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The Dirty Life

I’m reading The Dirty Life: A Memoir of Farming, Food, and Love. I love books like this, following someone’s journey through their food and lifestyle choices. I admire their efforts and their resolve. The stories that bind it all together seem so exotic, so unlike my own life and food choices. While I like the idea of lifestyle eating, I don’t have the will or the discipline to keep it up for long. I guess that is another reason I like food memoirs, it gets me trying foods and food processes that I don’t normally follow. It makes me think.

My food choices are all over the board. I’ll never be a vegetarian or vegan (shudder). I like meat and dairy too much. While the idea of a raw food diet may be cerebrally appealing, I don’t have the time, energy or tastebuds to stick to it. Basically, I buy what I think will taste good, whether fresh, fried, processed, or whatever. That doesn’t mean I’m a completely unhealthy though. I try to balance it all out. I try to be mostly responsible, choosing cage-free and local and/or organic where I can. However, I rarely hesitate to cross boundaries either. Just last week, for example, I took the kids to the farmer’s market and by the end had a brimming bag full of summer-ripe produce. But for lunch on the way home we made a pit-stop through the Wendy’s drive through. Even I can see the irony in that.

Image from here.

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Live Butterfly Garden

My go-to gift for kids this summer has been Insect Lore’s Live Butterfly Garden. After about the third gift, and hearing rave reviews, I finally ordered one for myself Chloe. Basically, the kit comes with a mesh “habitat” container in which to place the caterpillars once they become chrysalides. Before that happens, you have to order the caterpillars online or by mail using the code from the kit. Ours came in about a week. It included 5 tiny caterpillars in a clear plastic cup, complete with food. We’ve been watching them grow daily, and now they are huge! Just this morning we found the first one attached to the roof, within its chrysalis. How exciting!

When I looked at them again around lunch time, I noticed the chrysalide was shaking like a leaf. I took a video of it below. According to the pamplet the shaking was “a natural instinct to ward of predators.” Huh. The other caterpillar attached to the roof looks like it’s praying, utterly still with its head reverently bent. If I become fanciful, I can imagine it in a medatative state, gathering its focus and praying for strength for the miraculous metamorphosis to come.

5 Crazy Painted Lady Butterfly Facts:

  • She tastes with her feet.
  • She has 10,000 eyes.
  • She breathes through her abdomen.
  • She can lay up to 500 eggs.
  • She may travel 1,000 miles in her lifetime.

Anyway, it has been interesting, and I really hope to see them transform. When I was in grade school we did a similar project, except almost all of the class insects failed. Majorly disappointing. It is nice to have this opportunity again, and to share it as a family. Hopefully this time it will be a success and we’ll have beautiful butterflies to release in a couple weeks!

Update: See photos of our emerged butterflies here!


Goodbye Sigg, Hello Klean Kanteen

After countless years of using old polycarbonate Nalgene bottles, we finally switched to aluminum Sigg bottles a while back after learning that our Nalgene bottles contained bisphenol-A, a hormone-disrupting chemical also known as BPA. The Sigg bottles seemed like a reasonable choice, with cool designs and a better fitting top (unlike my Nalgene that constantly dripped water out of the cap threads). The only thing I didn’t like about it was that the mouth opening was small, making it hard to clean. After a while it would develop a strange smell and seemed to make water taste musty. They do make special cleaning tablets, but I never tried them. However, I was bummed to find out recently that the epoxy lining in our Sigg bottles were actually made with BPA, too!

A few months back, David opted for a Klean Kanteen. Sleek and much easier to clean with rounded corners and no smell. More importantly, it is made with toxin-free, high quality, recyclable, food grade stainless steel. When I came across a wide-mouth version, I also made the switch (and was tempted by the kid kanteen with sippy attachment!).

For the record, both new Nalgene and new Sigg bottles are now BPA-free. Also, Sigg says that their liners have not been proven to leach BPA, but there is some controversy that they knowingly hid the fact that BPA was used at all. We knew we had the BPA version of Sigg bottles because our liners were shiny gold, purchased before Sigg recently switched to their new ivory colored “EcoCare” liner. Here’s a visual comparison, so you can check your own bottles.


