Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Back to Work Meal Planning

Hey, guys!!!!

Okay, so yesterday it rained for the first time in what seems like forever. With temperatures staying above 30ºC all Summer, it was a relief to finally get some chillier weather. Autumn is officially on it's way (although I'm guessing these cooler temperatures aren't going to stay around for long).

And with the change of weather comes the end of my holidays. Tomorrow is my first day back at work. I've been using these holidays to come up with some future posts, though I won't be promising any set schedules considering my past posting failures. One of the things I wanted to share was Meal Planning. I used to be really good at this. I mean REALLY good at this. I would print out a calendar, plan a week of meals and go shopping every Saturday morning. Food waste was minimal and it helped keep my monthly shopping bills low. However, since I finished my studies and began working, and went from a one-person household to a two-person household, I have lost my way. Adri is the one who does most of the cooking now and I can't remember the last time I printed a calendar to plan our meals for the week.

With the beginning of the new work year, however, I've decided to try to get back into the routine of planning and shopping regularly. Even though we do usually go shopping only once a week, we tend to buy a lot of things we don't use, which has led us to spend a lot of unneeded money and increased our food waste. Not good.

Not only have I decided to plan the meals but I've also been looking into serious meal prepping strategies: freezing ingredients for slow cooker meals, pre-chopping veggies and preparing meals to freeze over the weekend. With Adri going back to class and me working, it's going to be difficult to find the time to get lunch or dinner on the table.

So, why this interest in meal planning, you ask? Well, there are numerous benefits that come from planning your meals. Let's see what some of them are:

  • More likely to eat healthy. If you know what you're making and have the ingredients to make it, you're less likely to buy ready-made foods or order take-out, especially if you add meal prepping to the planning. If you peel and chop your fruit and veggies and keep them in airtight containers in the fridge, you'll be more likely to eat them. 
  • Similar to above: less added sugar, less calories, less additives, less unhealthy fats... the list is endless
  • You'll know exactly what it is you're eating since you know what you're putting in it. 
  • Saves time
  • Saves money: you'll be less likely to buy food that you won't use and will have to throw away, and therefore...
  • Less food waste
  • Buying only food that you will need for your week will free up room in your fridge for leftovers and will let air circulate between items, which is necessary to cool items properly
  • If you eat at work and prepare your lunch in advance you'll also save money by not having to eat out every day or buy those soggy sandwiches from the vending machine. 


When planning your meals, think about what is easier for you and the lifestyle you lead. For us, shopping once a week is ideal but some may prefer to shop once every two weeks or twice a week, depending on family size and the amount of food storage space in your home. Bare in mind that fresh foods tend to go bad if you shop less than twice a week (unless you buy the fresh ingredients when you plan on using them). 



I prefer to use a calendar when planning my meals, designed especially for meal planning, but you can use a daily planner or a notebook, or even a blackboard in the kitchen. Mark what days of the week you're not in or are eating out. Bare in mind if you need to take food to work, you'll need to prepare it in advance. In Spain, lunch tends to be a heavier meal and dinner is usually something light, but if you eat at work, perhaps a lighter lunch is easier to take (think sandwiches, rolls, saladas, etc). 

I like to plan a different type of meal every day of the week, to make sure we're eating a bit of everything: 

Monday: soups and stews (salads in the Summer) - lentil hotpot, chickpea soup, pork stew
Tuesday: meat and veggies 
Wednesday: pasta, with tomato sauce, carbonara, cheese...
Thursday: fish and veggies
Friday: rice dishes like paella, broccoli and cheese...
Saturday: whatever we feel like, international food, dining out...
Sunday: roast or leftovers

I tend to just plan lunches, as I said, it's usually the heaviest meal we have, but you can also plan breakfasts and dinners. 

If this is your first time meal planning, a good idea is to look at what you have in your fridge and cupboards and think of meals you can make that need those ingredients (don't worry if you don't have all the ingredients yet, we'll make a shopping list in a minute). Pay special attention to food that will go bad if not used quickly. 

Once you've picked your meals for the week, it's time to make a shopping list. Go back to your fridge and cupboards and write a list of ingredients that you're missing for these meals. Now pick a day to do your shopping! 

I really hope you enjoyed this post. I have loads of post ideas related to meal planning, such as the best type of food containers, creating your own recipe binder, food preparation, money-saving tips for your shopping bill, recipes, etc. If there's a particular topic you'd like me to write about please share in the comments below!!

