Posts Tagged ‘family’

We’ve finally managed to get all the boxes (mostly) unpacked and I can tell you it feels VERY nice to be settled. The furnished apartment was pleasant, but it wasn’t home. Now those things that make a home what it is are in their proper places and I feel like I can breathe deeply…

…and get to work on transforming this place into sustainable central. First, the worm bin. We picked one up for free on Craigslist. And I found a red wriggler supplier in Marilyn, the owner of Zippy’s Java Lounge. (I’ve heard she has the best in Everett. It’s good stuff). I plan on stopping by this weekend and picking up a pound or two. Then we’ll start converting our table scraps into brown gold. The worms will love us, especially when we start giving them the leftovers from our gorgeous new stainless steel Juicelady that Denette picked up at Goodwill for $20. Have you ever had fresh carrot juice? It’s the nectar of the gods. Seriously. You have to try it.

Next, the garden…and beyond. I’m going to go a bit more Permaculture up here—create an edible environment throughout the yard. And speaking of yard, I talked with one of the landlords and he said we had creative free rein. He might not have said that if he was aware of my knack for yard transformation. We have a beautiful section of south-facing lawn that—once leveled—will make a perfect spot for some raised beds. No tomatoes, though. I’ve been told by a couple of old salts that it’s just not hot enough for them. Of course, that sounds like a challenge to me, so I’ll have to find a solution. I like my fresh tomatoes too much to give up without a fight!

Speaking of transformation: Denette transformed an empty house with little furniture into a fully-furnished home in three weeks. And virtually for free. We now have a couch, a guest bed, an entertainment center, two chairs, and an end table, all acquired through craigslist/freecycle. Now when I get home from work I can collapse on the nice comfy couch instead of the hard wood floor.

I can’t tell you how nice it is to be four blocks from my place of employ. I walk down in the chill of the morning and arrive with lungs full of fresh air and my heart pumping. People at work think I’m irritatingly chipper at 7:30 AM. I just smile and nod. Even better is the return home, when the kids come racing down the hill on their scooters to meet me. Then we go for a walk. Well, I walk, they ride their scooters or their bikes. I have to take my bike in for repairs (Kaia has grounded me because of my lack of brakes), but once I do I plan to use it as my primary means of transportation to both hospital campuses and around town on the weekends. The city center in Everett is perfect for biking.

Not only am I four blocks from work, the kids are four blocks from the home school facility. I know, it sounds a little oxymoronic, but the home school program up in WA is an extension of the public school system, though they have considerable autonomy. They offer structured classes for those who want them. It’s really kind of like college for primary-age kids. Logan is loving his classes in math, science, social studies, and tae kwon do. He spends an hour a week in class, the rest of the work he does independently. Kaia should be in the program as well, but she just missed the cutoff date for kindergarten, so the goal is to get her tested into 1st grade next year. When one of the teachers at the home school facility saw her reading, she thought Kaia was already in 1st grade.

Final topic for this post: when we moved up here I set a goal of creating a home gym for free. When we were still in Cali, we had canceled our gym membership and I had created a pretty nice setup with cinder blocks, a couple of iron bars, and some free weights. I wanted a bit more up here, but I was determined not to pay for it. I knew of there were lots of people who had bought a treadmill, used it for a week, and then were desperate to get rid of it to assuage their guilt for letting it gather dust. Well, I’m proud to say that we accomplished my goal within the first two weeks! We now have a Nordictrack, an elliptical, a multi-use home gym (pulldown, bench/flye, leg extension/curl, low row, and stair stepper), a flat/incline bench with a preacher curl connector, a barbell, and two dumbbells with about 190 lbs in plates. This incredible haul was due mostly to Denette’s amazing craigslisting/freecycling skills. She would find it, I would call on it, and we would go and pick it up. I’m totally inspired. In fact, I think I’m going to have to get a quick ski in right now.

With that, I raise one well-muscled arm to you in farewell. Until next time!

