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Living Life Green

Bring Sustainability to Your Farm

Bobbi PetersonIs a sustainable farm the same as an organic farm? Though these two terms are often co-mingled under the umbrella of "green" farming, they mean different things. Here's the breakdown: Organic means growing food without chemical additives, like pesticides or hormones. Sustainable means using the land in such a way that growth can continue, leaving the environment unharmed for future growth. 

Another way of looking at it is to think of organic as "clean" and sustainability as a "loop." Successful sustainability comes down to careful planning.

Here are some ways to bring sustainability to your farm:

1. Eliminate Waste

How is that possible? You're always throwing away trash, right? The key is where you throw it. Let's assume you're recycling all your paper, plastic, aluminum, and glass products in a weekly recycle pickup. If your municipality doesn't provide for that kind of pickup, set up your own recycle bins and do a drop off at a center when they're full.

Then, consider all the food scraps you're "throwing" away. Some of those scraps could end up as feed for your farm animals. Most of the rest can go into a compost bin. With the help of some friendly composting worms, your food scraps become organic fertilizer used to grow even more — the loop of sustainability.

2. Rotate Crops

To understand how to rotate crops properly, you need to understand the monoculture vs. polyculture debate. Monoculture will have you growing one crop on the same plot of land every season. The crop you plant, however, is going to pull out all the rich nutrients from the soil. That means you'll have to replace them with additives. That's not very sustainable.

Polyculture means replenishing those nutrients as you go by planting different crops on the same plot of land. Soybeans and legumes are great for that purpose. This doesn't mean you're switching out crops every year, though. For instance, you could grow four years of corn before making the swap to legumes. Farming is a long game.

3. Plant Cover Crops

Once the harvest has come in, get out there and plant some more. A cover crop is a great option — it will help with erosion, weeds, and pests. Cover crops can be a big boost to your farm. You shouldn't leave a field barren when you could be growing things like clover or oats.

4. Pick Multi-Purpose Plants and Animals

Every seed you plant and animal you house will have a ripple effect around the farm, so look for plants and animals that do double-duty. For instance, basil acts as a natural insecticide. It’s perfect to grow around your other crops. Guinea fowl eats ticks — keeping them around helps protect your other animals and kids! Chickens eat veggie scraps. What they don't eat, they step into a kind of mulch. Bats in the barn are a good way to keep your insect and rodent population under control. Additionally, your livestock's manure can fertilize crops. The same crops you can feed your livestock. Say it again, "the loop."

5. Buy in Bulk

All this planting is going to require a lot of seed. Buying in bulk makes sense not only for your budget but also for accessibility. Seeds won't go bad if you store them properly, and you don't need a grain silo for every seed group. FIBC bulk bags are great for storage and easy to move around.

6. Plant Trees

Planting trees around your farm invites birds to nest. Those birds go after insects that are going after your crops. Trees also help with soil erosion in a big way and act as natural windbreaks. If you don't have trees on your property already, start planting. It's going to take a while for those trees to mature.

All this sustainable work will pay off as you promote your farm business. A sustainable label is every bit as effective as an organic label. You can also get the word out by opening your farm up for tours with schools. Set up a co-op that has locals coming out to pick their own veggies — it will get them involved and dirty! Keep that loop going.

Compost Bin
Ellen Levy Finch [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

8 Ways to Reduce Household Toxins

Bobbi PetersonYour house is a sanctuary. It’s your safe place to go, and it’s where you call home. The scary thing about homes is that they’re filled with toxins that can be harmful to you and your family. If you want to reduce the toxins in your home, you can do so by making a few simple changes.

Air Fresheners and Aerosol Spray

The fragrant sprays that make your house smell oh-so good are oh-so bad for you and the environment. Aerosol sprays can create various health and respiratory issues when inhaled due to the chemicals and toxins. Air fresheners also release chemicals that you don’t want circulating in the air of your home.

Consider organic or soy candles to give your air a nice fragrance. You can also find recipes with natural ingredients you can boil on the stove to purify your air.

Green Bathroom Products

The reality of toxins lurking in your bathroom can make you feel pretty dirty where you want to feel clean. Check your personal care and bathroom products for toxic ingredients. If your products contain ingredients such as DEA, Triclosan, or BHA/BHT, you might want to reconsider having those products in your home.

