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The Eco-Friendly Home Office

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Something has happened that I don’t think anyone ever expected: digital entrepreneurs cut the environmental impact of the workforce. As industries evolve, current estimates speculate that as much as half of the workforce in the US could be telecommuting by 2020.

Telecommuting is attractive to a lot of different people from many walks of life, from stay at home moms that want to be there to see their kids grow up, to college graduates that want the freedom to travel while they work. Even more appealing though, is the huge opportunity to drastically reduce the ecological impact of a worldwide population of workers.

Less Gas, More Sass

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The world of telecommuting has completely revolutionized the way people work and shaken up the conventional office space to one of our own design.

Commute? Optional.

Childcare? Optional.

Pants? Also optional.

You get to decide how much time and resources your job consumes, and with that kind of influence comes the power to create a work environment that’s greener, more sustainable, and making an active difference in man’s tragically dark environmental footprint on this planet.

Reducing Waste

When you work from home, you decide how much trash your office produces, and the freedom therein is empowering. Most communication is handled digitally, so there’s almost no need at all for a print in many scenarios.

1. There are no paper cups at the water cooler, no endless plastic yogurt cups to fish out of the trash and toss into recycling - you’re master of your domain, and if you want to spring for the recycled card stock business cards, it’s officially your prerogative to do so.

2. Opt for hankies instead of a box of tissues, and make your own lunch in a reusable container that won’t spend the next three decades in a landfill. Just think of the profound impact this has if half of the workforce is at home, even attempting to follow suit!

You-Centric Office Design

One of the coolest parts about telecommuting is being master of your domain - conquering your space, and making it your own. Your take on office space design can be as green or conventional as you want it to be, while still maintaining the aesthetic that puts you in the zone to move mountains. I’m particularly fond of lots of plants in my office - lavender to calm those pre-meeting jitters. Lift the blinds to minimize your dependence on overhead lighting and let some sunshine in, and use light colored paint on the walls to help reflect light around the room.

Create a space for yourself that inspires productivity, and lifts your spirits. Flowers have a natural tendency to do that for me, but many people like employing essential oil diffusers to help with their concentration.

The Energy Efficient Home Office

You’re going to need to hook into some kind of power source to stay connected while you telecommute, but the amount of power needed is almost entirely consumed by your computer and climate control. While there’s only so much you can do to reduce the power consumption of your computer, there are other ways to drastically cut back on the energy consumed in your home office. Start by taking a leaf out of Paul Wheaton’s book, and heating and cooling yourself, instead of your office.

Additionally, make sure you’re using either LED or incandescent bulbs (none of that fluorescent nonsense, yahear?), and only when you truly need it. In my experience, having the drapes open in my office provides more than enough light for the majority of my working hours. Consider unplugging hardware you don’t use throughout the day, like printers and scanners, and skip the mini fridge.

Create a Power Failsafe

I know a lot of remote workers that have to take their laptops with them to the nearest cafe when the power goes out. Even if it’s only occasionally, it’s nice to have an off the grid alternative to power your home office with until things are back up and running. We have a battery backup bank in our home office with some deep cycle marine batteries and a backup landline phone, in the entirely too common event that our power goes out. I can’t tell you how many times it’s saved me when I had a meeting scheduled in the midst of a power outage.

You can learn more about how to set up a battery backup bank here.

Try a Shared Office Space

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For those that can’t handle the isolation of telecommuting, shared workspaces are becoming increasingly popular. The best part? She who holds the lease makes the rules. Create a public workspace that’s environmentally conscious and set an example for other area businesses to follow.

Offer discounts to renters that show up at least half the month on their bike. Set up recycling bins, and get ink cartridges refilled instead of replaced. The added benefit of it being a shared space is that you can share in the responsibility while simultaneously widening the impact of your efforts - it’s a win-win!

Remote Work - The New Normal

Telecommuting is changing everything about the way the modern business functions. Freelancers like me are hustling and making a name for themselves, and large companies are able to hire creatives again, thanks to the reduced costs of working with contractors.

