Green Homes
Building for the future, today ā€“ combining the best of historical wisdom and modern technology.

Repurpose Common Household Items


We’ve all seen dozens of crafty ideas for used wood pallets and Mason jars, but there are so many common household objects that can be reused in practical ways rather than going to the landfill or even the recycling bin. Not only do you reduce what goes in the bin, but you may not need to buy new stuff and its attendant packaging, almost sure to end up as waste.

Here’s a baker’s dozen of quick and easy practical ways to reuse and repurpose.   

In the Garden

I love the idea of turning parts from broken terra cotta pots into plant labels in the herb garden. It give the garden such an authentic Mediterranean feel. Learn how here.

What to do with all those wine bottles after a big dinner party? How about creating a unique border for a flower garden or outdoor path. If your family doesn’t produce enough empties, it should be easy to collect them from friends and restaurants so you can make this clever project. Gardening guru Shawna Coronado gives you the how-tos.


You can always save empty egg cartons for a neighbor or farmers’ market vendor who has chickens, but save a few for yourself. The best earring organizer I’ve ever had is the one using the bottom half of an egg carton—a pair per cup. Just trim off the top half of the carton and place the bottom half in a dresser drawer. Any type of egg carton will do. Egg carton cups will also hold rings and jewelry pins.

Prescription medicine containers, once thoroughly cleaned and dried, make excellent storage containers. They’re perfect for seed saving since they’re light-filtering and their tight fitting lids keep out air and moisture. For the same reasons, you might want to store your homegrown and dried herbs in them.

Medicine bottles also come in handy for storing small items like bobbie pins or paper clips. I keep one in the car glove compartment to hold small, loose items.

When you’ve used up a roll of toilet paper or gift wrap, what do you do with the empty cardboard tube?

Use a small tube to neatly store elastic bands or to keep utilitarian rubber bands from ending up in a giant tangle. Longer rolls are nifty for rolling your freshly ironed table linens—no fold lines.

Keep the Plastic

While I wouldn’t recommend dining on fast food for either your health or the environment, if you do happen to find yourself at the drive-thru, check out the food containers. Lidded plastic containers are pretty sturdy and can easily be reused to hold travel snacks or picnic treats. Use them to hold paint or glue for kiddie craft projects. If there are leftovers, you can pop on the lid and save the extra for the next time.

Sewing Projects

Use bamboo chopsticks, knitting needles, or even a plastic floral card holder to get sharp points when turning fabric (collars, pillow corners, etc.).

Got clothes that have seen better days? Who doesn’t? A friend gave me a gorgeous drawstring bag she sewed up from her mom’s old kimonos. It’s perfect for a pair of shoes or miscellaneous items when traveling. And pretty, too.

Cut or tear strips of old fabric into strips to crochet or braid into rag rugs.

Easy Peasy Heat Therapy

Does your washer eat socks? Give an unmatched sock new life by making a heat therapy rice bag. Just pour uncooked rice into it (about half full, so you can shape it to meet your needs), add a few drops of essential oil, if you like, tie the open end, and voila! You’ll need to experiment to find the right microwave heating time, probably somewhere between 1 ½ to 2 ½ minutes.


Toothbrushes that have seen better days—or those you get from the dentist’s office after a cleaning—make excellent scrubbers for hard-to-get-at places in the kitchen and bathroom. I especially like them for cleaning around faucets and sink rims. They’re also handy for window and door tracks and so many other tricky places.

Cut up old t-shirts and towels for cleaning rags.

In the Kitchen

You know the mini measuring cups that come with cough syrup? When the bottle’s empty, give the little cup a good cleaning and keep it in the kitchen. Mine has seven measurements from ½ to 4 teaspoons. When a recipe calls for, say, 1 ½ teaspoons of a liquid ingredient, it’s a one-step process. Besides, measuring spoons aren’t always made to standard. This device is much more likely to be accurate.

Even More Ideas

Check out Farmgirl School for more ideas on repurposing everyday household items. Do you have favorite repurposing tricks to help save the earth and your pocketbook?