Use organic cleaners on the surfaces of your bathroom, and shower with products that contain natural ingredients.

Go BPA Free

BPA stands for Bisphenol-A, which is found in the lining of canned foods, water bottles, plastic containers, and other items. BPA has been linked to various health issues, such as breast cancer or infertility.

To eliminate BPA in your home, plan meals that are made from fresh foods rather than packaged items. You can also purchase BPA-free water bottles and refill them with tap water. Another suggestion is to store leftover food items in glass containers rather than plastic.

Your Own Body

One of the biggest things carrying toxins around in your home is your own body. If you feel sluggish, irritable, or unmotivated, your body may need a detox. Your body releases toxins that can drag you down. You can give your body a natural detox to gain a healthier lifestyle.

Make sure you drink plenty of water to naturally flush out toxins. Get enough sleep so your body doesn’t release extra toxins. Exercise is another way to get rid of toxins by sweating them out. You will feel so much better in your own body and home after you give yourself a natural cleanse.

Natural Household Cleaners

The products you use to clean the surfaces of your house are most likely filled with chemicals and toxins. Instead of cleaning with store-bought items, you can make a homemade cleaner out of tea tree oil. Tea tree oil is a great natural remedy to get rid of mold in your home. Essential oils like this are great for your body and also have other benefits, such as natural cleaning products.

Before you go cleaning every corner of your home, make sure your cleaning products are nontoxic. If you can’t afford nontoxic cleaners, make your own out of natural ingredients.

Eat GMO-Free

GMO stands for genetically modified organisms that contain toxins. GMOs are found in a lot of food and can cause major health risks, as well as a harmful environmental impact. Making a little change in your meals can have a major beneficial impact on the health of everyone in your home.

To keep these toxins out of your home and your body, look for labels of GMO-free products. Shop for certified organic foods or fresh fruits and vegetables.

Beauty and Cosmetics

What you put on your body is absorbed through the skin and released into your bloodstream. Makeup and beauty products might be essential to your daily routine, but they are also filled with chemicals and toxins.

Check out natural and nontoxic beauty products to replace the products you use that contain toxins. If you’re feeling crafty, you can even find recipes for homemade natural beauty products, scrubs, and soaps to use in your bathroom.

Nonstick Cookware

Maybe you’re in love with your nonstick cookware because it’s easy to use and easy to clean. Unfortunately, nonstick cookware contains chemical components that lead to various types of cancer and other health issues. The nonstick cookware also releases toxic fumes when you heat it.

You don’t have to ditch pots and pans altogether, though. Simply upgrade your nonstick items to cast iron or stainless steel for a healthier, toxic-free cooking zone in your kitchen.

Toxins are a scary thing to have lurking throughout your home. If you are conscious of the choices you make and the products you use, you can reduce the amount you're exposed to.

Cleaning products

Photo by Fotolia/luckybusiness

5 Green Renovations for Your Home

Bobbi PetersonPlanning a home renovation is both a fun and stressful task. It’s exhilarating to think of all the ways you can improve your home and turn it into a reflection of your personality, lifestyle, and values. It’s also stressful to consider aspects like budget, time management, DIY vs. hiring professionals, and how to navigate the disruption of your normal routines.

On top of that, conscientious homeowners also choose to consider the environmental impact and sustainability of their projects. That doesn’t mean you have to add extra stress, however. You can take steps toward a greener renovation by following these five tips for renovating your home the clean way:

1. Plan Before You Act

Planning helps you get a full picture of what you need for your remodel. You can create a comprehensive plan that streamlines your efforts and reduces costly and wasteful backtracking.

Start by sitting down for a brainstorming session where you write down everything that comes to mind when you consider your renovation wishes and needs. List everything: ugly fixtures you want to get rid of, inefficient appliances that need upgrading, functional changes needed to fit your lifestyle, and measures to make your home greener.

After you’ve poured out all your thoughts, you can start figuring out what order projects need to be done in. Ask yourself: What’s crucial to the safety or stability of your home? What tasks need to be done first so they can pave the way for future projects?

Getting all of this planned out helps your renovation be more efficient in terms of resources and time. Jumping in without a plan could mean you waste both time and money on a project you have to redo later because you failed to account for all potential issues.

