Missing Diwali in India? Celebrate NRI Style!

Diwali is in a few days and I can’t stop thinking about how the festival has evolved over the years. When I was a child, we used to go to our grandma’s house where our extended family would come together and celebrate the festival. The day would start with Ganga Snanam and prayers to God before we could even touch the sweets. I enjoyed watching crackers more than trying one by myself, but I had enough people around me who loved bursting crackers.

After moving to USA, Diwali had become so mundane and… blah. The first few years were tough especially when the Diwali day was nothing more than just another day. I missed my family more during festival times and Skype calls sometimes just made it worse.

After having kids, I realized that there is a reason why we decided to live in this country and, instead of cribbing, why not make the most of what we have? In the past few years, our Diwali celebrations have improved in such a way that my family was impressed when they visited us during one Diwali. Here are some ways NRIs can celebrate and enjoy this important Festival of Lights:

Send Diwali Cards to Friends and Family:

Receiving physical cards from our loved ones is much more exciting than an getting another email. When I was a child (yikes, am feeling really old when I say this J), I used to write greeting cards to my cousins and friends. I’d go to the store, pick the ones I like, write messages in my own handwriting, put a stamp and send it to friends and family.

People still do it for Christmas over here, right? Why not combine both and recreate the tradition for Diwali now?

Take a family portrait, print a Diwali greeting card with a family portrait and send to friends and family. If you have big kids, involve them in the process and make them write messages to their extended families. Post them ahead of time for them to receive it in time – hurry!

Take the Day Off and Celebrate with Close Friends:

For NRIs, friends are more of a family away from family. Not all of us are blessed with close families living nearby. Use this occasion to meetup with your close friends – even if they’re not Indian, why not introduce them? I still remember one special Diwali celebration couple of years back. One time, we all met at our friend’s house, cooked elaborate meals, played all day long and ended the celebration by watching an Indian movie in a theatre. If you have younger kids, it might be difficult to do all of this in one day, but at least meet with your close friends and celebrate in a way that works for you.

Remind them to Send Treats from India:

My family has been sending Diwali bakshanams (foods) from India and it’s something we look forward to every year. Not that we can’t get these things over here, but when we receive gifts from our loved ones from the homeland, it becomes very special. In my case, my whole family lives in India except me. We all miss each other and this package of clothes and bakshanams is something that makes my festival day brighter. Now even my kiddo looks forward to the package from his paati (nana).

Send Gifts to Family in India:

It goes without saying: send gifts to your immediate family to make their festival of lights even brighter. We all get excited and happy when someone thinks about us and sends gifts. Why not make our family happy by sending Diwali gifts to show them how much we still care?

You can find great deals on Diwali gifts over here: https://oxigenusa.com/send-diwali-gifts-to-india-2017 and you can use my discount code, “UMASGIFT”, for a 15% discount on Diwali gifts and instant gift cards!

Diwali Decorations:

In our house, decorations start from October. First Diwali, then Thanksgiving and it ends in Christmas. (Last year, our son wanted to keep the Christmas tree till February. That’s another story for another time.) Personally, I am all about DIY creations and Pinterest has lots of ideas on Diwali DIYs. Even if you don’t have time or patience, you can buy some Diwali themes decorations from ETSY. Even just artificial thorans that we find in Indian stores can give a festive touch to your home.

Nearby Diwali Events:

Nowadays, multiple Diwali events are happening in the city where I live. A regionally-specific one, Diwali Mela (search Diwali under Events section in Facebook) and Temple Mela are some examples. Almost all of the time, they end the celebration with fireworks. And these events are always during weekends. The good thing is, this event is for the whole family and no one gets bored by attending a Diwali mela. My personal favorite is watching dance performances, while my husband’s favorite is hitting all the food stalls 🙂

Although these ideas are not equal to celebrating the festival with all our extended family in India, we still can create some special memories with our own family if we plan ahead and try the above ideas. My first kid is 3 years old and is starting to understand festivals and special occasions now. I can’t wait to create some special memories again during this Diwali!

Wishing you all a wonderful Diwali, no matter where you are!

Note: this post is in collaboration with OxigenUSA.

Spending Less – Compare Pricing Among Stores

Saving money needs a little dedication. Some ideas need more planning and work (like couponing) and some need a slight change in our shopping habit. As much as I love to save money (who doesn’t?), I also don’t like to invest lots of my time to save few dollars here and there.

