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 :)


Thursday, February 28, 2008

My Knitting Machines

It may surprise some but we still are not fully unpacked from the move last year. There seems little point in unpacking some things while we are renovating. Still I've spent the past few days unpacking boxes to get rid of clutter as we came to a bit of a snag with the kitchen. What started the decluttering was looking for parts for my one knitting machine that should have been in the case but were some how packed separately. I've managed to empty several boxes in the process with a good portion donated or tossed. In hindsight it would have been nice to do this kind of clean sweep before moving but we didn't know if some of the things would be needed here. I found most of the parts for the Empisal except the clamps to hold the machine in place. Missing for the Silver Reed are two of the three clamps. However, still missing and needed before I can do any actual knitting are the yarn winder, combs, weights and spare needles.


On the bright side both machines are set up in the laundry room. I also set up my sewing machine in there too. The laundry room is quite large with two nice banks of counters (1,2) and lots of storage. (1,2,4). It lies between the family room and furnace room with a pass through looking into the family room (2) so I will be able to work on the knitting machines while enjoying the view or watching television.

The gauge of a knitting machine is important because that determines what types of yars can be used. The Empisal Knitmaster 305 Automatic Deluxe is a standard gauge (4.55 mm) manual machine that has the ability to do fancy stitches automatically based on the settings. A fingering and sports weight yarn can be used. To use a heavier yarn every other needle is used. This is the second machine I bought after I discovered integrating hand knitting with machine knitting. This machine has a 200 needle metal bed (2) and carrying case (3) that protects the machine while travelling or during storage. In the fully set-up position the machine tilts higher from the front of the bed to the back. While it is an older machine it works well. I'm still learning to use this machine because at our old house it wasn't possible to have the machine set up all the time.


The sewing machine (Brother Festival 461) has found a home on the wall adjacent to the counters. The dark door (4) leads to the family room while the other dark door (5) leads to the furnace room. The white doors are half of the four floor to ceiling storage cabinets.

This much charished flatbed sewing machine was given to me on my thirteenth birthday. Learning how to properly maintain the sewing machine was stressed right from day one. That sage advice has paid for itself over and over and has resulted in a dependable machine that is a delight to use! It is in a hinged console (4) that opens for sewing (5) and doubles as a table for the Silver Reed LK 140.

The Silver Reed is the first knitting machine I bought for a ridiculously low price at a yard sale. It is a mid-gauge (6.5 mm) machine with a 140 needle plastic bed capable of knitting sport weight, 4 ply and worsted weight yarns. The bed needs firm support when in use due to the possibility of slight flexing. There is no case so I cover the machine with a towel to keep dust out when not in use. In comparison to the Knitmaster the Silver Reed looks like it would not perform as well but trust me, it does a lovely job of knitting.


I have to admit to being a knitter and have been one since being knee high to a grasshopper. A few years ago I bought a knitting machine at a yard sale and decided to teach myself machine knitting. There has been a long learning curve but I'm making progress. True to form, I jumped in with both feet.

After making several swatches to get the feel of the machine it was time to try something more challenging. My first project (9) was a short sleeved sweater with eyelet ribbing. The pattern was converted from a hand knit pattern for the body and sleeves. The eyelet ribbing was my idea of adding detail. The ribbing for the sweater was done by hand then transferred to the Silver Reed to knit the body. The sweater was knit in Red Heart TLC Baby 3 ply. It has held up to multiple washings over the past few years. A second sweater (not shown) but long sleeve with extra wide ribbing done in Red Heart worsted 4 ply also converted from a hand knit pattern was the next project. A work-in-progress started just before we found out we were moving is a similar sweater a different colour (7,8) of the same yarn.

Watch for more hand and machine knit projects in future entries.

Garden Gnome
© 2007


Saturday, February 16, 2008

Warehouse Stores

Years ago when the kids where quite young we discovered shopping at a warehouse store called PACE Wholesale Club. At that time you needed a membership to shop there. The only way to get a membership was to be a member of a union or be a business owner. The store was located in the United States so a shopping trip turned to an all day event. We would return home with institutional size packaged foods to stock the pantry. Buying certain foods this way made sense economically and environmentally.

In 1993 PACE then owned by K-Mart was bought out by Wal-mart who converted most of the wholesale clubs to Sam's Club. Without hesitating, we signed up for the new Sam's Club membership and continue to maintain our membership at Sam's Club. We also shop at Costco Wholesale, another warehouse club store that requires a membership. One of our kids has a Costco's membership so we shop with them instead of buying our own membership.

