Today, I planned on writing a different entry which I like still will. However, this reply I wrote regarding problems with mice is worth sharing so the planned entry will wait until tomorrow. I have added a bit here and there for the purposes of this entry but for the most part it is almost identical to the reply.
Mice are often depicted as cute little critters and in fact I did an entry on my journey on this very topic after coming across a website glorifying these horrid little creatures. There is nothing cute about mice. The only thing I will say in their favour is they are great laboratory animals that have helped us understand human anatomy, histology, imunology, genetics and disease better. They have played critical roles in finding cures for diseases and are particularly useful for transgenics. Having a fair amount of experience with laboratory variety of mice, I could relate a lot of rather funny and some not so funny experiences. However, I will leave you the reader with one sure fact is female lab mice do not appeciate undergoing a pap smear at the hands of inexperienced students! So mice are useful but I'm not running a lab in my home and they do not belong in the home! They are vectors of disease like Hantavirus, a serious, lifethreating disease.
We too had (? since the probability of more getting in always exists) a rodent problem. Our house is on waterfront property which brings its own set of wildlife like moles and it backs onto farmland. When the crops come off and the weather turns cold field mice like to take advantage by getting indoors. This is something I simply will not tolerate as rodents . Cats will only help if they are mousers by nature, some aren't. We do have at least one neighbourhood mouser but he or she is rather sporatic. Other great natural rodent predators are hawks, owls and snakes so if you have a garden try to attract these or you can set up birdfeeders to attract smaller birds that in turn will attract larger birds but be warned to keep the feeders well away from the house as they will attract wild rabbits and rodents as well.
A word on sonic or electronic devices: There have been reports of reduced efficacy. However, there have also been reports of them working. We have a few and I will say they do work to the point squirrels, a member of the Rodentia family will not come in our front yard even to get food. I think there are are few tricks to these devices. First, move them around on occasion. Rodents can get accustomed to where the noise is coming from. There are two types, one that is sonic only and one that works on household wiring. Use both for best effect. Expect an increase in rodent activity within the first couple of months as they drive rodents from your home.
There are three components to controlling rodents in homes.
1) Remove the rodent(s) by trapping. Chances are when you sealed where they were getting in, you trapped them inside the house. So remove all the food in the cabinets they are getting into and set traps. Make sure you keep the cabinet doors closed but check daily or more often. Continue doing this until no new rodent activity is seen. At the same place the poison traps outside your house and in the crawspace if you have one. The downside to poison is it can kill or harm children, pets, other desireable wildlife like hawks and owls (natural rodent predators) and if the rodent dies in your walls can stink to high heaven.
2) Seal all entry points inside and outside of your home. For obvious larger holes, stuff with steel wool then cover or tack fine square carpenter's cloth over the hole. Cover with patching compound. An alternative is to use expandable spray foam. Be sure to check for smaller entry points like cracks around pipes, spaces between heater boots and the floor and etc. Do an outside walk-around looking for any entry points and seal those too. Oh and your energy bills whether AC or heating or both will thank you for sealing up the gaps!
3) Remove all sources of food! This is critical. Food should be stored in glass or metal sealed containers if at all possible since mice will chew through light plastic like bags and have been known to chew through heavier plastic. If you need larger glass jars check local restaurants. They will often give them away free. Bread and buns should be vacuum sealed in containers if you have a vacuum sealer, stored in a metal bread box or microwave oven. There is a chance of mice getting into a conventional oven through the oven vent so don't store these types of things in there. Store fruits and vegetables in the fridge or in spots inaccessible to rodents. For example my onions and potatoes are are a stainless steel rack about four feet off the floor and mice can't climb up the metal poles. Next you must be meticulous at cleaning to ensure no food crumbs remain on the counter, floor or stovetop. This is critical! All food garbage should be removed from the home after each meal. This removes food odours and ensures mice are not able to get any food from the garbage. An alternative is using a sealed metal trash can and there are some rather nice, step to release the lid stainless steal kitchen trash bins. Allow eating only in the kitchen as carpets can hold a surprising amount of crumbs, enough to keep a determined rodent on the go. Give your carpets a good vacuuming and vacuum 3 to 4 times weekly until the infestation has ended. Bar soap should also be in some type of sealed container. While this sounds odd, I had one very determined mouse chewing on homemade oatmeal and transparent soaps stored in built-in drawers in the upstairs bathroom. Store anything that can be used as nesting material like cotton balls, tampons or q-tips in glass containers.
