Wednesday, December 17, 2014

What to Pack for Hajj: Part 1 {The Basics}

Hajj is a spiritual journey made by Muslims who travel to Saudi Arabia for 2-4 weeks. It is usually made once in a lifetime, and it's difficult to get an idea of what you might need to take because you've never done it before! During Hajj, you don't just stay in one place. Every couple of days, you keep moving. You move from 5-star hotels to old apartments to tents to sleeping under the stars out in the open. Then back to tents then apartments and finally a hotel, if your duration of stay is over 2 weeks. This, in a way, symbolizes that life is a journey. We're constantly moving, and our lives in this world are only temporary.

So, what are you supposed to pack for such a journey?

First, find a group that is recommended to you by others, and that you know is organized. This is everything during Hajj. An organized group saves you from stressing out about other things and focusing on the real goal when you get there, which is worship. This type of group could also give you information on what they will provide for you during Hajj, and it will save you from taking extra things that you don't need. 

Also, you will need a lot of knowledge beforehand. Don't go into Hajj thinking you will be guided every step of the way. There are around 120 people per group and only 2 leaders. Although they are there to help, having an idea of what you will be doing each day helps immensely. 

Now, on to the list of things to take.

My husband and I took one large suitcase with us. We were not going there for shopping, so we took the minimal amount of items. For gifts, we only got some prayer beads for direct family members and some dates. 

You will need a backpack for this journey. Make sure it is comfortable with thick, cushioned straps, and a medium size. As you get ready to board your flight to Saudi Arabia, keep your backpack with you rather than checking it in. The last thing you need is losing all your essentials! There is a chance of buses breaking down during journeys, resulting in walking a few miles with your bag, so make sure it is not too heavy or big in size. Some people brought rolling luggage but you'll need to remember that the streets aren't smooth and there are also a lot of stairs, so backpacks are the best option.

Comfortable walking shoes are a must. We always heard that we have to walk a lot during Hajj but only realized how much after we got there. Tawaf and Sa'ee were easy for us Alhumdulillah. But just to give you an idea, to find a taxi from the Mina tents, you will need to walk around 1.5 hours. Our walk to Jamaraat was also 1.5 hours in the heat, and then we had to come back as well same distance (the group website said it will be 45 minutes, so be prepared to walk more than expected!). Practice walking for over an hour nonstop before leaving for Hajj. The walking shoes I purchased were Skechers Memory Foam, and I would recommend them. Make sure to buy them at least a month in advance and break into them before the journey.

Finally, I got a neck pillow for the bus journeys, tent, and sleeping in Muzdalifa out in the open. I kept it in a drawstring bag which I attached to the strap of my backpack so that I don't have to carry it around.

You will need two other bags apart from the backpack. One will be a small, crossbody messenger bag for the airport and during travel in general. You will need to take this during your visits to both the Masjid Ul Haramain as well. Crossbody is important so that it  cannot be easily snatched like a shoulder bag, and it is also more confortable. In here, keep some cash, phone, solar power charger, snacks for energy, notebook and pen in which you have noted down addresses of where you're staying and directions, prayer books and sunglasses. 

On the main day of Hajj, you will be away from your tents and your belongings for an entire 24 hours. You will spend the entire day in Arafat and entire night in Muzdalifa. For this you will need a medium sized bag, because there really isn't any space in both places for anything bigger. I didn't want to have to take a whole different bag just for this one day, so I found a foldable bag online that worked perfectly for this occasion. It unfolds to a backpack that is ideal for a day trip. Keep an extra pair of clothes in this bag apart from other necessities.

Men will need a money belt to wear under their ihrams so that it doesn't get stolen. Here is the one my husband used and he said it was comfortable:

We got the Khaki colored one since it's cheaper but basically the same thing!

