15 February 2024

Things to Do in Manchester - Runway Visitor Park

Thursday, February 15, 2024 0 Comments

I've spent a total of 10 years working at an airport, and I do miss it sometimes. I admit to being a big kid at heart, and I love a bit of plane spotting - I'd sometimes go outside during my breaks, and just watch the planes take off and land while I was eating my lunch. 

Where we live now, we can see the planes descending towards Manchester Airport while we walk down the street, and sometimes even find ourselves directly under the approach path when we visit Stockport - if timed well, you can have the Emirates' A380 flying just over your head!

My kids also enjoy watching planes, and if we're in a spot where they fly low enough above our heads, they enjoy spotting which airlines the planes belong to. And there's an even better way to watch planes in Manchester - the Runway Visitor Park.

Located just a short drive from the Manchester Airport, adjacent to the runway, it offers a viewing area just a few metres away from the planes! You'll be able to spot anything from smaller Ryanair and EasyJet planes to major international carriers like British Airways, Air Canada, or KLM, and even the Emirates' huge A380 which always attracts a crowd.

The park provides a large fenced area for watching the planes on the runway. There's a raised viewing area closer to the terminal, which is where you get closest to the plane as they taxi to and from the runway. Beyond that, you'll find a grass-covered space along the runway, with picnic tables scattered around, and a plane-themed playground.

If you're in need of refreshments, there's a café with indoor seating, and a smaller building next door holds a souvenir shop and toilet facilities.

For those looking for something more than just plane spotting from the side, the Park offers a variety of tours and experiences. While wandering around, you can have a look at the AVRO RJX - the last aircraft to be fully made in the UK, forward section of Monarch plane, or take a peek inside the Trident which was the first airplane to make a fully automated approach and landing.

There are guided tours available too - you can choose between exploring the famous Concorde or retired RAF Nimrod, or go and see both. 

Youngest plane enthusiasts can enjoy one of the Flight Academy Airport Life tours, suitable for kids 4+ (there are two groups available, for ages 4-7 and 8-12). Children get to go on board the Monarch DC-10, learn about various job roles at the airport, and even be a pilots for a bit - at the end they even get a certificate for completing the Academy.

Thrill seekers can try out the Fly 360 simulator, where you can have a go at flying an aircraft yourself (for ages 9+).

The Runway Visitor Park is free to visit, but there are car park charges - £5 for up to 2 hours, £10 for up to 4 hours, and £12 for over 4 hours (prices correct at the time of writing). The car park charge is included in the price of some of the paid tours. 

For more information about opening times (varying depending on the season), current prices and bookings, visit the Runway Visitor Park Website, and check the airport website for departures and arrivals so you can spot the best planes.

11 February 2024

10 Fun Date Ideas for Parents Who Struggle with Childcare

Sunday, February 11, 2024 0 Comments

This post may contain affiliate links (I'll earn a small commission if you use them)

February is the month of love, and even though we don't really celebrate Valentine's Day (I can't actually think of a single one we did, apart from our very first one together when we went for a trip to London), it's nice to pause and get a little bit romantic. 

As I sat down to write this, I stopped for a moment to think - when we're married and go out with our spouse, is it still "dating"? Or should we reserve the term for people who meet up to get to know one another?

If for nothing else than a lack of a better term, let's keep calling it "dating" - it's still making time for each other, maybe doing something a little special together, just the two of us.

I think after having children it feels even more like dating to actually be able to go out on our own, just be the couple again. But it can be really hard to find that time to spend on our own - we don't have any relatives living locally who could babysit for us, so we usually plan quality time as a whole family. 

It's a little easier now that both kids are at school, as we're able to plan some activities for just the two of us during school hours. Here are five ideas for daytime couple activities:

1. Breakfast/brunch/lunch

Because who said only candlelight dinners are romantic? If you can both manage a couple of hours during the day, breakfast dates are great! Most places, even the most popular spots, are also quieter during the week, so you can enjoy a more relaxed atmosphere.

2. Cinema trip

When we are really keen on the newest blockbuster, daytime cinema trip it is. Sometimes it doesn't quite work out with the timing - you need to consider the time to get to and back from the cinema, then the length of the movie itself, and add about half an hour of adverts and trailers on top of that. But when all that works out well in between school drop off and pick up time, then again it's a less busy time - and who knows, you might end up getting a private screening if no one else turns up!

3. A walk in the park

Sometimes it's all about the simple things. When you're a parent, a trip to the park is usually a child-centered activity. It's nice to just have a walk and a chat, without needing to keep an eye on the kids, being asked to play, or getting nagged for some ice cream. On a warm, dry day, if you have time to spare, it could be nice to have a picnic too.