Carole Coates is a gardener and food preservationist, family archivist, essayist, poet, photographer, modern homesteader. You can follow her MOTHER EATH NEWS blog posts here. You can also find Carole at Living On the Diagonal where she shares her take on life, including modern homesteading, food preparation and preservation, and travel as well random thoughts and reflections, personal essays, poetry, and photography.

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.


Sustainable and Green Technology Showcased at CES 2019


From harnessing the human power of people working out at the gym to outdoor speakers made from sustainably sourced materials, there were plenty of products and prototypes launched or showcased at the CES, or Consumer Electronics Show, in Las Vegas, demonstrating how technology can be more sustainably designed, energy efficient or energy productive – using less energy to do more. I even discovered an innovative bee hive prototype that might just help the struggling honey bee populations.

Many companies and businesses serving the transportation industry continue to move toward all-electric mobility products and plug-in electric vehicles. But some gadgets revealed at the world’s largest consumer electronics show showcased how materials could be more sustainably sourced and how technology can save energy, cut carbon emissions and, in the end, save money, too.

Best Portable Outdoor Speaker: No Bounds XL speaker from The House of Marley

This is the perfect speaker for homesteaders and farmers – and anyone who loves spending time outdoors with their music. Portable, versatile, stylish and sustainable, the great-sounding No Bounds XL Bluetooth speaker from The House of Marley exemplifies how all products should be designed. Materials for the ecologically-minded approach to these crafted speakers include House of Marley’s signature REGRIND silicone, REWIND fabric that’s made from 100-percent recycled plastics (rPET), recyclable aluminum, and sustainably harvested cork. The durable, lightweight cork is naturally antimicrobial and impermeable to water, allowing both vibration dampening and floatation. It’s no surprise that the No Bounds XL speaker earned the 2019 CES Innovations Award for Sustainability and Eco-Design from the Consumer Technology Association.


The waterproof (IP67), dust proof and buoyant No Bounds XL speaker has a 16-hour battery life – even serving as a power bank for smartphones or other USB powered electronic devices. The high-performance speaker has a clip-able carabiner, making it easy to attach to a fence, trellis or gazebo rail. Quick charge takes just two hours. There’s even a built-in mic which offers speakerphone capability and Siri integration.


As the first FSC® Certified consumer electronics brand within the United States, The House of Marley’s product lines, including the new No Bounds XL speaker, feature up-cycled fabrics, recycled silicone and plastics, FSC certified woods and completely recyclable packaging. Even some proceeds from the sales of their products are donated to One Tree Planted for reforestation conservation efforts.


Generating Electricity While Working Out at a Gym: Verde Treadmill from SportsArt

If you’re like my family and I, you might work out at a local gym during the off-season so you keep fit enough for the physical demands of the growing season. We’d love to be able to let our hard work and sweat on a treadmill or stationary bicycle put more electricity back onto the grid. Finally, it can. SportsArt, a leader in sustainable gym equipment that produces energy when used, launched the world’s first energy-producing treadmill, the Verde. It’s in their ECO-Powr line which uses an electromagnetic and mechanical braking system to generate electricity during a workout. The ECO-Powr line also includes several kinds of exercise bicycles, ellipticals and 3-in-1 cross trainers. Next step is to get our local YMCA to switch over to SportsArt when replacing aging equipment.

Designed for gym clubs, YMCAs or fitness centers, SportsArt’s ECO-Powr line of exercise equipment allows businesses or organizations to purchase green products that help reduce energy use and become more efficient. Their ECO-Powr line cost about as much as the comparable, standard exercise equipment on the market. “We took the treadmill, a staple in fitness, and incorporated a revolutionary technology that would not only reduce energy consumption, but actually produce it,” said Ivo Grossi, CEO of the Americas for SportsArt, in a release.


Built-in micro inverters harness the human energy being created. The energy generated by users' exertion not only powers the console or charges small electronic devices plugged in, but 74-percent is captured, converted, and returned to the grid as utility grade electricity. Their ECO-Powr G510 Indoor Cycle generates approximately 200 watts per hour workout. The SportsArt’s SA Well+ User App home screen provides real-time data on energy generated by the user as well as their performance.

