Sunday, December 29, 2013

Dreaming of Stand Mixers

I have been baking by hand since ... forever.  We do have an old Betty Crocker hand mixer that I sometimes break out, and my Mom gifted me a Bamix that likely sees more use than the hand mixer.  But mostly I mix up ingredients with either a wooden spoon or with my own bare hands.  This has worked, but there are recipes I avoid because they would either be impossible or just too difficult.  Lately I've been lusting for a stand mixer.  You know, those contraptions that sit on your counter, taking up enormous counter real estate.  With a flip of a switch they stir your ingredients for you, usually much more efficiently and much quicker.  Of course, there's a price to having this luxury which has made me think about if I really need one.  While I ponder that, I started researching the various stand mixers available on the market.  You know, just in case.

What Do I Need a Stand Mixer to Do?

Since I'm capable of making cookies, cakes, muffins, pie and bread dough by hand, in these areas I'm looking to see a time savings.  Instead of working on dough for one loaf of bread I want a stand mixer that can let me do 3-4 loaves at once in a shorter time frame.  I want to be able to whip up egg whites or whipping cream without the walls around me (along with myself) getting splattered.  I'd like a stand mixer to have a shredder/slicer attachment so that I can make coleslaw, French fries, hash browns, slice vegetables and fruits for the dehydrator, and slice apples for pies.  It would be nice to have a machine that was strong enough to mix batters smooth - a velvety cheesecake would be a dream.

At the stores around my area I have access to Kitchenaid, Cuisinart, Breville, Hamilton Beach, Sunbeam, Bodum, Kenwood, and Ankarsrum stand mixers.  There is also a local distributor for Bosch stand mixers (although these must be ordered on-line).  A few of these stand mixers have fairly limited use - if all I want to do is whip some egg whites or mix a cake the Sunbeam, Hamilton Beach, or Bodum would work, but for more difficult tasks, such as heavy cookie batters and bread dough, they would fail.  So, I immediately excluded them.  The Breville should work, but several tests have shown they can't handle bread dough.  Another dropped from the list.  That leaves the Kitchenaid, Cuisinart, Kenwood, Ankarsrum, and Bosch to consider.


You see Kitchenaid stand mixers everywhere.  They have so many different models (and colours) that it can be difficult to know what you are seeing, and what each might be capable of doing.  I learned that the Costco Kitchenaid was a slightly different size and most of the extra attachments that Kitchenaid offers wouldn't work with it ... so even though it's a good price it wouldn't be a good choice.  I learned from the many articles and reviews I read that Kitchenaid stand mixers aren't great for lots of bread making - bread making really taxes the motor and often will shorten it's life considerably.  There are many stories of people fixing their KAs several times before moving on to different makes.  Price range:  $189.99 (on sale) for the Classic, a 4.5 quart 275 watt machine to $699.99 for the Professional, a 6 quart 575 watt machine.  All come with whips, paddle, and dough hook.  Some come with bowl shields.  Other attachments cost extra.


Another make you see a lot of in the stores is the Cuisinart stand mixers.  Not as much variety as Kitchenaid - there's a 5.5 quart and a 7 quart.  The 7 quart only comes in silver, the 5.5 quart comes in silver, white, and black (for some reason the white is always priced the highest).  Both provide 800 watts of power.  Although they seem to handle dough-making better than the Kitchenaid, some say it likes to dance across the counter while doing so.  Also, not as many attachments.  It does have a timer which many say is useful.  Price range:  $279.99 (on sale) for the 5.5 quart (silver) to $444.99 for the 7 quart.  Both come with whips, paddle, dough hook, and bowl shields.  Other attachments cost extra.


There are two models - the Chef (KMC010) and the Chef Major (KMM020).  The Chef is a 750 watt machine with a 4.6 litre bowl while the Chef Major is a 800 watt machine with a 6.7 litre bowl.  They come with a glass blender and a 5-cup food processor as standard.  There are additional attachments to get.  People who have them say they last.  Price range:  $499.99 (on sale) for the Chef to $799.99 for the Chef Major.  Both come with whips, paddle, dough hook, bowl shields, glass blender, and food processor.  Other attachments cost extra.


This is a Swedish made stand mixer that has been around since 1940.  They have that hip factor, but perhaps a bit too unique for North American sensibilities?  They come with 600 watts and a 7 litre bowl.  Price range:  $799.99 for the standard package which includes lid, dough roller, dough knife, scraper, spatula, cookie whips, dough hook, and a double beater/whisk with a 3.5 litre extra bowl; for $1,174.99 you also get a meat grinder, blender, citrus press, grater, strainer, cookie press, and pasta discs.  Other attachments cost extra.


This is a German engineered, built in Slovenia machine that has been around for a long time.  Although Europeans and Asians have access to a wider selection, we North American's only have two choices - The Universal Plus and the Compact.  The Universal Plus (model MUM6N10UC) is a 800 watt machine with a 6 1/2 quart bowl capable of handling 15 pounds of dough (this series has been in production since 1950).  The Compact (model MUM4405) is a 400 watt machine with a 4 quart bowl capable of handling 6 pounds of dough.  Price range:  $199.99 for the Compact and $439.99 for the Universal Plus.  Other attachments cost extra.

Which Would I Choose?

I'm drawn to the Ankarsrum and Bosch stand mixers.  Quality, longevity, and the hip factor are big drawing points for me.  The Ankarsrum is just too expensive ... which makes me lean towards the Bosch.  But which one - the Universal Plus or the Compact?  I've been reading lots of reviews and watching the videos.  I'm really struggling here.  I love the size factor of the Compact.  It would fit so easily on almost any counter top.  But the bowl size?  Slightly too small.  If it had been 5 quarts I'd buy it immediately.  4 quarts means doing more work for extra batches of baking.  I'd like to be able to get through more batches quickly so that I can have time with Walter and Manuel.  The Universal Plus is so big, but perhaps it's the more sensible choice?

