EDMONDS — It all started last summer when the doctor told Cliff Stering to lay off the sugar.
It wasn’t news the 88-year-old retired mechanic wanted to hear, but he wanted to live to be 90, so he obeyed.
To get his sweet fix, he indulged in Cascade Ice sparkling water and Healthy Choice Fudge Bars.
Stering, who doesn’t like to let his hands idle, fiddled with the labels, twisting the shiny paper into tiny balls to fill the empty plastic pop bottles.
“I decided I’ll just make something to look at before it gets thrown away,” he said. “Well, it didn’t get thrown away. I thought, ‘There’s gotta be another use for it.’”
Sure enough, he found one. A use only a man with his ingenuity could find. “My daughter’s husband had died, and she needed a post for an old birdhouse that he made years ago.”
Stering fastened the ball-filled bottles together as a stand for the birdhouse, using pitchfork prongs as an anchor.
The outcome was artsy, sustainable and functional.
Best of all, it was a good excuse to eat more fudge bars.
“Every time somebody comes I talk them into having an ice cream bar,” he said. “Would you like to have an ice cream bar? They’re good. They’re not fattening.”
Stering has lost 20 pounds since turning his consumption into a hobby.
He advanced to making birdbaths, cleverly engineered so the top comes off for easy cleaning.
“It’s gone gangbusters. I can’t keep up with the orders. The grandkids say, ‘Grandpa, I’m next,’” he said. “It takes a good week to do a bottle. It takes eight of them for a birdbath. I’m thinking about making lamps out of them next.”
His daughter-in-law, Sandy, said the creations give him a sense of purpose.
“When he wakes up in the morning, he has a goal,” she said. “It keeps his mind going.”
The Herald learned about Stering in an email she sent: “I feel this reflects how many senior citizens still want to be recognized and feel that they have value for the rest of their remaining time with us,” she wrote.
“He not only recycled waste, but he was able to design and create something useful from scratch and to feel value and self-worth again. His days and nights are long with the TV being his main form of entertainment.”
Stering still drives but has limited mobility by foot and is tethered to an oxygen canister. He has been a widower for about 30 years and lives in the house he built in 1948.
Though he has a doting family, much of the time he has only the TV (favorite show: “Big Bang Theory”) for company. His little dog, Trudy, died a few months ago. She never lectured him when they’d make runs to McDonald’s for an Egg McMuffin. After all, a guy’s gotta eat.
The birdbaths are a crafty path for Stering, who flew planes, raced motorcycles and repaired fleets of cars.
He and wife Charlene raised three children. She knew what she was getting into from the get-go.
“I told her before we got married that if motorcycles were going to be a barrier I guess we couldn’t get married,” said Stering, who raced Harleys and did stunts on the Seattle Cossacks motorcycle drill team. “I could go down the road 50 miles an hour and ride on the seat backwards.”
Charlene accepted her husband’s daredevil tendencies and appreciated his tinkering skills. He made a grill from a water tank. “You could put a whole cow on it. It was that big,” he said. “You could cook about 80 chickens on it. It was for parties here when the wife was alive. There’d be 200 people. People driving by the road would stop in. We met a lot of people every year.”
More people meant more plumbing. Stering was up to the task. “I built an outhouse and put it over my RV drain,” he said. “I put a toilet in there and a mirror, for the ladies.”
His wife of 43 years died of breast cancer in 1985. He retired in 1986.
Stering’s new hobby may not stop cars, but it keeps his hands moving and his days and empty bottles filled.
“It’s better than doing nothing,” he said. “It kind of pacifies the time somewhat.”
What do the birds think?
“The first one I put out, a bird went to the bathroom on it,” he said.
Andrea Brown; 425-339-3443; firstname.lastname@example.org.