I am a blender.

photo-110

I received this as a gift and it’s basically a bunch of prompts for you to start writing…

You can purchase one here.

One of the prompts:

Think of an object that describes you.  Describe it.

I am like a blender.  It stands there not doing anything until you plug it in and put the contents inside.  Once it is covered with a lid and  the button is pushed, it will keep spinning, and spinning, going, and going.  It will continue to mush up and blend the contents, repetitively.  It needs someone to push the “stop” button in order for it to actually stop.  If not, it will either keep going until the machine dies and it needs an outside source to save it from destruction.

Now that I read this it may seem dark, low, and depressing snippet but apparently that was how I felt at the moment.  That is the neat thing about the book…you write on the spot without too much thinking and it’s focus is about just actually doing it, writing, without stressing.  It is the act of doing and not thinking.  I guess it can be as impulsive and fragmented as one would like or as thought out as an essay but whatever  how the person chooses to answer the prompt, it gets the person writing and having something on paper.

What object describes you?  

Free coloring page

Hey everyone!  

Here is a free PDF coloring page for you to share with any little ones you know!

I know I have been extremely inconsistent posting but that only means more things to share with you in the near future!

Thanks for your patience.

Pass, share, and enjoy!

Coloring Page-1-1

 

Revealing the artist…

 So I am finally announcing who the illustrator is for my children’s book…

YEE VON CHAN!

Please, please check out her portfolio; she is truly a talented and friendly person to work with.

She has been amazing so far with her work and is doing an excellent job capturing the story’s main themes and elements.

Here is the finished cover art:

FRONT

BACK

What do you think?!

We will also be having a pre-order website coming soon so please be on the lookout for that!

ALSO, I will be doing a giveaway sometime this week for the book so watch out for that as well!

More updates coming soon!

Please “like” the Facebook page and pass it on!

Walnut and Date Oatmeal

 

 

 

Walnut and Date Oatmeal

This is a really healthy and energetic oatmeal that is easy and delicious to make!  The amount of toppings is up to the oatmeal-eater so here it is:

Cook oatmeal according to package instructions.

Add milk, walnuts, flax seeds, maple syrup, and chopped walnuts.

ENJOY!

What do you like to add to your oatmeal?

My Little Project

Hi everyone!

I have been working on a book project for a while and here is the sneak peek for it!

It is going to be a children’s series and this is the first book!

This is one sketch and I cannot wait for the final art!

Please forgive me for not posting but I plan to be better at that soon…

What do you think?!

Blessings

Blessings.  We all possess them.  Sometimes we notice them like a hair on a sweater and in other moments, our eye does not catch a particular blessing even though the sun’s rays are piercing right through it.

Blessings are sometimes physical, like overcoming cancer or becoming someone’s new friend.  They are at times mental and emotional, where we have learned a life lesson or gained a new insight, an experience, and an epiphany.

Our hearts naturally turn warm and serene when the word blessing is uttered.  But the problem most of us have is grasping onto the belief that blessings are newborn babies, yellow voile curtains, or a halo cautiously hanging over a specific event or happening.

Many blessings are actually cold, burdensome, dark, and musty. 

They sometimes give us an aftertaste.  It may be when a life is lost to the one we have loved.  It may be realizing a flaw about someone or ourselves we care about and the pedestal we had put the person on or the pedestal we were sitting on has crumbled- rarely do we give perspective a chance and view such instances as blessings.

This package, this gift called a “blessing” may not be the gift we want or are aspiring to have but it is the water that we need in order for us to grow and prosper in our lives.

What are your thoughts on blessings?

Kanafe (recipe)

I apologize for being behind but I have not forgotten you!

I have made dessert for you all to enjoy!

Ingredients:

  • a box of shredded fillo dough
  • ricotta cheese
  • shredded mozzarella cheese
  • melted butter
  • rose water
  • sugar
  • water

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Shred the fillo dough and mix it with melted butter until all shreds are coated with butter.

3. Layer half of the shreds in a glass baking dish.

4. Layer with ricotta cheese and cover the top of the fillo dough.

5. Add the shredded mozzarella over the ricotta cheese and use the second half of the shredded fillo dough over the mozzarella.

6. Bake until everything melts and it is brown on top and sides.

7. Turn on broiler and cook the top of the kanafe BUT DO NOT LEAVE it unattended!  So many times I thought I would be quick and catch the kanafe on time but the kanafe had black hair when I came back to it.  Make sure it has nice golden brown hair.

8. On the stovetop melt the sugar, water, and rosewater (a few capfuls) until it melts and the syrup can glaze the back of the spoon.  Sometimes I have it watery, whatever.  To me it really does not matter.

