Wiser Living
Finding a natural solution

How to Build a Fire

We’ve been camping in our RV for the past month in national parks, BLM (Bureau of Land Management) and Forest Service campsites. Last night we were camping at elevation so it got pretty cold. In the morning as we went about our camping chores we could see our breath. I said to my husband, “Let’s have a campfire tonight.”

I started my fire building career when I was a girl scout years ago before the dawn of time. Also, our family would go into the timber on Iowa wintry nights and have a campfire cookout. Now I build fires in our home woodstove and I'm taking these skills on our camping trip. Here’s what I’ve learned over the years: there’s not one way to build a campfire. It depends on what you want to do but the building blocks are similar for each type.

campfire burning PN

Before you start choose a safe spot!

Clear away anything close that might catch fire. Don’t start a fire near dry grasses or brush especially in windy conditions! It’s very annoying to start the next 50,000 acre wildfire. Make a stone fire ring if possible. The base of your fire pit should be soil, gravel or sand.

Camp Fire Supplies

supplies PN

Sturdy Leather Gloves and a Hatchet
Use gloves to handle firewood and to keep from getting burned. Use the hatchet to chop large pieces into smaller pieces. Hopefully your hatchet is sharp.

Tinder is the smallest material. You can also use loosely wadded up newspaper (but don’t wad it too tightly. It won’t burn well because no air can get inside the wad), dry wood chips or shavings (look for gray color), dry pine needles (look for brown color), dry leaves or grass, candle wax (aka paraffin), homemade or commercial fire starters or lighter fluid.

Kindling is small twigs, branches or slivers of wood not larger than the size of a pencil. Again, very, very dry.

You want firewood that is well seasoned, in other words, not green. The color will be gray. Most of the time they sell soft wood such as pine at campgrounds. Sometimes hardwood is available. Soft wood catches fire easily but burns faster. This is not a bad thing. It can actually be an advantage. Hardwood takes longer to burn and needs a hotter ignition source plus more kindling but it also burns longer. Think about how long you want the fire to burn and what you’re going to use it for. For example, if you start a hardwood fire in the evening you will have to put it out before bed. You might want to use soft wood so it will be mostly out anyway before you smother it.

Styles for Building the Fire and What They’re Good For

Cone Shape

 cone PN

Good for: Easy maintenance, warms quickly

Bad for: Burns through wood quickly

To build a cone fire, begin by laying down a large amount of tinder. Then, using small pieces of kindling, form a cone shape on top of the kindling. As the fire grows, continue to add larger sticks. I’ve used this shape on the beach where we weren’t planning to stay but wanted to get warmed up quickly.

Log Cabin/Platform Shape

platform PN 

Good for: long-lasting, good for cooking food, easy to maintain

Bad for: takes longer to get started

Log Cabin - Stack medium sized pieces of wood as if you were building a log cabin — place two pieces of the thickest wood parallel on the bottom, then stack two more on top that are thinner, perpendicular. Stack the wood about 2 inches high and place tinder, kindling and fire starters in the center and light.

Platform – Place the layers close together instead of open as in the log cabin. Add wood until the fire is three levels high. Then set tinder and kindling on top and light. The fire will burn down instead of up. This creates a solid, flat platform of hot coals, perfect for cooking.

Star Shape with Cone Center

star PN 

Good for: when you don’t have a lot of firewood

Bad for: takes longer to get started

This style uses whole, un-split very dry logs and burns them slowly at the ends to create a long-lasting fire.

Gather five or six logs of medium size about a foot in length. Build a small cone fire with kindling and add the logs in a star shape around the burning cone. As the wood burns, push it closer to the center. Add logs as necessary.

Wind Break

 wind break PN

Good for: when it’s windy

Bad for: takes longer to get started

When it’s windy it’s hard to get a fire started and to keep it going. A wind break fire helps with this. It can be any size. To start, place a thick log on the ground and lay your tinder and kindling against it, away from the wind. As the fire grows, gradually add larger sticks, and add another full-sized log to the windbreak when it is big.

