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All articles here are written by Melinda Briana Epler (that's me!) unless otherwise noted. I'm a documentary filmmaker, writer, and brand experience designer - I've dedicated my life to living a sustainable lifestyle and helping others do the same. Please feel free to contact me if you have questions or thoughts for articles. Welcome!

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Our Family Allotment

Flower & Vegetable Garden 7-15-08

Flower & Vegetable Garden 7-15-08


When Matt and I moved to Seattle, we knew we wanted to live in a dense urban area of the city – one that was highly walkable and that was central to public transportation, friends and family (who live on opposite sides of town). We found such a place in Capitol Hill, just a couple blocks outside of downtown. And, despite my telling myself a year ago that I would never, ever live in an apartment again, here we are!


We moved from a house on 1/2 acre, with a garden that was nearing 2,000 ft2, to a small one-bedroom apartment with a fire escape garden. I have put myself on the waiting list for a neighborhood garden allotment (they’re called p-patches here). But the waiting list for most plots is upwards of 2 years. Sigh.

I was complaining about this to my mother two months ago, and she said, “well, garden here!” “Really?” I asked. “Yeah, sure, why not!” she said, with a faint bit of excitement in her voice. I was surprised. And happy. And boy howdy, I took her up on her offer!


Container Garden – One Half

(Note: clicking on any of these photos will enlarge them for more detail)


So for the past two months, my mom and I have been combining her beautiful ornamental and herb garden with the fruits, vegetables, and herbs I brought from our garden in Geyserville. We’ve amended the soil, we moved a lot of things around and got rid of a couple ornamentals my mom didn’t really like. We picked and chose from our way to many tomato and pepper seedlings, we planted all of the potatoes (yikes!), we seeded the squash seeds Tina sent us (thanks, Tina!), transplanted the garlic, grapes, huckleberries, passionfruit, currants, raspberries, and fig. And then we planted a whole lot more – including, I’m proud to say, several bean seeds I saved from last year!



Wine barrel filled with potatoes – one of four!!



Soybeans – Left 1/2 is from saved seed, Right 1/2 is from purchased seed

(If anything, I think the saved seed grew slightly faster and more robust)


Squash Patch

Squash Patch

Several types of winter squash, graciously sent to us from Tina,

some summer squash, and garbanzo beans in the bottom left corner.

(Click the picture to enlarge it – aren’t the garbanzos cool looking?)


The plot is pretty small, so we expanded a bit, to the deck on the second floor. On the left side of the photo below, you can see the hose we ran up the side of the house. It’s a temporary solution, but not bad!


From Below

Since my mother is planning to build some raised beds next year, we didn’t want to buy expensive pots for just one year. So at my mother’s suggestion, we bought pots made from recycled pulp.


Deck - Right Side

Deck – Right Side


Deck - Middle

Deck – Middle


Deck - Left Side

Deck – Left Side


Because the deck gets the most sunlight, we put peppers and tomatoes up there, with some wildflowers to draw the bees, butterflies, and other pollinators.


One more photo I wanted to share with you – I think some of you will appreciate this. The other day I took the bus to go do some gardening work, and I walked up to the sight below: Mom reading Square Foot Gardening. Yes, I’m a proud daughter!!


Mom Reading Square Foot Gardening

At long last, you’ve finally seen our garden. It had a late start because we moved here late and we had a lot of soil amending and such to do. But we’re hoping we’ll still have a decent harvest, just a bit late in the summer. Wish us luck!


Are You Growing Your Own Food?

If you’re not growing your own food, I encourage you to start – The Growing Challenge is about to start up again as we enter into the next growing season. Won’t you join us?


And for all you veteran growers, how is your garden growing? I’m sure most of your gardens are much further along than ours – what are you harvesting? (Until our garden starts producing, I’m looking for some vicarious growing here – help me out!!)

“What Would My Grandfather Do?”

In The Garden

In The Garden of Their Retirement Home

Every Wednesday I take my grandfather and his wife out to lunch. “Wait – his wife? Isn’t that your grandmother?” you ask. Well no, she’s his second wife. On Sunday the whole family got together to celebrate their 10th anniversary. They’re 97 years old.

Yes, when they were 87, they called both families together, paid for a lovely dinner, and then at the end of a wonderfully eloquent speech about the family and how much they loved each of us, they said in unison, “… But, we wanted to let you know that we’re spending your inheritance!” And for the next five years they literally traveled around the world together.

She now has Alzheimer’s, so she has good days and bad. Her quality of life is pretty good, though, because she has him. And my grandfather? He is still smart as a whip.

