Tag Archives: home

Q&A: How Can I Monitor My Solar Power System?

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In the early days of solar-powered electricity, solar system owners installed panels but received little information on how the system was performing. The system’s solar inverter might have a read-out of real-time system production, but it was hard to get any details. If you were away from the system during the day, it was tough to know how it performed.

It is helpful to have answers to some basic questions about the performance of your solar power system. Are all of the solar panels producing the same amount of power? How much energy is the system producing over a month or year? Are any issues hindering power production? It used to be very difficult to know, and lack of information also made the warranties less valuable.

If your panels weren’t producing as much power as expected, how would you know?

Welcome to Solar System Monitoring

Now, many solar systems come with monitoring capabilities. This allows home and business owners to analyze solar panel output, with both real-time and historical data.

In many cases, information on each solar panel’s output is available, making it easy to pinpoint and troubleshoot problems. Monitoring helps determine if the equipment is running properly, allowing solar technicians to identify and troubleshoot issues.

There are a variety of solar monitoring systems, and most are associated with solar inverters. Common brands of solar inverters include Fronius, SolarEdge, SMA America, Enphase Energy, and Tigo Energy. Each of these companies typically offers proprietary monitoring software that integrates with their inverters.

Another option is a plug-in that adds monitoring capabilities to your existing solar system. Sense, for example, makes a solar monitoring tool that plugs into a Wi-Fi network to track solar power production and your energy use.

Doesn’t my power bill show how my solar system performed?

No, utility bills are not an accurate way to calculate total solar energy production.

Most electric utilities do compensate their customers for surplus solar energy. This means that there will be a credit line on your bill for solar energy that is fed to the power grid. This number quantifies surplus power from your solar system, not total energy production.

For example, if your refrigerator and air conditioner are running in your home, the solar electricity will power these devices first. Then, the surplus electricity goes to the grid. The utility bill only shows the surplus and won’t reveal how much electricity the appliances were using. This is why monitoring your solar system is crucial. It calculates total solar system production and not merely what is fed to the power grid.

How can I access solar monitoring data?

Data access varies a bit by the platform, but most have apps and online portals to access the data. This means that you can view real-time and historical data with just a few clicks.

Most solar systems that are installed today have monitoring capabilities. Some portals also allow you to sign up to receive alerts if the solar system isn’t performing correctly.

Solar monitoring is a great way to identify production issues early on, such as faulty wires or solar panel issues. Real-time data makes it easier to identify problems quickly before they cause a significant decrease in solar energy production.

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Q&A: How Can I Monitor My Solar Power System?

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How to Negotiate With a Contractor for Green Building Projects

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If you’re planning a green renovation or remodeling project, you now have more green-friendly products and contractors available than ever before.

Although there are many important details to consider, finding the right contractor for completing the project is essential. Contractors with experience in making energy efficiency upgrades, using natural and local materials, and conserving resources will bring a lot to the table. Ideally, they will add synergy to your green home project and to make it a reality. Here are some tips for negotiating with contractors for green home projects.

Dream Green From the Start

To achieve the best results, we recommend you keep green features in mind from the project’s beginning, not merely as an afterthought. Look for contractors with an established track record of building using sustainable and recyclable materials, deep awareness of the insulation and natural lighting opportunities when remodeling, and the customer roster to prove they deliver. When you need to hire an architect or other design professionals for your project, make sure they are aware of your green project goals and that they are experienced.

If you are building an addition to your home, for example, strategically placing windows and doors can help save energy. If this isn’t planned early on, it can drive up project costs and create delays. During your walk-through with the contractor, listen to whether they make these suggestions or have to be asked. Make clear from the start you want a healthy and environmentally friendly outcome.

Do Your Homework

Although many experienced contractors will have ideas and suggestions, it is also helpful to conceptualize your project before meeting with them. Conduct research about the type of project and the materials, such as doors, window frames, or appliances involved before even the first planning session. This will help you bring specific goals to the table for the first meeting, making it more productive.

Take the time to meet several contractors, no matter how good the first one appears. Asking three contractors about the same project will produce three different approaches that may bring important issues to the surface. With those meetings behind you, pick the contractor with the best reputation who provides the most complete estimate and covers all, or at least most, of the concerns raised by the other contractors.

