Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Year's Eve

I've spent a relaxed day, today, the last day of 2014.

This evening, daughter and I have been invited by friends to dinner and spend New Year's Eve and greet the New Year with them.

I wish us all a happy, healthy, peaceful, blessed New Year.


Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Holiday Budgets

Now that the holidays are drawing to a close, it's time to review my holiday spending and decide on next year's holiday budget.

I used to budget $25 per month for holiday gifts, which resulted in a budget of $300 per year.  Then, after an initial round of income reduction due to salary cuts, I reduced the budget to $20 per month, which meant a holiday budget of $240 per year.  Yet another round of salary cuts a few years ago and an increase in other expenses led to further budget adjustments.  Currently, my holiday budget is set at $120 for friends and family other than daughter, and I allocate $10 per month for holiday gifts, cards, postage, etc. 

Once the budget is set, I make a list of people to whom I'll give gifts. I have my list organized by Family, Friends, Office, Neighbors, daughter's teachers (when she was still in school), etc.  Over the years, I've reduced my gift list until now, I have 40 recipients (couples often count as 1). 

I have a budget of $120 for holiday spending.  $20 of that is for cards and postage (some of my cards are sent to family living abroad and airmail postage cost $1.15 per card, this year); leaving $100 for gifts for 40 people. Every year, I wrack my brain to come up with low cost gifts, since, I have an average of just $2.50 to spend on each person.   I decide how much I want to spend per person and write it down next to their names; I vary from it ONLY if I know I can make adjustments, elsewhere.

I make the majority of my gifts from items I have on hand - jars of jam with fruit from my garden, items I sew with fabric in my stash, etc.  I shop the discount stores and sales. I don't even go into department stores and I won't buy anything unless it is on sale. I also have a $ limit on what I will pay for an item.

Finally, I keep track of the spending. I write down the amounts I spent against each person's name on my list. And I keep a running total.

I guess I could have more to spend on each person if I was willing to cut down on my gift list, but I am not willing to do that. So, I will continue to give homemade and "bargain basement" gifts to the extent that I am able.  For the most part, I am going with the "it's the thought that counts" premise of gift giving, and giving token gifts.

And yes, I was able to keep to my budget this year.

Do you have a holiday budget?  If so, were you able to keep to the budget you set for holiday gifts and entertaining?  If you stayed under budget, do share your secrets and tell us how you do it.

Monday, December 29, 2014

On the Fourth Day of Christmas

I made myself a To Do list for the day:
- Put away laundry which was hung up to dry overnight - DONE
- 15 minutes of paperwork - DONE
- Pay home and earthquake insurance - DONE
- Grocery shop - DONE
- Water the front garden - DONE
- Take daughter to her friends' home - DONE
- Call cousin - DONE
- Write to my friend - DONE
- Renew library books - DONE

- Do dishes (not done yet)
- Take trash cans to curb - DONE

In addition, my friend called and I was able to have a nice chat with her.

It has been a productive day, today.  How was your day, today?

House Cleaning Cycles

For several years, now, I've followed a cyclic house cleaning system that broke up the house into different areas and focused on one particular area per week for deep cleaning purposes, in addition to the regular daily/weekly cleaning.

Over the years, I've adapted the original suggested areas to suit my particular house.  For example, the original cleaning schedule had listed the entry and living room for week 1 and the dining room and laundry room for week 2.  I have no entry area (the front door opens directly in to the living room) and the dining room is at one end of the living room, so, for me, it makes sense to do the living room and dining area in one go.  Also, my laundry room is off my family room, so I like to combine those two areas and I've listed them for week 2, instead of the dining room and laundry room.  This makes for better progression through my house, as one moves from the living room to the dining room to the family room.

Some weeks, there are more deep cleaning type tasks to be done in these areas; other weeks, things are already in fairly good shape and only the minimal cleaning needs to be done.  Sometimes, I have a long list of cleaning tasks and not enough time or energy to do them all; when that happens, the undone tasks get put off until the next time that particular area comes up.  Or, I do them the following week, in addition to that week's area (provided I have enough time and energy).   

