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Sustainability Improvement Plan for my 1950s House: Eleanor Hicks-Green ’17 at Childhood Home

Hi all! I am currently writing you from my parent’s house in Olympia, Washington, believe it or not, this is the site of my summer co-op. My parent’s purchased this 3,200 sq ft. mid-century modern, palm springs style home 10 years ago, right after the housing market bubble, back when solar was burgeoning as a sensible option for homeowners, and urban, at home gardens were taking off as a trend.  While principals of sustainability were making their way from niche groups into mainstream society, my house remained a gigantic resource drain. Part of what had attracted us to our home, aside from the glorious floor to ceiling windows, and slanted roofing, was the crystal clear pool in the back yard. For years my sister and I had to ward off the slew of faux friends who would invite themselves over to use our pool, we were the place to be over the summer- something that we both enjoyed and resented even then. Over the years though, the energy inefficient allure of our 1950s home had worn off on my family and I. We were tired of our giant windows showcasing month long periods of gloomy, drizzling skies, and the work involved in maintaining the pool all year round for the 2 and a half months of use we got out of it could no longer justify itself. In 2010, fed up with the constant maintenance of the house and oppressive rainy weather, my family left the house in Olympia with plans of selling it soon in exchange for sunnier skies in Austin, Texas. Our first renters told us of their plans to buy the house, and we wrote up a contract for that to happen, but that didn’t ever come to fruition despite them attempting to remodel our basement. Upon hearing that our family room/basement had been stripped down to the foundation in order to create an in-house “grow” operation, the first renters were kicked out and the house was rented out to new people. While the house we still owned in Olympia was being rented out to random people here, my family was moving around from rental to rental in Austin. Without having found a place to settle, and with both my sister and I off to college, my parents decided to move back into the house we bought in 2006, we just moved in 4 weeks ago.

As anyone who has left their house in the hands of strangers for extended periods of time without checking in on their property or their renters would have experienced, the house came back to us in pretty rough shape.  A lot of the work my family had done to get the place fit to sell had not aged well, and what was once the finished basement is now unfinished and likely has a lot of coding violations. On top of all that, our beloved pool had sprung a leak, destroying it’s $10,000 liner and securing it’s fate to be filled in. Our deck, with it’s rotted out boards has to be dismantled as well, to allow for bulldozers and cement diggers to get through to the backyard. As was to be expected, the landscaping was neglected during its 10 years of renting so we have to start fresh there too. I had always wanted to use the space we had available for growing food, so I proposed this to my parents and we took off running from there.

Since my initial offer to clean up the side yard and eventually cultivate it into a  food garden once I move back in, my parents and I have extended the plan to include current and future renovations needed to be made on the house. From my education at Antioch in subjects like Botany, Aquatic Biology, and Ecology,  and from the experience I gained over my last co-op at the Solar Living Institute in California where I worked as an intern and took a week long intensive course on Photovoltaics, I’ve been able to suggest certain plants and water systems which can, in the spirit of biodynamics, serve multiple functions. For example, I have suggested to my parents, planting fruit orchard trees which do well in Western Washington (of which there are many) along the North Eastern gate of our garden, providing us with fruit, shade, and privacy from our neighbors. In lieu of our monstrous deck I have suggested building a grape trellis, which will give us grapes and shade all summer long, then in the winter, when the grape leaves fall away, sunlight will be able to get through our huge windows and provide us with passive solar heating.  My solution for the giant cement hole in the ground that used to be our pool is to use the already present depth it’s given us to transform it into a rain-catchment pond (or maybe a duck pond if I can convince my parents!). Using a rain barrel and a short run for the water to cruise through and aerate, the water will be lead into the pond which will have a small, solar paneled DC pump at the bottom to pump through water through small hoses around the yard to use for irrigation.

While not all of my ideas have been yet approved to do by my parents, and most of them will take years to institute correctly, my general push to make the house more sustainable has been met with excitement and vigor on my parents end, and work and curiosity on mine, and with all the projects I’m planning, I will certainly be kept busy for years to come after I graduate Antioch with a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science.

Note: This is a rough draft of my blog entry. Due to unforeseen circumstances I started my Summer co-op a month late and have only worked on small beautification projects around the house. I say this only because I do not as of yet have concrete evidence to demonstrate my progress in my sustainability plan for my parents house. I do however, have some preliminary evidence such as a floor plan I drew of the house and before pictures of the main areas I intend on fixing up. Upon completion of these projects I intend to upload more pictures and floor plans as I create them to this blog. For now, here are the things I have worked on/completed as of August 8, 2016.

