Patience 

Guilty as charged. Bang went my promise of a blog post every night, the plans of cooking nutritional meals for me to regain my strength and the pep talk I gave myself about not being crabby when hungry. It has all flown straight out of the window.
We’re now on day 18 and I cannot begin to describe how proud I am for getting this far. At the start of Ramadan, day 18 seemed a million miles away, and here we are, with less that two weeks to go until Eid, and I’ve managed every single day.
The one thing I have noticed more than anything this year is the isolation. That has played the biggest part in why I haven’t blogged for so long. It is difficult enough living in a community which isn’t predominantly Muslim, as going about your everyday business, you could be forgiven for thinking that the days of Ramadan are just like any other. The isolation goes deeper though when you find yourself breaking your fast alone every night. For me there has been no extravagant meals. It seems pointless to make that extra effort when I cannot manage more than a plateful of food. The children have eaten a good few hours prior by that point, and I don’t want to cook more than necessary and have it go to waste.
Last year’s diet was mainly a small bowl of soup followed by some fried eggs. This year, I seem to be surviving on noodles. Quick and easy to make, just the right portion size and satisfyingly filling. I went one step further last night and followed it up with an egg sandwich, but by 9.30pm I am honestly past the point of hunger and just want to quench my thirst.
The isolation I have been feeling had led to me becoming slightly depressed and withdrawn. I would leave it until the last minute to leave home each morning to take the kids to school, and upon my return, shut myself off from the world until it was time to drag myself back out again in the afternoon. I wanted to interact with my friends, but realised my energy levels were sapping because I’d not had a decent meal for sahur. I was aware my breath wasn’t the most fragrant, and I found myself avoiding contact because I couldn’t be bothered to make the effort.
I missed the atmosphere of the holy month that I had been so used to in Istanbul in previous years. I missed the bustling conversation over the iftar meal on an evening. I missed listening to the drummer walking the streets in the early hours waking people up before sunrise. I felt resentful at my situation and I felt very alone.
The biggest lesson I have been taught over the past month is patience. Nothing in this life lasts forever. Every emotion we feel, every event we anticipate and every step we take is temporary. I constantly looked for a purpose, for an answer as to what I was doing with my life. I wondered when I would get my break, my good news and my focus. I had prayed so much to Allah knowing that prayers were so much more important in the holy month, and yet each day I woke with the same heavy heart and tired mind.
Today was the day I was to receive my good news and indeed, my prayers and patience had paid off. I received news that I had been accepted onto the undergraduate university course of my dreams. So many things had previously hindered me from studying for the career path I’d had in my mind since childhood. There in front of me was the email confirming my acceptance and I cried. I had done it. Despite the odds being stacked high of being a single mum to three children, going through a messy divorce and learning to stand on her own two feet again, I had done it. I had achieved what I’d set my heart on.
The first person I wanted to call was my mum. I wanted to scream down the phone and tell her my good news. I wanted to tell my Dad and show him that I was going to make him proud. I sat and looked around me and realised that the two people who would know just how much this meant to me, weren’t even there anymore and that hurt. 
I couldn’t get to school quickly enough this afternoon to tell my children. My girls were so happy for me, but their biggest worry was who would look after them when I would be studying. It was an understandable reaction after the upheaval of the past year. I then went to collect my son from his school, and his reaction was the best I could have ever wished for. He shouted for joy and gave me the biggest cuddle ever, with a smile beaming across his face. He knew just how much I wanted this, and what I didn’t have in terms of my parents celebrating with me, he certainly more than made up for it.
Today I got my purpose, something for myself. Today I learnt the lesson to never give up. So many days I felt I didn’t have the strength or determination any more. So many times I questioned when I would reap my rewards. Today my faith and beliefs were reconfirmed because I believe that this is my reward for never giving up.
I have my focus back, my motivation and more importantly, my smile. 

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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 6/7- Masallah

