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10/7/2014

No matter what you celebrate, the holiday season can sometimes feel overwhelming. By prioritizing what’s most important to you and your family, you can take control of the craziness and create the experiences you want. After all, the holidays should be about finding joy, not hanging on for the ride. You don’t have to do everything: Try making a list of the emotions you hope to cultivate this season—joy, peace, generosity—and the ones you don’t—stress, anger, envy. Any time a new request arrives (Can you staff the office holiday party? Can you attend four events in one day?), return to your list, refocus on your priorities and make your decision from a clear mindset.

Staying SaneChristmas Decorations

If you tend to get stressed-out during the holidays, try these tips and tricks to feel balanced and under control.

1. Be yourself. Skip the minefield of comparing yourself to others. Sure, it can seem as though everyone else has the perfect cookies, the better-organized home and the more harmonious family—when you are looking in from the outside. Don’t torture yourself by comparing your own life to your observations about the lives of others. Instead, be positive about the things you do well, and do the things you enjoy.

2. Manage expectations. Keep yourself on track throughout the holiday season by carefully setting priorities. You can’t fit in everything, but you can consciously focus on doing activities that are important to you (and only those things). This mindset can help keep you joyful, instead of harried.

3. Get enough sleep. No more late-night cookie baking or emergency wrapping sessions—you can’t have a good time if you are exhausted and irritable. By focusing on what you do well and what you enjoy, and strategizing about what activities you choose to engage in, you can hopefully knock off some of the holiday “filler.” This will free you up to take care of yourself so the holiday weeks are fun ones.

Give heartfelt, handmade gifts this season by packaging items in these DIY Reusable Felt Boxes or offering up the edible with our Herb-Infused Honey.

Learn how to keep messes under control during the holiday in Stress-Free Holiday Cleaning Routines.



10/7/2014

Our homes can serve as a utopia for our often busy and action-packed lifestyles. Home is a reflection of what's important to us and who is important to us, as well as indicative of our personal style and preferences, according to Robi Ludwig, a nationally known psychotherapist. It’s here that we spend an important part of our day, which is why it has such a huge impact on how we feel about ourselves.

In a very stimulated and sometimes stressful world, we need our home environment to be the place where we can take both personal and physical refuge; a stress-free environment. It’s here that we can balance ourselves and our psyches because our home is the place where we can relax, regroup and reinforce the best part of ourselves. It’s the first place we want to go when we need to renew our sprit.  

Transforming our homes into this stress-free, utopian zone might sound challenging, but it’s highly doable and vital for our mental and physical well being. Multiple studies show how even the smallest positive lifestyle change can help us to relax, take better care of ourselves and reduce our stress levels. These changes play a huge role in altering the quality of our lives for the better.

Fortunately, a lot of these healthful lifestyle changes are easily achievable. All it takes is a few deliberate and creative tweaks to turn our living space into a healthy place. And here are 10 easy tips to help you do just that: Turn your home into the stress-free, pleasing environment it can be.

Stress Free Environment 

1. Declutter and Simplify

Messy outside equals messy inside. Having a cluttered environment isn’t something that just lives in our home, it lives in our heads. A messy space impacts our self esteem. To successfully declutter and simplify, go through your home with an objective eye. Start with as little as five minutes a day. Get rid of what you don't need. Ask yourself, "Do I love it?" "Do I need it?" "Will I use it?" If the answer is "NO!", get rid of it!

2. Organize, Organize, Organize

The truth is, there's always going to be stuff that you just can't or don't want to live without, so you want to create the perfect organized space for these keepsakes; you don't want these much-loved mementos to pile up around you. Do whatever works for you to put them in attractive organizational baskets or drawer dividers, which will help create a neat space for your treasures. Just make sure whatever strategy you use, it looks appealing to you. There are so many options these days to get a modern and wonderful looking organization system. Have fun finding what works.

3. Toss the Negative

Sounds very intuitive, right? Some things around your home carry a negative memory. Whether it's a piece of art work, a gift from a negative person, or a purchase you associate with a dark time in your life, it may be time to let it go. Don't do this impulsively of course, but after you've assessed the memories, you need to make peace with it and discard it. Make this a physical clearing and a therapeutic opportunity for both your home and your psyche.

4. Create a Personal Touch

Your personal environment should reflect who you are as well as who you want to be. Add those photos of the people you love and who matter most to you. Include objects that encourage good feelings and good memories. Add artwork if it evokes positive thoughts, and don't forget to have fun splashing your personal sense of style around. 

