Planning a packed lunch for crossing the border

Living in Southwestern Ontario, we are less than 2 hours from a number of major US cities. This makes air travel really handy but also opens up tons of fun day trips options as long as you've got a valid passport (or for kids: a birth certificate). 

My beautiful friend Ashley, who has contributed to this blog even in the early days, has a Detroit Zoo membership which includes bringing guests! Woo hoo! This means tomorrow we are packing my crew up and doing a ladies & littles trip to see the ankmals. Ashley is an animal lover and humane treatment advocate. She has volunteered with animals and recently invited a rescue dog to join her family so I trust that this zoo is one we can trust to make good choices!

I didn't want to risk paying "attraction prices" for food (oh my gosh, new blog theme: Amy is a cheapo!) so I am in the process of packing a lunch. Problem is: the border is picky about what you can bring with you, particularly no meat or fresh produce. 

Here's what's in the works:

I can't skip fruit for the kiddos so a batch of nutmeg banana chips and cinnamon apples is dehydrating. Can't deny me for non fresh fruit! 

Here is: our insulated lunch bag, some packaged treats (raspberry oatmeal bear paws, and rice baby crackers), Oliver's daily vitamin (Nordic Berries), Green Beaver organic sunscreen just in case and a bag of cherry tomatoes we have to finish before the border. Also some pasta salad as seen below. 

Excuse the hilarious photo but it hasn't really mixed well yet and the top just looks like dry pasta, ha ha. I mixed chilled pasta with vingearette, avocado, red onion, cucumber, red bell pepper, chickpeas and boiled eggs. 

Lastly I have a huge bottle of water freezing so it'll be cold all day. 

Just have to add our ID, some diapers and wipes, hats, etc and we are off!

Exciting things in grocery land

Wow, two grocery posts in a row. Just hand me a Loblaws flyer and call me Extreme Couponer. 

I can't help it if I'm excited about some finds. That's normal right? To put your groceries away and then sneak back for a look like "Yum, this stuff looks good." Breakfast after grocery day is always the king of breakfasts. 

So here were my top three:

I've seen a bazillion commercials for Silk Creamy Cashew but when I found a lone carton of it hanging out near the yogurt I just had to take it home with me. I even ran my carton of almond milk back to its place. I've been drinking homemade cashew milk for years but it's nice to have something ready made so I don't need to buzz up the blender when others in the house might be sleeping (between Dakota sleeping in, both of them napping, and me crashing so early in the evenings someone is always sleeping around here!) It tastes really good and I can't wait to make a pumpkin smoothie with it. Did anyone catch how I just sold it by saying I don't need to use the blender and then subsequently suggested blending it into a smoothie? Okay cool. 

Find #2, and you're welcome for this high quality camera phone shot, is Lindt white coconut chocolate. Some days I just NEED a 2nd coffee and a square of chocolate around 3pm. And if there's like totally like super healthy coconut pieces then it's most definitely like crazy good for you right? Right. 

Lastly, not a grocery store find (LCBO) but Featherstone white wine. Can't pretend to know much about this winery (it's in the Niagara region) nor can I convince you that I'm a wine snob by any means but it tastes great and I'm really happy with it. Decently sweet and fruity but not at all floral, it's just very smooth and refreshing. I love it after a crazy day of child chasing.

Lastly, how awesome is it that President's Choice is now artificial colour and artificial flavour free?! I've always been impressed with what quality they offer at such affordable prices. They have a HUGE range of products and Cal and I especially love their "Black" line (for coffee, jam, burgers, and much more). We will sometimes say to each other "just grab something from Black". Knowing that an entire network of products like that is totally free of horrible chemicals, and are instead relying on REAL flavours and colours is so encouraging. I support them big time for this major decision. Go PC!

Finding eco friendliness in unexpected places

So many of my posts seem to have a disclaimer; here's the one for today... Disclaimer: I am cheap cheap cheap! Maybe the nicer way to say that is "frugal" or "thrifty". I hang on to clothes, and shoes, longer than their fashionable or functional expiration date. I will gladly make a 75 cent can of lentils stretch for a few lunches. I negotiate with baristas to get fancy drinks at reasonable prices. So when I grocery shop there is a mix of "get what's good" (on a culinary level and also in regards to sustainability and planet consciousness) and "what's affordable". 

The first place I found Eco friendliness in an unexpected place was canned tuna. I was excited to see a super deal of like under $2 each and almost didn't realize that in my frugality I was also making a kind choice!


