Mother Earth Living

Your Natural Home

Creating a cozy hearth for the family

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“I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.’” —Kurt Vonnegut

A healthy home means living well both indoors and out, and taking the time to connect with nature. Learn how to create an environment that’s safe and nourishing for you and your family with our helpful tips.

Healthy Home Tips

Reduce Cancer Risk: Eliminate Chemical Carcinogens from Your Home: Reduce your family’s cancer risk by learning about—and eliminating—chemical carcinogens commonly found in our homes.

Spic and Span: Easy Homemade Cleaners: Make your home sparkle with easy homemade cleaners, and kick hazardous chemical cleaners to the curb.

13 Ways to Use Baking Soda Around the House: Use baking soda around the house to clean, deodorize, soothe and more.

Bug Out: Preventative Pest Control: Repel pests from your home by eliminating sources of food, water and shelter for them. Try these preventive pest control methods to keep your home bug-free!

Attract Beneficial Insects to Counter Garden Pest Problems: Attract beneficial insects to your yard to help counter garden pest problems and pest-proof your yard.


The deck. It’s a room with no wall, a space for family, friends, entertainment, food, and a place to kick back and enjoy the outdoors without leaving home. Like any space, when you decided to remodel, renovate, or build for the first time, you’re inevitably faced with a number of choices. With a deck, one of the most important decisions to make is the material. What do you want to make your new deck out of? With a number of choices to deal with knowing the primary differences, such as durability and cost, are important. You don’t want to invest thousands of dollars in a project only to later it’s not ideal for your needs—or alternatively—you don’t want to fall in love with a material only to find out it will completely break your budget or hurt the environment.

Deck Materials
Photo by Fotolia/Elenathewise

Major Types of Wood Decking

Wood is the most popular material for decks and for good reason. It’s durable, relatively inexpensive, and most importantly, it looks good, oh and it’s a renewable resource. There are a variety of wood products available, many fitting within any budget. The downside to any wood product is maintenance. If not regularly maintained the wood will deteriorate. It may splinter, fade in color, or rot and need replaced. Basic maintenance includes possible sanding and refinishing.

Pressure treated wood is designed to resist insects, rot, and general decay, than typical non-treated varieties. It’s also an affordable choice. The downside to treated wood is that compared to the other wood options, it tends to be the least attractive. That isn’t to say it can’t look good, but if aesthetics are your thing, you may need to look elsewhere. Keep in mind also that many pressure treated wood products are treated with chromated copper arsenate (CCA) and you may want to avoid these types of products due to concern of potential arsenic exposure.

Redwood is just plain gorgeous, but not super sustainable.

Redwood has a natural ability to resist insects and rot, however, if not properly treated or left to the elements—particularly moisture—it can degrade rapidly, specifically newer wood (sapwood or the outer layers of the trunk).

The Redwood National Park in California states that old growth coast redwood is cut for lumber every day, which is not a good thing considering there are only 38,982 acres of the old growth forests left! This number may seem like a lot to you, but it’s actually only 4.4% of its original 1,950,000 acres of old growth forest. To make matters worse, redwood doesn’t do too well in the farm setting because these trees prefer to reseed themselves naturally.

Tropical hardwood options might be even worse.

Ironwood (also known as ipe) is exceptionally sturdy, capable of lasting longer than pressure treated wood and redwood. Tropical hardwoods resist water beautifully, but given these advantages you’ve probably guessed the downside. That’s right—cost to the environment and your wallet. Tropical hardwood is expensive, and has a huge carbon footprint as it is shipped in from the tropical regions of the word. This is assuming it is licensed lumber approved by the Forest Stewardship Counsel (FSC).

Of course, there are several more types of wood that make great decks.

Cedar works great as an alternate to redwood and even possesses many of the characteristics of redwood. Yellow pine has a much different color than both cedar and redwood and also can resist insects and rotting. Finally, there’s mahogany. Cedar is less endangered than Redwood, and doesn’t need as many chemicals as Yellow Pine so it is my first choice for green-ness. FSC Mahogany is a good choice as well. Other species of mahogany are endangered and should not be used such as the Brazilian, Asian and African varieties.

Deck furniture and decor affects the environment almost as much as the wood you build with.

There are many things to keep in mind as you set about to use your deck such as buying durable furniture so you don’t have to replace it and protecting your deck with recyclable, non- vinyl covers like these eco-friendly firepit covers.