While I was perusing mysigg.com I came across their voluntary exchange program. You can ship your old bottle back and they will email you a gift certificate code to shop online for a replacement bottle! Download a shipping label and return form (although you will have to pay to ship it back yourself).

Postscript: Just read My Body Burden on the 7Gen blog and found the information on BPA very interesting.


Zhena's Gypsy Tea

Yesterday when we were at the grocery store I asked David to pick me up another box of green tea. I stayed in the car talking on the phone to my Dad. And just look at the pretty tin he came back with. I’ve never heard of Zhena’s Gypsy Tea, but the artwork and packaging is adorable. Fair trade and organic. My honey, he knows how I’m such a sucker for pretty packaging. And the tea is good, too!

So, I did a little online research and found Zhena’s story on greenmoneyjournal.com, which I found very interesting, real, and inspiring. Read her story here.

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Free from Starbucks – Coffee Grounds

I asked David to do the unthinkable today and stop at Starbucks. All this grey cold and rain has made me a little blue and I sorely needed a perk-me-up. Thus the power of a (decaf) caramel macchiato.

Near our house is a really cool old building that used to be a drive-thru Coffee People until Starbucks bought them out and shut them down. I’ll admit, however, they did a really nice remodel, and managed to keep the building’s original shape. Plus, the new cafe has a cozy indoor seating area that the old one didn’t. Anyway, on our way out David noticed a bin underneath the counter that had bags marked “free.” I asked David how in the world he noticed them down there and he said something to the effect that he has a sixth sense when it comes to free stuff. I think that is true. The bags contained used coffee grounds, something that I’ve heard a lot about since learning to gardening a few years ago.

Although we save our grounds to compost, we would never be able to acquire the scale of grounds that Starbucks’ must produce in a single day. We took two bags. Here’s what the label says (although their’s is written in all caps. Someone needs to tell them that they don’t need to yell):

Used Coffee Grounds
Coffee grounds are a nutritional additive for your soli. During the brewing prodess most of the acidity is removed, leaving used grounds with an average PH of 6.9 and a carbon-nitrogen ratio of 20-1.

Add grounds directly to your garden…
Apply this “green” material as a side dressing to nitrogen-loving plants, including most perennials and allium plants. Balance the nutrition of your soil with “brown” materials such as leaves or dried grass.
Or to your compost
Combine with “brown” materials in your compost pile. Use grounds within 2-3 weeks of brewing to capture the most nutritional value.

For more information on usage and benefits you can also read Sunset’s Starbucks Coffee Compost Test or visit Starbucks’ Composting page.


Ode to our home office (or, yay IKEA!)

What my corner of the office looks like when it’s neat.

I’ve been meaning to write a post about our office space. Not that I think this small room is particularly great in any way. However, when it’s tidy and not too strewn with supplies or works-in-progress, it is decently comfortable and serviceable for two people sitting in desk chairs less than two feet apart.

The first thing I’ll say is IKEA. Over the past 5+ years, we’ve slowly rotated out ugly, semi-useless, and cheap office furniture and replaced it with good-looking, functional and affordable IKEA pieces. The only remainder from that bygone era is David’s ugly, stained, worn-out, circa 1998 Office Depot chair. I don’t know why he won’t replace it. Well, actually he did buy a new one once. He gave me that old one, and used the newer one for a while until he spilled coffee on it, which ended up suspiciously looking like a large urine stain. So disgusting. Eventually, I got fed up and purchased a white IKEA Jules Swivel Chair just so I could throw it out. I like the Jules chair fine, but David doesn’t because he says it’s too hard and has no armrests. Boo hoo.

IKEA items in our office (left to right, top to bottom): Helmer drawer unit, Jules swivel chair,
Handklaver pendant lamp, Expedit bookcase with optional Lekman boxes, Antifoni work lamp,
Salma storage boxes, Erik file cabinet, Galant drawer unit and Kila work lamp.

