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

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Illness Going Through the House

Since moving into town, I have been a lot more active outside of our home meaning I am being exposed to a lot more germs.  The problem is this past winter has been unseasonably warm with no real cold snap which translates into a lot of illness going through the house.  I woke in the early morning hours of Friday knowing I was sick.  It was that simple.  I went to bed feeling fine then woke feeling horrid.  Quite frankly I'm surprised I have been sick sooner!

This particular bug is causing acute respiratory distress and quickly going into bronchitis and pneumonia something I simply can't tolerate given my medical history.  It really is a nasty bug!  So, I'm sick and can't take much in the way or relief but what I focused on Friday and today was a bit of sanitizing.  This is slow going and hard to do when feeling cruddy but I firmly believe it is the only way to stop bacterial and viral infections from spreading.  I poured 50% ethanol (rubbing alcohol) into a spray bottle then went to work.  All light switches, phone sets, door knobs, appliance handles, countertops, remote controls, computer mouse and keyboard and anything with buttons or controls we might touch were treated.  Basically any surface we touch on a regular basis daily was treated including house and vehicle keys.  The ethanol alcohol evapourates so there is no need to wipe after spraying but a cloth dampened with ethanol alcohol is used for any surface that can't handle being wet for a few minutes.

Ethanol alcohol is a very effective biological control, a nice tip I picked up from being in the labs.  It kills about 99.9% of biologicals on contact and using a spray bottle it is very easy to quickly treat your home in about 10 minutes or less even if you are feeling lousy.  The house should be treated daily during an active infection but you really only need to retreat those surfaces that may have been touched since the last treatment meaning you don't necessary have to retreat door knobs and light switches that haven't been use.

Garden Gnome

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Introducing Simple Solutions

Last week I posted a simple solution.  Quite often in homemaking and decorating, simple and inexpensive solutions are all that is needed to make your home a bit more comfortable.  I'm tagging these under the label of simple solutions.  For the most part, these simple solutions are inexpensive and easy DIY projects designed to solve those little, irritating and nagging problems faced by homemakers.  Please watch that label for new posts.

Garden Gnome

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Painter's Tape Isn't Just for Painting

We've all heard how useful duct tape is but my favourite multi-purpose tape is painter's tape.  It is inexpensive and doesn't damage surfaces the way masking tape can.  Although I have a couple of specialty, no bleed through painter's tape, the one I like for general purpose use is the Painter's Mate Green or similar in the 1 - inch wide width.  Here's so of the ways I've used painter's tape:

  • temporary labels - Painter's tape is excellent for temporary labels.  I use a Sharpie marker to write on painter's tape creating temporary labels for filled boxes of home canned foods, as a label on filled jars of home canned foods using the Tattler lids, as labels on plastic totes and essentially anywhere I need a label that can easily be removed later.
  • furniture placement - Sometimes it is difficult to determine where larger pieces of furniture will go in a room.  Using painter's tape is a lot easier than moving around heavy furniture.  I measure the piece then make the outline on the floor with painter's tape.  It can be moved a couple of times, then once the location has been determined, I mark the centre with painter's tape so the piece can be positioned properly.
  • temporary draft stop - A piece of painter's tape placed over electrical outlets is a quick draft fix if you don't have enough of the childproof plug covers that double a draft stoppers.  It works well to stop drafts from any cracks on outer room walls until you get a chance to fix the crack properly.
  • hanging pictures - I use painter's tape to aid in the proper planning and placement of painting groups or other wall hangings.  Unlike using string to run between two picture hangers when planning groupings, painter's tape will not sag.
  • renovating projects - Painter's tape is a great tool to help you visualize ideas when renovating.  For example, I thought some type of trim would accent the tub/shower unit in the main bathroom but didn't know exactly what.  I taped a 1 - inch strip all around where the trim would go then went ahead and painted the room.  Once the paint was dry I removed the tape to show the old paint behind to see if a frame would work as I planned.  This was a simple solution with the worst case scenario being painting the strip the same colour as the wall.  We did like the effect and chose to have a custom wood frame made.
  • temporary indoor game markers - We use painter's tape in the games room to temporarily mark boundaries or other special marks like 'stay behind this line' for indoor games like neurf ball toss, darts and the holy board game. 
Garden Gnome

