Mother Earth Living

Wiser Living

Finding a natural solution

Add to My MSN


Most of us strive to be two things: happy and healthy. According to a study published in the Health Behavior and Policy Review journal, optimistic people are twice as likely to have healthy hearts. Research shows a positive attitude can influence wellness. Along with optimism, factors such as relationships, job, diet, activity level and even where you live can impact the quality of your health. So, where are the best places for fitness fanatics, health gurus and wellness warriors?

woman jogging in front of city graffiti
Photo by shutterstock.

The ASCM American Fitness Index (AFI) ranked the healthiest cities in the U.S. based on personal health, community and environmental indicators supporting healthy and active lifestyles. The following metropolitan areas ranked as the top five in health and fitness status for 2015. If you want to live in a health-focused environment, find fitness inspiration or go on an active and adventurous vacation, here are your top urban destinations.

Washington, D.C.

Hundreds of thousands of people move to D.C. because of a new job or job transfer. In addition to attracting workaholics, D.C. also attracts workoutaholics and was dubbed the fittest metro area in the nation. If you want to make this fit city your hometown, check out Apartment Guide to find a luxury apartment with the right pool, gym and amenities to support your active lifestyle.


Minneapolis is so livable in part because of its park system, which covers 17 percent of the city. In 2014, the Trust for Public Land ranked the city's park system as the best in the country. These parks provide an accessible outdoor area where people can walk, run and play. A low percentage of smokers, high percentage of residents who engage in physical activity and a large number of health care providers also support the city's attractiveness in health and fitness.

San Diego

As if the beach, laid-back California vibe and SoCal sun weren't enough to make San Diego the perfect place to live or vacation, it ranks as No. 3 on the list of healthy and fit locales. This California city offers sunshine and moderate weather for enjoyable outdoor activities year round. Check out highlights by San Diego Magazine for a variety of ways to stay in shape and avoid being a beach bum, from standup paddleboard yoga to doggie bootcamps.

San Francisco

Men’s Fitness ranks San Francisco as No. 1 for its list of fittest cities in America. Not only has San Francisco become the hub of tech revolution and innovation, it's a very walkable and bikeable city. The northern California hotspot has a low number of smokers, low obesity rates, farmers markets, an exercise culture and relatively low death rates for cardiovascular disease and diabetes, according to


Sacramento comes in fifth for AFI's urban health and fitness list. This health hub achieved a reputation for healthy living based on high participation in aerobic and strength activities, nutritional habits (eating fruits and vegetables), a low percentage of angina or coronary heart disease, numerous farmers markets and a high percentage of residents who bike or walk to work. Dog parks, park playgrounds and golf courses also gave this city high health marks.

Whether you’re looking an active vacation or looking to put down roots somewhere, choose a place where you’ll be surrounded by others who are like-minded and health-inspired!

Abby Terlecki is one of those creative writer-types who prefers to tell stories through her keyboard than with her mouth. When Abby's not writing freelance articles, text messages, to-do lists or CrossFit scores, she's a copywriter for a university in Phoenix, Arizona.


There’s nothing quite like a crackling fire in the fireplace or wood stove on cold winter nights. Not being able to get a fire easily started, though, can really put a damper on things. Fortunately, there are easier ways to start a roaring fire than just rubbing two sticks together or buying expensive kindling logs. An added bonus is you can put them together with mostly recycled materials you probably have laying around the house.

family warming feet in front of fireplace
Photo by Fotolia.

Toilet Paper Roll Fire Starters

Lint is the secret to success with these easy-to-make bundles—it’s highly flammable and makes great tinder. All you need is dryer lint, scrap paper (like newspaper or paper grocery bags—don’t use glossy paper as it tends to have chemicals in the ink you don’t want to burn), cardboard toilet paper rolls and twine (save your garden twine from trellising plants this summer). Assembling them is easy: Stuff a tube with lint, then wrap it in paper with a couple of inches overhanging each end. Twist the ends of the paper, in the way peppermint candies are wrapped. Tie a little bit of twine on each end to keep it closed.

