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 :)


Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Easy Embossing for Srapbooking, Crafts and More

The holiday season is drawing near so I thought I would share an easy and low cost way of doing embossing. Embossing is an elegant way of accenting scrapbooking pages or elements, creating custom picture frames and so much more. The main problem with embossing is if you check the craft stores you can spend a lot of money on embossing equipment. If you don't do a lot of embossing there is absolutely no need to spend a lot. Let me show you how.

Materials

For this project you will need a sheet of cardstock that will make two greeting cards. The method I'm using does work better for lighter colours although I have had success with dark colours as well using a stronger light source. You will need a stencil of choice. For best results choose one that is not too delicate. One of the cheapest places to find stencils is a dollar store. If you can't find a stencil you like then find a picture online and create a stencil by printing on a sheet of acetate then cut out the pattern. You will also need painters or scotch tape and a ball point stick pen with the lid. Optional materials are make-up applicators and acid free artist's chalk.

Cutting

A paper cutter is one of those things every crafter needs. It comes in handy for so many things. I have a Fiskars® flatbed rotary cutter with three cutting blades and a scoring blade. The scale makes it easy to cut the paper to the right size. In this case I cut the 8.5" x 11" sheet of cardstock in half as pictured forming two 8.5" x 5.5" pieces. To score I took one of the smaller rectangles then placed it against the guide with the 8.5" side facing me then used the scoring blade to form the score.

Taped

When you score the paper there will be an indent. Tape your stencil onto a light source like a window using the painter's or scotch tape. Place the cardstock you just cut over the stencil with the indent facing you and centre align as desired. In this case I decided to use a solar border along the edge of the card. At this point you are working on the inside of the card or inside of whatever you are embossing. Before starting to emboss be sure the good side that you want is facing away from you. Leave one bottom corner loose so you can lift up a bit to see how the embossing is going.

Take the ball point pen with the lid on and carefully use the end to trace the stencil. Pay attention to the lines as you want to make a good indent. Use a bit of pressure but a lot of pressure is not needed. Go over the stencil markings a couple of times to get a good indent. Carefully lift up the lower corner and you will see what embossing will look like. Check for any missing parts and go over the stencil again if necessary. Remember the back of the work is facing you. Once you are happy with the embossing, remove the cardstock from the light source.

Finished

The embossed finish can be left as is for a subtle yet elegant look. This is a really pretty effect for greeting cards and scrapbooking embellishments. Use it along edgings or around frames. What I like doing is using a sponge make-up applicator to highlight the embossing using chalking. Chalking is a very subtle effect that highlights the embossed surfaces by adding a hint of colour while deepening the shadows. To apply the chalk rub a sponge applicator over the chalk then use a tight circular motion to rub over the embossing. Continue applying chalk in this fashion until you get the desired effect.

Pictured is the finished card with embossing and calking in a pale blue. Versing can be added inside prior to embossing or you can hand write it in after embossing. Similarly the front of the card can be detailed more if desired. Just be sure when you are embossing to work with the inside facing you.

Garden Gnome
©2006-2008


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

House Centipede Control

I wrote about our first encounters with creepy crawlies shortly after moving into this house. Every house brings its problems as far as pests go. The house I grew up in backed onto a river and had a dirt floor basement. Oh how I hated that basement. Mice were normal inhabitants and it seemed there was nothing my Mom could do to rid the house of them. But we also had other lovelies like muskrat, snapping turtles, skunks and snakes not only on the property but they would find a way into that basement. Our first apartment as a married couple was brand new and blissfully pest free except for the occasional fly or mosquito. After several apartments all for the most part relatively pest free we bought our first house that aside from the occasional spider, flies and mosquitoes was also pest free. Our second house was on a crawspace so while insects weren't a huge problem in the house itself they were likely in the crawlspace. The third house introduced us to the joys of earwigs! The fourth house took away the earwings and gave us mice, a bumble bee hive as well as a snake nest in the crawlspace. This house continues with rodent concerns (voles, field mice), a return of earwigs, sow bugs, spiders, black ants, centipedes and millipedes, skunks, raccoons, possums and rabbits.