Beyond any of the business benefits of telecommuting though is a profound shift, ready to occur for the workforce that spends two hours a day sitting in traffic. Our impact is shrinking, our dependence on fossil fuels slowly ebbing, and we’re one step closer to the power it takes to create a most sustainable future within our own circle of influence.


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Green Stormwater Management & Your Home

If you live in an area that is prone to an extended dry season or a general lack of rainfall, you already know how difficult it can be to maintain houseplants, outdoor flowerbeds, gardens or crops. Complicating the matter even further is the fact that some U.S. states have begun restricting or outlawing rainwater collection. Despite the emergence of new laws, storm-water collection is a growing practice throughout our country.

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Source: Pixabay

Using Rain Barrels to Harvest Stormwater

Stormwater that has been collected and stored for later use has many applications in and around the home. Though it's not potable without proper filtration or purification, some frugal homesteaders and do-it-yourselfers have begun using this water to wash dishes, bathe and, in some cases, to drink.

Rain barrels are among the most popular methods for harvesting stormwater. Suitable for use in both densely packed urban environments and remote countryside communities, these offer a relatively easy and inexpensive introduction to the practice.

Many small-scale farmers and gardeners rely on rain barrels for their crops. The rain does a fantastic job of irrigating gardens and fields while it is falling. Those who practice stormwater collection can rely on their rain barrels on days that are sunny and dry. Motivated homesteaders are able to make the most out of the rain that falls on their property by collecting, storing and using stormwater appropriately.

Building a Garden Roof

Rooftop gardens are becoming more common among residential and commercial buildings alike. Primary benefits include increased aesthetic appeal of your home, lower energy costs, reduced CO2 emissions and more. It's also a great way to grow small plants, vegetables and fruits when working with limited space. If you can't build it out, you might as well build it up!

The concept of the rooftop garden isn't exactly a new invention. Sometimes known as a living roof or live roof, these were popular among some of the earliest pioneers and homesteaders across the U.S. and Europe. In this case, they were commonly used to provide visual appeal to an otherwise drab and dreary landscape.

Additional benefits of modern living roofs include consistent sunlight, protection from wildlife and the luxury of gardening in privacy, but there are some hazards to consider, too. The increased amount of heat exposure, both from the sun and surrounding surfaces such as buildings, cars and nearby utilities, can be enough to damage crops in some cases. High winds can also pose a threat, so heat and wind shields are recommended.

Homesteaders, homeowners and builders are now using garden roofs out of necessity or practicality. But there are some considerations to make before starting your garden roof. Even the most basic of rooftop gardens will increase the roof's load by roughly 30 pounds per square foot when wet. It's a good idea to consult with a professional contractor or engineer to ensure your roof is capable of supporting the added weight.

Using a Rain Garden to Collect Excess Stormwater

The concept behind the modern rain garden is similar to a traditional garden: to provide beauty and functionality to a plot of land. Rain gardens take this idea one step further by using as much stormwater as possible. Apart from reducing the impact on local water sources, it also lowers your monthly utility bills.

Rain gardens achieve their goal by taking advantage of native plants and strategic landscaping. Many are built on slopes or at the bottom of hills. They also feature a center pool that is deep enough to hold several inches of stormwater.

There are numerous benefits to rain gardens. According to some studies, they facilitate 30 percent more ground seepage than the average lawn. They also reduce the overall amount of pollution that finds its way into our nation's lakes, streams and rivers.

Preparing for Wet Weather

Stormy weather can make short work of even the best-laid plans. Unexpected rain showers have caused the cancellation of many picnics and afternoon outings, but rainy days don't have to be all negative. Those who are able to prepare for wet weather and harvest stormwater can do a lot of good for themselves and the surrounding community by reducing pollution, growing local crops and adding aesthetic appeal to the neighborhood.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

5 Fun, Eco-Friendly Ways to Light Up Your Backyard

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Spring has sprung, and it’s time for lazy Sunday lunches eaten al fresco with your family and big backyard barbeque parties with your friends. You’ve got your patio furniture in place, a grill ready to fire up, a nice big table for eating, but what’s missing? Lighting! Make sure you can extend those lunches into the evening, and keep partying into the wee hours by kitting out your backyard with plenty of mood-enhancing, eco-friendly illumination.

