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 :)

Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 Winds Down

This has been a frustrating but exciting year for us on the homemaking front.  With our primary residence up for sale and house hunting for most of the year a lot of things have been put on hold.  On the other hand with the purchase of our vacation home we have had a good deal of fun getting it equipped for renting out when we aren't there.

What was rather fun about getting the vacation home equipped was being able to buy pretty much everything new, something when first setting up a home usually isn't possible.  We even discovered 'beds in a bag'!  Oh sure I had bought these as gifts for others but had never bought one for ourselves.  Within minutes the vacation home beds were gorgeously co-ordinated looking very much motelish.  All my bath and kitchen towels match perfectly at the vacation home.  We bought cutesy bedroom lamps, whimsical and definitely not our regular at home look.  We bought 2 throws for the livingroom and while they are nice they are the handmade crocheted or knitted throws we are used to.

There's a down side to that aside of the cost though as there's no history or emotion attached to the 'stuff' used to fill the home.  There is none of that 'have to have spoon' because that is special or the 'remember when stains'.  We ended up bringing down several things from our primary home just to make our vacation home feel more like ours.  I'm sure as we visit more it will become our home away from home as well but for now it is new.  It even smells new!

Overall, we are excited and looking forward to changes in 2011!

Garden Gnome

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Shopping Thrift Shops

I have been a thrift shop shopper since being a child.  Shopping thrift shops is frugal, eco-friendly and socially responsible.  In many cases a portion of the proceeds either goes towards a worthy cause or local charity.   In some cases a thrift shop is the major source of income for the charitable group.  Supporting these shops in essence supports others in need in the community.

Most things sold in a thrift shop are used but there many be a few new items and hand crafted items others have donated.  When it comes to thrift shops, you really do need to know your prices.  If you are a collector, you need to know how to spot the authentic.  We stopped at a small, crowded thrift store yesterday.  I was quite surprised to see things like blenders, rice makers and baking dishes priced well above what the price in Wal-Mart new would be.  They did have a yogurt maker for $3 that I was tempted to pick up for the vacation home.  Canning jars are another item that always seem to be overpriced in thrift shops, going for as high as $1 per jar without lid or ring.  Consider that Canadian Tire has canning jars with lids and rings that work out to 58¢ each.  Clothing may or may not be reasonably priced especially now that the dollar stores are carrying socks and the larger department stores put various pieces of clothing on sale at very low prices.  In general though, clothing at thrift shops is less expensive than department stores but more expensive than yard sales. 

Thrift shops can be hidden treasure troves for finding various pieces for your collection.  I was specifically looking for the glass canning lid inserts yesterday.  While they did not have any of those I managed to find a few nice pieces to add to my collections.  I picked up a small milk glass Hazel Atlas chicken candy dish for $3.99.  I immediately recognized it for what it was.  The dish is valued at about $10 and will be a perfect addition to my Depression era glassware collection.  I also picked up an interesting Morton's Salt (girl with umbrella) and a Campbell's Soup mug for my foodie collection.

Thrift shops can also be useful for finding those tid bits like a replacement pot lid.  Somehow during our many moves I lost one of the plastic jars that fit on my Oster blender.  I use mason jars so didn't really miss the jar but there was one at the thrift shop for 99¢ so I bought it.  It was brand new, never used complete with the rubber gasket and storage lid! 

Garden Gnome

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Looking Back on 2010

We are drawing near the end of the year.  Looking back on 2010 there have been two major developments with respect to home.   First we bought a vacation home in the sunny south where we hope to spend as much as three months of the year.  As a result we ended up putting our primary residence up for sale.  Selling our house was been the primary focus of 2010 taking over most of our activities.  We started out trying to sell privately then went to a real estate agent.  When that wasn't successful we took the house off the market for a month while we vacationed at our vacation home for the second time.  We put the house back on the market when we arrived home where it continues to sit.  Our area has been hit with the economic downturn so the housing market is soft right now.  Unfortunately this has been bad for us but we are still optimistic that we will be able to sell the house shortly.  Aside of focusing on the sale of our primary residence and buying another one we have been working on getting our vacation home in order to rent out when we are not using it.  Renting out the vacation home ends up paying all of our vacation home expenses while netting a little profit for the bank account.  Next up on the agenda is finding a small rental unit to buy in the same area as our primary residence but that is another story.

