Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Benefits & Types of Composting Toilet Systems

Toilets are a huge contributor to the millions of gallons of water we use every day.  In fact, many older model toilets flush more than five gallons of water per flush and newer models flush between one and two gallons of water.  When you think about how many times you and your family flush each day, that’s a lot of water.  A composting toilet system may be the answer for some, saving an average of 6000 gallons of water each year.

English: Sun-Mar Excel Self-Contained Composti...
Sun-Mar Excel Self-Contained Composting Toilets (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Understanding Composting Toilet Systems

A composting toilet essentially uses little to no water and utilizes the concept of aerobic decomposition to change the waste materials into compost, or a natural fertilizer.  While there are a few types of composting toilet systems, they typically contain:

* A container where composting takes place
* Some type of exhaust system
* Oxygen supply to facilitate the decomposition
* A feature to allow any liquid to drain away 
* An access door to empty the compost

Benefits of Composting Toilets

We’ve already discussed the benefits of decreased water usage.  This not only helps the environment but it also helps your financial bottom line because you’re not using as much water and if you’re on a well/septic system then you don’t have to pay for regular septic system maintenance.

* Your composting toilet also makes it possible to easily compost other family and household waste including table scraps, yard waste and other compostable materials. 

* You don’t contribute to sewage system runoff and water contamination.

* You don’t contribute to soil contamination.

* The end product, the compost, is a valuable fertilizer with high nutrient levels which are ideal for gardening, yard maintenance and household plants.

* Composting toilets are easy to install almost anywhere and they cost about half as much as a septic system installation.  Also, the regular maintenance is much cheaper.

There are essentially two common types of composting toilets, the Self-Contained and the Centralized.  In order to see which one is right for you, it’s important to understand how they work.

Self Contained versus Centralized Composting Systems

English: Shown here is a Sun-Mar remote compos...
A Sun-Mar remote (centralized) composting toilet system. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Self-contained composting toilets have a composting unit beneath them to form a single unit.  However, a centralized composting toilet sends waste to a centralized unit in a separate location, like the basement, where it is collected.  You can thus have several toilets in a household all hooked up to a single composting location. 

Self-contained systems typically have an electrical fan, which means it has to be plugged in.  This uses energy and is thus not 100% green.  However, unlike central systems, they don’t need to use any water.  A central composting system still needs a bit of water to flush the waste into the central composting unit.

There are pros and cons to both types of toilet composting systems.  However, no matter which way you look at it, both options are more environmentally friendly and ultimately more sustainable than our standard water-wasting toilets. 

More On Composting Toilets: 
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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

17 Tips For Reducing Water Consumption

Water has become a valuable commodity and it is becoming more and more valuable every day. Water is one of the few resources we literally cannot live without for more than a day or two. Today, drinkable water is becoming scarce even in areas that have never had shortages before. There is only so much to go around, and as the population of our planet increases, we have to keep an eye on the responsible use of this most valuable resource.  To protect our environment and to save money, take a look at these easy water conservation tips. 

Česky: Pitná voda - kohoutek Español: Agua potable
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
1. Turn off the faucet.  It nay sound simplistic, but the easiest way to cut down on water consumption for your household is to not let the faucet run.  Whether you’re washing dishes or you’re brushing your teeth, turning off the faucet conserves gallons of water each day.

2. Choose xeriscape materials in your landscaping.  Xeriscape plants can grow well even in desert-like conditions, and don’t need much water to thrive.  Plants like Thyme, lavender, rosemary, and others can grow quite beautifully on very little moisture.

3. Water your lawn and garden in the morning or evening when temperatures are cooler to minimize evaporation.  This is actually better for your lawn and garden too.

4. Trim your shower time by a minute or two and you can save up to 150 gallons each month

5. Adjust your lawn mower to a higher setting. Longer grass shades roots and retains soil moisture better than if it is closely clipped.  Again, this is better for your grass and motivates the roots to grow deep making it hardy and thick, and it will need less frequent watering.

