Category Archives: Uncategorized

Elevate The Everyday ~ No. 1

FullSizeRender

“Elevate.  Each day, live to elevate yourself, each day elevate one person.  Make elevation your religion and you shall reach infinity.”  

                                                     ~ Harbhajan Singh Yogi

Throughout life, there are times when elevation is crucial – for example, when injured, we are often instructed to elevate the affected limb in order to promote healing.  At other times, elevation is preferred – for example, in an effort to enjoy a beautiful sunrise or sunset, we seek elevation to enhance our field of vision.

To elevate is to lift up or make higher, and is not only used to describe a physical shift, but may also be used to describe shifts in a moral, intellectual, cultural or spiritual sense.

The notion of elevating the everyday has been on my mind a great deal lately, especially as a countermeasure to a world that can at times be uncertain, unpredictable, cold and painful.

While most of us do not live extravagant lives – al Jay Z & Beyonce – we can all live beautiful ones full of great pleasure, when we make the conscious effort to elevate aspects of our everyday lives.

In what I expect will be a continuing series on the blog, I offer you the first of countless ways to elevate your everyday:

Always Use the Good China

A few months back, I was tidying the storage closet when I came across our wedding china.  Used only a handful of times, the china typically sits neatly packed on the top shelf waiting for a special occasion.  I stood there for a moment and reminisced about the time spent choosing the pattern with my husband, receiving the set as a wedding gift, and how much joy it brings me when I use it.

The pristine white porcelain, rimmed with a wide-etched band of platinum, gives the set an elegantly simple look, bringing chic sophistication to any table or meal.  As I stood there, I found myself wishing for an occasion to use it, when it hit me – why can’t any old day be occasion enough?

I immediately thought of chapter ten in Lessons From Madame Chic, where Jennifer L. Scott discusses this very thing – using your best everyday.  In many homes, Jennifer notes, crystal glasses or wedding china often sit collecting dust.  While they may be used once or twice a year, the remaining 363 days find us eating our meals off of chipped, mismatched plates.  Contrary to this line of thinking, Famille Chic used their best at every meal.  Every evening, their table was set with their good china and crystal tumblers, for in their minds, they themselves were special enough.  Jennifer goes on to note:

“Setting the table with their best elevated what would otherwise be a mundane quotidian experience.  It made the everyday special and luxurious.”

What a concept!  This line of thinking extends to everything one possesses – jewelry, clothes, shoes, handbags, furniture, fragrances.  Why shouldn’t everyday be celebrated by enjoying the best of what we have?  Doing so will not deplete its value (well, in a non-monetary sense at least); however, not doing so and allowing those things to sit packed away until it is too late for us to enjoy certainly does.

So, burn that Jo Malone candle, wear that diamond necklace and eat off the good china, and then luxuriate in that moment, even briefly.  I guarantee, you will feel elevated immediately.

Editor’s Note:  The decision to use the very best things I have everyday has been such a liberating one!  It has made me more appreciative of quality, craftsmanship and design, and has also given me a more discerning eye when deciding what I bring into my home.  Interestingly enough, it seems to have also raised my standards in other areas of life as well.  I am less apt to tolerate distasteful behaviour from myself or others, and am drawn to others who appreciate and prefer using their best and being their best everyday.  

Invest in Luxurious Sleep and Loungewear 

Like most, my tastes have evolved over time, and my taste for luxurious sleep and loungewear is no exception.

As an adolescent and young adult, I can remember (embarrassingly so) sleeping and lounging in frumpy track pants and oversized t-shirts.  I had no interest in investing in or paying attention to what I wore once out of the public eye.  Behind closed doors, if my pants had holes, or if my shirt was three sizes to large, what did it matter?

Then one day, likely around the age of 25, I saw Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window for the first time.  There is a scene where Lisa (Grace Kelly) enters the room wearing the most divine nightgown, dressing gown and matching slippers (time stamp 1:22.39 for those interested).  Something about that image struck me, and since then, investing in and enjoying luxurious sleep and loungewear has been something that absolutely elevates my everyday.

Like our hesitancy to use our best things, for some reason we also slip into the habit of only looking our best when others are watching.  Why shouldn’t we look our best for ourselves?  If anything, that is who we should be trying to impress over anyone else.

There is presentable and luxurious sleep and loungewear for every taste and budget.  Over the years, I have collected a few pieces from Eberjey and Eileen West; however, my absolute favourite for sleep and loungewear is Ralph Lauren.  Quality sleepwear does not have to be expensive, in fact, my all-time favourite slippers are from Isotoner and retail for less than $30.

When creating your sleep and loungewear capsule, I would suggest deciding on a colour palette, so that as you collect pieces, they can be mixed and matched with what you already have.  I would also suggest investing in a heartier robe for winter, and a lighter one for summer, if you are fortunate to experience all four seasons.

Slipping into luxurious sleep or loungewear at the end of a long day truly elevates my evening.  I am able to relax while still feeling polished, which motivates me to continue being productive and adhering to my standards throughout the evening.  Upon waking, especially on weekends, I do not feel an urgency to shed my sleepwear, and enjoy puttering around the house.

Add a Luxe Item (Or Two) to Your Skincare Routine

Taking the time to care for your skin is not only a smart decision (given we only get one), but it can also become a ritual that elevates your everyday.  How you ask?  Well, quite simply, adding a luxurious skincare product (or two) can transform a rather mundane task into a spa-like experience.

The world of skincare can be expensive to say the least, and my budget at this stage in life does not allow room for La Mer’s entire skincare line (though I wish it did).  Now, while your budget, like mine, may not have room for a whole line of luxurious skincare products, that does not mean you cannot work one (or two) luxurious skincare items into your routine.

Before you choose which product to add to your skincare regime, you must first assess what you already have.  For example, if you are a simple cleanser, moisturizer kind-of-person, then perhaps you may wish to add a hydrating essence or serum to your routine.  Conversely, if you already have a relatively involved routine, then you may consider replacing a current product with something richer rather than adding to.  I would suggest doing your research online or at your local beauty counter to see what speaks to you.

