How hard water wrecks your hair and what you can do about it

Beautiful woman in bathroom
Do you have hard water and hate what it’s doing to your hair? Welcome to the club!  Even though we have a water softener, half the time – make that most of the time – it doesn’t work properly. It may be due to a high concentration of minerals, sediment, etc. from our well. Who knows? As a result, I have more bad than good hair days.

If your hair is blonde or highlighted (like mine), the effects of all that iron and other metals in your water are even more noticeable. After a few weeks, my soft caramel strands look brittle and brassy!  Plus, because I can’t get the grime, soap scum, and gunk from styling products completely out of my hair, my tresses are limp and lifeless. At this point I’m tempted to shave my head and wear a wig!

woman-with-frizzy-hair-beauty-fix

Hard water is especially hard on chemically-treated hair! Photo: mavrichi.com

Sound familiar? You’ll be glad to know I’ve found some ways to combat hard water issues and restore body and luster to your locks.

Let’s start with a few homemade solutions:

Vinegar & Cream of Tartar Paste
1. Combine two parts cream of tartar with one part vinegar in a bowl to form a thick paste. The amount of cream of tartar and vinegar you use depends on the thickness and length of your hair.
2. Let the paste sit in your hair for 15-20 minutes.
3. Rinse paste out of your hair. Once half of it is rinsed out, shampoo your hair as usual to  remove remaining paste.
4. After shampooing, rinse hair with cool water.

vinegar-hairmakeupandbeauty

Rinse with vinegar for sleek and shiny locks. Photo: hairmakeupandbeauty.com

Vinegar & Water Rinse
Mix 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar with 3 cups of water. After shampooing, massage vinegar mixture into your hair, leave it in for 10-15 minutes, and rinse it out. Vinegar helps remove residue, making your hair squeaky clean and shiny.

Lemon Juice
Make a lemon rinse with 1 tablespoon of lemon juice and 3 cups of water. Mix well and massage into your scalp and hair after shampooing. Let mixture sit for 5 minutes before rinsing it off. The acidity in lemons helps remove mineral and product buildup from your hair, creating a sleek finish. It’s also good for treating dandruff!

Another idea I came across is to add bluish-purple food coloring (a combination of blue, red, and green) to your shampoo and/or conditioner to counteract the brassiness in your hair. Sounds crazy I know, but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it! See what it’s all about at theperfumeexpert.com.

If you’re a bit skeptical about this DIY remedy, try using a purple or blue tinted shampoo and conditioner for blonde/highlighted hair. Here are a few suggestions:

Biosilk Color Therapy Cool Blonde Shampoo – on sale now for $7.35 at jcpenney.com

JOICO Color Balance Purple Shampoo/Conditioner – $15.99-$17.99 at Ulta.com

John Frieda Sheer Blonde Color Renew Tone Correcting Shampoo – $6.99 at Walgreens.com

Other excellent products for treating hard water hair:

Redken Hair Cleansing Cream Shampoo – $15.50 at ulta.com
Conditions and purifies hair by removing hard water minerals and product buildup.

Ion Hard Water Conditioner – less than $8.00 at sallybeauty.com
Helps prevent buildup of minerals, reduces dryness and discoloration, and makes your hair softer and easier to style. Safe for daily use and color-treated hair.

Leven Rose Organic 100% Pure Cold Pressed Natural Jojoba Oil – around $13 at amazon.com.
Rub a small amount in your hair before styling to nourish and repair dry, frizzy ends. It’s also good for your skin and nails.

malibu-ebay

This Malibu Hard Water Hair Treatment works miracles on distressed tresses!

I’ve saved the best for last… Malibu Hard Water Hair Wellness Treatment.
The all-natural product removes mineral deposits and impurities as it moisturizes, leaving hair silky, shiny, and more manageable after just one or two applications. I’m not kidding, the results are amazing! Don’t just take my word for it, look at these glowing reviews on Amazon.com!

Packets are sold individually or in a box of 12. Get a dozen packets now for $24.98 at Amazon.com

PLEASE NOTE: most of these treatments and products should only be used once or twice a month as they can dry out your hair.

One more recommendation:
Add a shower head filter. If you don’t have a water softener (or if it’s faulty like mine), install a filter on your shower head. It will help remove rust, residue, chlorine, and impurities in your water and improve the overall condition of your hair and skin. You can buy them at home improvement stores or online at bedbathandbeyond.com.

Find all kinds of solutions for hard water hair on Pinterest!

Sources: Reader’s Digest, everydaycheapskate.com, theperfumeexpert.com, and allwomenstalk.com.

pinterest-hair

Yeah, I wish! Photo of Jennifer Lopez from hairstylezz.com.