Consider the Long-Term Costs

Keep in mind that the upfront cost may be greater for green projects but will often save you money over time. For example, if you add insulation to the attic when finishing it out, it can reduce your heating and cooling costs for decades. Metal roofs cost more than their asphalt counterparts but are far more durable.

Consider both the project cost and potential cost savings to understand the big picture financially.

Find a Contractor With Green Renovation Experience

There are now many builders, electricians, carpenters, and even plumbers with vast knowledge and experience in completing green projects. Find a building professional with experience in the given type of project.

For example, if you want to add a graywater system to your home, find a plumber who has done this work before. Look at examples or at least photos of their work; speak with past clients and read online reviews to learn about their experience. Make sure they are licensed and insured to complete the work and that they will take care of any needed permits. There are several national certification programs that can be helpful in your search:

National Association of Home Builders (NAHB): — Certified Green Professional (CGP)
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) — LEED Accredited Professional
Green Advantage (GA) — Green Advantage Certified Practitioner (GACP)

Always Get Multiple Bids

It is typically recommended to get at least three bids for your project. It is hard to know if you are getting a fair price without shopping around. Some contractors will take different approaches to the same project, resulting in a different finished product.

The initial meeting is a great opportunity to pick their brains and get ideas. If your preferred contractor has a higher bid than others, you can ask him or her to match the price of a lower bid. Your goal is to get the best result for you, the planet, and your wallet.

Flesh Out the Details

The details can be extremely important, especially for green products.

Ask the contractor to specify what materials they will use. Whenever possible, use formaldehyde-free and recycled materials, locally and sustainably harvested wood products, nontoxic insulation, and low or no VOC finishes and adhesives. Buying these products yourself is a possible way to cut costs and ensure they have the green features you want.

Also, find out if the contractor will subcontract out some of the work. If so, research the reputation of the subcontractors as well. It’s the person doing the work who has to live up the the environmental expectations you set.

Have a Clear Contract

Make sure that the contract specifies all the important details, starting with a clear project description. Hold your contractor to their estimate, requiring they ask you before over-spending on materials or labor. The final cost of your project is your responsibility to manage and the contractor’s business to increase as much as you will allow.

Here are a few of the common questions to answer in the contract:

Who will purchase the materials and apply for needed permits?
What products will be used?
How long will it take the complete the project and is there a penalty if the project goes past the deadline?
What is the payment schedule and terms?
Is there a warranty on the work and for how long?

Make sure you get any promises the contractor makes in writing and don’t just rely on just a firm handshake. Keep your estimates, contract, and any receipts provided together both for your security and to share with a future home buyer.


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How to Negotiate With a Contractor for Green Building Projects

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Infographic: Anatomy of a Green Home

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Have you ever found yourself spending way more on a product because it had an “eco-friendly” label? Greenwashing is a common marketing practice that allows businesses to charge a premium for their product, whether or not they’re actually good for the environment. As a result, there’s a widely held notion that living green is a privilege for the wealthy.

The idea that only the rich can afford to be sustainable couldn’t be further from the truth. Most of the time, what’s truly good for our planet is reducing consumption, which is naturally more economical. When it comes to changes you can make around the house, you’ll find that there are opportunities everywhere to save money and help reduce your carbon footprint at the same time. The average household spends $7,068 on utilities and other household expenses each year. With a few sustainable changes, you can save over $1,000 on your energy bills annually.

Whether you’re building or remodeling your home, or just looking to make some small changes in each room of your house, this animated infographic from Esurance offers 24 tips on how to start living your best green life.

One note: Although we think the running water animation in kitchen and bathroom sections below is really cool, please remember to shut off the tap to reduce water consumption!

Animated graphic courtesy of Esurance

Feature image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

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Infographic: Anatomy of a Green Home

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8 Plant-Based Home Remedies for Bug Bites and Stings

We know how important it is for our health to spend time in nature. Unfortunately, it often comes with the risk of getting bitten or stung by bugs. Don?t let that put you off enjoying the outdoors. There are many natural ways to quickly relieve bites and stings, either in the moment or after you?ve come home. And, luckily, you likely already have most of these natural fixes in your kitchen or growing in your garden.

