Neelu's Journal

Motherhood | Small Business | Food | Travel | Craft

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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Spark On With Neelu | Day 30 | Celebrate Your Success

Today is the last day of the #sparkonwithneelu series. I am on a roller coaster of emotions as you can imagine. Extremely happy that I started something close to my heart and kept at it for thirty days and sad that it has come to an end. 

I leave you with another valuable lesson I have learned in my 32 years of life - celebrate your success no matter how small. Success can be a very broad term. We are taught right from childhood that we have to have a particular career or make so much money to be successful in life. Absolutely not!

This short poem sums up everything I want to convey: 

To laugh often and much; 
To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; 
To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; 
To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; 
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; 
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. 
This is to have succeeded. 
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson 

The other day I asked you to list down all of your achievements in life, how much ever small or big. Today I request you to celebrate them. Give yourself the freedom to be joyful about all the things that you have done for yourself or for others. Treat yourself to something nice and continue doing it. Let the happy chemicals keep you moving forward. 

As for me, I am celebrating the end of the series by closing shop this weekend and going into hibernation until school reopens. This series has sparked many things inside of me and I would like to work on them and also enjoy some quiet time with family. I am hoping to be back soon, in sha Allah, with something better. Let's see how things turn out. In sha Allah.

A heartfelt thank you to all of you who have read, liked, commented, messaged, and helped me in taking this series from the beginning until the end. I couldn't have done without your encouragement. Merci Beaucoup. Shukran Jazeelan. Orayiram nanni!
Monday, August 15, 2016

Spark On With Neelu | Day 29 | Be Open To Change

Pretty Paper Studio was launched as a kit club - monthly subscription box of craft goodies primarily intended for scrapbooking and cardmaking. I had tried out few US based kits for my personal crafting and was in love with the idea. I painstakingly put together a couple of kits and launched the website with a lot of enthusiasm and optimism. 

BUT, there were hardly any takers the first two months. I tried different methods and started to feel really disappointed and heartbroken. During that time, I decided to try out a craft fair. For the first few hours of the fair, I tried selling the kits as kits. Many visitors who came to my stall asked whether they could purchase the items in the kit separately instead. I politely declined and didn't budge. As you can imagine, there were no sales. 

My friend Shruti who was helping me out that day suggested we should try selling items individually. Half-heartedly, I did. It worked. In just a couple of hours, I made a good amount of sales and returned home happy. 

Since I had already planned and put together kits for a couple more months, I kept with it and tried selling them. I started getting same queries - customers asked me whether they could purchase items individually. I realized that though a kit club was a great idea in some parts of the world, crafters here preferred individual items.  

This was a very valuable and humbling lesson and I feel it applies to all aspects of our lives. Sometimes we would be putting our best efforts towards a goal, working really hard and giving it our all and yet not getting the result we expected. What do we do? We try something different. Giving up on something which isn't working for us and trying a different route isn't a failure. It is just a change in path. Maybe a sad ending but definitely a beautiful beginning. 

PS. Happy Independence Day to my fellow Indians. 
Sunday, August 14, 2016

Spark On With Neelu | Day 28 | I Am Proud Of

Pick up a pen and a piece of paper. Write down every thing that you have accomplished in your life so far. Every little thing. From your education to your computer skills. Your hobbies. Things you have done for others and proud of. Give yourself time to remember the tiny details of your life and list down every moment that you are proud of. This includes your marriage and your children as well. 

Finished? Put it up on a place where you can see it every day so that you are reminded of how capable you are. Next time your self doubts and fears creep up, I want you to look at the list and feel confident. Nothing is more inspiring and motivating than seeing YOUR OWN personal triumphs! 
Saturday, August 13, 2016

Spark On With Neelu | Day 27 | Do I or Don't I?

I would like to address a frequently asked question today - "I am a fresh graduate who is unable to decide whether to look for a job or start my business / I have a 9 to 5 job but I really want to turn my xyz hobby into a business. Do I quit my job or keep it?"

