Sunday, May 27, 2012

Household Hints: How to get more juice from a lemon

Especially during the winter, lemons can be expensive. Here are a couple of tips that will help you get more juice from a lemon.

- Warm your lemon up in the microwave before cutting it in half to get more juice.
- Roll your lemon on the counter, applying pressure with the palm of your hand will also loosen up the juice inside.
- If you just need a little lemon juice, poke a hole in the lemon with a toothpick, squeeze out the juice that you need, and put the toothpick back in to plug the hole. This will keep the lemon fresh and ready to use again.
- If you're serving a family, or having guests, wrap half a lemon with cheesecloth and bring it to the table face down on a small plate. Each guest can squeeze the juice he or she needs from the lemon, put it back on the plate, and pass it along to the next guest. The cheesecloth will prevent the juice from squirting anyone across the table, and keep the seeds from falling into your food. If you don't use it up, simply put the plate and the lemon in the fridge and use it at your next meal. You can use any type of porous cloth you wish. Try coloured cloths or tie the corners together with a ribbon for extra decorative flair, your guests will be impressed!

Do you have any other lemon-related tips to share?

Friday, May 25, 2012

Ode to the Mini-Crow Bar

Of all of my tools, the mini-crow bar is my very favourite.Why, you ask? Well, there are a number of reasons. It's diminutive size and elegant shape make it cute and endearing, but it is also strong and powerful.

My particular affinity for demolition (see my description of ripping up the floor in the guest room here for an example), and the mini-crow bar's aptitude for it doesn't hurt either. It's wonderful for demolition, but it's great for other practical reasons as well. 

I can use the mini-crow bar in place of a variety of other tools when I'm working on a project and can't remember where I've put them down. I have used it to remove nails, as you would the claw end of a hammer, as a pry-bar, to open a can of paint (although there are better tools for that which are also quite versatile), as a chisel (by hammering on the curved part). Not only that, it can be used in tight spaces like closets, it fits nicely into my tool bag and it isn't nearly as heavy as a full sized crow bar would be.

Mini-crow bar FTW!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Why is Breakfast Cereal so Expensive? or How to Make Granola

Today's blog post is brought to you by Rocky and Bullwinkle. Well, not really, but The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show inspired this post's disjunctive title. Do you remember the show's great episode titles like "Lion in the Bedroom or The Cat’s Pajamas"? I sure do! And now on to the real post!

Although most of my blog posts so far have been about home improvement, One Canadian Home is intended to be a do-it-yourself blog in the fullest way possible. James and I are very interested in doing and making whatever things we can around our home for a couple of reasons. Saving money is a big part of our motivation, but we're also interested in learning how to do a wide variety of different things, like our grandparents did. We also strive to be eco-friendly, and this is often easier to do if you buy ingredients instead of finished products. Since this is a post about granola, not about why we want to do as much as we can ourselves, and I've already gone off on a tangent about Rocky and Bullwinkle, I won't digress further, but hopefully you get what we're after, and maybe you'll read along and join the conversation in the comments.

Breakfast cereal is incredibly expensive, especially for what it is. Mostly wheat or oats or corn, all of which are very cheap. It's easy to pay on the order of $5 for a box of cereal, depending on the size of the box, and even the generic brands (which I find don't usually taste as good) are pretty pricey. So, I've been looking for alternatives to breakfast cereal.

My first attempt at making breakfast cereal will be making granola, although in researching the topic I also came across a recipe for home made bran flakes that I really want to try. When I do, I will post about it. I found a couple of granola recipes online, but I also remembered that my friend Kate used to make granola, so I got in touch and asked her for her recipe. In the end, I decided to try Kate's recipe first since it didn't have any ingredients that seemed too hard to find (and some which can be substituted), and wasn't full of coconut, which I don't really like. I also know that she's been making granola this way for years, so I figure it's probably good!

Here it is:

5 cups oats (or 4 cups oats and 1 cup rice puffs)
1 cup cashews or almonds
1 cup sunflower seeds
2/3 cup tahini
2/3 cup concentrated apple (or other) juice (from frozen)
chopped dried fruit: papaya, apricot, cranberries, raisins, etc.

Mix everything except fruit in a large baking pan such as a lasagna pan. Bake 60 minutes at about 275F, stirring every 20 minutes. Add fruit 20 minutes from end (ie at the second stir). Stir immediately upon removal from oven to make clean-up easier.

We usually use two baking pans and make double this recipe which also makes the amount of juice more closely match a standard frozen can. You can substitute other sugars for the fruit juice. Oil can replace some or all of the tahini.

Thanks, Kate!

