Ramadan – My Take

The other day I was walking with a friend and we were discussing Ramadan. She, a non Muslim, asked me why Allah would want us to fast. She made a good point as well. She said why would Allah, who loves us, want to put us through starvation. When I get asked these questions, I notice I get nervous. Not because i don’t know the answer or because I don’t agree with the answer. But because I live in a post 9/11 world where I am trying to defend a religion that has been smeared on in such an ugly manner, by the media, by various cultures, by politics, and also, by some Muslims ourselves. Every time someone asks me anything about Islam, I feel as though my answer is not heard because all they remember are planes crashing into a building, bearded men, news about honor killings, etc. 

I alone cannot change how anyone feels about Islam. But what I can do, is share the stories of what it’s like to be the average Muslim in this world. There are millions of us. And I hope you get to see that, honestly, we are just like you. 

With that said, I shall begin my post on Ramadan:) 

When people hear the word “Ramadan” they immediately think of not eating. And yes, not eating is a huge part of Ramadan. But it’s only in recent generations that the word Ramadan has been solely interconnected with food.  And I think that’s mainly due to the fact that we simply eat a lot more than previous generations did. 

In fact, Ramadan is a withholding of any and all desires of a human being. The good and the bad. To reach the most pious level of a fast, you can’t eat, drink, lie, show any form of anger or hostility, backbite, be intimate, etc. Not everyone can reach that level of fasting, but it is what we strive for.  Does Allah want us to suffer is like asking if a parent wants you to suffer by teaching you a lesson.  By telling you to do your homework, or by telling you to choose the right type of friends.  Or by not putting junk food in the house even though you want it.  They know what you don’t know.  They know, through experience what is best for you.  Allah needs nothing from us.  He doesn’t ask us to do things for His benefit.  I know it’s difficult to understand what I am saying, but it won’t be if you believe in the Creator.  What He does for us is only to benefit us.  And that is what I truly believe.  Ramadan, to me, is a wake up call.

What I notice most during Ramadan, and no one really ever discusses, is the amount of charity I see that is awe inspiring. Some of my friends head to downtown eastside to help make food to feed the hungry, all while fasting. Others have made amends with their enemies. Some have offered a generous enough donation to the mosque to feed a mosque full of people when it is time to break fast, and then there are the ones who make sure that Muslims in other countries have enough to eat as well.  I notice when people break their fast they are always waiting to make sure everyone else around them is eating first.  Everyone is offering everyone else food even though they haven’t eaten all day.  It’s these small moments that give us our learning lessons that last throughout the year.  And maybe we learn from them, maybe we don’t.  But the signs are their for us to grab.  

As far as us suffering during Ramadan, I don’t consider it suffering.  They say the rich will only learn to help the poor when they learn to identify with them.  Now, I’m not rich, but I can say for sure that I live in a place where I will never be deprived of much.   During this month I would gladly strip myself of any luxury to be able to identify with the majority of the world who lives with much less than I do.  It helps me remember that there are people who live with very little or no opportunity and to help them, and it helps me remember to be thankful for what I have.  The most memorable part of every fast is the first sip of water, and the first bite of fruit.  I personally think everyone should fast every now and then.  Perhaps it would help them appreciate the little things that we so easily take for granted.

To all who are taking part in Ramadan, I wish you all a Ramadan Kareem.  May this month bring you a time to reflect, forgive, and accept the things you cannot change.  May this month bring you many joyous iftaars with family and friends.  And may you keep those who are struggling in this world in your thoughts and prayers and be given opportunities to help them.

 

The City of Angels – Trip to Los Angeles!

When I came back from my trip to Los Angeles a couple of weeks ago, I noticed something.  There are 3 different types of trips one takes to LA.

There’s the Disneyland/Universal Studios trip where you land in LA, pick up your car rental and head straight to Anaheim!  This trip usually consists of 5 days to a week worth of adventurous pandemonium with top notch rides, lots of sugar, and a sneak peak into the gadgets of Hollywood films.  It’s fun, it’s expensive, and by the end of it you will want nothing but the comfort of your bed!

There’s the “I’m too cool for Disneyland” trip which we take when we want to actually tour Los Angeles.  This involves early mornings on a tour bus checking out the staples of LA and then perusing onto The Getty Center, a beautiful museum.  After a few days of touring, you will head on to The Grove, an outdoor shopping mall and restaurant area where you may spot a celebrity or two.  Depending on how long you plan to tour Los Angeles, you may even be able to check out Santa Monica and Venice beach.