Dead Centipede!
April 9, 2008

Most concerning are the centipedes because they are horrid looking despite being harmless to humans. If they bite which is highly unlikely it is no worse than a bee sting. My philosophy for insect control rests with elimination followed by prevention. In order to do this you really need to know your pest. Unfortunately, the centipedes have continued to invade or more likely we are seeing the babies that have not been able to get out of the house. The problem is the centipedes appear when least expected usually when I'm holding a full cup of coffee! So I decided to do a bit of research to see exactly what I was up against.

The House Centipede (Scutigera coleoptrata) lives its entire life cycle in buildings usually on the ground level where it preys on other insects like spiders, cockroaches, termites, silverfish, ants and bedbugs. It reaches a length of 1 to 2 inches and has 15 pairs of legs that allow it to run at lightening fast speeds across floors and ceilings as well as climb walls. These menacing looking critters can live up to five years in a house. They lay their eggs in the spring. Newly hatched centipedes have 4 pairs of legs, gaining new pairs of legs with the first molt and two pairs with each successive molt. House centipedes are predators and therefore when you see them in the house they are a good indicator of other insects being present whether or not you can see them. So House centipedes are actually beneficial inside the house.

Elimination: The first rule of thumb when trying to control centipedes is to remove any clutter or hiding spots then look for signs their prey. Remove their prey and habitat, the house centipedes will move on. Aside from spiders that tend to construct webs where there is a draft, other insects may not give a clue as to how they are getting in so start with spiders. Every time you see a spider web mark that spot, remove the web and caulk. Use a pesticide with a residual effect (eg. Hot Shot® Ant Killer Plus or Spider Killer, kills up to 3 months) along cracks, crevices and baseboard. Make sure you treat all rooms and behind all furniture as this will assist you in investigative measures at the next step. A surprising number of insects can get in the house via the tiny cracks around removable window screens. Use a residual spray both inside and out on all window and door frames. Don't forget to keep doors especially patio door screens closed to prevent insects from getting in the house. Spray all outside entry points with a residual spray (eg. Raid Outdoor Ant & Roach, 4 week residual effect) such as but not limited to any wires or pipes that go through the house wall as well as where the house sits on the sill. This will effectively kill off those insects such as termites or ants that may be using wires and plumbing as a port of entry. Leave as is for 4 to 5 days then caulk well for a permanent solution.

Investigative measures: After spraying indoors with a residual spray you will need to take investigative measures. This means checking the perimeter of every room in your house at least daily for the next week. Use a post-it note to mark any location where you find dead insects. Clean up any dead insects to remove the food source for those insects that feed off of decomposing insects. Continue checking any areas where you find dead insects while also checking for new locations.

Insects are seldom found hovering near their port of entry. Centipedes will commonly be found near drains in the kitchen or bathrooms because they need moisture not because that is where their food supply is or that's how they got in. Spiders will be found near cracks because the draft helps cool their egg sack. Carpenter ants will be found in wood that has had moisture problems. The problem is if you see one insect you can be sure his bothers, sisters and all other relatives are happily living in your home as well. You should only need to use a residual spray once in the house with the exception of window and door frames that are being opened provided you continued prevention. The residual spray accomplishes three things. First it kills off those insects present in the house and continues killing them off for a period of time. Second, the residual effect will often kill invading insects quite close to where they are entering the house so that is the area you should focus on first for sealing. Third, a residual spray will give you a time frame within which time you should be able to seal all entry points. That means if you discover a problem in the winter when getting outdoors to seal with caulk would be difficult a residual spray will buy you enough time for the weather to start warming so you can seal.

Prevention: No house or building will ever be 100% insect free but with preventative measures they should be relative pest free. Ok, so you have done your initial elimination and investigation so now it is onto prevention.