Now all the stores have their products listed online on their website and also have their own apps for purchases. Even 1 lb of banana price can be found online and can be compared between stores. In this video, I gave a couple of examples of how I saved money online when I did back to school shopping last month.

Sometimes these cost difference would be more than few dollars that it’s worth comparing costs among stores.

I still use these labels and they are still holding well. Well worth the money I paid and I’m so glad I returned the super expensive labels I bought through Amazon.

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An Easy Idea To Get Rid Of Shower Stains

An Easy Idea To Get Rid Of Bathroom Shower StainsDo you spend too much time cleaning the shower and still see some residues that are not going away? I came across this DIY cleaning hack around 5 years ago when I was trying to get rid of a hard stain on our bathroom shower. It’s super simple and doesn’t require any scrubbing or hard work.

Required:

Directions:

  1. Soak the cotton balls in bleach and cover the unclean areas with bleach soaked cotton balls
  2. Let it sit overnight
  3. In the morning, remove the cotton balls and wash with plain water

As I mentioned above, you only spend few minutes to prepare the cotton balls and few minutes in the morning to clean the area. Just make sure everyone at home stay away from the bathroom till you clear it in the morning.

This hack never fails and works every single time.

Minimalist Hospital Bag Checklist

Hospital bag checklist coverWhen we found out that I was pregnant with our first child, I started putting together a baby registry cehcklist right after I turned 3 months pregnant. Over the next several months, I started getting inputs from multiple sources such as from moms I know, Pinterest and forums etc for a comprehensive list of things I needed to buy for the child. Later I realized, no matter how many times you tweak the list and make it efficient, each baby is different. Even with our babies, one loved the bouncer and one hated it. So, some toys/items might not be used by your baby at all. For hospital bag checklist, however, we don’t have to worry about not using something. For sure every mom/baby use the majority of the same items as they go through the same things in the hospital.

I realized my hospital bag checklist was way too long the first time and I didn’t even use a lot of items I brought to the hospital. Can you believe I carried a 50 pounds suitcase as hospital bag for my first delivery? I didn’t use even 10% of the items I carried. Hospital carired and provided most of the basic things and I was way too exhausted (who knew you’ll feel like you’re hit by a car after delivery) to even open my big luggage.

The second time around, I reviewed my first pregnancy hospital bag checklist and cut unnecessary/not-used items from the list. As you can imagine, the revised checklist contains only basic, important things we have to carry and nothing else. I call it a minimalist hospital bag checklist. 🙂

I used almost all the items I carried to the hospital during the stay. My bag was also much lighter than the first time. I only needed a small backpack (+boppy pillow) during the second time (however, I needed a bigger bag when we left the hospital to carry the freebies from the hospital after delivery).

Although you can find some hospital bag lists in the internet that are practical, a lot of them have some unbelievable long list of recommendations. For example, I have no idea why they recommend us to carry diapers to the hospital. Unless you are particular about a specific brand or cloth diapering from day 1, there is no need to carry diapers in your hospital bag. For both of my babies, the hospital provided Pamper Snugglers until we left home. I even brought additional diapers from the hospital when we were released to go home.

Personally, Food is the primary issue when it comes to the hospital stay. You’ll be deprived of good food and it’s better you carry some snacks for munching during the stay. Also ask your family to bring lots of fruits. I remember not having any fruits (other than the ones that come with the meal) after my first delivery.

For Baby:

I only carried going home outfit for the baby. Until she was ready to go home, my baby wore only hospital onesies and blankets (for swaddling). So, the baby practically doesn’t need anything other than going home outfit that you need to keep in the hospital bag.

For the Mommy:

  • Make sure to take your prenatal vitamins every day
  • Makeup and toiletries such as toothbrush and toothpaste are a must. Even if you forget, do you know hospital does provide toiletries?
  • Electronics: Don’t forget to take all the necessary electronics and chargers
  • Clothes: Get your favorite pajamas for the stay and going home outfit
  • Folder for the paperwork: During the stay, you’ll receive multiple important documents. I’d suggest you carry a folder to keep the documents, as soon as you receive them, in the folder
  • Nursing cover and Boppy pillow: Nursing cover is optional. Boppy pillow is a must
  • Thank you gift for the caregivers: I can write a big essay on this topic. I did so much research on “thank you gift” when I was pregnant. Thank you gifts are completely optional and you don’t have to give anything to the caregivers, nor do they expect anything from you. However, if you do want to give them, make sure you have them ready in the hospital bag. 

Other Family Members:

Mostly clothes and toiletries are the essential items for the family members who stay with mommy and baby at the hospital.

