Stripping It Back 

The dictionary definition for lonely is as follows:A lonely situation or period of time is one in which you feel unhappy because you are alone or do not have anyone to talk to. It’s quite ironic that whilst I am blessed with my beautiful children and amazing friends, that ultimately, I am lonely.
Ramadan has fallen at a perfect time for me this year. In a year in which my marriage has ended and I have had to learn to discover myself again, I need this period of peace and serenity in order to strip everything back and find my reassess my values.
This time last year, things were so much different. I was going through a very unhappy period in my life. I knew deep down that my marriage was over, and again, ironically, it was certain events which happened during the month the concreted my decision that I needed out. Working 8 hours days in a busy coffee shop on top of 18 hours of fasting actually gave me more strength to stand up and make the step to leave than any other period in my life.
Fast forward to the present day and I am so lucky to have some fantastic people in my life who have helped me up when I’ve been kicked down and who have listened to my problems. My children are my purpose- they are the reason I strive to do my best, so that they can look back in years to come and remember that I was always there for them and never gave up.
The biggest problem lies deep inside. I don’t know who I am anymore. Whilst in theory, I am a 32 year old woman with her whole life ahead of her to choose what she wants to do, and who she wants to be with, I am lacking guidance. I have been kicked back so many times in my life, lost everything that I ever cared for and was told that I was never good enough- to overcome the fear of that happening again is mentally and emotionally challenging.
Friends have asked me if I really need to fast this year. It’s simply not as easy at that. Whilst I am divorcing my husband, I am not divorcing my religion. I didn’t become a Muslim for him, I became a Muslim because it felt right for me. I simply cannot turn my back on something I have believed in for the past ten years at a time when I feel like the only person who has ‘got my back’ is Allah.
This year will be physically and mentally hard. The first week of Ramadan falls on the half term school holidays, and we are currently experiencing 25C heat. Whilst my children know about Ramadan and what I am expected to do, they deserve to live their childhood and I will be spending many hours trying to entertain them single handedly. By the time they are in bed, I will still have around a hour before I can break my fast, and this will be emotionally difficult because I will be doing it alone. There is nobody to sit and pray with me, nobody for who I can prepare the iftar meal and nobody to encourage me and tell me that I am doing well. Likewise, I will be waking along for sahur to eat and drink before sunrise whilst my children sleep peacefully. I will turn to Turkish television to listen to the prayers from the hoca and set my alarm to listen to the sound of the call to prayer from a recording I will find online.
Tonight when my children are in bed, I will remove my make up and nail polish, remove my jewellery and wash in order to pray. I will cover myself and take the time to read from the Quran in order to prepare for the month ahead. I will pray for strength, hope, health and without a doubt happiness. Allah works in mysterious way and there is a reason that things happen in our lives, whether it be to test us or not. So many times I have been guilty of questioning that reason. So many days I have wondered how much more strength I have inside me to carry on fighting. I am hoping to find those answers over the next 30 days. 
I do believe though, the happiness lies in our own hands. If we see an opportunity then we need to grab it. We cannot expect love and luck to knock on our door, just in the same way we cannot expect to win the lottery if we don’t buy a ticket. If we should buy a ticket and not win then at least we tried, but we need to make more of an effort to expose ourselves to opportunities. If we fall down on our path to happiness that we need to stand up, brush ourselves down and try again. We meet the people we do in our lives for a reason and those people shape us. Those people may change our way of thinking, may question our morals or may teach us valuable lessons. The moral is, is that there are many hidden messages in our everyday lives.
So on a beautifully sunny and holy day of Friday, tonight we look forward to welcoming the holy month of Ramadan, and for the third yet, I am also looking forward to sharing my journey with you all, wherever you may be across the world. Wishing you all a happy and peaceful Ramadan. 

Looking For The Unexpected 

It was 6pm this evening by the time I realised I’d not eaten anything all day. My appetite hasn’t been great as of late, and as I hadn’t had my children with me today, I guess I forgot to make myself a priority and went all that time without eating. 