  • habitats: Any moisture problems such as dripping taps inside or outside, standing water, damp laundry on floors and similar should be fixed. Hang any damp clothes on a rack off the floor if they cannot be washed immediately. Inside keep rooms clutter free and clean! Clutter provides a wonderful pest habitat allowing them to reproduce without you even knowing they are there except for an occasional sighting. Remove centipede habitats such as decaying mulch, English ivy, and decaying clippings to create a 5 foot barrier around your home. Correct any moisture problems such as faulty drainpipes or standing water near the house foundation.
  • food source: Centipedes will not go after your food supply but they do prey on other insects that will enjoy a free food handout. All dried foods (sugars, flours, pastas, cereals and etc) should be stored in glass, metal or plastic containers. Be warned that some of these foods can introduce insects to your home so I go as far as to isolate new purchases right away to prevent any introduce insect invasion from spreading. Also be warned that a determined rodent can chew through plastic so if rodents are a problem use glass or metal containers. Keep your counters and floors squeaky clean. If you have windows at ground level as our main living area has, keep all food in the fridge and off the counters or keep the windows shut if you have problems with rodents, skunks and etc. Vacuuming regularly will remove any eggs insects have deposited as well as dead insect carcasses other insects feed on or catch the occasional insect that got through your defenses. Again, keep your home clutter free! Silverfish are prey for centipedes and earwigs. They feed off of glues in book bindings and magazines as well as photos, sugar, hair and dandruff. So if you have a large population of silverfish in your home hiding in those stacks of paper clutter in your basement, you will likely have a healthy population of house centipedes and/or earwigs. Store these types of food sources in sealed cabinets or plastic bins. Eliminate the silverfish and you eliminate the centipedes.
  • keep them out: Caulk any entry points regardless of how small they appear. Careful caulking using a high quality (20 year plus) caulk will help keep pests out. Use weather stripping on screens to prevent spiders and other creepy crawlies from getting underneath. Continually check for any cracks especially in the spring and fall months. Seal any cracks that you find immediately. Keep a constant look-out for any signs of re-infestation so you can nib those in the bud before they become a problem.
Using these methods we have almost entirely rid our house of centipedes. They no longer see our house as a friendly place to hunker down because both their prey and habitat have been eliminated. We are still checking for cracks and other points of entry on a regular basis. We still see the occasional centipede but that's to be expected until the house is fully sealed and given the fact that we have likely sealed a few centipedes from getting out.

Garden Gnome
©2006-2008


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Increasing Our Recycling Efforts

Much of the focus at home and on this blog has been focused on our recent kitchen renovations. With the completion of the renovations I will now begin focusing on other homemaking issues. The weather is quickly becoming much cooler so those high heating bills are just around the corner. I will be sharing some ways to save on those heating costs. The holidays are also just around the corner so I will be sharing some homemade gifts that I'm making. I will also be sharing what I'm doing on the homemaking front as well as anything else home related that strikes my fancy.

We are very conscious when shopping to avoid over packaging and as much as possible we avoid those kinds of containers that cannot be recycled in our area if they cannot be reused for another purpose. We don't use near the commercially canned or boxed foods that others do because a large portion of pantry foods are home canned in re-usable mason jars or home frozen. This in itself greatly reduced the amount that goes into the recycle bin. The other day I was checking out our recycle bins. There were filled! Granted we have had a fair amount of company but still I surprised. We have two 3 foot high recycle bins, a normal small blue bin and a smaller green bin. Most things are accepted except aluminum pans, foil, sour cream and similar containers, and plastic grocery bags. Our recycles are picked up every two weeks. Recycling is good but reducing is better so now I'm on a mission to reduce our recyclables!

Coffee to Go

Picking up a cup of coffee on the way to the office, work or school. They stop by coffee shops on their breaks or lunch hour to buy coffee. And all that coffee comes in disposable cups! Anyone who travels or lives in rural areas already know the negatives of inconsiderate drivers who toss their empty coffee cups out the window!

Disposable coffee cups are not made from recyclable paper but rather 100% bleached virgin paperboard (reference). The paperboard is coated with polyethylene to help retain heat and prevent leakage. However the polyethylene prevents the cups from being recycled so all disposable coffee cups end up in landfills. As the cups decompose in the landfills they release methane, a greenhouse gas. Starbucks® alone used over 2.3 billion cups in their stores in 2006 so you can imagine how many cups are used when all coffee shops are considered and that isn't even taking into account the coffee shops that are still using styrofoam coffee cups or the plastic lids.