The Way to Light a Fire

I’m not going to go into survival techniques for starting fires with flint and steel or friction. These types are for people who have practiced a lot and are good at it. Trying to start a fire with these difficult methods is not for your first time out. Or second. Or maybe even third. I go with matches, butane lighters and other fire starters to light your fire. Have extra kindling ready to feed the flame until the larger pieces of wood catch fire.

Some Fire Safety Tips

Put it out before you sleep: Once you are done with your fire, extinguish it thoroughly.

Never leave your campsite without making sure your fire is completely out.

Have a bucket of water, dirt or sand to smother the fire in an emergency. Have a shovel to stir it to make sure those coals are out good. You’d be surprised how resilient coals are. They can smolder a long time.

Now bring on the S’mores!

I Love My Paper Road Map!

My husband and I left California a week ago. We sold our little rancho, banked the money against the time when we buy again, and have gone on the road to have some fun and find our true and final Homestead. Our little two and a half acres in the Central Valley of California had a lot going for it but was too crowded. My husband said, “If you can see your neighbors they’re too close.” I tend to agree.

Just like most people we have the GPS phone apps for driving directions but I’m still partial to the printed map. I grew up with road maps and I like them. I like to read them and fantasize about this place or that. I like to plan my route with them. To see where I’m going. When we need driving directions I go to my phone.

renee and map

6 Reasons Paper Maps Are STILL Useful

  1. It’s easy to see the big picture. I think this is the #1 advantage over a small screen image. On a small phone screen you can’t see the whole area much less the whole state or region. Even on a laptop screen you have to zoom in or out or move the cursor around. With a paper map you’ve got the whole state or region right before you. I think that makes it a lot easier to plan.
  2. If you feel like it, you can write notes on it. You can write where you found that amazing roadside farmers market, for example, that you want to remember for next you’re out that way.
  3. You never have to worry about if you used up all your data or battery. This is a no-brainer. It works as well in the dead of night as it does in broad daylight. It works as well in the middle of no-where as it does in the middle of a city. There’s been many a time that we had no cell or internet coverage when we were out in the boonies and that is when the map came in mighty handy!
  4. They’re not costly to buy. If you lose one or rip it to the point where it’s no longer useable you can always get another one.
  5. Nobody wants to steal them. You only have to worry about forgetting where you put it which is the same with a cell phone anyway.
  6. They’re decorative. You can post them on the wall and put pushpins in all the places you’ve been or dream about places you might like to go.

Photo by Martin Aubin


10 Unexpected Ways You Can Go Green at Home

Going green at home isn't just good for the earth, it's good for your health and your budget! Going green doesn't need to be complicated. In fact, it can be as simple as using vinegar as a cleaning agent or buying food at the farmer's market. Most of us are aware of the popular ways to be more eco-friendly at home, including investing in energy-efficient appliances and LED lights. But there are plenty of small and significant changes you can make before you buy a new refrigerator. Here are ten unexpected ways you can go green at home. 

wooden reusable utensils

1. Invest in Reusable Containers

Today, it seems like everything we buy comes in a plastic container. Shampoo, ketchup, laundry detergent—you name it. Switching to reusable containers is easy and inexpensive. First, use what containers you already have. Glass food containers for things like salsa can be reused to store leftovers, while plastic containers can be repurposed into flower pots, among other innovative purposes. 

2. Buy in Bulk

Now that you have some reusable containers in stock, it's time to buy in bulk. Many grocery stores now offer the option to buy in bulk, which actually saves you money in addition to using less plastic. Many products, such as rice and oats, are actually cheaper when purchased in bulk than in individual packages. This is also true for spices, coffee and snacks such as almonds and raisins. You can even buy bulk pet supplies online, making it easy to provide for your whole furry family. It's important to remember that the cost of a food product also includes the cost of the packaging, making buying in bulk a sustainable and financially-conscious choice. 

