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 :)

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Quick & Easy Easter Table Decoration

quick and easy Easter table decoration

Aside of Christmas, I am not big on decorating the house for holidays.  I hang a Canadian flag for Canada Day, put up a few decorations for Hallowe'en just for the kids visiting and then there's Christmas.  Honestly, unlike some I have no intentions of decorating for Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day and all the other days there are.  It's not that we don't celebrate those days I just don't decorate.  I did when our kids were smaller but when they left the nest, I gave it up.  Now with grandkids that's changing.  I'm back to doing a bit of decorating for any holiday they are here and even adding a few extra touches to make things special for the kids and grandkids when they visit even if it isn't a holiday.

Our local dollar store is amazing.  I'm not kidding!  Even though the prices have gone up I can find a lot of things that are Canadian made so I will support them just on that basis.  Besides they have a lot of neat things.  I wanted table decorations (not exactly centerpieces) for the tables in the games room where we would be eating our Easter dinner.  So I checked our local dollar store.  I found cute bird nest wreaths with three spots for decorated eggs to sit.  I added my standard candles that don't get burned because they are paraffin  so used only for decorative purposes.  I put two of these decorations on the games room table then used the extra decorated eggs that came in a sleeve of 10 in the fruit bowl for a hint of Easter and that was it.  I really liked the table decorations and the fact they were easily dismantled to be used again for another holiday.

We have storage under our stairs.  There is existing shelving so what I've been doing is creating a box of decorations for each holiday.  I package up the items then put a label printed on painter's tape on the box.  Next year I can easily pull that box out, add to it if necessary then go ahead and decorate with little fuss or muss.  It's neat and organized ready to grab and go.

Garden Gnome

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Home Security Tips

Our area has been experiencing more break and enters, mainly vehicles and small businesses but also out buildings and a few houses.  Most of these have been grab and run without doing much damage.  While this may be a sign of the times. as homeowners or tenants there are a lot of things that can be done to deter break-ins.  I will focus mainly on what homeowners can do but many of these tips apply equally to those who rent their homes.

  • lock it - Vehicles, even if in your own driveway or garage should be locked at all times.  Burglars will move on to easier targets rather than try to get into a locked vehicle.  Entrance doors including garage doors should be locked at all times even if you are home.  Ensure there are dead bolts on every entry door, locks on all windows and patio doors, and use them!  The only time a door should be unlocked is if you are right there.  For example, it is fine to have your patio door unlocked if you are right nearby within close viewing range.
  • valuables - All valuables both those in vehicles and homes should be kept out of sight.  Lock anything GPS, shopping purchases or other valuables in your glove compartment or trunk.  Keep valuables (eg. jewelry, electronic equipment, money, etc.) away from easy viewing through your home windows.  Close your curtains or blinds especially when away from your home.
  • garages - Garages can be either attached to your house or unattached.  An attached garage should be equipped with a garage door opener.  This ensures your garage door remains locked when you aren't there but be aware, some garage door opener controls can open other garage doors if they are on the same frequency especially older models so do be aware of that.  If that happens, change the frequency on your garage door and any keypad password.  If it continues, replace the garage door opener (under $200 on sale).  This is not a problem with newer garage door openers as they constantly change frequencies as part of their security features.  It is imperative that the entrance door between the attached garage and house has a dead bolt and is kept locked at all times.  If someone gets into your garage, they have easy access to your house if that door is not locked and they are hidden from view of your neighbours if in the garage.  If there is an entrance door to the outside, keep it locked as well.  Garage doors should be kept closed and locked unless you are right there. 
  • sheds - Sheds are an easy target because some by design are difficult to secure.  Don't keep anything of any value (eg. tools, lawn mower, power equipment) in a shed unless it can be secured with a dead bolt lock.  Instead use shed for storing lawn furniture, planters and other items of no real value to thieves.
  • locks - Door handle locks and dead bolts should be on all exterior doors to your home.  All windows should be equipped with locks as well as opening restrictions so you can leave you window open about 3 inches for air circulation but it is still secure against break-ins. Pay particular attention to securing patio doors especially those at ground level.  Patio doors come with a lock but additional security can be added. 
  • keys - Household locks should be changed as soon as you take possession of your new home.  If there are no dead bolts, now is the time to add them.  While this won't be possible if you rent, a good landlord will do this for you.  This is very first thing we do after picking up the keys from the lawyer's office before our possession start arriving.  Keep keys out of sight of prying eyes.  Don't hang them near a window or entrance way where they may be easily seen.  If having your vehicle serviced, give them only the key to your vehicle, not any of the other keys on your key chain.  If using a valet service, use the valet key for your vehicle and lock your glove compartment.  Do not leave any household keys with the valet.  Keys should always be out of the ignition and in your possession when you aren't with your vehicle.  In the cold winter months folks are tempted to leave the car running in their driveway to warm up or leave it running while they run into a variety store but it only takes a second for a thief to drive away with your vehicle and he/she now has your home address along with keys to get into your home!  Household keys should only be given to a select few people you trust.  If at any time you think your household keys got into the wrong hands or you lose your keys, change the locks.  Weiser SmartKey sets make this very easy to do yourself.  Do not have your address on the key fob or label the keys in any manner that would aid a thief if they got a hold of your keys.  Use a colour coded system or different designer keys (eg. Disney design for house, sports design for shed, etc).  All exterior household doors can be keyed to use the same key making it very easy and inexpensive to replace your keys if necessary. 
  • security systems - A household, monitored security system should be installed and used.  Not only will it deter thieves, should a break-in occur, help will get there faster and most insurance companies give a discount if you have a security system.  A security system can be added even if you rent although you should check your lease first, however there are easy DIY wireless systems that will alert your neighbours if there is a problem.
  • lighting - Thieves like to work under the cloak of darkness so remove that with lighting.  Motion activated indoor and outdoor lights should be used in combination to lights on timers and solar lighting.  Motion activated lights can be battery operated,  electric outlet type or solar.  GE makes a really nice motion activated LED night light (2 pack for $17) that plug into the wall.  They have two bright LED lights that really light up well when motion is detected up to 20 feet away.  X-10 has interior and exterior motion detector controls that can be turn on the programmed light and there are a wide range of other motion activated lighting available.
  • empty house - When you are away even for brief periods of time like going to the grocery store, do not Twitter as that is an open invitation to anyone reading your tweets that your house is empty.  Do not put that you will be on vacation on Facebook for the same reason.  If away for an extended period of time, set your security system and notify your alarm company.  Give your house key to a trusted family member or friend to check on your house on a regular basis as well as collect any newspapers.  If you have good neighbour relations and you should, let them know you will be away and what vehicles may be in your driveway so if they see any suspicious activity they can notify the police.

