Tax Time! Expanding File Review: Martha Stewart vs. Staples’ Cardinal Brand

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Here in Canada, our taxes have to be filed and paid by April 30th.  As a self employed freelance musician, I have to keep my receipts and documents together through the year. For a few years I had an accountant to help me sort through the tax process, but it was quite expensive.  For the past 3 or 4 years I have been doing it myself and I think I have figured out a system that is easy to maintain through the year and simple and quick to process when it comes tax time.

The secret is a good accordion or expanding file.  When Martha Stewart first introduced her line of office products at staples I was instantly attracted to the pretty colours.  It’s not the cheapest, and this year I decided to try the Cardinal brand to save a few dollars.  I use a new one every year, one for myself, and one for my husband, for seven years, as I only need to keep them for up to 6 years.  There are some surprising differences between the two brands and I thought I’d share them with you.

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First impressions: They look pretty much the same. Martha Stewart’s (right) is opaque, and comes with an elastic around the bottom, while the Staples folder is slightly see through with a leather-like trim. Other than that, they’re virtually the same size and shape.

The MS can stand up on its own, while the Cardinal can't.  Not a big deal, as I keep them in a shelf in a closet.

The MS can stand up on its own, while the Cardinal can’t. Not a big deal, as I keep them in a shelf in a closet.

The back side.  The Cardinal has a mesh pocket on the back.  Pretty useless, really... The MS has these notches on the bottom...

The back side. The Cardinal has a mesh pocket on the back. Pretty useless, really…
The MS has these notches on the bottom…

...in order to keep the lid open when I need it--pretty handy.

…in order to keep the lid open when I need it–pretty handy.

Here's where the MS fails.  Because of the way the bottom of the file "accordions", it pushes my letter sized pages up, obscuring the labels, so it always took me some rummaging around the folder to find the pocket I want.

Here’s where the MS fails. Because of the way the bottom of the file “accordions”, it pushes my letter sized pages up, obscuring the labels, so it always took me some rummaging around the folder to find the pocket I want.

The Cardinal brand.  What a difference!  I can see exactly where everything goes with very little effort!

The Cardinal brand. What a difference! I can see exactly where everything goes with very little effort!  For those of you looking for some examples of tax organization, I should also note that I keep a little mini-file in the car glove compartment for all my gas and other on-the-go receipts, and then in January during the holidays I amalgamate them together.

What other things do you do to keep your tax documents organized?  I use TurboTax Small Business for a tax software, and it is quite easy!  They also have people available over the phone or online if you have any questions, which I did use my first year, to understand the numbers better, and they are super nice and helpful!

Good luck during this busy tax season!  Thanks for reading!

Sewing a Custom Duvet Cover

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When we were dating, my now-husband had a queen sized duvet and a king sized duvet cover. His reasoning for this was to make the blanket “appear” bigger, and to cover the sides of the bed better.  However, all it really meant was that the duvet would constantly shift inside the cover and you could never get it properly centered.  Moreover sleeping meant someone was always a little short on the blanket coverage.  Fast forward 10 years later, and I finally decided to get a king-sized duvet, so that we could both sleep under something at night 😛

After some researching and waiting for sales, I bought a Sleepology Coolmax duvet from Home Outfitters at 50% off.  Then came the task of finding a duvet cover to fit.

I learned that no two duvets are the same size and neither are duvet covers.  How annoying is that?  Not to mention, they are expensive!  Most king sized covers run about $200, and they’re not even very good quality fabric.  After looking online, I figured it wouldn’t be too difficult to make my own!  I found this how-to, with measurements, and set to work.

I found some beautiful upholstery fabric at half off from my local Fabricland.  I used a similar coloured cotton broadcloth for the underside. The basic idea is to make a centre panel of the full width of the fabric and 2 side panels of half the width of the fabric.

Measuring the length of the panels--I added 2 inches to each side for seam allowance

Measuring the length of the panels–I added 2 inches to each side for seam allowance

Pinned the pieces together

Pinned the pieces together

Kinda wished I had thought to line up the pattern--but I didn't have enough fabric anyway.