The cycle ends with a week of "whole house" cleaning, which is what I did for the past two weeks, over the holidays.  With the new year starting this week, it makes sense to start the whole cycle of cleaning from the beginning.  Below is my house cleaning schedule:

Week 1: Living Room/Dining Room
Week 2: Family Room/Laundry Room
Week 3: Bathrooms
Week 4: Kitchen
Week 5: Daughter's Room/Guest Room + Closets for those rooms
Week 6: Front Porch/Back Porch/Garage
Week 7: Master Bedroom & Closet
Week 8: Whole House Cleaning

This week is Week 1 and I am starting with the living room and dining area.  I have already tidied and dusted both these areas as part of last week's "whole house" cleaning.  So, all I plan to do this week will be:

- Put fresh flowers
- Polish brass decorative items
- Vacuum
- Look through shelves and drawers to see if there are any items to be decluttered

Do you have a house cleaning schedule?  Do you follow a similar cyclic cleaning system?  If not, how do you deep clean the various rooms and areas of your home?

Sunday, December 28, 2014

On the Third Day of Christmas

A relaxed morning, chatting with friends on the internet, playing on-line games and three phone calls from cousins and friends.

In the afternoon, daughter and I went to a friend's house for a prayer meeting.

After we came home in the evening, I did two loads of laundry and wrote to a friend.  Now we are watching some news on TV and just relaxing.

How was your day? 

On The Second Day of Christmas

No partridges in pear trees or turtle doves, but, there was a ripe persimmon which I shared with daughter, followed by two oranges I picked fresh from the tree in the back garden.  Very sweet and full of vitamin C!

Later in the afternoon, we did the last of our holiday gift shopping.  Well, daughter's gift is not bought yet.  We shopped for it, today, but the exact item she wants was not available in the store and the next shipment is expected next week.  But that's OK, because I had already told her that this year, she'll be getting New Year's gifts from me.

In addition to gift shopping, I also bought a couple of items for myself, today: some of my favorite cologne spray (on 50% off sale) and a package of socks!  The 6 pairs of socks cost more than the cologne!   :D  

In the evening, daughter put final touches to two of the gifts she's making for her friends while I did a load of laundry and wrapped gifts and the cat pounced on tissue paper and batted at the curling ribbons!  :)  Then, I tidied up the living room and dusted the furniture.

Tomorrow, I need to tidy up the family room a bit.  In the afternoon, daughter and I will go to a friend's house for a prayer meeting.

How was your second day of Christmas?

Saturday, December 27, 2014

On The First Day of Christmas

My true love gave to me...

It seems that hardly anyone celebrates the 12 days of Christmas any more.  It's the period from December 26 to January 6; it's the time it took for the Three Kings (or the Three Wise Men) from first seeing the Star to travel to the Manger in Bethlehem.

I like to celebrate the 12 days of Christmas, keeping the tree and the decorations up until January 6.  I didn't put up a tree and have minimal decorations this year, but I shall keep those decorations up for the duration.  We all spend so much time and energy planning and getting ready for the holidays that is seems a pity to have it over in just one day.  Why not extend the celebrations for the full 12 days?  

Daughter and I had a lovely Christmas Day, yesterday.  We spent the morning relaxing at home.  In the afternoon, I baked a cake and wrapped gifts.  Then, we went to dinner at my cousin's house and celebrated Christmas with an aunt, cousins, and their families.
Today, on the first day of Christmas, I made us waffles for breakfast, did a load of laundry, and then, went shopping with daughter for another gift or two.  Later in the evening, we went to dinner at a friend's house.

What did you do on the first day of Christmas?

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Eve

The Decorated Mantle
We decided to skip putting up the tree and to keep the decorations to a minimum, this year.  I didn't pull any of my Christmas/winter decorations out of storage.  Instead, I made some new paper decorations.  I made the snowflake ballerinas from the free template and instructions given on  The pine trees were cut free-hand.  The little house/cabin in the wood was made without following any specific instructions; I just formed it as I went.

On this Christmas Eve, I wish everyone a joyful, peaceful celebration.  

Christmas Preparations

Every year, Christmas comes on the 25th of December.  Every year, I start making my preparations well in advance.  Every year, I have the best of intentions to be ready by Christmas day.  Some years, I actually manage to achieve what I intend.  Other years, well, I'm scrambling along with Santa's elves!

This is one of those years, where I am not quite ready.  Partly due to getting ill, I am behind my schedule, when it comes to decorating, gift making, and gift buying.  My house is not decorated, half my gifts are not made yet, and I only went shopping once!

On the other hand, the cards were written and mailed in good time, the gifts that needed mailing were made and posted last week, my neighbor's gift was given to her today, and the gifts of homemade jam have been wrapped to be handed to my colleagues at the office, tomorrow.  So I am somewhat on schedule, after all!

As for decorating - that's what Christmas Eve is for!

