Mother Earth Living

Your Natural Home

Creating a cozy hearth for the family

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12/12/2014

I'm a firm believer in a homemade meal being the healthiest choice for my family, but work and school often overtake all my cooking time. Instead of being tempted by takeout, I just rely on my Crock-Pot. With all-meat chili, beef stew and chicken soup as favorites around the house, I don't even need to be home to cook a fantastic meal. After adding all the ingredients and setting the pot to low in the morning, the entire family returns home to a perfect meal. Because our family wants to have a small carbon footprint to better the environment, it's been a goal to find out whether Crock-Pots are energy efficient.

Crock-Pot

In most low-power cooking situations, the Crock-Pot wins out on energy efficiency. Stove or oven cooking requires the heating of a large area by either gas or electricity. Slow cooking takes hours, so running a large appliance against the Crock-Pot is almost always a losing battle. My family also leaves home with the assurance that a small appliance is working instead of a major appliance that can malfunction disastrously.

Size Matters

I know my refrigerator is more energy-efficient when it's full, and the same concept applies to the Crock-Pot. The small space is completely full for most recipes, even pot roast. Food heats up faster and more evenly for an efficient cooking session. Ovens, in contrast, must heat up a huge area that's not even full of food. Energy efficiency is definitely on the Crock-Pot's side.

Short Cooking Bursts Vary

I have to admit that research reflects a showdown between Crock-Pots, stoves and ovens when it comes to short cooking times. Crock-Pots are designed to cook slowly with hours of operation necessary. Cooking a quick soup over gas or electric burners shows these fuel sources as more effective, according to a study done at Iḷisaġvik College that found 12,071 BTUs were used for a gas stove compared to 87,000 BTUs for a Crock-Pot. If I can't make it home to cook on the stove, however, it's still more convenient to use the Crock-Pot as food warms all day.

Gas or Electric, You Say?

Electricity is known for its expensive cost when compared to gas. If you take the Crock-Pot out of the equation, a gas stove wins out over electricity. Although Crock-Pots are electrically driven, they don't require as much wattage as a major appliance. When a Crock-Pot isn't available, at least gas is a green alternative for your home cooking.

The Heat Factor

Energy efficiency is also about reduced waste. I want my appliance to use all the energy it draws from the fuel to cook my food. Running a stove or oven, however, is a costly decision because of all the heat loss. I may warm the house on cold days with the oven on, but the Crock-Pot would be a better energy conservation choice to reduce waste and still have a great dinner.

While every fuel source varies in cost depending on the region, it's safe to say Crock-Pots have a leg up on traditional cooking choices. For my busy lifestyle, slow-cookers allow the whole family to enjoy a meal without having to babysit a pot for hours on end. The modern family benefits greatly with these small appliance wonders.


Jane Blanchard writes for Modernize, a website offering home ideas and inspiration.



12/9/2014

Nice & Neat

Try these suggestions for a lighter living room and a clutter-free kitchen.

Cubby Coffee Table 

Storage Cubed
Made from sugarcane fiber, bamboo and recycled plastic, this modern coffee table is lightweight and customizable to fit your space perfectly.
To Buy: $230, Yube Cube

Basket Storage

A Clean Sweep
These broom-inspired baskets are made from natural straw fibers, and are lightweight and easy to store or stack away.
To Buy: $70 for two, Uncommon Goods

Horizontal Storage Cubby

Cool Cubby
This 2-1⁄2-foot-long mounting shelf with two storage cubbies is made from nontoxic materials, so you can feel even better getting things off the ground.
To Buy: $220, Kalon Studios

Organize Pots and Pans

Rack ‘Em Up
It’s a shelf, it’s a pot rack—it’s two in one! Maximize kitchen space by hanging pots and stacking necessities on this sturdy, hammered-steel wire rack.
To Buy: $210, Hay Needle

Stand Alone Pantry

Perfect Pantry
This no-frills shelf is all you need it to be, and is made from untreated wood sourced from well-managed pine and spruce forests and recycled materials.
To Buy: $30, Ikea

Easy & Organized

These solutions make bedroom and bathroom storage a breeze.

