Posted in Food & Beverages, Health & Fitness, Healthy Living, Lifestyle

The Joy of Sun Tea

When I lived in Australia for a few months back in 2008, I had the joy of introducing my friends and church family there to sun tea. I hosted a church-wide “American” dinner that I whipped up for everyone (BBQ pulled pork, sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole, angel food cake, coriander cookies), and served sun tea as the American beverage.

I grew up in the South, so technically I should have used sugary tea, but knowing that my Aussie friends didn’t have much of a sweet tooth, I opted to do traditional sun tea.

How to Make Sun Tea

If you’re not familiar with making sun tea, it’s really rather simple. And absolutely delicious and delightful. It’s a beverage from my childhood, from my mother’s farmer-family side of the tree.

  1. Find a glass jar with a lid or use cling wrap and a rubber band
  2. Add 2-6 tea bags of choice to the jar (I like strong tea, so a 2-quart jar is usually a full 6 bags)
  3. Fill the glass jar with clean, fresh, cool water
  4. Cover the jar and place in direct sunlight.
  5. Let the tea “brew” for a few hours until it reaches the strength you prefer.

Great Options for Sun Tea

Our family’s personal favorites include any of these teas.

  1. Straight up black tea
  2. A blend of half black tea, half green tea bags
  3. Raspberry Royale Tea from Bigelow
  4. Mango Magic from Ahmad Tea
  5. London Fog from Harney & Sons
  6. Breakfast in Paris from Stash Teas
  7. Blueberry & Honey from Tevive
Posted in Health & Fitness, Healthy Living, Lifestyle

3 Healthy Substitutes for Junk We Crave

The other night, a friend mentioned her “COVID-15” as she sighed over not giving up sugar this summer as she had planned. With everything changed, less activity available, and almost zero safe socializing, it’s been easy for a lot of folks to put on these extra pounds. Especially since, apparently, everyone’s becoming a baking expert these days.

I work from home all the time and live about 45-minutes from most of the folks I know. We only recently moved to this area, so we never got the chance to make local friends. So, in many ways, the quarantine hasn’t changed our day-to-day life much.

It has, however, helped me become even more conscious of the things I’m eating and doing. I had wanted to focus on my health this year anyway, but after having COVID, I’ve especially felt this need.

One of those ways we’re making changes for health’s sake is substituting healthy items for less healthy.

1. Sparkling Water Instead of Soda

I’ve never been big into soda pop myself, but my husband has always had soda somewhere in his peripheral. I was getting bored with plain old water and felt like my own fruit-infused water was a waste of the fruit, so I decided to give naturally essenced, no sweetener added, sparkling water a try.

I quickly found a few flavors I love and tried introducing them to Matt. It took a while, but he began drinking the water as well and now we no longer keep Sprite for his upset stomach. Lemon or lime flavored carbonated water has all the qualities he was looking for without all the sugar.

2. Fruit Instead of Sweets

We generally only buy candy once a month – when I’m craving chocolate during my period – but otherwise, sweets haven’t been a huge issue for us. Except last year when I was developing a dessert-heavy cookbook for Ulysses Press. All those rich, buttery, British baked goods sucked us in.

Now, when I’m craving baked goods, candy, ice cream (my weakness!), or other sweets, I’m eating a piece of fruit first. Plums, peaches, nectarines, tangerines, apples, berries, etc. all provide that sweetness that I’m looking for without unnatural sugars and empty calories.

There’s some debate in the diet-world on whether or not fruit is good for you. If you have specific medical conditions, like diabetes, these concerns are valid. However, most of us should be eating a variety of fruits for the nutrients they provide. Restrictive diets (elimination of whole food groups) aren’t particularly healthy in the long run.

You can be selective about which fruits you consume, of course, and you should be. Some are much higher in carbohydrates than others, some are higher in fiber than others, and some are much higher in certain nutrients than others. Do a little study to learn which fruits fit best with your lifestyle and focus on those, but even then, don’t exclude the others you love altogether.

3. Hummus and Veggies Instead of Chips and Fries

We are a savories household. We love fries and chips (plantain chips for me!). But we know how unhealthy these can be. So instead of noshing on starchy potatoes, we whip up some hummus and baked or raw veggies wedges. We cut up sweet potatoes, green plantains, and other veggies that will crisp when baked and enjoy these with hummus dip made from dried chickpeas and Tahini. Or we cut up raw carrots and celery and green peppers and dip those in.

This substitute provides us with not only less fat and grease in our diets, but packs a punch of protein and veggies in when we’re craving junk. The trick is limiting the amount we eat.

Posted in Health & Fitness, Healthy Living, Lifestyle

The Good And The Bad Of Internet Fitness Challenges

I’m a fitness buff. I love running, strength training, doing yoga, taking long walks, trying new sports. But even with my great love of the active life, it can be hard to stay motivated. In fact, this is something I’ve been struggling with for several months now. Not because of the pandemic, but because, well, I’m tired. Or the weather is too hot or too cold or I’m too busy…and…

Fitness challenges are one of the ways I stay accountable to myself in times like these. But there are some dangers to them, too, which is why I’m very selective about the ones I do.

  1. Virtual fitness challenges can be great motivators for social people.
  2. Virtual fitness and dietary challenges, however, are a one-size-fits-all thing, generally, which means they won’t be effective for everyone.
  3. These challenges can be a great way to connect with other like-minded people.
  4. But if you become at all obsessed with them, you may cause physical harm to yourself.
  5. The right challenge will be tailored to your specific needs – whether that’s dietary restrictions, physical limitations, time constraints, or current conditioning. You’ll likely have to create your own or use a flux challenge instead.
  6. It’s vital to find the right challenge and online group that will keep you accountable but won’t demoralize you for missing a day, not being “fit enough” to complete the challenge, body shame you in any way, or anything along those lines.
  7. Many of the challenges are run by people trying to sell specific nutritional supplements. Avoid these at all costs. The programs are not really fitness challenges for the most part but instead are propaganda for the products and often involve stressful selling tactics.
Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash

If you want to join a challenge, you can look on Facebook for a solid group like this one.

