Monday, October 1, 2018

recipes for a clean kitchen

In this two part post we will cook up some healthy, non-toxic ways to keep your kitchen clean. This first post addresses how to keep your kitchen surfaces and appliances spotless. Our follow-up post will provide healthy, non-toxic recipes for handling food and cleaning pots and pans and cooking utensils.

Distilled white vinegar or real lemon juice is a natural and effective way to clean, deodorize and disinfect your butcher block counters and wooden boards. Spray or wipe on, then wipe off with a clean, damp cloth.

Combine 4 oz. water and 4 oz. distilled white vinegar with 8-10 drops tea tree oil in a spray bottle, shake to combine. If you don't care for the scent, you can replace the tea tree oil with an essential citrus oil or lavender oil. Be sure to shake the bottle each time before use to recombine the ingredients.

Pour one cup of vinegar down the drain and leave for 30 minutes, then flush with running water. A mixture of vinegar and baking soda is even more effective. Pour two tablespoons of baking soda down the sink hole followed by half a cup of vinegar, leave to bubble for 20 minutes, then flush through by running the cold faucet for a minute.

Be sure to change dish cloths and dish towels every day. Keep them clean by boiling them regularly in a solution of water, distilled white vinegar and a teaspoon of baking soda. When handling meat, be sure to use a separate towel and launder before using again.

It's easy to clean your garbage disposal and freshen your kitchen at the same time - make ice cubes with one part distilled white vinegar and one part water. Put one or two ice cubes down the drain and switch on. Flush with cold water after.

Sprinkle baking soda into the bottom of the garbage can(s) to remove any unpleasant odors. After each emptying, add a little water to the bottom and swirl the watered down baking soda around the can. Pour out the water and leave to dry, then add more baking soda for the next time.

Soak a terry-cloth rag in distilled white vinegar, then wrap it around the faucets and areas of build-up. Leave for 30 minutes, then rinse clean. A toothbrush used for this purpose allows you to get into the faucet crevices.

Fill a microwaveable bowl with distilled white vinegar and boil in the oven. This will loosen any dried on food which can then be easily wiped clean with a soft, damp cloth.

If you have a self-cleaning oven, then after cleaning, make a slight paste of baking soda and water. Brush the paste inside the oven. You'll find it will be much easier to clean the next time you go to clean your oven.

If you're having troubles with insects (ants, etc.) wipe down kitchen surfaces with vinegar neat to deter any pesty visitors. This also disinfect surfaces.

Clean the inside of the refrigerator with a solution made from equal parts vinegar and water.

Place a saucer of baking soda in the refrigerator to absorb and remove food odors. Be sure to replace every three weeks. Tip - use the old baking soda to clean the drain by following the directions for deodorizing drains above.

I haven't found a great recipe for cleaning stainless steel, but I do use this vinegar and microfiber method recommended by Clean Mama.

Dip a slice of fresh bread in distilled white vinegar and leave in any container with stale odors overnight.

Be sure to check back for my next post which will cover clean and healthy ways to handle food and natural recipes designed to clean your pots and pans and special serving utensils.

Until next time,

la chasse au bonheur

Monday, May 21, 2018

laying down roots

Being a homeowner means more than just cleaning, decorating and maintaining your house. It’s also your responsibility to take care of whatever land is yours. For a lot of people, this means putting their own mark with landscaping like perennials, shrubs and trees. Unfortunately for those trees, many are planted in the wrong place and end up being cut down in their prime. It’s a great loss to the neighborhood and to your yard. When you plant a tree, you’ll need to be careful about where you put it.

Three Things to Know About Trees
Planting a tree is a commitment, don’t ever think otherwise. You’re placing a sapling that has the potential to spread to enormous heights, overshadowing your house, your neighbor’s cars, and maybe even getting tangled in power lines or uprooting sidewalks. This is why it’s vital that you choose the right tree and put it in the right place the first time. So let’s talk about trees!

If you choose a tree from a nursery or home improvement center, it’s a good bet that the tree will succeed in your climate. After all, they’re not going to stock trees that will die over the summer or winter (though certainly ask if you’re not entirely confident). There are other things to pay extremely close attention to, though, like:

Size. Trees get big, even the little ones. You can expect even the smallest ornamentals, known as understory trees, to grow to be 15 to 25 feet high when they’re fully mature. In the forest, these trees are found growing on the edge of groupings of taller trees. Those bigger trees can grow to be 80 to 100 feet tall and just as wide, depending on the tree’s natural shape. Ultimately, there’s a lot of difference between the space required for a dogwood than a white oak.

