Mother Earth Living

Your Natural Home

Creating a cozy hearth for the family

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11/26/2014

Pests are nasty, disease bringing, furniture gnawing, money absorbing, beasts. They are found anywhere and everywhere around the globe and with so many different critters and creepy crawlies, there is always one perfectly suited to your home. Besides keeping your home neat and tidy, what can be done to keep them away?

Rodents

1. Stop the Pests From Getting Inside

Starting with air bricks and chimneys, while they are an absolute necessity as part of your home, they are perfect entry points for pests such as mice and cockroaches. Do not attempt to cover the gaps by filling them in. Instead place a steel mesh over them, it allows for regular airflow, yet denies pests access to the building.

Similar to this, you’ll also want to seal any cracks that might have appeared in the brickwork of the structure as, even if they are high up, mice and rats can climb and gain access through them. Points at which pipes, such as water or gas, enter the house also often have a small gap around them as the entry point is usually slightly larger than the pipe itself. Using sealant or expanding foam is the perfect answer to this: It will block the entrance without causing any disruption to the piping. A mouse only needs a hole the size of a ballpoint pen to find its way in and other critters are even smaller, so do yourself a favor and get these holes closed!

2. Encourage the Natural Order

What keeps the balance of nature? What stops one creature becoming too prevalent? The yin and yang of Mother Earth: predator and prey. Encourage birds to come into your garden with birdbaths and feeders. A pet, such as a cat, is also a great addition to the team of predators protecting your home. But, remember a cat is for life, not just for catching mice. However, with these animals about, you are less likely to be dealing with mice trying to enter your home. The very presence of their predators is enough to ward them off.

Natural Predators

3. Don’t Make It Easy for Them

Overhanging trees are essentially a welcome sign to pests. Anything from insects to squirrels can scurry along the branches and onto the roof of your house. From the roof, it is far easier to find access points, or they might simply just set up shop there. If you have a tree near your home, make sure the branches do not hang over or touch the property, get them trimmed back regularly and you should avoid such problems. You don’t want to be removing a squirrel or a raccoon once they become settled up there; they become incredibly violent and territorial.

4. Keep Your Walls Clear

Termites, ants, cockroaches, flies, fleas, spiders—you can name whatever horrible little critter you like, they all like damp and dark places. Things like stacked wood and logs, leaves, compost and mulch and building materials are all things you are likely to leave piled up by the side of the house, but don’t. It is very dark inside these stacks and the damp sets in, making it the perfect environment for bugs. These places become a haven for this kind of life, as you will know if you’ve ever gone to collect some wood for the fire and run into a mound of insects under the logs.

This is not an issue in nature and is to be encouraged in some areas to help the biodiversity. However, putting it against the walls of your house helps pests become one with the building. They might nibble their way through into the wall cavities; they might find holes and get inside; or they might simply just decide to make a home in the cracks between the brickwork. Anyway you put it: It is not what you want around your home. If you're going to stack items like this, do it away from your house. Keep the foundations clean and dry and you’ll keep the pests away.

Trim tress with overhang

5. Remain Vigilant

Going around, sealing holes and moving logs away from the house is all well and good, but one year down the line you might have some home repairs done or your old shed could be lying in pieces next to the house; now we’re back to square one. If you don’t stay on the ball, the pests will get in. Keep up a routine of pest prevention. Always keep an eye out for new cracks in the walls or moisture around the foundations. Remember to pick up the bird-feed to keep predators coming back and don’t forget to make sure the mesh that you put on airflow entrances are still in place.


EBS LogoEBS Ltd are urban pest and bird control specialists who have been operating in London since 2003. The company was founded, and is run, by Jeff Nelson a pest control expert with over 20 years industry experience.



11/26/2014

If you’re looking for a last-minute centerpiece to adorn your Thanksgiving dinner table, look no further. We scoured the pages of Pinterest to find a few of our absolute favorite, nature-inspired centerpieces. Tie your home to nature with these gorgeous displays. They’re simple to create and will elegantly show off your craft skills to friends and family.

Tree Branch Candle Holder 

Tree Branch Candleholder

Repurpose a beautiful cut tree branch into a unique way to display tea lights. The decorating blog SAS Interiors shows you how to make this simple piece in just five minutes. All you need is a 1.5-inch drill bit. Finish off the display by surrounding the branch with foliage and light-colored table runner. Via SAS Interiors.