Then there is the yearly or semi-annual trip that some west coast sun seekers, like myself, do when there is torrential downpour in Vancouver.  I simply cannot tell you what kind of an affect the winter season has on me.  It’s not the snow, and it’s not the cold.  It is the almost daily rainfall and grey skies which head on over to Vancouver for about 5 months!!  The odd sunny day is like a teaser, almost picking and prodding at your brain saying “better use me, I’m only here for a couple of more hours”.  Anyhow, moving along!

My trip to Los Angeles was definitely a sun kissed relaxation trip but I definitely found some of my new favourite places for this year and hope to head back soon as the skies turn grey!  Here are my top picks!!

Abbot Kinney! Abbot Kinney! Abbot Kinney!!  Yes it’s become cliche to check this place out but it stays true to it’s popularity.  To sum it up it, it’s very local friendly, not very touristy yet (I guess depending on which time you go), and it’s very expensive.  I found this a good thing because it meant I simply couldn’t afford many of the items being sold here, which means I didn’t spend!! Little shops that look like houses give it such a welcome feel. The best part about Abbot Kinney is its sense of community.  Every person I came across had such a friendly personable nature, it felt nice to not feel like a tourist for once!  The other part I loved were the nooks!! Sometimes there will be a store behind a store or pathway which could be missed but make sure you look out for these!  One of the cool corner hideaways I found was “Another Kind of Sunrise”.  It was a cool shed behind a store which offered nutritious cereal and a variety of teas.  I tried the iced Dandelion-Lavender-Ginger which was so refreshing on a hot sunny day!

What I usually miss in other places, and what I find sometimes lacks in Vancouver, is individualism.  Abbot Kinney represents a good mix of people from the posh hipster/socialite to the rockstar who could’ve been, to the moms and pops that just want to grab a cup of coffee.  Even the stores have a friendly laid-back atmosphere where you will be invited in to have a chat or just to sit inside where there is air conditioning!!

Abbot Kinney is close to Venice Beach...a perfect combination!

Abbot Kinney is close to Venice Beach…a perfect combination!

Everyone I encountered told me to head to Gjelina to eat and it really did live up to its reputation!!  One must not leave this restaurant without trying the Honey Burnt Gelato!!!!

The main area of Abbot Kinney is about 4 to 5 blocks long but if take a right onto Main Street and head on toward Rose Ave. you get the same sort organic feel.  It’s not really about the shopping, it’s more about the experiences that you have with the locals in these areas.  Many of them are born and raised and there are quite a few that have come from different states, but everyone has a story and they are kind enough to share it.

Santa Monica has been my “go to” place if I need a close affordable getaway.  It’s the one place I’ve never gotten tired of and the one place I choose not to tour, but to chill.  And chill I did!  But if I was going to Santa Monica for the first time, here is what I would do.  Go on a weekend and stay close to the beach!  It is pricey but if you are not a bus person, then you will pay a lot of cabs and even more for parking a car rental.  Santa Monica is very walkable and bike-able.  I would sleep in for a bit and as soon as I got up I would head straight for a walk on the beach.  Miles and miles of pristine sand, the subtle morning waves of the ocean, and the backdrop of the Santa Monica Pier welcome you with open arms.  Take a coffee, a donut, and a beach towel with you.  Perhaps even the morning news paper.  Soak. It. In.  There is no need to rush.  This is Santa Monica.

In the mood for a stretch?  Check out Beach Yoga with Brad.  Located right on the Santa Monica beach (near Marine), you may join by donation and yoga your heart out.  Such an affordable luxury and one you will not forget.

Come noon time, head out to 3rd Street Promenade or Montana to do some wind shopping.  Perhaps bring a book with you and head to one of the local coffee shops where you can sip on an Americano while diving into a few chapters!

Santa Monica....I'll let the beach picture speak for itself...:)

Santa Monica….I’ll let the beach picture speak for itself…:)

Enjoy the evening by renting a bike and taking a nice ride from Santa Monica to Venice beach.  The crowd is a little more calm around this time, making the ride much more enjoyable.  Maybe even check out the Venice Canals, a small homage to Venice, Italy.

