Sunday, May 31, 2009

Picking Stones - Then & Now

For as long as I can remember, with spring came undeniably the worst job of farming - picking stones. Literally, exactly as glamourous as it sounds, my parents would drag us out to the field (kicking and screaming was very common) to remove the large stones and therefore, reduce the possibility of damaging equipment later during planting and harvest.
There are probably 100 years worth of rocks on this pile
Today, after successfully avoiding this task for several years, I again found myself picking rocks. This time, it was by my own choice as I carefully selected the rocks that will form a new rock garden in my backyard. I think it is so ironic, after years of picking stones from the fields and dumping them on piles outside the fields, I now pick the rocks back off the piles and bring them to the city!

Despite having several piles around my parents' farm, my mom and I discovered our neighbour's huge pile last summer when we were building her rock garden. The pile has been used for several decades as the dumping grounds for the field rocks, and it is by far the biggest pile I have ever seen. It is also full of wonderful rocks!
My future rock garden
Limited to what I could lift, I gathered an array of stones for my yard in only half an hour. The cool, weekend weather also made it an ideal day for hunting through the pile, because it meant avoiding the other creatures that call it home, particularly, snakes! I have stumbled across my fair share of them in piles while growing up. Nothing more than harmless garter snakes, but they still make my skin crawl, nonetheless. Ick.. I've got the willies just thinking about it right now!

Luckily (or unluckily if you are picking them), farming anywhere near the Niagara Escarpment produces a regular and plentiful crop of new rocks every year. Limestone is common along the Escarpment, and due to its softness, it easily erodes over time into unique and eye-appealing formations. My brother is renting a farm now that has an overwhelming number of these unique stones, in all sizes. They would be any landscapers dream, so we think there is a great opportunity to make some money off of them. Unfortunately, while there are many farmers with ample quantities of rocks to share, I do not know any that have been able to turn this into a business venture. Do you? Does anyone know how to go about selling a skid of 'fancy rocks'? Is anyone looking for rock yourself?

Friday, May 29, 2009

Savvy Cargirl - How to Buy a Car

Thinking about buying a new car in the next couple of months? Perhaps, you just recently purchased a new set of wheels? How was the buying process? Were you prepared? Did you feel comfortable?

As much as I do not want to think about it, I am soon going to fall into the first category. In fact, I already do, particularly every time I take my car for an oil change and pick it up at the end of the day with an additional $500 in work. It always seems to be brake-related also - why is that? I can't help but get it fixed right away! Brakes are important!

Anyway, back to buying a car. Most women find this to be a very stressful process, myself included, and with just cause. How many times have you walked into a car lot to be ignored, disrespected, or worse yet, felt taken advantage of? Enter: Cars N Finance.

This seminar for women was hosted last night by our local Honda dealer in cooperation with a financial coach, who also happens to be a single mom. While the seminar did have some obvious bias, I did learn some very important items to consider when purchasing a car.
  • Depreciation. We all hear about it, but I didn't realize that only a handful of manufacturers actually have depreciation rates less than the national average. Those 'luxury brands' - BMW, Lexis and Cadillac ? They may have a high resale, but they still depreciate faster than average. By factoring in the depreciation over the period you plan to own the vehicle, you are able to calculate the real cost of the car. Brands to look at that depreciate slower than the national average? Toyota, Honda, Acura and Volkswagen, among others. Check out "That Bargain may not be a deal come resale" for more.
  • Critical Illness Payment Insurance. There are all sorts of insurances you can purchase that guarantee your payments will be covered should something happen leaving you unable to work or make them yourself. Why is Critical Illness particularly important? 1 in 3 women that purchase it, end up making a claim on it (according to the financial coach)!! Wow! Does it worry anyone else more that cancer, MS, and other terminal diseases are that prevalent in today's society? Yikes!
  • Do your research. It's kind of a no-brainer, but I bet there are more of us out there that make our decision before really comparing our options and the true cost of the vehicle. What features do you really need and what can't you live without? How does fuel mileage compare? Insurance payments? Make a chart of your likes and dislikes, then start comparing your options to see what fits.

