Friday, January 27, 2017

Focusing on healthier eating

roasted broccoli, beets and sweet potatoes with couscous

I'm not big on setting new year resolutions, but I do often pick an area of my life that I want to focus on and improve. This year, I'm focusing on eating healthier.

This is a big challenge for me because I've never loved cooking and for the last few years I've barely cooked at all. Not that we eat out every night, mainly on weekends, but I've been living on salad, pita and hummus, canned soup, frozen pizzas and frozen dinners for far too long. Because I eat veggies and fruit pretty much every day, I always thought I ate pretty healthy. In reality, however, my diet was far from it and I was ready for a change.

My main inspiration for this change comes from 100 Days of Real Food. Blogger Lisa Leake advocates for a real food diet that includes lots organic fruits and veggies, full-fat organic dairy, locally-raised meat and whole grains. Read real food defined for details.

I've been eating pretty simple meals. A lot of roasted veggies, including sweet potatoes, broccoli and green beans with couscous or quinoa. Grilled chicken wraps with lots of veggies. A few stir frys. And of course my salad, pita and hummus habit, while reduced, is still going as it's quick, easy and is real food.

My little buddy Lucy loves my new frequent
dish-washing routine and has to supervise every. single. time.

This has been a big change and yummy though it's been, it hasn't been easy. Even with sticking to simple meals, cooking and then cleaning up most week nights takes up an hour or more of my free time after work.

I'm also taking a "small changes are better than nothing" approach, which is a challenge for this perfectionist. I'm aiming for real food 80% of the time, but I'm not there yet. Still, there has definitely been progress.

Positive changes:
  • Trying new recipes: I've gone from a menu rut to trying several great new recipes, including sweet potato and black bean quinoa bowls, roasted vegetables, white chicken chili and chicken stir fry (I love the sauce and not having to rely on the bottled stuff).
  • Eating new foods: I've gone from never cooking and thinking I didn't like sweet potatoes to eating them 2-4 times per week (probably too much, but they are delicious roasted). I've also tried beets and quinoa for the first time and found that black beans are a tasty and easy addition to dishes.
  • Less food waste: Even though I've been buying more produce than ever, because I'm cooking more very little of it is going to waste, which is a big change from before. 
  • No more added sugar: I stopped adding sugar to my morning coffee, opting instead for a teaspoon of honey and milk in my first cup only. As a result, the jittery low blood-sugar feeling I was experiencing during late mornings is history. I also cut out the sugary-filled flavored yogurt and cereal I was eating for breakfast, opting instead for plain greek yogurt with fruit, honey and granola. Although this week I caved and bought some flavored yogurt. It tastes almost sickly sweet.

Areas for improvement:
  • I haven't been able to quit my weekly frozen margarita pizza habit or my "more times than I should per week" ice cream habit. But, I'm not having pretzels as soon as I get home, candy and an ice cream every night so this too is progress.
  • Organic food only - Leake advocates for only eating organic food and especially organic, grass-fed meat. I'm experiencing sticker shock at the price of an all-organic diet, so while I'm buying more organic than ever (which was almost none), it's not even 50% of our food. And I haven't bought any organic meat which tends to be 3-6 times more than even the natural meat at our healthier grocery stores.
  • Whole grain breads - I'm also struggling to find pita bread, tortillas and bread with whole grains and five ingredients or less so I've been continuing to eat the standard stuff. I plan to make a trip to Trader Joe's tomorrow to see if I have more success there.
  • Meal-planning - The first week I committed to cooking only real food, I went to the grocery four times for this or that. Lately I've cut back to just two, but it would be nice to get down to just one trip most of the time.
  • Frozen lunches - I've been taking leftovers from dinner 2-3 times a week, but on the other days I'm still grabbing a frozen dinner for lunch, which doesn't meet the criteria for real food.
I'll also admit that I was hoping that if I switched to a real-food diet the extra pounds would just start melting off and, sadly, that hasn't been the case. I've been losing and then gaining the same 3-4 pounds since the beginning of the year ad not really making progress. Maybe it's because I'm not following the plan strictly. Time will tell.