When purchasing wood, be sure it is sourced from sustainable sources. If it’s not, or you suspect that it isn’t, check and double check. If it’s not, it’s best just to move on and find a wood or material that is. Why? It’s simply responsible living!

Lisa HenfieldLisa Henfield is an exterior designer who spent a few years designing patio furniture covers for hotels in Las Vegas. She mostly writes about her design experiences, providing tips on exterior design and gardens. When she isn't practicing her sewing or writing about the right colors for the outdoor seasons, she usually works on her paintings.


Using reclaimed furniture to decorate your home is a great way to add a period feel to any room, and to add a touch of rustic beauty to a bland, modern design. Upcycling is quite fashionable at the moment, and it's easy to understand why. Visiting salvage yards and looking for battered antiques to restore is incredibly satisfying, and there's something special about lovingly sprucing up an old piece and making it your own.

Reclaimed Table
Photo courtesy Flickr

Take a look at some of the reasons why I would choose upcycling old furniture over buying new factory formed furniture any day.

1. Every Item Has a Story

Antique furniture is much more interesting than modern flatpack stuff. Even the most scuffed, tattered and damaged items are likely tougher and more hardwearing than the average item you can purchase from a catalogue today. Once you have reupholstered that chair, or sanded and repainted that cabinet, the quality of the materials and the calibre of the craftsmanship will show through. You'll also have a great story to tell about how you acquired the item, where it came from, and how much fun you had doing it up.

Restoring antique furniture can save you a lot of money, and it's good for the environment too. When you fix up a mahogany cabinet, you're extending the life of something that may have been built decades ago, and saving the planet by not wasting resources on purchasing some lower quality furniture which needs made, packaged and transported, wasting huge amounts of fuel and precious resources.

2. Expressing Your Style

One of the best things about reclaimed furniture is that older items are well made, hardwearing, and easier to customise. It's hard to change how modern furniture looks because instead of stained wood, many items are plywood with a cheap veneer over the top. You can't really sand and repaint or re-stain that kind of furniture. However, you can do a lot with high quality older items. With just some sandpaper and paint you could turn an ugly nightstand into a beautiful piece that would not look out of place in a modern bedroom or turn an old run down table into an eye catching statement feature.

Reclamation, DIY Style

If simply restoring old furniture is not enough for you, why not try your hand at making your own items out of salvaged wood? There is an entire community of people who like to make their own furniture from railway sleepers, reclaimed period doors, old trunks and other materials that have been deemed useless by their owners. It takes some patience and skill to do this, but it is worth the effort. The furniture you make will be truly unique, and you will be able to take pride in telling people that it is all hand made.

Dining Table
This upcycled door dining table is an example of what's possible if you have the time, resources and skills to make your own furniture. It's a beautiful piece, and would look great in any rustic patio or dining room. Photo courtesy The Welsh Home Improvement Blog.

Justine is an interior design and home décor enthusiast with a passion for mixing the old and the new seamlessly. She writes for Creatively Different Blinds UK.


It has been 30 years since The Herbal Husband and I started dating. Long before our first Valentine’s Day, the Victorians were way ahead of their time by expressing their emotions through flowers. In this digital age—when everyone is communicating through their phone—it might be nice to communicate through such old-fashioned methods.

Tussie Mussie Books
Two of my favorite books about the language of flowers and tussie-mussies! Photo by Nancy Heraud

For this Valentine’s Day, why not make a tussie-mussie and speak the language of flowers? Geri Adamich Laufer wrote one of my favorite books, “Tussie-Mussies,” with wonderful photographs of actual bouquets. She also wrote a comprehensive article for The Herb Companion (now Mother Earth Living) almost 20 years ago about Victorian tussie-mussies, which taught readers how to make them and speak the language of flowers. Newly retired herb shop owner Kathleen Gips also wrote two lexicons on the language of flowers that I rely on whenever I make my bouquets. My favorite is “Flora’s Dictionary.” Using these resources, I’ve made a number of tussie-mussies over the years for friends on different occasions (not just Valentine’s Day). This is the year I surprised The Herbal Husband by making one for him.

Because the weather has been so frigid, I could not rely on my herb garden for tussie-mussie materials. Instead, I went to my local florist, Z Florist, and found a selection of flowers. They had individual stems of flowers that were very reasonably priced.  