Household repairs in our primary and vacation homes have been minimal, thank goodness.  We ended up with a minor furnace repair in our primary residence but other than that it was decluttering and keeping things neat and tidy for showing the house.  On the other side at the vacation home we focused on cleaning and furnishing.

We have a lot of plans for 2011.  We hope to have our primary residence sold within the next couple of months or so, moving in time for putting in a garden.  We do have one house we'd really to buy like so hopefully things will work out that way.  Our main focus until we sell will be decluttering and getting rid of anything we can to avoid having to move it.  The vacation home is set for rental so our main goal will be keeping it renting when we aren't using it.  I need to make a few things for a handmade touches at our vacation home.  An afghan or two are in the makings and I will be making dish cloths as well as adding crochet edging to guest towels and pillow cases.  I even bought a couple of pattern books in anticipation since I have a lot more time at the vacation home to indulge in knitting and crochetting.  Oh and I have some lovely yarns that I will be making up into sweaters.  I'll be getting back into ceramics at our vacation home too.  Stay tuned as it should be interesting homemaking in 2011.

Garden Gnome

Monday, December 20, 2010

Core Charge on Batteries

Batteries have rechargeable life span so any rechargeable battery from AAA to 12 V will at some point need to be replaced.  All batteries whether rechargeable or not should be disposed of in a manner that they do not contaminate land fills.  In most cases batteries are disposed as a hazardous waste via special hazardous waste disposal sites or through the repair shop or store where you bought the batteries.  To ensure you dispose of the old batteries properly there is a provincial  (Canada) or state (United States) fee charged on the purchase of the new 6 V, 8 V or 12 V batteries that is refunded when the old battery is brought back.  There may or may not be an additional battery disposal fee.   If the battery is replaced at an auto repair shop or similar type repair shop for other battery powered equipment (eg. golf carts) the fee is waived although any battery disposal fee is still charged if applicable. 

It was rather nice that we were able to return the old golf cart batteries to get our $9 back per battery.  That ended up being a refund of $45 and we did not have the hassle of finding another eco-friendly way of disposing them.  We didn't get the $9 refund for the battery that blew as it was too damaged to transport safely.  It ended up going into the hazardous waste collection in our vacation home community.

Garden Gnome

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Golf Cart Battery Problem

We certainly are not strangers to large battery operated power having had an RV for a number of years that used a deep cycle 12 V battery and now a boat using two 12V deep cycle marine batteries.   Large batteries meant for marine, RV, golf cart and solar use range from 6V to 12V depending on the usage.  If the power is meant to be depleted before a full charge then a deep cycle battery is needed and usually the batteries are in pairs so you are using one while the other is being recharged.  These batteries differ from vehicle batteries that receive a constant charge from the alternator each time the vehicle is operated.

exploded battery
Solar power requires deep cycle batteries and one of the problems stressed is batteries can and do blow-up.  If they blow sulphuric acid is released in larger amounts but small amounts can be released under normal use.  This is why batteries of this size should not be stored in living spaces but rather in a separate battery shed if used for solar.  Special battery boxes are recommended for RV and marine use.

A battery bank of 6 - 8 V batteries sits below the seat on our golf cart.  This is the power that allows the golf cart to operate.  They are charged via an electrical battery charger.  Well, one of our batteries blew.  It likely was going from the time we bought the cart but chose this particular time to go.  If you heard the noise you would certainly know why and oh my gosh it was loud!  Thank goodness it was outdoors as there was a bit of battery acid spillage.  We neutralized the spillage with a baking soda solution.  We also washed the tools used to remove the battery with the same solution to neutralize any battery acid that may have got on them.