9.  When the kanafe is done, serve it and drizzle the syrup or pour it over the entire dish.

Ta Da!

Some put cranberries, raisins, and coconut in the kanafe, but be warned, this is my version.  Enjoy!

 

 

Chicken Salsa (recipe)

Ingredients:

  • chopped chicken breasts
  • smashed! garlic
  • chopped tomatoes
  • chopped green bell pepper
  • chopped green onions
  • freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • chopped cilantro
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • vegetable oil
  • Worcestershire Sauce
  • salt
  • avocado, chopped (optional)
  1. Saute chicken on skillet with some vegetable oil (we are not frying here!) until cooked and golden brown.
  2. Then mix the cooked chicken with the rest of the ingredients and adjust the flavorings to your liking.

It should taste very fresh, flavorful and not heavy.  Great with brown rice, whole-grain chips, warm pita bread, corn tortillas,
it’s endless!
What would you eat this chicken salsa with?

Homemade Whole Wheat Goldfish Crackers

These are super easy to make but very time-consuming when it comes to stamping out every fish!  They are fun to do with kids and family.  I got the recipe here.  I used Monterey Cheese and whole wheat flour instead of some all-purpose mixed with the whole wheat.  Tasted really great!  This is a quick post but more on the way!

Image

uncooked fish

Image

ready to eat

Labnah and Walnuts (recipe)

To be honest, I was trying to look for what this dish is called but could not really find it.  However, I did learn this from a Syrian gal and was amazed how simple and really delicious it is to make!

Ingredients:

1 lb. of labnah (basically really condensed yogurt…all the water is evaporated)  can be found in any Middle Eastern store

lots and lots of parsley (flat or the curly looking one)

half an onion chopped finely (green or white, doesn’t matter)

salt

lots of walnuts

extra virgin olive oil

1. Pour out the entire contents of the labnah into a large bowl.

2. Food process the parsley, onions, and walnuts separately.  Make sure the walnuts are not too fine.  Also all of this can be done by hand but will take longer.

3. Fold into the labnah and add salt.  Distribute all the ingredients well.

4.  Drizzle with the extra virgin olive oil and serve with warm pita, crackers, use as a spread in a sandwich, chips, on cucumbers or bite-sized vegetables…be creative!

What would you eat it with?

Fear (finale)

Fear (part I)

At the same time, we should not be suffocated into thinking of hopelessness and dread so much so that it deters our way of life but to use fear as a guide and scale for our priorities and goals: to serve and do what Allah wants us to do, and maintain as much distance from things that mislead us into the flaming pits.

Being afraid of the Fire and trying to abstain from actions and thoughts that lead to its door is part of our faith and ibaada

Ibaada is worshipping Allah and one form of this is by abstaining from things that Allah does not like.

This Fire is reserved for the disbelievers and Allah does not want us to be residing amongst them.

Our fear should be primarily consumed with Allah and His greatness; His overall power on us as servants, as He is Al-Mulk of the worlds and universe.

“The Sovereign of mankind.” (114:2)

We worry much for what others say and do.  Our minds are all entwined with what books dictate and what the media wants us to think.

Everything in this life is perishable except our intentions and deeds but how little time we spend on spinning this concept into our minds.

Punishments and hell are things that we need to contain our thoughts with.

In Surah Al-Baqarah, ayah 281: “And fear a Day when you will be returned to Allah. Then every soul will be compensated for what it earned, and they will not be treated unjustly.”

Allah is an All-Just ruler and everyone will be treated for what they deserve.

Our Lord wants us fear the Day of Judgment so we can be the best Muslims we can be.

This fear is not a negative attribute but something that is required for us in our deen if we are to be successful and be one of the righteous. 

To be a believer, one must lose the fear in this dunya with its lures and deceits and place that fear where it belongs.

It is Allah’s property and we should return it to Him with conviction and have an unwavering desire to submit to His commands.

Let the swirling abyss be made up of worldly goods, speech, emotions, and evil.

“But yes, whoever fulfills his commitment and fears Allah – then indeed, Allah loves those who fear Him.” (3:76)

Mini Kabobs (recipe)

So overdue but so here!

Ingredients:

ground beef

five spices

salt

onion and garlic powder

chopped parsley

sumac

(a spoon of olive oil, just enough to moisten the meat)

1.  Add all the ingredients to the ground beef in a mixing bowl except the sumac and knead the meat well.

2. Heat a non-stick skillet and roll out the meat into small kabobs.

3.  Cook on both sides until meat inside is not red.

4.  Sprinkle some sumac over the mini kabobs.

Eat with sliced lemons, warm pita bread, fattoush, and garlic or cucumber yogurt.

Enjoy!

