A friendsgiving + how I’ve learned to host big gatherings

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It took me a while but I think I have finally figured out what works for me in entertaining and hosting big gatherings. It was a bit of a journey to find my own style because while I don’t particularly enjoy cooking (unlike a lot of our south asian hostesses who are such amazing cooks), I do love to host and have friends & family over. I also don’t own any fancy crockery or serving ware BUT I do want my table to look beautiful. It’s so easy for us to get stuck on our limitations BUT now finally I think I’ve gotten past that to host the way I want to even despite it all:)

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So today I’m just walking you through what looks like hosting a gathering of friends for us. Will go over everything from sending out the invites to my after-party cleaning up philosophy. Ha, are you ready? Yay! Let’s do this!

(All of these photos from our Thanksgiving potluck from last year)


PLANNING THE PARTY

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INVITATIONS : I personally feel the tone of the party is set from the invite so for me that is an important part of hosting. I personally don’t like Whatsapp invites because the time / date / address invariably will get lost in the conversation (unless it’s a casual, small thing of-course that is different). Emailed invitations have the chance to be forgotten or missed as well so right now making a Facebook event is most practical for us. But a few of the recent apps that I’ve tried out are actually awesome and I definitely want to move to them more (I have a few friends resisting because you know it’s a bit of a new thing lol). This is also easier if you have guests who aren’t on Facebook. The two that I’ve loved using are Paperless Post (has an app version as well) & Hobnob to make pretty invitations. I love that you have the option to send your invite via text message as well. Guests can reply through that too and they’re much more convenient to keep all of the info / potluck menu etc in one place. I also love personalizing invites with one’s own photos:).

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PLANNING THE MENU: I mostly host potlucks for larger gatherings which takes the stress of cooking off of me. But either way, whether cooking myself or hosting a potluck, I like to finalize the menu for our gathering at least a week before so everyone (including myself) can do groceries accordingly in time. For potlucks, you can give people food item choices to pick from which makes it nonrestrictive and still gives a little order to your potluck menu. In our friends’ circle, the host comes up with a basic menu, let’s everyone know what she is making and adds menu options that everyone picks from on the event page (eg: rice dish, meat curry, kabab , veggie dish, dessert …).

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For this Thanksgiving celebration, here’s the menu I shared on the invite page: Rice Dish / Turkey / Cutlets / Soup / Chicken entree / Second meat entree/ Potatoes / Fish or Salmon / Dessert / Dessert / Pasta.

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GROCERIES + MAKING LISTS : You know I can’t plan anything until I write things down so everything from my guest list (including a headcount), menu plans, grocery lists & also things to do before the party happens in writing. I mostly just use any notepad or my regular journal to do this. It helps to do this in the week before + before you do your groceries so you don’t forget anything that you have to buy (there is invariably a last day grocery trip, I will admit).

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DECOR VISION: A week or so before the event, I go through my Pinterest board and finalize the “feel” of the party, order any supplies etc. Having a vision in mind also helps me with selecting colors for the flowers which I pick up when I do groceries.

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For this season of life where it can easily get too overwhelming, focus is on keeping it simple yet have a pretty ambiance for the event. I used to enjoy dreaming up more elaborate details but have let go of that and any need for “perfect”. Most of my decor plans are around candles, flowers & greenery these days lol.

(Tip: I save all jars/bottles etc from jam bottles, sauces and just take off all the stickers etc to reuse for this. I love that the different sizes, shapes etc add a fun whimsy to it).


GETTING READY FOR THE PARTY

CLEANING THE HOUSE : In my earlier years as a host, I used to clean the house from top to bottom before my parties until my mom made me realize it wasn’t worth it. It took me a little time but I have changed the way I clean FOR my parties now. I have a list of non-negotiables which I definitely do so my place feels fresh and clean enough. For me this includes, cleaning my floors, dusting surfaces, cleaning up the powder room including fresh towels, kitchen counters + surfaces wiped down etc and then just freshening up with fresh flowers & candles to get my place party-ready. I might vacuum the main rooms too if they look messy to me but in this season of life with everyone having younger kids, I’ve learned with experience to save the detailed cleaning for after the party. (Last time I even had my cleaning lady scheduled day AFTER the party which felt SO good I cannot tell you).

I also try to divide the cleaning tasks over a few days (1-3 days before the big day) but leave some things eg: powder room till a few hours before the party, fresh towels and all.

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COOKING AND MORE: I have a new tradition where the cooking, setting the table & decor etc happens the night before (or two if I have to divide it). After everyone’s gone to bed, I put a drama on and get all of my work done in complete peace. I love it, even enjoy cooking almost hah.

