Thursday, October 11, 2012

More than a little excited!

Have I told you about my house?

I'm down to 10 days now.

Yeah, I know. I'm sorry, it's pretty much all I can think of these days. In case you couldn't tell, I'm ridiculously excited about it.

I'm mostly packed. Arrangements for connection/disconnection of utilities all made. Move week plans sorted out. Now I'm just playing the waiting game, more or less.

I've been trying to distract myself with awesome things on the internet, but inevitably get sucked into the pinterest black-hole which usually ends up with me daydreaming about how I'll decorate my new house. Thanks to pinterest, my To Do List is a long one (and hopefully a fun one!).  Here are some must-do's once I get settled into my place:
  1. Scrabble Magnet Board. I'm going to have more walls to cover, and I already have very little to hang. I think something like this will make for perfect wall-art in the foyer or maybe at the bottom of the stairs. Also, I love Scrabble.
  2. First house ornament. Of course this must be done.
  3. Dream up/plan next year's garden
  4. Make this jewellery holder
  5. Wall Art for a bedroom
And then there's a new blog I've been following for awhile. Its hilarious and sometimes heart-warming, but mostly hilarious - Stuff Christians Like. And before you roll you eyes, I need you to go read a few of Jon Acuff's entries. For anyone who has grown-up in the church, you'll see what I mean. Acuff gets it - he gets what we're doing right, but mostly wrong in church and he calls it out, in a tongue-in-cheek sort of way. It's about time!
(Check out his blog, while you're visiting his site - he'll often post other random awesome stuff there, like this video.)

Friday, September 14, 2012

Have I told you my news?


As you can see, I might be just a little excited about it. It all happened so fast at first - the viewings (first and second), the big decision, the offer and the counter-offer, the inspection, the financing and sorting out the insurance. All of this within days of the house coming onto the market! So now all the conditions have been met, the sold sign is up, I've given my notice to property management at my apartment, and all there's left to do is wait until closing.

And wait, and wait, and wait....

Closing is on October 22nd. For anyone who's counting that's 38 days away.

I know there's lots to keep me busy - my To Do List is loooong! But man, I just want the wait to be OVER!
The house is sort of a dream-come-true, which is what a house should be, right? It's your biggest purchase, afterall! I went through a "must have" list I drew up back in 2009 (when I was obsessing about the Berwick house), and my house meets all of them, plus some. The house has 3 bedrooms + a basement family room, lots of storage, a decent functional kitchen (albeit with less counter and cupboard space than what I have in my apartment) with a separate dining room, a great backyard that's treed and private with enough space to garden and enjoy, plus a clothes line, 5 appliances included, walking distance to a grocery store and close to amenities, it's close to all levels of schools, and though I haven't lived in the neighbourhood yet, it does feel like a neighbourhood.


Can you tell I'm excited?

Friday, August 03, 2012

Out with the old

My laptop died. It was 7 years old, so I really can't complain. Everything started to go - the battery had long-gone (the laptop was basically rendered a desktop the last couple of years**), the CD/DVD player stopped working, the soundcard must've gone because the sound got very tinny at the end, and the on/off button gave out...which was what killed the laptop in the end. I took Methuselah to Staples to see if they could quickly fix the on/off button (to give me a chance to save the little bit of unbacked-up data I had on the hard-drive). They were a little surprised that my Toshiba Satellite A70 was still working. Apparently it was the 'dud' of that generation of laptops. Go figure.
Anwyay, the conclusion they came to: not worth it. In order to fix the on/off button, they'd have to take the bottom apart and it would be a couple hours of labour. Instead, they showed me how to remove the harddrive, and sent me to Robotnik to get a casing to put the harddrive (which was still operational) in, with a USB port to connect to a computer to download the data. Best $23 (incl. tax) I've spent in a long time! And now I have a portable HD (albeit an old portable HD) to use as a backup for my backup external HD. Yay!

So, now I'm in the market for a new laptop (as well as a house! *sigh*)

But with a new laptop, I anticipate spending more time in front of my computer, blogging. I have lots to share - gorgeous pictures from my vacation at the cottage, fun fishing pictures and other random snippets and bits from life these last few months.

