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!

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!).