Basically, our IKEA office consists of these things: two modular Vika Amon desks that butt up against each other on one side of the room (straight for David, slightly curved corner-style desk for me), a wall-sized Expedit bookcase (with 6 Lekman storage box/drawers), a Galant drawer unit, a Helmer drawer unit, and three sets of Effecktiv wall cabinets with doors. Most everything is either birch or white. If we had more space, I would be all over getting an Alex drawer unit perfect for stacks of specialty papers, notions, and general easy-to-see-and-access storage. Instead we use a much smaller flat file organizer from Staples that fits in the closet along with the many Salma clear plastic boxes with lids that hold everything from inspiration and paper sample books to old portfolio pieces and ribbons. Now that I think of it, all of our lighting is IKEA, too: my Antifoni work lamp, David’s Kila work lamp, a Tarby ceiling lamp, and a Handklaver pendant lamp in the corner that we bought as a wedding decoration and never used. Even our old dark blue Vinde rug is IKEA, and matches the two dark blue and two light blue walls of the room. Where else can you find a decent rug for so cheap?

All of these pieces work really well for us. The only problem, especially for me, is taking the time to neaten up my work space and put away my tools every once in a while.

Some Things I’ve Learned

  • Higher wall space is too often overlooked as usable storage space.
  • Sometimes you have to bite the bullet and make a purchase that will outweigh its initial cost by providing long term organization and clutter control.
  • Prioritizing and purchasing individual pieces over time is much more affordable than overhauling a whole room at once. We bought some of these pieces back in college. The good thing about Ikea is that it is easier to match other items later because their styles and colors are pretty standard.
  • Consider buying a few of the additional organizational items, like the Lekman boxes that fit perfectly with the Expedit bookcase, or plastic drawer dividers for filing cabinets to help keep things organized.
  • Don’t overlook lighting. Overhead lighting is important, but individual space lighting comes in handy, especially if it can be repositioned for each job.
  • IKEA furniture alone can look sort of bland, but it is easy to jazz up the space with a colorful rug, complementary wall paint, nice curtains, wall art and/or some easy-care plants.

I should note here, that most of these furniture ideas came from David. He does a really good job of organizing space and choosing the right tools to do it properly. I think part of that skill he got from his mom and part of it from a stint at Pottery Barn many years back. Sometimes it takes him a while to talk me into getting new furniture, like the Effective wall cabinets. I didn’t want to spend the money (despite their comparative affordability) and I didn’t think I’d like the idea of cabinets looming over our desks. However, we were in serious need of more accessible storage. He eventually wore me down and now I’m glad for that extra hidden space.

Now he’s trying to talk me into re-doing the back wall of our laundry room.

We’ll see, honey.

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Versatile Eco-Shoes by Patagonia

Patagonia “Sugar & Spice” shoes available in 4 colors (brown leather not shown)

I absolutely love the idea of these versatile “Sugar & Spice” mary janes from Patagonia. They can be worn two ways – the inner slippers by themselves when you want something a little less casual, or, when more durability is desired, they can be worn with their all-natural latex outsoles (perfect for rainy Portland winters). They’d also be great for traveling since both the outsoles and slippers “roll up or pack flat to fit in a briefcase or suitcase.”

patagonia mary jane shoes

Separate slipper and outsole (detail view)

This is a particularly good fit for those who are uber-eco-conscious, because Patagonia is well-known for their strong commitment to the environment. According to their website, these shoes incorporate:

  • Latex from the milk of the Hevea tree (the harvesting process is good for the tree, and the milk has a microstructure that when cured creates thousands of tiny air bubbles for natural cushioning)
  • Environmentally Responsible leather from tanneries registered as compliant with ISO 14001, a set of standards that measure how efficiently a company uses natural resources, and how closely it adherers to international and local environmental regulations
  • Glueless construction, minimizing impact by eliminating toxic glues
  • Recycled TPU footframe and piece fastener

Now, if only I could actually afford to buy a pair!