For convenience, I created a checklist printable that you can print and keep it handy. Click the below image and save it on your computer. Click print this minimalist hospital bag checklist. Hope you find it useful.

Minimalist Hospital Bag Checklist

9 Ways To Buy Organic Food on a Budget

save money on organic groceriesPlease tell me I’m not the only one who skips buying organic avocado just because it’s damn expensive. As much as I love to eat food clean of pesticides and chemicals, I don’t enjoy paying $6 for a pound of Strawberries. Until a few years ago, organic and clean eating were not really a thing. Only recently people started becoming aware of the importance and now almost everyone I know buys organic products. I’m one of those people who started buying organic only in the past few years.

One positive thing is, due to the mass consumption of organic groceries, we are able to find organic products in every single grocery store including Walmart. The more people buy it, the less expensive it becomes. It’s wonderful, isn’t it? At least we don’t have to make special trips to Whole Foods {moment of truth: I spend more time in Whole foods cafe than in the grocery store 😉 }.

8 years ago, my grocery budget was much less than my current grocery budget. With growing family and inclusion of organic groceries, our budget went up more than what I would like it to be. As I mentioned here, my grocery budget is $600 a month for 3 adults (including my visiting mom) and 2 kids. Once my mom goes back to India, I’m planning to reduce our budget to $500 a month and see if we can survive. Our budget includes produce, toiletries, household products, diaper etc.

Over the years, our grocery budget includes lot more organic products even though I do buy regular products in our diet. I follow the below ideas to eat organic food within the budget. These are easy-to-follow ideas that I use every single time.

Follow the Clean/Dirty Rule:

Do you know you don’t have to buy all Organic? Have you heard of Clean 15/Dirty 12 rule? I follow it almost to the T. I love that I don’t have to pay $7 and buy an Organic cantaloupe when I get the regular one for just $1.5.

EWG updates this list once a year and I share it on Facebook whenever there is an update.

Buy Frozen:

If we want to buy non-seasonal produce (eg. buying fresh berries in winter), we do need to pay a premium price. Because fresh berries are not available in all regions during winter. Instead, try buying frozen produce. They are much cheaper and equally, if not more, nutritious.

Gobble The Groceries:

Not kidding guys! Let’s use every damn thing we bought at the store. Even though I buy a variety of fruits and veggies at the store, my eating habit was more towards the fruits/veggies I like. The rest would sit in the fridge for days until it’s ready to go to the trash. Now I push myself to eat everything until I buy a new set of fruits and veggies.

My rule is to empty the fridge before I go shopping every single time.

Use Coupons:

You’ll probably find more coupons for junk food. But do you know you can find coupons for Organic products as well? Check grocery store apps, brand websites etc to find coupons for Organic products. If you’re buying something repeatedly, it’s better you find coupon for that product to save money consistently.

If you don’t find coupon for your favorite product, write an email to the brand about how much you love their product and request coupons.

Farmers Market:

Personally, I don’t think Farmers Market is cheap. It’s equally, if not more, expensive than a regular grocery store. However, there is a trick to save when shopping at Farmers Market. Make sure you shop at the end of the hour before they close. Vendors are ready to sell you excessive produce before they leave home. For example, I got a 2 big bunches of Basil for $1 once. She asked me to keep it for free. I didn’t want to take it free, so decided to give her a dollar instead. At the end, both of us were happy. I consider that a good deal.

how to save money on organic products

Mix Your Purchases:

Not all organic products are expensive. For example, you can buy 5 pounds of organic pear for the price of 1 pound of organic Strawberry (check out the picture above). So, don’t just buy one type of expensive organic produce every time. Mix up your purchases to save money.

Buy from Regular Grocery Store:

Stay away from specialty stores such as Whole Foods for organic groceries. Do you know some dollar stores carry organic groceries? My personal favorite is ALDI. If you have one nearby, do check it out. You’ll be surprised to see some wonderful finds in there.

Grow Your Own Food:

Plant your own vegetable garden if you have space to do it. There is nothing more satisfying than knowing where our food comes from. Back when we lived in Austin, I had many more plants than now. I loved going to the backyard to pick up some fresh mint.

Buy Online:

The two websites I use for online grocery purchases are Luckyvitamin and Amazon. For a lot f items Lucky vitamin is much cheaper than Amazon. I wait till they have a sale and coupons before I make my purchases.

Do you guys follow any other ideas besides the above to save money on organic grocery shopping? I’d love to know.