And, of course, do I need one?  No, I don't.  I can bake with what I have.  My reasons for considering one are to let me make more healthy, homemade products for us to consume while freeing up more of my time.  I'm thinking I can save us money by making our own baked goods, and letting me process more of those fruits and vegetables we get in such abundance.  I think I could recover the cost of one of these machines within 1-2 years ... maybe even less time if I plan carefully.

Do you have a stand mixer?  Which one?  What made you choose it and would you choose it again?

Monday, December 23, 2013

Craigslist - Final Results

Back on November 15 I posted about how I create a Craigslist post, and even gave an example to hi-light some of the points I made.  Then, a week later (on November 23) I gave you an update on how things were going.  I think it's a good time for a final check-in to see how things have gone.
  • Triumph Bike Trailer Holds 2 Children - $55
    - Sold in 7 days, sell price $30 (54.5% of asking price)
  • Summer Extra Wide Extra tall Bedrail - $20
    - Sold in 7 days, sell price $15 (75% of asking price)
  • Combi Stroller - $55
    - Sold on December 19, 25 days - sell price $45 (82% of asking price)
  • Wooden Radio Flyer Rocking Horse - $75
    - not sold, no emails/calls - dropped price to $45 since there are a lot of wooden horses for sale at Christmas time
  • 1989 Honda Prelude - $1750
    - lot's of interest, several people have come by, continued to get intermittent calls and queries beyond the initial two weeks, and finally sold today after 29 days - sell price $1750 (100% of asking price)
That means a total take home of $1840.  4 out of 5 things have sold within the month.  Only the car had many calls/queries, and several test drives (and came with a few low-ball offers).  The rest of the items sold to the one and only interested caller.

We've put $1000 into our household account to pay for the upcoming yearly city utility bill.  Walter got $90 (I'll try to build in some spending/saving lessons with it).  The remainder we split between us adults to do with as we see fit.  I'll likely use mine for Christmas groceries and last minute stocking stuffers.

I have to say selling on Craigslist isn't always so successful.  It can take a lot of patience and waiting before you see results.

I'm actually feeling a sense of loss for the Honda.  It was the car Manuel drove me in on our first date.  I guess I was more attached than I realized!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Catching Up, and Choosing a New Cell Phone

It's been awhile since my last post.  At the beginning of November I got the flu shot, went away for the weekend and came back with .. the flu.  Ugh.  I ended up being off work for a week, and then spent several more weeks with a rough cough.  It really put me behind at work and I spent a fair bit of time getting caught up on projects, and coming home bagged at the end of each day.  Just as the cough was nearly gone I got a cold and spent this last week again at home.  Recovery has been much easier this time, but once again I'm behind with work projects.  All this to say my life has been trying, and tiring, and busy, busy, busy.

It's only a few more days before Christmas and I'm off work for a couple of weeks - a chance to rest and recuperate.  I love Christmas and hope to enjoy this time home with friends and family.  It's going to be our first Christmas in our new home - a chance to build on family traditions in a new setting.

Before I got my flu shot and subsequently got sick (not, of course, from the flu shot - that was just a weird coincidence), I was doing research on replacing our cell phones.  This research had it's origins almost 2 1/2 years ago, shortly after Manuel and I signed up for corporate cell phone plans with Telus. We both received Nokia E72 cell phones - we'd decided having the same phones would make it easier to share chargers, and make it easier for me to support Manuel (I'm the techie in this household).  I really like Nokia cell phones - they work well, the quality is quite good, and I love-love the world-wide maps that are free and don't require data plans to use.  Unfortunately, Manuel's cell phone took an untimely swim which damaged it enough to make it inoperable (within a couple of weeks of ownership).  Luckily, we had several older cell phones that he managed to use for the next couple of years.  Fast forward to this fall when the last available extra cell phone died.  Now, we were paying for a cell phone plan that didn't come due until April 2014 and no phone to use for Manuel.  I started researching.  I learned we could re-new our contracts early and get upgrades.  I also learned we could buy cell phones from almost anywhere as long as they were capable of communicating with the Telus network.  We weren't sure we wanted to go for another contract (we are considering going pay-as-you-go).  That meant we could buy used, buy a pre-paid, or even buy outright a contract phone.  I was a little leery of buying a used cell phone.  I've noticed a general trend with cell phones of good usage with a sudden, quick degradation before dying.  I didn't want to buy something used that was almost at the end of it's life cycle.  Buying a contract phone outright was expensive.  If we could avoid data plan requirements the full cost was sometimes worth it ... still, $400-800 was a lot of money.  That left pre-paid.  With pre-paid you aren't getting the top of the line.  These are either older models or entry level phones.  If you don't need the latest, zippiest, wow-level they can be a great option.  Next, I needed to consider the operating system (the OS).  I really didn't want an Apple phone.  They are too expensive, with built-in obsolescence, and require you to commit to iTunes ... another money grabber.  I just didn't want to go there.  That left Android and Windows as possible OS choices (I didn't even consider Blackberry - there just wasn't enough positives to consider it a serious contender).  Manuel has a Samsung Galaxy S3 at work (Android OS), and I have an older Android tablet (Archos 43).  Manuel has a Windows 8 touch-screen laptop at home while I work with Windows 7 at work and on my home laptop.  The more I learned about the Windows cell phones the more intrigued I became.  Manuel was ambivalent ... but it seemed he'd accept whatever I decided.  Telus was selling the Nokia Lumia 520 pre-paid for $150, so I decided that I would try it out and if it seemed OK we'd get Manuel one.  It was very simple - the London Drugs person simply cut my SIM card down (most SIM cards have now become micro-sized), and I was ready to go.  I even used Bluetooth from my old Nokia E72 to copy over all my contact information and text history in less than a minute.  Amazing.