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Pumpkin Vase

Pumpkin Vase

Embrace autumnal colors with this one-of-a-kind centerpiece idea: a homemade pumpkin vase. If you never got around to carving that pumpkin from Halloween and it’s still sitting pretty on your patio, transform it into this gorgeous conversation starter. Jenny Hobick from the lifestyle blog Everyday Occasions hollowed out her leftover Cinderella-like pumpkin to showcase apricot roses, mums and wheat-looking stems. However, you can use whatever beautiful flowers you have already growing in your garden. Via Everyday Occasions.

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Herb Olive Leaf Table Garland

Herb and Olive Leaf Table Garland

Let the simple beauty of nature shine through with this herbal garland. Florists Jill Rizzo and Alethea Harampolis offer easy-to-follow instructions on the Country Living website. All you need is twine; thin green wire; and sage, rosemary and olive leaf branches, or another greenery of your choice. Fashion the fresh, aromatic leaves into a lovely garland and stretch it across the length of your dinner table for a decorative feast. Via Country Living.

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11/20/2014

Tablescapes
Tabletop decorating has never been this much fun! From the sit-down dinners for a few guests or buffets for many, to bridal and abby showers, holiday dinners with the family and al fresco parties at the beach, in
Tablescapes: Setting the Table with Style (Gibbs Smith, 2008), high-end event planner Kimberly Schlegel Whitman shows how to set a tablet he right way.

The following tablescape design is excerpted from “Formal Dining at Home: Harvest Feast.”


Harvest Feast

Neighbors and lifelong friends Gigi Lancaster and Margaret Ryder are true connoisseurs of tabletop finery. They work well together because their strengths (Gigi’s in linens, Margaret’s in floral arranging) are complementary.

 Harvest Feast Table

Together this duo set an elegant rustic table in front of a roaring fire to host an autumn supper. They creatively and effortlessly combined antique pewter, Gien Rambouillet china and Leontine Linens monogrammed napkins. They selected vintage sugar bowls to serve as wine glasses.

 Harvest Feast PlaceSetting

Canadian pewter flatware in the shape of branches and wonderful candlesticks filled with beeswax taper candles were beautiful beside the monogrammed antique pewter charger plates. An artfully designed hydrangea bouquet was the perfect centerpiece.

 Harvest Feast Centerpiece

The china, depicting endangered animal species, reflected their use of organic and natural elements while underscoring their love of animals and whimsy. This eclectic table also included bowls full of clementines, antique wine decanters and silver chalices decorated with hunting dogs.

Harvest Feast Goblet

It flawlessly mixed candles, flowers, vintage collectibles, antique treasures and modern pieces to create a festive and comfortable atmosphere for guests.

Harvest Feast Accent Table


This excerpt has been reprinted with permission from Tablescapes: Setting the Table with Style by Kimberly Schlegel Whitman and published by Gibbs Smith, 2008. Photographs by Scott Womack from Tablescapes; reprint with permission of Gibbs Smith.



11/19/2014

Ok, I know technically winter doesn’t start until December 21st, but when temperatures start dropping in mid-November, it certainly starts to feel decidedly more winter than autumn. And, while bringing some nature into our homes is fairly easy in the spring and summer when wildflowers and garden herbs are ripe for the picking and open windows admit birdsong and breezes, tying our homes to the outdoors in winter is a bit trickier. Why might we want to tie our homes to the seasons? First, connecting with the cycles of nature is good for our psyches. Countless studies have shown that spending time immersed in nature makes us calmer, happier and more alert. In winter, spending time in nature is potentially less appealing and available—so let’s bring some of that healing energy inside our cozy homes at this time of the year. Here are a few of my favorite ways:

Cinnamon Wreath 

1.  Embrace darkness. With the longest nights of the year, a big feature of winter is darkness. In days long past, this would have meant we humans spent more time sleeping and more time in front of firelight. Embrace nature’s push for more sleep and dimmer lights. Instead of making your home’s interior blaze with electric light, consider letting darkness take hold and instead sitting by candlelight in the evening. Try to abandon screens, and instead talk quietly in the dimness, or tell stories or sing songs.

