What does a Garden Gnome do when she is not gardening, in the kitchen or doing genealogy? Well the answer might just surprise you so read the entries to find out more. This blog focuses on everything we do to make our house a home. There will be a strong emphasis on home energy efficiency and do-it-yourself (DIY) projects. At the same time there will also be crafts, knitting and crocheting projects along with any other little tips we do to create that down to earth, I want to be here home. Please enjoy your visit :)

Monday, February 26, 2007

Frugal Household Cleaning

I think one of the most common questions when it comes to housecleaning is what products to use. We are always searching for the latest, greatest or bestest cleaning agent. What we fail to realize is quite often these agents are toxic to ourselves, our loved ones and our pets. Sure they get the job done sometimes but at what cost? They are expensive and pollute our indoor air. The very same chemicals we are willing to use in out home can leave concentrations that if outdoors in that level there would be an outcry! Many of these cleaners are anti-bacterial increasing the chances of superbugs! Superbugs are bacteria that make us sick but because they have been so exposed to antibiotics they are now resistant. That is bad news as that means they can be fatal. The problem is many are using multiple anti-bacterial products in their homes. Couple with use of prescribed antibiotics and the stage is set for superbugs. The best thing you can do when cleaning your home is to use other products instead of anti-bacterial ones.

Several years ago, I decided to clean my kitchen floor with household ammonia. This has long been tooted as a natural cleaner for Now at that time it was a product I had used several times and I still think it is the best thing for cutting grease. However, in this case while it cleaned my floor wonderfully, I almost immediately noticed a shortness of breath so I went outdoors. After that subsided, I noticed my beautiful green houseplants and at that time I had a lot that had turned a sickly blue but some were a bright blue. Some never recovered, some only partially recovered and a few hardier ones made a full recovery. That was a clear signal this is not something I should be using in my home. The problem is and was at that time finding products that would clean without being toxic. The old natural stand-bys were soap, baking soda, vinegar, ammonia (clearly toxic) and good old fashioned elbow grease.

The second problem with cleaners besides toxicity is scent which in itself may or may not be toxic and can certainly cause problems for those with respiratory problems and/or allergies. Most cleaners are heavily scented and as if that is not bad enough many households are constantly bombarded with heavily scented products aimed at making the house smell good all the time. These seemingly benign products can cause a lot of problems but at least your house smells good. The manufacturers would have us believe that in order for our house to be clean it must smell of the scent du jour but that simply is not the case. All the scent does is mask odours.

Here's my list aside of laundry soap (now fragrance free) and dishwasher soap of must haves:

- white vinegar
- baking soda
- plain, unscented bar laundry soap (eg. Fels Napa or similar)
- handheld steam cleaner
- Bissell steam mop
- Mr. Clean® Magic Erasers®
- Swiffer® cloths/dusters
- 20 Mule Team® Borax
- Murphy's Oil Soap
- plain white terry cloth washcloths
- Simple Green® (non-toxic concentrate that can be made into varying strengths)
- green backed scrubbie sponges
- rubbing alcohol
- spray bottles
- toilet brushes
- scrub brush

Notice there are no air fresheners, no toilet cleaners, nothing with chlorine, nothing with ammonia, nothing heavily scented. In fact, I could easily clean most of our house with the handheld steam cleaner and washcloths AND it would be clean without the chemicals! Our homes do not need to smell of citrus, pine or heaven know what else to be clean. They need to be clean period without the smell or toxicity. You can get that smell by boiling a few spices and citrus or apples on the stove or baking a loaf of bread. At least that isn't an artificial smell! If you want something stronger, dry your own flowers and herbs for a natural potpourri or sachets. You can even make a bed spray using dried lavender buds and filtered water. Now think of the money you will save not buying into all that "you need the latest cleaner" that never works as promised anyway. Think of the space you will be saving not having all those one purpose cleaners. Best of all, think of how much better for you and your family it will be by eliminating the toxic chemicals and improving your indoor air quality.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Photo Enhancement

There are many reasons for enhancing your photos. I have been learning how to better use the features in Adobe Photoshop CS Version 8.0. This is a lovely program with a lot of function that I was basically using to simply resize images. Instead of taking the time to learn more about what this program could do, I simply bought a couple of scrapbooking programs when I decided to start into digital scrapbooking. This was not the frugal way to do things when I already had a program that could do all these things and so much more. For my genealogy images, I simply uploaded them to the program without any type of enhancement. Well, suffice to say I am now learning the different features thanks to a couple of very nice Yahoo groups and a lot of tutorials.

