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, January 26, 2013

Knock Down the Dust Mite Population with Cold Air

Many folk suffer from dust mite allergies more specifically from dust mite droppings. Dust mites are microscopic insects that live in our home feeding off of dead skin. The problem is dead skin accumulates in dust as a normal part of our daily activity because we are always shedding skin. In homes with carpeting and upholstered furniture or in rooms with a lot of textiles (eg. stuffed animals), the dust mite population can explode into large numbers causing those allergic to dust mites to have an increase in allergy symptoms ranging from minor (eg. sniffles, runny eyes) to life threatening (eg. severe asthma attack). My allergists and respiratory therapist have drilled it into me over and over that the best control is to reduce the dust mite habitat by removing all carpeting and upholstered furniture. We've been working towards that goal and in September 2011, we finally bought a house with no carpeting. All floors are hard so the dust mite population here is quite low. Not everyone can rip out their carpeting or buy a house with no carpeting. If you live in a cold climate as we do, you can use the reduced humidity and cold air treatment to knock down the dust mite population in your home. If you have a humidifier, do not set the humidity level higher than 25%. This will still help keep your mucosal membranes from becoming too dry. The cold air treatment ideally needs 24 to 48 hours so is best done during the winter when you can be away for one or two nights. The ideal magic temperature you want to get your house to is 50°F, no lower as you don't want pipes freezing. Turn the furnace off and replace the filter about 3 hours before leaving the house. Gather all textiles (eg. stuffed animals, pillows, afghans) and place in plastic garbage bags. Put them in the freezer or if you have an unheated garage or shed in there while you are gone. Strip the beds leaving them bare. Thoroughly vacuum all floors both hard and carpeted. Empty the vacuum bag or cup, clean if necessary and replace as you will need to use the vacuum cleaner as soon as you arrive home. Now, leave the house with furnace off for at least 24 hours. The inside air temperature will dip and continue to dip, killing off dust mites. The closer the temperature gets to 50°F the more effective the kill off is. At the same time, the dust mites in your textiles in the plastic bags are being killed off. When you return home, it will be chilly but houses don't take long to warm up. Turn the furnace on. Carefully open the garbage bags with your textiles and place the textiles in the dryer on air fluff for at least 15 minutes. This will remove dust mite carcasses and feces. Next, vacuum thoroughly all floor surfaces to also remove dust mite carcasses and feces. The dust mite population has been basically knocked down to an ultra low level so will take a couple of months or more to get to the level to cause allergic symptoms providing you do regular vacuuming. While you are doing dust mite control, this is a good time to put allergy covers on all pillows and mattresses. The cover forms a barrier between you and the dust mite droppings. Use the cold treatment on pillows then cover. Vacuum mattresses well then place a zippered allergy cover on the mattress. If your house has a lot of carpeting (eg. all rooms except bathrooms and kitchen), this treatment can be used monthly or three times during the cold weather depending on your lifestyle. When we are at our vacation home in Florida during December, our house is left at 50°F for the entire duration of three to five weeks. This was particularly helpful for dust mite control in our last home where there was a lot of carpeting and while it is more of an eco-friendly solution here to avoid using a lot of energy to heat our house when we aren't here, it still kills off the dust mites. Oh, and while the treatment sounds like a lot of work, it really isn't! It usually takes me about a half hour on each end of the treatment. The results are definitely worth it in increased comfort, reduced allergy symptoms and reduced medications.

