Archive for June, 2011

Build Your Home Around Your Passion

Monday, June 27th, 2011

Plenty of people in Spruce Grove, Stony Plain, Parkland County and the Edmonton area operate businesses out of their homes.  I’ve written before about the need to sometimes modify a home in order to pursue personal activities that go beyond what a standard house can accommodate (see my article entitled “Hobbies and Your Home” ).  I saw this principle in action recently.

Last Christmas, my daughter Devan gave me a gift certificate for a cooking class, and on Sunday June 12 the two of us spent 4 very enjoyable hours at the home of Kathryn Joel in southwest Edmonton taking part in the preparation of an Italian farmhouse feast.

Kathryn’s commitment to good food goes well beyond mere nourishment, as her website Get Cooking  points out:

“Kathryn Joel is a passionate foodie whose love of cooking has taken her around the globe exploring diverse culinary traditions.  A graduate of Le Cordon Bleu London, she has acquired a wealth of knowledge and expertise of global cuisines and cooking methods.

 Kathryn has combined her culinary expertise with her commitment to uncomplicated, approachable cooking, by bringing Get Cooking to Edmonton.

 During her years working with food, Kathryn realized that with some basic cooking skills and a good local knowledge of where to source the right ingredients, anyone can bring flavours from around the world into their own kitchens.  And as a member of Live Local Eat Local Kathryn aims to support Edmonton’s local producers and suppliers by focusing on the use of fresh and local ingredients in her classes.”

Build Your Home Around Your Passion | Spruce Grove Stony Plain Parkland County Real Estate | Barry Twynam

Crostini with Roasted Sweet Peppers

Four other students joined Devan and me in listening to Kathryn’s passionate and rapid-fire explanations, stories and instructions, watching as bread dough was miraculously transformed into heavenly smelling and delicious tasting Crostini with Roasted Sweet Peppers and Foccaccia with Sage, and participating in the creation of a marvelous meal from appetizers through dessert.  My job was to stir the risotto (Risotto with Asparagus), a chore that required a little more patience than I have, so I was happy to hand my spoon off to another student.  I watched with some anxiety as Devan wielded Kathryn’s razor-sharp kitchen knives chopping the roasted sweet peppers.  We learned a number of cooking tips, like how to tell with the stretch test if bread dough is ready (you should be able to stretch the dough until it is nearly translucent but doesn’t tear), or the poke test (poke a finger in and the dough should spring back), or just where to break the tough end off an asparagus stalk, or how to keep the bright green in cooked asparagus by plunging it into ice water, or where in Edmonton and area to buy the best ingredients like the freshest chicken and highest-quality balsamic vinegar.

Build Your Home Around Your Passion | Spruce Grove Stony Plain Parkland County Real Estate | Barry Twynam

Risotto with Asparagus

After several hours, the feast was ready:  Crostini with Roasted Sweet Peppers; Caprese Salad; Foccaccia with Sage; Risotto with Asparagus; Chicken Roasted with Porcini Mushrooms and Potatoes; Strawberries with Balsamic Vinegar, and we were delighted to enjoy the results of our work, along with some very good wine.

All of this activity took place in Kathryn’s beautiful purpose-built kitchen, designed to accommodate up to 8 students around an enormous granite counter that housed a sink and fridge.  Her kitchen contained other items not normally found in an average kitchen:  2 ovens, a warming tray, a sub-zero refrigerator, and more.  I know that kitchens sell homes, and I know many buyers who would be thrilled to have a kitchen like Kathryn’s.  In her case, the kitchen is a requirement of her business, and just happens to also be an incredible addition to a lovely home.

Build Your Home Around Your Passion | Spruce Grove Stony Plain Parkland County Real Estate | Barry Twynam

Strawberries with Balsamic Vinegar

Operating a home-based business often means finding novel ways of blending home and work equipment and activities so that one doesn’t disrupt the other.  You may also find that your business requires special permits and licensing from your municipality, as well as special insurance.  Should you decide to renovate your space, as Kathryn did, to accommodate your business needs, you may want to consider the impact of such a renovation on the ultimate resale value of your home.  In the end, if your business is your passion, your home may naturally evolve into a unique extension of this.

For more information about Kathryn Joel’s cooking classes, or to book a class, visit her website.  

