Glow: My first time doing Bikram Yoga

Dearest Belles,

If you are like my sisters, you love the gym and can keep a great workout routine going for years. I, however, get bored with anything once it becomes “same old, same old”. That’s why I am always looking to try something new. My latest find on Groupon has been Bikram Yoga. I found a great deal ($36 for 10 classes!) so I decided to try it. I was looking for a new challenge anyway.

Darlings, was I in for a surprise! Now, I’m not a complete newbie to the yoga world–I attended a few Yin Yoga classes at my old gym but those were more for meditation than for balance and flexibility. The first thing that surprised me was the humidity. Yes, yes, Bikram Yoga is by definition heated yoga, But I wasn’t expecting to break out my sweat mustache for at least the first 5 minutes! Turns out, it’s practiced in a room heated to 95–108 °F (35–42 °C) with a humidity of 40%.

And I thought Houston was bad…

Well, I got through most of the poses alright with the exception of the Patient Tree and the Bow postures, but it really made me realize how much flexibility I’ve lost since high school. I used to be able to touch my head to my knees and arms to my toes with knees locked! I definitely couldn’t do that anymore.

My towel was soaked and I nearly passed out at one point from keeping my muscles so taut but honey, it was worth it. I felt great and I looked great. For the past 90 minutes, I stretched in several ways that promote blood circulation and sweated out what felt like every toxin I had ever come into contact with, and I was glowing!

Don’t believe me? Here’s a photo I sent my sisters right after my workout.

I’ve been going every few days for the past 3 weeks and I’m still completely loving it. But alas, the Groupon comes to an end soon and I must flit like a butterfly to a new buttercup. Hmm… maybe I’ll try boxing next?

Hah! Keep it adventurous, Belles!

xoxo, Zahra

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Houston: Letting Life In

Ah, Houston. The city where zoning is a myth and flash flooding is a regular occurrence. I think that adds to the charm of the city, though. The greatest thing about Houston is you never know what fabulous hole-in-the-wall restaurant you might find just around the corner. Being 45 minutes from the Gulf and always booked with great concerts, it’s a fantastic place to spend Spring Break too! But most importantly, Houston doesn’t shy away from nature– it welcomes it into the city. 

1. Cockrell Butterfly Center

Houston is hot in the summer, but nothing beats the heat and humidity of a rainforest in the middle of the city! Get up close and personal with hundreds of bright, beautiful butterflies at the Butterfly Conservatory. Stay really still and you may get lucky and have one land on you. This is one magical experience you don’t want to miss. Snapchat filters have nothing on the real deal.

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Butterflies flutter around every plant inside the Houston center, tickling passersby with their feathery wings

2. Phoenicia

A mouth-watering bite of gyro sets me off to high places and no place makes it better than Phoenicia. Dare I say it: Better than Halal Guys 🙊

Everything is made right in front of you and it comes to you hot, fresh and juicy.  So if you’re taking in the sights downtown and feel a little rumble in the stomach, get yourself some. You’re welcome.

3. Downtown Aquarium

Talk about bringing nature to your doorstep! This aquarium is amazing. That’s all I’m going to say. You have to see it to believe it. )

The restaurant next door. Make sure to get the Fish n Chips 😜

3. Rice Village

Looking for something a pittle more high street while on your vacay? Take a stroll down the streets of Rice village. With tons of great shopping to be done and the cutest cupcake place youve ever seen, there’s plenty you can do, including an impromptu picnic on Rice University’s campus lawns. But if you’re not in the mood to get your knees dirty,  there are several other delicious restaurants within walking distance, including my favorite Turkish place, Pastas.

A delicious yogurt and eggplant dish at Pasha’s in Rice Village

4. Kemah Boardwall

Lastly, what’s better than a never ending carnival? Take in the cool boardwalk breeze and catch an amusement park ride or two with your sweetheart. You csn see this place off the highway and its always open. Enjoy the lights, the skyline, and Texas’s specialty– deep-fried ANYTHING.

Chicago: Experience Things Differently

There are two things about the Windy City you need to know: the wind keeps blowing and the people keep smiling. Seriously, the people are so nice! And Chicago is all about YOU. In every facet of its being, the city reaches out to interact with you, so dive in and experience city life differently with these 5 ways to spend a week in the Windy City.

