PENINSULA WOMAN: Port Townsend resident has her eye on a green future

By Diane Urbani de la Paz
For Peninsula Woman

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PORT TOWNSEND -- So Ann Landis was on her way to meet a date made on

Then she saw her future, right there on the Seattle ferry.

But "he was very shy. I had to use everything I had to get him to talk to me," she remembers. After a fury of flirting, "he finally sauntered over."

At which time she asked a question to determine any further discussion.

"So are you going home to see your family?"

Steve Raab fortunately had the right answer: "Yes, I am. But I'm not married."

Ann, then 51, canceled that date. And proceeded to have an electric conversation with the man who would become her husband.

She learned that like her, Steve had been married about 20 years. Also like her, he had been divorced around seven years.

Steve loved to sail on his boat; Ann wanted adventure in her life. They had both raised kids, and "I loved the way he was talking about his children," she recalls. "I could tell he's a good dad."

Three months after they met, Ann and Steve were wed. They knew what they wanted, and they knew they had found it: a fun-loving, future-oriented partner for life. They've been together seven years now, in a commuter marriage.

"We have a weekend love affair, because I don't want to leave here," says Ann, who has lived in Port Townsend for 31 years. And Steve's job at Westfire Coastal keeps him in Seattle during the week; she likes to get out of town now and then, while he enjoys coming over to the Peninsula.

When in the same city, "we totally focus on that time together," Ann says.

Life for Ann Raab, now 58, is good on the professional front, too. She's running a three-part business based on past, present and future.

There's Olympic Design Group, the firm she and her former husband, contractor Rick Landis, formed 30 years ago. With this company, Raab has designed and remodeled houses and interiors across Western Washington, highlighting environmentally responsible practices and a distinctly Northwest style.

After the divorce and after her two children went off to college came another enterprise: Raab turned the top floors of her four-story home into the Morgan Hill Getaways, guest cottages with lofty views of Port Townsend and, of course, cozily furnished rooms.

Alongside all of this, Raab collaborated with Jan Hopfenbeck, a former building permit technician for the city of Port Townsend, to create green-building guidelines for Jefferson County.

Next Raab formed GreenPod Development, a company that builds "intelligent environments," as its website, www.GreenPod, says.

Translation: GreenPods are compact homes made with recycled and other non-polluting materials. Their design emphasizes windows, to let natural light pour in, and ultramodern insulation for maximum energy savings. Non-toxic paints, natural fibers and passive solar design are integral.

Raab and Hopfenbeck, an expert on site analysis and construction standards, work together to show people how good green living can be.

And GreenPod was overwhelmed at first by queries from across the country and in Europe, Hopfenbeck says.

"We decided to focus on Western Washington and the Olympic Peninsula," not only to keep the work load manageable but also to avoid using fossil fuels to truck materials across the country.

There are GreenPod homes in Quilcene, Bainbridge Island and Port Townsend now, Hopfenbeck adds.

This isn't just about the house. To the GreenPod developers, the landscaping around it presents another opportunity to nourish one's habitat -- by choosing food over lawn. This means freedom from watering and mowing grass, while providing forage for wildlife, fresh produce for your table, or both.

Hopfenbeck adds that GreenPod not only uses environmentally safe products, but also works with suppliers who have proven they employ green manufacturing methods.

"The holistic nature of all the parts is what really hooked me," Hopfenbeck said. "So many people call things 'green' these days. But with a GreenPod and its underlying philosophy, a person lives the 'green.'"

"We created GreenPod expressly to show what could be done with the inside [of a home] as well as the outside," Raab adds. "We want to give people a choice."

Whether you're in the market for a GreenPod home or not, Raab says, there are simple things -- unplugging cell-phone chargers, turning off computers at night -- that add up to a meaningful impact on the environment. "Collectively," she says, "we could all do a little bit more."

Very often, Raab says, women are the ones who select the furnishings for a home -- and hence have an environmental impact of their own.

"As women, we can change the world, by our choices," she believes. For example, selecting towels and bedding made of natural fibers like bamboo, organic cotton and hemp has a significant effect.

Such products don't need to be washed as often and, since they don't carry harmful chemicals, they don't pollute the inside of your house the way many conventional products can.

Both Raab and Hopfenbeck work from a possibilities orientation.

While Hopfenbeck works on plans for a GreenPod neighborhood and talks about a new kind of modular home that requires no excavation, Raab talks one on one with people interested in green building and remodeling practices.

Every Wednesday, she stations herself at the GreenPod display inside April Fool and Penny Too, the gallery at 725 Water St. in Port Townsend, and discusses plans, remodeling ideas, weatherization and interior decorating with anyone who stops in between noon and 4 p.m.

Next Saturday, Raab and Hopfenbeck will mark a GreenPod milestone with an open house at 33 Cape George Road.

From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Feb. 5, visitors can see for themselves what "transportable modular eco house" means: They can walk through a GreenPod and, Raab says, get a sense of how it would feel to live there.

Raab grew up in Ann Arbor, Mich., the daughter of an Olympic-level swim coach. As a girl and as a young woman, she lived to please him. She was an athlete who strove for perfection -- until she realized she needed to direct her energy in a new way.

Today, Raab lives according to her own mission: making a contribution to her own community.

Fortunately, Raab has the support of her family as she develops GreenPod. She radiates pride when asked about her grown son, Robb Landis, and daughter Ty Landis.

Ty, 30, is an architect who often collaborates with her mother on design projects, while Robb, 29, works in information technology for the city of Seattle.

"My son spends hours keeping my computer and the programs running," Raab adds.

In 2009, Raab had a scare that reaffirmed her personal mission. She underwent surgery for breast cancer. As a survivor, she's clearer than ever about what she wants to do with her time on Earth.

"True happiness comes from making a difference," Raab says. "It's as simple as smiling every day, and acknowledging people."

Raab has taken part in community projects including Port Townsend's Earth Day Every Day event, and believes strongly in the importance of acknowledging the various ways that people contribute to such endeavors.

Earth Day Every Day is back this year, she notes, at Fort Worden State Park on April 16.

To her mind, women are well-equipped to lead their communities into a greener future.

"I really believe we have to step forward now," she says, adding that women know how to nurture land, people -- and ideas.

"It's our time," Raab says, "to care for the planet, and to show people the possibilities."

Last modified: January 30. 2011 1:02AM
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