Sunday, December 31, 2017

Review: Goodbye, things

It's been forever since I did a book review, in part because I've hardly read any nonfiction lately. But, I couldn't have picked a better book to revamp the reviews with because Goodbye, things by Fumio Sasaki is one of my favorite books about minimalism.

If you're looking for a step-by-step guide on how to declutter and simplify, you'll probably be disappointed because this book is more about philosophy than the nitty gritty process of minimalizing, though there's certainly some of both.

Goodbye, things starts off with pictures of Fumio's home and those of other minimalists, offering a firsthand glimpse into different simple homes. They're all much more minimal than I ever desire to be, but still interesting to look at. With a bedroom that has only a mattress on the floor and a small table, Fumio minimized his belongings far beyond what I'd ever want to, but I still found his book inspiring.

The book then moves into what minimalism is, why Fumio minimalized his life and why having too much stuff is a problem for so many of us. Then comes my favorite sections--55 tips (plus 12 more) to help you declutter. They include many you've probably heard before and some new-to-me tips:
  • Get rid of multiples
  • Get rid of anything you haven't used in a year
  • Get rid of anything you wouldn't replace if you lost it
  • If it's not a hell yes, it's a no (This one works for me in multiple scenarios: clothes shopping, invitations to do things)
Fumio ends with describing the benefits he's received from his new minimal life.

This was an enjoyable read, one that inspired me to start decluttering again after I'd not been motivated to do so for months. It's definitely a recommended read.

What's your favorite book on minimalism/simplifying?

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Packing for Cozumel

Last week's post was all about our wonderful trip to Cozumel, but I wanted to share a second post about packing for a similar trip.

Our trip was all about spending time in the water and relaxing and my packing list reflects that. Our fellow vacationers in the resort and around town were also quite casual. Going almost anywhere in swimwear (with a cover up) is quite the norm and I wore my suit more than anything else.

I was packed fairly light for this trip as evidenced by the ample free space I had in my checked bag and the back pack I always carry on.

Here's what I packed:
  • Clothing: 6 t-shirts, 4 nicer knit shirts, 5 pair of shorts, 1 skirt, 1 pair of dressier capris, 1 pair jean capris, pajama shorts and shirt, 2 swimsuits, 1 cover-up.
  • Rain coat and hoodie (worn on plane)
  • Shoes: 1 pair of sandals for the beach, 1 pair of dressier sandals and I wore sneakers on the plane.
  • Hairbrush and straightening iron
  • Phone and ipad (loaded with books)
  • Snacks: protein bars, snack mix and beef jerky for the plane
All things considered,I did pretty well. And bonus, I only purchased two new thingsfor the trip: a cover up and new sleep shorts. The only things I didn't wear was one knit shirt and the rain coat. Most days we showered and changed before dinner since we spent the majority of our time in the ocean or pool. 

I didn't bring a hairdryer since they had one in the room and only ended up using it once on the night we went to the fancier restaurant at the resort. Same thing goes for my hair straightener and makeup. I only used them once and would definitely leave the hair straightener and most of the makeup at home next time. It so humid in Cozumel that any effort I spent on my hair didn't last long.

[photo: Christine und Hagen Graf]

There are a few things I would add to my list for future trips:
  • Reef-safe sunscreen: I bought regular sunscreen for the trip, but the boyfriend had read about the need to bring reef-safe sunscreen in order to protect the reefs and sea life from harmful chemicals. We managed to find some before our trip, but it was pricey so we decided to wait thinking it would be easy to find in Cozumel. Wrong! Sunscreen in general is surprisingly expensive in Cozumel and reef-safe sunscreen was even harder to find there than at home and what you could find was double the price. Luckily my aunt had some extra.
  • A swim-shirt: Despite my mooched sunscreen, I still got burnt, as I often do. This time it was my back and arms so next time I'd buy a sunblocking swim shirt or two to help block some rays during snorkeling.
  • A snorkel: My aunt and uncle brought extras, but I think it's worth investing in a snorkel that fits well if its something you intend to do a lot. The boyfriend insisted on buying his own snorkel to bring and was quite happy with it.
  • More cool, dressier tops: While many people at the resort were super casual all of the time, others dressed up a bit for dinner, which was fun the two times I did it. So next time I'd take a few more dressy-casual tops that were also cool because it ws pretty warm and humid.
  • Second swimsuit and cover up I love: I bought a cover up on Amazon to take on the trip, but next time I'd take a second, prettier one since I wore it so much. Also, while I took a second suit, I didn't love it and hardly wore it. It's been years since I bought a new suit so it's probably time to invest in another before a second beach vacation.
What about you, do you usually pack too light or too much for trips? Anything you'd add to the list?

