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 :)

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Creating a Plain 125 x 125 Badge

The 125 x 125 badge is currently one of the most popular advertising card size in the blogosphere. If you are unsure of what a 125 x 125 badge looks like there are several in the side bar including under the I Also Author section. There are online sources that will make these badges for you but they are generic, restricted to their designs and fonts. Your 125 x 125 is your advertising card so you want it to be unique, something that will serve as your brand. Design is important as the badge should not be changed once it has been in use for any length of time. Changing the badge confuses readers who visit your blog via your badge.

A plain 125 x 125 is surprisingly quite easy to make. Here are the steps using Photoshop but would be similar in any photo editing software:

  1. Create a new image in any square size you want but big enough to see what you are doing, so 600 px x 600 px.
  2. Create a new layer then fill with colour of your choice using the colour pallet or hex number - Edit/Fill then choose black, white or colour, double click on colour to get to colour pallet and hex number
  3. If desired add a stroke in desired colour - Edit/Stroke, choose colour and pixel size desired
  4. Use text tool to add any desired text. Position test as desired. Add shadow by Layer/Layer Style/Drop Shadow, change colour of drop shadow as desired.
  5. Merge layers - Layer/Merge
  6. Apply bevel if desired - duplicate layer, working on duplicated layer choose Layer/Layer Style/Bevel and Emboss, choose desired bevel
  7. Flatten image - Layer/Flatten
  8. Resize image - Image/Image Size, be sure constrain proportions is checked, change width and height to 125 and 125 respectively.
  9. Save your image - File/Save for Web, name file and save to folder of your choice
That is how easy it is to make a fairly simple 125 x 125 badge. Tomorrow's post will show you how to make a badge using a custom image.

Garden Gnome

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

More Electrical Updating

We have been updating and doing minor repairs ever since we made the decision to sell our house. These are all the little things that just make a world of difference when showing the house. No potential buyer wants to see signs of anything that looks like work when they go through a house so the less of that type of thing the better.

new light fixtureLight Fixture

Pictured on top is the light over my desk. It is a higher wattage CFL daylight spectrum light. While this doesn't matter to most people to me because that spectrum is necessary to prevent negative mood effects. I was quite happy with the light exactly as it was. However we both agreed for the aesthetics of selling the house it had to be changed out.

We chose a ceiling hugging, beveled glass light fixture that holds 3 - 25 W incandescent bulbs. The light was very easy to install with no modifications needed. The brass finish goes nice with the wood ceiling while the warm yellow tones from the lights enhance the tones in the wood. The effect is quite lovely! This was an easy DIY project that took about 10 minutes from start to finish. The fixture was on sale for $7.99 so it was a frugal choice as well.

replacing outletNew Outlet

Any older house can benefit from having the plug and switch outlets replaced. Not only is the upgrade good from a safety point of view but also aesthetically it updates the look of the room for very little cost or effort. We really like the steamline looks of the European style plugs and outlets. The flat, clean lines just look so much nicer. This will be the fourth house that we have changed out older switches and plugs for the European design.

Pictured is the before older style toggle switch and the after newer style European switch. I think it makes a huge difference with very little effort. Home renovation centres, hardware stores and lumber stores all have builders specials of the switches, outlets and covers. These are usually 10 to 12 per package at a reduced price. When replacing any outlet on an outside wall it is a good time to seal and insulate the outlet as well. If you are comfortable working with electricity this is an easy DIY project. As always when working with electricity turn off the power then test for live wires before proceeding.

Garden Gnome

Monday, March 29, 2010

A Tried and True Rule When Selling a House

I am a huge fan of Shirley Temple so have a lot of her memorabilia. Pictured is one of my porcelain Shirley Temple dolls. What does Shirley Temple have to do with selling a house? If you have read anything about this child star you will already know. For those who haven't read about Shirley her mother's saying before any performance was one simple word - sparkle. That word was a direct signal to put on the sunniest smile and disposition possible. When it comes to selling a house that is what you really have to do - sparkle. Here's a few things I do before a showing to make our house sparkle:

  • cleaning - This goes without saying but we have been in houses on both ends of the spectrum when it comes to cleanliness. I like using the midstream with everything neat and tidy, clean and dust free BUT not offensive smells of cleaners.
  • continual decluttering - This serves 2 purposes. First it gives the appearance of rooms looking larger and more spacious. Before each showing go through the house with a grocery bag collecting up anything that can permanently be removed from the room. It's even better if you can get this bag into the donation or give away box because down the road you won't have to move it.
  • shiny - Every possible household item that can be made to sparkle should be made to sparkle. This includes: windows, mirrors, chrome, metal trim, appliance trim, light bulbs, light fixtures and in short if you can make it shine do so. If you have a pot rack in your kitchen, shine up those pots and the same applies to any knives on a knife rack. Yes, none of this is staying with the house but honestly if someone sees your stainless steel pots are water marked they will wonder if you don't make your pots shine, what else have you neglected to do.
  • pay attention to details - Small details do matter. Go through the house with a Magic Eraser and remove any marks on painted walls. Replace any electrical outlet and covers if necessary. Make sure all light bulbs are working. Wipe down light switch covers and wipe away any finger prints anywhere! Even if your appliances are not part of the sale make sure they are squeaky clean as any potential buyer can always put in an offer including one or more of the appliances but if your appliances are dirty this will be a turn off and one that could thwart a sale. Little things like fresh flowers on a table, a fresh loaf of homemade bread, blinds wide open if the sun is shining through and anything else you would like to see if you were viewing a potential house to buy.

