Monthly Archives: April 2014

(Sort of) Regimented Happiness

I don’t know how many people will relate to this, but I know there are some, so here goes.

Spring is often a wonderful time of renewal and streamlining, a rejuvenation of resolutions and setting of new goals.  And this spring, I feel all of that.  However, Nick and I also began to feel something less bright – a sort of treading water feeling.  Perhaps it’s simply grown-up life, but it seemed that between what our goals and priorities were, and what had to get done simply as errands and chores, there never seemed to be enough time.  It was like running towards something, but that something was elusive, or disappointing when we got there.  More worrying still was the thought that unless we were constantly in pursuit, we would fall into a lackadaisical boredom.  This was not some existential crisis of the soul, but simply facts that we didn’t like.

I knew it was time to think deeply and intentionally to find balance and an actionable plan.  So one lovely weekend afternoon about two weeks ago, we decided to pop into a coffee shop with a notebook and map out where we were headed, and a good sustainable plan for it.  We learned some surprising things – for example, our time budget frequently was overpacked, and we were trying to stuff 25 and 26 hour days into one day, especially during the workweek.  By contrast our weekends had plenty of time in them, which sometimes just meant dragging out items that could get done much faster and more efficiently.  So we decided to make some changes, and I know that some of them sound crazy.  Like I said, this won’t relate to everyone, since not everyone enjoys extensive and thoughtful planning quite like this little control freak organization lover.

We decided to offset our sleep schedule.  In spite of all the great advice out there about keeping it consistent, we decided to throw that out the window – after all, we’re both young and have had our share of all-nighters and lived to tell the tale.  We decided to try and scale back to 6 or so hours a night as a stated minimum on weeknights, and make up the difference during the weekends.  We still get about 7 hours on a good amount of nights, but it’s nice that I’m no longer seeing 11pm on the horizon and then stressing out that it’s bedtime and I haven’t gotten everything done.  We also decided to schedule in a weekly date night as well as a weekly Sunday review coffee date to reflect on the past week and plan for the next one.  At first, I thought it funny and almost a bit business-formal, but it’s worked out really well!

I’ve also started trying to incorporate better habits into my routine.  In addition to the practical ones of making lunches and breakfasts ahead of time and laying out my outfit the night before, I’ve started making sure to weigh myself every day (since weight loss/fitness is one of my bigger goals right now) as well as keeping a food diary (on my fancy new Fitbit!).  I’m still working on the regular working out habit, that one’s not coming so easily.  But one new habit which has already yielded marvelous results is keeping a gratitude journal.  Every day, I sit down, reflect, and write down at least 3 things I’m thankful for that day.  Some days it’s very easy – achieving a small goal, having a great day, enjoying a favourite food… other days, well other days it’s more of being thankful for the basics, like food, shelter, and safety.  But this has put me in a way more positive state of mind, and this I think has spilled over into being happier and having better days – even Nick noticed the change in mental attitude!

How do you find yourself to be more productive, and more positive?  Do you need routines and habits, or are you more happy-go-lucky?



Fun with Fitbit

I know that most people tend to make big goals around January, especially with regards to fitness, but for me it’s spring when I actually feel inspired to set goals and make changes.  Nick and I just finished up the main part of the cleansing diet we were doing, so now we have a clean slate and are making our health and fitness a priority.  We realized that if with all our ambitions and goals, we need to take care of our health to keep productive and happy.  One method I find more motivating than almost everything else is seeing numbers, stats, and progress.

Enter Fitbit.  I knew that our metabolisms had been revved up as a result of the diet, so I wanted to have an accurate picture of what I was taking in, and what I was burning, as well as other indicators if possible.  After researching various methods and devices for tracking, we settled upon the Fitbit Flex as being our best option.  It’s a simple wristband that’s easy to wear, charges quickly, and costs about $100.  It tracks throughout the day, lighting up from 1 to 5 lights as I progress closer to my daily goals.  With it comes tracking online and via an app, which shows far more detailed statistics.  Check out a screenshot of my dashboard.

You can see that it tracks, pretty much in real-time my steps taken, distance walked, active time, and even sleep.  Most importantly to me, though, it tracks how many calories I burn throughout the day, which gives me a great guiding number when planning menus.  Under the Log, you can also track your food and water intake.  The Fitbit has a pretty impressive database of foods, though I do need to create my own sometimes, especially with homemade recipes.  It also instantly updates my macronutrient amounts and proportions.  You can also log and track things like weight, measurements, body fat percentage, BMI, heart rate (if you have a monitor), exercise, etc.  Basically it has a little USB chip that needs to be put into a computer, and then it will sync when your wristband tracker is within 20 feet of the chip.  I know I’ve found it very useful, and we’ve set ourselves both up with accounts, so that we can use it intermittently, which works great for finding our baseline metabolism, how much we move in an average day, etc.

