Tuesday, February 17

Small Changes

These past few months I've been taking baby steps on the journey towards 'minimalism'. I read Marie Kondo's book on Tidying Up, and it lit a bit of a fire under me to pare down my belongings and start enjoying my space to the fullest. So I began the purge. It's slow going sadly, life still must go on, but progress is gradually being made.

Shortly after my purge began, I purchased my first cleaning bundle from The Honest Company. Their natural, beautiful products helped me discover the joy in cleaning my home! Smelling the scents of orange and lavender instead of musty house smell makes me want to clean all the time!

Here's a few 'in progress' snaps of the house:
 First, the bathroom! This is my first real success story. Haha. See the little makeup caddy on the vanity in the first picture? That's now all the makeup I own. I'm not even a little sad about cleaning out an eleven year old makeup collection since discovering that it has an expiry date and eleven years is actually way too long to keep an eyeshadow pallet you never use.

I cleaned out under the cabinet and a nearby closet and moved all of our bathroom cleaning supplies and such over the toilet along with our towels. They're now living in a little DIY my dad helped with, two baskets from Winners screwed to the wall. This makes a huge difference in space! I also like that guests can immediately see where the extra TP is. ;) A small purchase that made a huge difference was the mesh shower organizer, there's now nothing sitting on the edge of our tub and I love it.

On the back of the toilet is another wire basket with some extra bits like a pretty candle, body cream and a place for our toothpaste to live instead of on the counter. They're all safely contained in dip dyed mason jars we did for our wedding. Marie Kondo talks about removing brand labels from your products and I did that with the cream, it actually does make it look nicer and more calming!  She also talks about using found objects for organization instead of spending money on fancy organizers, so I'm happy to say (almost) all of the organizers in the bathroom are ones I already owned and moved from somewhere else where they were sitting idle! She would probably dock me marks for that shower organizer, but it doesn't make sense to throw out products we're still using. Eventually I hope we can pare down our shower products considerably.

 Still in the works, I'm slowly getting through all the junk previously 'stored' in our spare room. It's quite the victory that you can see the floor in the above photo! Some of what's left needs to be given away, and some of it organized and stored. The closet, seen above, is actually a pretty proud moment for me. The very bottom used to house all of our Christmas decor, and now the entire closet sits empty (scattered contents are placeholders only, haha) waiting for me to organize it. The top of the closet now neatly stores all of our luggage! What a big difference, let me tell you, as our suitcases used to live in the bottom of our bedroom closet. I was quite amazed and pleased that I could fit them all up there. I also stuffed larger items we don't need often (like an old rug I haven't decided where to put yet, and my lace tablecloth collection from our wedding) into the suitcases. The trick is going to be remembering what's inside them without pulling them down everytime I forget...

My goal for this room is to clear it out almost completely so that we can put a small day bed in there. One day it will have to be a nursery so the dresser is about all that I want to stay. I'm thinking about selling my little sewing desk, even though it's perfect for my sewing machine Marie Kondo would probably ask why I don't carry my sewing machine to the dining table when I want to use it, since the rest of the time this desk just collects junk. Sad, because it's sew cute! (harhar).
And my last victory! This little Ikea sofa has been sitting in it's box since it was delivered about six months ago. Not a joke. Nick insisted he would hate it so he refused to put it together. Well I was tired of having a functionless box and no sofa so I started it's assembly on my own. Nick helped in the end. As predicted by me, the sofa fits perfectly in the room and although he will not be winning any awards for comfort, he provides a very nice spot for friends and animals to sit while Nick is on the computer. I love it, and the room looks so so much better (and closer to being done!) then it did a week ago.

Tommy has one more week to go before he gets full run of the house again (he's been in isolation with a broken toe) hence all the cat stuff in the picture! 

That's about it! Other small changes so far include moving Nicks board game collection from an overfilled cupboard in the kitchen to the bookshelves in the living room. Much better. Now my stand mixer has somewhere to live and guests can see the whole board game collection at a glance. Also in that newly re-purposed cupboard are all of my baking pans, neatly standing in a rack for that purpose. I'm kinda geeking out about this solution considering they used to all live in the very back of a corner cabinet and the frequent refrain was "NICK where are my cookie sheets??" because they would stack and hide each other from view. No longer!