Helping Save the Honey Bees: BeeLife CoCoon Smart, Solar-Powered Hive

Calling all beekeepers, it’s time to turn up the heat on your bees’ nemesis, the parasitic mites. Unveiling the CoCoon Hive prototype at CES, French start-up BeeLife looks to arm beekeepers, not with yet another chemical pesticide, but an alternative, more ecologically-sensitive, weapon against these Varroa Destructor mites. As it turns out, perhaps the only weakness of the Varroa Destructor mites is heat. If exposed to temperatures above 108-degree Fahrenheit for more than several hours, the mites will die. Meanwhile, the honey bees are able to withstand the short duration of hotter temperatures.


A top-mounted solar panel on the CoCoon Hive powers up a heating system to heat-kill the Varroa mites. As an added bonus, the smart hive system, containing an AI-embedded computer, can also cool the hive during excessive heat waves, warm the hive during cold spells, and keep track of hive activity. The whole system is remote controlled and monitored.

The net result should be a healthier hive, longer life for the bees and, of course, more honey production with the CoCoon Hive. That means more sales and revenues for the beekeeper. While earning CES’s 2019 Best in Innovations award for the Sustainability and Eco-Design category, BeeLife’s CoCoon prototype still needs financial backing for it to get into production. It couldn’t come soon enough, given the alarming rate at which bee populations have been dying out around the world.

John D. Ivanko, with his wife Lisa Kivirist, have co-authored Rural Renaissance, Homemade for Sale, the award-winning ECOpreneuring and Farmstead Chef along with operating Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by the sun. Both have been speakers at the Mother Earth News Fairs. As a writer and photographer, Ivanko contributes to Mother Earth News, most recently, “Living with Renewable Energy Systems: Wind and Solar” and “9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living”. They live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son Liam, a 10.8 kW solar power station and millions of ladybugs.

John D. Ivanko, with his wife Lisa Kivirist, have co-authored Rural RenaissanceHomemade for Sale, the award-winning ECOpreneuring and Farmstead Chef cookbook along with operating Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by renewable energy. Both are speakers at the Mother Earth News Fairs. As a writer and photographer, Ivanko contributes to Mother Earth News, most recently, Living with Renewable Energy Systems: Wind and Solar and 9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living. They live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son Liam, a 10.8-kW solar power station and millions of ladybugs. Read all of John’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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.


90-Day Extreme Green Challenge: Family of 6 Tries Tech-Free Living

Amish , Kids

We are the Mann family. We’ve decided we are going to give up all of our electricity, appliances, smartphones and more. We are going to fully convert our entire home to a pre-electric homestead. We will trade in our minivan for a horse and buggy.  We will empty our closets of modern clothing and replace it all with simple, hand-made clothing. For 90 days, we will grow our own food, study the Bible, and focus on our family and living a sustainable and earth-friendly life.

While a technological herd of billions march forward with their lattes in one hand and faces buried in their smartphones, our family of six will stray from the safety of the paved path and instead create our own. Our 90-day journey will start Summer of 2019 and it will be filmed and shared with the world as weekly YouTube videos and afterwards a full length documentary. Our goal is to change the world by living the best lives we can, in harmony with each other, our neighbors and the Earth.

Why Go Non-Electric for 90 Days?

We want the Earth to be sustainable for our children. We also want to provide for ourselves. Imagine you wake up one day, you go to the grocery store and the shelves are all empty. The average person wouldn't be able to survive for a few weeks (and that includes our family). It's amazing and pathetic that In this day and age, with all of the progress humanity has made, absent someone essentially feeding us (a grocery store or restaurant), most of us would be dead in a matter of weeks if we had to fend for ourselves.But not our ancestors who lived a self-sufficient lifestyle by need.

The population (including us) is pulling 90 million barrels of oil from the Earth every single day. It feels like we are accelerating faster and faster, producing more and more "stuff" and yet we are not happier or more fulfilled because of it. More and more, people are overworked, stressed and generally unhappy.

Meanwhile population is exploding and in the coming decades most human jobs will be replaced with robots and artificial intelligence. This monumental shift may not bode well for humans.