The good news is that with the proliferation of solar and LED into consumer lighting, outdoor lighting has never been easier—or greener. You don’t have to run electrical wires underground or worry about changing out light bulbs in weather-sealed fixtures; solar and LED help you overcome all those traditional obstacles to lighting up your garden. The multitude of options means you can layer your lighting to match your patio furniture and create the perfect outdoor space for every occasion. Here are five solutions for fun, eco-friendly ways to light up your backyard.

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Solar String Lanterns

These solar powered lanterns use LED bulbs and are the simplest, most cost-effective way to add a little illumination and decoration for a party in your backyard. Little paper lanterns hang on a string of small LED bulbs that can be strung through tree branches or draped around a patio umbrella or porch railing. Just be sure to pop the solar stake in the ground a day or two before you want some light so they will be fully charged up.

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Tiki Torches

Doing double duty as a mosquito deterrent and softly flickering illumination, tiki torches deserve a permanent spot on your patio. Pick up a few of these tall Polynesian-themed torches and plant them in the ground around your garden to lend an island aesthetic to your outdoor decor. You can also get a tiki lamp or mini tiki fire pit for your patio table. Fill them up with a plant-based fuel (avoid petroleum), or make your own using olive oil mixed with 20 to 40 drops of citronella or lemongrass oil. Be sure to light the wick a few minutes before you head outdoors to enjoy a bug-free, tropically-lit space.

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Fairy/Holiday Lights

Got strings and strings of LED holiday lights that you only use once a year? Instead of packing them away   in the attic, use them to decorate your porch. Fairy lights strung around the ceiling provide a gentle twinkling light and are perfect for all seasons. They’re a common sight on porches in the South year-round! Another fun option is to string the lights around tree trunks in your garden. Just plug them into outdoor-rated extension cables for delightful landscape lighting.

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Solar Path Lights

Simple, inexpensive and wireless, solar-powered LED path lights give your garden patio a luxury feel without a luxury price tag. For under $60, you can light up your patio or garden with these easy-to-install light fixtures. Just place them in the ground where they will receive full sunlight, and let the sun do the rest. They illuminate automatically at sundown and turn off when the sun comes up. Plus, the rechargeable batteries and LED bulbs mean there’s nothing you’ll need to replace.

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Smart Outdoor Lighting

Smart lighting isn’t just for indoors anymore! You can decorate your garden with outdoor-rated LED lighting that you can control with your smartphone and even change the colors depending on the season or reason for celebrating. Sylvania is one lighting company that offers outdoor-rated garden spot and strip lighting that lets you light up your deck red, white and blue for the Fourth of July, orange and purple for Halloween, or green and red for the holidays. The possibilities are endless!

Jennifer Tuohy writes on sustainable lifestyle topics for The Home Depot. Jennifer shares her knowledge on technology combined with ideas on how to live a greener life. She provides advice on topics such as how to select a patio chair made of eco-friendly materials and using solar lighting to illuminate your patio.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

5 Tips for Building a Partially Earth-Sheltered Home

An earth-sheltered home is a structure that’s built below ground, partially below ground, or into a hillside so at least one wall is completely encapsulated by the earth. Earth-sheltered homes have several advantages, especially for people interested in green building or net zero energy houses. They take advantage of the earth’s thermal mass, which can reduce energy consumption. If they’re built correctly, they can have lower maintenance costs and higher strength and durability. A home that’s below ground or nestled into the earth also has a minimal esthetic impact on the property.

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Coleman and Susan Pulsifer had all of these advantage in mind when they built a partially earth-sheltered home in northern California. Coleman planned and constructed the home almost entirely by himself. He shares five lessons he learned during his DIY home building process.

