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After a long day of work or caring for your family, you often want nothing more in the evening than to relax and zone out in front of the television, or maybe surf the internet. While watching a show or two or spending some time online is fine, regularly spending whole evenings this way is detrimental to your well-being. What seems like a way to reduce stress can actually be contributing to your stress.

Approaching your evenings with mindfulness is key to reducing stress and living the best version of your life.

Examine Your Evening Routine

In order to be able to change your evenings to be more mindful, you have to take stock of what your evenings consist of now. Make a list of the things you typically do during the evenings.

  • What time do you eat dinner?
  • How much screen time is normal for you?
  • What other activities, if any, do you do?
  • Do you spend time with family or friends in the evenings?
  • Do you have any goals you are working towards?
  • What time do you go to bed? Do you fall asleep easily?

Being able to answer the above questions will help you realize what parts of your routing are working for you and what habits are not serving you well.

Identify Your Priorities

What are your priorities in life? Do the elements in your evening routine align with what you consider your priorities? If you consider your health to be a priority but yet are not making time to cook healthy meals or get in exercise, you are not living your values.

Is spending time with family and friends important to you? Do you make time for that regularly? People often comment that their families are the most important thing in their lives, but after dinner the members of the family retreat to their own private corners to get lost in a screen rather than spending time together.

Are you satisfied with your current life skills? If not, carving out some time each evening to learn how to bake bread or make soap, etc. will improve your life much more than the latest episode of a reality TV show!

If you truly lack time in the evenings due to obligations or extra-curricular activities, try combining your priorities. A family walk after dinner can meet your need to look after your health and spend time with those you love.

Ditch Distractions

Once you’ve identified what your current routine and habits are and have compared them to your list of priorities, it is likely that you will see a discrepancy. Recognize TV and internet surfing for what they are – distractions that lead you further from the life you want to live.

That doesn’t mean giving up TV completely. Simply be mindful about what you are watching and the time that it takes away from your priorities. Pick a favorite show or two each week that you truly enjoy. Make watching the show a pleasurable event that you look forward to and not a time drain that leaves you unfulfilled and stagnant.

Set a Routine for Sleep

Make a bedtime and stick to it as much as possible. Pushing your bedtime later and later does nothing more than make you tired and unproductive the next day. Determine the best time for you to wake up in the morning and pick a time to go to sleep that will give you 7-9 hours of rest. You may have to try different times of going to bed to find the right one for you. Some people feel best on 7 hours of sleep while others may need closer to 9 to be productive the next day.

Give yourself time to wind down in the evening before your head hits the pillow. Working or watching TV right up until you are meant to be sleeping is not conducive to falling asleep quickly. Try reading, talking with loved ones, or doing another relaxing activity in the time leading up to bed.

Develop a personal care routine that helps your body realize it is time to relax and prepare for sleep. This does not have to take a long time but a quick, relaxing bath or shower, time to brush your teeth and care for yourself and your needs will help you be mindful.

Reflect and Prepare

At the end of your day, take a few minutes to reflect on the day that has just passed. Think about what went well and what didn’t. Did you move yourself closer to the life you want to live and towards accomplishing your goals? If not, what can you do better tomorrow?

Think about your day tomorrow and what needs to get done. Write down any urgent tasks that must be done and plan when and how you are going to do them. Reflecting on the day you just had while being intentional about the upcoming day will move you closer to the best version of your life.

Most people have obligations to work or family that take up most of the day. These obligations often spill over into the evenings. But it is essential that you carve out time to make sure you are living with intention and being mindful about how you are spending your evenings.

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Create a Simple Soup and Salad Garden

Whether you live in a suburban house with a large yard, or a high rise apartment with just a balcony, you can create a simple soup and salad garden that will add freshness and verve to your daily meals.

All you need is a small plot of well tilled earth or a few large pots filled with nourishing soil. You can grow a mix of herbs, flowers and vegetables that look beautiful but are wonderfully practical and useful as well.

Start with the herbs. You don’t need a huge selection to add fresh flavor to your soups and salads, just a few versatile favorites.

Remember the old song, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme? These four are a good rule of thumb to remember when trying to decide which herbs to grow. Parsley is a versatile, bushy plant with distinctively flavored leaves that can used chopped fresh in salads or sprinkled in soups. Try steaming vegetables with a few sprigs of parsley, as it also can be used as a side vegetable. A strong healthy parsley plant goes on producing for you, even as you pick fresh springs to use.

Sage and thyme are classic soup herbs. They add a comforting flavor to lovely hot winter soups and stews, which reminds everyone of their childhood. But they can also be added to summer salads or chopped and stirred into dressings and mayonnaise. If you have more sage and thyme than you can use, simply pick the sprigs, tie them together and hang them up to dry for winter use.

Rosemary is the Queen of herbs, a lovely aromatic bush that grows equally well in the garden or in a pot. This herb goes especially well with lamb, and is perfect for a roast – you just cut slits in the meat and slide in a couple of leaves here and there. Crush a few leaves with a pestle and mortar and add them to salad dressing, or tie in a bunch with sage and thyme, and slide into the soup pot.

Two herbs you must have are mint and basil. Mint comes in a variety of types – including spearmint, chocolate and pineapple mint! Grow more than one if you like the variety, but even in a garden, keep mint contained in a pot. It tends to wander. Mint adds a delicious freshness to pea or potato soup, and perks up even the plainest salad. Add finely chopped mint to mayonnaise and serve it with cold lamb and salad. Mint can also be added to summer drinks.

Basil is an essential herb in any kitchen. Again, there are several varieties to choose from, including sweet basil and purple basil. Grow both or choose the one you prefer. Basil adds a true Tuscan flavor to Italian salad and dressings, and is superb with minestrone.

Flowers may seem an odd source of soup and salad ingredients, but once you taste the peppery tang of a nasturtium leaf, you will want to grow your own. They look simply beautiful spilling over the borders of your garden, or the edges of a pot and you can use both the flowers and leaves in salads.

Marigold is another showy plant that has its uses in the kitchen. You can scatter the petals over salads and desserts, or add them to cakes.

Borage is an herb, but it is also a very pretty flowering plant that can be grown for ornamental and kitchen use. The leaves have a cucumber tang that is excellent in salads, and the flowers can be scattered over a salad or floated on summer drinks.

Growing vegetables may be harder in a small space, but it can be done. Climbers like beans and snow peas can be trained up balcony rails or trellises, Most varieties of tomatoes can be grown in pots and tied to stakes as they grow, but the best are probably Roma ( which are excellent for Italian cooking and for bottling) or the small, sweet `cherry’ tomatoes which can be grown anywhere, even in hanging baskets.

Don’t try to grow onions, sometimes these can change the flavor of other items in your garden. But do add a patch or a pot of chives, as you can keep cutting the green shoots for use and more will grow.

Look for dwarf varieties of other plants, like vegetables and even fruit trees, which can all be added to your soup and salad garden to flourish in a small space.

by Gail Kavanagh

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