Smart Perks blogger Catherine B. wishes she had thick, gorgeous hair like J.Lo, but since that’ll never happen she’ll settle for softer water. 

7 Essential Tips to Stay Sane Through Your Move

Moving can be a time of stress
Moving sucks. It always has and it always will. No matter how excited you are about your new place, no matter how many times you’ve done it before, it’s a huge transition and a massive hassle. And despite the benefits that come with living alone, it can be even tougher when you’re moving into a little one-bedroom apartment.

I’m still getting settled into my first one-bedroom, almost a month after my move-in date, and through the experience, I’ve developed a few guidelines – precepts, if you will – that have made the process smoother. I’d assert they’re still good tips for people moving into houses and people moving with roommates or families, too, so let’s just get started, shall we?

1. Get Preemptive
Before your move, nail down utilities and internet. This is tough to do when you’re hard at work packing up your things and getting your old place ready for inspection, but it makes a meaningful difference in helping the transition. I spent my first three nights in my humid, 85-degree apartment because I’d overlooked the fact that tenants supplied their own A/C units. Likewise, my first week was one without internet, simply because I figured I’d take care of it after the move (ignoring how important contact to the outside world would be immediately after such a transition). In both cases, I had only myself to blame.

Secure payment by mobile. Smart phone on a wooden desk at the of2. Get Paperless
Receiving your first bills for these utilities is a good reminder to set up online bill payment. It reduces clutter in your home, allows you to ditch stamps and constant check-writing, and benefits the environment, too. These systems are designed for every kind of consumer, so they’re extremely straightforward to set up and tend to be good at providing customer service.

3. Get Zen
Our society is endlessly preoccupied with capital-s Stuff, with wonder products that will solve all of your problems and make your life perfect. What you discover living on your own in tight quarters for the first time is that there’s hidden value in empty space as well. You COULD cram in a bed, couch, dining room table, entertainment center, and a pool table into your little one-bedroom apartment, but at what cost to your mental health? We’re setting up an apartment here, not a storage locker. Value that space!

4. Get Ruthless
You own your possessions; don’t let them own you. Ask yourself, “Does this actively serve my needs in my current set-up?  Do I have a way to store it for free until my set-up changes?” Don’t be afraid to cut loose. If you’ve got parents or relatives who are also upgrading or downsizing, chances are they’ve tried to get you to take things they no longer have room for. This is well-meaning, but it can also be an emotional easy way out for them (“Maybe Grant will want this 18-year-old TV, let’s not throw it out just yet”). Between the glasses I’d bought for a college apartment, glassware from grandparents, and glassware from parents, I ended up accidentally moving 38 pieces of glassware into my one-bedroom apartment. Just, no. Find a charity you like and get well-acquainted.

bathroom-shelf

Turn wasted space into productive space that reflects thought and care.


5. Get Creative

Apartments are measured in square feet, but they exist in cubic feet. Don’t forget this. Do yourself a favor and entertain the idea of little organizer/storage doo-dads. Coat hooks that hang over the door, slide-out drawers that sit on the tile under the bathroom sink, pull-out shoe containers that sit under the bed…these things become vital. If you’re looking to buy a shelf, get a tall one. Utilizing your high spaces frees up floor space, and that frees up your mind space. Check out the Over-the-Toilet Cabinet from Wayfair above.

quintladdershelvingunit

6. Get Ready (To Spend)
This one’s easy to say when it’s somebody else’s money, but it’s good advice nonetheless. This place is your home for the foreseeable future, and you own all its contents. Buy quality stuff that’s built to last. Skip past the dorm-room aesthetic. Think metals and woods, rather than plastics. Get a bed frame with a headboard. Obviously don’t put yourself in undue financial distress, but within reason, expect furnishing a new place to take a chunk out of your paycheck for a while. This Leaning Bookshelf from Wayfair is sturdy, portable, tasteful, and affordable!

7. Get Patient
Your move-in day has come and gone. All of your stuff is in the new place. The hard part is over, but you’re far from done. A month later, you’re still not quite done. That’s okay. You might not realize a half-dozen things you need until you’ve actually moved, and that’s fine. Get a list going to keep track of short-term needs versus long-term needs, big pieces versus small pieces. Rome wasn’t built in a day, so don’t expect that of your little personal empire, either. Steady, incremental progress is the way forward.

happy man lying carpet or rug at home

Remember, it’ll all come together in the end. Take it one step at a time and savor the possibilities!

 

That’s all the wisdom I’ve got to drop today, so take it and go! Be free! Be domestically ambitious! With a little work and pride in your space, you’ll be amazed at how much brighter all facets of life can be.

Smart Perks blogger Grant A. likes rainy mornings, fresh fruit, and the mental image of a T-Rex skateboarding.

