What does a Garden Gnome do when she is not gardening, in the kitchen or doing genealogy? Well the answer might just surprise you so read the entries to find out more. This blog focuses on everything we do to make our house a home. There will be a strong emphasis on home energy efficiency and do-it-yourself (DIY) projects. At the same time there will also be crafts, knitting and crocheting projects along with any other little tips we do to create that down to earth, I want to be here home. Please enjoy your visit :)

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Few Low Cost and No Cost Christmas Gifts

This time of year gift giving is one everyone's mind.  The reality is gifts do not have to be expensive and you can even make gives next to nothing or for no cost.  All you have to do is use your imagination and a little ingenuity.  Here's a few easy low cost and now cost ideas to get you going:

  • plants - I simply take cutting from houseplants and root them in a recycled pot, add a recycled bow and hand printed tag for an easy gift suitable for any time of the year.
  • terrariums - This is a spin off of the plant idea only using the 1 gallon pickle jars. A lot of restaurants will give these to you free if you ask and they make wonderful terrariums. If you want you can buy a small box of aquarium charcoal to help keep the terrarium fresh but a good bed of free stones under the soil works well too. I like to add a small figurine or a couple of pretty stones or even a couple of shells but even that isn't necessary.
  • family cookbook - If you buy an actual notebook it will cost about 89¢ but if you are handy on the computer you can create a cookbook complete with pictures then burn it to CD or if you don't want to spend anything upload it to a free hosting site then give the recipient a card with the link so they can download the cookbook themselves. This also works for family scrapbooks and similar books.
  • board games - We currently have 4 homemade board games, made from scrap lumber. One is the holy board played with homemade beanbags made from scrap material and stuffed with white beans (you can use rice). One is a crochono board made from a pattern, one is a joker board (something like Parcheese but played with cards), and one is a number board played with dice.
  • mixes in jars - Depending on how well stocked your pantry is a surprising number of mixes can be made for gift giving without you having to out and buy something special. I'm partial to bread, cake and cookie mixes for gift giving but any mix can make a gift. Use a recycled jar or check freecycle for mason jars. Add a nice, hand printed recipe to use the mix tied with a piece of ribbon or twine and a wooden spoon (optional but can get a 4 pk at the dollar store).
  • sticks - For the gardener in your life, stick trellises are all the rage. Collect three nice sized sticks about an inch or so in diameter and about 3 feet long. Add a nice size piece of twine and a hand written card. You can even collect enough to build a trellis ladder something any self respecting gardener would cherish.  Believe it or not sticks can make for gorgeous walking canes or hiking sticks as well.  If using for this purpose go just a little thicker and longer.
  • pine cones - Collect pinecones then spray paint them metallic if you have the spray paint or what I prefer is to soak them in a solution of cinnamon and water then let them dry well for a nice, holiday scent.
  • potporri - Homemade potporri is wonderful and doesn't cost you anything more than your time to collect and prepare. Don't forget to add thin slices of dried citrus as it will add a nice scent and it was something you would be discarding anyway.
  • the go tos - Give the gift of a 'go to'. What this is really is a way to socialize without spending more than the meal prep. One of our kids does a go to with another couple each Saturday night alternating the nights they will provide a low cost frugal meal. The nice thing about this is you get to try foods you might not normally try and the emphasis is on frugal. For example one Saturday night the meal might be homemade pizza while the next Saturday night the other couple brings a homemade soup. The kids play together and the adults get a bit of adult conversation :)
  • paint it - I mentioned I have a lot of crafty type things. Did you know the perfect shaped stone can be turned into a turtle with just a little craft paint? We have a gorgeous and I do me gorgeous flat rock that a local artist painted a beautiful mountain scene on so this type of thing can lead to a small cottage industry income as well. I don't throw out paint so even the last bits of room paint ends up getting used.
  • rainy day kit - Kids love things like goop, homemade playdough, the "I Spy Jar", and that type of thing.  Throw in a few  dollar store finds like paper punches and crayons and you have the perfect kid friendly rainy day kit.
  • hand knitted or crocheted items - I always have a large stash of yarn to use up but if you don't check your local Freecycle.  There are a number of free patterns available online as well so you don't have to pay for a pattern to make something.
  • the movie night packet - One of the best gifts we came up with was a movie night packet.  It included a bottle of pop, a bag of popcorn, and the current VHS movie of the day. 
Garden Gnome

Monday, November 29, 2010

Little Touch-ups When Selling a House

It is surprising how far a few little extras can go to make a house show a bit better when selling a house.  Aside from being squeaky clean and sparkly a few things can be added to give a little bit of pizzaz without breaking the bank. 

  • Place a vase or two of fresh flowers in one or more rooms.  When placed in front of a mirror they will give double the pleasure.
  • Buy a nice set of display towels for the bathrooms(s).  They need not be expensive just on the fancier looking side and co-ordinated to give the bathroom(s) that little extra.
  • Place inexpensive but fancy soap in the bathroom(s) soap dishes.
  • Add a touch of greenery inside and out (weather permitting).  Place a nice potted plant on coffee table and a seasonal plant outside of the front entrance if possible.  
  • Place a loaf of fresh baked bread on the counter or a plate of cookies on the kitchen island or breakfast bar to create a cosy atmosphere in the kitchen.  An alternative to bread or cookies is a nice fruit basket.
  • Add a couple of new throw pillows to the sofa.
  • If you have a wood fireplace or wood burning stove, add a small stack of wood beside and be sure to have either on if at all possible.  If you have a gas fireplace be sure to have it turned on if at all possible.