Ocean's now offers Pole & Line products which refers to the method that they were caught. Net fishing sucks on many levels. Out in the ocean anything can be caught in there (dolphins!) and we can't trust that they'll be humanely rescued. 

The other product was sent to me for blog sample and its Garnier Fructus shampoo, conditioner and weekly deep treatment for blondes. 

Basically they've re formulated their packaging to use more recycled material. Which is helpful considering how many of these bottles the average household burns through in a year. If you're looking for a run way to repurpose your shampoo bottle wash it out really well and fill with pancake batter. You can use the new precision to write out cursive letters and make word pancakes. So fun. 

Sometimes in trying to save a buck I can overlook the really Eco concious choices out there so it's great when these gems pop up unexpectedly. Glad to see major companies are mindful of these issues and they'll only become more so if we support!

Snack Ideas for Preschoolers

Do you ever have that moment standing in front of a full fridge going "What can we eat?!" It's the worst. It happens in the pantry, or cupboards, too. It happens at snack time, or when it's time to make dinner. And the hilarious part is there's so much food right in your face but it just doesn't come together.

My Mennonite heritage (and many other factors) have really helped me have a creative mind for putting a meal together using what you've got. That's not to say we don't plan ahead or that we've come into some hard time where we need to make one piece of meat stretch for a week. But for me the real kicker is when Oliver asks for a snack. For a three year old, he isn't very picky, however I do want to make sure he likes it enough to finish it, and that it's somewhat healthy and balanced, and won't make a huge mess. Or use up the ingredients I need for dinner! It's not a full meal so it doesn't need to have every component (protein, vegetable or fruit, grains, "dairy"... *cough cough) but I do like to try and pair a fruit or veggie with at least a protein or grain. Two food groups should do it! With all that as criteria, here are some snack ideas:

Cucumber and tzaziki
Avocado toast
Almonds, chocolate chips and dried cherries
Coconut granola and blueberries on yogurt
Cherry tomatoes, pita triangles and hummus
Peanut butter toast
Oven chips and guacamole
Grapes, white cheddar and crackers
Cashews and sliced banana
Watermelon, raspberry and yogurt smoothie
Carrot sticks and rice balls (mini arancini)
A falafel wrapped in lettuce
Canned tuna with mayo and celery
Raisins and sunflower seeds
Apples, dried cranberries and walnuts
Potato pancakes with applesauce dip
English muffin with almond butter and strawberries
A peach and white laughing cow cheese
A mug of homemade soup
Turkey lunch meat and bell peppers rolled up
Hot cocoa made with warm almond milk, honey and cocoa powder and a coconut macaroon
Leftover pesto noodles and mushrooms

Are any of these combos a hit in your house? Any quick snack ideas to add to the list?

Hopefully these ideas will help you in one of those "DUHH WHAT TO MAKE?" moments!

The Hidden Expenses of Buying a House

If you haven't already heard via my "Updates" blog post, my Instagram (@amyjoyharrison) or just me annoyingly mentioning it in every conversation, Calvin and I have purchased a lovely new house in London's Cedar Hollow neighbourhood. Our situation is somewhat unique because in order to make our offer super appealing we were willing to close (buy the house) in less than 30 days, which means right now we have two houses! It's kind of neat to have this nearly 2 month long overlap because we can slowly move boxes over and really get our new house fully ready before leaving our current one. It's also unique because our house has never been lived in before. It was just finished building and was used as a model home. That being said, I've got a pretty good grasp on all the fun little hidden expenses of purchasing a home. Let's just say if the tag says $300,000 that's nooooot exactly all you'll be paying...

DISCLAIMER: This isn't meant to scare anyone. Just keep you responsible. Owning a house is Awesome and good for your finances if you do it right. 

First things first: how much do you have to pay for the house?
Well, depending how motivated the owners are to sell, and how the market is doing/ how much interest there is in the home, you might be able to get it below the asking price. Consider the value to you, consult your agent (let me know if you need a good one!), and see what you're pre-approved for mortgage-wise at the bank. Sometimes they will take a lower offer if it's more attractive in other ways like a sooner closing date and less conditions. (We didn't put a condition for a home inspection on ours because the home is under warranty so if anything's funky with it we just submit a form and it gets fixed.) *Unless you literally have the cash for the whole price of the home, make your offer conditional on financing to avoid going to court if things fall through.

The offer will likely be accepted or rejected within 24 hours. You may be able to negotiate a "cooling off period" of a week to 10 *business* days in which you make sure you've made the right decision.