1. Dine with Death

What’s Chicago’s take on the classic “dinner-and -a-show”? They make dinner part of  the show! After all, nothing adds flavor to a delicious 4-course meal like murder. My brother and I went to The Dinner Detective Murder Mystery Show at the Knickerbocker Hotel (how fantastic is that name?!) a few months back and had a blast. The actors in this whodunnit were exceptionally interactive and had us all looking like the cry-laugh emoji by the end.

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That’s not an actor… 🙂

Shows can be a bit pricey so make sure to check Groupon for discounts!

2. Play some Volleyball on Lake Shore Drive

When the sun’s out and the temperature’s over 60, you can bet your bottom dollar there’ll be someone playing beach volleyball on Lake Shore. Swing by for a pick-up game or bring a picnic basket and enjoy the gorgeous view. With Lake Michigan on one side and the beautiful Chicago skyline on the other, who could ask for anything more?

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3. Go undercover at SafeHouse Chicago

The name’s Bond. James Bond. Transform into a secret agent and dine the way they do. Brand new to the city’s restaurant scene, it opened this January, SafeHouse Chicago brings you into a world of espionage and danger so beware of double agents! From the moment you walk in (it’s the red door), to the time you make your getaway, you’ll be in the world of Bond, Agent 99, and Agent K.

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An authentic piece of history:  A piece of the Berlin wall that came crashing down on Nov 7, 1989

So put on a swanky suit, take on a secret agent name and make your way to the SafeHouse for a terrific night. And don’t forget to get your cocktails shaken, not stirred. 😉

4. Laugh your butt off at Second City or grab a seat at a local play

This is the city that brought us some of the best SNL talent and of course, the fabulous musical Chicago! Comedy and drama are kind of their thing. Seats are hard to come by as shows are bought out months in advance, so if you can’t get in, don’t fret. Chicago’s got plenty to entertain you. Every one is different but there’s lots of experimentation going on with user experience in smaller, local productions. I sat in on a one-woman play once where we, the audience, were bystanders trapped in a room with the character in one instant, and in another instant, we were accused of being part of the angry mob outside, the cause of the woman’s conflict.

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5. Pizza, Dogs, and Chocolate Cake Shake: The Trifecta

New York has Halal Guys, Chicago has Portillo’s. Portillo’s brings you the best of Chicago–hot dogs and the Masterful Chocolate Cake Shake. It’s literally a giant slice of chocolate cake blended into a gigantic chocolate shake. Bring a few friends to split the sweet. You can thank me later.

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For some delicious Chicago-style deep dish try Lou Malnati’s or Giovanni’s or venture into the side streets for something a little less touristy.

There’s always more to do in Chicago and the outer cities so go out and explore one of my favorite cities in the world.  ♥


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Istanbul: Hidden Turkish delights

I went to Istanbul in the first week of April, at the start of Istanbul’s annual Tulip Festival. The mornings and evenings still clung to the remains of winter’s chill but the days were warm and full of sunshine. To prepare for my maiden voyage to Europe, I scoured the internet for the best travel recommendations for Istanbul and the best, by far, was Audrey Bergner’s 50 Ways to experience Istanbul.
Here are a few hidden gems I stumbled upon alongside sights that really shouldn’t be missing from your to-see list.

1. Privato Cafe by The Galata Tower

Order the continental breakfast– Europeans have perfect portions and use the best ingredients. Turkish yogurt and honey are downright sinful. Many thanks to my friends @thesamaras for the recommendation

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Privato Cafe– a little hole in the wall restaurant in the Italian-influenced streets of Beyoglu

2. Smell the flowers at the Topkapi Palace

The smell is absolutely heavenly. Fit for a king or queen. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever been so fully immersed in the smell of flowers before–Bath Body Works so doesn’t do the trick anymore.

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A sea of beautiful, colorful tulips color the lawns of this amazing palace

3. Discover Glowing quartz pottery at Firca Quarts and Ceramic by the Aya Sophia.

Ask them to take you to the basement and prepare to see something remarkable.

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The entire Blue Mosque is designed in the same quartz that makes this vase glow in the dark

4. Feed your dreams at Alemdar Restaurant & Cafe

Ask for the Saç Kavurma. I kid you not, I am still dreaming about it! Bonus: get a free Whirling Dervish show.

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The best dervish show is in Sirkeci train station!

5. Turkish Ice cream

Such a unique texture, unlike traditional ice cream we get in America. I loved the Blackberry flavor the most!

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They love to have a bit of fun with you for your ice cream

6. Stop in Hafiz Mustafa 1864 in Taksim Square for the most unique and delicious baklava and Turkish delights.

They have some delicious combinations and flavors that I couldn’t find anywhere else in all of Istanbul. I finished a whole box, y’all… I hit the gym real hard when I came back. lol.