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Once my cooking is taken care of, I start working on the food table etc. If I’m planning to serve food on the dining table like for this gathering, I like to just mix in the food with candles / little succulents / flowers. I love using wooden boards too (secret: I use my cutting boards) .


MORNING OF THE PARTY + THINGS TO DO

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( The velvet top I’m wearing was an Amazon find which sadly I don’t see anymore. )

Once I’m done with last minute cooking related things and cleanups, I start my stovetop simmer on to freshen up the space + open a few windows as well / I also like to dish out everything in oven proof serving ware and keep in the oven turned on low to keep things warm / Bilal also helps make sure we have enough room for everyone to sit, set up extra chairs and more. Next, I do a final check for the powder room, turn on some favorite music (Coke Studio on the tv / ask Google Home or Alexa to play coffeehouse music), and turn on candles last.

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INVOLVING AND PLANNING FOR KIDS

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I think it’s really important to think from the kids perspective as well when planning our parties. I always ask Anya about any special toys that she wants to put away if it’s hard for her to share them. We do this before the party.

It can be helpful to come up with activities for them to do with their friends, games to play etc. I also have playroom rules displayed and it is a good idea to make a quick check-in and remind kids of the expectations. We also also like to ask the kids to help clean up before leaving. It is also good to keep a movie in mind if things get too crazy.

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For this gathering we also set up a kids table to do activities and to eat together. Here’s why & how we did this.

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SUSTAINABILITY TIPS FOR OUR PARTIES

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Over the years it has started bothering me how much waste our parties create. So many of us use paper-ware & plastics to make it easier for us but honestly there is just too much waste being created at our desi, immigrant gatherings! It has started making me feel very guilty so I’ve tried to make some changes over the years. I blogged these tips & ideas earlier here.


AFTER THE PARTY

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I used to be this crazy mom except AFTER the party! It was terrible! Not only for myself but everyone around me. Thankfully I’ve changed over the years, hah.

Once guests leave, I do a basic clean-up, collect & throw out the trash, start the dishwasher, put leftovers away, clean up any spills and then just sit down with a plate of food to eat, chai to drink and bask in the glory of a party done well. The detailed cleaning happens over the next whole week. The decor sometimes stays up for weeks or even months after. And you know what, no one dies or the sky doesn’t fall down and we all survive fine. haha. As I said, if I’m able to I will even have my cleaning scheduled for within the next few days and honestly it’s the best feeling ever.

I send out any thank you messages to guests and exchange any photos. And that’s it for after the party. (My mom does this wonderful thing after a party where she writes down any takeaways or lessons learned for next time.)

The point is to enjoy our friends and our guests and having company over, not just for yourself but our whole family. So if throwing parties is stressing us out too much, if we’re fighting with our families every time we are having guests over, maybe talk with each other and adjust things around a little bit to make them better!

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Do you have any favorite tips to share? Thanks so much for reading.

Lots of love.

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(Alot of these photos especially of the food table taken by my friend, Sumera, who graciously asked and picked up my camera to document our gathering. Ever thankful for photographer friends.)

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Pakistani & proud

Happy birthday beloved Pakistan.

Last year this time we were back home & it felt so special. It’s hard to find the words to express my feelings; that drive through the streets of Islamabad in the evening, the ‘milli naghmay’, the firecrackers, the festivity in the air.. Growing up, this was our favorite part of the independence day celebrations & I got to share that with Anya…

.. Major nostalgia, sigh.

⁠I’ve always tried to raise Anya in a way that she feels proud of her Pakistani heritage. Despite the many quirks & what the media might want her to believe, there is so much about Pakistan that is just impossible to find anywhere else in the world! I want her to always feel that too. That just like any other culture or country, Pakistan isn’t perfect but there is still so much to love about it..

It makes me SO SO happy to see her love for Pakistan right now. The way she chooses it as the topic for so many of her school projects, how she proudly wore her shalwar kurta one day to school this year, the way she has taught her friends to pronounce “Paa”kistan the right way…

Just makes my heart so full…

I think that the best thing about being multicultural is having this window into two different worlds. How much richer are we if we take the best of both as we move forward! And to lose that piece of your history, that piece of yourself..

.. it would be just so sad ..

I’ve shared previously on my blog some of the ways I’ve made sure Anya feels proud of her roots, through love of the language, the culture, the music, the clothes, through travel as well as through history and stories of inspiring people and more.

How do you make sure your kids are proud of their roots & their multicultural upbringing? Would love to hear.

xo, Nataliya

(Photos from the same drive through the streets of Islamabad that we used to do growing up because I really wanted to document this bittersweet feeling – Mama has replaced Papa on the steering wheel, Islamabad is so so different. It feels new yet the same.)