Since we entered the holy ‘three months’ I have been ever more aware that the time is ticking down until the start of Ramadan. It was my first thought today when I realised I hadn’t eaten for so long, that in just over a month’s time, it will be a sensation that I get used to throughout the whole of the holy month.

Today hasn’t been an easy day, but despite that, it feels very poignant to write my first blog post in what must be 10 months or so. My last post in July of last year was one of hope, happiness and celebration for the first day of Eid with my family. In less than a year, the picture couldn’t be any more different.

My then husband and I split up the following month after nearly 12 years of marriage and we are now mid-divorce. It has been a rollercoaster of emotions. I find myself being full of strength and motivation, to having days when I just don’t see the point in anything. I have to remind myself that I have the beautiful gift from Allah of three children who are my world. They are too young to know of the sacrifices I have made, of the sleepless nights I’ve had wondering and worrying about them and their future. They are too young to know that I am physically and mentally worn down. The passing of both my parents means that I have no surviving family at hand to help. I lost my Dad when I was 16, and my Mum when I was 23, just three months after the traumatic premature birth of my son.

My children stayed with their father yesterday, which meant I had a lot of time to think and reflect. I let my whole guard down and spent most of today just weeping. Weeping and questioning, ‘why me?’. I have been through every possible heartache there is to have. Where had I gone so wrong in life to be subject to all this hurt? An unhappy childhood, the death of both parents, a disabled son as a result of his early birth and now a failed marriage. How much more hurt could a person take?

I looked through the contacts in my phone book and contacted the one person who I knew would listen to me and find reason. It was my ex husband’s sister. A girl just two years younger than me who knows me inside out. Someone who has shared every emotion with me, both good and bad. I cried more and she cried with me. 

She immediately gave me a list of prayers that she advised me to read to find comfort and calm. She told me that she had started to pray her daily namaz and that she always remembered me in her prayers. I told her of my worries and troubles and she told me that Allah knows, that Allah will take away that heavy feeling in my heart and that I must not forget to be thankful for all the good I have in my life.

I told her that whilst I was out earlier, I saw a young teenage girl cuddle her mum from behind whilst they were out shopping, and that it hurt because I wanted to be that girl. She told me to think of it in the way that I have three perfect children who feel like that towards me, the way the girl did to her Mum, that one day they will become more than my children, and be my friends and companions too.

Talking to her was calming. It felt like I had my own guardian angel who was showing me the way. She had asked me if I had eaten, and it was her very words that reminded me that I hadn’t eaten since 8pm yesterday. For that moment, it felt like I had a piece of my Mum back. She told me to eat, to go shower and to enjoy the peace before the kids came back. She prayed for me, and for that moment, all seemed to be ok with the world again.

I have spent a lot of time wondering over the past months and I am still looking for my answer. Why? Why does life pan out the way it does? Why do I have to pretend to be strong when deep inside I am crumbling? How can I possibly be strong enough to be the best for my children? When will I get my happy ending?

Maybe the answers lie in what we already have. Maybe we need to stop thinking we have to compete with society and instead take a step back and focus on what is already ours. 

Fasting alone this year will be tough. Last year I was physically pushed to the limits when working every day in the coffee shop we ran. This year however, I think it will be mentally tough as I try and find the answers to all of my unanswered questions. If I have overcome all I have in life so far, then I know that I certainly don’t shy away from a challenge and like the past two years, I am looking forward to sharing the journey with you all.

