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 :)

Monday, December 31, 2012

Check Those Expiry Dates

My husband is down with a cold graciously shared by our youngest grandchild.  Given the fact we just recently spent time in a busy airport filled with holiday travellers, spent time in a couple of malls infested with germs, and we are tired from our vacation, it is little wonder a few germs could get the best of him.  Neither of us are big into using any medications other that dietary supplements.  I am officially on two prescription drugs but even my doctor knows I only take them if I absolutely need to.  Neither of us get the flu shot even though I am considered high risk.  Instead, we believe in healthy eating with dietary supplementation if necessary, adequate sleep, a bit of exercise, well you get the picture.

When my husband gets a cold, he insists on using Nyquil.  I personally don't like this OTC product because it even knocks him out and he is a large man.  Aside of that,  it doesn't help the body naturally clear itself of the viral infection, which is what the common cold is.  Drying up muscus secretions can lead to chronic sinus infections and other complications.  So tonight, my husband pulled a bottle of Nyquil from the medicine cabinet but before he could take a dose, I told him to check the expiry date.

All medications including dietary supplements have expiry dates.  Unlike the expiry dates on food where the quality is diminished and yet the food may still be safe to consume, the expiry dates on many prescription and OTC drugs mean the drug should not be consumed after that date.  One of the reason is, all these products are synthetically made and synthetic chemicals breakdown over time.  In some cases, one or more chemicals in the drug start to breakdown and they can form toxic by-products that can be quite dangerous even toxic when consumed.  In other cases, especially with sunblocks, the active ingredients breakdown becoming ineffective meaning you can get a rather nasty sunburn even though you thought you were protecting yourself with sunblock.

I'm very, very careful to go through our medicine cabinet every month.  Living between two houses makes it a bit more difficult because items travel back and forth but still, it is even more reason for me to check to be sure something doesn't get pushed to the back.  His bottle of Nyquil was expired.  He had pulled the bottle from his overnight travel bag likely because that's where he remembered it was and I had never thought to check that bag.  I gave him a fresh bottle of Nyquil and he is sleeping like a baby but this serves as a reminder.  Teach everyone in your home to always check the expiry date before consuming any prescription or OTC drug including dietary supplements.  Never consume either if past the expiry date.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

'Tis the Season

'Tis the holiday season for spreading joy, kindness, cheer AND germs!  We were at our vacation home in Florida until December 20, then spent much of our arrival day home in mall and other seedy places where germs like to hide.  It didn't help that we had spent time in a germ laden airport or on a germ infested plane.  Still, by the 26th when we hosted our family Christmas, there was no signs of illness other than our little grandson who had a cold.  They left on the 28th and we hosted a larger gathering on the 29th.  My husband woke up with a cold and our daughter, parent of grandson with the cold called to say she had flu-like symptoms.  I have been in serious overdrive mode between cleaning up from the holidays and germ control.  I should have been on top of it earlier but with the holiday rush, I forgot.

I'm considered high risk with brittle asthma and I refuse to take the flu vaccination.  My husband also does not take the flu vaccination either and before you say we should there are adverse side effects to the flu vaccination that can be long lasting resulting in chronic symptoms neither of us wish to deal with.

My first line of defence is rubbing alcohol in a spray bottle.  Everything hands can touch gets sprayed a couple of times a day until there are no signs of sickness in the house.  I actually start this when I first start hearing of friends or family coming down with colds or flu-like symptoms.  I keep the spray bottle ready so every time I think about it things gets sprayed.  Rubbing alcohol (ethanol or isopropyl) is one of the best anti-biologicals there is because it kills 99% of virii and bacteria on contact.  It's what we used on our lab benches to effectively control biologicals.

And so it begins....'tis the season...

Monday, December 17, 2012

Turmeric Facial Mask

turmeric facial mask

I have been battling melasma for a number of years so have done a fair amount of research as to how to deal with the condition.  Successfully treating this hyper-pigmentation skin disorder involves both internal (eg. dietary, dietary supplementation) and external (eg. chemical, skin bleach, chemical peels, natural ingredient masks, natural skin bleaches, sunblocks).  And, they must go hand in hand because while the problem is internal it manifests itself externally.  During my research, I came across using turmeric as a facial mask.  Ideally, turmeric should also be taken as a dietary supplement to help clear the skin, but use caution as turmeric can cause gastointestinal problems, and too much can activate the gene p53 that deactivates damaged cells in the heart.

Turmeric has long been used by Indians (Asia) as part of lightening the skin for wedding ceremonies.  It is combined with one or more ingredients and applied as a mask to even out skin tone while reducing skin blemishes as it brightens and whitens the skin.  Turmeric is one of the best things you can use on your skin!

Turmeric Facial Mask

turmeric powder
fresh lemon juice
plain yogurt
local, unpasteurized honey
graham flour (optional)
aloe vera (optional)
olive oil (optional)

There are no measurements for this facial mask.  What you want is a thick paste that will cling to the face.  I started with about a half tsp of turmeric powder (strong antioxidant, nourishes the skin, neutralizer) then added a little fresh lemon juice (natural skin lightener), about a quarter of tsp of plain yogurt (exfoliate, skin brightener) and about a quarter tsp of honey (humicant, moisturizer, antibacterial agent) .  I simply use the back of the spoon to smooth the paste over my face.  I have had good results both adding aloe vera (moisturizer, antioxidant) to the mixture and alone as a pre-treatment.  Graham flour helps to whiten and exfoliate but I usually don't use it.  Olive oil will slow the drying of the mask while providing Vitamin E that aids in lightening as it moisturizes.  I allow the paste to dry thoroughly on my face for 30 minutes.  Add it to the mask or use it as a post treatment following the mask.  I remove the mask with warm water and wash lightly with goat's milk soap.  It does make a huge difference in evening out skin tone.

Turmeric is very effective as part of your skin management system.  The simple thing is, turmeric works.  The problem with turmeric is, it stains everything a bright orangy yellow.  When you are using a turmeric facial mask, wear old clothes you don't mind getting stained.  Use old face cloths as well as they too will become stained.  Your skin will be stained as well.  You have two choices after removing the mask.  If you rinse with warm water only, the stain will fade in about 3 hours.  If you rinse then wash with goat's milk soap, the stain is removed quickly.

I find that using aloe vera as a pre-treatment to the turmeric facial mask increases the effectiveness.  I also use aloe vera as a post treatment after removing the mask.  I've had good results using an all natural goat's milk soap to remove any skin staining from the mask.  Goat's milk soap provides lactic acid which acts as an exfoliant.  As soon as my skin is dry from washing the mask, I apply aloe vera then sunblock.  The number one rule when doing any kind of skin lightening (eg. melasma patches) is SUNBLOCK.  The area being treated should only be without sunblock during treatment.  It should always be protected with a high SPF sunblock with the exception of the treatment period.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Downside of Sunblock

We live in beautiful Ontario, Canada where we have a boat, a pool and we vacation close to 3 months of the year in Florida.  The problem is I have melasma, hyperpigmented patches on my face.  The recommended treatment for melasma is to use some type of lightening system (chemical, natural) then protect the face with the highest SPF broad spectrum sunblock you can find.  I have gone all natural as far as actually treating my melasma including using a custom made turmeric mask (more on that in the next post).  I am still using an SPF 110 sunblock and therein lies one problem.

Aside of the melasma, did you know that strong sun exposure can cause your hair to turn grey quicker?  'Tis true!  It works in reverse of tanning by bleaching out the melanin that gives hair it's colour.  Both my husband and I noticed more greying after being in Aruba

Chemical sunblocks contain a few chemicals that can actually cause more problems then they solve including making your skin more susceptible to skin cancer.  I've been paying premium prices for the ultra high SPF protection and while I heard of some of the chemical warnings, I did not know that the skin cannot absorb anything higher than SPF 50 protection.  Essentially, I have been wasting my money for extra protection my skin wasn't able to utilize.

The second problem with sunblocks is it reduces the production of Vitamin D.  In fact, many living in northern climates as we do have a Vitamin D deficiency.  The body makes Vitamin D via sun exposure so it stands to reason that in northern climates where your are covered from head to toe during the winter months and your face is protected with a high SPF sunblock, sun exposure is blocked so your body can't make Vitamin D.

The third problem is some of the chemicals in sunblocks can make you physically sick.  Not only can they cause allergic reactions, they can cause gastrointestinal problems because they are absorbed through the skin.  The worst part is, as I found out, you might not suspect your sunblock is the cause of your gastrointestinal problems.

Finally, sunblock can block your pores creating rashes and skin break-outs.  They can cause you to feel hot and sticky even if they say they are dry.  Beware of those who say they are dry with a lightweight feeling as those sunblocks can really end up drying your skin as well.