Saturday, March 10, 2012

A House Becomes a Home

When my husband and I decided to sell our house on rural, waterfront property in lieu of moving back into town, it would be the  seventeenth permanent residence move since we were wed almost 35 years ago.  The longest we lived at any residence was our second home, a turn of the century virtual money pit that we lovingly worked on for eleven years.  We would have stayed there but a developer came in to put up high density housing across from us that despite a valid fight against it, the houses went up.  We moved from our beloved home where our kids spent a good portion of their younger years.  Next came the fours.  We bought a house in a nice subdivision selling it four years later, bought our first house on waterfront property selling it four years later and bought the last house on waterfront property to again sell four years later.

The last two houses, both waterfront properties, were strange in many respects.  Don't get me wrong as both were gorgeous location specific properties but neither were fully a house turned into a home.  They really were pit stops.  The second to the last house saw some of our collected paintings from a local artist hung, my various degrees and a couple of decorative pieces but not much more.  The paintings, diplomas, family pictures and pretty much anything of the personal nature remained in storage in our last house.  It was a home but it was missing the essence of us, what makes us tick and what is important to us as a family. 

I've had a long standing tradition of making a knitted or crochet afghan customized to our home.  Our last two homes were the only ones I have not made a custom afghan.  My very much beloved books remained mainly is storage at our second last home with only a few out at our last.  More importantly the copious amount of house plants dwindled to two at our last home.  It was a home but it wasn't us!

It's funny how much of a difference a house can make.  Within days of moving in to our new home last September, I was already finding spots to hang our paintings.  They were hung a couple of weeks after  moving in.   I started hauling out my books and I do have an extensive collection, to once again be proudly displayed.  They are like long lost friends.   I still have a lot more books to unpack but it is nice to see them coming out of hiding. Then I started working on replenishing my houseplant collection.  It felt wonderful to splurge on plants again!  Herbs, geraniums and seed trays are lining both the wide windowsills in the games room.   I have to say things are looking rather spiffy.  I am working on repainting every room in the house before the end of May.  Well, I likely won't repaint the pantry but everything else is fair game.  So far, three rooms are repainted and the personal decorating touches are making their way out of storage.  We did custom woodworking in the main bathroom and our friend is coming back to do custom woodworking in the kitchen, lower level bathroom and games room.  I started a new afghan for this house which is almost the same colour as our freshly painted kitchen, a deep burgundy that was colour matched to our dinner plates.  A couple of weeks ago I bought the yarn for a new afghan.  It is very close to the kitchen colour, tying in nicely with my colour scheme for the house.  All in all, within a six month period our new house has very quickly become a home!

We have a lot of plans for our new home.  We bought a central vacuum and replacement garage door opener, both of which have yet to be installed.  We still need to buy a solar tube for the main bathroom, kitchen garbage disposal and range hood.  We'd like to replace the kitchen sinks and faucet as well and have talked of replacing the tile counter top with granite.  Then there's trees to plant, new raised garden beds to put in, replacing the shed, replacing the fence and possibly decks.  So, the projects are adding up.  All in good time :)

Garden Gnome

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Main Bathroom Shower Fix

There are two givens when you buy a previously owned house.  First, the sellers are going to do quick cover-ups along with staging to sell the house.  That means, even though the cover-up may not be noticeable during the viewing, it will become rather apparent when you move in.  For example, the previous owners of our new house obviously did a quick and rather shoddy paint job throughout the house in favour of a bit more neutral colours.  This really translates into us having to paint every room in the house properly.  The second given is unless a repair is noticeable to a potential buyer and may affect the sale of the house, the seller is not going to fix it.

shower faucet problem
Shortly after moving into our new house we realized the previous owners were guilty of not fixing even minor repairs.  The main tub and shower control dripped and dripped enough to really get on my nerves while wasting valuable fresh water.  Further investigation showed that the previous owners had purposely broke the control that diverts water from going into the tub so it would go to the shower only.  The hand held shower head with it's long hose ensured that more than likely during a showing there would be no noticeable leak.  The only time we actually noticed the leak was when the hose filled completely enough to spill out the shower head.

