Aqeela's home and garden...


A blog about gardening, cooking, reading, crafting, homemaking, countryside, mothering and second hand brikabrak. Every day observations taken from a simple life with simple pleasures, following the seasons and enjoying life in England...

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Velcro and Wriggles...

We have two new pets who are called Velcro and Wriggles. They are only about three months old and were one of  D's gifts for Eid ul Adha which we celebrated this month. They are so sweet and huggable, squeaky and chattery. The chickens have and a good nosey and not been too fussed about them, we have to keep them separate though to avoid squabbles. 


This reminds me, some of you who follow me on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram may remember my excitement at being short listed for a writing competition this Summer. The topic was 'First Love' and I wrote a piece about my dog who was my first truly meaningful pet. Her name was Jackie and we had her for about eleven years or so, a little Jack Russell cross with cow print fur and ginger eyebrows. Here is my short-listed piece about her...

It was 1992 and I was eight years old, sat on the carpet beside my brother in our grey and peach living room. We were cocooned in our quilts, old dog was curled on my lap with her nose tucked close to her belly. The wind hollered around the house and made the trees shout and the fence tip and I wondered if the weather might just pull our house off the ground and take us off to Oz. The sodden garden was overhung by low cloud and there were rain drops being thrown across the window pane, slapping the glass. Old dog snored as I hummed “Little April Showers” and stared through the patio doors into the chaos outside.
Mum brought us some warm, weak tea and as I held the mug in my two hands I put my face above it and let the steam drift onto my skin. With eyes closed I breathed it in and felt safe, comforted. Old dog opened an eye to see if anything was worth getting up for and then sighed and shimmied back into a ball in the hollow between my crossed legs. I watched the three of us in the reflection on the patio doors as I sipped the tea from the edge of the mug, eyes twinkling, smiling at mum, slurp slurp.
We had lived here for almost a year now, a newly built cul-de-sac opposite a scrubby field with a bordering spinney – great for dogs and childish games and for mum to get some peace and quiet. It had seemed like we had watched many a storm open up over the garden here, those patio doors often our most favoured source of entertainment as we watched the atmosphere express itself for us to witness. Here in the village I had made new friends and we would play together out on the green when the sun shone, rolling around in the fresh grass and singing the latest pop songs, but back inside, with mum, my brother and old dog, is where I always felt just right. If mum was busy in our cramped brown kitchen mashing potatoes or mixing Bisto, then old dog would always make up for her preoccupation.
Old dog was most definitely my soul mate; she would listen to all of my childish worries and nuzzle her short narrow nose into my neck when I felt a little lost in this new home of ours. I didn't even mind her bad breath and smelly waffle blanket covered in loose hairs. I’d wave that blanket around and watch all of the particles of dust fill the hallway and then quickly cover my mouth and nose with two cupped hands so I didn't have to breathe it all in. Old dog would stand and watch me, sniff the air and wag her tail. I loved it when her lips stretched back and her long tongue lolled out curled at the edges and I just knew she had to be smiling at me. We were the best of companions, it was as if our hearts were entwined and we knew when each other were joyful and bouncy or miserable and low. Mum said that we were too soft on her and shouldn't share so much of our chocolate with her either. I used to sneak my dinner to her when mum was engrossed in another one of those chunky paperbacks from the library – how could anyone manage to read so many pages in just one week? Minted lamb burgers or cheap sausages, finger scoops of gravy covered mash or a corner of my tuna sandwich at teatime. Old dog would sit waiting on the swirly grey carpet below me and my brother while I fidgeted at the mahogany dinner table scratching lines into the soft surface with my finger nail, watching mum out of the corner of my eye, awaiting the moment I could covertly deliver food to my ever faithful companion.
We first met old dog when she was just a yapping youngster in a cobbled yard out in the countryside somewhere. We had driven out to a dog rescue centre in mums old cranky Metro and I can still remember pulling up on the honey gravel driveway and noticing the dust rise as we stepped out of the car and walked in the direction of the barking and excitable dog chatter. I cooed over a gang of lively chocolate brown Labrador puppies while mum spoke to the lady about a dog I had barely noticed. Mum said the brown puppies would grow too big and that we needed something smaller and although I wasn't particularly impressed with the one mum had chosen, I was very proud when we left the centre. This little black and white terrier yanking on the chained metal leash and dragging me to our car as if she just knew that we were destined to be her family. My brother and I hugged her on the back seat on the way home and she excitedly tried to lick my face but I made sure that her wet pink tongue flicked at the air instead as I giggled and forced my face back.
We spent almost all of my free time together, I would take her on long walks on the sloped field and watch as she sniffed the clumps of rough grasses as if she was on a detective mission. Some of my most poignant childhood memories involved her, I had never loved anything so purely and I felt that she was mine and I was hers and nobody could ever change that. 
The weather was still dark outside, an overwhelming grey torrent which we were safe from. I held my bulky quilt closer as I listened to our gate slamming against the rock which we used to block the cat thoroughfare; the ironwork was shaken free of the latch. The rain continued to lash down; consistent with the stormy weather the whole country had been wrapped up in that week - cold air had pervaded, bleak winter was here. I put my empty mug down on the low side table and mum quickly scooped it up and placed a coaster beneath it, typical mum. She sat back down beside us and we all watched through the glass and counted the seconds between flashes of lightening and rumbles of thunder and took deep intakes of breath as we realised the storm was getting closer. We smiled, we had discovered that this was the best way to spend our afternoons; wrapped in warmth, drinking tea, staring through the windows. These moments were the first time I ever really appreciated the beauty of life, the simplicity of joy and comfort and love. Of course the three of us loved each other, but we had to right? But me and old dog, well, that was different; it was so pure.
The years passed by, I grew upwards and my mind switched from childhood games to the trials of being a teenager. Old dog helped me through heartaches, through fall outs with friends, the frustrations of school work, and the crisis of having nothing to wear. She was my companion less and less but always welcome to snuggle up on my bed with me when mum wasn’t around to shout “Get that dog down here now!”. I’d stroke those silken ears and smooth her short fur all the way from her leathery black nose, over her brown whiskered eyebrows and down her spine to her thin tail. I’d kiss her sweet face and tell her how much I loved her and I would always receive a nuzzle in return; if she could talk I know she would say “I love you too”. She was beginning to show her age now, her fur slightly rougher, her legs much weaker and we had accepted that walks through the browning field were a thing of the past. She had adopted a wobbling slow ramble, back legs unpredictable and shaky. It was difficult to watch her stumble through the door down onto the garden slabs, it seemed like too adventurous a task for her. As the days passed and her independence waned we began to help her navigate the step over the threshold. No longer could I pat my lap and expect her to jump up to me, instead I would slide my hand beneath her hairless belly and scoop her up in my arms as I whispered reassurance into her ears and held her close. I knew that our days were numbered and that the waffle blanket would soon be a keepsake rather than a dusty old heap in a basket.