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Two things made an immediate impression upon me on our first full day in Austin:

  1. It is VERY humid
  2. The city’s green roots run VERY deep

I should mention that our decision to move to Austin was based on three factors (this is quickly turning into a list post, isn’t it?):

  1. Denette’s sister, Shawna, very graciously offered to house us while I searched for a job
  2. Austin is one of the greenest cities in the US
  3. The job market was still strong even in the midst of the recession

However, a funny thing happened on the way to Austin. (That sounds like a song title, doesn’t it?) Actually, even before we left California, I had gotten a call from Sherry, my former business partner, about a potential job with Providence Health & Services in Washington. Ironically, this was the company I had been consulting with for more than a year, a company I had come to have a deep respect and appreciation for. I jumped at the chance. Throughout our trip to Austin, I was receiving periodic updates about the possibility that the “chance” would become something more. Once we got to Austin a position had crystallized and we started working on details. Since I wasn’t diving right in to a job search upon arrival, we had an opportunity to explore Austin very thoroughly.

The city was all it was cracked up to be. Right off the bat we found two incredible coffee houses:


and Ruta Maya.

Progress is more traditional coffeehouse; Ruta Maya is an exceptional agglomeration of coffeehouse, bar, music venue, and occasional yoga studio—with a cigar shop thrown in purely to add to the eccentricity. As they have done in the past when I visit cities, these coffee houses formed the anchor of our exploratory trips: we would often start the day with a coffee (and lessons for the kids) before heading out to discover another corner of interest in the city.

One of these corners of interest was the Nature and Science Center, a place akin to Ruta Maya in its agglomeration of mostly related elements. There were exhibits on all the topics above, plus a natural artifact trade center and an entire section devoted to Green technology and living sustainably. We happened to go on Free Museum day, when there was not only free access but lots of additional displays and activities, including a carboard and tinfoil solar oven in which the kids made s’mores.

The heat and humidity of Austin would have taken some getting used to; the friendliness of the people, the eclectic quality of the town, the progressiveness of the city’s policies, and the overall focus on sustainability made us feel welcome and right at home.


But fate had something else in store for us. Instead of a southeasterly trending line, our move ended up taking on the shape of a very squiggly isosceles triangle. I accepted the position of Recruiting Manager with PH&S; I would be working at their Everett location, for Providence Regional Medical Center Everett, to be precise. On a plane I went.

This might seem like quite a change from our initial trajectory, and superficially it is—there aren’t many days in Austin that require an ice scraper—but in many ways there are strong similarities between Austin and many cities in Washington. It’s also a serendipitous one. While I loved many things about Austin, the natural environment didn’t speak to me in anything more than a conversational tone. And given the preponderance of poison oak, ivy, and even sumac, it would probably have always kept me at arms length.

Western Washington, on the other hand, sings to me. And we dance, oh, how we dance. The green, the cold, the rain, the ocean’s pungent tang, the Cascade’s dramatic skyline, and, above all, the trees, sing a beautiful rhythm that I can feel the moment I step off the pavement. This is the climate that creates in me an almost overwhelming sense of an earlier life. I feel connected, whole, energized, and preternaturally aware.

From what I’ve seen so far the city of Everett itself reminds me in many ways of the city of SLO: it’s smaller, with a recognizable downtown core of older homes and businesses; it’s surrounded by some ugly spots of sprawl; it has a small cadre of engaged and aware citizens; and it has a polity that is sometimes progressive, sometimes utterly backward. A wonderfully eclectic local coffeehouse, Zippy’s Java Lounge, will form the anchor (no surprise, right?) for our continuously deeper investigation of Everett and it’s conscientious movement towards sustainability and a green sensibility.

Good news! We found a house to rent and will be moving in February. One of the first things we plan on doing, of course, is finding a suitable place to place a couple of raised beds. The worms won’t be far behind. Followed, I suspect, by audio and video of events, people, and general goings-on. I can’t stand on the sidelines for too long…it’s not in my nature. But you already knew that. 🙂

Buckle up for more fun.

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I’m sure you’ve probably noticed: the past five months have been tumultuous for us. In September our family left  San Luis Obispo, our home for 10 years, bound for Austin, TX, with fingers crossed that I’d have better luck finding a job in a bigger city. How we ended up in Everett, WA is a very interesting story that bears telling. As does the story of how my continuing love affair with the natural world was only made stronger by driving across four states.