Sleep in Sunday morning.  This is one of those vacations.  No need to get out a map of the city, just relax.  Watch some television and order breakfast in bed.  Take a walk down to Heritage Square (on Main St.) and check out the Farmers Market.  Grab fresh coconut water and sit down to people watch.  Finish Sunday off with either a nice meal (I hear Giorgio Baldi is a good one) or treat yourself to a luxury spa at the Hotel Casa del Mar.  This vacation can get a little pricey, but I promise you, it will be worth it.

I hope this guys you my personal take on a recurring short vacation to Los Angeles.  I wanted to write more on Sunset Blvd and Silver Lake but it is off to bed time for me!! Hope to write about these two some other time!!

A few things I wish I checked out but didn’t have time:

http://www.downtownartwalk.org – I’ve been to an art walk before and I would love to check out the one in LA

http://brennanspub-la.com – Who wouldn’t want to go to a turtle race!!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bsT8BLihrIQ – A chandelier tree in Silver Lake!!
http://losangeles.cbslocal.com/guide/hidden-staircases-of-los-angeles/ – While I was there I heard a lot about the “secret stairs”.  Plan on checking some of these out next time!!

 

 

 

 

My lingering singledom – The Single Life

For those of you who don’t know, about 6 months ago I had decided to back into the online dating world.  My heart was telling me I should try getting to know someone again and perhaps even get married again.  I created a very real and honest account and had the opportunity of meeting some very nice/funny/strange individuals.  But soon after I registered, I began to forget checking my account and the desire to meet someone faded, enough so that I no longer remember my password for the account!!

So the other day I received an email from the site saying “Azzah, We Miss You….” and so on, discussing how much I can renew my account for.  It made me think.  Why is it that every time I think I should look for someone, it eventually gets thrown into the back of my list of “to do’s”?  I remember being boy crazy in my 20’s and always having this idea of living the fairytale life of having a husband, maybe some kids, and living in a house with pool, etc.  I never thought realistically.  I always lived in some sort of fantasy mode.  Every time I met someone, I would imagine us living this deeply romantic life where I would receive roses “just because”, or I would be making the best dinners which we would eat on our perfect vintage dining table under a chandelier that I bought from a thrift shop but I hand painted it myself to make it all the more unique and special, ohhhh how am I even telling you guys this?!?! hahahahah  I’m just trying to wonder how I could possibly become so different from who I was in my 20’s.  Maybe it’s the experiences I’ve had.  Oh my horrible experiences.  Not just for myself but also for the ones that I was getting to know.  Maybe it’s fear of getting hurt.  Or maybe I’ve realized that it’s important to enjoy and appreciate the “now” and whatever gravitates your way is simply what is meant to be.  And right now, I don’t feel like having someone around all the time.  Sure there are times I want to go on a nice dinner with someone or it would be nice to have some safety in my house (since you know, my father has become a wild child and is downtown bound all times of the day and night!!).  But is it enough to commit completely?

I don’t believe there is anything wrong with marriage or committing at all.  In fact, as I’ve grown, I’ve come to learn that marriage is a very beautiful thing.  It brings qualities I don’t know if I can necessarily achieve on my own.  The art of being patient, compromising, making a grocery list that makes everyone happy!  When I travel, I often ask couples if they need me to take a picture of them.  They looks so helpless taking an awkward selfie!! But it also gives me a chance to take part in their special moment.  I remember I met a Josh and Jenna in Las Vegas and he was surprising her with the helicopter tour that we were on.  He looked so nervous that she would find out, it was so cute!!  I met an Ali and Layla, a newly engaged couple at a restaurant.  They both knew, at the age of 10, that they wanted to marry eachother and had been together ever since!  There was a couple I met in Cappadocia, Turkey who had just retired and through their bickering you could tell that they were soulmates.  There have been countless others who have proven to me that, even though things don’t always look so great, love matters.

If your heart is not fully into wanting a commitment and understanding the responsibilities of one, then getting into it just because everyone else is is a big mistake.  I don’t think there’s much of a difference in the different types of marriages either, for example childhood sweethearts, love at first sight, a long distance relationship, or even an arranged one (i mean “arranged”, not forced, big difference), it’s all really up to you once you say “I do”.  And for the time being, I strongly believe that my gut, and my logic is telling me that being on my own is my happiness.  And when I’m happy, I want to do good things.  So here, my friend, is to good things to come:)

My first Airbnb experience!!