Yesterday we went down on the waterfront and had lunch composed of mostly local food: seafood and salad with berries. It was a beautiful day, we sat and watched the water and discussed how to change the world. Surprised you, didn’t I? Yes, every week there is a new topic to tackle, a new problem to solve. It has ranged from homelessness to climate change to the recession to our problems of garbage (Seattle ships garbage to Portland… long story). Last week it was peak oil. Yes, peak oil. He knows about it, and understands it, and tries to figure out how to solve it. Of course he doesn’t know the term, but who cares about the term – it’s just a term and it can be misleading anyway.

Yesterday’s topic was the bank crises. My grandfather built a couple of savings and loans from the ground up in the 70s and 80s. And he knew when to get out, too – a few years before the savings and loan crisis, he sold all of his shares and retired, because he saw it coming. Anyway, my grandfather mentored a guy named Kerry Killinger – gave him his first start and taught him everything he knew. He’s now the CEO of Washington Mutual. My grandfather says, with the shake of his head, “he knew better than to take those risks.” But that’s another topic. I want to get to the title of this post!

On Finding a Check Register

So, the other day I took my grandfather to buy a check register. It’s #12. The same one he’s used for 50 years. And he’s bought it from the same guy for 50 years. So we drove to his old neighborhood in Ballard, turned down a few side streets and then an alley and finally pulled behind a tiny run-down building where the guy’s shop was. It was closed, so my grandfather walked around and talked to the other businesses there to find out if the guy was still around. It was like walking through another era. In this little building there were three small businesses, all had been around forever, were run by the business owners themselves, and had people coming in as they had been coming in for years.

Well, the business owners said the man who sold the registers had retired, but it turns out one of the shop owners was the son of an old friend, so the two chatted for some time. Then the guy pointed my grandfather to Office Depot, where we did find the register. It was weird for my grandfather to go into that place, sterile and all, asking questions of people who worked there who weren’t invested in the store at all. But they had the register! I leafed through its pages: the design, shape, style – all have remained the same for at least 100 years. And it fits into the same leather cover my grandfather has had for 50 years, and it lasts for about 10 years: “It will last longer than me!” my grandfather said.

And that got me thinking on the way home. I realized that over the past year or two, since I’ve really been thinking about living sustainably, I’ve found myself asking on several occasions, “What would my grandfather do?”

My Grandfather, His Grandson, and His Great Great Grand Son

My Grandfather, His Grandson, and His Great Great Grandson


What Would My Grandfather Do?

I can’t decide which item to buy: the inexpensive one or the nice one. What would my grandfather do? He’d first decide if he really needed it by making sure he didn’t already have one, and then figuring out if he could make do with something he already has. If he still needed to buy it, he’d buy the one that will last forever.

I have a family member who is hard on his luck right now. What would my grandfather do? He’d help him get back on his feet, any way he could.

I have a friend who is ill. What would my grandfather do? He’d go visit, and he’d bring some nice home-cooked food for the family.

I need to write something down. What would my grandfather do? He’d take an old envelope from a bill and write on the back of it. (He wrote our wedding toast on the back of a card we’d sent him months before – he liked that it was so pretty and thought it added extra meaning to the toast. Then he gave it to us after the toast as a keepsake.)

I don’t need these dishes any more. What would my grandfather do? He’d give them to someone who really does need them.

Should I go out to eat or stay in? What would my grandfather do? Stay in, unless it’s a special occasion. And going out to lunch once a week with a granddaughter who has been out of town for 15 years is a special occasion.

The economy is going south. What would my grandfather do? Stop spending, plant more food in the garden, make sure all of his money is insured and in no-risk cds, and check to be sure everyone in the family is doing ok. If they’re not, he’d help them. After all that, he’d try to figure out in his head how to turn around the economy, and how to help others in need. Then he’d put any extra money into programs that help others in need, and he’d bring up those problems to fellow board members at Kiwanis and other boards on which he serves.

It’s big things, and small things. I don’t know if these qualities come from growing up in the Depression, being a hard working man, not growing up in the computer age, or just learning to be a good person. But for my grandfather, every decision matters, to ourselves, our family, our friends, our communities, and the world as a whole.

Supporting small businesses, bringing family and friends together and being there for them – without fail, living a frugal and conscientious lifestyle, making himself aware of what is going on in the local and national economy and political arenas, and enjoying life to its fullest… These are things he does well. And for all of these reasons I often ask myself, “What would my grandfather do?”

Toast At Our Wedding

Toasting At Our Wedding

What do you think?

Do you have someone in your life like this? Do you think about the “old ways” of doing things? Am I too nostalgic for a time when these things mattered to most people? Will we all live this way again: deliberately, happily, frugally, sustainably?

Local Summer: Local Meals Don’t Have To Be Gourmet

Yoghurt & Strawberries

That’s it: the whole shebang! This is my featured meal for One Local Summer this week. And WOW was it good. Local yoghurt with local strawberries. Plus locally roasted coffee that was organically grown in the shade, fair traded, and then roasted using green power. All you who aren’t in the northwest, I’m sorry you can’t partake in our mouth-watering strawberries… in the 15 or so years since I lived in Seattle, I often daydreamed about these little beautiful pieces of fruit. A sweetness unmatched by any other… sublime...