A red rose (“I love you”); carnation (pure and ardent love); daisy (“I will think of it”); baby’s breath (everlasting love); and some herbs from the indoor plants: peppermint scented geranium (cordial feelings), lemon verbena (“You have bewitched me”) and rosemary (for remembrance). I think it turned out very well and he was both pleased and surprised. I had to give it to him early so that this post could be posted before Valentine’s Day. It is always good to surprise them every once in a while. It keeps your relationship interesting and special.

Tussie Mussie
The Herbal Husband’s first tussie-mussie. Photo by Nancy Heraud

One of my favorite Facebook pages, Speak the Language of Flowers, has put together a special potpourri just for my post in time for Valentine’s Day.

Valentines Potpourri
A potpourri in the language of flowers.
Photo by Elizabeth Bergstrom Case

“You’re the Apple of My Eye” Potpourri

Potpourri recipe courtesy Elizabeth Bergstrom Case of Benevolent Botanical Greetings

A high-quality potpourri can be easy to make from dried herbs and blossoms. Try this blend for Valentine’s Day to send a message of love and festivity. Makes about 1 quart.

• 3 tablespoons whole cloves (warmth, festivity)
• 1 to 2 teaspoons apple spice fragrance oil or 1 teaspoon clove or cinnamon essential oil
• 1 1/2 cups red rose petals and buds (for love)
• 3/4 cup white globe amaranth (unfading love)
• 1 cup loosely packed catnip leaves (intoxicated with love)
• 1/2 cup cedar sprigs (“I live but for thee,” think of me)
• 1/3 to 1/2 cup dried apple slices (preference, apple of my eye)
• 18 to 20 1-inch cinnamon sticks (love, beauty, stirs passion)

1. Combine the whole cloves and the fragrance or essential oil in a small, air-tight container. Let the cloves absorb the oil for a minimum of 8 hours or up to 3 days. This step will help your potpourri retain its fragrance.

2. In a 2-quart air-tight container, combine the remaining herbs and blossoms. Add the cloves after they’ve absorbed the oil and gently blend together.

3. Let your potpourri age for at least 3 day and up to 3 weeks so the fragrance can permeate the entire blend. Occasionally, gently tilt and roll the container to blend the herbs and blossoms while it ages.

4. After your “Apple of My Eye” potpourri has matured, display it in a bowl or give it as a gift. See if you can identify the herb/flower and corresponding translation in your finished potpourri. Find more herbs/flowers and their translations at the Benevolent Botanical Greetings website. Join us on Facebook to Speak the Language of Flowers.

I hope I have inspired you to do something old-fashioned and unique to celebrate your love for Valentine’s Day.

NancAs always, if you have a comment or question about any of my posts, please write to me here or my email at and put in the subject line “Herb Comment or Question.” If you could also let me know where you live in the U.S. (or elsewhere), it will help me answer your herb question more precisely. And be sure to visit my blog Lemon Verbena Lady's Herb Garden. Talk to you soon.


Have you ever wanted to learn more about crystals, gems and rocks? I was recently given a beautiful piece of amethyst by my sister, which prompted me to want to learn more about crystals. According to some gem enthusiasts, amethyst can have many powerful properties, including its use to help as a dream stone for insomnia: put a small piece of amethyst under your pillow to help with insomnia.

Photo by Kristy Severin

While there is little to no scientific evidence for the healing powers of crystals, many people find them enchanting, mesmerizing, and truly an integral part of their life. Whether you want to delve deep into the powers of crystals or simply want to incorporate them into your life for the aesthetic qualities, you may find their energy and beauty to have a powerfully positive effect on your life and the people around you. To get started, you can find a book about gemstone healing from the library or bookstore, or read articles published online. You may also find people in your community that use crystals, and you can get started learning about them that way. My personal book of choice, Gemstone Enlightenment by Shelley Kaehr gave me a wonderful insight to some answers I was looking for, and I have slowly begun to incorporate gemstones into my life. The idea of using gemstones to heal and connect with different things in our lives is magical and very interesting, not to mention how truly beautiful something that comes strictly from nature can be. I have started placing gemstones in different places around my home and even just walking by a stone puts a smile on my face and positive thoughts into my head.

Do you use crystals in your home? Please feel free to share your stories and experiences with crystal healing, we would love to hear from you!

Kristy SeverinKristy Severin is a mother of two, a certified art instructor, photographer, painter, writer and cook. She earned her BFA from Virginia Commonwealth University and served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uganda, East Africa. Inspired daily by her children and love of the earth, Kristy’s fine art and writings are at The Art of Green Living.