2. Pick the Right Materials

From recycled materials to sustainable wood to no-VOC paints and stains, picking the right material can help reduce waste, decrease your footprint, and promote better health.

Some of these choices are simple, like selecting no-VOC paint and Energy Star appliances. Other materials will take a little more research. Look for materials that are made from recycled goods or are made of sustainable material. For example, bamboo is a quick-growing, sustainable resource that lends itself well to everything from cabinets to countertops to flooring. When it comes to countertops, skip the solid surface options and look for counters made from tree pulp or recycled glass.

Don’t forget to include hidden but crucial materials like insulation in your green material search. There are a number of high-performing, eco-friendly insulation options available.

3. Regift, Reuse, Recycle

Think twice before you start swinging a sledgehammer or filling a dumpster. Sure, it’s the quickest route for demolition, but is it the best?

So many renovation projects trash perfectly usable material. Just because you don’t want it or like it doesn’t mean it can’t be used by someone else. Talk to your local Habitat for Humanity about what they accept as donations or accept to sell at ReStore. Neighborhood Facebook pages and websites like Freecycle or Craigslist can help you find a new home for your old materials, fixtures, appliances, or furniture.

Think critically about what you can reuse from your project. Can you refinish old floors instead of replacing them? Give a cosmetic or organizational update to cabinets instead of getting new ones? Can you refashion old cabinets, furniture, or salvaged wood into something new and useful for your space?

Don’t forget to check with local waste management or green construction companies to find out what waste can be recycled rather than put in a landfill.

4. Clean and Trash Safely

Do your research before cleaning or disposing of construction materials to make sure your actions do not harm yourself, others, or the environment.

Not all construction waste can go in your trash can. Research to find out how to safely dispose of materials like paint, batteries, and cleaners. The EPA’s website is a great resource not only for safe disposal of hazardous waste, but also for tips on how to reduce your use of hazardous materials.

Paint is one of the cheapest, quickest ways to update your home, but homeowners need to be careful that they don’t take the quick and easy route when it comes to cleaning up from paint projects. Excess paint should not be tossed in the trash, and latex paints should be cleaned only in sinks linked to municipal sewage to avoid pollution.

5. Get Help

Research and planning goes a long way, but there’s no substitute for the experience and resources of professionals. Partner with green builders and eco-minded professionals in your area to ensure that you make the best choices for your lifestyle, your home, and the environment.

It might take a little extra work or even cost a little more upfront, but renovating your home the green way pays it forward with long-term savings, fewer risks to your health, and a far-reaching, positive impact on the environment.

Home renovation
Photo by Fotolia/Leandervasse

How Your Roof Affects Your Energy Consumption

Bobbi PetersonOne of the keys to being energy-conscious is in the details around your home. This includes the type of roof you choose when building or replacing an old one. One of the best ways to have a green roof is to look into the option of a "cool roof" when planning your next home improvement project.

What Is a Cool Roof?

This particular type of roof is designed to have a surface that absorbs much less heat than a standard roof. It reflects the sunlight from the surface, which can be done several different ways — from reflective paint to reflective shingles to tiles. It might not seem extremely significant, but the installation of a cool roof can reduce the temperature of the surface by more than 50 degrees.

When you consider the cost of air conditioning a home during the summer months, the energy savings you’ll have will be significant and worth the transition.

What Exactly Are the Benefits of Cool Roofs?

The savings on your energy bill are only a part of the benefits that come with the installation of a cool roof. On top of more money in your bank account, a cool roof can also improve the non-climate-controlled parts of your home, such as the garage or enclosed porch.

Furthermore, the reduction in temperature can increase the longevity of your roof life, and that means even greater savings for you in the future. It’s also better for the environment, since it cuts down on the harmful CO2 missions that are created by powering your heating/cooling system.

What Kinds of Options Are Out There?

Another bonus of this roof system is that you have plenty of options to choose from to find which one best suits your home and your needs. Cool roof coatings can be used for almost any roof type and are made up of reflective or white pigments that are formulated to protect the surface of your roof from UV light and even the damage that’s sometimes caused by water.