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The men are as lovely to look at as the desserts are to taste 😉

But overall, have FUN and talk to strangers. The lives of those we meet, their stories are what make travelling to far off places both foreign and familiar. Have a good trip! Or as the Turks say, İyi yolculuklar! Güle, güle!


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5 movies on Netflix perfect for a Valentine’s date with your literary lover

Dinner and a movie still make for the best date night. Add that personal, playful touch by arranging it at home. Just in time for your essential Valentine’s Day Netflix-and-chill session, here are 5 movies you can watch while you cuddle up with your lover. Order in a heart-shaped pizza from Papa John’s and the night is set!

  1. Clueless — based on Jane Austen’s Emma
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  2. 10 Things I Hate About You –inspired by Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew
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  3. Twilight — pulls from Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights
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  4. The Princess Bride –of the same name by William Goldman.
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  5. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries– Ok, so this one’s not on Netflix, it’s on Youtube, so cast it to your TV some other way. It’s won a TON of Emmy’s for its brilliant take on Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. TLBD takes on Austen’s novel in 4-minute Youtube videos, making for a refreshingly relevant take on an all time classic.
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Not feeling like Netflix? Here are a few others you won’t want to miss:

  1. She’s The Man –a hilarious rom com inspired by Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night
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  2. Warm Bodies –love and zombies? Get some Romeo & Juliet action with this film
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  3. My Fair Lady –Shaw’s Pygmalion has inspired a lot of remakes over the years with Pretty WomanShe’s All That, and Trading Places, but the best and most classically acclaimed rendition is by far Audrey Hepburn’s My Fair Lady
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  4. Easy A–One of Emma Stone’s best jobs, Easy A takes The Scarlet Letter and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to new heights with its glorious high-school version
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Around the world, around the world…

Hey readers,

You may have noticed I flew around a lot this past year. That’s because I’ve been diagnosed with chronic travel bug. Since our trip to Pakistan last year, the FamJam has been itching for more and this year the symptoms are showing.

Since January, I’ve been to Chicago twice, Cleveland once, and to the great country of Turkey for the first time ever! The fun hasn’t stopped there either. My cousin got married this year too so we jetted off to Karachi again this summer (the heat. Oh God.) for 2 weeks (!!) to take part in the festivities. And this winter, I did a fun little road trip from Chicago to Toronto with the broski cuz bonding 💯. There was lots of color and to-die-for food that are just absolute must-have experiences. So, I’ve decided to add a few travel posts to the site. Expect one for Karachi, Chicago, and Istanbul in the next few months. I’ve got a hunch that I’m going to be adding a few cities to the list this year. 😉

Stay tunes, Belles!

How could you be so Heartless?

If you’ve not read Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles, I greatly urge you to do so. I’ve always been a sucker for a good fairytale retelling. I’m still obsessed with Ella Enchanted. Meyer’s does wonders blending sci-fi and fantasy together in hers. 

Beyond her Lunar Chronicles series, Meyer’s new book, Heartless, does not disappoint. How did the Queen of Hearts find her catchphrase “OFF WITH HIS HEAD!”? We are given the thrilling experience of finding out.

love Catherine, with her kind yet passionate nature and strong sense of purpose. I found Jest to be a bit odd but I grew to like him, as I grew to like his whole tea party of friends. In a topsy-turvy world on the other side of Wonderland, Meyer ingeniously made me love a story I’ve never been fond of before. How? She has a very clear understanding of her characters and their actions and growth throughout the story feels devastatingly true. 

I swear to you, readers, I read the whole thing in 12 hours straight. No bathroom breaks or meals. 5pm to 5am. It was a whirlwind. And when destiny came knocking, I found myself sobbing. That’s how invested I was. At 4am, I was crying in big heaving sobs. By the end, I was an emotional wreck; my chest aching, hollow. 

Looking again at the title of the book, I have to ask, who does Meyer leave heartless? Because I could have sworn it was me.

 

Einstein’s Dreams

This book is old, you guys. A good 24 years old.  And it’s refreshingly good.

At 144 pages, Alan Lightman’s Einstein’s Dreams is a quick but heavy read. Lightman uses Einstein’s musings on time as source material, taking the many drafts of Einstein’s early work on the theory of relativity and building new worlds where time works in strange ways.