Kinda wished I had thought to line up the pattern, but I didn’t have enough fabric anyway.  Still, the fabric is pretty; it reminds me of stained glass rose windows in old churches.

After the top and bottom sides were constructed, I lay them together with the duvet to centre and match the size.

After the top and bottom sides were constructed, I lay them together with the duvet to centre and match the size.

Pins, pins, pins!  This is the most tedious part, but the most necessary!  For any kind of sewing, pinning is the most important (and boring) part!

Pins, pins, pins! This is the most tedious part, but the most necessary! For any kind of sewing, pinning is the most important (and boring) part!

I took the zipper off our old duvet cover and put it on the new one.  On my sewing machine, I have a special zipper foot (left) that allows for easier zipper sewing.  I'm not very good at it, but it gets the job done :)

I took the zipper off our old duvet cover and put it on the new one. On my sewing machine, I have a special zipper foot (left) that allows for easier zipper sewing. I’m not very good at it, but it gets the job done 🙂

All done!  I love how it turned out!

All done! I love how it turned out! AND, it fits PERFECTLY, so there are no loose sides or bunching up anywhere!

A detail shot of how the seam works out on the bed.

A detail shot of how the seam works out on the bed.

While this was the biggest project, size-wise, I’ve ever undertaken, it’s also the one of the easiest–as long as you can sew a relatively straight line, you can attach giant rectangles together.  Sort of like a huge pillow case 😀  In the end it cost me about $95 for the fabric,  since the zipper was free, and it took about 6 hours to put together.  Definitely worth it!

Thanks for reading!

I’m back! My First Big Knitting Project

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Is it 2015 ALREADY??  I haven’t posted since last August, mostly because the school season started and all of a sudden I had no time to myself to sit, organize pictures or type. That said, it doesn’t mean nothing happened in our house and I have a bunch of projects I can’t wait to share!

First up, from September to December I knitted a cozy cardigan for my mother-in-law for Christmas. It was inspired by a crochet tutorial I saw on Youtube, which basically involved constructing a giant rectangle, and stitching some armholes together.  I thought, “yeah, that sounds easy enough.”

Front view–ignore the wierdo in the background there–this was taken on Christmas day, and needless to say my husband was feeling goofy.Front view--ignore the wierdo in the background there--this was taken on Christmas day, and needless to say my husband was feeling goofy.Little did I know the yarn I bought, a recycled cotton yarn called Freedom Echo (now discontinued 😦 ), was DK weight, which meant it is a very thin yarn, requiring more stitches to create the size I wanted.  It took me 9 balls of yarn and 4 months to finish, but I love the colour-block effect, and it is actually very smooth, warm and cozy!  I am now making another of the same design, using Berroco Maya, a yarn made of 100% alpaca and of greater weight, so it won’t take as long to put together (I hope!).

Here’s a view from the back:IMG_0002

Coming soon, some sewing projects, home organization, and some home reno projects!

Thanks for reading!

Laundry Room Makeover: Painting’s done!

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Remember my Basement Laundry Room?  The one with the cheap beadboard, orange cabinets, minty green doors and old pebbly tiles? (see here and here)

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BEFORE

Well, I’m done painting and here she is, folks, All Cleaned Up!

AFTER!

AFTER!

It doesn’t even feel like the same room!  It’s so bright and airy, I just love it!

The cupboards over the table will have the doors replaced, but I have idea for painting them, so you’ll just have to wait and see!

The floor paint is holding up very well.  My only regret is I allowed the lady at Home Depot talk me into getting the eggshell finish (less shiny), rather than going with my initial instinct and getting the high gloss finish.  She said that the risk was that if there was ever any water spillage that it would become slippery.  On the other hand, my experience has shown that it also clings to dirt marks and it is kind of hard to keep clean.  We had to move the fridge and chest freezer using a dolly it left some pretty dark tread marks.  Oh well.  Live and learn, after trying to clean the marks with TSP, I just painted over them.  😀  All better.

A closeup of the painted floor, showing the texture of the tile under the paint.

A closeup of the painted floor, showing the texture of the tile under the paint.

I still think it looks pretty sharp and amazing!  Also, the floor actually feels warmer on the toes than it did before, like a thin layer of insulation.