Get to Know the Land Before You Start

“If I was going to counsel anyone about the concept of doing an earth-sheltered home, I’d really encourage them to take time on the land and look at it and understand its form,” Coleman says. “They should think very deeply about their particular site and how water flows on it.”

The reason is that building a home into the earth requires a more intimate relationship with the land. Putting the home in the right spot will minimize disruption of the earth and the amount of work for the builders. If you’re hiring a contractor, that will save you money. Understanding the ins and outs of the parcel will give the builder ideas about how they can best take advantage of the sun (both for lighting and passive solar heating) and minimize water intrusion.

“If you’re earth sheltering, you’re going to be doing a lot of grading and moving of soil,” Coleman says. To help picture where soil needs to be shifted around, he recommends using a hand sight level (also known as a hand level or sight level). You look through the small device like a telescope to compare places against a consistent point of reference. That will help you better understand what work needs to be done.

Manage Water Inside and Out

As was mentioned above, one of the most important reasons to understand the land before building the home is that water management is vital for earth-sheltered homes. One of the disadvantages of this building style is that houses are very susceptible to water damage.

To deal with the water that would flow around his home, Coleman created perimeter drains with perforated pipe inside and outside the structure. “That way, if the outside drain failed, the inside drain would be there to take up some of the slack,” he says.

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Coleman built his walls with Faswall insulated concrete forms. They’re made with mineralized wood, which means they naturally resist rot, pets, and mold and mildew. They are somewhat permeable, though, so to make them more waterproof, he added three coats of waterproofing to the outside of the blocks. He then covered them with a layer of 10 mil polyester sheeting.

Besides building the walls with an appropriate material, Coleman coated the walls with plaster appropriate for his underground setting. When air flows into an earthen-sheltered home, it doesn’t have easy ways to escape since it’s surrounded by dirt. Because of that, it’s easy for it to condense on the walls and lead to mold or mildew ground.

Coleman is an advocate of using lime plaster for earthen-sheltered homes. “It’s reputed to be wonderful for resisting the development of mildew,” he says. He added a higher-than-usual portion of lime to his Portland cement plaster and has found it worked quite well. (Builders interested in learning more about lime plaster should check out the book The Natural Plaster Book: Earth, Lime and Gypsum Plasters for Natural Homes by Cedar Rose Guelberth and Dan Chiras).

Don’t Skimp on Insulation

“People say the earth is insulative and you don’t need insulation, but that’s an oversimplification that is incorrect,” Coleman says. While the earth’s natural embodied energy does reduce temperature swings in a home, soil does get quite warm and quite cool. Anyone hoping for more control over the interior temperature – without running a heater or air conditioner constantly – must pay careful attention to the home’s insulation.

This is another area where the Faswall product made a big impact. The mineralized wood blocks have hollow cores that are filled with cement once they’re stacked. “Faswall was so wonderful because the material itself, once it’s filled with concrete and with no additional insulation, still has a very high R-value,” says Coleman. “That’s inherent in the material and the way it’s made. That’s worked very well for us.

“The maximum temperature downstairs is 80 degrees, even when it’s August and 105 degrees and everything is parched brown,” he continues. The downstairs rooms also stay warm enough to be comfortable during the coldest days of winter.

Shine Some Light Underground

Earth-sheltered homes can be dark in addition to dank. Coleman solved that problem by building wing walls off the main body of the house, where he needed to construct retaining walls anyway.

“The retaining walls went all the way up and were the same height as the rest of the foundation,” he says. “South of the retaining walls I put in windows with sills about three feet off the floor, then backfilled the walls with dirt. The retailing walls coming out from the house allowed us to backfill the majority of the house so it’s mostly earth-sheltered, but our downstairs has light coming in from three sides.”

Consider a Root Cellar

The earth’s insulating properties make it easy to add a root cellar to an earthen-sheltered home. Coleman and Susan’s solar powered, off-the-grid home didn’t originally have the capacity to power a refrigerator. Instead, they stored most of their food in ice chests and the root cellar.