2.  Make a beautiful wreath. Wreaths are a perfect symbol of the season and a fairly easy craft for a chilly afternoon. Wreaths can be made with dried herbs or with twigs and berries you collect on a nature walk. Try these DIY wreaths, or explore the internet for a wealth of other ideas.

3.  Connect with winter spices. Winter is all about being warm and cozy, and few things enjoy a longer history of warming up humans than spices and herbs such as cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and ginger. Let these comforting scents spread throughout your home by simmering a pot of herbs on the stove. You can simmer these herbs on the stovetop in water as a nice potpourri, or double your pleasure by simmering them in apple cider or wine

4.  Make a nature-centric centerpiece. Making a centerpiece collected from nature is as easy as choosing your beautiful natural items and pairing them with an attractive vessel. Like the wreath project above, this idea gets you out on a nature hike to collect your materials (and soak up some precious vitamin D) then back inside to craft away. Some combos I might try: Berry-filled branches in a tall vase; pine cones in a large glass jar; evergreen boughs tied with a burlap ribbon and laid on a tray; statuesque bare branches arranged like a bouquet.

5.  Grow greens. Few things can make us feel more connected with nature than having growing things in the house. Bonus points if that growing thing is edible. Lettuces are incredibly easy and fast to grow from seed, and they do well even in the low light of winter if you have a south-facing window. Pick up a wide, shallow container, plants the seeds of some mixed greens or Swiss chard, and enjoy watering and admiring your growing salad garden, even on the coldest days of the year. Even better: You’ll have fresh green salads come January.



11/17/2014

Fall foliage wreath
Photo from Better Homes and Gardens

Fall foliage, tall golden grasses, warm sweaters, and hot cider by the fire—all these things instantly bring harvest season to mind. Fall is colored by earthy tones, like rich reds and orange, and fall decorations are inspired by (or taken from) nature.  When you’re preparing your home for fun fall festivities (not limited to Thanksgiving), keep the following natural inspirations in mind for decorations:

1. Leaves

Don’t leaf the leaves outside! Gather the leaves with the most vibrant colors, the largest leaves, the best leaves you can find in your yard and use them in fun Fall decorations! Make an autumnal wreath or garland by stringing leaves together. Press leaves to dry them and display on cardstock for placards or in picture frames.

 

Martha Stewart Pine Vines
Photo from Martha Stewart

2. Pine Cones

Pine cones add a nice natural touch to just about anything. Put whole pine cones on your lamp finial or as an accent on your table. Or, disassemble a few pine cones and create a dainty pine vine to wrap around a candle stick, vase or glass. (instructions from Martha Stewart). Just be sure to bake the pine cones for a few minutes first to make sure you don’t bring any happy insects into your cozy home.

Fall Gourds
Photo from Midwest Living

3. Pumpkins and Gourds

Who says pumpkins can only be fashionable for Halloween? No one, that’s who. Pumpkins and gourds look great as decorated centerpiece or arranged simply on a mantel, making your home look fresh from the harvest, overflowing with good foods. Dried corn with the husk adds a harvest touch as well

knit throw pillow
Photo from Country Living

4. Sweater Knits

Nothing says fall like sweater season. You can incorporate wonderfully warm cable knits into your décor by making a knit throw, a pillowcase, or even a bowl or mug cozy. Natural wool fibers look best, adding all the cozy warmth without any added dyes (and it’s much easier to coordinate colors!)

Floating Fall Candles
Photo from Better Homes and Gardens

5. Candles

Many people love to sit by a warm fireplace on a cool autumn day, but sometimes it isn’t so practical to have a fire going. Instead, make use of candles to accent occasions or parts of your home. You can also add more by wrapping pillar candles in straw, burlap or leaves, making sure these materials will not be near the flame. You could also float tea candles on a dish over sunken colorful leaves for an evening center piece.

What are your favorite fall decorations?



11/6/2014

Pests are more than just ugly looking critters that chew through your wiring. Many can cause serious health problems for you and your loved ones.

Mice

Mouse on counter

A common pest in most rural areas, mice may be considered easier on the eyes than the other creatures we have on this list, but they are by far one of the worst offenders when it comes to health risks. Like most pests, mice will scour your house in search of a meal; however, even if they don’t get into your food they will still contaminate your kitchen area.

