Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Hosting a Summer Party

Wildflower Centerpieces at
Living in the heart of Niagara's wine region, it was only appropriate I propose hosting a wine tour for my close friend's bachelorette party this coming weekend. As you know, this is the 'summer of love' and with that comes a wealth of wedding-related events, but this is the first I'm hosting myself and I'm excited to not only "wine and dine" the bride, but all my friends in proper Niagara fashion!

Aside from the water running over the big rock (maybe you've heard of it - Niagara Falls?), this area is abound with beauty; from the bright produce on roadside stands to the dark, blue lake against the setting sun and beautiful vineyards resting beneath the vast Escarpment, I am thrilled to showcase what I love most about Niagara. Including, the culture and charm of our local watering establishments!

Of course, I would be lying if I said the idea of throwing a summer party wasn't exciting alone for this domestic diva! In between life's hectic schedule, I have been cleaning like a woman possessed. It's incredible how driven a woman with visions of sangria, BBQ kabobs and wildflower centerpieces can be after arriving home at 8:30pm to house left alone to 2 cats for a weekend!

I feel much better tonight after a whirlwind of rags, Comet and dustpans, but I am still planning to take Friday afternoon off to be sure I am ready to invite fifteen women into my home for an afternoon and evening. After all, ideally we'll be having a BBQ and my lawn still needs cut. Today's near-tropical storm prevented this once again.

The remainder of my 'big plans' for this weekend's party follow, but only time will reveal whether I actually get them done.

Cake Pops! This is something I REALLLLLY want to do for the party, but I just don't think I have time. Bakerella has great step-by-step tips, and I already have a game plan to eliminate a few, but on Wednesday, I don't have a cake yet or icing, nor the chocolate or sticks. Time is running out!

Dump Run OK, it's not really critical, but I did spend a good hour cleaning my basement tonight, and I would love, love, LOVE to get rid of the nasty fouton before I suggest people set a mattress up next to it for sleeping.

Flower Beds They are an ongoing love affair, because I am never satisfied! I trimmed back some spring perennials this week and am irritated by the naked look. Unfortunately, after a hair appointment and eating out this evening, I don't have the cash in my jars for more plants.

Wildflower Hunt & Centerpiece Building The latter won't be too complex, because I am blessed with the ability to arrange flowers thanks to my very talented Grandmother. Finding them, may be another story because again, I just don't have a spare hour to drive around the backroads hunting them down!

Monday, July 27, 2009

If I Ever Do a Giveaway...

Hamilton Beach Brew Station - press and fillHamiltonBeach Brew Station coffee maker
If I ever have a following large enough to do a giveaway, this will be the first one!! I am relaxing at my aunt's house in Grand Bend for a couple of days with my mother, kind of like a mini-holiday, and my aunt has a Hamilton Beach Brew Station coffee maker. Sooooo cool!

Brew the coffee, press the button and voila! Your cup is full! I love it!

On the coffee maker front, I have actually been sans-coffee perk for several months now, since my carafe cracked in the sink one day. Keeping my eyes open for a carafe at Value Village and garage sales, I am still resorting to Instant Coffee, because I haven't been able to find a new carafe and I don't believe I NEED a new coffee maker right now. Holding out for a new carafe might have paid off though, because my aunt unloaded a box of leftover garage sale items (read: not sold junk) to me. Included in the box? A new carafe! The test will be on when I get home to see if it fits my coffee perk. I will also be sure to snap some shots of some of the other goodies for you.. seriously, there's a few mugs that are so ugly they're worth it!

Do you have any favourite kitchen gadgets or appliances?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Wedding Fever - Keeping it Within the Budget

Over the past couple months, my life has been consumed by pre-wedding celebrations - Stag & does (or buck & does, jack & jills, or 'socials' for the Manitobians), showers and bachelorette parties. I am now in the midst of the season itself; two wonderful weddings over and five left to go!

After all the tears and photos, cake and dancing, I am waking up Sunday mornings smiling for my friends' milestone occasion, then bracing myself for the next weekend's affair. It's not the challenge of finding the right thing to wear (I have great friends with great dresses), it's the attention to budget that is really testing my shopaholic's inner strength.

Knowing I would never get through July on the positive end of my budget without some strict parameters, I started the jars (see earlier post). I also budgeted out every last 'wedding cost' for the month, or so I thought. What I am realizing however, is all the 'extras' I hadn't accounted for - stag & doe tickets for other friends, dinners en route, cards, and emergency 'fix-it' supplies when my hair/dress/other falls down/rips/breaks. My miscellaneous jar isn't that big!

Frugal wrapping idea - use brown paper for a gift cake
Looking for frugal gifting ideas that don't come across cheap takes some effort. I was ultra impressed at last night's celebration by this creative wrapping. Such a simple idea, yet it looks so charming! If this were my wedding, I'd be so impressed with the presentation that I'd likely pay less attention to its contents!

While I'd like to make my own cards at least, I have not found the time, so I've resorted to the dollar store. Truthfully, Dollarama does have some cards as nice as Hallmark, and as long as the cash is inside, does the card really matter after all?