Or look for challenges on trusted health and fitness sites like Shape , SELF, and PopSugar. The reason I recommend this criteria is that they have experts in fitness and health running the sites and generally are not just “throw together” ideas put up to draw in members or run by folks who don’t really know what they’re doing.

Posted in Health & Fitness, Healthy Living, Lifestyle

Why I Take Both a Morning and an Evening Walk Each Day

Photo by Retha Ferguson on Pexels.com

Even though I’m a runner who hits the gym most nights at about 8 or 9pm (or at least I did until lock-downs), I take walks twice daily whenever possible. When I first get up and right before the sun goes down, I’m out there, stalking through the snow or meandering a sun-kissed trail through the neighborhood.

With all the running I do, you might think it’s a little weird that I bother with two walks each day on top of my jogging adventures, but I’ve found that two walks a day does wonders in several areas of my health.

Two Walks Per Day Helps My Mental Health

On my walk a few weeks ago – a lovely Weeping Willow in my neighborhood

In the early morning, a bright (or grey) sky helps to set the mood for the day. I’m out, I’m active, and I’m getting my body in motion. This not only helps me physically, but it helps to set my mind for the day. I tend to think all night long, even in my sleep. Getting out on a trail with the birds and the squirrels is life-giving for a nature nut stuck in the city.

Two Walks Each Day Helps De-clutter My Mind

I work a lot. As a writer, I’m jotting down ideas, sending out pitches, contemplating new stories, scripts, and novels just about every waking hour. But I have a life! I’m married to a wonderful man and have a crazy cat who craves attention.

Taking a couple of walks throughout the day helps to de-junk my brain. I can work through the stuff that’s in my head, rattling around. And working through it clears out my thoughts and frees up space for life apart from work.

Multiple Walks Keeps Me Active Throughout the Day

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I used to work at active jobs, as a nanny, dog walker (biking my route), recess coach, tennis coach, home organizer, etc. Until becoming a full-time writer, I only sat down for a couple of hours a day. Now, I am on my butt for most of the day.

I keep active throughout the day by taking these two walks, getting up every 25-30 minutes and moving for 5-minutes, and doing my running, yoga, and weight training. These two walks help take me past the “basics” of my day and keeps my body more fluid and relaxed.

But the days I don’t take these two walks? I don’t get up as much. I don’t exercise as easily. I don’t get in nearly as much movement and I wind up stiff and achy.

Even Ten Minutes Can Make a Difference

If you’re not able to take long walks but still want to benefit from taking two walks, you can. Even ten minutes per walk can make a huge difference. Try it for a month. Set an alarm each morning and night and get out there. Even if all you can do is pace the hallway in your apartment building or meander throughout the house, you will likely find that your body thanks you.

Posted in Health & Fitness, Home & Family, Lifestyle, Uncategorized

From Stranger to Running Inspiration

Outside Navy Pier in 2006

In Memoriam of Elizabeth Lynn Glovier, my best friend and “bosom buddy”

Anne of Green Gables was my favorite book series as a child. It might still be, actually. And though I’ve always had deep, beautiful friendships, I didn’t really understand the kind of friendship that Anne and Diana had – though I did long for it. That’s not to say that my best friends growing up weren’t truly dear, intimate friends. I still love each and every one of them – from Jodi Mellema, Rachel Peters, and Ivy VonHeemstraaten to Amber Christine – but it wasn’t until I met Elizabeth Glovier that I understood what a true “bosom buddy” was.

Elizabeth and I were introduced by a mutual friend about two months into our enrollment at Moody Bible Institute. This friend, Greg, knew that both of us had a passion for loving those who have been marginalized by society. “You have to meet this girl,” I remember him saying. “If you aren’t best friends in a second, then, I know nothing.”

San Francisco 2008 – Elizabeth loved Spongbob

He was right. By the end of the morning outing into the notorious Cabrini Green neighborhood where we led Bible study and safe playtime for the kids there, Elizabeth and I were indeed, best friends. We didn’t know how deep the friendship would go, but we knew we were destined to be friends for the rest of our lives.

Together, Elizabeth and I started a street ministry in which we took food, clothing, Bibles, blankets, and even flowers out to give to people living on the streets and to horse-drawn carriage drivers (I used to be a driver, in case you wondered). We met Bonnie, a woman who initially hated us, yelled at us, and told us to go to hell. We met Fred, a manager of the carriage company who basically told us the same thing.

Russia, 2007

The last night of the ministry (i.e. two weeks before I graduated), Bonnie and I had Bible study together, and Fred gave me one last free carriage ride to say thanks for being a friend over the years.

When Elizabeth and I returned to Chicago two years later, Fred greeted us with hugs and kisses and another free carriage ride.

Our first year at Moody, Elizabeth and I had different roommates. Elizabeth’s roommate, Julie, and my roommate, Mary, are wonderful women whom we both adored. But the following year, we had the opportunity to become roommates, and we thought we should.

In our second year of college, Elizabeth got up each morning to go running. She ran for miles each week. I, however, remained mostly inactive. I hated being overweight. I hated being inactive. But I had asthma, and I thought that meant I couldn’t exercise.

With my Christmas gift to her in 2006, inspiration for her vision trip to Russia that we took in 2007

But that summer, I knew I wanted to do something special for Elizabeth. I was in South Africa on a concert tour with my college chorale and heard my friend, Joel, often speak of running marathons, 5ks, and other races. Something clicked inside me.

“Joel, teach me what I need to know so that I can run.”

The man taught me everything he could on that three-week tour, and I took my first run in Africa. I kept running all summer.

One morning, about two weeks into my final year at Moody, I popped up early one morning with Elizabeth and said, “Okay. Let’s go running!”