Until Next Year

It’s 9am and a balmy 16C. The skies are a lovely shade of blue and the sun is lighting up the streets. It’s a far cry from the usual cold and stoney weather that greets us in the lead to the festive season, but today were not celebrating Christmas Eve, it’s Eid Eve!
Today is the 29th and last day of fasting in this holy month, and we must give thanks to Allah for letting us experience another beautiful, gracious and rewarding Ramadan. Homes of Muslims across the world are being prepared for the festivities of the next three days for Eid. To a certain extent, most of Eid will be like any other days for me as we are still opening up our coffee shop, but once we close mid afternoon, we will take the time to visit close friends and spend some quality time together as a family.
The children will be absent from school for the first two days of Eid. This year in Turkey, it is a nine day national holiday and the schools have already closed for summer vacation. After having celebrated this special time in Turkey for the past few years, this year will certainly be on the quieter side! We easily spent two whole days visiting the homes of family and friends, often splitting up into groups and finding each other later on in the day congregating in the living room of an Aunty or Uncle! 
This year, my son will go to early morning prayers with my husband, and then there will be a lovely spread for breakfast mid-morning (the first breakfast as whole family in a month!). It is tradition to buy new outfits for Eid, so the children have been treated to new clothes and shoes. In Turkey, it is known as the ‘sugar festival’ as sweet treats are given to the children as they knock on the doors of their neighbours to wish them a happy Eid. Trays of fresh baklava and other desserts are prepared and given to guests. The weight lost throughout Ramadan is very easily put back on in the first 48 hours! Money is given to the younger children in the family if they kiss the hand of their elders. They can then treat themselves with the money and usually buy toys or games. Unlike Christmas, presents are not pre-bought. The emphasis on Eid is a time to be with family and friends, to reflect on all achieved in the previous month and to enjoy each other’s company.
It has been a testing month worldwide. Hundreds of people have needlessly lost their lives at the hands of terrorism. In a period when terrorist activity rises, further confirming that terrorism knows no religion, we have been stunned, shocked and silenced. We have seen political unrest, financial instability and social outbursts. Individually we have been tested on a physical and spiritual level. I have cried and laughed, felt pride yet also felt failure. At times I have questioned my own beliefs, then experienced things that have cemented what I based my life on. 
My appetite has dwindled to now only being able to manage half a bowl of soup and a small plate of food. I only eat dessert in order to keep my sugar levels up. Final weigh in is 62.4kg and dress size 8. My husband has really struggled the past two days with terrible stomach acid but refused medication so he wouldn’t break his fast. He has lost a whopping 8kg (not bad considering he has slept through more of it than I!). Out of the past 696 hours, fasting has been for 536 of those!
So until next year, I would like to say thank you for reading my blog, for your kind wishes and comments. In comparison to last year, my blogging has been somewhat patchy and even non-existent for most days, but I am sure you can appreciate the tough mental and physical challenge we have just completed. I wish you all peace, love and happiness, and remember, we don’t need to believe in the same God, we don’t need to perform the same acts of worship, we just need to learn to love and respect one another- let’s help to stop this division in society because as a unity, we can achieve incredible things.
Eid Mubarek 

