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, 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!

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.

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
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.

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.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Urban fruit orchard - what I'm growing

Honeycrisp apples
I've lived in my current house for about 13 years now and, over the years, I have planted numerous fruiting trees and bushes. While I love planting annual vegetables, I still can't get over the "free" fruit that comes back year after year with relatively little effort besides trimming back some branches. Well, some things, like grapes and my almond tree are a little more of a pain than not. But, for the most part, it's pretty easy maintenance.

For those of you in the Pacific Northwest, most of the fruiting plants I've purchased are from Raintree Nursery in Western Washington or Swanson's Nursery in Seattle. Both have a great selection!

Anyway, I wanted to give you a snapshot of all the fruit that I've got growing in my little urban fruit orchard:


3 x 1 Cherry. This tree has Rainier, Montmorency and another sour cherry grafted onto one rootstock. The birds generally pick the sour cherries clean off the high canopy, but I'm able to get the Rainier and more than enough sour cherries than we can eat off the more reachable section down below.

Rainier Cherry. I'm not 100% this one is a Rainier, but it looks and tastes like Rainiers. I planted it after lamenting how many sour cherries the above tree produced, but not enough sweet cherries! I keep it super short, maybe 7 feet tall.

Hollywood plum
Hollywood Plum Lovell. I love this plum tree, it produces some of the sweetest plums I have ever eaten. I also keep this one pretty compact at 8 feet tall.

Mini Dwarf Honeycrisp. This poor thing has been struggling to grow, but it produces a good 10 - 15 full-sized apples on it every year. It's our Charlie Brown tree of apples.

2 Columnar Apples - Golden Sentinel and Scarlet Sentinel. One of the columnar trees has stayed columnar, the other one is a huge sprawling crazy thing. I've let it go au natural because it produces way more apples this way. Both are really good eating apples.

Fuzzy little almonds!
Dwarf Almond - Nikita's Pride. This is a relatively new addition that I planted in 2017 and it's got quite a few fuzzy almonds on it this year. Last year it flowered but I didn't get any almonds. I'm hoping to see some production to write about later. It's a cold hardy dwarf tree that grows like wild, so I need to keep it under control more than I like or it will grow into our power lines.

Arbequina Olive. Oh boy, this poor thing. It's been in a pot for years to keep it from taking over the yard. Every year it produces a ton of tiny little olives, but nothing edible. If I plant it in the ground it will get up to 30 feet tall, so I keep it contained. It's more ornamental than anything.

Mini Dwarf Persimmon - Nikita's Gift. I love persimmons! This tree, like the almond tree, was planted in 2017. I finally have some baby fruit on it this year! I'm sooo excited to see what, if anything, I get off the tree this year.

Nikita's Gift persimmon


2 Triple Crown Thornless Blackberries. These grow like crazy and produce more blackberries than I can eat, freeze and can. The blackberries are huge (about thumb size) and are pretty seedy if you pick them too early. I whack them down every year and they still come back, guns-a-blazing, every time.

2 Raspberry Shortcake Raspberries. I love these little guys. They are short, thornless, tend to stay contained and are prolific producers. We eat a ton of these every year and I still end up freezing a lot.

Stevens Cranberry. This doesn't produce anything (yet), but one of these days it might. I'll keep you posted!

Quinault strawberry
Quinault Strawberries. I replanted my weird strawberry patch that's in an old sandbox 2 years ago with these everbearing strawberries. They don't produce a ton, but are enough to keep me happy.

Bluecrop Blueberry. This crappy bugger has taken about 10 years to produce anything of note. I love blueberries so I'm letting him keep his spot. I took out the other blueberry years ago out of sheer frustration from it producing only a few blueberries a year.


Canadice grapes
Grapes - Canadice, Glenora and Catawba. I've had to reorient the first two of these varietals of vines since I replaced the fence they were growing on a few years ago. Last year they were just getting re-established and then struggled with powdery mildew on them, which seems to negatively impact their fruit production.

They were producing like freaking crazy before I moved them to the other fence, so maybe they'll recover and we'll have more grapes than we know what to do with them (like in previous years).

The Catawba vine I've had for over a decade and it has never produced anything useful. Just sad, sad grapes. I keep it around because it looks nice, but I regret it every year because it grows so darn fast.

Note: all of these pictures were taken end of May 2019.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Help! We've got apple maggots!

Looks like an apple!
My new partner, Daniel, owns a property in the Cle Elum area of Kittitas County in Washington (I mentioned the area in my previous post about checking out rural properties). You'll be hearing a lot about the projects we have going on over there, but as spring is upon this mountainous area, we needed to get on top of the fact that the apple tree on his property was severely infested with apple maggots last year.

I looked into a number of different options but went on the recommendations from our local nursery and that was to start with apple maggot traps and lures. Once we have signs of apple maggots, we will spray the trees with what they recommended, Bonide Fruit Tree Spray. However, the fruit tree spray we got isn't exactly the most organic thing I'd want to use, breathe in and, ultimately, eat.

