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Well... they say "necessity is the mother of invention" (who are "they", anyway?)
I would like to occasionally do a short offering at the altar, mostly before going out in the morning, or even in the evening. But the tea light candles I use burn for about 3 1/2 hours, and the incense agarbathi sticks burn for about 1/2 hour. I don't like leaving things burning, nor extinguishing them. Even though my partner is home, I don't feel right about lighting candles and incense then leaving; it just feels creepy. It's like inviting someone to dinner, throwing the food on the table and saying "by the way, I have to go out". :-/
Soooo... I realized I had small cone incense and birthday candles. I put one of each into the brass bowl that contains the decorative sand I stand the agarbathi in to catch the ashes. I lit the candle (I think maybe I should use three?) and the incense cone in the sand, sounded the bell, poured water into the small offering bowls (I found some adorable Chinese tea cup-type bowls in JCPenney for 2.99 ea.
), said the refuge prayers, bodhisattva and bodhicitta prayers, some recitations of Namo Amitabha Buddha, dedication prayers, spent a few minutes and then went about my routine. By the time I was ready to leave the house, the candle and incense burned down. I felt like I started the day on the right note.