Note: This last step will need to be continued if you don't want a re-infestation but it does become habit so isn't as much work as it sounds.
Wednesday, January 31, 2007
Monday, January 29, 2007
Counted cross stitch is one of the easiest hobbies and one I've enjoyed for years. The finished piece can be quite detailed as in our wedding sampler that took me several months to complete or can be simpler as in the following pictures. As with all my cross work pieces, my initials are added. For online purposes, I have blocked those out.
Cross stitch is done on aida cloth. This cloth looks like a miniature grid and it is. It is available in many colours. In order to work the cloth, you need a pattern. Each colour in the pattern is denoted by a symbol as in the final picture. The more complex the pattern, the more colours. The piece is generally worked with one or more strands of embroidery floss. You can buy a kit that includes the aida cloth, pattern, floss and needle or you can buy everything seperately. Be warned that there are some patterns that only come as kits. There is software online for creating unique cross stitch patterns using your own graphics or photographs. I've tinkered with these when I was using strictly PC but haven't checked out the Mac programs yet. I will do so shortly as I want to do a cross stitch of our new grandbaby for her second Christmas. At less than 2 days old she likely won't remember much of the first!
When getting started, take a close look at the aida cloth. You will see tiny squares with a hole in each corner. That is what you will be using. For a cross (X) you will load the thread into the bottom left or right corner then take your floss out the opposite corner at the top forming half of the X. Now go back to the open bottom hole and repeat forming the other half of the X. There, that is the most important step to master but see additional tips included with the picture descriptions. The next important stitch is the outline (-). In is usually worked in the outside two holes of the X but may be worked in the absence of a X as all the photos show. It is used for outlining and defining as well as lettering. Bring your floss up through the hole then go directly to the next adjacent hole and in forming a straight stitch. Now that you are able to do these two stitches you will be able to create your own cross stitch pieces. Watch for an entry coming soon showing some of the more detailed stitches on some of my other pieces.
This is one of my earliest pieces of counted cross stitch that actually got framed. Unfortunately unlike my later pieces I did not put my initials or date on the piece not that it matters as it was completed just before our wedding. Every home needs a blessing before moving is so this was it.
This sampler complete with 10 1/2" x 10 1/2" walnut frame has no glass, the traditional way for framing needlework. It is done entirely in cross (X) stitches.
A sampler is exactly what it sounds like. It is a piece of work in which you practice your stitchs before going onto more detailed work. Most samplers include letters of some kind and many as in my other samplers include numbers. These really are your learning pieces so ripouts (ribbets - a term from knitting) are a given. Learning to ripout your mistakes is as important as avoiding mistakes.
Amish Girls, 1987
This cross stitch piece was completed in 1987. It is 8" x 10" double matted framed in oak with a glare-free glass matching the following picture. A matchin Amish doll that came with the pattern sits beside the piece. It was one of my first semi-complex pieces. Only two stitches are used in this piece, the cross (X) and the outline (-). As you can see, with only two basic stitches the effect can be lovely. Much of the effect comes form the many colours used. In true Amish fashion neither the cross stitched piece or the doll is perfect. The piece contains one off stitch and the doll remains unfinished.
The trick to getting a profession look is to make sure all your X's run in the same direction. So if your bottom stitch for the first leg goes from the left corner to right corner and the second leg goes from the right corn to left corner, do all the X's the same.
Another thing with cross stitch is like any other needlework your work should be as neat on the reverse side. Work the beginnings and endings of floss into the back then snip off. There should be no knots of any kind!
