Blog Update!
For those of you not following me on Facebook, as of the Summer of 2019 I've moved to Central WA, to a tiny mountain town of less than 1,000 people.

I will be covering my exploits here in the Cascades, as I try to further reduce my impact on the environment. With the same attitude, just at a higher altitude!

Monday, April 4, 2022

Pasco Flea Market and first of the season asparagus!

The first time we went to the Pasco Flea Market in the Tri Cities was last July, on our way back from a biking vacation. We ended up touring through the market with our gravel bikes, so it was a little difficult to navigate the busy stalls and really get a chance to look through everything. So, when the opportunity to go back this past weekend arose, we jumped at the chance, dreaming of giant gorditas and all the other tasty flavors we experienced last summer. And, for me, the opportunity to pick up some early season fresh picked local asparagus was enough to embark on the trip! Mostly because I don't like to eat asparagus unless it's in season and local and when it is, I eat A LOT of it. And, since I recently found out my son loves asparagus too, I was hoping they would have some.

One thing we didn't exactly remember was how far away Pasco is from Roslyn. For some reason, we thought it was just past Yakima, so about an hour or so away. Not quite. It's 2.5 hours one-way. But, we decided we'd make a day of it and check out the sights along the way. One weird roadside stop was the Teapot Dome Historical Site in Zillah, WA. Most of our stops involved restrooms and this one was no different except the fact that it's a pretty scenic little stop with some history involving a scandal, which I won't go into here. But, needless to say, any highway rest stop with a photo-worthy shot not involving the toilets is a good one. 

The Tri Cities area is well known for its asparagus and many of you have probably heard of the Walla Walla, Washington asparagus crops. I have friends who grew up in Pasco that picked asparagus as kids, alongside many family members. So, it was with great excitement as we walked into the market and first off saw the one vendor selling asparagus! I dutiful declared that we absolutely had to stop by on the way back out.

As we wended our way through the many stalls, we made a note of which food vendors we were going to hit up after we toured the entirety of the market. After picking up a few items, we ended up stopping for elote tamales, gorditas gigantes, churros, horchata and nances, which are small yellow fruit that look like a cherry, have the texture of an olive and with a sweet flavor almost reminiscent of coconut and I'm not sure what else.

When we finally rolled out of the flea market, we stopped to buy some asparagus that looked like it had just been picked. I thought I bought a lot, but somehow we managed to eat all of it by the end of the weekend. I'm really wishing I had gotten way more than we did, but I was afraid it would be too much. Boy was I wrong. Fresh asparagus is just so much more amazing and crisp than asparagus that was picked weeks before and shipped to languish at the grocery store.

Saturday night, we simply grilled some asparagus with olive oil, salt and pepper and served it with grilled hangar steaks that we had gotten in Seattle the day before. And coupled it all with some amazing rye bread I picked up at the German store in Burien. Sunday night, I ended up making some pasta with a nutmeg cream sauce, topped with roasted asparagus. It was a super simple, easy-to-make meal, but was one of the best vegetarian ones I've had in a while! I'm looking forward to the upcoming season of asparagus, especially since my friend now has ducks and I have access to fresh duck eggs. Fried duck eggs and grilled or roasted asparagus with shaved parmesan is another one of my spring time favorites!

Do you have a favorite asparagus dish you look forward to eating each spring?  


Sunday, April 3, 2022

Where have I been?

Wow! I can't believe it's been over two years since I've posted here, but I guess it shouldn't surprise anyone too much. I've only posted a couple times on Facebook in the intervening time and I've been mostly laying low during this whole pandemic business. 

Biking in the Teanaway
What have I been up to? Well, I didn't do much in the way of homesteading last year for a couple reasons. First, the deer here have been overly snacky on anything I grow and I haven't gotten around to creating barriers to the deer that will still make it easy for me to manage growing anything. Last year, the bed covers I created just meant it was a barrier to both the deer and me to getting at the garden. I'm hoping to change that this spring.

Second, I picked up a new hobby since moving out here that takes up a lot of my time and, frankly, my energy. I've been doing a tremendous amount of gravel biking in the area during the warm months and a similar amount of bike training indoors during the cold months. I really wanted to test and see how much I could gain in power focusing on it and so that didn't leave much energy for large garden projects. 

This year I want to have more balance. Still gravel biking, but also homesteading. And that's why I'm posting again. History has shown that I tend to pop on to my blog and post just as fast as I pop back off. So, I can't really promise anything. But if people are interested in reading what goofy things I'm up to, I'm happy to write them up! 

We're having an incredibly slow start to the growing season here, more so than usual. This winter we had a tremendous amount of snow fall in January and not much after that. Of course, now that I'm gunning to start growing we are expecting a snow storm again. Such is mountain life. So, I'm using the time to assess any damage from our record breaking snow, clean up the garden, start prepping beds and do some planning. And I've got a few other crazy things up my sleeve.