4. Visit an art gallery or a museum

Museums can be a fantastic rainy day activity with the kids, but, depending on their ages, they might only find a select few exhibitions interesting - mine love a visit to the Science and Industry Museum, where the whole of the 1st floor is dedicated to interactive activities for children, but aren't really into regular exhibitions where you simply walk around looking at stuff. A date at the museum could give you a chance to see all those things that kids made you rush past.

5. Go bowling

While it might not be the most romantic thing in the world, it's good fun and a way to blow off some steam. And since you've been together for a while, it's less awkward than if you were still in the dating stage and wanted to make a good impression.

If you can only get time together in the evenings, when children are at home, there are still some things you could do to feel like you're on a proper date after they've gone to bed. Here are five ideas for a date night in, for parents who can't get childcare:

1. Movie night at home

One of the easiest ideas ever. You can put on one of your all-time favourites, but the best effect choose a movie you haven't seen yet - it will feel almost as good as actually going out to the cinema, but with the added bonus of being able to snuggle up on your sofa. Make some popcorn and other snacks, turn the lights off, and get the cinema feeling on.

2. Have a fancy meal

Cook something special, different from what you usually have for dinner. Maybe a dish from a cuisine of a country on your bucket list? Or something fancy you've seen on TV, but never tried making yourself. Or that dish that you love, but never cook for family dinners, because kids won't touch it! Alternatively, order a takeaway - again, maybe from some place you wouldn't normally try because of the children.

3. At-home spa 

You can't go wrong with a little bit of pampering. Light some nice-smelling candles, get you both some face masks, foot soak, and good massage oils. And if any of you is like my husband, needing a more intensive massage after a day stuck in one position, I highly recommend getting one of those massage guns with various attachments - works wonders for me too, when my previously broken foot plays up.

4. Garden/backyard picnic

More of an idea for when the days get longer, and warmer. Up here in Manchester, the summer days get really long, and it stays light until well after 10pm. After getting the children to bed, get out into the garden/backyard. Hang some fairy lights on the fence for the mood, get a nice drink (we enjoy a glass of non-alcoholic G&T or a mocktail), some snacks, or even eat that fancy dinner al fresco.

5. Play board games

Board games are usually a family activity here, but they can be great fun for a couple too. You could choose something for the older players that you can't normally play with the kids, or go for the family favourite and enjoy getting more competitive than you do against your children.

So that's 10 examples of things you can do as a couple with children but no childcare available - not just for Valentine's Day. Just think about what you both enjoy doing, set some time aside, and go for it!

05 February 2024

5 Practical Tips for Ramadan

Monday, February 05, 2024 0 Comments
This post may contain affiliate links (I'll earn a small commission if you use them). Also contains placement of my own products.

Due to the Islamic calendar being a lunar one, Ramadan starts about ten days earlier every year of the Gregorian calendar. Hence it feels like it comes faster every year, because it starts ten days earlier, even though it's still a year since the last one.

As the Ramadan approaches earlier again, it's easy to feel unprepared - even though it's my 11th year as a Muslim convert/revert, and so my 11th Ramadan.

I won't lie to you, I'm not one of those people who excitedly share on social media how much they're looking forward to Ramadan. I usually don't - it's physically draining, and I'm probably not in the same place spiritually as some people. But I think this is the case for a lot of people and not enough of us admit to it - we're only human after all, might experience spiritual highs and lows, and we're all in different places on our journey. And that's okay to admit.

I might not necessarily look forward to Ramadan every time, but I still observe it by fasting, keeping regular prayers, and trying to add extra worship during that month. Here are my ten tips to prepare for Ramadan, and to make the most of it regardless of how you feel going into it.

1. Set yourself realistic goals

It doesn't have to be a long list. I usually set out to read 1 Juz of the Quran a day (I read in English or Polish), intending to complete it in 30 days. I also make a goal to learn a new (short) surah. It can be anything else - learning 99 names of Allah, reading a new Islamic book, maybe going to the mosque more often. Just make sure it's something you think you'll be able to keep up with, so you don't end Ramadan disappointed in yourself.

If you're a planner kind of person, I designed a really simple Ramadan Planner - this, and a few other versions, are available as instant downloads for you to print at home, in my Etsy shop 

And if you need a more comprehensive journal and/or prefer a paperback copy sent directly to you, there's plenty of Ramadan planners on Amazon to choose from.

Again, when setting your own goals, make sure they're achievable for you personally - you'll feel better accomplishing one or two simple goals at the end of Ramadan, than if you try to take on too much and don't succeed.

