Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Freedom is a writer and a pen...

I never realised how deeply University affected my attitude until I returned last week. DESPITE having a headache - DESPITE being bone tired and worried about a million and one things. I wandered onto campus, Tuesday afternoon, a week ago today, and sat down in my poetry lecture. A lightness lifted my spirit - and it's lasted the whole week.
Today, I go into a workshop, for a booster.

Freedom though, for me, is as simple as that. I'm free to go to University, and for that I'm infinitely grateful. But I can find that freedom just as easily when I'm writing. And it's something I forgot in my hurry to write and sell my work.

I should probably say for the record, that I'm a really spoiled person in many ways - I've got a partner that supports my writing and allows me to go to Uni without worrying about too many bills. He also supports my writing 100%. He's given me room to try out being several kinds of freelancer - and when it's gone badly, he's helped me work out why. When it's gone well, we've built on it. But, ultimately, he knows what makes me unhappy - and that is, struggling to keep my income at certain levels. I hate having to work out anything where money is involved - I always miss something, or overlook something, or forget something.
That's what dissipates the lightness - and the happy feelings I get from writing. So I'm working on understanding the business side of freelancing more - which has had an unintended side effect of making me timetable my writing.
I've written more this last week - despite being at uni, than I managed in the last four (unscheduled weeks) of the holidays. Given Linda was talking about this too, I thought it was important to share this.
You can find freedom, even in places that are timetabled, scheduled and managed to the max. Cause, for a writer, freedom is a pen, some paper, and a bit of free time, IMO.
What do you think?

Monday, September 29, 2008

Ramadan Day 29

I felt sad a bit today.

The last day of Ramadan is today. I found about 12:30 p.m. through a friend, and then it was confirmed from the Muslim Community Center via email and answering service to DH. So, I immediately emailed my son's teacher to explain that he will not be attending tomorrow due to our holiday Eid al-Fitr (Festival of Breaking Fast Holiday--it sounds more elegant in Arabic haha). So, when I picked up DS from school, his teacher told me that his homework is in his book bag.

So, DS and I will be working on making treat bags for his class of 16, plus he will be giving a gift to his teacher and the office staff as well. We also acknowledge Christmas by giving gifts to his teacher and office staff as well. Not only is cultural diversity beautiful, it is respected and tolerated in our home. It has been like that since I was born and same with DH. I am hoping to have the treat bags ready for Wednesday. If I feel ambitious, I will send some cupcakes as well--otherwise they will be store bought--shh, don't tell.

I have presents to wrap and clothes to get ready for DS and myself tonight. I am waiting until DS is asleep, otherwise it will be too complicated to get those two tasks ready.

We are hoping to leave by 7:15 a.m. to head to the convention hall which is about one hour away where prayers will take place with hundreds of Muslims there. This year will be the first year at the convention hall because at my beloved Muslim Community Center is becoming smaller as more people come and pray.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Why I'm not writing....

A long time ago (I believe it was Winter 2007), I printed out a comic to inspire me to "finish" my book. It was a comic (or is it a cartoon?) by Debbie Ridpath Ohi (who I have admired since she ran that great writing site -- inkspot). I found the cartoon at www.inkygirl.com, and it was a perfect inspiration. It was a snowman typing and declaring to finish the novel before spring if it was the last thing.... OH, just go see it.

The timing was perfect.

I was writing my thesis for my master's degree, and I had to finish by spring. My thesis was a memoir titled "Fat Man's Daughter," and I had to have about 30,000 words.

I printed out the comic and hung it up in my office as motivation.

Spring came. My thesis was done. I defended it in June, and I officially graduated in August.

I kept the comic hanging in my office because I hoped to turn the 30,000 words into about 80,000 words (or at least 60,000), so I would have a memoir worth publishing.

I have not done a word count in a very long time. But needless to say, I have not finished the book, and spring 2008 has passed, and I am looking at spring 2009.

I brought the printed out version of the comic with me when I moved offices from Kirtland to Ferris. I need the inspiration to keep writing. I need to get back in the groove and blog at Fatmansdaughter.com as well as generate that rough material and work on polishing it. Without a deadline, however, I am finding it hard to write.

One big block for me has been physical -- or actually it is mental having to do with my physical.... (how is that for confusing?). The memoir is about weight issues, in particular how they relate to parenting and being a kid of an overweight parent. And I'm overweight.

I had lost 40 pounds and was holding steady. Recently, within the last month or so, I gained back 10. I want to lose, at minimum, another 40 pounds, but at this point, I would be happy just to be losing something rather than maintaining.

By not writing about my weight and weight issues, I have allowed myself to slacken off on my own weight loss goals. I need to remotivate myself as both a writer and a dieter.

I think the only way I'm going to get it done is to schedule my writing time.

What has worked for you?

Ramadan Days 26-28

Day 26

My family and I realize that there are only a few days left of Ramadan. We discussed how quickly it went by and it didn't seem hard or a burden on us. Many of our colleagues and friends were very supportive throughout the month of Ramadan. That was an awesome feeling. Thanks guys!

Day 27

Almost the entire immediate family got together to have our Iftar at my parents' home-the main central point of meeting. While we were having desert, my aunts stopped by to see how everyone was doing. That was nice. We caught up with each others lives over apple cheese cake and chocolate silk pie (I am a chocoholic and proud of it :D). We start thinking about Zakatul Fitr, the required alms to help those who need it financially.

This year, each Muslim who can afford is to pay $8. Wow. Imagine if my entire town of 9,000 people paid $8, total of $72,000, and send to to help humanity socially. So, if you and your spouse are doing well financially then you are obligated to pay $8 per person for each person living in your home, that means you must pay your child's or grandparent's alms if they are living with you. Now, don't get me wrong an adult living with you can pay his own if he can afford it.