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Recharging in Mexico

Fall is here already, with winter rapidly approaching, but I'm in denial of the changing seasons since we just returned from our summer vacation in Cozumel, Mexico.

This was our first trip to Mexico (and the boyfriend's first time leaving the country) and first time staying in an all-inclusive resort. I was anxious before the trip about the U.S. Department of State's recent travel warning regarding increased crime and murder rates in the region, but by that time everything was booked and paid for so away we went.

Happily, I can report that our fears were unfounded. We had no issues whatsoever and thoroughly enjoyed our trip.

We stayed at the Melia Cozumel. My aunt and uncle have a timeshare there and due to a change in travel plans had an extra room that was going to go to waste, so not only did we get to stay in a great room, but it was an amazing deal for us. It was a lovely, roomy suite with an ocean view, marble tile and a canopy bed. Being an all-inclusive, meant that all food, drinks and most amenities were included. The resort had four restaurants, two pools, three bars including my fave--the swim up bar, and lots of beach front.

My favorite part of the trip was our visit to Chankanaab national park, where we swam with dolphins, met some manatees, watched a sea lion show and enjoyed the best snorkeling of the trip. Entrance to the park is $21 per person but includes park and beach access with free use of chairs and furniture.  Restaurants and swimming with the sea life are extra. It's amazing how many fish we saw so close to the shore at the reef there, such variety and so colorful!

The snorkeling area at Chankanaab [photo: jchessma]

We also took a snorkeling boat trip to a reef and sand bar area, but the crowds (people would literally swim over you) and lack of fish meant that wasn't my favorite.

A small glimpse of the shops in downtown Cozumel.
Downtown Cozumel, where the many cruise ship visitors are dropped off, is full of restaurants and shops that mainly cater to tourists. It also wasn't our favorite because the vendors are fairly aggressive about trying to get you to come in their shops or restaurants. But that's also where Mega, a large grocery store, is located. Think of a Walmart or super Target and you'll get the idea. I love going to grocery stores in different countries and seeing the different and similar foods available. This one had a large, very delicious looking bakery, plus anything else you might need. The exchange rate there for U.S. dollars was the best one I saw and prices were very reasonable for most foods. The only "souvenirs" we brought back were snacks.

We also drove around the island and saw the more wild Caribbean side, which is gorgeous but the water is much rougher since it doesn't have the island for protection like the opposite side where we stayed and swam.

Most of our time was spent in this area of the resort--ahh!
The rest of the time we spent at the resort, mainly in a cabana on the beach which was incredibly relaxing. There's also decent snorkeling in the beach right next to the hotel property and we saw a surprising amount of fish there and even a star fish. There's also the swim up bar, located in the adults-only pool, that we discovered on our last day. So fun!

That's our trip in a nutshell. We had a great time and came back refreshed. Stay tuned for next week's post about what I recommend (and don't) for your Cozumel trip packing list.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

House tweaking

Unlike many women I know, I'm not into redecorating the house just because it's been awhile since I last did so. First, I find decorating exhausting. There's all the shopping, decision making and spending money. Yuck! Plus, I'm still pretty happy with most of the choices I've made, even the paint colors I picked out 12 years ago. That said, there are a still corners here and there that could be improved.

Take the eat-in corner of the kitchen, for example.

It was functional, but I never loved those framed postcards that I picked up at IKEA a month after buying the house. And the silver frames didn't go with anything else. So I finally replaced them with a Marimekko tea towel that I bought years ago, in an IKEA Ribba frame.

I loved the new art. But while the kitchen table had sentimental value, it was never that comfortable to sit at. While looking for new chairs to replace our broken ones, I found a used small round table with two drop leaves and three chairs online for $75... a good deal. But I immediately regretted the purchase once I got them home because they looked rough in decent lighting. 

Then the boyfriend had the table sprayed white as a surprise and instantly it went from trash to treasure.

My giant 21lb. cat makes this small table look tiny.
I liked the style of the chairs, but they were covered in a faux wood laminate that was pretty hideous. The boyfriend voted for painting them white to match the table, but I wanted to do something different.