Next, you have to determine what aspects of a product make it luxurious for you.  For example, I find the scent of a product to up the luxe factor, though it has to be natural, as harsh fragrances can sometimes irritate my sensitive skin.  Some may find that it is the texture or richness of a product that makes it luxurious for them, while others may find that the packaging alone elevates the experience.

Finally, I would suggest sampling the product before you invest.  Sephora and most department store beauty counters are quite eager to give (modest) free samples of the skincare products they carry, and this will allow you to test for any potential allergies or reactions.

Then, take some time, even a few minutes, to be present as you use the product.  Pay attention to what it feels like, what it smells like, how it makes you feel.  While you can have a luxurious product, the practice of appreciating said product is often what takes it to the next level.

Over the last several months, I have built a basic skincare routine with products from the French beauty line – Caudalie.  For me, Caudalie is a joy to use, not only because of the natural scent, but also because of the quality ingredients used.  My basic skincare products are as follows:

Cleanser: Gentle Cleansing Milk
Toner: Beauty Elixir
Serum: Vinoperfect Radiance Serum
Moisturizer: Vinosource Moisturizing Sorbet Cream
Eye Cream: Resveratrol Eye Lifting Balm

During my most recent trip to Sephora, I decided I wanted to add a luxurious item to my current regime and after discussing my options with an associate, decided on the Vinoperfect Concentrated Brightening Essence.  For some, an essence may be frivolous; however, for me, it was the product that elevated the experience.  Again, beautifully scented and hydrating, it was the addition that took me over the top.

The skincare products you choose can be anything – a luscious body cream, a beautifully fragrant body wash – really anything.  The important part is how it makes you feel, how it elevates your experience.

The above-mentioned are just a few of the countless ways to elevate our everyday.  In what ways do you elevate your everyday?  Leave a comment below – I would love to hear your thoughts.

~ Ashleigh

A Few of My Favourite Things ~ No. 6

55274655a96c43c4a2988fa6e99f0c21

The last time I shared my favourites, it was a cold, grey day in March, and I was anxiously awaiting Old Man Winter’s departure.  Well, eventually (it took some convincing) he did leave, and now here I sit, ready to share my current favourites with you before taking time to enjoy the last weekend of June (#slowdownsummer).

In the past, when sharing my favourites, I have aligned them with each of the five senses – sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch.

A Few of My Favourite Things ~ No.1, No.2, No.3, No.4, No.5

While I have enjoyed organizing my favourites in this way, more recently, I have found this format to be a little too restrictive for my taste, and thus, decided it was time to adopt a more simplistic approach.  No more aligning with senses, no more struggling to fill certain categories, no more prescribed numbers. Ongoing, you will simply see things that I am currently enjoying – uncomplicated.

Without further ado, I give you a few of my favourite things:

Classic Scent Dishwashing Liquid – Ivory 

While I am fortunate to have a dishwasher, there are still many items in my home that must be hand-washed to preserve their integrity.

Now, washing dishes by hand is not my favourite chore.  In fact, it is quite low on the list of housekeeping tasks that I enjoy.  For such tasks, I find the best way to improve the experience is to find products that make the process more enjoyable, and recently, I came across a product of that very sort – Ivory’s Classic Scent Dishwashing Liquid.

Beautifully scented, this mild soap cuts through grease like nobody’s business, yet leaves my hands soft to the touch when I’m in too much of a hurry to wear gloves.  Also, for those that prefer to store their dish soap on the counter, Ivory’s Classic Scent is tastefully packaged in a pearl-coloured bottle.  Better yet, this soap is also reasonably-priced.

Since bringing this product home, I have actually looked forward to doing the dishes!  Look for it in most major retailers.

Turn Up The Quiet – Diana Krall 

For months, I anxiously awaited the release of Diana Krall’s latest album, Turn Up The Quiet, and as I listened to the album for the first time on May 5, I instantly knew it had been worth the wait.

Turn Up the Quiet, is a simple collection of classic jazz standards we know and love.  While this is an album that I can listen to from start to finish, I particularly enjoy Krall’s rendition of Night & Day, Moonglow and Blue Skies.

In an interview with Billboard magazine, Krall discusses making this album:

“We just wanted to make a jazz record without a theme and see where it went in the studio,” she says. “I have such amazing players that we just wanted to play without thinking about it too much. … For ‘Night and Day,’ a lot of it was improvised on the spot. I’m experienced enough now to have the freedom to do that, and the confidence to do that. That’s what jazz should be: an improvisation.”

For jazz fans like myself, this album is a must-have.  I expect to “turn up the quiet” several evenings this summer.

711 Skinny Jeans – Levi’s

Frankly, I have never really been a jeans kind of girl.  As a child, I found them to be too uncomfortable, and as an adult, I have gravitated more towards trousers and dresses.

Well, that was until two weeks ago, when my husband introduced me to Levi’s.  Now before you ask me what rock I have been living under; I am familiar with the brand, as well as its place in the jean history.  The real reason I have not tried Levi’s in the past is because I expected their jeans to be just like all the other jeans I have owned – too rigid, too stretchy, too…whatever.

Well, admittedly, I was wrong.  With the summer season upon us, and so many outfits begging for white pants, I decided to try on a pair of Levi’s 711 skinny jeans, and let me tell you, they are my new favourite pant!

While I did have the length taken up some, they are the softest, most comfortable pair of jeans I have ever owned.  They give in all the right places, yet keep their shape throughout the day and wash very well.  In the colour clean white, they pair so perfectly with many of the items in my spring/summer wardrobe, especially those of the light-blue variety – my recent obsession.

If you are like me, and have difficulty finding jeans that work for you, I urge you to check out your local Levi’s store.  You may just find your perfect fit!

Pointelle-Trim Cardigan – Gap

As someone who lives in ankle-length trousers and ballerina flats, it should be no surprise that I also enjoy a good cardigan; and because I tend to run cold even during the summer months, I reach for my cardigans all year long.

While I already have a few cardigans in my wardrobe, they are mostly comprised of silk-cashmere blends, which while beautiful, can be quite delicate.  Thus, in an effort to preserve those items, I decided to search for a few additional pieces that I could add to my rotation.  I had two requirements: they needed to be more durable (preferably cotton) than silk-cashmere, and more reasonably-priced (under $50).

Well, I am happy to report that it took me all of 20 minutes at the mall to find exactly what I was looking for.  Allow me to introduce you to the Pointelle-Trim Cardigan from Gap.  Made from 100% cotton, these feminine cardigans boast long sleeves, a soft weave, a button front, and elegant pointelle detailing throughout.

Not only are these beauties incredibly comfortable, but they are available in a variety of neutral shades – heather grey, charcoal, off white, true black and dark night (navy) – and come in at under $50 (actually, right now they are on sale – at least in Canada – for $39.00.)  Moreover, and most importantly, they wash incredibly well given their modest-price.

I purchased this piece in heather grey and navy for spring and summer; however, plan to purchase the remaining colours during one of their upcoming sales because of their quality and versatility.  More proof that quality does not have to be expensive.

Royal Botanical Gardens – Burlington, Ontario 

For the past three years, I have been fortunate to live close to the Royal Botanical Gardens (RBG).  In fact, one of those gardens (Hendrie Park to be specific), happens to be the place where my husband and I exchanged wedding vows, so the gardens hold a very special place in my heart.

This past winter,  I made a commitment to myself – that I would visit the gardens two times per week from April through September – to appreciate all that the gardens have to offer.  So far, I have kept my commitment, and have enjoyed so many beautiful blooms – cherry blossoms, magnolias, lilacs, irises and peonies.  If that weren’t enough, the RBG has just resumed their jazz evenings in the rose garden – each Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. – something I look forward to each week.

My favourite time to visit the gardens is in the evening. It is often quiet, and the light hits the tress and flowers in subtle way.  These gardens have become a place of serenity and calm for me; a place where I can reclaim my balance.  If you do not have a place like this, I encourage you to seek one out.  If not a garden, then a lakeshore, or a forrest, or a meadow.  Anywhere that brings you back to centre.

While one’s favourites can be as unique as they are, we all need them to live well.  I hope you take some time to enjoy those things that bring you pleasure.

Until next time, I’ll be in the garden if you need me.

Image Source

 

 

 

Make Your Bed, Change Your Life!

PB-BED-2

One would be hard-pressed to find a resource on organization, fostering positive habits, and productivity, that did not highlight the benefits of making one’s bed.  In fact, one of my earliest blog posts – The Pursuit of Tidy ~ No. 1 – discussed this very thing (please try to contain your shock).

The act of making of one’s bed is often linked to increased productivity and well-being; regularly cited as a “keystone habit” (a habit that triggers a domino effect, spawning other positive practices throughout one’s day).

For me, the simple truth is that when I make my bed, I feel better; however, what I did not realize until late, was that making one’s bed could be a catalyst to personal and global change.  Yes, you heard me correctly; making your bed can be life-changing!  Well, at least according to Retired Admiral William H. McRaven in his new book entitled, Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life…And Maybe The World.

A few weeks back, I came upon this gem much as I do many of the books I read, by chance.  I was in the business aisle of my local bookstore browsing for works on leadership when it caught my attention.  A modest book, weighing in at a mere 130 pages, I picked it up and stared at if for a moment.  While I’m not typically drawn to works penned by former Navy SEALS, let’s be real, McRaven had me at “make your bed”.

This little book sat on my nightstand for a few weeks waiting in the queue, until this past weekend, when I felt compelled to pick it up.  While it took me less than an hour to read, it was incredibly inspirational, and a work I know I will return to time and again.

Make Your Bed stems from Admiral William H. McRaven’s 2014 commencement speech to the graduating class of the University of Texas at Austin, and contains ten simple principles that he learned during Navy SEAL training, which empowered  him to overcome challenges, not only during his Naval career, but throughout his life.

Following the address, McRaven’s speech went viral, reaching over 10 million views.     Building on the core tenants outlined in his speech, McRaven uses tales from his own life (and from the lives of those he encountered during his military service) to drive home the simple wisdom and practical advice that has genuinely inspired me to achieve more, even in life’s darkest moments.

While I appreciate and identify with all ten of McRaven’s principles, today I wish to discuss the three that resonated with me most:

 Start Your Day with a Task Completed

In the first chapter, McRaven recounts the barracks at basic SEAL training, where he would begin each day by making his bed.  The instructors would enter the barracks to inspect the trainee’s work, checking the hospital corners, surveying the blanket and ensuring the pillow was correctly aligned under the headboard.  If the bed was made to the instructor’s satisfaction, the trainees would receive a simple nod.  There was never any praise, never a “job well-done”, it was just expected.

McRaven notes that making his bed was the first task of the day, and doing it right was important to him.  This act not only demonstrated his discipline and attention to detail, but it also served as a reminder that at the end of the day, regardless of how the day went, he had done something well, something to be proud of, no matter how small.

I have to say, I absolutely love the idea behind this – the symbolism is fantastic!  By completing a simple task, and doing it well, not only do you start your day off on the right foot, but if your day does not go according to plan, you can return home and take comfort in knowing that you did something well.  So, whether it is making your bed, styling your hair, unloading the dishwasher or writing in your journal, find something that you can return to everyday and feel good about.

In McRaven’s speech (conveniently located at the back of the book) he takes this lesson one step further by asserting – “If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.”  Cue mic drop!  Words that are so simple and yet, so true.

While I am sure some will disagree, I am a firm believer that life is in the details, and those details, no matter how small, are worthy of attending to.  Not only that, but I also believe that seeing value and attending to those details helps to establish a habit or mindset of excellence, for it is logical to assume that if you do the small things well, you will most likely do the larger things well too.

Moreover, McRaven’s words are a solid reminder of the benefits to living in the moment.  So much of our lives fly by doing everyday things like grocery shopping, cleaning toilets, or making dinner.  By focusing on the particular task at hand, and doing that task to the best of your ability, you are making the most of your time on earth.  While pulling a bed sheet taut, making the hospital corners crisp, or fluffing a pillow may seem inconsequential, why not make it valuable? Why not take those mundane tasks and see them as an opportunity to raise your own bar?  You have do them anyway, so make them count!

You Can’t Go It Alone

Chapter two begins with a discussion centered on teamwork, and the importance of having someone to rely on, especially in difficult times.

McRaven recalls the first phase of his SEAL training, in which everywhere the SEALS went, they had to carry a ten-foot rubber raft.  They carried it from the barracks to the “chow hall”, up and down the sand dunes, and paddled it endlessly north and south along the coastline.  Against the pounding surf, it took all seven men working together to get the boat to its destination.

Occasionally, one of the team members would become sick or injured, unable to give 100%.  On those days, McRaven notes, the other members picked up the slack.  “They paddled harder.  They dug deeper”.  Then, when the time came later in training, those that had benefited from that would return the favour.

In this story, McRaven not only highlights his belief that no SEAL could make it through training alone, but more broadly, he reinforces the notion that we all need others in our lives to make it through the difficult times.  McRaven concludes the chapter with some wise words:

“It takes a team of good people to get you to your destination in life.  You cannot paddle the boat alone.  Find someone to share your life with.  Make as many friends as possible and never forget that your success depends on others.” 

I found myself nodding in agreement throughout this entire chapter.  Quite simply, I would not be where I am today without the people around me – first and foremost, my parents, my brother, and my husband.

Since childhood, I have struggled with a chronic health condition, which at times has been crippling.  Throughout my formative years, there were periods where it was so severe, that it became difficult for me to continue on with everyday things like school.  Had I not had the strength of my parents and my brother to draw on, had I not had them pushing me to fight and move forward, I hate to think where I would be today.  Now as an adult, my husband has joined the team, and the four of them continue to stand strong, picking up the slack when I am not at 100%.  Where and when I can, I always return the favour.

With that said, there have been countless others over the course of my life who have bolstered me, extended a helping hand – gestures I will be forever grateful for.  I count myself incredibly fortunate to have the supports I do, for in my line of work, I have seen firsthand what happens to those who do not.

So, why not build a team like McRaven’s?  When someone is struggling, pick up the slack, strengthen them and move them forward.  Conversely, when you are struggling, accept the helping hand that’s reaching out to you.  Navigating this crazy world alone is futile.  United we stand, divided we fall – it really is as simple as that.

Life’s Not Fair – Drive on! 

This principle, articulated in chapter four, really resonated with me as fairness has been on my mind lately.

McRaven begins by recounting the day he became a “sugar cookie”.  Now, my first thought was, “oh, how lovely, a sugar cookie”, until I realized what it meant, and it is not so lovely.  In fact it is quite the opposite, and involves a trainee running into the ocean, fully clothed, emerging soaking wet and then proceeding to roll around in the sand until no part of said trainee is left uncovered.  Then the trainee must remain that way for the rest of the day.  That sounds like a nightmare to me, considering I become very grumpy when I get sand in my shoe at the beach (again, try to contain your shock).

McRaven affirms that there was nothing more uncomfortable than being a sugar cookie, not only because it tested one’s patience, but more so, because the act of becoming a sugar cookie was indiscriminate.  “There was no rhyme or reason.  [One] became a sugar cookie at the whim of the instructor.”

Once fully “sugared”, the instructor asked McRaven if he had any idea as to why he had been made a sugar cookie on that day.  When McRaven responded no, the instructor uttered simply, “Because, Mr. Mac, life isn’t fair and the sooner you learn that, the better off you’ll be”.  Amen to that!

McRaven concludes this chapter with the following:

“It is easy to blame your lot in life on some outside force, to stop trying because you believe fate is against you.  It is easy to think that where you were raised, how your parents treated you, or what school you went to is all that determines your future.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, no matter how good you are, you still end up as a sugar cookie.  Don’t complain.  Don’t blame it on your misfortune.  Stand tall, look to the future, and drive on”. 

We have all been on the wrong side of fair at one time or another.  In fact, I recently found myself on what I deemed to be the wrong side of fair, and it wasn’t pretty.

Since then, I have been compelled to explore the notion of “fairness”; what it means and why we crave it.  What I have found most interesting in my exploration thus far, is that we are often only concerned with fairness when we are on the wrong end of it.

Ultimately, fairness is somewhat of a fallacy (a notion which I may discuss in a future blog post).  While we can attempt to legislate or enforce it, it does not make it so.  In reality, what we are left with is a “pseudo-fairness”, based on someone’s interpretation or measurement of what is “fair” at any given time, and in any given situation.

Editor’s Note: When I speak of “unfairness”, I do not mean “injustice”.  There are a great many injustices in the world that should not be ignored, and should not necessarily be met with a “drive on” mentality.  

Then, there is all of the stuff life throws at us which we cannot control.  For example, the horrific events in Manchester, England recently, which saw innocent children killed following a pop concert.  This unfathomable event only further affirms the reality that life is anything but fair.

Now, what are we to do with this information?  Well, since so much is out of our control, perhaps the only reasonable thing we can do is to shift our focus to what is in our control – essentially, how we manage the “unfair”.  As McRaven notes, it is easy to blame our lot in life on an outside force, and while taking this route is certainly easier, it rarely does anything to improve our situation.  Often, those who choose to take this route quickly spiral into a “perpetual victim” state, of which they never emerge from.

So, you did not get the job you thought you would.  While you cannot control that decision, you can control your reaction to that decision.  It will NOT be easy, and by all means, allow yourself time to grieve.  Then, if that job is something you really want, explore what you can do to improve your chances next time (because there will be a next time), and as McRaven says, “drive on”.

Something that has really helped me manage the perceived unfairness is to take stock of all the times I came out on the right side of fair.  When I look at that list, it helps me to appreciate all of the times I have sat on the right side of fair, and I take comfort in knowing that I will be there again, just not today.

These are just three of the many valuable lessons McRaven shares in his book, lessons that are powerful and relevant to anyone at any point along their journey.  I highly recommend picking up a copy for yourself and maybe a friend.  Then, tomorrow morning, make your bed and open yourself up to the life-changing opportunities that await!

~ Ashleigh

Image Source

Spring Clean Your Life

Ménager

“Spring cleaning isn’t just about sorting through things, and getting rid of clutter.  It’s about taking stock of who you are, and how others see you.  It’s a chance to redefine yourself, to change expectations, and to remember that it’s never too late to recapture who you were, or to aim for where you want to be.”  ~ Unknown

The snow has melted (Bye, Felicia), the birds are singing, and the cherry blossoms have popped, which can only mean one thing – spring has sprung!  While the season officially arrived over a month ago, here in good ol’ Southern Ontario, we are just now starting to see the hard evidence (you can imagine my shock).

Those that know me will attest to my love for spring, most recently evidenced by the #springspam that has taken over my Instagram account (if you haven’t already, stop by and see me @pearlslaceandgrace).

Spring has been my favourite season for as long as I can remember.  The days grow longer, the light shines brighter, and everything awakes from a long winter slumber to start anew.  When spring arrives, I joyfully shed the weight of winter (literally and figuratively), open the windows and doors, and let the freshness of the season come in.  For me, that is one of the most attractive elements of spring – the fresh start.

With that said, it is no coincidence that one of the most popular activities during spring is based on “freshening” one’s surroundings – yes, that big spring clean.  While I always enjoy giving my home a thorough scrub, this year I have also decided to give other areas of my life a good spring clean as well.

Spring is the opportune time to rid one’s life of stifling physical clutter; however, it is also the perfect time to reflect on the many other subtle ways that clutter takes over our lives, draining us of our most precious commodities: time, energy and peace of mind.

In an effort to get rid of the dust and dirt that keeps us from living our best life, I offer you three ways to give your life a good spring cleaning:

Spring Clean your… Relationships

In spring, many of us will reevaluate the contents of our closet, and discard items that no longer serve us in an effort to make room for those that do.  In doing so, we may even come across long-forgotten items that have eluded us, but now found, make us feel like a new person!  Isn’t it funny that we do this for our closets so regularly, but not for our relationships?

This spring, why not take the time to reevaluate your relationships?  Firstly, check your social calendar.  Does it truly reflect who you are, and the people and activities you value most?  Or, are you too often grumbling about the commitments you wish you had not made?

If you identify with the latter, then I encourage you to take some time (at least as much time as you would give your closet), and make a list of the people in your life (family, friends, acquaintances, colleagues etc.).  Then circle the people who mean the most to you.  Now ask yourself, when did you last talk to or see them?

If the majority or your time is not being spent with those you value most, create a plan for how you can change that.  Maybe it’s setting up a bi-weekly coffee date with your best friend, or having dinner with your parents every Sunday evening.  Yes, to do so, it may mean that you will have less time to spend with that colleague who only drains you, or that acquaintance that only connects with you when it is convenient for them.

Whatever it is that will help you spend more time with those you value most, make it happen.  Set the goal and stick to it.  Schedule a time to reassess your progress in one to three months.  If you are still not where you want to be, sit down and revise your plan.

My friends, this one is important because life is too short, and all too often, we come to that realization too late.

Spring Clean your… Health

During a spring clean, we may come across things in and around our home that are in a state of disrepair.  While some of these things are more of an annoyance, like a leaky faucet, others can be downright dangerous if not attended to, like a broken staircase.

Just as you survey your home for things that may require a little fix or tweak, why not take the same amount of time to survey an equally important thing – your health?  Just as a leaky faucet can eventually turn into a flooded kitchen if left unattended, so too can minor ailments become debilitating conditions if left unaddressed.

Spring is an ideal time to take stock of how you’re feeling and identify where improvements need to be made; however, before you go thinking you need to commit to a full renovation, know that even a few simple changes can improve your overall well-being.

The Body – I know it may sound cliche, but we only get one, so the sooner you learn to look after it, the longer it will last, and as previously mentioned, small changes can generate big results.  For example, why not commit to a simple four-week “spring cleaning”, where you clean-up your diet by eliminating all the blatant culprits – fast foods, highly processed foods, items with a great deal of added sugar, as well as items with a heavy caffeine or alcohol content.  Set them aside for four weeks, and do your best to replace them with things that are blatantly better for you – more water, fresh fruits and vegetables, and whole grains.

Also, if you have not had a physical since the fall of the Roman Empire, do yourself a favour and make an appointment.  I know physicians can be all kinds of scary with their poking and prodding, but establishing a baseline for your health is incredibly important, even if you are feeling in tip top shape!

Finally, and this is the one I have the most trouble with, get moving – and let me stop you before you start with the excuses, because I literally wrote the book on excuses for not being active. No time, no energy (duh, because you aren’t moving), and so on.  You do not have to go from zero to CrossFit in 60 seconds folks.  If you live a sedentary life, as most of us do, adding a ten minute walk to your day will do wonders.  Explore what type of movement excites you (don’t give me that look).  Maybe it’s dance, maybe it’s rollerskating, maybe it’s yoga, or maybe none of those things, but keep searching.  Us humans were made to move, so if you can, you should!

The Mind – The mind is a little trickier than the body; however, there is a great deal of evidence that shows just how malleable the mind can be.  In my experience, one of the easiest ways to clear out the cobwebs is to do a brain dump.  Quite simply, sit down with a piece of paper, or better yet a journal, and just dump all the worries and frustrations out on to the page – that act alone will do wonders for your mind – I’ve tried it.  Next, with a highlighter or coloured pen, circle all the worries and frustrations that you can actually do something about, leaving behind all those things you cannot control.  Then, over time, create a plan for how to take action or improve those items within your control.  Set goals and establish timelines for yourself in order to assess your progress.

Another highly-recommended practice is meditation.  Now, I myself have fallen in and out of love with this practice many times, because it’s not easy.  While there are countless resources out there for you to access, the goal of meditation is really quite simple – learning how to quiet the mind and/or shift focus.  The ways in which someone meditates are as diverse as the the people on this earth.  What works for one, may not work for the other.  Personally, I have found the most success with guided meditation – two of my favourite apps for this are Headspace and Calm.  I have also had great success with the meditation tool Muse, which my husband kindly gave to me this past Christmas.

While you cannot fix everything that ails your mind and body in one day, taking steps forward is well worth the effort.

Spring Clean your… Finances

Forgive me for returning to the closet analogy; however, indulge me for a moment.  When the warm weather arrives, we head for our closets to take stock of what we have to work with; what fits and what doesn’t.  Well, wouldn’t it make sense to look at our financial affairs in the same way?

Spring is ideal, as it is also tax season, to spend some time organizing and simplifying your financial life.  If you don’t already have a system in place, now’s the time to establish one.  There is no right way to organize one’s finances – ultimately, it has to make sense to you.  So, if you are a spreadsheet guy or girl, have at it.  If you are a paper lover, go nuts! Whatever it takes to gain a greater understanding of your finances.

Admittedly, I am one of the least financially savvy people on this planet, and only over the last few years, have I come to truly understand my finances.  If you are starting from scratch, my first suggestion would be to determine where all your money goes every month.  Using a simple calendar or document, identify when the money comes in and when it goes out.  Next, take a look at the money going out and assess whether that bill is a necessity (like a how a little black dress is essential to any woman’s wardrobe), or if it doesn’t really fit your life anymore (like those purple alligator-print bell bottoms in the back of your closet).  If you are paying bills for services or things that are no longer serving you, say goodbye (provided there isn’t a huge penalty for breaking a contract) and redirect the money to those things that do.

Since, I almost fell asleep telling you about my first suggestion (#notanumbersperson), I have gathered a few more resources to help you in your quest to get those finances squeaky clean:

How to Spring Clean your Finances – Real Simple
Spring is the Perfect Time to get your Financial House in Order – USA Today 
9 Ways to Spring Clean your Finances – Forbes

While spring cleaning may not be everyone’s cup of tea, putting in the effort, whether it be scrubbing that oven or organizing those finances, will pay off in dividends.

Editor’s Note: if you looking for more ways to make the most of this beautiful season, stop my post from last year – Embrace Spring, and if you have cleaned out your closet and are seeking some wardrobe inspiration, stop by my past post – Wardrobe Essentials: Spring.

Image Source

The Simplified Workweek

Rachel-Zane-Suits-White-Blouse-Pencil-Skirt-1

Editor’s Note: A few weeks back, I had the opportunity to write a guest post for Lauren over at An Organized Life; however, I thought my readers might enjoy it as well!  

Work – we all do it in some capacity or another; and while the nature of that work, and when/where it is accomplished will inevitably vary, one thing I’m sure we can all identify with is the workweek.

For some, their work takes place in a traditional office or corporate setting.  For others, they accomplish their work at home.  Generally defined as “the total number of hours or days worked in a week”, the workweek can be overwhelming, regardless of the type of work you engage in.

Having worked in a corporate environment for the past (almost) decade, for me, the key to a successful workweek is to organize my life in a way that simplifies my days and limits decision fatigue.

If you are unfamiliar with the term, decision fatigue refers to the “deteriorating quality of decisions made by an individual after a long session of decision making”.  In essence, this theory posits that humans have a finite capacity for “good decision making”, and when that capacity runs dry, well, it can lead to all sorts of negative emotions and unhealthy behaviours.

For example, according to a 2011 article published in The New York Times Magazine, prisoners who appeared before a judge and parole board in the morning received parole approximately 70 percent of the time, while those who appeared late in the day were paroled less than 10 percent of the time.  The authors argued that the judges had more clarity and objectivity earlier in the day, while those same qualities were almost non-existent by the end.

While I am not accounting for all variables here, what this evidence may suggest is that the fewer decisions we have to make (regardless of the subject matter), the better our decisions will be.  Therefore, the more we organize and simplify those mundane decisions, the more “good decision making” capacity we will have to use on important matters.

So, I thought, why not employ that same line of thinking to improve the quality of one’s workweek?  With that said, today on An Organized Life, I offer you three ways to simplify your workweek:

Assemble a “Workweek Uniform”:

Whether you spend your workdays in a formal corporate setting, running your own business, or minding your little one’s at home, everyone can benefit from the simplicity of a workweek uniform.

The key to avoiding decision fatigue, and to ensure your week runs smoothly is to build a workweek uniform from quality pieces that are sensible for your life.

If your days are spent hopping from boardroom to boardroom, then perhaps five days’ worth of neutral silk blouses along with a few tailored skirt or pant suits will work best; however, if you are a stay-at-home mom, then you may wish to forgo the tailored pant suit for a comfortable but polished pair of slacks and a crisp cotton shirt, knowing that you will be down on that play mat often.

Working in a business casual environment, I tend to prefer tailored, ankle-length slacks and flowing blouses, with a smattering of cardigans for winter – all in neutral shades.  In summer, I tend to opt for dresses, not only for their light-weight appeal, but also because it is so simple to get dressed with one piece.

Currently, I have five pairs of slacks (like these from Banana Republic ) and five blouses (like these from White House Black Market ) in my rotation and when adding to my wardrobe, I have a rule – I must be able to wear each pair of slacks with at least two blouses, and I must be able to wear each blouse with at least two pairs of slacks.  This rule ensures that I can pair outfits quickly during the week and get out that door on time.

Curate a “Workweek Menu”:

On weekends, I take pleasure in perusing cookbooks and enjoy spending time in the kitchen; however, throughout the workweek, I do not have the time or the will to do this.

During the week, I regularly return home from work after six o’ clock, and following a long day of making decisions, the absolute last thing I want to do is make that ever-painful decision – what’s for dinner?

In an effort to make my evenings more enjoyable and avoid that pesky decision fatigue, I developed a workweek menu of sorts.  A collection of simple meals, made from a few (preferably fresh) quality ingredients, which go from refrigerator to table in less than an hour.

To accomplish this, and if our schedule allows, I prefer to do my grocery shopping on Saturday mornings, so that I can prepare my fresh ingredients for the week ahead on Sunday.

Typically, I spend one to two hours washing and preparing my fruits and vegetables for the meals we intend to have that week.  Based on the meal, I then group the ingredients together, label the containers and store them in the refrigerator.  Then, whoever returns home from work first (typically my husband), can easily begin putting dinner together.

While our meals vary enough from week to week that we do not tire of them, they remain simple enough that dinner is prepared, consumed and cleaned up without any stress.

Here are a few recipes that are currently in my rotation:

Chicken Caesar Wraps
Two-Step Chicken Bake
Baked Tilapia
Vegetarian Rice Bowl

Gather Your “Workweek Beauty Essentials”:

I love playing around with different makeup looks as much as the next girl; however, throughout the workweek, I prefer to keep my beauty routine uncomplicated.

Regardless of whether you spend your weeks in the boardroom or the playroom (which can be equally terrifying), we all feel better with a little polish.  To be clear, there is no magic number of products that takes one from gauche to grace; beauty essentials are relative and based on what makes each individual feel their best.

Editor’s Note: a quick tip for simplifying one’s makeup routine is to use “double duty” products – i.e. blush that doubles as a lip tint.

My workweek beauty essentials include:

My workweek makeup essentials are:

The above-mentioned is just a sampling of the many ways one can simplify and organize their lives for a more enjoyable workweek.

How do you simplify your life to avoid decision fatigue?  I would love to hear your thoughts.

Image Source

A Few of My Favourite Things ~ No. 5

4b-683x1024

The last time I sat down to share my current favourites, it was a cold, gray October day, and I was dreaming of spring.  Well, as I sit to write this morning, it is still cold and gray (five months later), we are gearing up for a winter storm in Southern Ontario, and I continue to dream of spring.

During the winter months, I cannot help but feel less like myself.  You know that zest for life that accompanies the spring and summer months?  Well, each year, that feeling gives way to another almost oppressed feeling during winter, and in a way, we are oppressed under the layers and the low-hanging clouds.

While I make a point of enjoying my favourite things throughout the year, it is especially important for me during the winter months, as my favourites help me to feel a little more like…well, me!

As I have mentioned in previous posts, our favourites are often determined by what pleases our senses – specifically sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch.  In previous instalments of this series (No. 1, No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4) I have highlighted my favourites that at that time, boosted my mood and added to my sense of well-being.

In the fifth instalment of this series, I offer you a glimpse into a few of my current favourites, one to satiate each of the senses:

SIGHT
The Magnolia Journal: Issue 2 (Simplicity) – Magnolia Market

Those who know me well, will attest to my love for magazines.  Picking up a crisp, unread issue from my local bookstore or newsstand at the end of a busy week is one of my favourite rituals.  While I regularly enjoy old favourites like Real Simple, Martha Stewart Living and Town and Country, I recently stumbled upon a new favourite that I am devouring – The Magnolia Journal.  

This publication is a quarterly lifestyle magazine that “promises fresh inspiration for your life and home in each new season.”

Creator, Joanna Gaines (from HGTV’s Fixer Upper and Magnolia Market fame), created the magazine in an effort to:

“…connect with readers from all walks of life, to share content so valuable and so meaningful that you hold on to each issues and return to them again and again.”

The stunning cover, as well as the theme of the current issue – Simplicity – sold me immediately.  With articles like “Joanna’s Capsule Wardrobe”, “A Case for Spring Cleaning”, and “Pretty Spring Salads”, it was as if this issue was made for me!

HEARING
SoundLink Mini Bluetooth Speaker II – Bose 

For me, music is absolutely essential to living well, and has been a part of my everyday for as long as I can remember.  In fact, somedays I listen to music so much that I feel my life has an accompanying soundtrack.

Today, we are so fortunate to have devices that allow us to bring our entire music collection with us wherever we go; however, these same devices do not always produce the best sound, which can significantly impact the quality of our tunes.

That’s why I was enthralled when my husband recently came home with the SoundLink Mini Bluetooth speaker II.  The full, natural sound that emanates from this compact speaker is incredible – you would think you were listening to your favourite song on a large, multi-speaker system.

Fitting in the palm of your hand, this “little speaker that could” connects wirelessly to your smartphone, tablet or other Bluetooth device, so you can enjoy your music, videos or games anytime, anywhere.  You can even take phone calls aloud!

The sleek design (ours is in the colour pearl – shocking!) features a slim docking station and a rechargeable battery that plays up to 10 hours of music.

This little wonder has been following me throughout my home, and I cannot wait to take it with us to the park, to the beach, or wherever else the warmer weather takes us.

TASTE
Mint Majesty Tea – Teavana

If you follow me on social media, then you will know how much I am obsessed with enjoy tea.  Partaking in a cup or two is a daily ritual that I always look forward to.

As of late, I have been choosing Teavana’s Mint Majesty tea quite often, and while many herbal teas can have a harsh and grassy aftertaste, this is not so with Mint Majesty.  The peppermint and spearmint is balanced by sweet citrus notes of lemon verbena (also a favourite of mine), making the tea smooth and refreshing from first to last sip.

To steep:

  1. Heat fresh (preferably filtered) water to 205 F (96 C)
  2. Pour eight fl oz (237 ml) water over sachet in cup
  3. Steep for five minutes.  Stay close to this time for optimal flavour

SMELL
Multi-Active Toner – Dermologica

This past weekend, I had a much-needed spa date with my girlfriend, Kelly.  We met at one of our favourite places, Scape Spa (if you live in Southern Ontario, you must visit), and I indulged in their luxurious Scape Facial.  

Twice during the treatment, my facialist spritzed my skin with the most divine facial mist – the scent was light, fresh and intoxicating.  When I finally came out of my facial-induced coma, I told my facialist that I simply had to know the name of that beautiful mist.  Assuming it was a secret house-blend, I was overjoyed to learn that it was actually a toner by Dermologica.

Known as the Multi-Active Toner, this product was love at first sniff!  This light facial toner hydrates, refreshes and conditions the skin to prepare it for proper moisture absorption.  Made with moisture-binding humectants and infused with lavender, balm mint and arnica, this luxurious mist is formulated without artificial fragrances and colours.