How are you coming along with your preparations for Christmas? 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Been Ill

Well, the cold and cough I mentioned on Friday only got worse with time.  I managed to get through the almsgiving OK, but as soon as everyone left, I went to lie down.  I only meant to take a short nap before dealing with the leftovers and the dishes, but I slept all afternoon into evening into night!  I woke up a few times, but each time, daughter insisted I went back to sleep, which I did.  And while I slept, daughter put away all the leftovers and handwashed all the dishes (I used many of the rather delicate family china that had belonged to my stepfather's mother, which can't be washed in the dishwasher).

I slept through Sunday but felt much better, today.  Of course, today, it's daughter's turn to be ill with the same cold and cough.  :(

I managed to do several loads of laundry but that is about all.  Hopefully, tomorrow, daughter will feel better, and I will be able to turn my attention to the rest of the holiday gifts and perhaps a modicum of holiday decorating.

Hope everyone else is keeping the colds and coughs at bay, during the holidays.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Busy Day Friday

Today will be a busy day, made worse by the fact that I am not feeling too well (cold & cough).  Still, having made my to do list and doing things step by baby step, with lots of help from daughter, I will get everything done.   

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

If Only

Aren't those among some of the saddest words in the English language?

I've been in a bit of a pensive mood lately and indulging in a lot of "if only"s. Not at all productive, I'll be the first the acknowledge; in fact, it can be downright counterproductive.

Regrets can never undo what has already happened. And there's never any guarantee that the outcome would have been any different, even if things had been done differently. I know all that.

Yet, it doesn't stop me from sitting at dusk, thinking, "If only..."

Kitchen Drawers

Now that I have managed to partially clear the kitchen counters, it's time to move on to the kitchen drawers!

I have a total of 5 drawers in my kitchen, although one of them is actually a wide, double drawer.

Two are deep drawers, next to the stove, where I store my containers of dried legumes and lentils, bulk bought spices, curry powder, etc. Each drawer is approx. 15 inches wide.

Two are shallow drawers, each approx. 15 in. wide, one on each side of the stove, where I keep cooking utensils - knives, vegetable peeler, tongs, strainer, etc. are in one drawer; the mixer attachments, rubber spatulas, pizza cutter, ice cream scoop, etc. are in the other drawer.

The double drawer, approx. 30 inches wide, is also shallow. It is divided in the middle. One side of it is where I store all the "lunch making" items: roll of foil, plastic cling wrap, and wax paper; snack/sandwich bags, freezer bags; plastic spoons and forks, etc. The other side is my "useful" drawer (a.k.a. "junk" drawer) - here, I store such useful items such as twist ties, rubber bands, plastic produce bags (used to make sure packed lunches don't leak gravy, etc.), the permanent marker with which to label items, and so on and so forth. A drawer organizer keeps things more or less separated.

How many kitchen drawers do you have? How are they organized? What do you keep in them?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Multiple Me's

OK, time to wave that magic wand and make multiples of "Me" to do everything that needs to be done!

One Me to prepare for the almsgiving next Saturday - grocery shop, cook, rearrange the furniture, etc.

A second Me to prepare for Christmas - make the gifts, wrap and tag them, write the cards, decorate the house, etc.

A third Me to clean the house.

A fourth Me to go to the office and do my job there.

A fifth Me to tend to the garden - the front garden, especially, needs an instant makeover.

A 6th Me to spend time with DD who is home for the holidays. 

And a 7th Me would be nice, too, to make sure I get some ME-time and relax!

There's much to be done and only one Me to do it!

Today has been a busy day.   I went to the office today.  Work is just a tiny bit stressful and by the time I came home, I had a headache!  Yet, I managed to get a few errands done, too - I went to the pharmacy during my lunch break and picked up some of my medication refills.  After work, I put gas to the car and took daughter to the craft store to return/exchange some items she bought yesterday.  After we came home, I took the trash cans to the curb for pick up, tomorrow, and took a nap on the sofa!  Later, cooked dinner, did the dishes, made some phone calls, wrote to a friend, and now, it's after midnight and I should go to bed and get some sleep!  The alarm goes off at 6:00 a.m.!

How about you?  Do you sometimes long to have multiples of you to do everything you need to do?  How do you manage to get everything done?

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Less Than Twelve Days till Christmas!

It doesn't matter how early we begin preparing for Christmas, it always seems to arrive before we are ready! 

I have written and mailed my overseas greeting cards.  I've started on the local cards, but need to finish writing them.

Now, I need to start focusing on the gifts I'll be giving.  Many of my gifts will be homemade and handcrafted.  They are relatively speaking, low cost items, just time consuming. Today, I made three of my gifts, to be given to grandnephews.  I am making them from fabric I have on hand, so they are no cost gifts.  Tomorrow, I'll make the gift for my grandniece.  I want to get them mailed (they live out of state) by the end of the week. 