Plantain (Plantago major)

1. Herbal Poultices

One of the fastest herbal poultices you can make is to simply chew a few leaves of plantain and put the mash on a bite or sting. If you have a band-aid handy, you can put it on top of the plantain to hold it in place.

You can also make a poultice out of a number of different herbs by crushing the fresh or dried herbs in a bowl or pestle with a small amount of water or oil. Put the poultice on a bite or sting, then wrap it with a piece of gauze, clean cloth or band-aid to keep the poultice in place until the itch or pain has gone.

Plantain, lavender, echinacea, basil, oregano, calendula, chamomile, bay leaves, witch hazel, thyme and peppermint all make good bite-relieving poultices.

2. Onions and Garlic

Perhaps surprisingly, the natural compounds in raw onions and garlic that can make your eyes water can also calm an insect bite or sting. You can apply fresh onion or garlic slices directly on your bite. You can also chop, grate or crush onions or garlic to make a poultice.

3. Raw Potatoes

Similar to onions and garlic, raw potato that?s been crushed, grated or sliced can be applied to a bite or sting for relief. If you?re in a hurry, simply cut a potato in half and hold it against your skin.

4. Citrus Fruits

Certain natural compounds in citrus fruits have been shown to effectively repel and kill various insect pests, including mosquitoes and ticks. This may be why some people report that citrus fruits can also ease bites and stings.

You can use the juice or the pulp of lemons, limes, oranges or grapefruits directly on your skin. If you don?t have any fresh fruit available, lemon juice concentrate or prepared orange juice may also help.

5. Oatmeal

Oatmeal contains specific phytochemicals that have anti-irritant qualities. Make an oatmeal poultice by mixing equal amounts of quick-cook oatmeal and water in a bowl until it becomes a paste. Hold it on your skin with your hand or a cloth until the itching and pain subside.

If you have a lot of bug bites, an oatmeal bath is another good option. Add 1 cup (240 grams) of instant or ground oatmeal to a regular-sized bath. Soak for about 15-20 minutes. Periodically rubbing some of oatmeal on your bites during the bath can also help.

6. Essential Oils

Many essential oils have been shown to provide relief from pain and itching. Essential oils are typically mixed with a carrier oil, such as sweet almond or olive oil, in a 1:1 ratio before applying to your skin to prevent any burning or discomfort. Some of the best essential oils for bug bites and stings are basil, chamomile, witch hazel, lavender, mint, rosemary, tea tree, thyme and eucalyptus.

7. Tea Bags

A tea bag makes a great pre-packaged poultice to put on bites and stings. Regular teas, such as Ceylon, green or white teas, contain natural tannins that can ease the discomfort. Chamomile, peppermint, lemon balm and echinacea teas can also help calm irritation and promote healing.

It?s best to steep a tea bag in cold water in the fridge for about 30 minutes. Squeeze out any excess water from the bag and put it on your bite or sting.

8. Aloe Vera

Aloe vera contains natural anti-inflammatory compounds that will help reduce itching and swelling, as well as promote healing. If you have an aloe vera plant, you can simply break off a leaf and rub some of the fresh inner gel on a bite or sting. You can also use store-bought aloe vera gel or extract if you don?t have a plant nearby.

Related on Care2

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8 Plant-Based Home Remedies for Bug Bites and Stings

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Grass Alternatives for a More Eco-Friendly Lawn

For some people, their perfectly manicured lawn is a point of pride. But having the greenest grass on the block can come at a high cost.

?Every year across the country, lawns consume nearly 3 trillion gallons of water, 200 million gallons of gas (for all that mowing), and 70 million pounds of pesticides,? according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.

That?s why many people are turning away from high-maintenance turf grass and moving toward other groundcover for their lawns. Although the best options depend on your particular environment and community regulations, here are some grass alternatives for a more eco-friendly lawn that will still inspire neighborhood envy.


Groundcover plants spread but stay low to the ground, so they don?t require mowing or much other maintenance at all. Some varieties can tolerate foot traffic, but most aren?t meant to be walked on. That makes them easy-care options for low-traffic areas of your yard.

