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 :)

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Cleaning - A Woman's Work is Never Done

broom sweeping

The say that a woman's work is never done and in many respects that adage is so true when it comes to cleaning. It honestly never ends! Just when you think you have everything sparkling it's time to start over again. In today's world cleaning is a huge issue and it isn't just for women anymore. In many single parent households men take the role of main homemaker and that included cleaning as well. Now there is a difference between tidying up and cleaning. Homes can be quite neat and tidy but not clean and visa versa. In addition to that homes can be surface clean but not really clean.

The main thing with cleaning is you want neat and tidy with the dirt and grim up and out of your house. In order to do that you want to use methods that trap the dirt so you can discard it. In order to do this you need to wet dust and use a vacuum with good regularly changed filters . Use good eco-friendly cleaners on hard surfaces. Ok so you know how to clean but finding the time is a different matter and lets face most people don't want to spend their entire weekend cleaning. Here are a few of my cleaning tips:
  • clean as you go - This really is a very simple method but often overlooked. I got into the habit when cooking of cleaning when doing any prep work which means starting with an empty dishwasher and loading as I use dishes and utensils. When I'm canning I always have a couple of wet bar towels to clean up any spills on the floor. Wiping as you go means no huge clean-up later. At the end of each day when I clean the counter I wipe it down with 50% ethanol. This is an effective germ control while providing that sparkle effect. Cleaning as you go means dirt doesn't have a time to build up.
  • use small blocks of time - It is surprising how much cleaning you can get done in a 15 minute period. Even more surprising is how much cleaning you can get done in the period of a television commercial. Grab a clean cloth and your eco-friendly cleaner of choice or plug in the vacuum cleaner. When a commercial comes on do as much cleaning as you can during that time period then go back to your program. Now the nice thing about this method is you are consistently getting a bit of exercise as well. Never sit through a commercial if you can do a little tidying or cleaning. If used consistently daily you are always on top of those cleaning jobs. This is especially usefully for tidying and decluttering but is also useful for deeper cleaning.
  • keep cleaning cloths and solutions handy - Keeping solutions and cleaning cloths handy allows for easy spot cleaning. During food prep I keep a spray bottle of 50% Ethanol on the counter for wiping any spills from raw meats.
  • declutter as you go - Every time you go into a room remove one or more items that doesn't belong there or put something away. Attack those vertical surfaces that are just magnets for clutter. Every time you go by a vertical surface grab something that doesn't belong. Keep 3 boxes - give away, keep, toss and use them. Getting the clutter out of your house makes it a lot easier for cleaning.
Garden Gnome

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Gifts in a Jar

Every year folks struggle to come up with unique yet inexpensive gifts for the holiday season. This year is going to be quite difficult for many who have found themselves recently unemployed or facing the threat of unemployment. One solution to keep the cost of holiday gift giving is to give homemade gifts. Homemade gifts take a bit more thought but I think they are nicer because they are personally tailored to fit the recipient.

chocolate chip cookies in a jarChocolate Chip Cookies

Homemade gifts from the kitchen are always well received. The holiday season is always quite busy so unless you start out early you may run out of time for baking. In this case turn to making gifts in a jar. I recently made Gift from the Kitchen - White Chocolate Chip Cookies that took me about 10 minutes to put together so this would be a great last minute gift as well. Essentially gifts in jars are made using all the necessary dry ingredients with the recipient adding the wet ingredients (oil, eggs, liquid) when they want to use their gift. Gifts in jars can range from cookies, brownies, breads, soups to spice blends and quick mixes. They are really easy to make. If you have scrapbooking supplies you can get some lovely tag and gift card results.

A list of material follows but they will greatly vary depending on what you are making. You can buy used mason jars but should use new jars and rings for a nice presentation. The outside of the lid can be painted as can the ring if you like or you could decorate it with embellishments or you can cover it with a square of fabric or decorative paper. Check the craft and scrapbooking sections of dollar stores for a wide variety of affordable embellishments. Each jar depending on the ingredients and including additional materials will come in at about $2 per jar or less.


recipe ingredients
1 mason jar per recipe (size varies depending on recipe)
lid and ring (decorative or plain)
ribbon or twine
embellisments (eg. brands, spoon, cloth, tags)
recipe tag (hand printed or computer generated)
cardstock in colours of your choice
craft scissors
decorative pens
pre-cut tags

Garden Gnome


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Fall Cleaning

When I was growing up fall cleaning signified the official end of summer. At one time it was common to do a complete attic to basement cleaning twice a year usually in the spring and in the fall. By complete cleaning I do mean complete from sweeping out the cobwebs in the attic to scrubbing down walls and ceilings. All the light fixtures were cleaned and polished, screens were removed from the window then after the windows were sparkling clean the storm windows were put into place. Floors were stripped then re-waxed. In the spring winter clothes and bedding were put away with the reverse in the fall. Quite often a couple of my Mom's friends would come over to help with the cleaning and in return she would help with theirs.

