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February is the official month of Love and Romance. There’s not a better time all year for hot baths with your sweetie and chocolates in bed. Taking quality time to get luxurious with your beloved is important for many reasons, so set a date night, share a nice candlelit meal or bath, and hand-feed each other chocolates. We all deserve romance in our lives, Kings and Queens, I handpicked three yummy, romantic products from conscious companies to plump your pamper time. I love them and you will too!

alter eco truffles 

Alter Eco Chocolate Truffles come in four scrumptious flavors—Sea Salt, Salted Caramel, Velvet and Black. I tried the first three and love them all. Alter Eco Truffles are true chocolate decadence for every day, not just Valentine’s Day, and they’re wrapped individually which makes it hard to over eat. Based on the premise that “food is fundamental to life,” Alter Eco’s mission is “global transformation through ethical relationships with small scale farmers and an integral sustainability orientation with every point in the supply chain.” Well said my friends, we support you! YUM!

thesis beauty purists 

Thesis Beauty Purists make the best scrubs, I mean better than Eminence…the “best.” I love their Café Crema Coffee Bliss Body Scrub made with organic sugar, coffee, shea butter and coconut oil. It enlivens the skin, wakes you up and delivers a serious mood boost every time! Thesis Bath Salts are delightful too, specifically their Lavender Fields & Woodlands salts, and make it easy to unwind in the tub after a long day and get ready for a sweet dreaming night. The scents I chose are unisex (not too floral) so everyone can enjoy!

louder than words adventure wear

Louder Than Words adventure wear, one of a kind hemp and organic cotton fashion, is cozy, comfy and totally lounge-able. I love the details in Jeanah’s pieces, like the little heart on the brief above. The briefs fit excellently and the hemp makes them feel substantial, like they’ll last forever. The only con I found to this set is the bandeau slides down, and I found myself frequently pulling it up. However, if you give Jeanah your measurements she promises to customize.

How are you celebrating the month of Romance this year, world family? Send your thoughts in an email, I love hearing from so many of you and am delighted you try the products I recommend!

Shar VedaShar Veda, Southern Oregon’s Premier Alternative Therapist, offers deep healing through loving touch and compassionate counsel. She is an Ayurveda Lifestyle Counselor & Health Educator, yoga therapist and herbalist. Shar has been blessed to study with leading teachers in Ayurveda, Yoga, and herbalism for 20 years. However, it was her adopted grandma, Doe (English-American and Blackfoot Native), who instilled within her profound appreciation for the supreme power of loving touch, healing arts, and world family. Visit her website for a video, full bio, and photos or find her on Facebook!


On one hand, all spiders are venomous. They need venom to subdue and digest their prey. On the other hand, most North American spiders are harmless to people. The two exceptions are the black widow and the brown recluse, but these two have many fairly harmless imitators. If you want to know the difference, read on to learn what to look for.

female black widow 

The Black Widow

This infamous spider is easy to tell apart from just about every other kind. Like all spiders, she has eight legs, but she also has a round abdomen, patent leather black save, and the tell-tale red hourglass on her abdomen. However, only the female black widow is dangerous. The much smaller male is harmless and more timid than the female. And he has every reason to be: During courtship he’s at risk of being eaten by the female. This is why the spider is known as a widow.

Common Imitators

Besides the black widow, there’s the brown widow and the red widow. The brown widow can also be black, but is often brown or gray. She is less likely to bite than the black widow and injects less venom. The red widow has red splotches on the top of her abdomen, as well as the tell-tale hourglass. Another variety of widow is also black, but the hourglass on her abdomen is broken in two. Yet another, the Malmignatte, is black with red streaks on her abdomen, and is found in Mediterranean countries. Widows are found in the warmer places in the world, often around human habitation.