Day 28

Today is Sunday School for DS. What makes this day unique is that not only is this the last Sunday that we will go fasting, but my mom and dad went with DH, DS, and myself today. My parents were co-sponsoring the Community Center's meal. What makes a little more special than being a co-sponsor is that my dad coming with us. He went through a major medical crises in 2007 that we thought he was a goner, including his doctors, but he surprised everyone that doctors today call him the "Miracle Man." (Which honestly, we believed prayers from Muslims, Christians and others, were half of the medicine because doctors told us there was nothing else they could do.)

We dropped DS off at Sunday School, and my mom gave her food items to some of the chefs in the kitchen who were preparing the rest of the meal.

Then we went off to our friends' home and hung out until it was time to eat at the Community Center. My mom made homemade Arabic bread and brought fruit with her, while other families provided other parts of the meal. Today, we had Arabic food, rice and lamb to name a few things off. The place was packed as usual.

My dad did really well. Many people hugged him and shook his hand with tears in their eyes. The last time some of the people saw my dad, he was in a coma. Many told him, this is a blessing from God--which is what we believe.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Why didn't I think of this sooner? Going local.

The appeal of the Internet, for me, has always been that I had unrivaled access to people and information all over the world. Want to know what's going on halfway around the world? Go there - virtually. Want to send a quick note to your brother, cousin, uncle or childhood friend, but don't have any stamps? Want to take college classes, get a recipe, or find other writing mothers?

You get the idea. So in all of my 11 glorious years on the Internet, I never thought about meeting online the people I might bump into at the grocery store.

Until recently, when a local entertainment columnist wrote about Tweet-Ups. "Hey," I thought to myself. "I'm on Twitter. She's on Twitter... Who else might be on Twitter?"

And this matters because I've been thinking of focusing my writing efforts more locally. My local clients are GREAT to work with, so I reason that having more like them would be a good thing. But walking up to someone and introducing myself in real life is a bit more problematic than it is online. Meeting another local person on the World Wide Web is like meeting another American in a foreign country. Instant comaraderie.

And truth be told, I probably wouldn't meet these folks around town. We don't run in the same circles. (My circle is the one that goes from the living room to the dining room to the kitchen.) The vast majority of people I have found who share my city as well as the Internet are in either journalism or tech. They're also a mite younger, I suspect. Yesterday I read a Tweet from someone local that said "What do senior citizens have to do online? Geneology?"


I have yet to see whether friending local folks will yield any real results in terms of local business, but it has led me to discover some great local content, and make a few connections I wouldn't have otherwise made.

What about you? Do you frequent your local WWW sites? Have you made any new connections with people in your own city? Am I the only one who hasn't thought of this yet? :)

Libel Insurance: The Non-Product

(reposted from The Writing Mother)

So I'm phoning around for house insurance quotes.

I was surprised to hear that the last insurance company offered me "Libel" insurance on my home insurance. To understand the libel issue, you really have to be Canadian. For Americans you have your "freedom of speech". In Canada, the onus is on the WRITER to prove that what they wrote is true. This means you can be sued by anyone for something you wrote, even if it was completely true. If they don't like you and want to shut you up, well, they just have to sue you and put you tens of thousands of dollars in debt, you lose your home and are destitute and suddenly you don't want to write anything risque any more.

Truth is a defense, yes, but it won't stop you from being sued and spending thousands upon thousands in legal fees. So I was kind of hoping that this libel insurance thing was the real deal. But here was the very frustrating conversation:

Her: We offer libel insurance for $200 a year.

Me: Oh yeah? Even if I'm a writer and I write books?

Her: Yes.

Me: That's very interesting, I'm a member of the Professional Writers Association of Canada and libel is a topic that comes up quite often. See, there's this thing called libel chill where freelancers don't write hardcore journalism as much because they are worried they'll be sued for libel.

Her: Um, can you hold?

Me: Sure.

I'm thinking, crap, why did I tell her that? Why did I admit it? I could have GOTTEN libel insurance. Oh, wait, because it would have been dishonest and they probably would have denied any claim anyway.

Her: Hi, um, so we can't offer that insurance because you publish your writing.

Me: But, it's LIBEL insurance. How would someone know I wrote something to sue me about if I didn't publish it?

Her: Well, if you say something and someone sues you -

Me: - no, spoken is slander, libel is written. Do you offer slander insurance then?

Her: Well, um, no, see, libel insurance is for if someone sues you over something you write. But you publish what you write.

Me: Right. Because for them to read what I write, I'd have to put it "out there", so I'd have to "publish it". How else would they read what I wrote? If you write something on a piece of paper and put it in your pocket, it's not published. But if you put it where someone can read it, like, say, on a blog or in a magazine or in a book . . . then legally it's published.

Her: Right, but you get paid.

Me: That doesn't matter, publishing is publishing regardless of whether or not the writer is paid.

Her: But, we can't offer libel insurance on anything you publish.

Me: Ok, so your libel insurance covers my diary and the notes I write and stick in my pocket.

Her: But if you say -

Me: - that's spoken, it's slander.

The poor girl, I felt a little bad for her at the end. Selling a non-product and not knowing what that non-product even is...

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Ramadan Day 25

Today, I answered a phone call from my uncle who lives in Ramallah,Palestine/Israel. Depending on who you are and what you believe, Ramallah belongs to Palestine and to others Ramallah belongs to Israel. (There is my teaching lesson for the day).

We were comparing notes about fasting in USA and in Ramallah. Depending on what part of the U.S. a fasting Muslim resides, is based off the sunset. I live in the MidWest. We currently break our fast at 6:40ish. My uncle said they eat about 5:40ish. The Middle East is 7 or 8 hours ahead of Central Time. My uncle thinks it is neat that the mosques and community centers offer "Iftar" meals to the community to break their fast. I believe it is not as common in the Ramallah area.

He also informed me that last day of Ramadan is Monday or Tuesday. Scholars will determine using the lunar calendar as the days get closer.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Ramadan Days 23-24

We are now breaking our fast about 10 minutes to 7 p.m. If you remember, the first day of Ramadan we ate about 7:30 p.m. I just can't believe how early it is when it gets darker outside. Not only am I not genetically made for winter, I am STILL scarred from last year's winter. Although, I have been told last year's winter is the typical Midwestern snow storm that we haven't seen in more than 20 years. (I am a Midwestern native, but a youngin'--late 20s to early 30s).