Mice constantly dribble urine, meaning any surface they come into contact with instantly becomes contaminated. This steady stream means that any diseases they carry such as salmonella or meningitis, both of which can severely affect humans, will be guaranteed to find their way onto your floors and countertops. What makes this even worse is that mouse urine dries fast, becoming invisible, so you might be placing your bread down on a pile of nasty, mouse-ridden bacteria without even knowing.

Cockroaches

Roaches are a firm favorite for the most disgusting looking pests around, but while they are offensive to look at, the risks they pose to humans are even worse. Cockroaches live in sewer environments and come up into homes in search of food and warmth. While they scuttle about your countertops and kitchen cupboards they are leaving behind bacteria, parasites and pathogens, all of which can affect humans. However, roaches don’t need to contaminate a surface to harm you. They can do it simply by existing. Droppings, urine, decaying roach bodies and shed skin all break down and become air born particles— particles that can pose a serious risk to asthmatics, especially children. The floating roach dust gets into the lungs and causes allergic reactions, proving to be worse for asthma suffers than dog hair, cat fur or even conventional dust.

Bed Bugs

Bed Bug

As it turns out, you really don’t want to let the bed bugs bite. While they are not carriers of harmful diseases or parasites, they can affect you in other ways. Not only can their bites cause rashes, scars and lesions, but they can have serious psychological effects.

Bed bugs are exactly that, bugs that live within the woodwork of your bed. Infestations are very hard to get rid of and can take a long time to destroy, leaving you to sleep in an itchy, pest-ridden bed for extended periods of time. The result of sharing your bed with these bugs can cause anxiety, stress, sleep deprivation and depression. Not only does it cause these psychological problems, but these bugs push their hosts to do whatever it takes to get rid of them. This often leads to property damage, inhalation of dangerous chemicals, and even fire hazards as sufferers resort to burning infested furniture and flooring in pure desperation.

Fleas

Fleas are flightless, but they have powerful legs and can easily jump onto your pet’s fur when they are running through an infested area, such as long grass. These tiny blood drinkers will attach themselves to anything living, including you. While their bites can give you an allergic reaction, and even cause a severe and dangerous anaphylaxis in some people, fleas can have a nastier side if accidentally swallowed. Although this is rare, mostly occurring in children, the fact they are so small means it is easy for them to become ingested. The result of ingesting these minuscule insects is a far more disturbing and harmful infestation, a tapeworm. Tapeworms are large parasitic worms that live in the intestines, munching on your food and growing up to 50 feet long.

You’re not only living creature in your home that fleas, and their potential friends, can affect. While many pet owners use some kind of flea prevention, less commonly known is that animals acquire tapeworm the same way humans do, by ingesting “infected” fleas. Any flea that has eaten tapeworm larvae and is then swallowed by your pet, typically while grooming, can turn suddenly become a far more serious problem.

Rats

Rats

We saved the best for last. Rats are carriers of some of the most dangerous diseases on the planet and without these critters the bubonic plague might not have wiped out so much of Europe.

Rats have powerful teeth and can gnaw their way through pretty much anything, allowing them to reach food and water supplies resulting in contamination. Rat fecal matter and urine can also spread numerous diseases such as leptospirosis, a debilitating illness that causes liver, kidney and heart problems. You don’t even have to consume something contaminated to become infected; simply inhaling their evaporating and decaying waste is enough. Being a larger pest than most, rats also have more aggressive tendencies and are more likely to bite and scratch humans, which could result in other infections such as rat-bite fever.


EBS LogoEBS Ltd are urban pest and bird control specialists who have been operating in London since 2003. The company was founded, and is run, by Jeff Nelson a pest control expert with over 20 years industry experience.



10/22/2014

In a leap of faith, a year ago my family joined Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage in Midcoast Maine, a 36-unit multigenerational community on 42 acres. My husband and I loaded all our possessions into a truck and uprooted our two young children as we moved from Wisconsin to a quaint coastal community. Upon our arrival, we were greeted by friendly neighbors who helped us unload and unpack. Our children began exploring the property and we all began building friendships within our community. We instantly enjoyed living in our new high-performance home because sunlight fills our living space, fresh air circulates throughout the home and our utility bills are very low.