Recipe for A Happy Home, 1987
This piece was also completed in 1987. This piece is 8" x 10", double matted in a oak frame with non-glare glass. It really is a very simple cross stitch that I didn't even have a pattern for. Instead, I found the recipe and charted it out myself using graph paper. It is rather simplistic by using only three colours. I did this piece for three reasons. First I really liked the recipe that does hold a lot of truth. Second, I wanted to do something that depended on the actual design of the pattern using graph paper. Finally, the majority of this piece is done in the outline (-) stitch something always worth practicing.
There is something very satisfying seeing your own creations warming your home. Cross stitch is just one of those homey, comfy hobbies that really help to make your house a home!
Sunbonnet Girl, 2006
A few years ago, I did up several Chrismas decorations using wood curtain loops, cross stitched centers and felt backing. I'll post on this craft later as it is rather cute if you can find the loops. Then awhile back I noticed the dollar stores were carrying mini cross stitch ornaments. They come as miniature hanging ornaments as this one or cutsy, country style vegetable bags stuffed to make it look like they are full. Well, I could resist picking up several just for those times I'm bored.
This piece measures about 2 1/2" x 2 1/2". It is a nice learning piece as it comes with everything including the little hanger and is only a dollar. It uses three stitches, the cross (X), the outline (-) and what I call a mini outline which is half of the outline. The mini outline is for attaching the bow. Go in on the front side leaving a longer tail, come up through the back side close to where the first tail started. Tie a bow and snip your ends to the desired length. Note in the picture what the pattern looks like. Work your cross (X) first, then your outline and finally any stitches like those required for the bow.
Anytime you buy a kit, keep the pattern. You never know when you might want to duplicate it. A good digital camera can be a real asset if you would like to try duplicating and antique piece but will likely work best for samplers rather than more detailed pieces. Finally, always try to add your initials and date to your work. I think that makes it so much more personal.
Sunday, January 28, 2007
For many of us this time of year just simply means high heating costs so I fight back each year. From mid September to late December a caulking gun is always within handy reach in our home. In order to seal our house and because of age and design that is an ongoing project but the more you seal the more comfortable you and your family will be, the more you will save and then you can direct your energies where they really should be, your family. The more I save on energy costs the better for both my family and the environment plus there are those pocket book savings too.
There are other reasons for sealing up those air leaks. Overall sealed air leaks will save on both heating and cooling costs. Sealing helps prevent rodents and insects from getting in your home. Water is sealed out that could cause damage as well.
Caulk: I prefer using a 10 yr paintable latex caulk for most draft sealing for a few reasons. First application is smooth with easy clean-up and almost no odour. Latex caulk is rather inexpensive with a very short payback time. Paintable caulk is a must have when painting rooms for a nice, professional finish. My preferred brand is Weather Shield available in a four pack ($6.97/4 pack) at Home Hardware however any good quality latex caulk will give similar results. Some applications require silicone caulk is necessary for certain applications like resealing around window panes. Home Hardware has a three pack for $9.97 and while more expensive it can be used for other purposes besides caulking. Think of silicone caulk as a heavy duty glue. The main problems using silicone caulk is clean-up and odour.
The first thing when sealing air leaks is detection. There are a few ways besides the wind blowing on your feet approach. While that is a very effect method, it's likely best to seal cracks before they are that bad. Sometimes with a new to you residence you will have to start with the larger air leak problems but that's to be expected especially in older buildings. The best bet is to wait for a windy day then focus on that side of the house. I think everyone has heard of using a candle as the flame will indicate any drafts. A safer method is using an incense stick. Both will detect smaller air leaks. Of course if you feel air coming in, seal!
Obvious spots to check is where any two different materials meet such as window pane to trim, wood trim to drywall or plaster. Seal around all window frames and unless your windows are high efficiency and already well sealed, seal between the window and trim. Open your cabinets and seal around where any pipes enter. Seal around any pipes entering through walls or floors.
