Edible Gardens: 5 Plots to go from the Garden to the Table

vegetable-garden

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Winter is finally starting to wane and it’s time to think about what we want in your garden. A fun way to do that is to plan your garden around what you want to eat. It’s a simple idea and you’ll know exactly what to do with your vegetables once they’re harvested. Here are five edible gardens with vegetables that grow well together and taste great together, too.

American Garden:

What goes better with your barbecued chicken and ribs than creamy cole slaw? Not only is that grill in the backyard but so are the main ingredients for your slaw. All you need from the garden are cabbage, carrots and onions. The rest you can pick up from the store.

FYI:

  • Carrots and Cabbage are both biennial plants and fall crops can be easily stored during colder months.
  • Onions are harvested in late summer and can also be stored during winter months.
Pico-de-gallo

Image credit: yankeemagazine.com

Mexican Garden:

Chips and salsa are a great no-cook snack that you can eat throughout the summer. Salsa is best when it’s made fresh, but imagine if the ingredients — tomatoes, jalapenos, onions and cilantro — were picked from out your back door – it can’t get more delicious or easier than that. The recipe for salsa or pico de gallo is straightforward and if you add a mashed avocado and a couple of squeezes of lemon to the mix, you’ve got guacamole.

FYI:

  • Harvest cilantro weekly to keep the leaves growing and fresh.
  • Both tomatoes and jalapenos should be staked.
  • Tomatoes, jalapenos and cilantro all work well as potted plants.

Italian Garden:

One of the best possible ways to taste fresh basil is in a caprese salad. It’s simple and tomatoes and basil love to grow together; they’re also the base for a margherita pizza. The recipe is easy (there’s no shame in using a store-bought crust!)  and if you have the other ingredients (onion, garlic, parsley and oregano) on hand or in the garden, you’ll be serving up Italian food all summer long.

FYI:

  • Basil is an annual and grows best in warm weather and should be harvested if temperatures are expected to dip below 40°F.
  • Tomato plants can handle temperatures as low as 30°F, but a frost could kill a tomato plant, so keep an eye on the forecast.

French Garden:

ratatouille

Image credit: makebetterfood.com

If you’re feeling a little French, you don’t have to go to Paris to get fresh ratatouille. Though there is debate on how to make authentic ratatouille, it can certainly be made on the stove top so you don’t heat up the entire kitchen during hot summer months.

FYI:

  • Zucchini (or squash), eggplant, tomatoes, and bell peppers all grow very well in hot weather.
  • Stagger your seedling start dates – start eggplant seedlings six weeks before your last frost date and give zucchini just a two week head start – will help you synchronize your harvest times and you can get your first summer dinner planned.

Spanish Garden:

For a cool soup in the summer, a cucumber, tomato, bell peppers, onions will deliver a good gazpacho. It requires little more than fresh vegetables and a good blender. And, if you’re feeling dangerous, you can steal a jalapeno from your pico de gallo garden to spice up your soup.

vegetable-gardens

Image credit: sharpercut.com

FYI:

  • Cucumbers should be picked every other day or so. Cucumbers left on the vine too long will make it harder for the plant to produce more cucumbers.
  • Both cucumbers and peppers love the sun and are thirsty  – as are onions – but water moderately and cover the soil around the plants with mulch to keep the moisture in.

Quick tip: Remember that most plants will probably need to be started indoors if you’re starting with a seed  and they shouldn’t be planted in the ground until after the last frost.

I have more ideas to share at LTD Commodities. Click here to find out more about me and the garden products I can’t do without.

Pinteresting Picks for March

Slowly but surely, we’re easing our way into spring. According to our Pinterest followers, some home maintenance is underway and a little summer planning is starting flower in our minds. Here are our Pinteresting picks for March.

Lodge-log-shelvesWhy put up a regular shelf when you can put up a log shelf? Give your home a cabin feel without ever leaving the city with the Lodge Log Shelves. The realistic look of chopped wood that adds a touch of nature to any home.  They’re sturdy enough to hold books or any of your rustic treasures.

turtle-stepping-stonesKeeping critters in your garden can help keep your plants safe. These adorable Mosaic Stepping Stones come as a family of turtles or a family of frogs. Each piece is set with glass mosaic chips that reflect the sunlight for an eye-catching effect. While they’re lovely to look at they also give walkers a place to put their feet so they won’t damage your flowers.