The experience with the Nokia 520 has been incredible.  I was a little worried that the entry-level display would leave me wanting, but my old eyes haven't had a problem with it.  I'm loving the tiles - I've organized everything exactly the way I like to work with things.  I've downloaded free apps (although there's a complaint that the Windows Store doesn't have as many apps as Google does for Android, comparing 200,000 to 900,000?  How many does any one person need?).  I've set up a Kid's Corner with games and applications that I feel are appropriate for Walter - this means he can play on my phone without inadvertently calling the Queen.  And those Nokia maps?  Better than ever.  I don't need a data plan or even WiFi access to use them.  They work from my cell phone - using triangulation to find me.  And it's way faster than my old Nokia E72.  I downloaded maps for several Canadian provinces, US states, as well as a couple of European countries.  Not only do I have regular map viewings, but also satellite views.

Manuel now has his own (bought on sale for $89), and a co-worker got one too after seeing mine.  We're all happy Nokia Lumia 520 users now.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Craigslist - Where I'm At 7 Days In

It's been a week since I placed my Craigslist ads.  I thought I would give you an update of where I'm at.

The list ended up being slightly different.  In my previous post on selling on Craigslist I had indicated a bike trailer, bedrail guard, foldable stroller, digital baby scale, and a folding dolly.  What I ended up actually putting on Craigslist was a bike trailer, bedrail guard, foldable stroller, wooden rocking horse, and a 1989 Honda Prelude.  I decided to hold on to the digital scale for now - it can be used for many things, such as fruit and vegetable weighing, and postal weighing.  The dolly will likely get advertised later on.  The wooden rocking horse has been sitting around taking up too much space for too long.  And the Honda?  It's been a great vehicle, but it really doesn't fit our lifestyle anymore.

So, what prices did I set and what results have I had?
  • Triumph Bike Trailer Holds 2 Children - $55 - Sold in 7 days - sell price $30 (54.5% of asking price)
  • Summer Extra Wide Extra tall Bedrail - $20 - Sold in 7 days - sell price $15 (75% of asking price)
  • Combi Stroller - $55 - not sold, no emails/calls
  • Wooden Radio Flyer Rocking Horse - $75 - not sold, no emails/calls
  • 1989 Honda Prelude - $1750 - lot's of interest, several people have come by, no firm offers to date
To date I have earned $45.  That's $45 more dollars then I had a week ago.

Apple Pie

Apples, apples.  Everywhere apples.

I've been trying out several pie crust recipes as a means to work through that huge load of apples we have.  I think I've finally settled on one ... unfortunately, I can't remember where I got it from.  I found the ones that incorporated egg to be a bit chewy, and not flakey enough.  This recipe has a very simple list of ingredients.  With all pie crusts, the results are very dependent on the execution of the recipe.  Cold is your friend - pastry dough loves to be cold.  Keep that in mind before considering pie making.

Pie Crust Ingredients:

Flour - 2 cups
Salt - pinch
Sugar - 1 tablespoon
Butter, cold - 1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) cubed
Ice/Cold Water - 4 to 8 tablespoons

Filling Ingredients:

Apples, peeled, cored, diced - 6, approximately
Sugar - 1/2 cup, approximately
Minute Tapioca - 1 tablespoon

Start with the pie crust ... you can even do this several days ahead (or keep the unrolled dough in the freezer for longer - just wrap well so it doesn't dry out).  Put all the dry ingredients in a good sized bowl.  Take your cold, cubed butter and start by tossing them in the dry ingredients.  Then, use your fingers to work the butter in.  You aren't trying to make the butter blend into the dry ingredients ... rather you are trying to break the butter into smaller pieces with some flour coating added to them.  Your goal is coarse crumbs.  If you overwork this part you'll end up with pastry that won't be very flakey.

Once you've got your coarse crumbs add one tablespoon of ice cold water - toss the flour mixture.  Continue adding water by tablespoons and tossing until the mixture is moistened, but not wet.  Form into a ball and flatten to a thick disk.  Wrap in Saran and put the disk into the fridge for at least 30 minutes.  These steps might have sounded quick-quick.  They should be.  You want the pastry dough into the cold fridge as soon as possible.  [It's at this point that you can leave pie making to another day, week, or month.]

While the dough is chilling, prepare your filling.

Wash the apples.  Peel, cut into quarters, and take each quarter and remove the core.  Slice the cored quarter in half and then slice these halves into thin chunks.  Yes, this goes against that pretty slivered apple pie you might be envisioning ... but, really?  Chunks are far easier to cut through once the pie is baked.  The pie won't fall apart, it also cooks better, and it's easier to eat.  And ... it will still look lovely.

Now, add the sugar and tapioca to your cut up apples.  The sugar is an approximate measurement because it depends on the apples you are using and your personal taste.  If you are using tart apples you may well want a bit more sugar, if they are sweet (like mine were) go for less.  the tapioca will help bind the liquids from the cooking apple, making a nicer end product.  After adding the sugar and tapioca toss to coat ... you might even get in there with your hands because you really want everything well incorporated.
Now, you may have noticed that there is no cinnamon mixed in with the apples.  What sacrilege you might say.  I ... I prefer a simpler pie, free of other flavours that might overshadow the loveliness of the apple.  I urge you to try my approach.  I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.
Turn your oven to 400F to get it up to temperature.  Find your pie plate - you'll want it ready for when you need it.  I prefer a Pyrex (glass) one for pie baking.

