Thursday, April 16, 2009

Plants are Good for us!

Alright, so I'm preaching to the converted, but did you know: A WSU study says that plants are good for us!

Many of us think we feel better in places with plants. Some suggest that this is just the placebo effect — if you think the presence of plants is healing, then you'll subconsciously make yourself better. What are the facts? Should you invest in plants as an investment in your health?

At Washington State University, they used double-blind studies to examine the impacts of plants. They documented the effects of interior plants on air quality, well-being, productivity and pain perception. And they also explored the impacts of trees on people's well-being and the impacts of childhood contact with nature on adult attitudes towards trees in urban spaces.

During the past two decades, researchers have documented many benefits from plants, including these:

Healthier indoor air. Plants reduce pollutants, such as formaldehyde and carbon monoxide. Plants can raise the relative humidity from levels below what is recommended for human health and building performance to levels within the recommended range. Dust accumulation on surfaces is also lower when plants are present.
Reduced stress. Blood pressure and muscle tension are lower when people are near plants, both indoors and outdoors. Stress is reduced when people have window views of plants and gardens. People performing stressful tasks recover from that stress more quickly and completely with plants in the room where they are working. Walking in gardens is particularly beneficial.
Better health. When stress is lower, stress-related illnesses including headaches and backaches are fewer. Improved air quality results in fewer respiratory and skin problems. Pain perception is also reduced when plants are present, so people feel better.
Improved productivity. Productivity on repetitive tasks is higher when performed with plants present. Even cognitive capacity has been shown to be higher in the presence of plants.
Reduced mental fatigue. Mental fatigue, which has become increasingly common with the constant intrusions from e-mail and cell phones, is lower when plants are present. People are more attentive when they are in environments with plants.
Enhanced moods. People are happier and feel friendlier when plants are present. They also are less sad when plants and trees are nearby.
Better employee morale. People recognize that putting plants in their workspaces and creating places to relax and exercise outdoors around plants show that their employers are concerned with their health and well-being. Satisfaction with spaces is higher when plants are present.
Reduced absenteeism. When employees are healthier, less stressed and happier, they take fewer sick days.
Less violence. Rates of physical violence are lower when people are in spaces with plants than when they are in stark surroundings.
Reduced energy costs. When plants are appropriately placed around buildings, both heating and cooling costs can be reduced. Proper plant placement can even reduce snow removal costs in cold climates!

Benefits such as these come from having interior plants and from landscaped areas outside. Green roofs with seating areas also contribute to these effects.
To get the most from the plants, they must be healthy and well-maintained. With all of these positives, why not try it?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Mila Ballerina

Mila: meaning "pleasant one" or "my beloved." A name well suited. My daughter, Mila, is now 3-1/2 years old, and she has graced me with a perfect, beautiful true love. Passion and love of life just oozes out of her. And one of her passions is dance. Most visitors to our home are gifted one of Mila's dances (usually accompanied by a special "dress-up" change of clothes; and the dance is usually a ballet interpretation performed with plenty of twists and hops and often with eyes closed as if she is rendering her gift of dance from somewhere deep within.

Mila is my shadow, and as such, she is rarely far away from me. We have our three musketeers a few hours a day during the week, but she has never gone to day care, and her circle of best friends is small. It is time, I thought, for her to ease into a more structured school format; and what better way for her than through dance?

For her very first class, she was attentive, and eager to learn. I was so proud of her!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Living Tiny

While searching for a playhouse for my daughter on Craig's List recently, I came across this posting:

Tiny House On Wheels - $34000 (rohnert pk / cotati)

Intrigued, I clicked to learn more. The husband and wife owners have lived in the home for over a year, and will now move into a larger home to start a family. The home's outside footprint is 7x18, and the owners describe it as follows:
"Custom, hand built, tiny house featuring true craftsmanship and recycled materials. Traditional cottage styling with contemporary accents. The compact but smartly designed space boasts seating area with two upholstered chairs and Dickinson Marine fireplace, kitchen with stainless steel refrigerator and cabinets from IKEA and a large sink, fold down eating table for two, walk-in closet/bathroom with toilet, sink and shower and an intimate sleeping loft accessible by a rope ladder. The seating area has a vaulted ceiling and feels spacious." This is what I saw.

A home has a soul which is lovingly revealed when the inhabitants no longer see it as a mere "house." Years ago, I fell in love with a book by Scott Russell Sanders called "Staying Put: Making a Home in a Restless World." Sanders' words come to me now as I try my hardest to dream up a way to make this tiny house a part of my family's story. "Real estate ads offer houses for sale, not homes. A house is a garment, easily put off or on, casually bought or sold: a home is skin. Merely change houses and you will be disoriented; change homes and you bleed. When the shell you live in has taken on the savor of your love, when your dwelling has become a taproot, then your house is a home." I am fortunate, my first house has surely become a home over the past ten years. I suspect that this tiny home did, too.

Wanting to learn yet more about the tiny house on wheels, I followed the photo links and This is what I found.

The Avesund’s “Hermitage’s Cabin”-- just big enough for one person and equipped for all seasons

Williams Cabin based in Durango, Colorado and featured in the latest Dwell magazine is one of Stephen Atkinsons minimalist projects.

The fuselage of a Horsa glider - the type used by airborne troops in World War II - is being converted into a home for a London businessman by Mr. Arthur Bedford, a building contractor at Southbourn, Bournemouth, Hampshire. The glider-home will have three rooms - a bedroom measuring 10 ft by 7 ft, a living room 15 ft by 7 ft, and a kitchenette 8 ft by 7 ft.

The tiny hand-hewn log cabin was once a children's playhouse and was relocated not far from Deep Creek Lake. It looks like it’s always been perched on its windswept ridge above rolling fields and forests.

Simon and Jasmine Saville built this unusual eco-house in Wales. This is not your transportable home but one built right into the land.

This little cob cabin was built by members of and cob cottage. Located in Mayne Island British Columbia, Canada.

I have long been offended by the incessant race to build bigger often at the expense of creating smarter through good design. So many beautiful old neighborhoods have been scarred by individual owners wanting to enlarge. And we end up with 3-5' setbacks, windows hovering over neighbors' gardens, and a skewed architectural vernacular which almost always subtracts from the neighborhood's sense of place and consequent level of comfort. I am equally saddened by the increasing reality shows, which demean the concept of home, rendering it but a commodity to "turn," a sexy envelope, or a prize in a competition. For these reasons and more, I am heartened by this tiny voice urging us to live tiny: build with quality, respect the land and your materials, design smart, and lighten your footprint.

On 29 March, 2009, the Tiny Village blog was conceived at

The first post speaks of the mission:

"Americans from all over the country are joining us and
clammering for the same thing:

1. the ability to live in a small, affordable home without
breaking any laws in the process;
2. the opportunity to "park" that home on a small piece
of land;
3. to live with other like-minded people and maybe grow
some food together.

To paraphrase, we just want to live a little more simply.

These requests should not be complicated, but because of
the bloated housing industry, distorted municipal codes
and unnecessary zoning laws, they are incredibly difficult
for the average person to navigate.

It's hard for me to express how important I think this
project is. The numbers should speak for themselves: home
vacancy rates soar, tent cities are on the rise, more and
more people are living in and around the edge of poverty.

The Tiny House Village Network is 100 people strong today.
Let's make something of it! Please join us and help us on our
journey for a new era of affordable small housing."

Perhaps one day we may form a tiny village...