I know it’s a fancy little gadget, and I know that simply having it on my wrist won’t make me magically lose weight.  However, I am much more motivated since I can see feedback quicker, and it’s definitely tapped into that human instinct of wanting to see good stats, so I can say that simply having it around has encouraged us to start making healthier choices already.

Have you guys tried these fitness trackers?  Thoughts on them – have they helped you or proved to not really make any difference?

Life in the Fast Lane

Granted, the title is a bit of a misnomer, since our new mode of transportation doesn’t go out on highways, not to mention the fast lane.  Nevermind that.  We are proud to say we got ourselves some horsepower!  In the form of… a motorcycle!  Here is our new(ish) acquisition, a Kawasaki Ninja 250cc model, isn’t she purdy? 

Granted, at this point, she’s not exactly a new purchase.  We bought the Ninja back in the late fall, but then after a very short riding season, it basically hibernated all winter.  This whole adventure started with Nick getting frustrated with his commute.  It’s not too bad of a trip, per se, but once you add in all the construction around the downtown and lakeshore, it becomes quite the ordeal.  So he thought he’d get a bicycle to ride to work and be done with it.

Well, in any other city, that would be fine, but here in Toronto that would be pretty risky, especially in rush hour, so there was no way I would let my sweet husband expose himself to those risks.  I suggested a scooter, which we had already been discussing as an option for some time.  Well, in a matter of weeks, he did loads of research, and took action – getting his licence, doing the safety training course, looking at what gear was necessary and then buying it.  We had already been saving towards a goal like this, so the cash was on hand.  Here he is about to embark on his motorcycle course:

Needless to say, once he had done the needed course, which was riding on actual motorcycles, the scooter seemed way less attractive than just getting an actual motorcycle.  After even more research, and days and days of trolling Craigslist and Kijiji, an ad came up right in our neighbourhood for the exact one he wanted, and at a good price point too!  We headed over, looked at the bike, and arranged to meet later in the week to finalize the paperwork and make the purchase.

He’s been riding it for a few weeks now that spring is back, and he loves it!  He rides it for his daily commute to work, which is a far more enjoyable way to start the day, as well as for running small errands, and a few fun rides.

Now, the other main reason we wanted to buy this is so we can both travel with it.  However, I tend to be a scaredy-cat about pretty much everything.  We had to gently ride around the parking garage a few times first before we even braved the roads with both of us on it.  Having ridden on it on the roads now, we can both safely say this is probably not the most ideal option for riding together.  Nick found it odd at first adjusting to driving with two people on board, and from the passenger seat, you can feel every little bump in the road, which is not so fun.  It’s definitely workable, and it’s been such a huge help when we want to quickly jaunt across town or run a brief errand, but this does have us considering a change to something a bit more comfortable.  For now, though, it’s perfect for Nick and he loves riding it, so it’s been a fun little addition to our lives.

Any motorcycle riders out there?  Sportbike or cruiser devotees?  Feel free to chime in with your experiences!

Surprise Drugstore Beauty Find: Secret Body Spray

I always really like finding a good deal, especially on beauty products!  With the wide range of products we tend to use to cleanse, exfoliate, replenish, enhance, and conceal, finding a good product that’s also easy on the wallet is always a nice bonus.  What I like even more?  Finding one by surprise!  That’s exactly what happened to me today 🙂

I was stopping by the drugstore to pick up a few essentials, and really wanted to pick up a light fragrance as well.  Sometimes I find that my fragrances wear off over the day, especially if I’m wearing some cheaper ones, so I thought it would be really nice to find something inexpensive to stash in my desk drawer at the office as a little pick-me-up.

I hopped over to the deodorant aisle, where I knew I would find an old favourite – Dove Go Fresh Body Spray in Pomegranate & Lemon Verbena.  This is a light, sweet, fruity mist that smells great, and works really well together with my usual perfume.  It also makes me feel youthful since it reminds me of those plastic bottles of body mist we were all so enamored with in middle school.

But next to it, for the same price, I saw Secret Body Spray, which also had more product in it.  The aerosol bottle scared me a bit at first, since it made me think of the Axe Body Sprays, the ones that guys in high school liked to douse themselves in.  But I figured for about the price of a latte, what’s the harm?  I decided on the Paris scent, labelled Romantic Rose (and maybe I was a bit biased since it matched my nails).

When I tried it later today, I really liked it!  The scent was light and timeless.  There was a muskiness to it, but in a very feminine way – it reminded me of the European body sprays my mother had in the 90s.  It was super easy to use, and smelled great, but without being overpowering.  If you’re in a bind, and looking for a fragrance boost, I’d highly recommend it!

Have you guys gotten any great beauty deals lately?  Please share, I’d love to know!