Beyond what the future holds for mankind, currently our privacy our freedom, our family time is all being eroded and replaced by technology and materialism. And so to is our purpose in life. My wife and I don’t want to close our eyes and open them up as 90-year-olds, on our death beds having wasted our lives away,working ourselves to death all while taking more from the Earth than we gave-back.

We want our girls to know how to protect and provide for themselves and be prepared for whatever the future may hold good or bad. We want to focus on our family and ourselves and our stake in this world. We want to feed ourselves, grow our own food and be the best people we can be living in a balance with the world and what we take from it. And we want to inspire others to do the same.

What Will We Do, Exactly?

We will give up all of our electricity and modern technology, and convert our home into a non-electric homestead. We'll grow our own food. We lll get a dairy cow and a horse and buggy. We will get more chickens (we already have a few hens). We will make our own bread and cook over a wood cook stove. We will study the Bible for 90 days and focus on God and our family. For the first 31 days, we will specifically seek wisdom by studying Proverbs each and every day. We will film it all and share a weekly YouTube video—the one and only technology activity we may partake in— and afterwards we will produce a full length documentary.

We want to inspire others. Do we think everyone will become homesteaders again? No, although if things collapse, there may be no choice. We want to study the Bible and focus on God and family. We want to grow and produce our own food. We want to have an amazing adventure and share it with the world.

Follow our 90-Day low-tech living challenge at

Kerry W. Mann, Jr. moved to a 20-acre homestead in 2015, where he and his family use modern technology, including YouTube and, to learn new skills and teach homestead projects. Connect with Kerry on his Homestead How YouTube pageInstructablesPinterest Facebookand at My Evergreen Homestead. Read all of Kerry’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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.

Live a One Earth Lifestyle with These Resources

For those talking about climate change, the environment, resilience and sustainability, a term known as environmental footprint, often enters the discussion. For use here, environmental footprint refers to the impact or damage, a person’s lifestyle has on the natural world - water, soil, air.  These impacts are the consequences of driving a car, food choices, size of home, vacation and whatever else a person does that impacts the natural world.

Important to add, that footprint should include impact and damage on the well being of society. One’s lifestyle not only affects the natural world, it also affects public health, politics and social cohesion.

The more energy and resources one uses, the bigger the environmental footprint.  Big homes with few residents and cars cause more damage to the planet than a modest home and a bike. Beef has a bigger footprint than beets.  

A map of the world that compares countries and their environmental footprints, shows the United States stands out.  The average person in the United States uses far more resources than the average person in almost any other country, even affluent countries like Sweden or Japan.

Closely related to environmental footprint, a newer term, “one earth lifestyle,” provides a more nuanced appraisal of how we live.  A one earth lifestyle means a lifestyle where a person consumes only their share [approx 1/7 billionth] of the world’s sustainable resources and planet earth could safely process the waste of 7 billion one earth lifestyles.

There are many aspects to any lifestyle such as food, shelter, transportation, recreation, employment. The attributes of a lifestyle all add up and affect the environment and community.

Its important for people to gain an understanding of how their lifestyle affects both the social and natural environments.  Putting that awareness into the context of a one earth lifestyle is a useful, if sobering task, that can help motivate people to make lifestyle adjustments for reducing their footprint to a sustainable level.

Most people take affluence and convenience for granted and would be surprised to find their footprint exceeds a one earth lifestyle by, perhaps a wide margin.  Most of the world does not live like middle class America, although most people all over the world would like to. Its clear, the earth cannot support its current human cargo, even with billions living far less than one earth lifestyle.

Not surprisingly, there are thoughtful surveys on line to help those with a concern to gain an idea what fraction of an earth or how many planet earths would be needed to support their own personal lifestyle.

What would a one earth lifestyle look like?  What might one seven billionth of the global pie look like?