Water needs. Just because a tree can theoretically survive in your area doesn’t mean that it can do it alone. During establishment (the baby years), that tree will need a lot of regular waterings to keep it going, no matter the species. Obviously, you won’t need to water on days that it’s raining, but as it starts to warm up and during the heat of the summer definitely plan to be on watering duty. Keep the tag around because you’ll need to know how to care for the tree as it ages. If it needs more water than naturally occurs, you’ll want to set up a sprinkler, drip irrigation system or get fancy and redirect gray water to it to keep it alive.

Spacing. This is where the rubber meets the road. Or rather, where the tree roots get under the sidewalk and your foundation and start breaking stuff. It says right on the tag how far to place your tree from anything else. When there’s a range, like 10 to 15 feet, go as far away as you can. This is the hardest part of tree planting, honestly, because other elements in the yard have to be considered. It’s 10 feet from the house, but only seven from the mailbox and not quite 11 from the sidewalk (weird yard, I know). Best to choose your tree, then check spacing requirements and stand out in your yard with a tape measure to ensure that tree will work where you want to put it. It’ll look a little sparse the first year or two, but you’ll be glad you took the time when it’s bigger.

Tree Roots and You
Some of the most serious issues a house or cement pad can experience are caused by tree roots. Big, glorious trees are amazing to have in your yard, they provide shade and protection for wildlife, but it comes at a cost. This is why spacing matters.

Many trees will put out roots that are as far across as their canopies. A tree with a 25 foot wide canopy has the potential to send roots out 12 ½ feet from the trunk. A tree with a 60 foot canopy is often surrounded by a 30 foot root zone.

Besides considering the above ground elements, you need to know where your gas, water and sewer lines run. Deep rooted trees can get into sewer lines, causing the line to fail or wrap around utility lines, slowly shifting them out of place. But deep roots aren’t the only issue, shallow rooted trees create a nightmare when you’re mowing, since you have to somehow deal with them as you go along. Landscaping is a good option here, but also keep in mind that a good stiff breeze may cause that shallow rooted tree to uproot.

Choosing trees is tricky, but that’s why you ask a lot of questions before you leave with your new baby. The very best trees for your home are trees that are native to the area (so they can handle the climate without extra care), grow relatively quickly to let you can start reaping the benefits of a nice tree in your yard sooner and fit in the space properly, keeping all those roots away from anything they can break.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Shopping our local farmers markets and the bags to bring it all home in

I'm loving our warmer weather, and am looking forward to shopping at our local farmers markets this summer. I'm also loving all the unique and pretty straw tote bags that are so popular now. These make great farmers market shopping bags - they are super cute and functional, as well as being eco friendly, which is perfect, as I am making a big effort on cutting down on our plastic consumption this year.

French Baskets on Etsy

The Woven Basketry on Etsy


I think it’s so important to support small business owners because I know how much of their heart and soul they pour into their products, that's why I try to shop locally whenever I can. Even on the mega site Amazon, you can find products sold by small business owners. 

Whatever you use for your market shopping, I hope you enjoy the best our local farmers have to offer at one of these farmers market. 

33rd Avenue W and W McGraw Street 
NE 50th and University Way

Ballard Avenue NW - between 20th NW and 22nd NW
Seattle Central Community College - Broadway and Pine

37th Ave S and S Edmunds Street
Meridian Avenue and N 50th Street

NE 125th Street and 28th Avenue NE
W Crockett Street and Queen Anne Avenue N

Martin Luther King Blvd and E Union Street
N 67th Street and Phinney Avenue N 

Until next time,

la chasse au bonheur (and bon app├ętit)

Thursday, May 10, 2018

The Gardner Report - an analysis of our local market

The following analysis of the Western Washington real estate
market is provided by Chief Economist Matthew Gardner.

The Washington State economy added 96,900 new jobs over the past 12 months, representing an annual growth rate of 2.9%-still solidly above the national rate of 1.5%. Most of the employment gains were in the private sector, which rose by 3.4%. The public sector saw a more modest increase of 1.6%.

The strongest growth was in the Education & Health Services and Retail sectors, which added 17,300 and 16,700 jobs, respectively. The Construction sector added 10,900 new positions over the past 12 months.