Friday, January 25, 2013

A Cold Snap

There has been a lot of sickness going around especially cold and flu or flu-like illnesses. My husband came down with a cold just after the holidays and I've been down with a horrid cold with complications for two weeks now. When I was growing up, the winters were colder and believe me our house was poorly insulated at best. There would be frost inside on the windows, huge icicles hanging from the eaves troughs and quickly getting dressed before freezing was a challenge. Our bedrooms were downright cold at night as the only heat to them was via the two radiant heat gas heaters downstairs. We had a floor vent in the middle of the hall to help get heat upstairs. While heat does rise, little of it came upstairs. The basement was unfinished with a mud floor so the first level floors were beyond cold in the winter. I can remember my Mom opening windows on a sunny but bitterly cold day, enough to get a good cross-breeze. She would leave the house like that for a couple of hours! She hang clothes on the line on those days as well even though we had a gas dryer. Her reasons were simple. The fresh air got rid of stagnant winter air and killed germs. She was old school, born in 1903, raised on a farm and lived through two World Wars as well as the Great Depression. Let me tell you, she knew a thing or two about living frugally! We bought our first home in the early 80's and compared to my Mom's house it was quite energy efficient. We are now in our sixth purchased home, seventh if you count our vacation home. This house is a far cry from our first house in that it is so energy efficient and sealed so tightly we need an air exchanger. Heating costs are considerably higher than what my Mom paid but in reality a lot of the heating she paid for went out all the cracks and crevices of the house. Although it sounds like an expensive practice to do in modern, air tight homes her method of using cold air is just as effective now as it was then. Our winters have become warmer so what you need is a cold snap where the temperature is below freezing for a few days. Wait for a sunny day during the cold snap then shut off your furnace. Go through the house and spray all touchable surfaces (eg. phone handsets, door knobs, remotes, light switches, keyboards, etc) with rubbing alcohol. This greatly reduces any germs on those surfaces making the cold air treatment more effective. Change the filter as it may harbour germs. Open at least two windows to create a cross breeze. A kitchen or bathroom exhaust fan can be turned on to help remove the stagnant air. Leave your house like this for at least a half hour then shut the windows and start the furnace. This is long enough period to remove stagnant air in the house without lowering the indoor temperature too much. Germs go out the window along with the stagnant air.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

'Tis Cold and Flu Season

You are most susceptible to coming down with the cold or flu when your immune system is over taxed.  We arrived home from our winter vacation in the sunny south on December 20, immediately jumped into holiday mode and quite frankly we were exhausted so it is no wonder that my husband easily caught youngest grandkids cold.  He spent the first week of January dealing with his cold while I managed to avoid it.  The following week, against my better judgement I stopped at the gym for a membership.  Later that day she wrote on Facebook that she was dealing with three sick people at home - her husband and two kids.  I had talked to him that morning.  Two days later, I woke with a sore neck but didn't think much of it as my neck is often sore due to an old injury.  By mid-afternoon, the soreness had been replaced with a scratchy throat.  I started with my normal routine of gargling with salt water and sipping on warm water with honey and apple cider vinegar.  The weekend passed but my throat was still sore on Monday.  That afternoon, the coughing started and let me tell you it was beyond horrid.  The first cough felt like my lungs were going to explode followed by my whole body in searing pins and needles.  The next coughing spell quickly turned to vomiting as did each coughing spell after that for the next two days along with that horrid searing pins and needles sensation.  I called my doctor and in the meantime increased my Symbicort and started taking a DM Expectorant which barely took the edge off the cough.  Aside of the searing pins and needles sensation which was very painful, I actually felt fairly good.  There was no fever just the coughing, the sensation, no appetite and feeling tired so I really wasn't concerned.  I figured it was a cold that hit hard and I was right because about 8 days after the coughing started I was fine.

According to some sources, there is a lot of sickness going around and I'm sure there will be a lot more.  Here, in our little corner of beautiful Ontario, Canada the biggest problem has been lack of a hard frost to kill off the germs. There is a rather aggressive strain of flu going around as well.  Despite being high risk, I do not get the flu shot nor does my husband.  The flu vaccine is a whole issue in itself!  However, even though colds and flu are going through the area, we seldom get sick.  I suspect we only came down with the colds this year because we were exhausted.  Here are some of the things we do to avoid contracting colds and flu.