Garden Gnome

Friday, November 26, 2010

A Bit of an Update on the No-Poo Shampoo Experiment

I recently posted about trying the no-poo shampoo as an experiment.  So far my husband has resisted trying this method mainly because he does not like the smell of apple cider vinegar.  On the other hand I am experiencing rather good results with the no-poo shampoo method.  I have two food grade plastic squirt bottles meant for salad dressings.  I used one for a 1:1 baking soda solution for washing my hair and another for undiluted apple cider vinegar.

Preliminary results:

One of my primary concerns was my scalp and hair would not look or feel clean.  I squirted on the baking soda solution then massaged into my scalp and gently worked through the full length of my hair.  I rinsed with clear water and my hair felt squeaky clean.  Then I squited a generous amount of apple cider vinegar over my scalp and worked it into my hair.  Let me tell you apple cider vinegar getting into your eyes is not pleasant.  That was the only negative other than the towel smelling like apple cider vinegar. 

I towel dried my hair then used the blow dryer and styled as normal without a problem.  My hair was shiny and soft.  I refrained from using my normal anti-frizz serum just to see what would happen.  I was pleasantly surprised.  Instead of problems with frizzing I experienced considerably less frizzing but an increase in fly away hair.  I honestly was surprised at how good my hair look and felt.  I will report back at the end of the experiment.

Garden Gnome

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Freezer Basket

Yeas ago we were gifted with an ancient 20 cubic foot chest freezer.  Being young with a growing family we were very much appreciative of such a generous gift.  We've had chest freezers ever since and for the past several years have had two chest freezers plus the freezer component of the refrigerator.  A freezer basket comes in handy with the larger chest freezers but not so much with the smaller ones.  We currently have a 7 cubic foot and 5 cubic foot freezer.  The premise was one was slated for our bulk meat purchases while the other would be for in season produce I freeze and other miscellaneous freezer foods as needed.    The goal when we moved here was to use the freezers as the salesman that sold us the 7 cubic foot freezer said was now the growing trend.  He said people are buying two smaller freezers, then as one empties it is unplugged and cleaned out ready for the next large influx of freezer food.  Ideally that is our goal but so far have not got to the point of being able to unplug one of the freezers yet but we are still working on it so perhaps in the up coming year.

freezer basket
Smaller freezer items tend to get put in the refrigerator freeze compartment so I have little need for freezer baskets especially in the smallest chest freezer.  I removed the baskets from the smallest chest freezer.   I've picked up couple more freezer baskets along the way so decided to put them to good use.  I attached one freezer basket to one of the walls in the pantry where it holds snack items like potato chips.  Another one is used for root vegetables and squash to keep them contained and off the floor.  Yet another serves as temporary overflow for mason and other jars.  I use a smaller one (pictured) to cart frozen foods from the chest freezers to the refrigerator freezer compartment.  I even use one in the garden not only for carrying things but inverted to hold things like cleaned hand gardening tools and solar lights to be brought in for the winter.  Freezer baskets aren't just for freezer use! 

Garden Gnome

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Electricity Conservation

Originally the TOU electricity pricing came into effect in Ontario to promote energy conservation.  The concept was rather simple.  Shifting certain electricity usage to off-peak hours it would lessen the strain on the aging electrical grid in Ontario as well as to help phase in green sources of energy.  In light of this I thought I would share a few electricity conservation tips:

  • lighting - In Ontario lighting comprises 4% of the electricity used portion of the bill which 43% of the total bill or $1.72 but in reality with service charges lighting costs $4 per month.  In the big picture aside of switching to CFL and/or solar there really is very little that can be done with respect to lighting to save money.  The mantra as always is off is better than on but quite frankly there will be little noticeable difference if you forget to turn off a CFL.  Now every little bit helps so get into the habit of turning off lights.  An alternative is to install solar tubes wherever possible in your home.  Candle light is nice at night but it does cost about 3X as much as electricity so while it is nice for atmosphere it is not a practical substitution.  
  • washer - Switching running the washer using cold water from on-peak to off-peak hours with save 5¢ per load.  At one or two loads per week there isn't much incentive but at 5 loads that's 25¢ or $13 per year.
  • dryer - If you have a gas dryer the electricity used is miniscule likely less than a penny per load if that.  If you have an electric dryer the best bet is to use air drying of some sort either by hanging the clothes indoor or outdoors to dry eliminating the electric dryer use entirely.  There are a number of outdoor and indoor drying devices, even fold up ones that take up little space when not in use. 
  • in the kitchen - Some small electric kitchen appliances earn their keep while others are a waste of electricity.  Barring motility issues an electric can opener is a waste of electricity.  When it comes to cooking choose the least expensive piece of equipment or electrical appliance to get the same results.  Based on our previous prices that have gone up but comparisons remain the same, a table top roaster costs 18¢/kWh while an the oven costs 31¢, the slow cooker 4¢ and the large burner 25¢ per kWH.  On the surface the slow cooker looks to be the best deal but consider a slow cooker running for 8 hours costs 32¢ (almost doubled with new rates running between 7 AM and 9 PM weekdeays) while the same meal can be cooked in a pressure cooker in 40 minutes or about 18.75¢.  A table top roaster will give the same great results as an oven while using almost half the electricity.   A stand mixer is cheaper to run than a breadmachine and more versatile.  Manual options exist for a lot of small kitchen appliances so these are always an option.
  • large kitchen appliances - Refrigerators need to be kept clean and decluttered to allow good air flow.  Use a refrigerator thermometer to ensure the cabinet temperature is set to the safe zone.  Freezers waste a lot of energy unless kept about three quarters full.  It's better to have 2 small chest freezers rather than one large one.  Use the second to take any seasonal overflow then allow it to dwindle down and leave unplugged until the next influx of freezer food.  The oven should be maximized for energy efficiency when using.  Cook the entire meal or multiple dishes it it at one time.  Unless baking, pre-heating is a waste of electricity.  When cooking on the stovetop match the size pan to the burner to prevent heat wastage.  Use a lid.  Choose steaming over boiling for vegetables.  The dishwasher should only be run wihen completely filled and during off-peak hours if at all possible. 
  • the furnace - If you have a furnace that runs on natural gas it still takes a significant draw on electricity to run the fan.  If you have a natural gas fireplace it is cheaper to run it for radiant heat than the furnace in the cool but not cold months.  Solar heating is good for supplemental heat as well.  Radiant wood heat is also another good supplemental source of heat providing you can get wood for less than the cost of electricity.  
  • hot boxes - Hot boxes include cable and satellite receivers, game consoles, and those types of electrical items.  They produce heat when they are running costing much more in electricity than you would think.  Even when they are off these boxes are using electricity.  These should be put on a power bar to be turned off when not in use. 
  • phantom drains - A lot of little things add up to electrical enery wastage.  These include night lights, appliances with displays, alarm clocks, phone set adapters, programmable thermostats, battery charges, some small appliances and those types of things use a trickle of electricity on a constant basis.  Unplug and eliminate what you can.  Replace nightlights with flashlights and electric alarm clocks with wind-up models.  Unplug appliances especially those with lit displays when not in use. 

Garden Gnome

Friday, November 19, 2010

Rural Versus Urban Living

Until we moved here a few years ago we had always lived in smaller communities with the exception of a brief 18 month stint in Edmonton when a couple of the kids were toddlers.  The smallest community we lived in was a village of about 400.  Clearly we enjoy living in small communities.  Even though we currently live in a rural area it is a community of about 20 families on a dead end road.  There are a considerable number of benefits living in smaller communities or rural areas that more than off-set the drawbacks.  Here's a few benefits we have discovered:

  • a real sense of community - Folks tend to know their neighbours in small communities and rural areas fostering the true meaning of community.  Neighbours become someone you can depend on in good and bad times.  They are the best security system you could ever have!
  • fewer restrictions - Smaller communities and rural areas tend to have a lot less bylaws and restrictions than urban centres.  That means you have a lot more freedom to live the way you want with respect to gardening, raising small livestock (eg. rabbits, chickens, goats) and the chances of you getting a complaint in a rural area of turning your front yard into an edible garden is nil.  Leaf and garbage burning is the norm in smaller communities and rural areas.  
  • peace and quiet - Smaller and rural living means peace and quiet.  Unless crops are coming off there is very little noise.  Home becomes a true haven, a place to relax and get away from the hustle and bustle of hectic city living.  The night skies come alive at night freed from the blaring lights of an urban setting.  Wildlife scurries about bringing further enjoyment.
  • saves money - Rural living comes with an additional cost of commuting but by far it saves more money than you can imagine.  It quickly curbs the take-out and fast food habit.  It forces a bit of stockpiling so you don't have to drive anywhere in case you run out.  A larger gardens space
  • fosters self sufficiency - Rural living fosters self sufficiency through learning how to fend for yourself.  You quickly develop DIY skills because minor repairs are costly to get someone to come to a rural location and if they will come there's usually a waiting time.
Garden Gnome

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Ontario Clean Energy Benefit

The Ontario government announced the Ontario Clean Energy Benefit, a 10% electricity rebate applicable to the entire electric bill, as part of their fall economic update today.  The rebate will go into effect January 1, 2011 but some will not see the rebate until May of 2011.  The rebate is retro-active to January though.  In perspective as a result of TOU pricing and the HST our hydro rates have gone up 17%.   So even with the rebate the end result will be a 7% increase on the hydro bill.  Initial predictions were by the end of 2011 hydro prices would be increased by 32%.  Finance Minister Dwight Duncan announced today that hydro rates will continue to rise with a projected increase of 46% by 2015.  The reality is as hydro prices continue to rise the rebate of 10% means virtually nothing!