Victory shall soon be mine!

Valentines Day Weekend

This is the first year I can remember when Valentines day has miraculously fallen on not only a Saturday, but a long weekend. Somehow, this made it seem even more special as  we were able to enjoy each other for a full three days with romance full on our minds.

For the last couple weeks I've been subtly and not so subtly hinting that all I wanted for V day was some locally made, gourmet doughnuts. We originally planned on brunch, followed by a shopping spree at Ikea, but sadly we both slipped up and kinda spent our Ikea money. Saving that for later, we headed out of the house around noon for brunch. Nick  surprised me with a trip downtown to pick up doughnuts from Moonshine doughnuts. He bought a full dozen and got full points. They were delicious! Strawberry Champagne, Caramel & Balsamic, Almond Earl Grey and Quadruple Chocolate. I was kinda not so secretly in love with the Almond Earl Grey. 

For brunch,  I indulged my sweet tooth further with the Raspberry Crisp french toast from Tutti Fruity. Nick likes the Celine's Special. After brunch we spent some time chatting with my mum (she traded us some doughnuts for homemade scones, as you can see they invaded the doughnut box a bit). For dinner we cooked up some coconut crusted tilapia and sauteed Swiss chard. I made raw strawberry ice box cake for dessert (just big enough for two!). We watched Castle and had a great time!

It was a warm sort of wintery weekend filled with fresh, fluffy snow and sunny, warm afternoons. We took advantage on Sunday and took Lola to the park. She had an absolutely grand time! Running zig zags, being brave, rolling and diving into the snow. She's quite the snow dog, and oh so cute in her little pink dog hoodie from Amazon. We saw Kingsmen in the afternoon (loved it, though it's occasionally too crude), and spent some time with my sister and her boyfriend. Monday we had a great lunch with our two families, and spent the evening with friends! 

I know Nick and I will always look back on this weekend fondly, it was kinda perfect. There's nothing quite like spending time with all of the people you love the most, and doing the things that make you happy. <3  

One thing we didn't do this year was take our annual family portrait! It will have to wait till next weekend as there isn't enough natural light in the house after work quite yet. I'm still however, determined to keep up the tradition, even if we're a little late.

Tuesday, February 10

For: February 2015

Lo is a nickname my friend Beth coined for Lola. She was just tiny and new and I hadn't thought yet about nicknames or 'pet names' haha. Once I heard it it caught on, little Lo. Beths dog is named Halo and when I get home from work I say "Hey Lo" and Nick chides, "Wrong dog".

This month I am seriously coveting this shirt tail skirt from GAP, but I can't decide if I want it in dark navy or camel brown. The dark navy might be more prone to hair (and my dog is blonde, hello!) but more versatile in my wardrobe. Decisions.

The other thing I can't stop thinking about is the laundry sorter from IKEA. Up until recently we had a big three section laundry sorter that took up way too much room. This one is tall, but the footprint is very small. It's going to live in Nick's den and help me stay organized! I can't wait! We gave away our old laundry sorter as part of my New Year Purging and slow trudging move towards minimalism, and having piles of laundry with no where to go forced me to .... actually launder them. This is the first time in my adult life all of my laundry is done, even the sheets and the duvet cover. Even the towels. I have every single shirt, sock and underwear item washed and folded. It's like an adult-y miracle.

For Valentines day Nick is going to take me to IKEA, bless him. I can't wait to share our den makeover soon on the blog, the other day I finally assembled Nick's little IKEA sofa and it's completely changed the function of the room. Having somewhere for friends to sit and watch youtube videos ... is apparently what it was always missing. Still some tidying to do, continual work on the laundry closet, and Tommy (did I mention our cat broke his toe?) has a couple weeks more isolation in this room before we can kick out his litter box and get it nice and clean. Right now there is a wealth of cat toys in the den, haha, and Tommy has been the one enjoying the new couch the most.