patagonia shoes

Other Patagonia styles worth mentioning: “Toast & Jam” “Gumwood” “Patrol” and “Freeflow”


"Be Green" Promotional Materials

We recently received a promotional package in the mail from a local printer. It contained a custom folder which held a brochure on sustainability, a shopping list-sized note pad, a page of 10 “Be Green” stickers and a unique bamboo pen. It was quite a good-looking presentation. Obviously, they wanted to both promote that they are an FSC certified printer and to educate their clients about sustainability, including tree-free paper alternatives, recycled content, Green Seal certification, clean wind power, and the impacts of air polution, de-forestation and waste.

But here’s the question: Did they do a good job? I’m not just talking about the graphic design itself, but the whole package. I mean, does the piece put into practice what is being preached about sustainability?

I’ll agree that the design and presentation scored points with me, besides, who doesn’t like the occasional freebie in the mail? I certainly do. However, I’ll probably use the pen and the pad, but likely not the stickers, and the brochure, folder and mailing envelope have already found their way into the recycling bin. I wonder though, how many other people will simply throw everything away? What a waste of money and resources that would be.

When we, as designers, are asked to work on a piece touting sustainability, how far is too far and how little is not enough? Gone are the days when a “sustainable” look included a muddy duotone of green and brown on grey unbleached paper. That just isn’t (or rarely) cool. Now companies want to look “environmentally friendly,” but often that is all it is, a “look” using leafy textures and nature photographs. In practice, they want no less than full color, full bleeds (regardless of the waste from trim), and fancy varnishes, even if it would be more environmentally friendly to go without. So I ask myself, was it necessary to varnish the stickers? Were all the bleeds and die-cuts necessary, considering the wasted paper that would produce? How about the mailing envelope? Did it have to be a bubble mailer? These are just a few questions that I think responsible designers and companies can ask themselves, to see if they are walking the walk and not just talking the talk. Maybe the best we can ask for right now is a balance – FSC Certified/100% clean wind power credits balanced with full color, bleeds, and varnishes.

Lastly, I think part of the responsibility also falls on the consumer to make the effort as well. It takes only minutes to cancel old catalog subscriptions and opt out of “junk” mailing lists (not saying this was junk mail) whenever possible. Case in point, we received two of the promotional packages, one addressed to our company and the other specifically to my husband, so it would be our responsibility to contact the printer and let them know to drop one, so duplicates will not happen again.


At Frank Lloyd Wright's Kentuck Knob

Kentuck Knob

Last week, while visiting my family on the east coast, I spent two lovely days in the Laural Highlands of Pennsylvania. My main goal was a visit to Fallingwater, but while perusing its website I found that there was another Frank Lloyd Wright home in the area, called Kentuck Knob.

Kentuck Knob, otherwise known as the I.N. Hagan House, is a Frank Lloyd Wright designed deluxe Usonian home. It was completed in 1956 and is located about 7 miles from the Kaufmann’s Fallingwater. The Hagans, who were friends of the Kaufmanns, asked then 86 year-old Wright to design their full-time residence on 80 acres of property which included the summit of Kentuck Knob. It is constructed of tidewater red cypress, local sandstone, glass, and topped with a copper roof. The Hagans lived here for 30 years, until 1986, when they sold the property to Lord Peter Palumbo of London, England, who still owns it today. It was opened to the public in 1996.

Photos from the front

View of the main entrance, from underneath the carport

FLW “cherokee red” signature tile (see right of entrance, above)
Left of the entrance – window cutouts and overhang view

Dedication Plaque, underneath carport

Storage area attached to the carport, opposite of main entrance

Detail of overhead lighting

Lamp post at the foot of the drive

Photos from the back

Water feature, back patio view

Water feature, detail

Back patio entrance, open hexagon skylights

View of the back of the house, through the trees

Flagstone patio, detail

View from the scenic overlook, near the house

I made reservations to Kentuck Knob for our first day. I knew pretty much nothing about it (unlike Fallingwater), and despite its smaller size I knew it was an opportunity not to be missed. It’s no surprise that it turned out to be a lovely home, thoughtfully designed and in perfect harmony with its surrounding. It’s shape and materials are somewhat discreet, but the scalloped edging, artful window cutouts and the unique hexagon openings over the rear terrace give it an abundance of charming character.