Useful items to have on hand when using caulk: caulking gun, plastic knife or spoon, masking tape, paper towels or old rags. For a nice straight bead, run a piece of masking tape along both sides of the crack you want to seal. I prefer using the pull method where the tip of the caulk canister is placed at the starting point then is pulled along. You can use the push method by placing the tip at the start point the pushing along the crack. Whichever method works for you is fine. Run your bead of caulk, smooth with plastic knife of handle of plastic spoon. Remove masking tape while the caulk is still wet.
Expandable spray foam: There are times where caulk is not enough because the crack or gap is too big. This is where expandable spray foam comes in. The brand I prefer is Great Stuff mainly because Sam's Club has it two cans for $4.99. This essentially works like caulk for big spaces. It doesn't have a lot of odour but it sure can make a mess! I recommend using plastic or latex gloves and wearing old clothes when using this product. Shake the container well then put the nozzle on. Hold the can upside down and at an angle to fill cracks. As the name implies the foam does expand to fill the entire gap. Let the foam cure for 24 hours then use a serrated knife to cut away any excess foam. The foam can then be sanded and painting. I recommend painting if the foam will be exposed to sunlight as it will turn an ugly brown.
Use this foam for any larger gaps. I've used it around the the heating boots, behind the electrical panel, behind one 6-switch panel, and around where the house sits on the foundation. However, I have also used it around pipes, wire entries and any other gap that warrants it. My husband used it to seal up the crawlspace vents for winter as well. It can easily be cut away when we need the vents open during the summer. The only downside to the expandable foam aside of the potential mess that does decrease as you become familiar with the product is I find it is best to use the entire can instead of trying to save some. What I do is use mini post-it notes and tag where I want to seal using the foam. Then I go through and seal whatever I can using one can of the foam. Other tagged spots are left until I know I have enough to use up another full can.
Friday, January 26, 2007
Las Vegas, Nevada
We grappled with the destination because originally we were to go to Caribbean. So knowing that we went for our passports in early November. The procedure was rather pain free and since we figured the writing is on the wall to needing them to get into the United States, what the heck. So planning for our vacation actually started in early November. By mid November my husband, the vacation planning guru, had more information than we would ever need and by the second last week of November we were ready to book the vacation. However, we decided to wait until the passports arrived and it was a good thing as the couple we were going with had a family emergency and couldn't go. We decided on the spurr of the moment to join another couple in Las Vegas, our number one tourist destination. But by now you are likely wondering where the planning came in. Thankfully, my husband took over!
Within a week, my husband had booked our flight to Las Vegas on Spirit Airlines, picked up two copies of the 2007 American Casino Guide, rented our vehicle from Alamo, talked to our casino host and booked our room at the Golden Nugget for reduced room rates. With the big rocks out of the way, he turned his attention to the stones. This is directly from Stephen R. Covey's principles but he would never admit it. The first rule of thumb when vacation planning is to plan the big things, those things that are absolutely necessary. Thankfully the internet really helps to get these things in place all from the comfort of your home.
Now came the stones. These are the things you would really like to experience and for some will form an itinerary. For this trip we knew we wanted to enjoy time with our friends, take in one show, The Rat Pack is Back, and do some sightseeing. So those things were semi-planned but no schedule was made. In some cases, a schedule is necessary especially for those events that may not be repeated but for our vacation that wasn't necessary. Our choice of restaurants was semi-decided but only because we have been to the area so many times and because the vast majority of our meals are comped anyway. Again with the stones the internet is an amazing tool. Be sure to check for discounts and coupons for any of these types of events.
Next came the sand. These were events and spurr of the moment things. There was no need to plan at all but these were things that if and when we had time and could work in would be nice to do. This included things like a little shopping or picking up souvenirs. Be sure to check for online offers and discounts even for the little things.
