Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy 2009 for This Homegirl!

VQA Wine For New Years New Year's Eve. Another year past. A new one upon us.

With the infamous resolutions on the horizon, its inevitable that we look back on our successes and ... nonsucesses of the past year. While I officially purchased my home in 2007, it was 2008 when I feel like I moved in and really got to know my quaint, little bungalow.

Recollecting on the past year, I can't help but feel like this New Year's Eve is more of a thanksgiving. I am incredibly thankful...

To have wonderfully, amazing neighbours. Honestly, I don't know what I would've done without my neighbours. They have been such an irreplaceable source of knowledge, assistance and company.

To own a house. I don't think I need to elaborate when it comes to the economy. More importantly though, whenever I'm feeling overwhelmed with some of the challenges of being a single homeowner, I remind myself of this fact. You need to do the same - buying and owning a home is no small feat!

To have the love and support of a great family. I call my parents five times a day sometimes, just to tell them about drilling a hole in my wall. With a bad back, my brother helped me move in my washer and dryer. Actually, he did all the moving. My Grandma was on her knees helping my dad and I install lattice under my deck in the spring. I know, beyond a doubt, that I can't express enough appreciation for their support - their jobs and geographical location don't make this easy for them.

With everything I've accomplished at my home this year, I am heading into 2009 with some big resolutions (in addition to the ol' standby to lose weight).

  1. Get in control of my finances.

  2. Have the electrical service changed over to 100 amp (this will require saving $ and so will depend on #1).

  3. Develop a plan for my basement.
I know there will be many more 'items' come up along the way, but these are the big 3 that I want to get accomplished. If I manage to get a garden put in this spring also... well that will just be peaches!

Happy New Year!!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Boxing Week Deals

Birch tree from Zehrs and moose from JYSK
With bleak news reports telling us over and over about the tough economic times we are experiencing this holiday season, the days leading up to Christmas (specifically Christmas Eve) and the Boxing Day sales following would certainly indicate otherwise. Stupidly perhaps, I delayed picking up event tickets until Christmas Eve, and I faced 20 minute waits just to get into the parking lot and then hordes of people within the mall. The Christmas elves were surely looking down on me smiling though, as I got spaces in front of the building twice that day!

Not one to ever get excited about Boxing Day seals, I ventured out on the 27th with my rather embarrassing collection of Christmas decorations (or lack thereof) still very fresh in my mind. Most years I look at the clearance Christmas items and think, "I don't need it now anymore, I'll get decorations next year." Not this year! My eyes were (and still are) open for 'great deals' on Christmas decor.

Quite impressed with the collection at Zehrs last week, I decided to see what kind of 'slash and sell' items remained. Success! With all decorations 50% off, I scored these great birch bark trees for $2.49!

Other great Christmas clearance sales that I've come across this week:

  • Home Depot had 50-75% off BEFORE Christmas. I found garland for $3.49 and mini-LED lights for only $2.49!
  • JYSK Always the discount decorators dream, my office colleagues scooped up all the tin 'moose' the Stoney Creek store had, but I found these cute table toppers. Also for just $2.49!
  • IKEA While I haven't been there yet this year, I found very unique, affordable decorations after last year's holiday season.

If you've come across some great decor sales, please share or email me to let our readers know!

Find a large selection of Clocks at!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Week One With a Snowblower... Rain Today!

Ariens 927LE Snow-Thro
I have now owned my snow blower for a full week, and until today, the excitement had yet to wear off - I own a snow blower!! This is my first, actual piece of equipment to maintain my yard! This is exciting! When I picked it up at the dealership last week, I had this overwhelming sense of Independence. My very own snow blower to clear my driveway, the sidewalk, my neighbour's driveways and sidewalks! I put the shoes down (so I can stop grading my gravel driveway with the auger) and I plugged it in so the electric start will be ready to go. I even installed a new garage door lock to keep the neighbourhood thief out. I own a piece of equipment - NOW I am a true home owner! (Because owning a house somehow wasn't enough???!) Exciting!

That is, until today - it's pouring rain! If that isn't Murphy's Law, then I don't know what is! Buy a snow blower, bring it home (the day AFTER the major snowstorm), use it once, then it rains.

Luckily, I have faith. This is Canada. It will surely snow again, and thousands of others must feel the same way since most retailers are sold out of snow blowers. After all, it is only December. Most years, we are just getting our first snowfall now!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Christmas Greetings from the Savvy Homegirl With only one day to go before Christmas, I am taking my time today to enjoy the holiday and spend some time at my house before I head to my parent's farm for Christmas.

Once I'm on the road, however, I'll be anxious to get home and immerse myself in the country Christmas traditions that I grew up with. Christmas mass this evening, egg nog and treats at my Grandma's home and National Lampoons Christmas Vacation will undoubtedly be on the itinerary for tonight. My favourite tradition on our farm is Christmas brunch. We take our time milking cows and doing chores in the morning, then come in to a great spread of food - scrambled eggs, pancakes, fruit, yogurt, toast, cheese and fresh coffee.. yumm!