I usually post recipes for this challenge, because I like to share the love when I – or most likely Matt – finds a good recipe. But in truth, it’s not the gourmet recipes that seem to be continuously searched for on Google or passed around the blogosphere. It’s the simple ones: Roasted Vegetables. Bread. Custard. And Pancakes. Yes, pancakes! Since I don’t come up with a totally original recipe very often, I am very proud to say my yummy pancakes have made their rounds around the blogosphere: Green Bean, Eco ‘Burban Mom, Arduous, Heather, Beany, Carla… all have made them, enjoyed them, and passed them on! (Note Chile has also tried them and called them “very tasty”, but also said she can do better… mmm hmmm… Somehow, someday, we’ll duel it out. And when that happens you’re all invited!)


Style vs. Content


All bragging aside, I’m serious here. There is a lot of pressure to make local meals beautiful, but they don’t have to be. What matters is not the stylization of food. Flavor, nutrients, and caring about what goes into your body – these are what matters. What goes into our bodies should reflect who we are and how we want to be. Our ideals should be as pure in our minds as they are when running through our veins as proteins and nutrients. By eating anything, we are making choices about how we interact with the world and how we interact with our bodies.

So, when you’re shopping for groceries, I encourage you to go beyond shopping for your one weekly local meal. While you’re shopping, find a product you use every day, and seek out a new local source. Or if not local, organic. If not organic, seasonal. If not seasonal, small business… you decide – whatever it is that you believe in. In this way you will slowly start stepping into the world of eating conscientiously, and eating sustainably.

Last year Matt and I cooked close to every meal using mostly local ingredients. For several months I wrote about them every week. Most of those meals weren’t gourmet meals, but they were tasty! (Most of them were tasty, that is!) So if you need some inspiration, check out posts like this one, this too, and even this.

If you haven’t yet taken part in a local food challenge because you’re intimidated, stop being intimidated! This is not about the showiness, it’s about the content, it’s about taking another step toward living a deliberate, sustainable life.


Organic vs. Local?

I go back and forth about which is better: organic or local. I try my best for both, but if that is not an option, I try to calculate in my head:

a. whether I really need it;

b. which of my options would have the lowest impact on our planet; and

c. which one would have the most positive impact on my body.

It’s an individual choice. When Matt and I drink wine, for instance, we prioritize organic over local because of our experiences. As long as you are making a conscientious decision, whatever you decide will be the right decision for you.


That’s My 2 Cents. What About You?

What do you think about the whole debate between organic vs. local vs. who cares? Do you try to eat locally-sourced foods? Are you having a hard time finding them? Are you growing your own? Or do you not have enough time in the day to deal with it?


Our Fire Escape Garden

First Harvest in Seattle


Our first harvest! Hilarious, isn’t it? This sage went into Matt’s Polenta with Tuscan Vegetables the other night (yes, recipe is coming, Eco ‘Burban Mom!).


Ok, so don’t forget that this is just a fraction of our growing. My mom and I have planted a decent sized – but still urban-sized – garden at her place about 3 miles from here. We’ve heaved and hoed and dug and planted a heck of a lot of containers, pots, and some in situ stuff too. But that’s for another post.




Fire Escape Garden 6-25-08

Our fire escape garden on 6-25-08

Fire Escape Garden

Our fire escape garden on 7-14-08


Thyme, Rosemary, & Sage

Thyme, Rosemary, & Sage


Parsley & Mint

Parsley & Mint


Basil & Catnip

Basil & Catnip


We have bread seed poppies, bell peppers (from seedlings carried up from Geyserville), scarlet runner beans (saved from last year’s beans), oregano (carried with us from LA, grown by Matt from seed), mint (cutting from mom), black cherry tomatoes (carried from Geyserville), red leaf and genovese basil, and mixed greens with beet greens. Window boxes include basil, thyme, sage, rosemary, nasturtiums, catnip, and more greens. And a red geranium, because I’ve always wanted a window box with red geraniums.


It’s not an amazing amount of veggies, when you compare it to our old 2,000 ft2 garden (the fire escape is around 12-15 ft2). And I honestly don’t know if we’ll get a whole lot of beans, peppers, or tomatoes, because I planted late and we have a north-facing fire escape (not a whole lot of direct sun). But it’s something, and it makes me happy. I’m looking forward to our fresh greens – there is nothing like your own greens. If you haven’t grown them yet, do! The depth of flavor is completely different than store-bought lettuce.


Most of the herbs are perennial, so we’ll have them for a long time. Considering how much cut herbs cost these days, that’s a big money-saver! I truly believe growing our own food is an important part of a sustainable lifestyle, for many reasons. So if you aren’t growing food yet, I encourage you to try growing something. There are many things you can still grow from seed (in the Northern Hemisphere). If you are unsure about what to grow, feel free to ask me and I’ll offer up any advice I can.


