Last year when our pond was new we added 20 feeder fish (very tiny goldfish). They disappeared. We added 20 more. They disappeared. We added 20 more, plus two koi, and one larger gold fish from a friend's pond. They all disappeared. Having had fish before I was pretty sure they were all hunkered down in the bottom of the pond, waiting for warmer water. But, we were impatient. We now had 60+ fish in our pond. A few floated, but very few, so in actuality we probably had about 55 fish. All winter the pond showed no sign of fish. This spring, once it warmed up, they began, slowly, to come to the surface. We could never get an accurate count but we were sure we had at least 40 fish from the previous year and a batch of new babies. We had plenty of fish. In fact, we were now concerned that our pond was over-stocked.

Well, not to worry. Just this morning I heard a rattling and saw the flash of a bird flying up to our roof. A few moments later I heard the rattling again and watched in fascination as the same bird dove into the pond and came up with a goldfish in its beak. A Kingfisher has discovered our pond. Eating is good!


Refining Storage

This pantry is narrow pull out storage that can be accessed from both sides. It works well. I would use this food storage solution again. But, as with anything new, learning how to use it best takes some time.

So, the ongoing task of living in our new home is one of refining what we need, and storing it in a way that is both pleasing and useful. When one lives in small spaces, those spaces cannot be wasted storing items for only occasional use. We keep the items we use year-around close at hand and the seldom used items are not kept at all. Those extra serving dishes or cooking pots used twice a year at holiday time are no longer part of our inventory -- not even in our storage closets.

The past few days I've been refining the contents of our shelves, adding to our food storage containers, and eliminating items that have been collecting dust. When moving into our new home I made the best cut I could but the experience of living here has provided valuable information. For example, the pull out pantry doesn't store bagged items, like beans and pasta, well. The packages flop around and get caught when the pantry is pulled out. Plus they take up too much room.

In looking for solutions, Brad discovered these great glass canisters (top shelf) at one of our local stores. They are now full of coffee beans, rice, beans, pasta, granola, oatmeal and the secondary flours and sugars (soy and wheat flour/powdered and brown sugar) for baking. The larger quantities of sugar and flour are in the larger containers. In the pantry, plastic sealed containers are used for dried fruits and nuts. The remainder of the pantry is available for cans and boxes of frequently used items that store well in that space and are handy to grab. Floppy bags and bulk supplies are no longer creating panty problems. After purchase, they are immediately placed in the canisters -- neat, dry, air tight and handy storage.

I went on a reading jag about the Chinese Cultural Revolution a fews months ago. It left me with a clear idea of just how lucky we are here in America with our large homes (even ours at 860 square feet) and all our amenities for living well in those homes. Thinking of cooking on a gas burner, squatting on the floor of a hallway; an entire family living in a cold cement room of only very limited space and almost no privacy; inadequate heat; few accessories; and so forth, has helped me realize how little I really need. And, how much I have, even after reducing what we had by so much. I like turning away from the American norm so I can focus on the essence of what's really important. Having what I need rather than what I want helps me to have a quality life without being owned by my possessions.

A friend once visited our Saratoga home (also small at 1200 square feet). Her comment was, "oh, I love small homes. I would love to have one too." Since she was in the process of designing a new home I asked her why she couldn't have one. Her reply was that she had so much furniture she needed a large home to house it in. Her children were grown and out of the house so it was only she and her husband. But, they built a four bedroom home of probably 4,000 square feet so she could store her furniture. Hum? Seemed crazy to me.


Solar Heat Storage

Brad Hankins, designer and builder of our fredleyonwhidbey home, designed our solar system's heat storage and sensor monitoring system. He has posted some interesting and educational comments at his blog, click website address below, then follow links to solar.

Brad Hankins

Design Build BRAD


Guest House Interior Shots

This first picture is of the window seat with a 'Green Giant' Western Red Cedar in the background. This hybrid cedar will reach only 30' tall by 10' wide so can be planted in a more restricted location. The tree is centered on the hallway/bridge as one walks directly from main living. The neighbor's studio you see in this picture will be hidden by the tree in a few more years.This pictures shows the bath vanity area, in relation to the window seat. It also shows that the bath is lower than the bed area. There are two steps, with one riser, which is a floating metal stair connecting the two areas.
Here is the bedroom area with the wall bed up. The floor space available when the bed is up is designed for yoga. A table on the backside of the bed is available for working on a sewing or research project.
This is a photo of the bedroom area, with the bed down. A lowered bed leaves plenty of room to walk around all sides of the bed, but that's all. There is not extra room for furniture, which was our desire. Past experience had shown us that furniture is just a place to put clothes instead of in the closet. Because of the generous windows and the high ceiling the room does not feel cramped or claustrophobic in any way.


Seattle Times Pacific NW Magazine

Following is a reprint of that article dated 11/22/09, without photos.

On Whidbey, a unified home from multiple recycled parts

FRAN ABEL and Ed Anderson's new home is three separate little buildings that look as if they might have started out fitting snugly together into a single home. You can imagine some force of nature causing the sharp angles and winged rooflines to burst apart, then settle back down into a cluster within the hollows of the landscape. If the parts could be fit back together, their shapes might interlock as seamlessly as a 3D jigsaw puzzle.

This Whidbey Island home embodies the idea that green doesn't mean dull, and innovative design can be as practical as it is cool. It doesn't hurt that Abel is a garden designer experienced in water catchment and native plantings. Her son, Brad Hankins of B.R.A.D. Building Renovation and Architectural Design,(note: dbbrad) who designed and built the house, is relentless in researching green technology and searching out materials to repurpose.