Is anyone else trying to eat healthier these days? Any challenges or recipes to share?

Monday, December 26, 2016

A minimalist Christmas

It seems like as time goes by our Christmas celebrations have been getting more and more simple and this year was the simplest yet.

I just didn't feel much like decorating this year and the cats would have destroyed a Christmas tree anyway, but I do enjoy having some extra lights around during this time of year. So in the end I decorated the mantle with lights and silver garland, put two electric candles in the front windows (which looks surprisingly festive for very little effort), and added a string of paper star lights around the doorway. For comparison purposes, here's a glimpse at past Christmas decor.

The giving of gifts
Gift-giving was also simplified this year. After the boyfriend and I discussed it, we realized that neither one of us had anything we really needed or wanted for Christmas so instead we exchanged small gifts worth no more than $25. We've done this before and it allows us to celebrate a bit without the stress of having to find the perfect gift. The boyfriend got Trinidad scorpion hot sauce (he likes freakishly hot stuff), hair goop, body wash and a Google play gift card. I got the one thing I asked for and am pretty excited about:

See it? Probably not, let me zoom in.

Sticking with the theme of this post, you could call this minimalist bedside storage --it's a felt pocket with a flap that hides between the mattress and box springs and has plenty of room for the remote, my ipad and phone. There's no room for nightstands in the bedroom, and I really don't miss them much anyway, but it is nice to have a place to put these things so they don't end up flung on the floor or plastered to my face in the middle of the night. And as you can see above, it's pretty unobtrusive.

Beyond the boyfriend, my mom and I agreed not to exchange gifts this year, so that only left my grandma (who loves her annual gift of an Amazon giftcard which she uses to buy ebooks), and presents for the kids (I went with cash this year and hope they'll spend it on doing something fun). So shopping was pretty minimal.

It's not Christmas without sugar cookies
I'm kind of known for my Christmas cookies, and I enjoy eating them as well, so I still made those. But I stuck to the basics: peanut butter blossoms and iced cutout sugar cookies. And they are delish.

The big day
My mom decided she wanted to keep things simple on Christmas day so she came to our house. We made a fairly low-key lunch of steak, baked potato, salad and rolls, played games and watched a movie. There was no drama and little stress -- a definite win!

It was good to experience for myself that even without a bunch of preparation, buildup and effort, Christmas can be fun and festive.

How was your holiday? Do you prefer action-packed holidays and big gatherings or something more low key?

Monday, October 17, 2016

Minimalism and privilege

Cait Flanders' post about minimalism being a privilege got me thinking so much today that I wanted to blog about it.

I completely agree that being able to intentionally declutter your stuff, simplify your life and commitments and so on is a privilege that not everyone has. If I need to replace something I've declutter, I can without any great hardship. Unfortunately not everyone can say the same.

There was a time in my life when, had you mentioned privilege to me, I would have immediately gotten defensive and explained how I worked hard, studied, made good, decisions, etc. to get where I am in life. And I did. But since then I have grown to recognize that other factors I had no control over also played a role. Where I grew up, the country of my birth, my family, and so on, helped put me on the path to success. While my family wasn't rich, I was never hungry or cold. I had everything I needed and most everything I wanted growing up. My parents valued education, working hard and getting good grades and taught me to do the same. There was never a question of if I was going to college, only where and what I wanted to study. Without that  upbringing and those expectations, would I still be where I am today? Without my mother's encouragement, and sometimes even well-timed threats, would I have finished college once homesickness sunk in or classes got hard? I don't know, but lucky for me, I didn't have to find out.

So there is absolutely privilege in choosing minimalism and we should all recognize that.

But the part of Cait's post that made me react the most was when she talks about questioning everything she's ever written and no longer wanting to write about "what items to declutter or her minimalist beauty routine." I too am turned off by the one-size-fits-all definition of minimalism, because there isn't one. What's just enough to me might be way too much for you.