To choose how to make your roof cooler, you first need to know what kind of roof you’ll be installing and the materials your existing roof is made of. Hybrid roofs can be made cool simply by applying the cool roof coating at the factory where they’re manufactured, while shingled roofs require the purchase of special cool asphalt shingles. Tile roofs can be coated, on the other hand, and are often used to achieve a desired aesthetic. Often times they are even naturally reflective — like terra cotta tiles — and can be improved by waterproofing.

Another option is the installation of a cool metal roof. This doesn’t mean that any metal will do. For best results, you’ll want metal produced specifically with this application in mind.

Finally, you may also like the option of installing a green roof. This can consist of basic coverage by grass or even a garden. Earth homes are good examples of structures with a green roof, and these types of roof systems also help insulate, thereby reducing the usage of heating. However, this option does tend to be costlier and may require more maintenance, so make sure you consider all of your options before you make a final decision.

Is a Cool Roof Right for You?

There isn’t necessarily a right or a wrong answer to this question; the decision to install a cool roof should be made after careful consideration and assessment of all the different types that are out there, as well as which option best suits your home in structure and cost. If you’re building a new home then your choices are completely open, and you can weigh the pros and cons that come with shingles, tile, or metal.

If you’re updating, it’s important to understand what the original materials are and just how much you may need to replace or change.

Whatever decision you make, you’ll reap the rewards of a cool roof by reducing your monthly household expenses, and you’ll also be doing something great for the environment. Every one of us can do our own part to reduce greenhouse gases and cut energy use. Installing a cool roof is one option that can have a significant impact.

Men installing new roof
Photo by Fotolia/Stieber

Clean Home Heating This Winter

Bobbi PetersonFall and winter are perfect times to cozy up and enjoy some indoor fun — Netflix binge-watching, catching up on the latest book club pick, or playing board games with the family. It’s all a good time, as long as your home is warm enough to enjoy it.

Many people struggle with worries over their environmental impact and how to balance that with enough fuel to keep their homes warm.

Cleaner sources of energy are one answer — they keep your home warm throughout the fall and winter, have less of an environmental impact, and are cheaper for homeowners.

Strategies for a Cleaner, Warmer Home

There are some strategies that can help you save energy during these months without overtaxing your heating system. Many are free — and others are cheap — and they can be used every day to decrease your monthly energy bills and your environmental footprint.

Here are some ways to keep your home warmer while using cleaner energy:

1. Rely on the Sun

Open the blinds or shutters to any south-facing windows during the day. The sun can naturally heat parts of your home.

Close them back up when the sun goes down to protect against winter winds and plunging temperatures.

2. Reduce Heat Loss From the Fireplace

Because it’s a source of warmth, few people realize that the fireplace is also a source for losing precious heat. Unless a fire is burning, keep your damper closed. An open damper is the same as having a window wide open — warm air goes right up the chimney.

It’s also a good idea to install tempered glass doors, along with a heat exchange system, to ensure the warm air is blown into the room. The fireplace flue damper’s seal should be as snug as possible.

3. Cover Drafty Windows

There are a few ways to protect your home against window drafts. A quick method is to tape heavy-duty, clear plastic inside your window’s frame.

A more permanent solution would be to install insulating drapes or shades over drafty windows. For both solutions, be sure the window covering is installed tightly.

4. Switch to Propane

Propane is known for being both reliable and efficient. However, many don’t realize it’s also a better environmental choice for heating.

Compared with other fuel sources, propane emits significantly fewer greenhouse gases. It was endorsed by The Clean Air Act of 1990 as a cleaner fuel source. It’s a smart upgrade when you are looking for better heat source.

5. Service the Furnace

Most people set the furnace and forget it, but that’s not the best practice. Yearly calls to a trusted HVAC company will mean your system runs more efficiently and problems can be found before your furnace tanks.

You’ll also want to replace your furnace’s filter regularly. Traditional wisdom says to replace it monthly, but that can vary depending on your home and habits.

6. Watch the Temperature

Some thermostats will regulate the temperature based on your living habits. When the family is asleep, the temp stays low, but it will automatically raise the temperature at 7:15 a.m., just before the alarm, or whenever your morning routine starts.

These programmable thermostats remove the worry of constantly adjusting the temperature and can save you 10 percent annually.

7. Lower the Water Heater Temperature

About 18 percent of your home’s energy consumption comes from heating water. The default temperature for most water heaters is 140 degrees, which is fairly high.