Back to the fridge for your pastry dough.  Break it into 2/3 .. 1/3 (2/3 for the bottom, 1/3 for the top).  Lightly flour your work surface and use a good rolling pin - I use a marble rolling pin for pastry dough since it's heavy and colder than a wooden one.  Roll your 2/3 pastry to an even thickness.  Try to do this quickly.  This is the hard part where you have the greatest potential to ruin your dough by overworking it.  Somehow you need to get it thin enough and big enough to fit into your pie dish without toughening the dough.  Once it's big enough move it into your pie plate.  Don't worry if there are cracks and funky seams.  Patch where necessary by finding larger overhangs and cutting them to use elsewhere.  It doesn't have to be perfect.  It'll all bake up fine in the end.

Add your filling and then roll out the 1/3 remaining piece of pastry dough.  Place it on top and pinch the bottom and top portions together, creating little ripples with your fingers (some people use a fork, but I think the finger press looks more authentic).

Place the prepared pie in your oven for 45-60 minutes.  You want to see some bubbling happening, but you also want to make sure the pastry doesn't get too dark.  Some people use tin foil around the edges to help lessen this - that's your choice.

When it's ready, take it out to cool.  The cooling will allow the juices and tapioca to congeal nicely.  Of course, it's hard to resist a fresh pie.

We had unexpected guests show up within 30 minutes of this pie coming out of the oven.  Apparently it was delicious!

Friday, November 22, 2013

A Place for All the Baking Sheets

I do a lot of baking which means I have a lot of baking sheets, muffin tins, pizza trays, and other large, awkward pieces that are hard to store.  Up until recently I kept them in one of the bottom cupboards in the kitchen.  Every time I needed one of the cookie sheets (or something not even related to these cumbersome pieces, but stored nearby) I usually ended up with everything cascading out onto the floor or sliding sideways into other areas of the cupboard.  I'm sure you can relate.

If you wanted that third cookie sheet from the bottom?  Ouch.

Then, several months ago I bought one of Ina Garten's cookbooks.  You know Ina, right?  The Barefoot Contessa?  A wonderful cook, evoking elegance, grace, comfort, and friends and families.  I have five of her cookbooks now and have tried several recipes - all have been incredibly delicious.  From her "barefoot contessa how easy is that?" cookbook I found a great idea at the back of the book for keeping large kitchen pieces accessible - a large wicker basket kept near the kitchen prep area.

It seemed like such a good idea.  I tried it out by using a cardboard box - it worked like a charm.  Everything was accessible, nothing crashed.  It also meant that the space in the cupboards could be utilized much better.  A win-win.

Now that I knew it would solve our storage problems I needed to find a proper basket.  Sounded simple, but finding that perfect rectangular basket with enough height (but not too much) was more difficult than I originally thought.  There were a lot of baskets that were just too short, and others that were too tall and more like clothes hampers.  Finally, this week I found the perfect basket at my local London Drugs.  The Water Hyacinth Frameless Basket had a tag reading $9.99.  The price was right, but it was even better when I got to the checkout counter and found it was on sale for $5.99!

I moved everything from that temporary cardboard box to the new basket - everything fit perfectly.

There's still space to spare.

I'm really happy with this cheap, yet elegant solution.

Where do you keep your baking sheets?  Would you consider using a basket left out in the kitchen?

Friday, November 15, 2013

Selling on Craigslist

On my last post I ended with a few things that still needed selling.  These included:
  • a bike trailer
  • a bedrail guard
  • a foldable stroller
  • a digital baby scale
  • a folding dolly
Now, I've had some experience buying and selling on Craigslist and I peruse it quite a bit (I keep a running list of items that I'm interested in ... if the price, quality, and location are good).  I see a lot of good and bad ads.  All this to say I've developed some steps that I take when creating my own Craigslist posts.
  1. Put together as many facts about the items as is reasonable.  Who makes it, model #, year made/bought/age, original price, dimensions (not everything needs this, but if you'd want to know others will too - especially true with furniture that people will need to place in their homes), weight (if important), materials it is made from.  You might not need all these details, but it's good to have them on hand.
  2. Do some searching on-line to see if it is still sold new - if so, what's the price like now?  Does it seem popular?  Amazon reviews will give you a good idea what people think about your product.  Key phrases might pop up that you can use when writing your ad.
  3. Next, e-Bay.  If you don't have an account with them consider getting one because this gives you access to some information that the average person doesn't get to see - what things sold for (and what didn't sell).  This is known as Completed Listings.  These completed listings often give you a good idea for a price range.  It will also give you an idea of which ads work better - style, layout, descriptions used.
  4. Now, Craigslist.  See if your product is being posted by others.  What are they asking?  Is it similar to e-Bay prices?  (Note:  You could also look at Kijiji - I use Craigslist so I'm more comfortable remarking on it.)
  5. Take a few photos.  Yes, you need them.  Would you buy something without seeing it?  If there are multiple ads (and there usually are), do you go for the ones with photos first?  Me too.  So, take a few minutes to take some shots of what you want to sell - a few overview shots, some close-ups.  Try different angles.  The most important point I can make here is to get rid of as much personal background/detail as possible.  You don't want people thinking "Gross, that stuffed toy looks like it's been kept in the filthiest garage I've ever seen!" ... you want them to focus their attention on the item you are selling.  I've even used bed sheets to create a plain backdrop.  If all else fails try to find an image from the store you bought it from and copy that into your ad.
Once I have done all these steps I'm ready to create my ad. 

Let's try these steps out with the first item on my list - the bike trailer.