For my first batch I used oats (no rice puffs), almonds, dried mangos and dried apples. Instead of the juice I used apple sauce, since that's what I had on hand. Since apple sauce is less liquid than apple juice, I added a little canola oil too.

After trying it, I decided that I wanted raisins in it as well, for a little extra sweetness, so I added them after the fact which seems to work just fine. This delicious granola is now stored in a canister on my counter, and I serve myself two handfuls with milk for breakfast almost every morning. Since there are so many variations, I'm sure each batch will be different and interesting, too.

Next up, how to make my own chai tea to go with it. Let me know if you have a recipe!

Makeover: Transforming our Guest Bedroom into a Vacation Hideaway

Welcome to the first post in a (likely to be long) series of room makeover posts. Since the people who owned our house before us were elderly, and had lived in the house for 36 years, I'm sure you can imagine that it needs a little updating. First up, the guest bedroom.

Here is the before picture, taken by the folks at Homes in Motion (used here with kind permission from them) who were hired by the previous owners for the purpose of selling the house. Did you notice the rug? We didn't, until the previous owners removed their furniture and we saw what terrible shape the floor was in underneath it.

As post-home-purchase surprises go, this was not a bad one. The floor was structurally sound and all, it's just that the stick-down vinyl tiles were probably stuck down thirty-odd years ago, and they were all peeling up around the edges. This was a mixed blessing, since although the floor needed to be re-done, the old tiles came off really easily.

Because of this floor our new guest room was in worse shape than any other room, so we decided that (besides painting) replacing the floor had to be our first big project in the new house. And, since I started ripping the tiles off the floor as soon as we had made that decision, there was no looking back.

With the help of a putty knife and some determination, I ripped out the old floor, and my good friends chisel and mini-crow bar (featured here) came in very handy for removing the baseboards (learn how to do that here). I really like doing demolition, and ripping the tiles off the floor was actually incredibly therapeutic. Check out what the room looked like at that point:
As you can see, we had already started spackling the cracks around the window (check out my spackling tips) and painting the trim in the room at this point.

Next up was closet demolition. The closet had built-in shelves that were clearly installed eons ago, and never removed (not even when the room was painted). Each shelf had four legs, and each leg was attached to the shelf with one nail, so the shelves were not very stable. We decided that our best bet was to dismantle the shelves, and hold off on deciding whether to paint and reinstall them, or use the wood for some other project.

There is something great, I think, about getting a peek at the history of a room when you're renovating. In particular, I love to see what colours a room has been painted (or what wall paper has been put up) in the past. Interestingly, it seems like much of our house was, at one time, painted sea foam green (I hope not all at once!). Here's what we saw when we took the built-in shelves out of the closet.

As you can see from the next photo, the painting was well underway at this point. In fact, we had completed one coat on all of the walls. We were originally thinking that we would do all of the painting before we installed the new floor, but before we started on the floor we asked for advice from my Aunt Lori, who has lots of experience installing floors (once word got out that she knew how, it seemed that every friend and neighbour had a new floor just waiting to be installed). She suggested that since it's easy to clean paint off of a laminate floor, and not so easy to touch up the paint if we scuffed the walls in the process of laying down the floor, we should save the second coat of paint until after the floor was finished. (You can read about laying the floor here, here and here - it was a big job!) Here is a photo of the new floor in the process of being laid down.

Once the floor was laid, it was time to put the baseboards back on. But we just couldn't do it. The rest of the room was so beautiful and clean and new looking, and the baseboards were encrusted with yellowing varnish, and dripped with paint from years gone by. So we embarked on the very time-consuming task of sanding down the baseboards. (Well, we did cheat a little and paint the baseboards in the closet, since it hardly seemed worth the effort to sand those ones.)

Once we got started, there was no going back, so we were very glad to discover that under all that yucky varnish the baseboards were made of beautiful oak! We decided to invest $30 in a power sander, which made the job go a lot more quickly, and before long we had sanded, oiled (use mineral oil from the pharmacy) and replaced our beautiful new baseboards.

Then we installed a new pole (rod?) in the closet to hang clothes from (post about how to do that to follow), and a shelf above it. We used two cup hooks and an old curtain rod we had hanging around to hang the curtains. Incidentally, I made these curtains for James' bedroom in his apartment in Austin way back when we were first dating, and thanks to my grandmother Gloria's wise counsel, I never get rid of curtains. 

As for the furniture, we put in a double bed, instead of the single bed that you see in the "Before" photo, but I still think that the room looks bigger now. We're still on the lookout for an inexpensive (or free?) bed frame for it. 