Enough Is Enough

Millions of people worldwide are going about their business today as usual. Early morning alarms, rushed breakfast, school runs and commutes to work. At least 200 people are not as fortunate. The lives of 36 innocent citizens have been cruelly snatched away in another act of terror, with 150 being seriously injured. The one question on everybody’s lips- why?
It was moments after publishing last night’s blog that articles started to appear on my news feed. If I’m being honest, I skimmed past them as certain pages on Facebook are well known for their scandalous headlines and I presumed this was another one. It was only after my husband had told me that there had been an explosion in Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport that I knew it wasn’t a hoax. He started frantically tapping away at the keyboard looking for updates and clicking on any relevant videos to see the full extent. It was grim. Images of bloodied children being carried, bodies laying lifeless outside the terminal building and a constant rise in the number reported dead.
We tried to hide the news from our children who were also in the living room at that time, but when I saw an image of a child who must have only been the age of my youngest daughter, covered from head to foot in blood, her head having being blurred out because of the graphic extent of her injuries, I couldn’t keep myself composed any more. My husband began silently praying for patience and protection. I have travelled through that airport at least once, if not twice every year since 2007. In just three weeks time, I am due to arrive there again with my children. The airport is a mere ten minute drive from the home of my in-laws. Never before has the reality been so closer to home.
One by one, friends and family started to mark themselves as ‘safe’ on Facebook, letting loved ones know they hadn’t been caught up in the terror. My mother and father in law are currently in central Turkey visiting relatives so we knew they were safe, but we phoned my sister in law who was in a state of shock and disbelief. She fears for her daughter- a young and innocent 9 month old, she fears for her family and friends, and she fears for her own life. My other sister in law is a regular user of public transport in Istanbul as she commutes every day from the European to the Asian side. She depends on her job to run her household, and so runs a daily risk of being caught up in the terror run by the scum of the earth that is Isis. 
We all face risks in our daily lives. Whilst living in a city in the middle of the UK, we feel a certain sense of ‘protection’, being away from the evil that is being projected on major cities and areas worldwide. The truth is, we are no longer safe anywhere. Terror knows no boundaries. Terror knows of no faith. 
How do I feel about travelling to Istanbul in less than a month? Scared. I have ran scenario after scenario in my head but nobody can ever prepare for such a tragedy. I asked a friend this morning what I would do if I saw someone acting suspicious as I was due to get on my flight. Would I alert authorities at the risk of causing uproar, chaos and embarrassment, or would I bite my tongue, pray to God and hope for the best? Being a slight 5’4, how would I be able to shield all three of my children from firing bullets? Would I run for my life or lay on the floor and play dead? 
This is no longer an exaggerated way of thinking. This is a possibility. Of course security will be heightened at Ataturk and across airports worldwide, but the three terrorists didn’t even get past security controls before they starting spraying bullets. Had they not entered the terminal, just as much destruction could have been done in the car parks and drop off points. 
Only Allah knows when my time will be up. By not going to Turkey, I am robbing my children of spending time with their only grandparents and aunties. I am teaching them that evil rules over good. I am letting them think that I cannot protect them under my wing. 
What should have been an amazing holiday with my children as we finally visit the southern coastal area of Fethiye will be marred with an anxiety. My children are entitled to a care free six weeks in the sun where their only worry is how long they have left to play in the swimming pool. I will not take that away from them, but this year I need to be vigilant. I will have at the most, a week in Istanbul, and even then, I will not be planning my usual trips to Sultanahmet and the Grand Bazaar. My husband has advised me to stay away from the local bazaars and shopping centres. I pray I will be safe in Yalova- a small city just a ferry boat ride away from Istanbul, away from the chaos. I will spend three weeks with my children and father in law in Fethiye and pray that we are safe in a small apartment complex. 
As a retired police chief, I have always felt protected by my father in law. His ‘authority’ and respect from other officials meant that at times, he could slightly bend the rules. The drop off area outside the departures terminal at Ataturk is exactly that- a drop-off point where taxis and coaches would offload their passengers and drive away. My father in law would park just a few metres back from the entrance next to a small police shelter and display his ‘police’ card whilst we unloaded the car, and he would wait there until he knew our flight had departed. Seeing the images of the carnage, I can picture his Renault Clio there now, just a few footsteps away from where 36 people had their lives so brutally taken away. I am not mentally strong enough for this kind of torment. 
Yet again, we pray for Istanbul. We pray for strength, patience and peace. Nobody in this world deserves to die at the hands of terrorism, but when you find yourself praying for the lives of yourself and your children, then you know that ‘enough is enough’.