This house was built in 1994 and I can't believe that neither bathrooms have access panels for plumbing repairs that may be needed.  We had three choices for the main bathroom plumbing repair.  We could rip out the tub surround and replace everything, we could rip the tile off of the kitchen wall behind the stove to gain access to the pipes or we could go through the tub surround to gain access to the pipes.  We called in the professionals.  As avid DIYers, we know there are some repairs best left to them.

the newly cut access for shower control
We had purchased a gorgeous Moen shower set at half price during Home Hardware's clearance sale.  The intentions was to use the set when we remodeled the upstairs bathroom at our last house.  Well, we never got to that project so I told the plumber to use the set for the repair.  Once the plumber cut the hole in the tub surround, he found that the Moen set would not work with the valve we have.  The valve was the problem and needed replacing but even though the house isn't that old finding the replacement valve quickly became a problem.  He made a few phone calls and we went without water in the main bathroom for a few days while he finally found a replacement valve.

contractor's plate installed on shower control
The plumber told us the easiest and cheapest solution was using a contractor's plate.  He was very concerned we would not like the looks.  The thing is we needed water in the main bathroom and a functional tub/shower.  As DIYers we understand that sometimes a solution to a problem is dictated by what is there.  We told him to go ahead and use the contractor's plate. 

I honestly don't think the contractor's plate looks all that bad.  He used the Moen plate from our set in the centre.  If we ever need to work on the valve again, both plates are easily removed.  He had to replace the tub spigot with shower control as the old one was too damaged. 

the finished look of shower control with contractor's plate
He used the handle from our shower set giving the finished result a pleasing look.  Quite frankly, I like the peace of mind that we now have easy access if necessary.  If anything, the contractor's plate gives the shower control a custom look.  There are shower doors on the tub surround so it isn't like the shower control is highly visible but even if it was, I wouldn't mind it.

The total repair ended up costing us $250 but it was done correctly.  We likely could have done the repair ourselves but it really was a job for professionals.  The reality is, he had a lot better connections for rounding up the valve than we did.  This meant it took about four days for the repair where it would have taken us considerably longer to find the parts.

new shower head
We removed the hand held shower head.  I have waist length hair so would have liked to keep the hand held unit but it just wasn't practical.  In order to use it without being in the shower, you would have to wedge yourself between the toilet and tub while working around the shower doors. The existing shower head also had a water flow restrictor so was almost impossible to get the shampoo out of my hair.  We were in Bed, Bath & Beyond where we found a lovely, adjustable Moen shower head in the clearance section for $8 (regular $56).  We bought it even though the finish was a brushed bronze instead of chrome.  It works nicely and I can't believe the price we got it for!

With the much needed shower repair finished it was time to move onto freshening the look of the bathroom.  Coming up, how we added custom wood trim, salvaged a plate mirror, a custom made medicine cabinet, and took the bathroom for it's horrid peach tones  to a very light taupe, called Hazelnut Cream.  Stay tuned...

Garden Gnome

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Feather & Grass Decorative Planter

feather and grass decorative planter

I have been spending a fair amount of shopping time at Home Hardware lately buying paint, painting supplies and gardening supplies.  They have a section of decorative accent pieces.  I noticed an artificial pampus grass planter that I thought would look nice in our freshly made-over main bathroom [More on that to come this week].   However, it was $59.99 so I didn't buy it as that money would be better spent painting another room in my quest to have all the rooms painted in the house before the end of May.  Then I came up with a brilliant idea, one that was less expensive and one that could be changed out without waste whenever I desired.  Off to the dollar store...

I bought one 6 - inch clay pot ($1.50), seven feather & grass spears ($1 each) and a bag of sphagnum  moss ($1) for a total cost of $9.50.  I recycled some packaging styrofoam from the garage to hold the spears.  I disassembled two of the spears to use the leaf portion and make the planter look a bit more realistic.  Once the spears were arranged, I covered the styrofoam with the moss.  I got the look I wanted for $9.50 effectively saving myself $50.49!  The best thing is, I can easily take the planter apart and reuse everything in other projects with very little effort. 