Photography 101 (creativity part II)

I apologize for not having posted the Mini Kabob recipe yet!  I will do it as soon as I can!  But for now David is back with more tips and great advice for going beyond just snapping pics on your own.

—–

My last post was just a starting point and I didn’t want to overwhelm you with too many tips or info. Let us look at some more steps you can take to improve your photography.

Basking Tulip

Get to know other creatives. Join a camera club, or if you’re unable to join a club, engage other photographers in conversation online. You can meet a lot of nice photographers through blogs or websites like Flickr. Send them an email and start up a conversation. You just might make a friend who will let you pick their brain a bit. They’ll be even more inclined to talk to you if you share some knowledge or experience too.

Pismo at Twilight

Not ready to spend any money? Start out at digital-photography-school.com/. It’s a great resource where you can find almost anything.

Another great free resource is the local library or bookstore. You can walk into any large bookstore and read all the latest photography and photoshop magazines for free. Even local libraries may carry a few photography magazines worth checking out. I used to take notes or pictures of the magazine on my iphone so I could try out new techniques when I got home.

Go to a workshop. Yes, they can be expensive, but you can learn so much in a day at a workshop, and you can network with other photographers there. I do have to add that its very important you choose a workshop that suits your skill level. A beginner is going to struggle in a more advanced setting, and if you take a class that’s below your level, you won’t pick up many useful tips and you’ll probably be bored. If you do go to a workshop, make sure you’ve read your manual a few times and know your way around your camera so you can get the most out of the class.

A happy couple

If you can’t afford a workshop, there are a few websites that offer excellent videos. Kelby Training and lynda.com are both great. Kelby offers 75 24-hour free trials everyday that will give you access to all of their videos.

Rogue River Gorge HDR

 

If you feel like you’re talented and ready to take photography beyond a hobby, look for a mentor. Call local photographers and ask if they are looking for an assistant. If you do attend a workshop, stick around afterwards and ask the photographer running the class if they’re looking for an assistant. I have to warn that not everyone wants an assistant, and some people don’t pay very much, if at all. But, you will be paid in knowledge of how the photography business works and how a professional approaches their craft.

You can follow me at:
iphonephotog
facebook
500px
flickr
davidpasillas.com

Fear (part I)

We fear so many things.  We forget to fear the most important thing we should fear and that is Allah.  Why is it so important to have our hearts quiver in His remembrance?

Image courtesy of Tim Jarosz

INFOCUS NEWS JULY 2010

written by Mariam Al-Kalby

Fear is an emotion lurking in each of us whenever we feel threatened. 

We fear of losing our jobs, our families, and our homes.

Scared of dying alone, of being paralyzed, of being ostracized.

But how many of us actually sincerely fear Allah and His punishments? 

As humans, we are created for fear because it prevents us from committing wrong actions or thoughts and it creates a barrier from approaching things that can hurt us.

We see evidence of this when we first took our wobbly steps.  We reached out for the teakettle and got our fingers licked with fire and from then we fear the heat.

As we got older, we feared losing the soccer game or getting our parents disappointed when we got a lesser grade then we had hoped for on our chemistry test.

Then there is the time to find someone to marry.  Our worries swallow that ticking clock, creating a ringing that time is escaping and all the marriageable types are taken.

And there is the time when we will have wrinkles of days, weeks, and years etched into our skin. 

Lips drooping at the sides of our mouth, wondering and fearing that we didn’t make enough money to make a big house for the grandkids, and that we didn’t hold the best Ramadan iftar.

These worries are tears for the dunya and not the akhirah.

Life is a sailboat floating to its destination towards the hereafter. 

This feeling of alarm and angst should be steered towards the punishments that come if we anger Allah.

“And fear the Fire, which has been prepared for the disbelievers.” (3:131)

Of course it is normal to feel fear of worldly situations and events but we have drenched all of our worries in this obsession and have forgotten to have fear in our hearts for the trials and the day we will be judged for our intentions and actions.

Before the Sun Rises and Before it Sleeps (finale)

Before the Sun Rises and Before it Sleeps (part I)

This should encourage us to perform them because they differentiate us from the hypocrites and prove we are truly believers; to forgo our sleep and worldly affairs to press our heads on the floor in thanks is beneficial and loved by Allah (swt).

How lazy and unthankful we are if we think about it: we complain about cold water dripping from our faces, the sleepiness that blinds our eyes, and the aches in our body yearning to lie and rest, and we, as believers, need to be ashamed of ourselves.

Allah (swt) has all authority and power. 

He is the One that knows us the best. 

Yet, He has made things accessible and easy for us to accomplish and yet we still cry and moan about it.

He could have made Fajr prayer four and not two but that is not enough for the sons of Adam (pbuh).