Photos from the grounds (sculpture garden and other curiosities)

The cutest little white caterpillar on a description plaque near the trail

Sculpture (detail): Red Army (1991), Ray Smith (1945- )

Sculpture (detail): Inside of an old fashioned British phone booth

Sculpture: Finial from One, Poultry, London EC4, 1870

According to a nearby plaque, the finial above was the upperemost element of a building known as Number One, Poultry in the heart of the city of London. It was designed by Victorian Architect John Belcher Jr. in the Venetian-Gothic Style. Apparently the building was replaced in 1998 and the finial was shipped to the United States, first for the grounds of the Farnsworth House (designed by Professor Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in Plano, Illinois), but eventually transported to Kentuck Knob in 2003.

Sculpture: Berlin Wall Section (1961-1989) East German, Reinforced Concrete

Sculpture: Apple Core (1990) Claes Oldenburg (1929- )

Sculpture: Edwardian Post Box, circa 1902, London, England


At Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater


Earlier this summer I sat down and wrote a list in my journal titled Things I’ve been meaning to do, but still haven’t… which included 16 goals that I wanted to accomplish some time during my life. This list included entries like “learn to ride a motorcycle,” “take guitar lessons,” “start my own business” and “visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater.”

Last week I toured Fallingwater for the first time. I can’t even describe how excited I was. All the reading and architecture classes cannot compare to the real thing. It’s simply magnificent.


The week before, after a possible visit from my mom fell through, I decided on a whim to purchase a ticket to go see her (and my dad and sister) in Virginia instead. Growing up minutes from Washington, DC, I’ve seen the museums and monuments there hundreds of times. Then I remembered Fallingwater, and thanks to Google Maps, found out it was only a 3 1/2 hour drive from DC. Perfect.

From the visitor’s area, we walked the short 1/4 mile gravel trail to the home (during which I shivered with anicipatory goose bumps). Because my mom and dad, who are not very into arts or architecture, were with me this trip, I only purchased regular tour tickets, $16 per person, instead of the in-depth tour, $55 per person, that I would have liked to take. The in-depth is 2 hours and allows you to take indoor photos, which I was dying to do, but couldn’t. I choose the opening 10am tour thinking there would be fewer people, but now I realize the closing 5pm tour would have been better. By the time our tour was done and I could take outdoor photos, the place was not only swarming with tourists, but also with workmen, because it just so happens they were painting that week.


A little history: Fallingwater was designed in 1935 for the family of Pittsburgh department store owner Edgar J. Kaufmann (who also commisioned the famous architect, Richard Neutra, to design his “Desert House” in Palm Springs). The retreat was to be built in Mill Run, Pennsylvania in view of a waterfall that was on the property. Instead of facing the house towards the falls, like one would expect, Wright decided to place the house daringly above the falls while also incorporating the natural surrounding directly into the design. Striking features include a boulder that was left in place near the hearth, windows (including frameless corners) that opened out into the surrounding forest, flagstone flooring, cantilevered terraces, and stairs that lead directly from the building into the stream below.


The house itself was smaller than I expected, but still incredible. The bedrooms were small with Wright’s tendency for low ceilings, with a large open living/dining room. Despite the many visitors, it was easy to feel how secluded and peaceful such a place would have been to the Kaufmann’s and their visitors, a stunning combination of visual, functional and structural harmony.

Our tour guide’s name was Emma, who knew quite a bit of information. Unfortunately she had the absolute worst sing-songy voice. It drove me so crazy that I had to quit listening after the first couple of stops. She also made the funny mistake of calling the Wright reproduction furniture in the film room “faux-pas” furniture (when I’m sure she simply meant “faux” furniture). And she said it with all seriousness, the same way she delivered the rest of the tour. I didn’t have the heart to correct her and I don’t think anyone else did either.



