How to Entertain a Friend on a Diet

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Dieting, or making major life changes to be healthier, can be difficult enough to begin with. Add in that it can be isolating because often we make poor food choices when gathering as a group, and suddenly becoming healthier can become very lonely. One of my very best friends has been on a health and fitness journey for over a year (check her out over at Life as Alyx, she posts some of her healthy recipes there!) so when I ask her over it’s usually her “cheat” meal, but even so I try to provide her with options to make it a bit more healthy for her. I support you, so that means I support your goals, too, right?

Recently she came and visited with another friend of ours and we were having a “celebration” dinner of sorts. I wanted to serve something decadent, festive and fun- but I didn’t want to hand her a total gut-buster meal! We ended up having an awesome night with salad, cake, wine and pasta!  I put a lot of thought into what to make because I wanted it to feel like a fun dinner, but I didn’t want to feed her something so far outside of her regular diet that it could make her sick. Since that dinner went so well and everyone enjoyed it, dieting or not, I thought I’d share some tips and tricks!

  1. Always start with salad. And not a “salad” where it’s pasta, or marshmallows and fruit- an actual salad with greenery, a light vinaigrette and minimal cheese is ideal.
  2. If it’s carbohydrate heavy, ask if they’d like to have a carbohydrate alternative. Roasted cauliflower to sub out for potatoes, zoodles or spaghetti squash in favor of pasta- you get the idea! I find that the alternatives are often so fun that even those who aren’t on a quest for healthier living just want to try them anyhow!
  3. Serve wine in smaller glasses or pour for guests. We all have that friend with wine glasses that sneakily hold half a bottle of wine- not only is this incredibly dangerous, but if they aren’t familiar with what volume your glasses hold, it’s hard for them to determine what’s a serving. I often pour, then as I’m handing my guest the glass, I say, “This is a standard four ounce glass- not sure if you drove!”
  4. Tell your guests what’s for dessert- it helps them determine portion sizes.
  5. If you have the time and inclination, ask if they want this to be a “cheat” meal. If they do, just have fun!

Obviously it doesn’t make sense  to make multiple meals- but by asking questions, giving options, having a salad and assisting with alcohol portion control, you can help your guests make the absolute best decisions for their goals.

How do you help support your friends that are on a restricted or healthy-eating diet?

In case you were wondering, I served The Pioneer Woman’s mushroom four cheese pasta with optional spaghetti squash (I made a dish up of each and let everyone choose what they wanted), Caesar Salad with vinaigrette style dressing, light Parmesan and no croutons, there was wine and a girlfriend brought a delicious cake!

 

 

 

How-to: Keep your house cool

I live in a three story townhouse, and my bed is on the third floor. Sometimes, it can get so, so hot and I’m tempted to turn tail and hide at my parent’s place, where I not only sleep in the cool basement but also they have air conditioning!

While that compulsion isn’t so bad on the weekends when I don’t have to get too much done, during the week that means I have to get up about 30 minutes earlier and spend time packing work clothes/makeup to get ready in the morning, as well as drive into my house on the highway to tuck my car into the garage before walking to the bus station. It’s a lot of variables to add to an already hectic average work day, so I really try to keep my house cool to avoid doing that, as much as I love midweek visits to my parent’s place!

I know what you’re thinking, buy a portable air conditioner unit or a window version. I hear you. As someone who owns their home and pays whatever the utilities bills are, I investigated some of the options and couldn’t justify the cost of purchasing the unit ($500+ for a space of my size), creating a venting option, the energy to run it and then a reserve fund for if the self-evaporation function on it fails and there is a water leak in my home. Plus, as Consumerist and Consumer Report would imply, the efficacy of the portable units isn’t really worth the cost either.

For window air conditioner units, the argument was immediately stopped by a ban on them by the community guidelines in my area. However, they have a much higher incidence of mold than any other type of air conditioner, which can be damaging to respiratory health. If secured improperly, they can also be a safety and security concern.

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So, I took some hints and tricks from family and friends and have a system that gets my main floor to 17 degrees every night and around 20 degrees upstairs- perfectly reasonable living temperatures, potentially even too cool for some people! Here are my tips:

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Keep your lights and appliances off until it cools down

This one seems like a no-brainer, but also make sure that your blinds are of the blackout version in bedrooms and high-sun areas. Sure, my plain white vinyl blind isn’t the prettiest in my bedroom, but it keeps the sun out and that keeps my house cool. Airy curtain sheers are not doing you any favors, no matter how pretty they may be.