So there you have the tour (finally)! Soon I’ll post about our bigger garden. I hear things have grown enormously since I saw it just a few days ago….


Here is the street view of our urban garden. One more window basket will be going into our remaining window this week, soon to be full of extra greens….


Street View of the Garden


Are You Growing Your Own Food?

What are you growing & harvesting? Anyone have a smaller garden, or have experience with balcony gardens? I could always use some advice!!

Is Your Neighborhood Bikeable?

Bicycle in Captivity


This is a photo of my bicycle, gathering dust in the apartment building’s boiler room. Why is it gathering dust? Well, for one thing, I have been walking most places I need to go. For another, I admit it: I have biker’s block.


What is biker’s block?


Well, it starts with excuses. I’m in terrible shape, I have asthma and I may get an asthma attack, there are too many hills in Seattle, I don’t need to bike because I can walk, I’m just not feeling perfectly up to it today, moan, groan, groan…

Do you have this problem? How do I get out of it? Help! Because truth be told, there are many places I could bike. I ride the bus to my garden, but if I biked there, I would get exercise and emit zero fossil fuels instead of just less with the bus.

Here’s what’s worse: according to Biker’s Magazine, Seattle is one of the top five cities in the country for biking. Hiding my head in shame…


Bikeability Score


Joyce, Adrienne, Sarah, Eco ‘Burban Mom, Katie, and Becky all mentioned that their neighborhoods would score higher on a bikeability score than the walkability score. This is a great point. I searched for a similar tool, but couldn’t find one. (If you find one, please do let us all know!!) The closest I can come are these links:

Any time you see such a listing, you have to take it with a grain of salt of course. Those of you living in rural areas or small towns and cities, you inevitably get left off such lists, as they tend to focus on large cities. But for what it’s worth, it’s fun to check it out.


What Would Get You Off Your Duff?


Do you bike? If you don’t why don’t you? And what do you think would get you to bike? has these tips for motivation in case they might help you get out there…. For me, I think peer pressure is one thing that might help. Getting in shape is another. And thirdly, maybe it is like writer’s block, where I just have to get off my toosh and bike down the block one day. Then I’ll be more inclined to do it again the next day, and the next, and so on.

For those of you who do bike, any words of wisdom to get me (and the rest of us) out there?


What Is Your Walk Score?

Everyone finds home in different ways, we all feel at home in different places. But one big thing we were looking for when we moved to Seattle, was to drive less and walk more. The cost to the environment and our budget was getting pretty steep in Geyserville, where we had to drive many miles to get just about anywhere. We were hoping it would be different here in Seattle…


Originally I found this link from Patti’s Foodshed Planet, quite a while ago. I was totally bummed, when I learned our score back in Geyserville. I knew it was bad, but I didn’t realize how bad. Ready? Here was our walking score in Geyserville:

Geyserville Walk Score


ZERO. Sad isn’t it? Our little house, all alone in the middle of nowhere… Sigh.

So then recently Cheap Like Me featured the same site, and I was excited to check out how our new place compared. We really searched for a city that was sustainable, and a neighborhood within the city that was as sustainable as we could get. So… ready? Here it is:

92. It’s hard to believe that the two maps contain the same distance, isn’t it? Seattle is actually featured on the site – I’m not sure why – maybe it’s from here? Anyway, you can take a look at Seattle’s overall walkability: 72. Our neighborhood comes in 12th on the list of top walkable neighborhoods in Seattle. That’s because it’s a huge neighborhood. But we’re 2 blocks from downtown, #2, and 3 blocks from First Hill, #3, so I think we fit more there. (We live almost dead center in that green circle in the middle of the map.)

City Walkability

Is It Accurate?

Well, I’m sure it doesn’t take everything into account, and everyone wants to walk to different types of businesses. But we haven’t used the car in a week! Matt walks to work downtown, we shop within walking distance (except we do go to the Ballard Farmer’s Market about every other week because it’s so big in comparison to ours), and I can take the bus to our garden…

Since we moved here 10 weeks ago, we’ve driven 200 miles or so. That includes going all the way to pick up compost three times! By comparison, we were driving 100-200 miles per week in Geyserville!

So I’d say the difference in scores between Geyserville and Seattle is pretty accurate.

So, What’s Yours?

What’s your walkability score? Does the score has any relevance for you and your lifestyle? Or am I just full of myself, thinking we’ve solved this piece of the puzzle?

Local Summer Recipe: Homemade Pesto, Beans, & Potatoes (Trenette Genovese)

Trenette Genovese

Continue reading Local Summer Recipe: Homemade Pesto, Beans, & Potatoes (Trenette Genovese)