“Pantries and closets are frequently too warm,” Coleman says. By contrast, the underground root cellar stays cool for the majority of the year. They were able to keep winter squash and other vegetables in the space for nine months, and keep their ice bill down by having a temperate setting for their coolers.

Paul Wood is has more than 30 years experience in the construction industry. He spent over a decade with Habitat for Humanity International, building homes across Latin America, the Caribbean, and the United States. For the past 10 years, Paul has been the co-owner of ShelterWorks, maker of Faswall blocks, an insulated concrete form (ICF) that can be used to build extremely green homes. Connect with Paul on Facebook and Twitter.


 All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

10 Mother's Day Gifts for Homesteading Moms

Ergobaby buckle baby carrier 

Okay you guys, I’m going to make a startling confession here, and I hope you won’t judge me on it - we don’t celebrate Mother’s Day in our house. Sure, my husband and I extend some form of greeting to our own moms, but in this house, no sirree - not a bit. 

It was my choice a couple of years ago, and one that I really stand behind. I decided I didn’t want there to be one day a year where there was all of this pressure to shower me with gifts and praise, because it just would never feel real to me. I might take the day as an excuse to go for a walk with my family in the woods, arrange flowers for my kitchen, and generally enjoy a mild spring day with my family, but there is zero acknowledgment of Mother’s Day in this house, and that’s just the way I like it. 

NOW, that being said, I still like getting gifts (because hello, who doesn’t??), and I know a lot of my sisters in motherhood out there do as well, so I thought that instead of spa days and jewelry, there needed to be a Mother’s Day gift list that was just for women like us. 

If you spend your mornings collecting eggs with a baby on your hip, dripping sweat in the garden while keeping an eye on your wandering toddler, or teaching your kids how to work the power tools so you can get a hand with your latest project, well sister, this one’s for you. 

If you have a woman in your life that does all of this, then sit up straight in your chair, and read closely, because this is good stuff right here. 

Ten of the coolest and most practical gifts on the web for some of the hardest workin’ women under the sun. 

A Garden Tool (to Make Her Life Less Back Breaking) 

First, let me just start out by saying that pretty much anything you get from Lehman’s is going to knock ANYONE’S socks off. This company specializes in Amish tools, and has grown their offerings to everything from butter churns to composting toilets. 

That being said, I’m particularly smitten with this made in the USA steel broadfork. It’s tough, easy to use, made right here, and pretty darned affordable too. If the mother in your life doesn’t have chickens to aerate her soil for her, this is an awesome tool to save her some back-breaking work in your backyard garden. 

Check out Lehman’s steel broadfork here

A Top-of- the-Line Baby Carrier

Now, let’s make this real clear from the start - anybody can wear a baby, and that includes a man. That being said, if you’re like me, the babies spend most of their time with you, and by god, those dishes have to get done somehow.  

A baby carrier is perhaps THE most useful thing I’ve ever owned as a parent. Each carrier has their own ideal use, and every parent has their personal preference. They are generally three types of carriers: 

Soft structured carriers (think strap and buckles)
Ring slings
Wraps (just a long, strong piece of fabric) 

My top picks for soft structured carriers have always been the Lillebaby, Ergobaby, and Beco carriers, because they allow for such a wide variety of ergonomic carrying positions. There are tons of great ring slings out there, but I’ve always loved my Maya Ring Sling.

 

If your woman loves the look and feel of a wrap, a Moby Wrap is a fantastic one for beginners. 

All of these carriers are beautiful, built SOLID, and ergonomic for both mom and baby. Trust me, they’re both going to be happy with this one. 

Sustainable and Ethical Jewelry from Rare Earth 

Okay, so I know that this is one spendy gift option right here. That being said, even this dirty-nailed hippie loves shiny objects, and there’s just no denying that it’s going to knock the socks off of anyone you’re trying to treat. 

I love Brilliant Earth because it’s so much more than just a jewelry company. They source all of their diamonds from conflict-free zones, use recycled metals, and even donate 5% of their profits to communities that have been damaged by the ravages of the jewelry industry. 