  • Scraping the fascia boards for rot
  • Lifting up the pool cover
  • Moved and put away boxes
  • Organized boxes in the basement
    The floor plan I've made of the first floor of the house, more of these to come!

    The floor plan I’ve made of the first floor of the house, more of these to come!

    The deck that will eventually have to come down. Note the rotted floor boards

    The deck that will eventually have to come down. Note the rotted floor boards.

    The pool with drowned cover

    After I picked the pool cover up, not yet finished but significantly better. Was the worst thing I've ever had to do. Horrible smells and grime. I wish I could say never again but I'll be fixing it tomorrow.

    After I picked the pool cover up, not yet finished but significantly better. Was the worst thing I’ve ever had to do. Horrible smells and grime. I wish I could say never again but I’ll be fixing it tomorrow.

    Bags of brush I broke down by hand.

    Bags of brush I broke down by hand.

    The side yard and the future site of my vegetable garden/orchard.

    The side yard and the future site of my vegetable garden/orchard.

    Paint scrapped off the fascia boards wherever there were bubbles due to wetness. Next I have to prime and paint these boards

    Paint scrapped off the fascia boards wherever there were bubbles due to wetness. Next I have to prime and paint these boards

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<p><span style="font-weight: 400;">I came out as a bit of a surprise. The day before my dad and my pregnant but not yet due mom took the soon to be family dog Priscilla on a long walk to the beach, no one was expecting me for another week so my family didn't worry about putting Priscilla in the back and letting her mud up the interior.  So when my mom went into labor the next day, my dad drove have to drive the muddy car to the hospital, scooped up the doctor who would deliver me, and forced him to sit in the muddy backseat with his nice, white lab coat. The doctor had to change lab coats when he got to the hospital, and the rest is how I came to be.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">9 months later I graduated college- that is to say, my dad graduated college with me. He choose to go back to school after he met my mom, they moved together from Texas back to Washington State for my dad to attend Evergreen. My dad bought a house in his first year of college, got married to my mom his second, had a baby in his third and then graduated with a Bachelor's in English. His graduation was when I was 3 months old. The way she tells the story, my mom had the idea to pass me to my dad as the long line of graduating students passed. Putting her trust, and her baby in strangers, I was passed along through the long line to reach my dad who was about to receive his diploma. My dad is holding me in the pictures of us graduating, we both have big grins on our faces. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">I used to ask for these stories to be told all the time as a kid. I delighted in the imagery of the doctor with the lab coat that looked like the back seat of my car, of random graduation attendees passing a baby they didn't know through a crowd. But now looking back on these stories, instead of the goofy circumstances and conundrums my parents found themselves in I obsess over, it's the interesting backstories of how my parents lived and who they were that I can't stop thinking about. Now I'm drawn to the details of how my very pregnant mom, about to give birth to me, chose to walk along the shore with our high stamina dog the very day before I was born, or how my dad balanced a life and a baby and still managed to stay on top of schoolwork, housework and his work as a secretary without losing his mind. Growing up my parents instilled lots of lessons about the importance of hard work. I didn’t recognize it as I was receiving them, or even when applying for Antioch, but my parents lessons molded me to be fit and interested in work. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">My work experience began before I went to Antioch with under the table babysitting gigs and dog watching stints. Through these jobs I learned to show up on time and be prepared to stay late. By the time I got to highschool I was being hired to counsel campers. At summer camps I was expected to maintain responsibility and keep things tidy and in control. Camps had long hours and required me to work a lot all through the summer, still I kept showing up, working hard, and being enthusiastic about what I did. When I came to Antioch many job opportunities opened up for me. I moved around through several departments before landing on a job I loved doing and wanted to stick with for the whole year. I worked for a quarter as housekeeping and kitchen staff, and I was lifeguard for a year at the Wellness Center. These jobs introduced me to the various management styles used by department managers at the college, which taught me to be flexible and maintain a positive attitude through the trials and errors. Each successive position required of me more responsibility and to be more part of a team. By the time I reached my Junior year I was well positioned for my future dream job.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Tina emailed me about the position at Trailside Nature Museum at the Glen Helen in response to my inquiry about volunteering as a ranger. I emailed her back letting her know that yes, I wanted to work as their museum interpreter as it was a dream job of mine and we set up an interview date. Tina, impressed with my enthusiasm and my preexisting knowledge of the Glen, hired me on the spot. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Although it’s a nature preserve, working at Glen Helen requires a lot of human interaction. At the Trailside Museum I act as a mix of a docent, information kiosk, and greeter, as I welcome patrons into the museum and the Glen and answer any questions they may have and provide the useful service of guiding them on a map through trails they might be interested in so they don’t get lost or go off trail.   