Friday, September 24, 2010

Living on a Prayer

Thus far, this has been a beautiful, fall week. The weather has been warm and (mostly) sunny, and I love spending as much time as I can outside before the temperature turns cold for good. Well, not for good, but sometimes 6 months of winter in Canada feels like it's for good.
Anyway, despite the warm weather, this time of year always leads me to think of winter... which leads me to think of my furnace.

My furnace is old. I don't mean a little old. I mean call-the-museum-and-document-its- existence-for-the-archives OLD. It's nearly 40. In dog years, that's 280. Or something like that. Regardless, the life expectancy of a furnace purchased today is only about 30 years. Figures.

So, it's usually about this time of year I start to think about getting my furnace serviced, since I never got around to it in the spring. This leads me to wonder if this will be the year it quits. I also can't help but notice how many leaflets and advertisements there are out there for new heating and air conditioning units. What's a good deal? Should I buy now, and avoid the headache of it quitting mid-February when I'm out of town and it's -32? Do I want to drop $3000 on a new furnace right now?

Inevitably, the answer to the last question is always 'no', so I've never really investigated this any further. At the lunch table at work the other day, I mentioned this and there was unanimous agreement. "Don't replace it, if it's not broke." Makes sense. Nevertheless, my 'rainy day fund' is growing, and again this winter, I won't be touching it in case this is the year I need to make the call.

Has anyone else gone through this upgrade? What did it cost? Any recommendations?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Summer Turns to Fall

It seems incredibly wrong I am blogging my bucket list wrap up, followed by my fall "to-do" list, yet absolutely appropriate for the first day of fall tomorrow. What happened to summer? 

Anyway, I don't think I fared too poorly with my bucket list. I'm a little disappointed I didn't make it to the Elora Gorge, but I didn't drive by there near as often as in past summers either.

  • Go tubing down the Grand River and the Elora Gorge  Next year maybe!
  • Get a hammock and put it in my backyard. Also didn't happen, but I'm ok with the money in my pocket, rather than my back yard. Nevertheless, I think bf did some secret hunting for one....
  • Go antiquing with my girlfriends
  • Lay on the beach for a day  We spent a good half-day laying in Lincoln Park when we were Chicago a few weeks ago. I'm taking that for the beach. There was one, close by, but the park was far warmer!
  • Go camping (in a tent  Brownie Camp counts, right?
Fall isn't the only season that crept up on me. Fall fair season was in full-gear, before I'd even realized I needed to at least find a prize list if I was to enter.
  • Enter crafts, baking and/or flowers in a local fall fair Next year, for sure!
  • Jet boat in the Niagara River
  • Stop at Grasshopper Imports on Hwy #6.

Knocked the next 2 off also while we were on holidays a few weeks ago; we hit up the Lincoln Park Zoo, then Duff's on the way home from the airport!
  • Go to the zoo
  • Go to Duff's for wings
  • Run a 10km race  Maybe next year!
Bonus points:

  • Went to Ribfest and the Greek Festival. Both events I've wanted to attend since moving to the area, and I finally got the chance!
8/11 - Not bad, but I have always tried to aim for 80%, so I'll have to do better next year! 

Next order of business, the fall "TO DO" list.

  • Tidy front flowerbed, plant 1-2 mums
  • Paint exterior window frames and untreated wood
  • Clean behind stove
  • Wash kitchen floor
  • Wash siding
It's not a big list, but let's keep in mind I am planning to have my craft room done by Christmas also! If I can get this all done, I'll feel more prepared for winter than I have since I moved into my home 3 years ago. 

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Savvy Homegirl's Canning Adventure - Tomato Sauce

From the very begginning of spring, I planned to make tomato sauce with my garden tomatos. I love homemade tomato sauce, and putting this away for winter only made sense.

Since I've never canned, I checked out some recipes recommended for doing so. Secretly, I thought I'd be making a grand Bolognese, until I read it's better to limit the recipe to tomatos and spices, because other vegetables will alter the pH. I experimented with a few recipes, making a few small batches, before finding this super yummy recipe at Canadian Gardening.