With another bachelorette and wedding upcoming next weekend, I'm committing to finding more ways to save without sacrificing style. I'll let you know how I make out. Also, watch for a post with some of my "Naughty & Nice" bachelorette plans. In the meantime, let me know if you have any wedding-saver strategies, funky gift ideas or similar.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Budgeting by Jars

MY jars for budgeting
I am now in my second week using the "Jar Method", made popular on Gail Vaz-Oxlade's "Til Debt Do Us Part". Thus far, I think I am doing okay. I've managed to stay 'within the jars', and I have taken my credit cards out of my wallet to reduce the urge to spend when I don't have the cash.

I started planning for my jars by reviewing my budget for the past four months and looking closely at my 'necessary' variable costs. These are the things I spend money on that I can't live without. By 'can't', I mean for a comfortable existence, these are realistic expenditures. Sure, I could plan to completely put my social life on hold until I have more money, but it wouldn't be reasonable. I just need to be more budget conscious about what I spend when I go out.

I decided on four jars - fuel, groceries, miscellaneous (for makeup, cat food, etc.) and social. I planned my spend bi-monthly, so I can still have a wild week but know the next week will be extremely tame.

Thus far, it is working well, although there have been a few 'hiccups'. Since I literally keep the cash in jars on my counter, I have to remember to grab the money when I need it. For example, I completely forgot to get my fuel money the other day. Not able to return home (because I needed fuel), I used debit and left the cash in the jar for next week.

Another challenge - sticking to my social jar. Especially since I started rowing, I am going out 'for a beer' often. This really adds up! With three weddings this month, and everything that goes with them - showers, stag and does, stagettes - I need to be really conservative in other areas of my life. Surprisingly, it becomes much easier to decline a dinner invitation when there is no money in the jar left to go.

Finally, I decided to budget for all my weddings (and everything related) separately and left that money in the bank. I withdraw this cash when I need it, but if I don't spend it all, I put it into the 'snowflake jar'. All my excess coins and change also go into the snowflake jar. When it's full, I'm going to deposit it and pay down my credit card.

You can check out more advice from Gail on her site - or I also found the blog, The Money Jar Budget - Get Debt-Free, which explains the money jar concept in more detail. Let me know, have you had success with the jars or another budgeting technique?

Monday, July 6, 2009

Refreshing Iced Tea Recipe

Homemade Frozen Iced Tea Mix
On a hot summer day (which we have not had enough of yet), there is nothing more refreshing, or nostalgic for me, than a tall glass of iced tea. As it seems, I share this sentiment with many others; the current poll on asks for readers favourite summer drink. Thus far, Iced tea is the most popular choice, beating out beer, lemonade, slushy daiquiris and pina coladas.

Finally into the summer swing of things, I decided to whip up a batch of frozen iced tea mix this weekend. I remember my mother making big tubs and freezing them when I was growing up. Not seeing the need to add water, I used to steal the tubs and eat the mix with a spoon. It really is yummy, but I now opt for mixing it with water as it was originally intended!

Here is the recipe if you'd like to try it out for yourself! It's very easy and will last this savvy, single homegirl all summer!

Frozen Iced Tea Mix

1 24oz unsweetened lemon juice
4 C sugar (I only used 2)
1 C cold water
10 teabags (I used 8) seeped in 3 cups of boiling water

Steep tea for 10-15 minutes (or longer depending on desired strength - I think you can use fewer teabags if you steep longer also). Stir in sugar until dissolved. Add cold water and lemon juice. Freeze or refrigerate.

1 inch of mix (I tablespoon) + cup water for iced tea. I just mix to taste.

I have yet to try it yet, but I think this would be great with a shot of rum and coke for a different version of Long Island Iced Tea!

Do you have any favourite summer drinks?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Canada Flag Reflection in Water Drop by John Gillett, Special to The Hamilton Spectator
Happy Birthday Canada!!

This isn't house related - but I already wrote one of those posts today, so bear with me.

In the past week, I've read numerous blogs, articles and tweets displaying Canadian pride, celebrating our national identity and defining what it means to be Canadian. Many times, I can relate completely to these tales. 

One radio broadcast stands out in my mind particularly from earlier this week, when the announcer told stories of our incredible "politeness". It is SO true. In all my travels, which I admit usually only as international as the United States, I have yet to encounter a nation of people as kind and considerate. Canadians will excuse, forgive, request, and thank others until they are blue, or more appropriately - red, in the face. I have a friend that apologizes for everything, even if I ran over her foot, it would inevitably be her fault. Myself, I thank everyone for everything. Believe me, folks do not always deserve the praise I feel inclined to provide for every phone conversation, customer service and dentist visit.

This is undeniably part of our identity. We are a polite nation, and I think this is an incredible trait to be proud of. 

Finally, the New York Times had a great read on their website today - Our True North is 11 Canadians' stories of what they miss most about Canada now that they live in the U.S.

What do you feel makes us uniquely Canadian?