We are willing to rush to our jobs at the crack of dawn, comfort our babies at all hours of darkness, stay up late to study but when it comes to prostrate to the One who has provided everything for us slaves, we are an ungrateful bunch of creations.

Allah is Ar-Rahim and Al-Ghaffur; we sometimes oversleep, or are too sick to make it on time and there are exceptions and Allah’s (swt) ultimate mercy.  But we overstep the bounds when we step all over our deen and regard our prayers as something to do when we have time.

How do we feel when we have appointments with others and people do not appear at their appointed time?  We feel that they are rude, lazy, or think that they did not take the meeting seriously. 

Sometimes we are stubborn enough to not forgive for this behavior.

Who are we to behave like this to Allah (swt), miss our appointed times to pray and disrespect Allah (swt) and His Messenger?

But we are lucky enough that Allah (swt) knows us, what is in our hearts, and forgives those He wants.

The irony of it all as believers is that Allah (swt) does need not anything and surely nothing from us.  We are reluctant and slow to praying and this act only benefits us and no one else.  Allah (swt) has ordered us to do good for our own benefit but we sometimes look the other way.

We are humans and we are weak, and Allah (swt) knows this.

Let us forsake our beds, sleep, and work and seek Allah’s (swt) pleasure into the gardens of Jannah.

Before the Sun Rises and Before it Sleeps (part I)

I have some new recipes coming up, so be on the look out!  For now I have posted an article and want you to think about what makes us do the things we do?  What motivates us?  What motivates you to pray on time?

Image courtesy of David Pasillas

Originally featured in IFN December 2010

Where the birds stir from their nests of twigs and yarn and fly out in search of filling their bellies, between the dawn and the rising of the sun kissing the sky, and where the careless burrow further beneath the covers of sleep and warmth, and where they work till their hands bleed, Fajr and Asr are the hours where the most pious congregate.

They are two of the most missed fard prayers that have swallowed our ummah.

This is unfortunate because these are prayers that separate a believer from a hypocrite.

What person awakens from their deep slumber to splash cold water to make ablution and perform a prayer whilst others sleep?

A devoted and strong believer.

Abu Zuhair ‘Umarah Ruwaibah (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: I heard the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) saying: “He who performs Salat (prayers) before the rising of the sun and before its setting will not enter Hell.”
 (Muslim)

This does not mean that this is the only condition to enter Jannah.

One who dutifully cares and observes these particular important prayers (Fajr and Asr), demonstrates that the believer also practices in observing other religious obligations and follows the sunnah.

Abu Hurairah (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: The Messenger of Allah (PBUH) said, “There are angels who take turns in visiting you by night and by day, and they all assemble at the dawn (Fajr) and the afternoon (‘Asr) prayers. Those who have spent the night with you ascend to the heavens and their Rab, Who knows better about them, asks: ‘In what condition did you leave My slaves?’ They reply: ‘We left them while they were performing Salat and we went to them while they were performing Salat.” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)

Praying these two specific prayers are important and when we are steadfast and reliable in performing them, they surely go unnoticed by the angels and Allah (swt).

How great is it to have angels scribbling and reporting away to our Creator that we are prostrating for Him every time the angels descend upon us?

Fajr and Asr prayers are important prayers because of their difficulty to maintain them and to do them in their short prescribed time is an accomplishment and a break for us from toiling away in work and play.

Scribbled: Laura Huliska-Beith

I have invited for Laura to share her insight about the world of illustrating children’s books.  She is an amazing artist whose talent and love for fun and whimsical colors and movement throughout her work brings much delight for all those who pick her books up.

Welcome Laura!

Images courtesy of Laura Huliska-Beith

1.      Can you give us some background info about yourself?

Born and raised in Nebraska, the oldest of five children. My siblings were BIG inspiration for my first picture book “The Book of Bad Ideas” (but I take full credit for Bad Idea # 143). I am a graduate of the Kansas City Art Institute, worked at a greeting card company for a while, and then set out on my own to explore the wild world of children’s books and visual story-telling. I also got married along the way to a wonderful guy who is also an artist (animator) and we now have 3 dogs.

2.      What inspires you?

Kindness, humor, nature, young people, old people, middle aged people, animals, travel, movies, books, and music.

3.      What do you do if you’re uninspired or have a lack of ideas?

I will look through my books, sketch at a coffee shop, or lately, I will paint without anything in mind; free-forming ,watching the paints mix with each other. It’s kind of meditative and will quite often lead to some discovery. OR I will do something completely different and not art related. Usually that means eat.

4.      What’s your advice to others who would like to be an illustrator?

DRAW! And then draw some more. And observe, and then draw what you observe. And be prepared to do some crappy drawings! You have to do those to get to the good ones.