I was thinking recently about our general disconnectedness as a culture, and how the threads of our existence are only tenuously attached to others, even to our family. This  is not surprising, given that I just spent Christmas in a new town without extended family.

One of the reasons for this tenuous connection has to do with the vagabond nature of our existence: a move always tugs at the threads–even if it’s just down the street or across town. Turn that move into a 1,766 mile odyssey to a place you’ve never visited and many of the threads will snap, some permanently.

Other threads are almost infinitely elastic. I found two that—as they were stretched—actually seemed to grow thicker and stronger: my connection to my family and my connection to the natural world.

The move was predicated on my need for work. I had been holding out for more recruitment consulting work, but after five straight months of nothing our funds were running low and we had to make a decision: find some menial work and pray for the economy to recover or take a deep breath and dive into the unknown. After applying to several of the aforementioned menial jobs and getting no response or a rejection, our second option quickly turned into our only option. (I actually did a couple of really cool green landscaping projects while I was waiting for my consulting to pick up. I’ll write about those in upcoming posts).

We packed the cars, threw  most of our stuff into storage (literally threw: our storage is a disaster), craiglisted or freecycled the rest, and made for Austin, where Denette’s sister lived at the time.


Our last stop in California was a fittingly idyllic setting: the beachside bungalows of Crystal Cove, where we stayed with one of my friends from college. Despite all the upheaval of the past few months, a few minutes in Jessi’s house and the stress evaporated, leaving me instantly lighter, happier, and less scattered. Later that afternoon in Jessi’s livingroom,  watching the waves roll in from the endless expanse of blue and gray, my visceral connection to the water welled up in me. I wanted to spend the rest of my life on the beach and in the water. I settled for a few hours on the beach, fresh fish tacos, and a wonderful night listening to the surf and breathing in the salt tang.


Our only non-nature-centered stop was in Las Vegas. And it was Las Vegas that cemented my desire to be outdoors and to experience natural as opposed to man-made wonders. Not really a fan.


Our main destination was the Grand Canyon. It is every bit as breathtaking as I had heard, and equally as frustrating to capture on film. But I tried. Oh, how I tried.

It’s scale demands your presence. And the sheer variety of each unique formation invites you to explore the landscape in minute detail. I was sorely tempted to plunge down the Bright Angel Trail for a day of total immersion. It beckons to me even now. The Granite Gorge Metamorphic Suite at the floor of the canyon—those rocks most recently exposed by the sandpaper action of the Colorado–are around 2 billion years old. The latent dynamism of the canyon is intoxicating. Despite the relative sparseness of plants, life is everywhere, even in the rocks.

But the best part by far was the uninterrupted time I spent with Denette and the kids. No electronic disturbances; everything within bicycle distance; the fresh, cool, pine-scented air; the open fire and the aroma of woodsmoke; the ravens barnstorming between the trees with only the flash of black and the whooshing of air between their pinfeathers to mark their presence. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that as my connection to nature grew more powerful, so did my connection to my family.

As a quick aside, I want to mention that I recently watched Ken Burns’ series, National Parks: America’s Best Idea. Seeing the fistfight for control between greedy and destructive “capitalists” (more like thieves masquerading as businessmen) and those men genuinely interested in preserving the Grand Canyon’s natural beauty for future generations, I felt a new pride that we as a country were able to rally and to create such an inspirational and farsighted system as the national parks.

Our next stop was an unplanned one: signs on the road announced Meteor Crater. With a name like that, we had to stop. I’m so glad we did. 

Kaia was particularly taken with the mock reentry vehicle the Apollo astronauts used when they trained at the crater—a crater blasted into existence by a 150-foot wide iron/nickel meteorite.

Logan was taken with the program that allowed you to blow up a computer-generated earth with a comet the size of the moon. You probably won’t be surprised that I left the exhibit a little rattled and thinking about the precariousness of our existence.