Even with solid increases in jobs, the state unemployment rate held steady at 4.7%-a figure that has not moved since September of last year.

I expect the Washington State economy to continue adding jobs in 2018, but not at the same rate as last year given that we are nearing full employment. That said, we will still outperform the nation as a whole when it comes to job creation.
  • There were 14,961 home sales during the first quarter of 2018. This is a drop of 5.4% over the same period in 2017.
  • Clallam County saw sales rise the fastest relative to the first quarter of 2017, with an increase of 16.5%. In most of the other markets, the lack of available homes for sale slowed the number of closings during this period.
  • Listing inventory in the quarter was down by 17.6% when compared to the first quarter of 2017, but pending home sales rose by 2.6% over the same period, suggesting that closings in the second quarter should be fairly robust.
  • The takeaway from this data is that the lack of supply continues to put a damper on sales. I also believe that the rise in interest rates in the final quarter of 2017 likely pulled sales forward, leading to a drop in sales in the first quarter of 2018.

  • With ongoing limited inventory, it's not surprising that the growth in home prices continues to trend well above the long-term average. Year-over-year, average prices rose 14.4% to $468,312.
  • Economic vitality in the region is leading to robust housing demand that far exceeds supply. Given the relative lack of new construction homes- something that is unlikely to change any time soon-there will continue to be pressure on the resale market. As a result, home prices will continue to rise at above-average rates in the coming year.
  • When compared to the same period a year ago, price growth was strongest in Grays Harbor County at 27.5%. Ten additional counties experienced double-digit price growth.
  • Mortgage rates continued to rise during first quarter, and are expected to increase modestly in the coming months. By the end of the year, interest rates will likely land around 4.9%, which should take some of the steam out of price growth. This is actually a good thing and should help address the challenges we face with housing affordability-especially in markets near the major job centers.
  • The average number of days it took to sell a home dropped by seven days when compared to the same quarter of 2017.
  • King County continues to be the tightest market in Western Washington, with homes taking an average of 24 days to sell. Every county in the region saw the length of time it took to sell a home either drop or remain essentially static relative to the same period a year ago.
  • In looking at the entire region, it took an average of 61 days to sell a home in the first quarter of this year. This is down from 68 days in the first quarter of 2017 but up by eleven days when compared to the fourth quarter of 2017.
  • Anyone expecting to see a rapid rise in the number of homes for sale in 2018 will likely be disappointed. New construction permit activity-a leading indicator-remains well below historic levels and this will continue to put increasing pressure on the resale home market.

This speedometer reflects the state of the region's housing market using housing inventory, price gains, home sales, interest rates, and larger economic factors. For the first quarter of 2018, I have left the needle at the same point as fourth quarter of last year. Price growth remains strong even as sales activity slowed. All things being equal, 2018 is setting itself up to be another very good year for sellers but, unfortunately, not for buyers who will still see stiff competition for the limited number of available homes for sale.
Matthew Gardner is the Chief Economist specializing in residential market analysis, commercial/industrial market analysis, financial analysis, and land use and regional economics. He is the former Principal of Gardner Economics, and has more than 30 years of professional experience both in the U.S. and U.K.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Ivy League

There’s nothing as stately as a brick house covered in green vines. This iconic image has been portrayed on television, in movies and, sometimes, in actual neighborhoods. Little does the general public know, they are really watching a house being destroyed bit by bit.

Clinging vines are some of the worst things nature throws at your home on a regular basis, but a lot of homeowners have no idea because it’s death by a thousand cuts. Any one day isn’t probably hurting your house much, but as time passes, more and more hidden damage is taking place.

If your house has vines running up it, it’s time to figure out what you’ve got growing and start getting aggressive about either managing it or destroying it.

Telling the Good Guys From the Bad
Not all vines are the Devil — it just so happens that most of the ones people like to train up their houses are. This may be because they hang on for everything they’re worth, so a strong wind or a violent storm won’t result in a massacre. Whatever the reason, it’s led to a lot of damage to homes for hundreds of years, even if the homeowner never knew it.

Identifying damaging vines isn’t difficult, the beginner horticulturalist can spot the differences once they’ve been shown what to look for.