Interested in property that could accommodate your home-based business?  Call me at 780-910-9669, email me at, or contact me here

Lost and Alone in Spruce Grove

Monday, June 20th, 2011

Finding homes in Spruce Grove, Stony Plain, Parkland County and the Edmonton area is what I do for a living, and I think of myself as pretty good at it, but I learned a few new things about the process recently.  The being in need of a home was not a person, but a cat who decided my home was a good place to live!

Lost and Alone in Spruce Grove | Spruce Grove Stony Plain Parkland County Real Estate | Barry TwynamI like cats, and dogs too, but because both my wife and daughter have severe allergies, we’ve never been able to keep a pet.   This sweet little cat arrived at our door and showed no signs of leaving, especially after we fed her, and it seemed as though we’d have to keep her, even though my wife Paulette was covered with hives.  What to do?

After the cat had been hanging around our house for a few days, becoming more skittish and scruffy-looking, I asked my cat-loving assistant if she wanted to adopt another cat.  Regrettably, no, but she had a few suggestions.  The cat has to belong to someone in your neighborhood, she said, so why not put a sign on the mailbox at the end of the street?  Ring doorbells up and down the street and ask if anyone’s lost a cat.  Put an ad in the local paper.  Contact local vets or the local pet store to see if anyone’s reported a missing cat.  Contact Parkland County Animal Control to report finding a cat.  When I told her Paulette and our daughter Devan were on their way to deliver the cat to the Edmonton Humane Society, she was horrified.  I was under the impression that the Humane Society tries to find new homes for cats.  That’s true, she said, but many don’t find homes and are euthanized. I immediately phoned Paulette to get her to change her plans.

If the old legend of cats having nine lives is true, then this cat had at least one of her lives saved that day!   Paulette had decided to take the cat to one of the veterinarians in town to see if they could help.  The vet checked the cat and discovered that it had been tattooed.  What’s more, the vet was able to match the tattoo information with the name and address of the cat’s owner.  It turned out that the owner of the cat had recently moved to our neighborhood so the cat had not yet gotten used to its new surroundings.  Lots of happiness all around when the cat was reunited with her family.

 So, what did I learn from this experience? 

  • If you are a pet owner, don’t let your pet outside without supervision.  This is especially true if you are new to your neighborhood.  Cats in particular may act independent but they still need to be looked after.  They should not be allowed to run free because there are many dangers to pets on their own:  vehicles, toxic substances, other animals, people who don’t like animals.
  • Get your pets tattooed or microchipped.  If your pet should become separated from you, this increases the likelihood of it being returned to you.  Because dogs are licensed, they usually wear collars, often with contact information, but many cats don’t so some other identification method is very important.  Check out PetWatch’s website to learn about microchipping.  You can also read the Wikipedia article about microchip implanting.
  • The Edmonton Humane Society does incredible work in rescuing lost, abandoned or homeless animals but sometimes they have a hard time keeping up with the demand.  In May 2011, there was a 25% increase in admissions to the humane society compared to spring 2010.  Between 40 and 50 animals, three-quarters of them cats, arrive daily at the shelter, with homes being found for 20 to 25 animals each day.  Last September, the shelter was caring for about 500 cats, and that is a situation that strains all the resources.  If you are looking to adopt a pet, the Edmonton Humane Society is a good place to start.  Visit their online adoption centre.  Check out also the Parkland County Animal Shelter’s Gallery of Found & Adoptable Pets.
  • If you find a lost animal, it probably has not strayed far from its home.  Do what you can to make the animal comfortable and then be prepared to knock on doors in your neighborhood.  Taking it to a shelter really should be a last resort.

Comments or questions about this article?  Call me at 780-910-9669, email me at, or contact me here 

Property Insurance: Are You Covered?

Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

Property Insurance: Are You Covered? | Spruce Grove Stony Plain Parkland County Real Estate | Barry TwynamThe recent Slave Lake fires have a lot of people in Stony Plain, Spruce Grove, Parkland County and the Edmonton area thinking about home insurance.  It’s a good idea to review your coverage annually with your insurance agent, and be sure to ask the right questions.  Never assume you are covered against a particular peril!