Also, be on the look-out for artist’s work you admire and ask yourself what it is about that work that inspires you, how they did what they did, and what their point of view is.

Keep yourself open to experimentation, but also, think about forming your own voice and visual language.

5.      Name something not a lot of people know about you.

I used to be terrified of dogs.

6.      What are your plans in the future for your work?

More writing, more life drawing, and more dimensional work. I have also enjoyed facilitating art workshops and talking with students at school visits so I would love to continue more of that.

7.      How long does it usually take you to finish a project?

Roughly, 2 or 3 months for sketches, and then 3 or 4 months for the finishes. (This is for illustrating a 32 page picture book)

8.      What do you do to celebrate when you have finished a piece of work?

Ideally, road trip! If that’s not possible, a glass of wine will do.

9.      What is the hardest thing about your job?

Since books are such long-term projects, keeping up the momentum is probably the most difficult… but I do enjoy the process and try to give each project its own unique look … with color, technique, the characters, and/or something within the layout.

10.  What was the worst memory/experience you had when working?

Hmmmmmm….. well one summer our house became home to about 20 bats. They roosted in our chimney and then came in through the fireplace as well as the hot water heater in our basement. Every once in a while we’d wake up to a bat flying over our bed at night. I didn’t get much sleep that summer. And since my studio is in our attic, that gave a whole new meaning to “bats in the belfry.”  We couldn’t remove the bats because they are protected by law in the state of Missouri, so we needed to wait until September to put a bat cap on our chimney. Since then, we have not had any bats, although one time, a bird made its way  into my studio, and wouldn’t you know, it left a little poop on a sketch I was working on.

Strawberry Delight

The truth is, all of my recipes here, well, I would rather make them for you then have to virtually share it.  Right now I would love to give you a spoon and tell you, dig in, saha, and enjoy!

This is the closest I can get to you…here is a strawberry delight for you to enjoy and thanks, shukran, for visiting!

Ingredients:

  • sliced fresh bright red strawberries
  • whipped cream
  • chocolate sauce
Pour strawberries in a nice dish, add whipped cream, lightly drizzle with chocolate sauce and eat with a spoon!
Recommended: Make sure to share with loved ones and friends, there is so much barakah when others eat together.

Asian Noodles (recipe)

Ingredients:

  • Whole packet of whole-wheat spaghetti (cooked)
  • Chopped green onions
  • Sesame seeds
  • Black seeds (do not put too much or it will be bitter)
  • Brown sugar (1 tblsp)
  • TJ Island Soyaki Sauce
  • Chili garlic sauce (depending how hot you want it)
  • Shredded ginger (be generous here)
  • 1 squeezed orange 
  • Chopped cilantro
  • Smashed! garlic (4-5 cloves)
  • few spoons of oil
  • Sliced top sirloin in slivers (make sure to slice against the grain)

Yes I know it’s weird to use spaghetti for an Asian dish but it tastes really great and it doesn’t feel so unusual.  The sesame seeds adds great texture and crunch.

I know some of you may not have Trader Joe’s so when I get the sauce, I’ll list the ingredients so you can still make this dish.  I apologize: I ran out as I was making the noodles and forgot to save the bottle!

  1. You can marinate the sliced meat overnight or for a few hours or just 10 minutes before cooking (like I actually did, ha) but I am sure it would have a lot more flavor if I did.  So add the TJ Soyaki Sauce until it coats all the meat pieces, add the ginger (make sure to add a lot, it makes is taste so much better) and the smashed! garlic.
  2. Heat the pan with oil and when it becomes hot enough throw in the meat and cook them until they are done.
  3. So sorry to not list the rest of the ingredients here (lazy cook and writer, sorry!) and add those in with the meat and mix well (except the noodles, oops, spaghetti).  Maybe have this on for about 10 minutes.
  4.  Then mix the spaghetti and make sure everything is coated and covered well.  Turn off heat.
  5. Of course you can adjust the flavorings to your liking (add/less ginger, more sauce, more/less orange juice…you get it.)
  6. Serve and garnish with black and white sesame seeds.

Enjoy!  Black seeds are blessed

When The Doors Are Wide Open (finale)

When The Doors Are Wide Open (part I)

We are more focused and honest in our prayers because the daily distractions are put to rest.

The people who get out of bed and make the effort to pray at night are doing it for Allah’s sake and not for show.

Our words are more thoughtful and precise because we are supplicating and we are in need.

It protects us from sins.

The doors are opened from the sky as Allah (swt) wants to shower the answers to our duaas and supplications.