We are moving away from using chemical sunblocks wherever possible.  There are a multitude of ways to avoid strong UV exposure.  Be aware that UV exposure comes through windows including vehicle windows and from indoor lighting.  UV exposure can also be strong between 11:00 AM and 4:00 PM even with cloud cover.  We spent most of the month of October at our vacation home in Florida.  I was beyond pleased to be asked "Weren't you just in Florida?  Where's your tan?"  Now, those who live in Florida year round know how to avoid the sun.  I was also impressed during our Aruba vacation how folks avoid sun damage without resorting to using a lot of sunblock.  Here are a few things we are doing to avoid chemical sunblocks at both of our homes:

  • avoidance - We tend to avoid being outdoors when the UV rays are the strongest.  If we are in one of our vehicles we use the drop down shades on the side windows to block UV rays.  At home, we filter out direct sunlight so we still get the warmth during the winter months with greatly reduced UV exposure.
  • shade - I'm a shade seeker.  I don't like being in the direct sun.  If walking, I tend to walk on the shady side of the street.  If waiting, I stand under the shade of a tree and even at the pool both at home and at our vacation home, I'm the one sitting in the shade.  We have devised ways to create shade on the boat, at home on the decks and around the pool, as well as on the golf cart so we don't have to be in direct sun to enjoy the great outdoors.
  • clothing - Did you know there are actual SPF ratings for various fabrics?  What you wear especially during the strong UV exposure hours can make a huge difference.  Covering up is inexpensive and surprisingly can be cooling especially for women if you wear summer frocks that let the air in while blocking the UV rays.  During the heat of the day, put on a long sleeve, white cotton shirt to cover your arms.  Wear long but light weight pants or skirts as well.
  • hats - A broad brimmed hat is a must to keep the sun off your face.  I have several of them as does my husband who is an avid golfer meaning he gets a lot more sun exposure than I do.  I like the straw hats with wide brims because they tend to be a bit cooler on the head while shading the face and neck.  
  • parasols - Parasols are a fancy type of umbrella designed to keep the sun off your face.  They were very popular during Victorian times where milky white skin was seen as a beauty asset.  They remain popular in cultures cultivating the milky white skin (eg. Japan, Asian cultures) but can be seen world wide now as folks travel.  I was surprised to see several of them during our visit to Disney World this past October.  Now, parasols make perfect sense because they provide you with instant shade something that is difficult to find at theme parks.    They are available in ultra compact sizes and if you don't want to splurge on an actual parasol, an ultra compact umbrella will achieve the same thing. 
  • natural skin correctors - There are a number of natural skin correctors that reverse the damage from sun exposure.  They include: turmeric, honey, milk, lemon juice and aloe vera. Of those, aloe vera is very effective when used both before and after sun exposure.  Vitamin C, E and L-cysteing as well as pomegranate extract, ellagic acid and ferulic acid are natural ways to reduce melanin production as well.  

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Garbage Truck

I have a serious love/hate relationship with garbage trucks.  First and foremost, I don't want to put anything into the garbage truck that could be reused, recycled or anything else.  Second, the garbage truck takes away stuff I don't want so out of sight, out of mind BUT the garbage trucks are out to get me.  I'm not kidding!  Take this morning for example when I am running down the street in my pajamas and slippers with my kitchen catcher sized garbage bag at 6:50 AM.  Umm, the town says to have your garbage out to the curb by 7:00 AM so by default I had 10 minutes BUT no they decide to race through our subdivision collecting the garbage 10 minutes early.  HOWEVER, if I had put the garbage out the night before they would show up somewhere around noonish.  Garbage trucks are seriously out to get me!

I have a real issue about putting out garbage the night before partly due to living in a rural location and really not liking cleaning up any mess from marauding animals so our garbage goes to the curb first thing in the morning.  A few years ago, we had someone rummaging through our waste mainly looking for aluminum cans but good gosh, they made more mess than an animal would.  I just don't like the idea of garbage sitting out overnight if it can be helped.  So on waste collection day, I'm up bright and early to get our small bag of waste and recycle bins out before 7:00 AM.  I'm usually taking everything out around 6:45 AM and always before 7:00 AM.

These waste collectors are beyond testy.  They won't take anything over 4 bags of trash although you can cheat by putting two bags into a trash bin so technically with two trash bins and 2 bags you can get away with putting out two extra bags.  That's not a problem for us because quite frankly, I don't even think the 4 kitchen catcher size bags of garbage we produce in a month would fill a large black garbage bag.  These guys have it easy when it comes to us.  Seriously, rather than put anything large out to the road, we take it to the waste station ourselves.  That include any brush and yard waste.  We are gone pretty much 3 months of the year which means they only have to stop for a small garbage bag at most weekly, 9 months of the year but sometimes we just let it accumulate until we have a full large bag so they really only need to stop at our house 9 to 10 times in a year.  AND I give them a holiday bonus (card with gift card)  PLUS I never complain to the town when they are being testy so you would think they would be just a wee bit nicer to us.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Smelly Garbage

We have been on a waste reduction goal for a few months now.  I am very pleased to announce that it is working.  On average, we have a bit less than a kitchen catcher garbage bag of curb side waste that will end up in the landfill.  We are working on reducing that further.  Part of the reduction in household waste is due to the installation of an Insinkerator food waste disposal last August but the rest is due to an increased awareness with respect to packaging that can't be recycled.

Kitchen waste tends to be smelly and while the food waste disposal takes care of most of this problem, it does not take care of all of it.  Smelly garbage is problematic on a few levels.  We spend extended periods of time away from our main home.  If we miss garbage day before leaving, that garbage can sit for a month or so attracting rodents while stinking up the garage.  Our last home was rural so stinky garbage attracted racoons, skunks, squirrels and birds.  Let me tell you, crows and grackles are horrid for ripping apart garbage bags if they get any hint of a smell.  This home is urban bordering on farmland so again, stinky garbage attracts the pests especially the birds and occasionally dogs.

We have virtually eliminated smelly garbage.  Now, we can leave for a month at a time knowing our garbage is not going to smell or attract critters.  It was actually easier than I thought it would be.    Here's a few things we have done to curb the smell garbage issue:

  • food waste disposal - The food waste disposal takes care of most of the food waste the compost can't handle due to volume.  I do a lot of home canning so the compost cannot always handle a large influx of produce waste that can become rather smelly during the warmer months.
  • bones and fat - Bones and fat can quickly become smelly during the warm months.  Larger bones and fat are not put down the food waste disposal.  Rather, large bones are given to a friend with a dog that really enjoys them.  Fat is scooped into a zipper style storage bag then discarded when full with the exception of bacon grease that is collected and used for cooking.  I also mix some of the fat with bird seed to feed the birds during the winter months.
  • zipper style storage bags - I have a lot of this style bag used mainly for on the boat and traveling with a few used for food storage.  I don't throw them out and they can't go into the recycle bin.  If I have kitchen waste (eg. meat wrappers, fat, bones) that I know will smell that can't go into the compost bin or food waste disposal, it goes into a used zipper style storage bag.  Now, odours can escape from these types of bags so I keep the bag in the freezer until garbage day.  If I miss a garbage day, the bag simply sits in the freezer until the next garbage day.  At best, I may have about a half a quart bag of waste that could smell each week so saving it until the bag is full isn't a huge problem.  

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Few Holiday Home Safety Tips

The holiday season really becomes a time we let down our guard creating the potential for personal and physical harm as well as theft and property damage.  Our local Neighbourhood Watch has sent out several reminders as well as hosting a couple of informational/educational to remind folk that this is the time of year to keep a heightened awareness.  At the same time our local Fire Department is doing the same thing and our local Police are reminding folks to take care on the roads and never drink and drive.  A lot of this information is not new.  We've heard it all or most of it before but because our minds tend to be on other things like shopping, entertaining and holiday events, it bears being said again.

Homes tend to become more of a focus of break-ins for several reasons.  'Tis the season for gift giving meaning there are a lot more items like jewelry and electronics that can easily be resold.  The tends to be more liquor in the house especially for those who do more entertaining.  Many tend to keep more cash on hand as well.  At the same time, folks are more preoccupied with decorating, shopping and everything else that goes along with the holiday season, they don't notice anyone that may be staking out the home.  Finally, the holiday season for many mean longer periods of time away from home giving a thief more opportunity to break-in.

You can fight back by making your home a harder target for thieves.  Most of the tips being offered for preventing a break-in are just good old fashioned common sense.  Still, this time of year means you have to be aware and take a little extra care to prevent a break-in.  Here are a few tips:

  • locks -  All entry points to your home should be kept locked at all times even if you are home.  Exit doors should have deadbolts in addition to the lock on the door knob.  A garage door should ideally have a garage door opener that is ensures your garage is locked when closed.  If the garage is attached, treat the door between the main house and garage as an exit door by keeping it locked at all times.  Windows should be kept locked with barriers to prevent entry when the window is open. 
  • monitored security systems -  If you have a monitored security system, use it!  It isn't going to protect your home if you don't.  Even if you are just running down to the variety store, planning on being away for ten minutes, set the alarm.
  • don't announce you will be away - It is quite common for folks to say something to the effect "I'm shopping at..." on Facebook or Twitter.  If you only allow family and close friends to follow or friend you, it shouldn't be a problem but the reality is those collecting friends and followers as a status symbol put themselves at risk.  This tells everyone on your social media site that you are away from home and you will be returning with a few goodies, both invitations to theft.  If you are out for a day, make sure any newspapers and rubbish bins are brought indoors.  I would seriously miss a waste collection day for the recycling bins if I had to be away that day rather than leave the empty bins on the lawn until I got home.  Regular waste in a garbage bag isn't a problem as once it is picked up it is gone but waste put out in a garbage pail is a problem because the empty pail on laying on the lawn is a clear indication no one is home.  If you will be away for an extended period of time, the less people who know about it the better.  A well trusted neighbour should be notified you will be away as they can watch out for any suspicious activity as well as collect any newspapers.  Put your mail on hold if it is normally delivered to your house.   Arrange for a family member or friend to have access to your house, water plants, alter the lighting pattern and basically make your home look like someone is there.  If you have a security system, notify your provider you will be away, who has a key to your house and how often they will be checking on it.  You can also notify your local police with the same information so they will respond faster if the alarm is triggered.  Be discrete when loading luggage and other items into your car when leaving for an extended period of time from your home
  • suspicious phone calls - There have been a rash of home break-ins in our town and surrounding area recently.  Victims have reported several phone calls to their homes where the caller listens briefly then hangs up.  The local police believe these calls are being made to determine if someone is home before the thief/thieves break-in.  Now, this is a crap shoot for the potential thief as the police point out, many do not answer their phones if the caller comes up as unknown or private.  I know I don't; the call goes to the answering machine.  In fact, the majority of our land line calls go to the answering machine because anyone who knows us knows to call our cell phones if there is no answer on the land line.  Still, if you notice an increase in these types of calls, keep an eye out.  
  • unloading parcels - An ingenious thief who is staking out a house will a good idea of what has been taken into the house simply by sitting outside across the road or walking by when parcels are being unloaded from your car to be taken indoors.  Use generic, cloth shopping bags rather than store bags.  That way a potential thief can't tell you have just been shopping at an electronics store.  If you have an attached garage, drive in then shut the garage door before unloading anything.  If you don't have an attached garage, don't unload by putting parcels on the ground or leaving the trunk or vehicle open between trips back and froth from the car.  If at all possible, unload in one trip and better yet, have someone with you when unloading.
  • windows - Open your shopping bags away from windows where someone could see what you bought or shut the curtains.
  • packaging -  Packaging tells the thief exactly what you just bought.  Don't put larger electronics, television or computer boxes to the road.  Cardboard packaging should be crushed and kept out of easy sight from windows until it is taken to your local waste centre.  
  • the Christmas tree - Many place their Christmas tree is such a manner so it is visible from outside.  However, a tree laden with presents underneath is a good target for thieves.  If your tree is visible to the outside, don't put presents under it until Christmas Eve