5. Create Your Own Personal Sanctuary

Choose one space in your home that feels comfortable and is semiprivate. Once you locate this area, take it to the next magical level. Turn it into a place to exercise, do yoga, read a book or a place to meditate. Add plants, candles or favorite authors. Whatever you choose, make sure it's a place that allows you to be alone with your thoughts and more importantly allows you to have a Zen moment.

6. Treat Your Senses

Use colors to encourage relaxing and engender tranquil emotions. Comforting colors such as soft blues, beiges and greens are considered calming colors. Use comfortable furnishings, lighting, music and pleasant scents to stimulate your senses and thus your psyche in the most positive way.

7. Create a Sleep-Friendly Bedroom

Getting better sleep is a must if we are going to manage our stress levels and stay healthy. Cultivating good sleep habits requires a certain environment. Make sure this room is dark, cool and technologically free to promote a restful night's sleep. This will also help you start the following day in a bright way.

8. Healthy In, Healthy Out

Keep your home nutritionally healthy. Make sure it's filled with food that nourishes your mind and your body. We tend to eat what's around, so keep healthful foods nearby. It has often been said that you are what you eat. So, make sure these go-to-choices are good for you.

9. Create a People-Friendly Home

Part of living a healthful lifestyle includes developing a supportive social network. Make your home cozy and welcoming. Make it an atmosphere where you are proud to include your friends and family. Make your home a place where you can experience special and fulfilling life moments.

10. Highlight Empowering Words

Reading supportive words can shift your mind from a dark place to a positive place. Uplifting phrases help us to think in a more optimistic and encouraging way. Place these affirmations and strong, positive phrases all around your home. Feed your mind with elevating ideas and attitudes. Remember, we become what we think. So make those thoughts work for you.

Turning your home into a place of balance and harmony isn’t a new idea, but it's certainly a timeless one. Give yourself a gift. Apply these small changes, and see what happens to your life.

Just as it's important to build the proper physical foundation for your home, it's equally as important to build the proper emotional foundation for it. Now is the perfect time to reset your home to be a healthier and more nurturing environment. It’s time for you to make your home the happy haven you want it to be.


Miles YoungMiles Young is a freelance writer, designer and outdoorsman. He’s worked as a roof contractor and part-time engine mechanic. He spends his free time fishing and tinkering in his garage. You can follow him on Twitter @MrMilesYoung.



10/7/2014

Honey Medicine 
Photo by Thomas Gibson

Honey: Honey is the primary food for the hive and is a sustainable product if we focus on bee health and only take what is extra. Many conventional commercial practices are unsustainable as they often end in stressed, ill and dying colonies.

Pollen: Pollen is the main protein source for bees. The worker bee packs individual grains together in a container on her leg. This is knocked off as the bee wiggles through a screen called a pollen trap. The bees are not harmed. Overharvesting can occur if the trap is always collecting and the bee is prevented from storing a wide variety of pollen types.

Propolis: Propolis is the resin bees collect from trees. It is often called “bee glue” and is used to stick the hive together and to block the light from small openings. Farming for propolis creates constant stress as bees try to keep their environment safe and comfortable. They inevitably spend time collecting and building up propolis stores and sacrifice food collection. While home beekeepers can collect bits of propolis during maintenance (enough to supply a couple of households), there are few commercial ways to sustainably collect propolis.

Royal jelly: This superfood for the baby bee is produced in large amounts only for the queen bee. In order to produce royal jelly for harvest, the hive must be stimulated to believe there is no queen, and special frames must be inserted so the bees believe they are feeding many new queens at a time. These frames do hold queen larvae—but after a few days the frames are collected and the royal jelly is harvested; the queen larvae destroyed; and the frames are returned to the hive to start again. There is no way to sustainably farm royal jelly.

Learn about the medicinal qualities of honey in The History of Honey as Medicine.


Dawn Combs is the owner of Mockingbird Meadows Herbal Health Farm in central Ohio and the director of its Eclectic Herbal Institute. Mockingbird Meadows is nationally known for its line of herbal honey spreads. Dawn is the author of Conceiving Healthy Babies: An Herbal Guide to Support Preconception, Pregnancy and Lactation.



