Sunday, January 31, 2010

What I Would Do With a Snow Day

This is taken driving west towards Montreal. The sun set behind this storm, which I drove into shortly after.

Winter driving never used to cause me to tense up and become stressed. Perhaps, this was because it was a practical requirement for growing up in the snow belt. You installed winter tires, under-coated your car and stashed bags of salt and extra boots in your trunk, and you were set until April.

More likely than not, some of that stress was relieved knowing that a winter storm often led to a snow day. Many a morning, I've laid under the warm covers at 6 am, waiting, hoping and praying for bus cancellations or school closures. I could comfortably predict, those mornings I couldn't see the barn from my farm house bedroom, I could stay in bed.

What I wouldn't give for snow days again! Not only do I live in the sub-tropic region of this province, but even the worst winter storms don't keep away the expectation of putting in a full day. Snow days 'bought' time. Everything was put on hold for a day (or days). Deadlines extended. Exams postponed. You were always guaranteed a week a season. Some winters, less, and when it was really a tough winter, more. One year, we stayed home for half of February.

A week stuck at home. No consequences and no recourse. No vacation time used and no paycheque withheld. I'd take it. I'd finally finish the 'odd jobs'. I'd build my table and finish my office in one, foul sweep. I'd put away the 'piles' in every room, finally scrapbook wedding photos and wash my curtains. I could get a lot done. Then I'd make cookies.. chocolate chip cookies. What would you do with your snow day?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

It's Been One Week Since You Looked at Me..

Yep, the BNL's ballad is pounding the guilt just a little deeper as I type. I have not been completely missing in action; I spent the better part of one evening last week catching up on my 'homey' blogs, having an email convo with bf if I was capable of building my own furniture (I'm thinking table, he's got deck on the brain), and planning the colour scheme for my office (grey is winning).

I have managed to get over the new car angst yet again, however the guy has called me several times. It seems he REALLLY wants to get rid of this car (see below - I Want This Car!), so anyone in the GTA looking for an almost new Civic might want to check out Lease Busters for this one! I have also managed to get in another 3 flights, check out wallpaper at Lowes, take my Brownies on a supermarket tour, and interview a family for an article I'm writing. Did I mention waking up in the middle of the night to a lightbulb above my head for an "I got it"-type moment every couple of hours? You might say I'm a little busy and work has me a little stressed.

Y'all will remember IKEA's "Any Space Can Be Beautiful" contest they held back in the fall to celebrate the launch of the 2010 catalogue. They've revealed the Grand Prize winner, Tess and her Cowtown space makeover today at You can also check out the 'Before' and 'After' here.

What do you think? When I entered and voted for myself religiously for 2 weeks, there were some pretty scary-looking entries in dire need of some style help and cashola. If I remember the rules correctly, every vote landed you an entry in the draw, so it didn't guarantee the most votes got the prize. Regardless, I couldn't help but noitce how closely Tess' room makeover reaction parallelled that of the friendly space-trading neighbour that secretly detests their fencemate's decor choices. It certainly would not have satisfied my expectation of how to spend $15,000. Besides, where's the joy in winning $15,000 if someone else is spending it for you?! Was that clear in the rules??!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Student Debt Banishment Feels One Step Closer

As if to reinforce I can not afford a car, I paid off my final credit card this weekend. I am consumer debt FREE!!!! I am also a little excited, if you can not tell.

Having rid myself of the debt on two maxxed out credit cards, I feel like I am in control again and it feel amazing! I feel like I can attack my student debt head on, and I am inspired by all the bloggers out there who have paid theirs off in a year! !!!!! A year!! I am not so ambitious. Mostly because there are other things that are more important to me than getting rid of this debt, especially when the interest on it is so low. Home renovations (hello HRTC deadline fast approaching), maintaining my car (I am now saving for a $1500 timing belt) and building my 'rainy day fund'.