These plants not only enhance the aesthetic beauty of your yard, but they also can fill in areas where traditional grass can?t grow and control soil erosion and weeds, according to the University of Maryland Extension Home and Garden Information Center. They?re also ideal around buildings ?to reduce heat, glare, noise, and dust.?

It?s best to use an edge barrier for groundcover plants to keep them where you want them, as some tend to spread pretty invasively. As long as you pick the right plant for your area and follow the care instructions, you should have a relatively easy time getting it to take hold and grow.

Here are some examples of groundcover plants commonly used to replace traditional turf grass.


There might already be some clover popping up on your lawn from nearby natural areas. If that?s the case, don?t be so fast to pull it. ?Dutch clover is a familiar face in meadows and lawns and actually makes a terrific lawn replacement,? DIY Network says. ?The deep green plants withstand normal foot traffic, but aren?t an ideal choice for a heavy traffic area, like a play area beneath a swing set.? Clover is both heat and drought tolerant and withstands mowing. In fact, microclover is gaining popularity as a plant to blend with traditional turf grass for a thicker, more weed-resistant lawn.

Creeping phlox

Credit: MaYcaL/Getty Images

If creeping phlox is right for your climate, you?re in for a colorful groundcover. ?Native to rocky and sandy areas of the Appalachian region, these beauties bloom in April or May,? the DIY Network says. ?? Plus, its foliage is evergreen and its typically hardy in Zones 3 to 9, making it a great year-round groundcover for most gardeners.? And as an added bonus, these plants are both resistant to deer and droughts.

Creeping thyme

You might use thyme in your kitchen, but this herb also makes an effective groundcover in the garden. ?The fragrant herb comes in a variety of cultivars that typically grow anywhere from 3 to 6 inches high with dozens and dozens of small, delicate flowers,? HGTV says. It?s good for dry soil and even rock gardens. And it?s tough enough for some foot traffic. Plus, thyme is known to repel mosquitoes and some other pests.

Monkey grass

Credit: seven75/Getty Images

Monkey grass comes in many varieties and goes by several names, including lilyturf, liriope, mondo grass and snakesbeard, according to Gardening Know How. Whatever you call it, it?s a popular groundcover for a reason. ?Monkey grass is easy to care for, it?s heat and drought tolerant, and it?s extremely hardy, growing in many types of soil and surviving under numerous conditions,? Gardening Know How says. ?This thick ground cover resists weed invasions, is rarely affected by pests and diseases, requires little or no fertilizing and performs effectively wherever it?s needed.? It grows to about 10 to 15 inches, though there are shorter dwarf varieties.


If you have moss growing somewhere in your yard, you might want to embrace it. ?Chances are if the conditions are right for moss to grow, significant renovation may be required to get turf grass to thrive in the same area, with no guarantees,? according to turf experts from the Virginia Cooperative Extension. Not only do mosses add color and beauty to spaces where little else will grow, but they also help to prevent erosion and retain moisture and nutrients in the soil. Plus, they?re a sign your ecosystem is doing well. ?A good bio-indicator of air and water pollution, these hardy, yet delicate, plants only thrive in areas that exhibit good air and water quality,? the extension says.


Credit: Ilona5555/Getty Images

Common periwinkle, or vinca minor, is often grown as a groundcover and usually stays at only about 4 inches high. Not only does it add green to spaces that might otherwise be bare, but it also provides a pop of color with its springtime blooms. Plus, it has some very practical purposes for the environment. ?The periwinkle plant is exceptional as an erosion control specimen,? according to Gardening Know How. Once established, the plant is drought resistant and doesn?t require much maintenance besides keeping its spreading in check.


Where turf grass might fail, sedum can grow. ?The Sedum genus of plants includes between 400 and 500 individual species, often known collectively as stonecrops, so-named because these are plants that not only tolerate dry, rocky soils, but positively thrive in them,? according to The Spruce. They range anywhere from 2 inches to 3 feet in height. And the low-growing groundcover varieties spread easily but aren?t invasive, with shallow root systems that make them easy to remove if necessary. ?There is no talent required to grow sedums, and the only way they can be harmed is if they are overwatered or planted in garden soil that is too moist,? The Spruce says.