Garden Gnome

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Joys of Selling Your House

Oh gosh! I would love to say the first person that looked at our house bought it for the price we wanted but the reality is they didn't. We started off selling selling privately but then moved on to a real estate agent simply because there is a time frame involved. At any rate selling a house has to be one of the most stressful things you have ever done. I'd like to say I'm handling it well but I'm not. I'm hanging on by the tail hoping for a favourable outcome much like anyone else selling their house.

Garden Gnome

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Natural Odour Absorbers and Air Fresheners

Curbing indoor air odours is always a concern so manufacturers introduced a host of remedies ranging from aerosol sprays to energy using oil based scenters to scented stick-ups to scented candles. The problem with a lot of these scented products is they are actually health hazards. These products cause allergic reactions as well as being well known asthma triggers. Scented candles in particular use an insecticide as a scent fixative so anytime the candle is being burned insecticide is being inhaled. Electrical base units aside of putting artificial and health harming vapours into the air waste electricity. Aerosol sprays are not eco-friendly and use propellants that can cause health problems. In most cases a natural odour absorber or air freshener can do an excellent job of getting rid of indoor odours without any nasty side effects. Here are a few that work for us:

  • coffee grinds - removes mold and mildew odours
  • baking soda - a general odour absorber
  • white vinegar - great paint and food odour neutralizer, general odour neutralizer
  • lemons - natural air freshener
  • pure vanilla - natural air freshener
  • cinnamon - natural air freshener
  • sulphur - strike a match then blow it out to take care of most bathroom odours
  • charcoal - absorbs and neutralizes odours
  • essential oil - can be added to burning soy wax candles for a natural air freshener
  • beeswax - natural air freshener, when burning is a natural air cleaner

Garden Gnome

Friday, March 26, 2010

Household Uses for Lemons

Lemons are naturally high in acidity making them a low cost, eco-friendly and healthy alternative to cleaning with harsh chemicals. Here's a few ways lemons can be used:

  • Pour lemon juice where ants are found to get rid of them.
  • Mix lemon juice with borax for a powerful toilet cleaner.
  • Place sliced lemon in the refrigerator to absorb food odours.
  • Mix lemon juice with baking soda. Rub on chrome or copper and let set for a few minutes. Wipe off with a clean cloth for a clean shine.
  • Use lemon juice as a natural air -freshener and mood lifter.
  • Cut a lemon in half then run it over a chopping block to disinfect.
  • Squeeze fresh lemon juice onto stained surfaces. Let sit for 20 minutes then rinse.
  • Sprinkle salt on a lemon wedge with a gentle scrubbing to shine the interior of copper cookware.
  • Add a ½ cup of lemon juice to the wash cycle to brighten whites.
  • Spray stained white socks with lemon juice then hang in the sun to remove the stains.
  • Run a half lemon through the garbage disposal to clean and freshen it.
  • Put ¼ cup of lemon juice in the soap dispenser of the dishwasher and run through the normal cycle to remove mineral deposits.
  • Use lemon juice to clean grout around tiles.
  • Rub lemon juice on brass to remove tarnish.
  • Apply lemon juice with a sponge on glass shower doors to clean to a sparkling shine.

Garden Gnome

Thursday, March 25, 2010

A Few Tips for Selling Your Home

Sometimes it seems like we have sold more homes that I really want to think about but we learned a bit from each one. The important thing to remember from the time you put your house on the market whether privately or with a realtor it is a disruptive experience. The biggest problem is while you are living life in your home it has to be in show condition with very little notice. Here are a few tips I've used to minimize the disruption:

  • declutter - The more you declutter the more you don't have to later more and the easier it is to keep your rooms tidy in show condition. Be a bit brutal here with anything out the door if at all possible. First on the list should be donating and giving away even if you have to freecycle with the last resort being throwing out.
  • do a major cleaning - Selling a house is very different from having company over. You want everything squeaky clean, sparkling, neat, tidy, dust free and in short able to pass the white glove test in even the spots no one would ever look.
  • omit all smelly cleansers, air fresheners and scented candles - No house should smell like it has just been cleaned when being shown. If someone can walk in your house and immediately smell a cleanser then it can easily turn them off but worse yet could trigger an allergic reaction or an asthma attack.
  • do a 15 minute daily shine - Your house is neat and tidy ready for showing so do a 15 minute shiner every morning. Walk through the house with a spray bottle of alcohol and wash cloth. Shine up every shiny surface. Wipe down sinks, tidy towels, and take the garbage out.
  • the 5 minute rule - Spend 5 minutes each day in at least one room in your house. Remove/declutter what you can or straighten or shine or whatever you can do in that room within the 5 minutes.
  • everytime you leave a room - Pick up one thing that doesn't belong there or that can be eliminated and remove it. This takes only a few seconds but can make a huge difference.
  • tread lightly - Stage any room that you can. These are rooms you can get away with simply not using. Have them set for showing then leave them alone until after the sale of the house, dusting if necessary but nothing more.
  • cook lightly - Cooking can become a huge issue when selling a house because you don't want the mess or the odour. Rely on your freezer for homemade freezer meals and the outdoor grill to keep odours out. Cooker easier to prepare from scratch meals to keep your routine. Immediately after doing any cooking place a bowl of white vinegar out to neutralize any cooking odours. Don't rely on take-out that can be expensive and give tell tale signs to potential buyers.
  • make your house appealing - Aside of being squeaky clean which is a must put a couple of vases of fresh flowers out. Soft music can be appealing as can a fresh baked loaf of bread or cookies cooling on a rack in the kitchen. Do not bake anything that has peanuts in it such as peanut butter cookies. Light a few candles but only if 100% beeswax or soy wax candles with no scent. Beeswax cleans the air and neither beeswax or soy wax candles will trigger allergic reactions or asthma in potential buyers..
  • pets and signs of pets have to go - Sorry but this is a must! Some such as myself viewing a home are highly allergic to pet dander. This can trigger both allergic reactions as well as asthma. In addition to this the lovely smells from the kitty litter box is not quite the smell most potential buyers want to smell. If at all possible board your pets out or have a friend take them while your house is in the selling stage.

Garden Gnome

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

More on Updating Vent Covers

The sad thing about selling your home is all of a sudden you become extremely critical of every single little detail. All those little things that you've lived with and overlooked become the things you focus on. In most cases they cost little to fix, take little time to fix but somehow got overlooked because other repairs and maintenance became a higher priority. I keep thinking what a shame we didn't just get to the little things like replacing or paint vent covers, changing out electrical outlets and changing out those ugly light fixtures earlier so at least we could have enjoyed them while we were here. Ah well, live and learn.

painted vent coverPainted

Forced air heating/air conditioning (HVAC) have two types of vents. The larger vent covers are for the cold air return. As cold air settles near the floor it is drawn back into the heating system to be heated then returned through the smaller heat vents. Any vent cover on a vent that comes up through the floor takes a fair amount of abuse. Metal vent covers will get scratched and/or bent from walking on or being hit by furniture. They develop rust in areas where they get wet.

If the vent cover is in good condition and not bent, remove it and wash well. Dry well. Remove any rust spots with steel wool then use a tack cloth to any dust. Place the cover right side up on top of a cardboard box in a sunny location outside. Spray with alkyd enamel paint. Let dry then spray on a second coat. Let dry well then put the vent cover back into its place. This is a very low cost way to spruce up metal vent covers and one that can easily be done anytime needed or if you want to custom match a vent colour to a room.

plastic vent coverPlastic

The downside to sprucing up the details is you find more things that need to be sprucing up. I decided the vent cover (top) in the entrance hall needed to be replaced so used a plastic cover (bottom). The downside to plastic is they only come in certain colours but there is Krylon spray paint available for painting plastic. I don't know how well it would work on plastic vent covers.

The replacement vent cover highlights the flooring issue. The kicker here is we have ceramic tile sitting in the garage ready to tile the floor except waiting for weather we can do this as it would put the side door out of commission for at least a weekend. The realtor said not to worry about doing the tiling so I will be onto plan B.

I'm going to strip the floor using household ammonia to remove all the wax build-up. I know there is a wax build-up because any standing water leaves white marks. Once the wax is removed I will use a liquid wax to bring up the shine. The floor itself is in good condition just a bit dated so hopefully this will make the entrance look good for showing.

Garden Gnome

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Staging a Room for Selling a House

I like watching HGTV shows and one thing that I noticed on any of the shows where they are selling property is they like to stage the rooms. In come areas there are even companies that will come in to stage your house to help make the house or property sell quicker. Staging works well for those families who do not have to live in the house while it is the process of showing. Living in the house presents a new set of problems because it is very difficult to keep every room looking pristine for showing on short notice. This disrupts you entire routine and every aspect of your lifestyle. The best way to deal with this situation is to declutter as much as possible and stage any rooms you can feasibly not use. That way there will always be a couple of rooms that you don't have to rush around doing last minute straightening before a short notice showing.

temporary room stagingRoom Staging

If you recall we have been working on putting the bedroom that was being redone into a craft room just a day before finding out new that would see us selling this house. We finished painting the room, installed a new light, installed laminate flooring and changed the floor vent out. The last thing that remains to be done is updating the electrical outlets (top) for the European style. Since this will take little time and make minimal mess I took a few moments to do a bit of staging. We won't be actually using this room before we move so it can be left this way until the house sells.

I staged the room simply using the items we have on hand for our grandchildren. This included a crib, rocking chair, high chair and a few toys. I thought the outcome staged the room nicely to give the idea of a nursery. The rocking chair is rather special as it was the one I used to nurse all of our kids. Hopefully it brings good karma to the room!

