Sunday, October 25, 2009

Forget Me Not

Well, I think I have managed to escape the recent bout of illness that has wound its way through my family. Erin (youngest daughter) and Marc (darling hubby) got the worst of it. I had a few days of general "feeling crappy-ness" and Makenna (oldest daughter) ended up with nothing more than a sore throat. Now, I know the cold and flu season is only just beginning, but seeing just how many sick people there are around me, I was quite happy to escape 3 or 4 days of bed-ridden yuckiness.

For the first time in several weeks, I am sitting alone in the peace and quiet of my basement office, and I have NOTHING on my agenda for the entire day. NOTHING! I am quite excited about this prospect, but I know that even though I have nothing planned, laundry, house cleaning and cooking are sure to find their way onto my day planner. SIGH. I will enjoy the peace and quiet while it lasts.

One of my favourite things to do on a "lazy day" is scrapbook. When I was pregnant with my second daughter, I started scrapbooking. I found it an incredibly relaxing (if a little expensive) hobby. My kids love nothing more than pulling one of their scrapbooks off the shelf and reading a story that is just about them.

My childhood memories are mostly jumbled in a box in my mothers basement. We rummage through a shoebox full of old pictures, half the time we can't remember where or when the picture was taken or the particular memory associated with it. The wonderful thing about scrapbooking is that it offers you the chance to journal those memories (as they happen!) right into your scrapbooks. When your child (or grandchild!) looks at those photos years later, they will know exactly what was happening at the exact moment that photo was taken. It is a wonderful gift for future generations.

Now, with the age of digital photos upon us, we are no longer faced with shoeboxes of memories, but rather file folders of pictures stored on a computer. They are trapped in a technology that, while reliable, can be somewhat unstable. What would happen if your computer crashed and you lost those files? What if your CD full of photos got stepped on and broken? Also, what good are those photos if you can't pull them out and share them with others?

I know that scrapbooking is not for everyone. Many people consider it to be "too crafty", "too time consuming" or "too expensive". While all of those things can be somewhat true for traditional scrapbooking, I have recently discovered "digital scrapbooking" and I have to say - I am HOOKED!

Creative Memories offers an absolutely amazing software package for creating and printing your own digital scrapbooks. You can download a free version of their "Storybook Creator" software right from their website. They do have another version that you can purchase that offers more options and design flexibility, but you can create a lovely, and inexpensive, memory book simply using the basic trial version. (I created my very first digital scrapbook using only the "free" version). For around $65 (including shipping!) I received a beautiful hardcover 8 x 8 bound book that looked like something I would buy at Chapters. It contained over 100 images (just to print the photos alone would have typically cost me around $25) as well as my own journalling and a personalized cover with a photo. The entire book took me around 2 hours to create and they had it shipped to me within 4 days of placing my order on the website. If I decided I wanted to have another copy of the book for my mother, it's as easy as re-ordering the same book online. How cool is that?

I have since created many other memory books (of couse, I upgraded to the "fancy" version of the software for $55 - totally worth it for a crafty nut like myself) but I still have so many more photos to go through (I really have to stop taking so many!). I have made it my goal to at least complete one family "yearbook" for each year. I really want to make sure that my kids are able to look back on their memories without having to search through old boxes of photos and ask "who is that?" or "where was this taken?"

Tomorrow is my 7 year wedding anniversary. It really is true what they say - once you have kids, it is almost like you wake up one morning and they are heading off to university. Time flies by so quickly. It seems like only yesterday I was planning my wedding, and now here we are, an "old married couple" with 2 kids. Even though you think you will remember every detail of yours or your child's life, as time moves on your memories fade. I have already forgotten so many things that I had thought were engraved in my mind forever. If it wasn't for the memory books that I had created, so many of these milestones would be lost.

If you have ever thought about giving scrapbooking a try - I encourage you to go for it! It is easier and cheaper now than ever to make scrapbooking a hobby, and it is a great way to pass a lazy Sunday. I guess I have now found something to do to fill the rest of my afternoon!

Jenn :)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

It's Not Easy Being Green

Last night, I was invited to attend the premiere of a new show in Toronto with a friend. The show was a musical called "Toxic Avenger", and I have to admit, had I not been invited to attend, this is not likely the type of show I would have chosen to buy tickets to. The basic premise revolves around the two main characters "Melvin and Sarah". Melvin is, well, your typical Melvin. He's a skinny, wimpy nerd that is constantly harassed by the town bullies. He has the hots for the town librarian, Sarah, who also happens to be blind. (A blind librarian you say?? Well that's part of the fun!)