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A lot of different types of lights kick off ambient heat that can make your home even hotter. For this reason, I keep my main floor lights off until I need to have them on- sometimes that means I need to turn on a lamp for task lighting, but it’s a lot less than lighting the whole place up like a landing strip. Similarly, 25+degree heat may not be the best time to be baking a chicken in your oven. These are great days to use a crock pot, or your microwave to heat up a premade meal from the freezer. Better yet, try this no-cook meal I talked about recently. Once it’s cool outside and you have your windows open, do what you like (within reason).

Broke Girl Air Conditioning

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No, I am not implying you sit around and sweat it out until the sun goes down or outside gets cooler then inside. Although if you want to make yourself an iced drink and pretend it’s Mexico, I am with you. You can do things to prepare your house to clear the hot air out faster, though! I start with freezing trays of ice and pyrex dishes of water the night before. Then, on my main floor I turn on my giant turbo fan and aim it right on the ice! The effect of this is like dropping an ice cube in your drink- it cools the ambient temperature of your drink (or whatever room you’re in) and the heat rises. The same happens in your house! You’re just forcing it a bit. It is also nice to sit in front of the cool wind it provides. Beyonce hair alllllll night. This helps me be able to sit and watch TV, prep dinner, work on my computer without sweating to death. I’m Canadian… for the most part we’re optimized for cold, not heat up here in the GWN.

Once it is cooler outside than inside, take your fan or fans upstairs to the highest floor of your home or position them by your best windows for breeziness if you live on one level. Open up those windows and turn the fans on high. So long as your house is hotter than outside, there should be a natural effect where the hot air wants to rise, which means it needs to go outside! The fans will help push it out more expediently.

 

And of course, when all else fails, put some ice packs in your bed and tough it out! We only get hot weather every so often up here so it’s worth it to be good natured about it.

 

 

Easy Pantry Setup

Why I'm not...

This post should really be called “Why I’m not buying groceries for 35 days”, but that felt a little wordy. But, it’s true, I’m setting out for 35 days of not buying groceries and I’m pretty excited about it.

The month of June is  bit of a big one in my world. Not just because it’s my mum and dad’s birthdays (yay), and probably the month my sister moves into her brand new house (double yay), but because I’m kinda bleeding out the money this month. To the tune of approximately $4600.

Yeah, let’s all just take a moment to pick our jaws up off the floor. My broke little heart hurts a bit even admitting that! But, I have a $2100 bill that I’ve owed for a bit now that I wrote a check for today, about $200 upcoming to pay registration and car maintenance fees, and then my property taxes, which are approximated at $2200. Adulting is hard, yea?

So, from now and for the month of June I’m just not buying any food. Not because it’s anywhere close in terms of cost, but because that will ease the cash flow a bit. The only reason I’m able to do this is because I have a well stocked pantry and freezer that I upkeep (when something is running low, I replace it). My mum helped me out a ton with the initial stock, not just in how to choose what I needed, but also monetarily, which I’m amazingly grateful for. Since that initial stockup, I’ve tweaked things to my taste and budget, and the list is below!

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What’s your pantry must-have? Wish me luck for the next 35 or so days! I’ll follow up on the 30th of June with how the process actually went and how much I spent (because we all know it’s not going to go off without a hitch).

Making a Home: Affordable Small Bathroom Organization

Hello!

Here’s the next post in my ‘new homeowner chronicles’ which is getting used to a very different storage situation in my new master bathroom. In my bathroom at my parent’s house, my sister and I shared a bathroom with drawers, shelves, a storage cabinet… there was a lot of room and diverse options for storage. Which was good because I have a problem… and that problem is makeup and skincare products.