On Tap

I've been playing with animation, filters, and layers. So today I tried out a couple of ways to make picture frames. This is the result of my first attempt.

This is a photo taken at a restaurant we enjoy. I always have my camera with me when away from home and within easy reach at home. I take a lot of pictures! Digital just makes it so easy. My current digital camera is a Canon PowerShot A450, 6.0 mega pixel and 4x optical zoom. Holding the zoom control it will go up to 16x but the graininess increases. This only seems to be noticeable on certain photographs though. Back to the photo, I liked the looks of the copper beer tap so snapped a photo of it.

I did something wrong on this tutorial but am not sure what. The only thing I can figure is I merged to many layers. That's easy to do since I'm rather new at using layers. My end result was an 8" x 10" supposed to be frame with no way to remove the background leaving only the frame so I decided to improvise. I opened the photo, did a cut and past, then centred it onto the frame image, added my name then merged the layers. I thought the results weren't too bad and that the colour of the resulting frame accents the photo is rather a fluke too. The frame consists of layers with filters creating texture and beveling.

Ice on Water

Well onto the second tutorial. I used a picture taken by me a couple of days ago. We live on the water so I take a lot of water shots. This one was so much easier to follow. I added my name to the photo and merged the layers. Then I duplicated that layer and added a gaussian blur filter, layer set to multiply and adjusted the opacity. After merging the layers, I created a new layer, dragged that to the bottom and created the first matt by changing the canvas size by .2. The next layer was created the same way with canvas size at .5 and the third at .8. Each matt was filled using a colour picked from the picture using the eye dropper tool then filled with the paintbucket tool. Overall I like the effect. I think it gives a more formal look that will work nicely for enhancing my genealogy photos.

Ice on Water with Filters

This is the same picture as above but slightly cropped with no frame and more filters added. I thought it would be neat to try and get that true sparkly look of the ice. The sun was very bright when this picture was taken so I started playing to try and capture that feeling.

I added the name, merged the layers then did the gaussian adjustment. Now, the gaussian adjustment was another tutorial that works with layers. Depending on how it is used, it deepens the colours and just softly softens the edges a bit. It seems to work better on some photos than others. Once the gaussian adjustment I used a texture filter set to patchwork. That looked rather interesting but it still did not have the sparkle I wanted. An artistic filter set to plastic wrap seemed to fit best and this was the end result. I can't wait to use this in scrapbooking!

Golden Glow

This was something I was just playing around with after working with frames. The picture was taken during sunset the same day the water picture above was taken. The sky was absolutely gorgeous!

I discovered that the marquee gave other shapes than rectangular so decided to test it out. After several attempts and realizing that once it's make if you use the move tool, it moves leaving a transparent background. So I hit copy then new and then paste. Well that looked pretty good but I thought some type of frame would be nice except I didn't know how to do that so I beveled that layer instead. Then I added my name and merged. I liked the effects and think this will be perfect for both scrapbooking and genealogy.

Hopefully this gives you a few ideas of what is possible as far as photo enhancement. I am definitely in the learning stages. It is amazing some of the effects you can get. I encourage you to try some of these techniques. There are a lot of resources to help you learn them. The possibilities are endless and I can't wait to use them in my scrapbooking and genealogy projects!


Garden Gnome
© 2007

Monday, February 19, 2007

Refinishing Old Trunks

Refinishing old or antique trunks is a great way to gain additional storage and add extra character to rooms. With any luck you can find these at auction or yard sales and re-sale furniture stores but I would recommend not buying at an antique shop. An antique trunk, usually camel back, should be bought for the antique value and while antiques can and should be used, they should not be modified. What you want is an old trunk covered with canvas, hopefully at a bargain price and with the canvas not in good shape for the following.

Most trunks will be canvas covered with wood strips and metal trim for support. These were the precusors of luggage so were designed for heavy and durable usage. The latches will be metal and quite often there will be very small metal rollers on the bottom for ease of moving. They usually are lined with some type of paper inside but quite often that has been painted over. There should be a tray that may or may not be on hinges spanning the top of the inside, often divided for smaller items. Sometimes you may find one with a key but that is unlikely.