The other funny (and slightly embarrassing) moment came at the very end of the tour. Throughout both the Kentuck Knob (more about that later) and Fallingwater tours my Dad asked several thoughtful and interesting questions when the tour guides failed to cover something he was curious about, such as how much of the original acreage was still intact today (which turns out to be the complete original 5000 acres). Right as we were parting, my Dad turned to ask Emma, in all seriousness, “Do the employees get to hunt on the property after hours?” despite the fact that he knew the property was entrusted to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. Um, sorry dad, no hunting allowed.


At the Saturday Farmer's Market

We met some friends at the Beaverton farmer’s market this morning and left with a whole basket of goodies to last the week – strawberries, blueberries, tomatoes, zucchini, fava beans, potatoes, walla walla onions and a jar of “smokin’ margarita” bbq cooking jelly – all fresh, local and mostly organic. Plus, we couldn’t resist munching on a piece of warm, golden-brown fry bread dusted with cinnamon sugar and honey.

I just love the farmer’s market. All those colorful, local veggies and interesting plants and homegrown goods. So many friendly people, all out enjoying the morning, all wanting to eat healthy and support their local economy. The prices are reasonable, too, but watch out for the corn. It’s double what it usually costs, all because of the rising demand for corn-based products like ethanol.

I’ve noticed that its becoming rarer to see hand-lettered signs. Vendors seem to be getting rid of them in favor of vinyl booth banners and computer print-outs. It’s too bad because there is just no charm in those. So I recorded some for posterity with my camera.


Yay! Moo MiniCards!

Moo MiniCards with Mouse

I was so excited to come home and see that my Moo MiniCards arrived! At first I didn’t know what the small white package contained, because I was thrown off by the “Royal Mail” postage sticker and the London return address. I knew Moo was based in the UK, but for some reason I figured it would be cheaper for them to contract out orders to printers in the final destination country. I’m pleased to find out they come right from the source.

Overall, they’re quite nice – small, sturdy and very cute. The printing is pretty good, but you can see some grain in the photo quality. I wonder if that happens because I chose to download from Flickr? Anyway, they’re worth it. Only $19.99 for 100 cards, and they come in a perfectly-sized white plastic box. The simply designed belly-band lets you know that the cards and box are recyclable, and that the cards were made using paper from sustainable forests. I chose to use my own photography, but a huge selection of other nice images are provided, too. On the back I just put my name, email and my blog address.

I’m impressed by the way every detail seems to be so thought out, from ordering method to presentation. And just in case you were wondering, they include a little order card that says “Yay! You’re our new best friend.”


Bees, Aphids, and More New Plants

Orange Dahlia with Bee

I couldn’t resist tracking this bee with my camera this morning, on his way from flower to flower. He seemed to favor the dahlias and settled long enough for me to capture several nice close-ups like this one.

For the fourth of July today we celebrated by… buying more plants. To us, plant shopping is like an addictive drug that keeps us struggling to support our habit. It doesn’t help that we have a terrible aphid problem this year that destroyed many of our favorites, forcing us to find replacements. Today our purchase included a yellow zinnia, french lavendar, cuban oregano, 6 white impatiens, a 6-pack of coleus, and 3 purple gomphrena. Luckily most everything was on the 10 for $10 table at Fred Meyer.

David Planting

David planting our new impatiens

David recently did some research and found two good, organic solutions to our aphid infestation. On the worst areas he sprayed a product called Organocide, an insecticide and fungicide that will also help treat problems like the powdery mildew and blackspot plaguing the roses. Afterwards, for other areas that weren’t so hard hit, he released ladybugs, which can consume over 5000 aphids during a lifetime.

Hopefully, this is where we’ll draw the line for this year. Now we’ll just get to sit back and watch the summer sun do her work.