I was thinking of just posting on my Facebook page, but every time I want to explain what I'm doing, the posts get too long and I don't want to cut it short or torture people on social media with overly lengthy posts!

Anyway, if anyone is still out there reading, let me know!

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Growing an All You Can Eat Salad Bar

So much extra space on my double lot!
I moved us out to Roslyn last year for a variety of reasons, the biggest one was to be more self-sufficient and independent of financial constraints. Living in Seattle was doable with two tech incomes but after my late husband passed away and I was laid off, spending $3,000 a month on a mortgage felt obscene.

My two kids and I didn't need a house that big and I'd rather live in a smaller house on more usable land. Living in such an expensive area with horrible traffic and homelessness was becoming less appealing. And, since both my kids were homeschooling and I (up until the lay off) was telecommuting, I couldn't justify staying in Seattle any longer.

Since we've moved, my daughter started attending the local alternative high school and my son started his first job working in a local restaurant and graduates high school this spring. I walked away from the tech world and have been doing some part-time work in town for the bookstore/coffee shop. Both my son and I walk to work - I think I've filled up my gas tank three times since we moved here. The change in all of us has been quite huge given the strain that we've lived under for so many years, dealing with the specter of cancer. I don't believe we would have thrived as much if we continued living in Seattle.

Berry and asparagus patch
Moving to a mountain town has given us a vastly different environment with months on end of snow, but it is melting out and it feels like spring is coming fast! Along that vein I've brushed off the seed catalogs and we've started building and planning out what is to become what I hope to be a garden that will feed us through the spring, summer and fall and, with careful planning, freezing and canning, through the winter as well. Eventually I'd like chickens again, but we'll see about that.

This last week we started building out the beds and I purchased my favorite varietals of thornless raspberries and blackberries and some blueberries. I also picked up some purple asparagus and a number of different potato seed. My seed stock is complete and my biggest challenges at this point are:

1. Learning the new environment, microclimates in my yard and growing season (it's super short)
2. Dealing with different pests (bug, bird and mammalian)
3. Figuring out what grows well here and what doesn't (I'll have some experimental garden sections going)
4. Building out the rest of the garden
5. Determining how much coal in your garden beds is a bad thing (we live in an old coal mining town)

I'll keep trying to post on what we're doing and building. I'm hoping to address the coronavirus aspect of things in a near future post, especially given the fact we live in a state with things shutting down quickly. I'm dusting off my Adapting in Place hat and will share what we're doing along those lines as well.

It's hard to see what's going on in the pictures - I'll be posting more close up ones so you can tell what I'm doing a little better. I generally post more stuff on Facebook and Instagram than I do here, but I'll try to be more consistent.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Starting a community composting and recycling company

Don't just sit there like a bump on a log, Mark Twain, 1863 
I mentioned in a previous post, Going Zero Waste, that, since moving to a different town, I've been frustrated by the lack of recycling and municipal composting options. For starters, there's no curbside recycling pickup. This is manageable because the transfer station for recycling drop off is relatively close to my house. The downside is that the recycling options are fairly abysmal - meaning, there's no paper, glass or plastic recycling (except soda bottles).

Time to Study!
Additionally, there's no curbside yard waste or food waste pickup. There is free yard waste recycling at the transfer station. However, you have to have the right kind of vehicle to successfully drop off the kind of yard waste most households tend to generate. In other words, my tiny Fiat, Luigi, can't help out here. And, there is no food waste composting allowed.

What's a poor environmentalist to do under such circumstances? Well, if you're a Crunchy Chicken, you start your own community Food Waste Composting and Recycling company! We're very much in the early days, but I'll be chronicling what we're up to.

How did this start?
One of my neighbors, Brian, saw my post on feeding my downed apples to my friend's pigs and reached out to me to discuss what work he was doing in the community with harvesting fruit for local food banks and what to do with food waste. We spent a lot of time discussing the above mentioned issues and, over the last month, have started planning and framing out a business plan. We're also meeting with quite a number of members of the community who are very interested and want to participate in some capacity, either by using our services, or helping us with their ideas.

The plan
Right now, we're looking into several different sites. One for a drop-off demonstration food waste composting site and the second for a much larger composting operation. We're also researching our options for providing recycling pickup to residents.

At this point, we're initially planning on offering curbside food waste pickup to residents of Roslyn for a monthly fee, with the option of receiving back finished compost. There's also the option for food waste drop-off at the demonstration site for those outside our service area. In the future, the plan is to sell compost at the local farmers market as well as at a local retailer.