She didn’t know what to do. “Running? You and me? You?”

We went running. It was beautiful.

In St. Petersburg, Russia 2007

Unfortunately, she had some issues with illness that year, though, so she wound up not being able to run with me much. I got up every morning, though, and went running with my R.A., Jessica, with her, or on my own.

I’ve been running ever since.

And today, Elizabeth, I run for you. I will go out and do a slow 5k (thank you hot weather!) in your honor. I will do my virtual “Run Across Australia” 5k because my heart is there as it always has been. And you always encouraged me to pursue God, pursue His dreams for me, and to pursue the most loving, kind way of living that could be had.

Being utterly ridiculous in a fancy bathroom somewhere in Ayrshire, Scotland, 2007

You’re gone now, Elizabeth. And I miss you greatly. I miss the long talks we had. The all-night prayer meetings we held. The jokes we shared. The backpacking across Europe and Russia where you dreamed of serving in missions. I miss you.

Happy Birthday, bosom buddy. You’d be 36 today. Thank you for giving so much life to me. Thank you for being so much love for so many of us. Thank you for teaching me the love of running, even if you couldn’t go running with me.

My virtual race bib for today

Today, I run in your honor because you can’t go running here on earth yourself. I hope you know it and I hope you know that I will ever be grateful to God for the best friend He gave me in you. I love you. I miss you.

Posted in Health & Fitness, Healthy Living, Lifestyle, Travel

Budget Travel Tip: Motivation to Run on the Road

The golden hour at one of my favorite paved trails in Elk Grove Village, Illinois

Over the last few weeks, my hubby and I have been down with a nasty virus. Not THE virus, but one that’s knocked out a lot of people in our area, according to the clinic we visited twice this past month.

I’ve got hope that this bug will die, and I’ll get back on the trail and treadmill, running my 5ks and 10ks again. Soon.

In the meantime, I’m daydreaming about my upcoming travels to reach my 52+ Country Goal. That means I’m planning my first international half-marathon race.

I’m someone who needs a specific goal to keep me training. If I want to run loads to improve my overall health, the motivation of “feeling better” isn’t enough. I need a race – something I can’t get out of to keep me running. Otherwise, I get bored and stop training.

Enter the Virtual Race Platforms

Medals from a few of the races I’ve run with Virtual Pace and Moon Joggers.

Because I can’t afford to enter major races all over the place, I needed to find something else to keep me motivated. One day, about three years back, I discovered the Virtual Pace Series and the Moon Joggers. They solve this problem and give to charities I can happily support and don’t cost me a load of cash I can’t spare.

These virtual race platforms provides me with the motivation to keep up my race training. They have select periods of time (or specific dates) for each race to be completed during. When you sign up for a given race, you receive a runner’s bib and the medal after the race.

I don’t always wear the bib when I’m running the races, though I usually do. After the races, I snag a photo with the medal, wherever I’m running the race, whether trail or treadmill.

Shield Maiden Race – September 2018 – Virtual Pace Series

Using the Races for Long-Term Plans

This spring or summer, I’m going to run an international half-marathon. These virtual races are my training distances building up to that lengthier distance again after months of barely running due to illness, unexpected travel, etc.

My goal this year is to run the equivalent of one race per month. These virtual races will be most of the races, leading up to the two or three organized races I’ll be running throughout the year.

Getting the Right Gear Is Uber Important

Finally, I wanted to note that it’s important to have the right gear for these races, especially when running overseas. You’re not as familiar with the terrain, so the proper gear is even more important.

I swear by compression hose for calves. These allow me to run distances on unknown terrains – such as hills, that cause issues for my left calf – with less chance of injury. A collapsible water bottle is another excellent choice, as I can crumple it up and toss it into my backpack without taking up a lot of space or adding weight. I usually carry three of these with me on my travels.

Running tape, the right sports bra, running shorts with pockets (running belts haven’t done a thing for me yet. If anyone has a great suggestion, let me know!), and culturally appropriate tops are important, too. (i.e. don’t go running in a tank top if you’re visiting a country that considered sleeveless shirts unacceptable!)

Posted in Health & Fitness, Healthy Living, Home & Family

How to Add Some Humidity To the Air in Your Home

Recently, I wrote about us working on improving our immunity fighting skills by taking special care to do certain kinds of cleaning, etc. One of the items was adding more humidity to the air in our home, especially because ours is so dry and dusty.

These are the ways we’re doing that.

Hot Showers Become Steam Baths

Image by midascode on Pixabay

This is one my husband and I have been employing for quite some time. Specifically, we discovered this was great for me when I was having asthma attacks on the regular, due to seasonal allergies.

There are two ways to take advantage of this. The first is leave the bathroom door open and part of the shower curtain or door, if you can do so without spraying the room while you shower. This immediately releases steam into the air that then spreads out into the outer room and evaporates.

The second is more for extreme relief. Crank up the shower as hot as it will go and let it run, with the door open, for 10-15 minutes. It’s a bit wasteful, but if you’re desperate, it adds loads of moisture very quickly.

Water Bowls with Marbles

Image by Carrie Kellenberger on Flickr

Find some pretty bowls, pots, or wide-mouthed jars and set them out around the house. Specifically, placing them on windowsills and around heating vents and near fans will be the best spots to place these. If possible, add some rocks, marbles, or similar, and then fill with water.

The water will evaporate into the air and add some moisture without waste or energy use. Plus, our cat always has some extra places to drink from.

Teapot Steam

Image by MasterTux on Pixabay

This one doesn’t add tons of moisture to the air unless you drink loads of tea or pour-over brew coffee. But letting the kettle steam and whistle for a minute or two will add a little bit of moisture to the air. We both happen to drink a ton of tea, so it winds up being a little productive for us.

Lightly Damp Curtains

Image by Pexels on Pixabay

This one is a last resort in my opinion because of the possibility of mold, but if you’re really desperate, you can very lightly mist water over the curtains around the time they’ll receive direct sunshine.