It makes a HUGE batch, and I didn't have near enough tomatoes for the full recipe. I ended up quartering it, using fresh basil and parsley, and it turned out absolutely delish. I cooked the sauce on Sunday then put it in the fridge to can this week.

Despite getting home late from work, I was determined to can the sauce last night. Like I said, it wasn't a huge batch, and I only had about 3-4 pint jars worth to do. I didn't own a canner, but I thought for small jars, I could likely get away with using a stockpot on my stove.

This is where I wished had learned by now to do my research BEFORE I start a project, instead of simultaneously. With the sauce reheating reheated on the stove, my lids sitting in hot water in the sink and jars hot in the dishwasher, I turned my stockpot water on to boil and prepared to spoon my sauce into my jars.

Then I realized it. I didn't have a rack to keep the jars off the bottom of the pot. Did this matter? Do I need a rack? What if the jars sit on the bottom? I couldn't find a website advising a rack WASN'T needed, and I couldn't find anything to substitute for a rack. Panic set in. I turned all the burners off, grabbed my keys and headed to the only place I could think of that would have a rack at 9:30 PM. Wal-Mart. ick.

The whole drive to the store and back, a little voice repeatedly told me how stupid it was that I didn't do more research on this BEFORE starting the process (for a second time). Planning to just by a rack that could sit in the bottom of my pot, I ended up with an entire canner. At $16.97, I decided to go for it.

Arriving back home, I poured 4 inches of water in my new canner, put the glass jars back in hot water, pulled one out, dropped a 1 Tbsp of lemon juice in the jar and started spooning in the tomato sauce. At that point, I began questioning my IQ for a second time. The 'pop lids' were too big. I bought the size too big. I bought them Sunday! Why didn't I check this out before tonight?!

Thoroughly defeated, I put an old lid on one of the jars and put it in the freezer. I poured the remainder of the sauce back in my bowl and returned the bowl to the fridge. So now I have enough for 2 bottles of sauce. Yes, TWO. I bought a canner for 2 jars of tomato sauce. They're not even quart jars, they're pints. I think I'm going to have to make a lot more tomato sauce to justify this purchase.

Especially, since my mom told me after I could've heated up my jars, poured the hot sauce into them, put the seal on and it would've sealed on its own. Of course, your seals have to fit first... All my research also said NOT to do this, because you always run the risk of the jars spoiling if they're not sterilized or the food isn't hot enough.

So, for the second night in a row, I put my sauce back on the stove tonight to heat up. It was overkill, but I put the water canner on also, heated my jars in hot water in the sink, poured in my sauce, put the lids on and put them in the canner. They sealed in ten minutes. 2 jars in a 6-jar canner is totally overkill, but all in all, it was a good practice run for a bigger batch next time.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Craft Room Makeover - The Project Plan

I have begun. I started the craft room makeover before going on holidays. I even got a post up about it.

I decided, however, the only way I can ever hope to finish this whole big project is if I break it into manageable pieces. Small successes motivate bigger ambitions, right? Well, it sounds good to me anyway.

Enter, the "Mini-Projects", MP for short. I will procrastinate until Christmas, if I don't start making progress on this room. Not to mention, I have Girl Guide craft supplies, a sewing machine, scrapbook boxes and decor ideas all ready to move into a new home.

To the best of my knowledge, there is some sequential order required for the majority of the MPs. Otherwise, I would've painted the walls already and still not have the closet done.

MP #1 - Repair ceiling from leaking roof.
MP #2 - Remove 2x4's & spikes, drywall old closet.
MP #3 - Paint ceiling
MP #4 - Paint walls
MP #5 - Paint closet
MP #6 - Install closet shelving and work table
MP #7 - Layout furniture
MP #8 - Decorate
MP #9 - Move-in day
MP#10 - TIME TO GET MESSY!!                 Completion Goal: December 1, 2010

I have just eleven weeks to complete all nine mini-projects. This should easily be enough time, but I will have to commit to putting as much of my spare time into this as possible. Especially, since the fall is typically my busiest season at work, and I'll be busy with a new Girl Guide unit also.