All Belfast Ecovillage homes are built to the passive house standard (although not certified), so we use 90 percent less energy for heating and cooling than the typical code-built home. The solar orientation and huge triple-pane windows and doors allow the sun to passively heat our home. The cement slab absorbs heat during the day and releases it at night when the temperature drops, helping to maintain more even temperatures. Generous amounts of insulation and virtually airtight construction allow the heating system to remain idle much of the time. Our heat recovery ventilation (HRV) system constantly supplies a stream of fresh air to the bedrooms, while removing stale air from the kitchen and bathroom.

Belfast Cohousing Ecovillage 

Fresh Indoor Air

Most conventional homes leak lots of air out of the home, thus losing heat and creating drafts in the winter. Because homes built to the passive house standard are virtually airtight, they would have air-quality issues if there wasn’t mechanical ventilation. Exhaust fans are not energy-efficient in cold climates because they vent heated air out of the home without capturing the heat, so our home doesn’t have an exhaust fan in the bathroom or a range hood in the kitchen.

Instead, we have a Zehnder HRV system, which constantly brings fresh, tempered outdoor air into the bedrooms and removes stale air from the kitchen and bathroom. These systems are up to 95 percent efficient in capturing heat from the exhaust air before it leaves the home and transferring it to the incoming air, so we can have both fresh air and energy efficiency, even on the coldest days of the year.

Energy Efficiency

Despite the cold Maine climate, we haven’t needed to use our heating system until late October or early November. On sunny days in winter, our home can heat up 10 degrees or more solely from the sun, with the heating system turned off. Even on winter nights, our heating system turns on sparingly because of generous amounts of insulation in the walls, ceiling and slab; an energy-efficient standing-seam roof; and triple-pane windows and doors.

Our highest electric bill for heat, hot water, cooking and plug loads was during January, for a grand total of $120, at roughly $0.15 per kilowatt hour. I know people who spent more than $1,000 a month on heat alone for a similar-sized older home in our area. We later learned the difference that removing screens from southern windows makes in boosting the heating effect of the sun, further reducing winter heat bills. The upfront cost of the home was greater because of the energy-efficient features, which have an estimated 7.5-year payback period.

Comfort

Even on the coldest winter nights, our home is draft-free, and it’s comfortable to sit by the windows. Our home is heated largely by the sun, which delivers gradual heat. The HRV system helps circulate the heat from the sun in the home, balancing the temperatures between the rooms on the south side (which receives more sun) and the north side of the home. Our last home had a forced-air furnace, and I really appreciate not having dry hot air blowing on me during the heating season.

In the summer, our home remained very comfortable, even with so many south-facing windows. The Unilux windows and one of the doors can tilt in using one hinge at the bottom to allow them to open at the top, providing lots of ventilation. When it’s hotter outside than inside, the HRV system can actually pre-cool the incoming air from the outgoing air.

No Moisture Issues

I’ve lived in several homes that developed mold above the shower, despite diligentuse of an exhaust fan. Even bath towels would get moldy when left on a hook to dry during humid weather. This has not been an issue in our new high-performance house. We chose to forgo having a clothes dryer and even on humid, rainy days we can air-dry laundry inside without mold.

Healthier Living

Although we are mindful of using nontoxic products in our home, it can be difficult to avoid them completely. Having an HRV system constantly supply fresh air to the home helps mitigate the buildup of toxins in the indoor air. In recent years, I’ve found myself developing chemical sensitivities to synthetic fragrances. If I mistakenly light a scented candle or my daughter comes home wearing synthetic perfume, I can boost the speed of the HRV system to increase the amount of fresh air brought into the home to reduce my reaction.

One of our neighbors was experiencing a chemical sensitivity after she had flooring installed in her home. Instead of having to open windows during cool fall weather, she was able to boost the HRV system, which eliminated her symptoms. The HRV system also filters out pollen and dust, a great feature for people who suffer from allergies.

Energy Independence

Over the summer, 11 solar systems were installed at Belfast Ecovillage through a community purchase initiative with Capital City Renewables. By purchasing and installing the systems collectively, members received wholesale rates for solar panels and components. Now 22 of the homes are near net-zero, producing all or most of the power used over the course of the year.

There is an excitement in the neighborhood around energy conservation and green power, which began with the planning of the high-performance houses and expanded with the installation of the solar systems. Our high-performance home and community living are helping us to live our dream of green living.


Sarah Lozanova is an environmental and health journalist with an MBA in sustainable management. She lives in a net-zero house in Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage in midcoast Maine with her husband and two children.





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