I would avoid doing this on cloudy days, as they may not dry out quickly enough to avoid molding. Which, of course, is worse than dry air.

Re-Purposing Candle Warmers

Image by Lars_Nissen_Photoart on Pixabay

This handy little trick is something I hadn’t even thought of until I spotted it on SimpleMost. But the second I saw it, I knew it was a great option for us. We have one or two of these candle warmers lying around, and though we use them sometimes to add some lovely scents to our home, we are definitely going to start doing this with them now, too.

A Sponge Humidifier

Image by tomekwalecki on Pixabay

A simple way to add some moisture to the air is by using a sponge and a zipper seal bag. You’ll want one of those large sponges like you’d use for washing your car, and a zipper seal bag large enough to hold the sponge.

Pierce the zipper bag with several holes, then fill the sponge with water but squeeze out the majority of it to avoid leaking. Then, put the sponge in the bag and hang it somewhere in the room, away from the wall. Moisture should increase in the room within a few short hours.

To repeat the humidification, microwave the sponge every other day to kill germs. Clean out the bag with soap and water. Then, refill and squeeze out the sponge, return to the bag and repeat for up to 2 weeks with the same materials before replacing.

We’re recycling a set of three bags to allow the bag to dry completely between each use.

Posted in Health & Fitness, Healthy Living, Home & Family, Lifestyle, Personal Growth

How I’m Fighting Our Poor Immunity In the Home

Image by Myriams-Fotos on Pixabay

Lately, we’ve been getting sick. A lot. And I’m the girl who never used to get sick at all, until I wound up working as a nanny for a family that appears to have had a very similar immune system to my own. We constantly passed illnesses back and forth, despite me only being in their home about 20 hours a week.

Then, I married a man who has several auto-immune diseases, including Fibromyalgia, Rheumatoid Arthritis, and others they’re still working on diagnosing. He has no gallbladder, a history of depression, anxiety, and migraines. Sometimes, it’s hard to know if he’s having his “usual” cocktail of illnesses or if he’s actually ill.

While I don’t have any of those issues, apart from some anxiety episodes, I have struggled with fighting off the flu, colds, and other viruses.

It’s time to do something about that. Even if I feel too ill to do it today, I’m going to anyway. And these are some simple ways I’m doing just that.

Using Clean Towels Daily

Image by joe137 on Pixabay

This is one of the more wasteful ones, which I’m not thrilled about, but using only clean towels every time we shower is really important for our health. Those great, natural cleaning bars and soft lotions help us feel great, but they’re limited in power by using dirty towels. So, we’ve invested in enough towels, washcloths, and hand towels to use new ones every day.

Take Out the Garbage Immediately

Image by Alexas_Fotos on Pixabay

We don’t take trash to the dumpster every day, but we do make a habit of not letting the trash overflow, get smelly, etc. In other words, every day, we check all the trash cans in the house to make sure lids are closing properly, and nothing smells funky. We also immediately take out any trash that’s got meat, fat, fish, eggs shells, or similar animal products that could make us sick once they go bad.

Give the Cat More Frequent Baths

Image by Ihtar on Pixabay

Like most kitties, our feline friend isn’t fond of baths (despite once loving them!). But the reality is that she’s a contributor of potential germs and illness around the home. She collects blobs of germs in her fur. And though she cleans them out with her tongue, she’s still carrying them. So, bath time has to come pretty frequently, even if she’s not terribly happy about it.

And because Stardust is so unappreciative of this process, we use a water less cat shampoo that won’t irritate her as much as standard bathing options.

Keep Pet Areas Clean

Image by birgl on Pixabay

It’s easy to neglect that litter box tucked into a corner, especially if you use high-quality litter that prevents odors (a must with the very stinky Lady Stardust!) and keeps the area smelling odor-free most of the time. It’s also easy to neglect cleaning her dishes in the dishwasher/by hand daily because, well, cats don’t seem to mind using the “same dish twice.”

It’s more of a hassle cleaning out her dishes daily, but it’s worth it. Fewer germs are collecting in her dining area that way.

It’s also more of a hassle cleaning out the litter box near constantly, but, again, it’s worth it to reduce germs and potential illness. So, we scoop any time she uses it. We change out the litter frequently (partial changes constantly, full changes on schedule with instructions on packaging).

Vacuum and Sweep Daily

Image by MabelAmber on Pixabay

This one isn’t as critical for everyone, but for those of us who have dust or pet-hair allergies, sweeping up and vacuuming away everything on the floors is key to improved health.

Our cat sheds giant clumps of fur every day. Our house is excessively dry and dusty. These both mean that we need to sweep daily and vacuum every other day, especially in any of the areas where the cat likes to snuggle down for a nap.

It’s a bit of extra work, but to feel better, it’s worth it.

Of course, we also use a robot vacuum that a friend gave to us. It’s been a real life saver on days when we’ve been sick. We just charge it for a few hours and hit the clean button and let it run wild. Stardust isn’t terribly thrilled with it, so she stalks it, but we’re all adjusting.

Never Leave Dirty Dishes Overnight

Image by StockSnap on Pixabay

I’m a cookbook developer. That means, sometimes I make five or six recipes in a single day on top of the regular cooking I do for our meals. That’s a lot of pots, pans, bowls, platters, and baking sheets. It’s tempting to call it a night when I’m tired and just leave the pile of baking pans beside the sink. “I’ll get to it first thing.”

Leaving dishes overnight, though, isn’t a good idea. There’s already food particles – obviously, else they’d be clean! – and that means insects, rodents, and other nasties are going to be attracted to your kitchen, even if you’ve never seen them inside before.

Change the Tablecloth Weekly or Bi-Weekly

Image by ponce_photography on Pixabay

It may seem wasteful to change out a tablecloth this frequently, but much like with dirty dishes, food particles collect and attract nasty critters that can make you sick. So, we’ve learned that we need to clear the table after every meal and change out the table cloth once or twice a week.