"Fruit Waste to Farms"
We'll also be working with local farmers starting this spring to develop a program for connecting chicken and pig farmers with downed fruit this summer. There are so many fruit trees in this town and the amount of downed fruit generated is rather shocking.

I'd much rather have food get consumed by animals first, with composting food scraps second. I'm calling it our "Fruit Waste to Farms" program and would love to have participants in the program who are donating their fruit receive eggs or meat as part of the service. 

Finally, we'd like to offer glass recycling pickup while we are at it. I'm working with my contacts in Solid Waste for becoming a glass recycling supplier, but that plan is further out. Ideally, we'd also like to provide recycling pickup options while we're picking up in the neighborhood. And, eventually, pickup by bicycle or a used cooking oil biofuel truck is on the horizon.

What's next?
Like I said, we're still very much in the planning stage and getting our ideas and services lined up. We're hoping to be offering services starting in February of 2020. There's a lot of work to be done, but I'll be keeping you posted on the nitty gritty here.

If you want to follow our Facebook page, you can do so here at SwiftCycle Composting Company.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Grieving through the holidays

Hank's guitars standing watch
Last year we didn't celebrate any holidays after my late husband passed away. It was just too difficult. So, for Halloween we turned off all the lights and watched a movie in the basement, avoiding the hundreds of trick-or-treaters we normally see in our neighborhood. Thanksgiving was a family get-together but, instead of traditional fare, we did a huge taco bar and otherwise sat around and visited. It was the perfect alternative.

We didn't put up the Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving, which was our tradition. Nobody could bear the thought of going through the 28+ years of Christmas ornaments we had collected together. Instead, I semi-decorated a large tropical palm tree with non-Christmasy lights and called it good. It felt festive without the emotional drain. And for Christmas, well, the kids got gifts throughout December rather than a Christmas morning extravaganza. It would be too heartrendingly obvious that someone was missing.

I wanted things to be different this year. New house, new community. We celebrated the 20+ kids that came to our house for Halloween and, for Thanksgiving, had family and new neighbors over for a traditional Thanksgiving meal. Again, it was perfect. My daughter remarked the day after that she had a really great time but couldn't shake the feeling that it didn't feel like Thanksgiving. Then it dawned on her that it didn't feel like Thanksgiving because something was missing, her Dad was missing.

Yesterday, I put up the Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving, as was our family tradition. I didn't realize how incredibly hard that was going to be. We've had this fake tree since 2007, the year my late husband was diagnosed with cancer. The year I started this blog. He was too sick to help carry a real tree that year, so we bought a floor model artificial Christmas tree and have used it sporadically since then, depending on how sick he was.

Stein Haus Pub!
He was the one that always put on the lights and the garland and the kids and I would put on the ornaments. This year I did it mostly myself, with my son putting on the ornaments they had gotten over the years. I'm not going to lie, it was much more emotionally difficult than I was expecting. Afterwards, my daughter and I went out to buy a few new ornaments for the tree, as is our tradition. We bought some to represent our new home and community and then spent a few hours talking at our new favorite coffee shop, to help process.

Christmas hadn't been "normal" around our house for years. My late husband was in the hospital from Thanksgiving to New Years in 2016, on one of his many horrific brushes with death. That was the one and only time my daughter visited him during his hospital stays. One which she regrets - it was just too hard to see him so sick, so depressed and in a unit where people went in, but generally didn't come back out. And, it was Christmas. He should have been at home.

In 2017, he was home but enduring another round of illness from his stem cell transplant and, shortly after, went blind as the stem cells attacked his eyes. He really never recovered from that post-transplant graft in 2016. After that, we all just muddled along, enduring the massive ups-and-downs from his cancer, the treatments, the effects on his body and waiting for the inevitable.

You really don't recognize how much stress you're under while you're in it. What I call "Cancer PTSD" is real and we're all slowly coming out of that, but it will take years. You never know when grief, mourning and loss will hit you as it did while I was putting the garland on the tree. Holidays will always be hard. My kids will always be grieving the fact their father is gone. I'm hoping that, at least, moving forward with our family traditions and starting new ones will help us all heal.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Community service and litter pick up

Now that I'm getting settled into my new neighborhood, I've taken on a few challenges to not only connect with my community but to give back what I can based on my own background, skills and interests. I'll discuss all that I'm doing over the next few posts.

Sunday garbage walk
One thing we've been doing over the last several months is a bimonthly Sunday morning garbage pickup walk. Since we live in a town that is heavily visited by tourists, hosts a lot of events and has several profile bars and saloons in the area, we tend to get a lot of late night littering. It's pretty unfortunate, but a lot more manageable than the trash piles in Seattle after a Saturday night.

So, every other Sunday (or thereabouts) when we head out on our walk with the dogs, we pick up all the garbage we run across. Dan mostly does all the picking up (rather than me) because he has an inordinate amount of energy and a much less finicky back than I do.