Whatever your traditions are, I wish everyone a wonderful Christmas and a safe holiday season.
If you'd like to include pancakes in your tradition, here is a great recipe that we have been using at the farm for years, and I now make regularly on Sunday mornings by myself.
Oatmeal Pancakes

1 1/2 C oatmeal
2 c milk
Soak oatmeal in milk and let stand for 5-10 minutes.

1/2 C whole wheat flour
1/2 C white flour
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 ts salt
1/2 ts cinnamon

Mix all ingredients together. Beat 2 eggs, 1/4 C melted butter together and pour into the centre of dry mix. Mix well. Add oatmeal mixture and mix until combined.

Heat oil/butter on hot griddle, pour onto griddle.

Chocolate chips or blueberries are favourite additions to these pancakes, but they are also good with banana slices or apples. My favourite way to eat pancakes? Slather them with peanut butter, slice bananas on top, then coat with syrup! YUMMY!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Display Your Christmas Cards With Style

Are your holiday cards starting to droop on your mantel? Looking for a little pick 'em up to show them off to your company this week? Try some of these cute and decorative ideas from November 2007's House & Home magazine! Christmas cards tucked along mirror frame

  • Tuck cards between the window frames and use double-sided tape to attach them to glass of interior french doors.
  • Tuck cards into the frame of a mirror
  • Glass table tops can be used to display treasured items all year-round. Take advantage of the opportunity to display your cards under the glass.
  • Cut slits in the back of cards with a utility knife. Slide a piece of ribbon through the slits, then tuck the end under a heavy stack of books and allow the ribbon to fall down in front of the shelves.Christmas cards hung from ribbon
  • Substitute a centrepiece to your chandelier, and hang your colourful cards with fish line or thin-gauge wire. Tie a chandlier crystal to the end of each string to weigh it down.
  • Punch holes in cards and string on a piece of ribbon. Tie to a bannister or mantle lines with garland

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Curtains Versus Blinds

Bedroom Window Drapery
So, I finally got around to putting curtains up in my bedroom. This was after weeks of knocking the curtain rod over and one year staring at vertical blinds that were as complete as a hockey player's smile.

I decided to put the curtains up for a variety of reasons. Well, really only two. The primary being safety. With wandering neighbourhood kids and two houses behind me, it was probably about time that I gave up my strategic dance to stay hidden from view by the (sparse) blinds.

The second reason was to try to keep some more heat in my house this winter. Imagine my (non) surprise to discover that the patio door wasn't installed straight, and there was almost literally a gap at the top! After jamming a piece of wood against the door to push it tight to the frame, and adding caulk around the outside, the curtains were my final step to prevent further heat loss (and higher gas bills)!

I am very happy with the change. Though it does have its drawbacks; I've slept in twice now because my room is dark in the morning and I don't get up. I also miss seeing the weather. Last night I opened the curtains so I could fall asleep with the soft glow of freshly fallen snow outside.

Lastly, I still have the vertical blinds. Until throwing them down the basement stairs (for lack of better options), I contemplating hanging them in my office. However, if vertical blinds were not tacky enough (these ones are), they are missing even more panels now than when they were in my room. Can you even get new panels for vertical blinds? Does anyone even buy vertical blinds anymore?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Holiday Decorating Made Easy

Driving home last night, I couldn't help but notice the number of UNdecorated houses. It made me wonder, are there a lot of scrooges out there? People going away for Christmas that can't be bothered? Just procrastinating because it's still 10 days away??

If you haven't decorated yet, and you're looking for some easy ideas for inside, here are some that I stumbled across a few weeks ago:

• Fill a pretty glass jar or bowl with mini candy canes.

• Use your favourite ornaments as paperweights on piles of books or files.

• Get some dried branches and put them in a tall galvanized tin. Hang ornaments from them.

• Cover the tops of bookcases with evergreen branches and juniper berries.

• Create a line of tea lights along a shelf or down a hall.

My own holiday decorating favourite? Fill a crystal bowl, large vase, or other large, decorative container with balls and ornaments for a quick centrepiece for the table or mantel.

For more ideas, check out the rest of the article at The Sparkling Single. Then come back on Wednesday for colourful suggestions to handle the greeting cards that have started filling your mailbox!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Forget Shovelling - I Bought a Snow "Thrower" !

There is no doubt that we are in the throws of winter, although a week ago there were still areas of Ontario where you wouldn't know it. This fact was cemented for me by two things this past week:

1) Snow tires are nowhere to be found (I lucked out on kijiji but that's another blog)

2) Many stores are also sold out of snow blowers.

I had decided in May already that I was buying a snow blower for this winter. Actually, my neighbours partially decided for me and I gladly obliged - I could freely use their lawnmower (and they even cut my grass for me) if they could use my snow blower. Sounded like a good deal.

To add to this, last winter saw the most snow the region had seen in many years. I came home from weeks of travel to four feet of snow in my driveway and a two-hour dig just to get through the frozen mound of snow, salt & sand deposited in the end of my driveway by the snowplow. I was going to spare myself the humiliation this winter of parking on the snowbank while I dug myself into the driveway.

While I was initially surprised by the inavailability, many places have more snow throwers coming in, and I am proud to say that I now also have one on order. My neighbours and I will welcome it's arrival like a newborn baby.

What did I know about buying a snow blower? Very little! In fact, I quickly learned that I was actually buying a snow "thrower" - blowers are mounted on tractors.