In September, when I started tracking my net worth, these were my goals:

Short Term (< 1 year)
- Pay off credit card debt (DONE!)
- Buy a new car. Save $2000 for a car down payment. I have a car worth ~ $4K, but it's in my father's name, so it is not recognized here as part of my personal wealth.
- Accumulate $2500 in savings

Mid-Term (Within 5 years)
- Pay off student debt
You can't tell from my Net Worth IQ graph (down on the right side of the page), because it's a straight line, but by paying off my credit cards and slowly decreasing my student loan, my net worth has gone up $6000. This is not much, and I've still a long way to go, but it is enough accomplishment for me to want to drive forward. I do think I should rewrite my car goal, however. Buying a car is easily accomplished. Saving to buy a car affordably is another thing altogether.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

When Your Better Judgement Says No

Heeeelllllppppp!! I want this car!

Against all better judgement, I am looking at new cars again. Turns out, its not just small purchases that would be prevented if I didn't window shop, or in this case, screen shop.

I have discovered this Honda Civic that seems to be the most incredible deal. So much so, I saw the car today and took it for a test drive. It's a dream.... if a dream were an affordable, import, gray coupe. Of course, every new car is a dream compared to my beat-up, little Jetta.

So, what's the catch? Well, there are two actually.

FIRST - I can not afford a new car!! With my promotion, I should be saving my extra income for all the renovations I want to do, a rainy day, retirement. That's logical. Cars are not logical. Cars do not give you HRTC (that's Home Renovation Tax Credits for all of you not up on the hottest acronym in the Canadian reno world). They also don't bail you out when your furnace quits in February. Nor do they look after you when you're old. They don't even pay for themselves when you decide you've had enough.    
Car = Bad Investment

SECOND - I've never leased before, and this deal is a lease take-over. Leasing has its good and bad: 

Good: Low payments. Because you're not buying the car, payments are only calculated on part of the car's value. In this case, there is a cash incentive. The incentive plus what I can sell my car for brings the effective payment down even more. Bonus!

Bad: After you've paid all this interest and money, you don't own anything. Sometimes, if you choose to buy the car it costs more than if you'd decided to finance the purchase at the start. Limited kilometres; expect to pay BIG $$$$ if you go over the allowance. Damage fees: Do I start parking in the corner of every parking lot to avoid being doored?

Yet, the appeal of an almost new car is soooooo strong! It's so stylish and smooth, unlike my Jetta that doesn't even have a radio anymore. Yet, when I add up last year's bills, I still don't spend as much on my car as I would in payments if I bought a new one. Not to mention, I will still have oil changes, so my current car is still cheaper to maintain. And drive.
Jetta mileage = 850-900 km per tank of diesel (@ .91/L)
Civic mileage = 650 km per tank of gas (@.99/L)

Oh the decision... Is anyone else contemplating a car purchase? Do you lease or purchase?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Next Project - Home Office Remodeling

 Finally! After a year of dreaming, my office remodeling is off to a start. I can already imagine the possibilities... paint, bamboo, built in shelves and lighting. Oh, the glorious creative energy!

All it took was some help to knock the wall out. Truthfully, it took my dad wielding a sledge hammer and scary-looking saw to cut plaster to get the wall down. Standing back in the doorway, watching him pull giant slabs of plaster to the ground, I realized the overwhelmingly obvious difference between all my favorite 'homey' blogs and me... They actually DIT (do it themselves)! So far, I've gone the route of DDFM - Dad does for me.

This is probably a good thing in some cases. Installing the Central Vacuum involved wiring and cutting holes through hard-to-reach, seriously tough walls.

I am not completely helpless, and there is lots I can do myself. I do think it's time, however, I push my boundary and step out of the comfort zone of paint cans and curtain rods. Drywalling, or at the very least, taping and mudding are manageable. More importantly, I need to get over my fear of 'breaking it', whatever 'it' may be - tools, the wall, the shelf, me, and get on with learning to DIY, myself!

Nonetheless, I have the major character flaw of not finishing what I start. The result? Mini messes that unavoidably snowball into major messes! Determined to not to let this happen again, I am refusing to let myself get too wrapped up in ideas for my office until I have my old bedroom completed. I have to report back afterall, and I am looking forward to the day I can post a "reveal". So far, so good... it's the wallpaper for the shelves that is causing delay. Turns out purple is harder to find than I thought. Any suggestions where I can look?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Dear Southwest: You Get A Gold Star

It's not often we brag about awesome service. It's so easy to complain about horrible service. Let's face it, we live in a society where treating people well, going that extra mile, smiling for the sake of being happy, just arn't commonplace. We make it our personal mission to seek vengence on evil customer-service-doers by telling everyone we know, their grandma, and next door neighbour in hopes it will satisfy the enjoyable experience we of which we were robbed.