These larger batteries aren't cheap but if looked after properly will give dependable service for several years.  However, like a car battery at some point they will need to be replaced.  Given the condition of the batteries in the golf cart rather than replace just the blown battery we replaced all 6.  The batteries cost $79.82 each plus a state fee of $1.50 and a core charge fee of $9 for a total cost of $541.92.  Under normal usage these batteries should last about 4 years.

Garden Gnome

Friday, December 17, 2010

Do-It-Yourself Snowglobe

This time of year I am always on the look-out for unique craft projects. Craft stores and departments stores are filled with all kinds of great do-it-yourself craft projects perfect for gift giving.  Many of the projects require basic craft skills suitable for children and beginning crafters.  What I really like is these can be personalized for a unique gift.

do it yourself snowglobe
I discovered  do-it-yourself snowglobes in the photo section of Wal-Mart.  They had two styles, this shape and a larger round shape.  I immediately thought they would make cute unique and personalized Christmas gifts for our grandkids.  I'm going to edit a picture of each of them to include the year and instead of printing the photos on white paper I'm going to print on acetate to give a clear background.  

Each of the small dome shaped globes are about 4½ inches tall.  The black base comes off to replace the instructions and photo with a photo of your choice.  Your photo is simply cut to fit and inserted into the plastic sleeve that holds the photo in place in the slot.  Once the photo is in place, the black base is replaced ready for the snow globe to be enjoyed.  Each globe cost $3.88.  Printing on regular white card stock would cost about 6¢ (ink and paper) while printing on acetate at a print shop will cost about 50¢.  Either way this is a very low cost, easy to personalize craft project perfect for Christmas gift giving.

Garden Gnome

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Importance House Insurance

I was watching the news yesterday when a story came on about a house fire where the folks lost everything.  The good thing was no one was hurt but they did lose everything.  Apparently they had lived in the house for a little over 30 years and had no household insurance.  Now this just boggles my mind!  How can you own a house and live in it for that many years without having household insurance? 

We pay about $660 per year for full household insurance coverage.  There are some things that regardless of the amount of insurance can't be replaced but that $660 provides a lot of replacement coverage from clothes to lost food to furniture and appliances.  If you take a walk through your home and document just how much it would cost to replace what you have in there it quickly becomes apparent that $660 is an excellent price for the security of knowing even if we lost everything we would not lose out of pocket replacement costs.  We would not have to rely on the generosity of others to help us rebuild our lives.  So it is a nice piece of low cost security.

Think of household insurance as a must have, necessary cost of living.  Those who are renting should look for a reasonably priced tenants' insurance package.  This will cover the replacement costs of your possessions for $200 or less per year.   If affording household insurance is a problem there are so many ways to cut back in other ways so you can afford the necessary protection.  Basically at the cost of our household insurance we would need to cut $55 in expenses monthly to afford it.  Surprisingly saving $55 just in food costs per month is not as difficult as it sounds.   Taking an eco-friendly, garbage free lunch to work instead of grabbing a fast food sandwich daily ($5, 20 days per week) can save you $100 less the cost of food for the lunches that would leave you a net of about $70 in saving.   If a couple spends $40 every two weeks to eat out they can eliminate that to save $1,040 per year that pays for their household insurance and still gives them a bit extra to pad the bank account.  Now that is just looking at savings to be had that are food related.  If you apply this to the rest of your living expenses not only will you be saving money but the material possessions including your home will be protected in the event of a disaster. 

Garden Gnome

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Using Timers

I recently wrote about home automation and how that can easily be a DIY project.  When setting up a home automation system, it is quite easy to add in a few low cost extras that aren't part of the main home automation system and yet are quite effective.  One of the easiest and low cost additions are timers.

Using timers make a lot of sense in terms of home security, energy efficiency, energy conservation and simply saving money on electrical consumption.  Pictured are two timers I recently bought for $4.99 each.  These are simple plug in times rather than the hard wired timers.  They are ideal for timed control of plug ins like lamps, garden lighting and radios as well as seasonal lighting like Christmas lights.