See during Ramadan, we don't only eat international home cooked meals (my family has been known to eat from American, Arabic, Italian, Mexican, Spanish, Chinese...the list can go on), we also ate out from small-town restaurant. The restaurant is old, yet cute and classic. We had fry chicken--which is not my most favorite food. It is alright.

Family members and I have been reading or listening to Quranic recitations. We are hoping to read or listen to the Quran by the end of this month.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

That's the sound of letting go...

My daughter has a problem. She finds it very difficult to make freinds, because she's emotionally unable to cope with...I was going to say *some* situations, but if we're being honest, nine times out of ten, if she's gotten something into her head that she'd like to do, if she can't do it, she gets upset.
Freindship is one of those really fraught things - because she doesn't understand that just because SHE likes people, other people can't - or won't like her as rapidly. She takes it personally - and it escalates from there.
Last night we had to have a conversation about how to let go. She's only seven so we had to talk about it in terms that she understood - so, we decorated a wish box (she painted it pink, dipped it in glitter and then tied a rainbow of ribbons round it. We lined it with silk and a knitted square that she wanted for 'something'), and I taught her to write down her wishes. When she put something into the box, she rang a small bell. We've talked about how she has to empty the box if she doesn't get the small wishes - and take the ones out she gets. Most of all though, I taught her that she has to keep a smaller box - of wishes that may not work out. And that's her letting go box. Every ten things that she puts in that box that are valid and she manages to stick to, we give her a reward. And every evening, she and I sit down and discuss her day, over a hot chocolate.
So far, it's sorta helping. But I can't help but think that she's always going to associate wishes with ringing a bell - and letting go with closing boxes. I know it's better than tears, and yelling.
It got me thinking about my own stuff though - it seems to be a running theme with lessons in our house - the children learn, the adults learn, we move onto the next thing we all need to do.
When I sat and prioritised my most important 'things', I discovered two things.
One - short term, I have a lot of coding to do, but if I get it all done now, it's going to be much easier on me in the long run - and two, and probably more importantly, that's going to reduce by quite a bit, if I could just LET GO of some projects. Like my daughter, I have problems letting go - for different reasons, but it's ultimately the same thing.
If I want to make room for all of the 'new' I want to get up to - all of the short stories I want to write, all of the books I want to get stuck into. But I can't, if I have slivers of time that I have to fit dozens of things into.
Again, because this always comes up when I mention it, I have very few problems with time management - I just have a problem with ignoring new ideas.
So - there's another box in the house. It's a pretty black thing with silver ribbons (I got some samples in it ages ago). When I finish projects, I stick my hand in there, and I get to try something new. I find that I've got time, and I start something - but I've made sure that I can never overextend again.
I've already got a jar for story snippets, for when I get blocked (which, due to the nature of our cleaning sprees, gets 'backed up' to a database on my laptop) - so I think this is going to work.
Now - all I have to do is go swipe the bell...

Monday, September 22, 2008

Ramadan Days 19-22

Days 19-20

Because of our hectic schedules, DS and myself break my fast at my parents' home during the week. And on Saturdays, at my parents' home again because it is a meeting place for all of my siblings when we meet.

On Saturday, I helped my mom make spinach pies. See picture. Yummm...(Thank God I am not fasting as I blog about this). My mom made the dough from scratch and made piles of balls on a tray waiting to be flattened out. Guess who had to flatten them out? Yours truly. My siblings seem "shocked" when I "cook" with my mom. (Ha ha). I get teased because I don't plan semi-elaborate meals for DH and DS (this is for another story one day). I flattened the pies, and my mom put a spinach mixture and then she folded the dough into a triangle. If you are interested in the recipe, you can find it a random link that I looked up: http://www.theepicentre.com/Recipes/mspies.html. Unlike one of my sisters who loves cooking, I don't actually mind it when it is a group cooking. However, once in a while, I do find that inspiration to whip up some fancy meal--but that hasn't happened in a while.

Day 21

DH and I took DS to Sunday School. While he was in Sunday School, DH and I went to explore a Forest Preserve. It was so beautiful and relaxing. We walked in the woods, sat near a river, and DH and I reflected, observing nature and sharing them with each other. After two hours, when we were driving out of the Forest Preserve, we saw some steps that were built in a semi-hill. I told him that we should climb this next week when DS is in Sunday School. DH said, "let's do it now." I agreed. The stones were very old and steep, yet I had to climb them. (DH did fine, I need to exercise some more). Half way up, I took a break while DH encouraged me to continue. I told him to go on. He made it to the top.

I thought wait a minute. Yeah, I am fasting, but so is DH. When I saw DH continue walking after he reached the top. My curiosity got the best of me and I decided to finish. I reached the top (huffing and puffing), and was it beautiful! The top was covered with more trees and a walking trail.

We ended up going back down. Then we stopped by some friends' home. They invited us to break our fasting together instead of at the Masjid. After we picked up DS, we headed back to our friends' home and broke our fast there. One of these days, I am gonna have to post some photos of Arabic food.

Day 22

Guess what I did, world. I jogged and walked with my running buddy. Boy did I feel it! I haven't done that since June of this year.I was very thirsty today because silly me had to jog and walk. It's all right because it was an opportunity to discipline myself and teach myself to forget about being thirsty.

By now, every fasting Muslim tastes the food differently. The taste has a very rich texture (no, I am not talking about hot spices). It is just that you become more sensitive to the taste that you haven't noticed in a while. I hate to sound like a commercial, but you enjoy every bite as you eat.

Until tomorrow, my fellow readers.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Another Book Video - Book Signing!

Wheeee, one of my favouritest (totally a word) bloggers, Mir, had a book signing today! And one of her friends made a video of it.