Up all night to get lucky
This last weekend, we picked up two large garbage bags full of mostly beer cans, bottles and miscellaneous other junk (apparently mini bottles of fireball are a crowd pleaser). We empty the garbage in city garbage cans as we pass by, refilling as we go along. Dan started bringing disposable gloves to keep the ick factor down.

Case in point was the pair of underwear we found in the alley behind the main street restaurants. Someone either had a lucky or very unlucky Saturday night!

It's actually quite amazing what a huge difference spending an hour picking up garbage in a small town can make. Dan used to do the same thing in the Ballard area of Seattle, but it hardly made a dent. Which is why doing it here is so satisfying especially since it takes so little effort.

He gets all the credit for this! I'm really just along for the ride, pointing out what I spot and providing some encouragement (although I'm the one who needs it when faced by angry dogs in alleyways). But I do get the satisfaction of helping keep our small town looking well cared by pitching in and helping as a supplement to what the city does to keep it clean!

Monday, November 4, 2019

Seasonal Living: Finishing the pigs

Apple snack!
A lot of what I try to incorporate into my life can be described as "seasonal living" and by that I mean that I try to take advantage of what's available each season not only from a local food perspective but from a cultural calendar as well. Heading into mid fall is a time of wrapping up production of fruit trees for the year and, for many people, it means processing and finishing up animals for slaughter.

This year I've tried to couple the two. I have friends (Eve and Nick) who live in Ellensburg and used to be my next door neighbors in Seattle. They are one of the reasons I moved out to the area because they planted the seed in my head of living on this side of the mountains when they moved to Cle Elum in 2016. Now that they live in Ellensburg, they have a mini farm complete with chickens, goats, a steer and four pigs (Idaho Pastures). 

Apples and pumpkins
I don't remember how we got on the topic of picking up all of our downed apples (both from my two trees and Dan's) and the neighbor's pears to finish their pigs, but they've made a number of trips to Roslyn to collect fallen apples and pears and, most recently, I saved all the pumpkin guts and pumpkins from our Halloween carvings. I don't have composting set up yet and it kills me to throw any of this in the garbage, so it's been a great exchange. The pigs are more than happy to eat the apples and pumpkins and the yard gets cleared of ankle snapping apples. It's a huge win! 

Doe eating apples
The only critters unhappy about the situation are the deer who have made it a habit of routinely (like 4 times a days), jumping the fence into my yard to eat fallen apples. Friday night they jumped the fence while we were sitting by the fire, playing music and making a considerable amount of noise. It was a little unnerving, but they just stood there and stared at us for a few minutes before jumping back over the fence and going elsewhere. At least the black bears aren't as brazen.

My friends will probably make one more trip to clear the ground at Dan's place and mine before the pigs are processed. They are not sure if they will be raising pigs again next year but, if they do, I hope we can help by supplying them with more apples and any other extra garden produce we can't eat or preserve. In the meantime, the local deer, bear and elk populations will help with clearing the rest of the yard.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Natural flooring - no chemicals needed! Part 2

In Part 1 of my posts on natural flooring, I discussed what we unearthed underneath the carpeting on the main level of my new house. Glorious Douglas Fir floors (read the linked post to find out what I ended up doing with them)!  I was not so lucky upstairs.

Original carpeting (and staging)
Underneath the carpeting and the carpet pad in the bedroom, bonus room and bathroom upstairs was plywood. It's entirely possible that there was some fir floor lurking underneath there but, without pulling it all up, we wouldn't have know the condition of the flooring and figured it was best left to the plywood. So, what kind of flooring would I replace the carpet with?

More carpeting? No, I'm not a fan of carpet. But, that wasn't the only reason I pulled out the carpet in my bedroom upstairs in the first place. The house had been used as a VRBO rental for a number of years and the carpet and pad not only had the distinct smell of dog pee, but the visual evidence as well. We cleaned the plywood as best we could and let it air out in the late August heat in preparation for replacing the flooring.

Cork samples
When I went to Greenhome Solutions to buy Tung oil and citrus solvent for finishing the downstairs rooms (see Part 1), I started checking out their cork options and loved that they carried long "boards" of cork (3' x 1'), rather than the squares I had seen.

I had been looking into a variety of other "wood" flooring options, some of them not so eco-friendly, but after spending some time in Greenhome, I made the decision to use only as natural and non-offgassing products in my house as possible. My Non-Toxic Avenger neurons went all tingly and I was absolutely determined to not make any compromises with what I was choosing. I was totally pumped!

Bonus room
After little contemplation, I went with the Wicanders Floating Cork Flooring, primarily because I loved its looks and its street cred. It's made in Portugal and is Greenguard Gold Certified. I bought a wool underlayment as well. The price wasn't that dramatically different than other flooring either, so why not choose warm, soft cork that is super sustainable?