Easy-change-artwork-framesGranny and gramps will be so excited to have a special frame to show off work from their little artists. It’s easy to change the art and there’s a built-in mat to keep to work straight. The wooden frame is inscribed with sentiments and has enough space for about 42 pieces behind the display.

floating-water-barFloating the water never tasted so good. This Floating Water Bar lets you bring the party in the pool — it even comes with floating chairs so it’s like being in a bar only better! It’s perfect for lounging on a sunny afternoon or it can be a great addition to your next party.

Administrative Professionals’ Day Gift Ideas

Administrative-Professional

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Start planning now — Administrative Professionals Day is less than a month away! It’s the day we say thank you for all the hard work and support from our Administrative Professionals with Unique Gift Ideas. Here are a few ideas to show your appreciation.

Bath-fizzies-balls

Photo credit: http://www.brit.co/

The Gift of Relaxation

Show some consideration with homemade bath fizzies.  They’re easy to make, but your administrative professional will be grateful that you put so much thought into a feel-good gift.

What you need:

  • 2 tsp unsweetened powdered lemonade
  • 4 tsp cornstarch
  • 1 box baking soda
  • Food coloring
  • 4 tsp baby oil

What you do:

Mix together the dry ingredients in a bowl. Combine the baby oil with 4-6 drops of food coloring in a separate bowl. Slowly add the oil to the dry ingredients and mix until everything is well-combined. Form balls about 1” in diameter or press portions into a baking mold to make fun shapes.  Let stand on wax or parchment paper for at least one day. Throw those in a bathtub of water and you’ll have an effervescent evening.

Quilted-on-the-go-pursesGift of Go

For the administrative professional who doesn’t stop even off the clock, the Quilted On-the-Go Purse will keep her out and about when the work day is over. It’s a fashion accessory that’s fully functional with multiple interior pockets and a zipper to close it up. The adjustable strap is long enough for cross-body wear so she can wear it with confidence on the bus, train or car.

Gift of Guard

For the reader, you may not know what your administrative professional wants to read, but you know how to protect what it’s being read it on. You can’t go wrong with a monogram case for an electronic reader. On the outside, you can choose a letter for the monogram and on the inside, there’s a notepad with a slot to hold a pen. It all stays secure with a magnetic closure to keep it safe in a purse, backpack or briefcase.

 

Gift of FlavorHomemade-Vanilla

If your administrative professional bakes, a really nice gift is homemade vanilla extract. The only real work involved is figuring out what type of vanilla bean to use and letting it sit – but to a baker, having homemade vanilla is something special.

What you need:

  • 5- 7 vanilla beans
  • 1 cup vodka, rum or brandy
  • Cute 10oz gift bottle.

What you do:

With a knife, split the vanilla beans in half.

Slip the beans into the bottle and pour the alcohol over the beans. Close the bottle. Let it steep for 8 weeks and shake it once in a while. Add a gift tag that says, “Do Not Open Until …” and write in the date. Homemade vanilla extract is adorable and useful – and it’s better than store-bought vanilla extract.

Glass-watering-stakesGift of Green

 For the indoor gardener, you may not know what’s being planted, but you can help with the watering with glass watering stakes.  Fill these clever glass figurines with water, place them in the planter and the water drips evenly into the soil for maintenance-free gardening.  It adds beauty and removes hassle.

 

7 Foods You Thought Were Bad for You But Aren’t

Eating healthy can be a challenge. If it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, it might take a long time to prepare. However, there are some foods that just look too good to be true. But, in all reality are good for you. Here is a list of 7 foods that are actually good for you.