We found the bookshelf on the side of the road (and it's in great shape!). I re-painted the little white bedside table, which sat beside my bed at my parents' house for as long as I can remember (and may have been in my aunt or my mum's childhood room before that). The mirror in the guest room also came from my childhood room, and my mother painted the painting that's hanging above the head of the bed.

And there you have it, our brand new guest room, which we now out to tourists and business travellers through AirBnB. It's very quiet because it overlooks the back yard, and comes with a lovely view of the garden.

If you went on vacation to another city, would you like to stay in a room like this? Would you mind having a dog like Asta around? What do you do to feel more at home when you're travelling?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

How to remove a broken light bulb from a lamp (or other fixture)

So you've found, scrounged, thrifted or been gifted a great new (to you) lamp, but there's a problem that spray paint can't solve. It has a broken bulb stuck in the fixture! 

Your first instinct may be to grab a pair of work gloves and unscrew it with them on to avoid cutting yourself, but beware of trying this solution, because if you break off the glass part of the bulb in the process, it will be much more difficult to get the bulb unscrewed.

The best solution is to get a potato that's just a bit larger than the remaining bulb parts (any type will do--it's best not to eat it afterwards anyways). Cut off one end so that you have a flat, skinless surface to work with.

Unplug the lamp, and then, holding with the cut end of the potato towards the base of the bulb, slowly but firmly impale the potato on the broken bulb, like this:

Once the potato is firmly in place, you can turn it (lefty loosey, of course) and the base of the bulb will turn with it, unscrewing the bulb from the lamp.

Put in a new bulb (of course you'll be using a super efficient compact fluorescent, right?) And voila, you have a lovely new lamp!

This beautiful lamp came to us courtesy of James' Aunt Sue!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Choosing the Right Paint Can Opener

There are two main kinds of paint can openers that are available. There are the ones with the plastic handle, like this: 
and there are the all metal ones with a loop at one end, and the opener at the other end. In my experience the plastic-handled ones cost about $1.49, and the metal ones cost about $0.49. Price aside, there is one good reason to prefer the metal ones to the plastic ones, and that is that the loop end is a bottle opener, and as James says, "Nothing goes together better than painting and beer."

Friday, May 18, 2012

How to Make Your Shower Seem Bigger!

If you've moved from a more recently built home to an older one, you may have noticed that the bath tub is usually a bit smaller in older homes. Since the shower curtain hangs at the edge of the bath tub, this can make the shower feel cramped too. So, although I'm not (yet?) up to replacing a bath tub, and not sure where I'd get the space to put a bigger one even if I were up to the task, I decided that it would be fun to try putting in one of those fancy curved shower curtains that they have at hotels, to make the shower feel a bit more spacious.

I picked up a curved curtain rod at my local hardware store for about $25 (which seemed a bit pricey to me, but I'm tired of feeling cramped in the shower). Here is a picture of our old, straight curtain rod.

Taking the old rod down was no trouble. I just unscrewed the screws that were holding the mounting brackets to the wall, and they came right off the pole. Here is one of them, next to a lovely glass of our home-bottled red wine that I was enjoying while I worked on this project.

As I worked on putting up the new rod, I discovered a few things. First, the order that you assemble the parts in is very important. The new pole came with both mounting brackets (black plastic) and fancy chrome covers for the mounting brackets. First, put the mounting bracket cover on the pole, chrome sides facing away from the wall. Then, put the black plastic mounting bracket on the pole.

Once these two pieces are already on the rod, you can take the pin that comes with the kit, and put it through the hole at the end of the rod. (Can you tell that I didn't do these things in the right order the first time around?) The pin will fit into a slot on the wall side of the mounting bracket, and this is what prevents the pole from spinning, and keeps it curving out away from the shower stall.
Here is the pin, in place through the holes in the end of the rod.

Once you have all these pieces in place, you can attach the rod to the wall. My old rod was screwed through the tile grout, and anchored with those little plastic wall anchors. Since the screw holes for the new rod were closer together than for the old one (why are they never the same distance apart?!?), I decided to re-use the bottom anchor, and make a new hole for the top screw. Since the rod seemed fairly stable after putting in the bottom screws on both ends, and I don't plan on hanging anything heavy from the shower curtain rod, I decided not to bother with plastic anchors for the top screw.

And voila, here is our fancy new curtain rod, and very spacious shower!

I'm still working on finding a creative new use for the old pole and mounting brackets, so let me know if you have any brilliant suggestions! 

Installing a Laminate Floor - Part III: Finishing!

In case you haven't read them yet, you can click here to read Part I: Demolition & Underlay or Part II: Installing the Floor (where I tell you all the things I wish I had known before we started). In this post I will tell you about some things that didn't go as planned.