Egg Carton Fire Starters

These cartons utilize soy wax, making them extra long-burning. That’s a great feature when trying to start a fire with damp wood, or outdoors while camping in poor weather conditions. You’ll need a paper egg carton (do not use Styrofoam cartons—Styrofoam should never be burned), dryer lint, and about a cup of plain soy wax flakes. You’ll also want a large can to melt the wax in—you can use this for all of your wax melting projects so you don’t have to worry about cleaning up dishes or pans.

First, cut the top off of the egg carton and reserve it for another project (makes a great disposable tray for paint or crafts for kids) since we’ll only use the bottom of the carton for the fire starters. Stuff each section of the carton with lint, then set aside while you melt the wax. Put the wax flakes into the can and set it into a saucepan about half full of water, to form a temporary double boiler. Simmer the water, stirring the wax occasionally, until it’s completely melted. Carefully pour a tablespoon or so of molten wax over the lint in each cup. Let the wax cool and harden, then cut each cup apart, so that you have 12 individual fire starters.

Pine Cone Fire Starters

All that’s needed for these is foraged pine cones and soy wax. Melt the wax using the above method, and dip each pine cone into the wax, lightly coating it. Leave about a half-inch bare at the top so the pine cone can be lit (and so you don’t burn your fingers). Due to the wax extending the burn time, these are also nice to use with damp wood or in adverse conditions.

Herb Bundles

Dried herb bundles make good fire starters and have the added benefit of smelling wonderful. Lavender, sage and rosemary are great for this! Just take a handful of dried herbs (still on the stems) and wrap it in a little twine—instant fire starter!

If you know someone who appreciates a well-laid fire or enjoys outdoor pursuits, putting together a basket of fire accessories is a gift that can be enjoyed on multiple occasions. Choose a nice basket (half bushel baskets look great), or something fun and unusual, like an old-fashioned coal hod or a wood carrying sling. Fill it with your choice of fire starters—a selection is nice if you have the time and materials to make several different kinds. Add in some nice wooden or waterproof matches and a bundle of kindling sticks, and you’ve got a nice gift set that any fire aficionado will appreciate!

Amanda is passionate about cooking, gardening and crafting. To read more, please check out Apartment Farm.


The price of oil plummeted 6 percent on Monday, after the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) — a group of the largest oil-producing nations — made a policy decision last week to maintain its current oil production rates. OPEC now produces about 31.5 barrels of oil per day, which is above the organization's 30-million-barrel ceiling for oil output.

Current oil prices stand at $39.97 for crude oil, $2.19 for natural gas, $1.27 for gasoline, and $1.34 for heating oil at the time of this writing. These prices represent a low not seen since 2009. So what does this mean for the cost of your holiday meals?

holiday meal on festive table
Photo by Kaboompics.

Lower Oil Prices Mean Slashes in Food Costs

Since the agriculture industry uses oil in its farm machinery, its agricultural chemicals, and its transportation of farm output, oil prices remain a fundamental driver of consumer food costs.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, energy and transportation costs represent about 8 percent of the total cost of domestically produced food. Fertilizers, chemicals, lubricants and fuel make up about 50 percent of production costs for corn and wheat crops in developed countries. Thus, the year's decline in oil prices will trickle down to food costs, said a January report from Rabobank.

Rabobank, a multinational banking company based in the Netherlands, predicted that lower oil prices in 2015 would lead to a direct drop in food production costs — creating lower prices for consumers. And it looks like that's exactly what has happened.

UN Food Index Reports 2015 Price Declines

According to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) Food Price Index — a measure of the international monthly change in costs of major food categories — the cost of major food commodities dropped significantly since last year.