But just because we don't all experience the same issues, or don't all have the same privileges, doesn't mean there isn't value in discussing your own experiences. There are a lot of privileged, overconsuming people out there and whatever makes each of us question our own choices is a good thing if you ask me. Maybe a post about decluttering will make someone donate some things that are just gathering dust, but that someone else could use. Or maybe reading about someone's simplified beauty routine will convince someone to stop buying products they don't really need, which will save some resources. Or hearing how someone cut expenses will help someone else do the same. And maybe that will lead to financial security, realizing you have more than enough and donating to others in need. Little steps can still snowball in the right direction.

I can summarize my definition of minimalism in two words: question everything. Experiment and re-examine what you do, buy, keep to make sure it's really important to you and adds value to your life. And then let go of the stuff that doesn't. It's not complicated, but that doesn't mean it's always easy. And share your experiences. Some of it may resonate and some may not, but I think there's more good than bad to be had by sharing and encouraging others to question things for themselves.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Tech-yes or tech-no?

I got my first smart phone two years ago, but only because I inherited it. My ipod is a second generation ipod nano. So saying I'm a late adopter is a bit of an understatement.

So when I came home one day to see this ultra mod black circle hanging on the wall, the first thing out of my mouth was, "What IS that hideous thing?" That blob marring the 1940s charm of min hus is none other than the second gen Nest. So needless to say, my first impression wasn't overly positive, but bit by bit the Nest has grown on me.

The good

The best part about the Nest for me is being able to check the temperature on the go. Worried about forgetting to turn the thermostat up or down before you left the house? Wondering what bill-raising temperature your significant other has cranked the thermostat to this time? No worries, you can check and adjust it from anywhere with just an app and an Internet connection. And believe me I do.

I'm also a fan of charts so the history feature, which shows how much energy you've used on heating or cooling each day is super motivating. This one showing no usage for a solid week is my personal best and you can bet I want to keep that streak a rollin'.

The not-so-great

The self-learning feature of Nest is one of the most touted yet so far I haven't found it to be super effective. Somehow it seems to learn the temporary changes I don't want it to while not quite picking up on our usual schedule. However, the Nest is also super easy to program so making fixes is a snap. Plus, the fact that there's no limit of how many changes you can make per day makes the Nest heads and tails way more effective than your typical cheap programmable thermostat.

But does it save you money?

Money savings has been a little harder track. My power bills this summer have been running higher than last year, but so has the average temperature. I am a little skeptical of how much money the Nest could potentially save, especially given it's much higher price tag than the typical non-smart programmable thermostat. But I've stopped overriding the program like I used to with the old system and I certainly pay much more attention to how much energy the HVAC system uses than ever before since getting it. And maybe that's benefit enough, especially since the boy got a deal on the Nest

Do you have a smart thermostat and, if so, do you find them an effective energy-saving tool?

Monday, July 4, 2016

Bathroom Redo

While I was away in Alaska for a wedding and vacation, the boyfriend tackled a full bathroom remodel in just one week. The fact that I had no idea any of this was happening was a sore point (to say the least) as it has become rather a bad habit of his to tackle renovations in secret while I'm away. But it was badly needed it and I wasn't sorry to miss all the mess, destruction and 99% of the work that went into it.

I've been planning to use most of these materials forever: subway tile in the shower, 1-inch white hex tiles on the floor and beadboard on the walls. All the essentials are new now, including the tub, sink and toilet.

I do love how it's turned out. After 10 years of dreaming about this it's still hard to believe it's real!

This floor is probably my favorite.

The shower wall tile goes all the way to the ceiling now, which I love.

He even built the medicine cabinet based on photos I saw online since nothing available would fit our oddly shaped opening. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Declutter Backslide

The house has been feeling very full, too full really, and as I looked around I mostly attributed it to the boy and home renovations. But looking in my stuffed cabinets and drawers over the weekend finally made me realize that I've been backsliding. Falling into old habits of stocking up during sales until I eventually end up with more than I can use in a reasonable time frame.