If you don’t use a tablecloth, using a good, natural cleanser after every meal is your alternative.

Add Homemade Humidifiers Everywhere Around the House

Image by wajahat993 on Pixabay

Our apartment is excessively dry. We both wake up each day with dry throats, dry eyes, and sometimes other issues.

We have two humidifiers that run pretty much all the time, but that’s not energy-efficient or great for the environment. But we can do some natural humidifier options that will help our house and home be healthier.

Drink Tons of Water and Skip Sugary Drinks

Image by ClassicallyPrinted on Pixabay

“Water, water, I love water!” to quote a song from one of my musical scripts, Nadia Trouve. And I really do. That cool, clear, sparkling liquid that cools and refreshes is a glorious fluid all our bodies need.

But even I, a water fanatic, can struggle to get enough water in daily. So, I use an app on my phone that reminds me to take a swig, in case I haven’t in the past little while, multiple times throughout the day. If I haven’t drunk in the past 1/2 hour, I take a guzzle.

Drinking enough water not only helps you keep your weight maintained, but it helps to keep your immune system healthier and stronger. Dehydration causes illness.

If you find yourself low on water intake, try adding in some non-sweetened (not just 0-calorie, but 0-sweetener, as that causes other problems) carbonated water, fruit infused water, and herbal iced tea. I also drink a ton of black and green tea, both as iced and hot tea, depending on my mood. I just don’t ever add any sugar or milk.

Using All Natural Cleansers Everywhere, Every Day

Image by evita-ochel on Pixabay

It adds work, again, but we’ve been fighting off colds, flus, and other bugs so frequently in the past year that it’s well worth the 10 minutes daily to do some quick clean swipes with all-natural cleansers on the counters, tables, bathroom counters, sinks, tubs, and everywhere else I can think of. This will clean everything daily without adding chemicals into our lives.

Do a Nightly Reset

Image by Nick Keppol on Flickr

This also just takes a few minutes everyday, but helps tremendously with keeping things clean and cozy, while also fighting any build-up of dust, germs, etc.

All this involves is going around the house at the end of the day and picking up items like jackets, shoes, cups, books, etc., and putting them where they belong. It should just take about 10 minutes. It will help you get some stuff cleaned up and remove germ and dust build-up at the same time.

Do Laundry Every Time There’s a Full Load

Image by AGKrejci on Pixabay

We have an advantage over many folks in two ways: 1. Our laundry is right next to our apartment door. I can toss a load in while I’m wearing my pajamas, and no one will see me. 2. We both work from home, so we can literally do laundry every time there’s a full load. We don’t need to wait for a specific day of the week.

Doing laundry every time there’s a full load is advantageous in multiple ways, but primarily it prevents the germs on clothing from collecting and “stewing” together for long before they’re eliminated by detergent, water, and the heat of the dryer.

Consume Lots of Vitamin C

Image by silviarita on Pixabay

Vitamin C is one of the nutrients that helps our immune systems fight off colds, flus, etc. It’s not a miracle vitamin like some folks claim, and it should be consumed in natural forms (read: fruit and vegetables) in order to be truly effective. But even in lesser forms, I found in college that when I was consuming 100% of my recommended Vitamin C intake daily, I was healthier, happier, and almost never sick.

Make Sure We’re Getting the Other Nutrients We Need

Image by 3638148 on Pixabay

My husband and I both tend to be anemic, so getting iron and folic acid are critical to our health. I’ve noticed lately that my fingernails are a little flat, which is often linked to iron deficiency. I’m also feeling sluggish and tired a lot, despite usually being a very energetic individual. Yep. Iron is low.

It’s important to know what nutrients you struggle to consume. I recommend studying nutritional information and the natural sources of the vitamins and minerals necessary for optimal health. You’ll be able to identify immediately some of the things you don’t get enough of.

You should also see a doctor and get some blood work done to find out any other deficiencies you have, especially if you deal with depression, anxiety, chronic illness, chronic exhaustion (diagnosed or not), notice oddities in the shapes of your nails, have sinus issues a lot, etc.

You should also look for a nutritionist or dietician specifically if you eat a specialty diet, such as Vegan, Vegetarian, Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, etc. The reason? A dietician can give clinically sound advice on how to consume the missing nutrients from your dietary profile.

For example, folks who don’t eat animals products don’t get enough Vitamin B because this nutrient is found in meat, dairy, and eggs, and not in plants. That’s a huge problem for energy and health overall. Gluten-free and low-carbs folks (myself included) don’t get enough fiber typically, as well as some of the natural vitamins and minerals found in wheat and grains.

Once you’ve consulted medical professionals, do everything you can to consume the nutrients they recommend through natural means. Yes, take any supplements your doctor recommends, but focus as much as possible on changing your diet. Supplement pills, powders, and liquids, can only be absorbed so well by your body (which is why some nutrients are at something like 3000% DV).

Posted in Health & Fitness, Healthy Living, Lifestyle, Travel

True Budget Travel Essential: The Lavender Eye Pillow

I love good travel gear. I love good inexpensive travel gear even better. Best of all, I love good inexpensive travel gear that makes life better overall.

And that’s why I’m mentioning the lavender eye pillow that I purchased for my husband for Christmas. I randomly found it tossed into the Christmas section at Target, where someone had obviously changed her mind about purchasing it and dumped it there. Thank you, stranger! I would never have found this item or thought to purchase it for Matt otherwise.

On Christmas morning, my husband, Matt, opened the wrapped gift and looked a little surprised, but nodded pleasantly, wrapped the eye pillow in a zipper-sealed bag and tossed it into the freezer.

That night, he had a headache, so he tried out the eye pillow. It brought significant relief, so we’ve both been using it ever since for headaches, sleeplessness, and sinus issues. It gives gentle relief for all of the above.