2. Stock up and make a meal plan

Again, I don't mean anything crazy - I'm not telling you here to go crazy like people did in the lockdowns, or plan your meals for the whole month ahead!

In the UK many major supermarkets have a lot of offers and promotions before Ramadan. It's a great time to stock up on essentials that have lower prices, and there's often more variety of products. What we do ahead of Ramadan is stock up on the stuff that will get used the most: big bags of flour and rice, large bottle of oil, tins of tomatoes, packs of lentils and chickpeas - it's all the stuff we get in larger, bulk packs, and the logic is to get the heavy stuff before Ramadan starts, so then we can just do smaller top-up shops throughout the month when we start lacking energy. 

Meal plan isn't something I do regularly, and I don't strictly stick to one in Ramadan either. I find, however, that it helps to have a general idea of what we think we'll want to eat - it helps avoid thinking too much about what to cook every day, and helps with the shopping list too (we all know what happens when you go shopping on an empty stomach and without a plan).

I also find it helpful to batch cook before Ramadan - I don't do much because of the small freezer space, but it's good to have a few meals ready for the days when you don't have time or energy left to cook. Other than that, when I make fresh meals, I try to choose something that can be made to last at least two days, rather than spending every day stressing in the kitchen. 

3. Clean and decorate the house

I love a bit of a spring clean ahead of Ramadan. I declutter, reorganise stuff, and all that. I find it helpful for two reasons: first of all, a clear house = a clear mind (or so they say). Doing a deep clean before Ramadan means that I only have regular, small daily tasks to do, and rather than distract myself with a deep clean while fasting, I can use this time for reading and learning. The second reason is that decluttering potentially means finding items to donate to charity - great time to get rid of those clothes you keep telling yourself you'll lose weight for, or the toys that are still good but now forgotten.

Since having children I also decorate the house for Ramadan and Eid - in recent years this has become a really common thing to do, and decorations can be found pretty much everywhere. eBay is probably my favourite place for finding Ramadan and Eid decorations on a budget, as they have everything from hanging wall decor or balloons to partyware or even full sets of decorations for all your needs. I find that decorating for Ramadan sets the mood, and helps us all feel that this is a special time of the year - it also gives the children more excitement, as they get the same atmosphere as others do over Christmas. 

4. Be mindful about the media you consume

Music is definitely my guilty pleasure - I love getting the headphones on for cleaning or exercise, or even when I pop out of the house alone. Alternatively, I enjoy playing commentary YouTubers in the background. During Ramadan, however, I do try to avoid that. I swap music for Quran recitation (Mr also plays it in the car instead of the radio) - my favourite band released a new album in Ramadan last year, but as much as I wanted to listen to it straight away, I put it off. I also swap the YouTube drama for something more informative - last year I was listening to the Islamic History Podcast.

5. Organise activities for the children

Last year a large portion of Ramadan fell over kids' Easter holidays, and it will be similar this time - depending on actual dates for Ramadan and Eid, my two will be at home for nearly 2 weeks, so almost the full second half of Ramadan. 

Over the past few years, we gathered a small collection of children's books about Ramadan - my favourite places to buy them from are Kube Publishing and Muslim Children's Books, but I also occasionally order them from Amazon for convenience.

Some of our favourite Ramadan titles include: "It's Ramadan, Curious George", "Hassan and Aneesa Love Ramadan", "Tell Me More About Ramadan", and "Ramadan Moon" - they are aimed more at the younger children, so my daughter still enjoys them. My eldest, however, is a more advanced reader, so for him we have a few of Zanib Mian's books - Migo and Ali are still enjoyed here, as well as the Planet Omar and Meet The Maliks series.

Another thing to keep the children occupied in a positive way is Ramadan activity books - my daughter was definitely more interested in that than my son, and again it's something more for the younger children as those activity books tend to mostly contain colouring pages. My favourite over time was the Momin Explorers Ramadan Activity Book which includes templates for DIY Ramadan and Eid decorations, greeting cards, and bookmarks, so there are some things to get the children more involved.

Whether you're eagerly awaiting Ramadan or feeling a little apprehensive, hopefully these little tips can help you get prepared for Ramadan in a practical way, so that you can focus more on your spiritual enrichment over this holy month.

04 February 2024

Becoming Muslim - My Revert Story

Sunday, February 04, 2024 0 Comments

Growing up, you could say I had a pretty sheltered life - born in freshly post-communist Poland, spent my whole life in a small town, with extremely limited experience of different cultures. Raising children in England, I appreciate how much they learn about different cultures and religions at school, while our RE classes were all about the Catholic Church, and I only ever remember having a very brief (and not entirely correct) introduction to other main religions.