Celebrating the 4th as a muslim Pakistani-American

As an immigrant Pakistani-American & as a Muslim, 4th of July and everyone celebrating “independence” can bring along mixed feelings. It is the truth that despite all of it’s quirks, America has been kind & welcoming to so many like us who came from far across corners & have built our lives here.

In some ways, our stories are different from many of the immigrant stories. We weren’t escaping from tyrant countries, wars or unsafe places. We, and most of the people around us, came for work or for better opportunities whether for ourselves or for our kids.

Some of us – many of us, thought we were here for just a few years… (very few of us actually went back.)

Over the years we did our best to learn, to assimilate – while also holding on to the values and traditions that were a part of us. We tried to adjust our accents as much as we could, switched to the American versions of words instead of the British ones that we grew up knowing – all the while missing our families, the pieces of us we had to leave behind & just that feeling of fully belonging in a place.

But there were other things we gained..

Despite initially thinking we would go back ‘in a few years’, we ended up staying – The opportunities, the conveniences, the lifestyle, law & order, a sense of security… the diversity and that feeling of being welcomed, like we too can belong here, that we are welcome, that we have a voice!

All of that & more, just made it hard to leave. And here we are now a decade plus more after moving here..

There are times, especially in this post-Trump area where we do wonder about the future of being a Muslim in the United States. Though living in the Seattle area we are incredibly blessed to be part of a beautifully diverse community that has been very welcoming. Compared to Muslim-Americans who were born here, in some ways our dils (hearts) will always be Pakistani, but for our kids who were born and brought up here it’s a different story, even when they do love their Pakistani background like our girl does.

Just wanted to share these random thoughts & feels with photos from our 4th of July picnic from last year. Despite all of the quirks, thank you for everything you have been to us America. You have become home!


// Sharing a few reads that REALLY resonated with me //

It would be a dishonor to America, and to the next empire poised to rise in our dust, to omit the clear and simple truths of this nation’s ugly past and present. Most of all, on this Fourth of July, it would be a lie to tell my son that we wave our flag free from guilt.. In fact, we can wave the red, white, and blue with genuine pride and celebrate the extraordinary lives we’re privileged to live — but we hold this truth to be self-evident that not all men and women (and certainly not those who identify as neither) are created equal in this great land. It simply means that my generation, my son’s, and the ones that come after must continue to fight for America to be the truly inclusive place it aspires to be. (Read the full post here)

Indeed, as an Iranian-American Muslim woman, I’ve never felt so hated and unsafe in my own country. But ultimately, no matter how conflicted I am about my place in America and America’s place in the world at the moment, I am a proud American.. As much as I hate the colonialism, genocide, slavery and rape upon which this nation was built, I love the promise and possibility that it represents — not in its power structures or its stone monuments, but in its people and its natural wonders. (Read the full post here)

The beauty of the United States is that we’re allowed to have intersecting identities, that we’re allowed to be American-Arab, American-Syrian, American-Latina. To not have one homogenous America, but really just a bunch of people that make up the fabric of our country. If you’re going against all the different pieces that make America so great, which is all of us, with all our backgrounds and different experiences and different ethnicities, if you are attacking that essence of it, then the whole experiment of America just falls flat. (Read the full post here)

I’ve lived in America for 25 years now. When I first came here, I was very into the idea of America as the land of opportunity for all..But we don’t really think about it as celebrating independence, even though that’s obviously what the day is supposed to be about. It’s strange, because I definitely feel some sentimental value towards the holiday. When the kids were little, I would bake a cake and decorate it red, white, and blue, things like that. It’s not so much independence we’re celebrating, it’s a celebration of the good life I’ve made here. (Read the full post here)

Thank you so much for reading!

Lots of love!

PREVIOUSLY ON THE BLOG: This country we call home // Waking up in Trump-land // Hate cannot drive out hate

A few ideas for reducing waste at our gatherings

(Disclaimer: This post includes some affiliate links and as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. If you decide to use these links, thank you so much for your support. I only recommend products I actually use and have good experience with.  If you have any questions about any of the products I listed, I would love to answer them)

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As desi expats living far from families, we all host a lot, so many big+small gatherings in these various corners of the world we now call our home. This is one of our strongest traits as Pakistanis, our world famous hospitality (if you haven’t heard about it before, here’s an American travel blogger’s post about it that gives some idea) – which we then bring to our new home countries. The number of people who invited me over, welcomed me into their circles when I initially moved to Seattle and felt like a stranger was too many to count even. Because of this, I was able to make close friendships early on and never felt the need to have to “look for friends”! Alhamdullilah.