"This place started out with a patina and will only get better," says Hankins, pointing out that little maintenance is needed on materials that have already endured wind, rain and time. The windows and the roofing are new, but that's about all this family purchased at a store. "You have a design, and it evolves as you find the materials," he explains. Despite the contemporary flair of his design, the home's siding of worn metal and old barn wood leaves you guessing as to whether it's remodeled or new.

Which is just how Abel and Anderson like it. They wanted their new place to fit into the neighborhood. A major reason they moved into Langley from their view property outside of town was to gain the sense of community that comes from having neighbors nearby and town an easy walk or bike ride away.

Not only did the family put hundred-year-old barn wood, scrap steel and 40-year-old chairs found on Craigslist to good purpose, they even used waste from the job. The greenhouse adjoining Abel's vegetable garden is built of leftover windows, stone and scraps of insulation. Very little needed to be hauled away after the project was completed.

So how much money did the family save by such skillful repurposing? "Zero," says Hankins, who explains that it takes lots of time to transport, store, clean and detail materials with a previous life. "It may not save money," chimes in Abel, "but it feels good to do, and you can't buy wood like this anymore."

The entire project is a scant 860 square feet, spread out over the three buildings. Every space is multipurpose; the kitchen, dining and living rooms share a single space. The bedroom converts to a yoga room when the Murphy bed is folded into the wall, and its hallway is lined with books. The "barn" houses a workshop, guest room/study, laundry and plenty of storage for bikes and boats.

The main building is heated by solar power collected in vacuum tubes on the roof and stored in a heat sink beneath the concrete floor. "This building will take care of itself," says Hankins. The bedroom has a hydronic heater with solar storage tank. Because this high-mass heat-storage system is a bit experimental, Hankins buried 24 sensors to create a data-collection center that will monitor the heat sink to see how it's responding to all the weather factors that influence the system.

"Three separate buildings isn't as efficient," acknowledges Abel, "but you get some privacy." Since Anderson likes rock 'n' roll and Abel prefers classical music, a little division between buildings makes for smoother family dynamics. Each little building has its own relationship to the outdoors, its own deck or terrace.

"Ed and I love coming outside in the morning and experiencing the weather, feeling the wind, hearing the birds," says Abel of their open-air journey between bedroom and main house.

And how about the dynamics of a son designing and building a house for his mother? "Having a client with great taste is such an asset," says Hankins with a grin.


Storm Water Management

In this time of municipal jurisdictions thinking surface water is a liability, we are exceedingly pleased with how we've handled our roof water. The larger pond overflows into the wetland (Picture 1) where, despite some torrential downpours of late, has handled, with room to spare, all of our roof water. All three roofs feed the upper pond or creek directly, then flow down the creek to the lower pond. Once the lower pond is at capacity the water overflows into the wetland. The second photo illustrates the guesthouse roof water flowing into the creek. The other two buildings are piped underground directly to the upper pond.

Very heavy rain during the night and well into the morning resulted in the deepest wetland collection I'd observed. At 11:00 a.m. the wetland, at it's deepest, was 6.5" and covered an area 7' by 15'. By 12:00 there was little or no rain and the stream had stopped flowing. The wetland was already going down. By 3:00 the wetland was 2" deep at its deepest and measured 5' by 13'. At no time did we come even close to capacity. These results were in saturated ground as we've had a very rainy few weeks.

The water in the stream in this photo (below) is all rain water. The circulating pump mostly runs in the summer when there is little rain.

Birds have been thoroughly enjoying drinking and bathing at the ponds' edges, especially during their migration this fall. On occasion we'll see as many as 20 or 30 birds at a time accessing the pond.


Metal Wall

A week, or so, ago, Tim finished up our metal wall in the main living building.

Living Art

As part of John's art the reworking is part of the experience. For our garden we modified the piece he brought to be more organic with stone rather than the cut glass of the original piece. We also installed it by hanging it as part of our front entry rain "chain" system.

Garden Art

Some fabulous new garden art arrived today. John of RE brought by a couple more pieces for loan and Brad and Erin gathered some wonderful stones for a cairn.


Karra & Dennis

Seeing Karra and Dennis again, after several years, was wonderful. Unfortunately, their son (now 6) didn't come along because they were having a business meeting with Brad and didn't want the distraction. However, we haven't seen him since he was an infant, so we were disappointed. We're looking forward to the next visit -- with all three of them!


Our Crew Moves On.

Josh, Brad and Travis load up the table saw, saw horses, planer and a multitude of other tools for moving to a new job. Our barn is emptying out and we'll soon have both our car and our little tent trailer under cover. But, boy will we miss these guys.



Sweet Annie who helped us build our new home and has loved living here, died on the bridge, one of her favorite spots, on Saturday. Too soon we've had to dig a grave in our new garden and too soon we've had to say goodbye to our much loved pup (she was only 11). We have a huge, huge empty spot at Grace Lane and in our hearts.



Art by RE

John of RE created this beautiful found object art. To my great surprise and delight I found it by my door this afternoon. Naturally, it took me about three seconds to install it in the garden. Thanks John!


Invaluable Fillers

New gardens have too much empty space to be lush the first year or two. Quick fill-the-space solutions are California Poppies and Nasturtiums. In the second picture, even in among Ferns and Rhododendrons, California Poppies are terrific! A pack or two of seeds, costing just a couple of dollars, can bring months of outrageous color. Poppies, cut back shortly after the first bloom, will flush out again and provide a second bloom. A word of warning: the deer leave the Poppies alone but nibble on the Nasturtiums.

A stream of our favorite people...


Marti, Shelly, Paula, Betty & Ann

Brad & Erin

Michael & Shelly

Elliott, Ed & Judy

A few garden shots...