GuacamoleGuacamole The main ingredient of guacamole is avocado – which is full of fat but it’s good fat that not only doesn’t contain cholesterol, but it can also help lower bad cholesterol. Avocados are also a good source of vitamin K, folic acid and vitamin E. In addition to avocados, guacamole also contains onions, jalapenos and tomatoes. Tomatoes are widely considered a super-food – they contain lycopene, vitamins A, C and E. Mix it all together and you have a cancer-fighting, heart-disease-battling dip.

Sweet Potato Fries Sweet potatoes are associated with carbohydrates which can scare away any dieter, but those orange tubers are packed with nutrients and they don’t contain nearly as much starch as rice or corn. Sweet potatoes are a great source of potassium, fiber and vitamin A (and Beta-carotene). Beta-carotene protects the body’s immune system and can lower the risk of cancer and heart disease. While adding fat through deep-frying isn’t ideal, in moderation the benefits outweigh the consequences. However, baked sweet potato fries are just as tasty as the fried ones.

Blueberry-SmoothieYogurt Blueberry Smoothie Smoothies get a bad rap for being high-calorie sugar shakes, but if you use yogurt instead of ice cream, they won’t be so bad. They can actually be quite good for you. Blueberries are rich in antioxidants which prevents the production of cell-damaging free radicals. They’re also anti-inflammatories.  Yogurt promotes intestinal health as it’s full of probiotics and the active cultures help prevent yeast infections. You can add banana for texture and potassium and orange juice as a sweetener and for some vitamin C. Just hit puree and you have a shake for cancer to contend with.

Pork Rinds Deep fried pig skin. Sounds heart-stopping- deadly, doesn’t it? Well, unlike their potato counterparts, pork rinds contain no carbohydrates. The other good news, the bad fat in the skin is rendered off in the cooking process leaving behind almost pure protein.

Peanut-Butter-CupsPeanut Butter Cups You got chocolate in my peanut butter! You got peanut butter in my chocolate! Together, they taste like strength. Peanut butter is a protein rich food that helps build and repair muscle. It also has cholesterol-lowering, healthy fats and it’s loaded with anti-oxidants. Wrapped in dark chocolate, this may be the perfect food. Dark chocolate can lower your blood pressure, improve your cognitive function and reduce the risk for stroke. A peanut butter cup – made with the right ingredients – does a body good.

Coffee Coffee doesn’t just wake you up in the morning, it can give your brain a boost. It actually stimulates the release of dopamine and norepinephrine as well as improve your memory and cognitive function.  But a cup of Joe can give your whole body a kick start as well. The long term benefits may include lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

Fried Food Fried food not only tastes good, but it’s good for you, too. Sort of. It depends on what is being fried. Something like battered and fried broccoli isn’t so bad despite that it’s cloaked in fat. But foods that contain carotenoids and fat soluble vitamins like A and K need fat – it helps the body absorbs the nutrients. What makes the frying bad is the type of fat. It’s better to stick to oils like canola and safflower that are made up of unsaturated fats and monounsaturated fatty acids which improve blood cholesterol  levels and decrease your risk for heart disease. The bad fats – like butter and shortening (trans fats) should be avoided. They increase cholesterol significantly.

 

5 Facts You May Not Know About St. Patrick’s Day

Today everyone claims to be Irish, but there are more to the traditions of this holiday than you may know. We’ve found some interesting facts about St. Patrick’s Day we’d like to share with you.

Corned Beef and Cabbage is Not Irish 

Corned-beef-and-cabbage

Photo credit: tasteofhome.com

This traditional St. Patrick’s Day fare is not Irish but it is an Irish-American dish. It’s derived from the Irish entrée, Bacon and Cabbage – back bacon (a traditional British cut of bacon) boiled with cabbage and root vegetables. Pigs and cabbage were readily available in Ireland, but cows were not. There are a few explanations for this: some say in the early 20th century Irish laborers were lured to bars that offered a free meal of corned beef and cabbage. Others say early Irish immigrants were drawn to their Jewish comrades’ corned beef because it was comparable to the back bacon they were accustomed to.

Leprechauns

Leprechaun

Image credit: http://confanon.wikia.com/

Here’s a little known fact about the mythical little people: they’re protected by European law to prevent extinction. The leprechaun is on a list of items in an area near Carlingford, Ireland designated to preserve the heritage, culture and folklore. It is on a site where a leprechaun was allegedly spotted in 1989.