Sam
xx


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Thursday, August 18, 2016

In Process: The Living Room

I know first hand how frustrating it is to live in someone else's house. A place you can't paint or decorate as you wish. You have to make do with the limitations the owner's gives you. However, we're now lucky enough to live in a house who's owner has given us permission to make our own: my mother-in-law. 

That being said, it's not only a matter of permission. You have to have the money to decorate it too. Most of the renovations this house needs are too expensive for us to take on at the moment (reinstalling electrical cables, plumbing, floor), but we can still make a few tweaks here and there. 

Last Summer we decided to start trying to turn our house into a home by redecorating the living room. 

This is what we started with:






We drew up the following preliminary plan....




...that we didn't follow through with.

Even though we first thought about sanding the old pieces of furniture and giving them a new coat of paint, the pieces weren’t in good condition and I was lacking in the “time” department. Though I’d love a DIY job any day I just don’t seem to have the time, so we opted for new furniture. We browsed quite a few shops and finally made a wish list. Here are two of the things on there:

The idea is to get a console like this one for below the TV (which is currently hanging on the wall)

{via Conforama - 239 euros}


We'd love a sofa like this one, probably in beige or light brown, but it's a mayor purchase so we'll have to wait a while for this one.
{via Conforama - 599 euros}



So far, this is the progress we've made:




Want a side by side before and after shot?? Wait for it...


In my opinion, we've come a long way from the red sofa and black console we started with. We still need to find a nice lamp for the end table, oh yes, and an end table.

So, what's left? Well, this is our living room to do list (my plan is to cross things out as we complete them):

  • Buy a new lamp for end/corner table
  • Replace old end/corner table
  • Change windows to ones that actually close, with new blinds
  • Insert iron fireplace with glass door (I have an upcoming post about our chimney makever coming soon!)
  • Buy new light fixture (at the moment we have a black fan with a bulb that doesn't work)
  • Buy more cushions!!
  • Replace old LACK coffee table (we'll probably get something similar, in white, but this will be one of the later adjustments)
  • New sofa!!! (with blankets to avoid cat hair)
I think that's it for now. In the faraway future we'd also love to change the floor and doors but we don't know if we'll even be here, so we're keeping it off the list for now. 

I'd love to hear what you think and if you have any suggestions. Please share in the comments below!!

Sam
xx

Monday, August 15, 2016

My Gluten-Free Story

This is something I've been meaning to share for a while, but I wanted to wait until I had a little more experience in the matter.

About a year ago, June 2015 to be precise, I got a blood test result that suggested I have celiac's disease. It all started when I told my boss (who is a doctor, by the way), that I have a long history of iron deficiency and anemia, as well as an autoimmune thyroid problem (known as Hashimoto's disease). He asked me if I'd ever had a test to check for celiacs disease. When I answered that I hadn't, he scheduled a blood test to check for EMA and tGA antibodies. As he was scheduling this test I went on and on about how I couldn't possibly have celiac's disease since I practically live on cereal and pasta. So imagine my surprise when the results came back positive.

The next step was to consult a digestive specialist, who scheduled an endoscopy with an intestinal biopsy for the end of the month. I was told to continue to eat things with gluten so the biopsy results weren't a false negative.

I spent the month making the most of my possibly last days of gluten. Pasta. Cereal. Bread. Pizza. Eating out. During this month I started to slowly finish the food with gluten I had at home and separate gluten-free food from gluten food. It was easy to deal with the concept of having to eat gluten-free during this month because I didn't think about it too much, though I wasn't looking forward to the biopsy. I kept thinking about the tube they were going to stuff down my throat.

But it was a month of research and I found out we'd need two toasters, we wouldn't be able to fry food in the same oil and more. Looking at prices of gluten-free food in the supermarket let me know our shopping bill would definitely increase. And I'd probably have to invest in a bread machine (spoiler alert: all completely true!). I also read a lot of research from recent clinical trials and new study drugs that are being developed (there seems to be one coming out in a few years time, though I doubt this drug will be funded here in Spain).