Refinished Trunk

I have refinished two trunks, one with the canvas repainted keeping everything as close to original as possible and this trunk. The finished trunk now sits in our bedroom. It is used for blanket storage. Prior to that we used it for a coffee table and blanket storage in our family room. This is a larger trunk than the first one I did. Unfortunately, I do not have before pictures of the trunk readily handy and while there may be a picture in with the many photos, I doubt it. First rule, always take before and after photos of everything to do like this!

This trunk was covered with black canvas in rather poor condition. There was rusting on the metal and the wood slats were missing pretty much any finish. It was missing the tray, handles and smelled strongly of mothballs. The inside paper had been painted metallic grey but other than that the trunk was sturdy. But I picked it up for $25 anyway figuring it would make a lovely blanket box. So that is something to look for but not always a deterrent for buying especially when being used for storage.

The first thing I did was remove the canvas. In order to do this properly, you need a very sharp utility knife and carefully score around each canvas panel. Lift up the canvas and discard. Underneath you will find beautiful wood that even unfinished your eye will marvel at. Using a medium grain sandpaper, sand all of the wood and any rust on the metal parts. Do not try to fix every flaw as you want the character of the trunk to remain. Follow that with a sanding using fine grain sandpaper then use a tack cloth to remove any dust. Apply three to four coats of either high gloss or satin polyurethane, sanding in between.

Why polyurethane? While this piece was meant as a show piece it was also meant to be in daily use. While other finishes are possible, polyurethane would give it the durability for this as well as being almost kid proof. I chose a satin because I think it looks best on older pieces. I did not use any stain just the polyurethane. Once that had dried it was time to move onto refinishing the trim.

Handle Detail

The trim is metal so I chose a rust paint and because of the detail used artists brushes to apply it. While the trunk would not be in a garage or other problematic higher moisture area, we live in a higher humidity location so did not want any problems with rusting. Painting the trim was not as tedious as it would appear but it did require a steady hand.

As previously mentioned, the trunk was missing the handles. I simply bought two strips of belting material and used an epoxy glue to secure. It is important to note that these are for decoration only when done this way. I have also seen refinished trunks using pieces of rope for the handles but I think for this particular trunk the leather is more authentic.

Warning! Do not use an old trunk for a toy box or let children play with it. The metal could sever a finger or worse if the lid shut unexpectedly. If you have smaller children keep the lid latched at all times!

Well hopefully that gives you few ideas.

Garden Gnome
© 2007

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Laundry Detergent for Front Loading Washers

I must say how impressed I am with my Whirlpool Duet washer and dryer. Yesterday alone, I did up all our laundry (1 1/2 extra deep hampers), every comforter and sheet in the house, 8 king size pillows, 5 large afghans, 2 thow pillows and 3 door mats. My husband refused to strip so I could do more laundry. I started about 10 am and was done and in completely finished by 3 pm and that is taking into consideration my folding time as well as going at a slower pace. I could never have done that with my old top loading washer. I am very impressed with this set.

With the new front loading washing maching a High Efficiency (HE) is needed. This is a type of detergent specifically formatted for use in front loading washers. We knew this before we bought the washer so it was no surprise. While some have said they use regular laundry soap in their front loading washers this is not recommended. The front loading washers use 1/3 to 2/3 less water than top loading washers. That means regular laundry soap will not dissolve easily and may leave a soap residue on the clothes. Regular soap also causes more suds in front loading washers because of the tumbling action something that will make your washer work harder, creates an overflow problem and cause components on your washer to breakdown prematurely. Considering that a front loading washing machine will set you back about $1000 you really need to follow the manufacturer's recommendations. While it may on the surface be frugal to save on laundry soap, it will not be frugal when you have a high repair bill on a relatively new washer.

There are several sites that outline making your own laundry soap. Sorry this is not suitable for front load washers. Remember you are saving a great deal on electricity, water, detergent, time and the wear and tear on your clothes. You are also saving on the cost of drying the clothes so spending a little more on laundry detergent is more than covered. Consider too that less soap residue in your clothes is a good thing! It lessens clothes going dingy and reduces allegic reactions. Clothes do not need to smell the latest, greatest scent put out by the manufacturers in order to be clean. While there are powdered versions of HE laundry detergent, the liquid HE has a better reputation.