Check. It. Out.

Possibly I've been hanging around with too many writers when one of my first thoughts was "Mir is friends with a DOCTOR!"

Creative Book Announcement

About the book... "Once upon a time, a mom and her daughter were talking. (Moms and daughters tend to do a lot of that.) Daughter Corey had come up with an idea. She wanted to make Halloween healthier and more Earth friendly, so she founded Green Halloween. Mother Lynn thought this was brilliant (and not just because Corey is her daughter, although that may have figured into it a tiny bit), but wondered, why stop there? Why not apply the same principles to every holiday and celebration?" Read more...

I've "known" Lynn Colwell through a writing group and her emails are always a joy to read. She wrote the only authorized biography of the original writing mother, Erma Bombeck.

Lynn and her daughter Corey wrote Celebrate Green! together and this is their very creative book launch video:

Friday, September 19, 2008

Show me the way to oblivion, plz (x-posted)

So, uhm. Sorry.

This week we had a freind visiting us - and between that and the almost permanent headache I've been stuck with, I've been fit for very little other than a tiny bit of Warhammer Online, and touring our gorgeous home with someone that was expecting something different. Although, what, we're not sure.

Next week, I start my new classes at Uni. I'm doing three double writing modules this term, and abnormal psychology - after x-mas, I'm doing the same doubles, and Psychology and Law. Plus, my I've started planning my Nanowrimo, and some interviews between now and November to give it max publicity. I can't believe I've been a municipal liason for six years!

Does anyone else have a plan?

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Ramadan Day 18

The time to break our fast come earlier each day. Today, we ate at 7 p.m. (unlike the first day of Ramadan which was about 7:29 p.m.). That is because the sunset is setting earlier due to fall and winter.

Today, DS and I attended Parent-Teacher Organization--the same time I am to eat. This is not unusual because our lifestyle sometimes demands us to break at certain times and certain places. It is bound to happen that we might eat alone or break our fast with a snack. That is what I did. I broke mine by drinking water.

Considering that attending PTO is voluntary, I could have ate with family members. I chose not to tonight because PTO is only once a month. I do believe parents should get involved in their child's school to their best availabilities.

DH beaks his fast at work by snacking. He likes to enjoy his meals at his pace, not when his breaks are timed. When he comes home after work, that is when he will eat a good meal.

I realize that in a couple of days, we will be entering the last 10 days of Ramadan which has great meaning and that I will explain in a later post.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Ramadan Days 16-17

Day 16

I have been reflecting on how quickly the days of Ramadan have gone by. Yes, I couldn't drink or eat during the day, but I didn't feel like it was a burden because I know the physical and spiritual benefits of Ramadan. For example, I continue to workout while I am fasting. Some of the health club members cheer me on for living life as normal as possible while I fast.

Fasting disciplines the mind, body and soul. It is all how you are going to handle fasting. Either you accept it or you struggle against it. I have chosen to accept it.

Fasting during Ramadan is not required for everyone. Women who are pregnant, nursing or menstruating are not required to fast. Children who are not of puberty age are not required to fast. The same applies to those who take medication and the elderly. I do have some family members who do not fast. It is because they have medical conditions that require them to take medications with food during the day.

Day 17
People are in a good mood, at least that is what I observed with my family and Muslim friends who are fasting. They appear to be in a relaxed state. They are a lot calmer because you also have to work on your personality as well. Although backstabbing, cheating and lying shouldn't be allowed at all, it shouldn't be allowed especially during the month of Ramadan. You have to try to improve your behavior as well. By cheating or lying, a fast could become broken.

I want to also point out that the behavior that we portray during the month of Ramadan is expected to be shown throughout the year. The way I see it, Ramadan is the month to practice, to turn an action into a positive habit. It is kind of like Christmas. Imagine the world being nice only during Christmas. What kind of world would we live in? Not a very kind one. (I know some might say it is not kind now).

Monday, September 15, 2008

Ramadan Days 10-15

Wow. I apologize. I didn't realize nearly six days I have passed that I didn't journal about my fasting days. What caught my attention is that Google alerted me of some link love by fellow colleague writer Amel Abdullah at http://muslimwriters.blogspot.com/. Thanks Amel, that is a good reminder of to continue blogging about my days of Ramadan. :)

Day 15

Often words are not enough to describe the feelings of Ramadan because what the heart feels can't always be expressed in words. (Maybe that is why love is a complicated subject to many?)

Now we are in the second set of 10 days of Ramadan. See, some people say that Ramadan is divided into three parts. The first 10 days of Ramadan are of mercy. Second 10 days of Ramadan are of forgiveness and the third 10 days are of freedom from hellfire. I haven't verified this yet. As soon as I find out, I will you my dear readers know. However, I do know that the last 10 days of Ramadan is considered highly blessed, and many Muslims will try practice more acts of worship than the other days of Ramadan. But more about that as we get into the last 10 days.

Days 10-12, DH, DS, and myself broke our fast at my parents' home. Traditionally, when we break our fast, we break it by drinking water or eating some fresh dates because that is what our Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) used to do. Today, studies show that eating dates offer many benefits such as being rich in vitamins and minerals. We usually buy fresh dates from Chicago or get it sent from Michigan or California. After we break our fast with dates or water, Muslims then go pray Salatul Maghrib (Maghrib Prayer). Then they come together and eat a meal.

DS is so cute. (Remember he is only five and he is not fasting). He would be playing outside with his friends, and when it is time to eat. He tells them, "I have to go break my 'fast' with my family." He will then wash his hands, and he then sits patiently at the table waiting until everyone can eat.

Day 13

The entire family (on my side) came together to break our fast at my parents' home--the central meeting place. My brothers came Chicago and "College town" and my other sister and her family. This was the first Iftar that we had together. Sad, I know, but that is how life is. We have our work, school, even family (I am a new aunt...I LOVE it)schedules. It was nice. We caught up on each others lives. We probably won't get together until a couple weeks later.