So, we are running into two problems right now:

Quarantine areas of WA
1. Identification: How do you identify apple maggots on the traps versus all the various other little flying bug things that are getting stuck to it? I'm assuming pictures of adult maggots on the web are what I'm matching the trap corpses to?


2. Organic Options: When they do show up, what's a good (or several) organic alternative so I don't have to be concerned with what I'm ingesting both fresh and preserved?

What do you use to treat apple maggots (and coddling moths while we're at it)? I've never had apple maggots before, so I need your help!!

Warning: this post has affiliate links and all that.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Mastering Grief - Death and the Dogwood

I was seriously considering starting a totally new blog titled "Young Widow Farmer" or some such thing rather than continuing in the vein of the Crunchy Chicken, but I didn't want my marital status defining me any more than my late husband wanted his fight with cancer to define him. He was, first and foremost, a husband, father, brother, friend, co-worker and an all-around exceedingly brilliant, hilarious, kind, humble and generous person. He just also happened to have a terminal illness.

My dogwood in bloom, 2019.
So, this dogwood. It's annual blooming is completely meaningless to anyone else besides me. Sure, it's pretty and everyone who sees it comments on its beauty, but it means so much more to only me. We bought this house with this dogwood tree when it was in full bloom back in May 2006.

I don't know at what point I started doing this, but every year since my late husband's diagnosis in 2007 I'd look at it blooming in late April and early May and think, "is this going to be the last year that this tree blooms and my husband is alive"? Some years we would be out of town when it was blooming and I'd miss most of the pink flowers and get anxious. That somehow that would portend his demise. It's weird how your mind, and your superstitions, work. And, each year he would somehow survive the torture and the treatments.

After a while, I'd kind of laugh at myself because 11 years of cancer survival is a long time. Worrying about the dogwood blooming and the link to my husband's survival seemed more ridiculous. And, honestly, last year I was feeling cocky enough to not go through the machinations of thinking the, "is this the last year this blooms and my husband is alive" routine.

My dogwood started becoming pink this last week. And, shit, it hit me again. The old mental routine. Except, this year, I already knew the answer to the question. You never really master grief - it just changes color, flavor and texture. I know this from my own father's death back it 2011, just as my book was published. Grief is a strange thing and is different every time. But, this time around, I'd actually been grieving my late husband's death since his diagnosis.

I stopped blogging shortly after my Dad died, so it seems somewhat fitting that I'd restart blogging after my husband died. And, as I head into a weekend in my "new life", with a new partner, and the possibilities of a new future and all its adventures, I can't but help also be tethered by the familiarity and routine of the old to ground me and remind me that life is tenuous. The dogwood is just one of the many things that strikes me into remembering. And, because of that, each day I take nothing for granted.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Teen Trauma - The horrors of no wifi

Always with phone in hand.
On Wednesday, the World Health Organization released their recommendations for screen time for children under the age of 5. For the first year of life they recommend zero time, rarely any in the second year and no more than an hour a day for ages 2 to 4. Frankly, this seems entirely reasonable, although I might be in the minority here.

My two children didn't watch any television until they were at least 5 and computer time came much later. My 16-year-old son still doesn't have a cell phone (and doesn't want one). It may sound strange coming from two parents who worked in tech, but we weren't TV watching adults, so limiting screen time in the early years came extremely easily.

Fast forward to today and it's a much different story and I know here I'm not in the minority. While my 15 and 16-year-olds don't sit down and watch network television, they watch a lot of shows using Netflix and other entertainment on YouTube. My 15-year-old daughter got her own cell phone in 8th grade after much haranguing and, for her peer group, that's late. Oftentimes, she'll be on her laptop and cell phone at the same time. But, I think that's par for the course for most adults as well.

We've become a modern nation of connectivity with expectations that we have high speed, instantaneous access through our devices to the Internet. This drives most people all day long, every day. Teens and adults. You see them in elevators, in line at the store, waiting for the bus, all staring into their phones. Myself included - I have no pretense to suggest I'm any different.

The main difference is my ability to unplug and put away my devices. A common theme among my teenagers and other teens I know is that, if there isn't access to wifi or cell service, they aren't participating. Sadly, this has been a huge constraint for my family any time we take a trip somewhere. If there isn't high speed wireless Internet available, they aren't going. Which sounds really ridiculous when you put it in writing.

Of course, sometimes you don't have much of a choice - mountainous areas of Washington state just don't have decent coverage to support streaming video. It's not like there's no Internet or cell service, it's just that it's not good enough. Because, predominately, what teens are doing online isn't downloading text to read, articles, news, etc. It's video. And video demands bandwidth. And without that bandwidth, boredom ensues. And then the complaining that's there's nothing to do begins.

One skill that kids seemed to have lost with the advent of constant connectivity is the ability to context switch off the electronic teat, with its incumbent squirts of adrenaline. But, it does happen, with enough time away from their devices. It's just getting through that chunk of time until they realize that they have to come up with something else to do that can be very trying and is, understandably, why parents oftentimes give in.