3. Upgrade Cleaning Products

You want your home to be clean and green, but so many of the cleaning products you find on the market are full of toxic chemicals! Fortunately, there are several DIY options when it comes to making your cleaning more eco-friendly. Just make sure to do your research first, and avoid combining certain ingredients that may have adverse effects. If you are not interested in making your own, look for chemical-free cleaners that are effective for your home and better for the planet. 

clothesline with clothespins

4. Build a Clothesline

Did you know that a clothes dryer is one of the most wasteful appliances in your house? Not only does it require large amounts of electricity, but toxic chemicals released through your drier vent can also contribute to air pollution. Whether you have a small patio in an urban area or a wide-open backyard to build a clothesline, you may want to consider skipping the dryer. Building a clothesline can be simple, and all you need is some rope and clothespins. While drying may take a bit longer than you're accustomed to, drying your clothes outside makes clothes last longer and smell better!

5. Buy Local

Most of us get our food at a grocery store. It's easy to pay little attention to where our food comes from, especially when it's already shiny and packed neatly for us to place in our grocery cart. However, most food products, especially fresh fruits and vegetables, travel thousands of miles before arriving at our store. Not only does this decrease their nutrient value and taste, but it also comes with a hefty environmental impact. While this may make dinner time convenient, it's not a very green option. If you're looking for ways to green your kitchen, start by buying local

6. Get New Light Bulbs

It sounds simple, and we all are well associated with the benefits of LED lights. But did you know that changing our lights inside and outside our homes makes a huge difference in our electricity bill? If you have older ceiling lights, consider finding greener alternatives that are long-lasting. It's easy to change the light bulb in your desk lamp, but what about the lights in your hallway or ceiling fan? Consider upgrading more permanent lights as well, including lights on your front porch and any security lights in your garage. 

7. Mend Old Clothes

Back in the day, everyone knew how to darn a sock. It's so tempting today to discard items as soon as they start showing any sign of wear. But most clothing items can be easily repaired with a bit of fabric and some time. If your favorite jeans have a rip, find a denim fabric of a similar color and patch them up! Fast fashion is one of the most polluting industries in the world, and it's time we take up a needle and thread to take care of the clothes we already own. 

8. Go Thrifting

Shopping at thrift stores and antique shops is much greener than heading to the big-box store down the street. Depending on your location, you may be able to find thrift stores that have essentials like appliances, furniture and clothes, or second-hand shops that specialize in kitchenware or textiles. Do your research and bring a friend, thrifting is a fun way to make your home more eco-friendly, and maybe a bit more stylish too!

9. Plant Perennials 

If you have an outdoor space at home, think about planting more perennials. Many flowers and shrubs that are available for pick-up at home improvement stores are sprayed with nasty chemicals, and often don't have a long life in your yard. If you're looking for a simple way to make your backyard a bit greener, buy native plants that can provide habitat for pollinators and local creatures. Not only are perennials beautiful, but they are also easier to care for than annuals. 

10. Use Rain Barrels

Imagine how much water falls on your roof every single time it rains. Now imagine all that water running down the drain. We have the ability to capture so much rainwater, especially in areas with regular precipitation. This water can be used to irrigate plants outside, water our grass and indoor succulents. Investing in a rain barrel is a great way to use this resource. Rain barrels come in various sizes and styles, so you can easily customize them to fit your home. 

Eco-Living Can Be Easy

Going green at home can be as simple as turning off the dryer. If you are looking for some unexpected ways to go green at home, try out some of these tips. Incorporating eco-friendly living into your house doesn't need to be pricey. Plant some perennials, go to the farmer's market and try fixing that hole in your favorite jacket before tossing it out. You may be surprised how painless it is to go green.

Photos by Maria Ilves and T.Q. on Unsplash

Get Wired: Protecting Ourselves Against Wireless Radiation

USB connector 

Health and Nutrition With a Twist

Preaching about clean food and water is part of my job and part of my nature. I like to do my part in the health space and sharing often obscure findings is a passion of mine.

This post is about clean air, not in the usual sense but in an electrical sense. Electronic pollution to be more precise. There are many different types of air pollution and electricity is but one.