Sam's Club

Questions: So why shop at a warehouse club store? Why should I pay for a membership to shop in any store? What should I know before shopping at a warehouse club store? What kind of a shopping experience can I expect at a warehouse club store? Can I really save money if there are only two of us living at home on a regular basis? Do you have any tips for saving even more by shopping at a warehouse club store?

Answers:
The primary reason for shopping at a warehouse club store is saving money. The second reason is being able to buy foods in institutional sized packaging. They carry restaurant supplies at low prices making warehouse club stores ideal places to shop for basic entertaining supplies. The fresh produce, meat and bakery offerings are excellent and the prices are lower than in regular supermarkets. Finally, these stores are easy in, easy out with ample parking.

An annual membership fee is required to shop at either Sam's Club or Costco. Initially the membership was only offered to those meeting certain criteria such as being a business owner but now anyone can join. Membership is the underlying principle behind the co-operative buying power to keep product prices down without ownership in the club. Sam's Club offers five types of memberships each with differing benefits. Costco offers three types of memberships with differing benefits. So your membership fee keeps prices down enabling you to get products cheaper at a warehouse store than elsewhere.

Shopping at a warehouse club store is a different experience than shopping at other department or grocery stores. You do need to know your prices before shopping because not everything is cheaper in warehouse club stores. The carts a quite large and can get quite heavy when filled. Most food and non-food items are on serve-yourself industrial shelving. There are no fancy displays although sometimes a large ticket item is set-up. Even though items geared for the major holidays are available the store itself isn't really decorated. The warehouse club stores now sell a lot of other non-food items including electronics, books, computers, small appliances, tires, cleaning supplies and much more. Clothes are on racks or large tables. A good selection of books, videos and DVDs are available. The office supply section is quite good. Services include a pharmacy, eye care and photo finishing. The most publicized feature of warehouse club stores is their food samples. These small carts appear throughout the food section of the store and are most prevalent on the weekends. When you check-out, the cashier takes your card number then rings up your total while re-loading your purchases into another cart. There are no bags so bring your own or use the usually available boxes for your purchases. Before leaving the store your cart and receipt will be checked by a purchase checker. They say it is to make sure you have everything you paid for but in reality it is a security measure to prevent items not paid for leaving the store.

Most people assume that you have to have a large family to take advantage of warehouse club prices but that simply is not the case. We raised a larger but not huge family and am now empty nesters. If you've read my cooking and gardening blogs you know I grow a lot of food, can/preserve just about everything, buy meats directly from the farmer, shop locally for produce, cook mainly from scratch and don't use a lot of pre-made convenience foods. I should also note that there are restrictions as to what we can bring back into Canada especially produce but this is not a problem for those living in the country where the store is located. In short, on the surface it would appear we would not be able to save by shopping at a warehouse club store. Wrong! We do a lot of entertaining and with a business need a lot of office supplies. We shop at Sam's Club an average of six to eight times per year. Generally we save enough the first trip to more than pay for the membership.

My Recent Good Buys:

The following are just a few good buys we made on our last trip to Sam's Club. In general, we don't use a lot of commercially canned foods because I can my own but even then the savings may not be a large as canned food bought on sale for normal sized cans. Institutional sized cans are in most cases a good deal. For me cheeses tend to be good deals as are large container sizes of seasonings.

food:
1. Butter is usually $3.49/lb here, I bought a four pound package for $6.48 or $1.62/lb.
2. Philidelphia cream cheese is $2.29 per 8 oz package. A six pack of 8 oz cream cheese was $8.12 or $1.35 each.
3. Vlasic Dill pickles, 1 gal - $3.58
4. Tortilla chips, 2/3 lb bags - $5.28
5. Rotel tomatoes, 8/10 oz - $4.81 (can't buy them here)
6. organic mesclun mix (fresh), 16 oz - $2
7. French loaves, 2/18" - $2.17

non-food:
1. 20 lb paper, 5,000 sheets - $27.88
2. 92/93 HP tri-pack cartridges - $43.86
3. Simple Green concentrated cleaner, 1 gal - $8.88
4. Olay Complete Body Wash, 54 oz pack - $9.84
5. GE CFL. 8/13 watt - $10.86

Tips:

Warehouse club stores buy what is available in huge lots at the best price. That means the products tend to be brand name. One week the store may be stocked with Brand A but when that is gone if Brand B was the better price, that will be the brand on the shelves. If a product is not moving well, it will be removed for a product that will sell well. If you see something you use at a good price it makes good sense to stock up on it when you see it because it might not be available again. It also is a good idea to keep an eye on the price coding of products. A "c" at the end of the number means the item has been cancelled at Sam's Club so stock up because it more than likely will not be available after the stock is sold out. At Costco's the magic endings to look for at the end of the codes are "97" for discontinued or "p" for slow moving.