There were some important points I think were missed in the seminar. For obvious reasons, they pushed the value of extended warranty. Myself, I believe extended warranty is primarily a revenue-generator for businesses. I once saw an upside-down bell curve of the percentage likelihood of product failures. The majority occurred within the first year or after ten years. Using that justification, you could assume that in most cases if your product fails, an extended warranty would not offer you protection anyway. You would either be covered already (within the first year) or the extended warranty would be over. I think the particular article I read referred to electronics, but nevertheless, its an interesting concept to ponder.

Especially, since extended warranty does not cover normal wear and tear. When I look back on the life of my 8 year old Jetta, most of my major expenditures have been breaks, belts and tires. All would fall under normal wear and tear, or would not have been within the allowable extended warranty time frame.

The takeaway? Seriously consider if you will get any value out of the extended warranty! Worried about being stranded on the side of the road? Get CAA. It's probably a smaller investment, and I have found year after year, it pays for itself through use and peace of mind! Plus you can get great travel deals also!

Happy Car Shopping!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Busting the Monday Rut Midweek with Lobster!

We are well approaching three days into this work-week, yet Enjoying my lobster at homeI absolutely feel like it is still Monday. I admit, this may be my first full week in the office in some time, but must it drag by so painfully slow! I can not even claim to be bored, because my task list is growing daily!

Perhaps this is why last night seemed to act as a final send-off to the weekend (and my Charlottetown visit). My friends and I have been going for tapas (mini entrees) pretty regularly, but we decided to get together at my house to enjoy the lobster that returned to Niagara with me. While catching up on the past two week's gossip, we devoured lobster, fresh fruit and wine bottle tailings- I learned this word on my wine tour. It refers to the leftover wine in a barrel after bottling. I don't see why it could not apply to a bottle also... leftovers when you open a bottle and don't drink it at once, but I digress....

So, I brought 4 pounds of lobster back with me from Charlottetown. It saddens me to think that I paid nearly $10 for the box and packaging just to bring $35 worth of lobster home. I should've brought so much more back! It is unbelievable how cheap lobster is right now in the Maritimes. You can buy it at the dock, from the fishermen for $3.50. Sadly, this is barely enough for the fishermen to stay in business.
I decided to purchase mine, precooked from a market- $6.99 per lb (still way cheaper than the grocery store)! If you're ever in Charlottetown, check out the Water-Prince Corner Shop or MacKinnon's on the Lobster Wharf. Both markets will package for travel and can accommodate for checked luggage or carry-on. If you are planning to eat the lobster as soon as you return home, you can buy raw or 'live'. This is a cheaper option, but it should be cooked within 24 hours. Precooked lobster is good for several days refrigerated, and it is a better option for longer travel or if you can't fancy the idea of putting a live lobster into a boiling pot of water. This freaked me out a little, I will admit! $1.50 nut crackers from Dollarama, and a dish of melted butter and you're ready to go!

My deck and patio areaI also want to give a little garden update this morning. I had mentioned the removal of patio stones, and you can see from the photo on the left, they are now gone and stacked next to garage. You can also see my whole deck (*for you, MI!).
New flowerbed on west side of house
Some of the patio stones went into retaining walls for flower beds, like the new bed on the west side of my house where I am waiting for the grass seed to sprout.

Columbine Perennial Flower Finally, I was also really excited to see the Columbine Perennials out in full blown when I returned home! These flowers are definitely one of my very favourites! Even my garden has sprouted up nicely. This is despite an extra load of topsoil dumped on top of my little seedlings, generously by my neighbour. Radishes are coming up good, while the peas and beans have also sprouted up. The spinach and carrots have just started to sprout, so hopefully the rain this week will help speed up that process.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Good Morning from Prince Edward Island

Anne of Green Gables Park

Good morning from sunny Prince Edward Island! It is true, I am travelling again, but this time in my favourite province for decor inspiration! I love the maritimes, and my bright, pink choice for my front porch muskoka chair is one hundred percent credited to the bright, Acadian flair of the East Coast!

Though I have travelled this region several times, I took advantage of the opportunity to do the "touristy" stuff yesterday, including the famous "Green Gables"! This was my first trip to the famous homestead of the fictional character, and the weather could not have been better. The homestead has been restored to resemble L.M. Montgomery's depiction in "Anne of Green Gables", and the gardens and wood surrounding the home are incredible! It is funny to hear the islanders' comment that many visitors ask to see Anne's "real house" and her grave - "She's not real!!!" They frequently disclaim!