Tips for Sensational Summer Hair

Hairstyle with colorful flowers. Haircare concept. Backside view

There’s no doubt about it, summer is hard on your hair. High heat and humidity can cause your locks to go limp like a wet noodle or, in my case, frizz out like dandelion fuzz. Too much exposure to UV rays can make your tresses weak, brittle and more susceptible to split ends, especially if they’re color-treated, and chlorine from the pool or salt water from the ocean makes hair more porous and parched too.

With these tips, you can have healthy, great-looking hair all summer (and all year) long!

  1. Keep it hydrated. Use moisturizing shampoos and conditioners, especially if your hair is dry and damaged already. Follow it up with nourishing oils (e.g., Argan) or silicone serums to smooth out the kinks and lock in the moisture. Then once a week treat your hair to a deep conditioning mask, like the ones featured on realsimple.com.

    There are all kinds of conditioning treatments out there, but you can also make your own out of natural ingredients like honey, avocado and egg whites. Check out these easy recipes for homemade natural hair treatments.

    lathered head

    Skipping the shampoo for a day or two is better for your hair!

  2. Lather up less. According to the pros, you should wash your hair every other day or even every few days to allow natural oils from your hair and scalp to surface. Less shampooing actually improves your hair’s appearance, making it softer, shinier and easier to style. If your hair feels too oily (or smells a little funky) between shampoos, try a dry shampoo spray – there’s a fine selection at Sephora.

    If you’re having a horrible hair day (we all have those, right?) you can always pin it up, pull it back in a pony tail, or braid it. If it’s short, spritz it with water and style.

    Back view of relaxed woman in swimming pool with blue water

    After taking a dip in the pool use a clarifying shampoo!

    If you spend a lot of time in the pool, you should use a clarifying shampoo, like Paul Mitchell Shampoo Three, to help remove chlorine buildup and other impurities. It also keeps your hair from turning green (yes, that can happen!).

    Of course,  it’s important to pick the right products for your hair type. Click here to find the best shampoos and conditioners for you.

3. Cover it up. If you plan to be out in the sun for any length of time, consider wearing a hat – like a fun straw fedora or a cool ball cap – or even a colorful scarf to protect your hair and scalp from the elements and keep color-treated hair from fading or turning brassy.

4. Get a trim. Because hair tends to be more frazzled this time of year, it’s a good idea to have the ends trimmed at least every 4 to 6 weeks.

5. Comb it out. Use a wide-tooth comb instead of a brush to detangle your hair when it’s wet. Pulling a brush through damp hair can snag strands and cause breakage.

6. Limit heated styling tools. Give your hair a break from blow dryers and flat irons as often as you can to prevent split ends. If you do need to use them, protect your tresses from the heat with the right styling products – totalbeauty.com ranks the 10 best heat protectant products.

Bad Hair Day

Talk about a wild mane! My hair has actually looked like this on a humid day!

NOTE: If your hair is fine and curly, like mine, you’re better off letting it air-dry, especially on humid days. If I don’t style it right, I end up looking like a Chia Pet! I don’t want tight tendrils like a poodle either, so I’ll unwind my curls a bit with a straightening cream or gel – I like  John Frieda Frizz Ease Unwind Curls Calming Cream.

If you have thick, wavy hair, you should apply styling products only on the ends. Otherwise, you get that Sphinx-head look, all bushed out on the sides.

To tame unruly flyaways, I use Kenra Platinum Silkening Gloss –  a 2.2 oz. bottle costs around $20, but it lasts a long time and is worth every penny! Plus, it smells heavenly!

Learn how to air-dry your hair like a pro with these tricks from Allure.com

7. Drink lots of water. In other words, hydrate your hair from the inside out.
keep calm hair
Here’s to a great hair day, every day!

Smart Perks blogger Catherine B. wishes she had a live-in stylist to do her hair every morning. 

 

 

 

 

I’m Dreaming of a Good Night’s Sleep

gsleep better concept

Last night I managed to get six hours of sleep, which is pretty good considering most nights I’m lucky to get four hours of shuteye. Health experts recommend eight hours, but unless I’m in a drug-induced coma that’s not going to happen.

For one thing, I’m a light sleeper, so the slightest movement on my husband’s side of the bed can roust me from a deep slumber. It doesn’t help that he sounds like a cross between Darth Vader and Chewbacca when he snores either!

Schnarchen beim Schlafen

Need to find a way to keep Mr. Snorelax from disturbing my slumber!

Sometimes I wake up thirsty so I’ll down a big glass of water and end up making several trips to the bathroom. Then there are the hot flashes (or in this case, night sweats). One moment I feel like I’m lying on a bed of coals, so I kick off my blankets to cool off. The next thing I know I’m shivering like a featherless bird. So, I hang one leg out of the covers and hope for the best. All I can say is, these sleepless nights are making me grumpy and groggy and I’m tired of being tired.