Check out buying guides at Home Depot and Lowes. Then talk to the salespeople to learn more about the machine that will meet your needs. Here are some basics to get you started.

Single stage or Dual Stage? These are your primary options. The Dual Stage is a more 'heavy duty' machine, but how do you know if you need that much snow throwing force?

How much and what kind of snow? Single stage throwers are better suited to handle less than 8" of snowfall. Wetter and heavier snow may require a dual stage machine.

Gravel driveway? Dual stage throwers have drive wheels that can be adjusted to keep the auger up off the ground. (This will be cheaper than replacing the neighbour's BMW window.) Large driveways (over 40 feet) will also want dual stage to make the job faster.

There are a wealth of options - heated hand grips, cabs (those tents over your head), manual or joystick controlled chutes, power assisted steering, and electric start - to name a few. Get behind the machines and manoeuvre them about to see what you are comfortable with.

Most come with 1-4 year warranty. Keep warranty in mind if your machine will be tackling tough conditions and log a a lot of hours of use.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Sick of Winter Already? How About a Condo in the Sunshine State?

Florida license plate After battling snow squalls this weekend and soggy weather this week, last night's Consumer Alert on CTV news caught my attention - time to buy Florida condos? Sign me up!

In all honesty, purchasing a second home is several years down the road for this homegirl, let alone an investment condo in the sunny state. However, recognizing that real estate can be a terrific investment opportunity, it was nevertheless fun to allow myself to, at very least, be tempted.

And the temptation is certainly there. A condo in Sarasota, that was cited as an example, sold for $176,000 in January 2005. The price tag last month - $90,000 in November!

Of course, buying investment properties can be a 'buyer beware' game, and there are many items to be aware of, including outrageous condo fees, higher property taxes for non-residents and extra insurance requirements (think hurricane season).

Is your interest peaked by an investment property? Check out the video at CTV News.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Buy Local & Act Local This Christmas

Buy VQA WineIf you're like me and planning to spend your Christmas bonus on home repairs and upgrades, you may be looking for some additional ideas to stretch your wallet without compromising the holiday season enjoyment of giving.

Luckily, when it comes to thinking and acting local, we're not just limited to our holiday dinner tables.

Here's what I mean:

Shop within your network. Amongst your friends and co-workers, you may be surprised by the number of "entrepreneurs" - from Mary Kay to Pampered Chef, Stampin' Up to Creative Memories, home pastry chefs to jewellery makers. You'll keep your hard earned cash not only within the local economy, but in the pockets of the people you know best. Plus - the guarantee is usually second to none!

Buying wine? Buy VQA! The Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) label guarantees the wine is 100% grown and produced in Ontario. An imported wine purchase puts $0.67 back into the local economy versus $11.50 from a VQA wine purchase. What better reason do you need?

The Giving Tree. Before you head to Wal-Mart for your Christmas tree, check around to see if you can support a local charity with your tree purchase. Often local service clubs or youth groups, like the Scouts, sell Christmas trees as a fundraiser.

Act local! Not sure what you will do with another gift basket from the $10 special bin? Skip the gift exchange and spend the afternoon volunteering together as a family at a local soup kitchen, helping the food bank prepare baskets, or carolling at a local hospital or seniors home.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Tis the Season to be Green!

While our society hangs in the midst of the "green revolution" and an uncertain economy, this Christmas will undoubtedly be affected by both. Daily, you hear stories and read articles about how to save some money this year, without sacrificing the joyfulness of the season.

Here are some tips from CAAmagazine's winter 2008 edition that I thought were different but also useful. Check them out!
  • It's not only what you buy, but how you buy it. Carpool or take transit to the mall and don't forget to pack your own reusable shopping bags.

  • Rather than purchasing presents with wasteful packaging, consider giving experiences like sports tickets or gift cards for restaurants.

  • Decorate with LED lights - they are up to 90 percent more energy-efficient than regular bulbs. Put them on a timer to further reduce electricity usage.

  • Trim last year's holiday cards to make this year's gift tags. Consider funky alternatives to wasteful wrapping paper - old maps, scraps of fabric or inexpensive tea towels.

  • "Treecycle" your Christmas tree. Rather than lying in a landfill, it will be ground into wood chips for mulch or outdoor uses. Check with your municipality for a drop-off centre or pickup service in your area.

And one more great idea that comes to my mind:

  • Send e-cards, rather than traditional greetings cards. You'll not only save some trees, but also help reduce carbon emissions to transport all those cards. Extra bonus - Donate the money you'll save on stamps and cards to a charity.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Under the Weather

Hot water, lemon and honey sooths a sore tummy What's worse than being sick without someone to look after you? Being sick in a hotel!

I am finally starting to feel healthy again after struggling for almost a week with the flu, and then a stomach bug. Half of this time was spent in a hotel, and I can assure you that the hotel bed is not near as comfortable as your own when you're up to your ears in used tissue.

At least my room had a coffee maker, which I used repeatedly to boil hot water for tea.

Once I got back home, my favourite remedy? Hot water, lemon juice and honey! Paired with warm socks, my own bed and a homemade afghan at my feet, and I have almost recovered. Now to clean up the mess after days of neglect...

