Tools and Products

June 04, 2013

How to never again get attacked by an insect (black flies, mosquitoes, horse flies, even lice)

I've been exercising and working outdoors all spring, in clouds of black flies, and I don't have a single bite. In a normal year, my face, neck and arms would be covered in red welts that itch and burn and swell, in spite of wearing long sleeves AND a ridiculous hat made of netting that the bugs always infiltrate.  (Once you've got a black fly INSIDE your net hat, you're just a big meat sandwich to that little dork.)

But this year I've been using a Canadian homeopathic preparation called Mozi-Q (one small tablet dissolved under the tongue a few minutes before going outside).

I have no bites. They don't even LAND.  Horse flies, mosquitoes, black flies, deer flies.  Apparently it even works on lice and bed bugs. The homeopathic effect is so thorough that you'll think irrational thoughts like, "Well, maybe the bugs just aren't biting this year."  

Then you'll make your friends try it.  And when they come back to you and say, "My god, I don't have a single bite, even after gardening all weekend", you'll maybe start to believe it really IS working.  

I've given it to 3 people besides me and they all said the same thing, "My god, I don't have a single bite!" 

So if you're suffering with the bugs this season, give Mozi-Q a try. (where to buy)

P.S. I've been using homeopathic treatments for 30 years and even took courses in homeopathy because it's such a fascinating and cool science.  Homeopathic remedies are prescribed extensively in England by physicians. The members of the royal family are huge fans of homeopathy. You can read about the origins of homeopathy in the lovely little book, "Heal Thyself" by Dr. Edward Bach. (available as a free PDF

Available online - about $25/season

August 17, 2012

Annie Sloan Chalk Paint, where have you been all my life?


Remember the first thing you ever painted with ‘real’ grown-up paint, not kiddie watercolour paint?

Remember the exhilaration of gobbing on that first transforming brush full? Remember the utter lack of control and the hashmark-style brush strokes? Well, you can have all of that back.  

Modern painting has become a chore to be avoided. It smells up the house, the prep alone is a lot of trouble, and you have to match the paint to the surface you’re covering, which leads to mistakes (i.e. latex over alkyd, wrong primer, bubbling, blistering or peeling because some genius used Plaster of Paris instead of spackle on the ceiling and the lime goes into solution and starts fizzing under the paint...).  

And let's not forget that modern paint comes in 28,000 colours, only 27 of which actually look good in any known home.  

Well, I found a paint that is so fun, relieving, gorgeous and smart that I'm painting everything in the house, including the most avoided task in the DIY roster: the kitchen cabinets.  

Annie Sloan Chalk Paint is finally available in Canada. And it only comes in 27 colours (the ones that look good in houses), which can be diluted with Annie's Pure White or Old White to create lighter shades if you desire. (I covered Annie's paint in my column today. But I didn't have enough room to tell the whole story, so I'm adding some more details here.)

The paint has so little odour that my insanely smell-sensitive husband couldn't even tell I'd been painting the kitchen when he came home from running errands.  

And I'm painting right over 30-year-old alkyd. No prep. It's so easy to work with this paint that I can do a little bit every day rather than shut the kitchen down for a week while I remove all of the cupboard doors, sand them, prime them, roll on a couple of coats, and then replace all of the hardware and re-install them. 

(I went with Versailles green, the colour of the kitchen cabinets in Jasper Dale's kitchen on Road to Avonlea.) 

Annie encourages Chalk Paint users to brush the paint on with abandon, crisscrossing the brushstrokes to add texture and depth. The paint lends itself beautifully to arty effects like layering and distressing. Even on plastic! (This is a thick base coat on my plastic iPhone case) 



I was going for 'rustic barnboard'.  This is how it turned out...



I had a lot of fun painting a beat up old table made from Douglas fir...  

Renoir table
Photo: Nora Duffy

(table top was painted with Versailles green and then immediately rubbed with a rag to create a pickled effect) 

I experimented with mixing some concrete pigment into the paint (Old Ochre) because I hadn't bought enough colours. Concrete pigment tends to be lumpy so it creates streaks in the paint.  I found that using a sponge to apply the paint helped reduce the streaking.  I just swabbed it around till the finish was even. 


(Shiny urethane be gone!)

Chalk Paint creates a very soft, velvety matte finish that you can gloss up with Annie Sloan's soft waxes. They come in clear or dark shades.  Both buff to a silky sheen.  The dark wax is great for creating various grunge effects or for aging a piece.  


You can check Annie Sloan's web site for a dealer near you.  The paint is so loaded with pigment that it covers most surfaces quite nicely with one coat.  If you're in the Greater Toronto Area your closest dealer is Kathie Jordan in New Hamburg, Ontario.  Kathie will ship paint and/or wax to you if you don't want to make the drive.  You can also place an online order for Annie Sloan paints and waxes from The Melon Patch in Bath, Ontario.

It's worth the visit to Kathie's shop if you're in the GTA - she's lovely!

Kathie and Mag

TIP: The online palette looks darker than the paint actually is (on most monitors). The best way to experience the colours is to go to a dealer and see for yourself, or do a search for the glorious projects that people have posted online.