Good day everyone!! And thanks for being patient with me and supporting my blog! It’s been tough juggling work life, home life, and blog life but I assure you, by the end of these year I plan to be a juggling superstar!!

I just got back from a much needed trip to LA.  Los Angeles, much like Vegas, is not just considered a vacation, but a second home to many Vancouverites.  The two and a half hour flight makes it accessible and sometimes cheap to end up in a haven for sun lovers.  I had a wonderful time and will share more about my time in LA in another blog.

But first, I am excited to review my first experiences in an Airbnb!  For those of you who don’t know, an airbnb is another site of many which lists vacation rentals by owner.  Like most vacation rental sites, there are reviews and references from travellers who have used the rentals and there are also references for the travellers who have been hosted by the owner.  The major difference between airbnb and most vacation rental sites is that airbnb has more variety as to the type of room you want to rent.  You can stay in someone’s place while they are there or you can find a house/condo to rent and I hear that you can even find a luxury island to rent out!!  Most other vacation rental sites are more geared toward renting out their home/condo while they are away.

Okay moving along!  My first airbnb rental was in Venice, CA.  I decided that my first experience should be unique and so i decided to book an airstream !  This airstream was in my ideal location (near Abbot Kinney Blvd.) and it was something I had never tried out.

airstream

I literally felt like I was in a time warp!!  Such an awesome airstream inside and out!!

 The pros?  It was nicely renovated from the inside and gave a very vintage feel on the outside.  The owners definitely went all out to give their place such a creative and zen vibe that it was hard to leave to tour outside when there was so much happening here!  The outdoor shower was the best part!  It felt so organic and clean and everything that makes you want to feel like you are living a very fresh and minimalistic life!!

Awesome in every sense of the word!!  Check out the outdoor shower!!

Awesome in every sense of the word!! Check out the outdoor shower!!

The cons?  It was a little more expensive than I feel it’s worth.  I paid roughly $113 and then there is a cleaning fee on top of it and then a security deposit and then the airbnb fee!!  Remember, travellers are here to travel and tour.  Chances are they may spend very little time in their accommodation and since the accommodation was an airstream (not a lot of room), I feel the price needs to be adjusted.

Another thing that I found tough was not really having someone there.  Now I know, this is a vacation rental.  You basically should just check in and check out.  But that’s where I feel hotels and hostels can charge a bit more, because you have someone there to answer all of your questions and even give you great advice!!

All in all I really enjoyed the airstream, it was so comfy and such a new feeling than the usual hostel or hotel.  If this place gets a little cheaper, I plan to come back and give it another whirl:)

My second airbnb was in Silver Lake, CA, a quirky little hipster neighbourhood.  It’s a fun little place with kind people and good food.  But I wasn’t there for the food, nor the people.  I had contacted this place because it had a swimming pool to die for.  I contacted the host and let them know about my unique situation:  I’m a hijabi and haven’t really had a chance to swim publicly without being fully clothed head to toe.  This was the only swimming pool I found which seemed quite secluded (I know, this is sounding quite strange isn’t it!).  I needed to ask the host if I could use his pool without him being there.  He was more than fine with that, in fact, he mentioned he wouldn’t be home the whole day and that I may not even see him the next day!  I knew it was safe as he was a verified client of airbnb and he had tonssss of awesome references so I booked it!!  And I am sooooo glad I did!!  This place was so amazing and I had such a positive feeling while I was there!  It was reasonably priced which was the best part.  The owner had a dog which was so cute and he pretty much just sat in his own little corner and watched me enjoy splashing around the swimming pool!  Ohhhh the swimming pool!!!! I cannot tell you what it felt like to cannonball into a pool in the scorching hot weather!!  And then there was the hammock which I sat on for hours reading my favourite new novel Gone Girl.  Not going to lie, at one point I felt like it was my own home!!

It was as inviting as it looks!

It was as inviting as it looks!

I didn’t get a chance to meet the host, but let the house sitter (a wonderful woman named Heidi) know that I will definitely be back to use the pool!!

The view from the other side....book it!!!!

The view from the other side….book it!!!!