Day 14

DH and I took DS to Sunday School (Islamic style). When we dropped him off, we went to visit some friends who live in that same town. We hung out with them. Like DH and I, our friends were fasting as well. The time flew by quickly because we conversed on all sorts of topic--including Islam and work. We then prayed as a group Salatul Asr (Asr Prayer or the late afternoon prayer). That was nice. Once we finished, then we hung out for another hour, and then all of us, including our friends went back to Sunday School to break our fast there. Was it awesome. DS was sitting in the gym with his class until parents came.

The place was PACKED. There were smiles and greetings. Women hugged and kissed me. Some asked me how I was doing, and how was my mother doing. People were in a cheerful mood. Even my former Sunday school teacher and mentor asked me how I was doing. He also said that I was like his daughter. The atmosphere at the Muslim Community Center was very touching, DH and I agreed. We all picked up a plateful of dates, fruit and chicken noodle soup and sat at lunchroom tables. We waited for about five minutes when the Athan, call to prayer sounded by a young man in the gym. This is how it went, it is translated then Arabic is below. A reminder Allah is the Arabic word for God:

Allah is Most Great. Allah is Most Great.
Allah is Most Great. Allah is Most Great.
I bear witness that there is none worthy of being worshipped except Allah.
I bear witness that there is none worthy of being worshipped except Allah.
I bear witness that Muhammad is the Apostle of Allah.
I bear witness that Muhammad is the Apostle of Allah.
Come to prayer. Come to prayer.
Come to Success. Come to Success.
Allah is Most Great. Allah is Most Great.
There is none worthy of being worshipped except Allah.

Allahu Akbar. Allahu Akbar.
Allahu Akbar. Allahu Akbar.
Ash-hadu an la ilaha ill-Allah.
Ash-hadu an la ilaha ill-Allah.
Ash-hadu anna Muhammad-ar-Rasoolullah.
Ash-hadu anna Muhammad-ar-Rasoolullah.
Hayya 'alas-Salah. Hayya 'alas-Salah.
Hayya 'alal-falah. Hayya 'alal-falah.
Allahu Akbar. Allahu Akbar.
La ilaha ill-Allah.

We broke our fast. Then we got up to go prayer. The rooms were packed. Shoulder connected with other shoulders, meaning our shoulders literally touched our neighbor's shoulder. The Imam, religious or spiritual Muslim leader equivalent to a Rabbi (Jew), or Priest, Pastor, or Father (Christians) led everyone in pray. I guesstimated there were over 200 people in attendance. After we finished our prayer, we went back to the gym, and stood in line for food. As stated in another post, community iftars are sponsored by families Fridays through Sundays. Up to four families sponsor each of those days. We had four different kinds of ethnic foods because we had a Hispanic family who made Hispanic food, I believe it was rice; Indonesian family made noodles with chicken and vegetables; Pakistani family made Biryani, spicy rice with chicken; and I believe there was either an Albanian or Bosnian family made a type of pasta dish. They coordinated together the menus. Talk about team work and coordination. That is one of the beauties of Islam is that ethnic groups get along beautifully with each other despite language or culture differences.

After the meal, you had the option of hanging at the community center to pray Taraweeh (extra prayers performed in Ramadan) or go home. My friend and I opted to go home because we had young children with us, we figured we would let them play at her house while DH and friend would perform parts of the Taraweeh. At my friend's home, we drank coffee and chitchatted while our kids played together. DH and friend came after about one hour later. We all sat together and talked politics and social issues (where ever I go, I always seem to stat deep talks lol).

We left their home about 11 p.m. last night. It is an exception because DS is mostly asleep by 8:30 p.m.

However, it is Ramadan, the blessed month. I always make an exception for Ramadan.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Little Effort . . . Big Payoff

Over here at the Cook Household it's been an exciting week. We bought a house, for one. But a second bit of excitement has me bubbly too.

When I wrote my first book proposal, I included a short couple of paragraphs about possible future books that the publisher might want me to write. I think I called it "Companion Books". Well, in our discussions, it turned out that they were interested in one in particular. Now that my edits are done on that book, they are willing to start to talk about the next book.

I still have some work to do, I have to make sure all my research is up to date and I have valid statistics . . . but they want more of a synopsis from me rather than a full out book proposal. It's like a proposal without the two or three sample chapters.

When you are writing your proposal, don't forget the companion books section. It was just a couple of paragraphs long and is now saving me a PILE of time!

Copywriting v. Journalism and Ethical Considerations

A question about ethics came up recently on a Yahoo list for copywriters. Heather thought my answer might be helpful to others with similar questions, so here it is.

The situation: A business hires a freelance writer to write a profile of their company, and asks the writer to submit it to a magazine.

The question: Is it ethical?

It depends. There's copywriting, and there's journalism. Writers who do both are ethically and morally obligated to know which hat they're wearing.

1. If you're writing a company profile for the company, you do the best job possible for that client. Writing a promotional piece *as if* it is objective reporting is doing a service to your client (the company, not a magazine publisher). The whole point of an advertorial is to get people to read it, so it shouldn't look like an ad.

2. If you are a journalist working for a publication, you will never take payment from the subject(s) of the articles. That would be a conflict of interest and a HUGE ethical no-no. Now, if the editor wanted to run that company profile, knowing what it is and who you're working for, that's up to her. (They do it with press releases all the time.) As long as you don't misrepresent it as objective reporting. And if you REALLY want it to be nice and clear, the client should submit the profile to the magazine. Then there's no question.

Writers have the ethical obligation to clearly be working for either the client or the publication - NEVER both. There may be more to it than that (i.e., should you ever write a reported piece that includes a company you once wrote advertorials for?), but in the context of what we've been discussing, that's the basic difference.

