Hippie Cleaning

Awhile ago, I posted about Green Housekeeping and how excited I was about implementing some of the ideas. Since we were living in a garage, the whole thing sort of got put aside. Yesterday, however, I finally rolled up my sleeves and started cleaning our new apartment. First thing first, was a trip to the store for some supplies:

Organic Cleaning Supplies

The first exciting thing about my trip to the store is that I was able to walk there. (Although a construction worker on the way back thought it would be helpful to suggest a car as transportation.)

The second exciting thing was that my purchase of supplies came to less than $20. Bam.

My first task was to start cleaning our coffee maker. We purchased it used at 2nd Chance and figured a good cleaning would be the way to start. As suggested in Green Housekeeping, I added a pint of vinegar and topped off with water. I actually repeated this twice and then brewed three pots of just hot water. The pot of coffee I’m drinking right now tastes perfect.

Coffee Maker cleaning

My second task was cleaning the oven. I have no idea how long it has been since the oven was cleaned but I put a dish of ammonia in the oven overnight and most everything lifted out pretty easily with a minimum of scrubbing.

Even better: my hands didn’t start peeling from using cleaning chemicals! Oddly excited to keep trying out hints from the book!

On The Page: You Can Buy Happiness

I picked up Tammy Strobel’s You Can Buy Happiness (and It’s Cheap) at the library. I was drawn by the play on “you can’t buy happiness” and figured that if I picked up just one new idea that reading the slim volume (about 200 pages) would be totally worth it.

You Can Buy Happiness

You Can Buy Happiness relates the story of Strobel’s journey (along with her husband Logan) from a paycheck-to-paycheck corporate job life in California to living a simpler life in a tiny house in Portland, Oregon. The book begins, as does Strobel’s journey to living simpler, by discussing “stuff.”

Discussing how much “stuff” we own is a complicated topic. Depending on my company at any moment, I vacillate between feeling like Forrest and I don’t have any “stuff” at all and feeling like we have entirely too TOO much stuff.  A lot of the book focuses on Strobel and her husband downsizing from a 1,200 square foot apartment full of stuff and to an 800 square foot apartment and finally into their 128 square foot house. Along the way, she examines how “stuff” actually can have a detrimental effect on our happiness

The part I was most interested in was the section on “Buying Happiness.” This section seemed to be the place I would learn how to “buy” happiness (as promised in the title). As expected, it was a purposely-misleading title, however not in a dissatisfying way. “Buying” happiness, according to Strobel, can be accomplished by “investing” in those things actually make us happy: relationships, experiences, community, and appreciating the small things. Remembering that “stuff” and money can’t ever outweigh these things is so incredibly important being reminded never hurts.

Perhaps the best thing about Strobel’s structure of the book was the mixture of personal and interview anecdotes combined with “mini-actions.” The mini-actions found at the end of each chapter were designed to allow the reader to have small, concrete steps towards making their life simpler and happier. Some mini-actions Strobel suggests include the common sense (“eliminate non-essential spending”), others are more thought provoking (“evaluate how much time you spend managing your stuff” and “track your time for a week”).  At first, the mini-actions seemed a bit cheesy to me but the concept grew on me as I read through the book.

Since we structure our life with a focus on so many of the same concepts that Strobel argues for in You Can Buy Happiness. (fewer possessions, less debt, more focus on free time and relationships, etc.), I was surprised that I was left feeling somewhat confused by my reaction to the book. I found myself feeling that while I hadn’t necessarily gone the most radical route possible, that Forrest and I, more or less, are actually practicing a lot of what she’s preaching. It made me wonder where I could go further and try harder.

I would recommend You Can Buy Happiness for anyone looking to start along the path towards a more simplistic life. If you’ve already done some reading on the topic, this book may be a little bit repetitive of the same ideas you’ve read elsewhere (although you may, like me, find going back to basics to be food for thought). If you read You Can Buy Happiness (or already have), give me a shout, I’d love to hear about what you thought!

On The Page: The Wilderness Warrior

I recently finished The Quiet World, Douglas Brinkley’s history of the wilderness preservation movement in Alaska, and since I really liked it I checked out the other existing volume in his Environmental History of America series: The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America.

Last winter I read Theodore Roosevelt: A Strenuous Life and found myself wanting to know more about TR and Gifford Pinchot. The Wilderness Warrior definitely filled in some of the blanks left by A Strenuous Life regarding TR’s environmental policy. Like The Quiet World, Brinkley’s bias towards seeing TR as a hero for the wilderness movement was evident (as was his opinion that wilderness should be prioritized over commercial interests). I am glad that I had read a more comprehensive biography of TR first.

Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir; Yosemite, 1903
Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir; Yosemite, 1903

In many ways Wilderness Warrior was a much easier read than The Quiet World—because it focused on just TR, it jumped around less in time and place than The Quiet World did. As with all biographies, I wonder just how complete a picture I’m getting of the person I’m reading about—how do you condense a life down to a book?

Wilderness Warrior was full of anecdotes about TR that I hadn’t heard before. (I meant to make notes of these to share with you all to illustrate the awesomeness of the book but I didn’t…oops.) What was most amazing though, is the sheer number of sites that TR helped to preserve in this country. He created or enlarged 150 National Forest areas. He created 51 Federal Bird Reservations. He created 18 National Monuments using the Antiquities Act of 1906; including the Grand Canyon and Mt. Olympus (later, my favorite national park: Olympic).

The Wilderness Warrior was another excellent read. I’m looking forward to the next installment in his Environmental History of America series!

On The Page: Fire On The Mountain

Edit: This post was written last week but just this morning I learned of the deaths of nineteen firefighters who were fighting the Yarnell Hill fire north of Wickenburg, Arizona. The firefighters were members of the Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshots, part of the Prescott Fire Department. The wind shifted forcing the firefighters to deploy their fire shelters. Thinking good thoughts for the families of these firefighters as well as thinking about firefighters throughout the west.

Granite Mountain Hotshots

My latest read was Fire on the Mountain: The True Story of the South Canyon Fire. The South Canyon Fire took place in July of 1994 just east of Grand Junction, Colorado. (This is only about an hour and half north of us.) I found the book a little hard to get started on, something that often happens to me in non-fiction as I try to match names with roles in the beginning, but once I got started I was hooked. How do you put down a book where you know that things are going to go sideways?

Fire On The Mountain

The handling of the South Canyon Fire was botched from the start and Maclean takes a long look at the politics and mismanagement that lead to the fire growing from a smalllightning strike fire into a blaze that claimed the lives of fourteen firefighters.

South Canyon Fire

Interestingly, the South Canyon Fire had many similarities to the Mann Gulch fire of 1949. John Maclean’s father, Norman Maclean, wrote about the Mann Gulch fire in his landmark book Young Men and Fire. Both fires burned in steep, “funnel like” gulches near large rivers (the Colorado and the Missouri). The fires were burning under extremely hot weather conditions with winds expected to pick up on the day of the blow up with firefighters cutting a fire line above the fire.

While Fire on the Mountain definitely had my attention, it didn’t seem particularly well written to me. If you’re interested in wildfires (or wildfire history), Colorado history, or like a simple fast paced non-fiction read, this might be a good choice for you.

On The Page: The Quiet World

The Quiet World

I just finished reading The Quiet World: Saving Alaska’s Wilderness Kingdom, 1978-1960. Weighing in at nearly 500 pages, I was worried that the book would get “old” or too in depth. I was completely wrong!

The Quiet World details the men and women who fought to save Alaska’s wild places from extractive industry (mining, timber, over fishing and hunting). The author, Douglas Brinkley, is clearly a strong environmentalist. There is little sympathy in this book for multiple use or even responsible extractive industry (except for maybe on the part of Native Alaskans). I was able to deal with this bias just fine because, well, it’s just like my own: the short term cost of keeping wilderness wild pays dividends beyond what we can imagine in the future.

The book introduced me to lots of new (to me) names in Alaska’s environmental history but I was most excited to learn more about Gifford Pinchot, William O. Douglas, and Teddy Roosevelt. (Teddy was the focus of Brinkley’s 2009 book The Wilderness Warrior which is going to be one of my next reads!) I found the end of the book a little weak, just stopping with the early 60’s prior to the adoption of the Wilderness Act of 1964, but that was made clear when I read the acknowledgements: the author is writing Silent Spring Revolution: John F. Kennedy, Rachel Carson, Stewart Udall, and the Modern Environmental Movement 1961-1964. Brinkley is conceiving of The Wilderness Warrior, The Quiet World, and Silent Spring Revolution as being the beginning of a complete series of American Environmental History.

The book was well written, covered a lot of ground, and gave a great background on how we managed to have so much of Alaska preserved in various federal agencies. It also made clear how precarious that protection can be.

On The Page: Green Housekeeping

I hate a dirty house.

I also hate cleaning. There’s so many other things I’d rather be doing than washing windows, scrubbing sinks, and mopping floors. (My skin also hates traditional cleaning products: if I use standard cleaning chemicals my skin starts peeling, it’s gross and painful.)