How are your Christmas preparations coming along?  Are you just about ready?

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Kitchen Counter Battles

I have approx. 9 linear feet of kitchen counters, in an L shape (slightly more when measured along the wall as it takes the corner). The short arm of the L is broken up by the stove: 1 1/2 ft. of counter, stove, 2 ft. of counter. The longer arm of the L is broken up by the double sink: 1 1/2 ft. counter, sink, almost 4 ft. counter (part of which is taken up by the microwave).

For some reason, I have a hard time KEEPING MY COUNTERS CLEAR!

By necessity, certain appliances live on my counters: the microwave, the toaster, the rice cooker, etc. In addition, there are other implements which stay permanently on the counter: the copper kettle which holds my cooking utensils, the pot of boiled water we use for drinking, a glass platter which holds condiments and the mug of cutlery for daily use, the copper colander which I use as a fruit bowl, etc.  All these live lined up along the back of the counter, which is about 2 feet deep. These things don't bother me - I need them to be out and within easy reach on a daily basis.

It is the area in front of them - the approx. 1 ft. deep space along the front edge of the counter - that is my problem. SOMEONE (surely not MOI?!) puts things on them, which tend to remain to clutter up the counters.

For example, food storage containers that ought to go in the dishpan in the cabinet but haven't dried enough to be put away (I air dry them upside down in the dish drainer and water tends to collect under the rims, and then drip when I turn them right side up! So I leave them on the counter to dry further and they stay there!)

Soon they are joined by other items - drinking glasses, a bottle of soda, an empty jar, a bag of snacks, and so on.  Until the counters are cluttered!

I cleaned the kitchen yesterday and cleared the counters and wiped them down.  It lasted for a couple of hours, until I dumped out the contents of one drawer (more utensils such as spatulas, beaters for the mixer, pizza cutter, measuring cups and spoons, etc.) to sort through them.  I washed the utensils tray and kept it to dry overnight and wiped out the drawer.   The utensils tray is dry now, but I haven't put it back in the drawer or put the utensils away.
My kitchen is definitely used only for cooking. There isn't space for a kitchen table, so there's no eating in there, unless one eats standing up!  However, I wonder if I had a kitchen table, would my counters stay a little clearer?  Or would the table end up being yet another horizontal surface for clutter to accumulate?

I generally wash the dishes (by hand) and empty the dish drainer (set into one side of the double sink) once a day.  I leave the washed dinner dishes to dry overnight and empty the drainer first thing in the morning while I wait for the water to boil to make coffee.

That's when I leave the containers on the counter. I want them out of the drainer because I usually wash the morning coffee mugs, etc., before I leave for work. I guess I fear that if I leave the containers in the drainer, the newly washed mugs and milk pan, etc. might drip water into them, again.

I don't mind them sitting out on the counter during the day when I am at work. I just have to train myself to PUT THEM AWAY when I come home from work and not leave them out for the rest of the evening!

Ah, but having them out on the counter makes it that much easier to pack the next day's lunches later that night...

Now do you see what's at the root of my counter clutter? Laziness, masquerading as step-saving work efficiency!

I want to challenge myself to try and keep the counters cleared.  Anyone else battling with kitchen counter clutter?  Want to join me in a  kitchen counters challenge?  Want to share tips on HOW to keep them clear?

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Thursday, December 11: Home for the Holidays and the Daily To Do List

Today, my daughter is expected home for the holidays!  This is her first time flying alone and she doesn't like flying!  As if that wasn't enough stress for her, she woke up to find there's no electricity in her apartment due to the storm they are experiencing!  (According to the morning news, some 80,000 homes are without power up there!)

First we fretted about the food in her freezer (won't know how long the electricity will be off and if the food will thaw before power is restored).  Then, it occurred to me that she needs to take the subway to get to the airport and will the subway run if there's no power?  A quick check on-line showed that while some subway stations are closed, the one she will take is still open and the subway is operating, although there are delays.  I expect there will be delays at the airport, too.  But, hopefully, she'll be able to catch her scheduled flight and there won't be too much turbulence and she'll be home again, safe and sound, this afternoon.  I have my altar light on; I'll keep it on until she's home again.  

I've taken a vacation day off from work, today.  So, I've a little extra time to do things around the house while I wait for daughter to come home.