Overall, the FAO Price Index averaged 156.7 points in November, 18 percent lower than its value in 2014. This number also represents a 1.6 percent decline since the Price Index's October average.

The cost reductions were driven by a 3.1 percent drop for vegetable oils, 2.9 percent drop for dairy products, and 2.3 percent drop for cereals and grains. Of the major food categories, only sugar saw a price increase since October.

The cost decline for most food commodities since 2014 is charted below.

oil price chart
Figure 1. FAO Food Price Index trends in 2014-2015; Source: FAO.

Robabank predicts that the prices of both oil and food commodities will remain low for the remainder of 2015, leading to a "reasonably comfortable" season.

"For many...people who spend a lot of their budget on food, this is good news," says Shenggen Fan, director general of the International Food Policy Research Institute. "There is a high correlation between oil and food prices."

Benefit to Consumers Not Universal

Still, for the world's poorest, such as rural farmers who are not integrated in the global commodity market, this year's declining oil costs will have only a slim effect on the costs of food. Globally, reports the FAO, around 805 million people suffer from chronic hunger due to poverty.

But there's some good news, U.N. officials report that lower oil prices make it easier for humanitarian groups to provide aid to the world's hungry. The decline in costs has enabled groups like the World Food Programme (WFP) to fuel ships to bring food to conflict-ridden areas like Syria, Somalia and the Sudan.

The WFP says that, since the third quarter of 2014, the organization has saved about $30,000 per month for the three ships it has been chartering.

Lower Oil Prices May Not Last

But low oil prices and the resulting drop in food costs may not last, warned The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) in an October report.

Despite continued growth in crude oil supply, "supply increases [will be more than offset by] an anticipated decline in U.S. output in 2016," the EIU predicts.

The EIU expects that the price of crude oil will rise to $60 a barrel in 2016 and $73 in 2017. These price increases are expected to have a direct impact on retail food costs in the next few years.

The bottom line: Enjoy your cheaply priced holiday ham, turkey or vegetarian dishes while you still have time.

Kayla Matthews is a health and wellness blogger who loves jogging, yoga and hiking. Follow Kayla on Google+ and Twitter to read all of her latest posts.


buildOn Student Volunteer with Students in Classroom

This issue’s charity: buildOn

Why they’re crucial: As children, most of us probably took access to the tools needed to learn to read and write for granted. However, students in poverty-stricken communities—both in the U.S. and developing countries—often don’t get the supplies and opportunities they need. For more than 20 years, the nonprofit buildOn has worked to improve education quality and access in the U.S. and abroad. buildOn works with students in urban U.S. high schools by building leadership skills through community service. In developing countries, the organization builds schools, which include programs for children and adults. Communities who benefit from buildOn schools agree to send boys and girls to attend the school in equal numbers.

What they do

• Run service learning programs in 50 high schools in urban areas in the United States

• Build schools in developing countries • Create safe environments where students can feel comfortable learning • Empower students to improve their communities, respect themselves, and gain leadership and communication skills through after-school programs and service projects

How we can help: Throughout the duration of this issue, we’re collecting donations to this important charity. To join our efforts, visit buildOn. Or mail donations directly to P.O. Box 16741, Stamford, Connecticut, 06905. Include the fundraiser name, Mother Earth Living Gives Back, on the envelope or check, if you wish. It’s our goal to collect $2,500 for buildOn.

Did you know...

• Worldwide, nearly 900 million people cannot read or write.

• Across the world, 57 million children of primary school age have no classroom access at all.

• 94 percent of students who join buildOn service learning programs in the U.S. graduate from high school and go on to attend college.

• To date, buildOn has constructed more than 830 schools in seven countries, including Burkina Faso, Nepal and Nicaragua.


Upcycling, the process of creatively repurposing old items into something useful, is a great way to downsizeHeart Ornament Made from an Old Sweater on items you don’t use by converting them into decorations, gifts and practical items. Try these ideas for ways to reuse your outdated wardrobe items.