There are several species of spiders that people may mistake for widows. They include the Steatoda, Theridion and Enoplognatha spiders and Dipoena nigra. The females of these spiders all share the round abdomen of the black widow, but lack her red hourglass. They are also far less dangerous.

brown recluse spider 

The Brown Recluse

The brown recluse is known for resting with its legs in a crab-like position. It also has a distinctive fiddle-shaped mark on the top of its thorax, which gives it the name the fiddle-back spider. Because of its coloration and the way it holds its legs, the brown recluse might be mistaken for spiders of the Thanatus and Philodromus genera. These are crab spiders that are mostly found in bark and around plants, though Philodromus spiders have been known to come into the house.

Poisonous Spider Bites

Poison from both of these spiders can cause various symptoms that vary with age. Younger kids are at much more risk than adults. Bite areas will usually swell, becoming irritated and red. A victim might show other signs like fever, shivering, nausea and vomiting. Call poison control or 911 right away if bitten.

Most spiders are docile and are helpful in getting rid of other household pests, but if you really can't bear them, get in touch with a local pest control company. Professionals can assist in determining if the spiders around your house really are dangerous and can help to keep them from coming inside.

Brooke Chaplan is a freelance writer and blogger. She lives and works out of her home in Los Lunas, New Mexico. She loves the outdoors and spends most her time hiking, biking and gardening. For more information contact Brooke via Twitter, @BrookeChaplan.


Photo by Fotolia

You don't have to live in a California mansion and drive an electric car to benefit from what solar energy has to offer. It’s the versatility of solar energy that makes it a great choice for homeowners across the country. From an average-size system of 5-6 kW that will offset (or nearly eliminate) your monthly utility bill to a small off-grid system of 2 kW for a cabin requiring back-up power, solar energy offers myriad benefits.

It takes two key ingredients to turn solar into a success story for homeowners: highly-rated solar contractors who know what they are doing and educated homeowners who know what they want. So how is this achieved? By making sure that you don't fall into the following common traps:

Not having the right expectations

If your main motivation is to help the environment, then solar can be a great option, but if you are also installing solar panels to save money, then you need to understand the economics of your decision. For example, if the electricity you are buying from your local utility is relatively inexpensive, then you may not recoup your solar investment. Other factors that affect the profitability of solar panels are the amount of sunshine you receive, the cost per watt of panels and the available financial incentives, such as the 30% federal investment tax credit (ITC). To determine if solar energy makes financial sense for you, you need to compare the levelized cost of solar energy to the cost of electricity from your utility and see if you’ve reached grid parity. When solar electricity is cheaper than electricity from the utility, it makes financial sense to consider solar energy.

Jumping in before making sure that solar is right for you

While solar is great for many homeowners, it's not suitable for everyone. If you are considering a rooftop system and your home is surrounded by trees or in the shadow of a large building, solar panels will not work as they are intended to. If your roof is oddly configured, or very old, or facing north (in the northern hemisphere), rooftop solar may not be the right choice. In this case, you could consider a ground-mounted system if you have the land for it, or look into community solar, where you (and many others) benefit from a solar project built elsewhere.

Not finding more than one highly-rated installer

Photo by Fotolia

Getting a second (or third) opinion will arm you with more information and help you get the best price. When considering which installer(s) to request quotes from, a good place to start can be consumer reviews, such as Google and Yelp. In addition to the individual ratings and reviews, consider the total number of reviews the company received and whether the reviews were actually for a solar installation job (there are general contractors, roofers, even plumbers who are getting into the solar business,  and some of them may have hundreds of positive reviews, but not for their solar business). You can also check out their Better Business Bureau rating. Sunmetrix Installer Reviews brings together both Google and Yelp reviews for solar installers into one place, making it easier for you to find the best installers. When you do receive your quotes, scrutinize the warranty information, especially workmanship warranty and the protection for your roof from any damages during the installation of your solar PV system. As much as possible, try to get quotes for similar systems, using the same type of equipment so that you can compare your quotes more easily.