This noticeable scar outside of Winslow, AZ made our celestial connection very real. Here was 2.4 miles of circular evidence that we live in an active, chaotic universe, and that things don’t always happen in geologic time. Which made me all the more cognizant of the beauty of each and every day.

If this story seems to be mostly about rocks that’s because it is. I’m not sure if that has to do with the path of our travel or my preferences. And we’re not done yet. Our final destination of note is about entirely about rocks. Tons of rocks.

New Mexico

The most overwhelming stop was our last. Carlsbad Caverns is, quite simply, mind blowing: a completely alien world made of things we see every day. Beneath 750 feet of solid rock, an admixture of minerals form the most impossibly exquisite designs I have ever seen.

My love for our natural world, already piqued by my experiences over the past week, became a belonging that cannot be put into words.

And if I was in awe, then the kids were overwhelmed. The were fascinated with the colors and textures, and the fact that we were beneath 750 feet of solid rock, something Logan continuously and gleefully reminded Denette about. (Denette was NOT excited about this fact).

The kids’ excitement only increased my own. There are over 110 caves in the Carlsbad system, some of them accessible through guided tours, and I plan to return for more.


By the time we reached Texas we were focused on our destination, the city of Austin, one of the greenest cities in the country. And, as I’ll write about in my next post, being green was something they celebrated in a big way. The Texas way.

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Hey all, my sis-in-law, Shawna, turned me on to an incredible website (and movement) called Healthy Child, Healthy World. As the name indicates, it is devoted to one thing: the health of our children. It’s an amazing site, and obviously well-supported. And the topics (like GMO labeling and enchanced chemical regulations) are near and dear to my heart.

Take a look at this well-produced trailer to get a sense of the founders’ commitment and the scope of their project. It’s very exciting!

I wonder if Healthy Child will be able to generate that all-important critical mass to affect real and sustained change. I certainly hope so, because although the focus might be our children (which is plenty important enough), the effects of the changes would be far-reaching.

I’d like to know what you think.

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As I watch Logan and Kaia gleefully investigate their piles of loot (Dad, what’s a Milky Way? Mom, I have FOUR Kit-Kats!) I remember my own gloriously gluttonous nights of sugar-induced satisfaction. I remember my bag filling with each trick-or-treat until it was so heavy I had to switch hands every few steps. And I remember my eyes getting bigger as I sat on the living room floor and dumped the contents of my bag into an ever-growing pile of chocolate-covered decadence.


Sometimes excess is just plain fun. Sometimes.

I was reminded of a Philosophy Bites podcast where scholar Roger Crisp explains that we’ve done a great job of mucking up Aristotle’s idea of moderation by repeating something he never wrote but is now credited with: “Do everything in moderation.” According to Roger, Aristotle didn’t advocate the kind of moderation we now associate with the statement: a constant striving for a “middle ground” with no variation. Instead, Aristotle took a longer view, one that suggested our extremes should balance out over the course of our lives, that the “mean” of all our actions would be a moderate, or virtuous, life. For Aristotle, too much austerity was just as immoderate as too much gluttony, and a day-to-day search for moderation would probably result in immoderation.

It’s analogous to good driving: if we’re looking at the bumper of the car right in front of us and making adjustments every few seconds, we’re reacting to inconsequential events and actually doing a pretty terrible job of driving; however, if we’re also looking ahead, appraising things from a distance, and reacting to events that are of consequence, then we’re doing a good job of driving. Incidentally, the drivers behind us will love us, too, because we’re not hitting our breaks every 25 seconds or swerving for pebbles.

There are practical and psychological sides to this idea as well. What fun is life without a little bit of over-the-top? And how do we know what excessive is unless we’ve experienced it? Roger’s example from the podcast had to do with righteous anger. Aristotle, he said, wouldn’t want us to moderate our response if something made us angry; we should express ourselves, even if the response might be immoderate. If we’re living a moderate life, then the immoderate release of anger would be balanced at some point by an immoderate use of compassion or some other balancing action. Of course, we can have excessive responses, or have an immoderate response at the wrong time. Aristotle’s thoughts on this are a bit more complex than I’m getting in to, here. Best to listen to the podcast if you want a full explanation.