Here are a few things to consider about home insurance:

  1. Most home owner policies protect against fire, vandalism and theft – but how much coverage do you actually have?   Are you covered for replacement value so that you could rebuild your home from the ground up with all its contents at today’s prices?   
  2. What is the coverage for other free-standing structures on your property, such as a storage shed or detached garage?
  3. Is your coverage “All Risk” or “Named Perils”?  Be especially aware of things that you might not be protected against.  For example, some companies require policy owners to purchase special coverage for sewer backup.  Some other common exclusions:  wear and tear, settling, rust, snowslide (kind of important to know about this in Alberta!), landslide, flood, water damage to property while the home is vacant or unoccupied, mechanical breakdown, damage caused by insects or rodents.   Ask your agent what your policy does NOT cover!
  4. Limitations on theft coverage are common.  If you own expensive jewelry, furs, artwork, silverware, coin or stamp collections, a boat and motor, cameras, bicycles, business books and tools, you’ll probably need additional coverage, known as a “rider”, on your policy.
  5. What kind of proof of value might you need in support of a claim?  The experts recommend making a list room by room in your house of everything you own, and assigning a value to each item, or group of items.  If you have sales receipts, especially for big-ticket items, add these to the file.  Take photographs of everything, or better yet, a video.  Nowadays, all this can be posted online for free, so your information will always be available even if, like the residents of Slave Lake, all your property is destroyed.
  6. If you submit a claim against your insurance, you will be expected to pay a deductible,  a certain amount of the cost of damage before the insurance payment kicks in.  Discuss with your insurance agent the advantages and disadvantages of increasing or decreasing your deductible.
  7. What if extensive re-building requires you to move out temporarily?  Does your policy have a clause to cover the cost of hotel rooms and food?
  8. Property insurance doesn’t just cover your own belongings.  What happens if someone is injured while in your home, or their property is damaged?  Some liability insurance is standard in every policy, but consider if that amount is adequate for your situation.
  9. Ask about coverage of your belongings when they are not in your home.  What about belongings stored off the property, such as in a rented storage facility?   Are you covered when you travel?   What if your car is stolen with your computer in it; can you claim for a new computer?  (This is a special situation where you might have to submit two different claims:  one against your auto insurance and the other against your home insurance.  Did you know that many companies not only offer a discount if you have both your home and auto insurance with them, but will only charge you a single deductible in a double claim situation?  Good to know!)
  10. Educate yourself about coverage in special situations.  If you have a child living away from home, are that child’s belongings covered?  When you’re moving to a new home, what kind of coverage do you have between the two dwellings and on your belongings in transit?  If your home is going to be vacant for a significant period of time (for example, you’ve sold your home but the possession date for the new owners is several weeks or months away), do you need special coverage?  Do you need special insurance during home renovations?  If in doubt, contact your insurance agent!
  11. Condo owners may require special insurance to protect not just their personal investment but also their share of the common property in the condominium development.  Ask your insurance agent about “loss assessment”.  Also, take the time to read carefully what’s included and covered in the condo corporation policy; that way, you’ll know what you need to include in your personal policy.
  12. Renters and tenants should have property insurance as well.  Like home owners, you need to protect your own belongings, and guard against liability if someone is injured while in your rented space, but you also need to protect yourself in case of accidental damage you, or your guests, might cause to the landlord’s property; for example, forgetting to turn off a tap while you’re away for the weekend, causing water damage to your own suite and others.
  13. Landlords have special insurance needs also.  Maybe you rent out a room in your home.  You might not have thought about it, but this represents a risk to the company that might even void your policy if the company is unaware of your tenant or boarder.  Be sure to let your insurance agent know so that your coverage can be amended.  If you own a revenue-generating property, ask your insurance agent if your home property insurance extends to cover it.  You might also wish to consider Landlord Insurance which is designed to cover the rental income of a property if it remains vacant because of loss.  Again, the Slave Lake situation comes to mind.
  14. Be sure to ask about discounted rates.  Some companies offer lower rates depending on whether you have multiple policies with that company, age of the policy owner, number of years claim-free, non-smoking property owner, special security features such as alarm systems, security bars on basement windows, etc.


Companies selling home insurance want you to contact them for a quote since policies are tailored to individual situations, and very few publish detailed information online.  A few helpful websites with information about home insurance:

TD InsuranceHome Insurance Learning Centre

MelocheMonnex:  About Standard Home Coverage

Canadian Direct InsuranceHome insurance coverages offered in Alberta  Standard home insurance coverages


For a list of insurance companies in Spruce Grove and Stony Plain, check out our Welcome Home Moving In Package

Comments or questions about this article?  Contact me here, phone me at 780-910-9669, or email me at


Smartphone Apps for Do-It-Yourselfers

Thursday, June 2nd, 2011

If you’re a smartphone user in Stony Plain, Spruce Grove, Parkland County or the Edmonton area, you know how handy these gadgets can be.  Add some of the apps below for even greater usefulness as you go about creating your perfect living environment.  Check your apps store to see about availability for your device.  (See also the blog article entitled “Smartphone Apps for Home Buyers”).