Installation was a little challenging. It really took two people to install - one holding up the previous board and the other tapping in the next board. It certainly wasn't nearly as easy as other click-lock type flooring systems. I'm not going to understate it - there was a ton of frustration putting it in. But, we managed to install the entire upstairs bedroom and bonus room plus the bathroom.

Tiny bath
The bathroom was more challenging due to the space limitations. Dan worked on that one himself (he is a professional, after all), so I was more than happy to let him deal with all the cutting to fit around the toilet, doorways and other quirks that I wouldn't know how to deal with.

I'm super pleased with how the flooring turned out. Honestly, we almost gave up after the first couple of hours, but we managed to figure out how to install it, working as a team. Yay team! The cork gives the room a wonderful warmth to the floor, which is super important now that temperatures are in the 20s/30s. It is so soft to walk on, yet still durable enough to take a beating from dog nails and general wear and tear. It's naturally mold and mildew resistant and anti-microbial.

How is cork sustainable?

Chillin' in my corky crib
Cork is a plant material derived from the bark of the cork oak tree and is generally produced in Portugal. Cork, actually the bark, harvesting is an environmentally friendly process that's done without cutting down or destroying a single tree.

The cork oak tree must be at least 20 - 25 years old before the first cut is made to its bark and, after that, the cork can only be extracted once every 9 years. These trees live upwards of 250 years, continually regenerating bark. Cork flooring itself is actually a recycled by-product of cork bottle stoppers.

If you're in the market for flooring, I highly recommend cork!

I'll be finishing out Part 3 of this series next week when I write about how we tackled the hallway downstairs. You know, the one where the laminate was glued directly on to the Douglas Fir flooring (sacrilege!).

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Killing me salty - taking down the stumps

Drilling the stumps
When I moved into my new house, there was an intimidatingly large "sticker bush" on the second lot against the fence. This holly bush was not so jolly and reached at least 8 feet both in height and circumference. I have had more than enough experience fighting with these plants in the past, and the girth on this thing had me afraid that it would take over the yard if I didn't get a handle on it. Like, this fall.

Daniel was kind enough to take down the bush with a reciprocating saw. Seeing its remains in the yard made it look even more ginormous so we ended up taking it to the yard waste dump, even though all the branches barely fit in the back of Dan's Toyota Tundra (which is also ginormous and a gas hog - more on replacing the truck in a later post). Fortunately, the yard waste dump is only about 2 miles away, so we covered the load (and by we, I mean, he) and drove slowly to prevent lining the streets of Roslyn with evil, horrible, spiny leaves and branches along the way.

Holy stumps!
I didn't want the darn thing to regrow, so we contemplated a few different options to kill the stumps and prevent it from reaching altitude again. I didn't want to use chemicals like Roundup, so Dan suggested we drill holes in the stumps and pour in salt.

Apparently, this is actually a thing and there are quite a few articles you can find online about using Epsom salts to promote stump death. I won't go into too many details here, but I will report back as to how effective this method is. Basically, we drilled holes in the stumps, poured in salt, wet the holes to promote more absorption and covered the stumps with more salt. I'll repeat the salting process again in a few weeks.

I won't know how well this works until probably the spring, but I have hope that this will work. If it does, then it will be easier to dig out the dessicated root system and be done with it once and for all. Have any of you tried killing stumps using this method? If so, did it work for you?

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Birthdays, mourning and cake

Butter, flour and parchment!
Tomorrow is my daughter's second birthday without her father. It also happens to be her 16th birthday. Rather than have some big blowout, she's opted for a quiet meal with family in our new home. I'm making salmon that my brother caught in Alaska, corn and this bread she really likes from a local bakery. And then there's cake.

My late husband was a master baker. Not professionally, just as a hobby, but he was quite spectacular at it. Birthdays were always a big deal around the house because it gave him the excuse to spend several days working on complicated new cake recipes.

Whip it good
He approached baking very much the way his computer science and cell and molecular biology trained mind worked - meticulously. And, after a multitude of years of practice, he had picked up quite a bit of knowledge of not only baking science, but just an inherent feel for it. 

I, on the other hand, never baked any cakes during the entirety of our marriage. That was his domain. But I did inherit a lot of knowledge just from listening to his many trials and tribulations, successes and failures. And, I inherited a kitchen full of professional baking equipment.

Last year, his death was too recent and too raw for us to have a proper birthday celebration for my daughter. I couldn't bring myself to make a from scratch cake so we went for something completely different. We went to the store and picked out a box cake and some pre-made frosting. It was so sacrilegious to the baking ethos of the house it was almost funny. We pictured my late husband rolling around in his cremation box. But, making anything better than that would have been just too heartbreaking.