Turns out chronic sleep deprivation is a common problem for a lot of people (especially older adults) and according to Web MD  it can eventually affect your health, weight, mental capacity, work performance, and safety. I’m doomed!

So, I decided to do a little research to find causes and solutions for insomnia. Here are some things we can all do to get a better night’s sleep:

Set a regular bedtime schedule. Go to bed and set your alarm at the same time every day. Dang! I guess that means no more sleeping in on weekends!

Exercise. Even though most experts don’t recommend a strenuous workout right before bed, moderate exercise up to an hour before bedtime helps relax your body and clear your head.

Checking the phone

No smartphones in the bedroom!

Power down your electronic devices. Glowing screens from your smartphone, tablet, laptop, computer, and TV increase brain activity, making you more alert and less likely to fall asleep. They also screw up your body’s ability to produce melatonin (the hormone that induces sleep). So, no texting, Facebooking, or watching the news in bed!  Better yet, banish your mobile devices from the bedroom while you sleep.

Watch what you eat and drink. Stay away from foods that cause heartburn (e.g., tomato-based sauces) and carbs like cookies and chips (they raise your blood sugar level) in the evening. If caffeine affects your sleep, switch to decaf or don’t have any caffeine after noon. I know if I have a Diet Coke or a piece of chocolate after 1:00 p.m., I’m wired all night. Avoid alcohol a few hours before bed too. It may make you sleepy at first, but it also acts like a stimulant, causing you to wake up frequently during the night. Also, no heavy meals or binge-eating at night as it can cause indigestion. If you’re hungry, have a light snack like a small bowl of cereal with milk, a dab of peanut butter on a cracker, or a handful of almonds.

Don’t bring your troubles to bed with you. I admit I’m a worrywart and if I have something on my mind, I tend to toss and turn all night. You, too? Then you need to write down what’s bothering you before you hit the hay and deal with it the next day.

Create a relaxing environment. Block out noise with ear plugs and use shades or blinds to shut out bright lights (or wear a sleep mask). Play soft music or nature sounds to help lull you to sleep (think of it as a lullaby for grown-ups) and try meditating to reduce stress and calm your mind. Click here for meditation techniques you can use to unwind before bed.

Lower your thermostat. Per Sleep.org, the ideal room temp for optimal sleep is between 60 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit.  Make sure your bedroom is well ventilated and insulated too. After all, a room that’s hot and stuffy or cold and drafty is not exactly snooze-worthy.

Check your bedding. If you have trouble getting comfortable in bed or wake up with a sore neck, your pillow may be the problem. If that’s the case, I would suggest a MyPillow®. It’s amazing! Also, make sure your mattress has adequate support and isn’t too hard or soft for your back.

Try natural sleep aids like these:

Chamomile – warm herbal tea is known to relieve anxiety and promote relaxation.

cherryjuice cherryshareTart Cherry Juice – research shows that consuming two glasses a day helps improve the quality of your sleep.

Lavender – the scent has a soothing effect so you fall asleep faster. Make a lavender sachet and place it under your pillow.

Melatonin Supplement – I’ve tried this remedy and it seems to work for the most part, but it’s meant for short-term use. Be sure to read the label before using.

Find more natural sleep aids at everydayroots.com

Now it’s time to catch some zzzzz’s!  Sweet dreams!

Smart Perks blogger Catherine B. may not get much sleep, but she does have some fascinating dreams. If only she could figure out what they mean.

Keep Calm and Cook On

 

Happy woman cook with okay sign, close up

I love to cook and I must admit I’m pretty good at it, but there are some things I’m not so good at, like peeling hard-boiled eggs without leaving divots. (If you were to rate my deviled eggs I’d probably get 8 or 9 in taste and a 1 in appearance!) I have the same problem getting the skin off tomatoes! It’s so aggravating, not to mention I end up wasting a lot of food in the process. I must say though that chopping onions is probably one of my least favorite things to do – even if I use a food chopper, I still get the tears and that strong “onion smell” on my hands.

I’m sure a lot of you can relate to my kitchen faux pas and frustrations. Fortunately I came across some helpful hints to make cooking and preparing foods easier, faster and less stressful. Some are from my Grandma Vi, who was an excellent cook, and the rest I found online.

Give these tricks a try and be smarter (and happier) in the kitchen!

* Avoid “onion tears” by placing the onion in the freezer for at least 30 minutes before slicing it. To get rid of the “onion smell”, try soaking your hands in lemon juice for 3 minutes, then rinse them in cold water.

* To easily peel skin off tomatoes, dip the tomato in a pan of boiling water for a few seconds, then stick a fork in the stem and use a paring knife to remove the skin.