Questions? Comments? Objections? Let me know. We should all strive to maintain a spotless reputation, in my opinion, not only for the good of our careers but just because we're great people.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Ramadan--Days 8 and 9

Day 8

I have now been recruited to help develop a market campaign to promote Muslim consumers, so they can do their holiday shopping. These are small businesses that want to increase their consumer range, which I think is a great idea because a little market competition and attention to Muslims will give Muslims different choices and options to choose from. I mean how cool is it if you see products like paper plates or cups that say "Happy Eid (Holiday)" or Islamic designs just like they do for Christmas and Hanukkah.

Day 9
I can't believe tomorrow is our 10th day of Ramadan already. Wow, the time has definitely passed by.

Today was a little bit chilly and I nearly froze when I went outside. It was interesting because I thought to myself, "Wow. Why am I THAT cold?" It is not because of lack of food or drinks (I mean people it was 60 degrees Fahrenheit outside--which was not bad), it was because I have now become more attuned to my body. That is one of the miracles of fasting. You become more aware, not only are you going through a spiritual cleansing, your body is going through a physical cleansing. I mentioned this to my mom. She said that is due to fasting and that we are more aware of our bodies.

By not eating or drinking, you are gaining self-discipline against being tempted by a materialistic world, and you are gaining empathy to feel with those who are not as blessed as you. You are also giving your body a chance to rest from digesting.

Some of my friends who are not Muslim have fasted for one day--Muslim style,meaning that they did not drink, eat, or chew for an entire day until it was time to break their fast. They were impressed by our discipline and self-control.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Ramadan Day 7

Today two of my siblings, my son and myself went to an Islamic community center, so that DS starts Weekend School, where he learns Arabic, Quran, and Islamic studies. Since it is only one day a week, DS will defintely need re-enforcements at home so that his knowledge may be strengthened in those subjects.

I registered DS at the school and then walked him to his class. Many people greeted me as I walked down the hallways. These are people I haven't seen in a year or so, yet they always welcomed me with open arms and smiles. (Just in case you are wondering it has been a year or so since I showed up at an Islamic community center it is because "Life" gets in the way. No seriously, work and other obligations. It is also a 30 minute drive from my home). Now that DS is a student of the weekend school, I will definately make appearances, and perhaps get involved as well.

Normally, weekend school starts at 10 a.m., but because it is Ramadan, the board moved it to 4 p.m.- 7 p.m., so that when the students are done, everyone, including adults, could break their fast in the gym/cafeteria. Families had already signed up to cook that evening. I have been told that Community fasts are available Fridays, Saturdays and Sunday evenings. How awesome is that! Since my siblings came with me to the community center, we didn't stay to eat at the center because we had made plans to eat with my parents again. Hopefully, DH will be willing to go on the weekend with DS and I. See, if you are wondering what happened to DH, he has been out of town for the last few days visiting his sister and her family. He is to arrive tomorrow night. DS and I cannot wait to see him!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Ramadan Day 5 and 6

Day 5: We broke our fast at my parents' home. There is more blessings when you eat with a gathering, so it is always recommended to break your fast with a group of people. Don't worry. We bring stuff to my parents' home as well.

My son is starting to ask more questions about Ramadan. He would ask what is it and why do "big people" have to fast. I explained to him that "big people" (meaning adults) fast, so that they can feel how the less fortunate feel.

Day 6: Today, Sarah Militz-Frielink and I had the pleasure of interviewing Imam Shpendim about Ramadan. It was an awesome lecture because Sarah and I learned so much. Be sure to listen to it at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/faten-and-sarah. Do ignore the background noise, unfortunately my son was trying to distract me. Usually, DH occupies him, but he wasn't home when I co-produced my show.

Today, my son proudly says during the day, "I know why you cannot eat right now." I asked him why not. He replied: "Because you are seyeyum (fasting)." My son and I prayed together. Although, my son is not required to pray yet, it is good to have him practice or copy. We prayed during Asr (late afternoon) time which is about 4:30 p.m., Central Time. I told him to copy like me while I prayed. He did fine. He said he felt good when he finished.

Tonight, my parents, siblings, son, and myself ate at my sister's house. She cooked homemade pizza and vegetarian lasagna. She also prepared salad. Those I believe are her signature dishes. She takes great care and planning to make homemade pizza and her vegetarian lasagna. When the pizzas and lasagna are done cooking, they look like beautiful pieces of art when they are displayed on the dining room table. We ended the meal with an cookie ice cream cake. Talk about rich, but delicious!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Blog Stop Book Tour: Midwife of The Blue Ridge

Midwife of the Blue Ridge
Christine Blevins
Berkely Trade Paperback

I know already I'm not going to be able to do this book justice in my review. It's that good. I absolutely LOVED it. Go. Get. It.

Not only was Midwife of the Blue Ridge a departure from my usual reading, it was a departure from the 21st century. It's a great story of a woman who leaves her home in Scotland and enters a completely foreign place - and finds *her* place.

Midwife has the appeal of an old-fashioned adventure, not unlike Huckleberry Finn. But this is no children's novel. I have to warn you - the violence and anguish of pioneer life is graphically depicted, as real and raw as if I was seeing it happen in front of me. But this added in every sense to the effect of transporting me to the rugged and beautiful wilderness of the Blue Ridge, and the hardships that were a part of our American history.

Maggie was an orphan who found a home with a skilled Scottish midwife and learned the trade as she grew. When she was an adult, she got passage aboard a ship to America in exchange for four years of slavery in the New World. Maggie's beauty, wit and outspokenness are as much hazards as they are the tools she uses to survive.

There is a love story here, but you won't find the same story arc as in a traditional romance novel. And ... (see this is where it gets hard not to give too much away) ... the author does not spare her character with formulaic plot devices involving brave knights sweeping in to rescue her. And that's all you're going to get me to say. ;)

The historical details are deftly painted into the novel; at no point did I feel bogged down by facts. And this feat is especially impressive to me since the main character is a healer, so botanical and common names of herbs and natural remedies are sprinkled throughout.

I realized while reading Midwife of the Blue Ridge that I have a personal measure of truly great books: I don’t want to reach the end, but I am unable to slow my reading.