From there you can add the water if you want. Be warned that these are little things that can really add up in time and drain you of a lot of energy if you go about them the wrong way especially if they add to sensory overload. If your vacation is longer than a week go easy on these types of activities or change them to activities that involve quiet time and relaxation. For example, my husband and I took a bit of time to sit quietly by the pool at the Golden Nugget to soak in a little sun and enjoy the shark tank. It was a much needed break from the noise and glitter of the casinos. Quite often when we are staying in Las Vegas we stay in the downtown core so I will do a quick power walk on Fremont Street before breakfast and often will do one or more power walks when the noise and glitz gets to me. Other times I will sit for 15 minutes simply people watching. Both activities give my mind a break. So think of the water as those activities that enhance your vacation experience, rejuvenate your spirit and cost nothing.
Ok so as far as actual vacation planning, you have a good idea of how we do just about every trip. But there is more to a vacation than just the planning. Once you are there and even on the way the camera comes out. It really helps if you are into scrapbooking or even just wanting a brief pictorial of your vacation to keep some type of journal. For this trip I used my PDA, folding keyboard, MiniWord and my trademark notepad. The doc files can easily be uploaded to the desktop. Other times I use the laptop and quite often a simple small notepad with pen. It is nice to note the little things about a picture like why you took it in the first place. I took about 300 pictures this trip most of which have little annotations for when I make the DVDs and scrapbooking. It just reallys adds a lot to your memories. A journal is also nice for making notes of expenses or other tidbits.
Now for a word on clothing and shoes, KISS! Seriously, I've seen so many people who's feet are obviously hurting. They cannot be enjoying themselves when they hurt. I took one pair of black semi-dress shoes that were well broke in along with my AirWalk sandles and Minnetonka ankle highs. Everything I brough to wear was geared towards those black shoes. After the first day my left foot pad was so irritated we went out and bought a pair of black track shoes. Problem solved but it goes without saying that even well broke in shoes can cause a problem in different environments. My choice on clothes would be my nice flannel pj's but that isn't quite acceptable in public so I like to take a couple pairs of jeans, wrinkle proof dress pants, dressier type shirts, a couple of blazzars and a dress or two. For this trip I focused on suedes as well. They travel relatively well. With mixing and matching it is rather easy to be well dressed for any event. Go for that wrinkle free if possible. Even though most motels have irons in the room, the last think I feel like doing on vacation is ironing clothes!
Last but not least make sure you have all medications you will need. You may not be able to buy equilivalents of over the counter drugs at your destination so take what you normally would use in their original containers. Always take additional prescription medications with you divided into two lots, one kept on your person and the other either on your carry-on or checked baggage or vehicle if not exposed to extreme weather conditions. It also is a good idea if you wear contact lenses or glasses to carry a spare pair along with your prescription just in case.
Enjoy your next vacation!
Monday, January 15, 2007
Friday, January 12, 2007
Reducing energy consumption is certainly a concern for most people whether as an environmental concern, financial concern or combination of both. It is easy to reduce electricity by replacing old appliances with Energy Star rated, shutting off lights, using CFLs and using LED computer monitors because they are the things most discussed. However our homes are filled with a multitude of small energy using devices that while we know they use electricity we think nothing of it.
I walked though our house just to see how many small energy using devices we had. What I found were:
- two appliance clocks
- three power bars
- two lighted light switches
- four electronic rodent chasers
- two printers on stand-by
- two laptops on chargers
- PDA on charger
- furnace igniter
- carbon monoxide detector
- security system
- three phone adapters
- strand of rope lighting
- home automation system
- humidifier adapter
- electronic air cleaner
- programmable thermostat
- clock radio
Most households have appliances that operate on small standby power resulting in energy loss when the appliance is turned off. This is known as phantom energy loss and can really add up in terms of electricity consumption! These appliances include VCR's, televisions, personal computers, satellite decoders, digital converters, cable boxes, and video game boxes. Energy Solutions Alberta found that the typical 25-inch television uses 4.5 watts on standby. They also found that VCRs were on of the worst for phantom energy loss by using only 5% of their total energy for recording and playing videos! The worst offenders are the set-top box according to them. These are appliances like cable boxes, video game boxes and satellite decoders and they "use almost as much energy off as on". They indicate that an average satellite decoder uses 130 kWh of power annually so at 10¢ per kWh that is a big chunk of money! But that cost sounds too high as our total electricity per kWh is 5.5¢ plus a little over that amount again in service charges as taxes. So it works out to a little over 11¢ per kWh total but we only paid $1259.62 total costs last year in electricity.