Skipping your homework on price trends

Installation prices are going down, but stabilizing. The average cost per watt of installing solar panels in the United States is $3.09/watt, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. However, there is a great deal of variability in this price across the United States. Depending on where you live, the cost per watt may be higher or lower than this average. Knowing what the average cost per watt is where you live can help you evaluate the quotes you receive from installers. However, it’s important to recognize that the cost is also going to vary depending on the type of equipment used: micro-inverters (as opposed to a central-inverter) and high-efficiency panels will be more expensive. You don't necessarily need the fanciest solar equipment, but make sure that the brands that are mentioned in your quotes are quality brands. The lowest priced offer may still be the best one, but just make sure that you understand the trade-offs between different offers you'll receive.

Focusing only on the monthly payment

As most homeowners cannot make an outright purchase for their solar system (a purchase that is comparable to a car), they find themselves with a choice between a solar lease or a solar loan. The key difference here is ownership: in the case of a lease, your solar panels are owned by a third party, which means that you cannot benefit from the ITC or other state incentives, whereas with a solar loan, the panels belong to you, enabling you to take full advantage of the available financial incentives. It’s also important to note that in the case of a lease, issues can arise if you decide to sell your home, as not every prospective buyer will be interested in taking over your lease, so be sure to consider the fine-print, including whether you can eventually own your system. Today, both leases and loans often come with a zero-down option, making them attractive options at first glance, but be sure to look into the details: is there an initial set-up fee, what is the escalation rate (the amount by which the month payments will increase over time) and what will be your return on investment. If you are trying to figure out whether the lease or loan is better for you, the Sunmetrix Buy or Lease Calculator can help you calculate your return on investment, because it’s not just about what you pay each month, but about maximizing the benefits of your investment over the lifetime of your panels, which is 20-25 years on average.

It's not too difficult to avoid these mistakes...especially when you find a trusted advisor who can work with you to navigate these challenges and help you make the best investment for your particular circumstances.

Simone Garneau is the co-founder of Sunmetrix, a consumer education website for residential solar energy. In addition to 200+ articles, Sunmetrix offers homeowners two main tools: Discover, a solar energy preview for your home, and GO, a solar energy test drive so that you can try before you buy.



If you think your electricity bill is too high, you’re probably right - but it’s not just because energy is expensive. The average monthly bill for electricity is over $110, and almost $40 of that is from energy that your home is wasting. This is a problem - but for a homeowner who’s serious about sustainable living, it’s not insurmountable.

The Cost of Convenience

There’s no denying that the modern world is convenient. We can travel farther, communicate faster, and achieve more than at any other point in history. All of this is possible through our society’s mastery of electricity.

It’s electricity that powers the factories where cars are made. It’s electricity that powers the internet, lets us pay with credit and debit cards, and literally lights up our lives. According to the Energy Information Administration, the last few decades have seen explosive growth in the amount of energy consumed across the country. The truth of the matter is that there aren’t many new things that don’t involve a lot of energy being spent at some point in the process, and we’re quite literally paying the price for it.

Now, in a perfect world, we’d never waste the slightest bit of energy we produced. Unfortunately, reality is a little less than ideal, giving rise to the following considerations.

• First, perfect use of energy is an unobtainable goal. We literally do not have the capability to use 100% of our energy without any kind of waste. When we say that a product is “energy efficient”, what we really mean is “it’s one of the least-wasteful choices we have”.
• Second, the only practical way to have zero waste is to use zero energy. In other words, to truly eliminate waste, we’d have to give up almost everything our society has created. It doesn’t take an expert to realize this has exactly no chance of happening.

This doesn’t mean all is lost, though. While we can’t expect to be perfect, we can make a serious commitment to reducing energy waste when and where it’s practical to do so. There are many ways to save energy in your home, and when every household takes a few small steps to reduce waste, the total result is incredible. For now, though, let’s take a look at this infographic and see which parts of your home are using the most energy.