I have known about the dangers of radio waves since becoming a Special Forces communications operator in 1989. That same year I became a licensed amateur radio operator as I was entrenched in radio wave propagation, antenna construction and several technical endeavors to strengthen my craft. Back then, the microwave frequencies were thought of as junk frequencies used only for microwave ovens and direct line of sight communications for experimenters. We knew that we did not want to be exposed to those frequencies.

I was first alerted to “The Invisible Rainbow” by a post on Facebook, which led me down a deep rabbit hole. This research journey confirmed and strengthened what I already knew. I think this is a very valid and concerning hypothesis. Our technology has gotten out of hand and now it is doing things unimaginable to our health. This will become more intense and apparent as more satellites are launched and activated, as well as the spreading of 5g technology.

wifi ethernet cable connection

Try Old Fashioned Ethernet

I remember a time not that long ago when a wireless device was a wiz-bang gadget only had by technophiles like myself. I have realized from my own experience and personal research that we have gone too far with some technologies. We may be saturating our own environments with harmful radiation and most are not aware of it. I have become serious enough with this that I have made my home office free of wifi and have turned off wifi on my notebook computer and plug in to the network. I also switched back to the "old ways" with a corded USB mouse and keyboard. I bought an Ethernet junction/splitter that I plug other computers into to access the network. There are other advantages to this besides reduction of EMF such as faster access speed, and greater security. The only downside is the amount of cords now on my desktop. I have done the same with my kids computers and they sure did protest.

Children are the most vulnerable from the effects of wireless technology as their brains are not finished developing, and won't be until about 25 years of age.

Going back to wired connectivity is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to reducing electronic pollution in our homes. The books and resources listed below are a great way to learn more and get started on cleaning up your home. It is definitely worth the effort.

More solid resources for your researching pleasure, FYI:

We are fortunate to be able to pull back the curtains and blow away the smoke and shatter the mirrors of deception and have access to the real science being done by the genuine and honest.

Homemade Deodorant Does the Trick!

When I recovered after being extremely sick years ago, I realized that the experience - while incredibly challenging - also taught me some wonderful lessons. Now we find ourselves in the midst of another challenging situation.  I’m in a high-risk category so, I’m being extra careful, keeping my distance, washing my hands and looking for the blessing that always comes along with the curse. I believe in Better Living Through Ingenuity! Do-it-yourself is the way to go! Let's rededicate ourselves to a new improved way of living because this challenge will end as they all eventually do. Then we’ll be better prepared when the next one comes along.

I’m running out of deodorant right now and in true keeping I’m going to make my own! You can, too! I’m replicating, as best I can, the stick deodorant I’ve been using. It’s an organic variety with natural ingredients. When I read the label I see ingredients most of us have on hand. So because I’ve had good success doing this it’s full steam ahead. I simply put in each ingredient in the order given on the label, making the first ingredient the ingredient with the biggest amount and so forth down the line reducing as I go. You have to assume that the last ingredients are very small amounts.  This can seem like a daunting proposition but let me assure you that it’s not as hard as it might seem. We know the properties of each ingredient. Beeswax is hard and so adds stiffness. Don’t use a lot if you want the end result to be soft. Olive oil is liquid so don’t use too much or the end result will be runny.

Start small! I make a small first batch so if I screw up I can adjust it by melting it again and adding what will help. I usually get it by the second or third try. When adding corrective ingredients only add a little bit at a time. It doesn’t hurt to melt and solidify multiple times.

Try this recipe the way I instruct and then you’ll get a feel for how it works and be able to better replicate your own recipes.

Homemade Deodorant


This deodorant is reminiscent of old-timey deodorants such as Mum and Secret which were a cream that came in a jar. Aerosol and stick deodorants are a relatively new invention. When I was young, in my teens, Ban was the first roll-on deodorant. Yield: About 3 oz.