Garden Gnome

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Modified Easy Ombre Dishcloth

modified easy ombre dishcloth

I started replenishing my supply of handmade knitted and crochet washcloths and dishcloths prior to moving to our new home last September.  I also needed both for our vacation home.  These cloths are perfect for bathing and washing dishes while adding a custom touch to bathrooms and the kitchen.  I colour code my washcloths and dishcloths to match the room they will be used in so they don't get mixed up.  The easy ombre dishcloth with the taupes and turquoise tones is perfect for the main bathroom.   This modified granny square pattern is suitable for beginners but is poorly written as if worked as written will give a wave effect from too many stitches so the piece will not lay flat.   For example on the first row it reads  
1st rnd: Ch 3 (counts as dc). [3 dc. (Ch 2. 4 dc)] 3 times in ring. Ch 2. Join with sl st to top of ch 3.
If you do the stitches within the square brackets three times, you will have too many stitches.  This row should read:
1st rnd: Ch 3 (counts as dc). 3 dc. [(Ch 2. 4 dc)] 3 times in ring. Ch 2. Join with sl st to top of ch 3.
This will give you the correct pattern of 4 stitches per side with two stitches in between to form each corner.  The next row reads:
2nd rnd: Ch 3 (counts as dc). 1 dc in each of next 3 dc. (2 dc. Ch 2. 2 dc) in next ch-2 sp. *1 dc in each of next 4 dc. (2 dc. Ch 2. 2 dc) in next ch-2 sp. Rep from * twice more. Join with sl st to top of ch 3.
If you dc in the next 3 dc it will cause you to have too many stitches.  It should read:
2nd rnd: Ch 3 (counts as dc). 1 dc in each of next 2 dc. (2 dc. Ch 2. 2 dc) in next ch-2 sp. *1 dc in each of next 3 dc. (2 dc. Ch 2. 2 dc) in next ch-2 sp. Rep from * twice more. Join with sl st to top of ch 3. 

Here is the corrected pattern as I made it:

  • Yarn: Bernat Handicrafter Cotton
  • Crochet hook: Size 4 mm (U.S. G or 6) crochet hook or size needed to obtain gauge.
Size: Approx 10 ins [25.5 cm] square.
Gauge: 13 dc and 6½ rows = 4 ins [10 cm].


Ch 5. Join with sl st to form a ring.
1st rnd: Ch 3 (counts as dc). 3 dc. [(Ch 2. 4 dc)] 3 times in ring. Ch 2. Join with sl st to top of ch 3.
2nd rnd: Ch 3 (counts as dc). 1 dc in each of next 2 dc. (2 dc. Ch 2. 2 dc) in next ch-2 sp. *1 dc in each of next 3 dc. (2 dc. Ch 2. 2 dc) in next ch-2 sp. Rep from * twice more. Join with sl st to top of ch 3.  [My note: This will give 7 dc per side.]
3rd to 8th rnds: Ch 3 (counts as dc). *1 dc in each dc to next ch-2 sp. (2 dc. Ch 2. 2 dc) in next ch-2 sp. Rep from * 3 times more. 1 dc in each dc to end of rnd. Join with sl st to top of ch 3.  [My note: Each row will increase by 4 dc per side, so the 3rd row will have 11 dc per side, the 4th row will have 15 dc per side and so on.]
9th rnd: Ch 1. 1 sc in each dc around, having 3 sc in corner ch-2 sps. Join with sl st to first sc. Fasten off.

Garden Gnome

Monday, March 5, 2012

Rainbow Neck Warmer

rainbow neck warmer knitting pattern

I have been making a lot of knitted wash cloths for our new home.  I am particularly fond of the eyelet edged wash cloth, an easy to carry project for my knitting and crochet projects when visiting, traveling or sitting in waiting rooms.  I was working on one of the wash cloths while we were visiting a friend and his young daughter for the afternoon.  She was mesmerized by the knitting needles as I worked while chatting.  She commented several times how much she loved the edging so I told her I had just the yarn for her so would make her a scarf.  The pattern I came up with keeps the eyelet edge.  The neck warmer was knit in Redheart worsted weight from my stash of yarn using a 6 oz skein.  The label was gone so I don't know the colour code or even if it is made anymore.  Any worsted weight yarn will work with this pattern.