Garden Gnome

Monday, March 22, 2010

A Great Carpet Spot Remover

I don't do paid posts and never have so I want to make this very clear, this is my opinion on the following product. I paid for the product myself, I used it and now I'm passing on my experience to you.

My husband and I do not like carpeting. We had intended on removing all of the carpeting in this house but after being caught up in more urgent repairs then deciding to sell our house, well we just didn't get around to it. That meant for showing the house we needed to deal with a few small carpet stains without going to the expense of having all of the carpets cleans. In some cases to sell a house one of the best investments you can make it to have the carpets cleaned before the house is listed but in this case it really wasn't necessary. There were a few very small stains in the great room carpet that likely no one would have noticed but I knew they were there so I asked my husband to pick up a carpet stain remover.

Spot ShotSpot Shot

If you have been following this blog you will know we don't use toxic cleaners in our home. My husband came home with a product called SpotShot, a non-toxic carpet stain and odour eliminator that is safe for children, certified biodegradable, never tested on animals and earning the Environmental Choice seal. So this product really had my attention. I wanted to know if it worked as promised.

Using the product was as easy as spraying the stain then blotting up the stain or rubbing. I have to tell you I was skeptical. I tried it on a stain that almost instantly disappeared before my eyes. I tried it on another thaat did the same thing. The only hint that I had used the product was a bit of darkening from being damp. The next day I vacuumed to find all signs of the stains were gone. I was very impressed. As the product says it does work on older stains as well. However, it did not perform well on a small rust stain. It did lighten the stain but not remove it entirely.

I used the spray on a few spots the size of a quarter and smaller. I don't know how it would perform on larger stains. I found that spraying the stain then blotting worked best and the results improved with vacuuming when the spot was completely dry. The smell of the product is not offensive and it did not trigger my asthma. This will be a product I will use to keep the carpets spot free while trying to sell our house.

Garden Gnome

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Updating Floor Vent Cover

Whenever you are redecorating or making over a room there are little details that need attention to create the final polished look you want. The floor or wall HVAC vent cover often needs to be updated either by painting as we did in the kitchen make-over or simply replace them. There are benefits to doing both. If your vent covers are in good condition then a frugal choice is to paint them. This allows you to custom match the paint choice to the rest of the room as well. Even if your vent covers are in good condition you may want to replace them with wood covers if you installed wood flooring. If your vent covers are in need of replacement you have a few choices: metal, wood and plastic. All can be custom painted to match your decor if desired.

new heat vent coverBefore & After

Pictured is the old vent cover (top). It was metal in a brown painted finish accented with rust spots and paint splatters. It would have been easy to simply clean up this cover then spray paint it. However, this room is directly above the furnace room. The vent cover was not sealing out the heat as much as we would like. There is a damper in the vent going to that room a fair amount of heat gets through even with the damper closed. We decided to replace the vent cover with a plastic vent cover (bottom).

The plastic vent cover is nice, clean looking and rust proof. It also came in at $3.99, $3 less than the standard metal vent covers. I can remember first seeing the plastic vent covers thinking I wouldn't want to use them. However after owning 3 houses with HVAC vents I can honestly say I would choose either wood or plastic vent covers over the metal any day. The wood vent covers of course are based purely on aesthetics designed to match existing or new wood flooring. The plastic vent covers can easily be thoroughly cleaned without having to worry about rusting. The plastic vent covers also have a better control mechanism for air flow.

Garden Gnome

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Installation of Laminate Flooring

When I decided on a flooring for the room that was to be the craft room I chose laminate flooring. I thought this would be a great choice for a craft room providing easy to care for, low care clean up. At the same time using hard flooring fit with our eco-friendly ideal of removing all carpeting from our house. Carpeting is a huge dust and allergen magnet as well as costing continual electricity to keep clean via vacuuming.

installation of laminate flooring in progressIn Progress

A laminate floor is a floating floor with quarter inch space around the perimeter for expansion. While this is a DIY project we had never done it before and because the house is already listed we needed to get this room in showing condition in the least amount of time. The flooring was hired out but I kept a close eye on how it was done.

A thin padding is laid on the subfloor. This serves to help reduce noise while cushioning the floor. The flooring comes in tongue and groove panels that need to be snapped into place. Really it is more like tapping them into place to form a tight fit.

laminate flooring installedInstalled

Once the flooring was installed, the new baseboard was installed. The only thing left to do was the final clean-up. I swept the floor then damp mopped it with a solution of Murphy's Oil soap. I am quite pleased with the overall results. The look is clean, crisp and definitely what I was after. Don't you think it just looks gorgeous?

Next up for finishing this room is the replacement of all the electrical outlets and sealing the trim seams so they don't show. We are now down to the final finishing touches for this room. I'm saddened that this will not be my much coveted craft room. It just has such great creative vibes already! Instead the room will be staged as a bedroom for the sale of our house. However, I am very much encouraged by how this room came out so will be using these lessons learned in our new home.