Uma Campbell is a green loving yoga instructor and freelance writer. She currently lives in Southern California where she enjoys writing about natural living, health, and home design. Follow her on Twitter at @Umajcampbell, or visit her website:


Valentine’s Day is near and millions of cards and other waste from the day will pile up in our landfills; artificial colors and flavors will fill our bodies; and people will spend lots of money on items that will likely be tossed aside. There are healthier, less expensive ways to show your love that will show love to the Earth, as well. If your significant other is health-conscious, vegan or if they just hate candy, we have a few ideas for you. If you plan on having a relaxing day all to yourself, these are for you too!

artisanal macaroons 

L’Artisan Macaroons

These delicious, French-inspired cookies are made from simple ingredients and natural colors. A Paris-trained pastry chef has carefully crafted each flavor and the company is working on an all vegan line that should be making its debut any time now. To me, these were simple, light and crispy, and much better than versions with artificial coloring, which usually have a bitter aftertaste. For $32.00, you get a beautifully wrapped box of 12.

organic chocolate 

Nicobella Organic Chocolate

I have fallen in love with Nicobella, whose products aren’t just crafted to taste great, they’re made to nourish the body. Nicobella chocolate is vegan, fair trade, dairy-free, gluten-free and soy-free, what more could you ask for?! They also use sustainable packaging, made from rice paper and wild grass. Their truffles are made with pure dark chocolate, coconut oil, agave nectar and a variation of healthy ingredients. Blueberry Almond is my favorite flavor, but a 6-piece assortment box can be purchased for $12.95.

If you or your Valentine don’t like truffles, try Nicobella Munch, which is a combination of nuts and chocolate. Since I’m diabetic, this is perfect for me. It’s a stable, unique treat that can also serve as a healthy, antioxidant-rich snack too.

novica bag 

Novica Accessories

My mind diverts directly to sweets when I think of Valentine’s Day, but spreading the love by supporting artisans around the globe sounds like a great way to celebrate. Novica’s mission is to help eliminate sweat shops, child labor and unfair treatment. Find unique items from all over the world, and when you buy from Novica, know that you’re supporting an individual who makes quality products.

The Caramel Paths Shoulder Bag ($112.99) is made by Ricardo Hinojosa in Mexico, with high-quality leather (I apologize to vegans, but there are many vegan bags available from Novica). I’ve never purchased a bag that has felt this luxurious. Even the inner lining feels strong and smooth. The Choco Chic Shoulder Bag ($154.99) is made by Piedad Aguilar in Nicaragua with deep, spacious pockets and beautiful outer golden buckle detail. However, my favorite has to be The Road to Success Messenger’s bag ($139.49), made in Bali by Hariyono. It’s a compact, secure-fitting bag that I see myself taking on many trips. It has a lovely reminder quote, placed on the side, encouraging its owner to keep pushing for success.

Not only known for their bags, Novica carries eco-friendly jewelry made from items such as discarded water bottles. The Eco Friendly Hand Crafted West African Dangle Earrings ($19.99) are a beautiful example of how we can turn earth spoiling waste into sustainable beauty. If you buy a gift from Novica this Valentine’s Day, your treasure is sure to have a story.

surf sweets candy

Surf Sweets

My husband is a kid at heart, he loves Trolli Gummy Worms, but I can’t bring myself to buy them. I went on a search for something better and found Surf Sweets, a mostly organic candy line that is all natural. They offer adorable heart lollipops, Organic Fruity Hearts, Sour Berry Bears, Gummy Worms ($1.95-$4.95)…and they taste amazing. Surf also carries a vegan line, called TruJoy, whose Starburst-like fruit chews are awesome. Since Surf Sweets are made with juice, I don’t get that sick feeling after eating them. So top your cupcakes, eat them during a romantic movie, or use them as an edible center piece.