As a result of today's announcements, I have stepped up our plans to get off the grid (going completely solar, not connected to grid at all).  We had a 5 year plan but now I'm rethinking that.  We will be using both passive and active solar.  I am seriously tired of being held hostage by the Ontario government and Hydro One.  The only consideration is the house being on the market.  If we sell, a solar system will be installed upon moving in at a DIY cost of $5,000 to $7,000.  If we don't sell then we will install a DIY solar system here.  We have no intentions of installing a solar system that would feed back into the hydro system (grid-tied) either.  Rather it will be a completely have no use for the grid including feeding into it.  At $5,000 the pay back period with average current hydro bill of $125 would be 3.4 years so even if we went as high as $10,000 with a pay back of about 7 years we would still be well ahead and no longer dependent on the grid.  After that the system is basically making money for us.  However, with the projected rate increases the system will realize a shorter payback period 6 years at the $10,000 price tag.

A bit of research found a few in southern Ontario that are fully solar.  One house in particular is very impressive.  This house is considerably larger than our current house or any we are likely to buy.  I find this very encouraging because if others are doing it, we can too!

Garden Gnome

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The No-Poo Shampoo Experiment

I've made homemade soaps and toiletries for a number of years mainly as a way of getting healthier alternatives to the harsh, chemically laden commercial alternatives.  We found that switching from detergent based body cleansers to homemade, all natural vegetable based soap that our skin improved considerably.  As a result I am always on the look-out for natural and healthier substitutes for toiletries.  Well during my surfing a couple of weeks ago I came across the notion of no-poo shampoo.  The premise is by moving away from using shampoo entirely your hair is healthier, stronger and better behaved.  Then over the past couple of weeks I saw more bloggers blogging about this method.  It is getting rave reviews! 

The method is very, very simple.  Wash your hair with a 1:1 mixture of baking soda and water.  Rinse then rinse with apple cider vinegar.  That's it.  Unlike commercial shampoos that contain alcohols and salt, the natural cleansers do not strip your hair of it's natural oils.  There's no artificial scents or colourants either.

My hair is waist length prone to frizzing in high humidity, misbehaving just because but then other days behaves beautifully and my scalp is extremely sensitive.  I would never dream of washing my hair daily or my scalp would be a mess and my hair would be like a broomstick.  My favourite hair products are Pantene and Fructis but occasionally I use Aussi.  I have decided to give the no-poo shampoo method a try for a month.  It makes a lot of sense to me because baking soda is an excellent cleanser so getting my scalp and hair clean is not an issue.  Introducing cider vinegar that has anti-bacterial and detangling properties concerns be a little.  Of bigger concern is getting my husband on board with this experiment.  He is not fond of the smell of apple cider vinegar so this should be an interesting experiment all the way around.  Stay tuned.  I will report back on how well the non-poo shampoo method worked for us.

Garden Gnome

Friday, November 12, 2010

A Bit Disappointed (House Sale Update)

On the selling front things are going nicely.  We have a potential buyer who wants to go through for a second time tomorrow night.  Now that is, given the house sale track record this year, very good news.  The disappointment came from finding out there is an offer in on the house we want that is only pending a house inspection.  The real estate agent figures that offer will stand so we will be back to looking for another piece of property.  We can't really put an offer in on another house without and offer in on ours.  The one we looked at with rumoured water problems is still up for sale and since we liked that house that is always an option but we would insist on a home inspection.  There is another one we are somewhat interested in as well so that is another option.  Now we play the waiting game for an offer on our house before we actively look for a house to move to.  We are a bit disappointed but these things happen when dealing with real estate offers.

Garden Gnome

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Oil Lamps

As the air turns cooler necessitating the need for the gas fireplace and/or furnace my candles and oil lamps are drawn into action.  I love my oil lamps!  Two oil lamps in my collection see regular use.  I've had them for years and they still bring a smile when I get them out to use during the fall months.  Don't get me wrong as I use them throughout the winter as well but the fall months when things are cooling off is when they see the most use.  I also love my homemade candles.  Now somewhere along my travels in the blogosphere I came across the suggestion to use candles to warm chilly windows and to use as a bit of supplemental heat.

flower based oil lamp
Using candles as a bit of supplementary heat does work but if you factor in the cost, it's cheaper to use electricity for the actual lighting.  Nine 11 W CFL bulbs will cost us 9¢ to run for 4 hours in comparison to 9 tea light candles that cost 35¢.  However the tea light candles are actually adding a bit of heat to the room, increasing the comfort level.  In comparison to tea light candles an oil lamps puts out a lot more light and heat.  Surprisingly the cost of lamp fuel per day is not a cost I have ever figured out so I should do that.  I run my lamps almost daily in the fall for 2 to 3 hours at a time.  The last time I bought lamp oil it was $4.99 and that's lasted me over 2 years so it is well under the price of candles per use.

One of my oil lamps has a lovely butter coloured base with a pretty spread of blue and pink flowers (pictured).  The lamp itself about 15 years old and it does have a replacement chimney.  I keep replacement parts for my lamps on hand including replacement wick.  Oil lamps are significantly more efficient at producing light.  It is a whiter light than the light from beeswax candles.  The light can be easily controlled.
crystal based oil lamp
My second oil lamp is about the same age.  It has a crystal bottom with the original chimney.  I think it is rather pretty.  Oil lamps are a inexpensive, practical way to add a bit of ambience and warmth to a room.  However, they do involve an open flame so should not be used without adult supervision when children or pets are in the room. 