The plug in times come with 4 to 6 movable pins that determine when the plugged in lamp is turned on or off.  This allows you to set up to 3 time periods the lights are turned on.  Simply move the pins to the desired position, set the actual time on the timer dial then plug in to the socket.   Plug the lamp, radio or string of lights in and you are set up.  Timers when used properly give the appearance someone is home even though they aren't so it is important to set up timers so they don't create a pattern if using for home security purposes.  Timers also control lighting that otherwise may get left on too long costing you money.  In short, timers are a valuable, low cost addition to your home automation tools.

Garden Gnome

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Home Automation

I have been tinkering around with home automation for a number of years.  Home automation really is the wave of the future.  On the simplest level motion sensors and timers can form a fair amount of home automation.  But home automation can get so much more complicated even adding the ability to control your home from your laptop hundreds of miles away.  Our house before our last house was almost fully automated.  Our last house was a bit more automated.  The nice thing about home automation is it isn't expensive and it is a DIY expandable project.

home automation components
I decided to use X10 components for a good portion of our home automation.  Pictured are a few of the components that are controlled via a series of codes through the main control unit (RCA, back 3rd from right).  So a component set to A1 would come on when the corresponding button A1 on the remote (upper right) is triggered.  Not pictured are the keychain remotes that are perfect for turning on lights indoors when pulling into the driveway so you never have to enter an empty home.  To the bottom left there are 2 motion sensors with the white one being for indoor use only and the grey one being for indoor or outdoor use.  Not pictured are the screw-in light modules, larger remote, key chain remotes 

When set up these components work along with traditional motion sensors and timers but can also be controlled through computerized home automation software.  This means your home's lights and appliances can be easily controlled from one location in your home, be controlled via motion sensors, via remote outside your home and through computer access.  The new hydro SmartMeters are supposed to be able to be controlled via computer access as well.  More and more small and even larger appliances are programmable allowing them to be turned on and off automatically.  All of these home automation devices can serve to curb your energy usage.  I really like the X10 motion sensors as they can control any component in the system.  What is really neat is the X10 works with and expands any home automation system you are using.  It is an easy DIY solution to managing hydro usage in your home.

Garden Gnome

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Furnace Problem

When we moved here we discovered we had a Clare Megasave II furnace installed about 1983.  We were told the furnace is a good one but if a part goes, many replacement parts are no longer available.  We were advised to continue using the furnace rather than replace it as it is on the higher efficiency side and it is in very good condition.  We had a problem back in 2009 with the fan belt that ended up being a fairly easy DIY repair.  Other than that the furnace has been working quite nicely.  This past Friday morning the furnace decided not to work.

furnace pilot light
Every furnace has its own set of sounds that as a homeowner you become aware of that helps you to determine the furnace is working properly without necessarily checking it.  Our furnace has a pre-cycle with a low powered fan.  If you are close to the furnace you can hear the electronic ignition then then burner fire up.  Once the burner fires up the secondary but higher powered fan kicks on.  Well Friday morning I noticed the low powered fan was running a lot longer than it should.  Upon investigation I found the  burner was on but watching it I heard the electronic ignition followed by the burner firing up then immediately going out.

I called my husband who called a heating and cooling firm to have them come out as this did not sound like a DIY repair.  By 2 PM the firm had still not called back so he called them again only to be told it was too far to come out!  Well that was nice as finding someone else on a Friday afternoon to fix the furnace that late in the day would be a challenge.  Complicating the problem was we had dinner plans as well.  He called another local firm that really is an owner operated business.  The owner/repairman showed up about 4:30 PM.   The problem ended up being a blocked drain and gunked up contacts for the secondary fan.  He had the furnace up and running in no time!  The bill came to $75 and we were on our way out the door to get to our dinner on time.  You can bet he will be getting an excellent recommendation from us!