In one of my favorite worlds, we see time functioning like gravity,  growing increasingly concentrated and dense as we travel closer to its epicenter. To the observer,  two statuesque lovers kiss for what seems a lifetime. The lovers are wrapped in the sounds of their unified hearts’ slow,  laborious beating.

In another world,  time moves differently for each person in the presence of others.  A mother sees her little boy meeting a woman at a cafe while the boy feels himself aging fasterror and faster in the company of the woman he is sitting across from in the cafe.

What’s truly fascinating is,  though these worlds are mere fantasy, crafted from the crumpled and discarded pages of a theory, they all seem to relate to the human condition.  I caught myself relating to some of the eeriest representations of time.

Pick it up or buy it on your favorite ebook app and let me know which versions do you feel you relate to most! Let me know in the comments!

A Muslim Girl’s reflections

I’m reading Amani Al-Khatahtbeh’s Muslim Girl this weekend. I’m only halfway through but I’ve cried 3 times already! I didn’t realize how much my own experiences relate to hers, so much so that the lines between myself and the narrator are significantly blurred. We all know that our experiences are not unique and as much as we may think we’re alone in our struggles, we know there are plenty of people like us experiencing the same things, but reading them on paper! I never realized how much of an impact it would make.

Needless to say,  it’s been  very introspective read and is got me thinking about what it means to be an American Muslim Girl.

I was just recently naturalized. I’ve lived in the States for nearly my entire life and I’d pass the test that allowed me the privileges of citizenship,  but when I was speaking that oath I couldn’t help wondering, will the rest of society accept us as American? Does the rest of the country believe that a 10 question test is enough for one to attain the title of American that  leads so many to puff out their chests with pride?

Does it matter at all that I’m a Muslim American? There is so much history of American society turning on minorities among them, shouting the standard phrase, “Go back home!” It’s not just Muslims who have felt this pressure (and by Muslims I really mean people who look Arab, North African, or South Asian). The Chinese felt it sharply until 1965 when the Magnuson Act was repealed (because of the Masgnuson Act Asians were not only barred from immigration, but Asian Americans in all 50 states, including US citizens, were legally disfranchised and subjected to high rents and punitive taxes), Japanese Americans felt it soon after Pearl Harbor when over 62% of them were shipped to internment camps, and African Americans felt it as well. Their history is much better known than the others’ so I won’t go into the excessively cruel discrimination against them.

If after reading this you think “Well, looks like it’s the Middle East’s turn” then you’re missing the point. Putting aside the fact that you’ve just approved of discrimination and racism against the millions of “others” in this world, which you very well could be considered in any other part of the world, the fact is that this form of discrimination happened to legal American citizens. So what is the true value of citizenship in America? Freedom of speech? Freedom of/from religion? Both have been denied to one group or another in the past. Right to vote and the right to a timely trial and fair jury? The former was denied to Black Americans and the latter was denied to Anwar Al-Awlaki, Abdulrahman Al-Aulaqi, and Samir Khan, all citizens by birth, not even by naturalization.

What do you think? What makes an American? And what are the benefits of citizenship? Are we truly safe to live our lives in America as Americans?

Caution: Banned Books found here

Hey Readers,

I’ve been feeling rebellious recently. Maybe it’s because the days are growing shorter (what a phrase! Growing shorter?) and the nights are increasingly darker as winter arrives. Or maybe it’s my dark lipstick and makeup’s bad influence? Whatever it may be, I’m in the mood for a little rebellion. If you’re right there with me, take a stab at confronting censorship head on. Grab one of these banned books at your local library or bookstore.

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Native Son by Richard Wright –I wouldn’t read this book after dark. It gets pretty gruesome!
A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak –Baffled? So was I. The dark themes of the story made quite a few people nervous about making this available to children.
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

You can do a little jig walking down the sidewalk ‘cuz you’ve stuck it to the Man–and also because you know you’re in for a treat tonight. Nothing is better than cozying up in your thickest knit, a cup of coffee by your side, and a forbidden fruit–i mean, book–in hand.

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Freedom of speech is a big deal in America, but too often we glaze over it when it happens in our very own communities. The media’s pushing soundbites like little pills in the playground. You laugh, but take a minute to think about it. Are these really just succinct phrases that embody a complete whole? Can we say for sure that our outlook on issues and people in the news isn’t being skewed by these censored bits and pieces? Because that’s really what a soundbite is–censorship at its trendiest.

Do you agree? Where else do you see censorship at work? Next time you see it, call it out, and think about why it’s happening. Then, go out and get educated. That’s the only way to fight this particular illness, the symptoms of which are ignorance and gullibility.