T-Shirt Quilt: Have a stack of beloved T-shirts you can’t bear to toss? Repurpose them into a quilt to combine sentimental value and practicality.

Fabric Rug: Old clothes can be made into colorful fabric yarn and knitted into a unique floor covering. (Read DIY Fabric Rug for full instructions.)

Sweater pillows: Old sweaters can be made into charming decorations by felting (washing and drying wool so it shrinks into a dense fabric) then cutting out shapes, stuffing them and stitching them together. These tiny pillows make a cute addition to gifts, or look adorable tossed in a bowl. Find a tutorial for the one pictured above from the blog Your Homebased Mom.


As a double Taurus (Moon & Sun), I look for quality and luxury in useful, sustainable items when giving and receiving gifts. I am not a throw away kind of gal and I detest clutter, so for me to buy something it has to be really special. My grandmom Dolores, a Scorpio, was an excellent gift giver. Every year she bought useful, beautiful high-quality gifts that I cherished. Selecting gifts for people is an art, and when you take time to choose the right gift it’s wonderful to see their faces light up with delight. This year, I am sharing five of my favorite gifts from conscious companies to help you buy for all of the special people in your lives. Ranging from modest to decadent, all items are high-quality, sustainable and eco-friendly.


Lillie Belle Farms Handmade Chocolate

Chocolatier Jeff Shepherd, voted one of America’s Top 10 Chocolatiers in 2009, makes exquisite chocolates from the finest ingredients available, bean to bar. With options like Ramblin’ Rose Toasted Pecan Caramel Brownies and Lavender Sea Salt Caramels, Lillie Belle Farms’ gift boxes, custom assortments and singles ($8-48) make perfect gifts for everyone on your list.

holiday beeswax candle 

Bee Lux: Handcrafted Beeswax Candles

Bee Lux beeswax candles, from Portland, Oregon, are handcrafted using 100 percent pure beeswax, locally-sourced from Pacific Northwest apiaries. Their goal is “to honor the worker bee and live up to standard by creating the best beeswax candles available,” says owner and crafter Jamie Gilmore. These beautiful candles ($5-$32) make great gifts and unique decorations during the holidays while naturally cleansing the air. Double win!

bottles of wine

Wild Wines

Jazz up your holiday table & gift baskets with Wild Wines' ethically-harvested, handmade wine ($20). Wild Wines offers an array of unusual flavors sought by wine lovers all over the world. I love the ginger, elderflower and aronia berry. Try them for your reds and whites this year. You can’t go wrong with the gift of wine.

eminence organic skin care 

Eminence Organic Skin Care

Who wants chocolate mousse on their face and cranberry pomegranate sugar on their body? I do! This dynamic duo is the perfect gift for the skincare or spa junky on your list. Eminence Chocolate Mousse Masque ($52) feeds dry winter skin with highly concentrated nutrients from cocoa, macadamia, almond and jojoba oils. Their White Cranberry Pomegranate Sugar Scrub ($48) softens and smooths the skin from head to toe, creating a radiant, glowing effect after each use. These are great for mom, daughter, sister, friend or aunt.

bra and panty set by hanna broer

Hanna Broer Designs

Designer Hanna Broer uses sustainable and organic materials to create ultra comfortable pieces for women of all sizes. The Nia Bralette ($36) and Brief ($22) in Merlot is made of 70 percent bamboo rayon, 24 percent organic cotton, 5 percent spandex, and the rings and slides on the straps are plated with real gold. This super soft, high-quality set is a great gift for your wife, girlfriend, daughter or yourself. Every woman needs to have at least one set of Broer’s handmade, organic lingerie!

Have fun this year giving gifts to loved ones, send me an email and let me know which ones are your favorites. Happy Holidays and enjoy this season of giving and receiving in good health!

Shar VedaShar Veda, Southern Oregon’s Premier Alternative Therapist, offers deep healing through loving touch and compassionate counseling. 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!