6. Use a rain barrel to collect water and then use this water to water your garden or lawn.

7. Use an automatic sprinkler system that’s easy to turn off and on.  That way you can turn it off if it’s raining or install a rain sensor so your system won't run when it's raining. (I cannot tell you how many times I have seen sprinklers running when it is pouring rain, or has just rained hours ago!)

8. Check your toilet for leaks and fix them or replace your toilet with a low flush toilet.

9. Use a water efficient showerhead and put aerators on all your faucets. I love my showerhead! It's one of the most efficient ones around, and the adjustable head provides great water pressure even when I only turn on the water part-way.

10. Only wash your clothes or dishes when you have a full load.

11. Visit only car washes that use recycled water. Or wash it at home yourself using one of the "waterless" washes available.

12. Use your extra water from cooking or water from pet bowls to water plants. I keep a watering can in the corner of my kitchen, to make it easy to collect excess water. Then I can use it to water the plants later.

13. Avoid flushing the toilet unless it’s necessary.  Don't use it as a garbage can where you toss tissues, cotton swabs and other items. 

14. Wash dishes by hand. But do it in a sink partially filled with water, instead of running the faucet the whole time.

Dripping faucet 2
Dripping faucet. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
15. If you have a dishwasher, don’t wash your dishes before you put them in the washer and rinse them minimally.

16. Fix all leaky faucets.  Experts estimate we lose about 2700 gallons of water each year from leaky faucets. Plus they're just annoying!

17. Insulate your pipes so you don’t have to run the water as long to reach your desired temperature. Or get one of the new water-saving pipe flush devices that flushes the cool water in the pipes back into the tank so the water you get is hot right away.

Conserving water is not only an environmentally sound idea, it also saves you money.  As water becomes more and more scarce and our resources diminish the cost of water will continue to rise.  Practice and instill good water conservation habits now and reap the benefits for years to come - and protect our resources for future generations.

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Thursday, August 22, 2013

Book Review: The Craft & Art of Bamboo

Bamboo is a very versatile and green material. It is therefore very popular with eco-conscious people and builders. It has a wide variety of different uses, from clothing, to paper, furniture, flooring, and much more.

Cover of "The Craft & Art of Bamboo, Revi...
Cover via Amazon
The Craft & Art of Bamboo, by Carol Stangler, provides fantastic bamboo projects to beautify your home and garden. The projects come with detailed instructions about tools and materials required as well as techniques on how best to work with bamboo. You will learn how to flatten, bend, attach and preserve the bamboo to keep the finished bamboo designs looking beautiful for a long time to come.

Here are just a few examples to give you an idea of some of the stunning projects you can make yourself to accent your backyard: Bamboo Mosaic Gate, Bamboo Brush Fence and an outdoor trellis for your climbing plants.

Overall, this is a beautifully designed book with spectacular photographs on creating unique pieces of art with bamboo. If you are handy and crafty and would like to experience working with this sustainable and green material, the book offers good and detailed advice and instructions, as well as great project ideas.

Buy on Amazon: The Craft & Art of Bamboo, Revised & Updated: 30 Eco-Friendly Projects to Make for Home & Garden

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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Return to Nature With Amazing Tree Houses

Did you ever have a treehouse when you were a child? Treehouses have come a long way since then! Now entire families can live in a tree house that is remarkably modern and comfortable. Here are some examples of treehouses, and why it is a viable choice for some.

tree houses
(Photo credit: joanneteh_32(On Instagram as Austenland))
The Philosophy

A love of nature is what often inspires builders, manufacturers, and owners of treehouses. After all, living in a tree is living close to nature - surrounded by it, in fact. And tree houses use the natural structure of the tree to support the home's structure. They like the "living" nature of the treehouse that moves and creaks in the wind.

Active people enjoy the treehouse lifestyle, too. You have to hike through the woods even to get to some treehouses, and then there's the ascent up into it.

However, there are luxury treehouses, too. Those who have the money may commission amazingly modern, luxurious treehouses that are only called "treehouses" because they are in a tree! They are not simple, primitive structures. Some of them have pools, media centers, ornate bathrooms, and other amenities.