We nurtured old dog until it no longer seemed fair on her. Walking the steep hill towards the vets surgery with one of us carrying her, all of us quietly sobbed. I wept audibly as she lay on the cold Formica table top with the vet’s needle piercing her rump and she pronounced her last whine. She lay still and I remember pulling back her eyelid to see if she was still with us, my other hand feeling for her heartbeat which I couldn’t find. I continue to remember her forever more. Most definitely, she was my first pure love.



Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Rain...



Both yesterday and today have been dull and wet with constant rain ranging from furious downpour to a drizzle of wetness, close enough to still leave you sodden and sticky. I've heard familiar voices complaining about the weather and strangers discussing their displeasure with the day, you know, the usual unappreciative whining which is associated with days like these. But for me this weather just invokes the awesomeness of God, the majesty which is his, the power and authority he has over us. I absolutely love that reminder.


I parked up in the car park behind the book shop yesterday morning and as the engine rumble disappeared at the turn of the key I sat motionless in the heated condensation box which my car had become and I listened. As droplets trickled down the window screen in meandering streams, rain water smacked repeatedly on the glass. I opened the car door and the intensity of the rain surged through my ears, wind twirling playfully around me as I stretched out my leg and stood myself up to fully submerge myself into the atmosphere. As I began the walk from car to book shop which takes just half a minute or so, I instantly noticed that my senses came alive, and in my head this piece of writing was begun. I was fully tuned in on all of those different frequencies and I absorbed the blessings and the pleasure of the weather as it filled the air around me. The way rain causes sound  to hum rather than soar, the way wet makes under foot gravel grate, crunch and stick.


Rainy days invoke memories of childhood so strongly for me. My emotional response to grey dank days is that of love, appreciation, security. Duvets brought downstairs, weak cups of tea in Easter egg mugs, mums slippers, dog curled in lap or slinking under the duvet, patio doors covered in raindrops, shining wet slabs and the grey and peach living room we would be sat in.