Friday, January 30

IRL: Keep Going

Just popping in to say, guess what, January is almost over! Just a day and a half left to go. If any of you are trying to keep New Years Resolutions, keep chugging!

 A huge part of being successful is creating habits. You want to work out more, you have to put in the work until it becomes a habit, eventually it will suck less. Right?

Right now we're heading into our fourth week of budgeting and meal planning and let me tell you, it's a bit of a struggle. That's totally normal.

I've made, count it, one meal from our meal plan this week. The rest of the week we've been defaulting to some old standby's, pasta pasta and more pasta. I ran out of frozen pre-made dinners so my laziness has been answered with Mac 'N Cheese. Meanwhile, the groceries we actually bought with the list that I agonized over for days are languishing in the fridge. Not acceptable.

Equally frustrating, I'm on a huge organization kick and cleaning our house like mad (why I have no energy to cook) and I might have slipped up and spent a wad of cash on house stuff. I don't regret anything, but I wish I could have purged first and then saved for the storage solutions. I have a major desire going on for this awesome laundry solution I devised. Did you know that you can purchase items from Ikea online? I do. It's a problem. It's a serious struggle for me whenever I think about waiting a whole 'nother week to click "check out" but I know that it would be against the rules to put it on my visa. 

Anyway, the struggle is real and I just wanted to provide some realness to encourage you to keep going.

To forming better habits! *clink glasses*

Here's an encouraging printable for you:

Friday, January 23

Christmas 2014

A little late with these, but I wanted to share some snaps from Christmas 2014. We had a lovely Christmas break before January kicked us in the nuts, and I treasure the memories of our first Christmas celebrating with Lola, and having a full house for Friendsmas. I cooked so much, and had so much fun!

These first two pics are from Christmas day at my in-laws house. They just had their fireplace services so we were able to have a beautiful fire! I was in charge of the stuffing for Christmas dinner and hey, it was kinda gorge.

 A couple of snaps from our place and my Christmas decor. Nothing really new here, I DIY'd the tassel garland and matching tassels on the little tree a couple years ago and I still love them still. I also used a DIY to sew the stockings for myself and Nick from thrift shop sweaters the same year. They're holding up really well! Tommy and Lola's stockings are just from the pet store. I couldn't resist the dog stocking with the little silhouette that looks just like Lola. Most of our other holiday decor is from the thrift store.

 And lastly, Friendsmas! This was our second annual Friendsmas hosted at this house and our table was a little more full this year with the addition of new boyfriend and all around good guy Michael. We think he's pretty cool so we'll let him stay. Lola decided to get into the group photo too. ;)

Tuesday, January 20

IRL: Our First Two Weeks of Meal Planning

With budgeting, comes meal planning. The two seem to go hand in hand. I've been trying to jump on the meal planning bandwagon for literally years. I have a multitude of carefully laid out meal plans journaled away and never followed. With our grocery budget limited this month, I decided it was now or never!

The first thing I did was a little research. I read a few meal planning articles and checked out posts on pinterest about freezer meals and what to buy in bulk and what not to. Next, I started a pinterest board "For a Weeknight" to save recipes I thought would be simple and could be made with limited ingredients for regular weeknight dinners. The limited ingredients part was important, I knew I wouldn't be able to purchase a lot of different ingredients or single use ingredients. I wanted to be able to purchase a single block of cheese, for example, and know it would work in all the recipes for the next two weeks. Once I had collected some recipes, I set out choosing like recipes and like ingredients to meal plan for two weeks.

Knowing that we usually eat out once, and have dinner with our respective parents once or twice in that time period, I decided to plan 8 distinct meals, with 2 filler options, and 2 entertaining options.