Bike Trailer Ad

I bought this trailer a few years ago thinking I would bike around with Walter in tow like all the other parents seemed to be doing in town.  Except ... it didn't really happen all that much.  Maybe three times?  I just felt really nervous with my precious little guy behind me and all these vehicles rushing past me.  At the time we lived in an area nearer to secondary businesses which meant lots of truck traffic - these made me even more nervous.  Suffice it to say the idea was a bust (although Walter loved it - he asked to go out every day!).  I kept the trailer thinking that when we moved I would use it.  Our new neighbourhood is very hilly, and there are no nearby bike paths.  I'd have to drive with the bike and trailer, park, hook up the trailer, get Walter and myself all geared up and then finally start biking.  Ah, nah.  Instead, I traded my bike - which I never really liked - for a DSi for Walter.

OK, so what did I pay for it new?  I bought it at Walmart for around $109 ... say with tax $120.  It now sells for $104 with a current pre-Christmas sell going on for $50.  Ouch!  Looking at e-Bay I see a price range of 54-200+ ... but the 200 plus ones are way swanker than mine.  The 54-74 range are closer to mine.  On Craigslist the swanky ones are going for 200+ also.  Not much under 100.  Despite the sale at Walmart I'm thinking $55.  This will give some wiggle room for potential buyers to negotiate (everyone likes to shave off a few dollars).  I did do a couple of photographs of the box.  I confess to not taking it out and setting it up.  So, I copied the photo from the Walmart website (something many people do).  If I have time on the weekend I'll set it up and take some more photos to make it more authentic.

So here would be my ad:

TITLE:  Triumph Bike Trailer Holds 2 Children - $55

PICTURE:  I usually take a few photos, including the box, manual, and an overall photo


When our son was younger he wanted to ride in this bike trailer every day!  Although it can hold two children, our son always had his stuffed toys, snacks, and water bottle taking up some of the space.  Still, we could likely have put a few bags of groceries in there too!

Now that our son is older we've outgrown the bike trailer ... time for our son to have his own bike.

Our loss is your gain.

Bike trailer has been kept in pristine condition, in a no-smoking, no-pet household.  We have the original box and owner's manual.

If you are interested call, text, or email Louise (cell ###.###.####)
 ... cash only

That's it.  I made the ad personal - which tends to draw people in.  I'm a person, not a crook.  The item being sold is mine, it wasn't stolen.  I included details that made it seem spacious (it is), and that my child liked it (which was true).  Having the original box and manual makes it sound like I looked after it (which I did).

I'm going to put it up now.  I'll let you know if my strategy works!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Getting Rid of Clutter

Back in June I had a goal of participating in a boot sale (sort of a group yard sale) to get rid of things we no longer had any use for or had outgrown.  It didn't happen.  The boot sale was organized for every other Saturday during the summer season.  Every time a boot Saturday was looming I either got sick (or someone else in the house did), or we were away, or some other event got in the way.

Finally, a couple of weeks ago (well into the fall season) I talked with the owner of Walter's out of school care program (OSC) to see if they would be interested in any of Walter's clothes, toys, books, and DVDs.  Turns out they were interested in most things.  The other day I managed to load everything into the back of the truck and drop by the OSC, and yes, they did take almost everything.

I went back home and looked at what remained.  Boxes of cups, dishes, knickknacks, curtains and curtain rods, lamp shades, clothes, and miscellaneous toys.  I loaded these into the back of the truck and headed out again.  There were a couple of thrift stores in our town - one for a hospice and one for teens.  As I drove along I thought about simply driving to the garbage dump and just getting rid of everything ... because what if neither thrift store was interested?  I finally talked myself into driving by the hospice thrift store.  I had already read their website and knew that they took drop-offs at the back of the shop.  I drove around back and a nice lady told me to back it up and drop it off.  In the end there were only three things that they wouldn't take - a Bob-the-Builder pillow, a stuffed dog backpack, and some old ski boots.  I put the pillow and stuffed dog in the back seat of the truck, figuring they could be left there for travel times.  That left me with just the ski boots which I'll see if my friends husband will take (he takes sporting equipment, cleans them up, and re-sales them).

Yes, I could likely have made a few dollars with the boot sale, but in the end I just couldn't organize myself.  The pressure of all that stuff sitting in piles in the basement was getting to me, and donating took that pressure away and gave me a feeling of giving back.  Since I'd already spent the money on these items long ago the money was already gone.  The potential for getting a few dollars wasn't enough incentive for me - my time was more important to use in other ways.  I'm sure if we didn't have jobs with good salaries I would have been more committed to accomplishing this goal, but it obviously wasn't the money I needed.

I did keep a few things.

These were bigger things that I figure I can put on Craigslist (except for the car seat - I'm not sure what I'll do with that).

What do you do with things you no longer need or use?  Do you think it's important to make money on them or is donating a valid option?

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Halloween 2013

I hope everyone had a lovely Halloween.  We certainly did ... only 27 children came trick or treating at our door, but we'd been told only to expect 5-6 so I figured this was a success.

Walter had a great time - he and Dad headed out just as it was starting to get dark and, according to Manuel, Walter ran from house to house.  He definitely had the whole bad-cop attitude going.

I think our house looked pretty good, too.  We had our tombstone near the doorbell (it has a motion-sensor on it so when somebody gets close it starts screaming and splits open to reveal a glowing-eyed skeleton).  To make it extra spooky we had our ghetto blaster set to repeat on a CD with howling, chain-rattling, heart-thumbing sounds.

A few days prior the whole family had carved some of the pumpkins, and Walter and I painted a few to add a bit more character.

Definitely a good first Halloween in our new home.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Fruit Torte - Take Two

Last week I made a fruit torte where I first put the batter in and then topped it with fruit.  As soon as it was in the oven I thought the recipe lent itself to being an upside down cake.  That's a cake where you put the fruit in the bottom of the pan and put the batter on top - hence the upside down label.