My daily to do list for today:
- call the temple to confirm almsgiving date - DONE
- call a colleague - DONE
- call daughter - DONE 
- tidy the kitchen counters - DONE
- clean the kitchen appliances (stove top, microwave, toaster, etc.) - DONE
- tidy the family room - DONE
- tidy the 3rd bedroom - DONE
- vacuum - DONE
- pick up daughter from airport - DONE
- buy milk - DONE
- visit neighbor - DONE
- call cousin - DONE
- write out the rest of the cards
- cook garbanzo beans - DONE
- prepare the almsgiving donations envelopes

What are your plans for today?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

All or Nothing vs. Baby Steps

Ever didn't want to start doing something because you don't have time to finish it?  A big task such as cleaning a room, or scrapbooking the year's photographs, or making a quilt?  Because you are an "all or nothing" kind of person and you'd rather not start doing something if you can't finish it all on one day or weekend?  So you'd rather wait until you have a free day or weekend to devote to the big task.  When was the last time you had a whole day free to work on something?     

I used to be one of the "all or nothing" type of people, myself, and a "perfectionist", to boot. Still am, to a certain extent. I guess it goes back to what I was taught in childhood: "Don't start if you can't finish", "If it's worth doing, it should be done well", etc.  And since I didn't have that many free days to devote to doing a project, many things didn't get done.  Then, I learned to break big tasks down to small baby steps that can be finished in small segments of time, 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes, etc.  That was an important, liberating, concept to me.  I could do anything for 15 minutes.  Maybe not redo my entire filing cabinet, but I could sort through 5 file folders and it will add up, eventually.

Every now and again, I tend to regress.  But, for the most part, I am getting better at tackling big projects, one small task at a time.  So, instead of "cleaning the kitchen", I have it broken down into "wash copperware", "wash 1 wall", "wash 5 upper cabinet doors", etc.  Instead of "write holiday cards", I have "buy cards", "buy stamps", "write overseas cards", "write domestic cards", etc.  Baby steps.  Easily accomplished in 5 to 15 minute segments.  The entire big project might still take several hours to complete, but it is done in smaller segments and it's easier to find 15 minutes than an hour or two. 

On Monday, I had the day off from work; I posted a long to do list and I accomplished most of it:

- Grocery shop at ethnic store 1 for red rice, palm treacle, curry powder, cloves, etc. - DONE
- Grocery shop at ethnic store 2 for garbanzo, candied ginger, etc. - DONE; except they didn't have candied ginger
- Shop for paper napkins and holiday cards - DONE
-  Cook lentils - NOT DONE
- Wash 5 remaining kitchen upper cabinet doors and top of fridge - DONE
- Put away laundry from yesterday and do another load/hang to dry - DONE
- Take trash cans to curb - DONE
- Write rest of overseas holiday cards - DONE
- Continue to read my library book - DONE

I also went to the regular grocery store, although it wasn't on my to do list.

I didn't post a list yesterday, but I went to the post office for air mail stamps, went to the library to return the library book I finished reading (and borrowed a new one), went to the pharmacy to buy some over-the-counter medications, started on the local holiday cards, and went to the office, too. 

Today, I went to the office, went to the bank during my lunch break, went to the post office to mail my cards during my afternoon break, renewed one of my library books, online (and put a hold on another book), and put garbanzo beans to soak overnight.  My other baby steps to do today include washing the fridge/freezer doors, and start washing the lower kitchen cabinet doors and drawer fronts.

Are you an "all or nothing" kind of person?  Do you let big things wait until you have sufficient free time to tend to it?  Or do you break things down to smaller chunks and keep at it until it is all done?

Monday, December 8, 2014

Time Management and Today's To Do List

Who among us feels she has enough time to do everything she has to and wants to do?  I know I don't!  I have struggled with time management for years.  I have done time schedules, previously, where I'd block out the time I didn't have available to do housework, crafts, etc.  Time spent sleeping, commuting to and from work, the time spent at the office, and time spent taking my daughter to campus, extracurricular activities and waiting for her, etc.  When all that had been blocked off, I truly had very little time and by then, I was too tired to do much.

These days, daughter is away at university, so, technically, I have more time to attend to things.   Unfortunately, I tend to be more relaxed when I know I have more time.  I come home from work and instead of attacking housework, paperwork, etc., I relax in front of the TV and video chat with daughter!  As a result, things have piled up!  With my year-end almsgiving and the holidays approaching, I need to manage my time a little better in order to do everything that must be done.  Or, rather, to do everything that I have deemed must be done!  LOL.  I do tend to get a bit carried away with grand schemes of what must be done, at times.  As one of my friends commented in her email to me, I tend to insist on homemade instead of purchased and thus create more work for myself. 