Oil lamps require a bit of maintenance.  It is important to trim the wick so it burns properly without smoking.  I prefer a straight cut across the wick for a nice even flame but you can trim into a slightly rounded shape if desired.  The wick holder should not ever need replacing providing it is looked after properly but if using oil lamps as an emergency back-up lighting you should have a replacement holder just in case.  It is also prudent to keep at least one replacement chimney on hand since that is the part most likely to break and you can't use the lamp without it.   Just as in the olden days the lamp chimneys need to be cleaned.  I recommend cleaning daily but you can go two or three days without cleaning them.  I clean mine each morning so they are sparkly clean for that evening.  Whether or not they save a little on the lighting and heating they are a true treasure to enjoy!

Garden Gnome

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Bit of Touch-up Painting

Our new real estate agent pointed out a couple of areas where a bit of touch-up paint would go a log ways.  The main area was the stairs leading to the sunporch.  We boughht $60 worth of supplies including two colours of paint and set to work knowing the weather was against us.  As we worked on the staircase I looked around for other small projects to do a bit of touch-up paint on just to spiffy them up a bit for showing the house. 

What ends up happening when living in a house for any length of time is you tend to overlook some of those little things that need doing.  The underneath of the railing might need a bit of touch-up paint or the railing itself might be showing a few dull or rusting spots but because the railing is so familiar you don't really notice it.  These are the little things that potential buyers will notice when walking through your home and surprising a little thing can be a deal breaker.  We had one potential buyer not put in an offer the first time around because the staircase needed paint.  The reality is with materials it cost us under $30 since we used less than half the paint and it took us 2 days or about 4 hours of time maximum and yet because that staircase wasn't painted we did not get an offer from them.  Yes it sounds petty but that is the market at the moment.  Buyers are making demands and in some cases almost unreasonable demands because it is a buyers' market and they know it. 

As a seller that means you have to anticipate and ward off these demands by doing a bit of touch-up painting.  Take a walk through your house looking at the way a buyer would see it.  If that isn't working get a friend or family member to do a walk through.  A fresh set of eyes can make a huge difference because they will see those little things you don't.

Garden Gnome

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A Few Tips For Saving on Electricity

I have been focusing on our use of electricity over the last few posts.  The reason for this is many in Ontario are having a hard time adjusting to the new TOU pricing combined with the additional HST of 8% that has brought hydro bills to a total of 17% higher.  The TOU pricing per kWh is 5.3¢ off-peak, 8¢ mid-peak and 9.9¢ on peak.  The reality is the cost per kWh is only 43% of the total hydro bill so the actual cost per kWh is more than double the stated cost.  In short during on-peak hours the actual cost per kWh including all the service charges is 23¢.  Hydro One Networks gives a few pithy tips for conserving electricity like running the dishwasher and washer during off-peak hours.  If you run the dishwasher during off-peak hours you will save 17¢ and if you run the washer during off-peak hours you will save 5¢.  Quite frankly this is not much of an incentive to alter your daily routine and it certainly will not make much of a difference in the additional 8% due to the HST.  There are however a few more ways I've discovered to help save a little electricity.  None by themselves will are enough to cover the $8 in HST on an average $100 hydro bill but every little bit does help.

  • dishwasher - While the savings is only 17¢ per load by switching to running the dishwasher during off-peak pricing the average family with 5 loads per week will save 85¢ per week or $3.40 per month which is a good chuck of savings towards what the HST costs.
  • washer - Switching to off-peak hours saves 5¢ per load.  An average family at 5 loads per week saves 25¢ or $1 per month.
  • furnace -  I have been taking advantage of the milder weather by using the gas fireplace during the day which stops the furnace from coming on.  Currently natural gas is considerably less expensive than electricity so I'm saving there as well as not paying for the furnace fan to run.  Ideally, our plans are to switch the furnace fan to solar which will eliminate any electricity being used by the furnace.
  • off is better than on - I have gone through the house unplugging anything that doesn't need to be plugged in.  The premise is off is better than on and unplugged is even better because there can be no phantom electricity use.
  • timed, auto-shut off and programmable appliances -  Years ago I went to an auto-shut off iron and curling iron.  The nice thing about auto-shut off is these appliances shut off automatically removing the threat of overheating.  I also experimented with home automation and while the system itself does use trickle electricity the money it saves outweighs the cost.  This house due to design does not warrant using home automation so I have all my modules safely tucked away for the next house.  Timers and programmable appliances are a must with the new TOU pricing especially small kitchen appliances.  My largest slow cooker has been slowly dying so I replaced it with a programmable, auto-off model bought on sale of course.  I now know this appliance will not be on any longer than absolutely necessary and it will turn off by itself if I happen to forget.
  • being conscious - I'm paying attention to the TOU pricing that is currently in the winter cycle meaning the on-peak hours (highest cost) are from 7 AM to 11 AM and 5 PM to 9 PM during the week.  The morning hours are easy to reduce electricity usage since we seldom have a hot breakfast during the week and the most we have on extra is the percolator, a few CFL lights due to the layout of our house and my iMac (energy efficient).  The evening hours are a bit more difficult to adjust what with cooking dinner and the television on but I'm making a few cutbacks there as well.  The busiest of the canning season has passed as well so I have been able to switch canning sessions to off-peak hours usually on the weekends.  I should be able to get through most of the winter using this strategy but in fairness I save so much by canning that if I had to run the canners during on-peak hours I would without thinking twice.  The same can be said for meals cooked at home.  The only thing I've cut down a bit on is dehydrating via electrical means.
Garden Gnome