9/24/2014

Cycling is a simple pleasure, on that we can all agree. But did you know that bolstering your brain, your body and the environment is as easy as riding a bike? You’ve heard of “super foods?” Well, biking is “super fitness.” Commuting by bike instead of car for just 30 minutes a day can make a profound difference in not only your health, but the health of your entire community. Read on to become inspired to make pedal-pushing a part of your daily routine. Then visit My City Bikes to find your nearest local cycling app with beginner-friendly rides.

Reasons To Ride A Bike 

1. Find a Pollution Solution

Commuters who bike are exposed to fewer toxic pollutants, such as benzene and NO2, than those who commute by car or bus. Many potential bike commuters are concerned that being on the road and out of a car means more exposure to air pollution, but studies show the opposite is true. Cyclists are exposed to less pollution than passengers in motor vehicles.

2. Make Life Greener

During its lifetime on the road each car will produce nearly 1.3 billion cubic yards of polluted air and scatter an additional 40 pounds of worn tire particles, brake debris and worn road surface into the atmosphere. Swap that car out for a bike—even just one day a week—and you’re saving yourself and the people living in your community from a significant amount of emissions and toxic particles. 

3. Burn the Right Kind of Fuel

Riding a bike at a moderate speed burns about 472 calories per hour, while driving the same distance burns just 148 calories per hour. Commuting by bike is a green way to get your daily exercise while moving from Point A to Point B.

4. Be Bike Strong

Commuters who opt for a bicycle instead of a car tend to have healthier levels of key cardiovascular health markers such as HDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, regardless of how much exercise they do the rest of the day. Biking is also a low-impact activity, which makes it a safe choice for those with joint issues or arthritis.

5. Love Your City

One of the most common side effects of biking regularly is appreciating your surroundings in a whole new and positive way. Trade rush hour traffic for a round trip bike ride and you’ll be in for a pleasant surprise! A 30-minute round trip bicycle commute is associated with better mental health, and multiple surveys of bike commuters have found that they were more satisfied with their commute if they cycled than if they drove or took transit—even in the winter months!


My City Bikes is the official beginner biking resource. The public-health project benefits communities across the U.S. by providing simple mobile resources that support and encourage cycling. Whether for fun, fitness or transportation, My City Bikes is a definitive guide to each participating community's biking opportunities. Visit mycitybikes.org.



8/6/2014

Handmade Gatherings author and potluck-thrower extraordinaire Ashley English offers these tips for a perfectly wonderful (and laid-back) group get-together.

Potluck Gathering
Photo by Jen Altman

1. Choose a Theme.

Without question, I have found guests rally and truly bring their A-game when a potluck has a theme. Whether you look to the seasons for ideas (“Apples”, “Winter Citrus”); turn to an international cuisine or region (“Mediterranean”, “India”); or simply use a concept (“Burger/Hot Dog Buffet”), having a cohesive theme creates a unified meal.

2. Ask Guests to RSVP.

This way, even if a theme has been carved out, you’ll avoid overlap and repetition. Everyone loves hummus, but a Mediterranean-themed potluck composed of nothing but the beloved bean dip makes for a one-note meal.

3. Have a Back-Up Plan.

Inevitably, someone will leave their dish at home or not have time to cook. There might also be the guest that helps themselves a bit too abundantly before others down the line can get to a particular dish (this is especially true of children). As the host, be sure to have some extra cheese and crackers or pickles, or even an entire extra dish of your contribution, to the meal on hand. You don’t have to create a back-up of the full meal (it’s a potluck, after all), but you don’t want to leave anyone hungry.

For a delicious soup recipe from Ashley check out Butternut Squash Soup Recipe with Herbed Cider. Learn more about her mountain homestead in Gathering Together: Building a Homestead in North Carolina.



8/1/2014

Imagine yourself trekking through the Amazon with your eyes peeled for signs of exotic wildlife. Or maybe you're hiking up a mountain and taking in the breathtaking views. Earth's natural wonders offer infinite possibilities to travelers. Seeing these marvelous places is one aspect of ecotourism, but ecotourism involves much more than enjoying nature's beauty. Here are some things you should know about this responsible form of travel.

Eco Tourism
Photo by Flickr/Jeremy Michael

What Is Ecotourism

The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) defines ecotourism as, "responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people." A host of principles and actions fall under the umbrella of that definition. Some of the principles involve increasing environmental and cultural awareness, financially helping conservation efforts and minimizing the environmental impact of travel.