I started by rubbing some butter in the bottom of the baking pan, sprinkled some brown sugar on top of that, and then placed the fruit (in our case frozen blueberries) so that they covered most of the bottom, allowing only a bit of brown sugar to show through.  I then topped this with a bit more brown sugar.  I didn't alter the first recipe batter - I mixed it up and put it directly on top of the fruit/brown sugar layer.  It did take a bit of spooning and gentle spreading to get the fruit covered, and it certainly wasn't the smoothest of batters when I was finished ... but baking settled everything down into a more uniform top.

It doesn't look like much here - I'm sure if I'd taken the time to flip it onto a plate it would have looked much more elegant ... but it was so yummy that it just didn't last.

The last bite ...

This torte did not last more than a few days.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Dining Room Chairs - ReUpholstery Update

Just so you don't think I've forgotten.

See?  I actually pulled out the package of Ikea curtain fabric two weekends ago and washed it.  Then?  It sat on my chair by my bed for another week.  Last weekend I finally found the tools I'd been using to pull off the old seat covers (we had guests, things got moved, I couldn't find things for quite a while).  I brought them up from the basement and they sat on the dining room table for the week.  Yesterday, I moved the washed curtain fabric to the dining room.  This is progress, right?!

You can see the chair in the background, naked, without any fabric.  It's been waiting all this time to be re-covered.

I'm hoping my inertia on this project will slowly give way ... and that finally that first chair will no longer be naked.  At this rate, the seven chairs will all be re-covered by ... ah, I can't even think how long that will be.  I've got to get this thing done!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Fruit Torte

It's been awhile since I've blogged about any recipes that I've tried out.  Which isn't to say I haven't tried out any.  It's just that baking and cameras don't mix and I sometimes (often) forget to pull out the camera.  I did manage to pull out the camera to get a shot of this very yummy fruit torte before it disappeared.

I found this recipe on the Smitten Kitchen blog.  It goes by the name Purple Plum Torte.  I didn't have any plums, but we have about fifteen boxes of apples ... so I made an Apple Torte. 

Yes, Manuel picked these fifteen or so boxes of apples in late September when he went to help harvest the grapes at his parents farm.  Yes, we have been giving away a lot of apples to friends.  Yes, we have a second fridge just for this over-abundance of fruit.  Yes, I think we are crazy too ;)

The recipe is incredibly easy, so I hope you'll try it.  I expect you could use almost any fruit of your choosing.


Flour - 1 cup
Baking Powder - 1 teaspoon
Salt - large pinch
Sugar 1 cup // plus 1-2 tablespoons
Unsalted Butter, softened - 1/2 cup
Eggs - 2 large
Fruit - 2 apples
Lemon Juice - 2 teaspoons
Cinnamon - 1 teaspoon

Heat oven to 350F.  Pull out a 9" spring form pan so that it's ready.

Peel, core, and slice the apples.  Place in a medium bowl.  Sprinkle the 1-2 tablespoons of sugar, followed by the cinnamon and lemon juice.  Mix with your hands to coat.  Set aside.

Stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.  In a large bowl cream the butter and sugar until fluffy and light in colour.  Add the eggs, one at a time.  Then add the dry ingredients, mixing until just combined.

Spoon the batter into the spring form pan and smooth the top.  Arrange the fruit all over the batter, pushing slightly in.  bake until the cake is golden and a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out free, about 45-50 minutes (40-45 convection oven time, with 325F).  Cool on a rack.

Monday, October 21, 2013

How a Guinea Pig Stole Our Hearts

I've been remise in introducing you to our newest family member - Cutey.

For several months Walter has been begging for a pet.  Throughout the summer we talked to him about the responsibility of having one.  Finally, we agreed that once school started we'd start looking.  We then began discussing the possible types of pets - hermit crabs, fish, hamsters, cats, dogs.  Walter and I wanted a cat, but Manuel didn't.  Manuel wanted a dog, but I didn't.  Finally, three weeks ago we met the perfect pet ... a lovely, young, American Short Haired Guinea Pig.  Cutey came home with us that day (Walter picked the name).

Before I met Manuel I had a guinea pig - Daisy.  Daisy transitioned to our pet.  We had both enjoyed her, and it was a very sad day when she died.  We thought on occasion about getting another one ... but somehow, it didn't happen.  Still, we kept all the equipment.  Which meant, that bringing home Cutey wasn't too difficult.  We just needed some saw dust, hay, and food pellets.

In just three short weeks she's become an integral part of the household.  When she hears the fridge open she'll squeak to remind you to get her something.  And at some point during the day you can hear her racing around her cage, getting in some exercise before settling into her nest to relax with some apple.  She likes to sit on our laps, watching Walter play Angry Birds Space.

Of course, I knew that bringing home a pet for Walter would mean I would be taking on more work in caring for her.  That's OK.  I love having a pet in the house - she's probably the easiest member of the household with the sweetest disposition.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Batty Halloween Craft and Creating Memories

I love Valentines Day, Easter, July 1st Canada Day, Thanksgiving, Halloween, and Christmas.  Walter makes these times even more special, and I love to do something memorable to make a lasting impression.  Halloween's great because I can be a little silly about things.  When I saw someone using black duct tape to make bats I thought it looked easy and doable.  Of course, I didn't have black duct tape, but I did have something a bit ghoulish and definitely Halloween-ish.  So, while Walter sat on the dining table playing with his Lego I whipped up a garland of duct tape bats.

Aren't they charming?  And so easy to do.  All you need is a roll of duct tape, some string, and scissors.

I cut a length of string - in my case I did about five feet.  I then began by cutting off a strip of duct tape about 8" long, laid it sticky side up and placed the string about mid-way between the two ends.  I then cut off another strip of duct tape the same length and stuck it on top of the first piece, sandwiching the string between.  I cut a simplistic bat shape out of the sandwiched tape, with the string taking up the body/head portion.  One bat down, five more to go.