Walking through the Ridgway Library, I picked up a copy of Ellen Sandbeck’s Organic Housekeeping (released in paperback as Green Housekeeping). While reading about keeping my house clean isn’t my usual deal, the nesting instinct is kicking in a little bit now that we’re “settled” in one spot.

Green Housekeeping

Sandbeck’s tips for cleaning your house start where all books about cleaning should start: organization. Forrest and I did a whole lot of paring down our stuff before we left Idaho so we have a good jump on not having too much stuff laying around. We’re working on eliminating the “horizontal file system” from our house (unfortunately we got rid of our file cabinet!)

Most excitingly for me, she covers how to clean your house without chemicals. Her cleaning tips rely pretty much exclusively on white vinegar, Dr. Bronner’s pure castile soap, Murphy’s oil soap, and hydrogen peroxide. I’m still working to use up my bottle of Seventh Generation disinfecting multi-surface cleaner (which doesn’t appear to irritate my skin) but then I’ll switch over to trying Sandbeck’s cleaning methods. The chapter on clothes washing was also really interesting: she discusses natural detergents, best wash cycles, line drying, natural stain removal, and snow washing.

I’m also interested to try to eliminate paper towels as one of my cleaning tools. A transition to rags may have to wait until we have a working washing machine at home but I’m intrigued!

In short, rather than feeling like I’m a miserable excuse for a housekeeper, this book left me really motivated to try new things. I’m looking forward to slowly incorporating her ideas into my routines. (Actually, I’m not just looking forward to it, I’m embarrassingly excited.) If you’re interested in cleaning more efficiently or cleaning more greenly (or both), this book is worth reading. It’s definitely one I’m going to be keeping around for reference.

On The Page: Born To Run

I’m way behind the curve on this one. When it came out in 2011, Born To Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race The World Has Never Seen started showing up on Amazon as a recommended book for me (and on Goodreads and on friends reading queues) but I just ignored it. A month ago, I finally read it.


After reading, I took to Twitter and talked it over with with several running friends. One of them summed it up perfectly: “Do not read that book near the internet or you will sign up for a 50k and order yourself some Vibram Five Fingers while you’re at it.” It’s true. Despite Vado’s insistence that a traditional road marathon isn’t the same community as in the Ultra world, I still latched on to the idea of running a marathon. As we speak, I’m putting together my projected training and race schedule for the next, oh, year. (You know, amid climbing a few 14ers now that I’m a Colorado resident.)

The whole idea of marathoning, or ultra-marathoning aside, Born To Run was great read for anyone interested in running whether you like 50ks or 5ks. Learning about the Tarahumara, natives of Mexico’s Copper Canyons, was really interesting to me especially after hearing Forrest’s stories of traveling in the region. The way Mcdougall approached the subject through his own struggles with running injuries was also fascinating—the book is incredibly hopeful about our abilities to run long distances, that it is part of our humanity:

“That was the real secret of the Tarahumara: they’d never forgotten what it felt like to love running. They remembered that running was mankind’s first fine art, our original act of inspired creation. Way before we were scratching pictures on caves or beating rhythms on hollow trees, we were perfecting the art of combining our breath and mind and muscles into fluid self-propulsion over wild terrain. And when our ancestors finally did make their first cave paintings, what were the first designs? A downward slash, lightning bolts through the bottom and middle—behold, the Running Man.”

As I was running the other day, this passage came back to me. It’s such simple advice about running:

“‘Think Easy, Light, Smooth, and Fast. You start with easy, because if that’s all you get, that’s not so bad. Then work on light. Make it effortless, like you don’t give a shit how high the hill is or how far you’ve got to go. When you’ve practiced that so long you forget you’re practicing, you work on making it smooooooth. You won’t have to worry about the last one—you get those three, and you’ll be fast.'”

If you decide to read Born To Run and then sign up for a race, give me a shout…perhaps I’ll join you.

Further reading:

Caballo Blanco’s Last Run: The Micah True Story” by Barry Bearak, New York Times; May 20, 2012.

Colorado’s Most Amazing and Punishing (and Magical) Race” by Christopher Mcdougall, 5280, June 2005.

On The Page: A Bolt From The Blue

When I was hiking with Maryanne and Seth, they recommended that I check out A Bolt From The Blue: The Epic True Story of Danger, Daring, and Heroism at 13,000 Feet. What a great recommendation it was!