Monday, November 8, 2010

Let's Talk About the Logistics of Saving Electricity

Energy conservation is on everyone's minds with the rising costs of electricity.  In Ontario we have the new TOU pricing combined with an addition 8% tax due to the HST.  Despite energy conservation and paring down electricity usage as well as switching higher energy using appliances to off-peak hours, many Ontarians are seeing an increase on their electric bills.  The bottom line is no amount of energy conservation can compensate for the increased rates and new tax.  The media is even referring to this period as Ontario's dark days or dark ages as more simply refuse to use any more electricity than needed at home.

Many take electricity for granted but it's only been around since the late 18th century and it was slow to spread from urban to rural communities.  There are still many areas in Canada where electricity is not easily available and if it is quite costly to set up.  So while many in densely populated areas are used to flicking that switch those of us who have had experienced with more remote areas know that hydro from the grid cannot be take for granted.

In the 18th century and early 19th century electricity was still a novelty.  Sure there were the gas lanterns, coal oil lights and candles but even then folks knew enough to conserve their light source.  They went to bed earlier and got up at the crack of dawn basically working with the natural daylight hours.  Every room in the house wasn't lit and they weren't constantly bombarded with televisions, electronics and other electricity sucking devices. 

From a logistical point, going without hydro is quite doable.  All across North America folks are taking the initiative to move off the grid and become self sufficient.  The Amish and Mennonites in Ontario manage to live quite nicely without using electricity at all.  Many Ontarians have unplugged their televisions and media out of personal choice.    We camped with full amenities in a self-contained unit that included a refrigerator with freezer (run on propane), shower, running water, heat, cooking facilities and lighting for a number of years.  We could get 11 days of comfortable living while practicing energy conservation off our batteries but that increased when we added solar back-up.  Solar has been used for years in cottage country so going totally solar for normal home use is also feasible.  My husband's aunt and uncle were 100% solar so they were off the grid entirely yet they had all the amenities including internet, television and all major appliances.  Solar allows us to move forward in the 20th century without remaining slaves to Hydro One or other electricity providers.  What is quite interesting though with moving to solar there are Wi-Fi hotspots and wireless connections so you can still have internet and even television via internet as well.   It's not as if we have to regress to the 18th century to be able to do what we need and want to do in the 20th century.

The alternative is moving back into the dark ages, going to bed when it is dark and getting up at dawn.  If we continue to follow Dalton McGuinty's government and Hydro One we will be moving back to the dark ages.  It is time to take action and move towards solar as well as any alternative methods of heating and cooling.   It is time to send a strong message to the Ontario government and Hydro One to say enough is enough, we can get what we want without you!

Garden Gnome

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Value of Electricity

Our Smartmeter was activated on September 9 meaning that we are now on TOU pricing for electricity.  Across Ontario there are outcries that the Smatmeters are actually costing people money.  It is a definite that the TOU pricing combined with the new HST have raised the cost of electricity in Ontario.  The HST alone has raised the price of electricity by 8% bringing the total tax on hydro bills to 13%.  The NDP have a petition to remove the HST immediately from the hydro bills but so far the HST is still in effect.  We get flyers in with our hydro bill to keep us informed.

First off Hydro One shows a pie chart of where our electricity dollars go.  Only 43% of our electricity dollars are used for actual hydro.  The rest is all in services charges including taxes.  The pie chart is wrong in that is says the HST is 12% when in fact it is 13%1.  In an attempt to make us feel good about the rising costs of electricity that are predicted to be an increase of 32% by the end of 2011, Hydro One gives us a couple of lame tips for saving electricity like not preheating the oven, waiting until the dishwasher is full and doing laundry during off-peak pricing.  Well that's all and good but the price saved by doing any of these would not even add up enough to offset the HST!  These types are at best a feeble attempt on the part of Hydro One to con you into thinking you are actually able to do anything to help with the costs of electricity.