I continue to follow the tradition of seasonal cleaning to a bit lesser degree as do many older folks but for the most part this type of seasonal cleaning has gone by the wayside for the younger generation. Now that's a shame because seasonal cleaning greatly lowers the level of germs and allergens in your home. It removes any droppings that may have been left behind by little visitors and vacuum up any spiders getting ready to set up home.

My cleaning products are: concentrated Simple Green, Murphy Oil Soap®, baking soda, vinegar, liquid Bar Keeper's Friend®, ammonia, Mr. Clean® magic erasers and rubbing alcohol. I of course have dishwasher detergent and dish soap for hand washing. I have 6 commercial grade spray bottles with the dilutions on them bought for less than 6 cheaper spray bottles at the dollar store would have cost. I make the Simple Green concentrate (1 gallon, $8.99) into 3 different strengths depending on the use. One gallon of Simple Green goes a long way! Cost per ounce works out to less than the cost of dollar store cleaners. I bought the Murphy Oil Soap® (96 oz,) so long ago I forget the price but it would have been well under $10. I bought the bulk bag of baking soda at Sam's Club ($4), cheapest white vinegar (4 L, usually $1) at no frills, jug of ammonia (1.8 L, $1.50) at no frills, magic erasers 8 pk (Sam's Club) and rubbing alcohol (450 ml) at the dollar store. Murphy Oil Soap® is a must as much of our main living area is wood as in wood wainscoting, wood cabinets and wood ceiling and all dusting is damp dusting not dry. I have six solutions I make from these ingredients - mild/medium/heavy Simple Green® solutions (one 32 oz bottle each), one 1:1 vinegar solution, one of rubbing alcohol and one of Murphy's Oil solution. Here's my reason and why I think these are frugal choices for me:

  • Simple Green®: great, low cost indoor/outdoor multi-cleaner that can even be used as a laundry booster, concentrated, non-toxic eco-friendly
  • vinegar - cheap, best solution for washing ceramic tile and many other surfaces, has anti-bacterial properties
  • Murphy Oil Soap® - safe for all wood surfaces, ideal for damp dusting to prevent allergens from becoming air born
  • baking soda - cheap, idea for cleaning shower stalls and bath tubs, used for removing burnt on food in stainless steel pots, a good all purpose stain remover and deodorizer
  • ammonia - the ultimate de-greaser that works great indoors and out, strips wax build-up
  • Bar Keeper's Friend® (liquid) - less than half the cost of the smoothtop cleaner yet works better, can be used to shine up stainless steel or polish other metals
  • rubbing alcohol - kills most biologicals not just bacteria, the true way to a sparkly clean surface especially windows, mirrors, ceramic tile and faucets, a little goes a long way
  • magic erasers - overall quite inexpensive yet work well without chemicals
Garden Gnome

Sunday, November 8, 2009

A Forgotten Cleaner - Rubbing Alcohol

When it comes to eco-friendly cleansers the top of the list cited are: baking soda, ammonia, soap, hydrogen peroxide and vinegar. However, rubbing alcohol has played a role in cleaning laboratories for years. In labs the alcohol of choice is 95% ethanol but that isn't available to the general public and if it was it would be more expensive than isopropanol or rubbing alcohol. Isopropanyl alcohol is not ingestible so does not present a health risk so is available over the counter at most pharmacies and department stores.

rubbing alcoholRubbing Alcohol

Isopropyl alcohol (isopropanol) serves two purposes when used for cleaning. First it will wipe out most biologicals like bacteria and virii on surfaces so it is a very effective disinfectant. Rubbing alcohol is the perfect shiner for mirrors, glass, windows, and your faucets. Not only that if you want your faucets or stainless steel to sparkle wipe them down with rubbing alcohol. It is one of the best cleaners for eyeglasses as well. Disinfect door knobs, counters, sinks and handles with a wipe of rubbing alcohol. if you have shiny ceramic tile floors a quick wipe down with a cloth dampened with rubbing alcohol will keep them shiny. It doesn't take a lot either unlike a lot of cleaners.

Isopropanol is flammable in liquid form so should not be used around an open flame. It dries very quickly which leaves no residue or fire hazard. I keep rubbing alcohol in a spray bottle in the kitchen for keeping my counters and faucets clean and spot free but it gets used on a lot of kitchen surfaces because it is one of the quick cleaners I reach for first. Rubbing alcohol is readily available in the dollar stores and because a little goes a long way it is a more than affordable but extremely effective eco-friendly cleanser.