Garden Gnome

Friday, March 19, 2010

New Light Fixture

Changing out light fixtures is one of the easiest, low cost ways to update the look and feeling of a room. There is such a wide variety of light fixtures available that can fit the needs for any decor. With the advent of the energy efficient compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs there are more of these fixtures that can use these bulbs as well. We chose to install an enclosed ceiling hugging light fixture in the was to be craft room and a matching one in the adjoining hallway.

new light fixtureNew Light Fixture

When CFL first came out they were not to be used in pot lights or enclosed fixtures. That has changed. We bought 2 - 13" swirl flush mount light fixtures that can use 2 - 60W incandescent or equivalent CFL bulbs (1). Changing out the light fixture was as simple as turning off the power then connecting the base of the new fixture (2). Turing the power back on was a success (3) so it was time to put the globe on. Here's where we hit a bit of a problem. The inner threaded pipe to hold the globe on was just a little to short so we had to wait until the next day to buy a longer piece. The following day my husband bought a long enough threaded pipe to cut a longer piece for each light. Once the threaded pipe was in place the globe was put in place and secured (4). I really like the nice clean looking results but especially like the fact that the new fixtures now use CFL bulbs. It is a win/win solution all the way around.

Changing out a light fixture is an easy, low cost DIY project. The two rules are to always work with the electricity off and to always follow the wiring directions. Once the light fixture is in place test it with the intended light bulbs. Do not use bulbs that are above the recommended wattage. Before putting on the globe wash and dry it well so it will add a nice sparkle once installed.

Garden Gnome

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Selectively Texturizing Clip Art

A few days ago I showed a simple way of taking a free black and white clip art image and selectively colourizing it. This is a method to further customize clip art to your digital scrapbooking layout or you can print out the completed graphic then use a Xylon machine to turn the graphic into a custom made sticker.

colourized trash can clip artColourized

Pictured is the selectively coloured clip art I showed how to do. I started with a simple free black and white clip art found online. After downloading the image I opened it in Photoshop®. The image was in .gif format so I clicked select all the copied and pasted into a new image to colourize. This kept the original file as a .gif for later use and created the new colourized ,jpg file. The tools I used to selectively colour the image were the eyedropper to select colours from the colour palette and the magic wand to select the area I wanted to fill with the colour. It was a simple as colouring with pencil crayons except I was using a digital medium. The end result was a customized graphic suitable for on this blog and digital scrapbooking.

texturized trash can clip artTexturized

I admit to often having several images open in Photoshop at any given time. As I looked at the colourized image fully intending to close it I thought I could make this image a bit more interesting by texturizing it. I used the magic wand to highlight the area I wanted to apply a filter from the filter gallery. Essential this method is the same as colourizing except using filters rather than colour. The filter gallery contains several filters to give various effects from simple texturizing as in the pale green and darker green to shading techniques and everything in between. The best way to decide on the look you want is to open filter gallery and play with the various options. I used sketch/water paper for the box in the can, label, small grey tin and red tin, artistic/underpainting for most of the other items, and artistic/rough pastels for the pail and box outside of the pail. It's surprising how a little tweaking with texture can give a more interesting effect. This is a method you can use with any image you want to add a bit more interest to.

Garden Gnome

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Solatube Daylighting Systems With Ed Begley Jr.

During our last Florida vacation we stayed in a house that had 2 solar tubes. I blogged about the solar tubes as being great alternative lighting. Once installed the solar tubes bring free lighting to dark areas like hallways, bathrooms and other rooms. I calculated the cost of installation for each solar tube to be about $370 (DIY) to $500 (installed) so based on energy consumption alone the pay back period would be 37 years if installed. If you factor in the cost of the light bulbs the pay back period would go down to about $450. Clearly at today's electricity costs in our region the pay back period is not enough of an incentive to install solar tubes.

However, Hydro-One in Ontario has indicated most of the SmartMeters across the province will be activated by late June at which time the new Time of Use (TOU) hydro rates will go into effect. Essentially this means from 7 AM to 9 PM on weekdays year round except statutory holidays, we will be paying higher electricity rates. This time period is divided into 2 usages - high and medium depending on the season. As a result of these changes it becomes even more important to not use electricity you don't have to. Strategically placed the solar tube(s) will eliminate the use of electric lighting in certain areas of your home. The key concept to remember here that not using the electricity is better than reducing the electricity usage via energy efficient lighting. The solar tube(s) can be fitted with lighting for night use where they will function as a normal light so can replace an existing light fixture. This will allow us to take advantange of the lower electrical rates in the evening hours if necessary.

The solar tube(s) also improve the indoor comfort of your home. In northern areas such as ours where we see winter and several months of grey days, the solar tube(s) amplify and allow extra light into your home. This makes your home brighter and cheerier even though it is grey outdoors. It helps to ward off the winter blues so common in northern climate winter months and may even help to alliviate SAD (seasonal affective disorder). Here is a video of the solar tubes installed in Ed Begley Jr.'s house. Ed is an environmental activist who uses several eco-friendly methods in his home.