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But there’s something that has started to bother me alot in recent years…

Because of the “barkat” (so hard to translate but the nature of Pakistani foods makes it easy to feed lots of people) of our typical menus + our big hospitable hearts, our gatherings are usual bigger than normal standards. To keep things manageable in our household-help free life away from Pakistan, we all have embraced disposables fully! Yes, it makes it easy to host and it’s so convenient BUT the amount of waste created at any of our gathering is huge. Multiplying that to the number of gatherings we host over the course of a year makes it even worse! For some reason there is also less awareness in our communities about reducing waste and switching to a more sustainable lifestyle (I am hopeful we all can together change that).

I have been so guilty of the same all these years but recently I have been trying to become more mindful and find ways to cut down on the waste at the gatherings we host! It’s been a few years since I started becoming more aware and wanted to share a few changes/ideas for you!

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IDEAS TO MINIMIZE WASTE AT OUR DESI PARTIES

(all products + a few resources linked at the end)

1: USING DINNERWARE WHEREVER POSSIBLE // One can start over-using disposables sometimes even where there isn’t a need. I’ve seen that and done it myself too. But now for smaller gatherings, eg: just a couple of families, I now try to use my own dinnerware, which is what we use in our own daily life since I don’t own fancy dinner-ware. It helps to plan a little in advance and make sure that the dishwasher is empty and ready to be loaded after the party.

2: BUYING COMPOSTABLE OR BIODEGRADABLE // Since our garbage company offers compost collection (most places in developed countries do this eg: US, Canada, UK) I have switched to buying only compostable paper plates. (Just so you know : soiled paper plates etc cannot be recycled. And not all soiled paper plates are compostable – the ones with the smooth shiny coating are not). I also bought a pack of compostable forks and they ended up lasting me more than a year (bonus: they look prettier as well). I keep a paper bag (most brown paper grocery bags are compostable) next to the trash to collect soiled paper plates afterwards. Its a good idea to put a little sign about what needs to go in there to make sure compostables don’t end up in trash.

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3: SWITCH TO PAPER STRAWS OR GO STRAW-LESS // I’ve stopped using straws altogether but if you really need to, switch to paper straws instead of plastic for your parties. They look so much more nicer and they’re a lot better for the environment as well. I like to keep them out in a mason jar instead of directly in drinks till the last second since they dissolve if left too long in a liquid. (here’s one dye-free option)

4: SIMPLE IDEA TO LIMIT CUPS PER GUEST // The number of glasses that get used per person (because they keep getting mixed up) is crazy so keeping a sharpie next to your disposable cups so people can write down their names really helps (here’s a pretty way to do this). (Also here’s a pretty washi tape that works perfectly for the above idea).

5: RE-USE OR DIY PARTY DECOR // Try to limit purchasing one-time decor for gatherings (all of those themed party kits from party stores basically) and just re-use what you have or DIY something using supplies you have on hand. My current favorite way to decorate for parties is to reuse glass jars for flowers & tealight candles; using homemade banners (+ a few store bought ones that can be reused over and over again) ; string lights ; a fun message on a letter board ; lots of flowers + greens from outside etc for simple but meaningful party decor.

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6: INVOLVE KIDS + TEACH THEM // As I help kids put their plates for composting, I also make it a point to tell them why it’s important to do that. Being mindful about our surroundings starts young and from our own homes!

7: SWITCH TO CLOTH TABLECLOTHS // Avoid purchasing plastic tablecloths and instead invest in a few plain colored table cloths (or better yet get a few pretty linen ones made from your tailor on your next Pakistan trip) because they’re so much prettier and sustainable (sharing the one I have & love below).

8: Lastly found this right now actually in doing my research that aluminium foil can be recycled in certain places in the US at least if you wash the food residues off. You can go here to see if that is done in your area.

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The whole point is to become more mindful of this. Recently an auntie around us observed how much waste is created at the iftars at our local mosque and made the change of taking her own reusable plate, cup, utensils instead of contributing to more waste. I loved that idea and what it’s all about at the end of the day, playing our own little part.

Also sometimes it can feel/or we might believe it’s more expensive to shop for more sustainable options but in my experience it really isn’t. For example, the plates I buy are in fact cheaper than all other options & I buy them in bulk which makes it even better. Even when sometimes you might be spending a few bucks more, in the bigger picture you are probably saving so much more (by buying less decor for example, being more mindful, using what you have etc).

