Posts Tagged ‘photos’


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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The following post was made possible by my new (used) wheelbarrow. My mom, incredible bargain shopper that she is, bought it for $5 at Goodwill. Normal retail value: about $80. She’s a genius.

It was a canalouplantation weekend. I think I’m going to write a song using that word, which I just totally made up by combining cantaloupe and transplantation. But you already knew that, didn’t you? Because you’re one of our readers: smart, funny, and beautiful.

The melons (I’m assuming cantaloupes, but they’re all volunteers, so they could be pumpkins for all I know) were taking over the mound I had assigned to them. I had to regulate.

Last week I pulled a bunch of the babies and gave them away to a group of organic gardeners who meet at ECOSLO.More green than brown, I'm LOVING the garden!

This week I had to move several of the bigger to a place where they have room to roam. A place without fences or walls. A place where they could be free.

Otherwise known as the south side of the house.

Loaded up and ready to go.

I made three mounds of the (not nearly as rich) dirt, added some Black Forest compost, and soaked them with Kaia’s help. Which means the mud ended up everywhere instead of just on my hands. My exposed skin is now baby soft.

Then I brought over the errant plants and reassigned them to their new homes, where the Buffalo roam, and the skies are not cloudy all day…

Nicely situated in their new abodes.

Today, they’re looking a bit…blah. Fingers crossed that they make it. In my opinion, one can never have enough [insert favorite melon here].

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Denette and I were at Avila with the kids a few Sundays ago, whiling away the day in the sun and the water. As we left, we noticed the Avila Farmers Market was getting rolling, so we decided to visit.

We were kind of disappointed. The market is more fun than functional, with only about six stands of produce vendors And only one fish vendor. Yikes.

However, among those vendors were two gems:

  1. Our friends at Wind Dance Farms make an incredible organic olive oil that they grow just down the road in Avila; they alone are worth a trip to the market
  2. Chaparral Gardens, which makes the best vinegars I have ever tasted. Bar none.

The iPhone camera just would NOT focus!

The owner was selling some organic mixed greens, and I wanted a salad when we got home so I bought some.

Then I sampled his vinegars.


We came home with the Pacific Spice Vinegar, which starts off sweet and finishes with a beautiful hot spiciness. We went right home and had it on our salad.

SO good with the Mt. Olive spicy olives and the CG vinegar...I feel a habit forming.

Then I proceeded to put it on everything else until it ran out.

In a week. Yep, it’s that good.

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And what a beautiful weekend it was for shooting scenes and planting veggies!

First, we prepped:

  • We soaked the beds thoroughly
  • I tilled to loosen the dense loam
  • We sprayed worm “tea” (read: poop) on the soil and then tilled it under

Then we planted:

Lots o' bounty!

As you can see, the right-hand bed still has some hangers-on from the winter planting. We’re going to make the plants in this bed multi-seasonal.

The mound in the middle is comprised of a) my failed composting efforts and b) my successful (though unintentional) greenhouse efforts: the little cantaloupes had started in the “compost” so I just transplanted them to the mound. I’m a genius (also unintentional).


Finally, we planted some potatoes, some already started—again, from my composter-turned-greenhouse.

Now we water, we weed, and we wait for the sweet, sweet rewards!

How about you? Have you planted your summer garden?

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Tom Ogren is a genius. Last week we did a frenetic cross-town exposition on plants, allergies, and health with him. As he showed us around SLO, pointing out the allergy-inducing plants that abound in public places, it sunk in to me that we’ve been pretty careless about how we’ve landscaped our homes and our city. (I’ve created an interactive map of our journey so you can follow along and see which plants Tom identified).

Tom explaing the finer points of oak pollination to me.

Enter Tom Ogren. His findings mark the next step in creating a sustainable, livable environment. In a nutshell what Tom has discovered over 25 years of investigation and analysis is that allergies are getting worse—and we are responsible.

Why? Because we apparently don’t like cleaning up a mess.

Now, during our walk, Tom threw out a few latinate terms that I certainly can’t remember (you’ll have to read his book to get the full story), but the gist is that many female plants produce seeds or berries.

Which fall off.

Which we then have to pick, sweep, or scoop up.

So, to avoid the trouble, we just plant male trees instead. And this is where we shoot ourselves in the foot—or up the nose. Because male trees usually produce pollen.

Tons of it.

And since it doesn’t have anywhere else to go, it goes right up the schnoz.

Bottlebrush: it might look gorgeous, but you'll want to enjoy from a distance

Not that any of this was intentional: for many years landscapers and homeowners simply chose plants based on their aesthetic appeal. The most obvious example of this type of philosophy can be seen in the water-intensive lawns and plants that still dominant our cityscape. Now, however, given the burgeoning awareness of our limited resources, there has been a concerted move toward sustainable landscapes. Beautiful new front yards are beginning to appear based on this new, sustainable approach.

We need the same awareness to burgeon (I love that word) about creating allergy-free landscapes. It is a means of creating a sustainable environment for our eyes, lungs, and immune system. Seriously. Given the amount of money we invest in anti-allergy medications, this is a very expensive problem that could significantly reduced simply by changing our landscaping practices.

And some cities are already doing it. With Tom’s advice and guidance, several cities in the southwest and, believe it or not, in New Zealand, have adopted landscaping policies that forbid certain plants and that require the planting of female versions of others. They’re very progressive. Even feminist.