Drinking

St. Patrick’s Day falls during Lent – the six week period before Easter in which people of Christian denominations give up indulgences. St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland is used as a break from the fast in which people can partake in excesses like drinking alcohol or eating chocolate; however, until the 1970s, by law pubs in Ireland were closed for the holiday.

Green

There are many explanations for why we wear green on St. Patrick’s Day. One allegation is that it’s worn by fairies and immortals and by farmers to help their crops grow. A more plausible explanation is that St. Patrick used the three leaves on a shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity so people started wearing shamrocks. That little piece of green evolved into a symbol of pride and nationalism and why we wear green to honor the Irish now.

Parades

The St. Patrick’s Day parade did not start as an Irish tradition. It’s a religious holiday – a day of feast – and in Ireland the day is spent at church and with the family. The first record of St. Patrick’s Day parade was in 1762 when a group of Irish men marched to a tavern in lower Manhattan in New York City. Today it’s biggest St. Patrick’s Day parade; it attracts more than two millions spectators every year.

St-Patricks-day-parade

Photo credit: hottrip.net

4 Food Safety Tips

Radishes

Although a great number of people are becoming concerned about their health and appearance and try to eat healthy. Admittedly, there is an abundance of foods at the supermarkets that are said to be organic and consequently good for your body but the truth is that we still need to be careful. Even if their products have gone thorough inspections by the authorities and they were neatly stored in accordance with all safety and health standards, you should be mindful about particular foods that need preparation. Here are four tips when preparing food for yourself and your family.

1. Clean Produce

Here is the golden rule called thorough cleaning. As far as the fruits and vegetables are concerned, most consumers think that putting them under cold running water for a couple of seconds but that may not be enough. Every fruit should be rinsed with warm water for more than a minute. If the fruits have been imported from another country they may have been treated with some chemicals in order to avoid damage and preserve their initial condition. Even if you picked up your fruits and vegetables from the “organic” shelf, do wash them carefully. The probability to be clean of any harmful substances is really slim.

2. Storage

The proper food storage is another important factor in food safety. As soon as you check out at the supermarket, the responsibility for appropriate storage of the food is yours. Meat, for example, can be really troublesome. If the store where you shop is a bit of a drive, you may want to bring a few insulated bags to transport your cold or frozen items back home. Be sure to use the items before the expiration date or place in the freezer for future use.

3. Clean surfaces

When preparing meals it is important to make sure your hands are absolutely clean. Washing your hands after coughing, smoking, sneezing, touching dirty surfaces such as the trash bin lid, is obligatory when preparing any kind of food.  As soon as you are done cutting the meat, put your cutting utensils under hot running water and vigorously scrub them with an appropriate detergent.

4. Preparation

Stick to the instructions at the recipe books and cook the meal as long as directed in order to make sure all the bacteria is eliminated. It is a well-known fact that a great number of foods contain bacteria before the thermal processing such as chicken.

Under no circumstances should you keep raw and cooked food together to avoid cross contamination

Don’t forget that your health should be your top priority. By handling and preparing your food with caution, you can greatly reduce the risk of any contaminates.

Author Bio: Connie Jameson loves to write about health and hygiene. As a leader of London cleaning services team she has to learn and read about new cleaning technologies.

Growing a Garden: Six Steps to Eating Your Own Fruits and Vegetables

With all the interest in healthier eating, many people want to grow fruits and vegetables in their own backyards. Having your own supply at your fingertips can help you save money and increase your cooking options; you can also make tending your garden into a family activity. Although it may sound daunting, starting your own garden isn’t that difficult.

Here are some good vegetable and fruit selections for the first-time backyard gardener.

Salad Greens

LettuceGrowing your own salad greens like lettuce, spinach, arugula, mustard green, or kale doesn’t require a garden plot; you can grow a nice selection of greens in containers, pots, or window boxes, too. Using a quality potting mix is important. Greens grow well from seeds, and many garden shops offer seeds with a mix of greens for variety. Most will require some fertilizer when the plants are 4-6 inches tall. Since these are rapid-growing plants, you can often start harvesting leaves a few weeks after planting. Salad green plants can produce from spring until fall, giving your tasty salads for most of the year.