When I was working on my undergrad degree the university began encouraging a re-usable coffee mug with a lid. It was a simple mug with the university logo on one side and the recycle symbol on the other side. It became a statement for anyone concerned about environmental issues to fasten these mugs to their backpacks. The university cafeterias gave a discount if you used your mug. Well that mug saw me through the rest of my undergrad as well as my graduate years and it is still my favourite mug.

Tim Hortons® came out with larger, insulated plastic 500 ml (16 oz) travel mugs designed to fit into the cup holders in vehicles. Now travel mugs are widely available. They are insulated to keep drinks either hot or cold. They are convenient and dishwasher safe. We have several stainless steel, insulated travel mugs. We very seldom buy coffee in disposable cups and despite the larger (25+) get togethers we host on a regular basis, I simply refuse to use disposable coffee cups in our home. Those pictured are from two of my husband's friend who picked him up very early Sunday morning for three fun filled days of golfing. I got their cups which given the weather might have been a better deal. Coffee is cheaper and just as fast to make at home when compared to coffee from the coffee shop but what some might not know is coffee shops will gladly refill your travel mug. The only thing is you might have to get out and go in instead of sitting in line at their drive through but just look at that as a little extra exercise.

Bottled Water

We had a water cooler with the blue* 5 gallon jugs for a number of years bought when chemical spills threatened the municipal water supply. We sold the cooler when we moved to our last house and what I've noticed is our consumption of bottled water has increased. Part of this is because we are drinking more water. Part is our use is our emergency preparedness plan. Part is because bottled water is convenient to take in the car or on the boat and part is because bottled water is often on sale here for $2.99 for 24 - 500 ml bottles. At 12¢ each this is quite a savings over the 99¢ or more price tag at variety stores or gas stations when travelling. Is this false frugality?

Statistics Canada reported that 1.5 billion litres of bottled water were produced for consumption in 2003. By 2006, 3 in 10 households reported drinking bottled water. They found a correlation between bottled water consumption, income and education. Those in higher income brackets consumed more bottled water as did those with some post-secondary education although those with a university education consumed less bottled water. Americans consume 28 billion bottles of water annually with 80 per cent of those bottles ending up in the landfill. In the US producing the bottles for water created 1.5 million tons of CO2 in 2006 which is low in comparison the oil used by the rest of the food and beverage industry. On Aug 18, 2008 London City Council (London, Ontario) voted 15-3 to ban bottled water on city premises including city owned buildings, arenas and community centres (read more here).

I looked at those figures and decided no more using bottle water unless absolutely necessary which with careful planning there should not be a need. The only reason we use water bottles at home is to prevent any insects getting into the water overnight or when we are outdoors. I bought 2 re-usable 500 ml water bottles. They have been very well received so I am going to buy more so that we have 8 total. In researching the disposable water bottle environmental impact I came across the issue of BPA (Bisphenol A)**. We will continue using our water bottles for home use but I will be careful to buy BPA-free water bottles for the ones we will be using for traveling or on the boat.

I knew about BPA because the grandbabies were using formula so there was an issue with the bottles and they had to change. BPA is in some but not all polycarbonate plastics. If there is a 7 or PC within the recycle symbol on the bottom of the bottle they may or may not contain BPA. I rushed to check our bottles and sure enough they have PC with the recycle symbol. We are using these bottles for water only as are many people. One very well known brand that made re-useable water bottles popular is Nalgene. Older Nalgene water bottles also contain BPA. The current recommendations for any water bottle that may contain BPA are:
  1. Do not clean with harsh detergents (eg. dishwasher detergent).
  2. Do not expose to high heat (eg. dishwasher, heated liquids, leaving in car on hot day).
  3. Do not use for high acid liquids (eg. orange juice).
  4. Hand wash using mild soap, rinse with clear water.
  5. If you notice any signs of cracking as hard plastics will as they age, discard

* known to contain BPA
** watch for a more extensive post on BPA that will cover other sources of environmental exposure