A document folder is essential to keep all your paperwork together in one place and safe from getting dirty. There are number of things you'll need to keep in here:

Passport copiesAt least 3 passport sized photos
Flight details
Credit/Debit Card copies
Hajj notes printouts
Proof of having taken the proper vaccines
Marriage Certificate copies if traveling with spouse

A Will is highly recommended and should be given to family members before leaving.

Finally, communication. It is absolutely necessary to get phones for all members of the family going. First of all, men and women stay in separate places throughout the stay and phones are the best way to get in touch. In a lot of cases in our group, only the husbands had phones and not the wives. The husbands would be standing outside the women's area, knocking loudly on doors, yelling out names. It was very disturbing for other people trying to worship or rest. If you can spend close to $10k per person on this trip, don't try to save a few dollars by not buying a dual sim phone. We got an extremely basic phone and used it everyday:

I also took my smartphone. I had left my 2 year old son with my parents and just needed to see him on Skype and through pictures. It definitely made me feel at ease. There is wifi in very limited places there. In hotels they are reliable but outside that it's hit or miss. If by chance it got connected, I was able to receive my son's latest pictures on Whatsapp and it comforted me knowing he's having (way too much) fun!

One of my favorite products was this solar power charger:

This one is for Android phones, you will need to find another one for iPhones. This is basically a portable charger that you can charge up in advance and it doesn't need to be plugged to an outlet while you're charging your phone. I fully charged it before leaving for Hajj using my computer. I didn't need to recharge the charger at all during my 2 week trip because I rarely used my smartphone. This charger can charge phones up to 3 or 4 times completely. Even after Hajj I use it regularly when I go out or even at home if I don't want to use an outlet. A bonus is that it can use solar energy to charge, but that takes many hours. I didn't need to use it because I was mainly using the basic phone to communicate. Using a basic phone will save you from the tension of having to charge your phone all the time. I think I only had to charge it after using it for 1 whole week! 

These are some of the basic things you'll need for your Hajj trip, inshaAllah. I will make another post in the future on personal belongings needed as well, iA. 

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Please leave comments down below if there are some other basic items that helped you out during your Hajj trip, or if you have any other tips!

Read Part 2 {Personal Belongings} here!

Read Part 3 {Healthcare and Religious Items} here!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Dental Routine and Equipment Organization

When I was a kid, I used to think that dental hygiene was important for preventing cavities and for freshening one's breath. That's it. Now as an adult, I realize that there is so much more to it than just that.

Oral hygiene can mirror the overall condition of your health. There are many different types of illnesses linked to poor oral health. One of the more well established researches claim that dental hygiene and cardiovascular diseases are actually linked, caused by bacteria in the mouth entering the bloodstream and causing blood clots. There is very detailed information that you can find on the internet, in books or if you ask your dentist. I have not specialized in dentistry, but know this much: getting proper tools for caring for our teeth is essential and worth it in the long run.

There is so much you can get out in the market, but the items can be bulky. Here's how I organized everything:

I purchased a tall, medium sized basket. This works great because everything is contained in one spot instead of all over the counter, it is not an eyesore because of the height, and if there are people coming over, you can unplug the equipment and place the entire basket inside the bathroom cabinet.
Here are the contents:

To be clear, I am not an expert and am just sharing what I use personally. Please make sure you ask your dentist what works best for you! I'll break down my current routine into morning and night: 

Morning: Goal - Freshen Breath!

1) I use a manual toothbrush in the morning. I'm sure this is too much information, but after brushing my teeth, I also make sure to clean my tongue, inner cheeks and roof of mouth to get rid of all of the bacteria. This guarantees fresh breath as well, rather than only brushing teeth. This process should take at least 2 minutes.

2) Mouthwash is used to complement brushing. It helps to reduce tartar, plaque and gingivitis. I use a whitening mouthwash.

3) Some people choose to floss in the morning too. This is because plaque forms on teeth at night as well, and floss cleans it out. I haven't gotten around to getting so detailed though :(

Night: Goal - Thoroughly Get Rid of Food Particles

1) Floss picks used for getting out bigger food particles and plaque.