Our washer came with a sample of Tide HE however due to allergies and asthma we cannot use that brand. There are other brands available so let's do the math. As always break it down into cost per load. We bought a bottle of Sunlight Multi-Action HE Fresh Rain. Honestly, I do wish the manufacturers would give it a rest on the scenting of everything! Surprisingly the scent, something I cannot tolerate, wasn't too strong. This is 3X concentrated and formulated for front loading washers. A 946 ml bottle cost $8.99 for 32 loads working out to a cost of 28¢ per load. The appliance store where we bought our set sells a 120 load liquid HE detergent for $29.99. That works out to 24.9¢ per load. Neither price is overly expensive and more than reasonable per load. But I decided to check around. Amazon.com is selling a 9 pack of All Small & Mighty for $47.99. It does 288 loads at 16¢ per load however you do have to factor in shipping costs that will increase the cost per load. The best deal I have found was at Sam's Club who is selling a 3 pack of All Small & Mighty for $11.74 so I will be buying that our next trip. That works out to 12¢ per load with no shipping costs. All these figures are based on if you are using the amount of detergent the manufacturer recommends but quite often less detergent will get the clothes just as clean. So if you want to save even more shop around. Just remember to use only HE detergent in front loading washers!

Garden Gnome
© 2007

Monday, February 12, 2007

Front Loaders - Washer & Dryer

Whirlpool Duet

For years we used a wonderful, bought used Admiral washer and dryer set. It gave us a lot of good service. The washer went first, spitting oil all over so it was replaced by a Kenmore HD toploadind washer. The dryer was replaced with a Moffat HD gas dryer because gas is cheaper here than electricitiy. We knew this was a bandage appoach so took our time doing the reseach to find a washer and dryer that would meet our needs and save us some money in the process.

The very first thing to consider when upgrading your appliances is the Energy Star rating followed by whether gas or electric is cheaper. For this purchase we chose Whirlpool Duet but only after I did my research. I was seriously after energy efficiency on this pair.

Let's compare front loading to top loading washing machines. This particular model uses 68% less water than a conventional top loader. At the same time you can put almost three times the amount of laundry in one load meaning three loads of laundry will be washed and ready for drying in the length of time one load would normally take. Now this in itself will save you the cost of running those two additional loads and will save you time too! What really impressed me about this washer was the EnergyGuide rating of 180 on a scale of 113 to 680 (kWh/year) so it is pretty energy efficient. An added plus is the frontloaders express more water from your clothes making them dryer so your dryer needs to work less. That means for us we are also saving on drying costs. We cannot dry outside due to allergies so clothes must be dried indoors. The final huge thing is because there is no agitator, the washer is easier on your clothes making them last longer. Ok so we are saving on electricity, gas, water and clothes so is there a catch?

I read the epinions reviews and this set got either five stars or one star. I think I did this link right as I'm on epinions as well so you can read my reviews. The ones that gave one star in most cases did not follow the manufacurer's suggestions. You must use HE laundry soap not regular laundry soap. Sam's Club has a large jug of All HE Anti-Allergen for $10.99 and since you are using less soap and three times the load, that's not a bad price! Do not use non-HE soap as it will cause extra sudsing and will gunk up your machine. It can also cause premature failure of some of your washer's components. Now we are sitting here with almost a year's supply of our regular brand of laundry soap thanks to our frugal nature however we will distribute this amongst family and friends so it doesn't go to waste. Ok, next problem I discovered was one problem with all front loading washers was molding. Now this was a huge concern for me and since bleach is also a problem, the suggested solutions are not an option. However, another family member has had a front loading washer for three years without a problem. The trick is to leave the door open after wash day. Now some seem to be making a huge deal about this on epinions, yet my normal routine has been to leave the lid open on the old top loader after all the laundry is done. This is not a huge problem for me and it will work nicely for where our new set is located. The third complaint was vibration and given our floor situation, I do think we can expect some but honestly not near as much as the top loader. These machines especially the washer need to be level!

If you do the research and check out all the specs the front loading washers are energy efficient, environmentally friendly and just make good sense in these times of rising energry costs!

Garden Gnome
© 2007

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Granny Square Afghan

Granny Square Afghan

Knitted and crocheted afghans are a family favourite so I make quite a few. A granny square afghan is worked one square at a time then the squares are sewn together and an edging added to form the finihed piece. It is an ideal project for those learning to crochet as it involves simple stitches. The variations in how granny squares are made are as varied and unique as the people who make them.