Lastly, Tom recommended a few things you can do to at least limit the effect of seasonal allergies. A list:

  • DON’T rub your eyes. Some pollens look like miniature ninja stars or balls of spikes, so rubbing your eyes when they itch will only result in itchier eyes that are now bloodshot
  • If you’ve been outside for a while (especially if it’s been windy), take a shower and put on fresh clothes once you’re inside
  • If your allergies are really bothering you, stay in the shower, close all the windows and the door, and make it hot—the steam will help clear your sinuses
  • If it’s a bad allergy day and you can make it to the beach, do it—the fresh air from the ocean will clear you up
  • Lastly, and most importantly, buy and eat local honey

I had no idea the last bastion of male dominance would be in the plant world. Go figure. Now that I do know, feminists unite! Let’s get female plants their rightful place in our yards and streets!

How about you? Do you have allergies? Have they gotten worse? How do you deal with them?

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I’m not very good at the whole “right on schedule” thing, I must admit. That said, here are a few shots of the “winter” garden just as we start to transition into a “summer” garden.

Here in SLO we should probably label the seasons “wet” and “dry,” but I’m splitting hairs.

I’m afraid we pulled some of the leeks a tad early. (Sorry, Heidi! It looks like we’ll have to use non-homegrown leeks for the lasagna). The white parts need to be, like, three times longer.

On a positive note, the broccoli is finally taking off. I can’t wait to dig in! (In fact, I kinda already sneaked some. Shhh…)

In a week or two I’m going to post a detailed review of our winter garden. In the meantime, here’s a quick winter garden wrap up, with the winners, the competitors, and the also-ran.

The winners:

  • bok choy (one word: prolific)
  • leaf lettuce (just keeps growing and growing and…)
  • spinach (just keeps growing and growing and…)
  • green onions (SO sweet and tangy)
  • radishes (our fastest growers of the season!)

The competitors

  • broccoli (slow starter, but we’re seeing action now!)
  • head lettuce (died back very quickly after reaching “peak”)
  • leeks (need lots of time to grow)

The also-ran

  • red and yellow bulb onions (la de da, any DAY now)
  • carrots (had better luck with the summer batch)

I must say, it was a great first experience with a winter (wet season) garden. I’m already planning for next year.

How about you? Did you do a winter garden? How did it go?

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So, you know when you go to the store for milk, you can never get just milk? After the gym last night I ran in to New Frontiers for…milk. But the apples were calling to me. They were local, See Canyon apples, and they looked DELICIOUS; they also looked different. Different than the typical apples I see in most stores. Oddly, the small, mottled, blemished organic apples appealed to me more than the large, shiny, symmetrical apples. (Yes, I think about this kind of stuff all the time. It drives Denette crazy.)

And here’s where I started getting philosophical. (Denette is rolling her eyes right now).

Until recently the mindset has been shiny = new = good. There is some logic in this. After all, bruised = old = good doesn’t sound very reasonable. (Sounds pretty gross, actually). However, the little red orbs of waxed perfection represent something completely different to me: shiny = commercial = bad. shiny, conventional apples

The main issue here is not that perfection is bad, or even that striving for perfection is bad—those are both goods in my book—but that the appearance of perfection is bad. In the case of the commercial apples, the process of making pretty things is actually deceptive: it hides the imperfections that exist and creates a false impression of fresh loveliness. I’ve bitten into the shiny commercial surface before only to be surprised by the woody dryness of an apple well past its prime freshness date. Because the apple had to drive 2,500 miles to get here, it’s bound to be old and tired after a journey like that.

And do I even need to mention the hidden chemical badness? Probably not.

I’m seeing a trend away from the shiny/new/good perspective, and I hope it will continue. Because if more people develop a different mindset about what indicates good food then demand will go up. Then maybe producers and distributors wouldn’t need to spend so much time and money prettifying, packaging, and preserving our foodstuffs. Instead, they could focus on getting us the best tasting, healthiest local products.

Speaking of healthy and local. Check out this new Co-op in SLO. Good things are happening!

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The update is here! (I’m saying this like I’ve POSTED other updates to see if I can fool you. How’s it working?)

Right now we’re getting about 16 oz of leaf lettuce and several radishes a week, and we’re growing enough bok choy to open a small Chinese restaurant. I’m looking forward to harvesting the spinach next!

The bulb onions are taking forever, which we expected. So are the carrots, which we didn’t. I WANT BABY CARROTS!

The nasturtiums and marigolds are coming in nicely, though we haven’t had any real bug problems anyway. Something likes the bok choy, but only a little bit, so I’m okay with sharing. Plus, it’s the bok choy. We have PLENTY.

When we were out watering last week, Logan, my ever-vigilant son, pulled up several of the head lettuce shoots thinking they were weeds. Oh well, they went very nicely in the afternoon salad.

My only concern at the moment is the broccoli. It’s looking a bit stringy and anemic. Waiting to see if broccoli start off as gangly youth before they grow into strapping young stalks.

That’s all for now! Stay tuned for the next in the series! Because I’m going to make it a series! Honest!

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Radish Shooters

I’ve always loved radishes with salt. And I also have an affinity for the occasional tequila shooter (pop the tequila, lick the salt, suck the lime). So, while I was munching the most recent batch of radishesI was shocked at the white one! (cool colors, huh?) I had a stroke of genius:

Radish Shooters!

Organic sea salt, of course!

Pop the radish,

Say "aaaaah."

lick the salt

Organic sea salt, of course!

…now if only I had a lime. Seriously, I wonder how that would taste…

A few more and I'll have to take a cab.

I really need to get out more.

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