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 :)

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

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Energy Costs of Home Computers

My husband recently bought me an iPad so of course I had to compare energy usage to other types of home computers.  We have TOU hydro pricing so anytime we can reduce our energy usage, we do so not only for financial savings but as part of our energy conservation efforts.  I found Saving Electricity to be quite helpful.

On average the annual cost to operate:

  • typical desktop - as high as $631
  • iMac G5 20" - $5.50
  • laptop - $8
  • iPad - $1.36
  • iPhone - 25¢
I replaced the old typical desktop with CRT monitor a number of years ago with an iBook G3 which was replaced with an iMac G4 17" so the annual cost to operate the iMac is a little lower than $5.50.  We each have a laptop which costs a bit more to operate annually but offer greater mobility and they still work during power outages.  My husband has an iPhone with a data plan and I have an iPad equipped with Wi-Fi.  Both of these products offer mobility with low energy use.  All but the typical desktop can be set up to be operated on solar power or for solar charging. 

During high peak pricing, the frugal way for us to access online is the iPad or the iPhone but the iPad is actually cheaper because it connects to our router, not using up the data plan on the phone but using the iMac is rather frugal as well.  We also take advantage of charging laptops, the iPhone and iPad when traveling longer distances in the car.  Since moving into town we do a lot less traveling but charging mobile devices while traveling is cost effective.  We have essentially reduced out energy usage for home computing about as low as we can get. 

Now here is something to consider.  A lot of newer televisions are equipped to be connected to a laptop to be used as a monitor.  I know we can with our Magnavox 37" television as well as the smaller twin Phillips in the games room.   A big screen television can cost you as much as $100 possibly more to operate depending on your usage and age of television.  Using the television screen as a computer monitor adds extra energy cost for no reason if using for home computing.  The extra cost may be warranted if watching a movie or television show via computer using the television as a monitor but not on a daily basis.  However, if watching television and movies via the computer using your television meets your needs you may be able to eliminate satellite tv or cable realizing a substantial annual savings.  Just be aware if using this set up for home computing it does coast more in energy usage.