Smartphone Apps for Do-It-Yourselfers | Spruce Grove Stony Plain Parkland County Real Estate | Barry TwynamHOME IMPROVEMENT

Dream Home  [iPhone & iPad; 99¢]   Interior decorating app with lots to offer:  large photo collection of “amazing rooms from stunning looking houses”, every type of room and style imaginable, plenty of hints, tips and ideas, information on the latest design trends and fads, all to inspire you to create similar effects in your own home.

Home Interior Layout Designer – Mark On Call  [iPhone & iPad; $2.99].    Helps plan a space and determine if furnishings will fit.

Houzz  [iPhone & iPad; free]   More than 110,000 photos in 21 categories of “ideabooks” from both professional and amateur designers.

Remodelista  [iPhone & iPad; $2.99]   Online sourcebook of decorating ideas, updated daily, includes inspiring architecture, stylish DIY projects, 10 Easy Pieces product roundups, and Steal This Look.

Paint matching apps [iPhone & iPad; free]:  Benjamin Moore Color Capture  from Benjamin Moore and ColorSnap  from Sherwin-Williams both allow you to take a photo with your phone and then use the app to analyze the color to provide the closest matches within the company’s paint palette.  ColorSnap (available too for Blackberry) also displays secondary and complementary colors.

iHandy Carpenter  [iPhone & iPad; $1.99]    Turns your iPhone into a ruler, protractor, bubble level, surface level or plumb bob, making hanging pictures or mirrors a breeze.  If you need just a level, pick up the free app for both iPhone  and Android.

HandyMan Sidekick  [iPhone & iPad; $1.99]    Calculate exactly how much material you need for any project.  Input a room’s dimensions, including how many windows and doors, and this app will tell you how many gallons of paint or rolls of wallpaper you need.  Similar calculations can be done for flooring or gardening projects.  Bonus:  a feature that displays a bright fluorescent bulb on your phone’s screen to use as a flashlight!

App Box Pro [iPhone, iPod, iPad; $1.99]   Two dozen tools in one app!  Even if you don’t use all of them, it’s still a bargain.  Tools include:  Secure Wallet, Alarm Clock with Music Play, Currency, Event Diary, Flashlight, Holidays, Mirror, Ruler, Translator, Unit Convertor, Battery Life Indicator, Date Calculator, Surface Level, Bubble Level, Loan Calculator, Price Grab, Sale Price Calculator, Tip Calculator, and more.

StudFinder Professional  [iPhone; $3.99]    Uses the iPhone’s magnetometer to find studs by locating the magnetic fields emitted by metal screws and nails.  If you are an Android user, get their Magnetic Stud Finder  free.

HomeSizer  [iPhone; $2.99]  Lets you map out square footage and construction costs.  The app also breaks down mortgage costs so you can make size adjustments, along with changes to your loan term in line with your budget.

@Home app from Good Housekeeping magazine [iPhone; free]   Provides stain removal and cleaning advice, as well as decorating ideas and a searchable list of the 5,000-plus products that have earned a Good Housekeeping seal.

Smartphone Apps for Do-It-Yourselfers | Spruce Grove Stony Plain Parkland County Real Estate | Barry TwynamGARDENING

Landscaper’s Companion [iPhone; $4.99]   Reference guide to trees, shrubs, annuals, perennials; contains information on over 5000 plants with 6000 pictures.  Great resource for anyone from the casual gardener to professional landscapers, allowing you to search based on your garden’s sun exposure and garden zone.

Garden Buddy  [iPhone; $2.99]   With Google Local Search and your phone’s GPS, find local suppliers for your gardening needs after you’ve used this app to calculate how much mulch, topsoil and sod to use, what types of fertilizers to add, what to plant where, and how long before you can harvest your garden bounty.

Garden Insects  [iPhone; 99¢]   Identify common garden pests and learn environmentally friendly ways to control them.

Have you found a great app that should be added to this list?  I’d love to hear from you.  Call me at 780-910-9669, email me at, or contact me here.

Barry Twynam, Realty Executives Leading
#1 14 McLeod Avenue, Spruce Grove, Alberta, T7X 3X3
Tel: 780-962-9696 Cell: 780-910-9669 Fax: 780-962-9699
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