Friday, November 23, 2012

Craft Markets or Shows

A few days ago, I went to a local craft market.  I seldom spend money at these types of events being an avid crafter myself.  I basically go to get the ideas of what to make for holiday gift giving.  Every once in awhile I will buy something, knowing full well I can easily make my own version of it myself or at the very least find out how to make it.  If you are crafty, this is definitely the time to be spending a bit of time at craft markets or shows!

Craft markets or shows are rather interesting.  The crafts tend to be textile (eg. knitter or crocheted  items), wood items, hand crafted jewelry, homemade candles and homemade baked goods.  In my experience, vendors tend to have their prices on the high side but you are getting something unique and they do have to pay for their table along with all associated costs so they really are making nothing off of what they sell.  As a crafter, I am well aware of this so have no problem supporting fellow crafters especially during the holiday season.  It spreads a bit of good cheer :)

At the same time, I know and know where to find the resources these very same crafters are selling.  It doesn't matter that I'm not a competitor, it matters that I can make the very same thing myself at a fraction of the cost for gift giving.  Not only that, many crafters are very generous with sharing their suppliers and how they do things especially if they don't view you as being the competition.

While I am a avid crafter I don't sell my crafts.  They are created for my family, friends and our enjoyment.  I honestly don't think there is much of a market in many hand crafted items, certainly not enough to pay for the materials and time.  Rather, I craft out of the love of crafting and as a way to keep my hands busy while watching television.  Knitting and crocheting tend to help me relax as well, most times unless it is a poorly written pattern. Still, craft markets can be a mecca for supporting other crafters while getting a few new ideas of crafts you would like to make for gift giving.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Garage Safety Tips

Yesterday, I shared a few of my views on garages.  We have had five garages, four of which have been detached.  By far, I much prefer an attached garage.  I insist on having garages secured at all times after a bit of a wake-up call where my bike was stolen from our garage, I watched the kids go by riding it but it didn't click in until the police showed up with my bike.  Honestly, I was likely about 30 from the garage!  Not only that, at that time we had a freezer in the garage that the police kindly pointed out there was a very good chance that food had gone missing when the garage door was open even though I thought I was saving a little on hydro costs by letting a cross breeze into the garage keeping the ambient temperature lower. Then I got involved with Neighbourhood Watch, a program designed to increase awareness while decreasing crime.

Garages can be a weak link in your home security because folks simply don't think about them. Depending on the design of the garage there are certain measures you should take to protect the contents of your garage.  Failure to do so can result in theft, property damage, and increased vehicle or property insurance.

  • generic -  All newer built garages have a secondary door to the outside as part of the building code but it is possible to buy older houses with garages that do not have a secondary door because they were built before that stipulation became code.  A secondary door serves as an emergency exit in the event of a fire or malfunction of the automatic garage door opener so it should never be blocked.  If you have an older garage without a secondary door, I highly recommend installing one.  Keep the area around the outside of your garage free of vegetation that could give a hiding spot for burglars.  Keep the inside of your garage free of flammable fumes and other combustibles.   Any vehicle parked in a garage should be locked preferably with the alarm system activated and any valuables out of sight.  The garage door should always be closed and locked unless you are leaving or entering the garage or if you are in the garage.  I am not a huge fan of windows in any garage.  They present a weak link in security and while one could argue that a garage window allows neighbours to see if there is someone in your garage, most neighbours never pay any attention.  Any window should be secured by way of locks, bars and if necessary mesh or bars to prevent unauthorized entry.  An alternative is to eliminate any garage windows.   Never, ever announce to anyone you are going to be away from your home if even for only for an hour.  If you are planning on being away from your home for an extended period of time, have a trusted neighbour or family member check on your house including the garage.   If for any reason you suspect someone may be in your garage, do not enter it! If you are in your vehicle, lock the doors and  AND if at all possible park on the street then lay on the horn after calling 911 to attract the attention of neighbours while scaring off the burglar.  If you are in the house and hear someone in your garage, call 911 immediately.  If you have a monitored alarm system, arm it then hit the panic button before calling 911.  Be sure any doors and windows are locked and stay out of sight until help arrives.  
  • detached garages -  Detached garages are more prone to break-ins simply because the home owner cannot hear someone breaking into their garage.  A detached garage can be protected through your home security system if desired or you can add DIY alarms that will emit a loud noise if compromised.  All secondary doors on this type of garage should have a locking handset and a deadbolt AND they should be kept locked at all times.  Don't store valuables in your garage and keep valuables out of sight because quite often break-ins are a crime of snatch and grab opportunities.
  • attached garages -  All attached garages should be equiped with a carbon monoxide detector and the garage door should be open fully before starting a vehicle.  A carbon monoxide detector should be installed in the house Attached garages are easier to secure against break-ins, less prone to break-ins but homeowners often get slack in locking the door between the main house and garage.  This door should be locked even when you are home.  If someone gets into your garage, this gives them immediate access to your home under the cloak of prying eyes from neighbours  You should never store valuables in your car and your vehicle should be locked at all times even when in the garage but it general a car in a locked attached garage is less prone to break-ins than a car locked in a detached garage.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Few Thoughts on Garages

Of the seven homes (six permanent, one vacation) we have owned, four were purchased with garages and our vacation home has a carport with attached shed.  We moved a garage from a relatives to one of the homes.  Of the five garages, all were detached except the garage at our current home.  Garages are typically used for vehicles and storage although some use their garage for storage only or as work space.  I have also seen garages converted to usable living space and even remodeled into small homes for the purposes of renting them out.

A garage is usually a selling feature for the house.  Typically a house with a garage will sell faster than one without and buyers are willing to pay extra for a house with a garage.  Adding a garage to a house that doesn't have one not only increases the property value and resale potential, it gives an excellent return for your investment.  Unlike replacement windows, the cost of adding a garage to a house is in most cases fully recouped upon the sale of the house and it may even make a bit extra.   Adding a garage will require a building permit and adherence to building code bylaws. The bylaws typically state that a garage must be a certain number of feet from the property line, finished properly (eg. sided or bricked) but there are exceptions to this, and it cannot be aligned in such a fashion as to interfere with the enjoyment of neighbouring properties.  For example, your garage cannot be built in such a manner as to block the view of your neighbours but this really is subjective, becoming only a problem if your neighbours complain.  It also can't be constructed in such a manner as to create a safety hazard (eg. blocking your neighbours view for getting in and out of his driveway.  I highly recommend consulting with the bylaw inspector before getting a building permit or construction of the garage begins.  It can save you a lot of headaches down the road!  I also recommend telling your neighbours of your plans as it just helps to keep good neighbour relations as well as reducing complaints from them that could impede the construction.

Detached garages are separate buildings from the house, usually a bit of distance from the main house but not always.  They take up part of your usable property, create a bit of dead space and will cost you more in insurance and property taxes.  In some ways they are a greater security risk especially for break-ins as the home owner is less likely to hear someone trying to break-in a garage not attached to the house.  Getting to and from a detached garage is a pain in nasty weather especially if you have to cart groceries or other parcels into the house as there is no protection from rain, snow, or sleet.  If a detached garage is aligned properly to the house it may be possible to build a breezeway that in essence attaches the garage to the house to offer protection against the weather.  Be warned that doing so will in most cases, increase your property taxes but a breezeway shouldn't affect your insurance as it is not considered living space.