On that note, I decide to do another walk-through and list the phantom energy users we have. These are:
- two satellite decoders
- 34-inch television (Energy Star rated)
- 14"-inch television
- DVD player
- stereo receiver
- 17" iMac (Energy Star rated)
So now we know where our electricity costs are goint we can continue reducing by eliminating or replacing certain electric devices. Our goals this year are to replace our top loading washer with a front loading one that will save both water and electricity, and replace the old freezer in the garage. One suggestion we had for the freezer was to watch for the smaller freezers to go on sale and buy two. That way we would have the space of a large freezer but only have both plugged in during large influxes of food. Apparently this is a growing trend and to me makes sense to have one running all the time and the other one used only when needed. I want to do a bit more research on this idea.
Tuesday, January 2, 2007
Organization is a key component of my life and is a critical tool that helps me in every faucet of my life. It helps me accomplish those important things in life while putting the not so important things in perspective. It makes me a more effective person while I put those people and values that matter most to me first and foremount at all times. That really is what is all about.
Today I was floundering and then I took one look at my day planner and immediately had the answer. It's Tuesday and my week plan is not in place nor is my Weekly Compass! That is just totally so uncharacteristic for me. My plan was not in place! The worse thing is my husband has decided this is a great time for our annual get our of the snow trip but I'm really not in the mood. It would appear we are going anyway which means I have less than a week to get my planner in gear for the year.
Normally I start planning the new year in advance but with the new grandbaby I had other things on my mind. Under normal circumstances I take the last two weeks of the year to simply refect to see if I'm really where I want to be in life. Then the first week of the new year I'll sit down, modify my goals and plan how I want the year to unfold. But I didn't do that this year so now I'm dealing with chaos and I don't do that well!
For years my system has been the pen and paper method. This is my powerhouse tool that I would be lost without! I'm a very visual person so that what works best for me. I prefer the FranklinCovey paper system and Stephen R. Covey's motivational programs. To date his information has never steered me wrong but it has surely helped keep me from getting into crisis mode.
My husband bought me a Sony Clié so I tried solely computerized organizing for a year. It didn't work for me but I have found a way to incorporate the pen and paper method with the PDA and computerized programs. I do the paper planning then transfer to the PDA and hot sync. It is easier to carry around than the paper version so that way I always have everything at my fingertips.
As you can see even my planner needs organizing today! It is a mess so that is my first clue to go back and refresh the 7 Habits. I use the quadrant and priority system so if you look close you will see the A1, B1, C1 system in action all be it not all that effectively today. You won't see a D1 etc because that is the quandant of waste and that's not where I plan to spend time but being human sometimes it just happens. I also use coloured pens because they give me an instant visual clue. Anything written in red is just not a good thing! I use other colours to give instant clues as well.
Stickies are the computerized version of post-it notes on Mac. They give me a very visual clue and keep my husband from complaining about all the post-it notes tacked through-out the house. On first view you will notice my desktop is a cluttered mess so that is on my to-do list. What you don't see in this picture is that I likely had every single program on the computer opened all at once. This is a horrid habit and for me a very difficult habit to break.
As in my dayplanner, I use a colour coded system so the stickie colour is an immediate visual clue for me. Unfortunately the stickies do not hot sync to the PDA so I use them more as day to day reminders for when I think about those little things that need reminders.
I really can't advise on choice of organizing system but I do know what works for me. No one system will give you everything you need so start with one system and tailor it to your needs. Whatever system is used, there is no doubt in my mind that an organization system of some type is absolutely necessary for the smooth running of my home.