Rainbow Neck Warmer
  • 4.5 mm (US 7) knitting needles
  • 6 oz worsted weight yarn
Cast on 4 stitches.
K 2 rows
*K2 YO K to end of row
repeat from * until there are 30 stitches on the needle
**K2 YO K2tog K to end of row
repeat from ** until piece measures 30" or desired length
***K1 K2tog YO K2 tog
repeat from *** until there are 4 stitches on the needle
K 2 rows
cast off

Garden Gnome

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Household Preparedness

My gosh!  I have been watching the coverage of the vicious storms and tornados hitting the midwestern US states.  There are nineteen active tornado warnings and six on the ground with total devastation in some areas!  Now, I am a very firm believer in being prepared for emergencies.  I ensure we have twelve to eighteen month supply of food on hand, safely stored mainly below ground.  I have seeds to start a garden safely stored, extra medications, emergency lighting and a wide range of emergency equipment.  But looking at the devastation from these storms, I'm just shaking my head.  I know enough not to put all my food storage in one basket.  Home canned and dried foods can withstand tornados, flooding and extended power outages.  Frozen foods will last 4 days providing the freezer remains shut.  The thing is with these tornados, freezers and refrigerators have become airborne so the food is simply gone.  Those who prepared enough to keep emergency supplies below ground may have a chance providing the house didn't collapse on top of them.  Those just out of the path of the tornados would be fine and that path can really be defining with houses on one side of the street unaffected with those on the other side completely destroyed.  Complicating matters is some affected communities have decided to immediately start bull dozing buildings meaning home owners can't get back into their homes to get those precious emergency supplies.

Despite this, I feel every household should have emergency preparedness supplies including enough food to last 6 months or more.  That food should be stored in such a manner as to even if you lose a portion of the stored food (eg. frozen foods) there is still enough stored using other methods to provide for your family.  There should be enough emergency medications, clothing and other supplies securely protected from water damage.  All emergency preparedness supplies should be stored below grade (eg. basement, cellar).  Barring a below grade location, choose a location in the centre of your home.  There is always a chance your emergency supplies will be lost but there is a greater chance your emergency supplies will come in handy.  It is better to have emergency supplies than it is to go without them.

There is no doubt our weather is changing.  Many areas are experiencing more volatile weather including more vicious storms.  This past winter has been beyond abnormal for us with no hard freeze (virtually unheard of for our area of Ontario) that has resulted in more illness including norovirus.  The midwest is already seeing a severe change in weather with storms hitting a good month earlier than what they normally would.  That means we need to stay vigilant and be prepared!

Garden Gnome

Friday, March 2, 2012

Customer Loyalty

I posted earlier that I was a Bissell kind of gal.  I've used their products for years but that all changed last week when I called Bissell Customer Service regarding the wheel on my new Bissell Opticlean Cyclonic Bagless vacuum cleaner.  The machine is just barely over the 90 warranty offered by the store but still within the 1 year warranty offered by Bissell.  The wheel just fell off when I was vacuuming.  It didn't bump anything, it just fell off.  I put it back on and continued vacuuming but it fell off again.  Upon closer inspection, the two of the plastic tabs that hold the wheel on the wheel hub had broke off and this was with normal usage.  I called Bissell for a replacement wheel but they said I had to go through one of their service outlets.  The one closest to me is a 40 minute drive.  I called them and they said it would be a 4 to 6 week wait for the part.  Let's see, I have all hard wood flooring and severe allergies (aka daily vacuuming) yet I am supposed to wait 4 to 6 weeks?  In addition, I was supposed to drive 40 minutes each way twice?  Does Bissell realize just how much gas is now a days?  I called Bissell back to let them know it would be 4 to 6 weeks before my vacuum would be repaired.  Well, I might as well have been talking to a brick wall.  Here's the thing, if Bissell actually cared about their customers they would have just sent me a replacement wheel.  I would even had paid for a replacement wheel but instead they chose to not apply the finer art of keeping a customer satisfied.  Bissell has lost a loyal customer, plain and simple! 

My husband came up with a temporary repair for the Opticlean then last night brought home a new central vacuum.  It is a Hoover straight-air central vacuum system with attachments.  There are two head attachments but not a power head as this system is designed for hard floor surfaces.  Since we have no carpeting in the house, this central vacuum system is ideal for us and it saved $100 by not needed the power head.  We had central vac in our third house and it was a Hoover.  It was really quite delightful so I'm looking forward to going back to using central vac here.  I won't get rid of the Opticlean unit as that will be good for vacuuming out the vehicles.  I'll report back on the installation of the central vac and how I like it once the unit is installed.

Garden Gnome