Stacking Wicker Baskets 

Get a Handle
These handcrafted wicker baskets are woven from high-quality natural rattan and perfectly sized for under-bed storage.
To Buy: $28 to $42, The Basket Lady

Cedar Chest

Cedar Storage
Stackable shelves create a custom storage solution. North American red cedar protects clothes against moths, mildew and mustiness.
To Buy: $60 to $200, Improvements

Under the cabinet, pull out organizer

Easy Organizer
Live simply with decluttered cabinets. This minimalist Simplehuman pull-out organizer does what you need, without being overly complex.
To Buy: $50, The Container Store

Kitchen Drying Rack

Hang Out
Constructed of sturdy white pine and birch sourced from the U.S., this 22-inch expanding drying rack is ideal for drying clothing. Four pegs provide additional hanging space.
To Buy: $72, Gaiam

Organize Vertically

Tower Power
Handcrafted from naturally harvested Abaca fiber using a traditional Philippine technique, this basket tower is as practical as it is appealing.
To Buy: $100, World Market

Find more home organization tips in 31 Home Storage Solutions.



12/3/2014

I've always had a love-hate relationship with the heating systems in my home. As the fall temperatures started to dip, I loathed turning on the furnace each year. If we programmed the thermostat to have lower nighttime temperatures, then we were greeted each morning with a blast of warm air. Even with a humidifier on our forced air furnace, our home would become drier when the furnace was turned on in the winter, and I would cringe when thinking of the fossil fuel use needed to keep our home warm.

Winter Comfort
Photo by Steve Chiasson

The Solution

All of this changed when we moved into a high-performance house at Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage, a 36-unit multigenerational community in Midcoast Maine. Our new home uses 90 percent less energy for space heating and is largely heated by the sun. On clear winter days, our home heats up gradually from the sun's rays, as daylight streams in through our large triple-pane windows and doors. Our home is often several degrees warmer than the thermostat setting because generous amounts of insulation and air-sealing keep the elements out. Even on cold, windy winter nights, I can sit in front of the windows and feel no drafts, a luxury that isn't possible in many homes.

"We used to live in a home that was built in the 1860s," says Don Pan, a member of Belfast Ecovillage. "The house leaked like a sieve, especially around the window frames. We used to sit in the middle of the room because it was too drafty to sit in front of the windows. In our new [ecovillage] home, none of this is a consideration."

Because the homes at Belfast Ecovillage are so well-insulated, appliances and occupants help to heat the home. Cooking a meal and running the dishwasher make a noticeable difference. Even a few minutes of exercise with the kids can raise the indoor temperature a degree or two.

It has already snowed twice in Maine, but we have barely turned on the heat. Despite below-freezing temperatures at night, the bedrooms have recently reached 70 degrees in the morning, with no supplemental heat.

After a nearly five-day power outage last December, with some sub-zero weather, indoor temperatures had dipped by only 10 degrees before the outage ended. Neighboring homes were below freezing after a mere 24 hours. It was such a relief to not worry about our pipes freezing.

The temperatures throughout the home are also very even, although this results in part from zoned heating. Our north-facing bedrooms don't receive the same amount of passive solar gains as the south-facing living room and kitchen, but the entire house is comfortable.

Our Zehnder heat recovery ventilation system draws stale air out of the kitchen and bathroom and supplies fresh air to the bedrooms. High-efficiency heat recovery ventilation systems can be 85 to 95 percent efficient, thus they are far more efficient than exhaust fans because the heat from the outgoing air is transferred to the incoming air before it exits the home.

In leaky homes, outside air is constantly entering the home, which provides ventilation but adds to the heating bill, as the incoming air is the same temperature as outdoors. Because our home is virtually airtight, the air quality would be poor without mechanical ventilation. The system allows the home to achieve high levels of efficiency while maintaining air quality.

The heat recovery ventilation system brings a constant flow of fresh air into our home, but it’s preheated to within several degrees of room temperature by the recovered heat from the outgoing stale air. Be aware that some heat recovery ventilation systems are less energy efficient and therefore may provide air that is noticeably colder than room temperatures.

In our last home, I could get a rough sense of the outdoor temperature by sitting in front of a drafty window or noticing how much our forced air furnace had to work to keep the home warm.Now I have to watch the facial expressions of our neighbors through our three large living room windows to gauge the outdoor temperature because our home is always comfortable and warm.


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.



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.

Pin it!

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.

Pin it!

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.

Pin it!



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.





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