Lemon and lemon zest with grater* For lemon zest, freeze the lemon and when a recipe calls for it, just grate the rind from the frozen lemon.

* Use an ice pick to peel and de-vein shrimp. Just run the pick down the back toward the tails and presto… the shell and vein are gone in one step!

* To keep apple slices from turning brown, soak them in a bowl of cold lemon water (1 tbsp. of lemon juice for 1 cup of water).

* Thaw frozen fish in milk to take away the “freezer taste”. Soaking fish in milk for 30 minutes or so will also neutralize that strong “fishy” taste and odor.  After removing fish from the milk, just pat dry with a paper towel and discard milk before cooking the fish.

fresh raspberries spilling out of their pint container

There’s nothing like fresh berries!

* To make fresh berries last longer and keep them from getting moldy, wash them in a water/vinegar solution (3 cups water + 1 cup vinegar), then store in paper towel-lined containers in your refrigerator.

* Prevent brown sugar from drying out by storing it in an air-tight container with a slice of bread.

* Keep celery crisp in your fridge for weeks by wrapping clean, dry stalks tightly in aluminum foil.

* Thinly slice raw meat, poultry or pork when it’s slightly frozen.

* If you want your fried chicken or potatoes golden-brown and crispy, avoid overcrowding the pan. It’s better to fry food in smaller batches or use two pans. The reason — food releases moisture as it cooks and you need to leave room for the moisture to escape.

* Add a small amount of uncooked rice to salt shakers and sugar containers to absorb moisture and prevent clumping. Also, instead of using your salt shaker to season food on the stove, place salt in a bowl and sprinkle it over the food.  Apparently the steam from cooking causes the salt to clump in your shaker too.

Boil egg in white plate on wooden background.

The end result when I try to de-shell a boiled egg.

Deviled Eggs

My goal – the perfect deviled egg.

* As for getting those stubborn shells off hard-boiled eggs… I found various tips on this and these seem to be the most commonly used methods. I put them to the test and voilá, the shells practically fell off!

  1. Start with eggs that are at least 7-10 days old as fresh egg whites tend to cling more to the inner shell.
  2. Place eggs in a pan of cool water (make sure they’re covered completely). Add about 3 tbsp. of salt and slowly heat to boiling – this will prevent the eggs from cracking.
  3. After draining water from cooked eggs, tap both ends of the egg with a spoon and roll the egg over a hard surface, like a countertop, until it’s cracked all over. You can also shake the eggs in the pan until the shells crack. Both seem to work.
  4. Cover eggs in ice-cold water and let them cool down to room temperature. This helps loosen the membrane, making them easier to peel.
  5. Peel egg with your thumb, starting at the wider end where there’s an air pocket. Hold under running cold water to remove any remaining shell pieces.

One final tip: save those eggshells — they’re good for your garden, among other things. Find ideas on Pinterest.

That’s it for now – I don’t want to bombard you with too much info at once. keep calm and cook

Smart Perks Blogger Catherine B. enjoys preparing all kinds of dishes, but dreads the clean-up afterwards. She finds someone else to do it.

 

Helpful Hints for the Domestically Challenged

I can’t say I’ve ever really done any spring cleaning per se. The truth is housework is not that high on my priority list. It’s one of those things in life I dread doing, even though I know it has to be done, like taking out the garbage or mowing the lawn (oh, wait, my husband handles those things, but you know what I mean). When it comes to everyday cleaning, I usually limit it to only what the eye can see (like sinks and toilet bowls, dust on the furniture, dishes, and dirt on the floor), unless we’re having company then I try to make our home more presentable. Obviously I’m pretty lax when it comes to housekeeping. I even have a refrigerator magnet that says “An immaculate house is the sign of a misspent life.”

The thing is I need to start doing something about my untidy abode soon because my closets are overflowing with clothes I’ve never worn (they were on sale, what can I say?) or no longer fit (I keep telling myself that I’ll squeeze into them someday). The junk drawers in the kitchen are jammed packed with, well, junk, and my bathroom cabinets are harboring bottles of prescription and over-the-counter medications that expired in 2010. And, those dust bunnies behind my dresser are starting to multiply like real rabbits!funny-cleaning-quotesThis year I’ve vowed to change my tune and finally get to the nitty-gritty tasks I’ve been putting off for too long, like washing windows, organizing my closets and chucking those misfit toys that are taking up space in my son’s old bedroom. He’s 24 now, so it’s time.

How and where to begin…

Angry woman in a chaotic living room with vacuum cleaner

Aarrggh! Where do I start?