  • hand washing - Hand washing is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of germs.   We are constantly washing our hands throughout the day and we use the waterless hand sanitizer.  We have hand sanitizer in both vehicles, in coat pockets, in my purse and throughout the house.  It is used several times throughout the day.
  • don't touch the face rule - It is surprising how many times you touch your face in a day but this is one of the best ways to get germs into your body.  Becoming aware of how many times you touch your face can help you reduce that.
  • avoid people -  Avoiding people is a rather effective way not pick up germs and it is a lot easier than you would think.  During the cold and flu season we stay out of hospitals (germ cesspools), doctor's offices, malls, grocery stores and in short unless we really need to go out, we don't.  We don't have public transit here so that's easy to avoid but if we did, we would not use it during cold and flu season.  We continue to entertain but at a reduced level and while this could expose us to both cold and flu, the risk is considerably lower as our friends and family tend to stay home when they are sick.
  • healthy eating -  In general, my husband and I eat healthy on a regular basis not just during cold and flu season.  We tend to eat home cooked from scratch, home canned, hormone-free grass-fed beef, AND we avoid food additives, preservatives, HFCS and excess salt.  We eat salad daily as well so in general, I really don't need to modify this for the cold and flu season although I may add extra onion and garlic (anti-bacterial).  
  • avoid sugar - During cold and flu season we avoid sugar especially white sugar.  Sugar supports the growth of harmful bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract.  We aren't big sugar users to begin with but avoiding it helps prevent secondary infection (usually bacterial) should we have a viral infection (cold, flu).  If we need a sweetener, we use raw honey, agave nectar, molasses or stevia.
  • natural remedies - Wherever possible we avoid using pharmaceuticals in favour of natural remedies.  I am supposed to take Symbicort daily but I don't unless I have respiratory problems.  My top natural antibiotics are oil of oregano, raw honey, tea tree oil and garlic..
  • dietary supplementation - My husband does not use much in the way of dietary supplementation but I do to support and boost my immune function.  This allows me to avoid using Symbicort.  Dietary supplementation should always be geared towards the needs of the individual.  Along with immune supporters, it is necessary (or suggested) that dietary supplementation to support liver and urinary tract function be included to help rid the body of toxins.
  • hydration - Proper hydration is necessary any time but during cold and flu season it becomes more important.  The reason being, dry mucosal membranes are more prone to infection.  If you have a cold, hydration is very important in helping you clear mucous.  The problem is, homes heating during the winter are dry so you are losing moisture to the dry air and if you have a fever you are losing even more moisture.  This is the time to boost water consumption and avoid dehydrating drinks like coffee and alcohol.  
  • sanitizing - I keep a spray bottle of rubbing alcohol on hand.  Once a day, I go through the house and spray surfaces where hand might have touched (eg. tv remotes, telephones, door knobs, light switches, keyboards, etc).  This really helps to knock down the germs in the house as the alcohol kills 99% of germs on contact preventing the spread of germs.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Purging and Decluttering

It's a brand new year, perfect timing for purging and decluttering.  I'm on day 2 of doing both and it will likely take me a couple more days which is surprising since we have only been here 16 months and I did massive decluttering before the move.  I have also been very careful to not increase the clutter.  Still, the decluttering continues.  Here is what I'm targeting:

  • receipts - Any receipts over 7 years old kept for tax purposes can safely be destroyed.  Any receipt over a year old for small appliances can be destroyed unless there is an extended warranty which in my case only applies to a very few items.  I am a huge pack rat with respect to grocery receipts, the reason being I author a food blog that discusses food prices so I need to be able to refer to them.  After a year, the prices have changed anyway so the receipts are no longer needed.
  • medicines - Both over the counter and prescription medications have expiry dates.  While they may continue working after that date, there may be a reduced efficacy and/or chemical changes that could cause harm.  This is the time of year I go through the medicine cabinet discarding everything out of date, including vitamins.  I take all medications to be discarded to the pharmacy for safe disposal.
  • sunblocks/sunscreens - Both sunblocks and sunscreens have expiry dates.  We have a boat, a pool and and vacation home (in Florida) plus we do a lot of entertaining.  I always have sunblock and sunscreen on hand for ourselves and for our guests.  Expired sunblock and sunscreen lose the protection factor so even if you apply it, you can end up with a nasty burn.  I emptied all that were over or close to the expiry date.  
  • make-up - I very seldom wear much in the way of make-up so don't have a lot to begin with.  I tossed anything over a year old and I have no plans of replacing it.  I like the natural look.  
  • hair care products - I am a hair care fanatic!  I have waist length virgin (not treated) hair that is greying but I refuse to colour it.  At one time I had just about every hair care product imaginable (eg. gels, anti-frizz, sprays, detanglers, conditioners, shampoos).  Back in May of 2011 I started experiment with all natural hair care then in September discovered the Organix line of keratin hair care products and everything else was history.  When the kids were home for the holidays, I gathered up all the unopened bottles and there were a lot since I stocked up when on sale and sent them home with them.  I went from about 30 bottles and tubes of hair care products down to 3 from the Organix line and 2 Pantenes for my husband who hasn't embraced the Organix line yet.  Once the Pantene products are gone it will be the Organix as they are healthier for your scalp and hair because they are sodium and sulfate free.  Everything else I use on my hair is all natural (eg. baking soda, apple cider vinegar, olive oil, coconut oil) health, beauty and culinary.  
  • food - Generally, my time to go through the pantry and freezers is mid-March before gearing up for our bulk meat purchases and the start of the busiest portion of home food preservation so there isn't a lot to declutter.  However, since I'm in the decluttering mood, I'm making a systematic check through the pantry, freezers and cupboards.  Still this is a good way to use up some of those stashed left-overs.
  • clothes - I'm being really brutal here this time.  If I haven't worn something in over a year, into the donation box.  That's the rule.  
  • nic nacs - I did a rather good clean-up before we moved here but the storage area under the stairs became the home to things that didn't have an immediate home.  After 16 months, we haven't missed these items and likely won't use them so I'm clearing it out!  I'm also clearing out those items I thought would work in our new home but really don't.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