When you were a child, "escape" was what the treehouse was all about. It still is for some. Many people like living "above it all" where they feel fewer distractions.

The Houses

There are so many different designs of treehouse available today. Thanks to advances in technology, building techniques, and design, the types of treehouse available are limited only by the imagination it seems. Some examples include:

Cover of "Treehouses (The House That Jack...
Cover via Amazon
  • Bed & Breakfasts - For those who just want to live in a treehouse temporarily, there are bed & breakfasts that are built in trees. Usually, the B&B specifies what kind of physical shape you must be in to comfortably stay there. Some of them require people to be in good physical condition to get there. Hiking and rafting are often required to reach the B&B itself.
  • Studios - Some artists and others enjoy a studio in the trees. There, they enjoy a sense of escapism and privacy. Treehouse studios usually have large windows and a lot of natural light.
  • Family homes - Some treehouses are simply family homes. They are not necessarily unusual designs; many look just like a regular house sitting in the trees.
People build treehouses for all kinds of reasons. One thing is noticeable, though, and that is the recent resurgence in this nostalgic, yet modern, form of house. Whether they are right for your family home or not, they are certainly fun to look at and visit!
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Thursday, August 15, 2013

Learn the pH Miracle Diet Basics

The pH Miracle Diet is the newest phenomenon to strike the dieting world. Health experts have noticed that popular diets seem to go in waves. While the 90s were marked by the low-fat diet craze, the last ten years or so have been focused on low-carbohydrate diets like Atkins, the South Beach Diet, Protein Power and Sugarbusters. As people become frustrated with each type of diet, they look for something new to try. The pH Miracle Diet is the focus of a lot of new interest.

Alkaline foods. (Photo credit: Carmen Rodriguez NSP)
The pH Miracle Diet is so appealing to people because it is a complete 180-degree turn from the high-protein, low carbohydrate diets of the past few years. The pH Miracle Diet, also called the alkaline diet or the Young Diet, after its creator Robert Young, has a totally different approach to nutrition. Many holistic doctors and nutritionists see it as a more balanced approach to nutrition that takes the body’s true needs into account.

Basically, the human body has a pH that is slightly alkaline. The theory is that since the human body runs at this pH, our diet should be comprised of mostly alkaline foods. The standard American diet has many foods that are considered acidic, such as animal protein, sugar, caffeine and packaged foods. All of these foods disrupt the pH balance of the body and cause a whole host of problems. The proponents of the pH Miracle diet say that all of these acidic foods actually disrupt the body’s use of alkaline minerals. These minerals include sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium, the lack of which makes people prone to chronic diseases.

This is the real crux of the importance of the pH diet. The nutrition and health community has come to realize that what a person puts into their body has a profound effect on their overall health. Although the mainstream medical community has emphasized a balanced diet including fresh fruits, vegetables, meats and dairy products, the pH diet takes this a step further. It points out that acidic foods actually rob your body of essential minerals. Those who follow the pH Miracle Diet are avoiding foods that can be disastrous to their health.

Pearl Millet, Pennisetum americanum, Pennisetu...
Pearl Millet. (Photo credit: Vietnam Plants & The USA. plants)
Many of the foods that we eat commonly are considered no-nos on the pH Miracle Diet. One of the most surprising omissions is the absence of wheat products. The FDA recommends whole-wheat products for better health. Yet according the pH diet, grains like wheat, millet, oats and rice are acidic and harmful. The more alkaline grains of buckwheat, quinoa and spelt are favored for their alkalizing benefits.

Generally, all meats and dairy are omitted on the pH Miracle diet. If you’re worried about protein, goat milk is slightly alkaline. There is also protein provided from vegetarian options like beans, tofu and certain nuts and seeds. Most vegetables have alkalizing effects, except for mushrooms. Fruits are limited to coconut, grapefruit, lemon and lime.