So when people moan to me about the weather I respond with positivity and a smile. Rain is a luxurious accelerator of life, and when given in bountiful amounts such as now we must never fail to realise that despite the sticky face and soggy trousers bottoms which absorb the dirt and slap our ankles, the frizzy hair or the leaky shoes which let our socks hug the rain, despite all of that, we are being given a gift straight from our Lord, and should be thankful.


The photos are from a day at Bradgate Country Park earlier this month.



Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Ideas for Summer Fun...

If you have school age kids then I'm guessing your days have been jiggled around a bit for the past few weeks due to the Summer holidays? Some find it stressful and exhausting and struggle with the difference in lifestyle whilst others settle down with ease and take true joy in having the kids around more. I will admit that there have been times where I've felt quite stressed about school holidays as I find a lack of alone time quite draining, but as D ages I am finding long stretches of time together more enjoyable. As he has always been an only child we have both learnt how to give each other enough time both together and apart for us to find a way that works for us. We haven't really struggled to find things to do yet, some days have been expensive and full whilst others have been simple, homely and without us spending a single penny. Here's a few snippets from our Summer so far, and some ideas for you too I hope...

1/ Travel on Public Transport - a bus, a train, even a traditional black cab. For a few months now Ive had my own car (we shared for years without much of a problem) so me and D have neglected our rides on public transport. We have taken a bus into town and been on loads of trains / tubes during a week in London (The photo shows London's Stratford Station.). I have one more train journey planned for us insha'Allah.


2/ Visit your nearest Botanical Garden - If you live in the UK find it here. Don't be concerned about the lack of a play area, there is still plenty to enjoy, take a scooter if you like. (Here we are at Leicester Botanic Garden.)


3/ Drive into the countryside - We parked on the road side and watched cows for half an hour (in Wistow). There's always plenty to see... if only you pull over on lay by's, leave the car, and explore public footpaths. Your local Council website should be able to help you find some public footpaths in countryside near you, and also try the ordnance survey map of your area (available in libraries).


4/ Visit a farm - D went on his first school trip to West Lodge Rural Centre a few months ago, he enjoyed it immensely and talked about it non-stop! So we took a visit together and it was lovely, we shall definitely be returning!

5/ Explore the garden for creatures and take an identification guide outside with you - You might just be surprised at exactly what you find! (Borrow the guide from the library if you haven't got one at home... and that's another way to spend half a day too!) We found this lot yesterday whilst weeding the driveway but also found three or four species of caterpillar, a cricket, woodlice, another type of snail, an ants nest, slugs, shield bugs, beetles, worms and an earwig.


6/ Visit a city or town - maybe its your local city / town but you dont go often, or maybe somewhere new and furthur afield. Pack your own lunch and enjoy window shopping and a free museum / library / attraction there and all you really need to spend is the price of the petrol / transport. (Last week we spent a week in London, whoop whoop... full blog posts coming soon insha'Allah.)


7/ Clear out toys / book shelves / cuboards / wardrobes etc - This can turn into one or two days worth of work and getting the kids involved is a great way to tackle it all. Keep it fun rather than stressful and im sure they will rediscover old things and realise they are now too grown up for others. Our toy clear out resulted in a big fancy dress / imaginative play session!

8/ Find a crafting project on your Pinterest board and actually do it! - If you are on pinterest then youve probably pinned a million ideas and perhaps never done one?!? Well, me and my boy looked through my 'For the Boy' board and were inspired to paint stones... a great two day project for us.


9/ Go to a museum / Art Gallery - Most are completely free and the exhibitions change, check out what's on at your locals. We went to the V and A Museum of Childhood and also the William Morris Gallery in London but will try to visit one or more of our locals before school starts up again.

10/ Visit an attraction - Try to splash out on one special day at an attraction, you may spend a lot of money but it can be worthwhile and end up as a Summer highlight! Here is D at 360 Play (a soft play / outdoorsy place) but we've also managed a theme park too (Twin Lakes - blogged about before here).




11/ Bake or cook something together - An obvious choice might be easier but how about letting the children choose the recipe and then go and buy the ingredients together? D picked a courgette from the garden for these courgette brownies which are delicious.

This blog post was inspired by McVities BN biscuits which were sent to us. Although not our usual choice, they were absolutely delicious and each one felt like a treat (they are pretty big!). We have enjoyed them this Summer, in Raspberry and Chocolate flavours - they are rather moreish and have accompanied me in the evenings a few too many times!