Well, one of the tools of good time management is having a schedule.  Another is a "to do" list.  So, here's today's to do list:

- Grocery shop at ethnic store 1 for red rice, palm treacle, curry powder, cloves, etc.
- Grocery shop at ethnic store 2 for garbanzo, candied ginger, etc.
- Shop for paper napkins and holiday cards (instead of the homemade I had planned, although I still might make one or two!)
-  Cook lentils
- Wash 5 remaining kitchen upper cabinet doors (started yesterday) and top of fridge
- Put away laundry from yesterday and do another load/hang to dry
- Take trash cans to curb
- Write rest of holiday cards (started yesterday)
- Continue to read my library book

That will keep me nicely busy for the rest of the day!

Does anyone else struggle with time management?  What have you found to be helpful?

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Organizing the Weekend

How do you organize your weekend? Do you plan it out in advance? Is your Saturday typically a clean house/do laundry/grocery shop/run errands kind of day? Is Sunday reserved for religious activities and perhaps family visits?

When do you fit in ME-time for yourself? When do you do a sewing project or work on crafts? When do you garden? Or do a weekly cooking/baking session? Or reorganize that closet?

I keep fluctuating between doing a little bit of household cleaning every day during the week and keeping the weekend free to do projects vs. not doing a lot during the week due to long working & commuting hours and trying to fit in everything on the weekend!

I typically do the grocery shopping and laundry on the weekend, either Saturday or Sunday. And I plan to do the deep cleaning/big projects on the weekends, too. And, for the most part, I run out of weekend before I finish my weekend to-do list! 

So, how do you plan out and organize your weekend?

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Almsgiving Checklist/Schedule

Checklists and schedules are useful things.  They enable us to plan in advance and organize an activity or an event.  With a checklist, one doesn't have to remember every little detail or worry about forgetting to do X, Y, or Z.  Over the years, I've developed a fairly detailed checklist for the almsgiving preparations and a schedule.  Every year, I update this checklist/schedule for that year's event.

Almsgivings are religious ceremonies and somewhat ritualized.  There are certain things that are done to convey respect (like covering the chairs the monks will sit on, with white cloth).  Traditionally, the monks carry their begging bowls with them, to almsgivings, but we also offer them plates, should they prefer.  The actual meal is served to the monks.  Monks are required to accept whatever is offered to them, but there is a custom of covering their begging bowls or plates with their hand to signify that they have sufficient.

Almsgivings are held in temples, as well.  But I prefer to hold it in my home, as I feel it blesses my home.  The monks bring with them a reliquary from their temple and place it at the home altar and, for the duration of the almsgiving, my house becomes a temple.  A blessed place.

 2014 Almsgiving Checklist & Schedule:

- Set date/invite monks/invite participants (November) - DONE

Week 1 (Dec. 1-7):
- Decide on donations/get them ready
- Make menu/check supplies/make grocery list
- Check supplies (non-grocery)/make shopping list
- Check table linen, chair covers, etc., wash if needed, iron, etc.
- Shop for non-perishables

Week 2 (Dec. 8-14):
- Cook ahead and freeze: cashews, garbanzos
- Make homemade candies
- Confirm date with monks
- Remind invitees; share menu/assign dishes

Week 3 (Dec. 15-20)
- Start cleaning the house (Dust/vacuum/tidy living room, dining area, family room, kitchen, bathrooms, bedrooms)
- Rearrange furniture - sofas, coffee tables, tall round side table (for reliquary), trolley (for plates of offerings), remove blue & white vases near fireplace (so I can set the small sofa in front of the fireplace)
- Grocery shop for perishables
- Make yogurt (Thursday)

- Buy flowers (or pick from garden, if there are any)
- Take down dishes used only for almsgiving and wash them

Friday, Dec. 19:

- Grocery shop
- Clean bathrooms/set out guest towels, etc.
- Set out items needed for the transfer of merit: teapot, cup, and water basin; fill teapot with water
- Take out chair covers, table cloths, napkins, etc.; cover chairs, tables
- Candles/incense sticks & holder; lighter/matches
- New bottle of water for blessing; bowl to catch drips when blessed water is poured out
- Set out items for washing hands: fresh cake of soap, hand towels, jugs & basins
- Put previously cooked and frozen cashews and garbanzos to thaw
- Make flan/pudding
- Bake cake/brownies if being made
- Clean kitchen
- Take out plates, bowls, etc. for guests

Saturday, Dec. 20 (Day of Almsgiving):