Attached garages are part of the main house, typical of new home construction in subdivisions.  I can tell you that the attached garage on this house was very much a selling feature for us as potential buyers.  It is quite possible to add an attached garage to your house especially if there is an existing carport.  Construction will still need a building permit but in many cases the costs of an attached garage are less expensive than a detached garage because you are eliminating the costs of all or part of one wall.  While an attached garage does increase property taxes it may not increase your insurance because an attached garage is viewed as being more secure.  It is easier to include an attached garage as part of your home security system.  Most attached garages are equipped with garage door openers making them more secure than a manual door because the are always locked when closed.  There is a lot less chance of a break-in with an attached garage because there is a greater chance of the home owner hearing someone trying to break in but also there are more eyes watching in subdivisions.  The main problem is, if someone gains access to your attached garage, they have a cloak against prying eyes and if you do not use good security measures they will have easy access to your house.  The nice thing is, an attached garage has ready access to the main house, shielded from the weather so there is no getting wet or shoveling snow just to get to the garage.  You can load and unload your vehicle without getting wet and your vehicle stays protected.    Our vehicle that is kept in the garage didn't even need the windows scraped (eg. ice, frost) last year so it was simply get in and go with no brushing snow off!  Do you know how much of a nicer way it is to start the day without having to clean the car off in the winter?

Garages are one of the best investments you can make in your home if you don't have one for increasing function and resale value.  In my opinion, if your home does not have a garage and you have the room to add a garage, it should be at the top of your renovation list.  If you are house hunting, even though houses with a garage are higher priced they also have a higher resale value in the future along with the potential of being transformed into rental property to help you pay off the house.  If you have a choice when house hunting, an attached garage is always a better selling feature over a detached garage.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Natural Pain Relief

Our pharmacies are filled with a wide variety of chemical pain relievers.  The problem is chemical pain relievers can be addictive and they can actually increase the risk  of further injury.  The bottom line is, pain is your body's way of telling you there is a problem.  Suppressing pain in that respect really is not in your best interest but at the same time no one wants to endure pain if they don't have to.  Years ago, folks dealt with pain management without resorting to chemical pain relievers.  That is still a good course of action.  Here's a few pain relievers this frugal household uses:

  • ammonia -  If applied shortly after being stung by a bee, hornet or other insect liquid ammonia will remove the venom while reducing any reaction to the sting/bite. 
  • milk -  Apply milk to any area of skin that has been sun burned.  It will relieve the pain while reducing inflammation and promoting healing.
  • apple cider vinegar - Apple cider vinegar is a heal all externally and internally.  It will reduce inflammation while restoring the natural pH to skin promoting healing while reducing any pain associated with acne and psoriasis.  It has anti-fungal properties that will help cure internal and external fungal infections especially gastrointestinal that can cause considerable pain and discomfort.  Apple cider vinegar in warm water is one of the best ways to stop the pain of heart burn.  It will relieve the pain and itching of many skin disorders.
  • oatmeal - Oatmeal relieves many minor skin irritations while promoting healing but it is the primary way to treat poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac.  It dries up the rash while reducing the swelling and the pain.
  • yogurt - Yogurt with active bacterial is the natural way to deal with any yeast infection while soothing the pain and promoting healing.  
  • ice - Ice packs are the natural way to reduce inflammation and swelling thus relieving pain.  An ice pack is also a great way to relieve headaches.
  • heat - Heat packs are the natural way to reduce transient pain, usually alternating between icing and pain for injuries but heat only for other types of pain.  
  • epsom salts -  Epsom salts is a very inexpensive and natural way to reduce muscle pain.  Simply add a cup of epsom salts in a tub of hot water then soak for 10 minutes.
  • arnica cream -  Arnica cream (available at health food stores) soothes the pain of bruises while promoting healing.  Bruises treated with arnica cream will heal in about a third of the time as those not treated with arnica cream plus the pain is greatly diminished after only one application. 
  • walking -  Walking is the number one way to relieve and prevent back pain according to my physiotherapist.  A 30 minute walk daily really does help reduce and prevent pain of many motility problems.  The body is designed for movement and that movement relieves pain.
  • steam - Sinuses can become quite painful if congested, inflamed or infected.  The most natural way to treat this problem while relieving the pain is steam.  It opens up the sinus passages, allowing them to drain while reducing the swelling that causes the pain and headache.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Moving Towards Natural Hair Care

Even before I had health problems and well before I was educated, I was adamant about avoiding white sugar, excess salt and food additives.  I really don't know why, just I knew this was ingredients to avoid in our foods.  Those ideals moved into household cleansers not only as a way of being frugal but also as becoming eco-friendly.  We began making our own 100% all natural, vegetable based bar soap for bathing back in 1995.  Within a year, my husband's psoriasis was completely gone and the patches have never returned.  The last stronghold was my beloved Pantene products.

I have waist length hair, worn straight.  It is prone to frizzing in high humidity.   I was told by one hair salon not to use Pantene products as they leave a build-up in your hair but since I don't colour or perm my hair, I wasn't concerned.  The main problem with a lot of hair products is they contain sodium chloride (drying, stripping), sulfates (strips hair of keratin making it prone to frizzing), sodium lauryl suflate (stripping, carcinogenic), alcohol (drying, stripping, increases frizzing), silicon (synthetic) and scents (synthetic, allergenic).  In short, the majority of hair product are not good for you so I decided to take a bit more natural approach.  

I tried the No-Poo method which is washing with a baking soda solution followed by an apple cider vinegar rinse.  This is the ultimate natural approach for hair care if it works for you.  It takes about three weeks for your hair to adjust but after that it is reported to work rather well.  The No-Poo method does work well but my hair really needed something else.  As hair ages, it loses the protein, keratin.  The loss of keratin results in more frizz so it make sense to replace the keratin rather than use a synthetic like silicone to control frizz.  I switched to the Organix line of hair products that are sodium and sulfate free so they aren't stripping my hair of keratin nor are they drying it.  Before blow drying and styling, I use Moroccan argan oil.  This is almost a miracle natural hair treatment that protects the hair from heat styling treatments, UV damage and frizzing while mending split ends as well as giving the hair a gorgeous shine AND it doesn't leave the hair oil feeling.  I use this a couple of times a day just sprayed on my brush then brushed through my hair.  I also use extra virgin olive oil just after styling my hair.  I don't use a lot, just a little rubbed between the palms of my hands then over my hair.  Olive oil is rich in vitamin E, an antioxidant that evens slows the greying of hair while darkening natural hair slightly as it controls frizz.  

Sunday, November 18, 2012

My Aggressive Melasma Treatment

A couple of days ago I wrote about battling melasma, a skin disorder marked by patches of hyper pigmentation affecting mainly the face.  As a result, those affected end up spending a horrendous amount of money trying to correct or cover up the patches.  At the same time, they can become very self conscious of their facial appearance which can lead to anxiety, depression and low self esteem.  The good thing is, melasma can be treated aggressively using mainly all natural, non-toxic foods combined with a high SPF sunblock.  It is very important to use a high SPF sunblock to prevent hyper-pigmentation from reoccurring.  I honestly tried a lot of treatments, some painful and others that physically made me sick while costing me thousands of dollars before I finally went to a natural way of treating my melasma.

The key vitamins to focus on when treating melasma are E, C and A.  It is very important to treat melasma internally and externally as it is often related to a hormone imbalance in females, sun or skin damage, liver problems or pregnancy.  At any rate, the treatment must involve the whole body.    I am treating my melasma rather aggressively and so far successfully.  Here's my routine in the order I perform it twice daily:

  • goat milk soap - wash face well then rinse with clear water, vitamin A, lactic acid, cleanser
  • apple cider vinegar - apply with a cotton pad, let dry, repeat, anti-fungal and pH restorer
  • lemon juice - apply with a cotton pad, let dry, repeat, vitamin C and natural skin bleach
  • aloe vera - apply a generous layer of organic pure aloe vera gel, corrects sun damage and moisturizes
  • extra virgin olive oil - apply a thick layer of extra virgin olive oil, let sit 5 minutes then wipe off excess with cotton pad, vitamin E and moisturizer with anti-oxidant properties
  • sunblock - apply a generous layer of Neutrogena UltraSheer dry-touch sunscreen SPF 110

Friday, November 16, 2012

How I'm Successfully Treating My Melasma

A few days ago, I shared tips on beauty from the kitchen.  Essentially this is using natural foods like cucumber, milk, lemon juice and oatmeal in place of chemically laden beauty products that can have a toxic effect on your body.  I have been battling melasma for about 15 years now and let me tell you it is a costly battle.  Melasma is a skin disorder that results in large patches of hyper-pigmentation similar to freckles or age spots but a lot larger.  It can be in the epidermis giving a brownish look to the patches or in the deeper dermis resulting in blueish-black patches.  By far, melasma in the epidermis is easier to treat.  The problem is, many of the treatments used to correct melasma are not only toxic to the body but they can actually make the condition worse.  Here are some I tried that were somewhat successful but had negative results:

  • hydroquinone -  Hydroquinone is a chemical skin bleach available as a cream or gel.  It costs about $12 for a small tube so overall can become rather costly for long term treatment of melasma.  While hydroquinone can be rather effective after using for several months, one of the side effects is developing melasma in the dermis so even though your brownish patches are gone or considerably lighter, the blueish-black patches appear.  I used hydroquinone on and off during the early stages but never would have if I had known it could make my melasma worse.  The biggest problem I had with hydroquinone was constant diarrhea, a clear indication it was a toxin for my body.  I won't use it or any product with hydroquinone in it again!
  • the mask - My dermatologist used a mask to treat the melasma.  It went on clear then turned a horrible brownish yellow and had to be left on for 8 hours.  When I removed the mask, my face was a bright red (inflammation) and remained that way for 4 days.  I was physically sick the entire time (toxic).  Then it was onto special creams to stop my melasma from reverting.  They made me sick and the melasma obviously didn't read the book.
  • laser treatment -  Laser treatment for melasma is performed by a dermatologist as an outpatient.  The treatment is painful and the blotches form small scabs that fall off.  The patches are not fully eliminated but rather there is more clear spots in the patches.  Repeated treatments result in additional clearing.  It is costly.  I paid about $2,000 over the course of a year. The problems with laser treatment are not only does it damage hair cells it damages skin cells so the melasma actually gets worse.
  • alpha-hydroxy peels - An alpha-hydroxy peel brightens your skin by removing the top layer of the epidermis making melasma appear to be lighter.  Using an alpha-hydroxy peel becomes part of the weekly routine for combating melasma.  Continued use can be costly.  The biggest problem with alpha-hydroxy peels is they make you skin more susceptible to sun damage and skin cancer
  • MSM (methylsufonylmethane) - MSM in high doses has been reported to reduce the effects of melasma.  The problem is you have to take it in high doses which for me really affected my stomach as in vomiting shortly after taking a dose and I tried everything including eating before taking it.  I found I could work my way up to 1,000 mg a day but after that I got the ill effects.  It was nowhere near the suggested 20,000 mg a day for dealing with melasma.  
I finally got tired of dealing with the melasma - mainly the constant trips to the dermatologist, painful treatments and toxic effects on my body.  I decided to go as natural as possible treating both internally and externally.  The end result has been a marked improvement in my melasma plus I have extra space in the vanity cabinet and more money in my pocket.  My melasma is to the point of being barely noticeable.  Here's what I'm doing that is working for me:
  • hydration - Keeping the body hydrated is one of the primary ways to have healthy, glowing skin.  It lessens the appearance of melasma as well as help remove toxins from your body that can promote melasma.  I drink a lot of water to keep my body well hydrated as well as 
  • sun exposure - I avoid sun exposure other than to get enough daily for healthy Vitamin D production.  I always apply a high SPF (110) sunblock to my face even on cloudy day and most day three or four times.  But, I am also very conscious about getting in a daily walk.
  • Vitamin C -  Vitamin C is a water soluble vitamin so you can't over dose.  It is an anti-oxidant that is commonly found in OTC creams for dealing with blotchy skin.  I mega dose on Vitamin C at 2,000 mg three times a day (6,000 mg total daily).  I know you can easily go higher by my stomach gets irritated when I take more that 6,000 mg daily.  Externally, I use Vitamin C in the form of lemon juice that has long been used for removing age spots.  I just squeeze the juice from a lemon then apply at least once daily.  Lemon juice can give a temporary tingling sensation and make your face feel a bit tighter but other than that it does work well with no other side effects.
  • Vitamin A - Vitamin A is found in the retinol products for skin peels as retinoid acid.  I use a dietary supplement for Vitamin A.  Externally, I use milk on my face to promote the production of new skin cells.  I've also used yogurt as a mask that works just as nicely plus I eat yogurt daily.
  • Vitamin E - Vitamin E is a rather powerful anti-oxidant.  I feel I get enough Vitamin E through my diet so don't use a dietary supplement but I do use olive oil that is rich in Vitamin E on my face nightly.  It eliminates the dryness of lemon juice yet helps to reduce the melasma.
  • aloe vera - Aloe vera is a wonderful moisturizer that erases the effects of sun exposure.  I was told in Aruba that aloe vera actually fades any tan you get during the day.  I use it morning and night.  While I do have an aloe vera plant that is regularly harvested, I use so much of it I have to buy the gel.  Some aloe vera gels contain colourants and alcohol so it is very important to buy a certified organic aloe vera gel with no parabens, artificial colours or synthetic fragrances.  
  • avoid food additives -  I really haven't seen this mentioned on a lot of sites but I avoid any food additives that I can.  I am convinced that food additives can affect hormones in women that will lead to the development of melasma.  We rely on home canned foods, home frozen foods and foods cooked from scratch using whole ingredients.
  • the cover-ups - Many with melasma resort to cover-up make-up and there are a lot of good brands out there.  I don't unless it is a special occasion and even then go very minimal.  Cover-ups make your face look great and block UV penetration but they have a lot of toxins in them.  I use Vichy Dermablend ultra-corrective foundation cream stick for those times I really want to hide the melasma.  This is an amazing product that really does hide melasma and other skin blemishes nicely.  It is on the expensive side at about $40 per tube but you don't need much of it.   The Vichy Dermablend does work and it protects against sun exposure as well.  I got a colour matched to my natural skin colour then apply with a make-up brush to just the blotches and blend in the edges with a make-up sponge.
  • sunblock - I wear a high SPF sunblock 24/7 and reapply every 2 hours when I know I will be outdoors.  Even indoors you can be exposed to UV through windows and lighting so with melasma it is very important to keep that sunblock on the patches.  It is hard to find a good sunblock that doesn't make your face look greasy.  The best I have come up with to date is Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-touch Sunscreen SPF 110 with helioplex.  This sunblock is waterproof, sweatproof, non-comedogenic, oil free and PABA free but more importantly is works well.  As sunblocks go it is a bit more expensive somewhere around $12 for a 3 oz tube but if using only on the face, that tube lasts a fair length of time.   

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Problem With Housework

Housework can be boring and repetitive but the real problem with housework is it never ends.  I'm not kidding.  You can have all the laundry done only to find more piling up in the hamper the very same day.  I know many set aside a day for certain chores and at one time I was rather rigid in my scheduling of the chores because I had to be in order to maintain sanity in our household.  I even religiously followed FlyLady for a few years.  A few years ago, I decided to forgo my planned career and stay at home as a result of an injury.  With that came a paradigm shift in my way of thinking about household activities.  The 'clean the bathrooms' every Monday, Wednesday and Friday routine clearly wasn't going to work.  I certainly did not want to spent 8 hours of my Saturdays cleaning either so I went onto plan B - clean as you go.

A good portion of housework involves dealing with clutter.  It's not that the house is dirty it is messy due to clutter.  The rules are: never leave a room empty handed and always leave a room better than you found it.  I kept the 27 Fling Boogie, 15 Minute Rescue, and shiny sink from FlyLady because quite frankly both work well for me.  We live in a bi-level house so we have an upper level, ground level (garage and entrance) and a lower level.  Why they call it a bi-level is beyond me because technically it is three levels but I don't think the ground level is considered living space.  I do a lot of activities that tend to create a bit of chaos especially home canning which involves moving equipment and ingredients from the lower level to the upper level then putting it all away along with whatever food was canned.  So, I am up and down those stairs several times in any given day.  Here's a few ways I keep our home neat and tidy without being a slave to housework:

  • one in one out rule - Clutter can be a huge problem so we developed the one in one out rule. What this means if an item comes into the house then an item must leave.  For example, if I buy a towel it is to replace a towel that is worn out.  
  • paper clutter - Honestly, I am the queen of paper clutter.  I'm not kidding!  I still have all my notes from university, hang on to grocery receipts and pretty much anything paper encouraged by the fact that one of my hobbies is genealogy so you  never know when you will need that piece of paper.  I have decided that enough is enough.  I went to digital for my day planner, to-do lists, and shopping lists so no more bits of paper floating around the house.  If I want to spurge on the rare magazine, I by an electronic version.  I am in the process of digitizing important papers but keeping only the ones we absolutely have to.  Essentially, what we have done is stopped the flow of paper clutter into our home which makes it a lot easier to maintain not having to deal with paper clutter.
  • never leave a room empty handed - We have a large house which means I spend a fair amount of time each day moving from room to room.  We have developed the rule to never leave a room empty handed.  Surprisingly a lot of 'stuff' gets moved around and put away using this method.  For example, I get up in the morning and grab my bedside water bottle along with any dirty clothes.  The water bottle gets dropped off in the kitchen where I add any dirty t-towels to the dirty clothes then make my way to the laundry where I leave the dirty clothes and bring any air dried clothes back up to our bedroom and so it repeats.  This method is a sure fire way of ensuring nothing piles up anywhere.  
  • 15 Minute Rescue - This method is ideal for quick kitchen and family room clean-ups like folding afghans and clearing coffee tables.  I can easily fold a hamper of clothes in 15 minutes or put a pot of homemade soup on.  The variations are endless but it is really surprising how much you can actually get done in only 15 minutes!
  • the commercial break - At one time, I watched television during the day more for noise but occasionally to watch a program.  During the commercial breaks, I would toss a load of laundry in or fill the dishwasher or empty it.  You get the idea.  They were quick to do tasks that often get pushed to the back burner then all these quick tasks pile up resulting in hours of housework.  I still do this, taking a short break from whatever I'm doing just to tidy a bit.
  • 27 Fling Boogie - The 27 Fling Boogie is a left-over from my FlyLady days but it works well for me.  I use the method at least once a week.  It's simple.  Grab a bag then go though you house and collect 27 things you don't need as quickly as possible.  Those items can be donated, put into the recycle bin or trashed but as long as they are out of your house you have met the goal.  
  • the shiny sink - FlyLady stresses to always have a shiny sink.  It you do nothing else that day your kitchen sink should be scrubbed an polished.  The premise behind this task is it serves as a motivation to do another household task.  I took this idea a bit further because every room should have a 'shiny sink' in principle that serves as an incentive to keep things neat and tidy.  
  • leave a room better than you found it - This goes hand in hand with never leaving a room empty handed but it is a bit different.  I do my morning routine followed by a quick wipe down of the bathroom sinks, faucets and mirror.  It takes only a couple of minutes but saves a ton of time later.  I keep spray bottles of rubbing alcohol and homemade cleaners in the bathrooms and kitchen so all I have to do is grab, spray and wipe.  In all of less than 5 minutes everything in that room is sparkly clean.  
  • put things away as you go - We do a lot of cooking and home food preservation.  I am adamant about putting ingredients away as they are used so at the end of the cooking session there is no big clean-up.  This leaves very little in the way of kitchen clean-up so the kitchen is always ready to go for the next round of cooking the following day.
  • cleaning baskets - I keep a basket of cleaning needs in both bathrooms, the kitchen and utility room.  That way if I notice something needs cleaning I do it right then before I forget about it.  This really helps to prevent having to do a larger cleaning session.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Tea Tree Oil