The day I had the biopsy I was told to try to eat gluten-free for a few weeks. The results were going to take a while and during this time it would be a good idea to see how eliminating gluten from my diet felt. The first week was definitely about getting used to the idea. I had separated the food but I hadn't paid that much attention to keeping things like bread in the same cupboard, just on a different shelf. So I separated the food into cupboards. It was pretty hard to make this transition as I've always kept my kitchen organized by "stations". One cupboard was for breakfast things (cereal, bread, tea, coffee, biscuits...), one for lunch and dinners (pasta, rice, tuna, tomato puree...), another basket for quick dinners (tortilla wraps and noodles...). Having things from different stations all in the same place made me a little uneasy.

I also discovered that eating out was going to be a big issue. The first day of my gluten-free diet I had a work lunch. We went to a place that basically served fried fish (in flour, so I couldn't eat that) so we ordered a russian salad. You can imagine my surprise when I asked the waitress if there was any flour in it and she came back a moment later to tell me it did. I had a tomato and a small plate (highlight on the small) plate of grilled squid. I was still so hungry at the end of it that on my way to the bus stop I had to pop into a shop to buy a pack of crisps (gluten-free of course).

It definitely wasn't going to be easy, that's for sure, and I had a feeling I'll have to decline quite a few work lunches if I really wanted to do this properly.

At the end of this week I got my biopsy results. They came back negative. So the doctor told me I had to have a genetic test done to see if I have a positive HLA-DQ2 or HLA-DQ8. The problem with this test is that 6% of those who are negative have celiac disease and 20% of those who are positive don't. My results came back positive. 

After a month of eating gluten-free, I noticed I no longer felt bloated or had stomach cramps like I used to. I hoped it wasn't a psychological effect, but rather that I'd discovered what was producing it. Getting used to the diet is the hardest part, but once you accept this is what you have to do and see the effects of cutting gluten out of your diet, it will make you not want to go back. It's been a year and I'm still going. Eating at home is the easiest option but you don't have to cut dining out of your life. Just be careful and tell the waiter. 

I keep looking for alternatives for gluten-containing food I used to love, such as tortilla wraps and save them on Pinterest. My idea is to start sharing some tried and tested recipes for those of you who are also looking for gluten-free substitutes. 

I'd love to hear other first experiences on a gluten free diet and specially suggestions for eating out (that don't involve always asking for a salad). If there's a recipe you'd like me to test, please let me know in the comments below!! 

Sam
xx

Friday, July 15, 2016

Taming the Paper Clutter

Over the past 6 months, my desk has been piling on the papers and I can't quite shake them. The idea of having to sit down and tackle this mountain of receipts, bills and class notes is more than I can take at the moment. The problem is that the longer I leave it, the more I want to put it off.

But enough is enough.

My initial idea was to sort through this mountain of paper clutter, organize it beautifully and post photos of the wonderful space AFTER it was complete. However, I know myself too well and each day I walk into the study, I tell myself "I need to get round to sorting that out" but time goes by and "sorting that out" never comes around. So I thought I'd force myself to do it by publicly setting the goal. What's left of this month of July is going to be my own personal "Taming The Paper Clutter Challenge" (you're welcome to join me if you want, I'd love to see how you get on in your own homes).

The first thing I have to do to escape this never-ending circle is to EVALUATE my current system. Paper clutter comes in all shapes and sizes and there is definitely not a one size fits all way to tackle it. So, the first thing to do is to decide what categories I need to divide my papers into. For example:

  • Personal documents (passports, birth certificates)
  • Work stuff (contracts, pay slips, social security papers)
  • User manuals and instructions
  • Bills
  • Bank statements
  • Medical (doctor, dentist)
  • Class notes 
  • Receipts
  • Other bits and bobs

Once this is done, it's time to get to the "sorting" part of the job. It's time to sit down with all my paper and divide them into categories. A nice wide flat surface is perfect for this, like say, the floor. Don't forget to THROW things away if they're no longer useful (mental note taken). 

Once I have my categories and my papers sorted out, it's time to create SYSTEMS for each group. For example:
  • Hanging folders
  • Accordeon files
  • Binders
  • Folders
  • Document boxes

How many papers are in each group? Is a folder enough or will I need a binder? Can I keep these documents in a box on the shelf rather than in the filing cabinet? Papers that you need to reach often our best kept at arm's length. Old documents you rarely use (like old bank statements) can easily be kept in a document box on a shelf. 

And last but not least, make it PRETTY. You now have everything in it's place but it's still looking rather bleh? Time to break out the markers and the washi tape and the patterned paper and start color-coding it all!!! Ok...might have gotten carried away there... It's time to personalize each system to make it look that much prettier (and hopefully get you to keep the system always organized). 