Image By greencurrymonster – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

What to Look for in an Eye Pillow

Eye pillows are similar to but not the same as sleep masks. Sleep masks use straps to adhere them to your head and can cause strain or pressure. If you’ve already got a headache or sinus issues, that stress isn’t very helpful. Which is why I’m recommending eye pillows to you instead.

Look for these qualities to find what’s going to work best for better sleep and pain relief.

1. Silky Fabric

I’ve had eye pillows and sleep masks in the past. They were always made of cotton or cotton blend fabrics. They were okay, but silky fabrics add a whole new level of comfort and soothing.

Image by ctvgs

The slick, cooling aspect of the silky fabric holds the cool of the frozen pillow better while resting on your 98.6-degree face. It also just helps soothe because of the sensation of the smooth texture.

2. Lavender or Eucalyptus/Mint Filling

There are options for eucalyptus, spearmint, peppermint, and other fillings. While any of these might work, there’s something about lavender that helps our bodies relax, while things like mint and eucalyptus awaken our senses.

Image by Jill Wellington

If you need to soothe for sleep, go lavender.

If you need to clear sinuses, go eucalyptus/mint.

The Best Eye Pillows I’ve Come Across

I’ve looked all over the web for the same exact eye pillow I purchased for Matt. I haven’t found it. But I have found some options that rival it in quality, though they’re a bit more expensive. The one I found at Target was only $5 though, so even something twice the price is a good purchase.

Best Lavender Eye Pillow

The Blissful Being lavender eye pillow is my top pick for the options I could find online. It’s got the silky-smooth fabric, high-quality lavender fill, and comes at a reasonable price. You can microwave it or freeze it – just remember to put into a zipper-seal bag to preserve the lavender scent and avoid it absorbing other scents.

It even comes in a few colors, which is nice for those who care about that.

Product image on Amazon

Best Eucalyptus/Mint Eye Pillow

The DreamTime Spa Comforts eye pillow is my pick for the best eucalyptus/mint eye pillow. It uses flax seeds for mild acupressure – which can come in handy a lot of times – and uses eucalyptus as well as peppermint and spearmint for maximum cooling and soothing.

This eye pillow also has that silky-smooth fabric and can be either microwaved or frozen for the best soothe possible. It also has some lavender oil infused in for added benefits.

Product Image from Amazon
Posted in Health & Fitness, Healthy Living, Lifestyle, Travel

How to Get to Machu Picchu for $1500

If you’ve ever dreamed of doing Machu Picchu, but you’re on a super tight budget that doesn’t exactly allow you to hit up five-star hotels and dine in elegant restaurants, you may think it’s out of reach. I’m here to tell you that it’s not. In fact, I’m here to tell you that you can get to Machu Picchu for well under $2000 if you simply plan properly and give yourself enough time to get there.

This kind of trip requires dedication, a bit of physical training, and advanced budgeting, but if you’re determined to get there on your minimum wage income, it can still be done.

Machu Picchu, the ancient wonder

What to Do to Get There

There are several things you’re going to have to think through, plan, purchase, and decide ahead of time. Things like flights, lodging, and food are obvious places to start, since they’re the big-ticket items, but there are other things to consider if you want to make it as inexpensive as possible.

1. Find the Cheapest Flights

The most expensive chunk of any travel overseas is going to be your flights. Everybody wants to go First Class, but who can afford that? Instead, shop around for budget deals on coach flights that may come from unconventional companies.

The Big Flight

You can purchase your main leg from the United States to Lima on a variety of airlines that will charge anything from a reasonably low rate to “that’s my rent for six months” kinds of fees. Obviously, you’re looking for budget-friendly flights that will only sting a little, instead of drive you into the poor-house.

Flight over the Andes Mountains, from Lima to Cusco

For such flights, I tend to start with consolidation sites like Priceline, Vayama, and Expedia, just to get an idea of the kinds of prices you might find at the high end of things. From there, I head to the budget airlines I know of that fly to the area where I’m headed.

For example, most places in Central and South America are serviced by Spirit Airlines. This airline has a well-deserved reputation for nickel and diming folks, but it’s still a legitimate way to fly overseas for less money than most, if not all, of the other guys. As you calculate costs, remember to include things like baggage fees, taxes, and any extras like those from companies that charge seat selection fees (if it’s important for you to have that window seat).

Google “cheap flights to Lima” in the search bar and see what prices they offer up. And, look for “cheap airlines to Peru.”

You can grab your cellphone and call up airlines that fly to a destination like Lima and tell them the price you’ve found and ask if they can beat it. Sometimes they can, which means you can get a better flight than Spirit or Aeromexico have listed. Sometimes they can’t, and that means you settle for the Spirit flight that charges you extra for your carry-on.

When I Made the Flight in 2017

Heading down to Lima from Chicago, I flew with Spirit Airlines that had a layover in Miami. The flight was around $800 round-trip, which is pretty darn good for a round-trip flight from North America. I signed up for the $9 Fare Club, and saved on my luggage, which is how I kept it under $800.

I was booking for very specific dates (as I was meeting up with a missions team a week later) and didn’t have six months to plan my leg of the trip. If you plan ahead a bit more and keep an eye on sales, you may well find something cheaper. I’ve seen flights as low as $400 round-trip to Lima.

The Little Legs

Next, you’re going to need to find the right flight from Lima to Cusco, the closest reasonably priced airport to Machu Picchu. For these, you’ll want to check out local airlines instead of American or European airlines.

The smaller, local airlines tend to have lower prices since they’re catering to locals and trying to compete with the big companies. These planes tend to be just as comfortable as the big company planes, and often offer more amenities.

When I Made the Flight in 2017

I used Vayama to find the best deals on some of these flights, as well as looking for “Peru airlines for domestic flights” on Google. These resulted in flights to Cusco from Lima for about $80 one-way. I flew with Peruvian Air (unfortunately out of service temporarily due to embargoes) and Star Peru.