I first learned about tea tree oil way back when our kids were little.  We had a bought of the flu go through the house and the recommendation to  help control the bacteria was tea tree oil added to the wash.  Tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) oil has been a staple in our medicine cabinet ever since.  It has anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties making it a very versatile product plus a little goes a long way.  I buy mine at the health food store for about $11 per 1 fluid oz (30 ml).  Don't let that size fool you because a little goes a long way.  Here's some of the ways I use tea tree oil around our home:

  • as a beauty aid - Tea tree oil is wonderful for getting rid of blackheads as well as bacterial and fungal infections around the nasal flares.  Seriously, those little almost pimples around your nasal flares are actually a fungal infection according to my dermatologist.  I put a couple of drops on a cotton swab then apply where needed.  Usually only one or two treatments are required to clear the problem.  Athlete's foot can be cured by soaking your feet in warm water with two or three drops of tea tree oil and it also gets rid of the more common foot fungus, oncomycosis.  
  • as a mouth wash - Tea tree oil is a must have when it comes to good oral hygiene.  It doesn't taste all that pleasant but it works and works well!  Rinse daily with a warm solution made from a half cup of water and two drops of tea tree oil to keep your mouth healthy and happy.  If you have a plaque build-up, you will notice it falling off within the first couple of weeks of using this rinse.  If you use steroidal inhalers that can cause thrush, this is a must use rinse.  I have an impacted tooth that for other medical reasons cannot be removed at this time.  It became infected once requiring antibiotics something I detest taking.  I switched to using tea tree oil rinses and have not had a problem since.
  • as a purifying room blend -  A drop of tea tree oil added to grapefruit oil and 10 drops of lemon oil then placed into a diffuser makes a wonderful room purifier, killing off harmful bacteria without harming your lungs.
  • in the wash - If a gastrointestinal illness is going through the house, I add about 5 drops of tea tree oil into my HE extra capacity washer.  Tea tree oil will kill off any bacteria that escapes the laundry soap and cold water washes.  
  • tea tree oil spray - I mix 3 to 4 drops of tea tree oil in a litre of water then pour into a spray bottle.  This is an effective spray that kills fungus and bacteria on hard surfaces.  It is particularly useful on surfaces that will not tolerate a 50% ethanol solution that wipes 99% of all biologicals (eg. virus, fungus, bacteria).  It works nicely for germ control in vehicles as well.  
  • in the dish water - If there is an illness going through our household, I add a drop or two of tea tree oil to the water for any hand washing.  It doesn't make the dishes oily feeling even though it is an oil but it does kill germs pronto.  Now, soap will kill about 95% of all germs anyway but the tea tree oil just gets the rest.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Beauty From the Kitchen

Several years ago during my final pregnancy, I developed the 'mask of pregnancy'.  I thought it would go away and it did somewhat only to return about 15 years ago.  I went to a dermatologist who put me on some lovely creams and told me to never go without the strongest sunblock I could find on my face.  The diagnosis was melasma.  Within days of using the creams, I was sick with severe gastrointestinal upset but never made the connection that it was due to the creams.  I finally stopped using the creams because it was a pain traveling to the dermatologist but I continued to use strong sunblock.  Little did I know back then that the hydroquinone in the creams could result in ochronosis, a skin condition where the blotches turn a blue-black.  Fast forward to present times...

I do not nor have ever used much in the way of make-up.  I use a high SPF sunblock and mineral powder.  I did however use a variety of lotions and potions to lessen the melasma including those with alpha-hydroxy and Vitamin C.  We have a boat, a pool and now spend about 3 months of the year at our vacation home in Florida - none of which are good if you have melasma.  Seriously, a 10 minute sun exposure can easily undo all the hard work over the past year that you did to lighten the melasma.  I discovered the Aveeno Positively Radiant line when we were in Florida early last year.  The results were promising so showed them to one of my kids who promptly asked "Do you know what you are putting on your face?" and showed me the Environmental Workers Group website.  Right then and there I decided to change the way I dealt with my melasma as well as take a more natural approach to skin and hair care, without all the toxic chemicals like: parabens, synthetic fragrances, artificial colours, hair damaging sodium and sulfates, alcohol and silicone.  I turned to the kitchen for help.

For years we have avoided preservatives and all types of food additives preferring to grow organic, preserve our own foods and eat healthy.  Why I did not make the connection that certain chemicals in our shampoos, conditioners and beauty products were toxic when absorbed through the skin, is beyond me.  The impact of taking a more natural approach has saved us a lot of money, reduced our waste, reduces our exposure to BPA an endocrine disruptor, reduces our exposure to petrochemicals, and extra space in the bathrooms.  More importantly, I have seen a reduction in systemic symptoms clearly related to some of the chemicals in the formerly used products AND my melasma has faded to the degree it is almost unnoticeable AND my husbands psoriasis is completely gone!  Here are a few things we use:

  • 100% pure vegetable based soap - I actually make the soap myself so know what is in it. They are made right in my kitchen with vegetable oils, water and lye.  Most cleansing bars sold in the stores are detergent that can end up drying your skin out.  They have artificial scents and colourants.  My soaps use natural colourants and scents (eg. honey, cucumber) and occasionally I add essential oils.  
  • aloe vera - I have always had an aloe vera plant in the kitchen for burns.  Earlier this year I discovered the benefits of aloe vera in Aruba and have been hooked ever since.  Aloe vera actually undoes the damage the sun does in a day.  Not only that, aloe vera is a soothing moisturizer that appears to undo previous sun damage.  I use a lot of aloe vera directly from my kitchen plant simply by cutting a piece and squeezing out the jelly.  I also buy certified organic aloe vera with no parabens, artificial colour or synthetic fragrances at the health food store.
  • lemon juice - One of the ingredients used to lessen the appearance of melasma and age spots is Vitamin C.  I juice a lemon, dry the rind for baking and reserve the juice for my face.  I apply with a 100% cotton make-up pad focusing on the darker blotches.  It does give a bit of a tingle and can cause drying.  Some resources say to leave the lemon juice on for 5 to 10 minutes then wash off but I don't.  The reason being, any cream with Vitamin C is applied then left until night to be washed off and often reapplied then.  I use the lemon juice treatment at least once a day letting it dry on my face.  This method has reduced the appearance of my melasma by about 75%.  Lemon juice can be used as a safe and nature way to get sun streaks in your hair as well.  Just put the lemon juice in your hair where you want the streaks then go and sit in the sun until dry.  Wash out and the streaks are there.  If you want them lighter, repeat.
  • olive oil - Olive oil is amazing!  Not only is it good for you, when combined with cooked tomatoes it makes the anti-oxidant lycopene more accessible for your body.  But olive oil is also a good moisturizer that also helps strengthen your nails.  It is a natural oil that can be used for psoriasis and cradle cap.   I apply olive oil on my face daily.  I simply apply with a cotton pad then let sit for 5 minutes and remove any excess.  It does not clog my pores but leaves my skin soft and silky.  I also rub olive oil into my finger nails to keep them healthy and strong.  We treat any rough skin patches with olive oil as well.  This method has completely cleared up my husband's psoriasis.  Not only that, I use olive oil as a hair treatment.  It can be used as a deep hair treatment by applying to wet hair then wrapping and letting it sit or applied sparingly after styling your hair similar to the way you would use a silicone based shine and frizz reducer product.
  • milk/yogurt - Milk and yogurt contain lactic acid that act as a chemical peel to remove the upper epidermis of your skin to stimulate new skin cell production much the same way the high priced alpha-hydroxy creams work.  I apply the milk or yogurt using a cotton make-up pad then let sit until dry and rinse off.  I do this at night as part of my facial routine.
  • oatmeal - Oatmeal is a staple in our kitchen not only for the health benefits but as a rash cure-all and beauty product.  Anytime we have a rash we turn to oatmeal to soothe the itch while drying out the rash.  As a beauty product, oatmeal soothes itchy skin while acting as an exfoliant to remove dead skin.  
  • honey - Honey is a natural humifacant (moisture attracting) with anti-bacterial properties.  It is wonderful in homemade soaps turning them a rich golden colour with a lovely scent.  However, local unpasteurized honey is one of the best foods you can eat AND it is one of the best things you can use on your skin.  Honey greatly reduces if not entirely eliminates skin problems pimples and white heads.  It really gets to the root of skin problems, bacterial and/or fungal.  At the same time, honey is a great moisturizer for dry skin.  Simply apply local, unpasteurized honey to form a mask on your face.  Let sit for 10 minutes then rinse off.
  • baking soda - Baking soda has a gazillion uses around the house but it is also widely used in cosmetics to help whiten smiles and control personal odours (eg. in foot spray, deodorants).    If you want a brighter, whiter smile all you have to do is brush your teeth with baking soda.  That's it, cheap and effective.  Sprinkle baking soda into your shoes then let sit over night to get rid of odours.  Baking soda is also a very effective shampoo.  It cleans and deodorizes your hair without stripping it of the natural oils.  In fact baking soda is the first part of the No-poo hair treatment.  Simply mix baking soda with with water to form a strong solution.  Shake well just before using then use that to wash your hair.  It does work!
  • apple cider vinegar -  Apple cider vinegar (APC) is a must have almost miracle worker that can stop indigestion and intestinal upsets in their tracts.  Apple cider vinegar is the second component of the No-poo hair treatment, used as a rinse.  It leaves your hair soft and incredibly shiny.  APC also helps to control any scalp conditions like psoriasis, itchy scalp and dandruff because it restores your scalp's natural pH.  If your child comes home with lice. douse the hair and scalp good with APC then wrap in a towel and let sit for a half hour.  Problem solved.  Repeat if necessary but normally you won't have to.  APC is good for ridding the skin of dry patches and you can use it as a facial toner.  It does have anti-bacterial properties so will also help with any skin blemishes.  It also has anti-fungal properties to help clear any athlete's foot or fugal infections that can cause discoloured patches on your skin.
  • avocado - Avocados are rich in Vitamin E and natural oils making them the idea kitchen food for reducing facial blemishes and scars.  Simply mash an avocado and apply it to your face as a mask.  Leave on for about 30 minutes them rinse off.  I do this treatment once a week to give a deep, soothing facial.  A light nap during the treatment helps refresh as well.  I really don't have much in the way of facial blemishes and never have had.  My face is free of scars as well.  However, others have reported this is one of the best treatments for both.  I just like it because my skin feels wonderful afterwards.  Mashed avocado is a very good treatment for dry patches of skin as well as psoriasis because not only does it moisturize it helps in the healing process.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Dusting Solutions