Working for Glen Helen requires a lot of patience and has taught me to be a lot more firm in my interactions with people. Unfortunately it’s very often that excited patrons show me artifacts from the Glen that they’ve collected and I have to explain to kids and parents that picking up sticks/rocks/feathers/artifacts in the Glen is a against the rules and must be put back. Enforcing rules like these sometimes makes me a little unpopular with patrons, but I do it to ensure that people will continue to enjoy those things when they come into the Glen, and when I explain that reasoning to people, usually they understand and agree to put things back. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">When I come up against an issue that I cannot solve alone at the Glen, I have an excellent team of Glen employees and an awesome boss to back me up. The Glen requires a lot of interoffice communication to work through group projects like entering onto website for publicizing them, or planning out events like Earth Day. Our banter is often light hearted and fun, we spend a fair amount of time in the office socializing, to find out how everyone is doing, then we get right to work and support each other by providing answers to what we know when questions are asked. My boss Tina keeps the office atmosphere as fun and stress free as possible by providing us with feedback and checking in with us at the beginning and end of each day. Having a boss like Tina has opened me up to closer manager employee relationships, something that has helped me work with all the very different types of managers I’ve had on co-op, though it has not been difficult because all my co-op managers have been very nice. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">My first co-op was in Lakewood, Colorado, a suburb outside of Denver where the Natural Grocers headquarters is located. Looking back, that was the perfect first job to set off my trend of having awesome relationships with my awesome bosses. Karen, the director of the Nutrition Department there and my first boss, picked me up from the airport as I got off the plane into Denver. From there she drove me to her mom’s house where she had arranged for me to stay for the first week until I was able to get things worked out housing wise. Once I had settled in, the next day her mom took me to the Natural Grocers in downtown Denver to attend one of Karen’s country famous cooking demos where she taught a crowd of people how to make prosciutto-egg-spinach muffins and yummy and healthy yogurt parfaits. But while the food delicious, it was the testimony Karen gave that stuck with me the most. Instead of only explaining the health benefits of a paleo diet Karen did something that caught me so off guard I still remember what I was wearing and where I was positioned in the room when she did it. In the midst of the wafting smells and belly rumbles, Karen stepped back from her presentation and began to tell a story about her life. Earlier in her life, before she was introduced to the paleo diet, Karen was facing extreme warnings telling her she was in failing health. As a young mother with no health insurance, Karen didn’t know where to turn and for a while just got sicker until she finally convinced herself to ditch her vegan diet for a meatier, more wholesome one. Within a few years Karen’s health was rejuvenated and she was once again able to keep up with her life, work, and two young sons. Karen had found something that worked for her, and worked for other people and she wanted to share that, but I was still in awe how she opened up her personal past health history, and chose to talk about a time when it was wavering and she thought she might not make it, in order to prove a point to strangers. I knew that as a presenter she was solid enough in her speaking that she did not need to bring her past up, but as a great presenter she did and I think the presentation was better for it. I did not ask Karen why she felt like she had to tell that story, or why she couldn’t just tell a story of another client she’s had who had great success on the diet, or instead if she could have just stuck to the statistics and numbers to prove this way of eating worked, but as I grew to know Karen, I learned that having personal conviction about something, made other people believe in it and believe in you too. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">During my time at Natural Grocers I learned a fair bit about nutrition, but I learned more about pacing myself throughout the day. My job consisted of little duties and checkpoints I had to reach to help other people do their jobs. I sent out posters and fliers to stores across the country for their upcoming events, I prepared information packets for opening stores and incoming nutritionists, I helped nutritionists make changes to their schedules and I inputted all of the comment cards received by every store in the last 6 months and responded to them all personally. I also maintained the very important duty of coffee pot watcher, so that when the coffee got low, I’d be there to fill it up. Though my duties were mundane and may have felt trivial at times, I worked at a company where my bosses all worked within the same office building and could guide me through what I was doing and also tell me how my small tasks fit into the scheme of the larger work they were doing.This communication made me feel like an important part of the workplace, and put pressure on me to get things done, even if they seem unimportant. I had to learn how to pace out the little things, sometimes I’d not wait long enough for posters and I’d ship out a few then I’d get a whole bunch of them and would have to go through the process again. Other times I’d check my email at 4:30 and not again until the next day when I’d find 3 urgent emails sent between 4:30 and 5. I also had to learn how to report to my manager, which I practiced a lot at that job because I had 5 or 6 people to report to. I was required to keep up with my tasks and update my bosses when I did, so I got very good at working through minutia with a lot of focus, which helped me significantly on my next co-op. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In my second year of college I asked to be placed in Austin, Texas where my parents were living to score some R&R and to save up some money to help me buy a vehicle. The job market in Austin was vicious and chewed me up and spat me back out. No one seemed to care that I was a part of a co-op program, or that I had really neat past job experience, most businesses just wanted someone who had worked a typical food service/retail/delivery job in the past and who would be there for more than three months. Past experience and year long commitments I could not offer anyone so I took things into my own hands and called my mom who got me placed at a school working with her friend Kat on a Makerspace fair she was putting together for her students. Because it didn’t pay and that was one of my parameters for co-op that quarter, I worked it out with Kat to come into the school part time to work with the girls on their Maker’s Fair projects and my mom found me another job working at the farmers market on the weekend.  </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Holding two jobs was something I had never done before but I liked the balance between them. Both positions at the school and at the farmer’s market required a great amount of patience and knowledge so I could respond more than I don’t know to most of the questions asked of me. At the both the Girl’s School and the Farmer’s Market the atmosphere was pretty informal and I had the flexibility to be silly or sassy or whatever I was feeling, but I was still referred to as a beacon of information for people so I had to maintain up to date on information on everything from the quality of our eggs to the latest 3-D printing projects. Most of all I had to be reliable. My boss at the Farmer’s Market as well as many of the girl’s at the Girl’s school have dealt with flaky employees and teachers in the past, so in order to gain their trust and to be of the most support to them I had to be in great attendance with them and bring my “A”-game in regards to work effort. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Attention to detail was a top requirement in both positions. At the school where we (me and the middle school girls under the supervision of their teacher, Kat) were using dangerous equipment like saws and screwdrivers, it was part of my job to ensure the girls were using proper procedure when using the workshop, and with such dire consequences if procedure is not followed precisely, I had to be attentive of what every student was doing while watching the entire class so that nothing went ary, a skill I was beginning to master through my time lifeguarding for Antioch. While the consequences were not quite as severe as if something went wrong in the Makerspace at the Girl’s School, my boss at the Farmer’s Market, Ruth, was meticulous in having me scrape every bit of yogurt residue off her bowls and having me fill up all the yogurt containers to the exact line. If I were to make a mistake, it would be her business on the line, and as a small start-up she couldn’t risk that kind of loss so I had to be exquisite in all the food processing I did for her. Having this kind of extreme attention to detail would set me off well for my next co-op in which I would be living with the people I worked with, and all of those people loved cleanliness. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">My next position at the Solar Living Institute in Hopland, California was my first job that dealt with the field sustainability, a move that inevitably drove me to apply for my final co-op at the Fundación Metáfora in Buenos Aires, Argentina. That job I attribute most with increasing my work effort. The work that I did at the site where I lived and worked was hard and tenuous and required a lot of manual labor as well as organizational skills and problem solving techniques. Not only did we overhaul our workspace, we also committed endless hours to cleaning out the living yurt from top to bottom. There was very little division between work and living there, because living there required a lot of work. We were very isolated in our little plot of paradise of the 101, so anything we brought in would have to be processed to fit into the system or brought back out. Mostly, we were working with what we already had at our disposal. Thankfully for the interns at SLI, our manager, Caleb, majored in engineering in college and could come up with pretty complicated systems made out of simple things we had available on site. His clear, concise instructions oversaw the implication of several sustainability. I had learned, positive and open communication, attention to detail and time management, personal and social responsibility, and the value of hard work. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">compost receptacles of new designs, a shift to to a new system of gardening and the creation of 2 planting beds made from recycled materials. Making new things from old things required more creativity than any of my previous jobs, and the labor involved was done outside and with friends which made it more enjoyable and pass by quickly. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Additionally, this job provided me the chance to attend classes taught about sustainable living. Learning from experts, I was able to expand my base of knowledge about the sustainable living movement, and what is required to make changes like these happen. It was through talking with the instructors and attendees of the classes that I realized how excited and interested I was in being part of this movement. Not only did I have the environmental science major backing me, but the experience I had received at each of my jobs had gotten me closer to be able to achieve the goal of personal Looking at the co-op list last quarter, it took me no time to decide which job I would do. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">La Fundación Metáfora was described on the co-op list as a non-profit organization aimed at educating students about the mission of sustainability. The position combined my love of teaching with my passion for sustainability to create lasting projects from recycled materials, this job lined up so well with my previous positions it almost seemed too good to be true. Now I fly down to Argentina next week to see that if that’s the case, though after having talked to the coordinator of volunteers there I doubt that will be. I’ve prepared for everything I’m about to do this far, and I can’t wait to see where things go to from here. </span></p> <p> </p>

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