It’s an amazing company, and their jewelry is nothing short of STUNNING. Their rings are beautiful, but I particularly love this willow branch necklace of theirs. 

Clothes for a Hard Workin’ Woman 

Okay, I love Duluth SO MUCH. Their clothing is so well made, they have so many different options, and their whole company has so much spunk and personality.  

If the mother in your life is like most women, she’s the last person she spends money on, and the thought of dropping some serious money on some great chore clothes is probably the furthest thing from her mind. 

I’m not going to sit here and tell you what she needs, that I’m afraid, is up to you, but there are plenty of awesome things on Duluth’s site to get you started, and I can’t imagine any of it disappointing. 

The Egg Apron 

Ohhh yea. She has enough on her hands with kids and work and chores, so give her somewhere to put those eggs without having to make multiple trips. These egg aprons have been making their rounds on social media, and for good reason. They’re practical, adorable, and hello, genius. You can get them all over the place, but I like this one from NW Creative Keepsakes on Etsy. 

Food

Okay, maybe not just any food, but delicious, highly rare treats that are just for her are never going to go underappreciated. Whether it’s a cake from your local bakery or her favorite candy, satisfying her sweet tooth is going to make her perfectly happy. Get the kids involved, and decorate a homemade cake just for her, and prepare for the crocodile tears. 

Plants

I’ve never really been a fan of cut flowers myself, they make me kind of sad (grown, harvested, and transported, just to wilt on my counter a week later - how sad is that??), but potted plants I swoon for. 

It doesn’t have to be flowers either, people. Get her the makings of an herb garden from your local nursery, or do something really amazing and get her some bare root fruit trees. I just learned heaps about these from Winter Cove Farms, and they’re a surefire way to get a successful orchard going in any climate. 

Nail Brush 

Look, here’s the thing - there are definitely homesteading women out there with pretty, manicured nails, but I for one cannot even imagine such a world. If your woman’s like me and would laugh if you bought her a manicure, get her this instead. 

This tough little nail brush is perfect for scrubbing the yuck out from under your nails, and is great for getting into the grooves of those tough, hard-workin’ hands of hers. Naturally, it’s brought to you by Lehman’s. 

Skin Care Products 

While a mani-pedi might not be the most practical gift for your hard workin’ woman, some high quality natural skin care products definitely are. Hands that get washed a lot or spend tons of time in the dirt definitely need a moisture pick me up, so get her some stuff to help her feel a bit refreshed at the end of the day. 

I for one am a HUGE fan of the Filthy Farmgirl  line. Aside from just having hilarious names that’ll make you blush to say out loud, this stuff smells amazing without being overpowering, is one heck of a cleaning agent, and leaves skin butter soft. 

What you get for her really depends on the fragrances she’s fond of (of which there are PLENTY to choose from). Bundle it with a complementary lotion. I’ve used their rose butter lotion myself, and it’s moisturizing without being greasy, and gone entirely too fast. 

The Perfect Beverage Container 

I know this sounds weird, and random, and totally not gift-like, but on that same token, I don’t know a person alive that doesn’t love a great water bottle or coffee thermos. Here’s something you should know about moms: 

Some of them actually get HOSPITALIZED because they’re literally so busy they forget to drink enough water to function.

They always drink their coffee or tea cold, because 20 other things demand their attention more than an enjoyable cuppa. 

We’re coffee, tea, AND water drinkers in this house, so I’ve tried a bit of everything. We generally try to avoid plastic as much as possible, and strive for containers that are easy to clean, and tough enough to last us. 

The best water bottles I’ve come across, hands down, are the Pura Stainless Steel bottles. Not only are they incredibly tough and completely devoid of plastic, but they’re also interchangeable with their silicon sippy cup, bottle, and straw lids (not that she’ll want to share). They also make a stainless steel vacuum insulated bottle, which, in theory, should be fine for hot drinks as well (though I’ve never tried it myself). 