Monday, December 1, 2008

I've Got the Spirit - and I'm Looking for the Home With TOO MUCH!

My House Lit Up for Christmas 2007 The first day of December, and I have had the festive spirit for a few weeks now. Brought on by row after row of poinsettias at the grocery store and brightly lit Christmas trees in the windows of eager homeowners. I even passed a Santa Claus waving at traffic on the highway yesterday (perhaps trying to coax them to buy a Christmas tree?)

And while I have found myself longing for snow before flipping the switch here, I have noticed more and more houses on the way home from work, lit up with twinkling blue, red, green and yellow bulbs.

Of course, there are also those homes that you can't miss - they look like Canadian Tire's seasonal department threw up all over them. The best one I've seen yet is around the corner from a friend's house in Regina. The glow from the house literally can be seen from around the My House Decorated This Yearcorner.

Regretfully, I didn't take a picture. So, now I'm on a mission to find the tackiest, most 'over-the-top' house out there that may compare. If there's one on your street, take a picture and email it to me -

I'll post the pictures here on my blog and you can vote on the most "enthusiastic" holiday home!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Homegirl's Handy Tips

Looking for a tip that you saw on my blog the last time you visited? I will keep these updated here, so you don't miss any handy homegirl tips!

  • Throw a tennis ball in the dryer with vests and comforters and tumble dry on low to get the "fluff" back!
  • Slow drain? Try pouring baking soda dissolved in hot water down the drain to clear some of the clog.
  • Cleaning out closets to make some room? Turn your clotheshanger hooks forward and flip them around when you wear a piece of clothing. After 3 months, get rid of anything you haven't worn.
  • Wash sponge have a funky smell? "Zap" it in the microwave - it'll kill bacteria and prolong the life of your dish sponge!
  • Wash and lay delicate berries, like raspberries, out on a cookie sheet and freeze. Once they are frozen, you can remove and place in a plastic container or bag. This way, they keep their shape and don't get squished.
  • Wrap duct tape, or similar, sticky side out around your hand or a paint roller (for large jobs) to get pet hair off of bed sheets and furniture.

    Do you have any great household tips that you would like to share?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Stock Up on Wine & Entertaining Ideas

Click for Taste of the Season DetailsLooking for something to do this weekend? Head to Niagara-on-the-Lake wineries to enjoy "Taste of the Season".

You will be bound to get wonderful entertaining ideas that you will want to try this season, such as Smoked Salmon Tarama with Stonechurch Vineyards 2007 Riesling- Gew├╝rztraminer or the 2007 Cabernet from Coyote's Run Estate Winery with Smoked Duck Breast with Cabernet Jelly on Brioche.

2007 is shaping up to be one of the best wine years the Niagara Region has ever seen. The best wines will go quick, and with many just hitting the wineries shelves, the timing couldn't be better!
Tasting Bar at Pillitteri Estates WineryInterested in a winery tour? Plan your day so you end up at Pillitteri Estates in Virgil at 2pm for their free, daily tour.
Held every weekend in November, this is your last chance to experience the best wine & food pairings of the season. Passports to visit 18 wineries are available for only $46.00, and the event runs from 11am - 5pm on Saturday and Sunday. Visit Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake for more information.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Hotel Luxuries That Make You Feel at Home

Calgary's Fairmont Palliser LobbyFor the past week, I have been living the lap of luxury. I have been staying at the Fairmont Palliser Hotel, while in Calgary for work. This beautiful, old Canadian Pacific Railway hotel exudes all the details you would expect.

This is not typical accommodation for me while travelling, so I fully enjoyed the experience. The hotel felt as much like home as it could.

For me, the comfort of a hotel always depends on a few key items:
  • Fine soaps and shampoos that you actually want to use.
  • Quiet rooms (I can handle traffic outside but cannot tolerate banging doors in the hallway or conversation in the next room).
  • Full-length mirrors and good bathroom lighting.
  • In-room coffee makers and coffee that actually brews and tastes like real coffee.
  • In-room fridges, that contain real milk and cream for the palatable in-room coffee.
  • Free wireless Internet (which the Fairmont does not have).
  • Conveniently located plug-ins for irons, cell phone charges, laptops, etc.

    The Fairmont's best 'touch of home'? It's a tie!
    Fairmont Terry Bathrobe

The white, terrycloth bathrobe is simple yet comforting, and after slipping it on, I couldn't help but feel like I was curled up on my couch at home with a steaming mug of tea.

The beds! Hands-down, the most comfortable bed I've ever slept in! Fairmont Bed & Linens

And while I will pass on the $75 robe, I was pleasantly surprised that I could bring the luxurious bed set home with me for less than $350. Order online at Travel Comes Home.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Save Money on Your Energy Bill

With the price of crude oil down under $80 per barrel again and gas prices down at the pumps, doesn't it would seem "natural" that home energy prices will also go down?
Unfortunately, the price adjustment doesn't happen just as fast as we see it at the pumps, and most companies just approved a price increase in July or August.

Here are some tips you can do to keep your energy costs under control this winter:
  • Get a programmable thermostat. As a bonus - there are government rebates for doing so!
  • Hunter 7-Day Programmable Thermostat
  • Set your thermostat to 68 degrees F when you're home and 65 degrees during the day or when you're away. Turn it down even lower if you're going away for extended periods of time, but never lower than 55 degrees.