When I look at all the projects ahead of me it seems so daunting and overwhelming (one of those eye-twitching, pull-your-hair out kind of things). That’s why I’ve decided it’s best to focus on one room or project at time. I realize it’ll take days or even weeks to go through my list. I mean, let’s be real, unless you’re Superwoman or live in one of those tiny houses that are all rage now, there’s no way you can do it all in a day or even a weekend! Besides, I happen to live in a hundred year-old, three-story house with six bedrooms!

To help me stay on track and reach my goals, I’ve made up a checklist of things to do (I did some research online first to compile my list). I’m hoping this will help other domestically-challenged people like me.

The List

Take inventory of cleaning supplies. Usually that means mops, brooms & dust pans, dusting/cleaning cloths, pails, and cleansers. After experiencing adverse effects from harsh chemicals (they make me cough, sneeze and feel dizzy), I’ve decided to experiment with natural cleaning solutions like lemon juice, vinegar and baking soda.

110_F_101640069_2pENzjjfeTibJ20YRrtF05LlFh3Ezr5r Try these homemade and natural cleaning solutions.

Declutter. Go through old mail, newspapers, magazines, piles of papers, etc. Recycle what you don’t need and file anything of importance, like unpaid bills, medical statements and tax forms, in a safe place. Just remember where you put them!

Organize closets. Pack up and store seasonal items. Donate apparel and shoes you no longer wear, but are still in good condition, to a charity or thrift store. You can also bring them to a consignment shop to get money or credit for purchases, or sell them in a garage sale. Rule of thumb – if you haven’t worn it for a year, get rid of it!

Reorganize kitchen cupboards and drawers.

  • Dispose of anything that’s worn, broken or expired (even canned goods have an expiration date). That includes any plastic containers without lids and lids without containers (seriously, where do those missing pieces go? Probably into the same black hole as the mismatched socks!) Click here for tips on storing containers & lids.
  • Take out and replace old shelf paper or consider covering your shelves with smooth and glossy paint. Find tips on painting kitchen shelves at hgtv.com.
  • Restock cupboards and drawers in an orderly fashion, keeping similar items together. My sister-in-law even arranges her spices in alphabetical order so they’re easier to find. Hey, whatever works!
  • Wipe down outside of cupboards and cabinets as well as appliances to remove any built-up grease and grime.

Clean out the fridge. NOTE TO SELF: this should be done on a regular basis, like once a week or at least a few times a month!

  • Toss spoiled or expired food (you may be able to use some of it for composting).
  • Clean shelves and bins with baking soda or vinegar and water.
  • Arrange items neatly on shelves/in bins.

Go through every room from top to bottom.

  • Sweep cobwebs off the ceiling and corners.
  • Dust woodwork and furniture.
  • Sweep/mop floors (don’t forget the dust bunnies!)
  • Vacuum rugs or carpeting.
  • Flip mattresses and remove dust/dirt from headboards and bed frames.
  • Scrub sinks, toilets, bathtubs/showers – this should be done at least once a week too.
  • Wipe down cabinets and vanities.
  • Clean out (and in some cases debug) light fixtures.
  • Wash curtains, bedding, towels, shower curtains, and throw rugs.
  • Open the windows and let in some fresh air!

Wash your windows inside & out. I plan to use my grandma’s tried-and-true method – a vinegar/water solution and newspaper. Grandma always said it makes your windows squeaky clean! NOTE: it’s best to do this on a cloudy day as direct sunlight dries the glass too quickly, leaving streaks. Don’t forget to wipe away marks on window panes too.

Shake out throw rugs and steam-clean carpets.
If you really want to get embedded dirt out of your rugs, hang them on the clothesline outdoors and beat them with a broom or an old-fashioned rug beater (fortunately I have two of these), then leave them on the line for a few hours to freshen them up. If you don’t have a steam-cleaner, you can usually rent one from a hardware store.

Who knows? Once I see the fruits of my labor, I may decide I like a clean house and want to keep it that way. Or, I may just hire someone to do it.

Happy cleaning!

Go to our Smart Perks Pinterest Board for ideas, inspiration and great tools on
Organizing Your Life. old fashioned quote

Blogger Catherine B., a Smart Perks employee, shares the same view as Erma Bombeck when it comes to keeping house – “My idea of housework is to sweep the room with a glance.”

BYOL: Bring Your Own Lunch

 

dual salads

I called this salad two ways. Because there’s nothing worse than a boring salad lunch.

Was one of your New Year’s resolutions to eat healthier? Or to save money? Well, I might not know how to curb your appetite or shopping habit, but I do know that bringing your own lunch to work every day can help you cut calories and cash flow.