Avoid splurging that can drive up your food costs. Make a list! Current prices for Sam's Club and Costco's are online so you can compare prices before going shopping. Always compare unit prices (price/ounce etc) at the warehouse club stores to unit prices of the same product available elsewhere. Remember the largest size is not always the most economical in price per unit. It is best not to shop when you are hungry a the warehouse club stores. It is also best not to shop the warehouse club stores when you are tired especially during peak shopping hours.

Garden Gnome
© 2007


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Starting Kitchen Remodel - Sealing Ceramic Tile Floor Grout

At one time ceramic tile was viewed as being expensive finishing for flooring and counters. It's popularity and durability continues today and while not as expensive as some materials it is still perceived as being expensive. Ceramic tile has a lot of benefits over other flooring materials. It is low maintenance and carefree. We installed ceramic tile flooring in the kitchen of our third house. We were told to use only vinegar and water to wash the floor with. Sure enough the ceramic tile kept its beautiful shine.

Onto our current house, our fifth and likely final house. The kitchen had been remodeled including the floor that is shiny ceramic tile. From our previous house we quickly realized a shiny tile surface is not the best for a kitchen as it becomes slippery when wet. The kitchen here opens onto a brick patio leading to the waterfront. The kitchen has to be high functioning because of the amount of cooking and canning I do so safety is always a concern.

Kitchen Floor

The first photo is looking into the kitchen from the family room while the second picture shows the breakfast bar on the family room side. We discovered a few problems with the kitchen floor as gorgeous as it looks. The real problem is the floor is shiny so therefore slippery when wet. There are three broken tiles (2) but only one is noticeable. The previous owner left five tiles and we have not been able to find any matching tiles. We suspected the grout had not been sealed either. The final problem is the floor is cold as it is below grade. We are considering replacing this floor during the upcoming remodel with a heated ceramic tile floor. However, we are waiting to see about the cabinets.

The kitchen cabinets are quite nice with the exception of signs of wear (1, 3) on some of the doors while others look brand new. The upper cabinets were installed from what we can see over the wood ceiling then trimmed around the tops of the cabinets for a very finished built in look, replacing would be a royal pain. That would likely mean refinishing the kitchen ceiling but because it opens into the family room that also has a wood ceiling with beams it would end up being a huge project. We thought the doors were solid wood doors given their weight but upon closer inspection they are very thick particle core with thick vaneer in a recessed centre panel style. From what I can see our only two options are to either refinish or replace the doors. It seems like an unnecessary expense to replace when less than half of the doors are in excellent condition. However, I found a product called Restore-A-Finish that hopefully will work. I will report back on how well this product works.

At the same time we finally decided on the ceramic tile for the countertop so will be installing that within the next couple of weeks. Finally the green swirl laminate will be history. The countertop and walls are going to be my DIYproject so I'll be reporting on that as things progress. In the meantime, I had to make a decision to protect the existing floor in case we decide not to replace it right now. The primary concern was the possibility that the grout was not sealed. Grout is porous so will allow liquid to get to the sub floor as well as letting liquids stain it. The remedy for this it to apply a penetrating grout sealer.

Materials

You will need:
1:1 vinegar/water solution
wash cloths/rags (a lot)
scrub brush
grout sealer brush bottle
TILELab SurfaceGard Penetrating sealer

TILELab SurfaceGard Penetrating sealer offers maximum protection with a 20 year guarantee so that's my kind of product! I use a 1:1 water to vinegar solution for cleaning my ceramic tile flooring. A spray bottle makes for easy application. A Swiffer wand loaded with white wash cloths makes quick work of washing the floor. Once a month I use a steam mop (not shown) to get the floor squeaky clean. For this purpose the Swiffer wand is sufficient. Sweep or vacuum the floor to remove any large particles. Attach a cloth to the Swiffer wand. Spray the floor then clean in sections changing the cloth as needed. Allow to dry. You are now ready to move onto cleaning the grout.