  • Clean or replace your furnace filter every three months

  • Keep drapes open during the day (to let in the sun's heat) and closed at night to prevent warm air from escaping

  • Seal drafty windows or doors with weatherstripping or caulking and put plastic over basement windows that may leak air.Heavy Window Drapes

  • Temporary weatherstripping comes in a tube like caulking, and it can be used to physically seal a leaking window closed. Peel it off in the fall with no mess!

  • Close off and avoid using areas of the house that are not insulated, if possible.

  • Splurge on cute slippers, cozy sweaters and throws to keep warm while keeping the heat down!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Skip the Gym - Clean and Get a Homeowner's Workout!

Missed the gym because you were wrapped up in housework? Don't sweat it - chances are you already have!

Common household chores can burn as many calories as your gym routine! Here are the calories that a 130lb person will burn with 30 minutes of activity. Calorie burn is increased by 4% for each additional 5 lbs. For example, a 145lb individual will burn 12% more calories than listed below.
  • Walking at a moderate pace - 140
  • Vacuuming - 95
  • Gardening, general - 140
  • Mowing lawn with a regular push mower - 172
  • Mowing lawn with a power push mower - 140
  • Housecleaning - 109
  • Raking lawn - 125
  • Shovelling snow, by hand - 187
  • Blowing snow with walking snow blower - 140
  • Car Washing - 117
  • Cleaning Windows - 138
  • Walking up & down stairs, moderate - 255
  • Cooking - 40-50 calories (use a spoon instead of electric beaters to burn more!)
  • Cleaning gutters – 340 calories
Additional tips to make the most of your household "workout":
  • Use a wax polish in a tin rather than a spray – you’ll need to rub much harder to get a nice shine on your furniture.
  • Hit the stairs! Don’t let things pile up at the bottom – take them upstairs as soon as you need to. Plan your housework so you have to run up and down constantly. For example, empty the dishwasher in the kitchen, then make the bed upstairs, then vacuum the living room downstairs, then clean the bathroom upstairs.
  • Keep the laundry basket on the floor when you’re ironing so you have to bend and stretch to reach the clothes (keep those abs engaged!)
  • Peel, chop, stir, whisk and hand beat to burn more calories in the kitchen or make your own bread – kneading the dough is hard work!
  • Pop in your favourite music and turn up the volume to work a bit harder - and don't forget to sneak in a little dance now and then!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Get Out of the House This Weekend - Go to the Royal!

Not looking forward to a dreary, November weekend? You can't stay home all the time, so why not head down to Toronto and check out the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair?

This is the final weekend for the event where the "country comes to the city". Beat the fall blahs by strolling through the enchanted gardens in Heritage Court and energize your festive spirit this Sunday with Christmas at the Royal, a new feature this year. There are daily horse and cattle shows, the always popular Iams SuperDogs, butter sculptures and more! Don't leave without a baked potato, apple dumpling and lemonade, favourites of the Royal Regulars!

Check out my photos, then get to Exhibition Place to take the Royal in for yourself! Get directions and further details here.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

How to Find a Contractor

There are certainly times when you won't be able to get the job done on your own, but where do you start when it comes to hiring a contractor?

The majority of the complaints received by consumer protection agencies are from homeowners upset with the work done by contractors. Don't let yourself fall into this category also. Here are some tips to find the right person for your job.

ASK! Ask neighbours, friends, co-workers, family, and anyone you trust if they know someone. I received a recommendation for a good general contractor from the local hardware store- you never know!

Searching through the yellow pages? Keep in mind that ad space can be pricey, so a company with a larger ad may be more reputable. You can also check kijiji or Craig's List, but keep in mind that these are FREE and anyone could post an ad.

Get several quotes and ask around at building supply stores to verify they are reasonable.

Be wary of 'under-the-table' deals. If something goes wrong, there is very little or no recourse for you to seek correction.

Some questions to ask (these may vary depending on the size of the project):

  • Is the contractor full-time or part-time. This could affect skill ability and length of completion time.
  • Licenses or certifications? Requirements differ by province. Check out this Government of Ontario website for a list of trades requiring certification.
  • Ask for an appointment that suits your schedule and expected length of completion time.
  • Who will actually do the work? Some contractors hire subcontractors, so you'll want to know who will actually be in your house.
  • Is their work warranted and is the guarantee in writing?
  • For large jobs, ask about cleanup procedures, written contracts, insurance, and to get references from past clients

More times than not, you get what you pay for with contractors. Good ones will be in high demand and can therefore afford to charge more. Don't take the cheapest estimate just to save some money. It may end up costing you more in the long run.

Finally, never be afraid to ask questions if you don't understand something or want more clarification. Spend time with the contractor when he arrives so he can explain what he's doing and why. As a bonus, he may provide you with further preventative advice or corrective suggestions for other related 'issues'.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Leak Update: Fixing a Leaking Copper Pipe

Soldered Copper Pipe Joint
So I tore down the wet drywall to find... NOTHING! There are water pipes, but they are not leaking! ?? My next place to look? Leaking fridge upstairs perhaps......................
I did mention "another leaking pipe", because a few months ago I found damp drywall in my basement. When I ripped it down, I found that water had been collecting between the floor joist and the drywall. The pinprick leak in the copper pipe solder worsened over the months to follow.
To temporarily stop the leak, I purchased Magic Wrap. The leak was on a soldered joint, and two weeks ago, I finally had to call a plumber. Could I have fixed this myself?