The plane just after landing in Pucallpa, Peru, where the team I was serving with would be working

Total, it was about $1000 for my all my flights.

The Best Deals on Flights

Generally speaking, you’ll find better deals on flights if you book reasonably far in advance. If you know you’re going to Peru in July – which, by the way, is the peak of travel to Peru, and therefore more expensive – you’ll want to start looking for tickets in January. Many sources say the ideal time to book the Tuesday that’s approximately 60 days before the flight.

Many companies run deals both six months out from a flight as well as closer to the flight dates, if they haven’t booked up the flights as much as they expected. There are also Black Friday deals, and various other holiday deals that may save you hundreds of dollars. You can also keep up-to-date with the travel app Hopper and the website Scott’s Cheap Flights. They both notify you of new airline deals and changes in prices for potential flights.

2. Be Willing to Make Some Sacrifices on Comfort

One of the main things you’ll have to be willing to do to save major money on your international travel is sacrificing some of the luxuries of resorts and big-name hotels like many folks focus on for their vacations. This tip is a huge part of how I’ve managed to travel to 30+ countries on very low income in the past decade plus.

Finding Cheap Lodging

The first key to saving money once you’re on the ground in Peru, or any country for that matter, is finding inexpensive lodging. Generally, that’s going to mean youth hostels and motels. There are certain criteria I always look for in these apart from the “not-disgusting” factor.

To find out if a hostel or motel fits my needs, I read the listed amenities, but I also read through as many of the reviews left by travelers as possible. They’ll tell you how clean the place is, if they had issues with bed bugs, if the WiFi works, and other various information that can be critical to the comfort and usability of a location.

The view from my hostel dorm room window in Aguas Calientes near Machu Picchu

I always look for these things when choosing my hostel:

· Access to airport shuttles/cabs

· Access to public transit

· Linens included or for rent – Unless I’m traveling with my own towels and sleep gear

· Luggage storage – Free is best, but I’ll go up to $5 a day

· Free WiFi – This is not a thing everywhere, so it’s seriously important if you need to keep in touch as you travel

· Acceptable payment types – I tend to only use VISA, MasterCard and cash

· Kitchen and grocery store access – The absolute best way to save on food, is, of course, a shared kitchen and nearby grocery store

I have found that both Hostelworld and Hostelbookers have great success rates for good youth hostels and inexpensive hotels/motels. Through these sites, I found a hostel in Aguas Calientes for under $15 a night, a hostel in Lima for $10 a night, and a Cusco hostel for under $10 per night. Total, I spent only $64 for my lodging the entire trip.

View from the square while wandering the streets of Aguas Calientes the night I arrived.

Saving on Food

As mentioned above, the easiest way to save on food costs is cooking for yourself. If you’re not a cook, you can still mostly do this and save loads on food costs.

Hit up the local grocery and find ingredients for things like sandwiches – this is tough as a gluten-free traveler, I’ll attest, but you can find some alternatives like corn tortillas – and salads and things to eat on the go.

While traveling, I rarely eat out. I will, however, indulge in a cup of the local brew. In this case, on the bus route to Hydroelectric, I tried some of the Coca Tea.

Be sure to wash all produce thoroughly, and avoid buying street food, especially if you have a weaker constitution – i.e. have IBS or other GI tract issues – and that includes produce from the streets.

You can easily find the ingredients for local foods and make them at the hostel with a quick recipe search on Bing. You won’t have to miss out on local cuisine this way. Budget ahead of time for a certain number of meals that you’ll eat out, though, so you get some of experience as well, if food is a part of the adventure for you.

3. Save on Transit Through a Variety of Options

On the ground, transit is one of the other major expenses while traveling. You can easily dodge some of these bigger costs by getting creative, walking a ton, or finding the discount methods for transport.

Take a Bus, Instead of the Train, to Machu Picchu

One of the major savings for getting to Machu Picchu is taking a small bus from Cusco to Hydro-Electric and hiking up to Aguas Calientes – the town closest to Machu Picchu – where you can stay overnight and hit the mountains the next day.

You can get this bus ticket for very little money – mine was about $30 round trip – and you can either purchase online or wait until you get to Cusco and find one of the many spots there that offer these “tours.”

Stopping for a photo break on the way to Hydroelectric
A stop along the bus ride to Hydroelectric. The glaciers on the Andes…a priceless sight we got to stop and snap photos of. So, bonus, save money AND get some awesome snapshots.

Stopping for a photo break on the way to Hydroelectric

Get in Your Exercise and Save Big Time

The cheapest way to get to Machu Picchu is by hiking your way there from a drop-off point a couple of hours away. The hiking is mostly flat, after the initial climb from “Hydroelectric” a well-known spot nearby. There’s a mild incline much of the way, but you really don’t notice it too much, even with a heavy backpack loading you down.

You’ll want to do some training ahead of time for this hike, both up to Aguas Calientes and up to Machu Picchu itself. You’ll need to be able to walk for a couple of hours, carrying at least a minimum of supplies like food, water, a change or two of clothing, and your camera. You’ll also need to be able to climb stairs if you’re going to hike up to Machu Picchu itself – and save transit costs that way.

Out on the trail to Aguas Calientes from Hydroelectric. Not just a free transit option, but an awesome way to see more of the country and have some unique experiences along the way.

I have bad shoulders, so for my preparations, I ran a ton – I am a runner, so I did this anyway – and did tons of pushups, especially in the weeks leading up to the hiking. I knew I needed a strong upper body to handle the weight and pressure of the backpack on my shoulders.

If you have any messed-up joints or health issues, first be sure to check with your doctor about any training you plan to do, as well as talking through the hikes you’ll be taking. Then, find the exercises that will work the joints and muscles that are your weakest. Shoot to do these for at least three months leading up to your adventure to make sure you get the results you’re looking for.

Hiking from Hydroelectric to Aguas Calientes along the railroad tracks (as thousands do every day)
Hours of sweat. Check. Hundreds of photos. Check. Free transit. Check.