Cleaning Grout

This is a sitting or kneeling job. Sorry but I couldn't figure out a better way to get the grout clean. I found it easier to work from the far corner to the family room side. If the grout was previously sealed, the grout should clean up nicely. If it was not previously sealed you may see small bits, more of a discolouration in solution when cleaning the grout. The important thing is you want to get the grout clean without damaging it. Spray the vinegar solution along the grout line. Turn the brush on an angle so the the bristles go into the grout line. Scrub with light pressure along the grout line. Wipe the grout line with a dry cloth . Continue in this manner for all grout lines. Allow the floor to dry for about 2 hours before applying the sealer.

Application

There are two styles of grout sealer applicators. I used a 4 oz bottle with brush. After filling the bottle and opening the nozzle it was as simple as following along the grout line with the sealer. The sealer does darker the grout until dried which makes it easier to see when you have applied it. Any excess sealer that gets onto the tiles or pools in grout lines should be wiped up after 5 to 10 minutes. I found the application quite easy with the only real problem being excess sealer coming out when I tilted the bottle down to start a new section. The sealer takes 2 to 3 hours to fully dry but the floor is still walkable if avoiding grout lines. A second coat is required if the first coat is absorbed as per bottle instructions. The salesman said to wait 3 days then apply a second coat.

Our remodeling plans call for: ceramic tile counter tops (kitchen); ceramic tile floor, walls, shower stall (sm. bath); ceramic tile floor (entrance) and ceramic tile floor (lg. bath) as well as the possible replacement of the kitchen floor. So protecting our investment is important. Sealing the grout is the primary maintenance for ceramic tile aside of regular cleaning. As preventative maintenance goes, sealing grout has to be one of the easiest DIY jobs there is.

Garden Gnome
© 2007


Monday, February 11, 2008

Transforming a Room with Borders

The busy holiday season is over and we are well rested after our winter vacation so it is now it's time to spend a little time on the inside of the house before the weather turns nice and we want to be outdoors. We haven't been in this house for a full year yet so we are still trying to determine what we want. At the same time we have three large indoor projects planned involving the most expensive rooms of the house (kitchen and two baths). I have commented to my husband that this house unlike our previous houses is going to end up being more of "being at the right place at the right time" and "when we see it we will know" type of decorating. So it was on Friday when we stumbled upon a border that I thought would match perfectly for a wall I actually had been looking for a mural.

If you recall we used Behr 480E-1 Country Mist on the lower level family room that merges into the kitchen walls. We carried shades of this into the upper level. To make a long story short I still haven't found a mural but this border at Home Hardware just popped out at me. It had all the colours of the family room so I thought it would work on the upper accent wall. It was a total fluke finding a border that matched the way it did. When we arrived home one look was all it took to decide to use the border in the family room and kitchen as a finishing accent. The wainscotting and ceilings in both rooms are tongue and groove wood. The kitchen cabinets are matching wood.

I've used borders for decorating in every house we've owned. Borders are an inexpensive way to pack a lot of impact with very little effort. They are very easy to install and need only a few very simple tools. Borders are easy to remove if you decide you no longer like the look as well. There are a couple of things I don't like about borders. My biggest pet peeve is some tend to go overboard using borders forgetting that they are meant as accents not as main decorating elements. Trust me that is very apparent in our master bedroom that will soon be remedied! The second thing I don't like about borders is often they are sold in pre-packaged lengths so you would end up buying a 15 foot roll to get that extra foot you needed. However, Home Hardware has changed that. Border sold by the food it now available allowing you to buy just what you need.

Before

The very pale bluish green does not photograph well. It takes on a pale off white colour. The colour works well with the wood walls, trim and ceiling. It also works nicely with the massive field stone fireplace. The wood fireplace has been converted to natural gas which is nice but we would like to put in a new gas fireplace to fit the opening better. Around the wood ceiling and all the beams is rope instead of corner round. My husband loves the look of the rope so we decided to leave it. A few spots need to be retacked after painting.

There are such massive and overpowering elements in the family room. The right hand photo shows the window in the family room. The left hand photo shows the same window well but going into the kitchen. Painting really brightened up both rooms but to me there was something missing. It was clean, crisp and matched while accenting both the stone work and wood but it was almost too plain. The new border brought a bit of whimsy and warm as well as adding a finished touch to both rooms.