Natural Recycled Wood Bird Houses

wood bird house

Back in May, I wrote a post called A Sign From Heaven where I was trying to decide what David and I could make and sell on Etsy. We eventually decided to start making recycled wood bird houses, especially after a bird’s nest literally fell from the sky that weekend. I realize I never wrote a post on them, so here are links to the flower, the little bird, and the unadorned bird house.

Unfortunately, it looks like no one is interested in them because they haven’t sold. Of course, it’s risky to trust a seller with no feedback, much like on ebay, even though they’re only $12. What I need to do is make a couple purchases (now that my favorites list is 3 pages long!) and get a positive reputation started. I guess I’ve been waiting for some special occasion, a friend’s birthday perhaps, to give me an excuse, especially now that I’m trying to be money conservative.

Here’s the description for the house with the little bird painted on it (kind of long, I realize now).

Wrens, chickadees, bluebirds, titmice, downy woodpeckers and other small birds in your yard are just waiting for you to hang this shed roof bird house.

Modern, sturdy, and functional – this handmade wooden house is designed specifically for the outdoor bird population, not just for decoration. It incorporates important bird-friendly characteristics including openings for air circulation, a perchless entry with overhang (for drainage protection and to discourage unwanted visitors) and interior access for easy cleaning.

We’ve used recycled, untreated cedar, salvaged from a local Portland contractor. Cedar is naturally beautiful, insulating and insect and rot resistant. We also use outdoor quality fastenings and screws, instead of nails, for increased durability. Eventually, the surface will age to a silvery grey and blend in even better to its outdoor surroundings.

The bird house shown above has been left mostly unpainted, except for the dark brown design hand-painted on the front panel. The last picture shows the opening available for cleaning. Most birds prefer untreated wood because it allows their claws to grip the naturally rough walls more easily. Box measures approx. 11.5″ tall x 5″ wide x 4.5″ deep with a 1 1/4″ entry hole.

Each bird house will arrive with a placement guide, mounting instructions and tips for the best birding success.

We pledge to do our part by donating a portion of each sale to the Nature Conservancy or to the Portland Audubon Society, to support environmental protection and conservation.

That last part I had really high hopes for. Alas, maybe I was thinking too big, too quickly. Well, the good news is we’re prepared with holiday gifts six months early. I guess everyone knows what they’re getting now!


Converting Diesel Vehicles to Use Vegetable Oil

I was reading this month’s issue of Wired tonight when I came across Veggieburners, an article about how you can modify any diesel engine to run on used or fresh vegetable oil. It says that the conversion process is really easy and there are even DIY kits by a Los Angeles company called Lovecraft.

I am so not mechanically-inclined, but the idea is pretty thought provoking. I definitely think I’d do it if I had the right kind of car, especially if I still lived near my mom in Virginia. She currently works two full-time jobs in two different restaurants. I could be swimming in used fryer fat for free!

Just imagine that for a second. Free biodiesel. No skyrocketing gas prices. An incredible individual step to protecting the environment. Huge.

According to Lovecraft, Mercedes, Volkswagon and Ford are the best choices for conversion. They go on to cite these three specific vehicles:

Mercedes Benz 300SD, 1981-85
Blue Book Value: $3200
Conversion Cost: $700

Volkswagon Jetta TDI, 1996-2006
Blue Book Value: $3800-$8950
Conversion Cost: $950

Ford F250 Diesal Truck, 1995-2000
Blue Book Value: $6325-$12,900
Conversion Cost: $950

I am actually really surprised at how reasonable the conversion costs are. I also can’t believe that more green-minded diesel owners don’t take advantage of this opportunity, so I did a little internet research on the negative impact and found out a few interesting facts:

1. Fresh Vegetable Oil can cost about 30% more than diesel and a man was recently fined in North Carolina for using biofuel.

2. If the vehicle’s warranty is still in effect and a problem occurs (even non-oil coversion related), the manufacturer may refuse to honor the warranty.

3. According to one British driver, “The only noticeable draw back of using vegetable oil as fuel that I found on the journey, was its negative affect on my diet. With having appetising smell of frying food following me around all the time I found myself regularly nipping into chippies on route for my meals, with the result that I had developed quite a belly by the end of the journey.”