I have taken such as survey and was moderately impressed with the questions.  It did not cover all the bases, certainly, but I would recommend that survey to others.  Its educational, simply answering the questions most of us never think about but are important.  I will describe highlights of the survey in terms of my own answers and results and would encourage the reader to extrapolate their own answers to the survey questions.  I am using   

I have no financial interest in this entity and know only about the group from what is described on their website.  Again, its not a perfect survey but it does have educational value and the items I mention below are only part of the survey.  Here we go.

Diet is a big deal and this calculator asks a lot of questions. Meat or veggie, what kind of meat, local, processed, packaged, how often? I am veggie, not quite vegan, eggs from my own hens and a pound of cheese lasts a month.

Another set of questions is about housing. How many people live in your house?  What kind of residence? Is it an apartment, townhome, detached house.  Other questions ask about energy efficiency and how many people live the house. I own my own home, it is a modest detached house, it has insulation all around, its all electric, has significant passive solar heating and four people live here.

A survey could ask a lot more questions about shelter.

Another question, where does your electricity come from?  Here in the Northwest, its by far mostly hydro and even hydro has a footprint.  I have a solar hot water heater and heat pump.

Another set of questions is about how much trash does one create and related, how often does one buy clothes, appliances, electronics, books, magazines.  My responses, very little of any of the above.

Transportation is another big deal.  The survey asks about what kind of a car one has and what is its gas mileage.  How much is it used or does one use public transportation and how often.  How many hours per year in a jet plane.  For me, I drive a car rarely, maybe 5 days a year. Bike trip last year I took my bike to Arizona on Amtrak and returned on Amtrak.  Last year I had two return plane flights to Texas.  Around town, I use a bike.  I borrowed a friend’s truck for a load of llama poop.

There are other questions aboout diet, shelter, what do we buy, transportation are all good ones.  My results came out to about .9 earths to support my fair share lifestyle - veggie, modest home shared with 3 others, don’t really buy new much of anything, ride a bike, fly only occasionally.

Not to boast or be critical, but I use a lot less of just about everything than even most of my progressive friends (see my house above), and compared to the average middle class lifestyle in the US, they are modest.  I have a contact who I would guess, has a 20 earth lifestyle with multiple homes, cars, trips all over the world, lots of solo driving.  Even his level of consumption is spare change compared to really wealthy people.

Again, the survey could be more detailed, I don’t know their methodology, but I trust the calculation does have some validity.

My take home message for this blog, we all know about climate change and a natural world in decline.  We are well aware of many social and political challenges that affect us all. Virtually all of the deepening trends we face are easily traced to lifestyles that consume too many resources and produce too much waste.  Having an honest look at the damage caused by our own lifestyles, in terms of a one earth lifestyle, is a helpful if intimidating move towards creating homes, neighborhoods, economy and culture that are green and resilient.

Jan Spencer has been transforming his quarter-acre suburban property for 15 years. The project shows what home economics and suburbia can look like — taking care of more needs closer to home, including food, energy, water, and culture. Read a draft preface for his forthcoming book, Notes from the Suburban Frontier at www.SuburbanPermaculture.orgHe is available for making presentations about transforming suburbia, economy and culture. Find his contact info, CV and more topics he can address on his website, and click here to read his other MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts.

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.

The Significance of Your Kitchen

Michael Johnathon kitchen 

When people ask me where I live, my answer is simple: I live in an airplane and a car seat. When I’m not on the road, however, my precious time is spent in a most romantic setting. I am a tree-hugging, banjo-picking, log cabin dweller.

The first room you enter when coming into my farmhouse is, as it should be, the kitchen. The kitchen is the architectural welcome chamber in abodes worldwide.  It has been this way since mankind first figured out that food and a sense of community are interchangeable and inseparable.  In the earliest of times, when people lived in caves, the kitchen was always at the the mouth of the cave.

Obviously, the first room you entered by necessity - it was the only place to set the fire so the smoke could get out. Even so, it is fitting that the kitchen should forever be the first place to set foot in when entering someone’s living space. 

I’m glad you’re here — and this is the place that says so.