Garden Gnome

Thursday, April 26, 2012

How to Build a Solar Light Bulb

Solar power really is the wave of the future.  Currently it is a bit too expensive for many homeowners and not easily incorporated into rental units.  However, there are many simple, DIY solar projects using recycled or low cost parts that can help save a bit of money.  For example:  solar ovens, solar water heating,  solar window heaters, solar greenhouses and cold frames are all something anyone can make using recycled materials.  You really don't have to spend a lot of money to start using a bit of solar around you home.  What you do need is a bit of imagination!

I was browsing YouTube videos the other day for a few gardening ideas when I stumbled upon solar light bulbs.  Now this is about as ingenious as you can get!  Each light bulb is made using a recycled 2 L plastic pop bottle, water, a little chlorine bleach, a small piece of corrugated metal, glue and sealant.  As simple as this sounds, each one of these solar light bulbs produces the equivalent of a 50 W light bulb but uses only solar power.  Basically, the solar lights work this well because the water causes the natural light to refract resulting in a amplification of the light hitting the solar light.  These solar lights are being used in under developed countries like Brazil and Mexico, bringing light into homes where little existed and they are even being used in storage facilities and factories.  The down side is these lights only work during the daylight hours but that is when most of household lighting is used anyway so they will still save money.  Household lighting at night is task or room specific, usually only for a couple of hours.

I can see a definite use in our area of southwestern Ontario for lighting up chicken coops, out buildings like tool sheds and covered boat wells.  It might be possible to adapt these lights for use in an attic but that would mean cutting one or more holes in your house roof, something that might not be desirable.  Well sealed, the solar lights should not leak but for household indoor application an actual solar tub be a better solution.  It does freeze in our area during the winter but a clear anti-freeze agent could be added to the water that wouldn't interfere with the light refraction.  Either glycerin or alcohol would work to prevent the water freezing. 