All in all, I would definitely give airbnb a chance.  I’m sure there are many other rooms to rent that were very cheap but as it was my first time, I thought I would check out something unique and I’m glad I did.  The downside of airbnb are the fees and I really don’t think the cleaning fees should be as high as they were.  In fact, I would probably add everything into the final payment and just charge that for the night.  Surprise fees are annoying!!

Sayonara for now!!!

Gnomeo…My Romeo…Part Deux

(please read part one if you haven’t already)

VIVAAAAA LAS VEGAS!!!  I could tell Gnomeo was quite excited!  Who wouldn’t be?!  Little man was surrounded by beautiful ladies tending to him left right and center.  Soon as he landed, Gnomeo got star treatment by all around him.  A nudge here, a polish there…as he walked outside the doors of the airport, a stretch limo was ready to receive this cutie!

gnomeo5

 

Oh how he loved the Vegas lights, shining brightly.  I was surely keeping an eye on Gnomeo, making sure he didn’t get too wild too quickly!  Soon enough, we all reached our hotel where Gnomeo sat quite nicely enjoying the view….

gnomeo6

With all the ladies excited to check out the sights and sounds of Vegas, Gnomeo was far too exhausted to anywhere.  Having being kidnapped, body scanned, strapped up and flown across the border, Gnomeo needed a well deserved nap!!

gnomeo7

Off he went to bed for a snooze while the ladies perused through the shops and eateries around Vegas.

The next few days Gnomeo enjoyed being passed from one lady to the next offering Gnomeo nothing but tender love and care.  We all became so fond of this beautiful….ummmm…thing, and soon began to realize that we never wanted to let him ago….I think some of us fell for him harder than others!

gnomeo8

 

 

THEN….IT HAPPENED….sitting at a restaurant eating beautiful Thai food, I looked to my left and Gnomeo was gone!!!!!! I gasped and with that gasp, the ladies around me knew that something happened to Gnomeo.  We searched everywhere!  Some of us in shock, others in dismay, others still finishing off their Pad Thai….someone had taken Gnomeo!!!!!  The rest of the trip is a bit of blur and although we had a fantastic time, each of us felt a hole in our hearts, and that hole, my friends, could only be filled by our one and only Gnomeo.  The End.

PS – Lesson learned.  Never steal anything!!!!! Ever!!!! It will just bit you in the behind!!!

Gnomeo…My Romeo….

NOTE:  Apologies in advance for the not so great quality of pictures, did not expect to be writing a blog about this one day!!

Once upon a time, far too long ago, an idea popped into my head.  I quickly jotted this idea down on my bucket list and from there on, the idea came into fruition.  I was going to steal a gnome!!!! Yes my friends, guilty as charged!! And believe, me, this story doesn’t get any better! In fact, to this day I have flashbacks of what ensued from the moment I jot those words down on my list, to the painful ending which would haunt me for years to come!  I introduce, to you, the story of my one and only….Gnomeo.

It didn’t click into me that it was a crime to steal a gnome.  The plan had come with a good heart.  I merely wanted to do what every traveler has the urge to do once in their life.  Take a gnome on a trip and then return it to the owner with pictures!  Soon after I wrote it on my bucket list, it became a sinister challenge I needed to conquer.  I would walk by yards, curiously searching for that tender bearded fellow.  I didn’t realize how much people decorated their gardens until I began searching for the gnome!  I saw statues of turtles, ladybugs, and even a deer or two!  But no gnome came into sight.  Until one day….walking around a neighbourhood, I saw him.  It was like a scene from a Bollywood film where the woman and gnome…er…man turn and lock eyes with one another and know that something beautiful is about to happen!

I made a run for it!  Soon the gnome was in my arms and I was gunning for my home!  Yes there was a pang of guilt!  Of course there was, I just robbed someones gnome!! It was my pre hijab days and I have repented thoroughly I assure you!  Now back to the story!

I locked my room door and looked at my new gnome friend. There was something about him….

 

gnomeo

My Gnomeo

His crinkled red shiny hat tipped in just the right direction.  His UGG like boots and green shirt began to tug at my heartstrings.  What a cute gnome he was!  I couldn’t take him on an international trip because he wouldn’t fit in my backpack.  But luckily there was a girls trip coming up with me and my nieces.  So, soon enough, Gnomeo and I packed up and heading through security!!

gnomeo2

Gnomeo was a little urked about having to go through a full body scan!