Whole Roasted Cauliflower from 'Dinner a Love Story'
The general dinner recipes I chose were:
  1. Whole Roasted Cauliflower (with butter chicken sauce) 
  2. Fried Rice
  3. Spaghetti Carbonara
  4. Beef and Brocoli stir fry 
  5. Fresh Lemon and Sage Veggie Pasta (with the leftover broccoli)
  6. Grilled Cheese with Apple Slices
  7. Orange Chicken 
  8. Black Bean Quesadillas
Back up dinners:
  1. Mac and Cheese with hotdogs 
  2. Tortillini Soup (can be made with whatever veggies are in the fridge)  
The first thing I did when we got home with the groceries is split up my raw beef strips for the stir fry into two freezer bag portions. I also added the marinade to the zip locks and froze them like that. They're super easy to pull out and chuck in a frying pan and I have two dinners out of it. All I have to do next time is buy some broccoli.

When we made the Quesadillas (which are delicious BTW) I made four, and froze two so we have a second easy dinner from that.

Now, I'm not sure if you can see what I didn't from looking at that list -- a lot of those meals involve serving over rice. I would say this was the only mistake I made, we got sick of eating rice! Haha. I didn't assign any of these dinners to a specific day, so it was easy to look at my list knowing we had all the ingredients for these meals and just say, what should we make today? That way we were able to spread out our rice dinners over the two weeks and it wasn't so bad. Usually, we don't have rice very often so it might just be acclimatizing to eating more rice then we're used to. 

Once a week on Monday we entertain our friends, it's our weekly board game night and I always plan to feed 6-8 people. I usually choose something I can make in the crockpot, or a one pot meal/casserole. For these two weeks I planned:
  1. Crockpot Cranberry Chicken (over rice)
  2. Crockpot Blackberry BBQ pork 
 We ended up cancelling one of our Monday night dinners, so we didn't end up making Cranberry Chicken. All is well though, as I have the ingredients to make it next time.The Blackberry Pork was delicious and because we ended up with a slightly smaller group then normal I was able to get a few lunches out of the leftovers.

After roasting, I bathed my cauliflower in butter chicken sauce. Healthy right? Some Naan and extra veggies helped make it super filling. 
Speaking of lunches, the other thing I did to prepare for the week was make 8 breakfast sandwiches with egg, spinach and cheese on english muffins. I did the egg in a muffin tin, and assembled the sandwiches before popping them in the freezer. I've tried both microwaving them at work and baking them in the oven on the morning of -- and they're pretty good. I definitely am glad I added the spinach for a little flavor. I prefer something sweeter first thing with my coffee (sweet tooth), so I've mostly eaten these for lunch at work with some veggies or rice cakes. I made a breakfast cake on the weekend that I've been taking for breakfast. Next time I might make some muffins and still do some sandwiches for lunches.

For all of that we spent about $192 on groceries. I purchased all the ingredients for the recipes, plus some freezer meal supplies like bags and tins. I also had to purchase some basics like milk, eggs, flour, and some extras for sides like frozen beans and tortellini. Oddly enough, we had no pasta left in the pantry so that was an added expense, while I usually have pasta on hand.  

I'm hoping we can do it for slightly cheaper these next two weeks, as $400 a month for two people seems high.I think we can probably manage since I still have leftover meals!

And that's it, our first two weeks of meal planning!

Please let me know in the comments if you have any ideas, tips, or strategies for stretching your grocery budget or planning meals! 

This is all both stressful and fun so far, I'm hoping it always remains so. The thrill of a challenge. ;)

Monday, January 19

Weekend Casual Uniform

 Well, look here? Another outfit featuring my favorite joggers, AKA, my daily uniform. I'm slowly learning about more minimalist dressing and how one can wear a variation on the same thing over and over again (a crisp shirt, a comfy pair of pants) and always feel and look awesome. I won't lie, I wore this outfit on Saturday... and Sunday. All I did was change my accessories and switch from my navy joggers to my black joggers. I have a sickness and it's name is joggers. Of note: it's now Monday and I am wearing tights and a skirt... joggers are in the wash.

The other half of this outfit is the drapey white shirt which I picked up on sale from LOFT a couple months ago. There's a stupid amount of white in my closet at the moment given the fact I have two pets and cannot bake a single thing without getting it all over myself. There's just something about the versatility of a soft white shirt, how it can pair with almost anything and always look sophisticated, easy and classic.