Yes - with the right tools and a lot of practice. I had neither. Soldering torches are extremely hot, and until you are comfortable with one, you will want to get someone with experience to work the torch, particularly in tight areas.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Oh no! I have a leaking pipe!

Yes, it's true. I have ANOTHER leaking pipe in my basement! After getting a plumber in a week ago to fix a small leak in a hot water pipe, I arrived home last night to discover molding, sagging drywall and small puddle growing beneathe it! I actually thought I was dreaming. How could I have another leaking pipe?
Since I was already late for work, there was not much I could do about it this morning but shut the water off and come back to it this evening. Just how I wanted to spend my Friday night!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Meet my Roommates

These are my roommates - Fergie and Penny Lane.

I realize some of you are grinning in humour, smirking even perhaps - single woman with cats. Very original, fitting even? My friends have assured me, however, that I am not 'crazy' until I have at least 3. So I am still safe. (No offence to anyone with 3+ feline friends).

The lives of these former barn kittens are both cruel and fabulous; no longer free to roam as barn cats, yet disgustingly pampered and spoiled as residents of my home.

So spoiled in fact, they have staked claim to my office chair, living room furniture, and bed, which has left me with a great and embarrassing dilemma. Cat hair everywhere! I have become the #1 buyer of lint rollers, because washing my throws and sheets does not remove the hair.

Can anyone suggest some solutions to keep my sheets and blankets hair free?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

My Cindy Lou Who Halloween Costume

I promised pictures, and they didn't make it up on Saturday. Here they are! My Cindy-Lou Who costume, including finishing touches on a "Who nose" and my big up-do of Christmas tree ornaments!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Prepare Your Home for Winter

While some of us are still waiting for the leaves to fall, other areas of Ontario have already been hit by the white stuff. With winter creeping closer, getting your home ready with this simple checklist will save you winter headaches and money!

  • Have your furnace serviced before the heating season begins and change the filter. Then change it regularly (monthly even). A clean filter alone would've saved me hundreds of dollars last winter.
  • If you don't already have a programmable thermostat, consider buying one. It will save on your heating bills and many energy companies are offering rebates right now for buying one.
  • Look for drafts around all windows and doors. One way to do this is to run a feather along the edges. Seal with cauk or replace weatherstripping where needed. You may also want to staple heavy plastic over basement windows if you suspect heat loss.
  • If you don't already have them, consider putting up heavy curtains. Open them during the day to let in the sun's warmth and close them at night to keep the heat from escaping.
  • Clean out your eavestroughs and gutters. Replace any missing or worn shingles.
  • If you have a fireplace, call a chimney sweep to clean it. Make sure caps or screens are installed properly to prevent animals from moving in.
  • Inspect for and seal cracks in foundation, chimneys bricks and mortor and driveways.
  • Shut off valves for outdoor water taps and drain pipe and hoses.
  • Drain AC pipes, and shut off any valves, if your unit has them. Consider covering for the winter.
  • Ensure your fire extinguishers, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are all functioning properly.
  • Not digging your 2007-era boots and coat? Give someone else a warm winter and donate gently-used coats to charity. Many stores are even offering discounts on winter clothing with the donation of a jacket.

For more energy-saving offers, shop for your home – from your home at

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Decorating on a Dime

Personal Photo Gallery More than anything, when I bought my house I couldn't wait to decorate it! Growing up with TV shows like "Trading Spaces" and seduced by Debbie Travis designs at Canadian Tire, I got giddy just thinking about the options before me.

Unfortunately, the rooms in the pages of my home decor magazine didn't quite fit into my new homeowner budget. So how did I pull together my cozy little spot?

  • PAINT! The easiest and most affordable way to transform any space. Accent walls or textured paint can create dramatic results in a room and will not require as much decor to make the room look done.
  • Order black and white or sepia reprints of your favourite photos, frame in Dollar Store frames and randomly cluster together for a personal photo gallery.
  • Scour second hand stores, like Value Village, and flea markets for great, one-of-a-kind finds. My favourite piece is a lamp in my bedroom - the shade came from Value Village and the lamp from The Salvation Army. Total cost: $7.50!Vintage Lamp
  • Ask family and friends for old furniture. It may be a little mismatched, but it will get you started and add character to your home.
  • For curb appeal, look for old pots, window frames, and ladders to dress up flowerbeds. If you have access to a farm, ask to see their "rock pile" and load your trunk up for a rock garden. Farmers will be more than happy to share.
  • Look for funky fabrics and textiles in the clearance bins at Wal-Mart and Fabricland, then sew your own cushion covers, table clothes, and place mats. No sewing machine or creative prowess? Check out IKEA for cheap cushions that let you pick the covers.
  • Green thumb? Ask friends and family for cuttings of their houseplants, then grow your own from the cuttings. I was even able to get some cuttings off the plants at work.
  • While it's not decorating-specific, its still a money saver -check the dollar store for your kitchen utensils. All that matters is that your cooking tastes good, not whether you spent $1 or $100 on your spatula!