Abu Umama al-Bahili (Allah be pleased with him) reports that the Messenger of Allah (blessings and peace be upon him, his family, and companions) said, “Hold fast to night prayer, for it was the way of the righteous before you, a way of drawing closer to your Lord, an expiation for wrong deeds, and a shield from sin.” [Tirmidhi, and others] In some narrations, there is an addition, “And it repels sickness from the body.”

Night prayers are a personal and relaxing time with our Lord.  It is where we can express all our concerns, worries, wishes, desires, anything without the fear of ridicule or humiliation.  It is the ultimate time to set free our burdens.  Allah (swt) has all the power and He can change and assist us in our woes.

Ibn Mas`ud (Allah be pleased with him) said, “The virtues of night prayer over day prayer is like the virtue of secret charity over open charity.” [Tabarani] The scholars explain that this refers to voluntary prayers.

Allah (swt) then believes that are our prayers are truly for His sake when we betray our beds for His guidance. Allah (swt) has praised those who wake up at night for His remembrance, supplication, and to seek forgiveness and entreat Him, saying,

 “They forsake their beds to cry unto their Lord in fear and hope, and spend of what We have bestowed on them. No soul knows what is kept hid from them of joy, as a reward for what they used to do.”[Qur’an, 32: 16-17]

Crying to Allah (swt) shows how weak and incapable we are as humans when we do not depend on Him.  But when we turn our hearts and our prostrations in His favor, Allah (swt) will cast out our burdens and replace them with an eagerness to meet Him the next night.

And, ‘[The (faithful) servants of the Merciful are they who walk upon the earth modestly, and when the foolish one address them answer: Peace;] And who spend the night before their Lord, prostrate and standing…’ [Qur’an, 25: 63-64]

Image courtesy of Naouriz Inoubli

When The Doors Are Wide Open (part I)

Image courtesy of David Pasillas

Originally published for IFN March 2011

Mariam Al-Kalby

It is with this sense of urgency I want the night to visit and befall on the house like a blanket over a sleeping child.  I want to feel reassurance, guidance, and answers to calm my fluttering heart.

I am in a rush to converse with my Lord.

Making wudu extinguishes any anger in my heart and I ardently rush to my corner of the house and pray.

Tahajjud is the night vigil prayer.

It is a blessed time with the Creator: people sleep and all is quiet in the world where the sounds of the ocean splashing across the sands can be heard in the depths of the darkness.

Life is most clear when all has died down and I submit to Allah (swt).

My focus is heightened and my concentration more intact than when I normally perform my daily prayers.  I am all for Allah (swt) and Allah (swt) is listening.

The closest time to be with Him is in the tahajjud prayer.

There is something powerful, sublime, and serene when prostrating during this time of night; a reassuring embrace sweeps my body and mind.  A warmth that seeps through the layers of skin and into my soul.  That is the power Allah (swt) can cast over us.

Allah Most High said, “Establish worship at the going down of the sun until the dark of the night, and (the recital of) the Qur’an at dawn. Lo! (the recital of) the Qur’an at dawn is ever witnessed. And some part of the night awake for its recital, as voluntary worship for you. It may be that your Lord will raise you to a praised estate.” [Qur’an, 17: 78-79]

These specific prayers are respected and highly recommended.  This is where people give their mind and hearts sincerely to Allah (swt).  Reciting Qu’ran at that prescribed time is an act of sincerity and true submission.

No one is watching but Allah (swt) and His angels and this is when we want to have our actions recorded and acknowledged.  He witnesses our heart’s vulnerability and candor.

Our concentration is not challenged and we are not distracted by our daily activities.  It is not required to pray at this time of night but that is where some of the beauty lies.

Abu Hurayra (Allah be pleased with him) reports that the Messenger of Allah (blessings and peace be upon him, his family, and companions) said, “The best prayer after the obligatory prayers is the night prayer.” [Muslim]

Why is the night prayer seen in high esteem?

Baba Ghanoush (eggplant dip recipe)

So, I gave you lots of time to think what it may be…it’s baba ghanoush!

Ingredients:

2 large eggplants (cooked on grill or oven until soft and mashable)

3-4 cloves of garlic, smashed! (depending on how garlicky you want it)

extra virgin olive oil

salt

tahini

chopped parsley (fresh preferably but you can use dried)

1-2 cups of yogurt

freshly squeezed lemon juice

  1. Take the cooked eggplants and scoop out the flesh and try to not get as many seeds as possible.  Squeeze it between those clean hands of yours and get as much liquid as you can.
  2. Put the eggplant flesh in a food processor and spin that machine around until it’s smooth; if you don’t have a food processor, you can just use a good ol’ fork but it won’t be as smooth.
  3. Parsley can be put in the machine as well; you want it chopped finely.
  4. Pour in the bowl and mix in yogurt, tahini, lemon juice, smashed! ( I envision a big sledge-hammer doing this every time I write that word!) garlic and salt.
  5. Make sure that it doesn’t taste bitter and bland; you know you have made it right when you taste all the flavors but nothing overwhelms the other ingredients.
  6. Pour in a nice dish and drizzle olive oil.  Garnish with lemon slices and parsley.  Eat with warm pita bread.  Or your hands.  Just kidding.