Here's how I made a basic shell style granny square. More detailed instructions by Martha Stewart along with diagrams can be found here. I make the initial stitch then chain (ch) six stitches. Leaving the last stitch on the hook, I put the hook into the first stitch of the chain, catch the yarn with the hook and draw through both stitches. This is called a slip (sl) stitch. Then I chain 3, double crochet (dc) twice chain 3, [double crochet three, chain three] I repeat [] three more times ending with a chain 3. I slip (sl) stitch into the top of the chain forming the first shell. There are now four shells and four holes that will become the corners. I slip the next two stitches then chain 3, double crochet (dc) twice, chain 3 in the first hole, double crochet (dc), into the same hole. There are now two shells in the first hole. I chain (ch) 3 then double chrochet (dc) 3, chain (ch) 3, double crochet (dc) 3 into the second hole, chain (ch) and repeat for last two holes, chain 3 and slip into the first stitch of the first shell. The piece is now a square. I continue making rounds by working two shells in each corner, one shell in each of the holes in the sides of the square.

Once you have tried making a granny square it will become clear as to how this works and diagrams make it a lot easier to visualize. There are a lot of good references online for making the basic granny square. One tip I would offer is to use cotton yarn when learning. Make the square about 9" then edge with a row of single crochet (sc) and you now have a wash or dish cloth.

When I was looking for a couple of sites for making basic granny squares, I came across a site that said traditionally granny squares are made in bright colours then trimmed in black. Well, when I made this afghan, I had never heard of that. Usually when I start a piece I have a particular idea or yarn in mind. The idea I had for this afghan was to create a piece somewhat mimicking an Amish pieced quilt. However, I couldn't resist working in the variegated yarns as the practical purpose was using up left-over yarns in my stash. Anyone who knits or chrochets knows how quickly that stash can grow!

The finished piece is a heavy afghan perfect for snuggling in on cold winter evenings. It measures 55" x 78". There are seventy squares consisting of 4 rounds of shells edged in double crochet (dc) worked in worsted 4 ply yarn. The squares were place right side down and joined through only the back loop forming a textured ridge on the right side of the afghan. I then edged the afghan with a row of black, row of muted blue and final row of black worked in double crochet (dc).

While the beauty of the basic granny square can be used in so many ways, I just had to try this more advanced version. This is an afghan (?) project I have in progress at the moment. I have a question mark because I am considering on making it big enough to use as a bedspred for or bed. The piece is being worked in Bernat worsted 4 ply. The heart is worked first and is raised from the square. The square is then started by attaching at 8 points on the back of the heart. The square is then worked as normal and edged in double crochet (dc). I will likely piece together through the back loop of the double crochet as I like that look for added texture and definition.

Garden Gnome
© 2007

Friday, February 2, 2007



We've all been there, done that and have the tee-shirt when it comes to clutter. Now why do this do you suppose that it? I have a couple of my own theories. First is really is human nature to keep those things we might find usefule in future even though they have no use for us right at this moment. Second, when the clutter becomes even slightly overwhelming it freezes us. We can't do anything about it even though we want to and know we have to.

Our new mattress was delivered this afternoon and as soon as the ordered washer & dryer arrive they will be delivered within a day or two. Both have spurred me onto a bit of a cleaning frenzy aside of my planned spring cleaning. I post more about that later.

Clutter is insidious and it feeds off itself! My problem areas tend to be horizontal surfaces and the back entrance. Oh before I go further, that little animated graphic was made by me just today so if you would like to know how just post a comment on this reply and I'll make a tutorial. Clutter just happens likely because it is easier to drop something down right there than put it back where it belongs. My personal feeling is that smaller spaces are better for clutter control at least for me. Smaller spaces force me to downsize and question whether I really want a certain purchase. Larger spaces tend to attract clutter because there is more room for more stuff.

I adopted four ideas from FlyLady: shiney sink, the 15 minute daily decluttering, the 27 Fling Boogie and daily hotspot clearing. Even if you do not have a clutter problems all of these will help keep your home ready for guests without worry. One book I recommend not only for home organization but also for other types of organizing is Getting Organized (1991) by Stephanie Winston.

I'll leave you with a little food for thought. Your home is your castle, your escape from the world, your santity ... you owe it to yourself and your family to create the most calming and serene atmosphere, one that is clutter free and filled with love. Of course the smells of good cooking are always appreciated too.

Garden Gnome
© 2007