Finally, always check out free online classified sites like Kijiji and Craigslist to find pre-owned items in your area for significantly less than the price of new.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Tricked Rather Than Treat?

Jack O' Lanterns on my porchHalloween is among my favourite holidays, and celebrating it in my own house this year has made it one of my most memorable. I carved pumpkins for the first time since I moved away from home and prepped my porch to welcome the little witches and goblins this evening.

When I moved in nearly a year ago, I was faced with the 'morning after' that's left behind when the ghouls and goblins head home. On November 2, the remnants of eggs were almost still wet on my front porch and windows.

What if your home has become a victim of "Devil's Night" or tonight's trickery?

Check out this advice from Good Housekeeping magazine, courtesy of John Tesh, Intelligence for Your Life.

  • If your car gets “egged”, you need to act fast – both egg yolk AND egg white can corrode painted surfaces. Hose off the gunk ASAP. Be careful with the shells – rubbing them or trying to scrape them off your car can scratch. Just keep hosing, and they’ll eventually loosen and wash off. The same rule applies if your house or mailbox gets egged – pressure-wash it with a hose until the stuff comes off.
  • What if your yard gets toilet-papered? You’ll want to clean up the TP before it rains. Soggy paper can take weeks to weather off. Clear long streams of TP out of tall trees with a yardstick or broom.Then, wrap a piece of duct tape – sticky side out – on the end of your long object and wave it in the trees.The smaller pieces of toilet paper should stick.
  • Your house gets covered in “silly string.” This gooey stuff eventually stiffens and sticks to surfaces when dry. So pick it off ASAP. If some lands on your car, DON’T pick it off with your fingernails! It’ll scratch the paint. Instead, hose off as much as you can, and use a cotton swab to lift off the remaining bits.
  • Your car windows get “soaped up.” This is when someone rubs a bar of soap all over your windows. If it happens to you, use lots of water and a soft scrub brush – something that won’t scratch the glass – to get rid of the lather.

Have a ghoulishly great Halloween! Check back tomorrow to see my costume!

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

My "Wish List" - I wish I knew...

Thinking about buying your first home?

There is a saying out there that buying a house and buying insurance are two of the most important and emotional decisions we make. Yet, we deal with the most unemotional people to make the purchase.

Educate yourself first. It is easy to get wrapped up in the excitement, but take your time to learn about your rights and options. It will save you a lot of headache later.

Here are some tips I can offer:

  • To avoid feeling cash-strapped, consider homes that are less than your pre-approved mortgage amount. Keep in mind, that the mortgage payment is only a portion of your monthly expenses - tax and utilities can be as much as 45% of the mortgage payment.
  • Take the time to find the right agent. You never want to feel pressured into making an offer.
  • 60 amp electrical service or old furnace. No big deal? Think again! These can be costly and time-consuming to correct. Most contractors work 9-5. If these are your hours, will you have to take time off, even just to get a quote? Save the unwanted stress and build these costs into your offer - require the seller to fix them.
  • Consider doing a home inspection before you make an offer if it's an older home.
  • Ask lots of questions! The realtor must disclose everything they know. Challenge them to find out if they do not.
  • Do the walk through yourself before closing. This is your last chance to make sure the conditions have been met, its the same house you made an offer on, and the seller's junk has been removed. No one wants to comb through another person's leftover junk, especially if it leaves you discovering their old marriage trinkets and divorce proceedings (seriously)! If you can not go, send a friend or family member, not your agent.
  • There will always be more houses for sale.
  • Don't go nuts spending when you move in. Take some time to learn what you really need, what can wait, and what you might find at a bargain. I would've saved hundreds of dollars if I'd waited for garage sales.

Thinking at all about buying a home? Check out Home Girl: The Single Woman's Guide to Buying Real Estate in Canada by Brenda Bouw.

Brenda provides excellent advice on everything from selecting your agent to what to expect after the deal closes.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Apple Cheesecake Squares Recipe

Apple Cheesecake SquaresThis is not a home tip, but I am an avid cook, so in the spirit of fall, I decided I would share this great recipe. A co-worker came across it in an issue of Harrowsmith Country Life magazine and passed it along to me. I tweaked it by using a graham cracker crumb crust, as opposed to pastry.

They have been a hit everywhere I've taken them - they're like cheesecake, but a fraction of the effort to make!

Look for firmer apples that will keep their shape when baked, Golden Delicious, Ida Red, Empire or Cortland. Or try adding pears or blueberries!

Apple Cheesecake Squares
Graham Cracker Crust:
1 cup graham crack crumbs
1/4 C honey

1/4 C butter
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix crust ingredients together. Press into a lightly greased 9" x 9" pan. Bake for 10 minutes, or until golden around the edges. Remove and let cool.

Cream Cheese Layer:
1 pkg cream cheese
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 t vanilla
Whip until smooth with electric beaters. Pour over cooled crust.