Kayaks at North Rustico HarbourUnfortunately, touring on a bus does not allow sufficient justice to capture the beautiful island scenery, complete with the brightly painted, cedar shake coastal homes, otherwise I'd post more pictures. The Green Gables park and kayaks at North Rustico Harbour (coming this afternoon when my hotel Internet cooperates better) will have to do for now.

Have a great weekend, and I can't wait to see my own gardens when I return home this weekend!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Friends' Homes Make Good Holidays for this Single Girl!

Coffee Mug by Chris Galfi
Another long weekend is over. Today will certainly be long and painful as I try to adjust back to 'work mode'.

Among other things (yard-work, patios and BBQ parties), I spent some quality time vegging out at a friend's house this weekend. I love these weekends! With nowhere to go and no responsibility, these days are like mini vacations for me! This is especially true when my friends have exceptional taste and great cooking! (Growing up in a Bed & Breakfast environment tremendously influences this also!)

First, I was treated to the most phenomenal egg and sausage english muffins for breakfast, then we lazed around for the remainder of the morning. Gabbing, dozing off and watching the food channel- what a way to spend a holiday?! After lunch, we enjoyed coffee out in the sun on her patio, then I read nearly an entire book! Despite a mild sunburn, it felt wonderful! I could never have enjoyed the same laziness at my own house. I would've felt I needed to be working outside, cleaning or doing something. To top it off, I had great company!!

Being able to get away to friends' houses whenever I please is definitely a luxury I don't appreciate enough. While I hope it not to be true, I have a feeling these visits would not be quite so frequent if I were not single. Good enough reason to stay single? It just may be!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

To Refinance or Not?

I will be the first to admit, that I have been a very irresponsible blogger this week. No post since Tuesday (and I actually wrote it Monday). Geez!

I have reasons though, and I think they are good ones! First, this week turned out to be insanely busy. We wrapped up Brownies and I went to my info night for rowing (that will be a rant for another day). I talked with my mortgage broker and met with a realtor, and I also went on a date (!! Pretty uneventful so not much to share even if this were THAT kind of blog)

I have spent a lot of time with my variable-rate-mortgage friends lately, and after hearing about their 3.25% rate for the umpteenth (I think that is a word that should only be said, not written), I was more than a little envious. My 5.76% rate doesn't look so hot, in comparison, so I called my broker this week to see what we could do about it. With prime below 2.5%, in some cases there is more merit in paying the penalty and getting the low rate.

Turns out, I am not one of these cases. Since I took a 5 year fixed rate, I am locked in for another 3 1/2 years (approximately), so I have not paid off enough of my mortgage (and therefore "own" enough) of it yet to justify the penalty. Also, since my rate is quite a bit higher than today's interest rates, the difference in lost interest to ING (yes, I have an "unmortgage") is pretty substantial. When it is all said and done, it would cost me $12,000 to payout my current mortgage. YIKES!

The good news I got this week? I don't have to upgrade my electrical right away!! This is something I have worried and thought about since I moved in. My neighbour and I got together with a realtor she knows one evening for a couple of drinks, and I asked him some questions about the value of upgrades, in terms of resale. I was also pleased to hear that the curb appeal of my house is great. Maybe it has become so familiar to me, I think it's blah? I am also going to hold off paving my driveway for now. It was extra exciting to hear that I can focus my energy (and finances) on finishing my basement and the little things inside my house!! Pink, striped office, here we come!

Have a safe and happy long weekend!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Backyard Makeover is Progressing!

Manic Monday? Not for this savvy homegirl! My first available Monday since I started leading Brownies (it's our last week and the wrap up party is later this week) proved to be very productive!

The temperature was surprisingly warm yesterday evening, so I took advantage of the chance to get some yard work done.

Scott's PatchmasterWith the weeds taking over the former sandbox area and bare patch on the west side where I regraded the yard in the fall, I put down some grass seed. Hopefully new grass will come up soon.