**Tip: If you want to extend your laptop's battery life, remove the battery when the laptop is plugged in for long periods of time. Since I mostly use a laptop as a desktop anyway (the netbook is my portable computer), I'll just store the battery separately until I want to move the laptop around. (This may seem like an obvious tip, but it hadn't occurred to me that I could've been draining the battery while it was plugged in.)

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

On Managing Money

Alternative Title:

How I'm Learning to Make My Life Easier By Budgeting

I've tried many different kinds of budgets over the years. None of them really worked. Mostly because I wasn't exactly sure how to budget, what to budget for, and why I ought to budget. Afterall, I was living, giving and saving - that's all I needed to do, right? Then comes along my friend J.E. She's a master at budgeting (not to mention gorgeous, right J.E?!), and a big source of encouragement when I realised that I really hadn't been managing my money well. Over tea and treats, we'd talk honestly about mistakes made and successes.

And then she shared her secret with me. The Nerd Sheet, as she calls it. Oh yes, Nerd Sheet is appropriately named. It involves a little math, a lot of honesty and research into how you spend your money and on what, and a willingness to adjust how you live, maybe just a little or maybe a whole lot. I may also involve obsessive tweaking and double-checking. If this piques your interest I too will pass on the secret. The Nerd Sheet is online, and it's actually Gail Vaz-Oxlade's budget worksheet called Build a Budget that Works. The worksheet is downloadable in MS Excel format + instructions are all there. I also recommend reading her books Debt Free Forever and It's Your Money: Becoming a Woman of Independent Means. You can get both of these books from the library, for free. :)

(FYI: The last 6 months has involved more self-help reading than I've done, ever!)

In the process of budgeting, I've learned some things about money management.
Namely: Spending money is overrated. 
I actually get more enjoyment out of saving money than spending these days (mostly because I know that any money I save is going towards my house-fund).

