Winters seem so short nowadays

February 7, 2012

One good thing about getting older is that winters go by very quickly. Of course spring, summer and fall do as well, but that doesn’t negate the fact that winters are now truly bearable — even enjoyable.

For gardeners, this realization is a real boon. We don’t have to stare out the window at the dripping rain and soggy soil for very long each year. We are always just a blink away from getting out there and rooting around in all that good dirt.

For many plants, our winters are more like a rather uneventful camping trip in the mountains than a hellish experience. In fact, some of them seem to like the discomfort and the inconvenience that winter has to offer. We know the bulbs like it — the narcissus, crocus, hyacinths and tulips. They don’t seem to be bothered by anything, snoozing from summer through most of winter, and then peeking out of the ground as the weather improves. They inch up during good weather, and stay put when it’s cold. Mine are up already with the warm temperatures we’ve had.

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Dust, mold and chemicals ranks as just a few indoor air hazards

January 10, 2012

Many home inspection services can help homeowners find indoor air hazards, such as dust and mold. Thinkstock

Americans spend up to 90 percent of their time indoors, according to Aileen Gagney, environmental and lung health program manager for the American Lung Association in Washington.

And indoor air can be up to five times as polluted as outdoor air, she said. That can be a very serious problem for the very young and the very old, as well as those with asthma and other lung problems.

And not incidentally, Gagney said asthma rates have shot up what she called an “amazing” 70 percent in 10 years.

Gagney obviously is well versed on the topic of indoor air pollution. She easily rattles off dozen of tips for cleaning your indoor air and can speak personally about the possible effects of indoor air pollution.

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La Niña vs. tomatoes

January 10, 2012

With La Niña we don’t know what is normal anymore. We used to be able to predict the weather around here.

In January, we expected our lowest temperatures — maybe even icy ponds. We used to get a break for two weeks in February, which would give us the false idea that spring would come early, and also the opportunity to prune roses and fruit trees. We expected showers and sun breaks in March and April and started seeds indoors. Then May would bring the first warm days, and we prepared our soil. June was never stable; we always had warmth and rain, perfect for planting warm-weather veggies.

The rain always lasted through the Fourth of July, dousing the fireworks fantasies. On the fifth came the sun and it would stick around until October. The veggies grew big and produced. Octobers were clear and cold as the last of the edible crops were brought in. Then on Halloween, the rain would come, dousing the kids again. Those rains would last until year’s end, falling sometimes as wet snow. We planned on it every year.

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Decluttering offers chance to reuse, recycle

December 13, 2011

Habitat for Humanity Store volunteer Cindy Clark (left) and merchandising supervisor Molly Jacobson work in the Bellevue showroom, moving and assembling previously owned furniture donated to sell. By Greg Farrar

The items relegated to closets, crawlspaces, garages and junk drawers need not be banished to the landfill during a home decluttering effort.

Local recycling and reuse experts said the trick is to find fresh uses for old and unnecessary items, either through donations or repairs. Items in good condition make ideal candidates for donations to thrift stores. King County and local businesses offer recycling services for many household goods and items in not-so-good shape.

King County EcoConsumer Tom Watson said options abound for unloading the items cluttering the nooks and crannies in a home.

“Always consider donation, because reuse is better than recycling,” Watson said. “Someone else can use it — family, friends,” online classified services and thrift stores.

Watson adds another R to the time-tested mantra to reduce, reuse and recycle — repair. Often, furniture and other household items in otherwise good condition can be repaired for less expense and hassle than replacement. Old furniture, for instance, is a candidate for reupholstering.

Arie Mahler, donations manager for Seattle Goodwill, said sending items to a thrift store is a solid choice to reduce clutter — and aid a local nonprofit organization in the process, too.

“We’re pretty forgiving when it comes to donations,” he said.

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Puget Sound Energy offers LED bulb rebates

December 13, 2011

Puget Sound Energy customers can receive a rebate for energy-efficient LED bulbs.

PSE customers can receive the instant rebate of up to $10 off a variety of Energy Star-qualified LED bulbs. Depending on the type of bulb, the after-rebate price to customers is between $15 and $50. Customers can purchase rebated Energy Star-qualified LED bulbs at participating retailers, including Costco, Lowe’s and The Home Depot.

Such bulbs use up to 85 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs and last up to 22 times longer.

Learn more about LED bulbs and find a participating retailer at www.pse.com/led. Or call 1-800-562-1482 toll free on weekdays between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Customers can complete a survey at www.pse.com/ledsurvey after receiving the rebate to enter a drawing for a $100 prepaid gift card.