This is a tough one to answer and depends a lot on your personal situation. What I am going to say here is truly my personal opinion and may or may not fit your circumstances.

The passionate, creative side in me would like to tell you - go on, just start your business, forget about the job. However, the rational, experienced side in me would ask you to keep your job and start your business as a side hustle. Why?

Years ago, during my undergraduate studies, I also worked at my Father's company. I would work in the morning and attend evening classes. There was a side of me who enjoyed it and the other teenager side of me was extremely upset that I didn't get to enjoy my college days like a normal student. After 3+ years with him, I worked as a Travel/Tourism Agent and later as a Motor Insurance Assistant. 

When I look back now, I have to say that I am extremely grateful for those gruelling years. I learned a lot from these roles - handling customer calls and inquiries, sending emails, managing multiple tasks at once, typing quotations, filing, making cold sales calls, a bit of spoken Arabic etc. 

One, your job will teach you the basics of running an office like I explained above. These skills may sound very elementary but are crucial to keep a business afloat. 

Two, you have a steady income to fall back on incase your business doesn't work out. 

Three, you will have an opportunity to see whether this is something you really want to pursue. 

Four, you can figure out whether there is enough demand for your product/service. 

Five, you can build an adequate cash flow during the initial stages of starting a business using your salary/savings.

Let me tell you, working a 9 to 5 job and building a side business is NOT going to be easy but it isn't impossible either. If you really really want it, you are going to figure a way out to keep doing both. ❤
Friday, August 12, 2016

Spark On With Neelu | Day 26 | Focus

Focusing on what we are doing can be quite difficult when we are pulled in different directions. Be it our children, spouse, phone, or work, there are many people/things needing our attention pretty much every minute of the day. Today, I have one of the Founders of Bismillah Babies and a mother of two - Sadia Anwar - sharing her insight on how she stays focused. 


Be Selfish

I’m sitting here trying to pen a few words for Spark On With Neelu. (I have another article in my head about Ibtehaj Mohammed which I need to pen down.)

One child is sprawled on the couch glued to the Ipad. The other is in the bath, making a mess I’m sure – I am not sure what exactly she’s doing, I haven’t checked. I haven’t given them their breakfast yet. My MIL walks by giving me a disapproving look, I smile at her and gesture ‘two minutes more’. By now she knows that gesture means ‘I won’t be budging from my spot for another hour at least.’ It’s the usual chaos from a summer-holiday-morning.

‘Mina,’ I yell for my lovely house-help, ‘Please take the baby and change her clothes.’ I ask, as a dripping-wet toddler charges at me excitedly.

But I do not budge from my spot. In fact, I consider the very fact that I have to smile and give instructions as an incursion into ‘my time’, which earns me a few extra minutes to compensate. This slice of my day makes me sound selfish. I agree and I am proud of it. Let me explain why.

A big challenge that all moms face: “How to Focus amidst Chaos” How do we take time out to do something we want amidst the constant demands on our time and energy?

The biggest hurdle to focusing and doing what we want to - scratch that - Need to do for ourselves is “I’m too busy, I have no time, I have too many things to do.”

I believed that for a while, and played the martyr-mom, but the closer I looked at my situation and logged how I spent my time I realized it wasn’t being busy that was holding me back – it was guilt. 

Mommy-Guilt: the core of a lot of our frustrations, a mindset that made me believe that unless I was doing something with or for the children, I was not being a ‘good mom’. 

It was a belief that if I did something for myself alone, I was being ‘selfish’, and that was a bad thing. So I redefined selfish. Selfish is good. It’s when I do something for my ‘self’ alone. It is a good thing. I embraced the word ‘selfish’ and made it a part of my daily routine. I must be Selfish in order to be selfless. How does one perfect this art of being selfish? Here are some pro-tips at being selfish from Selfish Sadia.

Pray and Meditate

Connecting with a power bigger and higher than ourselves is soothing. Suddenly all the things I fretted about become meaningless. My soul and its connection to peace and goodness become more important. My body and soul are a gift from God and deserve special care too. Nourishing my soul and keeping it in good health becomes important enough to assuage any guilt I feel about being selfish. How do I nourish my soul? By giving it the time it craves to wind down and indulging in my hobbies and interests.