Hmm…I guess I’d still find Biodiesel pretty darn attractive.


A Sign from the Heavens

Now that I’ve become more familiar with Etsy, I’ve really been thinking about what I could make and sell. It is something that I’ve always wanted to do, and the fact that there are so many great artists out there, going out on a limb and presenting their own work just inspires me!

So what to make? Naturally, as a graphic designer papergoods are pretty much my specialty. I could always do notecards or wedding invitations, but what about craftier things? I used to enjoy pouring handmade candles before I went back to school for design, and I’ve also made decorative soaps which I gave away as gifts. But what else?

As usual, David came up with a better idea. To start out, we’ll make birdhouses!

He’s been saying for a while now that we should make some birdhouses. He’s made some with his Dad before, and we have the best source of salvaged wood available – from Alex, our contractor friend, who often has leftover wood just waiting to be recycled into something useful.

I checked on Etsy and there are a lot of birdhouses for sale, some only decorative, some usable, and some just random. Our goal is to make ours more modern – not overly cute, and definitely with the purpose of actually housing wild birds. Our long lasting cedar houses will be made with specific, bird-friendly features, and the modern design will be in the form of painted details.

And get this – this is what’s truly startling – while I was sitting down at my computer to update my blog this weekend A BIRD’S NEST FELL FROM THE SKY! Isn’t that bizarre? It scared the shit out of me because my computer is right beside the window. The nest fell with a THUMP and got partially caught on the gutter, where it lay dangling like a shoe caught up on an electrical wire.

David went out to investigate and pull it down. Turns out it must have fallen from the pine tree next to our office window. David said he saw a raven flying around making a lot of noise up there. See? Little birds need the safety of a good birdhouse! I don’t know if this nest was already used to nurture baby birds or if it was being made in preparation, but after taking a few photos (see below) we left it there in case the owner wanted to reclaim it (or pieces of it).

Bird Nest

Bird Nest

Bird Nest Detail

I have never seen a nest quite like this one before. I’ve seen twig nests, but this one was more like a woven or felted pouch. It was made with all kinds of things – lichen, moss, fibers, hair (likely from our dog, Barkley), paper, miniature twigs, plant material, downy feathers (which makes me wonder if it already served its purpose) and other things I just don’t recognize. But it was put together like a pro, and the photo does not do it’s craftmanship justice. What a weird thing to have happen.

So what greater sign do we need, than to have a bird’s nest fall from the sky?

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Free Home Energy Review / Benefits of Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs


Most people know by now the many benefits compact fluorescent light bulbs have over standard incandescent light bulbs. Not only do they use 2/3 less energy, but they can last 10 times longer. They also generate 70% less heat (which make them safer and lowers cooling costs), produce no sound, and are available for almost every fixture.
According to the energystar.gov website

If every American home replaced just one light bulb with an ENERGY STAR, we would save enough energy to light more than 2.5 million homes for a year and prevent greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions of nearly 800,000 cars.”

This is so efficient, that there are a number of proposals to outlaw incandescent light bulbs in favor of compact flourescents around the world.

On a recent electric bill David noticed an offer by the Energy Trust of Oregon to schedule a Free Home Energy Review. He made an appointment and an Energy Advisor came and told him about energy saving options, tax credits and cash incentives available for home improvements. Even better, he replaced our showerhead with a more efficient model, installed a faucet aerator for the sink, and exchanged out almost all of the light bulbs in our house with compact fluorescent light bulbs (16 in all) FOR FREE! I recommend that EVERYONE in Oregon take advantage of this bargain!

It has been about a week since the change and its pretty much unnoticeable. Initially, the color seemed a little different, but besides the trace amount of mercury, there are hardly any down sides to CFLs except their higher initial cost over an incandescent or halogen. However, because they last so much longer, CFLs save about $200 over five years for a $20 6-pack. Plus, each bulb will keep a half-ton of carbon dioxide out of the air. Pretty much a win-win situation.

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