Not today. Southwest Airlines - You ROCK MY WORLD.

Today's travel could have been the perfect storm for a 'Top 10' bad travel experience.

Snowing - CHECK. Delayed flight - CHECK. Reservation processed incorrectly - CHECK. Last group to board - CHECK. Personal space-invader next to me - CHECK. No room reservation - CHECK.

Normally, I'd be livid and stressed, sweating and absolutely irritated to stand at a ticket counter for over 1 1/2 hours. In some cases, I'm sure the agent would have sent me back to the travel agent (who created the problem to begin with when they spelled my name wrong - who spells it Jeniffer anyway?) Overly apologetic, the agents were very friendly and visibly trying to do everything they could to help me. Poor Kate. I couldn't blame her. I know my corporate travel agent is useless.

At the gate, I grabbed a rail (the seats were full). As the plane started to board, I came to the realization I was among the last to board. Southwest's seating process of no assigned seats, first come, first serve by assigned group has never really sat well with me. I was overwhelmed with fear, imagining myself crammed between a big man with an unplaceable stench and a screaming child kicking the seat, whilst my baggage is shoved beneathe my feet. I walked down the jetway like I was bound for a 3 hour noisy, snotty, stinky hell.

I was wrong. Overhead bins galore. Aisle seats. It all came together:

Discount airline
Vacation destination
Fewer business travellers.
Lots of checked bags. More overhead room. Families wanting to sit together. Aisle seats OPEN.

The icing on this little blue & red, 737 shaped cake? Being warned to watch for monsters out the exit row window. So WestJet really did take the witty and friendly page from this book.

It was that much more comical to me, when I reached the hotel to find my reservation was not until tomorrow and the room provided was already occupied. Of course!

Like I said, it could've been a perfect storm.

You earned your gold star today, Southwest.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Seafood Chowder Attempt

Inspired by my friend and her husband, I attemped seafood chowder for the first time today.

Penny was equally excited about the prospect of scoring herself a nice piece of cod. Luckily, all she managed was a tomato and the scallop container. I swear she thinks she's a person whenever there's meat or soft-skinned fruit around.

Unable to pull something together like this from scratch with the expectation of serving it (I had the pickiest judges - my brothers), I used the recipe in the 2010 Milk Calander. My mom had dog-eared the page as a 'must try', so I did the deed for her. Using cod and scallops in our version, I also threw in tomatoes. Without lobster or crab, I think it gives the chowder some nice colour it might otherwise lack.

You can check the recipe out at My Milk Calendar 2010. And did  you know, they have every milk calendar recipe since 1974? Sounds like an excuse to purge my recipe cupboard of milk calendars!

Though I couldn't convince my brothers to finish a bowl (they are not lovers of 'strange' foods ie. anything with 'weird' smells, textures or names), my parents and I quite enjoyed the thick, steamy broth. Perfect for a cold winter day! What's your soup pick for winter?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

It's Tuesday... Where is the Snowplow??!

A week of snow in our little banana belt of the country, and it's likely safe to say the entire province is now in a winter wonderland.

I love like winter. I love winter activities. I love to snowboard. I love tobogganning and hot chocolate. I love snow and lights and lucious, lazy flakes falling to the ground in the evening. I don't like driving 65 on the slushy highway or stepping in snow puddles in socks. I don't like climbing into my frozen, little car to go to work in the morning. You have to take the bad with the good though, in my opinion.

Strangely enough, I do enjoy cleaning my driveway. In fact, I just took my snowblower for a spin for the first time this season. This is only about the fifth time I've used it ever; I am blessed with incredible neighbours! There was hardly enough snow to make it worthwhile, but little smirking faces were taunting me in my sleep last night after I tackled it the old fashioned way- with a shovel. I had to prove I knew how to use my own snowblower, even if I do prefer my trusty, old shovel!

I would prefer if my neighbour also felt this way. Honestly, who blows snow at 10:00 PM?! It's a school night! Perhaps, he's making up for the lack thereof on the street. I swear a plow went by every 20 minutes on Sunday. One of the few benefits to living on a major street they don't tell you about in the real estate listing, I will note. Regardless, I haven't seen one yet tonight.  And it's Tuesday! It's snowing! My street is snowy and slushy!