- Arrange flowers in vases
- Cut up fruits and arrange in saucers; cover
- Arrange a variety of sweets (candy, cookies, cake, etc.) in saucers; cover
- Dish out yogurt into bowls; cover
- Pour palm treacle into sauce boat (to be served over yogurt)
- Dish out flan/pudding, cover
- Cook rice (2 types - white and red)
- Make salad
- Warm up curries; dish out into smaller serving dishes for serving to monks; bigger serving dishes for guests (keep bigger dishes in oven to keep warm)
- Make soup/keep warm in slow cooker
- Serve up offerings to the Buddha and offerings for the Order of Monks
- Boil water and keep in thermos for those monks who prefer hot water
- Pour water and juice into glasses
- Spot clean bathrooms

10:30 a.m. - Everything should be done and ready; guests arrive and their contributions added to offerings to the Buddha and the Order of Monks

11:00 a.m. - Monks arrive; Offerings to Buddha, Order of Monks, etc. take place and service begins with devotions being recited.

11:30 a.m. - Lunch is served to the monks

12:00 noon - Monks finish their lunch, plates are cleared, a sermon is said, blessings are chanted, merit gained from almsgiving is transferred to departed loved ones, donations are presented to the monks.

1:00 p.m. - the monks leave, the religious ceremonies are concluded, lunch is served to all those who participated.

Followed by washing up and cleaning and putting things away until the next time!   My family and friends usually help me with the washing up and putting away the food and putting the furniture back in place.

And there you have it!  My almsgiving checklist and schedule. 

Do any of you do something similar? 

Company's Coming

What's your first reaction?

Do those words fill you with delight? "Oh, I'll see my friends/family/loved ones again! How nice!"

Or do they fill you with dread? "Oh, no! The house is a mess!"

Do they send you off on a flurry of activity to clean up the house, tidy the mess, or do you look around and smile serenely?

If you are like me, most probably it'll be a mixture of delight at the prospect of seeing the visitors and dread that they will see your house in its current state!  My first thought will be, "It'll be lovely to see friends/family". My second thought will be: "Got to tidy up the house!" LOL.

In exactly 2 weeks' time, I'll be having a religious gathering at my home which will be attended by clergy, family, and friends.  Today, I made a checklist of things to do, including cleaning the house.

I try to keep the living room more or less company ready - I won't have to do much in there, other than dust, vacuum, rearrange the furniture to accommodate the L-shaped seating arrangement required for the event, and remove the folding laundry airer I have set up in front of the heater to dry the laundry.   Of course, I'd like to recover the sofas (the cat has clawed and torn the upholstery), replace the drapes that are worn, and polish the decorative brassware.  But, most likely, those things won't get done.

The dining area is fine, too; I just have to remove the sewing machine I have set up on the table.  I'd like to clean the chandelier and replace the drapes.  I might be able to do the chandelier, but the drapes will stay.  Maybe I can vacuum them. 

The family room needs to be picked up and tidied, as well as dusted and vacuumed, and the sofa covers changed.  And then, there's the kitchen and the bathrooms to be cleaned.  Not to mention the bedrooms. 

I've been asked why I feel the need to do so much cleaning before company comes.  I feel I need to do it because my house is messy!

So, what would tidying up the house before company arrives entail for you?

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Almsgiving Preparations

There are 27 days left until the end of December.  Many people are counting the days left until Christmas (20 days).  I am too, although I am not a Christian.  But, I am also counting down the days until my annual end-of-the-year almsgiving.  This year, it is scheduled to take place on December 20.  So, I have 15 days left to prepare for it.

"Alms" are defined as donations (money, food, other goods, etc.) given to the poor or needy.  Buddhist monks make a pledge of poverty when they become monks.  Buddhist laity gain merit by making donations or giving alms to the poor, including Buddhist monks. 

The reasons behind the giving are many, but basically, they include the wish to accrue merit by performing beneficial deeds (or 'karma' in Sanskrit), or to transfer those merits to departed loved ones, and to cultivate non-attachment (to the things being given away). 

I grew up in a family that participated in many almsgivings throughout the year; usually, they took place to commemorate sacred days and departed loved ones.  This particular end-of-the-year almsgiving tradition was begun in 1987, by my mother and has been carried on by me.  The original reason for holding it evolved over the years and became a sort of an annual thanksgiving for the year that was, before we proceed to the new year.  There is no set date for it; it is usually held on a day that is convenient for both me and the monks who attend it, but, I make it a point to hold the almsgiving before Christmas.

There are many traditions associated with almsgivings that have developed in Buddhist cultures over the centuries.  Some of those traditions are common to all; others are specific to each culture, time, and place.  Some of those traditions have remained unchanged; others are evolving.