So why am I boring you with Aristotle when I should be peeling my sugar-hyped kids of the ceiling? Because another thought came to mind as I watched Kaia and Logan bartering a Kit-Kat for a Butterfinger: our modern emphasis on “moderation” has resulted in an immoderate lifestyle. Those who would live a modern “moderate” lifestyle are living consistently gluttonous lives. Ever-expanding waistlines are most apparent evidence of this. I’m afraid many kids are not as excited about Halloween as I was when I was young because it’s really no different than a normal day for them.

No less immoderate are the lives of those who seek a countercultural “moderation” rooted in austerity. These kids have apples and carrots on Halloween. Maybe, if they’re lucky, they’ll get a “chocolate” cake made with carob and applesauce. Yummy.

What we need is a new definition of “moderate,” one that takes a long view and allows for excess. We won’t know “too much” unless we experience it. Likewise, we won’t know “too little” unless we experience that as well. Having experienced these excesses myself, I think the “moderate mean” needs to trend a lot closer to what we would define as austerity in our modern, overly consumptive world. Then we’d really appreciate events like Halloween; it would mark a departure from our normal lives. A bag full of candy would again be something to get excited about.

But it has to be a bag full of real candy. Just say no to carob.

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Hey all!

Well, I’ve FINALLY finished this episode. The past few months have been…epic. Lots of things going on in the Blackwell household, the biggest thing being the move to Austin.

But enough about me. This episode has it all: intrigue, humor, excitement, fun, children, and Tom Ogren. Take a look. Leave a comment if you would like to encourage our behavior.

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So. I’m moving. To Austin. As in Texas. Packing up the family and leaving in two weeks.

Yes, this is a big deal. We’ve lived in SLO now for a little over 10 years. Both of my children were born here; my sister has lived her for six years; and, of course, my mom is here. It will be hardest on her.

I don’t make this decision lightly. I know what I’m leaving behind: the weather, the beach, our friends, Bellevue Santa Fe Charter School (where both Logan and Kaia were slated to go), and my family.

But, when I shift my perspective a little to the optimisitic (which is my tendency), I can see that I’m only really leaving behind a few things, fixed by geography. The beach and the weather are a total loss. It’s hot and sticky in Austin; the beach is 3 hours away–and it’s more like a lake so surfing is out.

But everything else comes with me, thanks in large part to the wonders of the Internet. Although talking to my mom over iChat isn’t exactly the same as having a cup of coffee in her living room, it’s a damn sight better than corresponding with handwritten letters sent by snail mail. And Facebook will keep us connected to SLO in ways that we couldn’t have been 10 years ago when we moved here from Grass Valley. (I have NO idea what’s going on in Grass Valley).

There are also many things that excite me about Austin: the progressiveness of the people and the local government; my sister in law and her family; the job market; the outdoor opportunities.

I’m also excited about the opportunities this presents Hole in the Fence. Imagine how cool it will be to observe the similarities and differences between sustainability programs and services, philosophies, approaches, and attitudes. In many ways Austin and SLO are similar, in others they seem very different. I can’t wait to explore and learn. I hope you’re as excited as I am and that you’ll make the journey with us. Virtually, at least.

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It’s true, the sunflower has mutated into some hydra-like plant that seems to produce an endless number of sunflowers. Not that I’m complaining, because I now have dozens of little sunbursts to ogle at, but it’s truly amazing how much it is producing. In fact, it’s producing so many sunflowers that the sheer weight of them is overloading the branches and causing them to break off. It’s a bit mind-blowing.

But not completely inexplicable.

You see, when the sunflower was still a wee lass, Denette mistook it for a weed. And pulled it. Denette is very industrious and efficient. I love you, sweetheart. When I came out to the garden and saw the poor little sunflower splayed out on the ground beside the bed I cried a little.

“Oh,” said Denette, “I thought that was a weed.” (I’ve already told you this part, but the dialogue seemed important).

“Hmm…” I said, “…it wasn’t. It was a cute, innocent sunflower and you murdered it.”