My sweater is from GAP, and represents one of the newest additions to my wardrobe. I picked it up on boxing day from the website at a great price, and I absolutely love it! It's warm and soft and so far goes with a lot of outfits. I've had some not so great luck with other GAP sweaters being unflattering, but this one is perfect. Who would have thought purple would be my favorite colour to splash throughout my wardrobe? Turns out it goes great with my colour palette of navy, olive green, white and grey.

GAP Sweater and Moto Joggers, LOFT Easy T, Clarks chelsea boots, necklace old

 Edited with ABM photoshop action: Imogen

Friday, January 16

Easy Budgeting Tools for Android and Online Use

Well it's a new year and I've already mentioned that 2015 is the year of the budget.

Nick and I have always intended to live on a budget but never actually gotten so far as to employ one. With Nick planning to return to school in the fall, it became clear that to save money for tuition (and living on one income, yikes!) we would have to bite the budget bullet (nothing like some good alliteration).

My first task was to break down our income and regular spending. With an idea of the budget categories we would need, I set out in search of some tools to help me complete my task. I used Lifehacker and a simple google search to find most of these.

The first tool I used was budgetsimple.com recommended by Lifehacker as a simplistic way to track ones spending, it ended up being easy to use and easy to navigate. I entered our monthly budget and sat back, feeling quite satisfied.

Now this is not the first time I've used a budgeting website to do this. As I said before, Nick and I had always intended to use a budget, but never had. I've filled out similar budget spreadsheets and used similar websites many times including Easy Budget and Mint.com. I quickly realized, if I want this to stick, I'm going to have to make it easier and more practical to log expenses.

Budget Simple doesn't have a companion app so I set about looking for one.

Nick and I discussed how we would track our spending and decided that we would prefer to keep a bi-weekly budget instead of a monthly budget to match our bi-weekly pay periods. This way, we can say 'from this check I need to put this much on my visa or into savings', and then we don't have to worry again until next check. The only tricky thing about this method is that some expenses are still monthly (like rent, insurance, or phone bills that come out once a month). We decided the best way to craft our budget would be to remove monthly payments like those above, and use the envelope system to deal with bi-weekly expenditures (groceries, clothing, etc). We use our personal accounts for monthly expenses, and a joint account for our joint bi-weekly spending.

Finding a mobile app to suit our needs was incredibly hard. I started with a google search and poured through a multitude of slideshows and lists of 'best android apps for budgeting' and 'simple budgeting apps for android' etc. I downloaded probably fifteen different budget apps including iwallet, goodbudget, My Budget, You Need a Budget, Simple Budget, Expense Manager, Spendee, One Touch Expenser, and more. Although many of these apps were beautifully designed, none of them did what or behaved the way I wanted them too. They were either too cluttered, offered too many functions I didn't need, or didn't offer a function I needed. In fact, only two of the apps I downloaded did offer bi-weekly budgeting.

I found the app I needed through a happy fluke while browsing aimlessly through the google play store. It's called Better Haves, a budgeting app for couples. Now, I find this kinda hilarious. Who would have thought something with the potential to be so cheesy would work so well for us. Turns out, Better Haves functions perfectly. Here's why:

A screenshot from my phone.
  •  It's a simple, envelope based budget app.
  • It allows multiple accounts so Nick and I can both access it from our phones. When he adds a transaction, it syncs to both phones so we're always up to date with each others spending. 
  • The length of your budgets duration is completely custom. You can enter whatever you want, whether you budget daily, weekly, bi-weekly or monthly. This was a huge deal considering our needs. 
  • It allows you to keep some budget lines separate from your SO. For example, if we wanted to have a small amount of spending money for each of us in separate accounts, that would stay hidden from the main page (under the 'yours' tab) so my transactions would be totally at my discretion.
  • It keeps savings separate from the main budget, allows you to set saving goals and then both account holders can enter contributions towards that goal. This is actually a great feature, right now I have the amount of money nick needs for his first school semester added as a savings goal and we can see exactly how close we are to it's completion. 
  • It sends a reminder to both of our phones every night at 9PM that says "take five minutes to review today's budget", which I actually find incredibly helpful. We've been making 9PM our budgeting time, making sure we've entered all of our days transactions and that we're on the same page. 
  • It's easy on the eyes. Seriously, some of the apps I downloaded I could hardly look at. It's not the prettiest app I tried, but I find it much more intuitive then some of the others.
So far, we're really happy with Better Haves, but it's not the only tool I'm using right now. I also decided to keep the app iWallet installed. iWallet has some useful functionality beyond Better Haves, it allows you to enter all of your banking accounts (chequings, savings, visa...) and keep track of your overall net worth. Since Nick and I both have our own credit card, this view allows us to see our total debt compared to total savings. I find this really helpful to keep track of how quickly we're paying down our debt. Sadly, I really disliked the budgeting feature in iWallet, so I'm only using it for the advanced features.

Beyond android apps, I'm also using Gail Vaz-Oxlade's interactive budget worksheet to make sure our budget is balancing. She is a proponent of the envelope method (or Jar method) so her worksheet shows exactly how much money should be in each envelope, combining things like restaurants, hobbies and sports into one entertainment envelope. This can be helpful if you might spend a little more on restaurants in one month, and a little more burning those calories the next month. It's flexible, but still balances. She has other great resources on her site.

Friday, January 9

For: January 2015

2015 is about simplifying life.

Budgeting, organizing, meal planning -- it all means that my attitudes toward shopping have to change. Usually, I covet everything and having the world wide web at my fingertips  makes it easy to give into temptation and spend ALL THE MONEY whenever there's a Modcloth sale or a coupon code in my inbox. This year, I want to take a different approach to spending and shopping.

From now on it's not just about me, it's about my family and the life we're building.

To help me change the way I look at my shopping, I'm going to be posting a new monthly wish list focused on him, me, my home, and my pets. One item for each.

For: January
Click picture for details.

Wednesday, January 7

Goodbye 2014: Our Year

2014 was kinda great for me (and Nick).

We have a couple of friends and family who got chewed up and spit out by 2014 and to them I say, 2015 is here! It's kinda sucky when your friends are not having as smooth and fun a time as you, but we still have to appreciate and celebrate how awesome the year has been while looking forward to better days for everyone. We've given the moniker #YEAROFDALLAS to 2015 already (one of our friends who's life is lookin' up) so 2014 might as well have been #YEAROFJEWELLS for Nick and I.
 This was the year we planned a wedding almost without stress and wringing of hands. That's pretty swell. This was the year we managed to pay for a wedding without going into debt! This is the year we got married! This is the year we truly enjoyed our sweet pup and the love that a dog can bring to your life. I both met my favorite author (Peter S Beagle) and saw my favorite band (Queen)! I did a start to finish play through of all three Mass Effect games! We were spoiled by friends and given all kinds of amazing gifts to beautify and make functional our backyard entertaining space, which we are more than a little excited to do in 2015!
This is the year we traveled to PEI and I got to meet Nicks grandparents, got to see the Island and got to eat the best ice cream. This is the year I read a lot of books and wrote a lot of words (just not quite 50000 yet). We played a lot of video games, visited a lot of parks, had a lot of picnics, and spent time with a lot of great friends. I learned to make doughnuts and bagels from scratch (it's been a delicious year) and I sunk over a hundred hours into Dragon Age Inquisition (nerd badge of honour?).

This was a great year, one that leaves us feeling more loved then we've ever felt. 

2015 is already shaping up to be a bit of a different year, one that involves budgeting and hand wringing and learning to live on less (What? Sounds like another wedding no?), but we're excited to take on new challenges and set ourselves up for our future together. Hopefully, the decisions we make now will lead to happiness and a high quality of life, say, five years from now. That's the dream. I imagine I'm going to be sharing more in this space about the realities of budgeting, being an obsessive online clothing shopper with no money, and maybe some details about making grocery budgets stretch and who knows, freezer meals. Maybe I'll get there. 

So here's to 2015! #YEAROFDALLAS