By Sarah K. Highland
When people visit my house, they often comment appreciatively on how quiet it is. Peace and quiet can be hard to come by in a world of traffic, cell phones, and TV's at the gas station. Restful silence is important to our well-being, yet when we design and remodel our homes, this essential quality is often overlooked. My house has a number of conscious design choices that enhance the peacefulness of the space, most of which can be employed in other houses and apartments.
The walls of my home are thick and massive. If you cut out a chunk of wall and lifted it, it would be heavy. Most modern American construction is made of what is called light construction: thin, lightweight wooden framing members (studs) with lightweight insulation and wall coverings (plywood and drywall). Our houses are lightweights compared to traditional and modern European construction of stone, brick, and mud or, nowadays, concrete. My house hearkens back to the European tradition, with its exterior walls made of packed straw mixed with clay dirt, built a foot thick.
Massive walls don't let sound through easily. While exterior walls need their emphasis on insulation — mine have far more straw than clay in them for that reason — interior walls have no such need: the heavier and denser, the better. If you have a wall dividing a bedroom from a TV room, for instance, making it from bricks or cob (sand-clay-straw mix) will help to protect the sleepers from unwanted noise. With existing walls, you can add multiple layers of drywall or thick plaster to each side, building up mass. Some old luxury apartment buildings in New York City were actually built with thick walls between living spaces, packed floor to ceiling with heavy dirt.
By Jayalalita and Michelle Courtney Berry
Each day, our lives contain numerous opportunities for joy, connection, bliss, solitude, creativity, grief, and reflection. Why do we so often miss tuning in to ourselves, connecting with what we truly need or desire?
Far too many of us are consumed with self-recrimination and worry about what other people think of us. We become contortionists, bending and shifting to please others. We rehearse our lines, hoping for applause. We grovel and grin (and sometimes bear it!). We painstakingly review (3 in the morning anyone?) whatever we've said or done that others may not approve of.
The sheer labor involved in managing the opinions, outbursts, judgments, expectations, and disappointments of others can become quite daunting; it's time-consuming and exhausting. Sometimes we become so invested in other people's thoughts about us (real or imagined) that we lose ourselves in the process. And still it remains that someone doesn't like us, someone gets mad at us temporarily, someone cuts us off completely.
Let's agree that we just can't get through most days, let alone a human lifetime, without annoying, offending, betraying, or otherwise pissing other people off. Even when we live as kindly and consciously as possible, others will still get upset with our choices; yes, they will even judge us.
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By Kristie Snyder,
When Pam Wooster’s daughter came home from school and asked her if she knew that the kids used disposable styrofoam lunch trays, she was appalled. She knew that after their 20-minute useful lifespan was over they would just end up in the trash, so she decided to take action. Two years later, the Ithaca City School District’s (ICSD) Food Service Program has switched to compostable trays and reduced its trash by 73 percent.
The new trays, made of sugar ca...