Fashion has always been considered a way to express yourself through the clothing choices you make. Still, showing who you are through the fashions you own and wear has quickly moved from “I love it” to “I must have it” as a result of in-your-face marketing placed in various magazines and advertisements we encounter daily.

This seasonal and repeated trend has made us collective victims of not only over-spending, but insensible over-pollution and consequently conscious destruction of our planet. How so? Well, it’s no secret that fashion doesn’t care much about the negative impact it’s having on our environment or lives of the planet’s inhabitants. Constant endangering of animals through fur production and animal testing is just the tip of the iceberg.

fashion show runway
Photo by Denmarkdotdk/Courtesy of Flickr

“Fast fashion leaves a pollution footprint, with each step of the clothing lifecycle generating potential environmental and occupational hazards. For example, polyester, the most widely used manufactured fiber, is made from petroleum. With the rise in production in the fashion industry, the demand for man-made fibers, especially polyester, has nearly doubled in the last 15 years, according to figures from the Technical Textile Markets. The production of polyester and other synthetic fabrics is an energy-intensive process requiring large amounts of crude oil and releasing various emissions, including volatile organic compounds, particulate matter, and acid gases such as hydrogen chloride, all of which can cause or aggravate respiratory disease”, writes Luz Claudio in his paper on fashion pollution, Waste Couture: Environmental Impact of the Clothing Industry.

To all the environmentally-friendly fashionistas out there, sustainable fashion could be a way out and keep us looking good without harming our planet. Although, in all truth, sustainable fashion hasn’t always gained positive critiques in terms of its chic design and variety; candidly speaking, it has rarely even been linked to style. Why? Due to the poor resources it relies on rarely anything could be made so that it parallels the lush, extravagant runway fashion we are usually fascinated by. Well, not anymore!

Luckily for all of us nature lovers, recent years have brought a twist that makes sustainable fashion as chic and stylish as we’ve always desired! The color choices, cuts, amazing use of cheap yarn for incredibly on-trend designs, along with the overall intent of sustainable fashion are in a rapid state of progress and change. We’re sure whether we’re more excited about how gorgeous it is, or about the fact it’s actually happening!

For everyone who is passionate about saving the planet (as much as is in their power), but still not at the cost of looking drab, sustainable fashion has found a way to make it happen.

examples of women's fashion
Photo by ivabellini/Courtesy of Flickr

One of the main problems for sustainable fashion was that it had faced limitations due to the impossibility to manipulate fabrics and colors in such a way they resemble the already set expectations of the fashion industry. People are often in search for the latest “hip and trendy,” without considering what a toxic and harmful impact the trend has had on the environment and the people working with it. Sustainable fashion takes extreme care that all the colors used are of natural origin, usually with pigments made of microalgae, which can be grown in small amounts so there is no over-production. What’s also amazing is that the colors are changing dramatically—from pink to bright orange, for example, or green to blue.

With sustainable fashion you may easily end up owning a pair of trousers you can throw on the compost after years of wearing them, and they will decompose among the vegetables and eggshells, leaving behind nothing but some fertile soil to help grow new raw materials! Isn’t that amazing?!

While sustainable fashion still has trouble positioning itself alongside larger companies due to their burden of history or a production chain, smaller companies and brands are giving their best to introduce real innovations in the world of eco-fashion. Who knows, maybe even huge brands will change their ways as consumers start demanding better—we’ll see!

Zoe Clark is an environmentalist, home decorator and DIY enthusiast from a land down under. When not obsessing about designing perfect homes, Zoe is spending time with her family. You can find her on Twitter.

Subscribe Today!

Pay Now & Save 58% Off the Cover Price

(* indicates a required item)
Canadian subs: 1 year, (includes postage & GST). Foreign subs: 1 year, . U.S. funds.
Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
Non US and Canadian Subscribers - Click Here