Two lessons from my nana jaan

A few days ago, I dreamed of nana jaan. It was a very normal dream, like he was still with us. Nana & nani jan have been such an important part of our lives, I think it will take time to sink in that he isn’t with us anymore. Anyways, waking up the next day with that dream on my mind reminded me about this post that I had started. These two things about nana jan, have been on my mind alot since he passed & I’ve been wanting to write about them. Mashallah nana lived his whole life in a very principled, very organized way & these are two of my favorite things he used to do that I wish I could bring in to my life ❤

1: Nana jaan’s body language in conversations with people // It was so beautiful. I think we didn’t appreciate it till recently after they moved to Mama’s home. When he was talking to you, he was fully attentive – body posture turned towards you, full eye contact, bright smile lighting up his face whether he was listening or talking. He made you feel so important and gave the same feeling to us or his extended family or his army family – everyone! It didn’t even matter how old the person in front him was, he would even do it with the youngest ones. In our distracted ways today, it is such a huge reminder.

2: His pride in doing his own jobs // Coming from a family of 8 kids, being the eldest child, that too a son, with 3 sisters right after him, one can imagine how he must have been treated growing up. AND he was an army officer, retired as a Brigadier – which means he always had someone to do his things, as well as that “army officer aura about him”. And still he loved doing his own jobs. We always saw nana jan polishing his own shoes, folding his socks a very specific way, taking care of his clothes himself. And it always felt like he was enjoying it because he took pride in doing these tasks. Even in the last decade, well into his 80’s, he would do these. He would always try to get up to get water himself and not joking at all when I say it felt like Nana jan was more active than us sisters! It was so amazing in so many ways!

These two things have stood out to me recently of the many many things that nana jan has taught us just by living the way he did. My mom wrote about him beautifully in this post / and this one if you’d like to read more.

Do you have anything you would love to learn from your grandparents’? Please do share. Thanks for reading!

Lots of love, Nataliya

PS: You might remember this moment. I want to watch this video a million times from our last visit and the day we reached there.

An Insta-question + a tip to help your kid through difficult emotions

I’m thinking of coming on here to share random thoughts a little more maybe.. things that you might see glimpses of on my instagram stories (if you follow me there) but a more detailed version maybe. I get questions often about some thing that I’ve shared – about parenting, faith or one of the other things I have randomly mentioned. Often times I would love to share about it in more depth &I think this might be a better place to do that. So here I am..


So Anya is a very empathetic kid, deeply concerned about many things incl. animals & our planet; she’s also very sensitive and feels things deeply. Last month when I’d shared about something that was saddening her, I got asked this by someone, “how do you respond to her questions when you don’t know the answers? or if the answer is something really negative?”

And I thought that was a wonderful question that I would love to talk about. I know sometimes as parents we feel like we need to “toughen up our kids” for the world. But you know what? The world could definitely do with more sensitive kids, who’ll grow into caring adults. So instead of trying to change her, I try to help her with her feelings now.

From everything that I’ve learned in recent years, I’ve realized that the first step in dealing with feelings is acknowledgement and acceptance. Our kids need to feel like it’s okay to be upset. Just like happy is a valid emotion, so is being sad or mad, there’s nothing wrong with that. This can be done in many different, age appropriate ways. For example just saying “Oh sounds like you’re so upset”, “I get that you feel sad” or something similar that makes sense. When A was really small and would be getting upset over something, for me to just say “oh baby it sounds like you’re so upset”, “Oh I’m sorry that you’re so sad about..” would itself get her to calm down a little bit compared to just saying “it’s okay, don’t cry. You’re fine.” which many times is our usual parenting response, or maybe mine was.

So I try to do this as much as I can, remind her that whatever feeling she’s feeling is totally normal, totally okay. The emotions/feelings are okay, but the reactions to those feelings are what we can work on, as grown-ups and as kids. I feel like we didn’t grow up with this (I personally have had a hard time dealing with sad feelings) & really want her to learn early on that it’s okay to not be feeling our happiest all the time, and slowly teach her ways to deal with those feelings. For example: using a journal, doing something that makes us happy, having mindful rituals, practicing positive thinking, etc.


THIS ABOVE IS THE CORE BUT HERE ARE OTHER THINGS I DO THAT HELP
  • Give her examples from my own life, my own childhood when she feels upset about something (eg: things like friendship stories, moving struggles, etc.). There’s so much that she really relates to. I try to do this in a non-preachy way, more like a story of how I can relate to what she’s feeling and more.
  • Give her hope. I think however terrible our circumstances, being able to hold on to hope is everything, so I try to guide her towards that. (Eg: She gets really upset about the climate, animal rights and more so I find her hopeful stories of the amazing things people are doing to make it better.)
  • Coming up with a plan: I try to encourage her to focus on what she can do about a problem, instead of being so IN TO the problem itself. I’ve recently started asking her when she complains about something “oh, what do you think you’ll do about that?” (eg: I tried to brainstorm with her the things we could do about the deforestation for new housing.)
  • Add humor. For many things where nothing can be done, I try to find a funny angle to it, make her look at the lighter side, or something to laugh about in the situation. My mom & sisters have a way of doing this and I want to pass that on in slight ways since she can also get upset with this sometime.
  • Help look at the positive side. While I have a tendency to do this the first, I try to use this later on so it doesn’t feel like I’m undermining how she is feeling (eg: I help her do this when she talks about not having a sibling, about missing our old house etc.)

Even when it’s even more difficult things like her missing her dadi, or telling me she wishes our family lived close, or that she wishes she had met Papa, I handle it a similar way. I acknowledge her feelings, tell her I/we miss them too, tell her they must be so happy in heaven. I tell her what I do when I miss my dad, eg: wear something he bought for me, write in my journal, look at a note he wrote to me, talk about him etc. I remind her we can pray for them extra so they can feel happy in heaven knowing we are making dua for them.

I think as parents at some point we realize that our job isn’t to fix everything for our kids, to make them feel happy all the time – but instead to be there for them, to be their safe space. And to also give them tools for dealing with feelings (even if sometimes we have to learn that for ourselves too). I am learning this slowly one step at a time.

Hope this didn’t feel like too much of a ramble and makes some sense. Do you have any comment or something to add to this?

xo, Nataliya

All of these beautiful photos by my friend Chelsea Macor. If you’re in the Seattle area, you have to check out her work. I’m in love with the photos she took for us

(Feel the need to mention that I’m as impatient as any mom and struggle with keeping a cool and using the strategies I want to practice all the time. Just trying to do the best I can every single day and wanted to share what I’m finding useful. I’m so far from perfect and it’s okay if you feel the same.)

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.)

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