For me, the almsgiving traditions include serving a vegetarian lunch to the monks (and family and friends I have invited to participate).  Buddhist monks are restrained from eating after noon, so, lunch is their last meal for the day until the following day's breakfast.  Lunch consists of rice and vegetable curries, followed by a variety of fruits and desserts.  Our cultural traditions include curd (yogurt) and palm treacle as one of the "must have" desserts, as well as several different types of sweets.  The exact number of items doesn't matter; what matters is offering a choice. 

The number of monks I invite vary from year to year, but, at minimum, there needs to be 5 monks present, in order to make the almsgiving an offering to the entire Order of the Buddhist monks as opposed to only the individual monks who are actually participating (they are representative of the community of monks).   There are some monks who have attended my mother's almsgivings and mine, year after year; they've watched my daughter grow up and participate in the almsgiving and have expressed hopes of seeing her carry on the tradition.  Other monks participate from time to time.  

I have already invited the monks and we have agreed upon a date.   I have already invited several family members and friends to participate in the event.  There are still a few more to invite.  I have decided on what I will be offering as donations; I just have to prepare them.  I have previous years' menus on which to base this year's menu.  But I need to make out my grocery list, shop the ethnic stores for some of the items, make some of the sweets that can be made ahead of time, and then, there's all the cleaning and the cooking.  I have a 5-7 page typed to do list/schedule to help me with that! 
My to do list/schedule is a source of amusement for several of my friends and family, but it has meant that the actual ceremony flows smoothly, without any last minute rushing around in search of needed items.  The monks really appreciate this and they never fail to comment on it, observing that everything is so nicely organized.  I'll post my to do list and schedule another day; this post is long enough as it is. 

Wednesday, December 3: Back to Work and More Rain

Today, it rained again, for most of the day.  Light showers for the most part.  We've been without rain for so long that most people were happy that it was raining.  

It was my first day back at the office after being off for over a week.  I spent most of the morning dealing with mail and phone calls.  I was able to run a couple of quick errands during my lunch break though, going to the bank and to the pharmacy.

It was still raining during my commute home.  I came home feeling tired, but I've had a relaxed evening, video chatting with my daughter and phoning my friend. 

How was your day?  Did you have a busy day?

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Tuesday, December 2: Rain (and Today'sTo Do List)

It is raining here, today!  For us, after 3 years of drought, the rain is a blessing (we desperately need it) even though there are associated problems (mud slides in areas made bare by fires during the summer and fall, slippery roads, possible flash floods, etc.).  Right now, we are having gentle showers in the area where I live and my garden is thirstily absorbing all the wonderful rain.

I like rainy days.  Especially since I am home from work, today.  I have planned to do some sewing and a few other things.

Today's To Do List:

- Put away the laundry hung up to dry overnight
- Do another load of laundry and hang up to dry
- Cook the pork chops I bought yesterday (at $.99/lb. a great bargain)
- Do the dishes
- Finish cutting up the nightdress and start sewing
- Start making holiday gifts

What's the weather in your area, today?  What have you planned to do today?

Monday, December 1, 2014

Another Long Drive Home and December Goals

Yesterday, I drove daughter back to her apartment; it poured with rain during part of the drive.  There was a lot of traffic, too, with people traveling after the  Thanksgiving holiday.  Later, in the evening, I baked a batch of mini cornbread muffins for daughter to take to a potluck breakfast at the university on Tuesday morning.

Today, I dropped daughter off on campus, put gas to the car and drove myself home.  This time, there was thick fog and intermittent light rain on the drive home.  After I got home, I put more gas to the car in readiness for the week, went grocery shopping, picked some oranges from the tree in my garden, did a load of laundry and hung it up to dry, and took the trash cans to the curb for trash pick up, tomorrow morning.  Called one of my aunts, had a phone call from a cousin and another from a friend - the family and friends spoke of my balance wheel is nicely plumped.     

Since today is December 1, it's time to make some goals for December!

Spiritual: Prepare for my annual year-end almsgiving. 

Environment: Outside: Continue to spruce up the garden. Inside: Continue to clean and declutter. Get the house ready for the almsgiving.  Decorate for the holidays.

DD: Arrange for her to come home for the holidays; spend some special "us" time together. 

Family: Get together with family once or twice, this month

Friends: Visit with friends, once or twice.

Career: Work on assignments in a timely manner

Finances:  Pay bills.

Health:  Dr's appt.

Leisure/Crafts/Hobbies: Make holiday gifts

Time Management: Multi-task!

Let's see how well I do with my goals this month!

How about you?  Anyone making any goals for December?