Denette gave me one of her oh, puh-leeze looks, picked up the dying sunflower, and jammed it back into the soil of the raised bed.

“There,” she said. “It should be fine.

I did not concur. And I fully expected it to find a shriveled stalk the next day. But what I found instead was a sunflower that knew it had a second chance and threw all it’s energy into making as many descendants as possible as fast as possible in case it was again mistaken for a weed in the future.

The bees are certainly happy.

They’re also happy with my pumpkin. Yes, that’s one pumpkin. Growing out of a mound of compost.

And taking over.


I have had to hack it back with a pair of clippers to keep it in line. So far, it’s tried to kill pretty much everything else in the garden, save the tomatoes, which can totally hold their own. My poor little Stars and Moons melons are surrounded and feeling very claustrophobic. “We didn’t sign on for this,” I can hear them saying.

Every day the pumpkin grows another foot. Seriously. A foot. Now it’s into the cucumbers we planted.

And the actual gourds themselves? Yeah, there’s already a dozen of them. One is as big as my head. Already. I have no idea how big it’s going to be by Halloween. Or, more importantly, where it’s going to fit.

The rest of the garden is going crazy, too, especialy the tomatoes which have boldly resisted our attempts at control, but that’s a subject for another post.

Oh, and here’s how the kids “help out” in the garden. Gotta love ’em!!

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We have a wonderful, shiny new episode for you! It’s summer garden planting time, and that’s just what we do. We’ve learned a lot from last year’s planting and we use that to make this year’s garden even more prolific.

But wait, there’s more! In this episode we have a lively discussion about sustainability and government with Adam Hill, newly elected county supervisor. He’s also a former English professor of mine from Cal Poly, so the conversation is an easy and a fun one to have.

And if you act now we will even throw in a segment about building a clothesline, complete with all of my struggles, mistakes, and brilliant recovery. In the end, it actually works. And five months on we’re still hanging clothes exclusively. FYI, major money savings! Check out the Project Expense Tracker and our Energy Savings Tracker to see how our savings are adding up.

But you must act now! Hurry, my mom is standing by to hear your opinions of our latest endeavor!

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Logan goes to a school that does not have a school lunch program, so a few years ago a mom of one of the students started what is called the “Lunch Bunch.”

Essentially the Lunch Bunch is a group of moms that volunteer their time to get vendors together, put out lunch menus, collect money, pick up and serve the kids hot lunches.  The program is amazing because the restaurants are generally locally owned and we as parents get a huge input on what is being served to our children.  As a result our kids get a lot of fresh fruits and veggies and healthy snacks.  Every Thursday I get the honor of picking up the food and serving it to the students.  I love it for many reasons, I get to spend time at the school, I get to know the students, I get to see Logan in “his” environment and I get to try different restaurants.

This past Thursday we got to sample Evos.  Our locally owned Evos has just recently opened and I never had the chance to try it, even though I have heard nothing but raves about it.  I decided that we were going to get lunch there and then pick up the food for the school, I am so glad I did!  The chipotle turkey burger I had was magnificent, Kaia loved her air baked chicken strips and french fries and Samson raved about the Tomato Basil chicken wrap.  We got our choice of mesquite, garlic, spicy, or original Ketchup, and got a thirst quenching ginkgo ginger tea to wash it all down.

I kept hearing that it was great food, but a little expensive and so I did some quick math: for the 4 of us to eat there it would be about $21 as opposed $18 at a fast food restaurant.  For those extra $3 I get fresh red and green leaf lettuce instead of iceberg, a red juicy tomato instead of one that is tasteless and hard, french fries that actually taste like potatoes instead of oil, sugar and salt, and a sense of feeling comfortable with the fact that my child is eating at a fast food place, instead of wondering what kind of poison I just put into my offspring.

As a huge added bonus the owners are the sweetest people you could come across and spent I don’t know how long packing 115 bags with chicken strips, sun chips and a ziploc baggie of grapes!   The kids at the school loved the food and kept trying to get extras!

I will definitely be going back to EVOS and am thrilled to recommend it.

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