So we began laying the floor, and the first challenge was that the boards didn't actually fit together the way that they were supposed to according to the directions that came with the flooring. We were supposed to connect the long side to the previous row, and then just slide the board along and it would snap into place next to the previous board in the same row. Not so, as we discovered.

We solved this problem (as I mentioned in Part II), by linking a whole row of boards together end to end and then attaching them to the previous row all at once. This worked great, until we got to the longer rows that went into the closet. Ultimately we needed to get a pull bar and a tapping block so we could hammer the boards into place effectively. Installing the floor might have been a one day job instead of a two day project if we had known this in advance (or maybe not).

As we worked our way towards the closet, we discovered that since our new floor is taller than the old vinyl tiles, the closet door would not open or close on top of them. In fact, it wouldn't travel over them at all--they blocked the door.

My solution? Take the door off the hinges and worry about it later. Fortunately, James found a really helpful video about how to trim the bottom off of a door online. You can expect a post about that project soon. But for now, no door.

We also had to improvise a bit when it came to installing the "transition strip" that connects the new floor to the floor in the hallway. Instead of using their fancy method of nailing down a little plastic groove for the strip to slide into, we just nailed down the strip itself. Since it's now firmly affixed to the floor, I call that a success.

Here are a few photos of the finished room:

If you really love it, you can stay here, since we'll be renting this room out through AirBnB!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Installing a Laminate Floor - Part II: Installing the Floor

If you haven't read Part I: Demolition & Underlay yet, click here.

Now that the underlay is in place, you are ready to start laying the floor. Start by laying out the first row along one wall, and the row that will run lengthwise down the centre of the room. You'll take these rows up again, but for now the point is to make sure that the centre row looks straight (your room may not be square, especially if you have an older house like we do), and to check that you won't end up with a row that is too narrow along either of the side walls. As far as the latter point goes, you have two options. You can either start your flooring in the left hand corner (advantage: you only have to make lenthwise cuts to your flooring along one wall), or you can start it in the centre and make the space between the last row on each side and the side walls equal (this means you will probably have to cut the boards along both side walls - probably not worth the effort unless you would otherwise end up with a very thin strip along one side). 

As you can see here, we decided to start the flooring in the left corner.

Not sure which direction to lay your flooring in? For us, it came down to wanting your new floor to run the same direction of the existing hardwood on the second floor. For you it might be helpful to know that usually floors are laid lengthwise parallel to the longest wall of the room, or they are laid perpendicular to the window.

Now for the things that I'm glad I knew before I started, and the things that I wish I had known before I started. My Aunt Lori, an accomplished DIYer who has laid more than her fair share of floors recommended a few things, and I will pass along her advice. 

First, the floor manufacturer will recommend leaving a space for expansion between your new floor and any fixed object (i.e. wall, pipe, etc) of 1/4" to 3/8" (0.5 to 1cm), you should really leave a smaller space. That space should be equal to half of the depth of your baseboards. Planning to leave a smaller space will also leave more room for error when you make your cuts. I found that used (or unused) paint stir sticks and the metre stick that I had on hand were about the right depth, and they were easy to lie on their sides between the floor and the wall.

Second, Lori recommended that although we have a (very old, second hand, straight from the '50s) circular saw, we should invest in a mitre saw (aka chop saw) for this project. We decided that it was worth it for $130, since it would make this job much easier, and would likely come in handy for future projects. In retrospect, we're glad that we got a compound mitre saw with the 10" blade (instead of 7"), but we wish we had invested the extra $50 to get a compound sliding mitre saw. With a saw with a 10" blade that doesn't slide you can cut up to 10" deep, and about 6" across. The sliding feature enables you to cut further across, which is useful if your floor boards are 12" across, like ours are. In the end, we made one cut from each side and finished off the middle with a hand saw, which worked out fine.

Our new mitre saw, and James finishing a board with the hand saw.

Third, get a pull bar. This is a tool that you hook around the end of the last board in a row, so that you can hammer it into place. Ours came in a kit that also included 20 or so spacers (that you can use instead of those paint stir sticks I mentioned above), and a tapping block (to put against the other boards and hammer on when you're trying to get them into place--or you could just use a sanding block or other small block of leftover wood, which you surely have, right?).

Pull bar (red) in action!

Fourth, although the instructions that come with your flooring will tell you that your can fit the long side of each board into the one beside it, and then just slide it into place so that the short side meets nicely with the one next to it, this is not true. They only say this because they don't want to be responsible for any damage that you do to the boards when you're hammering on them to get them into place. 