THE FAITH ASPECT OF BEING MORE MINDFUL

As Muslims I think we should be worried about this even more because a good Muslim is never extravagant or one who doesn’t care about his surroundings or the blessing of this planet that Allah has blessed us with. More motivation including verses + hadith here & here.


RESOURCES

For more information : Why disposables are bad for the environment AND us + alternative options to try out. / More helpful tips here on throwing a waste free party / Leonardo Di Caprio’s Before the Flood /

These Muslim-lead environmental efforts GreenRamadan.com / Sustainability Tribe / GreenMuslims.org / GreenDeen

The compostables I have been using : these plates , also found at most grocery stores like Safeway, QFC etc. / forks like these / Will be getting these spoons (100 for just $9) & these cups

This tablecloth that I bought for this gathering and use it repeatedly. Love it and the linen-like texture it has.


If you have any tips/resources to share, especially for areas like Pakistan where composting or recycling is not an option, please do share them in comments!

I also try to share more about moving to a sustainable living on my Instagram stories in case you’d like to follow along there.

xo, Nataliya

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Creative Meetup for mom-entrepreneurs and small business owners.

I thought about this for a while & finally earlier this year I hosted a creative business meetup – a gathering for moms-women entrepreneurs & creatives. Originally, the plan was to do one session but the response was so heartwarming that it turned into more. Got so many requests to make this a regular thing so that is probably what it will end up becoming. Let’s see how that goes!

Sharing about it here today, including the beautiful photos my friend, Sumera, was kind enough to take for us (you can check out more of her work on her Instagram.)

A LITTLE BACKGROUND + MY “WHY” FOR DOING THIS

I feel like being from Pakistani/South-Asian backgrounds, we are surrounded by people working in the tech industry, as well as engineers and doctors etc but not many creatives or artists. Many of us even grew up around mindsets that didn’t / still don’t encourage being an artist or turning your creative passion into your work.

As a result there are very few women-owned creative small businesses in our communities, even lesser who turn a creative passion into their work. Which is why I’ve been very excited to see so many inspiring faces around me doing things close to their hearts in the last year.

THAT was my INSPIRATION for hosting this. I wanted to get us all together and hopefully start to build a place where we feel we all belong, where we can bounce our ideas off and have honest conversations. I believe that there is so much we can learn from each other when we all come together!

I’ve been doing this for quite a few years now and always felt like there were such few people I could relate to or talk business with & I know from personal experience that it can feel like a very lonely place sometimes. Everything I’ve had to learn, I had to learn the hard way! There’s so much need to build a place of community – where we feel supported and where we are able to relate to the challenges that are common to us! There are working moms and then there are stay-at-home moms and then there are moms who don’t fit in either completely, like us. It definitely helps to have a tribe!

My dream was also a place to connect creatives to each other and open a space for collaborations and working together. And loved that that started to happen almost immediately between some of the ladies! Love that so much!

MORE ABOUT THE COFFEE MEETUP

There is something about coffee shops that REALLY inspires me, so I booked a meeting room at Woods Coffee in Bellevue, WA. I loved the vibe so much even though it did turn out to be a little packed since alhamdullilah more ladies than anticipated showed up. Most of the group hadn’t met before & I got to meet a few ladies in person after knowing them on Instagram for a while as well. Loved that so much!

We started with everyone sharing their story, not just the highs but also the lows (my dream is for these gatherings to feel like a safe place where we bring our whole selves, not just the good stuff but even more so the uncomfortable & the vulnerable).


And then went on to discuss all of these things: Building a passion into something more / Building a brand instead of a business / Marketing & Instagram /

In the pipeline for the future are also : Productivity hacks / Photography Tips / How to find balance being a mom-entrepreneur / Business Tools & Resources & much more

I had handouts for the ladies for them to take notes as well as a list of some of my most favorite resources that they could go home and read up more on!

It turned out to be such an inspiring morning with such a diverse group of ladies. We had artists, home designers, online store owners, a stylist, photographers & aspiring bloggers in that room. Loved the common theme around motherhood and around trying to balance our creative lives with our family’s lives that kept coming up!

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Here’s a link to all of these ladies and their work :

Sumaira Amber  / Ayesha Usman / Fatima Saeed  / Fariha Ali  / Sabika Makhdoom  / Saira Bano  / Maria Paracha / Sobia Shoaib / Seher Malik  / Sundas Khalid / Samreen / Naveen Khan  & myself.

Are you in the Seattle area? Would you like to join us? Even though I wanted to do this primarily for women from south-asian backgrounds seeing that need but anyone is welcome really because I’m sure we all have most things in common! You can send me a message here.

Lots of love, Nataliya