My kitchen in our log cabin is the most wonderful, pleasing and lonesome room in this house. It is welcoming in a great many ways. It welcomes you with the smell of breakfast in the morning. It welcomes you with the lilting fragrance of homemade pine-nut and sunflower-seed pasta sauce simmering into its fourteenth hour on the stove. It welcomes you with sights of a large bowl of garden salad set in the center of my long wooden table.  It welcomes you with growing plants in the windowsill, bright green, living and breathing as they reflect the afternoon sun.

I love my kitchen. And I love my table.

My kitchen table is six feet long and completely made of wood. I can seat six wooden chairs comfortably around it and it takes up the most prominent place in the room.  It is of an early Americana design that I found in a second-hand store for $75. It has small, hand-shaped metal edges that decorate the corners of the table top. The surface of the pine table is finished with a clear rubbing oil and has a decidedly woodshop fragrance to it. A good, solid table is important.  It is the center point of life in your home, the communal gathering point of your kitchen.  Great dreams, brilliant poems, homework and wars have all been planned and decided upon at kitchen tables throughout history.

My kitchen, when the house is empty but for me (rare because we have two 4-year-old twins), is also the room that begs the question, Where is everyone? Your kitchen seeks out your friends and family. It longs for laughter and noise and conversation. It is the one room that speaks loudest when your home is silent. This makes the kitchen the loneliest room in the house.

To understand my appreciation for this gastronomic temple, I must first tell you why I love my place.

I live in a log cabin on a hill surrounded by seven acres of woods and meadows. We live in the country, a 15-minute drive to downtown Lexington but I'm surrounded by large farms, meadows, woods and a creek. I enjoy Lexington. It is a wonderful hometown full of creative and passionate people. It is the gateway to Appalachia and sits at the crossroads of America’s folk and bluegrass music.  It is a songwriter’s heaven and a folksinger’s paradise.  It has a wonderful “I wish I was Cincinnati” aggressiveness but with a quaint, small-town atmosphere.  My children are growing up here and I like that.

My home  is indeed a wonderful setting. I get up in the morning, pour a hot cup of tea, gaze through my kitchen window into the earthy expanse of trees, meadows and fields and thank God someone else is financing my view.

Ahhhh, life is good. I savor this moment each morning I am home. It is a "Michael ritual" that runs a complete cycle each day. Like Thoreau, I believe in waking up slow, drinking in the morning and letting gentle appreciation of the day ahead set upon you softly.

Then I attack into it like a roaring Viking at siege. ‘Gentle appreciation’ has its limits when you are trying to get things done.

My home is the place where all the songs and books were written. It has seasoned wooden floors and windows laced with plants. And yes, they are all healthy.

Other than the kitchen, my second favorite room is the living room. I designed the placement of the furniture in that room so everything faces my passionate and adoring lover, the one whom I turn to for warmth and conversation on lonely, snowy nights, the one who occupies my mind and body and senses. My mistress who reflects what I wish my life could really be like someday ... my fireplace.

Other than my wife, of course.

I have a very passionate, ongoing relationship with my fireplace. If your couch faces the TV in your home then you are doing it wrong. A fireplace is nature’s TV set. No remote control or cable needed. It has one stunning channel that has entertained people with the same untiring script and song for generations and for thousands of years.

The kitchen’s equivalent to the living room fireplace is, of course, the table. That is why I expound so much about it. The kitchen table is the altar of your home. You should take the shape and length and design of your table very, very seriously.  Your kitchen table reflects the inner desire of what you wish the quality of your life should be. It really does. For example: Does your life feel cramped and artificial? Do you have a small, round formica table?

You do, don’t you! Coincidence? I think not.  'nuff said.

My living room compliments my kitchen because it is the place to retreat with friends after your kitchen has exhausted all of its treasures.  Your living room is the place to go when you are ready to bask in the afterglow of the kitchen’s glory.

Of course, it also has my DVD surround-sound system which is especially useful during summer months when the only practical use of a fireplace is to serve as one more plant stand. Plus, Lord knows, I have to watch WoodSongs every now and then.