Melvin is also a big advocate for a cleaner, greener environment. Unfortunately for Melvin, he lives in the filthiest, most polluted place on earth - New Jersey. One night, the town bullies harass him for the final time, and they end up dumping him in a vat of toxic slime. He emerges as a 7 foot tall, freakishly green superhero and proceeds to kick the butts of the aforementioned bullies and sets out on a quest to save New Jersey from becoming a toxic wasteland. Much hilarity ensues, and I have to say, this is probably one of the best shows I have seen in a long time. The score was phenomenal (a rocking good time, as they say) and the 5 person cast, 3 of whom play multiple characters, was fantastic (they re-define the meaning of a quick costume change!!!) Be forewarned, however, this is an adult musical. Not a place to bring the kiddies!

After all the fun, we are left with a very powerful "green" message. If we keep abusing our planet the way we do, the whole world is going to look like New Jersey someday. And we don't want that, now do we????

I know that within the past several years, we have all been making an effort to be more "green". Low energy light bulbs, more recycling efforts and those horribly annoying re-usable shopping bags (I can NEVER remember to bring them into the grocery store and I always have to leave my cart full of groceries and dash out to retrieve them from the trunk! But hey, at least I am trying!) As they say, every little bit helps, but is there more we could be doing?

There are many ways that we, as individuals, could step a little lighter on the earth. Of course, this goes back to the old "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" motto that has been drilled into our heads for many years now. Our new "green" efforts must go further than putting our newspapers in the blue bins at the curb, and there is no better place to start than at home.

Consider purchasing newer "Energy Star" rated appliances to replace those old power suckers in your kitchen or laundry room. Improve your insulation and replace or repair older windows and doors to reduce your heating costs. Bring your lunch to work in reusable containers. Use environmentally friendly cleaning products or make your own using readily available household products (Click here for some ideas!)

If you are interested, I have composed a 12 part "green living" e-campaign that is full of tips on how you and your family can reduce your "footprint" on our planet. If you are interested in subscribing, please click here to fill out the comment form on my website (with your email address, please!) and let me know that you would like to receive my "Go Green" e-newsletter.

It may not be easy being green, but it's not easy living in a toxic slime ridden planet that resembles New Jersey either. I guess the bottom line is, that if each of us made one change to reduce our "footprint", that is one more step towards preserving our planet for future generations.

Jenn :)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

No Use Crying Over Sold Signs

Well, it has certainly been an eventful week! There is no better feeling than looking back at the week behind you and being able to say "maybe I wasn't perfect, but I did good". It was definitely a roller coaster of emotions - some good, some bad and some, a little over the top.

I was able to sell a house for some very important clients this week - my parents. They have now entered the "retirement" phase of life (and I am more than just a little jealous), and the time has come for them to move from the home which I helped them buy almost 12 years ago. As we moved through the process, everything was exactly as it had been with other clients in the past. We focus on what needs doing, we do it, and we move forward. After so many years selling real estate, it can be almost a robotic process.

They worked very hard at getting the home ready for the market, and once all of the major work was done, I helped them "stage" the home for showings. By the time I was finished, the house looked so fantastic, they almost didn't want to move. Almost.

To make a long story short, within a couple of days of being on the market, I found a buyer for the home myself. From the moment I introduced this family to my parents home, I wanted it to be theirs. I just knew that they would love the home the way my parents did. When it came time to put everything together, all went smoothly and both my parents and the new buyers were so thrilled with the way everything worked out.

My great surprise came when I realized that I was far more emotionally involved in the process than I thought. It was now time for me to accept that my parents were moving on to the next phase of their lives, and that they were no longer going to be 5 minutes away when I needed them. I actually cried in front of clients for the first time ever. It was definitely a new experience for me. But I digress....

During the relatively smooth offer process on my parents home, I was also knee deep in negotiations for another client of mine. This sale would not come so easily and smoothly, however.

The home in question was purchased by my client as an investment. It needed a great deal of work when he purchased it 2 years ago, however he had rented out the home during the time he owned it, and, as a result, the home showed very poorly. We eventually scratched out a deal after a somewhat painful negotiation process.

