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

A few favorites from this Ramadan

(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)

Sitting here typing this out after the last sehri of this Ramadan – feeling a little overwhelmed thinking there’s probably so much more I could have, should have done but also feeling grateful for this past month; how it always makes room for inner reflection, connecting to Allah mian and so much more.

Even though I’m ready to not be fasting anymore (missed my chai so much) , the end of this month still makes me feel a little nostalgic and maybe a little sad even. So for today just sharing a few favorites from this year’s Ramadan :):)


1.Night before Ramadan we went for our own little ‘moon-sighting’ after dinner. Despite it being a weeknight, even let Anya get a treat from a drive-thru because I don’t know my excitement for random little traditions that hopefully our kids can remember one day trumps everything else hehe. Didn’t see the moon but loved sitting by the lake, watching the sunset :):)

2.This year’s Anya’s excitement felt even more than previous Ramadans. From wanting to try out a fast, asking to stay up for ‘iftar’ with us, making fruit skewers for one iftar at our place, & reminding me constantly about coming in to her class for the Ramadan story time I’ve done ever year. She was so excited about telling her classmates about fasting so we ordered a few goodies and she helped make treat bags with a little note about Ramadan & Eid. I love that there’s no trace of any embarrassment despite being the only Muslim in her class (probably her school as well) mashAllah. When her librarian made a display of Ramadan books, she couldn’t contain her shock & excitement and told me how she went up to her and asked her how she knew about it :):).

3.One of my favorites was something we started at our friends’ iftar potlucks this year. In the weeks before as we decided on what dishes we would each bring, we also decided on a surah from the Quran to discuss at our gathering. And then on the day of, after dinner and all was done and we were sitting with our chai, we would go over the surah (a chapter from the Quran). In between all of the memories we have made together, the laughter & the heart-to-hearts, these discussions about faith and spirituality, our own personal lessons and takeaways from the surahs + the accompaning tafseer (explanation of the Quran) that we all read through to prepare, it just felt like a different kind of layer added to our friendships alhamdullilah.

It helps that we all come from similar place in our hearts about our faith, and that we all share the love of wanting to learn and understand our faith better. There’s little judgement and lots of room to hear each other’s point of view and room to grow through these very open and frank discussions we have been able to have.

4. I have also loved embracing simple this year, didn’t take any stress for decorating or to prepare for Ramadan, did whatever I could whenever and just enjoyed the process. I think that is becoming my philosophy for everything in life and I’m kind of enjoying the process of moving towards that.

Inspired by Busra & Tamania, loved setting up a little corner on the bar cart in our dining area to lay out our Qurans, a few dua books, Anya’s Quran story books + other favorite reads with a message on our letter board to make up as decor + inspiration to read/pray more!

A few of our most favorite books/reads this year : This beautiful copy of the Quran that my friend gifted me / The story of the Holy Prophet Muhammad / Muhammad : How he can make you extraordinary / Pray & Play Ramadan activity book for kids /

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5. And of course biggest excitement was the first fast for Anya mashallah – reminding me of my own when I was around the same age. Broke my heart a little bit because it ended up happening on a day I had a golden hour session scheduled (so many late nights because of weekend iftars & other things kept delaying it and I realized this was the only chance now). Mom guilt at the back of my mind reminding me how I should’ve been there for her to open her fast, but I made up by making sure to have a celebratory iftar ready and laid out, taking her shopping for treats AND I reached in time to join them for dinner so it was okay. Loved hearing ‘Mama I did it’ and the biggest smile on her face!

6. I’ve wanted to do this for a few years & finally made a dua-list this year. It was basically just a list of all of the specific prayers I want to make that I would use after taraveeh prayer or whenever I felt like making a long detailed dua. Made it a special point to remember family members & friends who have any specific struggles going on.

And that’s all that I can think of right now! Until next year inshallah taalah.

Excited for share about Eid now. Hope your Ramadan + Eid were blessed!

Lots of love, Nataliya



How we do ‘Eidi’ + 5 ideas for you to try out

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These beautiful Eidee envelopes

For most of us who grew up in Pakistan, probably a favorite Eid memory is getting that Eidee (the traditional gift of money on Eid). And now it’s our turn to pass on that excitement to our kids ( probably one of my most favorite things we get to do as parents is being able to share the best of our childhoods with our kids. Yours too?).

Handing out Eidee is fairly recent for us though. Three Eid ul Fitr’s ago we were in Pakistan for Eid and I realized I had completely failed in passing on the Eidee tradition when Anya just couldn’t understand why every come kept giving her the ‘same thing’ since she ‘already had it’. Haha. I had to take her Eidee shopping the same day in Islamabad (Shaheen Chemist was the only place open, haha) to show her why Eidee is cool!