My husband is a tea drinker, so I actually just bought in a Pure Zen Tea tumbler with infuser, and it’s pretty awesome. Another design devoid of plastic, this tumbler is made of glass, so you do need to exercise a fair amount of care with it, but it’s so worth it for steeping on the go sans plastic. It’s pretty, it comes in a pretty box - pair it with her favorite tea, and you’ve got the perfect gift compadre.

Coffee thermoses are tricky. In order to be really convenient, I feel like there has to be a flip top/push button lid (because if there’s one thing a busy mom doesn’t have time to do, it’s take the lid off one more damned drink). That being said, I’ve always really, REALLY loved the Aladdin thermoses. They’re leak-proof, stainless steel, vacuum sealed, and they keep your drink warm FOREVER. Seriously, these things are incredible, and a total steal at $20 each. 

You know, it’s funny. I feel like people ask me all the time if I need anything, what would make my life easier, and my go-to response is always nothing, but this list really gets those ‘that would be nice’ juices flowing. 

The bottom line is, a lot of women are never going to readily admit to wanting or needing much of anything - least of all moms - because they’re always busy taking care of someone else. Trust me though, if you put the thought into it and get her something like this, something practical that she can actually use, then that tough as nails and sweet as candy mama is going to brimming with appreciation.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

A Tiny Home 3 Different Ways

Tiny homes are gaining popularity for a good reason. The seemingly small square footage gets maximized, allowing for a different kind of home — one that still has all of the necessities but is eco-friendly and comfortable. The trend for smaller living quarters isn’t about subscribing to the latest fashion in home design. Instead, it’s about a new housing movement that prioritizes smart design, economization and a smaller footprint on the land.

These tiny homes come in all shapes and sizes and in a variety of materials and looks that make them desirable simply for their uniqueness. Tiny houses can be built out of anything from a truck bed to a train car, with many variations in-between.

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Source: Pexels

Here are three different materials for the exterior of a tiny home: 

Steel 

Steel is produced in many forms. Think steel train cars, shipping cartons and the frame of your favorite car. These seemingly average products can be used as a base for a fully-customizable and interesting home. In the case of a large shipping container, the container is built and coated with marine-grade paint to slow the aging process. Its ability to withstand the natural elements, as well as it's desirable, rectangular shape, makes it a perfect choice for beginning construction on a steel-faced tiny home.

And you can feel good about using steel, too, since it’s one of the most-recycled materials out there. By and large, this option means your imagination is your only limit, as there can be no doubt about the viability and strength steel has to offer. 

Reclaimed Wood

One of the most admirable traits of tiny homes is the use of recycled materials. Often building with a consciousness of the footprint left behind by living spaces, many owners of tiny homes work to make the most of what’s already available. This can mean using materials like reclaimed wood.

Reclaimed wood can add personality and charm to a home with its aged look and feel. Chosen for these qualities, reclaimed wood is full of positive benefits. It’s most appealing benefit is, of course, that it’s a highly sustainable option. But because older wood was typically harvested from trees at a time when they were allowed to mature, it tends to be more durable and strong. This makes it an excellent choice for flooring, countertops or the exterior of a home. 

Cob or Adobe

Cob and adobe houses have been around for centuries and have a rich history of construction around the world. These homes use the surrounding earth to create unique structures that can boast of rounded walls and intricate details.

Both cob and adobe are constructed from a combination of soil, clay, water and straw. The biggest difference between the two is that adobe houses are made from dried bricks of the mixture, whereas a cob house is built when the materials are wet, allowing for those beautifully unique curved walls. Either technique, though labor-intensive, can be both cost-effective and long-lasting.

Though practically perfect, cob and adobe homes do have some hurdles to overcome during the build phase. Shrinkage, though more likely to be an issue with cob than with adobe bricks, is one factor that has to be considered. The adobe method reduces some of the risk, as the bricks are already dried before construction.

There may also be a few issues with obtaining the proper certifications, as cob houses aren’t quite the norm nowadays. And the build phase does take a lot of endurance and patience. As the trend toward sustainability continues, however, these hurdles should become easier to manage.