Garden Gnome
©2006-2008


Sunday, September 14, 2008

Kitchen Renovation Restrictions

There are always restrictions imposed on any renovation project ranging from financial to physical space to bylaws and permits. I mentioned several times that we had a few restrictions for our kitchen renovation. After seeing the following pictures you will have a better idea of the restrictions we faced for this renovation. The major one was we really had to work within the space we had because there was no option for expansion without major and I do mean major renovations. The kitchen is on the lower level that is earth bermed so most of the kitchen is below grade. The window is at ground level and the patio doors are below grade. The patio doors lead to a covered patio below the upper level enclosed sunporch. The patio leads into the yard that ends at the water's edge. There is a lovely view of the water from both the kitchen window and patio doors as well as the large window in the family room. The second restriction was the wood ceiling, one of the selling features for this house. Honestly they are gorgeous! The third restriction was this house has a very cottage-like feel so we wanted to keep that feel meaning some materials simply wouldn't work well for the look. The property is waterfront and a good portion of our entertaining involves water activities. On weekends it is common for us to host one or more family and friend get togethers numbering 30 or more guests so the kitchen really has to perform but at the same time it has to have that cottage look and feel.

Family Room

We have a large family room with wood as the overpowering element. Not shown to the right is a large couch and to the left by the television is the dining table. On an angle and behind the love seat and chair shown is a empty space then my desk tucked beside the stairwell. From my desk going off the family room from right to left - under the stairwell is a large 10' x 10' walk-in pantry, our huge master bedroom, bathroom, laundry room. Off the laundry room is the furnace room. Off the master bedroom is the space under the front porch that we are going to insulate and finish for storage. The massive natural fireplace was converted to a gas fireplace by the previous owner. We are going to replace this fireplace with something not quite so fussy looking. The fireplace throws off enough heat to heat the house in the event the power is out.

Visually the room is very textural. Note especially the wood ceiling. It continues into the kitchen. Anything during the kitchen renovation that would affect the ceiling would have the potential of being quite costly. Since the ceiling was a selling feature, we were not prepared to change it.

View 1

This view is taken from the corner of the family room in front of the couch. It shows the only common wall between the family room and kitchen. This is an outside wall with patio doors and large picture window. Of note is the thickness of the lower level walls measuring about 18 - inches from inside to outside. This is the only wall on the lower level that is fully exposed although it is well protected to reduce any effects from direct winds. The other walls are earth bermed.

The kitchen is on the other side of the stairs leading to the entrance which technically is the only room on that level. Stairs from the entrance lead to the upper level consisting of a games room, a large room we aren't sure what we are doing with yet, an office, two bedrooms and a bathroom. Dividing the kitchen from the family room is the breakfast bar.

View 2

This view was taken from in front of the television. It shows how the ceiling from the family room continues into the kitchen. Removing or replacing the cabinets would have affected the ceiling. The expanse of wood in the family room and kitchen on ceiling, walls and cabinets does make the two rooms darker so lights are needed especially on cloudy days. Very little direct sunlight finds its way into the lower level. The wood continues up the stairwell and surrounds the entrance. The banister is heavy wood in keeping with the rest of the house. It forms a focal point for the entry and is quite visible from the two upper level main rooms.

The renovation really brightened up the kitchen while keeping that all important cottage look. There were so many choices and I actually fell in love with a beautiful shades of sea green glass tile that would have looked beautiful with the painted wall. The immediate problem was that tile would tie us into that colour for quite some time. I was flipping through a cottage design magazine when I spotted just the tile that would look great in our kitchen. Armed with the picture we went shopping. We are quite pleased with the results and our ability to work within the restrictions.

Garden Gnome
©2006-2008


Thursday, September 11, 2008

Kitchen Renovations - Finishing Touches

Finishing touches are very important when completing any renovation project. These are the little details that can make a huge difference! Not only do they make the project look finished some of them will keep your project looking good for years to come. So always pay particular attention to those finishing touches. Take your time even if it means the project will take a bit longer.

Grout Sealing

Two houses ago our then brother-in-law installed ceramic tile flooring in our kitchen. He said not to bother with sealing the grout and to only wash the floor with a vinegar solution. We took his advice but I still think that sealing the grout ads that extra level of protection. When we bought this house there was already ceramic tiles on the kitchen floor. It is a gorgeous floor although I don't care for the high gloss shine as it tends to be very slippery when wet. Since the kitchen opens onto the back patio getting wet is a real possibility. The first thing I did was wash the floor good then seal the grout with three coats of TileLab® SurfaceGard® Penetrating Sealer. This sealer provides maximum protection and has a 20 year guarantee. My primary concern was protecting the floor against any water damage. The grout is a deep beige so it hides dirt a bit. Protecting against staining was secondary but aesthetically important.