Here's how I'm saving money:
  • Freebies: Who doesn't love freebies? Free events, free deals, free stuff. I have just about every rewards card out there, and I use them. And I get free stuff in return. I hang out with a kid once a week - I've mentioned this before - and it could get expensive if our visits were about entertaining her. But they're not. Our visits are about quality time spent together and having fun. Therefore, they don't require much money.  I could probably write a whole post on free things to do with kids (I might, later), but for now here's a few fun freebies: 
    • HPL branches (or at least the Keshen Goodman) has a huge stash of games - and welcome you to play them there. They also have a huge stash of lego - watch for the Lego nights, for kids and adults. 
    • The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia is free on Thursday nights thanks to BMO.
    • Cuddling cats/kittens and walking dogs at the SPCA is free (and appreciated).
    • Parks, picnics and playgrounds are also fun and free. 
  • Using the library: I haven't rented a movie for the better part of two years. I get all my movies (sometimes as many as half a dozen/week) from the library, either by browsing the shelves or via holds. If I don't get to all the movies I pick out, oh well. No money lost! And if, by accident, I forget to return them on time, the money goes to the library. I'm cool with that! Plus, with all those movies at my disposal, I don't even bother with TV anymore, except occasionally when I'm housecleaning for background noise. And then there's books and music. It's illegal to rip CDs from the library - I understand that - but it's not illegal to listen to a CD before you consider buying it, to see if it's worth paying for the full album or maybe just pay for the few songs you like. Also my "wishlist" is filled with CDs I've enjoyed from the library.
    • Tip: There's a library value calculator on Halifax Public Library's website that helps you calculate how much money you save by using the library. I save roughly $400 a month, how much do you save?
  • Meal planning + shopping from grocery flyers:  For the last 6 months I've been taking a little extra time each week to go through the flyers for Sobeys, Superstore, Shoppers Drug Mart and Wal-mart to find out what's on sale and meal plan around the sale items. I don't always follow the flyers religiously and I'm not always successful at executing the meal plan. But I've seen a definite drop in my grocery budget since I've started, and less food waste. I've also picked up on a few patterns and tips that I can count on: 
    • Sobey's raincheques are valid forever; Superstore's are only valid for 30 days.
    • Sobey's BOGO sales will always have mushrooms and bread of some kind, and lots of junk food. 
    • Superstore's tax-free days are a great time to shop for electronics. During the last one I bought my Canon Elph for $89. It was on sale and tax-free, and my old camera had bit the dust.
    • Canadian Tire often has the catfood I buy on sale, but you have to special order it because they usually only have a couple bags (and never the specific kind I buy) in stock.
  • Coupons: I'm not into extreme couponing, but I do have a few websites I check periodically to see if there are any good savings to be had. A $3 coupon on the brand of cat food I feed to Millie is nothing to sneeze at, especially when you can add it on top of the same brand on sale.
    • is a fabulous place to start if you're looking for coupons and deals. Initially I added the website to my RSS feed, but when post after post rolled in daily, I switched over to the email digest, which comes almost daily. 
    • I also signed up to which is where I got the awesome $3 coupon for catfood. 
  • Cut Fixed Expenses:  Evaluate what you really use, what you really need, what you really want. 
    • Bundling is not always cheaper. I have my cable services with one company, my longdistance with another, and my home phone and internet with a third company. All together I pay less than $120/mo when the Watch/Surf/Talk bundles are about $134/mo.You do have to negotiate, and to successfully negotiate you have to threaten to go to the other company.
    • Cut the extras, like CallerID or switch to e-billing vs. paper billing (often they'll discount your bill if you switch).
  • Cut Variable Expenses: This has been the hardest for me because it's the catch-all for all the little expenses that really add up. And it also includes things that are considered variable, but that I think of as fixed - like charitable giving, and car expenses (though these are variable, no doubt). But one of the variable expenses I've cut I'm really quite pleased with:
    • GoodLife Membership - dropped down to part-time! I pay half the rate, for a 3day/wk membership (set days: Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays), but have the same access to all gym equipment/programs etc. on those days. Here's the funny thing: I actually use my membership more now! For years I paid the membership with the intention of using it, but rarely did. Certainly not enough to justify paying the full fee. But as soon as I dropped down to part-time, I did my best to get there each of the 3 days. Weird, huh? And I love the new schedule, mostly because I don't feel guilty for not going to the gym anymore. If I make it 2-3 times a week, I feel like I've got my money's worth, without feeling guilty for not going the other 4 days.
I hadn't really intended on going into as much detail about my budgeting exercise as I've done here. I guess I'm making up for lost time blogging. Still, it's been a fun and empowering challenge, and I think hope expect it to put me in good stead for better money management from now on!

Sunday, June 03, 2012

House Dreams

Or, the alternative title to this post could be:  

How I'm About To Make My Life More Complicated

I live in a lovely apartment, with great property management and a friendly building super. I feel rather privileged to have great neighbours above me, H&B, who are quiet and considerate and friendly, but also who keep a keen eye on what's happening around and who care about the building and their neighbours. (It's not unusual for them to call me if they haven't seen my car move in a couple days, to check in. For some this would be off-putting, but I actually really like this aspect of apartment-dwelling. It's like a little community - and though I like living alone, I also like living in community. The two are not necessarily mutually exclusive.)

My apartment has lots of open space and storage, bright windows and a good sized balcony where I've been able to have a nice little patio garden. For the first time ever, I've had a dishwasher, and I love it  (there's no going back to not having one now)! I'm close to the laundry room and I have in-floor heating thanks to the boiler room directly below my apt. (nice in the winter; not so much in the summer). And I'm within a 10 min walking radius of all the amenities I could possibly want, including a 24 Hr Sobeys and Shoppers Drug Mart, a fantastic library and a bank branch.
Life is pretty easy right now.

But you all know I've been dreaming about owning a house of my very own for quite some time. Remember when I found that house in Berwick and went a little nutso for a bit - wanting it, dreaming about living in it, stalking it? Well, I'm sure the new owners are very happy there and I won't begrudge them that.