Garden Gnome

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Back-up Heating

We heated solely with wood for almost 16 years.  During that time the only time we worried about back-up heating was if we wanted to go away for a few days during the winter months when the possibility of freezing was high.  We could stoke up the fire in the morning and that would get us through most of the day and then again at night so for the most part unless being away from the house more than 12 hours we were good.  Then we moved into a house with a HVAC system.  On the surface controlling heating and cooling via a flick of a switch seemed like a marvelous except as we quickly found out the furnace needed electricity meaning if the power went out we had no heat.

natural gas fireplace
Regardless of any heating system a secondary, back-up heating source is necessary if you live in an area where winter heating is a must.    That source of heat should not be dependent on electricity in the event the electricity is knocked out via a winter storm.   Remember that during a power outage the HVAC and any electric heaters will not work.

We have a natural gas fireplace with an electronic ignition so it is electricity independent.  We can heat the main living area with this fireplace by closing off other rooms and in fact in the cool but not cold months this is what we heat with.

If you use a secondary or back-up heating source that requires some type of fuel such as wood or kerosene, be sure to have enough on hand to last 2 to 4 weeks.  In most cases you will not need this amount of fuel but it is a good, safe rule of thumb. 

Garden Gnome

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Duct Tape Fixes Everything

I have to tell you our house is sometimes like living in a comedy of errors.  There is never a dull moment.  We have had a problem with field mice each fall when the crops come off.  The problem was big enough when we moved here we baited indoors, outdoors, in the garage and set traps.  So we continue to seal every nook and cranny we can find.  A few nights ago my husband claimed he heard a mouse in the furnace room.  Mice are not quite when they are trying to gnaw their way through.  I did not hear anything to put the idea out of my mind.  A couple days later he was in the furnace room and saw an empty mouse trap on the floor when it had previously been up in the beams so he baited it then put it back up in the beams.  Onward to a couple of nights ago...

the quick duct tape fix
We arrived home just after midnight Saturday night.  It had been a long day spent in the GTA visiting our kids in two different communities.  We both crashed!  About an hour later my husband got up to use the washroom and then it happened...

The toilet seat broke!  Knowing the stores weren't open at 2 AM and being the ever thoughtful husband, he fixed the toilet seat with duct tape.  I'm not kidding as you can see.  But when he was in the furnace room looking for the duct tape he spotted the mouse trap had done it's job.  Apparently there had been a mouse after all!  So he got rid of the mouse, fixed the seat and finally crawled back into bed.

new toilet seat
Being the good wife that I am, I managed to sleep through the whole fiasco.  I woke to find duct tape on the toilet seat and no memory of him waking me up to tell me all about his adventures.  He called me later in the day to tell me again.  I could only laugh about his early morning fun. 

My husband came home with a new oak toilet seat to replace the broken one.  It likely was a good thing as explaining to potential buyers about why  there as duct tape on the toilet seat is likely something our real estate agent would rather not do.  I liked the look so left the fuzzy lid cover off, something that is only on along with the floor mats for showing the house.  I seriously don't like bathroom mats especially around the toilet.  So we have decided to put a new floor in to help this bathroom show better and eliminate the mats all together.  Ah the fun of late night adventures and where they lead...

Garden Gnome

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

I Spy in a Jar (Children's Game)

I love using recycled or items that would be tossed to make crafts and other fun things.  Now, I cannot take full credit for this children's game.  One of our kids found the idea and made one for the grandkids.  I thought it would be a nice addition to Grandma and Papa's toy box as well.

recycled materials for I Spy Jar
The material list for this project is quite simple.  Choose simple, easily recognized found objects around the house.  Don't use an object that will break easily.  It is important to glue the lid to the jar after you are satisfied with the results.  Otherwise you could end up with rice scattered throughout the house.


plastic jar
about 2 ½ c long grain white rice
15 to 20 small found objects
hot glue gun
glue stick

Place the found objects in the jar.  Add rice.  Hot glue the top to the jar.

I Spy Jar children's game
Pictured is the finished I Spy in a Jar.  The object of the game is for the child to find as many of the items possible.  You can add a time limit and score card for older children.  This is a good toy to take along in the car and for a quiet time activity. 

I thought this was such a cute way to recycle while making a fun toy for the grandkids.  It was extremely easy to make.  If you have little ones at home you could even involve them in the collection of found objects and the assembly although the hot gluing should be left to Mom or Dad.

Garden Gnome