One of the selling features of our new home was hard flooring throughout.  It certainly makes you appreciate exactly how much gunk was hiding in our carpeting.  Dust is a mixture of dirt and soil coming in through window screens, pet dander, human hair and sloughed off dried skin, dust mite carcasses and feces, and so much more.  When this gets into your carpeting it is bad enough but carpeting also harbours the proliferation of dust mites compounding the problem.  Dust can give your house that 'old' smell, or just an off smell that says your house isn't clean.

Dusting is a bit more complex than simply dusting.  Many can get away with dry dusting but if you have allergies or asthma, you really need to damp dust without using an aerosol spray.  Damp dusting picks up the dust without allowing it back into the air.  Static cloths and microfibre dusting pads are a must especially if you have allergies or asthma.  They work well without any sprays  allowing you to dispose of the dust easily.  Contrary to many beliefs, dust does not just accumulate on horizontal surfaces.  Every surface in your home accumulates dust including surfaces you wouldn't normally think of like light bulbs and clothes in your closet. Walls should be routinely dusted and if you don't think walls accumulate dust just run a static cloth over a couple to see exactly what is on your walls.

The thing is if you have no carpets you will notice more dust.  That is just the nature of the beast but at least you are seeing the dust and can deal with it than if the dust were hiding in your carpet.  Put an air cleaner on your furnace along with good filters then set about dust control duty.  If you have allergies or asthma, you already know how important it is to get this dust out of your home. Here are a few tools I use and tips for achieving that goal:

  • wet dusting - Wet dusting does not put the dust back into the air where it can get into your lungs.  A light solution of Murphy's Oil soap is suitable for most wood, wood veneers and pseudo-wood surfaces including laminate flooring.  Just dip your 100% cotton cloth into the solution, wring it out and use it for dusting.  Repeat if needed.  This does a wonderful job not only of dusting but cleaning at the same time.  I make up a Murphy's Oil solution then pour it into a spray bottle for quick touch up cleaning.  
  • wands - Many of the dry dusting methods require using some type of wands.  The most common is Swiffer but there are other brands.  Our local dollar store carries the generic long wands for $2 meaning you can easily have a couple at a considerably less price than the brand name and trust me they work just as well as the brand name for a lot less money.  You will want a couple of the longer wands and at least one short dusting wand (dollar store find with pad $1.50).  The head should be designed to use the static cloths (eg. have teeth grabbers) and the reusable dusting pads.
  • microfibre cloths, pads and slippers - I honestly can't say enough about these.  They are a reusable dusting mop pad that goes onto a wand much the same as a Swiffer wand.  They work whether wet or dry and are machine washable.  Surprisingly, our local dollar store is the best place to buy them at $2 each so I have a few.  I am rather partial to the larger loop style but the fine loop style is available as well.  Walmart is now carry the large loop microfibre slippers so you essentially are dusting as you walk about.  I haven't tried them yet but at $7 per pair, I am planning to.  Basically with the slippers you are dusting your floors as you walk about eliminating the need for separate dusting.  
  • static cloths - By far the most popular brand is Swiffer and the cheapest place to buy them is Sam's Club.  Static cloths are highly recommended by allergists because they pick up the dust easily without chemicals then with a toss it is out of the house.  A couple of years ago Swiffer started adding scents to their cloths so be aware of that which is one reason I now prefer microfibre cloths over Swiffer.  Also weighing against the static cloths is they are disposable meaning you are continuously spending just to rid you home of dust.  However, and especially when first trying to get allergies and asthma under control, the static cloths are a must for some applications.  Avoid any static cloth that has any kind of scent.  
  • hand held steam cleaner - Dust tends to get into lots of nooks and crannies.  It can combine with moisture to create gunk for lack of a better word but not a lot of gunk just a thin layer that can harbor mold spores.  A hand held steam cleaner is a must have for getting rid of this gunk especially in crevices.  Not only does it get rid of the gunk it sanitizes, killing any mold or bacteria present.
  • vacuum cleaning - Allergists will stress using a HEPA filter vacuum cleaner as one of the best ways of controlling allergens in your home.  I've tried several models of HEPA filter upright vacuum machines plus a canister vacuum before installing a central vacuum system in this house.  By far, the central vacuum is the way to go and you can actually have it exhaust to the outside meaning nothing from the exhaust comes back into your house!  We did that three houses ago when we had central vac but so far have not vented outside for the new install in this house.  Vacuuming is not just for floors either.  It can be used for so much more like around your windows, horizontal surfaces, blinds, walls and more.  If you have upholstered furniture use the vacuum on that to reduce dust mites, and other dust.
  • the dryer - The dryer set on air only is ideal for removing dust from pillows, stuffed animals and other textiles.  If there is a concern over dust mites as there may be with throw pillows or stuffed animals, put them in the freezer for an hour then run them through the dryer on air setting.  The freezer will kill off any dust mites present and the dryer will remove their carcasses along with any dust mite feces.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Recycling vs Not Recycling

We recently spent three weeks at our vacation home in the sunny south.  Now, our vacation home is in a retirement (aka over 50) resort.  It is beyond gorgeous.  What I don't like is the resort does not recycle.  We have been working very hard here at our permanent residence in beautiful Ontario, Canada.  I am pleased to say that between recycling and being very conscious in avoiding over packaging, we currently have our curb side waste down to a little under a kitchen catcher garbage bag per week.  That is still more than I would like but we are working on reducing it further.

We arrive at our vacation home where we have curbside collection twice a week.  I'm not kidding, we had two full sized garbage bags to put out for the first collection.  Then we had company staying with us for a week and that went up to three full sized garbage bags!  Everything, and I do mean everything, goes into the garbage there unless it can go into the food waste disposal.  Every jar, can, box and plastic container goes into the garbage to be whisked away to an overflowing landfill.  In this day and age of being eco-friendly and  leaving a lighter carbon footprint, it is a downright shame that this community does not use some type of recycling.  This is something I will be bringing up to our HOA.  Seriously, we need a recycling program at our vacation homeA!

Garden Gnome

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Waste Management App

We are on a quest to reduce our household waste.  At the same time reducing what has to go into the recycle bins is always a good thing as well.  Reducing is always better than recycling but recycling is better than it going to the curb for collection which finds it's way into the landfill.  Our municipality has two stream recycling so we have blue boxes (plastics, food cans, tin foil) and black boxes (fibers, cardboard, take-out coffee cups).  We also have a household hazardous waste event once a year for paints, stains, gasoline, pool chemicals, pesticides and medications but you have to take them to the transfer station yourself as well as yard waste collection from April 15 to June 15 and from October 15 to December 31.  Christmas tree are picked up on the day of your normal collection with each tree consider one bag towards your 4 bag limit.

The municipality sends out a nice paper calendar with all the collection information, the does and don't and pertinent information.  They have also put all this information on a handy free app for smart phones and tablets called my-waste™.  The app is a huge database of municipalities in Canada and the US participating.  To get your personalized waste management details, simply choose the country then type in your municipality.  Then type in your street address and all the information is at your fingertips.  The only glitch I ran into setting up the app was putting in the street direction which kept giving me no search results.  I set it back to the default 'street direction', hit search and up popped the information.  It is very easy to set reminders for all waste collection but I think it will be most helpful for the hazardous waste collection event.  The app also allows you to report waste collection problems directly from the app with an option to add a picture of the problem if desired.  You can even report road conditions, roadside debris, dead animal on road or a municipal tree requiring maintenance.

I'm hoping the municipality will give us an option for opting out of receiving the paper copy of the recycling calendar information.  It would certainly save a lot of paper if more folks used the app rather than the paper copy.  Now if we could just get the local newspaper to stop delivery whether we want it or not.  It's chuck full of flyers that we don't use, reaching weights of over 3 lb during the holiday season. 

