Friday, June 26, 2009

How to Get a Lower Cable Bill

I have read numerous times, you should complain when you are dissatisfied with the cost of your services with a high likelihood you'll be granted discounts to prevent cancellation. Until this week, I had never tried my luck at this. It is worth it to call!

Since adding home telephone to my services, my bill has been over $100 a month. Always looking for ways I can cut costs, because I am still incredibly tight on cash, I decided to cancel my cable TV. It was only the basic package, but I can not remember the last time I watched TV, and I don't get half the channels I'd like to anyway (Food Network, TLC, etc.)

I stated both of these reasons to Cogeco when I called their Customer Service line - not enough use and lack of funds. Braced for a bit of a battle, as we've all experienced with telephone / cable / energy companies, I was met with quite the opposite response from the other end of the line. Concerned I would cancel a service due to cost, the rep offered several discounts that brought my bill back down to pre-telephone levels. The discount amounted to about $25, nearly as much as I would have saved if I'd cancelled cable, but I still kept all my services. The promotion is good for a year.

It definately goes to show sometimes you just have to speak up and ask, er rather, complain. Have you got any great discounts by contacting the company?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The First Bounty From my Garden!

Freshly picked spinach They're here - fresh veggies from my garden! After a week of rain, and somewhat warm temperatures (I'm in Ontario's 'banana belt' remember), my garden is overflowing with spinach and radishes ready to eat!

I've had fresh spinach salad everyday this week, and I brought it along to a pot luck last night also. There is something incredibly.. wholesome about going out to the garden to pick your dinner. I especially like that after quickly brushing and rinsing the remaining soil off, they're ready to eat!

My salads are usually the result of randomly selecting from the veggies, fruits, cheeses in my fridge and seeds and nuts in my pantry. For spinach in particular, try some of the following combinations.

  • Strawberries, toasted almonds, mushrooms, and goat cheese with Kraft Olive Oil Fig Balsamic dressing
  • Dried cranberries, blue cheese, sunflower seeds and grilled, strips of steak with Renee's Asian Sesame or Japanese Ginger dressing
  • Carrots, tomatoes, ham and sliced, hard-boiled eggs with Thousand Island DressingBowl of freshly picked, clean radishesTray of radishes from my garden

I grew up eating radishes in summer. I planted them this year, because my mom always planted them in her garden. They are easy to grow, and you get a huge crop from only a small package of seed. They are a summer staple on my parents' lunch table, even if they are only ate raw with a light sprinkle of salt.

Now, as I pull basket after basket from the ground, I'm challenged to find uses for radishes in my cooking. I was surprised to find they hold up well in stir-fry. I tossed a few slices in a thai-style stir fry near the end to add a bit of kick, and they still maintained their crunchiness. Most recipes I've found, are for salads, however.

Do you have any recipes or uses for radishes? What about other summer veggies?

Monday, June 22, 2009

My Travel Essentials

Packing is easy when you roll your clothes
My week-long stint in Regina has come to an end, and while I am always sad to leave the west, I was anxious to get back home to my own bed and house. I definitely needed a week away to recharge my 'work battery', and on that front, the week was an absolute success. Our team worked together seamlessly to put on a fantastic show. Work? Not with a good team and great people!

Being prepared for a week of travel, whether work or leisure, definitely contributes a lot to my personal sense of success also. On the flight to Regina, I noticed a weblink entitled 'travel-ready you' in my Homemakers magazine- I know what you're thinking, and yes, I read this magazine. For a $10 subscription, I love the recipes and having a great, little read.

With a bit of time to kill when I got to my hotel room, I checked out the magazine's list of 10 travel essentials on their website. This got me thinking about my 'must-haves' for travel. Afterall, I spend so much time boarding planes, in hotel rooms, and navigating the country's major and not-so-major cities, I certainly have some items I won't leave home without.

Savvy Homegirl's Voyaging Must-Haves

  1. iPod. I don't leave home without it, ever. Drown out screaming babies, nasty-sniffly passengers, and obnoxious loud-talkers on the plane with your own music selection or use the headphones for the seat-back TVs. I also can not run without it.