So much for “nature boy.” But unlike the living room, a kitchen has limited interchangeable uses. When I first moved into this old home I thought long and hard about my kitchen. I built my pot rack to hang from the ceiling above the stove.  I placed the pictures on the wall in just the right places.  I picked out the plants and the garden pots they will rest in with deference to the window and the sunlight they will soak in.  But something was missing, something was oddly un-present. Something was completely wrong with the ambiance of my kitchen.

And then I discovered an odd and amazing fact of life: The kitchen didn’t turn into a “kitchen” until I finally plugged in the toaster.

Really. It wasn’t until I bought my toaster, plugged it in and stuck my knife into the butter that my farmhouse temple achieved its spiritual nirvana. The kitchen depends on the fragrance of home to become a real kitchen.

And nothing smells of home more than wafts of toast in the morning as your coffee perks. What a great way to start your day!

Among the throngs of artists in the music world, few have elevated “dreaming” to such a high art form as folksinger Michael Johnathon. He has a successful career as a touring songwriter, author of four published book, playwright of the Walden Play performed in 42 countries, composer of the opera, Woody: For the People, organizer of the national association of front porch musicians called SongFarmers, and as the host of the live audience broadcast of the WoodSongs Old Time Radio Hour with a radio audience with over two million listeners each week on 500 public radio stations, public television coast-to-coast, American Forces Radio Network in 173 nations and now on the RFD-TV Network nationwide. His latest album release is DAZED & CONFUZED and his fourth book will be released June 2019. Connect with Michael at,,

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 Couple's Decision to Build a Tiny House on Wheels

woman builds tiny house

“What do you think about building a tiny home?” When I asked my partner Mary Beth that very question, it felt a bit crazy. “Can we do it?” “Can we afford it?” “Where do we start?” All of these questions were suddenly already bouncing around in my head. For the first month or two after I initially proposed the idea (nearly two years ago), we certainly had more questions than we had answers. But after the idea sank in a bit, it began to feel like perhaps we were onto something. We don’t have a piece of property to call our own, we both enjoy travel, we’re both striving to pay off student loans as early as we can, we’re constantly working toward shrinking our footprint, and we’ve both been focusing on paring our possessions down to the belongings that really matter. Neither of us have ever built a house, but we knew people who had, and we both had the mindset that what we don’t know now we can learn from others, from books, and from the internet. We’re both also fortunate enough to have incredibly supportive family and friends that we knew we could call on if we needed help.

After we took some time to fully digest the idea, identified the benefits and risks, scoured blogs, watched videos, and read articles on the topic, we felt even more confident about it. Others are out there doing it, and with a growing number of folks successfully living in tiny homes on wheels, we knew that (while it wouldn’t be easy) we could figure out a way to make it work for us too. The positives really began to outshine the doubts, and so we dove in.

Why Tiny? The Initial Idea

I think to fully understand how Mary Beth and I began on our journey, we need to start from the beginning, when a chance meeting with a very special woman planted the tiny seed that grew into this big idea. I was working on my permaculture design certification, and through the course of my studies, our class visited this special woman’s property to participate in a practicum course to present permaculture designs and put them into action. During lunch, I sat down and struck up a conversation with the property owner. During the course of our talk, she shared that she envisioned hosting a young couple on the property in exchange for helping her keep up the place. I really enjoy working outdoors, so this idea intrigued me. It stuck with me for months, until that little seed began to grow into an idea. Perhaps we could be that couple? Months after our initial meeting, I called her and she invited us over for lunch. We talked about the idea more in-depth, and we came to the conclusion that it could be a positive thing for both her and us, and so we began taking steps toward making it a reality.

man builds tiny house

While Mary Beth and I were hunting for apartments closer to the potential build site and my job in Topeka, Kansas, Mary Beth’s mom graciously extended the opportunity to live in the finished basement of her home for little more than help with the utilities. I can’t even express how helpful this was. It provided a giant boost in how quickly we could save up the funds for our tiny home project and made us that much more confident in fully committing ourselves to building a tiny home.