More grass alternatives

Credit: Gabriele Grassl/Getty Images

Besides groundcover plants, there are plenty of other grass alternatives to make your lawn a more eco-friendly and lower-maintenance place.

The Home and Garden Information Center suggests planting native ornamental grasses, which ?are low maintenance, drought resistant, grow in most soils, seldom require fertilizers, and have few pest or disease problems.? Try creating borders with these grasses or other plants to cut down on the area of traditional grass you have to mow. Or put together a larger display of ornamental grasses of varying looks for a visually appealing patch of lawn.

You also can replace a portion of your lawn with garden beds filled with plants of your choosing. Native plants ? especially ones that attract pollinators ? are ideal for this. Or you could grow your own eco-friendly vegetable garden. Likewise, consider replacing some of your lawn with trees or bushes that can provide habitats for wildlife, among other benefits.

And finally, for a true eco-friendly approach, keep conservation landscaping in mind. For instance, ?a rain garden may be suitable in an area where you want to slow down rainwater runoff and increase water infiltration into the soil,? the Home and Garden Information Center says. Or maybe a rock garden is more appropriate for your climate.

Just make sure that whatever you plant ? groundcover or otherwise ? you?re following your local regulations. Some homeowners associations, for instance, might have rules on how much traditional lawn can be replaced with alternative plants. Or neighbors might not be happy if your plants begin to encroach on their lawns. Be open about why you?re swapping out your grass, and work to change restrictive ordinances. Who knows? You might inspire an eco-friendly lawn trend throughout your community.

Main image credit: urbazon/Getty Images

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Grass Alternatives for a More Eco-Friendly Lawn

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14 Plastics to Cut from Your Life that You won’t Even Miss

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14 Plastics to Cut from Your Life that You won’t Even Miss

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Indoor Gardening For the Brown Thumb

Do you have a knack for killing your indoor houseplants? While all plants require some TLC, cultivating a green thumb doesn?t need to be hard. If you?ve been known to have a brown thumb, the trick to success is finding some greenery that only requires occasional attention.

Start by choosing a few easy-to-grow varieties and selecting plants that are right for your home. Before you settle on any specific type, pay attention to the natural light from your windows. All plants need some light, but some like it bright, while others do well in lower settings. Be sure to read the plant tags to find one that will do well with the light in your house.

6 easy-to-grow houseplants

Ready to take the plunge into indoor gardening? Start with one or two of these low-attention varieties:


This lush green houseplant is easy to keep vibrant all year. It won?t do well baking in the hot sun all day, but medium-to-bright light is okay. Let it grow long in a hanging basket, or put it in a cute pot and keep it short with an occasional haircut. Don?t worry?trimming won?t hurt it.


Also known as the mother-in-law?s tongue, the tall spikes on this plant are stunning. This variety can live for a long time and does best in low-to-medium light. It doesn?t like extra water, so always let it dry out before watering again, and pour out any excess water in the pot?s saucer.

Aloe vera

Aloe is a sun-loving succulent that does not like water?an especially good starter plant for a brown thumb. To care for it, place it in your brightest window, let the soil dry before watering, and remove any standing water from the pot.


Also known as a Schefflera, this easy-to-grow plant likes medium light. Let it dry out between watering?start by watering it once a week and see how it does.

Asparagus fern

Lacy and trailing, the asparagus fern is perfect for a tall stand or hanging basket. This plant likes humidity, making it a great choice for a kitchen or bathroom. It does well in medium-to-bright light with frequent watering. One thing to note: Although it has soft foliage, there are thorns on the stem.


With long, variegated leaves, this plant will add the perfect green hue to your d?cor. This variety prefers moist soil and low-to-medium light. To keep it from drying out too quickly, don?t place it near a heat vent.

Three steps to indoor gardening success

These three simple steps can help you grow an indoor garden you?ll want to show off:

Put your plant in a bigger pot

When you pick up a small, full plant at the garden center, you?ll find the most success by repotting it as soon as you get home. A small pot can only hold a small amount of nutrients and water. To keep it looking as good as the day you bought it, switch it to a bigger pot, so it has plenty of room to grow. Plus, this gives you a chance to move it from the plastic nursery container to a pot that matches your furnishings.

