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Thursday, November 26, 2009

White Friday: No shopping day

Black Friday is one of the most busiest and most commercial shopping day in the USA, shopping frenzy is unbelievable. Some of our friends and relatives are big in to shopping Black Friday and has so many strategies to get best deals. There are many websites that promote "leaked" deals and how to get best shopping deals and how to stay safe while you are out there. If you are looking for tips to make a best shopping experience, you will not find it here.

All these tips and wisdom are lost on me. I am too lazy to wake up 4 AM to shop and too frugal to buy things that we do not need. I wrote about how about holidays were hectic in past here and how we are changing it to be more enjoyable by doing less and buying less and doing more things for inner joy instead.

So, as a part of enjoying holidays more, we are having a what I call, a White Friday on November 27, 2009, meaning, we are getting up late, staying in, and not going anywhere near shopping malls or stores.

Actually, we avoid all terms of shopping (other than groceries, and gas filling) from November 20th until January 15th. Why so long? Because, stores are busy with people buying Christmas gifts for themselves and others until December 24th and then going again in store to return/exchange gifts they received and did not like, from December 26th-January 10ish. Staying in long lines to purchase and return items nor getting pushed and shoved while shopping is not my idea of enjoyable holidays, although that is exactly what I have done in past. Not anymore.

About a few years ago, we decided to simplify our shopping and holidays, and it sure has made my life stress free and yet more meaningful. I am not the first to do this, nor alone in this way of thinking. Matter of fact there is a huge following on Buy Nothing Day , which has been getting successful here in US and a few other countries by avoiding shopping on Black Friday.

Here is what Thanksgiving means to me;

Thanksgiving: Giving heartfull thank you to everyone an everything that keeps me alive;

a) People you know, and who has helped you (your inner circle)
b) People you do not know and has helped you (your city, country)
c) People you know and who has helped others (your city, country)
d) People you do not know and has helped others (other countries)
e) People you know, who has not helped anyone but surviving life (your and other countries)
g) Animals/plants/insects/fish/bees who indirectly help us with food, life and love.
h) I am also thankful for clean drinking water, air and land that our planet has, for us to live on.

It may sound idealistic, but if you really think of it, there are so many reasons for us to be thankful and blessed without any store bought gifts. You can not put a price on that. And shopping may provide instant joy for a few people, but it does not bring long lasting joy of being content.

What are you thankful for? How do you celebrate Thanksgiving?


Photo: Adbuster Buy Nothing Campaign

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Blog with Heart: Challenge from "Make it Happen" and "Goodlife Zen"

My blog is too new and with a few readers, and Mary and Arvind sure do not need my small help, still I wanted to point out to few of my readers of this blog to a Blog with Heart Challenge by Arvind  At Make it Happen and Mary Jaskch at Goodlife Zen .

To find out more about it and join this worthy cause and help alleviate world poverty and help others see following links; Please help and join, Leo Babauta of Zen Habits is one of the bloggers who have joined this Challenge.

Start to alleviate world poverty today in a fun way : Make it Happen

How we Can Start to Alleviate world's Poverty: Good life Zen

Mary's article on Leo's Zen Habits

Hope you can help.


Friday, November 20, 2009

Are you a silent Vegetarian?

I am a vegetarian since birth, it is not strange as my parents are also vegetarian, they raise me and my siblings as vegetarians. When we got older, peer pressure (or so we thought) from high school friends made us feel we were different. My parents explained their strong religious, personal and ethical beliefs with us, and strongly suggested benefits of being vegetarian but never really forced us. In a way, it helped me remain vegetarian.

I really never missed not eating meat, although I have eaten it by mistake on a few occasions and my taste buds did not care much for it. As a lifelong vegetarian and aspiring vegan (I eat yogurt and cheese occasionally, no milk, honey, eggs) I have learned to ask ingredients before ordering in restaurant and seeing labels when buying things in a store.

When I got in college, there were fewer of my friends were vegetarian, somehow peer pressure happened to me again. No, I did not started to eat meat but I became silent vegetarian. Meaning, I just ate what I wanted and passed meat around hoping my friends thought I was picky eater instead.

When I was in college, I was invited to thanksgiving party at my friend's parents, when I could not visit my own family during the holidays. I went to my friend's house without telling them my being a vegetarian, hoping it will turn out fine. Unlike my childhood gathering, this gathering had huge selection of turkey and other meat dishes. As a silent vegetarian at the table, I passed everything and took and ate a few side dishes and dessert dish only. I was starving, host saw this and ask why I was not eating much and if food was not to my liking. Very quietly I told I am a vegetarian,

My friend's mom told me to wait and she made some quick vegetable dish for me, I was so thankful. No one there judged me or lectured me on being a vegetarian, even though I was the only vegetarian there. I felt normal and accepted. Since then I have changed and I tell people I am vegetarian and partial vegan before going to gathering and I bring a dish to share, even when gatherings are not potluck. It has two benefits, one I will always have something to eat and often time, my friends actually love eating tasty vegetarian dish.

