well-being. So what else can we do to keep our bodies in a good shape?
  • Eat halal food, and that what is beneficial, in a measured manner.
  • Follow with a health practitioner if we fell sick.
  • Ensure adequate sleep.
  • Be physically active.
  • Reduce stress, etc.

All of the above are important steps to a healthier you, but there is one, which by doing on regular basis can help take care of the rest of them. It is the PHYSICAL ACTIVITY. (More about the benefits of physical activity from Mayo Clinic here.) 

I don't know about you, but I hate working-out, however, truly LOVE the feeling afterwards. Besides elevating my mood and literally making me a better, kinder human, the little use of the muscles balances my hormones, improves the quality of my night sleep, increases my metabolism, encourages healthy eating and reduces stress. How awesome is that!?

If you do not follow a work-out routine for any reason, try to take a walk, go biking or do a few easy exercises at home after fajr prayer.

I began a new fitness series on my own blog, to help us stay motivated and active, the easy way! For starters, the exercises include basic plank, that strengthens your core while shrinking your waist, and lunges that firm and strengthen the lower body.

All you do is investing a few minutes a day for a betterment of you and to becoming a more beautiful person INSIDE AND OUT :)

Your Sister in Islam,
Muslim Girl in Love