Garden Gnome

Thursday, August 23, 2012

There's an App for That

Yesterday, I shared a few ways that mobile devices like smart phones, iPod Touch, iPad and Android tablets can help reduce paper clutter in the home.  The beauty of the mobile devices is they are multifunctional while being able to sync to other mobile devices, laptops or desktops.  These mobile devices are so popular that even airports are using the electronic version of your ticket rather than you having to print them out.  My husband has an iPhone and I have an older iPod Touch that is proving difficult to upgrade and a new iPad 3 with OS 5.1.1 but the iPhone and iPad sync nicely together.  We have it set up so if I enter an event or reminder, it automatically goes to his iPhone and visa versa.  This really is a very hand feature!  Apps are available through the App Store or the site owner's website.  The iPad is new to me so I don't know all there is to know about apps and there are pre-loaded apps on the iPad.  You can easily search the App Store for apps you would like.  There are many free apps some of which show ads and others can be purchased so are ad free.  Be warned some apps work on both iPhone/iPod Touch and iPad but some work on only the iPhone/iPod Touch.  Here is a list of a few I really like:

  • Messages (pre-loaded) - This allows you to send text messages to another Apple device as long as you have Wi-Fi (home, hotspots).  It is free to send messages wherever there is free Wi-Fi as well.
  • FaceTime (pre-loaded) - This app lets you have a video conference with other Apple users.  This is our favourite way to talk to the grandkids.
  • Facebook - The Facebook app makes connecting to your Facebook easy peasy.  It is the app version of Facebook so Flash (games) doesn't work.  We stay in touch with our family and friends via Facebook when traveling.  My husband has a data plan for his iPhone and I use free Wi-Fi where available.
  • YouTube (pre-loaded) - If you like video, the YouTube is a must have app.
  • AccuWeather - This is an app by AccuWeather.com.  It shows the current weather, forecast and radar maps which can be quite handy not only at home but when traveling.  It is packed with a lot of useful information as well including health risk related to weather.  I really like this app!
  • Twitter - There is a Twitter app available.  It is rather nice but depending on your mobile device you may be able to get HootSuite or TweetDeck.
  • Maps - Maps is a nice app to have for finding your way around various cities and towns.  It doesn't take the place of a GPS but is quite handy if you are in a restaurant or airport without your GPS for finding directions and you can use the street view on the map to see what that particular area or building looks like.  It is basically an app version of Google Earth.
  • Newstand - This is a great app for downloading free magazines, preview magazines and newspapers.  It takes you to their store where you can shop.  You can subscribe to magazines and newspapers like NYTimes.  A subscription is usually discounted a bit from the hard copy version but it looks pretty much the same.  The nice thing is it is a very convenient way to carry your magazine and newspaper subscriptions with you to read wherever you choose without the bulk of the hard copies.  You also have the option of buying a copy of your favourite magazine without having to buy a full subscription.  The really nice thing is when we are at our vacation home in Florida and I want a copy of my favourite Canadian magazine, it is only a click away.
  • iBooks - This is a great app for downloading free eBooks and eBook version of other books including those on the best seller's list.  It does have it's own store and some sites offering free eBooks will download to iBooks.  There are a lot of free eBooks available in every gendre including a good selection of cookbooks!
  • GoodReader - This is an amazing app that greatly enhances the usability of the iPad.  It opens files in a wide range of formats including video. 
  • Buy Me a Pie - This is a great shopping list organizer that can be synced to your online account if you buy it for $2.99 or you can use the free version for one list shopping.

Garden Gnome

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Reducing Bits and Pieces of Paper

Do you remember back when personal computers started making their way onto the market.  They promised to reduce the paper you used which was all good in theory until the internet boomed with all kinds of neat things to print off.  It doesn't help if you are a pack rat list keeper like I am.  I used a paper based personal organizer for years, relying heavily on it through my academic career.  My husband bought me an electronic organizer but I kept going back to the paper method.  Bits and scraps of important information was scribbled on slips of papers all over my desk then spilled out into the rest of the house.  I went to a Sony Cliè that synced to my desktop which was really great for organizing but still the bits of paper cluttered our home.

My husband bought me an iPad for my birthday.  I was at the kids a couple of weekends ago and asked for a piece of paper to jot something down only to hear, put it on your iPad.  If you notice, just about everyone has a cell phone now with many of them being 'smart phones' so there are apps for just about everything you need.  These mobile devices (smart phones, iPod Touch, iPad, Android Tablet, etc) are multifunctional well beyond simple communication.  Most have a built in camera for taking photos and videos.  You can set audible reminders.  Pop them in your purse or pocket to take wherever you go.  If you buy a data plan you can access online anywhere but there are also free Wi-Fi hotspots available.  More importantly these devices can sync with your home computer, laptop or another mobile device so there really is no need for:

  • paper organizers
  • magazines
  • hard copy books
  • paper calendars
  • paper shopping lists
  • newspapers
  • clipping recipes
  • post-it notes
  • personal hard copy phone book
Garden Gnome

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Insinkerator® Badger® 5 (Model 5-86) Food Waste Disposal

I recently wrote about our new gaburator aka food waste disposal.    It is an Insinkerator® Badger® 5 (Model 5-86) half HP unit that was bought on sale and installed as a DIY project.  We have had food waste disposal units in two of our owned homes as well as our vacation home.  A food waste disposal is a wonderful asset when doing a lot of cooking and home canning especially in an urban setting.  Don't get me wrong as a food disposal unit is not meant to see how much food you can put down it, it is meant as a tool to help you manage kitchen waste. 

food waste disposal installed
It took about two hours for my husband to install the food waste disposal.  He had to run wiring for the switch, cut into the existing plumbing then reconnect the sinks and dishwasher.  It was fairly straight forward with no real problems other than having to go to the hardware store for a part he needed.

As you can see, the food waste disposal does take up a bit of room in the cabinet under the sink but really it isn't too bad.  There is still plenty of room for storage.  I don't keep a lot under the sink to begin with.

The garbage bin is part of a recycling series of bins available at Home Hardware.  The flip lids are colour coded as to the type of recycle material to put in.  We only had room for the one bin which is fine as our larger recycle bins are in the attached garage just off the landing.  The food waste disposal in combination with the compost bin, black box and blue box has reduced our actual waste that goes to the curb to mainly packaging that can't be recycled and bones.  The larger bones go to our friend's dog so at least they don't go into the waste.

I processed 10 dozen ears of corn shortly after the food waste disposal was installed so it wasn't a good week to judge our waste reduction.  Still we didn't have a full pail of garbage at the curb which was down from our normal but in fairness we are still unpacking and decluttering so there is a bit more waste than normal.  Last week I did a bushel of peaches and started tomatoes.  I put out less than a full kitchen bag of actual waste to the curb for this morning's waste collection.  I still want to reduce further.  More on that to come...

Garden Gnome

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Our Neighbours are Away

At our previous home that was rural, folks depended on each other.  Everyone knew if someone was away and would pitch in to make it look like they weren't.  The thing is burglars target homes that look like there is no one home.  We have had a rash of recent home and vehicle break-ins.  I am a member of our local Neighbourhood Watch so know some of the clues to watch for but so do the criminals.  The thing is, a lot of this type of theft can be stopped by a bit of defense by the homeowner.  I'm looking around our neighbourhood, seeing that at least four of our neighbours are away and it is rather blatantly clear.  One neighbour has had their porch light on for over a week yet if she is home that light is never on.  Another neighbour has two bags of subscription newspapers waiting to be picked up in their driveway.  Another neighbour's grass needs cutting which is something very noticeable in a neighbourhood where folks keep their yards neat and trimmed.  Finally, a neighbour put their garbage and recycle bins out last Monday where they sat on his lawn empty for for over a week.  What is wrong with this?

First and foremost all of these signs are clear flags to the would be burglar that no one is home, in essence the perfect invitation to break in.  Even if the home has an activated security system, the owners should not announce the fact that they are away.  Arrange to have someone pick up newspapers, mail and waste bins, putting them inside away from prying eyes.  The same should be done with grass cutting and/or snow removal even if it has to be hired out.  It is very inexpensive to put outdoor lighting on motion activated sensors, solar sensors or timers.  In fact, all methods should be used for indoor and outdoor lighting even if you do have a monitored alarm system. 

GE has nice LED motion activated lights for indoor use.  There's higher end home automation that can even control your thermostat from a remote location or there is the lower end, expandable X-10 system that incorporates all three types of sensors.  Motion sensors and times can also operate small appliances like radios, televisions, pool pumps to give your home that lived in feeling while you are away providing they aren't set to a rigid schedule.  Even solar powered radios can be used.  The goal is to mimic your normal household activity through home automation to make it look like someone is home. 

A vehicle sitting in the same position in the driveway is a dead give away you aren't home even if you use all the home automation tips but at the same time an extended period of an empty driveway is another clue you are away unless you routinely park in your garage and your garage has no windows for prying eyes.  Make sure your vehicle is locked and valuables out of sight even if it is in the garage.  Have a family member or friend move the vehicle, change how it is parked, borrow it for a short period of time, park in your driveway with their vehicle and that type of thing to give the appearance to would-be-thieves that either someone is home or someone is watching the house.

Finally, if you are going to be away for an extended period of time as in more than a few days, notify your local police department.  Let them know if you have a monitored alarm system, the contact information and when your expected return date is.  They will watch for any suspicious activity around your house and will respond faster to triggered alarms knowing the house is supposed to be empty.  DO NOT announce you will be away on Twitter, Facebook or any other social media format including newsgroups and forums.  DO NOT make any messages while you are away indicating that you are away aka my house is empty. 

Garden Gnome