Tomatoes

New gardeners love tomatoes, but they’re popular with gardeners in many places where the citizens are health-conscious like Rancho Mission Viejo. There are many versions of slicing tomatoes and cherry tomatoes to choose from. Tomato plants can grow in containers like salad greens or in your yard but do need full sunlight and plenty of water. Seeds or transplants both can be used to start your tomatoes; as they grow, fertilizer, mulching, and staking can help your tomatoes reach their potential.

To control the plant growth and lower the risk of fungus, you’ll need to prune lower leaves and branches. The ripe tomatoes should be harvested twice a week during warm weather.

Radishes

Radish A less common choice for your first garden would be the radish. These root vegetables are easy to grow and grow very fast in a few weeks. These can grow in containers or in a garden plot; however, they do thrive in cool seasons so you should plant them in the spring and fall. A lot of sunlight is key for these plants. Without it, they’ll grow bigger leaves and fewer vegetables. Radishes will deteriorate if they’re harvested in a timely fashion; you can also take the radish greens for salads, as well.

Green Beans

Green beans are also popular for the first-time gardener. Some beans grow as vines and will need a support system while others may grow as a bush. Green beans also grow during the warm months and need full sunlight and significant amounts of water. When the plants bloom, there will be bees and other insects to help with the pollination. During this time, you should avoid using too much pesticide that might interfere with this process. Green beans can be harvested between 50 and 80 days after planting.

Strawberries

StrawberriesAnother fruit that can work for the home gardener is the strawberry.  These are spreading plants that send out runners that can take up a lot of space. However, you can grow them in confined spaces like hanging containers, boxes, or pots. No matter where you plant them, you have to make sure they can get full sunlight. If you use a portable container, you can move the plant around to maximize sun exposure or protect from harsh weather. Strawberry plants can produce fruit for several years.

Herbs

Safe choices for your first garden are herbs like basil, rosemary, coriander, or dill. Many herbs are easy to grow and can be used in a number of dishes and even with your new vegetables. Herbs can be grown in pots, containers, or in your garden plot. Most herbs need to be in areas with good drainage because they don’t grow well in wet soil. You can plant several types of herbs in the same garden; however, some like mint will overgrow your garden.

Of course, your location will influence what items you can grow. But if you take care of your growing garden – no matter your location – you can be eating as well as any community. To improve your health and give your kitchen a kick, start your own garden.

The Perfect Guide for Chocoholics

Chocolate sales for Valentine’s Day reach more than one billion dollars in the United States each year, Americans eat 12 pounds of chocolate each year, and more than 58 million pounds of chocolate and chocolate candies are sold during Valentine’s week.

chocolate-heart

If you’re a chocoholic you definitely don’t need a holiday to get you thinking about this delicious dark concoction. We’ve got a quick and simple guide to help you see the major differences in chocolates, and figure out what type of chocolate pairs best with wine, fruit, and more. Now you can really perfect your Valentine’s Day dessert.

Cacao vs. Cocoa?

We’ll start with the trickiest question: what’s the difference between cacao and cocoa? Well, nothing. They’re actually the very same thing, just with different spellings and pronunciations. When you see cacao nibs and cocoa powder, you’re seeing the very same thing in different forms. Now that you’ve got that out of the way, let’s look at the three common types of chocolate: white, milk, dark.

White Chocolate

White chocolate is more commonly referred to as a chocolate derivative, because it doesn’t contain chocolate solids.  White chocolate is much sweeter than traditional chocolates, and is made with cocoa butter, sugar, and milk. It pairs well with more delicate flavors, including apple, peach, and strawberry.

Milk Chocolate

Milk chocolate is exactly what it sounds like. Made from cocoa, sugar, and the addition of dairy, milk chocolate is lighter in color and taste, creamier, and sweeter than dark chocolate, but not as sweet as white chocolate.