Not too bad!
This year, we're in a much better place, both emotionally and physically. So, today I embarked on baking a proper cake, from scratch, as per my daughter's request - a Red Velvet Cake. Will it come out as good as something her father would have made? Probably not. I don't have that much patience. And, I don't like spending two full days baking things.

Was I melancholy while I was making it? A little bit, I have to admit. This is a significant milestone birthday - one of many events in my kids' lives that they will miss having their father with them. But, there's no way we could have done this a year ago. And, that really shows how far we've come along - with me stepping into this particular parental domain, and doing it with the happiness over the lives we have now.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Going Zero Waste

Garbage. I'm going to be talking about this a lot, so bear with me. When I was living in Seattle we could seemingly recycle and compost nearly everything. Paper, plastic, glass, yard waste, food waste, newspaper, tin, aluminum. You name it, we recycled it - our garbage pickup can for years was the tiny little can.

Just the jugs, ma'am
Since moving to Kittitas County, I've had a major culture shock. For starters, there's no curbside recycling pickup which, in many ways, is actually a good thing because you are forced to really analyze what you are recycling since you have to sort it before it goes into the one of the many large containers.

You are less likely to indulge in "aspirational recycling" where you throw everything that looks kinda recyclable into the bin and hope it gets handled downstream. Usually, what that means is that any contaminated recycling ends up contaminating the batch and the whole thing goes in the landfill. Neat, huh? I'm super guilty of aspirational recycling, so I'm not going to pretend otherwise.

Additionally, since your recycling is being stored and transported by you, you are going to make damn sure it is clean. No, limp-wristed, half-asseded swirling out of the containers before tossing it in the bin. That tuna can is gonna be clean before it goes in my trunk. Unclean recyclables is one of the many reasons that municipal recycling is being cut down at the knees - there's no foreign market for our dirty crap.

On the other hand, not having curbside recycling makes it super tempting to just throw everything in the trash. I am in no way tempted to do this - I have nervous fits throwing out recyclables. Which leads me to The Consumer's Dilemma (channeling Michael Pollan here). Kittitas County has an abysmal recycling program. The only things we can recycle here are:

  • cardboard
  • plastic pop bottles and plastic milk jugs
  • tin cans
  • aluminum cans
  • newspaper, magazines
My favorite place to visit
That's right - no glass, no paper, no plastic (except for the soda bottles and jugs). And don't get me started on food waste. Which means I really have to rethink what I'm buying, bringing into the house and what I can potentially reuse. Glass recycling just ended at the beginning of October and it pains me to throw out bottles. Same thing with plastic.

So, I'm going to be concentrating over the next few months on alternatives to throwing things in the waste stream, including composting. And, of course, I'll be sharing with you all what I'm doing for alternatives, what works, what doesn't and what totally sucks. Plus, peppering everything with information on the state of recycling in the U.S., just for your edification.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Natural flooring - no chemicals needed! Part 1

Original carpeting
When I bought my new house in Roslyn, all three bedrooms had carpeting in them. The two downstairs rooms had older carpeting and the bedroom upstairs had relatively newer (2011ish) carpeting. Since the home had been used as a vacation rental for the last 5+ years, the carpeting needed replacing. Even though the carpets had been professionally cleaned after the sale, they still smelled like pet stains. In fact, the whole house had a weird, musty odor to it. Which isn't too surprising for a house built in 1925. But, I wanted to get to the bottom of the stink. And, frankly, I hate carpeting so I wanted them out of there!

Daniel and I decided to pull up the carpeting in the downstairs bedrooms to see what we had to work with. My hope was that there would be some magical hardwood floors down under there. That was the case in my 1956 Seattle home. In that house, it was an easy carpet removal and the underlying floor didn't even need refinishing. This was not the case in my Roslyn home.

Vinyl under carpet pad
Underneath the carpeting and carpet pad in Roslyn was some stylistically challenged linoleum/vinyl floor. It turns out that it was circa 1957. How do I know? Well, because underneath the vinyl flooring was a layer of newspaper, dated from 1957 (the other room had vinyl with newspaper from 1963).

I didn't want to get my hopes up as Daniel sliced through the vinyl to uncover all the newspaper. Fortunately, the vinyl flooring in both bedrooms was not glued down but was just laying directly on top of the newspaper. We weren't so lucky in the hallway leading to the kitchen where the vinyl was glued down directly to what was underneath (more on that later).

1957 newspaper!
We saved quite a bit of the newspaper that we could salvage. We thought it would be fun to frame some of the more bizarre advertisements and articles. And, it turned out the strange, musty smell throughout the house was actually coming from the newspaper in the bedrooms and the hallway. Imagine 60-year-old newspaper that had been annually moist and then dried out again. Removing the newspaper removed the smell!