I bring my lunch to work every day. Mostly, it’s leftovers from the dinner the night before; sometimes, it’s just a mishmash of ingredients I have in my fridge. Though I genuinely love everything about cooking – from the grocery shopping (I often say a well-stocked grocery store is my happy place) to the time I plate a nice, warm meal for my boyfriend and me, I enjoy every step in between. But even if you don’t love cooking, there are many different ways to make yourself a lunch that take less than 10 minutes…5 minutes, even! One really easy way to have a nice balanced lunch is to cut up a bunch of different fruits and veggies you have lying around, and then add some protein and a treat or two. Here, I had strawberries, blueberries, pineapple and oranges, white cheddar cheese slices and peanut butter on the celery, plus some treats (in this case, a slice of prosciutto and 2 squares of dark chocolate!)

fruit plate

Healthy lunch options

As many people are quick to point out, all too often prepackaged meals contain weird ingredients you don’t necessarily want to eat. Even if not, they also may be way too high in sodium or sugar. Because I like to know every bit of what’s going into my own body, I’m not a big fan.

 

I wasn’t always this way, though. One Friday night a month when I was a kid, my parents would go out on a special dinner date, leaving my younger sister and me behind with our babysitter Stephanie. I looked forward to it the whole month. Steph would paint my nails, do my hair in funny styles, and let me stay up late reading, warning me just before my parents got home so I could pretend to be asleep. The best part, though, was that I was allowed to choose my own dinner, and almost without fail I chose Stouffer’s frozen mac and cheese.

Mac and cheese

The stuff of my childhood dreams.

In my now six years of cooking post-childhood, I have become very resourceful, learning to create meals with my limited stash of groceries and even more limited amounts of free time. Typically, they’re fairly healthy, utilizing fresh ingredients and with a good macronutrient ratio. That said, it still cracks me up that it wasn’t my mom’s amazing meatloaf or chicken parmesan that I most looked forward to, but a dinky black box of frosted-over cheesy carbs.

Nothing sounds worse to me nowadays. Don’t get me wrong – I love a good mac and cheese meal, and I totally understand the convenience of transferring one item from freezer to microwave to mouth in under five minutes. However, those frozen meals come at a pretty big price, on both your budget and your waistline. There are so many delicious options you can make yourself using mostly fresh ingredients that are more filling, with feel-good vitamins and more texture than mush.

Again, I recognize that sometimes throwing a frozen meal into your bag or heading out for a $5 bowl of soup is easy and can be cheaper. But let me help make your meal decision-making easier: there are 3 kinds of perfect make-your-own lunch options, made simpler by making some ingredients ahead. For example, on Sundays, I like to roast a big batch of vegetables (my favorites are bell pepper, any kind of squash, potatoes, turnips and red onion) and make a large pot of soup, typically lentil or curry. That way, throughout the week, there is far less planning you have to do. You can blend the roasted vegetables with a bit of chicken stock and some spices, and have an easy and delicious soup, or the curry over rice for a filling but nutritious meal.

The Sturdy Salad, Super Soups and The Bold Bowl

1) The Sturdy Salad

Ever heard of this thing called kale? No? Hmm, that’s weird, because it’s everywhere these days! I truly love it, finding its fibrous bite much more satisfying than the wateriness of iceberg or limp romaine. Plus, it’s considered a superfood, with 134% of your daily Vitamin A and C requirements. It also has the added benefit of being able to stay dressed for hours without getting soggy, making it an amazing candidate for the make-ahead lunch.

One of my favorites is the Kale Caesar, with added veggies and a lighter dressing to keep the health factor high.

Greek Yogurt Caesar Salad Dressing

This dressing is so delicious, you truly won’t miss the oil, cream and egg-laden original. Promise!

  • ½ cup plain Greek yogurt (Note: you can use nonfat here if you want)
  • ½ cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 2 tablespoons EVOO (extra virgin olive oil)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2-3 teaspoons anchovy paste or 5-6 rinsed and dried tinned anchovies
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, minced
  • Pinch of freshly grated black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt

Combine all ingredients but the lemon juice, either in a blender on low setting or in a mixing bowl with a whisk. Once smooth, slowly add in lemon juice, mixing it in, until you’re happy with the flavor.

Of course, you could make a regular Caesar with romaine, cherry tomatoes, croutons and extra parm, reserving the salad dressing for right before you eat lunch, and call it a day. Or you could try my version: toss torn kale leaves with some dressing, add cherry tomatoes, freshly trimmed green beans, radish slices, grilled squash, and any roasted veggies, like carrots or squash, I have lying around. Instead of croutons, I opt for toasted chickpeas for added protein and more flavor, but still the satisfying crunch.

tuna salad

This updated tuna salad from Eating Well is incredibly light but filling. Just wish I had that plate, too!