Those that have tried the pH miracle diet say that they feel massive effects on their health within the first few weeks. Lowering the intake of processed foods and eating more vegetables is good health advice for everyone, whether or not they follow the specifications of this particular diet. In fact, this has been one of the major criticisms of the pH Miracle Diet. Opponents say that if people are already eating fresh foods and drinking plenty of water, then the diet will have no effect. They disregard the acid/alkaline balance theory.

Another important thing to consider is that there has been no scientific testing of the theories behind the pH Miracle Diet. Also, many conventional medical doctors see no benefit to the program. However, the principles behind the diet are based on holistic medicine and Chinese medicine, which have been around for centuries. The pH Miracle Diet principles are currently being studied at John Hopkins’s university and by Dr. Neil Solomon of the United Nations. Soon the critics may have to re-evaluate their stance on the diet’s scientific basis.

Learn More About the pH Miracle Diet:

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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Connection Between pH & Energy Levels

Did you know that your blood has a pH level? pH is the measurement of how acid or alkaline something is. The pH level scale runs from 1 to 14 with 1 serving as “very acidic” 7 being “neutral” and 14 being “very alkaline”. In fact your bloodstream goes to great lengths to maintain a pH level of 7.35 to 7.45, slightly alkaline. Why is this important? One of the many reasons why your body strives for this balance starts with your energy level. The correct pH will help balance your body and increase your energy.

Figure 2 - Schematic of Maxwell model using on...
Blood cells. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Have you ever put low quality fuel into your car after running it on premium fuel? There is a difference in acceleration, handling, and overall performance and this is directly linked to the quality of fuel you put in the tank. Your body is a finely tuned machine. Like other types of machinery, the parts need to be kept running by fuel. The best fuel for your body is a custom mix, more alkaline than acid. What difference does this make?

It all starts in the bloodstream. Think of the bloodstream as a superhighway with stops all over the body. Red blood cells are the commuting traffic riding along the bloodstream in a hurry to get to work. These red blood cells each have a negative charge on them, and this keeps them from getting into fender benders and collisions in the bloodstream. When the negative charge is stripped away from the red blood cells, they cluster together and can cause gridlock and bottlenecks in the bloodstream. In short, the traffic in the bloodstream isn’t flowing as smoothly and it causes everything to slow down. If you’ve ever been stuck in freeway traffic you know how frustrating this is.

This stress on the body causes a domino effect, which eventually saps the energy away and makes you tired and sluggish. Acid is the culprit in the bloodstream traffic jam. When acid is introduced into the bloodstream it eats away at the negative charge that surrounds each red blood cell and causes all sorts of problems. How can you avoid this? The answer is quite simple and it starts with what you put in your stomach. Red blood cells are created by the food that you eat. When the stomach works on digesting food, it leaves behind natural acidic waste. Your body eliminates these toxins through your urine and sweat, but there comes a point when the waste build up is too great to eliminate.

What does your body do with all of the acidic waste it can’t get rid off? The answer is quite shocking - it stores it in your body! The cells in your body are mostly alkaline and this acid waste starts to attack and destroy these cells. A lot of energy is expelled keeping the waste from doing detrimental damage to your body, but this fight can only go on for so long. Eventually the build up (toxic load) is so great that the cells deteriorate and cause energy depletion and leaves the body open to disease.

How can you avoid this slow death? A higher energy level helps to fend off opportunistic diseases and ensures strong cellular regeneration. Making changes to your diet is a huge step in reversing this breakdown of your body while boosting your energy level. The choices you make in what you eat will greatly determine how much of this acidic waste gets stored in your body. The more alkaline your food choices are the less of this waste will be accumulated in your body, tipping the balance in the favor of good health.

The old adage “you are what you eat” is absolutely true. By controlling the amounts of alkaline food you ingest you are giving your body a fighting chance. Find books and lists that outline which foods are alkaline and which ones are acidic. By limiting your intake of acidic foods and increasing your intake of alkaline food you can increase your stamina, endurance, and the overall performance of your body as a whole.

Helpful Resources for Maintaining a Healthy pH:

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Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Benefits of Clove Essential Oil

Cloves come from an evergreen tree called Eugenia Caryophyllata. This tree is native to Indonesia, and the dried flower buds are what we know as cloves. The oil is extracted from these buds, and also from the stems and leaves.

