Tech Swellness: At home with Amazon

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Now having been home without any international travel for a whole year, I’ve slept in my own bed more in the last 365 days than I have for the past decade or so. Being at home so much has made me want to carve out ways to streamline routines and habits, and make it a little more comfortable. Having routines can help ease stress, and so they contribute to your overall mental health.

I had a chat with Amazon Canada who teamed up with designer Arren Williams several weeks ago and learned about Amazon’s lineup of products and how they could work with my home decor. Although I’ve used a few Amazon products for a couple of years now, I recently upgraded both my Echo and my Firestick. I don’t consider myself a very techy person but the new and improved Echo and Fire TV Stick are such fun and do make my everyday life at home better.

The new Echo, an adorable sphere, fits in better with my aesthetic compared to the previous model I had (a black cylinder), and I’ve set up one routine thus far on it. Each morning, I say “Alexa, good morning!” and Alexa replies with the date (I never know the date so I like this little reminder), the time, the weather (so I know how to get dressed for the day, although let’s face it, it’s pretty much either sweatsuits and running gear now during lockdown life), what’s on my calendar for the day, and it ends with news tidbits from CBC News.

This routine I’ve set up is a quick little rundown that helps me prepare for the day. I left out traffic since I don’t drive regularly. I should set up a bedtime routine, too; that’s next on my to-do list. There’s another routine they suggest, which is for Alexa to share the weather once you turn off the alarm, which is a good one if you don’t have time to do the entire detailed good morning routine. Add in a traffic report if you’re driving, too (I mostly walk or bike so I’ve left that one out). And as always, the Echo is great as a Bluetooth speaker for listening to Spotify or my favourite podcasts (I’m currently catching up on episodes of Conan O’Brien’s podcast, along with Fake Doctors Real Friends, and Office Ladies).

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And the Amazon Fire TV Stick? I got one a few years ago and loved that I no longer had to watch everything on my laptop, which is great since I got rid of cable and  now mostly watch shows streaming from Prime, Netflix and C rave. My favourite thing about the new Fire TV Stick I got to replace my oldie? It has power, volume and mute on the remote, which is extremely handy for me since I seem to have misplaced my TV remote. But even better, it has an Alexa Voice Remote, so I just hold down the button and say, “Alexa, play Superstore” and it automatically finds and plays Superstore from Prime. Helluva lot more convenient than first having to google which streaming service a show is on, going onto the streaming service and then tediously typing in the show and searching for it. The Alexa Voice Remote is a game changer and IMO worth upgrading to the current Fire TV Stick if you’ve got an older model.

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My newest tech toy isn’t that new to the market but I’ve never had any smart lightbulbs until now. I’m excited to test out the Philips Hue Personal Wireless Lighting because I have a bad habit of falling asleep with the light on. Now I can set a routine for the light to slowly dim (and maybe it’ll prompt me to go to bed at a decent hour!) so that I don’t wake up at 3 a.m. to turn it off. And to help me wake up in the mornings? I can set up a routine to gradually brighten to help me ease into the day (which is especially helpful now in the winter with the sunrise so late). I’m only just getting started using the Philips Hue but I think it’ll really benefit my sleep routine. Stay tuned, I’ll report back on my Instagram!

How smart is your home? The smart home tools I’ve tried out so far really benefit my health and lifestyle (you don’t want to know how often I’ve used it to help find my phone in my place. Sometimes I find myself asking Alexa to help me find everything from my keys (and I don’t have a Tile on them) to my library book, that is how hooked I am!

Disclosure: Amazon Canada gifted me with the Amazon and Philips products.

Leave a Comment February 19, 2021

Healthy Swellness: Three Simple Ways to Boost the Nutrition of What You’re Eating

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When it comes to eating well, I take a balanced approach. One of the greatest pleasures in my opinion is eating delicious foods, including those that aren’t so good for youso I eat a balanced diet most of the time, and then savour without any guilt the less than healthy items once in a while. I’ve always railed against that thinking, that healthy means kale and celery juice and quinoa only.

And another thing: Eating nutritiously doesn’t have to mean spending more. You just have to make smart budget-conscious choices with what you purchase and shop in stores where you can count on lower prices, like Giant Tiger. (Bonus: you can buy other items you need there, like cute workout gear, too, so you can limit your shopping excursions at the one convenient location that’s nearest you). In the past year, I’ve switched from only going to my usual (pricey) grocery store, and I can tell you the savings are significant if you make the effort to shop for groceries at a budget-friendly store like Giant Tiger.

Anyhow, as for the balanced approach to eating well? I look at every meal and snack as an opportunity to up the nutrition of what I’m consuming. You can accomplish this with some simple tactics, like these three, which work well for me:

1. Add veggies whenever possible. More often than not, I tend to cook one-pot type meals. So when cooking up my all-in-one dish, I consider how I can throw more vegetables into it as well. A pasta with meat sauce? Well, you can easily include some mushrooms in there, too, and celery and grated carrots. 

Or consider your breakfast; it’s a prime opportunity to eat more veggies, especially as veg is not a typical breakfast ingredient. I used to make fruit and juice smoothies all the time, but I realized you can easily throw some kale or spinach into the blender too (and some Greek yogurt for richness and protein) and it tastes great. Another great vehicle for veggies? Frittatas and breakfast wraps: throw in your usual eggs and sausage but add tomatoes, black beans, spinach and green peppers, too.

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Also, why not enjoy a salad for breakfast? Instead of just making bacon and eggs for your first meal of the day, take inspiration from a BLT and make a salad with those same ingredients, and throw in a hardboiled egg for protein, some avocado (which provides omega-3 fatty acids), some flax, chia seeds or hemp hearts for texture, and a vinaigrette made with olive oil (a staple of the Mediterranean diet, considered one of the most healthy in the world). I’m really digging salads for breakfast when I have time to throw one together as it’s not only tasty, but I always feel like I’ve kicked off the day on the right track with a healthy helping of veggies, which is a great motivator to staying on the wellness train the rest of the day.

2. Include some protein in each meal or snack so that your body feels satiated. Plan what you snack on for the week (so that you’re not opting for a danish when you feel that tummy grumble) and make sure your snacks have got some protein so you can keep plugging through your day well fueled. A quick snack I often go for is an apple, but eat it with some nut butter (I enjoyed this apple with Wow Butter, a tasty nut-alternative option available at Giant Tiger) and not only will your snack feel more like a treat but your body will feel more full longer. 

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Or for dinner on those nights you don’t feel like cooking? Do a ploughman’s lunch-inspired meal to snack on: here I’ve included almonds, hummus and a hardboiled egg for protein, carrots for some colour (and then you’re also accomplishing point #1 above!) and a serving of Saint Paulin cheese (one of my all-time favourite cheeses, and I love that it’s carried at Giant Tiger).

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3. Stock up on smart staples that make eating well easy. It’s always easier to eat healthily if you make it super simple to incorporate into your schedule. Having ingredients on hand that help you eat a more balanced diet can make a world of difference when you’ve got tons of work to get done, a dog to walk, piles of laundry to do, etc, etc.

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Some of the convenient staples you can stock up on at Giant Tiger that I love: 

  • natural almonds (good as add to salad or as a quick snack on their ownjust watch your portion size; keep it to a small handful or approximately 23 almonds); 
  • hard-boiled eggs (this package of ready-boiled eggs is a lifesaver when you’ve got a busy week); 
  • canned tomatoes (great to have on hand so you can whip up a shakshuka meal or a quick pasta sauce; plus canned tomatoes are an excellent source of the antioxidant lycopene); 
  • frozen fruit for smoothies; 
  • hummus (which research has shown is linked to fighting inflammation in the body); 
  • Gardein products, the meat-alternative products from this brand make meatless Monday meals no brainers;
  • Larabars (when buying packaged snacks to enjoy on the go, look for ones with ingredients you can identify, like Larabar, which is one of my favourite bar brands).

I know when I go to Giant Tiger I’ll be able to get everything I need to make loads of affordable meals and snacks as they sell fresh produce and fresh meat, along with the pantry staples I always keep on hand, like canned tomatoes and flavoured Perrier, and it’s all at fantastic prices. Because a lot of us, especially now during the pandemic, are more conscious about our spending than ever, I know I am. So on top of making Giant Tiger a go-to shop for your groceries and more, be sure to also sign up here for GT VIPyou’ll save even more on grocery items, plus you’ll get exclusive weekly deals.

Happy shopping (and savings)! I’d love to hear about your own nutrition-boosting tactics!

(sponsored partnership with Giant Tiger)

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2 Comments January 27, 2021

Healthy Swellness: My Downsized Goals for 2021

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I reached only one of the goals I’d set for 2020. And I’m totally fine with that. It was a year when doing anything took what felt like 100 times more effort so I’m really proud of having read 18 books when I set out to read a dozen. For the first few months I was ahead of my goal, and then when lockdown became stricter and I found it hard to concentrate on anything, I fell behind. But eventually I worked on cracking open a book more often and it was such a joy to reignite my love of reading, a pastime I’ve been passionate about since I was a kid but fell out of the routine for almost a decade.

My other goals? Well, I barely got started. I had planned to incorporate more cross-training into my routine, and aimed to do one workout a week that was not running. Instead, other than a few workouts before the pandemic (and a few virtual dance classes during lockdown), I focused solely on running (but at least I ran more than ever, completing the Great Virtual Race Across Tennessee, and then ran and walked back across Tennessee). Running is what I know, what I can incorporate into my life without a ton of thought, it’s really just easier for me to wrap my head around even though I know in reality I can easily roll out my yoga mat and find a workout online for a yoga session, for one.

And my other goals to eat more veggies and learn how to use my camera? Well, my diet was all over the place last year (I craved comfort foods and nostalgic eats big time, plus I had a hard time finding time to cook so that impacted how I ate as well), and I simply didn’t have the energy to pick up my camera and take an online course.

And while I don’t set travel goals per se (although I did wish last year to go to Thailand and that came true in December, I’m convinced I manifested it!), because of the pandemic, my travel was downsized significantly last year. I went on a total of six trips; four by flight (Vail, Gimli, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and a cruise out of Miami) and two local road trips (to Prince Edward County and a camping trip just north of Toronto at Oastler Lake).

Anyhow, for this year, I just read this New York Times article about making 2021 goals small and gentle. And that really resonated with me. We don’t need to feel bad about not accomplishing a ton right now, living through this crazy time we are all just trying to survive. And they’ll be focused on setting a routine. I already started with including a few things to improve my mornings, and those small things bring a sense of relief in this harsh reality we are living in. Yes, the simple but delicious foamy latte I drink in the morning brings me so much more than just a delicious cup of coffee; there’s a sense of feeling able to take a deep breath and relax even for just a few minutes that comes with this ritual. I think I maybe especially appreciate it since my life has for so many years entirely lacked routine, what with juggling freelance and travel.

So my goals for 2021 will be small:

I will read 15 books—and will do so by reading at least 10 pages a day. I’m building on the one goal I achieved! I tend to go days without reading and then read a ton. But this year I will work on reading just a little each day as part of my routine. I’m thinking at bedtime (although I tend to fall asleep pretty darn quickly once I hit the sack!). I know I read more than 15 books last year, but I think that was largely because I read about four of them while on a cruise for a week. Above are some of the books on my shelf to read this year, plus I’ve got several on hold at the library.

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I will make one meatless dish a week. I actually think I ate less veggies last year than ever. I tend to eat more of my veggies as part of my main, but there are loads of easy ways to enjoy vegetables as a side (sauteed green beans or roasted Brussels sprouts are so incredibly simple), so this will be something I can make a habit out of, and it’ll give me a push to look for delicious main dishes that make veggies and meat alternatives the star. Maybe I’ll finally try to make some dishes from this Ottolenghi cookbook; I’ve had it for years and yet have never cooked from it.

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I will develop a gratitude habit. I like this idea of building off of the good habits you established last year as mentioned in this New York Times article. It also outlines why reflecting on the past year might seem like a bad idea but that it’s good for you (which I learned when I looked back at 2020). And the first suggestion in the article is to develop a gratitude habit. I have the Five Minute Journal, and haven’t been successful in writing in it daily since I’m often in a rush to get out the door in the morning, so instead as I make and enjoy my morning coffee, I will think of one thing I am thankful for, and take it one step further when it makes sense (say if I’m grateful for the delicious meal I’m picking up that day, then I’ll tip more than usual, for example, or I’ll text that friend I’m grateful for having in my life, both are ideas from that NYT article). This is all something I definitely did more of in 2020, but it was not part of an established routine. The one way I do express gratitude daily already? I do hug Billie Jean and Mya all the time and tell them I love them; I am grateful for them every damn day for the joy they bring me.

Have you set any goals or intentions for the year?

2 Comments January 3, 2021

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