Get. This. Book. It is awesome. Truly. In fact, I might start reading it again. (So you can’t have my copy.)

To read more about the author, and to see what other bloggers are saying, visit Blog Stop Book Tours.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Catching Up With Ramadan Days 2-4

Catching Up With Ramadan Days 2-4
You want to know what is interesting abou THIS Ramadan? It is the first time in I don't know how many years we started to fast in the summer time. Every year, Ramadan comes about 10 days earlier from the year before because the Islamic calendar runs on a lunar cycle and not a solar one.

It is not that bad so far. Sure we get hungry or thirsty, but that is part of the fasting, to feel empathy with our fellow humans who aren't as lucky as you and I. That is why many Muslims will offer to cook in Ramadan for families, friends, and even at mosques. When families cook at mosques, the entire community, even travelers, are invited to attend to have their "Iftar". Due to our work schedules, DH, DS, and myself haven't been to the mosque yet. We are planning to go this Sunday. The generosity is not expected to stop after Ramadan is over. It is expected to continue year round. The way I see it is that the generosity in Ramadan is "practice" for us.

Today, I want to share with you one of my most favorite Surahs in the Quran. It is called Surah ar Rahman (The Most Gracious). This is not meant to be preaching to you. It is just to show you a typical Muslim's life during the month of Ramadan, although I do listen to Quranic recitation throughout the year, but during Ramadan, the Quran is more special because we believe the Quran was completed in the month of Ramadan. A great translation of Surah ar Rahman can be found at http://www.dar-us-salam.com/TheNobleQuran/surah55.html.

Above is Surah ar Rahman recited by an Imam Mohammad al Barrak, a relious leader for Muslim, like priests and rabbis.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Followers, time keeping and my biggest WAH bugbear

I noticed recently that blogger released this 'nifty' function called 'followers'. I'm wondering how different it is from things like myBloglog, because, to be honest, I'm not so worried about who is reading any of the blogs I work on (though, I, and everyone else at MNABC adore you all, it goes without saying) - but who is commenting, and more importantly, why they aren't. It's nice being able to see how many readers a blog has, but I think that metrics, like statistics, are fairly pointless. I've got a PR6 blog (it used to be PR9, and I...ahem...ignored it for a while) that has thousands of readers daily, and dozens of comments, but I write it simply because I want to). Most importantly of all, I'm always most interested in knowing people are enjoying themselves, but that's another one of those 'goes without sayings'.
The thing I love about social networking, blogging and everything that groups into that 'medium' is that it's always moving forward, which, at the moment I'm not.
I'm in the process of testing out yet more time management tools, now that I've discovered I spend 'oh my god too much!' time on email (it's coming out as my top 'task' at two hours every day!). I've been looking at goals and goal setting, specifically for writers, so I'll have lots of fun observations to share. Sorry, did I say fun, I meant, soul numbingly depressing that I didn't work it all out sooner.
Heather's also already hit on my biggest WAH bugbear. It even comes behind people not taking me seriously - spam.
I hate being 'spamvertised' at by people that should otherwise know better. And it's kinda sad to say, but since joining Haro, as that's an address I only USE for Haro stuff, I am getting spammed. Haro's owner has said that he'll take action though, so I might start forwarding the spam instead of deleting it out of hand.
Given my email is my biggest time drain though, it's really not helping my second goal....

So - anyone else got anything they want to get off their chests? Any bugbears? Disagree that spam is worse than not being taken seriously? Don't care about spam? I'd love to hear from you!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

You Are Worth the Time

Generally speaking, I don't think of myself as an artist. It was never my goal to create great artistic works of fiction. I always wanted to just tell my stories and have people enjoy them. I just want to produce damned good entertainment.

This isn't mutually exclusive from the desire for recognition. I hold a secret yearning for some kind of artistic affirmation from the powers that be: good reviews, a slot on the best seller list, or some respected award. But I don't expect it. I don't ever really expect to do anything but labor in obscurity, quietly doing my job of entertaining. Perhaps someday, I'll be discovered, like Bach or Dickens, years after my death, to have been a transcendent artist and to have written classic works of literature proven by the only test that matters: time.

Hey, we can all dream, right?

This morning, I was woken up too early by my husband's alarm clock. I lost an hour of sleep on a morning when I was already set to get up a full 45 minutes before I had to be getting the little girls up for their first day of school. The little girls, who often dawdle to the point of driving me to insanity, got ready with a good will and are now cuddled up next to me. We have time to sit.

When I put them on the bus, they will be gone for the whole day, arriving home at nearly supper time. And the hours will stretch out before me, hours during which I feel like doing exactly nothing. How odd to plan on wasting a day on this particular day when I am already sensitive to the fleeting, and lasting, nature of time.

There is laundry to do. Pots still to wash. The bathroom is dirty. Perhaps I will do some of those things.

Perhaps not.

Perhaps, on this, the first day of school for so many of our children, we will remember who we are. We are artists--even me.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Missing Yous, Ramadan Fasting, and Whatever Else I Will Write About

Hi world. Did you miss me? I sure missed you!

I have been busy hiding writing away. I have accomplished much. I have been working on a book in progress. Details later when it is available to the public. As my workload slows down, I have been thinking, hmm...how should I make my entrance in this blog.

Then it occurred to me about two days ago. Ramadan was around the corner. I thought then I could jump right in to blog about my days of fasting because mainstream media in the U.S. doesn't usually cover this kind of thing at least not yet. You, my dear readers, get to see what an average Muslim's life consist of during Ramadan. I need to point out that I do not represent all Muslims around the world--just myself and you could say my immediate family as well to a certain extent. But that is about it.

This year, I actually found out when Ramadan would actually begin two days ago. (By the way, Ramadan is the name of a Islamic month. Muslims fast during the month of Ramadan). I was impressed because normally, we used to didn't find out about Ramadan till the night before it began. Another thing I was impressed about was that most of the Muslims began fasting today. There is one or two countries who didn't.