Where am I going with all of this??? Ah, yes. The point...and I do have this:

What really hit home for me this weekend is just how important it is to put the extra time and effort into "staging" your home properly before putting it on the market. This is something I have obviously always known, but the stark contrast between the ease of the 2 sales was glaring. In the first case, the buyer fell in love with the home from the moment they walked through the front door. There were, quite simply, no objections. "It is beautiful. We love it. Where do we sign?"

In the second case, the love was not there. It was my job to make the seller fall in love with the offer, which is a far more difficult process. Because of the condition of the home, the buyer had objections left, right and center, and my seller had to come to terms with that. It all worked out in the end, but a little more time and effort before the listing process, would have made for a much smoother sale, and more money in the seller's pocket. Without a doubt.

For some staging ideas and tips, check out this article that I have posted on my website!

Well, it is 2:42 am, and sleep still eludes me, so I will leave you with one last tip for the night. Just say NO to coffee after 8pm!!!!! Caffeine is not your friend!

Jenn :)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Blogging, Working and Chicken Soup

Well, it seems like everyone and their GRANDMOTHER is blogging these days, so I figured I had better jump on the cyber-bandwagon. Hopefully everyone will think that I actually have something interesting to say.

My world has been so full of craziness lately, that it is nice to actually take some time to sit and organize the thoughts running around in my crazy head.

The last of my babies has gone to school full time, so the bulk of my activity has revolved around getting back to work. I have been a Realtor for almost 13 years, but have been taking it easy for the last 6 years or so, to allow me to stay home and focus on the kids.

Well, it is back to reality for me, and I have to say, there really couldn't be a better time to be going back into the Real Estate market full swing! The fall market is one of the hottest we have had in years, with projected sales expected to be at (or above) levels that we haven't seen since 2006. Average prices are up and inventory levels are down, making it an ideal time for folks who are "on the fence" to think about maybe getting that house ready for sale.

Check out this article, written by the President of the Toronto Real Estate Board:

Recently, I also had the pleasure of helping my parents prepare their house for sale. I really enjoyed the chance to be "hands on" and help them stage their home. A lot of people really underestimate the POWER of properly preparing and staging their home for buyers. After seeing the "before" and "after" pictures of my parents home, well, I can tell you the difference is like night and day. If you are thinking about putting your home on the market, it is well worth your money and time to put an effort into staging it properly.

Lastly, it seems that the whole world is "coming down with something" these days. As I write this, I am listening to the sounds of my youngest daughter coughing and hacking away while her father makes his home made chicken soup to help her feel better. For those of you that don't know, my husband is a phenomenal cook, and without him, we would starve (or eat a lot of frozen pizzas)

So, as a THANK YOU for reading my first blog (in an effort to make all you "sickies" out there feel better), I am going to share with you his recipe for home made chicken soup - sure to cure what ails you!! Just don't tell him I told you, OK???? :)

Marc's Home Made Chicken Soup Recipe

1 3-pound chicken, neck reserved
3 1/2 quarts water
4 carrots (2 coarsely chopped, 2 thinly sliced)
4 celery ribs (2 coarsely chopped, 2 thinly sliced)
1 unpeeled onion, quartered
1 large, unpeeled garlic clove, smashed
1 tsp whole black peppercorns
1 large fresh bay leaf
6 parsley sprigs
2 thyme sprigs
Kosher Salt
1/2 pound thin egg noodles
1/4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

1. In a large stockpot, combine the chicken, neck, water, coarsely chopped carrots and celery, onion, garlic, peppercorns and herb sprigs. Bring to a boil. Cover partially and simmer over low heat for about 30 mins. Transfer chicken to a plate. Discard skin. Pull meat off the bones. Cut into small pieces and refrigerate.
2. Return bones to the pot. Simmer for about an hour. Strain the broth into a bowl and rinse out the pot. Return the broth to the pot and boil until reduced to approx. 8 cups. (about 30 mins) Season with salt.
3. Add the sliced carrots and celery to the broth. Cover and simmer until just tender. (12 mins) In a saucepan of boiling salted water, cook the noodles according to package directions. Drain and cool under running water. Add noodles, chicken and chopped parsley to the soup pot and bring to a simmer. Ladle into soup bowls and serve hot!

Note: You can add other veggies that you may have lying around. If you like your soup with a little kick, try adding some red chili flakes.

Makes approx 6 servings. Prep time, 45 mins. Total cooking time, 3 hours.