To save some change and use less energy, dial back the temp on your water heater to the recommended 120 degrees. It’s also a safer temperature in homes with children who may scald themselves trying to wash up.

8. Lower Your Lighting Costs

Most people have made the switch from traditional bulbs to LED bulbs — they last much longer and are less damaging to the environment because they conserve more energy.

Consider this for your holiday lights, too. The season may be past, but many families keep their holiday lights on throughout the winter’s long months to make up for the short days. If your family is one of them, consider LED holiday lighting strings instead of traditional electric ones.

You Can Conserve Energy for Less Cost and a Brighter Future

Most energy comes from non-renewable resources. Coal and petroleum energy are costlier for users and have a finite life span.

Tempering your use of those fossil fuels with more energy-efficient practices is a good idea. It will ensure you have sources for heating your home that don’t rely on exhaustible fuels that are hard on the environment. It also means more cash in your wallet — which is good for everyone.

Fireplace book and blanket
Photo by Fotolia/blindfire

Benefits of Purchasing an Old Homestead

Bobbi PetersonOld homesteads are increasing in popularity, for good reason. Their construction is a known quality, and they can serve many purposes for an eclectic family. They also offer homeowners a path to self-sustainability.

If you have dreams of farmhouse sinks, planting your own herbs, or chasing your children in your own rolling fields, you might want to consider purchasing an old homestead.

Benefits of Purchasing a Homestead

Here are some benefits you can look forward to with a homestead:

1. You Have the Ability to Make It Your Own

Have you ever walked into a newly-constructed home, only to be put off by the color of granite they chose for the countertops? How about the beautiful walnut cabinets that don’t fit with your all-white aesthetic?

What about the surrounding area — have you wanted to build a barn but just don’t have the room? With a homestead, you can make the inside of the home your own, as well as the home’s surroundings.

If the property does come with extra buildings, they are just waiting for your customizations. Not a farmer, but have a silo? Imagine the unique, Airbnb cottage or dream playhouse you could create for your children or potential tenants. Old homesteads are gold mines for those with endless dreams.

2. You Can Be Self-Sufficient

Only for those not faint of heart, an older homestead provides the opportunity for self-sufficiency. If you are searching for an old homestead for the lifestyle and not simply to be the envy of Pinterest, get ready for a hard-working adventure.

You can:

• Brew your own beer
• Create your own milk and dairy products
• Grow your own vegetables
• Raise honeybees
• Save money
• Leave a smaller carbon footprint

3. You Can Experience Expert Craftsmanship

The attention to a strong build was much higher in the 1800s and early 1900s — when many older homesteads were built — compared to the present. If a structure is over 100 years old, you have a time-tested guarantee that the home was built with quality materials (assuming there are no visible alarms).

You will need to put work into repairs, but that is much less expensive than searching for a quality builder to erect an entire homestead.

Other Considerations When Purchasing a Homestead

An older homestead can leave a smaller impact on the environment, increase your connection to the earth, and give you a truly personal project to work on for years. However, it is not an endeavor to take on lightly. There are several considerations and research you should do before making the commitment:

1. Zoning: Zoning can become complicated with homestead land. Planning to put up ten artist studios to help pay down that mortgage? Make sure before you buy that your home is properly zoned for your future plans. Many rural areas have zoning restrictions to prevent suburban and urban sprawl, so plan accordingly!

2. Timing: Finding an old property can take time. Many buyers have waited years to find the ideal property. With new construction being completed in as little as four months from the start of construction, it’s easy to be tempted away from polishing an old gem. Even after finding the ideal property, you can expect at least a half year’s time investment to restore it — and that’s an ideal timeline for someone solely focused on restoration.

If you have a family and are not a contractor, plan on years of restoration work. On the bright side, housing projects are a great way to teach your children about maintaining a home, and are a productive way to bond. It is definitely a different lifestyle than living in a pre-manicured home.

3. Isolation: Some homesteads are located close to thriving towns, though many are located in isolated rural areas. For some, the thought of living peacefully and privately is a lifetime goal. Others may react more like Jack Torrance from “The Shining.”

Can you be happy if you get snowed in regularly for days at a time? Is making an appearance at your local Starbucks each morning important to you? Consider how much social activity is essential to your well-being.