It’s easy to feel bored with your home’s look after a year’s time. Luckily you don’t have to begin a huge renovation to get a new look. Try these five simple home improvement tips to help your home feel like new without spending tons of money and time.

Home Improvement Ideas
Photo by Fotolia/MAXFX

Easy Home Improvements Ideas

1. Rearrange your living spaces. Moving around the furniture in your home will invigorate a room without you having to spend a dime. There are a variety of free tools online to help you layout your updated floor plan. The Make Room from Urban Barn, for example, helps you customize the dimensions of your room. Plus, this site has tons of customizable furniture pieces that are sure to match what’s really in your room.

2. Paint or hang wallpaper. Transform a dark room into a bright and cheery space with a few coats of paint. The color of a room can affect our emotional state and set the tone for our mood (see “Choosing Color for Your Home”).  If you don’t want to get out your paint tools, add wallpaper to one wall for an elegant accent and a pop of style. For some inspiration, check out our favorite wallpaper picks in “Wonder Wall: Stylish, Eco-Friendly Wallpaper.”

Wallpaper Accent Wall
Photo courtesy makelike

3. Incorporate a few new home décor pieces. Consider adding a couple of new throw pillows or hanging new curtains. You could also incorporate a new area rug or add seasonal or holiday pieces. Bring the outside in by introducing a houseplant or a vase of fresh flowers. We have lots of tips for choosing upcycled pieces in “Natural and Recycled Home Décor,” and if you need help decorating with houseplants check out our suggestions in “Houseplants: Easy, Affordable Home Décor.”

4. Dress your bed with new bedding. Incorporate a brand new color scheme with a chic and stylish new comforter and sheets. At the same time, you can get rid of chemicals and toxins by choosing organic bedding. (Try these natural and organic bedding options.) Adding new accent pillows to old bedding is also a great way to make a small-scale change.

Organic Bedding
Photo courtesy West Elm

5. Organize your spaces. If you struggle with a cluttered home, one easy way to make it feel fresh is to organize it. Don’t know where to start? We have all the tools you need to clear clutter and get organized in our Home Organization archives.

Victoria Pitcher is Web Editor at Mother Earth Living. Find her on .


Whether you are creating art for your home or purchasing a new piece of art, consider using or finding upcycled pieces to give your space true artistic flair. Artists use found materials and objects in ways to express feelings, time, places and experiences that uniquely reflect their personal journey through life. Anyone with a passion to create can make their own upcycled art for eco-friendly home décor.

Personal Fiber Collage
Photo By Jen Rothke via Etsy

One example of upcycled art is using vintage fabrics and/or old t-shirts that are sewn together to create a fiber assemblage such as the hand-stitched fiber collage with upcycled vintage embroidery created by artist Jen Rothke of Rothke uses vintage textiles and linens with colorful embroidery to create her pieces. A fiber collage can be personalized by using family memorabilia—a Grandmother’s handkerchief, a daughter’s newborn onesie, or a well loved husband’s t-shirt.

To create your own, you will need: a sewing machine, used fabric, thread, scissors, and your creativity. Start by cutting and laying out your fabric to fit into a frame, follow by sewing your pieces together in any fashion you like. Enjoy the process as you create your masterpiece.

Fiber Collage
Photo by Bonny Gorsuch via Etsy

If sewing and fabric isn’t your thing, you can use chipped plates, vases, and glasses that can be broken down for a mosaic. Magazines, scrap paper and any other inspiring ephemera can be used to create a mixed media collage with just glue and scissors. A unique frame will accentuate your one of a kind upcycled artwork.

Kristy SeverinKristy Severin is a mother of two, a certified art instructor, photographer, painter, writer and cook. She earned her BFA from Virginia Commonwealth University and served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uganda, East Africa. Inspired daily by her children and love of the earth, you can find her fine art and writings at The Art of Green Living.

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Welcome to Mother Earth Living, the authority on green lifestyle and design. Each issue of Mother Earth Living features advice to create naturally healthy and nontoxic homes for yourself and your loved ones. With Mother Earth Living by your side, you’ll discover all the best and latest information you want on choosing natural remedies and practicing preventive medicine; cooking with a nutritious and whole-food focus; creating a nontoxic home; and gardening for food, wellness and enjoyment. Subscribe to Mother Earth Living today to get inspired on the art of living wisely and living well.

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