Okay, so enough scribbling about what I'm going to do. I better actually get to it. I may even pin some inspiration on my Pinterest boards. Hopefully, I can share the results with you by next month!!

Do you find dealing with paper clutter difficult too? What systems do you use to keep it under control? I'd love to hear your tips in the comments below!!

Sam 
xx

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Time Management 101

It's been difficult to decide what my first post back was going to be about. There are so many things I have already written about on this blog. However, over the last 4 years, my thoughts and habits about some of them have changed. It may have something to do with how my life has evolved during the few years.

I started this blog back in 2012, while I was in my third year of university. I needed something to distract me from all the studying and projects and papers. I wanted to concentrate on something I enjoyed and was passionate about. At the time that was personal organization. It may be true that I focused on the subject too much, maybe even trying to get others to follow in my steps without realizing. My drawers and wardrobes were neatly folded and separated into categories, my daily routine was sacred, my meal plan and budget were followed precisely and my cleaning schedule was a little obsessive.

Since then things have winded down a little. I am no longer a student but have a full time job, that sometimes involves working extra hours. I no longer live alone (or have my own room for that matter) but share my home and my life with my now husband. I have a cat who leaves her hair on every piece of clothing and furniture I own. It is definitely not easy to be as obsessive with cleaning as I once was. It's harder to control how two people spend their money and it's strange to have to deal with "I don't feel like eating that today" or "I'll just have fried chicken for dinner".

So over the past year and half especially, it's sort of gone downhill. Ever since I started preparing my exam to work in Hospital Pharmacy (which I didn't pass, another story for another day), it all started to spin out of control. We currently don't have meal plans, don't track our budget monthly, don't have a cleaning schedule and my wardrobe is most certainly not folded and categorized. Most days I don't have the energy to think about ironing and folding items of clothing or thinking about what we're going to eat the next day. Luckily, Adrian's at home most of the time and is currently in charge of making lunch and dinner, as well as most of the household chores (including kitty litter).

However, I miss the feeling of having everything in it's place. I miss filling out my budget sheet and checking I have something to save for the next month. I miss knowing exactly what I have on my to do list for the week and my nearest deadlines. I miss my organized self. That is why I'm determined to get back a little bit of that old me. I don't want to go all the way, though. Looking back, I can definitely see I was a little OTT.

So, where to start?
For me I'd definitely say time management is of utmost importance nowadays. Especially at work, I have a never-ending list of to-do's and deadlines I need to keep track of. I've now added going to the gym to my schedule and I participate in the church choir, which requires weekly rehearsals. Luckily for me, Summer is officially here (a little hotter than hoped for - she said while staring at the 40ºC on her phone screen). It always seems like I have more time on my hands when the days are longer. In Winter, it gets dark around 6.30pm and my brain is programmed to switch off once the sun is gone. It makes using the extra 5 hours in a day a lot harder.

I've figured if what I'm looking for is to start up good habits, I should focus on trying to establish them now while I'm still wide awake at 10pm, instead of waiting for the cold darkness to creep around in a couple months time.

In a previous post about time management I wrote something I continue to believe to this day: if you can't organizing yourself, you'll have a hard time organizing your stuff. I definitely find that when I organize my time efficiently and tick things off my to do list, I feel a whole lot more productive and am inclined to continue to "do" things, be that cleaning, cooking, etc.

For me the number 1 tip would be to PRIORITIZE. Keep a master to-do list with everything you have to do. If any of them have a deadline, write it down next to the task. Now start to break it down and take it one day at a time. At the beginning of the day, or as soon as you sit down at your desk if it is work-related, ask yourself: what needs to be finished first? Have a look at your deadlines and organize them from closest to furthest away.

When each task has a deadline, it's pretty easy to prioritize. For example (bearing in mind I work with databases and clinical trials):

TO DO:
- Database 1 --> Deadline 3 September
- Database 2 --> Deadline 14 August
- Abstract 1 --> Deadline 29 July
- Abstract 2 --> Deadline 9 August

The prioritized list would be:
1. Abstract 1
2. Abstract 2
3. Database 2
4. Database 1

If we're talking about home-related to-do list, it may look something like the following:

TO DO:
- Put on a load of laundry
- Clean out kitty litter tray
- Cook lunch
- Call Mum
- Pay Electric bill --> Deadline Tomorrow
- Give back Library books --> Deadline 3 days from now

In this case, deadlines aren't enough to decide what needs to be done first. Plus, it you look at this list, there are a few things you can do to make it more time efficient. For example, let's say you start your day by putting on a load of laundry. While the clothes are in the wash you can clear out the kitty tray (a priority for hygienic reasons). Next, perhaps you can pay the electric bill, since this has the closest deadline and then cook lunch (assuming you actually want to eat that day).