Upon the offer being accepted (a few days later) you'll need to pay:
- A deposit: anywhere from $1,000 to maybe $10,000 that proves you're good for the money. This money will be deducted from how much down payment you owe.

Upon closing (anywhere from a few weeks to a few months later) you'll need to pay:
-  The remainder of the down payment. This can be as low as 5% (I think) but is quite commonly 10%. If you pay at least 20% you'll skip some fees later which is great! The more you pay now the less your mortgage is, and therefore the less your monthly payment is, so give as much as you comfortably can.

Here's the trick. Between the offer being accepted and closing, a lot of expensive stuff goes down. A lawyer reviews your contract agreement, there are searches and transfers of the deed and title and land taxes and rebates and tons of stuff you can't do by yourself. In the end you won't get a bill for all of it, it'll work like this. The amount you just paid for a deposit will be reduced. For example:
Say you paid $10,000 deposit. And your down payment is supposed to be $30,000. You'd think you would owe $20,000 (30,000-10,000) at closing, but no.
Your deposit is now $10,000 minus the lawyers fees, taxes and dispensaries, which might make it more like $8,000. So $30,000-8,000 you owe $22,000. If this is your first house purchase (and your partner's) you'll qualify for a few rebates to make this part less expensive. We also had to pay for our "Tarion warranty" which covers anything that goes wrong for about ten years - this is only offered to new builds as far as I know, and the registration was a couple hundred dollars.

Expenses before you even buy
- Listing your current home
- Fixing your current home up so that it's ready to sale (this could include a new roof - ask me for a recommendation of someone good to do it - a new furnace, painting, or even storing some of your belongings to make the home less cluttered) - you might be able to afford professional staging to make it more attractive to buyers
- Gas to drive around looking at houses
- Let's be honest, Starbucks drinks everytime you meet your agent

Moving itself
- Boxes (but try getting them for free from friends or grocery stores/ Costco)
- Moving truck
- Gas back and forth
- Can't forget treating your friends who help you move to some pizza and beer
- Consider if you'll need time off work, that counts as an expense too unless you're on salary and can take a vacation day

Expenses at the new home
- Will you need new appliances? Budget at least $2,000 each for fridge, stove and washer/dryer, $1,000 for a dishwasher and a few hundred for a microwave if you're buying new. If the microwave isn't also a stove "hood" you'll need that too. And hoses for everything to hook up.  You can buy used!
- We chose to install a gas line. We both love cooking so a top notch stove was really important to us. I know a guy who can install it for $99 plus $6/foot (from water heater to where you want the stove to go).
- Need new furniture because your new house is larger than your current? A three seater couch might be $400 on Kijiji or about $800-1,500 new. Beds even more than that (check out Ikea for good prices). We are doing a mix of new, used and DIY projects with friends.
- Consider how many window coverings you'll need. Blinds range from $10 (for the cheapest 1" vinyl blinds with no black out, on a small window) to $500 or more (for fancy wood or cellulars on a custom size window with the option of opening from the top or bottom). Drapes can be an inexpensive option but are either closed (no light in) or open (no privacy), so consider doing a double rail system where you have a sheer drape under a thicker decorative one (you can get this for less than $100 at Ikea). They may need to be hemmed. Kids (and adults) may benefit from black out blinds or curtains.
- It won't be a huge part of your budget, but little things creep up, like - our current length of speaker wire to run our sound system isn't the right length for the new house so we need to get a new reel - only a few dollars but enough of these little purchases add up. Consider also all the screws, nails and anchors to hold your art, photo frames, etc.
- Things that stay with your old house like built in cabinets, mounted bookshelves, and wall shelving will need to be replaced
- Paint if you don't like the current colour
- Do you have a garage door that you'd like an automatic opener on? That's at least $300
- External fix ups: do you need some landscaping done? Do you need to rent a rototiller to put in a new garden? Do you want new potted pants to spruce things up? Does the drive way need to be done? Fences and gates? Do you like the current mail box? Outdoor lighting? Do you want to replace the key if you use a community mail box (should be free the first time and about $30 after that.) We needed to purchase address numbers for outside our house since the builder didn't put any up.

Lived in an apartment til now?- BBQ
- Lawn mower
- Patio furniture
- Dehumidifier (this was vital for us as it's a new build and the foundation needs to be kept free of humidity damage)

Bottom line, the price you see on the MLS listing isn't exactly all you're getting yourself into - so plan accordingly. I wish I had seen a list like this before buying, luckily my husband is a financial guru so he knew everything ahead of time.