Dried cloves
Dried cloves (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Clove has been used as a breath freshener and toothache reliever for centuries. Its ability to stave off disease was known in the ancient world, but why it is effective against illness was not known until bacteria and microbes were discovered. Clove has antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral properties.

We can still experience clove's benefits today. Here are some of them.

* Oral health - Using a solution of diluted clove oil as a gargle or mouthwash is effective against sores in the mouth and/or bad breath.

* Athlete's foot - Clove's pleasant scent and antifungal properties make it a good treatment for athlete's foot.

* Tooth and head pain - When diluted with a carrier oil and applied directly to the painful area of the mouth, clove oil numbs pain. Even some commercial preparations intended for oral pain relief contain clove oil. Massaged into the temples, clove oil is also said to relieve headaches.

* Antiseptic - Diluted clove oil makes a soothing antiseptic ointment for cuts and scrapes. Its antimicrobial properties help prevent infection.

* Upper respiratory health - A steamy bowl of hot water with a few drops of clove oil can provide a healing, anti-inflammatory steam that you can inhale.

* Digestion - Clove oil helps treat flatulence and indigestion. When it is added to foods it can help offset some of the negative digestive effects of certain foods.

* Cholera - Several sources suggest that this serious disease can be and has been treated effectively with clove oil.

English: Oil of cloves can be purchased over t...
Oil of cloves can be purchased over the counter at many pharmacies. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
How to Use Clove Oil

Clove oil should always be diluted with a neutral carrier oil such as almond or olive oil if it is to be used topically. It can be diluted in water for gargles, washes, and other treatments. Other suggestions are:

* Clove tea (simmer a teaspoon of cloves in a cup of water)

* Clove lozenges - use clove oil to flavor homemade hard candies.

* A few drops of clove oil added to a cup of carrier oil can be used for massage and as an antiseptic.

* Insect repellent - cloves stuck into an orange or apple, and then dried makes what calls a pomander. This repels insects when hung into a closet or placed in a clothing drawer.

* Foot powder - make an antifungal foot powder by mixing 3 parts cornstarch, 1 part baking soda, and 3-5 drops of clove oil. Shake well.

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Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Herbs That Benefit the Mind

When it comes to our mental clarity, many of us want to preserve it for the future and enhance it for the present. There are some herbs and spices - most inexpensive and readily available - that can help keep your mind sharp and relieve stress and brain fog.* Here are some of them.


In Victorian times, rosemary was part of the language of flowers, and it was an herb signifying remembrance. This association of rosemary with remembering is not just romantic fancy - rosemary contains rosmarinic acid, a potent antioxidant that helps clean up free radicals in the body. It has other mind-enhancing compounds, too, including compounds that preserve acetylcholine in the brain. Acetylcholine is a key neurotransmitter in the brain.

Sage (Photo credit: BellaEatsBooks)

There is a reason why wise people are called "sages." Sage, like rosemary, inhibits the breakdown of acetylcholine. It is rich in antioxidants as well. The inhalation of sage essential oil is also helpful for enhancing mental clarity. Sage can be added to foods, brewed into a warming tea, or taken in capsules.


This spicy herb has been known to treat migraines as effectively as medication. This suggests that it not only helps inflammation, but inflammation specific to the head and brain. Try brewing some ginger tea (simmer 1 teaspoon of grated fresh ginger root in a cup of water for 10 minutes), or eat whole, candied ginger root. You can also add ginger to soups, broths, and stir-fries.


Curry contains, in addition to other spices, cumin and turmeric. Turmeric helps reduce inflammation, and inflammation is associated with memory disorders like Alzheimer's disease. It may also help prevent plaque build-up in the brain. Add lots of curry to your favorite dishes.


Ginkgo increases the flow of blood to the cerebrum, and the more blood circulating in the brain, the better your memory and mental faculties. Ginkgo is taken in the form of supplements - take no more than 240 milligrams of standardized extract a day.