But fast forward to right now & it’s becoming a regular at our own Eid celebrations. As our kids get older and the stuff they own keeps multiplying, our group of friends has transitioned from the table full of gifts (more on that in this post about a backyard Eid party we hosted one time) we used to do, to Eidi. We have loved handing it out in recent years and there is big excitement all around as you can probably tell from these photos from two years ago ::)

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A FEW IDEAS FROM HOW WE DO ‘EIDEE’

  1. As soon as Eid plans are finalizing we start discussing Eidee / gift plans just between us friends.
  2. We decide on a predetermined amount for the Eidee that all of us are comfortable giving.
  3. Usually the hostess mails out a list of names of all the kids that will be there, including any family in town so no one is left out. This also prevents any guests from forgetting anyone and being embarrassed.
  4. I love taking Anya Eidee shopping the very next week and it’s so fun to be able to buy one / two big items from all of that combined ‘Eidee’.
  5. I love using printable envelopes to hand out it out like these free ones I used last year. If you scourage Pinterest there are so many pretty options to choose from:)

I actually love the many beautiful (& free) options for envelopes / gift tags if you just search on Pinterest. But also wanted to add another if you’re local to the Seattle area (or elsewhere in the US) – these beautiful luxurious Eidee envelopes made by Sumrin of Monkeys Go Bananas make the perfect envelopes for this!

What about you, are you for Eid gifts or Eidee? I feel like gifts work best for younger kids & Eidee might be better for older kids.  What do you think? What do you give out? What do your kids love getting? Tell me everything!!

Thanks for reading & lots of love,

Nataliya

I used these gift tags on top of envelopes I found at TJMaxx

Creative Photography Workshop in Islamabad, Pakistan

After getting requests about it for a while, last summer I finally brought my love of photography to my beloved hometown, Islamabad. This was a unique kind of workshop I hosted at my mom’s studio (more info on that at the end) to share about the fundamental aspects of photography, but also to talk about the creative / self-expression side of it, which personally for me is my absolute favorite part about it.

It has been my dream these past few years to do something like this , a session to teach the basics of using your DSLR but also to inspire. To share why I believe photos have so much power and how they can help us find meaning in our lives.

HOW TO USE YOUR CAMERA BETTER

We started with talking about what makes a good photo & got deeper into making better use of your DSLR. I shared about the exposure triangle ( aperture, shutter speed, ISO), depth of field & getting that ‘background blur’, composition tips to make beautiful photos, fundamentals of using natural light, getting sharp focus, white balance & more. Also shared some gear recommendations and ended this section with the importance of organizing and backing up photos as well including tools I use!

Everyone got a printout of all of this to refer back to and to make notes on as needed as well!

HOW PHOTOGRAPHY CAN HELP YOU FIND MEANING IN YOUR LIFE

And moved on to sharing about creativity, how to develop your own style, about using Instagram as a journal and a sharing tool. How to use hashtags to organize your feed and more! I shared about how taking photos can be a form of expression & healing in difficult times & how it can help find meaning in life! My sister Waliya shared her own journey with that as well!

A QUICK ‘HOW I EDIT’

At the end shared a quick little behind-the-scenes of my process from using window light to taking a portrait and then sharing how I edit a photo on Lightroom to give a vibrant, cozy feel!

And then we ended the evening with chai + snacks, giving us all a chance to chat & for me to answer any more questions.

With my mom, my sister & Anya around, the vibe was cozy, relaxed and seriously so fun, unlike what you might expect a learning workshop to feel like! I loved it and think everyone else did too from the messages I received afterwards:):)



Honestly, because it was my first time, leading up to it I was VERY nervous but once it began & I was talking about one of my most favorite things ever, I forgot all of the nervous feels! Big thanks to all the AMAZING people who made it, shared their own personal journeys and stories and gave back so much love♥️⠀

Also the huge-est thank you to my mom @shireengheba for her studio space (more info at end of this post) and support – my sister @waliyanajib for all kinds of behind-the-scenes help & support incl taking these photos.

Thank you Islamabad for the loving response, inshAllah will be back another time! Special thanks to @revelations.events for helping us pretty up the space and @1o3bakershouse for the yummy treats. . 

Lots of love, Nataliya

Shireen’s Studio is my mom’s art gallery + self-enrichment center in Islamabad. You offers private viewing of her artwork for purchase and also offers art classes for all ages. If you are local to Islamabad, follow her to stay up to date on the events she hosts with inspiring, motivational speakers including herself!