  • 1/4 cup corn starch or arrowroot flour
  • 2 tbsp baking soda
  • 2 1/2 tbsp unrefined coconut oil
  • 2 1/2 tbsp unrefined shea butter
  • 1 Tbsp grated beeswax
  • 6 drops jojoba oil
  • 6 drops lavender essential oil
  • 2 drops tea tree essential oil
  • 1 capsule 200 I.U. vitamin E oil

How to:

Place coconut oil, shea butter and beeswax in a double boiler. I use a slightly larger pot that has about a cup to 2 cups of water in it and a slightly smaller pot that has a pour spout set inside it. Bring the water to a slow boil and keep an eye on it. We don’t want the pot to boil dry, heat up the oils and have it burst onto flame. That’s happened to me! Trust me you don’t want that to happen but if it does don’t panic. Just put a lid on it. Carefully. DO NOT THROW WATER on it. That will make it explode. 

As the water begins to boil, stir the melting ingredients and continue to do so until they're completely melted. I use an old wood chopstick. Wood doesn’t conduct heat very well so this keeps your finnies from getting burned. (finnies = fingers!)

Once melted, add in corn or arrowroot starch, baking soda and essential oils. Pierce the end of the Vitamin E capsule and squeeze the oil into the melted stuff. Mix this all together with a whisk.

Carefully pour the liquid into a 3-ounce jar and allow to cool at room temp or in fridge (it will harden faster in fridge) until it's reached a solid state. Cover with a lid.

Spoon out a little bit with your finger or a flat stick and warm up between your fingers before applying directly to underarms. Feel free to reapply as the weather dictates.

Safe Indoor Hobbies for Social Distancing

When the novel coronavirus began making its way around the world, some people may not have thought it would cause the drastic changes countries have made. Workplaces began to shut down, schools closed and vacationers traveled home. The world started to slow down, leaving most people to seek shelter or entertain themselves while locked down at home.

At first, that might have seemed like an invitation to enjoy a staycation. After a few days of hanging out inside, doing the same things, you might wish you could go back to your old routine. Social distancing helps prevent the spread of this pandemic, but it’s frustrating to feel cooped up and bored.

Help yourself through this time at home by reading about safe indoor hobbies for social distancing. You can try something new without risking your health or safety, so it’s easier to do your part to stop the coronavirus in its tracks.

hobbies, knitting, camera

1. Care for Houseplants

Most people have a few houseplants around their living space, but when was the last time you researched what they need? Read about the kind of plants you have to discover how much sunlight helps them grow, how often they need watering and what you can do to help them thrive.

Even if you can’t run to the store for fertilizer or large flower pots, you can make notes for yourself so that you remember to get them after state and national leaders lift the current restrictions. 

2. Make Laundry Detergent

When people realized they’d have to put their lives on hold to fight this virus, they ran to their nearest grocery store and stocked up on things they would need in the weeks to come. You might have done the same, but did you get any laundry detergent?

Instead of depending on detergent that contaminates water supplies with carcinogens, petrochemicals and more, make a cleanser with eco-friendly ingredients. All you need is a container of washing soda and sustainable soap. Grate the soap and mix the ingredients to minimize your ecological footprint. It will biodegrade in each load and keep the planet clean. 

3. Try Indoor Exercises

Now’s the perfect time to get into indoor exercises while you have time to workout at home. For example, try doing burpees, where you jump into the air, land with your knees bent and hands on the floor and then splay out into a plank position. Repeat as many times as possible until you work up a sweat. You can also do jumping jacks. Jump for 20 seconds, then take a 10-second rest. If you start feeling bored, mix it up with a round of push-ups or sit-ups.

4. Redesign Your Home

Sometimes it’s easy to get restless because you need a change of scenery. When watching videos of beachfront views and nature cameras doesn't cut it anymore, redesign your home by switching up your interior. Move your furniture and picture frames around. Pull out those extra paint cans from your garage and coat your living room. Even a small change will give you something new to look at and enjoy.

5. Bake a New Recipe

Even though you may have stocked up on food you need to get through the next few weeks, there might still be things in your pantry that end up going bad. Reduce your waste and keep trash out of landfills when you bake a new recipe with ingredients you might forget about. Flour, sugar, and eggs can easily make a variety of desserts, so treat yourself to something delicious. 