Materials

Installing border requires few tools but it does require patience and as you read about my installation, a degree of pickiness. Measure the length of where you want to install the border. Add at least 4 feet extra if not a bit more to compensate for errors. You will need sharp scissors, a tape measure, sharp utility knife, ruler, a wallpaper tray or large bin to hold warm water, a dry cloth and a wet cloth. I couldn't find my wallpaper tray so used my huge stainless steel bowl. You will need a cleared space to roll out the border for cutting and a smaller cleared space that can get wet for booking.

The first step is to square the cut border edge. When bought by the foot this is necessary. Take your ruler, line it up so the narrow edge is on the long edge of the border leaving about 1/2 inch inside of the cut end. Now using the utility knife cut down creating a straight edge. You are now ready to start.

I am picky to the point of being anal when installing border but the end result is well worth it. There are no gaps and seams are invisible. Most important is the continuity of the pattern is maintained something that is a given when working around the entire perimeter of a room but also something that can easily be overlooked when dealing with a room such as ours with lots of breaks. There is the temptation to fit in a piece on a short wall section but trust me, do not do this. The savings will be minimal and it will never fool the eye! My rule of thumb is to start at one wall then work your way around the entire perimeter, cut end always following cut end so if you have a room with a lot of doors or windows the continuity is maintained.

Booking

Starting at one corner or end wall as in my case, measure the piece of border then add about 1/2 inch. I work left to right which becomes important for how I install the border. Roll the piece of border and place it into the warm water. Let sit briefly then carefully pull through to make sure the border is well wetted. Book the border. That is, fold over but do not crease the pasted sides so they are on top of each other with good side facing out. Fold over again without creasing. Let sit for about 5 minutes. This gives the glue a chance to activate resulting is better adherence. Once the border has been booked it is time to install.

Open the border then place the right cut side tightly to the right side of the wall. Position the border to eliminate gaps then smooth down with the dry cloth. Bend over the excess on the left cut side to form a crease. Carefully cut leaving a little extra that can be trimmed when the border is dry and smooth down with the dry cloth. Go over the strip a few times with the cloth to ensure all edges are secure. Now move to the next sectition. Because all of the walls I was working with were in short pieces I worked with left cut end flush and trimming the right to keep the continuity of the pattern except for corner walls.

Corners

Corners can be quite problematic because walls especially in older homes tend not to be quite level or even. For corners I worked left to right for the cutting but right to left for installing. The natural tendency when coming to a corner is to simply bend the border around. If the wall is out it will throw off the rest of your border. At the same time ending the border right at the corner with a cut end then starting on the next section to continue the pattern can leave a gap at the joint if the wall is off. So what I do is turn the right cut end just over the corner keeping the turn less than 1/4 inch. Once the piece is in place you can adjust slightly at the turned end and at worse overlap the adjoining piece slightly to get a perfect corner. I did not need to overlap or adjust much but if you have to overlap, do so then using a sharp utility knife and straight edge cut through both layers, remove the excess then wipe with a dry cloth to get a clean seam. The end result regardless of the method used should be an invisible seam to all but the closest scrutiny.

After

We were really surprised at what a difference the border added to the family room and kitchen. The border cost $25.96 for 44 feet giving a lot left over and it only took me a couple of hours of slowly nit picking my way through installing it. For some reason, I was extremely picky. One piece was trimmed a little too tight. Now mind you, I'm the only one who would have known but I pulled it off anyways. Well, my husband took that piece and cut it down to fit perfectly between the laundry and bathroom doors. It looked great until working left to right I got to the other side of the laundry room door (by couch, lower right). I stood back and immediately could see the continuity in pattern had been broken. It was only a slight difference but my eyes picked it up right away so off came the salvaged piece to be replaced with one that kept the continuity. Ok, so yes I admit to being very picky about the installation but there is a reason. The difference between professional finishing and the standard do-it-yourself (DIY) is metticulous attention to detail. The problem many run into when completing a DIY project is to not pay attention to detail. When it comes to DIY being nit picky is a good thing. Take your time and be very nit picky to get the professional look you want.

Honestly, the pictures do not show how nice this border looks. The top picture is the common wall between the two rooms and the only painted wall in the kitchen. Lower left is the main feature of the family room, the massive fireplace. This is one of the best pictures of the wood ceiling with beams that matches the wainscotting. Lower right is the couch under the pass through. I'm not really sure what the pass through was for originally as on the other side is the large laundry room. We leave the shutters open for air flow and light most of the time.

Garden Gnome
© 2007