Species: Monarda fistulosa Family: ' Image No. 1
Monarda fistulosa (bee balm) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Here is an herb that you might not know about. Horsebalm is a species of Monarda, and other Monarda species have some of the same mind-enhancing benefits. Many gardeners grow various Monarda species - bee balm/bergamot herb are easy to grow and commonly found in gardens.
Horsebalm contains carvacrol and thymol, which are inhibitors of acetylcholine breakdown. Another benefit of horsebalm is that its active compounds cross the blood-brain barrier. You can make a delicious tea from dried or fresh Monarda species.

You can also use horsebalm in tincture form - add it to lotions and shampoos to absorb the benefits through your skin and scalp. (Note: do not confuse horsebalm [Monarda Punctata] or bee balm [Monarda Fistulosa] tincture with bergamot [Citrus Bergamotia]. While Monarda species are often called bergamot, they are not the same as the citrus fruit by the same name.)  

* Note: Herbs are not medications, but they can sometimes have side effects or trigger allergic reactions in some people. You should not take herbs without the supervision and guidance of a qualified health practitioner.

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Thursday, August 1, 2013

Strategies to Relieve Stress & Reconnect With Nature

We live in an era of electronics and technology, and while these things are useful, it's important to keep things in perspective and enjoy the natural world. Studies show that just getting outside for an hour a day is very beneficial, especially for children. It relieves stress, helps calm negative emotions and reduce "acting out," and improves focus. In fact, there are more and more programs popping up to help urban school kids reconnect with nature. No matter what your location, there are ways you and your family can get back to Mother Nature, and gain the stress relieving benefits that go with it.

1. Get outside

English: Poison Glen - Mother Nature - the flo...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
This one may seem rather obvious, but if you live in the inner city, getting outside does not necessarily put you in the middle of nature. For those who are lucky enough to have a yard to play in, just going outside with no particular agenda is a wonderful way for children and adults to connect with the natural world. If you or your kids are more comfortable with having a project to do while you are outside, here are some ideas:

-Build a "cabin" from twigs by laying them cross-wise like settlers' cabins.
-Collect rocks, leaves, etc. and identify them.
-Identify plants and what they are good for (such as food or medicine).
-Collect pine cones, seed pods, feathers, etc. and use them to make crafts.

If you live in the middle of the city, make a point to go to a park or a national or state forest once a week. You might consider attending an arboretum, too, or participating in a nature walk. Most national and state parks host nature walks at various times of the year.

2. Get dirty

Mothers tend to cringe when their children stomp through a mud puddle, but just getting down in the mud is such a fun, child-like way to enjoy nature. Gardening is a more purposeful reason to dig in the dirt; why not ask your kids to help you? Children can pull weeds and throw them enthusiastically into a wheelbarrow; they can harvest vegetables or dig holes for planting. If they are very young, give them a shovel, a bucket of water, and a section of earth to dig in. (Remember the old-fashioned concept of mud pies?) Even if you live in the city, container gardening is rewarding and plenty dirty!

Child enjoys a puddle in Vancouver, B.C., Canada.
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
3. Get wet

Nature is not always about warm, sunny days. Truly natural surroundings are variable. Try taking a walk when it's snowing and enjoy looking at the snowflakes. If it's raining, jump in the puddles and feel like a kid again! 

4. Get wild

Attracting backyard birds or squirrels with a feeder is an educational way to bring wildlife to you. (And you're doing something nice for the animals.) Get a bird identification book and look up the names of your many visitors. You might consider investing in a pair of binoculars.

5. Look up

No matter where you live, there is sky above you. Spend some time looking at the stars and moon at night, and the clouds by day. Did you ever find shapes in the clouds as a child? It's still a fun activity for the whole family. And of course, finding shapes in the stars is something man has been doing for eons. Teach your children about constellations and try to find them. If you use binoculars or a telescope, the fascination broadens. You may find your family gathered around the telescope for hours in the evening instead of the TV, and there's no better feeling than realizing how much fun you had together doing this!
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