Garden Gnome

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

New Phone System

When we were newlyweds there really wasn't a lot of choice in phones other than colours. They were corded units with no extra functions. Over the years as times changes with a busier lifestyle stand alone answering machines became quite popular. These devices used micro-cassettes but they served the purpose. The down side answering machines was of course power outages. Well Bell Canada saw they could be making more money off of customers by offering their own answering service (voice mail) and they sweetened the deal by allowing you to call into your voice mail from another location so you could hear your messages. This was an attractive feature for those traveling a lot but really was meant for the business people. At the same time telemarketers saw residential homes as the perfect market. Bell quickly started adding new features with one of the most useful being caller id that is a somewhat effective way of dealing with telemarketer.

The last phone system we bought had a built-in answering machine. We saw this as a way to eliminate voice mail from our phone service. If I recall correctly the system consisting of the base and two addition hand sets cost $79.99. It worked well for us for about 8 years but over the last couple of months it was apparent the system was dying. None of the handsets would hold a charge longer than about 5 minutes and two of the handsets lost partial parts of the display. It was time to go shopping for an eco-friendly solution.

Panasonic KX-TG6473 Phone SystemPanasonic KX-TG6473 Phone System

Pictured is the Panasonic KX-TG6473PK eco-friendly cordless expandable phone system we purchased at Sam's Club for $59.99. This is the first phone system I've seen with the EnergyStar logo! It is also RoHS specified no chemicals used which includes lead, mercury, hexavalent chomium, and specified brominated flame retardants (PBB and PBDE).

The standby power consumption has been reduced by 59% over their previous model which means we use 10.52 kWh verses 25.83 kWh annually on standby. In terms of electricity savings that is $1.63 so nothing to get really excited about. However, calculation of our previous system that used 2 - 6.5 W and 1 - 18 W adapter the cost for that phone system worked out to be $28.54. The new system will cost $11.07 annual to operate at our current electricity rates. Again, an $11 annual savings doesn't seem like much but it gets better!

The phone system has a built-in answer, call block, call screen, call waiting, 4-way conferencing and ringer id all features that cost extra if using Bell Canada's services. The call block is not limited to just phone numbers either as this system allows the blocking of calls without phone number such as out of area, private caller, or long distance with no phone number identified. What this really means is that the only additional service we need from Bell Canada is caller id. That's it! This should give a maximum savings of almost $30 per month for 3 months then $24.95 for a total savings of $290.60 the first year then $275.20 annually depending on the plan we replace our current home complete plan (most expensive) with. So now that really is a savings but if we consider the new phone system also acts as an alarm clock we save an addition $6.31 in electricity. In short we stand to save $307.98 the first year the $292.58 each year after that making this purchase very frugal with a payback period of 2.3 months! In terms of combining frugality with being eco-friendly this ended up being an excellent purchase.

Garden Gnome

Sunday, November 1, 2009

More Electrical Outlet Sealing

Electrical outlets can result a considerable source of air leakage and infiltration. A couple of posts ago I discussed sealing and insulating electrical switches on outside walls. This is necessary to eliminate as much air infiltration as possible thus reducing drafts. If you take a good look at the actual metal or plastic box though it is quickly apparent that caulking around electrical box and adding insulating foam will only solve part of the problem. That is because electrical boxes have several holes in which you can choose where to run wires through. Ideally spraying expandable spray foam around the outside of the electrical box would seal around the box to the point that all drafts would be stopped. However, do not be tempted to use expandable spray foam insulation to seal electrical outlets. The expandable spray foam is flammable until cured and at some point that outlet may require work on it which the cured expandable spray foam would make almost impossible. There is a way to deal with any minor air filtration that comes through the plug holes though.

Safety PlugsSafety Plugs

All outer wall pugs must have something plugged into them to prevent air infiltration during the colder months. Now the natural choice for something to plug in is an electrical appliance but that is not always convenient. Onto the scene comes a nice product that cuts any air infiltration through the outlet holes yet it is usually sold as a safety device to prevent children from electrocuting themselves playing with electrical outlets. These safety plug protectors come in clear, white, ivory and brown. A pack of 10 will cost $1 at the dollar stores or you can pay a bit extra at the discount stores. They all work the same. I like the larger clear ones pictured as the tabs on the white ones pictured tend to break off after repeated removal. The main downside to these inexpensive safety plug protectors is removing them for using the plug. Once you get the knack of it you can pop them out anytime you need to use the plug.

installed safety plugsInstalled

No special tools are required for installation. Installation is as simple as plugging the plastic safety guard into each outlet. Unless you have small children and you are installing these safety guards for energy conservation then the only outlets you need to be concerned about are on your outside walls. For the most part aside of not having any drafts and the occasional having to remove them to use the outlet you won't even notice they are there. There is no need to remove the safety guards during nicer weather either unless you are using the outlet.

Garden Gnome