I used Scott's Patchmaster, after a recommendation from the guy at hardware store. The seed is mixed in with mulch and lint. It keeps the seed from blowing away, holds moisture until it can get started and deters the birds from eating it.

As a bonus, it's on sale this week at Home Hardware!

The Scott Patchmaster on my regraded areaMy previous attempt to seed the area was unsuccessful, because I used 'old' seed. Typically, grass seed loses its fertility after a year and will not germinate.

The infamous gravel pile I am starting to loatheRemember that pile of gravel? I am starting to wonder how many times you can move the same pile of dirt? I think twice is enough, but I still have some left! I spread some of it out around my garden, and am building up a pathway around the side of my garage.

My newest flowerbed framed by patio stonesI have also found a better home for my hideous patio stones - as retaining walls for new flower beds and my garden! Slowly, this area is starting to take shape!

Rows of peas and beans in my new gardenFinally, its funny what we learn from our parents. I had to laugh a little at myself as I waddled down my little garden rows, dropping seeds and lightly covering them over. I realized that this was the very way I would help my mom plant her garden was I was a toddler. Just like my mother, I stuck the seed packets onto stakes and tucked them under rocks at then end of my rows as markers. Hopefully with some good rain and sunshine this week, I'll have some little radishes, carrots, beans, peas and a half row of spinach (I'm not convinced I can keep it alive) poking up soon!

Since frost is threatening tonight, I decided not to transplant my beans and peas yet, which are now over a foot tall. That being said, I don't think we'll get frost, because the sky is too cloudy. That's another weather tip I learned on the farm - frost is more likely on a clear night.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

First Wine Tour of 2009!

Vineyard near Fielding Estates Winery outside Beamsville Spring in Niagara brings with it the start of a fifth season - wine touring season! Arguably, one of my favourite things about living here is the selection of wineries all around me. I can no longer bring myself to buy any wine that is not VQA (Vintners Quality Alliance - read more about it here ).

There are so many amazing wines in my backyard - Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet, Riesling (Niagara has the best), even Shiraz, and not to mention, Icewine - I can not justify to buy foreign wines. Maybe I do not have the most extensive wine taste yet, but I would rather buy directly from the winery and know the profits are going into their pockets and supporting our local economy.

Wine touring can often be done at no or a small charge, but you should plan to buy some wine. Most wineries waive tasting fees with the purchase of a bottle. At approximately, $15.00 per bottle, you are paying for not only the tastings but the whole winery experience.

Here are a few suggestions to make wine touring a memorable and great experience:

  1. Visit the 'little guys'. They are often less busy and more willing to provide you with their attention and ample tastings. Learning their 'story' is often as enjoyable as their wines, and the charm is absolutely unmistakable!
  2. Ask for the server's 'favourite'. They should know the wines in and out and sometimes will even provide you with a 'tasting' of something unreleased, brand new, or special reserve.
  3. New to vino culture? Tell the server. A good winery will be more than happy to explain wine, how to taste properly, what to look for and provide their recommendations.
  4. Bring crackers, snacks and a bagged lunch and either hire or designate a driver! All those little mouthfuls of wine will add up. Wine touring is not for the empty stomach, and you can not take in the whole experience if you're tipsy after your first stop!
  5. Go with friends and plan your purchases. If everyone loves a wine and wants to buy it, that is great, but it will also be far more affordable if you 'take turns buying'. Try to have at least one person purchase a bottle at each stop, but don't feel obligated at each winery, especially if you didn't love the wines yourself. Everyone likes something different, so with a group, there is a good chance this will just happen naturally.

Friday, May 8, 2009

My Message to Country 95.3 (and all other media that continues to refer to H1N1 as "swine flu")

Morning everyone!

This is not really home-related or related to my blog at all, so much as it is a rant about the media's ability to inform Canadian consumers. It is my belief consumers deserve to understand facts, and the media is responsible for portraying news accurately to ensure this happens. H1N1 is a prime example where poor judgement in naming the disease and information in the media led to incorrect, consequential perceptions among consumers.

So, this morning, I took it upon myself to send an email to the radio morning show I listen to while getting ready for work. It read as follows:

Good morning!