A Novel Way to Recycle a Plastic Clamshell Salad Container

During our December stay at our vacation home in sunny Florida, our resort held a couple of craft shows.  I seldom buy much at craft shows since I do a lot of crafts myself but I like going to them to discover new crafts.  I bought this Florida Favorites in a plastic clam shell because it was just a very unique presentation I had not seen before and immediately knew it could easily be adapted.

Our vacation home is in a 55+ gated retirement resort.  Aside of the multitude of amenities, it is important to know how the resort is used.  About 25% of the population live there year round.  The rest are snowbirds from the northern states and Canada, staying for part or all of the winter months ( late October through April).  Out of country owners such as ourselves, rent out our home during the peak season (January through April)  if we are not using it.  That means we can have upwards of 4 different renters, usually a couple during that time period.

Renters, much like us tend to use a few convenience products and the local grocery stores certainly cater to that.  Take-out salads are extremely popular because they are inexpensive, come with all the fixings including the dressing and large enough for four servings eliminating the waste of having to toss a bottle of salad dressing because you couldn't use it up before leaving.  The grocery store salads come in two piece clam shell plastic containers.  One of the ladies at our resort came up with a novel way to recycle them.

She made these really cute gift packs called Florida Favorites.  The cleaned clam shells were lined with tissue paper then three wooden seashell themed were placed on top.  She added a small tag printed from her computer and a bow to add a bit of pizazz.  The contents of the clam shell could not have cost her more that $2 at a dollar store and the container was recycled so she was making a profit of $2 for every container that she sold.  Oh, and she wasn't profiting personally as all profits went to the Make A Wish Foundation.  The neat thing is, these recycled clam shells could be filled with just about anything for gift giving!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Our Vacation Home Kitchen Range Repairs

Happy New Year!

We spent three weeks in May (one week in Aruba, 2 in Florida), three weeks in October and three weeks Nov 29 through December 20 at our vacation home in Florida.  It had been rented out January through April of 2012.  I was absolutely disgusted by how we found our vacation home when we arrived in May.  Despite the cleaners being in apparently three times, the floors were dirty, the bathrooms had not been touched especially the mirrors, the stove and backsplash had not been cleaned and the list goes on.  We arrived with friends of ours so I hit the floor running just so they could use the guest washroom.  The problem in May was we had guests and the side trip to Aruba so little time to go through the house properly looking for damage.  During the October trip, we had my husband's sister and son, took them to the airport and picked up the guys the same day.  They stayed for a week.  We dropped them off at the airport and the next day left at 7 AM in the morning to meet up with a couple of our kids at Disney World for a couple of days.

On the second day of our October trip, we found out from neighbours that the agent in charge of rentals had been in our house several times, once with a plumber ALL without our permission.  In this case, there is no need for a viewing other than pictures because the tenants are usually from the northern states or Canada so aren't there to do any viewing and at most they rent for one or two months, but usually only a month.  It isn't like it is a long term rental situation or they are looking to buy.  My husband replaced the dead bolts to prevent any unauthorized entry while we were there and because we were coming back in December, we could leave our personal belongings out including food in the fridge and cupboards.  The deadbolts the park has the key to will only be on our home when it is available for rent with the new deadbolts (agent doesn't have key) on the rest of the year.  Finally, during our December trip I had time to do a full inspection and believe me, I was not happy!

damaged drip bowls on our vacation home stove
Our vacation home is a 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom manufactured home, manufactured in November 2007 and assembled in it's current location in the spring of 2008.  The gentleman that owned it was hardly ever home and he lost it so the home sat empty for a year and a half when we bought it without seeing more than pictures, in March of 2010.  During our first visit in May of 2010, I took a lot of pictures.