EarthEasy luggage

EarthEasy Onsight Travel Products

EarthEasy is a family owned company with “Solutions for Sustainable Living”. They offer a wide range of home, garden and gift items that would be great for Valentine’s Day. I zeroed in on the travel line because I can’t think of many things more romantic than surprising someone with a Valentine’s getaway. The Earth Easy Diamond bag ($91.95) is a great way to let them know to get packing for an exciting retreat. The bag is very durable and comfortable to carry. The best part is, each bag is made from recycled, nontoxic materials for minimal environmental impact. Sustainable living is about respecting the limits of the earth and its capacity to provide. —EarthEasy

Adopt a Pet

If you’re lonely this year or want to expand your family, adopt a furry family member. Animals are overflowing in most pet shelters and humane societies, and many will never have a forever home. Adopting an animal from your local shelter is a great way to experience love at first sight on Valentine’s Day.

Valentine’s Day is a day of love and an opportunity to spread love, not only to our significant other but to an animal, our bodies and Mother Earth. Whether you spend the holiday alone, with a family member or with your sweetheart, there’s always a great way to celebrate. I wish you a day of love, happiness and pure living!

Karyn WoffordKaryn Wofford is a type 1 diabetic, EMT and Certified Wellness Specialist. For years she has educated herself on wellness and natural, wholesome living. Karyn’s goal is to help people be the healthiest they can be while living fun, happy lives.


Photo by shutterstock.

The Internet is probably the last place you think about having a large carbon footprint. But the numbers are staggering. It's estimated that the Internet produces about 300 million tons of carbon dioxide each year, reports The Guardian. That's the equivalent of how much CO2 the world's volcanoes produce annually. It's also more than half the amount of fossil fuels that are used in the U.K. The bottom line: The Internet contributes to more environmental waste than you think.

With that being said, it's hard to estimate the environmental impact of the Internet. Think about it. It's virtually impossible to measure the energy it takes to power all of the computers in the world. And what's even more difficult is knowing whether those users were online or offline when their computers were up and running.

Data Centers: Measuring E-Waste

A fantastic starting point for measuring e-waste are the numerous data centers around the world. Data centers contain rows and rows of servers that store website data. All of these servers use electricity. And the more servers, the more the cooling devices needed to prevent overheating.

There are tens of thousands of these centers all over the world, according to estimates from the New York Times. The newspaper found that those "data centers use 90 percent of the energy they pull off the grid." And each data center has numerous diesel-emitting backup generators in case the power goes off. In some parts of Silicon Valley, the air is so polluted that it appears on the state's Toxic Air Contaminant Inventory. A single data center can use 30 billion watts of electricity, which is almost equal to what 30 nuclear power plants emit.

These data centers are constantly running because we all want to be able to access the Internet at the same time, all the time, without interruptions. They continue to run at full capacity regardless of how many people are online at a given time. Data centers must constantly be prepared for unexpected surges in traffic. If they’re unable to handle a sudden influx of users, the staff can be fired.

A Solution to Digital Waste

If you're concerned about your computer use being environmentally friendly, you don't have to give up the Internet altogether. Cloud computing has tremendous eco-benefits. In case you're not familiar, cloud computing involves storing files online as opposed to storing them on a server. The Carbon Disclosure Project found that a company using cloud storage can reduce energy consumption and decrease carbon emissions. The group estimates that companies who start using the cloud can save $12.3 billion and reduce carbon emissions equal to about 200 million barrels of oil.

Certain programs, such as some of Apple's, give you the option of storing your data on the cloud. If you're searching for a place to store information, companies like Mozy can help. The company offers individuals and businesses different products to meet their needs. You can also purchase cloud storage from a variety of providers.

Teresa K. Traverse is Phoenix, Arizona-based freelance writer, editor and traveler. Check her out online and follow her tweets @teresaktraverse.


In January, we move away from the bright lights and the over-indulgence of holiday festivities. We gather our thoughts and reflect on the past year. What did we accomplish? Where do we go from here? What do we want to do this year? Now is the time to organize thoughts, dreams, and wishes for the year ahead. Make your New Year Intentions clear and doable. Set yourself up for success by creating the space and time you’ll need, and supply yourself with the right tools for each intention.