What It Involves

There are three keys to successful ecotourism:

Responsible Travel

Responsible travel is a broad idea, and the ways to apply it are endless. Paying the entrance fees for parks and hiring travel guides helps sustain local areas and the people who care for them. You can choose to search for public transportation options instead of renting a car. Pick up trash when you see it on the ground. If you have a choice between staying at a hotel or at a campsite, opt for the campsite.

Environmental Conservation

When you think of helping conserve the environment, you might first think of the world's untamed areas, but you can act as an ecotourist even if you're traveling to a metropolis. City parks do more than provide a place for residents to get some fresh air and throw bread crumbs at birds. Such parks help sustain the area's ecosystem, so by obeying park rules and viewing the parks as natural refuges and not urban decorations, you're embracing the spirit of ecotourism.

Promoting the Welfare of Local People

One aspect of what makes ecotourism special is that it takes into account not only plants and animals but people, as well. Goodnature.nathab.com points out, "Local people are the key stakeholders in ecotourism areas… For ecotourism to work, it must benefit the key stakeholders for they will be the long-term conservationists of the forests, savannas, or coral reefs. The loggers will become re-foresters, the hunters will become wildlife guides, and the fishermen will become dive guides."

Hence, by connecting with local people and supporting their ecotourism-related businesses, you contribute to the long-term wellness of natural beauty.

Beach Sunset
Photo by Flickr/Pedro Szekely

Its History

The history of ecotourism stretches back centuries, even though the word itself is only a few decades old. Think of Charles Darwin, who traveled to the Galapagos Islands in the 1830s so he could learn more about nature. Not long after that, Alfred Russel Wallace embarked on a scientific adventure in the Amazon River basin.

From these historical examples, it's easy to see that ecotourism is about more than letting nature captivate the senses. It's about learning and appreciating the splendors of the planet.

Most modern travelers recognize how important ecotourism is. In fact, about 75 percent of travelers want to take vacations that are more eco-responsible.

How It Helps

Can embracing ecotourism really help the planet? After all, most families only take one or two vacations every year. Yes, ecotourism does help. The United Nations Environment Programme brings up some of the negative environmental impacts of tourism, which include draining natural resources, polluting the air and water, and even polluting an area's aesthetics because of a growing demand for over-the-top resorts.

By taking vacations that focus more on nature's beauty than on wasteful luxuries, tourists shake hands with the planet rather than pummel it. For example, you might want to bring several bottles of water with you when you go for that day hike. If you bring reusable bottles instead of disposable plastic ones, you reduce landfill waste and set a good example for other travelers. If enough people take environmentally responsible action, it can affect the mentality of the entire tourism industry.

The world has more natural wonders in it than anyone could explore in a lifetime, but that shouldn't stop you from seeing all you can. Be an eco-tourist and help out the planet while you explore its stunning beauty.


Miles YoungMiles Young is a freelance writer, designer and outdoorsman. He’s worked as a roof contractor and part-time engine mechanic. He spends his free time fishing and tinkering in his garage. You can follow him on Twitter @MrMilesYoung.


7/18/2014

Veganism is bigger now than ever. With many upset over the controversial practices in factory farms, as well as general shifts in lifestyle choices, people are switching to plant-based diets by the numbers. According to the Vegetarian Resource Group's 2011 Poll, 2.5 percent of the United States is vegan. 

While the benefits of veganism are significant, making the dietary shift is daunting for most people. However, since over eight million Americans are vegan, there are excellent resources available. Some of the handiest resources are vegan-focused food blogs. With relatable personal stories, helpful tips, and arsenals of easy recipes, here are some of the most inspirational and useful vegan blogs on the Internet today.

Vegan Pizza
Photo by Flickr/SweetonVeg

1. Post Punk Kitchen

Post Punk Kitchen began as a self-produced T.V. show. Although only six shows ever aired, PPK creator, Isa Chandra Moskowitz now blogs about her vegan recipes. She has a quirky voice and tons of drool-worthy recipes. The blog is laid out quite well with user-friendly recipe categories, main ingredients, and even links to helpful vegan websites.

Isa's recipes are easy-to-follow and would likely make any meat-eater salivate. Creations like Breakfast nachos made with a cashew cheese sauce and avocado salsa show off her ability to turn a traditionally meat and cheese-laden dish vegan. Another recipe that'd satisfy a new vegan is her Buffalo Chickpea Pitas with Ranch.