If you know some extra items to add to this list let me know in the comments below. Happy homeownership!

Edit to add:
Wow thanks guys - already received some feedback. Here are things I missed:
- INSURANCE (for your house, your possessions, and for your ability to pay your mortgage payments if you get sick/lose your job)
- Apraisal fees
- Fees regarding your mortgage
- Paying the home inspector
- Setting up new hydro, gas, cable, home phone, internet, etc can have a fee attached

Questions of the Day

Tina from posted these questions a few days ago. I finally had a chance to sit down and answer them. 

What are you into lately?

As far as TV goes: 19 kids and counting, Survivor, the Mindy Project, New Girl and SNL. Books: short story compilation style fiction like Invisible Monsters (Palahniuk), One More Thing (Novak) and Let's Discuss Diabetes with Owls (Sedaris). Music: the guy who sings Waves, we get a kick out of him at home. Food: salsa verde, pumpkin yogurt, the Campbell's Gourmet line of soups, sautéed mushrooms, red onions instead of white. Activities: all the farms of course. 

Celeb on Instagram?

I really enjoy following Cara Delevigne because she's pretty out there. Some of the crunchier moms like Jessica Alba, Drew Barrymore, Alicia Silverstone and now Megan Fox is a hippy too. Also the whole DuPree family who play in the band Eisley (and Merriment). 


I pretty much only drink cider these days. I was craving Kaluha and coffee the other night but we had already packed it up. The only other drinks I like are gin and tonic, amaretto sour and something I had at the Keg called a Queen B.  

Food Indulgence? 

What's an indulgence anyway? I put a lot of mayo or butter in my food. I ate like 40 pecan butter tarts in a week. Does that count?

Beauty products? 

An old brown-y Mac eye shadow Id forgotten about. Benefit high brow (is that what it's called?). Lise Watier black mascara. Aloe Vera as a brow gel. 

Way to wind down?

Twitter. Calvin making me laugh. Packing boxes for our move. Having a 3rd cup of coffee. Target. 

Piece of jewelry?

Just my rings!


8 month / 38 month update

Well first thing's first DAKOTA HAS A TOOTH. I know, I know, this is big news. The little lady has been taking her time in all the typical milestones of transitioning from a helpless infant to a kooky toddler. She's not fond of sitting or crawling and has just a fuzzing of hair on her head, so that tooth cracking through was like her "big girl moment". 

Oliver has been Mr. Social, buddying up with guys and girls at church and in the neighbourhood. Tonight he was out at an outdoor movie in the park with my mom and sister. He's doing killer with underwear-wearing & own-bed-sleeping which makes for a happy mom. 

Also, we are moving! We've purchased a never before lived in home in the north east end of the city which puts Ollie in the district of the elementary school Cal attended as a boy. It's going to be hectic making the move, right around when I return to work but it'll be worth it. 

And yep I'm going back to work. Cal will finish out our parental leave mid November to end of January and then it's CAN YOU BABYSIT FOR US? time again. We just hate to sign them up for expensive day care when between our schedules and our moms wanting to spend days with them we really only need help 5 or less days a month. So, some photos:

Oliver has been loving this old mini laptop  that I used to take notes on in University. He will spend like 10 minutes (that's a lot in 3 year old boy time) typing on the word processor. He's also really into batteries, Calvin's tool set and big marbles. All things that suck if they spill all over the floor. 

 I adore this photo. Dakota figuring out how the swing works. Oliver getting max joy out of it. 

Dakota at her first Blue Jays game. 

It was a big move to allow him to bring his "map" and trucks out of the toy room and into the living room. We had fun. 

Ollie's new chore is taking the recycling out. Don't mind the chocolate cereal - we bought it when we had visitors :)

We loved painting on the porch in the dark while waiting for Cal to get home from work. 

"This right mom?"

Trips to Target are always good. 

The very worst evening of my mom hood:
Ollie somehow dislocated his elbow while playing. He ended up in emerg but had instant relief when the doc popped it back in place. 

 "Dis for me right?"

Ollie wore that hospital bracelet for days after. I had to secretly cut it off during nap time. You should see the stuff I have to do while he's sleeping. Throw out the stale half doughnut, hide the helicopter, remove the batteries from that annoying toy, photograph his drawing and then recycle it. And the list goes on. 

We went to the Children's Museum (wasn't impressed) and ate this on the way home. 

Kota with new hand me downs from her friend!

Ollie thought it only fair that I take a photo of him too.

And that was September!