Why I am telling this story now, after many years? One, if you are vegetarian or vegan or have any other special diet, speak up when you are invited to thanksgiving or any food gathering, or bring a vegetarian/vegan dish to share. If you are hosting thanksgiving party, make sure every one have something to eat. Most meat eaters/omnivores can eat vegetarian or vegan dish, but not the other way around.

When I host any gathering, I ask everyone about their diet choice by phone beforehand. In my circle, some are vegan, some are meat eater, some have diabetes, some have high blood pressure (meaning less salt food), some have nut allergies and some are just plain picky. How do I deal with it all? It is not hard, I make my meals all vegetarian. I use less salt, no nuts in anything, and I use pure molasses as a sugar or splenda for dessert so all of us can eat most of the things. If someone new is coming, I generally call to make sure about them too. My meat eater friends are fine with vegetarian meal for one evening, and some share their mock meat dishes, so this works.

Even though I am no longer silent vegetarian, I am not loud vegetarian. Meaning, I want to respect my own beliefs while maintaining respect for other's beliefs.

Do you have your story to share? I would love to hear if you have suggestions.


Sunday, November 15, 2009

Stress Free Thanksgiving Party

In past, my holidays during thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings were hectic, stressful and hurried. I did not enjoy it as much as I should have. I was so busy trying to impress my friends and family to top previous year's recipes, new decorations, giving creative goodies bags to kids and adults all alike, just because I thought that what made happy holidays. How wrong I was.

Now our thanksgiving party has become smaller, more meaningful and lot more enjoyable. Here are a few changes that made it possible and maybe you can too.

1. Do not accept every invitation, be selective, who you invite or whose party to go to. If you get no invitation, plan one your self or enjoy alone time volunteering many thanksgiving food charity.
2. If you are hosting, plan a simple a menu or plan a potluck. Make sure, everyone gets different food, so you do not end up with 6 pumpkin pie and no main course.
3. Do simple decoration and entertainment plan. Simple pumpkin, or colorful foliage leaves can make a great center piece.
4. Have everyone say 2 things (at least) they are thankful for at the dinner table.
5. Buy and do prep work before the party, delegate some work to others.
6. Use nice plates and glass. If you must use paper plates, use biodegradable. It is better for environment.
7. Have a few people pitch in to clear up table, do the dishes while a few adults can entertain/play games with kids in other area. Do that for other host too. Work gets done faster and host also gets to enjoy without pile of dishes waiting for them.
8. If you must give goodies bag to every guest, make it home made, simple that will be used.
9. Everyone can do craft and take it go home. For example, everyone can paint a small wood frame and put thanksgiving picture (later) to display.
10. Make sure there is dedicated camera person, so you will have memories to share. Make sure camera person in a few pictures themselves too.
11. If you have extra food, share it with neighbours who are alone (or invite them), share it to homeless people or people who are unemployed, or at shelter.
12. Write your own reasons for being thankful in colorful construction paper, make a nice leaf cutout and put it all those leaves on rope and display through out Holiday season.
13. If you can not be with family or friends, enjoy with your spouse or kid(s), if you are single, you can still can celebrate. (See #1 above)
14. If someone has made your life helpful, please say thank you to them in person, handwriting letter, or call them to say thank you.
15. Be thankful and kind to others whom you do not know, but are helpful by working on thanksgiving day such as some gas station, police, hospital people, day labor folks, homeless people, air port employees etc.
16. Make a simple tradition to do with your family that is not materialistic but meaningful. Repeat every year with family without pressure to top it.
17. Do not try to impress your loved ones, they are already your friends and family. They will love you, even if your house is bit messy, your recipe is not better than last year.
18. Just relax and enjoy.

What are your stress free holiday party tips? How do you enjoy the thanksgiving?


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

13 ways to be compassionate

How do we feel and treat other with compassion? Maybe you see someone struggling to carry large bag, do we help him? Maybe someone is feeling dizzy and fainting, do we rush to help or move on our way hoping she will be alright? If you hear a small child crying in grocery store, do you feel annoyed or do you feel bad for mother or father and ask them if they could use help? On flip side of the coin, what if you were offered the help, and you get annoyed by them? Are we ready to offer and ready to accept help and compassion in this society without being judged? I sure hope so.

I believe most of the people are good natured and kind hearted and ready to offer help but somewhere along our hectic life, we may become annoyed at others, or we think our privacy is being invaded when someone offers the help. However, we can still live our life relatively fine and help others and accept the help from others. Here are a few ways to be compassionate and helpful.