It started innocently enough. There were a few things I needed before heading to Alaska for a dual wedding/vacation trip: dresses for the wedding and rehearsal dinner, official hiking pants, natch (for all those hikes I don't do anywhere else but Alaska), some toiletries were looking low and heaven forbid I run out and pay Alaska prices! Plus my t-shirt collection was pretty thin, so I added four to it. I thought I needed a new parka, but the prices and lackluster selection made me decide I could live with my 16-year-old Columbia after all. Good thing, because in the end I didn't take or need it as Anchorage was experiencing record high temps this May.

Then I returned home to the middle of a total bathroom remodel (much more to come on that later!) which necessitated the purchase of some supplies, new accessories and the like.

Our last working smoke detector went on the blitz, so buying new ones became urgent. My hairdryer died. I needed body wash. Then Bath & Body Works was having a sale so of course I had to stock up on candles, body wash and plug-in air fresheners (my weaknesses).

When those latest purchases would barely fit in the cabinet at home I realized how much I had returned to old habits without even noticing and I didn't love the results. I'd be far too embarrassed to show you all the beauty products I have hidden away now! It's amazing how quickly and easily that can happen.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not at hoarder status yet. Unless you opened cabinets and drawers you'd likely never know. But I know and I really have having to move stuff to get to other stuff.

So it's back to the old ways. Time to use it or lose it, to think before I buy and to get back to the happy medium of not too much that I prefer.

How do you combat falling back into old bad habits?

Friday, November 27, 2015

Evils of planned obsolescence

Of all of our consumerist, capitalist sins now wrecking havoc on the planet, planned obsolescence is possibly the worst. Or the most irritating at least.

Defined as designing a product with a purposefully limited useful life, planned obsolescence seems to be a hallmark of modern life.

Rather than frequently upgrade to the newest and best, I prefer to hold on to things. My car is 15 years old. My bedroom furniture was purchased when I was a teenager. Having older things doesn't feel like a hardship--I rarely crave the newest and best. Plus, keeping things for as long as possible is not only good for the planet, it's also great for your wallet.

When making a larger purchase, I take my time, do extensive research and buy carefully. It's a time-consuming process that I prefer to repeat as little as possible. This is especially true for electronics.

My mp3 player is an 8-year-old second generation iPod nano that only shows a white square on the screen. But it still works just fine and 95 percent of the time I use it in my car and control it via the stereo anyway. The living room TV is a hand-me-down from the boyfriend's last upgrade with some dead pixels at the top, but most of the time I forget they're even there.

My smartphone (my first and only that I was given last year) is a hand-me-down iPhone 5 that I'll use until it dies. I keep my computers until well-past using them becomes inconvenient.

But planned obsolescence makes it increasingly difficult to keep possessions for long, especially in the case of electronics. Apple seems to be especially bad at this with their frequent operating system updates that don't always work well on older devices. I experienced this recently when my Feedly app on my ipad mini updated to an iOS 9 compatible version that crashed immediately after launch. I'm still using iOS 7 because of reports that the new software renders older ipads so slow that they're virtually unusable. I tried all my usual tricks of rebooting the ipad, re-downloading the app, etc. to no avail.

In case you're thinking, so what, it's just one app, Feedly is a news aggregator that makes it quick and simple for me to read dozens of blogs and websites that I follow from multiple devices and the web. While not the only aggregator out there, for me it's by far the best and my most used app. And while it still worked on my phone and laptop, I prefer surfing on my ipad as it's far easier to read than my phone screen while still being much more comfortable to use than the laptop.

After two days of complaining about my Feedly-less life. my boyfriend suggested that I might just have to buy a new ipad mini so I can use my favorite apps since it's something I use so often and enjoy.

While he has a point on one hand, it seems almost criminal to have to spend $400 or more for a new device when the old one still functions perfectly well except for some software issues. The miser in me was very unpleased with this idea.

Luckily it didn't come to that as I was able to revert to an earlier version of the app using these instructions and all was well again. Although I know it's only a matter of time until more issues crop up.

What about you? Are you a serial upgrader who prefers the latest and greatest? Has planned obsolescence caused any issues for you?


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