The tiny house trend isn’t one to be ignored, and it’s likely to continue to gain footing as sustainable efforts become a higher priority. As the average cost of a new house continues to rise — hitting $390,400 in 2017 — finding less expensive but still ecological options will become a necessity.

Tiny homes can be built out of a variety of materials in various shapes and sizes. If they’re built well, they may be able to help create a space of high efficiency, cutting down on home maintenance costs. Above all, owners of these small builds have the option to customize their dream home at a truly affordable price.


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Building Mistakes: Prevention and Correction

 

Mistakes are an integral part of a learning process and can be expected if you are an amateur builder, but it might also be very frustrating, since this isn’t just a practical lesson – it’s a real dwelling you are trying to raise and make livable and comfortable, often under great constraints of time and money. It would be wise to mentally prepare for making mistakes and fixing them as you go.

We had bought a load of rubber tiles, which took a couple of labor-intensive days to be attached to the roof – only to be blown off by the first strong wind. We learned from this mistake and opted for a tin roof instead, writing off the lost money as a kind of tuition fee.

Also, thinking back to when we sat down and planned the cabin layout, I would probably allot more space for the kitchen. I’d also dispense with the storage/office room in favor of enlarging the bedroom next to it. The point is, there are always things you only think of in retrospect, and that’s a part of life.

Think of future prospects: do you think you might enlarge your house at any point? If so, how would an addition merge with the first part? I have been in houses with extremely inconvenient layouts, simply because they were built, in the first place, as a unit without the thought of expanding in the future, so rooms were added here and there, with walls stuck in the middle and corridors that waste space. When we built our cabin, we kept in mind that we would eventually want to enlarge it, so we planned accordingly.

Be especially careful as you are laying the foundation for your house, since mistakes made at this point are usually the most difficult to fix.

If you are building under time pressure, for example just before the beginning of the cold or rainy season, focus all your efforts on enclosing the main structure and putting on a roof. We did that, since we knew that we’d need to take a break in building (for budget reasons) and didn’t want the cabin to come to harm during the winter rains.

Whatever you do, if you are building with wood, choose pressure-treated lumber that is resistant to wood pests, and if at all possible, opt to use types of wood which are naturally resistant to wood borers, such as cedar or cypress. Wood pests can be a major problem and one extremely hard to get rid of. The house we currently live in has wood paneling and wood ceilings, and unfortunately, it is deeply infested – whatever treatment we have tried provided only temporary relief. Fortunately, we will probably leave this house in the near future – but we won’t be able to take our wooden furniture with us, as it is now also infected, and we don’t want to run the risk of bringing wood pests into our new cabin.

Insulation

I thought I should go a bit more in-depth on the subject of insulation, because a well-insulated house really pays off, returning the initial investment you make within a short space of time. A well-insulated house is much, much easier to keep warm in winter and cool in the summer, and therefore requires less energy. A small cabin with good insulation is a truly energy-efficient home.

In our cabin we used glass wool for insulation. Glass wool or mineral wool makes a great insulating material, provided that you don’t use it in a way that exposes you to mineral wool dust. For example, if you are building a house made of lumber with wood paneling along the interior, and you want to put some glass wool or mineral wool between the outer walls and the paneling, the glass wool has to be wrapped in plastic sheaths, because otherwise some of it will eventually start to break down, and tiny dust particles will leak into the house through little cracks in the wood paneling, which can cause severe health issues including but not limited to skin irritation, eye irritation and respiratory problems. We know this from experience – the person who built the house where we currently reside skipped the sheathing part when using glass wool, and for a couple of months we experienced persistent coughing and other symptoms of respiratory system irritation without even knowing why. Once the problem was detected, we solved it by plastering the walls.

Anna Twitto’s academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna and her husband live on a plot of land in Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Anna's books are on her Amazon.com Author Page. Connect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects on her blog. Read all Anna's Mother Earth News posts here


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