Shut Social Media 

An analysis of how I spent my time showed that it isn’t the children that take up most of my time, it was my phone. A task that could be done in 10 minutes took an hour because my phone distracted me. So whatever is your vice – Instagram/YouTube/Facebook/Whatsap -shut it down.  It is not just time, the incessant bombardment of irrelevant information exhausts the mind too. Some extreme measures you could try – ask your partner to change the password and not tell you till after a certain time limit. Ask your neighbor to hide the wires. Set timers/alarms for social media. I felt my energy and time increase many-fold once I put in some time limits on social media and e-mail.

Speak up

A lot of the times our families are not aware that we need this time away. That we need to do our own thing for a bit. If they did know, they are only too happy to co-operate and help – especially children. My 5-year-old loves it when he is able to help me. Explain to everyone that you are going to take an hour or 2 to do your own thing, set an alarm and DO NOT BUDGE unless it’s a life or death emergency.


It helped me immensely to set a routine with both time and space. 2 hours in the morning when I sit here in this corner of the house is when I do my thing for myself. After a while, it becomes a part of the family routine. When my children see me sitting here, they know it’s useless to call me. Scheduling this time after I have spent time with the children doing something with and for them works best. And sitting in the prettiest corner of the house works best. (Of course, during the holidays, when routines are hard to follow, we end up in the situation I described at the beginning of this article. The time aspect of the routine didn’t work – the space aspect did. My children think, “Moms at her desk, we better ask someone else to help us”.)

Get Help

I am very blessed to have help at home. My MIL is with us half the year, that's another layer of help. But if you have no help - then please get help. Getting help doesn’t mean finding an expensive solution like hiring a babysitter. Save some money to eat out or order in food, so you can avoid cooking occasionally. Use disposable plates (if only we had disposable clothes too …sigh…) to save time on washing, Serve instant noodles or pre-cooked (GITS!!) meals once a while. Join a mothers group, so you have mental support. Meet your neighbors and find friends nearby, so you can cover for each other. Ask your partner for help.  If all else fails, wake up earlier/sleep later so you have the precious few minutes when the children are asleep.

None of these tips work till you believe that your time and what you need to do for yourself is as Important as anything else on your to-do list. Put simply: Be Selfish.

I asked some of the moms from my mom's group what they do in order to find time. Here is what they said:

"When I need time for myself, I first give the children some attention. And engage them in an activity – like read a book or play a game. I do this with the understanding that once done, mom can have some uninterrupted time.” – Mom of 2 school going children

“Usually, after I’ve been with them doing something for a while, or after mealtime, I leave them with a game and tell them to give me some time.”- Mom of 2 (1 school going child and one toddler)

“I engage them in something and set a time limit for myself to finish the task. During this time, I turn off my phone and wifi. I also use an app on my desktop called ‘time doctor.’ You can start a task and set a timer. If you move away from the task, they send you a pop-up message saying ‘are you still working on this?” –  Mom of 2 school going children.

“I give her a replica of what I am doing. A book if I am reading, a pen if I am writing. “– Mom of a toddler.

“Engaging the children in something works for me too. I give them play dough, which they love, or I let them ride their cycles outside while I sit near the main door with my laptop.” - Mom of 2, a toddler and a preschooler.

“These days I have been taking my children to Lamcy, they have a free jumping castle and free wifi.” – A mom of two, who works as a teacher and is preparing lesson plans.


Sadia, thank you so much for all the valuable tips that you have shared from your life and from your friends' lives. 

Bismillah Babies is an organization that works to cultivate a love for Islam in children’s hearts. They conduct Islamic themed playdates that include stories, songs, and crafts for children between the ages of 0-9 years. Age appropriate themes are carefully selected and cross-referenced with relevant Quranic verses and Hadith. These sessions are prepared with thorough research and conducted in an engaging manner. You can get in touch with them via their Website, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter