Reading List: Two Books I’ve Recently Read – Hint – it’s all about the Honey

I recently read two novels that I wanted to share with you in case you’re looking for some new books to add to your reading list. These titles are by Black women (one is Canadian) and both have the word ‘honey’ in the title. So let’s check out these sweet reads together, shall we!

#1. Butter Honey Pig Bread by Francesca Ekwuyasi

Butter Honey Pig Bread tells the stories of mother, Kambirinachi and her twin daughters, Kehinde and Taiye who have left Nigeria to study and live, one in England and the other in Montreal, and returned to look after their mother and deal with some unresolved family issues.

The mother believes she’s not of the human world- that because she survived as a child (her mother had a number of miscarriages before her) that the spirits have been set to torment her and punish her because she choose to live, to get married and to have her babies. This torment is a lifelong struggle for her and worsens when her husband dies in a tragic accident. A consequence she believes for choosing to stay in this world and not return to the other.

Kehinde and her twin become estranged after when Kehinde experiences a traumatic event. Taiye is guilt-ridden about not being there to help her sister and struggles with reckless behaviour and failed relationships.

They move to different counties and live separate lives, not speaking to each for years, except for letters Taiye writes but doesn’t send to Kehinde.

After more than 10 years living apart, the family reunites and tries to find their back to each other.

#2. Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers

Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers is about 28-year old high-achiever Grace Porter who recently got her PhD in astronomy and to celebrate goes to Vegas and gets drunk married to a woman who’s name she doesn’t know and who’s face she barely remembers. 

Grace’s dad is ex-military and he has high expectations for his only child. But, after spending 11 years pursuing her doctorate, Grace finds herself questioning her future and filled with doubt. This stress is too much for Grace and she heads to New York to finally meet and get to know her secret wife, Yuki Yamamoto.

Eventually, Grace will have to stop running away from her fears and deal with her strained relationship with her dad, absentee mother, friends and new wife. Who said adulting would be easy?

For more of books and what I’m currently reading (along with more lifestyle content) follow me on Instagram @swaggerandgreys

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Reading List: Summer Reading Roundup

Summer Reading

I realized that I never shared this post so here you go! I try to read at least two books each month – I’m a slow reader and it takes me time to get through the pages. Anyhoo, I thought I d share what I’m currently reading with you all. In case, you’re interested in adding new titles to your reading list.

I won’t be doing book reviews because I really don’t think I’m qualified to do so. I read for the simple joy of reading and rarely to apply any level of critical analysis or thoughtfulness, at least not enough of it to provide a useful review. I either enjoy what I’m reading, think it’s ‘meh’ or I don’t like it. If a book is a struggle to get through (100 Years of Solitude…) I may give up after a time.

Often what happens is, once I put I book down I will remember how it made me feel but vaguely remember the plot and all the character names. That’s just how it is for me.

So, with that in mind, if you’re interested in knowing what I’m reading, I’ll try to share with in more regularly – I may indicate whether I’ve enjoyed a book from time to time. But for now, here are the fiction novels I read for August.

August Book List

Roundup of books read in August

Roundup of the books I read in August. I usually manage about two books per month but turns out August was a good month for reading:

1. The Other Black Girl – Zakiya Dalila Harris

Nell Rogers is a 26-year old Editorial Assistant and the only Black employee at Wagner Books until a new Black girl, Hazel, from Harlem starts at Wagner. It’s great, until everybody loves Hazel in the office and Nell starts to feel the career she’s worked so hard to build start to slip away from her.

Things start getting dangerous when Nell starts receiving notes that warn her to LEAVE WAGNER. NOW. Could Hazel be behind this? And why is she in being threatened at Wagner?

2. Indians on Vacation – Thomas King

Indians on Vacation is a #1 Indie bestseller and a Canadian bestseller. The story follows Bird and Mimi as the couple is vacationing in Prague as part of a travel adventure of sorts. Using old postcard (nearly a hundred years old) they are attempting to trace the travel of Mimi’s ancestor, Uncle Leroy and the missing family medicine bundle Leroy took with him.

3. The Last Thing He Told Me – Laura Dave

Protect Her. That was on the note, Hannah receives from her husband Owen on the day he disappears. She realizes he means his 16-year-old daughter, Hannah’s angsty step daughter, Bailey. What happened to Owen? Why would he disappear without his daughter? How is Hannah supposed to protect a child that wants nothing to do with her?

Owen’s sudden disappearance ties in with major scandal and criminal investigation into the tech firm Owen works for. Owen’s also left Bailey a duffel bag filled with cash and a cryptic note

Is that why he ran? Could he be involved? The FBI want to talk to Owen and so does a US Marshal. Who is Owen, the man she married? The man she thought she knew. And does Bailey hold the key to the answers.

4. The Proposal- Jasmine

This is a New York Times bestseller and Reese Witherspoon’s book club pick. When Nickole Paterson gets proposed on the jumbotron during a baseball game in front of 45,000 people, by a guy she’d been dating casually for five months, she’s not only surprised but embarrassed. She has no trouble saying no – dude didn’t even spell her name correctly – but when he doesn’t take it well, she has to sit there with 45,000 fans looking at her. Luckily, she is rescued by Carlos, a handsome doctor, and his sister Angela. As much as they both try to resist they attraction, they soon hook up casually and Carlos turns out to be the perfect rebound guy for her. Carlos has his family to think about and his work and doesn’t have time for serious relationship so, being with Nik casually works for him too. Or, at least it was fun for a while until it starts getting complicated.

Check out my Instagram @swaggerandgreys as well because that’s usually where I share what I’m currently reading first.

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5 Reasons to Try a Meal Kit Subscription Service

I’ve been spending more time in the kitchen as of late and let me tell you, I’m feeling pretty impressed with myself thanks to a meal kit delivery service.

I used to cook more often but what with the hot mess train wreck that marked the start of a pandemic and the continued dumpster fire we are all living in, I just haven’t been in the mood to flex my culinary muscles. Ok, so my cooking skills are so-so, and I never truly loved cooking like some folks seem to. I do, however, enjoy trying a new recipe every now and again. That’s usually what gets me motivated to turn on the stove, turn the music up and bang out a meal or two. The opportunity to try out a new recipe.

When it comes to trying recipes I have rules however: the recipe has to be fairly simple – I will inevitably miss a step (happens all the time) so it needs to be simple; there must be very few ingredients and nothing too fancy because who wants to be spending 20 minutes looking confused in the spice aisle at the grocery store? No one. Lastly, the cooking time needs to be short – preferably around 30-40 minutes (unless it’s something I’m leaving in the oven or a slow cooker).

Keep the home cooking simple is my motto! Which is why when I was introduced to the idea of trying out a meal delivery service I was curious. It seemed like something that would work for me and my low-maintenance-but-still-keeping-it-classy lifestyle. What I’m really saying is that it would be a step up from grilled cheese, cereal and pizza.

My version of the HelloFresh Creamy Squash Ravioli

I have to confess, it took me a while to get on board with trying out a meal delivery subscription service. Not for lack of interest or fear but because I initially mentioned it to my very Jamaican auntie who said, “don’t do that! I’ll make you some food.” And basically, she showed up at my door with a special delivery – lots of Tupperware filled with yummy goodness! So, I had no need to try out a meal subscription service until recently when the world turned upside down and our lives changed.

Given the amount of time I’ve been spending at home, I thought I would shake things up a bit and finally check out a meal delivery service to see what it’s about and whether it’s something that’s worth the hype or nothing to write home about.

I’ve only tried one meal delivery service so bare that in mind. I’ve made about 12 meals so far.

If you’re considering trying out a meal subscription Service but you’re on the fence or maybe you’ve never consider it before now, here are my five reasons you might want to give a meal delivery subscription Service a try.

5 Reasons To Try A Meal Kit Delivery Service

Some of the delicious meals I’ve made from the HelloFresh meal kit service

#1. It can take your ho-hum cooking skills up a notch.

A friend of mine only knows a few easy recipes – she regrets not watching her grandmother more closely in the kitchen. She tried a meal delivery service for the first time a few months ago. She was so proud of herself for making tasty meals that she couldn’t wait to share them with me – via photos.

She convinced me to try it. If you’re not the best cook, you struggle with making meals because you don’t know what to do, you feel overwhelmed with recipes or just too lazy to figure things out, then this can be a great solution for you.

My version of the HelloFresh Chicken and Nectarine Summer Salad

If you want to impress your love interest, this could also work well, unless you’re dating a chef then, well, leave the cooking to him and bring the wine.

#2. It requires minimal effort to select the meals.

You simply have to accept or modify the week’s delivery or skip the week(s) if you want. I don’t have to google new recipes to find something I want to try.

There are so many meals to choose from so, this may take you a few minutes to decide what you want to try.

My version of the HelloFresh Grilled Veggie Burger and Caramelized Onions

#3. You get just the right amount of ingredients you need.

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve tried a recipe that called for some random ingredient that I bought, used once and never used again – I’m looking at you garam masala and star anise. It’s also just less wasteful. You are not tossing out unused food.

You may be thinking, why didn’t you just find other recipes with those ingredients? Well, I kind of approach cooking like I approach reading. I need to be in the ‘mood’ for a particular book or, in this case, new recipes. I enjoy cooking, sometimes, and more often, not at all. So the ingredients will sit there in the cupboard, long forgotten until a spring-cleaning session where I noticed it two years expired. Don’t judge me!

My version of the HelloFresh Carb Smart Smoky Paprika Chicken

#4. Eating healthier is easier.

If you’re like me, you can live on pizza and burgers and fries. You know you should buy fresh veggies and cook healthier meals, but you struggle with finding easy recipes and variety. Using the service provided me with lots of carb-smart and meatless options. I didn’t have to think about it.

My take on the HelloFresh Toasted Rice Bowl with Sweet Potatoes, sugar snap peas and Cashews

#5. It may be worth the cost

I tried HelloFresh Canada subscription during a promotional deal. As a single person, I order 3 meals that I spread over six days – that’s six dinners at a cost of about $11 – 13 per meal. For me, it was worth it. I don’t know what the rates will look like without the promo but it still may be worth it and here’s why. I live in an expensive city and the cost of dining out or even ordering take out is pricey. For me, it’s not simply about measuring things by the monetary costs. I must consider the convenience and factors like:

  • Everything I need is in the brown paper bag including just the necessary amount/ portions of the items I need to make the meal (HelloFresh bills itself as the “first global carbon-neutral meal kit company and it really big on sustainability.
  • Also, as a single person, the portion sizes are perfect and I get to have one meal over two days – sometimes three depending on the meal and if I’m really good about it.
  • The recipes are super easy to follow.
  • The meals take about 30 – 45 minutes to make.
  • The meals are delivered to my door on Saturday morning (or Sunday morning).
  • The meals are far healthier, tastes great and are more interesting than anything I would cook on my own.
  • There are so many meals to choose from.
  • I feel a real sense of accomplishment about being able to prepare dishes that I wouldn’t normally consider making.
  • The meals look damn good on the plate! Yes, the Aesthetics is important to me too.
My version of the HelloFresh Beef Keema with Ginger Basmati Rice

I also take advantage of the ability to skip deliveries. I don’t cook a lot, so I don’t need to have meals delivered every week. That’s way too much time spent over a stove for my liking. Adding a delivery twice a month has worked for me and reduces the cost.

The Hello Fresh Canada meals I’ve tried so far:

  • Chicken and Nectarine Summer Salad (with pepitas and basil)
  • Beef and Ricotta Enchiladas with Green Salad
  • Grilled Veggie Burgers and Caramelized Onions with Beyond Meat®
  • Toasted Rice Bowl with Sweet Potatoes, Sugar Snap Peas and Cashews
  • Sesame-Soy Asian Salad with Sweet Peppers and Beyond Meat®
  • Creamy Squash Ravioli with Mushrooms and Spinach
  • Breaded Chicken with Honey-Parsley Carrots and Lemon Mayo
  • Beef Keema on Ginger Basmati Rice 
  • Carb Smart Smokey Paprika Chicken with a Veggie Medley

Final Thoughts

I haven’t cooked this much in a long time. I’ve enjoyed all my meals. Overall I was happy with my meal selections, quality and ease of preparation of the meals.

I also haven’t tried any other meal delivery services besides Hello Fresh I suspect they are similar in the service offerings. I’m glad I tried it and will likely continue to use them.

*This is not a sponsored post. The opinions here are based on my experience trying out the service for a number of weeks.

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Book Lovers: Guess What’s in the Sweet Reads Box for August

She’s baaaaack! Yes, I’m back to share what goodies I received in the Sweet Reads Box August box

Check out my previous post to learn more about my collaboration with Sweet Reads Box and the Sweet Reads Box book subscription service for monthly books and themed goodies (from mostly Canadian brands) that tie into the novel.

When I open the Sweet Reads Box, the first thing I see is a large postcard with a photo of the Tower Bridge, London, UK. I immediately think, “I was there!” That was on my last visit to London back in 2015! I love the city and cannot wait to go back. 

So, this month’s box is off to a good start. The London connect is already giving me some good vibes. I read quote on the postcard, “In any given moment we have two options: to step forward into growth or step back into safety.” I’m now intrigued. What’s in the box? And What’s the featured novel about?

Well, I’ve had a chance to look inside and can report back on all the goodies that were in the August box. It was a surprise, and I must say, I’m really looking forward to reading the book and sampling the products!

What surprises are in the August Sweet Reads Box?

The Book: Ghosts by Dolly Alderton

Funny, tender and eminently, movingly relatable, Ghosts is a whip-smart tale of relationships and modern life.” – Penguin Random House

This is a romantic comedy about writer Nina Dean who is single and living her best life in London, England. Then while online dating, she meets Max, a good-looking Accountant and they seem to be having a great time together until he ghosts her. In addition to the boy drama, Nina has family drama and work drama to contend with – her dad’s worsening Alzheimer’s and her mother’s denial of the situation and a new book that’s not making her boss happy. Nina has a lot going on in her life. Will she be alright?

The Themed Goodies in the Sweet Reads Box

Sweet Reads Box – August edition

Salted Caramel Cashews – Handfuel – Salted caramel cashews hand roasted and glazed with salted caramel. ♦

Lemon Royal – Zappyo – bright lemony Yerba Mate tea. ♦

Sweet Reads Dad Cap – Peace Collective – A new custom SRB product.♦

Doodle Pad – Doodle Lovely – The perfect take-along companion for fun doodles to engage your mind ♦

Custom Note Cards – I’ll Know It When I See It – Customized note cards for Sweet Reads Box that have book-related quotes and illustrations ♦

Custom London Bookmark – Woodly (wooden home décor) – Bookmark of the London, England showcasing icon London images. Products made from salvaged wood on Vancouver Island.♦

Strawberry and Poppyseed Cleansing Bar – Dr. Botanicals (from England).

Author letter – Penguin Random House – A Q&A with the author for additional perspective on the novel.

♦ Indicates a Canadian company

This post is a paid partnership with Sweet Reads Box.

You can check out Sweet Reads Box on Instagram @SweetReadsBox 

Follow me on Instagram @SwaggerandGreys for more lifestyle and video content.

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For the Book Lovers – Sweet Reads is Here!

Sweet Reads Box – July Box

Have you ever tried a subscription service for books before? Well, I hadn’t until now. I’m excited to do a paid partnership with Sweet Reads Box. I wanted to collaborate because: 

(1) If you know me at all, you know I enjoy a good book and try to read at least two books each month.

(2) If you know me you also know I love me some snacks.

(3) I love to see and support Canadian small businesses.

Sweet Reads Box

With the Sweet Reads Box subscription service, the contents of the box are kept a secret. Since you never know what you will get each month, it’s basically all drama, excitement and anticipation as you open the box! Who doesn’t love a little suspense?

The themed box will come with a novel and items connected to the novel’s storyline, theme or setting, a beverage, and something sweet. Basically, all you’ll need is to get comfy and enjoy your reading experience.

Along with bestsellers, new releases, and curated novels, the folks at Sweet Reads also aims to include more Canadian authors. 

The curated books include fiction, popular fiction, literature, historical fiction, thriller/suspense, and rom-com. So, there is a good variety. 

Sweet Reads Box – July 2021

What’s in the July Sweet Reads Box?

What is in the July Sweet Reads Box?

The Surprise book for July: The House Guests by Emilie Richards

“By welcoming strangers into her home, has she thrown open the front door to danger?” – Emilie Richards

The themed postcard included in the Sweet Reads box provides the following overview of the book: “Aneasy summer read with captivating characters and a storyline that will leave you guessing how it will allturn out. Two women whose lives are brought together after a stolen change purse leaves one of themdestitute. An unexpected act of kindness brings these two women and their lives together to face thequestions of their past. Set in historic Tarpon Springs, Florida this book combines a tropical Florida setting with the rich heritage of Greek culture and food.”

What other goodies were in the Sweet Reads book box for July?

Lemon Shortbread Cookies – The Shortbread Company – The perfect pop of citrus makes these cookies alight summer treat. ♦

“Calm”- Oasis Sentiment Dishtowel Tag Ltd.– Bring the Florida vibe home with a beautiful summery tea towel.

Sweet Orange Bath Bomb SOAK Co. – Fresh, citrusy, and perfectly hydrating for your skin. Relax andunwind with a great bath in all-natural ingredients. ♦

Skyhawk Dark Roast Propeller CoffeeA rich, beautiful coffee that is perfect for making iced coffee. Use the enclosed card for tips on how to make the perfect iced coffee. Don’t love iced coffee? Use it hotwhichever way you’d like to brew it! ♦

Assorted Zipper Pouch Danica – You will receive one of a variety of designs of a small pouch. Included totie into the stolen zipper pouch that is the catalyst to Cassie and Amber’s relationship. ♦

Greek Salad Mix Gourmet du Village – An easy mix to create your own Greek salad. Perfect for outdoormeals on the deck/patio. ♦

YiaYia’s Kouzina Tzatziki Dip Walton Wood Farms – Created especially for this box. Tzatziki Dip is namedafter the Greek restaurant owned by Cassie’s family. Serve with warm pita, and veggies or as a side tosouvlaki. ♦

House Guests Keychain – Harper Collins Canada – A fun and practical tie-in to the novel.

  • Indicates a Canadian company
Sweet Reads Box – July edition

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7 Tips for Organizing Your Space More Mindfully

Getting your space organized with intention

It’s been just over a year of life in pandemic lockdown and I don’t know about you, but finding the motivation to do anything has been, well, rough. So, what does one do when one is need of motivation? You take advantage of the change in season and get a little help from Netflix.

Recently, out of procrastination, I ended up watching several episodes of Tidying Up with Marie Kondo on Netflix. When I’m struggling with motivation and inspiration, I find shows/videos on decluttering and home organizing, along with books, magazines, and Pinterest, to be great sources to creative energy. This time around, it was no different. It also helped that spring is almost here and with it comes spring cleaning (a.k.a., ‘the urge to purge’).

Now, I like to think that I’m fairly neat and organized. This is what I like to “think.” In reality, that’s not necessarily the case. One minute, things are organized and before I know it, things are messy again, and I’ve accumulated more stuff. How did that happen? It happens because real life can be messy in a lot of ways, including in the spaces we occupy and use daily.

What I was reminded of while watching Marie Kondo’s show was how important it is that we make time to deal with the ‘stuff’ we have and learn to ‘let go’ of the things that are not serving us. Studies show that clutter negatively impacts well-being including leading to stress, procrastination and general feelings of unhappiness. This clutter effect also has to do with how we relate to our spaces. We are attached to our homes and can view our possessions as extension of ourselves. Which explains why, when you watch shows like Tidying Up, you rarely see people doing happy dances as they toss things in the “donate” pile. It’s really hard to let go.

That being said, over the years, I’ve come to appreciate that in the act of letting go of our stuff, we create space for a deeper sense of freedom, peace of mind, calm and even happiness. 

With the help of Marie’s show, I decided it was a good time to dust the cookie crumbs from my wrinkled t-shirt, get off the sofa and organize my space. Here are seven tips to help you tackle clutter more mindfully and create more space and lightness, not only in your physical environment but ultimately, in the mind and spirit.

7 Tips for Organizing Your Space More Mindfully

Black woman making the bed.

Home Organizing Tip #1: Get Your Mindset Right

It’s great to use social media to get inspiration but, watch out for those sneaky thoughts of envy and comparison. If that becomes your motivation, then check yourself. As Marie Kondo says, “the question of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life.”

Set your intention for what you want to achieve, paying close attention to the thoughts that you’re having and how you’re feeling. Remind yourself of the purpose of this task. Accept that this is where you are right now. Then get ready to feel all the good vibes that come with having a cleaner, more organized space.

Home Organizing Tip #2: Let Go of Perfection When Decluttering

Sure, I wish I were the Tidying-up-sparks-all-kinds-of-joy type but really I’m not even close. Instead, I’m more like the kinda, sorta neat-ish’ type who can live with improperly folded socks and go without colour coordinating my knits! I believe that, like with mindfulness, some self-awareness goes a long way. Recognizing the type of person I am, how much patience and energy I have to give, and how much time I’m prepared to devote to a task, helps to set me up for success in accomplishing that goal. 

This also includes being aware that we all benefit from being more kind to ourselves when things aren’t perfect. This includes when our spaces aren’t perfectly organized, or our organization skills are less than perfection. 

When decluttering and organizing, I encourage you to let go of any self-imposed, stress-inducing expectations. Aim to simplify things by taking the parts you find most helpful from your inspiration images or tips to make your own rules and set your own standards about what works for you.

Home Organizing Tip #3: Start Small to Avoid Overwhelm When Decluttering

While watching the families in the show take their entire homes apart, taking everything out of their closets, cupboards, garages etc., in order to decide what to keep and what to let go of, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of overwhelm. It was a lot. 

Because I’m no stranger to overwhelm and how it can derail you from doing even the simplest of tasks sometimes. But when it comes reorganization and decluttering projects, I don’t think it’s a one-size fits all approach. You can also choose to approach it on a smaller scale. Tackling something smaller and more contained means that you can finish a lot sooner without the risk of feeling overwhelmed and defeated halfway through and still reap the ‘feel good’ benefits that can come from decluttering.

For example, I have a list of spaces I want to organize but will dedicate a weekend to my bathroom cabinet and under the sink (or drawers in the kitchen). Once that’s done then I will check in on how I’m feeling and then decide if I have the energy to tackle the bedroom closet that same day or another weekend and so on. I find that one quick win is enough to energize me to want to get more done over time.

clothing on a clothing rack

Home Organizing Tip #4: Get Real About Your Time & Energy

My niece recently decided to paint her living and dining room areas by herself and to do so in a day. She got it done but not before the excitement wore off quickly and the overwhelm and frustration set in. It took her three days and a second trip to the store to buy more paint! She got discouraged and almost gave up halfway through the job because she underestimated the amount of time, energy and effort it would take.

Before undertaking the project, take a few minutes to examine what you have going on in your life. Get real about your time and willingness to get the job done. Then make a plan that includes realistic goals and timelines for sorting your closet without distraction. This will prevent you from being overwhelmed by the process and increase your chance of getting it done.

Woman's hands neatly folding a pair of socks to place in a row in the sock organization cube box in front of her. To her right is a organized box of women's undergarments in neutral colours

Home Organizing Tip #5: Bring an Attitude of Gratitude

With my first major decluttering a few years ago, I’d read Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Although I didn’t fully embrace her KonMari method – I choose not to say “thank you” to each item during the decluttering process – I did adopt  her folding techniques for my t-shirts and socks.

I’ll admit, after watching, Tidying Up, I’ve had to rethink my attitude toward thanking my items. I may still not speak to my clothes, but I’ve come to appreciate the power of gratitude in all aspects of life and for all the stuff we own (yes, even that Spice Girls t-shirt you’ve been hiding in the bottom of your drawer that you think no one knows about).

So, instead of focusing on the guilt and shame that can sometimes come with confronting the piles of clothing in your closet, try focusing on the positive. Take time to reflect on, and be thankful for, the abundance that you have before letting go. 

Closet Organizing Tip #6: Bring the Beats and Get Hype 

Decluttering and organizing even a small space can be unpleasant for some. One thing I love to do is bring music in to be my ‘Hype Man’, you know, the guy on stage with the mic whose only purpose is to get the crowd hyped up. “When I say spark, you say joy! Spark! Joy! Spark! Joy!”  The right music is a powerful tool to set the mood, boost your energy level, and improve your flow. We workout to music so why not organize your closet to some beats? 

Go ahead and bump your favourite tunes, you know, the songs you think you know all the lyrics to, but you really don’t but sing them anyway. Get hype while you get organized.

Home Organizing Tip #7: Make A Conscious Effort to Acquire Less

I’ll admit that making a conscious effort to acquire less is challenging for me. Like many people, I grew up believing that we always needed more stuff, that every space needed to be occupied with furniture and that I needed new clothes each season. As I get older, I’m finding there is so much value in slowing down and freeing up space by consuming less. This definitely has helped to improve my overall wellbeing. 

Adopting a ‘less is more’ mindset can take some time and willingness to make it happen but can with a host of benefits including, spending less and learning how to only bring into your home the items that you truly love.

Congratulations! Now, Treat Yourself for a Job Well Done

Once you’ve finished, step back, look at your work with joy and gratitude for all that you have. Congratulate yourself on a job well done. Then treat yourself to some Netflix and a glass of wine. 

This post first appeared on the Swell Made Co. Blog.

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12 Simple Tips to Help You Go Plastic-Free at Home

Yikes! I just realized how many plastics I use as part of my everyday

Canvas tote bag with a coffee mug tumbler and reusable water bottle.

It’s Wash Day. No, I’m not talking about laundry. I’m talking about washing my hair. I’m a Black woman and washing my natural hair can sometimes feel like a monumental task as it can take a couple of hours or more, numerous products and multiple steps depending on our unique hair routine. Hence, ‘Wash Day’.  

On this particular Wash Day, as I stood in the shower, trying to detangle my hair, I noticed my shower caddy. More precisely, I noticed what was in my shower caddy. Two disposable razors, shave gel, body wash, in shower hair removal cream, a deep exfoliating face cleanser, and a bath scrub. Not to mention, the shampoo and deep conditioner that I was using. There was a lot of plastic bottles. Even the comb I was using to detangle my hair was plastic! Why had I not noticed this before? I didn’t feel good about it at all.

I’d recently decluttered my bathroom cabinet because I wanted to toss out or give away products I was not using and eliminate the wasteful habit of buying more items I didn’t need – this behaviour was simply bad for my wallet and the environment. I was proud of myself for adopting a less is more approach when it came to my skincare. Yet, at that moment while detangling my hair, plastic comb in hand, the reality hit me that when it came to embracing more sustainability as part of my lifestyle, there was plenty of room for improvement.

Because I’m a glass half full type, I saw this situation as a great learning opportunity. It was an opportunity to do better (and feel good) when it comes to being more environmentally friendly. And, in recognition of Plastic Free July, I wanted to share some of my favourite simple tips for starting a journey to a more sustainable living by reducing single-use plastics. 

What’s Plastic Free July? 

Plastic Free July is a movement that aims at challenging and inspiring individuals with ideas and tips for making small changes to reduce single-use plastics in their daily lives to collectively make a greater positive impact on the environment. They have resources and ideas for home, work, school, businesses and community organizations.

12 Simple Tips to Help You Go Plastic-Free at Home

Recyclable cutlery, metal straws, glass bottles and mesh reusable bag.

#1. Say bye-bye to body wash. 

Consider going old school and using soap bars instead of body wash. I used to love my body wash, especially after a workout but making the switch to soap bars was a simple adjustment to make. 

#2. Ditch the plastic bottles of shampoo and conditioners. 

Switch the plastic bottles of shampoo and conditioner for shampoo bars. Use them for your hair or try ones that do double-duty and work for the body as well. 

Other options to consider including looking for more eco-friendly, clean products or brands that offer refillable bottles

#3. Replace the plastic disposable toothbrushes. 

Biodegradable and sustainable bamboo toothbrushes are trending right now and look stylish especially if you’re going for a spa-like feel in your bathroom. Better for the environment and aesthetically pleasing? That’s what I call a win/win situation. Just remember to cut the bristles off before disposing of the toothbrush. 

Alternatively, opt for a toothbrush with replaceable heads to avoid having to toss out entire brushes every few months or so. Talk to your dentist to find an alternative that’s right for you. 

#4. Invite toothpaste and floss to the eco-friendly party. 

Consider switching to eco-friendly toothpaste and dental floss. Because there’s no point in having a bamboo toothbrush without eco-friendly toothpaste and floss. 

Your next cleaning when they hand you the new plastic toothbrush and floss might be the perfect time to get some professional advice on what’s right for you.

recyclable wood and bamboo bath products (a back scrubber, loofah sponge, bamboo toothbrushes, natural soaps and glass jars

#5. Give your skin a kinder scrub.

Look for eco-friendly body scrubs. Avoid exfoliating products with microbeads which are terrible for the environment even though they feel good on your skin.  You can make your body scrub as well, kinder to the planet and your wallet. 

#6. Say no to disposable razors. 

You know how drugstores carry the packets of multiple disposable plastic razors usually in some variation of pink? Let’s say “no” to that and opt for a plastic-free alternative razor.  They may cost a bit more initially but they will pay for themselves, in terms of monetary costs and costs to the environment, over time. 

#7. Go all-natural with your deodorant.

This one may take some trial and error to find the brand that’s right for you. But I can tell you from my search, natural deodorant has come a long way, with lots of options on the market, including unscented, roll-ons, creams, and solids. 

#8. Do better with your morning brew. 

Rethink the way you have your morning joe from using a coffee travel mug to reducing coffee filters by a French press.

glass coffee pot and glass mug

#9. Ditch the plastic shopping bags.

According to PlasticFreeJuly.org by doing this easy switch and opting for alternatives to plastic bags you are helping to keep an estimated 500 plastic bags per year out of oceans and landfills. Use reusable shopping bags and produce bags for your fruits and vegetables.

#10. Mind your beeswax! 

Seriously, consider swapping those plastic wraps for eco-friendly beeswax that you can wash and reuse and that are compostable. You can also DIY your beeswax if that’s your thang!

#11. Trash the plastic garbage bags. 

Consider using biodegradable trash bags as an alternative to plastic trash bags or try composting. 

#12. Donate and educate yourself. 

Donate to local organizations that support environmental causes, watch documentaries, read books or sign-up for newsletters that provide you with tips and resources on how to go zero-waste at home.

These are just a few of my favourites ways to transition your home into a more environmentally friendly or zero-waste space for those of us trying to find easy ways to be eco-friendly and be kinder to the environment, one reusable item at a time.

As always, whenever you can, buy local and support small business owners, your community, the economy and the environment. 

This blog post first appeared on the Swell Made Co. blog.

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5 Ways House Plants Can Make You Feel Good

variety of small house plants on a stand

Deciding to Become a Plant Mom Again

Plants have somehow shown up at various stages of my life. As a kid, I remember my mom had a three-tier glass stand that housed different plants. As a student, one of the lawyers in the office I worked at propagated her Pothos plant and gave me a stem that I kept in a water bottle then repotted. I had that plant and would go on to own my own three-tiered plant for many years. But as I changed jobs and apartments, I ended up re-homing my plants with my mom and aunties. 

The last time I owned houseplants was about eight years ago. Sadly, the two plants grew into small trees that threatened to touch the ceiling and take over my small apartment. I ended up re-homing them and hadn’t considered getting new ones until the pandemic hit. 

I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’ve spent about a million hours at home since the pandemic. Ok, so it may not be a million hours but it’s definitely in the thousands. It’s not surprising that home improvement sales surged in the past year with all of us forced to use our spaces to the fullest. We’ve had to stay put long enough to actually start asking ourselves, whether we felt good in the space we were now forced to occupy every waking hour of our lives? It was these questions that led to my decision to become a plant mom again. 

There I was forced to stop and look around my space and decided that it could use a boost, during such depressing times. But the change I felt was needed had to be a low cost, low maintenance and aesthetically pleasing way to liven up my space and that did not involve fur or daily walks. Plants naturally were the answer. [Lesley can you insert link back to your Plant  blog post]

three small and medium sized houseplants in neutral coloured decorative pots on the floor against a wall

Deciding What House Plants to Buy

Despite having had some experience with house plants, I was not really “into” plants. I didn’t know their names and certainly never did any research on how to care for them. Again, with the pandemic, I was forced to change my behaviour. Since most of the stores in the city were closed, I ended up buying two plants online. This required that I do some basic research about:

  • What type of plants did I like?
  • What plants might look good in my space?
  • Which plants were low maintenance (minimal watering and sunlight)
  • What type(s) of soil would I need?
  • What size and style of planters were available? (I would discover that 10” planters were in short supply).

It was a definitely a big learning experience.

Unfortunately, it turned out that everyone on the planet had the same idea as me and was buying plants. As a result, a lot of the plants were sold out at local nurseries. However, I managed to get my hands on a snake plant – which is hard to kill – and a monstera deliciosa (or swiss cheese plant).

Plant Power in Full Effect

Once the plants were delivered and repotted I thought that I would admire them for about a week and then forget about them, as one does when one gets new, pretty things. We simply get used to them. However, if you know anything about the monstera deliciosa (if you don’t that’s ok, neither did I until I bought one), the leaves are fairly large so you can’t help but notice any changes. Recently, as I was watering my monstera, I noticed a new leaf, shaped almost like a thin, tightly coiled blade of grass. This was the beginning of my discovery of the meaning of plant power.

Just like that, I was like a kid again. I was filled with a mix of awe, anticipation and excitement waiting for the surprise once the leaf opened up. I’m not kidding, not since ninth grade science class was I this fascinated about a plant leaf (we learned about plants and the process of photosynthesis – I was a terrible science student but it’s the one lesson that I remember enjoying). 

a fig plant in a beige wicker basket on the light wood floor next to a framed photo of a leaf.

Finding a Happy (Plant) Place 

I found myself watching the various changes and waiting patiently for the leaf to make its appearance and shout, “I’ve arrived!” I realized at that moment that I was feeling happy in a time that we had already spent many months living in lockdown with the constant fear of contracting a deadly virus and the uncertainty of when it would end.

So, why was the experience of plant ownership so different this time around? When I think back to the previous times that I’ve owned plants, I realize two things. One, on a basic level, seeing this new leaf emerging meant the plant was growing and I hadn’t managed to kill it. It meant I was #WinningatPlantParenthood and two, having plants in my space has always made me happier. I just hadn’t taken the time, up until this point, to pause and truly appreciate this fact.

There are so many life lessons to come out of being in a global pandemic and two of them for me are practicing gratitude and finding joy in the simple things. I’ve been slowing down and paying closer attention to my relationship with my family and friends and now with my newfound connection to my plant family. I’ve been enjoying the peace, calm and feelings of happiness household plants can bring.

5 Ways Plants Can Make You Feel Good

A happy young black woman holding a snake plant in a terracotta pot, and smiling.

Here are five of my favourite ways bringing indoor plants into your space can be beneficial for your overall wellbeing and just make you feel good about it.

1. Transforming the look and feel of your space – adding some greenery to your space can add an element of beauty and life to your space.

2. Providing a connection with nature and a living thing – Having a plant requires you to be in the present moment when you water it, being careful not to overwater or you inspect the leaves to determine if they still look healthy. In that brief moment, it’s you in full nurturer mode making sure you are caring for this living thing.

3. Encouraging mindfulness. Being able to take a moment to pause and enjoy the beauty a plant can bring to your space and the feeling of calm and tranquillity that can come from being in the present moment, connecting with nature in that way.

4. Improving air quality. Studies show that household plants may be a way to help improve air quality in your space by removing certain types of buildup from off-gases in the air. Research is still being done in this area and this doesn’t mean that having a few houseplants will purify your air completely, you may need to invest in a good HEPA air purifier to do that. Yet, according to the research, indoor plants can make a difference in reducing air pollutants.

5. Benefiting your overall wellbeing – Some studies show having indoor plants can have a positive effect on not only air quality but also on psychological wellbeing – plants can help lower stress, anxiety levels and improve productivity and overall wellbeing. Plants can make you feel better.

Houseplants can be a low-cost way to not only add some style to your living space but improve your air quality and overall health and wellbeing.

As for my former plants (the two small trees), my cousin sent me photos of the ‘twins’ recently to let me know they were happy and still thriving. 

This post first appeared on the Swell Made Co. blog.

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10 Books by BIPOC Women Authors for Your Reading List

Every year I set a goal of reading at least two books per month, and if I happen to read more then, great. In deciding what books to read, I inevitably have no clue and end up taking one of two actions: (1) sending a text to a couple of friends who are avid readers and asking for suggestions, and (2) consulting the wise sage, Google for recommendations. I often select a random assortment of books and read, well, whatever. 

This time around, however, I’m now taking a different, more intentional approach to the books that I read. I’ve been thinking about how I can continue my commitment to supporting more BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour) womxn writers. 

“The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

So, if, like me, you have a desire to read more stories from diverse voices to support BIPOC writers, and you’re not really sure what type of book you want to read or where to start, I’m here to help. I’m sharing another curated list of books by BIPOC women authors you can add to your reading list right now. You’re welcome.

As the old saying goes, “variety is the spice of life”, and that truth also applies to this reading list. I wanted a reading list that includes stories by women from diverse backgrounds, including BIPOC Canadian voices and a range of genres – classic literary fiction, memoir and anti-black racism works. The books on this list represent a small selection of titles that I’m excited to read (and a few I want to read again). Hopefully, there is a title or two that gets you just as excited!

Save this post and share it with a friend or with folks in your book club. Let’s continue to show love to BIPOC authors, independent bookstores and our public libraries. 

10 Books by Women BIPOC Authors For Your Reading List

Butter Honey Pig Bread – Francesca Ekwuyasi

Butter Honey Pig Bread was longlisted for the 2020 Scotiabank Giller Prize and tells the stories of twin sisters, Kehinde and Taiye, and their mother, Kambirinachi. It is described as a “story of choices and their consequences, of motherhood, of the malleable line between the spirit and the mind, of finding new homes and mending old ones, of voracious appetites, of queer love, of friendship, faith, and above all, family.”

Washington Black – Esi Edugyan

Edugyan’s Washington Black won the 2018 Giller Prize and was one of the New York Times Book Review 10 Best Books of the Year. The novel tells the story of Washington Black, an 11-year-old field slave in Barbados and a wild travel adventure. The publisher’s synopsis describes this as “a story of self-invention and betrayal, of love and redemption, and of a world destroyed and made whole again.”

Birdie – Tracey Lindberg

Birdie tells the story of Bernice (Birdie) Meetoos, a Cree woman from British Columbia who travels in search of family and a place to call home while living with a dark secret from her past.

How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps the House – Cherie Jones

This story takes place in a resort town in Barbados. It’s the tale of Lala and her husband, a criminal, and the consequences that unfold from a burglary gone wrong. It’s a story about race, domestic violence, class and the interconnectedness of our lives. 

Beloved – Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for Beloved (she’s also held Nobel Prize in Literature and other accolades because she was brilliant). Beloved is the story of “Sethe, an escaped slave who has lost a husband and buried a child; who has withstood savagery and not gone mad. Sethe, who now lives in a small house on the edge of town with her daughter, Denver, her mother-in-law, Baby Suggs, and a disturbing, mesmerizing apparition who calls herself Beloved.” It is a complex story that can be a challenging read at times. 

Beloved was turned into a movie in the late 1990s starring Oprah, Thandie Newton and Danny Glover. You can read what Toni Morrison says about the origins of Beloved here.

Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston

Zora Neale Hurston’s, Their Eyes Were Watching God was first published in 1937.  It is a classic of the Harlem Renaissance that tells a love story about Janie Crawford’s coming of age set in the southern US.

Brown Girl Dreaming – Jacqueline Woodson

This is Jacqueline Woodson’s memoir of growing up in South Carolina and New York in the 1960s and 1970s during Jim Crow and the Civil Rights movement.

Do Better: Spiritual Activism for Fighting and Healing from White Supremacy –  Rachel Ricketts

This book by Thought leader and racial justice educator, Rachel Ricketts was released in February 2021. Ricketts’ website states this book “offers mindful and practical steps for all humxns to dismantle white supremacy on a personal and collective level.” If you’ve ever heard Rickett’s speak, you’re in for some deep learning and awareness-raising.

Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in The Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race – Beverly Daniel Tatum

This is Beverly Daniel Tatum’s classic book on the psychology of racism and how to talk about our racial identities. 

So You Want to Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo

Ijeoma Oluo’s book explores how to have honest conversations about race and racism and the impact on everyday life.

Final Thoughts

Looking for more books? Check out my previous list of 27 books for the year.

Feel free to follow me on Instagram @swaggerandgreys and let me know what books you’ve discovered that you’re loving!

This post first appeared on the Swell Made Co Blog.

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5 Easy Ways to Cultivate Gratitude in Your Daily Life

I recently finished a course on the Science of Wellbeing that talked about what we think will make us happy but doesn’t and what kinds of things we can do to actually make us happier. One of the takeaways from the course was about how important our social connections were for our overall happiness. Something many of us might have taken for granted in pre-pandemic times.

I did one of the exercises in the course that asked students to connect with people we care about. As we continue to deal with the global pandemic and the winter months have set in, isolation and loneliness can be real threats to our mental health and overall wellbeing. Although I was staying connected to some family and a few friends, I realized I could do more especially if that would help boast my mood. I reached out to five friends that I hadn’t seen or spoken to (besides the random text or DM) in over a year and set up some video chats.

Finding Gratitude in Difficult Times

During those conversations when we shared how we were coping with being in lockdown and the many restrictions to our lives that Covid-19 has brought, I noticed a consistent theme. Everyone, in their own way, expressed immense gratitude for all they had. We all had our own unique challenges, from working from home with young children or teenagers, to being at home with entire families – parents, siblings and nieces and nephews, to being home alone, yet my friends found many things, even the little things we once took for granted, to be grateful for. 

Some were grateful for big things like, having enough space in their homes to accommodate everyone, to work from home, or to still be employed because they knew people who had lost their jobs. Still, others were grateful for the ability to connect on the phone or virtually with friends and family, to be able stand in the driveway so their kids to see their grandparents at a safe distance, the ability to take daily walks, or for video games to keep the kids entertained and having access to online delivery services. We were all very grateful for our health and the health of our families and friends.

In his new book, Think Like a Monk, author and former monk, Jay Shetty says that gratitude is “the world’s most powerful drug”.  The research supports the fact that the benefits of gratitude are abundant and touch aspects of our lives, the lives of others and the world around us. Shetty says, “imagine what the world would be like we all started our day giving thanks for the most basic and essential gifts of life all around us.” Gratitude is good for our mental and physical health and wellbeing and our relationships with others.

Cultivating Gratitude Daily

Shetty suggests that if we train in the daily practice of gratitude, making it a habit, it will transform our mindset so that we can focus on our abundance and not on what we are lacking. So, when setbacks happen, we should try to consciously practice gratitude for the opportunity that was presented. This doesn’t mean that we don’t feel bad about the situation. It means we train our minds to not dwell on the negative and sit in that place but instead appreciate the possibility that other proverbial doors may open in our lives. He suggests you look for those opportunities in the failures and when you find them, you take advantage of it.  He calls this ‘grateful living’.

According to Dr. Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., the world’s most leading scientific expert on gratitude, in one of his books on the subject, cultivating gratitude involves a conscious daily discipline where you choose to focus on the things that are working for you in your everyday life, the extraordinary and the ordinary. 

Now, I cannot say that I practice grateful living daily nor am I able to think like a monk, but gratitude has been the anchor that has kept me grounded, calm and humble in this time of such uncertainty and fear that we find ourselves living in for coming into a year now. 

In addition to staying connected with friends, family and coworkers, I’ve made it a habit to take time out each night to reflect on a few good things in my day. This daily gratitude practice has helped me to reflect often on the ordinary, mundane things in my day that made me feel good like, waking up that morning, the feel of the sun on my face on a particularly sunny day or dancing to Missy Elliott’s Get Ur Freak On while doing the dishes. It allows me to pause for a few minutes before bed to genuinely reflect, show appreciation, maybe even smile or laugh, and to acknowledge how very fortunate I am. 

Here are a few simple ways to begin to cultivate gratitude in your daily life, especially if you are super busy and finding time to do all the things is a challenge. As Emmons says, gratitude shouldn’t be a burden that weighs us down as yet another thing on our to-do list. Gratitude should uplift us.

5 Easy Ways to Practice Gratitude Daily

1. Start each morning being grateful – Before you pick up your phone (unless it’s to turn the alarm off) begin every day, the minute you wake up, by giving thanks. It can be as simple as being thankful for waking up to another day, the sunshine or that cup of morning coffee. Oprah says, “thank you” every morning before getting out of bed to express how grateful she is for being awake, being alive and being present another day.

2. Savour one meal each day – Pick one meal out of your day to take a few seconds to truly appreciate and give thanks for it, every day you sit down to have it (e.g., breakfast, lunch or dinner). 

This doesn’t have to be limited to a meal. You can do this for any routine daily activity like taking a shower – pause, close your eyes and savour the experience – feel the water on your skin, the heat, the wetness, then give thanks for this experience that not everyone gets to have.

How do you feel afterward? Was your experience of the activity enhanced? Keep it up!

3. Count your blessings before bed – before you go to sleep deliberately focus on pleasant thoughts, the good things. This may help you fall asleep with happier thoughts which in turn, may help you get better sleep. 

4. Say “Thank You” to someone – Say “Thank you” to a loved one has done something kind for you, including small acts like bringing you tea in bed. Emmons says make it a mindful thank you; be specific when you give thanks, comment on the effort the person has taken and costs. Keep the focus on that person.

You can also send a note (or email/text) of thanks letting a person know how much you appreciate them or something they have done for you. Again, be specific in what it is that you appreciate about them.

5. Write it down in a gratitude Journal – Although this gratitude activity is a bit more time consuming, the act of journaling can have positive health benefits [link back to previous blog post on Journaling]. Journaling is also a great way to cultivate a habit of daily gratitude. 

Take 5-10 minutes to write down up to five things you are grateful for (small or big things) and acknowledge the source of the good thing you are thankful for.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. I hope it inspires you to find moments in your day to feel uplifted by gratitude. I’ll leave you with these words about gratitude by author Melody Beattie: “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.”

This post first appeared on the Swell Made Co. Blog

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