I listen every morning when I'm getting ready for work, and it was great to hear you guys back on this morning after your trip south.
I was getting frustrated though by the number of times you referred to H1N1 as "swine flu". I realize you have been away, but the name has officially been changed to H1N1.

Canada's pork industry has been faced with phenomenal hardships in the past year, and the initial, unfortunate naming of H1N1 as "swine flu" was yet another incredible blow to their business and industry. It led to mass confusion as consumers thought it could be caught from eating pork. Of course, this is not true as it is a viral disease.

The media needs to deliver an accurate message to Canadian consumers if the gap between 'farm to fork' is ever to be bridged, particularly in the GTA where this divide is larger than anywhere else. Please consider using the term H1N1 on the air. Canadian farmers thank you.

Proud dairy farmer, agriculture advocate and marketer

There have been numerous occasions I have been tempted to send my comments, concerns or thoughts to radio stations. I think its a testament to how good their show is if they can generate enough emotion in their listeners to engage them for a response.

Interestingly enough, I did not become overwhelmed with frustration. I just knew I had to address the oversight. I am passionate about accurately-informed consumers. It was my small duty for today in the ongoing challenge to inform Canada about where their food comes from.

What can you do today to fuel your passion? Happy Friday!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Yummy Snack Mix

You know when you find one of those super, awesome snacks that is so good, you can barely get your hand out of the container to put the lid back on?

I have found one (like any of us need another reason to snack?)! Struggling with the notion of baking sugar-loaded brownies or cookies for my Brownies' "Moving Up" Ceremony last night, I went searching for an alternative 'light snack'. Enter "snack mix" on All, and there it is- the first 5-star recipe on the list- Oat Snack Mix.

It was very easy to make with ingredients you have on hand, and the substitution options are endless! I substituted the chocolate-covered raisins for regular raisins and chocolate chips, and I omitted the nuts, in case there were any nut allergies in my group. I accidentally added the cranberries before I baked the mixture, and since the mix bakes for 45 minutes to get that crunchy texture, I had some very burnt cranberries! As a result, I was very happy to have used my stone pan, which scraped clean after a good rinse. I don't want to imagine the scrubbing that would have been required on my 'nonstick' cookie sheet.

While I admit, its not exactly sugar-free, or even low-sugar, the recipe is delicious! I found myself scooping crumbles off my stone pan, even as I headed out the door to my meeting! Too tempting to leave at home, I proceeded to snack on the leftovers all day at work today! I.T. was not impressed to find the sticky honey and chocolate mess on my keyboard and mouse!!

I meant to post a picture for you, but I ate most of it on my way home this evening, so I will have to make more (if my waist will allow it!)

Friday, May 1, 2009

Announcing the “Fill the Hat” Event to Help Whip Cancer!
Beyond a doubt, we have all been affected by cancer in our lifetime, whether through our friends and family, neighbours or personally.

Help Whip Cancer Fill the Hat EventThrough its Help Whip Cancer® campaign, The Pampered Chef® joins forces with the Canadian Cancer Society to raise awareness and funds for breast cancer education and early detection programs.

I am launching my own "Fill the Hat" Event to help raise $1000 for the fight against breast cancer.

Shop at my online store and 25% of sales will be donated to the Canadian Cancer Society. Additionally, you will also be entered in a weekly draw for great giveaways and for every purchase over $100, you will recieve a limited edition, "Help Whip Cancer" ribbon pin!

Available in May only, Pampered Chef has launched these fabulous, limited edition Help Whip Cancer pink products! Pink Dots Microfiber TowelsMini Pink ScraperPink Daisy Dessert Plates
Pampered Chef Favourites Recipe CardsPink Ribbon Cake Tester

Recipe and Note Card HolderHost your own “Pink Party” in May to support the Cancer Society and choose one of our exclusive Help Whip Cancer products at 60% off and be entered to win great gifts and prizes for you and your guests! You will also receive a limited edition recipe and note card holder when your show has $650 or more in sales!

Breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer in women with 1 in 9 women developing it in their lifetime. I am confident we can raise $1000 for the Canadian Cancer Society’s fight against breast cancer.

Watch SavvyHomegirl and my online store for weekly giveaways and "Fill the Hat" updates!!