I'm not sure which is worse, actually- the neighbour or the street. If he doesn't stop by 10:30, it'll be a landslide win, I feel!

Monday, January 4, 2010

My little addiction

My name is Jen, and I am an addict. Three eager helpers, two trips to Home Depot, and one full day of installation, and my central vacuum is up and running. Since the final pipe was connected, I have been unable to put it down. Is it sad or just expected that cleaning actually excites me now? Cat hair and dust bunnies beware! No more pushing dirt around with a broom or cleaning cupboards by hand!

The coolest part of my vacuum? The trapdoor! Fully worth the $39.95, we spend on it. Just sweep the dirt to the inlet, pop it open and



It's gone! I love it!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

A Decade in Review

A year ago, I posted resolutions. Still undecided if I should make any for 2010  as last year's were not too successful, I am procrastinating a little and inspired by a few of my fav blogs, I wrote my own decade in review instead... 

Here are a few snapshots from my life the past ten years:

2000 - I travelled to Luxembourg for a 3-month European exchange. I saw parts of France, Germany and Switzerland, went to an all-girls school, met some wonderful people and learned a tiny bit of French. I came home several pounds heavier thanks to copius amounts of 'noodles', eclairs, and ice cream.

2001 - Co-edited our high school yearbook with a friend I'd had since kindergarten. Participated in the 2 week Oddfellows & Rebekah's "United Nations Pilgrimmage for Youth". Met more wonderful people from around Ontario, saw Gettysburg, Washington, as well as New York, where I took an incredible photo standing at the bottom of the Twin Towers, which now hangs in my living room 'gallery'.

2002 - Worked my butt off in English class for the highest mark and threw my all into my Independant Study Assignment. Looking back, it was one of my favourite assignments of all time. I converted the old girl's change room into an insane assylum. Graduated high school and finally started at the University of Guelph, after years of anticipation. I moved into a triple in Mills Hall.

2003 - I'd fully engrossed myself in all things Aggie at the U of G. I moved to Alberta for a summer job, which resulted in a lasting friendship with my then landlord & roommate. I went to the Calgary Stampede and drove a standard car for the first time. When school started, I was the Commerce rep on the ag students council, became best friends with the VP and succeeded in going out every night of the week, several weeks in a row while my GPA nosedived below 80 for the first time.

2004 - Took a road trip with a van load of Aggies to Louisiana State University (quotes from the trip were posted years ago on here) for a conference. Had my heart broken for the first time. Won a trip to judge in the 4-H competition at World Dairy Expo.

2005 - After the worst travel experience I've yet to ever have, I landed on the California Central Coast for 3 months of fun, not a lot of sun, and some schooling at Cal Poly. I made some wonderful friends and learned more about the dairy industry then I could've in years of working in it. This was evidenced when our Guelph team competed for the first time and won the Intercollegiate Dairy Challenge. After putting the International Plowing Match on hold for a year, I competed in Perth County and won the Ontario Queen of the Furrow crown.

2006 - Devastated when our ag marketing team was put out in the first round of competition at the U.S. conference. Donned a peach bridesmaid dress for my friend Debora, who was one of the most beautiful brides I've ever seen. Started working for John Deere. Was 'that girl in the red dress' at another friend's wedding.

2007 - Moved 3 times in 6 months, including several months living in Old Quebec City. Here, my French got much better. Questioned fate and struggled to understand life when a friend dealt with a family suicide. Visited PEI for the first time, fell in love with the landscape and the people, and moved there for a month, before being transferred back to Southern Ontario. Bought a house.

2008 - Went on a wine tour, bought a case of wine and fell in love with Niagara. Started blogging and realized I was house rich and cash poor. Realized I was exactly where I wanted to be in life, was the "John Deere girl" at the Tim Hortons Brier, yet learned some serious life lessons about the working world.

2009 - The summer of weddings. A photo I took at our farm was featured in the Semex calendar. Started selling Pampered Chef and every other week felt like Christmas as I filled my kitchen with new stuff. Really started to love cooking. Grew a garden. Got a promotion. Visited my great uncle's grave in the Rheinberg War Cemetary in Germany.