These steps will help you properly repot your plant:

Choose a pot slightly bigger than the current container. It should have a drain hole and a saucer to catch any extra water that escapes.
Place a rock over each of the pot?s drain holes to keep dirt from clogging them.
Place a small amount of potting soil in the bottom of the pot.
Gently remove your new plant from its old container and place it in the bigger one.
Fill the pot with dirt by lightly spooning it around the plant. Leave about an inch of space at the top, so it doesn?t overflow when you water it.

Feed with love

If you don?t have a natural green thumb, you probably don?t use fertilizer very often. Never fear?you have a few easy options. You can choose to sprinkle time-release fertilizer on top or use fertilizer spikes that are pushed into the soil. Both last for months. Note on your calendar when it will be time to fertilize again.

Remember to water

A once-a-week watering schedule is all you need with these suggested houseplants. A few, like the aloe and the snake plant, can skip a week if the soil still seems moist. The trick to remembering to water is to pick a day and stick to it. A reminder alarm on your phone is a great way to get into a watering routine.

Your plant will tell you if it becomes unhappy. You might see it wilt, turn yellow, or get spots on the leaves. If this happens, go back to the basics. By making sure it has the right amount of light and giving it the proper amounts of water, you?ll soon be able to show off your green thumb with a beautiful indoor garden.

A home and gardening expert,?Lea Schneider?has published?advice?in?publications like?The Washington Post, Woman?s Day, Family Circle, Consumer Reports?ShopSmart, and Better Homes and Gardens.?She?covers home-improvement and gardening tips for?Groupon.?You can find savings on gardening supplies and more?on Groupon?s Home Depot page here.

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Indoor Gardening For the Brown Thumb

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The Joy of Birding – Kate Rowinski


The Joy of Birding
A Beginner’s Guide
Kate Rowinski

Genre: Nature

Price: $1.99

Publish Date: February 8, 2011

Publisher: Skyhorse


More than 50 million birders can’t be wrong. No matter where you live, you have the joy of hearing and seeing birds. This easy-to-use, full-color guide will provide you with the answers. Here you’ll learn how to identify different bird species by observing their body-parts, understand birds’ behavior and habits, get to know the birds around the home or a vacation spot, attract and make a good home for these new feathered friends, and much more! Designed especially for the home birdwatcher, but with information on destination vacations, this book teaches, “If you’re prepared to see them, they will come!”


The Joy of Birding – Kate Rowinski

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Islands, the Universe, Home – Gretel Ehrlich


Islands, the Universe, Home


Gretel Ehrlich

Genre: Nature

Price: $11.99

Publish Date: February 21, 2017

Publisher: Open Road Media

Seller: OpenRoad Integrated Media, LLC

Ten essays on nature, ritual, and philosophy “that are so point-blank vital you nearly need to put the book down to settle yourself” ( San Francisco Chronicle ). Gretel Ehrlich’s world is one of solitude and wonder, pain and beauty, and these elements give life to her stunning prose. Ever since her acclaimed debut, The Solace of Open Spaces , she has illuminated the particular qualities of nature and the self with graceful precision.   In Islands, the Universe, Home , Ehrlich expands her explorations, traveling to the remote reaches of the earth and deep into her soul. She tells of a voyage of discovery in northern Japan, where she finds her “bridge to heaven.” She captures a “light moving down a mountain slope.” She sees a ruined city in the face of a fire-scarred mountain. Above all, she recalls what a painter once told her about art when she was twelve years old, as she sat for her portrait: “You have to mix death into everything. Then you have to mix life into that.”   In this unforgettable collection, Ehrlich mixes life and death, real and sacred, to offer a stunning vision of our world that is both achingly familiar and miraculously strange. According to National Book Award–winning author Andrea Barrett, these essays are “as spare and beautiful as the landscape from which they’ve grown. . . . Each one is a pilgrimage into the secrets of the heart.”    

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Islands, the Universe, Home – Gretel Ehrlich

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Shine On: 5 Green Lighting Tips

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Shine On: 5 Green Lighting Tips

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