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!