The last year, though mostly the last 6 months, I've been preparing myself financially for house-buying. I have the down-payment saved, and I've been working at budgeting and following a budget, and trimming said budget to be sure that I can afford a house and all the curveballs a house throws at you. I've been living frugally to see if I can do it. And I've done a little investigating into hosting international students, as a means of helping with a mortgage as well as not living all alone all the time.

Well, I've finally got myself in a position where I'm ready (financially, emotionally) to buy. I think. And now I'm in the process of getting my "ducks in a row" - researching best long-term fixed rates, mortgage pre-approval/s,  meeting with real estate agent/s, etc.
I've been reading this book, Homegirl: The Single Woman's Guide to Buying Real Estate in Canada, and feeling pretty good about where I am in the process. Before even reading the book, I can already tick off the recommended "To Do"s to determine if you're ready to buy. And, as luck hard work would have it, I am!
  • I've got the down-payment + closing costs
  • I've got a pre-approval from the bank
  • I've got a budget with room for for added expenses: heat/electricity, water, insurance + savings for emergencies
  • I've got an idea of what I'm looking for: must-haves, negotiables, price range and neighbourhoods
  • I've got a back-up plan (roommate/international student/s) in case everything in the house falls apart after closing (gotta be prepared for Murphy's Law, right?)
  • I've done the research.
One of the most important things I've discovered about this process of buying on my own has been the value of doing my research, and being informed. I know you can never know fully what to expect when buying a house - there are always going to be unknowns, un-planned-fors, and general chaos. But to at least have an inkling of what I'm doing, to know the right questions to ask, to know what everyone around me is talking about, and to know a little of what to expect is important to me.  My personality is like that anyway - I like the "black & white", the rules and procedures. I find comfort in predictability. I'm not adventurous when it comes to big decisions, especially big spending decisions.

Here are a few web-sources I've found useful in my research:
Canadian Mortgage Rates Trends
Mortgage Rates in Canada
TD Bank Mortgage Calculator
Crime Reports in Halifax (ca.2000-2011) / Halifax Regional Police Reports 
Home Buying Closing Costs in Halifax

I've talked with friends who have bought, many of them single-women, for their insights and advice.
I've picked the brain of a friend who is brilliant at budgeting (Thanks J.E.!)

Yep, I'm feelin' ready.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Happy Nowruz!

For the last 3 years (or is it 4?) I've been hosting a potluck to celebrate Chinese New Year, usually around the end of January, beginning of February. I missed it entirely this year. (Seriously, where has the time gone!?!) Thank goodness there are other New Years to celebrate! Nowruz is the Persian New Year, which also coincides with the first day of Spring, and it was a nice change for a potluck theme - Middle Eastern food, instead of Chinese. 

I have to tell you, our potluck was a Persian feast! For a small group of 6 people (small for a potluck anyway) we had a fantastic menu: 

Veggie tray
Main Course:
Adas-Polow (a saffron rice dish with lentils and raisins)
Koobideh (beef kebab)
Maast-o-Khiar (a yogurt and mint side-dish that went well with the beef kebab) 
Jujeh Kabab (chicken kebab)
Persian Yogurt Salad (a yogurt and cucumber side-dish)
bbq grilled vegetables 
Ghormeh Sabzi (beef and herbs stew with dried lemons)
Zereshk Polow (Saffron Rice with barberries)
grapefruit and lemon Italian sodas
Faloodeh (Persian Rose Water Ice)

One of the important parts of Nowruz is the Haft Sin Table. I think generally this is a separate table set up with seven symbolic items. I didn't go with the full Haft Sin items, but selectively put some of the items as a centrepiece for the table. Mirrors, lit candles, spouts (from carrot tops because I couldn't get lentils to sprout), rose water, sumac, and live goldfish!

And now I have 4 goldfish to look after. Well, actually...only 2 now. I seem to have killed 2 today. Let's hope the other 2 survive the night. And survive Millie. :)

Apparently I'm a sadistic goldfish owner. I've been enabling Millie's curiosity and terrorizing the poor goldfish.
View from above
Eye contact
Playing tag with the fish.