Screen Shot 2012-08-17 at 11.37.20 AM

OTHER TIP: This is the recipe to use if you want to try creating DIY chalk paint formula using PVA (white glue) and chalk whiting.

March 06, 2012

Make a drop spindle

I've developed the possibly weird hobby of spinning newspaper strips into 'yarn' using a homemade drop spindle. (Sometimes, for the dessert course of spinning, I use strips of plastic food wrap instead.  It's easier to spin and makes a really tough, clear yarn.)  

When I saw drop spindles for sale for $50 at the local wool shop, I came home and made one with some doweling, a picture hook and a chopped-off bit of old candle stand (the circular part). I fastened the parts together with Sugru, the mouldable silicone putty that air cures to a resilient, springy toughness.  



Bottom view:

Yarn from food wrap:

Stay tuned for possiby weird crafts made from plastic wrap and newspapers.

March 05, 2012

Sugru Subterfuge at IKEA!

Sometimes you just have to help giant manufacturers out with a few hacks to their displays...


February 14, 2012

How to Clean a Pizza Stone With Almost No Effort


Renew a pizza stone by letting it run through your oven's self-clean cycle. The worst that can happen is that it'll crack and you'll have to replace it, but most of the time it works fine because the ceramic was fired at a much higher temperature. It might help to warm it slowly to 400 or so before engaging the self-clean cycle.

February 10, 2012

My latest Sugru hacks

This is a food processor lid that snapped in half when I dropped it on the slate floor.  Sugru to the daring, orange rescue. (the food processor body is orange so it all looks absolutely intentional)


The plumbing pipes above the new water heater collect condensation, which then drips on the top of the water heater and wants to run into the electrical well on top of the water heater.  IX-NAY!  I made a nice white gasket around the electrical controls so no pesky water can find its way into the workings.  

Sugru water heater repair

December 08, 2011

Vicky Sanderson's de-stressing gift guide

This is a guest post written by my lovely colleague Vicky Sanderson, a triple-threat guru in the fields of entertaining, decor and cooking! Vicki writes Hot Home Products, a weekly column on home improvement, décor and housewares that appears in the Toronto Star and on - Follow her on Twitter: @vickysanderson 


Feeling seasonal stress already? Relax. It’s supposed to be fun, remember? Just in case that wise yogic counsel didn’t induce calm, here are three ways to instantly dial down the holiday pressure.

Give gifts that encourage family togetherness. Nothing says downtime like a couple of movies in a row on a snow-soaked afternoon. Choose a family favourite, such as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – just out in a collectible box at HMV  — and add a classic, such as West Side Story. 

Chocolate Hazelnut Cream Puffs

Foodie Blues?

Enough with all the cooking already!  Stock up on high-quality prepared foods from a specialty retailer like M&M Meat Shops. Pop their frozen pot roast in a slow cooker, which will produce a delicious cooking-all-day aroma (nudge, nudge) before adding veg and — if you like — a splurt of red wine. Serve with a pre-mixed salad and artisanal bread. For dessert, pull out M&M’s mini cream puffs, Nanaimo bars and tiny, perfect fruit tarts. When folks compliment you on the meal, sigh with exhaustion, daintily wipe your brow and say they were worth every ounce of the trouble you took. 

Be a Pig Hero

Remember what it’s really all about, and make a donation on behalf of someone far, far away whose life isn’t as blessed as yours. Consider, for example, World Vision, which partners with local communities in developing countries to improve lives.  A donation of $50 and a family receives two hens and a rooster; $40 buys a pig. The bonus here – you’ll raise a smile when you tell folks you gave pigs and poultry as presents this year.



Green Toys - Building tools for kids

Plastic kids' tools made from recycled milk cartons.  Great for fine motor skills, developing 3D aptitude and eye-hand coordination.  What's not to love?  For ages 2+. Thanks to Kevin Fraser for the heads up.  

December 02, 2011

Sugru - Duct Tape for Makers and Gadget Lovers - Forbes


When a Forbes reporter says "This is one of my favorite products," you gotta get some! (I got my first Sugru the day they launched in 2009. They sold out in one day.)

November 09, 2011

How to avoid disastrous paint color choices. And I would know about that.

I once had to repaint a floor 7 times because I couldn't get the colour right. I went through white, straw, green, grey, gold and brown before finally settling on Chili Pepper Red (and only because the paint-counter lady took pity on me and suggested it).  Things would have been way easier with this cool electronic tool, which is now available for free at any ICI paint store.  


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Mag's Books

  • : We're All In This Together

    We're All In This Together
    Based on four years of interviews with Steve Smith, Mag's unconventional biography reveals the personal stories, sorrows and joys that continue to inspire the man behind the Red Green legacy.

  • : How Hard Can It Be?

    How Hard Can It Be?
    Mag's quirky and entertaining book of home improvement projects for beginners.

Nota Bene

  • It’s never too late to be who you might have been. - George Eliot (1819-1880)
  • Simplicity of character is the natural result of profound thought. - My fortune cookie