I eventually picked out a bright yellow (Benjamin Moore's bold yellow actually) that matches the tiny splash of yellow that in the tea towel and we had them sprayed recently. I love them so much. They bring a much needed bold pop of color in the kitchen.


So that's one more corner done. When it comes to home decor, are you a serial redecorator or a tweaker?

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Fitness trackers: Friend or foe?

Using the Fitbit app of my phone I can view steps
walked, exercise minutes, time slept and more. 

When I first heard about fitness trackers I thought, there's another gadget I'll never need. But now that I've had one for nine months, I find it really helps to get me moving.

I read a post several weeks ago about fitness trackers being unnecessary when there are cheaper options available, like using a cell phone app or a pedometer. Unfortunately, these alternatives didn't work for me. First the cell phone tracker apps are notorious battery-drainers. I used one to track my steps for several weeks during a health challenge at work and as a result went from charging my phone once per day at most to several times. Plus, there are lots of times when what I was wearing didn't have pockets and carrying my phone wasn't convenient (i.e. during yoga pants casual time at home or whe,n say, you're using a public restroom). As a result, I missed a lot of steps.

Pedometers had issues as well, from missing or inaccurately counting steps to being far too easy to accidentally reset when I leaned up against something or hit it with my arm.

Luckily last November my deal-hunting-guru boyfriend found a Fitbit Flex on sale for just $40. At that price, I decided to give it a go. The result? Not only is it less obtrusive than either option discussed above, I find it really motivates me to more more.

Now the Fitbit Flex is almost as basic as fitness trackers get. It doesn't monitor heart rate or stairs climbed, isn't I have to check my phone to see my step totals. But it's one of the smaller trackers available, which is important to me, and the accessories are just as cheap as it is.

While the Flex isn't the most stylish thing to wear,
you can find wristbands in almost every color.

But does it actually make me move more? Definitely!

Had you asked me how many steps I walked before I started tacking, I'm sure I would have vastly overestimated my actual count. I also (incorrectly) thought I racked up steps at home than at work (where I have to park and walk a few blocks to my building, not to mention walking to other buildings for meetings, if I decide to eat out, etc.). My job tends to be sedentary most of the time, as are many of my hobbies (I'm looking at you blogging and reading!) so unless I consciously go for a walk, I can have just 3,000-5,000 steps in a day.

Since I've gotten the Fitbit, combined with the prevalence of health challenges a work, I usually walk 40,000-50,000 steps per week, versus staying in the 30,000 range. It also tracks active minutes (at least 10 minutes of continuous activity) and exercise minutes. Since I need all the motivation to move more that I can get, I find it more than worth it.

Is it perfect? No. For such a tiny thing I wish the battery lasted longer. I currently have to charge it two or three times per week. And unfortunately it can't track miles biked or stairs climbed. But for my needs and budget, I'm happy with it.

What about you? Are you a fitness tracker fan?

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Back in the garden

For the first time since 2013, our little container garden is back in full production and I'm thrilled. Especially since we're in the midst of tomato season. Nothing tastes better than a home-grown tomato, nothing.

crazy hot peppers in an Earthbox 

I still grow our little garden in Earthboxes. They're self-watering containers and if you don't want to fork out the bucks for them there are tutorials on how to make your own. This year I planted 3 Sweet Million cherry tomato plants, 3 Better Boy tomato plants and jalapenos, ghost peppers and Carolina Reaper peppers. The latter two I wouldn't touch with a 10-foot pole, but the boy likes them (he's weird).

Dwarf sunflower, aren't they cute?

I also planted nasturtiums, two kinds of basil, green onions, spinach (which is long gone by now) and dwarf sunflowers, all from seed. Unfortunately, for the first time ever my zinnias didn't germinate well so I only have a few of those, but I'll try again next year.

Salad with homegrown purple basil and a nasturium (edible and pretty!)

The tomatoes are doing great and every day I excitedly hunt for more cherry tomatoes. I'm still waiting on my first Better Boy. And as soon as we have a few of those I'll be able to make homemade salsa, yum yum!

Last year I planted one cherry tomato plant and wanted more, so this year I went with more cherry tomatoes and fewer full-size. It's working out well. I got my first ripe cherry tomato on July 17 and am now up to a handful a day.