Garden Gnome

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Laminate Flooring

Just a day before the news came that would result in major life changes we tore apart a spare room to turn it into a craft room. The news ultimately meant we would be selling this house in return for two houses. The problem remained that even though we decided to sell the house we still had to finish this room otherwise the house would not show well. The kids finished up the painting for us which left the trim and flooring as well as updating the light fixture. This is one thing to keep in mind that sometimes you have to spend a bit of money in order to sell your house.

laminate flooringLaminate Flooring

The flooring arrived Friday morning but would not be installed until Tuesday as it had to acclimatize to the room. We chose a birch finish laminate flooring taber test IP=11,000 for heavy to moderate commercial use with 25 year warranty against wear, stain and fading.

Pictured are the 6 cartons of the laminate flooring and roll of underlay. We have never installed laminate flooring before so a friend who installs a variety of floors for a living is installing it for us. I will be keeping a close eye as to how this type of flooring is installed. We already have plans to remove all carpeting in the new house with possibly laminate flooring being installed in the 3 bedrooms.

Garden Gnome

Monday, March 15, 2010

Paint Tray Cleaning Tip

Painting involves both prep and clean-up tasks. One of our kids and a friend volunteered to paint the room that was planned to be the craft room. The interesting thing about someone else doing something you normally would is you get to see a few other methods that work just as well as your methods. My designated painter has actually spent a summer painting during their college years so I thought everything was in good hands and honestly the room looked wonderful just with the first coat of paint on the ceiling. Checking the room I discovered a paint tray with drying paint in it. Now normally I would have washed out the pain cleaning the tray with the left-over paint going down the drain. They told me not to do this.

cleaning paint traysBefore & After

The trays were plastic so they said to leave the paint to dry then pull the dried paint off. The premise is the paint is not going down the drain and the dried paint can be tossed into the garbage with less mess and fuss. I was skeptical but they continued to use this method finally leaving me with two trays to clean up.

Pictured are the two trays with the paint in the process of being pulled off of one tray (top). A quick twisting motion loosens the pain making it peel away from the plastic quite easily. It took me about 5 minutes to fully clean the first tray (bottom). I seriously could not believe how easy this method of cleaning the paint trays was! There was no muss, no fuss. The paint just easily peels off the trays.

I don't know if this method would work using an oil based paint but suspect it would. It definitely works with latex based paint. The real trick seems to be the plastic trays. I know you can buy plastic paint tray liners and some people simply line the tray with a plastic bag, but this method eliminates using any liners. I don't think it will work using a metal paint tray. At any rate give it a try the next time you are painting and see what you think.

Garden Gnome

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Selectively Colourizing Clip Art

Free clip art can be a wonderful resource for anyone needing images for online use or scrapbooking. These are images that are free for your non-profit usage. The easiest way to find such images is to do a simple Google search for 'free clip art'. Once you find the image you would like to use, right click on the image and download it. The following instructions are for using Photoshop®.

black and white trash can clip artBlack & White

In some cases the clip art is presented as simply being a black and white image in either gif or jpeg/jpg format. What is important when choosing an image that you would like to colourize is to look for strong outlines. The strong outline is what will help with the later colourization by forming clear boundaries for each colour.

The format will depend on how you proceed with the colourization. If the file is .gif, open the file then click select all to duplicate. Click create new in the same size as the original image. Use the move tool to drag the original selected image to the new image. This creates an unlocked layer you can now work on. Close the original image in case you would like to use the black and white version in the future. You are now ready to colourize your image.

colourized trash can clip artColourized

Think of selective colourization as a digital paint-by-number. You will be using two tools - the eyedropper to choose a colour and the magic wand to choose where you want that colour. Set your pallet to swatch that will show a range of various colours in neat, little squares. Clicking on any of these squares with the eyedropper will change the foreground to that colour. Once you have the colour you want, click magic wand to highlight what area you want to change. You will see the dancing ants indicating the area is selected. Go to edit/fill then click on colour. The last colour you used will show in the new pallet window. Double click your foreground colour where your new colour will appear in the top half of the small colour preview window with the old colour on the bottom. Click ok. You selection will now be filled with the colour of your choice.

Notice that each time you make a selection the strong outlines will contain where you want the selective colourization. Continue on in this manner changing colours using the eyedropper, clicking on fill then colour and double clicking your new foreground colour for the fill until you have selectively coloured your image the way you would like. Once you are happy with the results, click save or save for web depending on the intended use and name your file. You now have a great colourized piece of clip art.