Unfortunately, to-do lists never seem to be this short. I usually have bigger things on my master to-do list such as painting the patio, or buying a wardrobe, or making our yearly album (speaking of which, still haven't done last years...oops). My advice would be to pick 3 things you NEED to get done today and do them. Once you're done you'll feel much more productive and will probably still feel energized enough to keep up the rhythm.

On another note, there are such things as planners. For me, these little books work wonders. If it were for my head, I would never get anything done, at home or at work, because I'd never remember anything. But this is a whole topic for another day that may or may not even include some color-coding. In the meanwhile, maybe you'd like to have a look at the planner I purchased about a year ago (click here to read more).

These few tips are the most important to me when it comes to organizing my time. In the past I may have gone to extra lengths to define my free time and decide what to do with it, but making a list that includes it all and picking 3 to do every day make it a lot more manageable.

I hope you enjoyed this intense first post back and hope to see you around soon. Until then, maybe you'd like to scribble a quick comment about how you organize you time in the comment section below! Thanks for stopping by!

Sam 
xx

[Note: I posted a previous post about time management back in 2012, though it's a little OTT for me at the moment. However, if you want to check it out you can read more here.]

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Get Back On the Organizing Horse

On the 11th March of this year I announced I would be returning to blogging. Well, that hasn't exactly gone to plan seeing as I haven't posted anything. I've been taking some time to sit back and decide which direction I want the blog to go. For me, sitting down and deciding to get back into the blogging mood, after more that a year without doing anything blog-related, was a tough decision on it's own, never mind trying to come up with more content.

So far I've only come to one conclusion: I want to start fresh, with a clean slate.

At some point over the last couple of years I fell off the metaphorical organizing wagon. I look back to a time when I used my household binder regularly, made monthly meal plans and filled in budget trackers religiously. I color-coded my daily planner and had a healthy (I assume) love affair with Pinterest. Now I look to where I am today, with piles of receipts and bills and random papers sitting on my desk (and at the bottom of my handbag), a half empty fridge and no meal plan, and a budget that runs out before the month is over.

The picture is quite unnerving.

So, I'm guessing one of the best ways to get back into blogging is by getting back into organizing and sharing the process on here with you guys. I'll have to go through all the paper clutter and put my systems back into place. I'll have to revise my meal planning strategy and elaborate some sort of cleaning routine. I'll have to go through our home room by room and make sure everything has a place and create a system for those things that don't. I'll have to clean out my wardrobe and have a major decluttering session.

I have a few posts already up on these topics, so I've decided to repost them with the tweaks I may have made (and hopefully, better photos).

And to prove I'm serious, here's my new blog planner for my...third? time blogging!!!


So, without further ado, I'm going to let my wheels start turning and come up with some great projects to share! 


Have you ever fallen off the organizing wagon?

Sam 
xx



Friday, March 11, 2016

Let's Give This Another Try

Hello, you!!!!

I know, I know. It's been aaaaaaages. It's been almost a year, actually. With starting a new job and becoming an adult, there's been little time to blog. To be honest, I wasn't really feeling that motivated to write either. I felt I had nothing interesting to share. My salary just about covered the bills, so I had no money for projects. But now I feel like giving this another try...

It feels strange, and somewhat awkward, to be sitting here behind the keyboard, typing away. I'm trying to remember how I used to carefully plan by blog posts every week, with a calendar and some sticky notes. It was fun constantly coming up with new content to share with the world wide web.

Now I feel I'm entering a new stage in my life and I'd like to pick up my blog where I left off. Adri and I have been talking about "adult topics" like buying a new car and looking for our new home. I actually have some very exciting news that I'll be sharing with you very shortly in a future post.

This quick post is just my way of letting you know I'm back! I don't know how often I'll be posting yet, or if it will be anything particularly interesting, but I'd like to think I can go back to my Auber-organized posting schedule.

I hope you'll give me a second chance!

Sam
xx