Furthermore Hydro One tries to convince us that electricity is  a goof value compared to other activities.  I think most of us know this but they use rather dramatic comparisons to prove their point like:

  • dinner cooked at home for 4 costs about 80¢  but eating out could cost $60 - Somewhere along the lines they forgot to add in the cost of food for 4.  Quite frankly if they can cook dinner for 4 for 80¢ I'd love them to give me a few tips!
  • the cost of keeping a family of four connected to the internet, cable and 3 cell phones could cost around $180 per month - True it could cost that much but they did not factor in the cost of the electricity for these services nor did they acknowledge that electricity is needed for these services.  Some families are trying to make a living online simply to cut their out of house employment costs. 
  • the average Ontarian household uses 286 litres of gas per month (about $300.25) or $123.75 more on gas than electricity - Well duh!  The average Ontarian uses a vehicle to get back and forth to work.  If they don't go to work they really won't have much need for electricity. It is important to point out that gasoline is more expensive than hydro to begin with so this is comparing apples to oranges.  Besides a good portion of Ontarians live where there is no public transportation.  What would you have them do, go back to horse and buggy?  Then there would be all the costs associated with keeping a horse and buggy.
  • the average cost of a family of four going to the movies is about $50 while the cost for movie night at home is 40¢ - Again they did not factor in the true costs of a movie night at home that would include movie rental and snacks.
I'm sorry Hydro One but you are getting a failing grade.  The people of Ontario are not stupid and they won't be duped into falling into your dumbing it down tactics!  It wouldn't take a fifth grader two minutes to see you are glossing costs over to make it look like electricity is cheap.  It is far from cheap.  Take one good look at what you suggested.  The average family in Ontario can't afford to eat out.  Food security is a very real problem in Ontario where many cannot afford food much less the electricity to cook it.  Some type of television service is likely the only source of indoor entertainment for many.   Those who cannot afford to pay for a television service may if they are very lucky pick up one or two stations from antennas that are quickly going the way of the dinasaur.  They can't afford to rent a movie let alone pay to go to a movie.

We bought into energy conservation.  We have high energy efficient, EcoStar rated new appliances.  We use CFL light bulbs almost exclusively.  We run the dishwasher and washer before going to bed or on the weekend and then only when full.  We have unplugged every electrical appliance we can think of.  We cook on the outdoor natural gas grill when possible to avoid using electricity.  We use the most efficient, lowest energy user when cooking indoors.  We seldom watch television during the day.  Guess what?  OUR HYDRO BILLS HAVE INCREASED!  So for Hydro One to put out these environmentally unfriendly inserts in our bill telling us how to reduce our hydro consumption is totally assine!  For every household that finds a way to reduce their hydro consumption, the Government of Ontario and Hydro One will find one more excuse to raise the cost of electricity in this province.

Garden Gnome

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Daylight Savings Time Ends

It's that time of year!  Don't forget to turn your clocks back an hour before going to bed.  This is also a good time to change the batteries in your smoke alarms as well.

Garden Gnome

Friday, November 5, 2010

Rain Checks

When it comes to shopping my general consensus is I would prefer not to, at least in the conventional manner.  You definitely would not catch me shopping for something to do or even weekly grocery shopping.  I tend to shop if and when I have to, usually if I need or want a particular item.  Then it tends to be the sales. 

We get the local sales flyers each week.  I sort them into two piles - interested and toss.  Those flyers going into the interested are grocery stores, Home Hardware, Canadian Tire and sometimes the lumberstore.  I compare prices in the grocery store flyers and if there is a few item to make it worthwhile to drive 20 minutes each way, I set that particular flyer aside.  Other than that most weeks the grocery flyers are tossed into the recycle bin.  Home Hardware and Canadian Tire are two of my favourite places for any necessary household appliances which are few and far between, home canning supplies and other necessary household items.  Most weeks those flyers end up in the recycle bin as well.  This week I had my eye on a Hamilton Beach programmable slow cooker at Canadian Tire to replace my slowly dying, ancient Rival with the spliced cord where it got burned.  With the new TOU and HST on the hydro bill I need to replace my old energy sucking Rival slow cooker with a new, a bit more energy efficient model.  This particular slow cooker performed nearly as well as the top slow cooker when tested by Cook's Illustrated.

This morning I called one of our kids to pick up the slow cooker for me as I had too many things to do to go into town today.  The main problem with shopping in smaller communities is there is less demand so the stores don't bring in as many sale items.  What they do instead is issue a rain check if the item is not available during the sale and while you have to wait for the item to come in with the next shipment, you still get it at the sale price.  Depending on the store this may take a week or two but most times they are fairly good.  A rain check resembles a hand written fill in the blanks coupon with a teller's stamp and expiration date.  Most rain checks are good anywhere from a week to a month depending on the store and expected time of arrival of the item.  Many people don't think to ask for a rain check but the beauty is you still get the item you want at the sale price simply by waiting a little longer.  Even the grocery stores in our area issue rain checks unless specified in the flyer.  Rain checks are in my opinion an excellent way to shop frugally!

Garden Gnome

Thursday, November 4, 2010

In Progress - Painting the Stairs

paint the stairs
Painting in Progress
November 1, 2010

Our listing agent recommended painting the staircase to the sunporch.  This echoed our previous  listing agent's advice but with ending the listing and going on vacation we didn't get around to it.  When it was mentioned again, I put out an SOS to one of our kids who picked up the paint on Monday and prepped the staircase.  I started paint the same day.  We are now working against the weather but think it can still be finished by Thursday.  Pictured is the first coat of white paint going on the staircase.  I must say it does make a difference!  In all honesty this project should have been done quite some time ago but we got wrapped up in other projects that needed being done sooner.

