Thursday, 28 March 2013

Goal 90. & 91. Handwritten letters

When was the last time you received a letter in the mail from a real person? A handwritten address and return address, maybe even addressed to Miss or Missus. I can still remember the thrill I got as a child when we received a real letter in the mail and have several of them.

One of my goals has been to write a few letters to special people, because I want them to feel that thrill of a letter, plus it is a nice way to communicate and can become a keepsake. For me there have always been two obstacles when it comes to letter writing.
  1. What to say?
  2. Having something to send it on. 
For a breezy, newsy letter I generally like to write it out on my computer or scrap paper before I use my nice paper. In these types of letters it is more important for your personality and voice to come through rather than specifically what to say. It is a bit more like a journal than an essay. 

If you are writing a letter of condolence or encouragement, and perhaps having a bit of trouble getting started or want some help with wording, check out this site. 

Sensitivity is important, but sometimes we can easily get caught up in our own insecurity, wanting to do something nice, but afraid it will be unintentionally hurtful or cause pain. That's why I like to read through these sentences and have help to find my words. I add more personality with reflections on the specific situation, or including a verse or quote, but can be happy using others' words to refine my own.  Reaching out is a challenge, so start at a level that feels just outside that comfort zone, but something you are truly glad to do. Hopefully the rewards will be greater than the risks.

For the longest time I wanted stationary paper, and felt either I couldn't afford it, and also had a hard time finding actually notepaper, not just cards. I finally just decided that I wanted to write letters and found the stationary I use at Papyrus for a pretty reasonable price. It makes me happy. And that is, of course, the whole point of any style of letter or note. Just for pure happiness, so that someone will get that thrill from their own mail box. 

When was the last time your sent a real-life letter?

Monday, 25 March 2013

Meal Planning: A salad bar for guests

My mom and sister have been staying at my house all week, while we have done some legwork for her wedding. We have had busy days, lots of driving and lots of talking. Oh, and lots of money (at least in talking) is being thrown about. Weddings are big money spenders, if you let them.

So in the interest of keeping to a budget in real life we have tried to not eat at restaurants for 3 meals a day. Because that would be too much! Plus its really hard to find good vegetables at a restaurant. We have had a mix of fast-food, pizza delivery, restaurants and home cooking. 

So what meals can you serve at home, when you have just gotten home, are ravenous and want something healthy. Oh, and everyone has different food dislikes and dietary plans.

Enter the salad bar. No cooking, very little prep. lots of veggies, and everyone can choose what they want. Perfect. 

Want some ideas for what to put in your salad bar? Here's what we had:
  • Greens - romaine lettuce
  • Proteins - diced grilled chicken, crumbled bacon, shredded cheddar cheese, goat cheese
  • Veggies - tomato, cucumber, radishs, green & orange peppers, broccoli, shredded carrots
  • Mix-ins - sunflower seeds, sliced almonds

For the dressing we had this honey mustard vinaigrette and ranch dressing. This ranch dressing recipe comes from the blog Confessions of a Food Bride, but for some reason I can no longer get this website to load, so I am reprinting it for you here.

Ranch Dressing

  • 3/4 cup sour cream
  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise (not miracle whip)
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 1/4-1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1-2 tbsp. chives, snipped (I use freeze-dried)
  • 1/2 tbsp. dried parsley flakes
  • 1 clove garlic (or 1 tsp. garlic powder)
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. pepper
Measure all the ingredients into a blender and process to mix thoroughly. Add more buttermilk until you reach a desired consistency. Store the dressing in the fridge, as it chills it will thicken into a dip. I have never seen it go bad because we always finish it within a few days! 

What meals do you like for serving guests?

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Goal 41. Organize iphoto

Right now Edmonton is experiencing a spring snow storm. I am so tired of all the snow and freezing temperatures and longing for spring. So needless to say, there aren't a lot of outdoor activities going on.

Over the past few months I have been slowly organizing my iPhoto. About 2 years ago my old laptop suffered a hard drive corruption and everything had to be saved by hand. It was a long tedious process, so eventually I just said it was good enough and never really organized it, or checked that this was true. Well fast forward to today, and there is a mess in my iphoto, with pictures of my childhood dated to 2010 and pictures from last year broken and doubled.