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Does anyone have tricks for storing luggage? Growing up we used to keep them in the crawl space.  These ones used to take up the entire closet in the guest room before I moved them down here. I’m thinking of installing a shelf over the fridges to hold some of the suitcases, and then building a little cabinet beside the fridge and freezer to hide the rest.

Lovin’ that iron/board caddy!  Finally a place for it to belong, and not flop all over the place and get in the way.

One last idea for this room. I’d like to eventually replace that old fold-up table with a built in table-top, with the capability for some storage, but mostly to use as a craft/sewing space.

In the meantime though, I’ll just enjoy the new washing machines and breathe in the open space!

Thanks for reading!

New Gazebo and DIY Patio Table

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Hi everyone!!

I must apologize for my month-long absence from the blogosphere!  August has been a crazy month, first with many piano students taking exams, so life has been preoccupied with extra lessons and masterclasses every weekend.  Then my laptop’s power cable died–Paisley had chewed it slightly a few years ago, exposing the wires, and I had it wrapped in electrical tape, but a few weeks ago it finally decided to give up the ghost.  I have finally replaced it, so I’m back online baby!

Our patio is blessed/cursed with full sun most of the morning and afternoon, and my husband and I decided that we needed a gazebo for sun protection so we can sit out and enjoy without burning to a crisp.  With the awkward pie-shape of the backyard with the pool and existing flowerbeds we decided on an octagonal shape, 13′ x 10′ to go alongside the house.  We got this one from Home Depot (this link is to the US site, as it is now no longer available from the Canadian site–we managed to get it before it was discontinued)IMG_0003The assembly and installation was pretty easy, and we anchored the structure to the brick using these really cool cement anchors that flange out as you nail them down.  The hardest part was the drilling as Hubs took a few minutes to drill each hole using a special bit and a hammer drill, taking breaks every minute or so to cool the drill.  It was so worth it though; we are now spending so much more time relaxing outdoors than before!

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Claustrophobic dining 😦

I’ve been wanting a larger patio table for some time.  We’ve had this small round patio set for nine years, and I’ve always found it awkward eating with friends, with the umbrella in the middle, and not having much extra space to include salads, dishes, condiments etc, that I like to include with dinner. The table space always ends up being too crowded.

I had the lumber pre-cut at Home Depot, which made the project so much easier

I had the lumber pre-cut at Home Depot, which made the project so much easier

I saw this amazing table on one of my favourite blogs, Shanty 2 Chic, which inspired me to come up with my own easy version.  Basically the tabletop consists of 4 6ft-long planks of 2×8 framing lumber, framed with 2x4s, all attached using the Kreg Jig.  The legs are also made of 2x4s.  The lumber cost me about $70, and the Blue-Kote Kreg screws (designed to be non-corrosive for outdoor furniture) cost about $11 for 2 boxes of 50.  Another $15 for outdoor varnish and the table cost $96!  She’s super sturdy!

 

Framing up the tabletop

Framing up the tabletop

IMG_0016I chose to paint the legs graphite using Annie Sloan Chalk Paint (already had) to coordinate with the gazebo, and left the table top the original colour for a more rustic feel.  4 coats of varnish later and she’s a beaut!  Easily seats 6 to 8 people, and I’m loving it!  I think I’ll head out there right now for a sandwich lunch 😀IMG_0018

Underneath

A close-up of what it looks like underneath

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Thanks for reading!

Getting to know: Knitting

Ok, so I’ve been working on a basic scarf (aka big long rectangle 😀 ) for the last 2 weeks now, and I’ve made mistakes, undid, re-did, undid, and re-did again, and I think I’m getting the hang of the basic stitches now.  Because it’s been a basic “get-to-know” process, I’ve been using some cheapy needles and acrylic yarn from Wal-Mart.  Still the process has been fun, and I find it very relaxing while watching television in the evenings. Oh, yeah, and that yarn bowl is working out GREAT!

What I have so far...