Garden Gnome

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Real Estate Dog & Pony Show

When we listed the house in the spring the listing agent did not do a dog & pony show.  A real estate dog & pony show is where the listing agent invites other agents from their real estate firm as well as any interested MLS agents to view the home.  A time frame is set up so the agents can show up during that time at their convenience.  This is an excellent networking strategy when selling a home. The more agents looking at the possibility of selling your home the better!   If another agent sells the home part of the commission is paid to the other agent so both agents make a commission and the home owner is happy because the house is sold. 

Our listing agent set up two time slots for the dog & pony show.  The first slot was Monday morning for just agents from their real estate firm.  The second was this morning for any agents from their firm that couldn't make it Monday as well as any interested MLS agents.  Seven agents went through on Monday and three this morning so that is 10 more agents working behind the scenes, doing a bit of networking to get our house sold.  I'm quite pleased with this. 

The house is pretty much in show condition all the time because we lifted the 24 hour notice before a viewing which means the house needs to be ready for viewing as soon as our agent calls.  In many ways this is a lot easier than rushing around to get the house tidy and sparkling for a showing.  I'm doing a daily spit & shine, running any necessary laundry and dishwasher in the late evening, and daily decluttering.  Anything we can't use or don't need is out the door.  I also took our listing agent's advice and am in the process of painting the stairs leading to the sunporch.  I must say even though they aren't finished yet they are looking a lot better.  It was an excellent suggestion!

Garden Gnome

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Scherenschnitte (German Paper Cutting)

scherenschnitte paper cutting
Mother and Child

I do a lot of arts and crafts in a wide range of materials.  A few years ago I was looking for that extra special something to use for a scrapbook I was working on.  I came across scherenschnitte which translates from German into English as cutting with scissors.  What I found so appealing was the intricacy of the designs.  In many ways they are a type of silhouette that may or may not be cut from the traditional black paper used in silhouettes.  Some as the design (pictured) I chose were symmetrical for the border but asemmetrical for the inner portion while others were entirely symmetrical.  By default the paper snowflakes everyone learns to make in elementary school is a form of scherenschnitte.  The snowflake is symmetrical and cut with scissors. 

The design I chose was one of mother and child.  It was on the intricate side of designs.  I used a variety of materials to create the end result.


1 sheet ivory card stock
1 sheet navy blue card stock
Fiskar's rotary cutter
Fiskar's narrow point craft scissors
manicure scissors
craft knife
craft cutting board
two sided scrapbooking tack tape

Free scherenschnitte and silhouette patterns can be found online and many more are available for purchase.  If looking for a free pattern use the term free silhouette clip art along with a specific term like mother and child to narrow down what you are looking for.  I found a pattern I liked and downloaded it.  I resized the pattern to leave a ¾- inch border when placed on an 8½ - inch by 11 - inch sheet of cardstock.  I then rotated the image 180ยบ CW so the pattern was reversed.  I set the printer to draft mode so it would print in a very pale grey and printed the image on the ivory card stock.  I was then ready to do my paper cutting.

The printed side with the pattern is the back side of the work.  For the entire cutting process the piece is worked from the back.  Once you start cutting it is extremely important to go slow and use considerable patience as a misplaced cut will ruin the design.  This would especially annoying if the piece was almost finished.  Be warned that this is not a project that can be finished in one day either.  The grey portion printed on the back side is the portion you want to keep.  The unprinted portions are what you will be cutting away.  The first step is to cut away any border portion before the design starts using a rotary cutter or straight edge and craft knife.  The piece will be too delicate to cut this portion away after the design has been cut.  For best results when cutting use the craft knife to cut cleanly from an inner corner of a shape to the outer portion.  It the piece being cut away is large start with the craft knife for clean inner cuts and use the narrow point craft scissors to cut away the larger portion.  This works nice for large background pieces (eg. the background space around mother and child in my pattern).  Work slowly to prevent any miswanted cuts.  Once all of the non-printed sections have been cut away, the remaining grey on the back is the reverse of the right side.  Flip the piece over and mount as desired on another piece of cardstock.  Use two sided scrapbooking tack tape to secure the piece to the cardstock.  Place the finished piece in a picture frame or in a page protector if using for scrapbooking.

Garden Gnome

Monday, November 1, 2010

Our New Real Estate Agent

This past Friday night we decided to list the house again with a real estate agent. This time we moved away from the previous brokerage who seemed to have a rather negative attitude in that between March 17 and August 31 they brought us no offers. We firmly believe it was not the fault of the agent but more so the cocky attitude of the actual brokerage. In fairness and a bit of loyalty to our previous agent with whom we have dealt with in the past, she will do the purchase for our next place but not the sale of this house. We think this will reward her for her hard work yet send the brokerage the message we were not happy. So we listed with a fairly new brokerage that really seems to be getting results in our area.

Our new real estate agent is a real go getter! We met with her at 10 pm Friday night. The sign goes on the house today in house (brokerage agents only) dog and pony show is this also today. The second dog and pony show for MLS agents is on Wednesday. Tonight has been a spit and polish night. The nice thing is because the house had been previously listed for much of the year there was no massive cleaning to do AND we have been continuously decluttering so that should make a bit of a difference. I'm rather excited at the prospect this real estate agent may just get us the results we want.

Garden Gnome