Elements of a Damaging Vine
Vines don’t set out to destroy your home, they’re merely doing what vines do: climb. It’s just that some of the climbing methods that vines use tend to be fairly destructive in a long term kind of way. Vines have several different methods they use to climb. Some will literally grow in a spiral form to wrap around a nearby support, others send out specially modified parts called tendrils that coil around whatever they can find.

Those two types of climbers are basically harmless, at least as far as your siding is concerned. The real killers are the vines that climb using an adhesive disk or adventitious roots. Both adhesive disks and adventitious roots are very difficult to dislodge once they’re established. You can imagine how this kind of tenacity could bust masonry, dislodge vinyl siding, pull down gutters and lift shingles from your roof.

Adhesive disk of P. Quinquefolia

Vines with adhesive disks have shoots coming off the vine tipped with roundish pads that grip tight using an adhesive that the plant produces. A common troublesome vine that uses this technique is Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus Quinquefolia). Virginia creeper is a beautiful disaster for houses pretty much everywhere. In the summer, it’s a deep green and as fall approaches, it turns to a burning red-orange. It can be hard to make a villain out of a vine like that.

Adventitious roots on brick home

Adventitious roots are a little less complicated, biologically speaking. These are just extra roots that the plant uses to grab hold of things by penetrating any available crack or nook that’s available. The plant doesn’t care if that happens to be a crack in a brick on your house or a nook in a tree somewhere. These structures look a bit like the air roots that orchids produce, or, for those of you who don’t cruise the floral department at your market, they can appear much like thick hairs and cause a centipede sort of effect on the leafless parts of the vine. English Ivy (Hedera Helix) is a champ at producing these roots and also climbing up houses.

Know Thy Enemy
The vines that could be destroying your house already aren’t some kind of plague or an unlucky hand you’ve been dealt. In almost every case, they were planted purposefully. In fact, you can get them at your nearest greenhouse or home improvement store. Neat, huh? People go in looking for a vine to train up their house, then they leave with a bag full, not knowing what they’re about to do. A few examples of the worst vine offenders include:


This glorious vine with hanging purple, white or pink flowers can make a dramatic statement when raised in the right spot. When it’s close to your house, however, the statement it makes is, “I’m about to destroy your siding and your roof.” There have been many cases of Wisteria getting out of control, climbing to the roof, invading the gutters and lifting shingles off of homes. It’s an amazing plant, but keep it far from your home.

Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus Quinquefolia)

The configuration of the five-part compound leaves of Virginia creeper has caused a lot of confusion for homeowners, with some believing it to actually be poison ivy. Virginia creeper is not a plant to worry about from a medical standpoint, but it does put out both adhesive pads and, as it grows, adventitious roots, making it one tough sucker to un-cling from your house.

English Ivy (Hedera Helix)

If there was an Olympic category for climbing and also plants were allowed to compete, English ivy would probably lose to a human that can move faster than it can. But, for a plant, English ivy is quite fast and strong. It’s also enormous. A single English ivy vine can grow to 80 feet in length. That makes it more than capable of climbing to the roof, consuming your television antennae and anything else that it fancies.

Climbing Hydrangea (Hydrangea Petiolaris)

Like English ivy, climbing hydrangea can be a tough number to contend with. The masses of white flowers are awesome, but the adventitious roots will invade any space they find to hold tight, allowing the plant to achieve its full potential: 80 feet of vine growth. Don’t kid yourself, this isn’t a plant to put near structures.

The Indirect Problem With Climbers on a Structure
Beyond being able to cause direct damage to your home anywhere and anywhere they can get a root in sideways, growing climbing plants on a house opens you up for all sorts of interesting problems. Remember that the environment under that mass of leaves is generally very humid, making a perfect place for mold, insects or rot to take hold.

There’s no question about it, growing a vine on a house is really a very bad idea, but I must confess - I have vines on my brick home. I just can't part with them. To ease myself to sleep, I make sure I keep the vines in check and watch closely that they are not wrecking havoc on the mortar. I make sure they don't approach the gutters or the roof. Clearly, I have flunked out of the ole' Ivy League!

Until next time,

la chasse au bonheur

Monday, April 16, 2018

Why you need an Inspection

You should never judge a book by its cover, or a house by what you can see during a showing. Not only are showings about seeing yourself in a space, rather than assessing a home’s structural stability and system functionality, they’re generally too brief to really get to the nitty gritty.

That’s what home inspectors are for.

