Monday, January 31, 2011

the purge

As January comes to a close, I wanted to report back on the great Purge 111 in 1/11 challenge. Technically speaking, a lot of these items are still in our apartment, but not for long! As soon as the snow melts, it's yard sale time, and it turns out my neighbour was planning a sale at a friend's house and she invited me along. The more for sale, hopefully the more traffic we'll see.

Yard sale pile:
- 1 large bag of fabric odds and ends
- 1 bag of miscellaneous yarn
- 1 bathroom scale
- 2 throw pillows
- 4 DVD movies
- 2 DVD TV seasons
- 12 CDs (once the music is on our computer, we never use the discs)
- 1 purple wool coat (cuter than it sounds, I swear)
- 4 necklaces (costume-y things)
- 3 pairs of gloves
- 4 winter hats
- 2 picture frames
- 6 mugs
- 2 boardgames
- 1 baby floor gym
- 2 decorative flower pots
- 1 wicker picnic basket
- 2 stainless steel cat food dishes
- 1 basketball
- 1 set of coasters
- 3 vases (for some reason I have millions)
- 3 cookbooks (I hate to pare down my collection, but these are ones I've just never had any interest in using)
- 2 bamboo placemats
- 1 set of kitchen wall decor
- 1 apron
- 1 yoga mat
- 2 purses
- 8 books (university reading, paperback chick lit, etc.)
- 1 blanket
- 1 small TV
- Too many articles of clothing to count (men's, women's and baby's)

Toss pile:
- 3 old lip glosses/lipsticks
- 5 pairs of old socks
- 4 half-empty packages of medications that were expired
- 2 half-empty, old bottles of lotion
- 1 pile of ancient paperwork from our files
- 1 cracked flower pot
- 4 pairs of tights with runs
- 1 hairbrush (who needs three hairbrushes?)
- 1 bottle of (stinky) perfume

That's well over 111 and I'm sure I forgot a few things. I have three large storage totes completely stuffed and waiting to be unloaded for all those happy yard salers this spring. Thanks to Words on Wendhurst for hosting — click the link to see more de-cluttering success stories.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

try it tuesday

I've been inspired lately by friends Candace and Iris, who put their adventures in cookery out in the open on Facebook in photo albums referred to as the Domestic Diva series'. They bake and cook the most yummy looking comfort food, especially some local favourites.

I've never made bread before, and frankly, it always seemed like a lot of work for a product I was sure would be sad compared to my Mum and Grammie's versions (the following is Mum's choice recipe; next time, I'll try Grammie's).

The thing is, one of my 2011 to dos is to be more bold/less lazy in the kitchen, and the first recipe that came to mind is delicious Maritime brown bread. I've never been able to buy a loaf of brown bread that tastes as good as the real, homemade thing.

See how tattered and stained that recipe card is? That's a sign of a goodie. Not sure if Mum knew I stole this one out of her recipe box. Also not sure if she knows I took her Barbour cookbook ... sorry, Mum!

Brown Bread

2 cups rolled oats
2 cups boiling water
1 Tbsp. shortening
1 cup molasses
1 tsp. salt
1 yeast cake (1 Tbsp. dried yeast)
1/4 cup warm water
2 cups water
8 cups flour

Add two cups boiling water to rolled oats and shortening. Stir and let cool, then add molasses and salt. Let stand for one hour. Meanwhile, dissolve yeast in 1/4 cup warm water. Add this mixture to rolled oats after elapsed hour. Add two cups water and flour. Mix and knead for two minutes. Let rise until doubled in size. Punch down and divide into two or three greased loaf pans (I used one large loaf pan and also made a dozen rolls). Let rise again. Bake at 375F for 45 minutes to one hour.

To my surprise, it all rose up just as predicted on my worn-out little recipe card.

And here's the finished product, hot out of the oven and freshly brushed with butter:

Mmm ... so good!

What are your favourite childhood recipes?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

my frugal new year: couponing

Editor's note: Since most of us resolved to spend less in 2011, this is the first in a three-part series about saving money.

"I've read articles about people like you in Good Housekeeping and Women's Day." This quote is from my mother, and the "people like you" she's referring to are coupon collectors.

As you may know, an EI-padded, maternity leave budget only goes so far. Though let me take a moment to say how utterly grateful I am to live in a country where I can take a year off with my babe. While I'm off work, our income is somewhat decreased, so I've made it a personal challenge to be as frugal as possible, and so far, so good — we've been fortunate to maintain our double-income lifestyle while I'm bringing home 50% less.