Decision to Build on a Trailer

We were originally exploring the possibility of renovating an existing small building on the property, but, after talking it over, we eventually landed on the idea that perhaps something mobile would be better. This would allow us to keep our investment (take it with us, sell it, etc.) if we decided to go a different route in the future. However, it also opened up a lot more complexities and some hurdles that we’d need to overcome. And that’s what Mary Beth and I are going to be sharing in this series, not just our perspectives, but also our goals, our obstacles, our solutions, and everything that goes into a journey like this. You can look forward to how-tos, how-comes, and how-nots in our tiny home series of posts: everything from what to look for in a tiny home trailer, how to install windows, what type of framing we went with and why, our design process, dealing with zoning, and so much more.

community builds tiny house

Mary Beth and I may be on the same path, but our perspectives, strengths, fears, and experiences are very different. So we’ve decided to blog individually but in tandem, sharing two perspectives of a shared journey. We hope you’ll find them both useful and entertaining.

If you’d like to join us on this journey, sit down and buckle up. We’re in for a ride.

Read all of the posts from Russell and Mary Beth’s journey to build a tiny home on wheels by clicking here.

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.

Going Green: What Should You Do with Your Old Phone?

mobile phones 1

When it comes to today’s smartphones, there’s always a shiny, newer device out there to tempt you. Most phones should last at least four to six years, but with technology moving so fast, it’s not uncommon to feel like your two-year-old device is obsolete.

Thankfully, smartphones are one of the easiest electronics to recycle, and there are many ways to put your old phone to good use. If you’re looking to upgrade, keep the “three Rs” in mind when disposing of your old device.


mobile phones 2

Giving your old phone to someone who needs or wants it may not prevent new devices from entering the market, but if more people did, it could certainly put a small dent in demand. When it comes to the environment, every little step counts!

If you’re looking to hand your phone down, consider asking your family members if they’re looking for a new device, giving it to your son or daughter, donating it to a local charity (or a national one like Cellphones For Soldiers), or selling it online using a site such as,, or


mobile phones 3

There are so many new ways you can put your old Android or Apple smartphone to use. Even if you’ve stopped paying for the monthly cellular data plan, your old phone can still do much of what it used to over WiFi and Bluetooth. Remember, it’s a computer, and just like any other computer, all it needs is a little tinkering and some new software to have a whole new purpose. For example, you can turn your phone into:

A remote control for your TV/Smart Home

Download just the apps you need to run your home’s connected devices. Put the phone on a charging stand in the living room for a handy home control device.

A dedicated video conferencing device

Do you work from home and do a lot of video conferences? Buy a charging dock for your old phone and set it up exclusively for Skype, Lync, or Duo chats.

A distraction-free consumption device

Remove all the apps from your phone and load it up with just music, digital books, and magazines – if they’re downloaded to the phone, you can access them without WiFi.

A child’s first phone

Kids under 12 who are begging their parents for a phone generally just want it for games and messaging friends. Pre-load the phone with just what you want them to have access to (such as the Kindle app and a messaging app that works over WiFi), then lock down the App store so they can’t download anything else. Put a few games on there, too, and choose ones that don’t need an always-on Internet connection so they can use it out of the house.


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If your phone is unusable or broken beyond repair, make sure it’s recycled properly. The plastics and metals from smartphones can be melted down and resold (one ton of melted aluminum can go for up to $1,000), and it’s a lucrative proposition for recycling companies. Check out Call2Recycle for a drop-off location near you.

Many manufacturers and retail businesses have trade-in/recycle programs, so you can send your device to them to be recycled, or even get some money for it if it’s still in usable condition. If it does still work, they’ll give your old phone a new life by sprucing it up and reselling it as “refurbished” or by shipping it off to be resold in bulk.

Sell it back to your carrier

If your smartphone is in excellent working condition and you just want to upgrade to the latest and greatest model, take it back to your phone carrier and put its value toward the cost of your new device.

As you can see, there are many ways to make sure your old phone doesn’t end up in a landfill. Just remember to erase any personal data before passing it on by going into “Settings” and looking for the option to “Factory Reset” or “Erase all Content and Settings.”

Jennifer Pattison Tuohy is a freelance writer and contributor for Xfinity Mobile. She writes about green living, mobile phone technology, consumer tech, and small businesses for a variety of newspapers, magazines, and online publications.

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.

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