Here's a video demonstrating how to make the solar lights: 

Garden Gnome

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A Whirlwind of Household Activity

It is only human nature to want to change wall colours, window treatments and even decor when you first move into a different home.  As tempting as this is, it is better to live in the home for a few months before rushing out to buy new decor items.  Even repainting should be left until you get the feel of the house and see how the natural light affects each room.  We have been in our new home for seven and a half months.  Our house has become a whirlwind of activity since the new year.  There are service people coming and going, painting, various installations combined with still unpacking and organizing.  I am so glad we resisted the urge to make immediate changes which kept us with enough money to cover emergency and unexpected repairs.  Here are a few reasons why:

  • unexpected repairs -   It is common to encounter unexpected repairs that may need immediate attention but were not apparent during your viewing.  Sellers can be very good at hiding these types of problems and even a home inspection may not uncover them.  Since moving in we have had to fix a shower leak, two leaking toilets, replace the outdoor sewer cap, repair the fence and fix one of the kitchen sink drains.  Every sink in the house needed drain cleaning as they were clogged almost to the point of not draining at all.  We had to replace the winter pool cover as the one on the pool was full of holes and quickly getting worse.  We had to have the seals on three windows repaired.  These are all repairs that needed immediate attention and the shower involved getting a plumber in.
  • unexpected security issues - We live in a lovely, relatively safe community but there have been a rash of break-ins.  In addition we live in what our insurance company considers a high risk flood location and we have a pool so our house insurance actually increased by $300 per year.  We a water powered backup system installed for the sump pump so if the power is out the sump pump will still work.  With being urban and a recent rash of break-ins along with our extend period of time away, we had a monitored security system installed.  Our garage door opener suddenly stopped working so we had to replace that as well.  A garage door opener really is part of your overall household security plan despite it's convenience as your garage is always locked when the door is closed.   We still have to install motion activated outdoor lighting which is on my to-do list but I will more than likely use our X-10 for this as well as extending interior motion activated lighting.
  • basic maintenance - We had to clean to our standards from top to bottom which is expected but that meant buying a few necessary pieces of cleaning equipment (eg. dust mop, vacuum cleaner [replaced with central vacuum]) to compensate for all hard flooring.  The vacuum cleaner bought new when we moved in broke so we replaced with a central vacuum that was on sale for less then the cost of a better quality rolling vacuum cleaner.  The furnace and hot water tank had to be cleaned.  We had the exterior of the house power washed as well since it looked like it had not been cleaned in several years. 

Garden Gnome

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Home Security

Over the past few weeks our area has seen a large increase in home break-ins as well as vehicle break-ins.    Most home burglars want a quick in and out with a bit of hiding.  They are looking for things that can be quickly turned into money more than likely for drugs but that is just an educated guess.  In our area they are targeting the easy grab and run items like money,  gold jewelry, and booze.  The reality is there are several things you can do to reduce your chance of being broke into.  Here's a few tips that work for us"

  • lock it - This seems like a very simple concept but honestly a locked door whether it be on a vehicle or home is a real deterrent for break-ins.  They aren't going to spend the time trying to get through a locked home or vehicle if there is an easier mark near-by.  The current recommendation is to keep your vehicle locked even if it is in your driveway or garage and to keep all doors to your house locked whether or not you are home.
  • lighting - An unlit house is more apt to be broken into than a lit house.  Use solar lighting mixed with motion activated lights.  Place the motion activated lights near possible points of entry.  Motion activated as well as timed lighting should be used indoors as well.  Do not leave outdoor lights on for extended periods of time if you aren't home as that is a dead give away the house is empty.  Timed lighting is great if it mimics your normal living style but quite frankly, an experienced burglar can likely see through this one.
  • get active in your neighbourhood - We are active in our neighbourhood watch program and I volunteer for our local program.  The thing is when neighbours get involved there is a decrease crime rate.  That is because now a days, neighbours have things like cell phones and digital cameras so can even catch criminals trying to break into your home.  Not only that, good neighbours are seriously worth their weight in gold.  Get to know your neighbours.  They know what vehicles should be at your home and who should be there when you aren't there.
  • alarm systems - An alarm system is a wonderful deterrent however, there has been some debate whether the system should be announced.  Generic decals are likely better because the burglar won't really know what system they are dealing with.  By far, monitored alarm systems are superior to those systems that are not monitored.  Monitoring usually costs about $20 per month but if something ever happens help is right there almost immediately.  Some alarm companies even add a red flashing light outdoors on your house so if your home is broken into, it becomes very visible within seconds sending the burglars to easier target.
  • notify police - If you are going to be away for an extended period of time, notify your local police department.  They will do extra drive-bys and respond a bit faster should your alarm go off or a neighbour calls.