Other ideas for the perfect lunchtime salad include Tuna and White Bean Salad on top of mixed greens, BBQ Chicken Chopped Salad (I use this Avocado Greek Yogurt Ranch instead) and Greek Salad with Grilled Chicken. There are so many varieties of salad (have you heard of the Italian bread salad panzanella, or its Middle Eastern counterpart fattoush?) that you should never settle for something dull. When it comes to salad – especially during these harsh winter months! – you want something hearty enough that you don’t feel hungry after an hour, so look for protein add-ons (cheese, beans, tofu, lean meats like turkey and chicken, or fish) to spice things up.

2) Super Soups

I can think of only three things I like more than soup: cats, dogs, and soup. Wait a second…

Point is, I really like soup. Cold and spicy, hot and creamy, vegetable- or meat-based, I’ll never say no to a bowl of soup. The best part? It makes an incredibly easy (and often healthy) lunch, it can keep for up to 5 days in the fridge and 5 months in the freezer, and if you’re the one making it, you can size up or down depending on how many people are in your family.

Turkey ramen

Leftover turkey ramen, with a substantial portion of chili paste.

They’re also a great use of leftover meat; after Thanksgiving, I made ramen with the turkey carcass and topped with chopped up pieces of dark meat.

There are so many different soups to choose from, but right now, in the middle of winter, the height of cold season, and post-holiday excess recovery, nothing sounds better to me than a nice, bracing bowl of chicken soup. There’s a reason they say chicken soup is for the soul, and it’s an amazing mid-day pick-me-up during the workday.

Spicy Mexican Chicken Soup

This is not an authentic Mexican soup, but rather my interpretation of a Latin American classic. You could make your own stock (fresh, with a chicken carcass), but here I used ground chicken and previously made chicken stock (though store-bought would work, too!) Also, this recipe is all made in one pot, saving you dishes and time.

  • 1 lb ground chicken
  • 4 cups unsalted chicken stock
  • ½ yellow onion, diced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 bell peppers, diced (I used one red and one green)
  • 2 carrots, diced or sliced
  • 2 stalks of celery, sliced thin
  • 1 28 oz. can of tomatoes (really, any would work; I used diced with oregano)
  • 1 15 oz. can of black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 8 oz. of corn, fresh, frozen or canned
  • 2 minced garlic cloves (I used 2 tablespoons minced garlic from a jar for ease)
  • A pinch each paprika, cumin, chili powder, dried oregano, black pepper, salt
  • For garnishes: cilantro, tortilla strips, cheddar or cotija cheese, scallions, avocado, sour cream or Greek yogurt

In large, heavy-bottom pot, heat 1 tablespoon oil on medium heat, adding in ground chicken and spices. Once cooked halfway through (about 4 minutes), add in all of the vegetables, stirring until combined and meat is cooked throughout and the vegetables have softened (in total, about 10 minutes). Add tomatoes, black beans, and stock, bringing the heat up to a rolling boil. Turn heat down to low and simmer for 20-30 minutes (or up until 1 hour). Serve hot, with an assortment of the garnishes.

Mexican Chicken Soup

The finished product, topped with grated white cheddar.

When I make this ahead of time for work lunches, I let the soup cool down, portion it out in individual Tupperware containers, and use these awesome little containers for the garnishes. Even if you don’t have a microwave at work, this soup is surprisingly delicious cold during summer.

3) The Bold Bowl

Arguably the simplest of the three, the “bowl” has really picked up steam in the past year or so. The concept is easy as pie: grains + greens + veggies + proteins. Add-ons are plentiful, such as different sauces, cheese, nuts and seeds, and combinations are endless.

Although you can certainly plan out the bowl ahead of time, like this fancy brisket bowl or Latin vegan bowl, but an even easier way of going about it is to make a big batch of grains (I prefer quinoa, for the protein content, or brown rice, for the heft) on Sunday and then add leftovers on top of it.

For example, are you making spaghetti and meatballs with roasted broccoli on the side for dinner? Make a couple extra meatballs and pieces of broccoli, reserve some of the tomato sauce, and get out your grains (brown rice would work really well here). Layer rice, meatballs, sauce, broccoli, add some grated parmesan and a pinch of red pepper flakes, and boom! Tomorrow’s lunch in no time at all.

Another favorite is to make a chimichurri sauce by putting different herbs, like cilantro and parsley, in a food processor with olive oil, red wine vinegar, a clove of garlic with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes and pulse until it’s fairly smooth. Then all you need to do is take some of the quinoa and roasted veggies from Sunday, and you’ve got a lunch bowl. Add beans or leftover meat such as chicken to really make it well-rounded, but it’s plenty tasty on its own.

I know in the short term it might just seem easier to run out and buy a sandwich at lunchtime, but that is costly in both time and money. With just a little planning, you can save so much in the long term. Plus, you’re showing yourself you’re worth more than an unsatisfying, premade egg salad sandwich. Trust me, it’s worth it.

Katie U., a Smart Perks employee, really does care this much about BYOL and hopes you will, too.