My knowledge of Islam before moving to the UK was that basic, stereotypical one - I knew the basic stuff, like the belief in Allah, Prophet Muhammad, five daily prayers, and fasting in Ramadan. From what I'd ever learned at school, I never knew just how many countries Islam dominates in, and considered it a domain of Arab countries. And obviously thought those poor covered women are all so oppressed.

When it came to my own faith, I was born in a Catholic family. Baptised as a baby, attended church every Sunday, and had my First Communion. Attended extra worship during Lent and Advent, and had the Confirmation in my teenage years, although that was more because everyone did it, rather than the conscious confirmation of faith that it's technically supposed to be. I had a time though, when I did want to get more into it - my friends convinced me it would be fun to go to a summer camp with the local church, and I even tried to join the church's youth group after coming back, but I ended up feeling really out of place and never quite into the worship just as much as the others were.

Fast forward to the move to England, and entering this melting pot of cultures. I was trying to remember my first impressions some time ago, but can't really think of how I felt being immersed in this multicultural environment. I think I was just in overall shock of being alone in the new place, and didn't really focus that much on the variety of people around me.

What I do remember though, are the Muslim girls that were in my class at uni. The hijabis fascinated me at first - I mean the fact that those, in my mind, "oppressed" young women were in higher education, when I was always led to believe that they weren't really allowed to do anything with their lives. That was my first opportunity to learn that Muslim women can be really fun, cool, into their clothes and make-up like anyone else, and beyond everything really smart and ambitious.

In the years that followed, Islam still really wasn't something I would be interested in. I've been around various Muslims a fair bit, they changed my general view of them as a whole, but it was more along the lines of "you do you", and just living alongside each other.

I first really started exploring Islam more, when I moved in with my husband. Not really because I was extremely interested as such, but I felt like I needed to know more if I was going to spend the rest of my life with this person. I know how some say "I married a man, not his culture or religion", but for me, these are the things that shaped the man I married, so I wanted to know what influenced the way he is.

The first big thing I encountered in our relationship, was the nikah - the Islamic marriage, which I mentioned in one of my earlier posts. Food played a big role too as I made a switch to a halal butcher, and started being more careful about what I bought in case it contained pork or alcohol. I started realising that Islam is this whole way of life, outlined in the Quran, and I wanted to learn more about that.

I started watching scholars' lectures on YouTube, and then Mr brought me a copy of the English translation of the Quran that I could read. So I read, I listened to explanations of the Quranic verses, I listened to comparisons of the teachings of Islam to Christianity. I loved the overall logic that I found behind certain beliefs.

Contrary to what some people might assume, neither my husband nor his family ever pushed me into accepting Islam. It was my own curiosity, and it took me about two years to decide this is what I actually believed in, that it agreed with me more than the Catholic faith I was brought up in. I don't think my husband even knew how much I got into it - I just occasionally asked him about something I'd read or heard, to clarify. I started looking for Muslim women's blogs and YouTube channels to connect with, and I watched hijab tutorials when he wasn't around just so he wouldn't get overly excited about my interest. 

I eventually realised where I was going wrong with my whole journey - I thought that if I was ever going to convert, I'd have to first know all there was to know, learn how to pray, be ready to wear the hijab, the full works. I didn't look at it as work in progress - I didn't consider how people born into any religion still have to go through their whole lives learning. Just as I didn't get baptised as a baby fully knowing what I was getting into, but had to learn everything growing up, I shouldn't have been putting this pressure on myself to be ready-moulded Muslim before I even admitted I wanted to be one.

After that realisation, one evening I finally said to my husband "I think I want to be a Muslim". I repeated the words of shahada after him, and that was that. A few days later he booked me a meeting with an imam in the mosque, because after reading somewhere that I might need a certificate if I ever wanted to perform Umrah or Hajj, I wanted to have the official piece of paper for the future. We went with one of his cousins as another witness for me, the imam made sure I wasn't coerced into anything and knew what I was doing, and the rest is history really!

That was in 2013. I've obviously learned to pray since, but I'm still not the perfect Muslim I thought I'd become. I dress modestly, but don't wear the hijab (I did for some time, but decided to stop). I don't regularly go to the mosque, and struggle to connect with other Muslims, but I'm generally anti-social nowadays so I struggle to connect with anyone really ;) I still don't read Arabic, often struggle with connecting in prayer, and don't get as excited about Ramadan as some people do. Throwing In Sha Allah or Alhamdulillah into conversation still doesn't feel natural. But this is the way of life I chose to follow, what I felt was the right thing to do for the future of our family, and beyond anything else that I believe in.