Photography 101 (creativity)

Today I have invited David to discuss with us how to put our brain in the mode for taking pictures and how to be creative with them. As you’ll see, David is talented and please make sure to visit his wonderful links! Welcome David!

Improving Your Photographic Eye and Creativity

A Splash of Light by David Pasillas (DavidPasillas) on 500px.com
A Splash of Light by David Pasillas

A few years ago I decided I wanted to take photography seriously and get good enough to shoot weddings and sell landscapes. The tips in this post are some of the things that I believe helped me go form snapshots to art you want on your wall.

First things first, you have to want it badly enough. Carry your camera at all times and take pictures everyday if you can. A 365 project can be a great way to push yourself. I have to admit it’s not for everyone. I only made it to day 32 (or somewhere around there) on my first attempt. There are days when you just don’t feel creative and its hard to force yourself to shoot. Its ok to miss a day, but get back to shooting ASAP.

Lowell Covered Bridge HDR by David Pasillas (DavidPasillas) on 500px.com
Lowell Covered Bridge by David Pasillas

Next, you’ll need to share those photos online somewhere. Flickr is a nice little community for hobbyists and semi pro’s. You can expect the majority of the feedback to be encouraging, but lacking in constructive criticism unless you ask for it.

Take time everyday to look at amazing photographs. Heres the trick though, take time to really look at the images and think about what it is you like about them. Ask yourself what settings the photographer may have used or how they might have edited it. I have a few suggestions for people to follow on wordpress (see the links below.) I also highly recommend 500px.com. The quality of the popular images posted there are unmatched by any other photo sharing site. The good thing about 500px is you can usually see what the camera settings were on the images posted.

Glosoli by David Pasillas (DavidPasillas) on 500px.com
Glosoli by David Pasillas

To me, one of the most important things to master in photography is composition. It’s so easy to learn if you have an iPhone. All you have to do is turn on your rule of thirds grid and use it to compose your images so the horizon is on either horizontal line and the points of interest are at the points where the grid lines intersect. The more you use this, the easier it will be for you to compose images with your DSLR.

Take mental notes and mental photographs. I’m always paying attention to the light no matter where I am. If I see something I like, I remember what time of day it is and what the light was like. The more you pay attention to the light, the better you’ll get at anticipating what it will look like at different times of the day. Taking mental photographs is a great way to improve your photographic eye. While looking at a scene, think about how you would compose it, what angle you might shoot it from, what time of day, and so on.

Green Fields

Remember how I said you should take pictures everyday? Seriously, take pictures everyday. Shoot a lot. When you feel like you’ve taken a lot of pictures, take some more. Try different apertures, shutter speeds, and perspectives of the same scene.

This is one of the most important things to becoming a better photographer, become your own editor. I’m not talking about post processing. I’m talking about knowing which image(s) to share. Don’t show all of them off. Only show the one you want on the cover of a magazine. By learning to cull your unsuccessful images, you will improve your eye and the quality of your work shared.

African Daisy by David Pasillas (DavidPasillas) on 500px.com
African Daisy by David Pasillas

If you want to take your images to the professional level, you absolutely have to start shooting in RAW mode and learn to edit your images. Do you want the tiny processor in your camera editing for you, or do you want your beefy computer with lightroom or photoshop handling them? If your camera can do RAW+JPEG, start out with that while you get the hang of editing RAW files.

These are a few ways to improve your creativity:
• Play with children. They’re more creative than you by a longshot. Try to approach the world with a childlike wonder.
• Draw, paint, color, play an instrument. Look to other disciplines and experiment in combining concepts or styles.
• Study artists you admire.
• Take 500 pictures of a single object. Try making them different.
• Try different genres of photography.

Perfection by David Pasillas (DavidPasillas) on 500px.com
Perfection by David Pasillas

Recommended photographers on WordPress
http://briangaynorphotography.com/
http://ahardyperspective.wordpress.com/
http://tracielouisephotography.net/
http://bjornsphoto.wordpress.com/
http://markroutt.wordpress.com/

To follow me:
http://www.facebook.com/DavidPasillasPhoto
http://iphonephotog.wordpress.com/
http://500px.com/DavidPasillas
http://www.flickr.com/photos/dpasillas/
http://pinterest.com/dpasillas/

Searching for Conversation

Image courtesy of Chris Weigand

As  living souls, we are all looking for a connection, a bond, something to get attached to, to seek comfort in.