  2. Running shoes & workout clothes. Combined with my iPod, I can squeeze in exercise anywhere, hotel gym or not. Running or walking outside is also a fantastic way to get to know the city your visiting. Ask the front desk for suggestions, especially if you're not comfortable in the area of the city. This is how I discovered the 'gem' of Regina - Wascana Park. A trip to Regina isn't complete for me if I don't run around the lake at least once.

  3. Flip flops for summer, crocks for winter. After 8 hours on your feet at a trade show, I need some comfy shoes I can slip into, even if its just to bum around my hotel room.

  4. Snacks. Open my carry-on bag, and you are guaranteed to find at least some homemade granola or trail mix and apples. Why pay for over-priced airport snacks when you can bring your own and know you're eating healthy? Once I'm at my destination, they give me a boost before a morning run and I stash some in my purse to curb the meeting cookie and pastry break cravings. Just remember - no liquids over 100mL or grams (ie. yogurt)!

  5. Travel mug. I just recently started bringing my own mug. I have become accustomed to taking my coffee with me in the morning, so this gives me a little bit of home while I'm on the road. I fill up for free before leaving the hotel, and I save $1.59 and at least 15 minutes getting a morning "Tim's" before my meeting or event. Having that additional 15 minutes this week definitely saved me some morning stress.

  6. An extra, zippered bag that's tough enough to withstand the airport luggage system. I have a bad habit of stuffing my suitcase full, so I don't have room for any 'extras' I pick up while away. An extra bag, like a tote that zips closed, can be folded up easily and packed, but provides another option when I can't jam my suitcase closed or I want to reduce my carry-on 'load'.

  7. Two "extra" outfits - one polished and professional for any unexpected opportunities to make a great first impression and one, swanky evening outfit. So many times, I have been without the 'right' clothes or shoes when invited to a reception or dinner unexpectedly. Having the extra outfits or incorporating them into my planned wardrobe ensures I am always dressed confidently and not pressured to buy a new outfit just because I didn't bring the right clothes.

  8. Unique bag tags, ribbons or luggage itself. I received Samsung luggage several years ago that is tan and silver. No one else has it (that I've seen on the luggage carousel yet), so it makes spotting bags easy. When I do check a plain, black bag, I tie on a bright ribbon and affix my unique luggage tags. Then I can stand back and spot my bag from a distance, as opposed to being one of those morons that crowd the carousel (this is my biggest pet peeve, EVER).

  9. A big shoulder bag. As a carry-on, this is my purse. It's big enough to put in my laptop, electronic gadgets, wallet and some snacks. Then I can stash my computer bag overhead and keep my purse on the floor with everything I need for the flight within arm's reach. It is also big enough to stow a file folder and water bottle for transit between hotel / meetings / events. A smaller, evening purse can be tossed in your luggage if its going to be needed.

  10. My Garmin. I actually bought my Garmin while travelling, because I was fed up with driving around lost in an unfamiliar city. Now, I take it everywhere with me. Why give yourself the extra stress? But beware - on country roads and rural areas, it may not be as accurate.

Any travel essentials you can't leave home without?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

I Hit A Deer.. YIKES!

Smashed Jetta hood after hitting a deer
Warning - if you really like animals, you may not want to read this.

I had a bit of a scary start to my day today. I left from my parents' house bright and early this morning to head to the airport. It was just after 5:30am (I said bright and EARLY), and it was a gorgeous morning. I got to take in another sunrise (I posted photos of Saturday's in the slide show), and I was feeling pretty awake considering the short night and time of day.

I was only a couple miles from home when a baby deer crossed the road in front of me. Aware Jetta windshield after hitting a deerthere may be more, I slowed a little and BAM! I realized what happened just in time to see the deer come down on my windshield and into the ditch.

I think this moment when you realize what is going on, is the moment adrenaline takes over. My composure was incredible as I pulled over off the road, surveyed the damage and called my parents. Afterall, my flight was leaving in 3 hours! I needed to take care of this situation pronto!

Some things to know if you hit a deer (and probably a moose or other large creature):

- It's an accident and must be reported to the police in order to be covered under insurance.

- Write everything down immediately while its fresh in your mind: weather, time, speed, exact details of what happened and where. I believe its common to forget the 'details', even shortly after, so write it down.

- In Ontario, you are not responsible for the dead animal, as I mistakenly thought. It will be taken care of either by Mother Nature or the municipality. Thank goodness.. but this may differ by province.