The countertop will see heavy use so protecting it from water damage is critical. Stain prevention is also very important. I used the same grout sealer for the countertop using a squeeze bottle brush applicator to apply three coats. Application is not difficult but with smaller tiles it is a fair amount of work. After filling the applicator bottle you twist the bottom part of the brush to open then remove the cap. Turn the bottle and hold similar to a pencil. Go over the grout lines then wipe away any excess from the tile after 10 minutes. Remove any haze after an hour with a rough cloth. Repeat if necessary after 2 - 3 hours dry time. I will be keeping a close eye on the grout lines. While they should not need any further sealing after three coats, if I think they need another coat I will apply it.

Caulking

I watch a fair amount of HGTV for renovation ideas and tips. One thing that Mike Holmes stresses whenever a tiling is the importance of caulking. He says that any time a joint is grout only it will eventually crack. Caulking is one more level to help prevent water damage.

The kitchen countertop presents several joints where water could eventually get through and cause damage. The joint shown is between the countertop and high cabinet (pictured below). Sealing this joint seals out the possibility of water seeping down between the countertop and cabinet. At the same time caulking provides a nice finished look. Once the caulking was dried any film on the cabinet was rubbed off.

I ran a bead of caulking on all joints whether tile to tile or tile to another surface. This simply ensures watertight joints. The stove is a slide-in model which leaves a very, very narrow gap between the lip of the stove and the countertop. Water really would not do much damage as the floor below is finished however food spills could get down this gap. A normal range or slide-in stove could easily be pulled out to clean any spills but ours has a down-draft system so it really doesn't just slide in. It has to be disconnected and lifted up and over the down-draft system. This would be a major pain just to clean up any spills. I ran a bead of caulking around this gap as well.

I used Weather Shield® 20 year durability acrylic caulk that stays flexible. This is a low odour, water clean-up, interior/exterior paintable caulk. It is easy to work with and performs nicely. This is my caulk of choice for most caulking projects. A caulk tool gives a nice finish to the bead while ensuring the caulk is pushed tightly into the joint.

Shelf Edging

There were built-in appliances in the kitchen when we moved in. In their time they were high-end appliances but through age and neglect they were unusable. We would have removed them anyway as we had new, energy efficient appliances with the exception of the dishwasher that we bought to replace the one here.

Pictured is the cabinet we removed the built-in oven from. We put shelves in and planned on having doors made to match the rest of the cabinet doors. However, we have had so many compliments over the open storage we decided to leave it open. What was missing was the wood trim to finish off the shelf edges. We bought a length of 1" x 2" popular, cut to fit then finished the pieces to match the cabinet. The bottom trim had to be cut down to ½" x ½". The shelves will see heavy use so each piece of trim was glued and nailed with the exception of the bottom trim that was only glued.

Window Trim

Natural light in the kitchen is not an issue however I don't think a kitchen can ever be too bright. The large, deep set kitchen window is at ground level. We have an amazing view of the water making the placement of the sink under the window even more desirable. Adjacent to the wall with the window is the common wall to the kitchen and family room but patio doors with an expanded view of the water take up much of that wall in the kitchen portion. We have wonderful critters like raccoons and skunks. There is absolutely no way to get to either the window or patio door to close them in the event of a roaming skunk so we are careful to keep foods off the counter when the screens are open.

Almost immediately upon laying the tile around the window frame we came to the conclusion the trim was the wrong colour. It was initially painted the middle shade of the paint chip to match the patio door frame and common wall of the family room. The pale sea green created a visual divider forcing the eyes to stop there before looking through the window. After the tile was grouted we painted this trim with the same melamine paint used on the tile edge. It had been tinted to match the tile. The end result was the window now flows nicely into the outdoor view. It also has a cleaner look so I'm glad we decided to paint this trim.

Garden Gnome
©2006-2008