Honestly, it wasn’t just that I have way too much makeup (although I do). I also have very, very sensitive and dry skin that for a long time, I was buying lotion, shampoo and different foundations etc etc to try and cover and combat. I still have a ton of difficulty with my skin, but thankfully I’ve found a few things that work now. The hangover of that was way too many products that I couldn’t even use, and stuff everywhere. See below for the sad, sorry “before” picture (sorry, Mom, I know you raised me better):

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Thankfully, my mum can be proud of me again because in one quick night (with a run to Walmart, Homesense, the dollar store and some elbow grease) the mess morphed into:

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See? Much better, right? You won’t see the three-drawer organizer below in the photos for this post- it was actually a “practical” addition a few days after the fact. While it’s a nice idea to keep everything packed away, in my world that just doesn’t happen in reality. My sister has joked in the past that I like all my things where I can see them. In this case it’s mostly for accessibility, but she may have a point. I use it to keep things like my eyelash curler and other day-to-day items in.

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In this little project, I tried to use things that I already had as much as possible. These lidless containers are a great example of that- I bought them at the dollar store years ago, broke the lids over time, but they are given a bit of new life in this application.

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You can see here that I used a dollar store wire frame to add a “shelf” of sorts to the space under the sink. Since there wasn’t one installed, this allows me to make better use of the space. You can see plastic baskets and Ikea storage boxes repurposed from other areas of the house in there as well. One thing that also helped clean up the visual image of my bathroom was using my hair product carrier more effectively.You can see the cords are wrapped and everything is tucked away to be inside the door now.

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A lot of what needed to happen was just thoughtful corralling of everything that was strewn about. These dollar store vases (one new, one old) and mirrored tray helped accomplish that. My enemy in keeping tidy is not having a space for everything- it starts with just tossing my toothpaste wherever, but then everything else that follows makes me end up just like my before picture. I have those designated spaces now.

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I hope this post gives some good ideas for strategies to keep your mess under control- I personally struggle with this so much, so having found this strategy to keep myself under check has helped. In an ideal world I’d reconfigure my storage to have three drawers on the left side of my vanity and two banks of shelves under the sink, but that option is pretty pricey (200+$ range), so with some creativity this frugal solution was born!

Product listing:

Toothbrush holder and soap dispenser: Walmart Canada, not available online, ~$30 (gifted)

Mirrored tray: Homesense, $12

Glass vases: one was free, one was $3 at the Dollar Store

Black three: drawer organizer: Walmart Canada $14.99

Wire box shelf: The Dollar Store, $1 (as part of a two-pack)

“Please do not” print: Actual sign, brought back by a family member from Saudi Arabia in the 90’s

Hair tool caddy- $25 at Marshalls

 

My Cleaning Schedule & Money Saving Tips

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Recently I was so bored that I told my mom that I was going to clean my baseboards.

Yes.

While this is a totally productive way to channel boredom, I truly try to clean on a schedule now that I live alone. I have a roommate/renter, but she won’t really tell me, “Hey, the vents need cleaned”. Little things that you don’t conscientiously notice end up compounding into a gross “My guests must think I’m a heathen!” moments.

When I moved into this house, my mum and I spent a lot of time talking about what cleaners were necessary and which were merely ‘nice to haves’. Have you ever noticed how ridiculously expensive cleaners are!? Thankfully, the most often used cleaner in my house is now vinegar, which is good because I’m an overzealous weirdo with sanitizing things and vinegarabottom of this post is my cleaners shopping list- you may be surprised to see how many of these are already lurking in your house!

I clean on a schedule because cleaning everything at once seems like an onerous task to me. I live in a small townhouse so it’s really not, it’s all in my head, but breaking it up into little worknight tasks lets me feel like it’s no big deal.

Sunday:

  • Vacuum house, move all easily moved furniture for better access
  • Wash towels, kitchen towels, sweatpants, PJ’s (swap out hand towels and kitchen towels)
  • Clean kitchen (this is mostly a function of me doing meal prep Sunday nights- I get my groceries, cook, and then give the kitchen a full clean- stainless steel appliances are windexed too)

Tuesday:

  • Clean the bathroom
  • Wash work clothes (usually one load of darks and one load of lights, all hung to dry)

Thursday:

  • Dust (shelves etc, but also windows and vents because I live in a new house and dust grows here)
  • Wash athletic wear & run cleansing wash (this is new, because my eczema is flipping out)
  • Tidy bedroom & desk

Bi-Weekly cleaning:

  • Bedding
  • Clean floor
  • Hand-mop entry way
  • Sanitize switches, handles, cupboard fronts and railings
  • Spot clean walls and carpet