The final garland took all of 10-20 minutes to do.

The duct tape gives the bats just enough shape while allowing some "natural" batty movement to occur.  The best part is that they are water proof and we can hang them outside without worrying about the rain.  They were the final piece of Halloween decorating that went up today.

You might be noticing a different colour to our front door, mailbox ... and, in fact, to the house itself.  Yes, we had the exterior of the house painted.  Once Manuel has the shutters back in place I'll take some photos and show you the results.

Before we did our Halloween decorations outside the house we went for our yearly pumpkin picking on Westham Island.  This has become something of a family tradition for us.  I think this must be our fourth year going?  The farm we go to does a great job in getting everyone into the spirit.

Along with the pumpkin theme, the farm has some animals that the children love to visit - donkeys, goats, chicken, and cows.

Of course, the most important part of the day is finding our pumpkins.

The whole day was very inspiring ... especially for Walter who started practicing his monster moves.

The funny thing is, he's not going as a monster - he chose a policeman costume!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

How Sears Nearly Drove Us Crazy

Remember when we bought the patio furniture, dishwasher and fridge back in August?  We put the patio furniture on our balcony, we installed the dishwasher, and next we were going to get the fridge hooked up.  Except ... that never happened.  Let me explain.

We bought everything back on August 24th and we took the patio furniture with us.  We had the dishwasher and fridge delivered.  That ended up being the following Saturday, August 31st.  The delivery guys wouldn't bring the fridge into the kitchen because the doors had to be removed in order to fit it through the doorways.  That wasn't in their job description - they would void our warranty if they did that.  Ugh.  On the phone to Sears - they organized for a technician for the Tuesday ... except, they misunderstood and scheduled the delivery guys again.  So, another wait while they organized the technician along with the delivery guys because, of course, the technician doesn't move things, only takes them apart and puts them together.  The technician arrived early, got the doors off and suggested a re-schedule of his time to get the doors on once the delivery guys had moved the fridge into the kitchen!  I must have looked shell-shocked because the technician ended up helping Manuel move the fridge into the kitchen.  Just as they were placing the fridge in the kitchen the delivery guys arrived!  The technician put the doors back on, and we plugged it in.  BEEB-BEEB-BEEB!  A never-ending alarm sounded, and the fridge wouldn't chill.  The technician wasn't sure, but decided to order a new motherboard.  Another week and a half of waiting with a dud of a fridge taking up precious kitchen space while our old fridge sat in the garage.  Yes, that meant every time we needed something from the fridge we had to go through the garage ... and go back out to put things away.  The motherboard finally arrived ... no, wait, maybe not ... there was a mix-up ... the technician was booked ... we waited ... no one showed up ... oh, maybe the part hadn't arrived after all.  Finally, we couldn't take it anymore.  We called to have it taken away ... which resulted in more problems because, of course, the delivery guys who came wouldn't take the doors off!  Finally, Sears Outlet organized a private moving company that did take the doors off, and did remove the fridge for us.

We went from this:

To this:

And, finally, back to this:

We'll move the old fridge back ourselves.  Once we've recovered from the stress of experiencing Sears customer service.

Just in case you are wondering, we would still consider shopping at Sears in the future.  We've bought from them in the past without these kinds of problems and we're hopeful that future experiences will be better.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Quick Tweak - Hidden In Plain Sight

I'm still getting up my nerve to re-cover my first dining room chair.  In the meantime, I thought I'd share a quick tweak I did that makes life easier while remaining stylish.

Please note that this tweak is really meant for the women reading this blog ... having said that, you gentlemen might find another use for this tweak ;)

When it's that time of the month I always find it a hassle to make sure I have things on-hand.  Then I came up with a great (dare I say, genius?!) idea.  While shopping at Ikea I came across these cute woven containers - three in a set with lids included (Fryken - $14.99 CAD).
I thought they were adorable, but at first wasn't sure what I could use them for.  Then it came to me - a decorative storage container to sit on the back of the toilet.

With the lid on you have no idea about what hides beneath ...

Handy, but discreet.

What have you got hiding in plain sight?

Friday, September 06, 2013

Finding a Cheap Solution to Recovering Chairs

Remember, in July, when I started to take the fabric off the seats of the dining room chairs?  Remember that?

Well, I didn't get any further.  Part of it was the daunting task of pulling out all those staples, part was the daunting task of stapling on new fabric.  But the biggest obstacle was fabric.  There are seven chairs.  That's a fair chunk of fabric.  I did have some different fabrics already ... but none of them really made me happy - they were either too flimsy for seats, not the right colour-pattern-style, or I just didn't have enough to do everything.  So, I put it on the back-burner while I thought of possible solutions.  Intermittently, throughout July and August, I checked out possible solutions ... I checked fabric stores - nothing caught my eye.  I even thought about using bed linen - but couldn't find something that just hit that sweet spot.  Then yesterday, while worshipping visiting Ikea I saw some curtains.  Funky pattern - check.  Two colour options (blue with white, or black with white) - check.  Fabric thick - check.  The best part of it?  They were marked down to $14.99 for two big panels.  More than enough to do all the chairs.  Check, check, check.  Happy girl here!

Kajsamia - funky, thick, and cheap - I think it will be perfect as a chair fabric.  It won't be just a plain, solid colour, yet the black base should make it work with almost any colour scheme we finally develop for the dining room.  The pattern of the trees echoes the forest view from the windows of this space, and at the same time provides a bit of whimsy.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Shopping For A and Bringing Back A, B and C

For several months now we've been debating what kind of patio furniture to get for the deck that leads off the living room (the deck is approximately 13'5" by 11'9").  All summer we went back and forth on a table with chairs or sofa with chairs.  I was leaning towards the later, but Manuel really wanted a place to sit outside to eat.  My thinking was within 20 feet of the patio we already had a large dining table in the formal dining room and a smaller family table in the kitchen/family room area - why have another eating area so close?