Spring Cleaning & Simple Apple Breakfast/Snack

Our cleansing diet continues here at Casa Raats, and happily it is progressing nicely.  Done in parallel with spring cleaning, the whole experience feels very rejuvenating and clean.  This past weekend, we cleaned out and went through both of our dressers and already have a large bag of torn/ratty clothes to throw away, and a hamper full of clothes to give away.  I posted before about Tim Gunn’s Fashion Bible, and I’m using that to work through my clothes.  My plan is simple – as you might remember, I’m learning not to overload myself.  So, having started with the dressers, I will slowly work around the apartment, doing small chunks of cleaning and sorting throughout the week, and the bigger parts on the weekend.  Currently my plan looks like this:

  • Tonight – Top half of nightstand
  • Wednesday – Bottom half of nightstand
  • Thursday – my hanging clothes (Nick did his on the weekend)
  • Friday – odd corners of bedroom
  • Weekend – top shelf of bedroom closet as well as floor storage

As I go through these, I also clean the specific area in detail, like the shelf or dresser drawers.  I’ll also set aside one day each for seasonal cleaning tasks, like using the Magic Eraser on scuffs, inspecting tile grout, etc.  I’ll keep you guys posted!

And now for the apple part of today’s post.  We’re each allowed one fruit from a small list for breakfast on this diet, and we usually go for an apple – it’s nice and filling, has fiber and is hydrating, all great things for mornings.  However, previous rounds of this diet have taught me that simple ingredients and meals can be even better when prepared a bit more, and chopped up smaller, as they feel more substantial.  So, here’s how I’ve been enjoying my apples.  (Note: I’ve only prepared them this way with sweeter varieties, like Fuji.  I doubt it would work as well with Granny Smith).

First, I chop the apple into small cubes in a bowl, slightly smaller than bite-sized.  Next I sprinkle on some cinnamon  – I like lots of cinnamon! – and a packet of sweetener.

After this, I add a bit of water, maybe 1-2 tbsp, and toss everything together to mix the apple and get the spices uniformly spread.  I toss it in the microwave for 30-45 seconds, and out comes a delicious treat that tastes a bit like warm apple pie filling!  It looks like this:

I know it’s simple, and not very many calories, but it’s nice in the morning.  I like the taste so much, I’m planning to keep this little trick in mind for when I’m off the diet – if I’m craving some apple pie, I’d rather whip this up (maybe with real raw sugar instead of sweetener then), and save myself the calorie bomb!

Anyone else cleaning out their closets?  (And if that made the Eminem song get stuck in your head, I’m sorry.)



Awakening after the Equinox

The sun is shining almost daily now.  The snow is melting, and most days are softly cool, filled with fresh air that is almost pleasant.  Dare I say it – spring seems to be upon us.  It’s been long-awaited, and I trepidatiously welcome it, almost scared that if I reach out too quickly, it will run away, like an ephemeral and delicate young doe.

Yet finally, at long last, it is time to reawaken.  I always underestimate just how much the seasons and climate affect me.  Where mere days ago I felt utterly powerless to do anything beyond the day-to-day, I now feel renewal and excitement for change.  This is when I purge and simplify my possessions, when I truly renew and cleanse my body.  My chrysalis is slowly opening, and I am drinking in the sunshine.

Right now, Nick and I are doing one of my favourite cleansing diets, boosting our metabolisms and happily, rediscovering simple pleasures and simple delicious meals.  We are content, enjoying the luxury of a delightful cup of tea.  The plan after this is to then ease into a healthier routine, a slow build to regular exercise, and more healthful choices.  At the same time, we have been blessed with some lovely abundances, and in turn are increasing our efforts to bless others, to be thankful.

And of course, it is also the season of spring cleaning, sorting through and purging the clutter.  I’m slowly learning to work and plan at a manageable pace.  Often, I’ve either wanted to overhaul everything or sit and do nothing despondently.  Of course, neither is really a good idea in the long run.  So, I must learn – learn to accept the somewhere in between, learn to plan enough to keep motivated, but not to exhaustion.  It is better to work slowly and steadily towards a higher quality, lasting result.  One file at a time, one drawer at a time, one room at a time.  I’m good at multitasking, but I’ve been doing far too much of it, and right now I’m learning to let things move at their more natural pace.

Most importantly of all, my journey of faith has passed a landmark.  I feel like I’ve been searching for certain answers for a very long time, and the answers have come, and with it, a peace and happiness unlike anything else.  Serenity.  For so long I have either felt like a frail rose quivering in the wind, or like I was shielding myself, trying to appear tough to hide fear and old wounds.  For the first time in a long time, both of those have been replaced with quiet and calm, and I can be still from the very depths of my soul.  The earth is awakening at long last, and so am I.