I shall be sharing more about some of the places above in the next few weeks insha'Allah, we have been busy, busy, busy, alhamdulillah!

This post is an entry for 42 Days of Summer Linky Challenge sponsored by McVitie’s BN. Learn more at http://bit.ly/1mRpMCL.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

This year...

Throughout life we are usually always evolving, learning, changing, and discovering new things aren't we? I was so excited to hit thirty years old back in April as I had made it a psychological new beginning for me, a completely new phase in my life. Ive been married for nine years now (alhamdulillah it was our anniversary last week) and D is five years old and in school, I felt ready for something to change even though I didn't have many complaints about my life as it was just those few months ago. Id job searched since Christmas and been offered a voluntary position at an Age UK secondhand bookshop back in March. Age UK are a charity very much relevant to our local community as we have many elderly or retired people living here. My first job interview this year came just one day later (I was upbeat but shaky, full of nerves but excited too!) and I was offered the position in our local library. I was very fortunate and I know that. So now I am working two days a week surrounded by books and people and life feels different; faster paced and brain aching at times but with a refreshingly positive spin - I feel helpful and valued. I absolutely love that I am contributing toward our local Oadby community. Just today I helped an elderly lady get to grips with Google so that she could plan a holiday, one day a few weeks ago I was able to listen to a sweet but frail woman speak about her recently deceased husband and the huge funeral attended by many who knew him. Fifty something years of marriage and then her other half was gone and she was left alone in a huge country house. These social moments are amazing for my soul and have upped my empathy levels majorly. What's not to love? Gosh I have cried tears of joy and despair frequently this year! People are amazing!

And oh the books! On Mondays I contend with (and am content with) dusty piles from a deceased estate, battered and torn books which have obviously been much enjoyed, brand new books given by generous customers. I sort through boxes and bags, crates and arms full, see the most interesting and amazing books coming in. Clean them, add pricing stickers and shelf them by size or alphabetically, by topic or age. Constant organisation, neatening, tidying. Flicking through old copies to find postcards and receipts tucked between pages, photos and old bookmarks tumble out. Sometimes a donation can reveal the personality of their previous owner; professor, historian, housewife or growing child.

At the library on Saturdays lonely locals come in just for a little bit of contact with the outside world. Elderly customers ask questions about fixing washing machines, finding a gun smith to help with a rabbit problem, or any other question which a non computer user might need an answer to. We welcome the homeless, the recent ex prisoners, unemployed and students. Mothers send their kids to play on the wooden train (just like D still loves to do) and men borrow daily newspapers and sit on a sofa in the window to catch up with current affairs. I love books, I love helping people, I love organisation... I think this kind of job is made for me!

Then there is another new dimension to my life these days. Q has started a new job based in London, so he is working and living down there for three days each week and from home for two days. Weekends are spent on assignments while he completes a Masters in Public Health. I'm enjoying this new lifestyle, my daily schedule has changed; cleaning routines, dinners, evenings, many things actually. Its refreshing, uplifting, its good. My heart grows fonder, my house gets messier then suddenly super clean again before he returns, mine and D's meals are simpler and more laid back. Bits of this and that, picnics on the park or in the garden, brikabrak meals we call them. I get the whole bed to myself, and enjoy housework in the evenings making me much more productive - no more slouching in front of the laptop or TV from seven to eleven.

I also have a friend who has just become Muslim and so as I help her learn and answer her questions, I feel myself learning and growing too. I spend more time in prayer and have focused on teaching my mum how to pray in Arabic, refreshing my own memory on rulings and meanings. 

So all in all I have a lot to be thankful for. I'm feeling revitalised, a little swept off my feet sometimes but productive, balanced, fortunate. All praise is to God of course, without him I could not have achieved any of this. May life continue like this, for all of us and all of you! So with that I shall leave you, I must tidy this messy home of ours and then walk to school to meet my boy and sit on the park with friends whilst he plays with his own class mates. Its still sunny and hot here, stuffy some days though rather than fresh. Theres been lots of typical British Summer days here really!

Heres a few snippets from our Summer days so far... pretty changes in the house, eating straight from the plot in the mornings, appreciating dark cloud and no more watering by hand, smelling the sweet peas every time I enter the garden, krispy kremes and tea, delighting in the flower patch, unusual secondhand finds and entertaining the chickens with a huge home grown cabbage.