Fortunately, I am not afraid that you're going to sue me, so I'm going to tell it like it is. You have two options. You can link a whole row of boards together, end to end, and then attach them to the previous row all at once. This is quick and a bit tricky, but not difficult especially with two people, unfortunately it is not effective for rows longer than 3 or maybe 4 boards. If you're working on a longer row, you can put the first 3 or 4 boards in place this way, and it will save you a lot of time over installing them all using option 2.

The first few rows were short, so we were able to lay them even without a 
pull bar or tapping block (which we didn't know we needed), using option 1.

Once you've put the first 3 or 4 boards in the new row in place using the above method, you will have to use your handy tapping block to get each subsequent board in place. Attach the long side to the previous row first, then hold your block on a diagonal against the end of the new board, and hit it with your hammer. If you have a friend helping you (recommended!), one of you can hammer, and the other one can monitor the gap between the new board and the row that you're adding to to make sure that you stop once the gap is closed. 

If you've read this far, you've earned a cute puppy picture!

If it seems like your hammering isn't doing anything, take the new board off and check to see if there's anything (like a little piece of the tongue or groove that has broken off) between the two boards that you're trying to attach that is preventing them from meeting completely. Usually you will find that there is. Remove the debris and try again.

With a little patience, a combination of these two methods should work pretty effectively.

Always lay out the whole row before you start fitting the boards together. If one end of your row is a very small piece, start with it instead of ending with it, because that way you can avoid using the pull bar on any piece that won't be hidden by the baseboards (it can leave a mark). 

If you read the instructions for your floor you probably know this already, but be sure to start with boards of different lengths, so that your floor doesn't end up looking like a checkerboard. You want the joins to be at different places, because this will make your floor more durable, and it will look better.

Next up, Part III - Finishing!

Installing a Laminate Floor - Part I: Demolition & Underlay

One of the first times that we came to the house after it was ours, we discovered that the floor in the guest room really needed some help (the previous owners had cleverly put a rug in that room so we wouldn't notice). It had stick-down vinyl tiles that must have been 30 years old, and were peeling up around the edges.

Before (notice the well-placed rug)

Now, for a demolition-lover like me, this was great news--it meant that tearing them up would be a breeze! Needless to say, I started ripping up tiles right away, because it was so much fun! I removed the baseboards (post on how to do this and how much I love my mini crow bar and my chisel coming soon), painted, and we ordered a new floor.


We decided to go with a floating laminate floor for a couple of reasons.

1) We didn't want to removed the black paper that was stuck to the sub-floor if we could avoid it, and the sub-floor doesn't have to be perfectly flat to put a laminate floor on top.

2) We can't afford real hardwood right now.

3) The rest of our second floor has real, old-fashioned hardwood floors, and we knew that it would be impossible to match the colour exactly (and also that if we tried the laminate would look so fake next to the real stuff). We also didn't like the idea of having two different colours of wood right next to each other. Using laminate gave us the largest number of colours and styles to choose from.

This is the floor that we chose is called Picolo Light Grey, and it looks like this:
Laying the Underlay

Once the old floor was torn up, the baseboards removed, and all the bits of the old floor removed from under the baseboards, I swept the floor and then vacuumed. I tore up any pieces of black paper that seemed loose.

We got a roll of the cheap underlay (since the room is on the second floor, we weren't worried about moisture, so we didn't see a need for the fancy stuff), and I laid it out on the floor with "This side up" facing up, and set out to cut it to fit the room.

Lay the underlay not only so that the writing is the same side up on each piece (i.e. facing the ceiling), but also so it's oriented the same way ( of all the letters towards the window). If you have the same kind of underlay that I did, the left edge of each piece will have a strip of thin plastic extending past the edge of the actual underlay by about 10cm (4 in). The right side of each piece will have a strip of tape, covered by a backing, about 5cm (2 in) from the edge. The idea is that you're supposed to butt the pieces of underlay up against one another, with the cellophane on top of the tape, remove the backing of the tape once it's all lined up, and stick the cellophane to the tape. That way your underlay won't slide around while you're laying the floor. It took me a while to figure out what the cellophane and tape strip were for, so hopefully now you won't have to!

See how the word "Roberts" is one way up in the first row, 
and the other way up in the next row. This is how not to do it.

Another trick that I discovered is that once you have the underlay lined up on three sides, you can use a utility knife or a pair of scissors to poke holes a foot or so apart along the underlay where the floor meets the wall. Then you can lift it up and cut to "connect the dots" to get an accurate line, even if your room isn't square.

With those two tips in mind, putting down the underlay is pretty easy.

Click here for Part II: Installing the Floor