This year's garden is reminding me that it doesn't take much for you to treat yourself to the freshest crops around. Just adding a little fresh basil can make a regular salad something special. I've learned from past experience that cucumbers and zucchini just don't do well, so I buy those locally and save my limited space and energy for the things that do pay off, like tomatoes. 

Even small container gardens can be a pain when you have to water them daily during a hot spell, but this year its been raining so much that I don't have to water nearly as much. And they've always produced so much more in the Earthboxes than planted in the ground.

I just love being able to grab some fresh ingredients from right outside the back door to enhance a recipe. I finally bought a spiralizer and used it to turn some summer squash into "squashetti." Specifically I bought a veggetti. It produces only two sizes of noodles so it's not fancy, but it's inexpensive, compact and works well. Plus who knew summer squash noodles are delish served cold in a salad with peas, feta cheese and heaps of basil and then coated with balsamic vinaigrette? Well, I do now.

The basil is producing quite prolifically, so I've been throwing it on my daily salads and it is delicious and sells heavenly.

What are your favorite plants to grow? Any fresh-from-the-garden recipes to share?

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Spring flings

This spring feels like a personal awakening as well as a seasonal one. After years of not feeling quite myself due to this and that, I feel like my petals are slowly unfurling along with the daffodils and tulips.

I've been enjoying more time in the garden, even the weeding.

I planted more spring bulbs for the first time in years and they've added a lovely bit of early color. 

The apple tree didn't bloom last spring, but t put on quite the show this year.

We've also been getting out an about. This weekend we saw Kedi, a lovely, touching documentary film about the street cats in Istanbul. It was better than expected and I had high hopes to begin with.

Then today, on national picnic day, we had a picnic in Inniswoods Metro Gardens and admired their spring blooms.

Entrance to the Secret Garden

Inside the Secret Garden

Earlier this spring there were more cat capers with a visit to Eat, Purr, Love, the first cat cafe in Ohio which opened right in our neighborhood. A very zen place for cat lovers.

All the cats a up for adoption and 120+ have been adopted since it opened last August.

How's your spring going?

Saturday, March 11, 2017

What I bought: Clothing purchased in 2016

Girdwood, Alaska

Ever since reading that the average US shopper spends $1,100 per year on clothing and purchases 68 items plus 8 pairs of shoes (Overdressed by Elizabeth Cline), I've been curious of how I measure up. I've taken a mental tally the last few years, but apparently I haven't officially tracked it since 2013This year, inspired once again by Exacting Life, I've dug out my receipts to add it up once again.

In 2016, as in the year before that, many of my clothing purchases were made in preparation for another trip to Alaska (hence the photos). So most items were casual or outdoor wear. Luckily I purchased hiking boots and a good raincoat for my first trip in 2015 so those were covered. I also purchased two dresses and earrings for my cousin's wedding and rehearsal dinner, but luckily I found both on clearance. And, bonus, they're both suitable for work as well so I've worn them each a few times.

Portage Glacier

Items purchased in 2016:

  • Convertible hiking pants: $37.43
  • Red dress and black and white dress for wedding: $88.29
  • Black and white dress: $26.98
  • Two sweatshirt jackets: $38.68
  • Blue Style & Co. sweatshirt jacket: $28
  • Four t-shirts: $24.54
  • Two souvenir t-shirts: $10.99
  • White cardigan sweater: $26.88
  • Black and white blouse: $16.11
  • White blouse: $12.99
  • Tan blouse: $26.98
  • Black work shoes: $42.99
Total spent: $320.57
Total items: 18

Accessories purchased:
  • Gold earrings: $6.72
  • Silver pendant necklace: $8.00
Total spent: $14.72
Total items: 2

Homer, Alaska

I'm happy with my purchases this year., although the number of items is always higher than I'd guess. I've worn all the clothing multiple times, except maybe for the tan blouse. I like how it looks, but the fabric traps heat so there's a limited time period when I can comfortably wear it.

I don't set strict budgets for my spending, but instead keep a watch on my monthly credit card bill. Everything possible goes on the card and is paid off monthly. If I have a high month, I tighten the discretionary spending for the following month or two. It might not be textbook, but it works for me and I'm still able to save a significant portion of my income.

Seldovia, Alaska

After several years of relatively low spending on clothing, I suspect this year will be higher as I really need to replace and supplement my summer wardrobe, both work and casual.

I am curious to see how my overall clothing inventory numbers compare to last time, so stay tuned for an upcoming post.

How does your clothing spending compare to the average?

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?


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