Dark Chocolate 

Simply made from cacao or cocoa butter and sugar, dark chocolate has the highest concentration of antioxidants, and a slightly bitter taste. An emulsifier or flavor enhancer like vanilla is commonly added, but dark chocolate never contains milk. The percentage of cacao denotes the flavor, and can range from sweet (30%) to bitter (80% or higher).

Chocolate Pairings 

And now onto the fun stuff: the best pairings for chocolate! Take notes so you can bring chocolate to your Valentine’s Day celebration! There are three important things to consider: amount of sugar, consistency and fat content, and preference. If you know beyond a doubt that your significant other hates dark chocolate, just don’t use it!

Wine: The standard rule of thumb with wine is: the darker the chocolate, the darker the wine. Dark chocolate is the recommended wine pairing in most situations. The bitter components of dark chocolate will bring out the sweeter aspects of the wine, but a sweeter option, like milk or white chocolate can bring out the bitter aspects of the wine. (Not a great idea.) Here are a few quick tips to help you choose.

  • White Chocolate: Riesling, Port, Moscato, Tokaji, Sweet Rosé
  • Milk Chocolate: Shiraz, Port, Sparkling Semi-Dry Rosé, Oaked Chardonnay
  • Dark Chocolate: (Most red wines) Red Zinfandel, Bordeaux Blend, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tawny Port

Strawberries: This comes down to both personal preference, as well as the quality of the strawberries. Since you should be melting the chocolate pieces in a double boiler with butter, you can control the consistency, meaning the sugar or cocoa butter content of the chocolate isn’t as important. If you have super ripe and sweet strawberries, bittersweet chocolate works best here, but for lighter or more sour strawberries, both milk and white chocolate will bring extra sweetness for a more balanced bite. For pairing chocolate with other fruits, check out these fruit and chocolate tips!

Ganache: Most people recommend dark chocolate for ganache. When ganache is made, the flavors and sugars are concentrated, so a chocolate with less sugar to start, such as dark, is your best bet. Additionally, ganache is usually paired with something creamy and high in fat, so dark chocolate performs best here.

Fudge: Any! You can use any type of chocolate to make fudge, but if you’re making it at home from scratch, it’s best to use a pure cocoa powder flavor that you love, such as Special Dark or regular Milk chocolate. Just adjust the added sugar to balance the sweetness of the chocolate.

Cookies: Finally, what chocolate to use with chocolate chip cookies? There are diehards out there who will only make their beloved chocolate chip cookies with semi-sweet chocolate chips (milk chocolate), but we say: experiment! That’s the best thing about cookies. They’re already sweet and savory and sometimes a little salty, so you can actually pair most cookies with each type of chocolate, depending on your preference. Try those oatmeal chocolate chip cookies with dark chocolate chunks, and try white chocolate with savory options like Rosemary Brown Butter cookies, Molasses cookies, or Earl Grey Tea cookies.

Image Source: Lulas

Get Your Home Game Day Ready With LTD

NFL camping chairsIt’s finally here! The big game is right around the corner, and after an exciting Sunday, we now know the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks will battle it out on February 2nd for the Championship title. Are you prepared for the biggest football game of the year? Check out how to prepare your home for the big day.

Seating

When you’ve got fifteen people coming over to watch the big game, it’s important to make sure there’s enough room for everyone! Pull out all of your extra seats and fold up chairs and see how they’ll fit in your living room area. Now is the time to buy a few extra folding chairs to accommodate more guests. Plenty of people will be standing and cheering, but there’s always a moment during halftime or long commercials when we could use a break.

NFL Décor

This is an essential part of any NFL party! Choose a team and get your house decked out in those colors. Or, if you’re a little more impartial, you can create a “house divided” with separate sides for people supporting opposing teams. It’s a fun way to create a little added competition to the big game.

Meal Planning

Everyone likes heavy, greasy, high-caloric appetizers to pair with beer when watching football, but not every appetizer has to be a grease bomb! Check out great cookbooks and online sources to add a little variety to your meal planning instead of just ordering buckets of wings and buying a dozen bags of chips. Try making fruit kebobs out of toothpicks, or serving southwestern style salad with beans, corn, and chopped arugula. Instead of French onion dip with potato chips, serve fresh homemade hummus and carrots or baked pita bread.