Hiking from Hydroelectric to Aguas Calientes along the railroad tracks (as thousands do every day)

Side Note for Additional Transit Savings:

I also tend to walk everywhere instead of using public transit inside city limits. This allows me to save $5-$25 a day, but it also gives me views and insights into the city/village/countryside that I don’t get when passing it by on a bus or local train.

Cabs and Shared Rides Around Cities in Peru

While Uber or Lyft is not available everywhere, before you go, check to see if it’s available in the major cities you’ll be visiting on your travels. These may or may not be cheaper than a cab, so they’re at least worth looking into, even if you don’t use them.

As to cabs, sometimes, you just have to do it. Most cabbies in places like Lima will negotiate. They want your business. Have a firm figure in mind of what you’re willing to pay, and don’t budge up unless it’s reasonable. But start lower than you’re willing to pay and go from there. If you’re like me and hate haggling, I just start with my top amount and walk away if they won’t meet it. I almost always have them come down to my figure. If not, I just walk away and find someone else who will. There are dozens of them, so you’ll be fine to find another one. Just don’t wait too long after the flight lands, as there won’t be as many around and that means the prices will be higher.

You can also try to get a group of people going to the same area to lower the price as well.

Public Transit in Lima

And, ultimately, your cheapest route is always going to be local transit versus a cab or some service like Uber. Local buses run to and from airports, around the city, and even out to some sites of interest, though not specifically to Machu Picchu, as that is a darn long way from Lima.

4. Pack Well to Save Yourself Some Additional Money

There are a variety of smaller things you can do to cut the overall costs of your trip. From things like packing food to bringing two pairs of sunglasses, you’ll save loads if you just pack properly.

For International Flights

One of the ways I save money while traveling is packing myself a lunch, snacks, and a water bottle that I can fill up at the airport.

Just be aware that once you enter a new country, most laws prohibit you from bringing food in that isn’t still manufacturer sealed. And most will not allow trail mix – nuts and fruit – any kind of produce, meat, or similar items in, even if sealed. You may be able to bring chips, granola bars, et cetera in, however, as they are thoroughly processed items.

Small Savings For Domestic Flights

Once you’re in country, many airports will allow you to travel with liquids from one airport to another, as long as it’s a domestic flight. These will also allow you to travel with food you have on your person, in your bags, et cetera, as you purchased the item in-country and it won’t be bringing foreign contaminants to their country. So, before you go from Lima to Cusco, be sure to load up on those snacks and drinks before hitting the airport and save yourself a bundle.

Saving On the Bus to Hydroelectric

You’ll probably stop one or two places along the way to Hydroelectric. There’s also a small restaurant there at the base. But the prices at both locations will be higher than purchasing snacks for the ride and hike ahead of time from a local supermarket. Instead, grab some hot tea at the stop, or a cup of coffee, and maybe grab a bag of nuts or something. Avoid the produce, generally speaking, however, as you won’t be able to properly wash it yourself.

Bring Small Change Everywhere

Most places where you stop along the way, whether on the bus or while hiking to Aguas Calientes, you will find that you need to pay to use the facilities. Be sure to have some Peruvian Sols on hand to avoid losing money because someone doesn’t have change or refuses to give change.

You’ll also find people all along the way selling wares – be it souvenirs or snacks and water – and you may want to buy something then, too. Most of them won’t be able to offer change for larger bills.

Pack a Few Duplicates

I have the tendency to lose my sunglasses. Because of this, I pack extra pairs of them. I’m good about shoes, socks, and other clothing, chapstick, and sunblock, but for some reason, sunglasses evade me. Whatever you tend to lose most often at home, grab a duplicate and bring it along. But be selective. You don’t want to bring duplicates of a bunch of things – just the one or two that will be a hassle to replace while in Peru.

5. Your Other Preparations

One of the main things I recommend doing before heading down to Peru is purchasing your entry fee to Machu Picchu ahead of time. This will save you some money, as well as guarantee you have passage to the places you want to go before flying down there. Entry to Machu Picchu is limited to 2500 per day. Generally speaking, this isn’t an issue. But during peak months, you may find you can’t get in if you wait until the day of to purchase your tickets.

As soon as you have your basic dates for the trip in mind, go to the website and make your purchase, especially if you want to climb any of the other mountains around Machu Picchu.

And be sure to be on time, with your tickets in hand. You’ll have to employ a tour guide on site, and you’ll have to present your tickets, or you won’t get let in. These tickets need to be printed out.

If you arrive late to your mountain climb, you won’t be allowed up to the peak, so timeliness is key if you plan to hike more than Machu Picchu itself.

My Total Costs for Going to Machu Picchu

My total cost for my trip to Machu Picchu, for 6 nights and 7 days, was $1000 for flights, including all fees, $150 for food, including eating out about 5 times, $64 for lodging, $30 for transit to Hydro-Electric, $40 for cabs, $100 for souvenirs and gifts, $68 for my hiking/entry fee for Machu Picchu, and $30 for hiring my Machu Picchu guide. There were some random incidentals, which cost approximately $50 as well.

My total for everything was: $1532.

Machu Picchu at last! (And yes, those are Vibram Five-Finger hiking shoes)

Adventure or Vacation: You Choose

Having an adventure honestly isn’t for everyone. Some folks need a vacation more than they need or want an inexpensive adventure across the globe. If you’re on a tight budget, and want both, you can definitely have both, you’ll just have to choose which things are most important in your travels.

Find great deals on your flight, and you might be able to afford a hostel that’s closer to the city center. Or, if you don’t care that much about hostel location, you can take transit instead of hiking up Machu Picchu and save some energy for hanging out with new friends you make that night.

Whatever you choose, you can do this within your budget. Just plan ahead, decide which luxuries you’re willing to sacrifice, and purchase your flights and book your lodging ahead of time to save some dough.