One of my intentions for 2016 is to find unique products that combine beauty, utility & sustainability and share them with my world family. My other three intentions are listed below along with the tools I’ve found to support my success.

cork yoga mat and wheel 

Intention #1: Create Sacred Space

When I lived in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, I had a gorgeous Ayurveda & Yoga studio 3 miles from the beach. It was clutter-free, organized and beautiful at my studio all the time. Because of that, I stuck to my daily yoga and meditation practice with ease. Then I moved west and began traveling so much that I fell out of the habit of daily in–home practice. Instead, I turned to the gym—cycling and the occasional yoga/Pilates class.

In October, when I solidified my decision to drop root in Southern Oregon, I created a practice space but was also using it as an office. Papers, bills and half written articles piled up quickly, distracting me from my yoga-mediation practice and made me think of work. This year, my main lifestyle intention is create a sacred space (not just practice space) in which I will want to practice yoga and meditation daily.

To do so, I’ve taken everything out of my office/yoga room except my mats, alter, cushions, and clock. I also supplied myself with a gorgeous Sacred Geometry natural cork yoga mat ($149) and natural cork yoga wheel ($119) from Yoloha. I love the way my hands and feet feel on this creamy handmade eco-friendly mat and how the wheel cradles my back when I rest in heart-opening back bends. I feel good about having them in my sacred space as they are truly made with and emanate love. The cork used to make Yoloha mats and props is natural, renewable, recyclable and obtained sustainably through hand-stripping the cork tree bark only once every nine years. None of the cork is wasted in the process, and the trees live up to 300 years. These beautiful new tools are my 2016 yoga practice essentials and make me want to practice longer and stay present. Thanks Yoloha!

vegan journal 

Intention #2: Write Morning Pages & Journal Daily

For most of my life I have enjoyed journaling. I like looking back over the years and remembering what I was thinking and writing about in detail in 2002, 2010 and so on. It’s a good gauge of growth and my very own historical document. This year in addition to journaling, my second lifestyle intention is to write three pages every morning immediately upon waking, as Julia Cameron (author of The Artist’s Way) recommends for blocked artists.

The tool I found to support this intention is a handmade vegan journal by Tremundo, a small, artist-owned company in South Carolina. These unique mixed media, original art, handcrafted journals are true inspiration for morning pages and for general creating. The Base of Change Journal ($30) is shown here.

communication mala 

Intention #3: Communicate Clearly with Love & Respect

My communication goals vary daily, however the theme remains the same: be clear, loving and respectful.

The Clear Communications Mala by Erica Fullen Designs ($168) is exactly the tool I need to remind me to stick to this one, my third lifestyle intention, all year long.  Artist, healer and mother, Erica Fullen uses color and the power of setting intentions to create her full line of chakra inspired jewelry to “enhance and balance within.” When I put this mala on, I state my communication goals for the day. One day it might be to call a family member and give them my full attention; the next day it might be to draft an article and send a pitch to an editor. The physical act of placing the mala around my neck and over my heart reminds me of these goals until they are complete. The Power of Today is enhanced with this beautiful tool. Thank you Erica Fullen! I can feel the love.

Have you taken time to set your New Year Intentions? Care to share? Leave a comment or email me, I’d love to hear yours. Love to my world family and Happy New Year. Make it your best ever, I’m cheering you on!

Shar VedaShar Veda, Southern Oregon’s Premier Alternative Therapist, offers deep healing through loving touch and compassionate counsel. She is an Ayurveda Lifestyle Counselor & Health Educator, yoga therapist and herbalist. Shar has been blessed to study with leading teachers in Ayurveda, Yoga, and herbalism for 20 years. However, it was her adopted grandma, Doe (English-American and Blackfoot Native), who instilled within her profound appreciation for the supreme power of loving touch, healing arts, and world family. Visit her website for a video, full bio, and photos or find her on Facebook!

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