Garden Gnome

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Let's Talk Garbage

Both Earth Hour and Earth Day are quickly approaching, serving as a reminder that everyone needs to adopt an eco-friendly lifestyle. One of the biggest changes we've made towards and eco-friendly lifestyle is how we view garbage. Here's a few things we do:

  • reduce - We are very conscious of excess packaging. If we have a choice between an over packaged product and one with less packaging the less packaged product wins out. We have virtually eliminated foods packaged in cans by about 85% simply by home canning and using fresh in season produce. We've greatly reduced a lot of food packaging by not buying pre-packaged food, choosing to make our own less-expensive, homemade convenience mixes stored in glass mason jars. We buy used when possible which further reduces packaging and we only buy what we need. In short we don't using shopping as a form of entertainment.
  • recycle - Most people equate recycling with mainly packaging and containers. In particular we try to reduce what goes to the recycle bin by not getting the container or packaging in the first place. We see recycling as much more than that. Everything from clothing to household goods to building materials can be recycled. We buy used and anything we no longer need is donated to local charities that help those less fortunate as well as resell the donations to raise funds for their charities. Recently in addition to resale stores three new recycling resources have come to light - Freecycle, Kijji and Craig's List. Freecycle works on the premise that if you have something you don't want someone else will so you offer that item for free to keep it out of the landfill. Craig's List and Kijji are free online sources where you can post an ad to either give away or sell items you don't want.
  • reduced kitchen waste - My theory is that every part of kitchen waste you toss costs money so my first goal is reducing this wastage. Some peels can be left on the fruit or vegetable while those removed can be dried down and powdered to be added to soups and stews. Bones are saved to make stocks then passed onto friends who have a large dog. I'm constantly looking for ways to reducing kitchen food waste.
  • compost - As with most home gardeners we compost. Vegetable scraps that were used for making stock end up in the compost. Certain compostable foods like coffee grounds and egg shells are quite desirable in the garden before they break down for pest control. Compost forms a cycle in which kitchen waste makes free soil ammendment which in turns provides the necessary soil and nutritional ingredients for growing healthy fruits and vegetables. Vermicomposting is on my to do list for the new house which will help with the composting during the winter months.
  • garburator - We had a garburator in our last two houses, none here but will be intalling one at the new house. A garburator is not as eco-friendly as composting since waste put through it ends up at the municiple treatment plant and it uses electricity. However it is a viable option in locations where composting is not possible and compostable material is not picked up at curbside.
  • clothing - We aren't huge clothes shoppers and definitely don't shop the clothing trends. We buy good quality clothing that lasts for years sometimes. Any clothing we no longer make use of is donated. Quite often I will take a piece of clothing we no longer use and turn the material into something else. Some of the things I've made include cushions, draft stops from pyjama or pant legs, shopping bags, doll clothes, rag rugs, patch work and even used swatch of favourite clothing in scrapbooking.
  • small appliances - When it comes to small appliances my theory is less is more. When an appliance needs to be replaced we either donate the working one or put the non-working one beside the garbage to be picked up but with a good space in between when people scouting the neighbourhood the night before garbage pick-up will take it.
  • other household items - We either donate or sell depending on the item. We seldom have much in this area to get rid of which is a good thing.
  • actual garbage - Ideally we aim for as little as possible. I think we do pretty good but still would like to reduce it further. Actual garbage includes food packaging that can't be recycled, clothing well beyond any usefulness, some fats and meat scraps, chicken bones that the dogs can't have, used vacuum sealer bags, butcher's wrap, paint cans/empty caulk tubes, and those typed of things.

Garden Gnome

Friday, March 12, 2010

Green Bags

Earth Hour 2010 is March 27 at 8:30 PM with millions worldwide turning out their lights for one hour in solidarity for this environmental cause. Earth Day 2010 is April 22 with many communities worldwide planning special events for the entire weekend. Both of these events are designed to bring an awareness to environmental concerns in the hopes of individuals adopting a more eco-friendly lifestyle. What is important is each small change we make towards a more eco-friendly lifestyle can make a huge difference not only in our personal lives but also in the health of our environment.

It isn't often that I get to use a video on this blog. In North America we have become accustomed to using plastic shopping bags but these have long been the focus of environmental debate, especially the debate between plastic verses paper grocery bags. In fact The Canadian Green Consumer Guide (1989) even discussed this issue so the debates have been going on for well over 20 years! Adding fuel to the plastic bag issue is some stores have been charging 5¢ per bag for ages. However, recently it became mandatory that all stores in Toronto and the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) charge 5¢ per shopping bag. What is interesting is if you look outside of North America many shoppers use wicker baskets and cloth bags for carrying groceries.

In recent times cloth bags have become a popular eco-friendly statement not only by the grocery store chains that see one more way of getting their store branding in front of people but by those wishing to eliminate the use of plastic shopping bags. Using cloth shopping bags is an easy, low cost and cost effective method of reducing your carbon footprint. Most grocery store chains and even department stores are selling cloth or coated shopping bags usually ranging in price from 99¢ to $1.99. On the low end a bag will pay for itself after 20 uses while keeping 20 plastic bags out of the landfill. So it is a win/win. At the same time when you participate in certain eco-friendly activities such as recycling toners some companies will reward you with a free cloth or coated shopping bag. My husband has empty toners from office equipment picked up and in return receives a free coated bag for each pick-up.

I haven't done an actual count but we have somewhere around 30 of the cloth or coated shopping bags. We use them for any shopping not just groceries. We also use them to cart things back and forth to the boat, carrying my latest knitting project to work on while traveling, carry library books back and forth and so much more. My husband has one given away free as a promotion for the Detroit Redwings that he carries his lunch and any other things needed to the office in the morning then brings home any dirty lunch dishes, drink bottles and that sort of thing back home in the evening. So these bags are very useful and they can easily be washed as well. The down side to using the cloth bags is it takes little time to run out of plastic bags for garbage which simply means re-adjusting how to deal with garbage, something I will discuss in a future post.