1. Trust others, most people are nice and not out there to hurt you, or con you.
2. It is good karma, what goes around will come around.
3. Try to think of it from their perspective, really, walk a mile on their shoes before judging them.
4. It will make you feel good.
5. Someone who you helped will be truly sending you best vibes/wishes your way. It may make
your life better, somehow.
6. The person you helped will be inspired to help others, starting a chain of "pay it forward" goodness. Can you imagine the impact of it?
7. Truly listen to person or people asking for help, before saying no, yes or even maybe.
8. Be open minded.
9. Do not just help person in suit, or good looking girl/boy, help someone who needs help, regardless of religion, looks or status.
10. Do it from heart, without any expectations.
11. You may pass it on to your kids, spouse, or friends, being nice and kind that is.
12. For little time and effort the feeling of satisfaction you may get will be 10 fold.
13. Just do it, you will be glad you did.

How do you feel compassionate? Do you help others when they ask? Do you help when they do not ask but yet you see them needing help? Do you feel compassion is important? How do you feel when someone offers you help? Do you graciously accept or act like you have it under control? Some answers may not be easy, but if we think about it, it just may be easier to accept and offer help to total strangers and be happy about it.

Go out and do one random act of kindness today, if you can.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

How to reuse leftover halloween candies

Many of us, may have good supply of Halloween candies and pumpkin leftover after the holiday. We sure do!! Zenguy offered to sacrifice and eat up whole 2 bags of candies by himself, as he said it was not healthy for kids and me, you can tell he has a major case of sweet tooth!! Here are a few better ways to reuse of leftover candies/chocolate and pumpkin.

Some uses of leftover Candies/Chocolate:

1. Share leftover goodies with your friends/neighbours/office co-workers. You may do candies exchange and try various different type of candies that your friends may have. (Note: before you share with small kids ask parent/care giver to make sure there are no nut/sugar allergies/issues)

2. You can re-use some chocolate and candies to make good sweet edible things to eat; Some suggestions include brownies, Rice Krispy or peanut brittle with chocolate, chocolate dessert pizza, chocolate calzone, cookies, cake, caramel popcorn, candied apple, chocolate milk/shake, Chocolate moose and many more. One of my friend, freezes chocolate candies and reuses during holidays in her dessert recipe.

3. You can impress other friends, family members or kids (your own, nieces, nephews) with candy science experiments. Here are some suggestions from Candy Experiments.com.

Floating M's
M&Ms sink in water--mostly. To see what floats, try this:

What you need:

* Cup of water
* M&Ms

What to do:

1. Drop the M&Ms in the water.
2. After a few minutes, look for floating letters. (Do not stir the water--you might break the m's.)

What's happening:
The white m's on M&Ms are printed with edible ink that doesn't dissolve. When the rest of the candy shell dissolves, the m's peel off and float. Some of the letters break into pieces, but a few should survive intact.

This also works with Skittles.

Chocolate Bloom

Chocolate is made of cocoa butter, cocoa solids, and other ingredients that have been mixed together. Can you take them apart?

(Chocolate after several weeks in a warm car)

What you need:

* Chocolate candy
* Heat

What to do:

1. Heat your chocolate in a sunny windowsill, with a hair dryer, or in a low oven, until it starts to melt.
2. Let it cool overnight or in the refrigerator.
3. Repeat these steps until you see light brown spots or streaks. (This may take several heating attempts.)

What's happening:
When the chocolate heats and cools, the cocoa butter starts to separate from the rest of the chocolate. This forms the light brown layer.

Density Rainbow

Sugar water is denser than water--the more sugar, the denser. This experiment shows you how to layer different densities into a rainbow of color.

Density rainbow created with Skittles

What you need:

* Five small cups for mixing
* A clear glass
* A wide spoon
* Skittles
o 5 red
o 10 orange
o 15 yellow
o 20 green
o 25 purple

To do:

1. Fill five cups with 3 Tbsp of water each.
2. Dissolve the Skittles, each color in a separate cup. If the candy is not dissolving, stir frequently or heat the water. (The waxy film floating on the surface can be removed or ignored; it won't affect the experiment.)
3. Pour the purple water into the clear glass.
4. Holding the spoon over the purple water, slowly pour the green water down the back of the spoon. If you do it slowly enough, the green water will float on top.
5. Repeat with the other colors, and admire your rainbow.

What’s happening:

Since the water with less candy is less dense, it floats on top of the denser layer like oil on water. Unlike oil and water, your sugar water layers will eventually mix together, muddying the color. So admire it while it lasts!

Use of Pumpkin

1. If you have carved pumpkin, you can cut it up and use it on your garden soil as a compost. We also use it with my 4 year old R, as science project to see how food decomposes and becomes part of land. It is good for environment and learning life cycle science project as well.

2. If pumpkin/Gourd are fresh, it can be used as a pumpkin pie, pumpkin soup, pasta dressed up pumpkin sauce, Pumpkin and cheese filled ravioli, Savory pumpkin samosa, pumpkin baby food, pumpkin bread to name a few recipe choices. I will post a recipe soon for Pumpkin Samosa after making it first and (if it turns out good).

How do you reuse your leftover candies/chocolate and pumpkin/gourd?

(Pictures: From candyexperiment.com)