Cooking & Serving

Last but not least, are you prepared to make 100 appetizers and serve them fresh from the oven? Make sure you have enough baking sheets and casserole pans to ensure you have the ability to serve those 20 people. Football is not a short game, and with a good 5 hours of game time, halftime, and commercials, you will have hungry guests. Stock up on serving bowls and platters, and make some dishes ahead, like chili or deviled eggs, so you aren’t spending the entire day in the kitchen. Make sure you’ve got enough glasses and cups, and buy paper plates to reduce dirty dishes!

5 Ways to Stick To An Exercise Plan

take early class gym bagWe’re starting in on the third week of the year, so how’s your exercise routine going? Did you take a CrossFit challenge or a make a Daily Yoga resolution? Did you stock up on essential workout gear, but only feel guilty when you look at it? This is about the time of the month when most people begin to falter in their resolutions, especially those surrounding workouts. The weather is still pretty chilly, especially if you’re up early before work, and the sun is still setting too early for an early evening run in the sun. We understand how challenging it can be to stick to your exercise resolutions, which is why we’ve compiled a list of 5 ways you can actually stick to your workout plan this year.

1) Start Walking More

Guess what, it’s not that hard to walk more! And yes, walking is exercise, just ask Subway’s Jared Fogle or the Iowa man who lost weight by walking 45 minutes a day, despite eating only McDonald’s. A balance between food and exercise is the best way to stay healthy, and adding in additional walking is a great part of a healthy lifestyle. Head over to Google Maps or Map My Run and see which of your local haunts are only a mile or two away. You should also do things like challenge yourself to park in the back of the parking lot, and always take the stairs. Those extra steps will really add up.

2) Change Your Commute

This extra walking leads to the next exercise plan – the commute! Are you able to take public transportation or a bicycle to work? Public transportation is good because it forces you to walk or bike more, rather than just sitting in your car for 15 minutes every morning. Even better is a bicycle commute. Try to incorporate a bike ride to work once a week, possibly even with a friend who lives nearby. Eventually you will look forward to that bike ride, especially when you miss all the rush hour traffic! Grab yourself a stylish but comfortable workout bag and plan to change and shower at the office that day.

3) Take Classes (With a Friend)

We all make it through about 2 weeks at the gym before we’re tired and bored, but with a social reason to go to the gym, it’s a lot easier to keep it up. Find a kickboxing, barre, or yoga class that fits into your schedule. Get to know your teacher, and she’ll begin to expect you in the class on a regular basis. Then, when you’re starting to feel too lazy to attend, enlist a friend to join you. You’ll be a lot more interested in a 7am spin class when you’ve got a friend relying on you to show up.

4) Join or Create a Challenge

So maybe you and a friend decided to sign up for workout classes, but as it turns out, neither of you is the most reliable workout partner. Instead of accepting missed workouts, make it into a challenge. Bet on who can make it to the most workouts each month or year, or season. Challenge your workout buddy to make each class a little more interesting with harder gears, higher leg lifts, and heavier weights. It’s fun to label it as a “30-Day Workout Challenge,” or to bet on who can ride the furthest distance over the course of 30 days in spin class. Simply put something like the next cocktail party, happy hour, concert, or mani-pedi on the line. Whoever loses pays! A little extra motivation is good for everyone.

5) Make a Plan You’re Forced to Stick To

This means sign up to run a half marathon, join a kickball league, or sign up to walk a 5k with your mom. Signing up for something, especially if you join a team or sign up with a partner, is one of the easiest ways to stick to an exercise plan! Running your first half marathon? Follow a detailed training plan for beginners. Walking a 5K with your mom? Meet her every Saturday to walk around the park together. Joining a coed league in your area? Have a friend, roommate, or spouse join with you and you’ll get a workout and a social night out of the house. Every time you want to stay home, remember the $150 fee you paid, and the people you’re letting down.