What about your kids? Are they able to unplug without protest? Do you have issues with your teens refusing to go on vacation because the wifi isn't good enough?

Recommended Reading:
Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction is Highjacking our Kids
The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains
Digital Detox: The Ultimate Guide to Beating Technology Addiction

Warning! There are affiliate links in this post!

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Log Cabin in the Little Woods - Checking out rural properties

Log Cabin - Cle Elum, WA
Back when I was blogging regularly, one thing I always dreamed about was moving to a more rural area on several acres so that I could garden and raise critters to my heart's content. Several things prevented me from living out that dream, primarily location to work, daily accessibility to the cancer treatment center and willingness of the whole family.

Since I have been working 100% remotely from home for almost the last year (and not working the last 2 months), that first barrier isn't really an issue anymore. I don't need to be within driving distance of downtown Seattle. Both of my high schoolers are homeschooled, so that isn't so much an issue now either and both of them are interested in being on more land.

It dawned on me the other night that, when I was working full-time and in the thick of being the primary caregiver for the whole family as well as the primary stable bread winner, the one thing I wished I could do instead of working in software development was write full-time and try to live the lifestyle that I talked about so often.

Being shell-shocked after my husband died, I wasn't really clearly seeing my options and, after I got laid off from work, my knee-jerk reaction was to jump back into a tech job. But I don't have the same constraints anymore. I don't have to spend 10 hours a week sitting in traffic going to a tech job I don't really have to have anymore. I can do something else. And maybe that something else is the thing I dreamed about for so long.

Last night, on my way to Roslyn with my new man friend, Daniel, (more on that later 😄), I went out and looked at a rural property that just came on the market. Two areas of the state that I had my eye on years ago for where I'd like to live is the Skagit Valley (north of Seattle) and Cle Elum (90 minutes east of Seattle).

This property is in the Cle Elum area. It's a little over 7 acres, has a number of outbuildings on it in addition to the home itself and has a canning shed, for crying out loud. When we drove down the gravel drive, the owner came out to greet us. He was probably wondering what the hell we were doing on his property at 7 pm (there's no way you'd accidentally go down the drive), but most likely figuring he had a live one looking at the property.

The owner offered to give us a grand tour of the house and the rest of the property and really took us in, explaining the history of the land, his wife's family's ownership, who lives where on the original 35 acre property as well as their own history and interest in retiring to Yakima.

It wasn't a property I was interested in pursuing (the house is very small and dark, the acreage is a weirdly unusable strip of land and it is too far from town), but the overt friendliness of the owners was really refreshing. I couldn't help but think their real estate agent would be horrified to learn they are divulging all the property's secrets, but maybe that's just the city girl in me.

At this point, it's just exploratory looking - I have no concrete plans to move out of Seattle immediately. My goal is to have a better idea of what I want to do over the next 6 months to a year and figure out how to get there. But, knowing me, who knows. It might happen sooner than I think!

Monday, April 22, 2019

Earth Day - Blogging Update

Getting Crunchy, 2019.
I can't believe I started this blog a little over 12 years ago. A lot has occurred since then. Most notably, in the last year my husband passed away from cancer. I know a lot of my readers followed the early days of his diagnosis and treatment and provided me with so much emotional support. I can't even relay to you how important and meaningful that was for me to be able to mentally survive such an excruciatingly difficult ordeal for my family.

After 11 years of fighting multiple myeloma, my husband passed away peacefully at home, surrounded by family. I didn't post about it here because, honestly, I found it harder to tell you all than it was to just do a brief post on Facebook months after the fact and then take a long break from social media and figure out what I was going to do next with my life, without making too many big decisions.

In the intervening time since his passing, I was also laid off from work. I've spent the last two months taking a long-needed break, spending time with my kids and trying to regroup and recover from so many years of medical trauma and stress.

It's been such a roller coaster over the last year. I had switched jobs from a very stable government position to a volatile startup. During my first week of work, my husband's health dramatically took a turn for the worse and he never recovered. In the last year I've gone from having two sources of full-time income to none but I am, fortunately, in the position to take my time to discern what the next chapter of my life will look like.

On one hand, my identity is very much associated with my skills in software development. But, my heart truly lies in the realm of sustainability, green living and engaging with the rest of the world on these topics. So, it seems more than fitting to restart up my blog on Earth Day.

My goal over the next 5 months is to get back into blogging and see where that leads me. One of the reasons I stopped blogging before was because I didn't feel like I had anything new to say or contribute. Because of the changes in my life that, too, has changed and I have a lot I'd like to share with you all and can't wait to tell you all the things I am doing and have planned.

Harkening back to my first blog post, not much has changed and I hope to continue the engagement and, hopefully, the entertainment!

"This blog will cover my various wanderings through trying to add sustainable habits to my life. Things that make me feel less like I'm treading all over mother nature and perhaps lessening my footprint, carbon emissions and all that fun stuff.

In the meantime, I'll try to keep things marginally entertaining."

- The Crunchy Chicken, March 2007