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Wiser Living

Finding a natural solution

Healing Hands for People and Planet

by Laurel Kallenbach

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It’s a crisp, cold morning, and my husband just baked a breakfast batch of Toasty Baked Oatmeal, a recipe from a solar- and wind-powered straw bale B&B we visited this spring. (See the recipe below!) It’s amazing how one sense—in this case flavor—can trigger other sensory memories. 

As I’m munching, I’m remembering the amazing, thick, adobe-covered walls at Las Manos Bed and Breakfast ( in the mountains of Buena Vista, Colorado. Over the years I’ve edited many articles about straw bale houses—and I’ve greatly admired the photos of their beauty. However, this was the first time I’d ever been inside a straw bale building. 

As soon and Ken and I set foot inside, I knew it was love. I loved the textured, earth-colored adobe and the thick walls, which made it possible to create a deep window seat called a banco with breath-taking views of the Rocky Mountains’ Collegiate Range. The circular living room with its wagon-wheel-style beams is inspired by Southwestern Indian kivas. 

And I was awestruck that the two-bedroom B&B was built entirely by the hands of its two owners, William McQueen and Colleen Finley, who are certified massage therapists (hence the name of the of the place, Las Manos, which means “the hands” in Spanish). 

The couple used 460 bales of straw and 45 tons of adobe made from earth and clay that they dug up right from their piñon-pine-covered land. They had help, of course; straw bale builders have formed a tight-knit community and often swap information via e-mail from all over the Southwest. They even gather to help each other build, passing along tips and tricks they themselves learned from others. 

William and Colleen also became self-taught experts in solar-electric, solar hot water and wind power. William gives us a tour of his “babies”—the solar shed and wind turbine—with all the pride of a new dad. 

There are other sustainable aspects to Las Manos: compact fluorescent lighting and the most energy-efficient appliance of all—nature. (The couple does dishes by hand and dries sheets and towels on a laundry line in the clear mountain breeze.) Wood floors and cabinets are all made of local, pine-beetle-killed wood. It has wonderful bluish stains in the grain from the beetle burrows.

Within the walls of Las Manos, Ken and I slept peacefully. A windstorm swept through that night, but we were burrowed into 18-inch-thick straw walls. We couldn’t feel so much as a quiver from the wind blasts.


Laurel Kallenbach

Toasty Baked Oatmeal from Las Manos B&B, Buena Vista, Colo.

2 cups organic rolled oats 

1½ teaspoons baking powder 

½ teaspoon salt 

1 teaspoon cinnamon 

1/3 cup chopped almonds 

1/3 cup chopped dried apricots 

1 firm ripe pear, chopped into ¼-inch pieces 

1 ½ cups milk 

2 large eggs (free-range, vegetarian-fed) 

½ cup firmly packed brown sugar 

3 tablespoons vegetable oil 


1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

2. Combine the oats, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nuts and fruit in a large bowl.

3. In a separate bowl, combine the milk, eggs, sugar and oil.

4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Stir together well.

5. Pour the mixture into a buttered, 8-inch-square baking pan.

6. Bake 45 minutes, until golden brown on top, and serve in a bowl. You can pour milk over the baked oatmeal if you desire.