Used before your chosen moisturizer, or throughout the day to refresh tired skin (and makeup), this toner is shaping up to join my holy grail ranks.

TOUCH 
Floral-Lace Trimmed Satin Robe – Ralph Lauren

As a lover of luxurious sleep and loungewear by Ralph Lauren, I am always on the hunt for pieces to add to my collection.  A few weeks ago, as I was perusing their spring collection, I came across this gorgeous Floral-Lace Trimmed Satin Robe that just needed to be mine!

This feminine blue and white floral-print robe, boasts three-quarter-length sleeves, a wrap silhouette and lace detailing, creating a look that is sensual yet sophisticated.  Worn over a chemise or pyjamas, this robe is the perfect addition to my collection, and I look forward to donning it daily during the warmer months.

Whether it’s a magazine, a speaker or a satin robe, I encourage you to make time for your favourite things. Wishing you a lovely week and if you need me, I’ll be on the sofa sipping some Mint Majesty.

 

Image Source

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Embrace Winter

tumblr_mx9apy9eoj1rh685ao1_500

Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a walk beside the fire: it is the time for home.

 ~ Edith Sitwell

This past week, the oracular rodents in Canada and the United States offered conflicting predictions on the arrival of spring.  Folklore has it that if a groundhog sees its shadow when it emerges from its burrow on Groundhog Day (February 2), there will be six more weeks of winter.  Conversely, if the groundhog does not see its shadow, then tradition tells us an early spring is on its way.

While there appeared to be a consensus among two of Canada’s most well-known groundhogs, Ontario’s Wiarton Willie and Nova Scotia’s Shubenacadie Sam, both of whom predicted an early spring, their American cousin Pennsylvania’s Punxsutawney Phil, was not so optimistic, claiming we are in for six more weeks of winter.

Don’t get me wrong, I love those little fortune-telling critters; however, I have experienced 33 Canadian winters so far, and early spring prediction or not, we have a ways to go before those spring showers and flowers show up.

Admittedly, I am not winter’s biggest fan; we have never really seen eye-to-eye on much.  While I enjoy warm temperatures, long, bright days, green leaves, barbecues and beaches, winter seems to prefer short, dark days, cold (at times face-numbing) temperatures, and copious amounts of snow and slush.

If I’m being completely honest, I have cursed winter more times than I care to admit (not very Pearls, Lace and Grace of me), and have struggled with the season ever since I can remember. That was, until this past November, when I decided that being perpetually irritated for five months of the year was not a healthy way to live, and unless I wanted to permanently relocate to the equator (ok, a little dramatic), I thought it best that I find a way to embrace the season.

In previous posts, I offered readers ways to Embrace Spring, Embrace Summer, Embrace Autumn, and now, I conclude the series by offering you five ways to embrace winter:

Choose to See Winter’s Beauty

All seasons offer a unique beauty that one cannot necessarily experience throughout the remainder of the year.  So, rather than curse the harshness of the season, why not find the beauty in it?  When you enjoy rather than dread what’s around you, your optimism will begin to trump your negativity and you will inevitably feel happier.

Rather than ruminating over your numb fingers and toes, or worrying about that next blizzard that will have you shovelling for hours, shift your focus to something more positive, like sipping hot chocolate next to a crackling fire, or witnessing the whimsical dance of a light snowfall at midnight.

There is so much beauty to be found in winter, and I encourage you to find it!

 

Don Luxurious Winter Fashion

While I haven’t always enjoyed the number of layers that a Canadian winter requires, as a fashion lover, I have not only learned to tolerate the change in my wardrobe, but look forward to it.

My winter work uniform consists of cashmere and silk-blend sweaters (similar here), light, wool-blend slacks (here), and for a more casual look, an oversized cardigan (here) paired with thick leggings (here) and riding boots (here).

My winter home uniform is much simpler – a pair of full-length pyjamas (my favourites are by Ralph Lauren – similar here), a robe (here) and slippers (here).

For the outdoors, I look forward to donning my knee-length parka (similar here), warm mittens (similar here), earmuffs (so as to not ruin the hairstyle – similar here), a luxurious wool-cashmere scarf (similar here), and a pair of durable winter boots (similar here) that can withstand even the coldest of days.

Enjoy a Winter Activity

In order to fully appreciate what the winter season has to offer, I encourage you to find an activity that is specifically “winter”, something that you cannot partake in the rest of the year.  There is really so much to do:

Skiing (alpine or cross-country)
Snowboarding
Ice skating
Ice hockey
Tobogganing or Tubing
Snowshoeing
Ice fishing
Snowmobiling

Try a  few and see what works for you.  The activity should be enjoyable, not a chore.

Take a Winter Walk

If the above activities are simply too ambitious for you (they certainly are for me most days), then why not take a winter walk?

Maybe you have a favourite trail that you enjoy exploring during the other months of the year?  If so, take a walk on that same trail now to appreciate how this season changes the landscape.  The slumbering trees, kept warm by a layer of snow that rests on its limbs (if you did not know, snow is a fantastic insulator), or luxuriate in winter’s silence, as the birds have made their way south, and the streams have taken a rest from flowing so fiercely.

A winter walk not only allows you to maintain your fitness regimen, but a walk, especially on a sunny day (yes, there are a few), will give your body the vitamin D that is craves.

Get Out of Dodge 

When all else fails, and you simply cannot spend one more day on the frozen tundra, then my advice is to get out of dodge.

According to a study in the Journal of Applied Research in Quality of Life, taking a trip, or even just thinking about taking one in the future, can make you happier.

If you are able to spare the funds, head to a place where the residents have never heard the phrase “minus 20 with the windchill”.  Those few days of sun and sand will surely lighten winter’s load.

If you cannot get away right now, then maybe plan a trip for late-spring or summer.  Take some time daily or weekly to research and plan.  Even seeing that beautiful destination and knowing you will eventually be there, will surely make those slushy commutes to work a little easier to manage.

However you choose to embrace winter, cheers to a crisp and cozy season!  If you need me, I’ll be by the fire.

Image Source