2) Electric toothbrush. This is something new I am trying out based on the recommendation of my dental hygienist. Research shows that electric toothbrushes are better at removing plaque from teeth than manual ones. I am personally finding the process a little uncomfortable, but might just need some getting used to. The good thing about these brushes is that they beep after every 30 seconds, letting you know that you are done with one quadrant of your teeth. It makes sure you brush properly for 2 minutes.

3) My favorite part! The Hydro Floss Oral Irrigator. This is a device that removes debris and plaque after brushing by flushing it out. You just add lukewarm water into the machine and use the jet spray at a setting that's comfortable to you around your gumline. You'd be surprised at how much food still comes out even after brushing and flossing! The Hydro Floss reaches hard to reach areas. It can be noisy but the water spray is generally a soothing process. I end the process by rinsing my mouth once more.

It's also essential to visit the dentist every 6 months for a deep cleaning.

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Friday, September 19, 2014

Different Ways of Using Roll Up Canvas Pen Bags

I needed something for my planner pens for when I'm on the go and wanted to try out something new. I thought I would give roll up canvas bags a chance and see what they're about. I ordered from Amazon and for some reason thought I'd just get one but when I opened the package I was surprised to see four! It says in the title you get 4 so I don't know why I was expecting just one, probably just skimmed through it. Needless to say it was a pleasant surprise!

A look at the 4 roll up canvas bags. I liked the off white one the most because of the beautiful vintage key and it went well with my Martha Stewart Planner as well so that's the one I chose for my pens.
There's ample space in here for a set of 12 pens, and some more. I also added white out and a regular black ball point pen. These are my essential writing tools for my planner.

Rolled up, it was more bulky than I had expected, but it gets the job done. I think it's great for travel but I would prefer using pen cup holders on a daily basis.

Then I had to try and figure out what I could do with the remaining 3 canvas bags.

For the next canvas bag I took my toddler's crayons and added them inside. These worked out great and when rolled up, weren't bulky at all. This would be perfect for keeping in the diaper bag, car, or mom's purse. If you have older children, you could place paintbrushes here instead. 

Another option is using it for basic grooming tools on a weekend trip. You'll have to place the toothbrushes and comb in such a way that they don't touch each other after being rolled up. I wouldn't use this method for longer trips, but it would work for short getaways. 

Makeup brushes can also be inserted in this pouch. It keeps everything in place nicely and the different sized elastic bands are perfect for different sized brushes. 

I'm sure there are many other ways to use this roll up canvas bag that I haven't thought of! Can you think of something creative?

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Monday, September 15, 2014

Toddler Suitcase - 2 Month's Supplies

Traveling and being abroad with a toddler can be hectic in itself, so it's best to at least have their suitcase organized. This helps me keep my sanity on trips!  Our next trip is almost two months long in a land far away, so I thought I'd show you how I packed. All of this fit in a medium sized trolley bag.

I had to stock up on his formula because we can't find this exact one over there. My son has a sensitive stomach so he can only take soy formula for toddlers. Brands other than Similac don't suit him, so I bought a pack of 6 from Amazon. It was a good deal, buy 5 get 1 free, so this was perfect for us.

Above the formula in this picture I have kept a see-through bag of all of his medical supplies and toiletries. The size is perfect for long trips. I've also kept his favorite sippy cup - he is very particular about only using this one!

Next to that I have lined up all of his clothes.

Toddler clothes that are not in Ziploc bags can get really messy because they are so small and you have to change them so often. There is too much rummaging around and clothes get all over the place. Compartmentalizing the clothes really help in keeping organized during the entire trip, no matter how long it is. I have been using this method since he was born and his suitcase never gets disorderly. Here, I have kept his onesies, shorts, shirts and pants in one gallon sized Ziploc bag each. Behind it I have also kept a pair of sandals he has that are one size bigger. You never know when he'll need it. No need to buy another one from there if he already has a pair.  