Owning Your Own Homestead: Not for the Faint of Heart

Gorgeous restored farmhouses are a growing trend because they take us back to what matters most in life: family and our connection to the earth. While it takes a lot of work to maintain an old homestead, the joy of becoming a steward to land with a unique history is intoxicating for many homeowners.

However, it’s important to realize that behind those perfected, Home & Garden photos is a lot of hard work. If you have the patience, budget, and desire to restore these beacons of culture, though, you can expect a home filled with warmth, character, and function.

Established homestead
Photo by Fotolia/ehrlif

How to Prevent and Treat Milk Fever in Cows

Bobbi PetersonMilk fever, also called hypocalcaemia, occurs primarily in dairy cows, but it can occur in any kind of cow or other mammals around calving or birthing. It’s the result of the milk draining too much calcium out of the cow’s blood, causing the muscles to stop working properly. Most often you won’t know it’s a danger until you find the cow already down. Knowing how to prevent it and what to do if it occurs is vital information for any farmer.

Causes and Symptoms

Milk fever is a readily treatable condition, but it’s important to seek help quickly. Without proper treatment, milk fever can lead to death. Essentially, when the cow is close to calving, the body draws excess calcium from the blood in order to produce more milk. When too much calcium is taken, it causes the cow’s muscles to stop functioning properly. This leads to the most common sign of milk fever: a downed cow.

Often the cow is either close to calving or has calved in the past day. When a cow is found down, do what you can for them. Protect them from the elements as best you can and observe them to see if you can make a solid determination of milk fever.

Stages of Milk Fever

The signs you’ll need to look for will be subtle, because going down close to calving time is the main one. If you can catch it early, you can minimize the risk to the cow and future calves. At first, the cow will seem “off.” She’s likely to be easily spooked or excitable. This stage only lasts for about an hour, so it’s easy to miss. It’s important to trust your intuition and to know your animals.

The second stage is more easily observed, as the cow will become increasingly distressed. She may continually turn her head toward her flank and develop an unsteady gait. Constipation and a low temperature are also common. Most cows have a healthy temperature around 101.5 degrees, but a cow with milk fever will have a temperature between 96-100 degrees. She will likely also seem weak and lethargic and have a cold nose and ears.

The third stage is when you need to act quickly. This is when the cow goes down, and the heart rate becomes fast and weak. Without fast treatment, the cow may become comatose and can die.

Best Prevention

Know which cows are the most at risk. Carefully regulate the diet of dry cows for approximately two weeks before calving. Once the cow has calved, it needs to have adequate calcium intake during milk production. This equates to two to three times as much calcium per day — or 20-30 grams — compared to what is needed during fetal development.

Monitoring the cow’s intake shortly before and especially directly after calving is the best way to prevent milk fever. It’s important to note that you also don’t want to overdo the calcium intake. If a dry cow is conditioned to too much calcium, her body will down-regulate the absorption of the mineral. When more is suddenly needed after calving, the cow’s body may be unable to switch gears quickly enough to prevent milk fever. Keeping the calcium intake at the proper levels will prevent sudden adjustment from occurring and keep your cows healthy.

Best Medicine

If you find a downed cow, the first thing to do is always call the vet. If milk fever is suspected and you’ve been trained by a vet before, you may be able to administer a calcium supplement directly on your own. You should still call a vet, though, because it’s always best to seek a professional’s opinion.

Typically, 300-600 mL of a 40-percent calcium solution should be enough to treat milk fever. If you’ve been properly trained by a vet, keep a pack of solution on hand with an injection kit. If you have not been trained on how to treat milk fever, consider asking your vet to teach you. It’s especially important if you don’t have a vet close by.

Your vet may recommend a combined solution, such as 3-in-1 or 4-in-1, which contains other minerals that are commonly depleted during milk production. If the cow is down, try to prop them up into a normal resting position to help relieve bloat as well. Your vet can train you on injections, but it’s important not to try injecting into a vein on your own, at any time. Any mistakes can cause the cow to bleed out.

Knowing the causes of milk fever and closely monitoring diet can prevent the majority of milk fever cases. If it happens, knowing the signs and acting quickly are vital to the livelihood of the animal. Make sure you’re well versed on what to do, and talk to your vet about administering injections. You never know when it might be needed.

Dairy cow calf bottle feeding
Photo by Fotolia/Big Face