A Bolt from the Blue

The book tells the story of a 2003 rescue on Grand Teton. Six climbers attempted the mountain and the party was struck by a bolt of lightning. One climber died immediately but the remaining five climbers needed to be evacuated swiftly before darkness. Fortunately, the Jenny Lake climbing rangers were in charge of the rescue.

Woodlief relates the story of a complicated rescue that could have only been pulled off by some of America’s best high country rescue teams. As someone who has been involved in EMS (and hopes to obtain a wilderness EMT upgrade soon), I was fascinated by how the rangers organized the rescue. The story is absolutely riveting—I finished the book within a day.

If you like stories of the outdoors, adventure, and rescue, A Bolt From the Blue is a great read.

On The Page: Here, There, Elsewhere: Stories from the Road

Here, There, Elsewhere

In college I subscribed to the “free” listserv used mostly by faculty and staff; it was mostly things I didn’t need but occasionally a stack of books would come up for grabs. In the spring of my senior year, as I tried to imagine what I would be doing in my future, one of the offerings was River Horse by William Least Heat Moon. I crawled in my bed early one evening and began to devour his story of Nikawa traveling up the Missouri headed for points west. I savored the stories of the people he met and wanted badly to be part of such a trip. River Horse lead me to discover Blue Highways, priming the way, I like to think, for my desire to get out and see the country.

Castle Valley

Least Heat Moon had become one of those authors (like Tim Egan) that I hardly needed to know the subject matter before I was committed to buying anything they might release so when the opportunity to preorder Here, There, Elsewhere: Stories from the Road for my Kindle popped up under my Amazon suggestions in November I immediately ordered it.

Here, There, Elsewhere is collection of essays that had appeared in various publications between 1983 and 2011. Each essay has a short introduction in which Least Heat Moon gives us some background into the writing of each piece—often noting the ways in which he has revised the essay to remove the influence of an editor’s lack of belief that American readers may have “much capacity or willingness to think critically, just as they believe their audience will not tolerate a vocabulary beyond the basic five or six thousand words in common usage.”

Three Sisters

Essay topics range from the rise of craft beer (“A Glass of Handmade” written in 1985), his youthful attempt to meet William Faulkner (“A Little Tour in Yoknapatawpha County), “Crossing Kansas,” traveling on foot (“With a Good Stick in Hand”), traveling in Scotland (“Just South of Ultima Thule”), to writing (“Writing PrairyErth”). Normally my response to a book I love is to read it through breathlessly, without stopping. In this case, I was drawn to savoring each piece as its own little treat.

Least Heat Moon’s stories of international travel are interesting to me as are the bits about writing, or beer production but his passages about domestic travel—and more specifically, maps—are what have always drawn me to him. Some of my favorite examples of this from Here, There, Elsewhere:

“To me, a road map is the printed lyrics to a siren’s song where highways and rivers are like stanzas, and the little circles indicating towns are notes—some flat, some sharp, a few off-key. To begin a journey is to hunt for its tune, its melody, its harmonics, and to follow along from stanza to stanza is to hum a route from, say, Waxahatchie to Marfa, Shamokin to Altoona.” (“The Here Within There”)

and this:

“But my book of longings was something else, a Rand McNally with its seeming infinitude of highways, country byroads, parkways, and even something new with an old name: a turnpike four-lands wide running through the mountains of Pennsylvania, the home of the most iconic American travel vehicle ever—the Conestoga wagon.” (“Not Far Out of Tullahoma”)

But this tidbit on active travelers really got me. To be a truly active traveler, to get off the beaten track and really absorb the essence of a place—to walk its streets, poke into its dark corners, and really feel it—is what I hope we’re striving to do all the time:

“About then a few Americans, seeing consequences, began trying to turn themselves from passive tourists back into active travelers who explore the genius of a place, searchers for the quiddity of Owyhee Country or Hell Roaring Creek or the Rosebud Reservation, or an alley in Charleston. And as they headed off down some of the abundant and often vacated miles of American two-lane, those travelers started to uncover living fossils: a village still possessed of its mercantile heart, a diner grinding its own coffee beans, a clam shack so good the kid in the backseat stopped thinking of clams as slimy, a neighborhood tavern with a fellow or two who knew why Peculiar Street was so named, a nineteenth-century inn where one could sleep inside history.” (“Not Far Out of Tullahoma”)

Here, There, Elsewhere is another excellent example of Least Heat Moon’s writing—he writes in long sentences often filled with lists and rambling ideas. It is not a single compelling story which can make the verbose lists and long sentences seem slightly tedious, however, as one settles into the cadence of his words, they seem to roll along with the hum of travel.

Mary's Peak