Douglas Fir!
And, what was underneath the newspaper? Beautiful, glorious Douglas Fir hardwood flooring. The type of flooring commonly used in homes built in that era. They weren't in great condition and the end result of doing any sanding or refinishing would still look rather rustic. But, I felt it would be a criminal act to cover it with new flooring or otherwise replace it. I was determined to try to rehab what was originally there. And do it in a non-toxic way. Of course.

Unfortunately, there were a few spots in one of the bedrooms that needed repair and/or replacement, so that sent us on a hunt looking for reclaimed flooring from a few different reuse stores in Seattle. We ended up not being able to secure anything suitable in time and just got new Douglas Fir panels for the repairs.

After sanding and repairs
After the repairs were done by Daniel, he went about sanding the floors (with a little help from his son). This ended up being a lot more work than we were anticipating, but he got it done.

After the sanding, I vacuumed and cleaned the floors. I had already done a ton of research on what I wanted to do with the floors after they were sanded. I definitely didn't want to use any kind of polyurethane floor varnish or finish, even though it would look really cool. Every decision I made on making updates to this house would be non-toxic. I was determined to not compromise on anything.

After the final coat
I had decided to use a mix of pure tung oil and citrus solvent (an alternative to mineral spirits). Tung oil has zero VOCs and, when mixed with citrus solvent, makes an all-natural finish. The process is rather painstaking, it takes about a month to fully cure and it smells a bit like an orange bomb went off in the house. But, it was fully worth the effort and the lack of chemical horrors that generally comes with refinishing floors.

The floors are still a little oily feeling a month later, but have dulled down to a nice color. I can do a non-toxic coat on top of it to give it more sheen, but my kids really love and prefer the rustic look. So, at this point, I'm just going to leave the floors as they are for now.

The finished floors!
What about the bedroom upstairs? What excitement did we find up there? Well, I'm planning on covering that in Part 2 since this post is already getting too long. Needless to say, I'm thrilled with how the floors turned out. The total cost was fairly minimal (renting the sander, dump fees and the cost of tung oil and citrus solvent was only a couple hundred dollars).

What about the downstairs hallway, you ask? Well, the vinyl was glued directly on the Douglas Fir. We pulled up as much as possible but the hardwood was not salvageable, even with sanding. I'll be covering what we did as a temporary measure on Part 3, which is pretty exciting (to me) as well! I'll give you a hint - it was free and we used 100% reused materials.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

It's apple season!

Pic courtesy of 2CookinMamas
I have two huge apple trees on my new property here in Roslyn, WA. One that bears sweet, eating apples and one that bears more tart, baking apples. In spite of cutting the trees down considerably before I moved in (so I could comfortably walk around the yard without whacking my brains out), they are still very prolific producers of apples.

So, what have I been doing with all those apples (besides just eating them) since I moved in at the beginning of October? Not enough to keep up!!

Apples in the dehydrator
1. Dehydrating - The first batch that went into the dehydrator was from the tart tree. I did toss the apple slices with a little sugar and a lot of cinnamon. Those dried apples lasted about a week due to my 17-year-old's voracious appetite, so today I'm doing round two. This time I'm drying a mix of the sweet variety and the tart ones as well. I also threw in some pears while I have it running.

2. Roasting - I've been roasting the tart apples alongside onions, sweet potatoes, carrots and a variety of meats like chicken and beer soaked brats (Oktoberfest!). I have to say, I'm not a huge fan of roasted apples, but I'm sure I'll keep trying. I think next time I'll add them later in the roasting time so they are not as squishy.

3. Canning - Next week I'll be making and canning apple butter in the slow cooker. I haven't done it yet because I haven't yet had the gumption to peel, core and cut 6+ pounds of apples.

4. Baking - In an effort to use up some apples, I embarked on making an apple cake last week. It didn't use up as many apples as I would have liked, but it was very good nonetheless! I'm planning on baking a Dutch Apple Pie this Friday, which I'm looking forward to!

Apples!
5. Squeezing - Okay, I know cider pressing isn't like orange juicing, but we're going to have a big cider pressing party here in the new week or two. We're not big into drinking apple juice or cider, but I am planning on making apple pie moonshine with the results of the cider pressing. I'll be reporting on the success of that project. Word on the street is that it's fairly potent stuff.

6. Finishing of the hogs - My friends (and ex-next-door-neighbors from Seattle) now own a small farm in Ellensburg. Among their many animals are four pigs that they are finishing on apples and other fruits. They've been making a weekly trip to come and grab all the dropped fruit from my yard, my next door neighbor and my boyfriend's apple trees. In exchange, I've been getting eggs from their chickens. There seems to be an imbalance in this deal, but I'm not going to point it out!