The ladies were falling for Gnomeo left right and center.  Holding him, hugging him…I won’t deny, my jealousy kicked in when a lady said “oh can I please take him with me?!”, to which I replied “NO lady get your own gnome!”, snatching Gnomeo away and putting him tightly around my arm where he belonged!

Pretty soon he was all buckled in and ready to head to….

gnomeo4

To be continued…..;)

My Big Phat Large Family

One simply can’t put the essence of a large family in a single article!  What I can do, to entertain your heart out, is give you a glimpse of the pits and peaks that come along with a big phat large family!

All together there are 45 in my family.  Two parents (one passed), 7 sisters, 2 brothers, 8 in laws, 13 nieces, 11 nephews, and 3 great grand children.  To top this off, about 90 percent of us live within a few blocks of one another.  This makes it very easy to borrow vehicles, eggs, and the occasional child to help with grocery shopping.  The down side?  It’s an open house at any given time and you just have to go with it!  Either get along or leave the wolf pack is the motto!

This will sound so odd, but the first thing that came to my mind when I thought of writing this blog was one word….colds.  The reason why is because it’s the one thing that we are always working around to try to heal, try not to get, and try not to spread!!  When one is sick in our family, the neighbourhood suddenly turns into a scene from the movie “Contagion” where the poor sickly is locked in a room where he or she will be abandoned for the next few days or even weeks.  Every now and then someone will contact him or her through their door and whisper…”are you okay in there bud?  Need anything?  I can open the door a few inches and hand it to you, but don’t you dare come near the door!”  The poor soul is confined to their bed watching Netflix or browsing every inch of Stumbleupon until the thought of a laptop makes them nauseated.  But, my friends, and I’m being honest about this, if that cold spread to the next family member, eventually this will turn into an all out family virus!  We are a large population and colds cause us to suddenly drop like flies!!  Chicken pox literally ran like chickens through each household causing scars in each and every corner of the Ahmad clan!  So yes, this is why “colds” is the primary focus of our large family!

It isn’t always that all 45 of us are together, but you better bet that at least 10 of us are! When we get seated at a restaurant, we usually give quite a sympathetic look to our server knowing that a)  they will be needing an Advil or two after the experience they are about to have b) we will order and then we will move from our seats and end up in a completely different seat as to further confuse him or her.

Would you like to hear an opera singer while dining?  Fear not my friends because the family of 45 have arrived and you will hear all sorts of vocal chords for the next hour or two! There will be shouting, screaming, laughing, and most of all hollering from one side of the table to the other!

Coming from a large Muslim family is a whole different ball game all together when it comes to restaurants.  Here is a typical single order:

“Hi there!  Can I get a virgin Pina Colada please?  There is no alcohol in it right? Okay yes! And I will get the Fettucini Alfredo but can you make sure there is no wine in it?  Oh and also can you please let me know what broth it is?  Oh chicken broth?  Oh I can’t have it then.  Okay just one minute……..Okay I will have the burger, without the burger…can you make it just a vegetarian burger?  Oh I will be charged the same? Oh well that’s too bad.  Okay just one minute……Okay I will get the fish and chips…oh wait can you let me know if it’s beer battered?  It’s not? YES!!!!!!”

And sometimes when one finds an order they can actually eat, the rest get the same.  Pretty soon you have 10 fish and chips orders on a table!

FINDING A FREE WEEKEND:  This is probably the most difficult part of being in a large family.  Your friends will want to see you. And you want to see them too!  But finding a weekend that doesn’t have a birthday, a dinner party, a wedding, a baby shower, a bridal shower, a slumber party, is a slim chance at best.

And believe me, you want to spend time with your friends.  But when your best friends are your family it’s so hard to think that you are going to miss one of the events where everyone will be having a blast!!  Pretty soon you begin to get resenting phone calls and texts from friends and you feel this pang of guilt about not seeing them often enough.  Eventually some of them drop out of your life completely and you don’t want to admit it, but it was your fault they did.  And on bad family days, you wish you had that one friend around who you kept ditching for family parties and that’s when you learn that there is a huge responsibility to maintain your friendships because you will need them just as much.

I did not expect this blog to be this long and I feel like I can keep going but I am sure you need a break!  Until next time!!

 

family collageOur various attempts at a family photo!