But this week, with the terrible weather, I have had time to simply hunker down and clean it up.

I use iPhoto on my Mac, and organize my photos by date. Then I put them into event folders like this: "Jan-Mar '07." For events that have a large number of photos associated with it, such as a wedding or trip, I will use another event folder such as "Wedding '07." Photos from projects gets their own events folder too, such as "Blog" or "Sunflowers."

 To adjust a photo that is in the wrong date I simply use "Photos -> Adjust date and time." By organizing my events by date, this change will automatically move the photos closer to the event folder they belong in. Also remember to deleted the 14 test shots you took before getting the right angle, and anything too dark, blurry or simply ugly. Not every photo needs to be saved!

This is a task that is easy to do while watching a movie or TV show, but it can be a bit tedious. So start now! Especially if you take a lot of photos, things can get ugly quickly so get a handle on it as soon as you can. From then on, photo organizing will be much simpler.

If you have ever thought about scanning in your print photos from before there was digital photography having your digitals organized before you start will make that process so much easier. Use the same organizational structure for photos you scan; choosing the (approximate) date the photo was taken rather than the date it was scanned.

Once you photos are organized think about how you will backup and/or display the photos in your house. A few ways to backup your photos include:
  • back-up services like drop box or evernote
  • external hard drives (we use a Time Capsule with Time Machine)
  • discs (try burning a dvd of photos each year - make sure to label them!)
Once you have organized your photos it is so much easier to display them, from printing photo books, making wall art or saving as a screensaver. Now it is also faster to use photos for projects like this desk top, table runner or these canvases. Have fun!

How do you keep your photos orderly?

Monday, 18 March 2013

Spice up your meal plan: Barbecue Chicken Pizza

It is no secret that I kind of love meal planning. I love selecting new recipes to try, searching for the perfect version of classics like shepherd's pie and lasagna, and celebrating special events with food.

I also have a crazy schedule and a husband who doesn't cook. And a generous but non-negotiable food budget. I will have to write about my food budget at some point, but that is not for now.

I have a pretty interesting meal plan, and we rarely eat the same meal twice. As in twice ever. I have the opposite problem that some people do, where my meal plan is TOO varied, instead of too boring.

So here is a recipe that can easily be added to any meal plan, doesn't break the bank, doesn't take a gourmet chef, but might be a completely different flavour than you usually have on your meal plans.

When making this you can either follow the links for making homemade, or use store-bought ingredients. The choice is yours based on budget, time and desire. For the record, when I made this, I used store-bought dough and homemade sauce.

Barbecue Chicken Pizza with Pineapple and Cilantro 

  • 1 ball pizza dough  (this dough can be made in advance and frozen. Thaw to use!)
  • 1/4 cup - 1/2 cup barbecue sauce 
  • 1-2 chicken breasts, cooked & finely diced
  • 4 sliced bacon, cooked & crumbled
  • pizza vegetables - peppers, onion, garlic, mushrooms, spinach
  • 1 1/2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded 
  • 1/4 cup pineapple tidbits, drained
  • few sprigs cilantro, minced

Roll out your dough onto a baking pan. I generally find that rolling mine into a rectangle is easier, and fits my narrow pans better. If you have a pizza stone or pan use that! Follow the instructions for using your pizza stone.

Cover the dough with barbecue sauce, leaving a ridge bare as the "crust". Sprinkle on chicken and bacon. Add your favourite pizza vegetables.

Cover the whole works with a generous amount of cheese. Sprinkle pineapple on top. If your husband doesn't like pineapple (or any other topping), then leave it off his half. Sprinkle cilantro over top of this.

Bake in 400ºF oven for 25-30 minutes. It is done when the edges of the crust are dark brown and the cheese is all melted. Let it sit on the counter for 2-4 minutes, then cut it into pieces.

Try serving with cut vegetables and homemade ranch dip. Enjoy!

What are your favourite "different" meals?

