Green Living


The first thing I asked my husband Charlie to build after we bought our teeny-tiny house seventeen years ago, was a picnic table.  Our little cottage was 700 square feet.  An efficient two bedroom one bath that we got for a steal , it had no real place to sit and eat dinner.  We dined at our coffee table.

So, as soon as the weather improved he set about building a big social picnic table so that we could have friends for dinner.  During the winter, we did have friends for dinner from time to time but two people would have to sit on the floor and two on the couch to use our coffee/dining table.  We only invited our closest friends to sit on our hardwood floor and eat.

True to his nature, Charlie designed and built a beautiful oversized picnic table with perfectly comfortable proportions for getting in and out without banging knees, with plenty of width to hold bowls and platters of food in the middle without crowding the diners and the most comfortable distance for conversation.  The top of the table was just a couple of inches shy of 4’ x 8’.  The structure was simple and clean.  We applied a translucent stain to give it a pickled look and protect the wood a bit.

That picnic table sat out in our yard for 15 years and played host to countless meals with friends and family.  The wood aged to a comfortable silver grey.

When we designed our new home, the center point/nucleus/origination point for the entire design was a large table that could host a new generation of meals with friends and family.  It took us two years to build our home and during that time the economy collapsed and along with that were any immediate plans to spend additional money furnishing the house….or finding  that perfect table.

Since it was November, we decided to bring our beloved picnic table indoors.  The top was pretty beat up from spending so many years outside in Seattle weather.  So Charlie fastened a new top to the table.  A 4×8 sheet of maple veneer plywood.  He put a nice edge trim on the top and finished it with the leftover polyurethane finish we used for our bamboo floors.

The result was a new favorite!  Smooth, glossy mod top with silvered, weathered soft bench seats….and you can even find a little moss underneath leftover from its previous  life in the outdoors of the Great Northwest.  It seats  8 comfortably and 12 is cozy…adding chairs to the ends.

It doubles as a ping pong table after dinner.  And an art project table.

So, we’ve decided we no longer need to search for that perfect dining table.  Now, what we really need is a new outside picnic table!

As I mentioned in one of my earliest blog posts, when we designed our home, I included space in the bathroom and the kitchen for growing plants indoors.  I wanted to design this in for so many reasons including improving indoor air quality, the ability to have fresh herbs during the winter and …the smell of Jasmine makes me happy! 

 While I do love gardening, I do not have a green thumb.  I have killed all of my indoor plants by neglect.  But by designing these indoor planting areas next to a water source and next to south and west facing windows…and in places where I am looking directly at them SEVERAL times each day…I am hoping to improve their odds of survival and my odds of success. I have been looking for months for a planter to start my indoor plant experiment in the kitchen. I found a planter online a few weeks ago and after several shipping snafus, have planted my first indoor box.

Now, for the Jasmine.  I started with Arabian Jasmine because it is my favorite.  While it does really well in warm and tropical climates, this “true” jasmine has to be a houseplant in the Pacific Northwest.  This is the kind of  jasmine that is used in tea.   The smell is amazing…soothing, lovely.  I put three small Jasmine plants into the planter and within two weeks it bloomed.  The scent in the kitchen is SO wonderful.  It makes me take a deep breath every time I walk up to the sink…another benefit. 

 There is almost nine feet of windowsill in the bathroom.  That’s going to be the next target.  Nine feet of Jasmine!  Yum.  I wish this blog had “smell-o-vision”. 

The next experiments will be with herbs in the kitchen.  I may have to find larger planters.

So, I highly recommend this to anyone that has a windowsill!  Enjoy!

Glass window sill planter

wonderful scent, small white flowers turn purple.

But maybe not in the way you were thinking…

He walked to work.  When he entered the house, he changed his shoes and put on a cardigan…a ritual to symbolize he was about to begin something special. 

He connected learning and growing to being a part of a community.

He visited friends in the neighborhood to learn new things and meet new people.  Friends stopped by to drop off interesting things that he asked to borrow or they thought he would like. 

He frequented the local bakery, music shop and other neighborhood businesses and turned those visits into learning opportunities.  Those business owners often hosted special events in their stores to feature other local artists.

His “educational” visits weren’t so kid-centric that they involved the over the top silliness that we seem to think kids require these days like dancing characters or goofy high energy songs.  Mr. Rogers introduced jazz and cake decorating and ballet and violins…all through the people in his neighborhood. 

He asked questions.  He modeled how to ask people about themselves and their work.  A page right out of Dale Carnegie and still the best way to engage others and learn. 

He held the role of neighbor up as something special.  It meant kindness, respect, sharing resources.  Granted, some of his “neighbors” were a little unsual.  Hyperactive Mr. McFeely comes to mind.  Just like in the real world, our neighborhoods have their “characters”. Even characters play an important role in a neighborhood, helping to ad to its identity and flavor.

Mr. Rogers sat on the front porch or front steps and waved to passers by.  He played games on the sidewalk.  People walked by with their dogs or rode by on bikes.

Maybe that’s why many in my generation are drawn more and more to walkable urban neighborhoods with coffee shops and other shops. While we were watching TV in the 70’s, the grownups were building suburban neighborhoods that were more conducive to driving a car to the store or playing with other kids just like us in our own cul de sac.  Not too many characters here. 

But we have a longing to be somebody’s neighbor… to wander into Joe Negri’s music store and hear an impromptu jazz session…to be recognized by the store clerks and to be waved to on the street…to be taken care of at our favorite neighborhood restaurant.  We have that familiarity of Mr. Roger’s neighborhood buried somewhere in our childhood brain cells and it feels right. 

Mr. Roger’s fictional neighborhood held a richness of daily life that some of us get to experience today and some of us don’t.  As a whole, we have become more and more fearful of people we don’t know which make it more difficult for us to participate in a “neighborhood”.  That fear creates isolation.

Mr. Rogers’ modeled interacting with people.  We can model the same for our children. 

When children are known to others, it feels good.  They walk a little taller.  The world is a little friendlier.  People notice when you’ve lost a tooth or that you got a new bike.  There are friendly faces when you have a school fundraiser and have to test your salesmanship skills or just get up enough courage to get words out of your mouth. 

The impact of our “neighborhood” or lack thereof  goes so deeply into how we feel and how our children feel about themselves.  And it really comes down to the physical forms that we as planners and developers have created. 

So, I don’t know if Mr. Rogers really thought about all of this when he was creating his show and its fictional setting.  But I suspect he did.  He had the gift of distilling things down to their basic elements…in the way he spoke to children about feelings and the songs he wrote…in his intentionality of his daily rituals…in the way he asked others questions.  I think he completely understood the immense learning opportunities presented by a diverse and walkable neighborhood.  And he was decades ahead of planners in the 70’s who were busy designing something much different.