Garden Gnome

Monday, April 16, 2012

Healthy Feet Tips

I am a self proclaimed shoe-aholic.    I'm not kidding, I have shoes with the tags still on them.  For years I have listened to all the advice for healthy feet like wear all cotton socks and never wear the same pair of shoes twice in a twenty-four hour period.  My shoes are well fitted as well and I very seldom ever where exercise shoes or high heels with a strong slope.  Imagine my surprise when over the past few months I developed foot problems.  I suffered a rather nasty sprain on my left foot in February then  I finally went to the doctor because it felt like I was walking on a button on my right big toe joint.  X-rays show I have arthritis in my right foot and I do have a bunion that started developing in my pre-teens on that joint so it has been rather babied.  My doctor said the bunion would have to be corrected because the arthritis is making it worse but focus is on the current problem that will likely need an custom made orthopedic insole to get relief.   What I found out is some of the things I was doing for my feet like always wearing some type of covering even indoors was not exactly healthy.  Despite taking care of my feet there was still a lot more I could do to alleviate the pain of arthritis and make my feet healthier.

Here are a few of the things I am trying for healthier feet:

  • go bare foot - This is a huge one for me as I seldom go bare foot even around the pool or on our boat.  However, going bare foot is good for your feet.  In fact, contrary to when our kids were learning to walk, the new recommendation is to let the kids go bare foot rather than wear the once popular baby walking shoes.  Going bare foot is a natural way to control moisture, bacterial and fungal problems as well as helping with balance.
  • apple cider vinegar (APC) - APC is recommended both internally and externally for arthritis.  Concentrated apple cider vinegar tablets are available in health food stores and in the dietary supplement section of the pharmacy.  I have long suspected arthritis in my wrists and hands so one of our kids said to take APC.  I honestly could not believe the difference just taking two APC tablets with each meal made!  APC is also good for external pain relief.  Pour about four ounces of APC into a deep bowl then fill 3/4 full with as hot of water as you can comfortably put your feet in.  Soak for at least 20 minutes.  This will help relieve arthritis pain as well as prevent oncomycosis (the most common food fungus) as well as athlete's foot.
  • gel insoles - My doctor recommended buying a pair of trainers with gel insoles.  I don't like wearing trainers so bought a pair of Dr. Scholl's career shoes with gel insoles as well as extra gel insoles to use with some of my favourite shoes.  Trimmable gel insoles are an inexpensive way to keep your feet comfortable while still enjoying your favourite shoes.
Garden Gnome

Monday, April 2, 2012

Controlling the Spread of Disease in Your Home

I mentioned a couple of days ago that I have a rather nasty viral infection.  To prevent the spread of this virus I am using a 50% ethanol solution to sanitize those surfaces we touch on a daily basis.  There are several methods to help control the spread of any disease (bacterial or viral) throughout your household.  The biggest obstacle is trying to do this if you are the one who is sick but a lot of the following tips are easy to do, low cost and effective.  Here's what I do:

  • ethanol alcohol spray - Ethanol alcohol can be purchased at the dollar store for $1.  It kills bacteria and virii on contact.  One small bottle is enough to treat an entire house 4 to 6 times.
  • wash hands - Washing your hands often throughout the day, after you use the washroom and several times during food prep is a very effective way to prevent the spread of disease.  It is cheap and effective.
  • nix the hand shake - I'm sorry but I don't shake hands as a form of greeting and that isn't me being rude.  It is all about not spreading disease!  Shaking hands is a nasty way that germs are spread so just don't do it. 
  • increase personal hygiene - When you are sick you really may not feel like getting wet but it is the best thing for you.  It washes away bacteria and virii, sweat and cleans germ traps like your hair.  Besides showering can help you breath a bit better for respiratory based illnesses and relax you so you get a better sleep to help your body heal.  Forget what you look like, you're sick so you aren't going to look like a glamour queen.  Aim for two showers daily when you are sick, more if you feel like it.  Even a soak in the tub is a good way to relax and help your body feel a bit better.
  • increase laundry - Our normal laundry schedule is one or two loads every 10 days given we are a two adult household and have an large capacity HE washer.  During an illness outbreak it is imperative to go to a daily laundry schedule.  I know it is a pain but it is a very effective way to help control the spread of the germs.  Add a drop or two of tea tea oil to the laundry to help kill of germs and be sure to wash in the hottest water possible for the fabric.  All clothing, bed sheets, and towels the sick person used should be washed every day.  I know it sounds like a lot of work but it is very effective.
  • respiratory masks - When you have a respiratory infection it becomes airborne in your home every time you cough or sneeze.  This is really problematic for others in your home during your infectious period.  An easy solution is to use a respiratory mask.  It might not be as comfortable as you would like but it will help to stop those virii from spreading throughout your household.
  • garbage out - Empty the bathroom wastebasket and any other wastebaskets that could harbour germs from soiled tissues and any other illness related items a couple of times a day.  Get those germs out of your house.

Garden Gnome