Let me rewind a bit. My DH and DS had "Suhoor" at my parents house last night because we hung out late (yes DS was sleeping at his normal bedtime hour). Suhoor is a like having a midnight snack. Suhoor takes place in the middle of the night before sun dawn. Once sun dawn arrives, then the eating, drinking, smoking, and sexual relations must stop until sunset. Also actions must be avoided like no gossiping about people, no lying or cheating, etc.

Once sunset arrives, then families and friends get together to enjoy the meal. Many people gasp at the thought not being able to drink water at least, but it is not as difficult as it seems. The body actually needs time to rest from food and drinks. The body adapts.

That is why fasting is not only a physical cleansing, but it is also a spiritual cleansing. You become attuned to your body and aware of your environment in greater detail.

So what did we do today until sunset? Let's see. My ds just began kindergarten and turned five a few days ago, so he is beginning to understand pieces of the world. He doesn't fast yet, nor is he required to fast now. This year will be the first year where I actually had to involve him in festivities. I explained to him about Ramadan. We watched the prayers in Medina and Mecca, Saudi Arabia, live on the Internet. DS was amazed how packed the mosques were. After that I had made 30 colorful stars, out of construction paper, with numbers in Arabic and English on them and hung them on DS's door. We counted the stars, and then took one down to show how many days left of Ramadan. He knows that when the days of Ramadan is done, he gets to have (what every kid loves) presents! There is a catch though. He only gets one or two presents from us the parents because we do not encourage materialism.

Our second activity with our son was making a "Sadaqah" jar. Sadaqah is the term for charity. During the month of Ramadan, not only do we try to read more Quran and perform extra prayers, we also try to do extra charity work. So, I explained to my son that we are going to decorate a Sadaqah jar with construction paper, stickers and markers. He designed it, I taped it because glue wouldn't work. He then colored it and put stickers on it. I explained to him that each day he will be collecting change and then donating it to some social service organization at the end of Ramadan. He told my DH and I that he loves to help people. DH gave him some change to put in. After DS put the change in his jar. He carefully closed it and set it on his dresser.

So, today, I have decided that I am going to complete all 114 Surahs (Chapters) of the Quran during the month of Ramadan. What I need to do is read so many Surahs per day, and I don't mean speed read. I want to actually read and reflect on the meanings of each Surah.

Before, I changed to the next topic, I want to say that my DH, bless his heart, and my mom cooked the first Iftar, the "Breaking" meal. We ate our meal about 7:30 p.m. tonight. It is tradition to break our fast with some dates or a small glass of water before you start eating. It is healthier on your body. The irony is you think you are going to scarf down once it is time to eat, but you don't. In fact, you eat less than you think. So what did we have for dinner? We had cookout and rice and vegetables with lamb.

Now that DS is sleeping, I will be doing my own reflections and prayers before I go to bed. This is a good way to end the night.

So, I do plan to blog about my days of Ramadan. I will try to make it interesting, hmm...maybe I will even teach you some Arabic. If there are words you would like to know, leave a comment, and I will be glad to my best.

By the way, I now co-host a radio blog at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/faten-and-sarah with a colleague of mine, Sarah Militz-Frielink. The show is about connecting women and forming bonds and strengths amongst each other. At the show, we talk about all sorts of issues and we interview women of different careers and backgrounds and as well as males who have an interest in women issues. It is awesome. It is awesome because of two things, my co-host is a great person to work with, we bounce ideas and comments off of each other and second I get to do something I believe in which is strengthening women and supporters of women!

If there is something you would like to know about Ramadan, let me know!

The Definition of Spam & Rude People

I have a bone to pick.

I am a member of a great list called Help A Reporter Out. It's awesome. I send a note through the site and I get dozens of PR people who have Just The Person I Should Talk To. Plus, I never get spammed. It's all good. I've used them less than a dozen times and not gotten a single off-topic pitch.

I was interested to hear that there's a Canadian version (who shall remain nameless, because I'm not out to damage his reputation, he's doing a good enough job himself). Except the reason I heard about this 'copycat-HARO' is because he spammed me (and several other writers). On his site he claims that his main purpose for his list is to stop PR spam. So you stop it by . . . spamming writers? I don't get it.

When I sent him an email about it he stated that it was merely my opinion that he was spamming. Um, no, honey. One unsolicited bulk email = one spam email. The definition of spam does not depend on the quantity. He said he wouldn't "loose" one night's sleep over my irritation. Ok. But guess how likely I am to recommend his service?

He says word of mouth doesn't work as well in Canada as in the US. Yes, we are a smaller country and many industries are microscopic compared to the US. So imagine how easy it is to shoot yourself in the foot here. Pretty easy. My original email to him didn't say "I'll never join you . . . you, you spammer!" It said "I've held off joining your group because ..." I was hoping for some altruistic response. That his mistake of spamming had been an actual honest mistake.

It could happen that he sends an email to his group saying "Don't use Heather Cook!!" but, I don't want to be "used". My job as a writer is not to make nicey-nice with PR people. They are but one way to get to talk to my sources. Are they beneficial? Sure, but imagine if you've hired a PR person and you learned that they were blocking certain journalists because the journalist dared to call a spammer a spammer.

It's supposed to be a mutually beneficial relationship: PR person working for his client, me working for a publication. PR person gets press for his client, I get a reliable source. But as a writer I need to be extra careful that the source discovered through a PR rep is a legitimate one, not one looking just for press.

In the end, it doesn't matter much. I have less invested than the average writer using these services because I work full time in a separate industry, I focus mainly on books at the moment, and I write for mostly US markets. Go ahead, blacklist me. You'll have to have lots of PR people in the western performance horse industry (which doesn't use PR people, we're about performance, not PR) to make any sort of dent in my career.

I love HARO. Warning: Don't use HARO unless you are prepared for the floodgate of sources. I recommend a reply to every source, just to be polite. That can be tough when you get 60+ emails, like I did!