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Goal 37. Design a pretty, relaxing bedroom

I am happy to finally be able to say that I love our bedroom and like relaxing in here. Everything in it works well for us, and is something we have chosen, not simply what was available. I love the current colour palette of white, soft blues and brown, but we will see what happens in the future.

Decorating slowly, one piece or area at a time really helps me relax and continue to feel excited about being at home. I would define our decorating style as cozy minimalist, and I try to choose functional pieces that look nice together. We really don't have a lot of extra "stuff" everywhere, but what we do have gets used well.

Since we have only been married for a short amount of time, a lot of our furniture is still hand-me-down's or things we bought in college. Not a lot of it matches, but I think we make it work pretty well.

However, when we moved to Edmonton, we decided to simply dump our nightstands and dresser at the Value Village and buy new stuff when we arrived. Our nightstands were moulding on the back, and the dresser was second-hand from Adam's younger brother! It was in seriously rough shape; even paint couldn't fix it.

So we splurged on furniture at our favourite store (can you guess?) and got our Malm dresser and nightstand. And we even sprung for the glass tops, so that they will last longer without getting scratched. Over the past few months we have added curtains and accessories. The bedding has been with us since we got married, and my lamp is from college! I still love this lamp.

I also love this photo gallery I made, based on this inspiration from Always Chasing Life. Since its our bedroom it's the story of our relationship and has pictures from different events we've shared together. I used mis-matched all-white ikea frames, and tried to make the arrangement organic, but collected. I even bit the bullet and wrote out our wedding song on this matte. I would like to add some more non-photographic elements, but I think I need a bigger wall for that to work. Hopefully, over time I'll keep updating it.

One of the earliest DIY projects I ever did (back in college! before pinterest!) was this jewellry board. It is simply an old bulletin board, covered with cheap fabric and then I spaced out clear push pins. I just hang my jewellry on these push pins. Ridiculously easy, and makes the room sparkle.

Yeah, I know. What is with all that stuff? Well, a husband needs a place to keep his stuff, and the top of his desk makes perfect sense to me. Makes this spot just his, and limited space, well, limits what he can keep. I don't try to get rid of his stuff anymore, and it doesn't clutter up (in my opinion) our living room. Peace.

There is still a lot of work that could be done with this room. You know, like, getting a bed. But right now its working for us, and looks good enough for me.

What do you love about your bedroom?

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Goal 69. Healthy Homemaker - Part 2

Hello internet! A few weeks ago we focused on Healthy Homemaking 1-10 so this week we continue with 11-20.

I heard a great idea from Emily Freeman on Simple Mom's podcast recently, and I really need to take it to heart when I think about my attempts to be more environmentally friendly AND budget-friendly.
"I can't pay attention to everything at the same time..... you can't let guilt become one of the balls you juggle, because inevitably they become the heaviest one." 
So when I am writing this I am resolved not to feel guilty about it, and I hope you don't feel guilty about your life, or just how bad I am at this! Onward!

11. Evaluate healthy fat & oils. In our house we have 4 kinds of fat/oil. Extra-virgin olive oil, canola oil, unsalted butter and margarine. Here is the deal: I fully agree that margarine isn't that good for you, but here is my reasoning for keeping spreadable margarine = when we had butter it always seemed to taste like blue cheese, leading us to believe it was spoiling. This was despite using a "butter bell" which supposedly seals the butter in water so it can't spoil. So for our toast we use Becel. 
       Actually as I am writing this post I am realizing my use of hard margarine (because it comes in convenient 1/2 cup blocks) is kinda dumb. So you know what? I am going to stop buying that. We will adapt. 
       We use canola oil because it is a good ol' Canadian product, which we choose to support. And we are not convinced that GMO's are an issue. The entire reason they are bred is so that they are resistant to pest and disease and need much less pesticide and herbicide. So.... that makes sense to us. 

12. Homemade condiments. This is one that has to be evaluated based on time commitments. Right now I am actually on a big push to just to reduce the number of condiments we have. So far I have really only gotten into homemade barbecue sauce. Except for salad dressing. We have gone completely homemade on this one. So far we have found a great vinaigrette, ranch dressing, french dressing and caesar dressing. And a poppyseed sweet dressing for spinach salad. We simply stopped buying salad dressing one day. I have found that making larger quantities and saving them in tall containers helps me continue, otherwise if I had to make dressing every night I would probably give up. 