Monday, February 13, 2012


A new year; a new list of things to do in 2012:
  1. Preserve my photographs. I have more than 10,300 digital photos (21.9 GB) and none of them printed and put in albums or backed-up on anything else but my external hard drive. Both my computer and my external hard drive are 6 years old. This is a recipe for disaster. I'll be the first to admit that not every photo ought to be printed, but I do need to systematically begin to print my photos and put them in albums. I'll start with 2011 and work my way backwards. I also want to put together a Big/Little album of my favourite photos with the Little. 
  2. Create a home inventory for insurance purposes. We're all supposed to do this, but I'm guessing not many of us do. My plan is to take photos, and make a detailed list of electronics with serial numbers/model numbers and scan receipts. Sounds straight-forward, right?
  3. Spend less, save more.
  4. Go to the gym regularly. I have a part-time membership at GoodLife (which is actually a pretty great deal!), and rather than pay for a membership I don't use I want to make the most of my membership and see where it gets me. 
  5. Reduce grocery bill significantly. I spend way too much on groceries because I love to grocery shop, and I'm an optimist about cooking. I also tend to be an impulsive shopper. Yes, I love lists, but I usually find myself grocery shopping wherever I am (with my list at home on the fridge), and look for inspiration in-store. I have to get better at menu-planning AND smarter about shopping. I'm keen to buy local whenever I can, but I also need to plan meals based on sales in the flyers, and not shop impulsively.  Also, I'm ashamed at how much food spoils before I get to it, or finish it. I need to be more careful about what I buy and what I have time/plans to cook. This is my goal for 2012.
  6. Read more! I'm not reading much these days and that makes me sad. My excuse is being busy, and I've never been a before-bed reader (I fall asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow). So I need to be intentional about reading. Also, I have so many books on my shelf that I haven't read yet - I'd like work away at those so that I can free up some space (because there'll inevitably books that I can weed from my shelves after they've been read). But in reading more, I'm not going to put any boundaries on what I read, like I did last year. I have to admit, once I got into Jane Eyre and Tenant of Wildfell Hall, they read pretty quickly, but I slogged through at the beginning. I wanted to read them because I thought I should read them. It's like what Donald Miller says about the Bible in Blue Like Jazz: "I always thought the Bible was more of a salad thing, you know, but it isn't. It's a chocolate thing." I want to read a book not because I think it's good for me, but because I crave to read it. Y'know what I mean?  Of course there are also books along the way that we read because we know we should. Sidenote: I'm not a huge fan of Donald Miller, his writing style drives me crazy, so it's sort of a big deal that I quoted him just now.
  7. Inspired by Heather over at The Book Backlist, I'd like to start a reading journal. I'm already off to a good start for 2012 having read The Hunger Games and The Virgin Cure over the Christmas holidays. I'm debating about whether to do this online or on paper (leaning towards an actual notebook). But I like the idea of keeping track of first impressions from a book, date read etc., and then second impressions when I re-read a favourite.
  8. Go fishing! I've got the gear, might as well. I just need a fishing licence and I'll be ready to go!
  9. Roast a bird. I've never actually roasted a chicken - it always seemed just as economical to buy one of the bbq chickens in the grocery store. I'm told it's super easy, so I should probably give it a try.
  10. David Lewis processing - finish appraisal. 12+ boxes are taking up far too much space in my apt. and I'm ready to see them go. On the other hand, I do want to see what's in the albums. I'm nosey like that. Also, it's kind of my 'baby'. I'd like first crack at the research potential, if there is any.....and maybe eventually have something publishable out of it (an article, or a paper to present at an academic conference or something)...but that's another goal for another year. Right now I need to focus on getting the boxes appraised and into the Archives.
  11. Visit as many of the 27 Nova Scotia Museums as possible. I have a museum pass this year and I plan to use it! I'm going to aim for visiting at least 14 museums.
  12. Journal more. I've noticed that since the start of this blog, I've been less faithful with journaling. It's not a big deal really...but after recently going through some of my journals I did think it was a shame that I've been so sporadic in writing the last couple of years. Actually, I've been pretty sporadic with blogging too. Maybe I should work at posting more often here too.