Now, on to the other side of the suitcase. Always try to choose a luggage that has some fabric in the middle that you can zip off one side completely. This can double your space and keeps everything very neat!

On this side of the suitcase, I have kept one pack of diapers and a couple of packs of diaper wipes at the bottom. His diapers and wipes can be found where we are going so there was no need to stock up on those. I have also kept his favorite snacks, interactive toys to keep him busy, a puppet book and his beloved blankie that he can't sleep without. For toddlers, it is important to take things they are familiar with so that they can adjust more easily in a new place. This is not really the case when they are infants. They can get amused easily by new toys at that point. I have a post on packing for infants if you're interested!

As you can see here, I have zipped off one side of the suitcase completely. The things on that side will not budge, and when I open it upon arrival, everything should be in the same place. I don't know who invented the one side zippered suitcase, but that person is awesome.

What are some of your essentials to take when traveling with a toddler?

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Monday, September 1, 2014

Planner Brain Dumping

Planners are used for really organizing each and every day of your life. But what if you have so much to do that your own thoughts are scattered? This usually happens with me when we are about to travel somewhere, especially overseas. 

I'm about to take a trip that requires a lot of planning and preparing. I saw these post-its at Walgreens and thought they'd be perfect for the job:

I got one for myself and one for my husband. I believe they were just $1 each, with four different colors per letter. 

I then started pouring my thoughts onto the paper, and it really helped to declutter the mind. Just remember, these post-its are ONLY good for brain dumping, or maybe if you want to write a single reminder. You can't write much in them and they get messy because of their shapes.

After writing both of your tasks (if two) for that specific month, you will be able to assign a day to each task in your monthly view page of your planner. I think it turned out to be a great way to plan those longer, more tedious tasks. Side note: husbands will not be too impressed when you show them their monthly tasks list :P

If you're interested in a detailed review of my Martha Stewart planner, you can find it here.

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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Pantry Organization on a Budget!

The pantry is one of the most accessed places in the entire house, so it's important to make sure that everything has a place! I was super excited to move into our new apartment because I would finally get my first pantry. Here's a look at how I have organized it: 

Everything in the pantry was contained using bins that were either on clearance or from the Dollar Tree. This entire section in the above picture was organized by spending around $30!

The large square fabric bins were from Target on clearance for around $4 each. They hold all of our larger snacks. I added Martha Stewart chalkboard tags to specify what to keep in each one.

 These are all reused jars. You can wash out your salsa and spaghetti sauce jars to store spices. Storing spices here is a lot more convenient and aesthetically pleasing than the plastic bags they come in!

To the left, I kept some Indian spices in containers from the Dollar Tree. Some of them are still in plastic because I need more jars!

On the right, I kept our some snacks for my husband's office in little buckets from the Dollar Spot at Target. They came with the chalkboard stuck on it already, and I thought the snacks would go perfectly in there. Easy to grab and go in the mornings!

Bags that contained a larger quantity of dry goods were placed in larger containers, also from the Dollar Store. Here I've kept different type of flours and lentils. Inside the most used containers I've inserted measuring cups for convenience. 

Then we had chocolates all over the place. Most of them are hostess gifts or from the husband :) It takes me months to finish a chocolate packet (ice cream finishes much faster around here) and I had too many of them lying around in their original packets. It looked really messy, so I took them out of their original packaging and put them in portion sized Ziploc bags. This made it look more uniform. At the back there are some drinks.

I didn't put the cereal in different containers because I felt it was easier to leave it in its original box. The rack is wide enough to have a double row of cereal boxes, so that's great.

This is one area I had struggled with for a long time - paper plates, cups, bowls and napkins. I found these baskets at the Dollar Tree and they keep everything really organized. Things are finally not toppling over everywhere! The chalkboard stickers were from the Dollar Spot at Target - $1 for a pack of 12. I have used and reused them many times, they continue sticking great on various surfaces.