Garden Gnome

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Detail Sander

Everyone who has ever painted a room has come across the need to make a few wall repairs prior to painting. One problem with using spackling or wall repair compound is getting it nice and smooth so the repair does not show through the new paint job. Using manual sanding methods can be time consuming and frustrating if you end up creating a few more shallow marks from sanding than anticipated. The work around for this for some fillers was to use a wet sanding method but even that didn't get things to nice a smooth finish that wouldn't show through the new finish. I came across the idea of using a power sander to quickly get a nice smooth repair finish that doesn't show through the new paint.

detail sanderDetail Sander

Pictured is our small hand held Jobmate detail sander. It is called a detail sander because of the shape that will allow you to easily get into corners. This light weight hand held sander makes quick work of smoothing those repair patches. The sand paper attaches via velcro and is available in several grit grades. A vacuum cleaner hose can be attached to minimize the dust and I do recommend using a dust mask when using the power sander. Once the repair patch is smoothed out be sure to vacuum and/or use a tack cloth to remove any dust. You wall is now ready to paint to a nice, smooth finish that doesn't show any repair patches.

Garden Gnome

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Finished Painting The Room

If you recall, we tore apart a spare room to turn into a craft room a day before getting news that would set in motion major life changes. As a result our house is currently up for sale. While this was discouraging as far as creating a craft room our minds are already with the new houses. Unfortunately we could not leave the room in limbo so decided to go ahead and finish it.

painted RoomPainted

I think the room looks wonderful painted! The colours came out as I wanted so no complaints there. We are putting new trim around the windows and will be installing a laminate flooring along with new baseboard. We will also be replacing the electrical outlets just to make things look nicely finished. This will at least show this room nicely. Watch for a bit more on that as I will post our progress.

It is very important especially when trying to sell your home to have each room show the best possible. We could have left the room as is and explained but this way it will show nicely. If listed with a realtor we will likely stage this room to look like the third bedroom it is supposed to be. At best you will re-coup any costs for updating the room and at worst if you don't sell the room still looks great!

Garden Gnome

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

It's Official - We Are Selling

It is official! A couple of weeks ago we got a deal of a lifetime so decided to act on it. Then after talking about the new changes that deal would mean we decided to do a bit of house hunting with a couple of goals in mind. We found a lovely house we really like in a location that will eliminate a lot of driving. After a bit of haggling our offer was accepted so we set about getting the word out that our house was up for sale.

Our intentions are to try selling our house privately to save on realtor fees but within a 2 week time frame for a firm offer. If we don't have a firm offer after that period of time the house will be listed with a realtor. Last week we showed the house twice with one encouraging showing. Friday we placed an ad and yesterday the for sale by owner sign went on the house. Both have been encouraging by generating phone calls and emails.

So we are off on another exciting adventure! It's surprising in that we both are excited about the changes, talking about what we are going to do at the new house. The house is a bit larger than this house but has more personalization potential. It has electric baseboard heat so my husband has already arranged HEE furnace and AC. As soon as things are finalized we will arrange an energy audit as that will allow us to take advantage of a couple of government grants. I'm excited that my kitchen will have more counter space and will be laid out better so am already shopping for dual fuel ranges. Unlike our other houses we plan on going in with renovation guns blazing so this really is going to be one of the more interesting homes we've tackled!

The next few weeks worth of posts will focus on our selling experience including what we did, what worked and what didn't. At the same time other topics will come up as well so please stay tuned.

Garden Gnome

Sunday, March 7, 2010

A Bit of Progress: Was Going to be Craft Room

Oh my gosh so much has happened since my last update here regarding converting a spare bedroom to a craft room. The same day we painted the ceiling in the soon to be craft room my husband got a phone call that has thrown our lives into a huge but exciting turmoil. As a result of that great purchase (more to come once everything is finalized) we decided to sell our current home privately. If that doesn't work within a couple of weeks we will list our house with a realtor. Essentially what we are doing is taking one house and turning it into two. We have found a house we want and have an accepted conditional offer. So we are now in the process of showing our home which means quickly finishing up the room that was going to be my craft room. Don't worry though as our new house will have the craft room so you will be able to watch that progress as well as a lot more!

painted wallPainted

Paint has to be one of my favourite mediums to work with. There is just so much you can do with it without breaking the bank. Since this room was intended to be a craft room I wanted rather neutral colours that would not cast overtones on my craft projects. I also wanted light colours to make the room seem bigger and brighter. I went with a bright white for the ceiling and a light dove grey for the walls. What a difference the paint makes! I couldn't help but get excited as the improperly faux paint finish was covered up. I can't wait to see what the room looks like with a new floor! Unfortunately we won't get to enjoy the room ourselves but we will happy knowing someone else will enjoy it.

Garden Gnome