6. Learn About Coin Collecting

Why not try something completely new while stuck at home? Challenge yourself with a new hobby when you learn about coin collecting. Memorize the terminology of the trade, such as artificial toning, beading, flan and mule. Research future coins you want and make a list to guide your collection. Once restrictions lift, and you head to your local store, you'll have a game plan on how to jumpstart your collection.

7. Craft Origami Art

Feeling productive may solve your boredom, so recycle paper like newspaper, used printer paper and old sheets from notebooks to create eco-friendly origami. Even if you’ve never made it before, you can start with easy projects that anyone can create. For instance, you can craft an origami heart to show a special someone how you feel. This project takes less than 10 minutes, and you can even hide a coin inside — a pleasant surprise!

8. Download a Language App

Nothing is better than accomplishing a goal, so download a popular language app and learn something new to challenge your mind. When you go back to work or school, you’ll have a skill you can use every day. You can also add it to your resume. Practicing a different language is a hobby many people love, and you can do it from the comfort of your home.

You might not have thought about hobbies like coin collecting or origami, but now is the perfect time to give them a try. What you learn may turn into something you love, and you can keep it up after the pandemic ends, and life goes on as usual. 

Take a Moment to Get Calm

Photo by Unsplash/Madison_lavern

The summer issue of Mother Earth Living is about learning to love the skin you’re in.  This can be interpreted many different ways from best, natural facials to accepting who you are right now, to various ways to practice self-love. Our current health crisis is stressful and the human immune system is at its best when the whole person feels good.  Mary Kathleen Rose, a massage therapist who writes in the next issue, shared the following relaxation technique with me so that I could pass it along to our readers.  It’s easy, and will certainly help take your focus off the news and place it on your pulse and your breath. I hope that the calm that results gives you, and your immune system, a small boost today.

—Jean Denney, Editor 

A Quick Breathing Exercises for Health and Relaxation

If you catch yourself in the middle of a stressful thought, notice that you are not taking full breaths, or if you realize you’re feeling overwhelmed, it might be time to take a break. While meditation is great for stress relief, we may not be able to do so when in the middle of change or even crisis. What we can do is focus on our breathing, even if for a few minutes. Fortunately, a few moment is all it takes to find a little more calm.  This simple exercise allows you to focus on your heart rate, your pulse, and your breathing at the same time.  It will help coordinate and synchronize these two vital systems and help reduce stress and bring some relief. 

Breathing with Your Pulse

Sit comfortably in a chair or on a cushion on the floor, and close your eyes.

  1. Place the fingers of one hand along the radial pulse points of the opposite hand (at the wrist below the base of the thumb).
  2. Inhale to the count of 4 pulse beats, and then exhale to the count of 4 pulse beats.
  3. Continue to inhale and exhale with your pulse and enjoy the relaxation that comes with tuning into your body this way.

During this exercise, you can continue to hold the pulse points, or let go and continue to relax and notice your breathing. The pulse may change, or it may slow down in this process. Be aware that the pulse can be variable, weak, or pounding. Don’t be concerned about the character of the pulse, simply do the exercise as given and notice the pulse without judging or analyzing it.

Even a few minutes of this practice can calm your body and mind. This exercise is particularly helpful in allowing you to get in touch with what your body needs in the moment.

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Mother Earth News

Your friends at Mother Earth Living are committed to natural health and sustainable living. Unfortunately, the financial impact of COVID-19 has challenged us to find a more economical way to achieve this mission. We welcome you to our sister publication Mother Earth News. What you sought in the pages of Mother Earth Living can be found in Mother Earth News. For over 50 years, “The Original Guide to Living Wisely” has focused on organic gardening, herbal medicine, real food recipes, and sustainability. We look forward to going on this new journey with you and providing solutions for better health and self-sufficiency.

The impact of this crisis has no doubt affected every aspect of our daily lives. We will strive to be a useful and inspiring resource during this critical time and for years to come.

Best wishes,
Your friends at Mother Earth Living and Mother Earth News

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