What a Home Inspection Is and Isn’t

One of the biggest misconceptions about home inspections is that the report you get is a run down of a static structure that’s unchangeable. The truth is that a home — or even an empty lot — is a constantly changing ecosystem. In a house, there are lots of parts behind the scenes that are growing and shrinking, shifting and moving, albeit slowly.

A home inspection isn’t a projection of the future health of your house. It’s a right now look at the structure and all the moving parts. A home inspection is a snapshot and it can only reflect what the inspector sees during the time they’re at your future address.

This means that a year from your home inspection the furnace may go out, or the roof may succumb to high winds. Your house may change in ways no one can predict now. But, that doesn’t mean that a home inspection has no value.

Three Big Reasons to Have a Home Inspection

Home professionals know what they’re getting for the price of a home inspection, but many home buyers balk at the idea of spending even more money trying to buy a house. Granted, home inspections aren’t cheap, but they provide a lot of value for the money. There are plenty of reasons to hire a home inspector, but these three biggies are worth pondering if you’re unsure about pulling that trigger.

1. Home inspectors can sniff out problems you may have missed when viewing the home. No one wants to buy a money pit, but people do all the time because they’re either overestimating their abilities or they’ve failed to get a home inspection. When your home inspector goes through your home, they’ll not just walk around in the living room. They crawl through the crawl space, they get up into the attic, they really give it a good look. Home inspections take hours to complete, but when they’re done you’ll be given a report that provides you more information than you could ever imagine. The types of problems found will help you decide if you can really deal with the house in the longer term or if you can afford the house at all.

2. They’ll prepare you for upcoming repairs. Although your home inspection is a snapshot of your home at a particular moment in time, and not meant to predict the future, there are many parts of the ecosystem that predictably show signs of wear. When your home inspector sees that your shingles are starting to lose their asphalt coating, for example, they’re going to make a note of that in the report. If the furnace is beyond its useful life, even though it still works, you can brace yourself for replacing it. Knowing that there are problems in your future can give you more time to prepare for fixing them, even if that means changing loan types to a mortgage with a rehabilitation loan component, like an FHA 203(K).

3. Don’t forget, an inspection report is also a bargaining chip. Most real estate contracts allow you an inspection period, during which you can get your experts out and have them look around the property. You also have the right to ask for repairs based on what they find, provided these were not readily apparent issues.

Those less visible defects are everything. Say, for example, that your home inspector found that the plumbing is leaking under the house. When that report comes in, you can request that the seller fix this issue, because it’s obviously a major problem you couldn’t have known about. Some lenders will require that something as important as the piping is in working order before closing, so make sure you and your Realtor know what your loan requires before breaking out the home inspection bargaining chip.

After closing, a lot of buyers lose or toss their home inspections. Make sure you keep yours. You can use that home inspection as a punch list of items to update, repair or replace, and check them off as you go. Later, when you go to sell, you can show your potential buyers that you fixed everything on your initial home inspection. That’s a confidence builder, for sure.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Be the neighborhood Welcome Wagon

Creating a tight knit community can be difficult in today's fast paced way of living. When I was young (am I really going there?) I remember a group of ladies popping by our house with a basket full of goodies, a list of helpful names and numbers and smiling faces. I saw how that simple act instantly put my mom and dad at ease.

The official Welcome Wagon approach seems to have gone by the wayside, at least in the Seattle area, but that doesn't mean you can't be that friendly face. It doesn't take much - here are a few simple ways you can reach out to new neighbors -

Who doesn't love a houseplant, especially when the greeting reads "We're so happy you're laying down roots here".

Freshly baked bread is not only the perfect gift - it also makes your home smell absolutely delicious. Add a tag that reads "Let us know if you knead anything" and you'll be the warm welcome any new neighbor is looking for. 

Soda gets such a bad rap, but new neighbors with kids will love it and the parents will appreciate the all-natural element. Top the gift with a tag that reads "Soda-lighted you're our neighbor". 

If you want to give a little more, then a gift basket with cleaning product, a pretty scented candle, dish cloth, and a few other thoughtful items, along with a list of your favorite local spots and contact information is perfect! Things to include on your favorites list could be your favorite - Park, Quick Bite, Restaurant, Grocery Store, Special Treat Shop, Car Stuff, Florist, Other, and then tuck in a card with your contact information that ends with "We can't wait to get to know you"!

Who wouldn't feel at home with a warm welcome like that? 

Until next time,

la chasse au bonheur