Whether you're into Thai, Italian, Mexican, or American cuisine, Isa has tons of delicious recipes that you'll want to make. There's also a forum on her site too, where fellow vegans share stories on making the lifestyle change, creating recipes, and learning about new trends in the vegan world.

2. Happy Herbivore

The Happy Herbivore is especially valuable for new vegans since its creator shares her journey to becoming vegan and provides amazing additional resources like weekly meal plans and an extensive vegan Q&A fact sheet. From locating hard-to-find vegan ingredients to properly saving leftovers, Lindsay answers over 100 questions that any new vegan will have.

Lindsay isn't only concerned with eating vegan, though. She's focused on maintaining a low-fat diet too. All of her recipes are made without oil and added fats and she strives to cook with low salt content too. With low-fat vegan recipes like Cajun Chickpea Cakes, Black Bean Brownies, and Butternut Squash Soup, she provides endless ideas on simple, good-for-you vegan food.

3. The Vegan Woman

The Vegan Woman (TVW) is an all-inclusive website for recipes, gardening practices, vegan-designed gym work-outs, and even vegan-approved hygiene routines. The site truly encompasses every aspect of the lifestyle. As a new vegan, this should be your go-to guide for just about everything vegan.

The site is aesthetically appealing too. You won't have any trouble finding the tips and tools you need since it's divided up with categories like "Vegan Family," Vegan Gal," "Home and Gardening," "Food and Recipes," and "Mind and Body." With articles on everything from picking the right toothpaste to cooking vegan for your newborn, you'll find a wealth of vegan information.

Similar to TVW, Vice is another awesome site with a library of articles for vegans. Like TVW, Vice CEO Shane Smith ensures that every article on the "Munchies" section is relevant to its readers. A great example is this article about vegetarian children.

4. The Vegan Stoner

The Vegan Stoner is a uniquely funny blog for vegans. It's the blog you should turn to when everything else seems just too serious. Recipes are at the forefront and come in a fun, easy-to-read format. Under every recipe you'll spot one beautifully composed close-up of the dish and then, you'll spot what makes the blog unique. There are children's book-style cartoon pictures of every ingredient you'll need for each recipe.

While the blog has lots of character, it's also quite practical for the new vegan. The recipes are simple. You won't have to know much about cooking to prepare dishes like Pineapple Pizza, Bell Pepper Gnocchi, and Coconut Pot Pie. Every recipe has less than 10 ingredients and less than 10 steps. The last step is always, "Munch." Simply put, the blog is easy, friendly, and downright irresistible.

5. Fat Free Vegan Kitchen

Fat Free Vegan Kitchen comes to you with a delightful index of appetizers, condiments, desserts, sandwiches, breads, and so much more. Author Susan Voison has been vegan for over 10 years so needless to say, she really knows her stuff. However, with that said, her blog features a number of simple recipes for the brand-new vegan. 

Susan offers great "replacement" recipes for those non-vegan foods you'll probably still crave. Cheesy Cauliflower Sauce, Vegan Mushroom Gravy, Bean Breakfast Sausage Patties, and Double Layer Pumpkin Cheesecake are just some of the delicious creations you can find on her blog.

Fat Free Vegan Kitchen offers readers a "Recipe Box," which allows one to register with the blog and add their favorite recipes to the box so that they're always easy to find. Susan also includes how-to tips for the transitioning vegans like how to store food and how to make homemade tofu.

6. C'est La Vegan

Owned by a professional baker and bakery owner, C'est La Vegan is a delightful sweet ending to any "Best of" blog list. Kim shares incredibly decadent desserts in the form of cake, candy, cookies, and truffles. While she includes many savory creations on her blog, the dessert recipes definitely steal the show. 

Kim is relatable for new vegans because she's honest about her recipe mistakes. She always explains how she'd do the recipe differently. She also borrows recipe ideas from other sources and clearly explains how she's modified them for vegan consumption. Her videos are worth watching too. She is thorough and explains ingredient choices in terms of nutrition, price, and simplicity. 

Maybe you're going vegan for health reasons or perhaps, you've had enough with the meat industry. Regardless of your motivation, you're certainly going to feel better. Yet, going vegan isn't a cakewalk. It takes self-control, patience, and knowledge to transition. Luckily, these blogs and many more will help you along the way.


Miles YoungMiles Young is a freelance writer, designer and outdoorsman. He’s worked as a roof contractor and part-time engine mechanic. He spends his free time fishing and tinkering in his garage. You can follow him on Twitter @MrMilesYoung.





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