Then, a couple of weeks ago Sears Outlet had a sale on patio furniture and we decided we'd go check it out.  Within minutes of getting into the store we spied the perfect set - a loveseat, two chairs, and a coffee table.  The seats were really comfortable and the edges of the arms smooth - nothing to hurt a young child.  Although the frames looked like wood they were actually made of light weight metal which made them perfect for outside living.  Sold!

Of course, while we were in the store we looked around ... and spied some appliances that were hugely discounted.  We ended up buying a Kenmore Elite dishwasher (model #630.14003) which is actually made by Bosch, and a French-style refrigerator made by LG (model #LFX25978ST).  What started out as a simple patio furniture shopping trip ended up a tad higher in cost ;)  Still, we were happy with our purchases since the existing fridge and dishwasher that came with the house were fairly old and not running as efficiently as they could (the dishwasher sounded like a jet plane taking off when it was running!).

We had to wait a week for delivery, and naturally, when they arrived Manuel was out (getting a nail taken out of the truck tire).  We hadn't checked the width of our doors - the entry door was wide enough, but all the doors leading into the kitchen were only 28-29" ... too narrow for modern-day appliances to fit through without some work.  The delivery men said they didn't have the tools to do the work and they left everything in the garage.  When Manuel got home ten minutes later he was not a happy camper (as I expected).  Although he was OK with dealing with the dishwasher the fridge was another story.  The fridge came with a water/ice dispenser - LG places the mechanics in the door to save interior space.  This is a great idea, but it means that there is a fair chunk of electronics and hose going through the hinge areas.  When trying to get a fridge through a narrow doorway you usually end up taking the doors off ... but with this setup Manuel didn't want to chance damaging something and ruining the warranty.  So he called Sears to arrange help.  While on the phone he also mentioned that the water filter was missing and some of the hosing (when getting items from the Sears Outlet stores it's something you have to consider - that parts might be missing).  He arranged for a technician to come out ... four days later.  Thankfully, we hadn't sold the old fridge yet.  Of course, we had moved everything out and placed the old fridge in the garage.

In the meantime, Manuel got to work with the dishwasher.  Getting the old one out wasn't too difficult.  I took some photos before it was pulled so that I could place an ad on Craigslist.  It still works and someone can likely use it - perhaps for a secondary suite.  (For an old dishwasher it's incredibly well maintained and so pristine inside.)  Of course, once we pulled it we started to run into problems.  The new dishwasher came with a great setup for getting power and water to it, but the old kitchen setup wasn't a great fit to it.  We found a junction box behind the old dishwasher and old copper piping.  Manuel got that all cleaned up and leveled the floor area so that the dishwasher would be level in front and back.  When we tried to slide it in we realized that it wasn't going to fit - it was too tall!  Now, dishwashers come in pretty standard sizes so this was a bit puzzling.  However, we soon realized it was the floor in the kitchen that was causing the problems.  At some point they had put wood throughout the foyer, dining room, and family room, but not originally the kitchen.  They must have changed their minds and instead of pulling the lino they overlaid the wood floor ... which meant it was higher than the other floor.  This also meant the floor was higher than the floor underneath the lower cabinets.  Ugh.  Manuel was forced to shimmy the counter up enough so that we could slide the new dishwasher in.  Next, he hooked up the plumbing and electricity.  Oops ... water leakage.  What?  No, the dishwasher was fine.  It was the drain leading from the sink to the garbuerator.  A huge vertical crack almost the entire length of the pipe finally gave out.  It was a good thing it happened then instead of after everything was back in place since we likely wouldn't have noticed it for weeks (who looks under their sink on a daily basis?!).  Once Manuel got that replaced and everything hooked up we were able to run a load.  The quietest dishwashing load that had ever occurred in that house!

Now, all we have to do is put those doors back and put everything back where they belong.

You can see we also need to replace the stove at some point, but for now we'll leave it.  I'd like to paint the cabinets white to lighten up the room, but the major renovation of the kitchen won't happen for quite some time.  In the meantime, we have clean dishes ;)

Next up - installing that fridge.  I'll let you know how that goes once it's complete.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Summer Camping 2013

Summer vacation for us is usually time with family, doing chores around the family farm, and spending some time back woods camping in Forest Services sites.  This year was no exception.  Two weeks filled to the brim with sun, farm work, camping, fishing, dirt roads, and lots of family time.

Let's get started ... first up, farm work.  The grapes needed trimming and weeds trimmed back.

The peaches needed harvesting ...

Then off to Christian Valley, in behind Big White ...

... to Nevertouch Lake.

Forest Services camp sites are either free or require just a small sum of money to stay at.  The trade-off?  Pit toilets, and very basic sites with no services.  You are expected to supply your own water, garbage services, and toilet paper.  Clean up after yourselves, and leave things better than you found them.  In return you get serenity, peace, quiet, incredible flora and fauna, and intense beauty all around.  The people you meet are overwhelming friendly and generous.

This isn't camping for the faint of heart.  There are lots of dirt roads to contend with.

Long, rolling dirt roads ...

With tree harvesting happening during the weekdays ...

... and campsites nestled in between.

Setting up camp.

Sites with incredible views.

Of course, fishing to help you relax.

After five days of camping we headed back to the farm to finish off our chores ... although we did take a day off to visit Summerland.

To ride the steam train.

After riding the train Walter declared he had ridden every type of transportation except for space rockets - cars, trucks, buses, sky trains, boats, planes, and steam trains.  Wow - only six and already so many ways to move around!