The first way I stretch my dollar is at the grocery store. Yes, that means my wallet is usually pretty beefy with coupons, but it's amazing how I've been able to curb our spending. And we don't go without. I buy all the things we have grown accustomed to having, including a few unnecessary treats. I just do it in a more economical way.

Here are a few of my favourite sites for living the frugal life:
Just by signing up, these sites allow you to select the coupons you want, and they mail them out to you free of charge.

Admittedly, collecting a few coupons that are rarely more than a $1 value isn't going to change your spending. Here are my best tricks and tips for getting the most bang for your buck:

1) Be organized. Check your local flyers for specials (if you don't like dealing with paper flyers, most stores have eFlyers you can subscribe to), and review coupon websites every couple weeks. You don't have to be on the hunt for deals 24/7 if you're organized. Cut your coupons out and keep them in your wallet or purse — they won't do you much good if you forget them on the kitchen counter.

2) Only use coupons for products you normally buy. If you can try something new for dirt cheap, fill your boots, but if you're buying a more expensive variety of laundry detergent just because you have a $0.50 coupon, you'll end up actually spending more.

3) Double up. If you have a coupon for something you don't need right away, wait until it goes on sale. You can save a lot more by timing your purchases and combining discounts. For this to work, see No. 1.

4) Ask for a rain check. If something is on sale for a great price, but the store is sold out, you don't need to make another trip to the store that week, just get a rain check for next time. Keep an eye on the expiry date; most only last 30 days.

5) Watch the register. You'd be amazed how often something rings up at the wrong price. If you just check your receipt at home afterward, and discover something that was a $1 more than it should've been, you're not going to go all the way back to the store to claim that buck, so keep an eye on it while you're checking out. Also, I bet you didn't know that some stores, like Canadian Tire, will actually give you the item for free (up to a $10 value) if it rings up wrong at the cash and you catch the error.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of My Frugal New Year: Budgeting.

Friday, January 21, 2011

cha ching

I've been meaning to show you this simple solution for a while ... aka brag about super steal of a deal.

First, the problem: Mega-sized dish soap a la Costco (clearly I'm a fan of saving money, since I'm buying my dish soap in bulk to begin with).

Now, the solution: A cute, diamond-shaped glass decanter with cork.

And the best part? I picked this beauty up for $0.60 at Value Village!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

here's to 2011

I hate to call these resolutions. Really I can't, since we're half-way through January already. But here are some things I'm aiming to do in the next 12 months.

1. Drink more water.
2. Run a 5k race. Last year, I ran a half marathon. One 5k should be doable.
3. Save more money. Or spend less money. Either way you want to slice it.
4. Correspond with friends and family more often via snail mail. Send at least one note or card each week.
5. Write in Baby J's journal more often and keep his scrapbook up to date.
6. Read 26 books. That's only one every other week.
7. Be adventurous in the kitchen. Make recipes I've been too afraid (or lazy) to try. Experiment with new ingredients.
8. Focus on the amazing joys in my life and make a serious effort to keep all kinds of stress at bay.

Do you have goals this year?

Monday, January 17, 2011

black, white and read all over

When eReaders started to make their way onto the market, I scoffed. "I'll never read an electronic book."

Well, here I am, eating my words. Delicious.
I used some birthday loot to buy myself a Kobo just before Christmas, and I have to admit, I really love it. For the record though, it will never take the place of good, old-fashioned library books. In fact, I've shelved my Kobo this week to read my one-week library loan of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Have you read it? Is it as great as everyone says?).

There are lots of eReaders out there to choose from. I made my decision quickly, and using only a few criteria. Mainly, I didn't want to pay and arm and a leg, and it had to be compatible with our local library's eBook lending service. The first of my demands eliminated the Sony eReader, which only cost about $30-$40 more than the Kobo, but was still out of my budget. The library compatibility issue eliminated the Amazon Kindle. I went to Chapters, tried out a Kobo, and made an impulse purchase.

Admittedly, there are a few downsides. It doesn't keep a charge as long as I'd like, and once the battery is hovering near empty, it takes longer to move from page to page (and by longer, I mean a few seconds, but it's still not as fast a flipping a paper page by hand). It was also difficult to figure out how to add library books to the Kobo. Luckily, I was able to search out this blog post that gives convenient directions.

Otherwise, it's been great so far. It came loaded with 100 classic novels. Many I've read, many I've wanted to read for years. Buying and uploading books from the Kobo site is super easy and I've picked up a bunch of new books for less than $5 each. And of course, my conscience and the environment appreciate the paperless option.