Fooled by a tree

December 13, 2011

Every time my husband and I drive down East Lake Sammamish Parkway, he asks me what the beautiful trees are that line the west side. As we whiz by my usual reply is “some kind of red maple.” I didn’t ever get too excited, because we have so many red maple trees in Issaquah.

Then this fall I noticed they didn’t drop their leaves at the same time as the other red maples. In fact, on Dec. 7, they still had their beautiful, brilliant red leaves. I became very curious. Since it’s impossible to stop or even slow down on East Lake Sammamish Parkway, I thought some day I can walk down here and check out these trees.

Yesterday I was taking the off-ramp from Interstate 405 onto Northeast Eighth Street in Bellevue, and I noticed a beautiful tree, larger and older than the ones on East Lake Sammamish Parkway, but the same variety. It, too, was in full, brilliant foliage with just a few leaves on the pavement. With a fear of being run over or arrested, I jumped out of my car and grabbed a leaf. It was not a maple.

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Winterizing can save big bucks even in mild winters

November 8, 2011

Checking your furnace can save on winter heating costs. Thinkstock

Even in this area, where winters are fairly mild compared to some other spots in the country, there are numerous steps you can take to help protect your home against winter cold and reduce your energy bills.

“As cooler temperatures are upon us, preparing homes to save on heating expenses and conducting annual safety checks are important for our customers’ pocketbooks, safety and the reliability of their heating equipment,” said Agnes Barard, director of customer care for Puget Sound Energy.

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Picking up apples is a good thing

November 8, 2011

Old town Issaquah is about as good as it gets on a sunny day.

On such a day last month, I had the privilege of being a docent at the old Gilman Town Hall Museum on Andrews Street. In the back of the museum on the neighbor’s property is a wonderful, old apple tree, and while nobody had a good crop of apples around here this year, this tree was loaded. They are beautiful, deep-red apples with a subtle, winey taste. You can bet I was thrilled when the owner offered a basket of them to me.

I asked him what kind they were and he didn’t know. He said they were very old; the tree had been there since the early days. These apples looked like McIntosh to me, like the ones on my tree at home. I checked it out, and I’m convinced that they are. McIntosh is one of the older varieties, developed in Eastern Canada at the beginning of the 19th century. They are very cold hardy, tough trees. I have to say that mine in glacial till on the plateau is not nearly as happy as this one in the good, deep soil of the Issaquah Valley.

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South Cove couple make tired kitchen a keeper

October 18, 2011

Mark and Leslie Gilbert, with son Trey, 4, now enjoy more family time in their ‘great room,’ created by opening up their kitchen space into the little-used living room. By Greg Farrar

With a growing family, Mark and Leslie Gilbert had a tough decision facing them and their two boys (ages 7 and 4) — abandon the home they love for a larger one or upgrade their current house?

“For me, it came down to the question, ‘Do we upgrade within the neighborhood to something with more square feet?” Mark said. “Or do we upgrade our home and reuse the square feet in a different way?”

Leslie looked at the problem from a different angle — what could they do if they stayed?

“We had a lot of floor space that was unused,” she said, adding she thought they could do something better with the flow through the kitchen to the unused formal dining and living room.

After weighing all of their options, they chose to stay in their home and upgrade the kitchen.

The renovation entailed knocking out an L-shaped wall and creating a “great room.” It would feature a central island in the opened-up kitchen that would face a more defined living and dining space, rather than separate rooms.

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Halloween pumpkin’s beauty is in the eye of the beholder

October 18, 2011

Picking perfect jack-o’-lantern comes down to preference

Glenn Dutro hoists a pumpkin on his shoulder in the u-pick pumpkin patch at the Trinity Tree Farm in Issaquah. Photo By Greg Farrar

About 50,000 pounds of pumpkins dot the landscape as far as the eye can see.

There are oblong gourds with ample, flat surface areas for carving.

Others are rotund, boasting a sturdy stem and a thick, perfect shell.

Glenn Dutro, who has offered families a chance to pick their own pumpkins for the past three years at the u-pick pumpkin patch at the Trinity Tree Farm near Issaquah, wants something else out of his Halloween pumpkin entirely.

“The perfect pumpkin is all just a matter of personal preference,” he said. “Most people want a big, bright, beautiful thing. I want one with scars on it. I want it messed up and nasty.”

Ken Allison, a produce manager for PCC Natural Markets, said the perfect pumpkin is all in the eye of the beholder.

“It’s all in a person’s aesthetic judgment,” he said. “Typically, what I look for to carve or to sell is the stem to be attached still. That way you know it’s not knocked or kicked around. You want the pumpkin to feel firm so it won’t rot and collapse right away.”

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