Apple Layer:
4 large apples, peeled and sliced
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 t cinnamon
1/4 cup sliced almonds
Mix sugar, cinnamon and sprinkle over sliced apples. Arrange apples over the cheese layer. Sprinkle with almonds. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Cool and chill before serving.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Rake Leaves in a "Snap"

fall leaves
Arguably, the best part of fall is the beautiful colours.... unless they are on your lawn!

Bagging leaves by yourself can be a frustrating chore. Trying to get the leaves from the pile into the bag can take some creative maneuvering. Leave them too long, and the leaves may be wet and rotting, making the task even dirtier!

If you have some beautiful trees that like to share their wealth in the fall, consider purchasing the Magic Ring. This handy little gadget can be big-time useful. Snap it open, pop it in the top of the bag, and you're ready to go. Ta-da! The bag stays upright and open!

Magic Ring can be found at Canadian Tire and Home Hardware for only $7.99.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The First Frost - Out With the Old & In With the New.. BULBS!

Now that we've had a few good frosts, don't forget to plant your spring bulbs. In warmer climates, there is still time - 6 weeks before the ground freezes is the guideline I have found.

Tulips don't like wet feet, and they prefer sunny locations. Fluff the soil, and plant bulbs together in clusters 6-10 inches deep with the pointy ends up. The deeper the bulbs, the hardier, but later they will bloom.

Pink Cactus DahliaNow is also the time to dig up your dahlias. Dahlias add brilliant colour and variety to gardens, but they can be costly to purchase. Saving them in the fall lets you enjoy their beauty year after year.

Once the first frost has nipped the tops off, dig up the bulbs and brush the soil off. Dusting them with powdered sulfur will protect them from insects and disease. Store them in a paper bag in a cool, dry place. Consider labelling the bag with the colour, so you'll know what you have in the spring.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Does Your Yard Get an "F" for Grade?

correct yard grade
Your yard may have a failing grade if it slopes towards your house. This can cause water to pool near your foundation, leading to damage and even basement flooding.

I suspect this was my problem. In some areas, I had 10-12 inches difference in depth from my foundation to the ground a couple metres away from the wall.

If you have a poorly graded yard, you might want to consider fixing it before the ground freezes. By spring, it will be saturated with melting frost, snow, and rain, leaving little opportunity for correction.

To fix the grade:
  1. Measure the area that you need to fix and calculate how much dirt you will need. The landscaping supply company I consulted suggested 1 cubic yard to cover 100 square feet 3 inches deep. To give you a better idea of quantity, I ordered 6 cubic yards and this filled about about half of a dump truck.
  2. Most places will deliver. Consider ordering more if you have plans for future landscaping (flowerbeds, gardens, lawn top dress, etc.), then you can save on the delivery charge.
  3. Put a tarp down for under the soil. Not only does this make easy cleanup, but it will allow you to place all the dirt exactly where you want it. If you are home when the truck arrives and it's possible, have them dump it closes to where you need it. It will save a lot of back-breaking work!
  4. Start throwing dirt! Build up the area closest to your house, gradually creating a slope away from the house. Be sure to pack the dirt down as you go.
  5. Leave the dirt to settle for a few days, then check back (preferably after a rain) to see if you need to add more. Aim for a 2-3 inch drop per 10 feet.
  6. Don't forget to look under decks and porches for problems. We had to remove several boards off of my deck, dump the dirt in by wheelbarrow and rake it out further under the deck.

Finally, be sure that all your eaves and drain pipes are clear of debris and angled away from the house. Consider attaching an extension tile or pipe to carry water further away from the house.

If you need to fix the whole yard, you may want to hire a pro. Here is an article that details this further.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Moxie Trades Takes on the Dragons Tonight

Marissa McTasney shared her experience launching Moxie Trades, work boots and apparel for tradeswomen, with the group at Ladies Who Launch. Tonight she'll enter the "Dragon's Den" to pitch her idea to the venture capitalists.

Be sure to watch on CBC at 8:00pm EST.
Then get your own pair of Moxie Trades "Betsy" work boots today! Women's Pink Work Boot Size 9

Saturday, October 18, 2008

My blog's reason for being

Since buying a house almost a year ago, I have been plagued by a sort of buyer's regret - I wish I'd known...., Why didn't I ask..., How come I didn't see that..., If only I'd realized...

After attending the Toronto Ladies Who Launch BYOB (that's Be Your Own Boss for all you who are thinking Saturday afternoon BBQ like I was) a few weeks ago, I have been searching for a blog or website devoted to women owning homes. Thus far, I have been unsuccessful. Does anyone know of a good one?

So, this morning over a steaming mug of herbal tea (because I have again run out of coffee), I decided to document my adventures in this blog. Most of the 'how-to' I have learned has been from friends and family, so I hope to pass some of this wisdom along for others. Afterall , according to Single Women Buy Homes, Too, Elizabeth Weintraub:
  • More than one in five home buyers is a single woman.
  • Twice as many unmarried women are buying homes than single men.
  • Single women make up more than one-third of the growth in real estate ownership since 1994.

Surely, there are more chicks like me out there with burning questions about how to fix everything from a leaky faucet to a leaking basement (yes, I have both) who are not easily finding the answers through Google or Yahoo.

So here we go! Come back often and share this with all your homeowning friends!