The Whirlpool electric range was in perfect condition with the exception of one small chip that we repaired that trip.  Other than that there were no chips on any of the grey porcelain drip bowls.  Much to my dismay, I discovered all four of the drip pans were chipped during our May trip even though there had been no chips prior to the 2012 rental period!  An online search showed replacement cost of $13 for each of the 6 - inch drip bowls and $40 for each of the 8 - inch drip bowls.  In the big picture, $106 to repair the drip bowls wasn't too bad but they would likely get chipped again with the next renters.  The bottom line is, even when renting someones home and even at a premium price ($2,200 per month January through April), they really don't care if they cause any damages. [As a result of damages, we now have a neighbour that will go through our house and let us know of any damages so the renters' credit card (mandatory requirement if renting through the park) will be charged the day after they vacate if there are any damages.  Both of the 2012 renters will not be allowed to rent from us again.]

replacement drip bowls
We decided to replace the drip bowls with chrome drip bowls that we found at Lowes.  The first set didn't fit properly so my husband took them back and bought ones that actually said Whirlpool on the label.  They cost us $19.99 for the four of them which is considerably less expensive than the porcelain drip bowls.

I'm hoping that we get a couple of years out of them which isn't an unreasonable expectation providing they are cared for.  The nice thing is, the chrome drip bowls won't chip and they should clean up fairly easily.  Realistically, we have already put replacing the drip bowls on our annual repair list.

an overlooked area of the stove that should be cleaned
Electric stoves have an open space between the outside of the top of the oven and the stove top.  Unfortunately, many folks over look this area when cleaning electric ranges even though it can get a bit gunky from overflowing pots, spills, grease splatters and crumbs.  The reason this happens is regular drip bowls have a hole in the centre and another hole where the burner connects through into the socket.  That means foods and liquids can find their way onto this surface which can cause odours, attract pests (eg. ants, mice) and in severe build-up create a fire hazard.

Our vacation home stove is cleaned from top to bottom at the end of each stay.  It is also cleaned by the paid cleaners each time a renter leaves.  However, and this will be an issue to discuss with the agent, this problem area had not been cleaned.  I removed the burners and drip bowls then gave this space a good scrubbing.  It didn't take long to clean it up but this is one area that should be cleaned every other week.

new drip bowls in place
Once the stove was cleaned up, I put the new drip bowls in place and popped the burners in.  I personally would have liked to stay with the grey porcelain but quite frankly the chrome looks clean and fresh.  We won't have to worry about chipping either so it was a nice, inexpensive solution to a problem.  We are likely the only ones that will know the original drip bowls were grey porcelain anyway.  Renters want things clean, neat and tidy even though some renters don't leave our home in the same condition they found it.  At any rate, I think the solution looks nice while being practical.

cleaning out the storage compartment
Many ranges have storage drawers underneath the over that are suitable for baking sheets and that type of thing.  I've only had one stove (JennAir down draft) that didn't have a storage drawer.  Storage drawers are another overlooked area for cleaning.  Yet they can get drips and crumbs in them from regular cooking. It is an area that should be regularly wiped down whenever cleaning the stove.

When we closed up our vacation home in December 2011, that storage drawer was squeaky clean along with anything that was in it.  I had to wash all the baking sheets and bakeware then vacuum out the storage drawer before washing it.  Once the storage drawer was dried, I gave it a good spray of rubbing alcohol to kill any remaining germs while seriously curing out the last renters.

a bit of rusting on the storage drawer
As I was cleaning I noticed a ridge of rusting on the inside of the storage drawer front.  Florida is moist and humid so that means potential moisture problems including rusting and mould that can happen very quickly.  Moisture problems can cause a significant amount of damage in a very short period of time.  That means you always have to be on the outlook for any signs of moisture damage.  We always leave the AC set to control any moisture when we aren't there.  The problem is we cannot force a renter to leave the AC on if they don't want to so we have to be extra careful when checking for moisture damage.

I honestly have only seen rust on a kitchen range twice.  The first was due to oven cleaner dripping into the storage drawer resulting in a couple of blisters that started to rust in our ancient Admiral (bought in late 1980's) and the area noted at our vacation home.  I know the rust was not there when we bought the house and I don't recall seeing it in December of 2011 even though I recall cleaning the storage drawer.  I cleaned off the rust with a wire brush, washed and let the area dry well including using a blow dryer to be sure it was dried.  Then I used a Rustoleum rust guard appliance paint to repaint the surface.  I used three coats so the area is well protected.  It's on my list of things to re-check during our next visit.