What I have so far…

I’ve been reading up on different yarns are out there, why weight and needle size are important, and I’m ready to experiment with some different materials.  Because of my sensitive skin, I am gravitating towards cotton and bamboo.  I am particularly intrigued by bamboo, because it is naturally organic (grown without pesticides), and eco-friendly (harvesting doesn’t kill the plant, so it quickly renews itself).  There are plenty of other benfits too (thanks, knitting.about.com):

  • Bamboo yarn, when not mixed with unnatural fibers, is biodegradable.
  • Bamboo yarn is often dyed with more natural dyes that are safer for the environment.
  • Bamboo fabric is naturally antibacterial.
  • Bamboo also has ultra-violet protective properties.
  • Fabric knitted with bamboo is quite breathable and cool and has great drape.
  • Bamboo has a good luster, similar to mercerized cotton.
  • Bamboo is strong, flexible, and can be softer than silk when spun into yarn.

I tried looking at local stores first, but most only carry the conventional fibres–wool, silk, alpaca, cotton, polyester and acrylic.  There is only one Canadian online store, imrsheep.com, who carries it, that I have found so far, but the shipping fees are steeper than I would like (about 30% of the cost of the yarn itself!).   After much web-surfing, I came across a British company, loveknitting.com, that has a HUGE selection of everything you could possibly need, with a team who seems to really love knitting (I love that everyone is photographed with needles and yarn, no matter the confessed knitting ability).  BONUS: free shipping after $50 CAD!  I am so there!

By the way, you can probably expect a big long rectangle,  I mean, scarf, from me for Christmas 😀 😀 😀

Thanks for reading!

Garden Update: July 2014 and patio stone weed removal

Today is rainy, but I managed to grab some pics of the garden yesterday during the sunny part of the afternoon.  The summer here has been quite cool and rainy, unlike the blistering humid summers that we are used to during these months. In spite of this the flowers keep growing 😀 My dirt hole has become a bit of a weed hole, but like when working on a piano work, one learns the mechanics of the piece with the mind while letting it speak to your heart about what it needs in its expressive shaping.   Now that I know what is under the ground, I can contribute to its current vision and try to make it my own as well for next year.

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Living with Allergies: Carob–a Healthy Chocolate Alternative

Hi everyone!  Hope you’re having a great day!  I meant to post this yesterday, but the neighbourhood was having connectivity issues 😦  It seems that the problem has now been resolved so here we go! If you’re sensitive to chocolate then carob may be an alternative for you. It has a very similar taste to chocolate, only naturally slightly sweeter  (here’s a little info about where carob comes from). You can find it in many grocery stores in powder form or as carob chips , which are harder to find.  I can find carob chips at the Bulk Barn, which is ok if you’re not too worried about airborne contamination.  I think you can find them in packages at Whole Foods. Some health benefits of Carob: Continue reading

Living with Allergies: My Natural Skin Care Routine

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I have struggled with food- and environ-related allergies all my life, which usually manifested in skin rashes all over my body and as a teen, severe acne on my face.  When I turned about 20,  a redness began to develop on my face, not unlike rosacea, which slowly began to turn into eczema, in which my skin would turn dry and crusty over 3 or 4 days, then peel off, then I had fresh skin for 1 day, and the redness cycle would start again.  It was horrible torture for about 2 years.

Then 2 things happened which turned my life around.

1. I visited a naturopath, who had me tested for allergens (click here for my full list of food allergies).  Once I eliminated all these foods, I immediately began to feel better.  My skin and my energy improved a lot, I had fewer headaches, even the severity of my menstrual cramps lessened.  Visiting the naturopath also encouraged me to start looking at toxins in my home, in my food, and in my skin care.   Continue reading

New Yarn Bowl

A couple of weeks ago we visited our friend Kristen in Sarnia, Ontario, who we haven’t seen for years.  She and my husband attended seminary together for a little while, which is how we met.  It was so wonderful to catch up with her and even though there was a little bit of rain, it didn’t dampen the conversation one bit!  A few years back she had taken up pottery, and among her creations was this amazing yarn bowl, specially designed for knitting/crocheting to hold the ball of yarn and thread it through to prevent snags.  When asked if I could purchase it from her, she said, “Take it. You can have it!”  Such a beautiful gift!  I was so delighted to be able to take this home to enjoy 🙂IMG_0012 Continue reading