I keep the rice on the floor because it's too heavy to put high up and reach for every time. I refill a container we got with rice once every time rather than using the fabric bag it comes in. There's a measuring cup in here as well. I've put it on a shelf riser. Underneath that, I store onions and potatoes. The box slides out very easily. 

Right above the rice is the right side of the pantry. Over here, I nailed in a couple of Wrap Organizers and they hold a lot of items. This is definitely not part of the $30 budget, but I installed it because it always remains neat and is long-lasting.

On the other side of the pantry, I hung all of my cleaning tools. Hanging them using simple nails keeps them from toppling on the floor and opens up the space in the pantry. Don't be afraid to use the wall space! There's no point in wasting it.

Finally, here is where all I keep all of our canned goods. This is another example of things never getting messy because everything has a very specific place. Although we barely ever have canned food, it's essential to keep extras in case of emergencies. We also keep shelf safe milk as backup for emergency situations.

If you add up all of the costs in total, the pantry has been completely organized from top to bottom for around $80. This beats the professional organizing systems that can cost thousands of dollars! What do you think of it? Would you make this investment?

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Friday, August 8, 2014

Apartment Living Room and Play Area Combo

The living room is the life of the home. Adults and children alike spend majority of their time in this one room throughout the day. The question is, how do we find a balance between their two spaces? Living in an apartment, there is no option of a separate play area in a different room. I've laid out some ideas in this blog post. 

Here's a look at the entire living room. Not too much of an open space but it's very functional!

This is the sitting area:

The sofa is from Rooms to Go and the chairs and rug are from Home Goods.

I just use a small ottoman with a tray on for guests. Both from Target.

Since my toddler loves to climb on the side of the sofa and play with the light switch, I kept a large sitting cushion on the bottom in case he falls off the edge. 

On the other side of the sofa, kept in a corner, are all of his toys. 

Although there are quite a few items here, they are not too much of an eyesore because they are all stored in one small corner of the room. I have stored my son's smaller toys in his infant co-sleeper, and a few larger toys around it. A large basket would have the same function.

Most people opt for using an ottoman to store their kids toys in. Sure, it looks less cluttered if you pack everything away, but here are my thoughts on why it's better not to:

1) Less convenient for the child. The child also lives in that space all day long and needs his or her own little area to play in!

2) There's always the fear of the child hurting his or her finger while taking the lid off or putting it on when they are young. 

3) Less toys fit in ottomans.

4) When cleaning up, all I have to do is pick up toys from around the living room and throw them in the bin from anywhere close! No need to go and open the lid or anything. Just pick up and aim!

5) When guests come over they understand that I have a toddler and he needs his own area. Sometimes when I'm busy in the kitchen, he's busy playing with his toys, which lets me work. If all of his toys were packed away he would probably be giving me a tough time!

6) Other children who come over love this little area.

The key is not to overdo it. More toys than this amount would make the area look too cluttered. If I get more larger toys, I will store some older ones away. 4 large toys at a time seem to be working to keep him busy.

Now for the other side of the room:

We have my son's jumperoo here. Notice how the color chosen is kind of muted compared to most baby toys. This allows it to blend into the decor a little better. He has loved it dearly for 1 and a half years now, but has grown out of it. I need to store it and replace it with something more age appropriate for him (2 years), but I'm not sure what. Do you have any ideas? A chalk board easel or teepee perhaps?

We also have the computer area in this room. We don't own a TV, so no need to worry about space for that. Finally, we have my son's old changing table at the end of the room.

I repurpose this changing table into a beverage cart if I'm hosting a party, but regularly it looks like this. On the top shelf are the hot beverage station supplies. On the bottom two are diaper changing supplies that I just pull out and use on the floor as needed. And the cute little chair on the side? His time-out area to sit in for one minute if he's throwing too many tantrums. :( Such are the ways of parenting.

Overall this is a very child friendly room and working out for our toddler! Do you have any other ideas I haven't thought of?

If you'd like links for any specific items shown in this post please leave a comment below and I'd be glad to assist. 

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