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!

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!

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?