This is how we are and that is how Allah has made us.  He has formed us this way in order for us to turn to Him and seek His guidance, help, and comfort.

But people lead different paths to find this connection and this sort of conversation to another higher power.

People may not think about it or intentionally seek this type of connection out but we all do in some way.

We have to whether we like it or not, no matter how we try to avoid it…or turn away.

Every single soul needs a connection and something to worship in order for it to survive and thrive in this dunya.

This is true because it is in our fitrah to seek something to fill the void of worship.

Everyone worships something but a lot of times people worship things without  realizing it or the wrong/superficial/fickle things.

Our bodies and our minds have been created to worship but to whom and where to direct this necessity is where people differ.

For some it may celebrities.

Others, money and fame temporarily takes over their being.

Many of our souls have stumbled and sucked into worshipping our work, our children, our spouses, our homes, our cars.

People worship their hobbies and interests.

But we have been created to supplicate and prostrate to Allah only.

“I created man and jinn for no other purpose than to worship Me only.” (Dhariyat 51:56)

He does not need anything from us but we need Him.

All the praying, fasting, and the accumulation of good deeds we try to hoard in our baskets, well, we do it for His sake but it helps us in the end.  It is for us.

Why would a Creator need anything from us?

It is the servants actually serving themselves when they embrace Allah and His commands.

When observing this photograph at  the Western Wall, a prayer, a request, or a personal wish stuffed into crevices, Jews desperately searching and trying to have a continual conversation with God, an eagerness, a heightened fervor to reach the ultimate Power…

As Muslims, we are always conversing with our Creator.

For us, there is a sense of calm and serenity because we know He is listening.  We are confident that He is there for us, even if at times our emaan is low, we know He is not far off.

The souls stuffing notes in the walls- they are seeking.  It is not confirmed as to whether or not it has been reached to God.

For us, it has been reached and there is never a hesitation that He did not hear us, He is As-Sami.

He heard us before we even formed the feelings and words in our hearts.

Our conversation and worship of Allah comes in all sorts of forms but what is amazing is we can essentially talk to Him at any time.

He is always there, ever watchful, and the best of listeners.

We do not have to go out of our way to have this continual communication.

Allah does not want to burden his servants so He creates worship in an effortless way.

“Allah intends for you ease, and does not want to make things difficult for you” (2:185).

As a Muslim, Allah makes it accessible to reach Him.

Whether it is through our daily prayers, du’ah, or just simply uttering words of praise in His favor, this is all considered our version of having this dialogue between the servant and His Creator.

Just the beating of our heart is enough to communicate our worldly fears and concerns to Him.

It is as simple as closing our eyes and listening to our heart and unshackling our words from the walls…

Allah is there.   He is listening.

When and where do you converse with your Creator?  Who and what do you worship?  Why?

Feta: chickpeas and yogurt (recipe)

Ingredients:

Cooked chickpeas

Toasted pita bread

Yogurt

Tahini

Salt

Smashed! Garlic

Few drops of vinegar

Cumin

Paprika

Toasted slivered almonds

Extra virgin olive oil

Pomegranate seeds (optional)

  1. Layer the toasted pita bread on a nice, presentable serving dish so that the bottom of the dish is covered into bite size pieces of bread.
  2. Mix yogurt, some tahini (enough to taste the tahini but not completely overwhelming the yogurt), vinegar, smashed! garlic (enough to get a garlic breath, ha…eat a bunch of parsley after and you will banish the bad breath), and salt in a bowl.
  3. Add chickpeas over the bread with some of the water left over from cooking the chickpeas (if they came from a can, rinse them and boil in some water, just to make them warm, and then use some of that liquid for the bread so it can get moist but not too mushy).
  4. Spread the yogurt mixture over the chickpeas.
  5. Drizzle e.v.o.o., sprinkle cumin and paprika over the dish.  Then the slivered almonds on top and pom seeds if you have any.

It is a dish eaten warm or at room temperature.

If we have any leftover, we do eat it cold…told you it was easy!

Say Bismillah and share the goodness!

Feta (chickpeas and yogurt)

Watch out for this recipe on Friday!

It is a healthy and fast meal/side dish that is really easy to make…

I promise.

Friday will be all about chickpeas, yogurt, and pita bread…

Warning: Be prepared for your stomach to expand when eating this dish.  Elastic waistband is highly recommended.

Also check out my new article here about Da’wah and how every single one of us is doing it everyday…

Have a great one!