Thank You Molly

What happened to my every good intention of blogging every day for a whole month? I don’t know either. 
This year has tested my strength to the max. Going 18.5 hours without food or drink is no mean feat. We are now in the home stretch and with less than a week to go, I have to admit I feel weak, dry, tired and lazy. Going for nearly three weeks without caffeine has certainly had its effects- drinking orange flavoured sugar (Lucozade), after iftar to bring my sugar levels up means my face currently resembles a dot to dot. If I eat one more egg, I fear I may wake up with feathers, and if my daughter tells me one more time that my breath stinks, I may actually cry.
I have failed miserably in the goals I set myself at the start of the month. Sleeping for what works out at 3 full days throughout the 29 is a cop out to say the least. However, I have tried, and whilst I believe I could have been better and stronger, I haven’t lost faith. 
There has been so much unrest and uncertainty over the past few weeks. With the murder of politician Jo Cox, to the surprising vote for the UK to leave the EU, our lives, or certainly mine at least, feels like it is passenger on a ship in stormy seas, with no sense of direction, and no captain to man the wheel. We are living in a society where we cannot even trust those in power to have B plans and C plans, they lie for their own political gain, and the country is now filled with hatred and discrimination. 
One thing that will remain however, and what should never be tampered with, is the innocence of our children, and strong foundations upon which friendships are built. My daughter was invited for dinner to the house of her best friend this evening. She has been counting down the sleeps since she was invited, and at times when in the past she may have been fearful and reserved, thanks to her friend, she has blossomed into a confident and outspoken little girl. She looks up to her friend, as with being 9 months younger, my daughter is one of the babies in the class. However, children know no borders or rules when it comes to choosing friends- they trust their heart. My daughter once told me that her and her friend will sometimes have ‘days off’ from one another, where they choose to play with other children, and there are no hard feelings or jealousy. A lot can be learnt from the perspective and outlook of a six year old. That way, they value each other more, and know that although there are others, they will always have a special bond between themselves.
We worry far too much about what impression other people have of us as individuals. Long gone are my days of posting photos on Instagram to see how many likes I could get. I have even deleted the Pages app from my mobile so I am not constantly checking to see if my craft page Moon & Sixpence has any new followers. I am not a model or an entrepreneur. I am not an academic or multi millionaire. I am beyond trying to be anybody I am not. I am Rachel, a 31 year old Mum of three and a wife. I have my flaws. My roots are currently longer than those in my back garden. I start work pristine clean and am wearing half of the menu by lunch. I don’t buy designer clothes and am not ashamed to say I shop at Primark. My children are heathy, my fridge has food, I have a loving husband and I have a roof over my head. Those factors alone mean I am one of the richest people in the world. 
If I have to clean up spills after dinner, it means my family have eaten that night. If I have a washing basket full to bursting, it means my family are clothed. If my children shout ‘Mummy’ it means that have someone they trust. If I set my alarm clock for the morning, it means I have a reason to get up. I am happy being Rachel.
Tonight I was lucky enough to be able to read the tale of Molly’s Marvellous Moustache written by a lovely friend of mine. It is a story of girl and her dreams and imaginations of what she can do with her marvellous moustache. The tale really struck a chord with me when Molly realised that actually being just Molly can be marvellous too. So, thank you ‘Molly’ and thank you Andrea for helping me realise that I can have hopes and dreams, but being just Rachel can be fantastic too.
Molly’s Marvellous Moustache is available to buy from http://www.andreaheaton.com

Throwing It Out There

Hello, it’s me. Fear not, I am still alive and kicking. I am 3kg lighter, a dress size smaller and probably a couple of shades paler but I am very much alive! I have been humbled by the amount of people who have asked why I haven’t blogged for almost a week now. It really means so much to know that I am not just talking to a laptop- that are people who take a genuine interest in my ramblings. I was told today that my blog is the kind of thing we need in this current climate, and to throw it out there- so this guys, is for you!

The world has been shaken by the tragic death of politician Jo Cox. The evening of her death was the very evening I posted an update on Facebook stating that I wouldn’t be blogging because I had run out of anything remotely positive to say. Her death has hit a nerve with so many people, not only in the UK but across the globe too. I live not a million miles away from her constituency where her murder occurred. When my husband arrived in the UK ten years ago, his first job was at a restaurant just around the corner. More than anything, I was touched because she was a wife and a mother. To have a life so brutally snatched from you whilst doing the job you love so passionately is beyond comprehension. This goes back to my point about life becoming so cheap and worthless. This was a woman who balanced her family life and career, who stood up for all she believed in and tried to make a difference in the world. She wasn’t a bad person, far from it and this is apparent in the legacy she has left. Over £1 million has been pledged by the public in less than a week and is to be split between three of the charities that she was connected to. Why do we fail to recognize the good in people when they are still with us? Why are we so quick to criticize  and pick up on other people’s faults, but once they are gone, be full of hurt and regret for things that were never said or done?