- Don't panic and try to avoid swerving as you may lose control.
- Again, keep your eyes open. Where there is one, there is usually two!

- It happens to everyone, and it is unavoidable. The police officer told my parents that 5/7 accidents he attended last month were collisions with deer.

Until now, I have never hit anything except a skunk a couple weeks back. The sheer force of the impact and whole situation left me jolted. I was a little paranoid the rest of the way to the airport when I drove by any treed area, and some ridiculous tension has now set into my neck and upper back.

Needless to say, this was not the way I planned to start my travel this week. Luckily, the police officer understood my hasty retreat to the airport (courtesy of my mom's car - she's AWESOME!), and I made my flight with no less than a few minutes to spare for a quick pit stop. Now to enjoy a week in sunny Regina!
Drive safe!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Good Bye Bees and Other Randomness

Bees are gone! Strangely, we do not know where they went! My neighbours had not heard back from the beekeeper they contacted, but when we got home from work this evening, the nest was gone. Looks like it was cut from the hedge, and very carefully at that. There is barely a sign it was there!

As it turns out, Niagara Region is experiencing a severe shortage of bees! An article posted to the local news lately, tells of the bees disappearing from the wild, possibly due to the fruit crop sprays. I can't help but feel it somewhat disheartening and a little ironic even... the fruit and grape growers depend on the bees to pollinate their crops but the sprays they use are killing the bees. While I am certainly a proponent of conventional agriculture (vs organic), I must admit fruit requires A LOT of spray to prevent the diseases and pests the sacrifice that 'perfect' looking peach. I have seen so many 'misty' fields driving to work in the summers, I will not eat any fruit now before it is washed. But I digress...

Back to the bees. I can only assume they have gone to one of these bio secure hives to hopefully thrive as well or better than they were in my hedge.

On another note, I became one step closer to being a crazy cat lady today. I bought collars for my cats. GASP.. yes, I hate admitting it actually. However, since I have started letting them outside regularly, I think it's a necessity. I worried all weekend, after not being able to find Fergie Satuday morning, I left him outside and drove up north. What is someone stole my precious cat ??! Seriously - he's the well behaved one! Now, when they go for a stroll through the neighbourhood, everyone will know where they belong!

I Have Bees! Yikes!

Wasp nestCheck out this little treasure I discovered in my backyard this weekend! If you have never seen one before, this is none other than a HUGE wasp nest. All those little brown things, those are wasps. Yes, that is correct. Those long, skinny bees, with even longer and nastier stingers!

I had a small nest under the garage roof overhang I knocked down earlier this spring, and it appears that the creatures decided to take up residence elsewhere. This is in the hedge directly beside my vegetable garden. YIKES!

I was ready to arm myself with aerosol wasp-killing foam today to take care of them tonight when I get home. The key is to wait until its cooler in the evenings, because the wasps go inside the nest and are less active. My neighbours may already have taken care of the problem however. They left me a note about calling a beekeeper to come for the nest. Do beekeepers look after wasps? I guess I'll find out when I get home tonight!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Plants to Use and Plants to Avoid for a Cat Garden

This is another gardening post. Of late, I hope my readers enjoy gardening, or at least hearing about my experiences, because that seems to be all I have been writing about! What can I say? I like being outdoors. When you live in town, you are kind of limited to your yard or the park, and I don't know about you, but the seats on the swing set are much smaller now than they used to be!

As my rock garden has started to progress (I pulled/killed the weeds, turned the soil and dumped the rocks in a pile tonight), I have been looking up ideas for plants to add. Particularly, plants that my cats will enjoy. While there is the obvious - cat grass (which is really oats) and can nip (or cat mint), I have discovered a few more that appear popular. Alyssium, Heather and Creeping Rosemary have all been suggested, via Luckily, most are also pretty hardy, so they should grow well in the boggy, shaded corner I'm converting.

While doing some investigation, I thought it might be wise to also check out the toxic plants before I head to the nursery for my purchases. There is a great photo gallery here that shows some common, toxic plants. I guess I'll be avoiding ivy, which was originally in my 'rock garden' plan to cover the fence. I would prefer to avoid dealing with my pets' upset tummies, comas or death!