MP #2 is definitely the hardest on this list. Who uses spikes like this to hold a couple 2x4's in place!!

With a couple good weekends ahead of me, I am aiming to have MP #2 complete by September 26. This will give me another month to paint, yet another to decorate and move everything back into the room. Hopefully, I'll also get to sorting and tossing also- why do I need old textbooks anyway?

I can feel the excitement already of sharing the finished room with you! I have so many ideas, I can barely contain them. Now, to just get started on that closet....

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Vacation on a Semi-Budget

After what seems like weeks of holidays, I am back. Wow! Amazing how your brain takes holiday literally, and shuts down to absolutely everything that resembles responsible work. House work. Pampered Chef work. Blog work. Work-work. If it didn't equal relaxing, and it involved a computer, I was nowhere to be found. Unfair for you, but it was an excellent refresher nonetheless. I spend so much time at my computer lately in the office, I was in serious need of recharge.

Recharge was exactly what I did with not one, but 2 holidays! Well, maybe it was more like 1 + 1/2 + a wedding. Nevertheless, I feel happier and I'm more focused.

I did feel a little bad about leaving you in the dark for over a week, so I copped the "Wordless Wednesday" idea from Hip House Girl last week and gave you a little sneak-peak to vacation #1.

Any guesses?

Here are a few more hints...

One more maybe....

Chicago is hands-down a beautiful city. Young and virtually first-timers (bf had visited once for a day), we easily navigated the transit system, took in the major landmarks and managed to find several vantage points for the beautiful skyline. We also managed to do it all on a pretty reasonable budget, which if we'd tried, we could've slimmed down even further.

Planning your own budget-friendly vacation? Check out these tips to make the most of your time and money!

  1. Start with user-review travel websites. TripAdvisor has a Chicago City Guide, packed with user recommendations for hotels, food and attractions. It also has great tips for visiting, ie. wear good shoes. Budget-travellers will also appreciate their "Top Value" picks - 'a great deal for the price, as judged by millions of travellers'.
  2. Flying? Check airline websites in the late evening for the best deals. I also read once that flights are cheapest on Tuesday. I don't know if it's true, but we did find a great Southwest deal on a Tuesday night. I also follow airlines on Twitter and check their recent tweets. Some, like Porter and Air Canada tweet discount codes for their followers.
  3. Buy a transit pass. We paid $15 each for a 3-day pass in Chicago. At $2.75 per regular ride, we made this investment back within the first 24 hours, jumping on and off trains and buses to see the city.
  4. If the city has a good transit system, consider staying further from downtown. Yes, we had a 20 minute train ride each morning, but we paid almost half of what we would have for a downtown hotel and the hotel shuttle picked us up from the train every evening.*
  5. Bring a water bottle. We refilled ours at least 6 times a day, which not only kept us hydrated but left a few dollars for a cold beer every day!
  6. Ask the locals. It's a no-brainer, but we scored an awesome view of the skyline and fireworks this way. We were also saved from the John Hancock Tower tourist trap and enjoyed the view over a cocktail in the 95th floor lounge instead!
  7. Sign up for Groupon or Clickedon as soon as you know your destination. You never know what kind of deal you'll get. Also, many cities offer a 'city pass' of some type. For a cost, you gain discounted access to the main tourist spots. 
  8. Don't forget the Free! You don't have to spend money to have a good time. Parks, architecture, skylines - all free. We spent an entire afternoon lounging in a waterfront park. Chicago's free Lincoln Park Zoo is also totally worth a visit.

* Be sure to read several hotel reviews to be sure you know what you're booking if you do this. You usually get what you pay for in a hotel, so cheaper may not only mean away off the beaten path, but literally in the backwoods. Take the good, the bad and the downright ugly reviews into consideration. If the worst review is true will you still have a good time?