I found myself watching the news updates and following the story over the next few days. My head could not process the tragedy. The high street of a quiet village had become the focus of the global press. People all over the country were attending vigils. Bouquets of flowers were being laid in their thousands from those wanting to show some sort of compassion and sympathy. I felt angry and sorrowful, but most of all, I felt exposed and vulnerable. We have three local MPs who visit our coffee shop on a frequent basis. What would it take for another tragic incident like this to happen, so easily as the first? The odds are low, but not impossible. From the terrorist threat overseas, to a different threat in our home land, we are entering a period of high risk, uncertainty, and hate. “We have more in common than that which divides us” are the powerful and touching words of the late Jo Cox. Imagine the love and power if the world united in love and peace. Instead, the only certain thing in our lives can be our faith.

We are now on day 17 and well over half way through. The nights are continuing to get longer and peak this evening at 21.48 for the next few days until from Sunday onwards they gradually shorten by a minute over the following week. I suffered with a few dizzy spells this afternoon. When work is busy, I tend to go with the flow and find myself on this artificial high because of the buzz of work. In our quieter periods though, I find myself clock watching, and more aware of how weak I start to feel. The temperatures are continuing to rise, and with little breeze, the kitchen at work is becoming difficult to work in. Its nothing that a wash of my hands and arms in cold water can’t fix, but my energy levels are beyond repair. I spend most of my day feeling weak and feeble, to then eat at iftar and then feel full and sluggish- I am my own worst enemy at the moment!

Day 10- Giving Thanks

Ramadan is a perfect time for people to reflect and take stock on things in life. It gives us a chance to realise just what is important and what are the unnecessary things that we may stress and panic over.
For those of you who are reading from further afield, you may not know that alongside running a coffee shop, I also run my own little craft venture creating and selling handmade home decor. Over the past few years I have put so much time and effort into this- something that I was proud to call my own and get recognised for at the same time. Whenever I got my craft kit out, my children would ask for who and what was I making next. They would ask on a weekend if I needed to go to Hobbycraft to stock up on supplies, and whilst they loved the fact that Mummy was creative, it was starting to take over my life and in turn, affect theirs too.
I would spend hours networking, glued to my phone, and any spare time in the evening, I would set down to work to keep on top of things. It was by far a big money earner, but once I realised that my hobby was becoming more than just that, it took control because I was obsessing that I wanted to make things work.
My inlaws came to visit a couple of months back, followed by some family friends, also from Istanbul. This meant my routine had gone well and truly out of the window, but the one things I realised was that I actually didn’t mind. I put to the back of my head and pressure I had previously put on myself. I was finding myself spending better quality time with my children because I didn’t need to rush to finish orders. I had know for a while that I didn’t have the time and resources to ever become a big household name, and although I held onto my dream for as long as I could, it was one that I just needed to let go.
Instead of clock watching until the kids bedtime, and asking them to be careful around my work, I have become so much more laid back and care free. I am valuing every minute of my time with them because they are now my ultimate focus in life. Ten years down the road when they look back on their childhood, I don’t want them to remember a Mum who used to rant and rave because she strived perfection, I want them to remember a happy go lucky Mummy who put aside her dream to do best by the people who needed her the most. I will have plenty of time when I’m old and retired to pick up some knitting needles or paintbrushes, but my kids won’t be kids forever.
Waking my eldest daughter from her sleep tonight on the advise of the Doctor as she has been suffering with night terrors, I caught her still in a deep slumber. She stirred, opened her eyes and looked at me and started to stroke my face. I reassured her that all was ok, and with her eyes now closed again, she reached up to kiss my cheek and whispered ‘I love you Mummy’. 
Those are the moments that matter. These are the previous days I will never get back with my children. We are too busy getting caught up in the rat race to sit back and note the precious moments in life. Despite my children being 8, 7 and 5, I will still carry the two youngest back to bed when they get up in the night for the toilet, because I never know when they will tell me they are too old for that anymore. Each night before bed, we have our own routine of ‘kisses, noses, cuddles, I love you’, and no matter how old they become, they will always be my babies.
Take just 10 minutes each day before bed to ask your children, or even yourself, ‘what made you happy today?’. You may be surprised at their answers, and for every positive thing, you have reason to give thanks to the God that you believe in.