Do you remember the can of Red Bull I bought myself Friday morning, but restrained myself enough to not drink it an break my fast? Well drinking it at 10pm Friday night wasn’t the most clever of ideas I have had either. By 2am I was still wide awake. 
It is hard to describe how I have been feeling the past couple of days. I feel as though there is some sort of force or pressure on me. Nothing in the physical sense (quite the opposite with the weight I am losing), but more of a spiritual sense. I feel an amazing sense is achievement every evening when I break my fast, but I feel as though I am not doing nowhere near enough in terms of worship.
Had we have been in Turkey, a predominantly Muslim country, the aura would have been so different. The atmosphere and vibe in the air is unmissable. Women gathering in the mosque each afternoon for daily prayers, men attending each evening after Iftar for teravi prayers, and more than anything, the bellowing from the minarets which signal the time to break the fast. 
My husband and I feel very much secluded whilst fasting here in the UK. For the majority of our friends, Eid will just be like any other day. We won’t be sending our children to school on the first day of Eid. This year is the first time in years we will be together as a family, and whilst I will more than likely be working, we want them to experience our joy of commemorating fasting for a whole month. We will buy them each a new outfit and go to visit friends. We will more than likely break tradition and have a BBQ depending upon the unpredictable British weather. It isn’t about how you do it, but more like who you do it with, and for us we could not ask for more than our small family and some close family friends.
I think loneliness partly sums up the heavy feeling I have been experiencing. If is difficult not having family next to us at the best of times, but throughout such an important time as Ramadan, we really do miss having people to share our experiences. I am very grateful for the cool weather, the routine of the children being in school and having a loving husband who will take over the chores early evening so I can nap. It is all about making the most out of what we have, and I do have so much to be thankful for.
This month won’t last forever. We are a quarter of the way through already. A lovely friend commented on how fresh my skin looked, and I have learnt again a self control that I didn’t know I had in me. I need to work more at my mood and my patience. I don’t deal with being hungry at the best of times, but now I have a purpose to restrain myself, I need to remind myself that this is about appreciating what we have compared to all those who are less fortunate. I wish I didn’t sleep so much- I almost feel like a fraud for napping as much as I have been doing, but it isn’t frowned upon, in fact quite the opposite. It is about letting our bodies rest and recuperate.  
The Turks believe in an idea called ‘nazar’ and that is why so many homes and places of work are adorned with the ‘nazar boncuk’ or evil eye. It is believed that the eye protects from jealous thoughts and also protects. The eyes are pinned to the clothes of new babies, hung from the mirrors of cars and placed on the walls of homes. Even if is not intentional, a person making the most innocent of comments can be perceived to be jealous or green eyed, and that is why many Turks used the phrase ‘maşallah’ after passing a nice comment about something or someone. That is a way of saying that they don’t want their comments to be perceived as jealousy.
I have been victim to nazar so many times, and usually my Mother in law recites the nazar prayer to rid of any ‘evil’ thoughts. She can tell how heavy the nazar is by how much she yawns when she prays. There have been countless times she has prayed for my children and tears have streamed out of her eyes because they have been troubled so much by the nazar. I was once told I have beautiful eyes and the next morning woke up with an eye infection- if that doesn’t make you believe then I’m not sure what will.
I feel as though the heavy feeling again may be caused by nazar. I’m not sure if it is the amount of people that are commenting on how well I am doing- believe me, those comments mean the world to me. In the way that Turks do best, if you forget to say maşallah, you could always pretend to spit on me and that has the same effect- just remember to not do it to every English person you meet otherwise you may find yourself at the receiving end of a bit more than a thank you!

Day 5- Going With The Flow

Whilst at work yesterday I was careless enough to splash hot oil into my eye. It was nasty and painful, but I never thought anything of it until after my quick nap before Iftar lastnight when I woke up feeling as though something sharp was pricking my eye. Tears were rolling down my cheek and nothing I could do to try and soothe it would work. Cue the rest of the evening rubbing, prodding and wiping my eye meaning I didn’t manage to nod off until around midnight. Once again, I was awake at 1.30am, and easily spent a good 20 minutes arguing with my conscience about whether I wanted/needed anything to eat. In all honesty, I couldn’t be bothered to raid the kitchen cupboards, and I paid the price for it today by not listening to myself in the first place. A raging leg cramp at 5am meant for the worst nights sleep I’ve had since the start of Ramadan.
I was happy to see that we had rain this morning. I thought it would help clear the sticky and muggy weather we have been having, but in fact, it seemed to put most people off coming out, and so work was painfully quiet this morning. Early morning when I first wake are my most difficult times. I battle with myself with one part of me saying there is no way I can get through another fast, with the other half of me telling me to man up. The hunger pains have started to hit me at that time, and I the hour from waking to getting the kids off to school, I’ve told myself at least 6 times that I’m going to break my fast. Today I even went as far as buying a can of Red Bull on the way to school because I was convinced I would be giving up. 
The can went in the cupboard and I am proud to say it is still there unopened, but day five has been the most difficult day for me so far. A quiet morning, and a boring one at that, meant the time wasn’t passing anywhere quick. Lack of movement, conversation and motivation meant I was dwelling on my need for a drink. My mouth felt dry and my mind felt weak. Today j actually craved a busy work day to help me get through without quitting.
By dinner time, I got just that. A flurry of customers meant that I was able to busy myself, but I was working with a new girl meaning that I was almost doing the job of two people. I felt myself getting stressed and panicked and hotter and hotter as time passed. By 2.30pm it was almost like I was having an out of body experience. I knew that I was talking (or trying to) talk to the customers, but it felt like the words were just coming out of my mouth without my actually thinking about what I was saying. I felt I was watching myself do what I was doing (if that even makes sense?) and if I hadn’t have needed to take my daughter to the opticians after school, I would have been in bed by 3pm!
We made it home by 4.30pm and that wasn’t without me opening all the car windows on the way home to try and freshen me up a little, but it was no use. By 5pm I was out for the count until 8pm.
So here we are at the end of day five and I feel that all I have done is blog about me sleeping and not doing much else. I am trying, I really am. I do feel I am just floating along, but as long as I have my health and my loved ones around me, that’s all I need and I can only hope my efforts will be rewarded.