What's your favorite way to use apples?

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Keeping the old cars kicking

My cars are old. Decrepit even, by today's standards. I'm still driving around in my 2002 Honda CRV that has just a hair under 70,000 miles on it. But, from my standpoint, it's as good as new. Sure, it doesn't have the fancy bluetooth, automatic cellphone pairing, big screen satellite XM radio and other whozywhatsits on it.

But, it does have a functioning air conditioner, radio and CD player!, cruise control and automatic windows and door locks. I've kept the exterior and interior pretty newish looking, so you wouldn't be able to tell that it's 17 years old. It has all wheel drive (AWD), which is worth something or other. This will be more useful the more time I spend crossing Snoqualmie Pass and hanging out in snowier territories than Seattle, which rarely sees snow.

Luigi!
My other car is a 2013 Fiat Pop. It's yellow with black racing stripes and we call him Luigi. Because, that's his name. He has a paltry 15,000 miles on him. I really don't need two vehicles these days, but I figure that some day, one of my kids will want to learn how to drive. And the trade-in value for him is remarkably abysmal. Like, less than a new, full-suspension mountain bike. It's freaking crazy, really. So, it makes no sense to sell him. Plus, he's super easy to drive and park in Seattle - I can squeeze into spots that no other car can, except maybe a Smart Car.

Both my vehicles are 5-speed manual transmission, which is hard to come by these days and were actually difficult to get when I bought them (both were special ordered to get the manual transmission). This fact also makes them seems like relics from the ice age. They are, however, great conversation starters when I drive anyone around who is less than 35. Or European. Or both. Oh! And, more importantly. Both of my cars are paid off.

I took the CRV in to get emissions tested on it the other day. It passed, fortunately. I did find out that the state of Washington will no longer be requiring vehicle emission testing starting in 2020. The reasons for it are actually good:

1. The air is cleaner
2. Fuels are cleaner
3. Newer engines run cleaner

What underlies this good news is possibly some bad news. A 17-year-old car probably doesn't have a newer engine that runs cleaner (although I suppose it does compared to a classic car from the 60s), but then again most people don't keep their cars around for 17 years. Cars these days can run for 200,000 miles or more but the average American replaces their vehicle every 11.6 years.

I was actually surprised to hear this average because my experience with friends and family has been more like them replacing their cars on the 6 - 7 year average. The average has gone up, I think, because the cost of a new car has gone up faster than inflation over the years. I cannot even fathom spending more than $21,000 on a new car. And, even that seems ridiculously high.

How old are your cars (if you have any)? Do you buy new or used when you do replace a vehicle?

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Growing hops in high mountain country

Centennial and Nugget
hops
My partner, Daniel, was looking for plants that grow quickly to cover the side of his house in the mountains and he settled on growing hops. Okay, so 2200 feet isn't exactly Mt. Everest but, compared to my house in Seattle (at 200 feet), the growing conditions are very different. Add to the fact that his place is on the east side of the Cascade mountain range, and you have a radically different climate than maritime Puget Sound.

Varietals
I picked out two different types of hops and purchased two plants of each, hoping they'd do well in this area:

1. Nugget Hops - Humulus lupulus 'Nugget', an American bred variety for use in brewing beer. It is a bittering type of hop that is used in all styles of beer.

2. Centennial Hops - Humulus lupulus 'Centennial', an American variety that was also bred for use in brewing beer. It is an aroma variety that is very popular in American craft ales, stouts and porters.

The super grower!
Both types grow 15 - 25 feet per season and are hardy to 30 degrees F. They also die back to the ground each winter (I suspect this is the case for all hops).

One of the Centennial hops plants is totally kicking the other 3 plants' asses and is almost twice as tall as the Nugget hops. It's fascinating to watch them grow - we will literally place a marker where the plant has reached and come back up to the mountains a few days later and it's grown a half a foot or more.

We have the hops set up on a drip timer since half the week they are left to their own devices.

Reuse, reduce, recycle
In order to support the four plants, Daniel built a trellis system out of leftover hog wire and wood from one of his construction sites. And, some of the drip lines are also leftovers from a landscaping job or two. The upgrades he's making to this house is being done predominantly with found or leftover building materials. I'll be showing you more of what he's doing over the next few months!

What about the beer?!
Well, ultimately, I'd like to dabble making my own beer. I'm not sure if that's going to happen this year or not, but I have the summer to start fiddling around with small batches before these hops are even ready for harvest. I have so many projects planned for the summer that the brewing might go on the back burner.

But, in the meantime, we'll be drinking a lot of beer as research while we're perfecting our hop growing techniques. Which basically seems to be - plant in ground and watch grow. At the very least I'll be drying this year's hops for future use.