Like I said, I use only a few types of cleaners to keep my costs down and the process simple. They are:

Bathroom:

  • Vinegar for cleaning toilets, sinks and counters
  • Windex for mirrors, glass shower doors and chrome
  • Vinegar for shower

Kitchen:

  • Vinegar for counters (if you have granite like me, make sure you dilute it and then use a wet rag of just water to cleanse it off, then dry)
  • Palmolive for dishes
  • “Scrunges” for glass cooktop
  • Windex for appliances after disinfecting with vinegar

Cleaning floors etc:

  • Vinegar dilution for hand mopping tile
  • Vinegar for spot cleaning laminate flooring, railings, handles and light covers
  • Swiffer dusters (you just can’t beat them)

Every now and again, if I’m feeling flush I’ll buy magic erasers, toilet bowl cleaner and a Pine Sol bottle. Those are great ‘nice to haves’ that keep the house looking great as well.

Budget Cleaning- Post-Holiday CleanUp

I think we’ve all been there. Christmas has passed us by but the tree and other decorations have stayed up past their welcome, but the task of cleaning the decorations up feels much less fun than it was to put them up in the first place.

Christmas is my favorite time of year. And while New Years was a harder time for me this year and I would have preferred to let it slip by unnoticed and slide into 2016 and all its promise, I still love the season. There’s just something about all of the excuses to gather up with friends and family that I can’t complain about!

However, when it’s January 3rd and it looks like glitter was somehow projectile spread around your home, it feels like time to clear things up. This was my post-holiday cleanup, how did you do yours?

 

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Step One: Eliminate Sources of Glitter (and other unwanted items)

Those beautiful lightup trees shed glitter with wild abandon, and the garland wrapped around them sheds artificial (I’m allergic to most greenery) needles everywhere. It needed to be cleared out so that the first round of sweeping could be done.

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Unsurprisingly, I don’t use a lot of expensive items like throw-away dusters or specialty cleaners. I used a dust pan and then good old-fashioned pledge to restore my sideboard to its previous non-glittery glory. My dust pan does have a silicon edge to keep a tight seal on whatever surface you’re sweeping on, though.

Step Two: Pack Up Seasonal Items

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If you’re anything like me, Christmas decorations do not begin and end with the tree. Nope, there’s decorations everrrywhere. Before I felt like I could get a really good clean done, I had to get rid of everything that wasn’t supposed to be where it was long-term. I store my Christmas decorations in plastic tubs in my garage, so I hauled those up and started packing decorations into them.

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(even the bar cart wasn’t safe)

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I try to be very conscientious about how I pack things up, and not just because of the precious nature of a lot of Christmas decorations. I watched my father untangle Christmas lights enough to know that no matter how hard you try, they will tangle due to their design, but that storing them properly will minimize how much. My recommendation is to grab the end of your lights in your hand, pull it taut to your elbow and wrap hand to elbow in an oval until every light is in that loop. I then use my extension cord as a figure-eight securing device to hold everything in place until next Christmas. Items like bead garland are placed in zipper bags, and any ornaments without dedicated boxes are placed in shoe boxes or cookie tins, wrapped in tissue paper to keep them safe.

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Truly irreplaceable items, like the angel tree topper that my mum made, are placed in bags and then stored in a dedicated drawer so they can’t be damaged by accident. 20160103_170919

This is really just adorable… my tiny tree splits into even tinier parts…

Step Three: Clear the Air

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If you’re like me, Christmas means loads of visitors and meals. Or, it’s just that your roommate made fish after you made mexican beef. Whichever the case, an open bowl of plain ol’ vinegar will take scents out of the air! So my favorite final step to any good cleanup (even my monthly scrub of the house) is setting out a small bowl in the dining area to take up and away any lingering scents. It’s nice if you’re like me and trying to eat a bit healthier in the new year- no lingering smells of chocolate to entice a weak resolve. This is my mom’s trick, since she’s allergic to 99% of scents (as am I), so she’s come up with some pretty clever ways of making sure the house smells great without its occupants dying a slow, wheezing, itchy death.

 

I hope this helps with ideas for how to quickly and easily clean up from the holiday season! After doing these steps and a vacuum (or two… depending on your glitter situation) you should be ready to enter the new year with a clean slate.