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Posts Tagged ‘kids’

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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Austin

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:

Progress

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.

Everett

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.

California

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.

Nevada

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.

Arizona

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.

Texas

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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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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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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