13. The story of stuff. Basically this step is about closely evaluating your consumer choices, and determining if your values are lining up with what you are buying. We have embraced a quasi-minimalist lifestyle in our life, mainly because we have a small budget. We find it much easier just to avoid shopping as much as possible, and then if we need to do some shopping, we just do the best we can.

14. Creative Repurposing. Just keep using your stuff until it is completely un-useable, using it in different ways as it becomes unsuitable for its previous job. Two ways we do this really stand out. 
         1. We do our best to reuse our furniture and not simply buy new things to decorate our apartment, even if it takes us a little while to figure out their use. For instance when I moved out to my first apartment I had to buy a closet organizer for my strange walk-through closet (it was advertised as a bedroom, ha!). That was 6 years ago. Once we were married and moved, that closet organizer became pantry shelves. Then it became an office bookshelf. Now it is unassembled into boards, but it is ready for whatever life it will live in our next house. 
        2. Our clothes take two paths - goodwill, or the rag bag. Or they are worn until they are literally torn in half and no one, would ever want to wear them. Then sometimes the fabric is kept for future projects. Or mended, even if poorly. 

15. Properly prepared oatmeal. Ok, so we get to one of the big real food ideals.... soaking your grains to reduce phytates. Here is my issue - what the heck is a phytate? It makes no sense biologically or chemically. And all research we have done simply leads back to Nourishing Traditions, the bible of the real food movement. But how can this be such an important nutritional consideration and there be no other scientific research regarding it. Also the registered dieticians I work with have never heard of phytates. So... we don't beleive science without scientific evidence. And therefore don't worry about soaking anything. But we do eat oatmeal! I made up big batches of both flavoured oatmeal (cinnamon & brown sugar) and homemade granola flavoured with honey and cinnamon. And we don't buy cereal. So that's pretty great in my estimation. 

16. Homemade yogurt. I tried this once. And then my husband begged me never to do it again.

17. Naturally female. Have you stopped to consider the impact that feminine products have on the environment? Me neither. Mostly because I don't even want to think about this, much less blog about it.  (Sorry!)

18. Plastics are bad! They really are. My sister (the chemical engineer) tells me that even "biodegradable plastic" will never actually degrade. The best we can do is recycle. Or try to avoid plastic. But truly, that seems an impossible task. Plastic is ubiquitous. So we just follow the reduce (especially packaging, and containers), reuse (any typperware, ziploc bags) and recycle (all of it). Things that are designed to be kept for a long time I don't really worry about. But packaging? This is something to really try to avoid and reduce.

19. Produce quality. You know, you really should be buying organic. Which bugs me a bit. Why can't we just get it so that organic is just standard? I mean, if the food is harmful, shouldn't it not be eaten by anyone? Poor people just have to suffer and continue to eat poison? Or it not poison and rich people need to calm down. This whole argument seems a little bit frustrating. So... we are poor people. In a first world kind of way. And we would end up just eating a lot less produce if we went organic. Which I think is worse for my health than a bit of pesticide residue. My ideal - getting a fruit & veggie box delivered weekly, being a part of a CSA, and supplementing with my own garden. Hopefully we will get there.

20. Stop drinking juice. Fail! I am just so bad at this. Not in the, "didn't realize this was an issue", or "I just have bad habits." I fail at this in the "if I stopped drinking juice or pop I would die of dehydration," kind of way. For serious. I have had headaches and stomach issues many, many times because I just didn't drink enough water. We have found that we go in cycles. For a little while we will be good with drinking water, flavoured sometimes with lime or lemon. And then we just can't do it anymore. And we stop drinking anything. So instead of fighting this, we just give into the juice for a while. And then when my mouth is tired of constantly feeling fuzzy because of all the sugar, we go back to water. Which really does make me feel about a million times better, even if I still eat poorly and don't exercise. It's all about choices and what works currently.

How do you prioritize your attempts to be more environmentally-friendly?