Friday, May 26, 2017

Garden Shortcuts

I use the lawn mower to do most of the grooming in my yard. Perennials are set low enough so that the machine will not injure the crowns. Spring maintenance means rising to the challenge of whatever developed over the winter. Over the week-end I refreshed the drill.

Mow. Rake the ratty margins of the sward toward the center. Mow again. Spray margin weeds with benign herbicide. It will not be necessary to attend to the edges until October, if then. Mow in convenient patterns of curves and turns, then design the rough areas to look good as is.

I lay composition shingles broken into thirds under the fence to block growth far enough into the lawn area that a pass with the mower will trim everything -30- More after the jump.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Tuna Melt

Good bread produces good results.

Drain a can of tuna. Mix in three tablespoons of olive oil and two teaspoons of wine vinegar.
Dress with freshly ground black pepper, two or three minced pepperoncini, and four to six minced Greek olives.

Mix and spoon onto bread slices. Top with thin slices of sharp white cheddar cheese and heat on a rack in a pan in a three-fifty degree oven, around six or seven minutes -30- More after the jump.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Open File Surgery

It took years, but my paper files are now a stack only two inches thick. The key to the system is a question from Koberg and Bagnall's "Universal Traveler": what is the worst thing that can happen if...(in the case of files) I throw this away (or just scan the thing)? When I started slashing files, I asked myself if I were willing to accept $25 worth of hassle if something were missing. The sum is larger now, but the question is the same.

Now and then it's important to have an overview of the paper archive. I discovered that it's simple and effective to stack the sheaf of files on an empty three by six foot table and deal things into relevant piles. Most files can then go back into hiding, while the hot topics claim the attention they deserve.

The key to this particular mint is knowing the files can sit there undisturbed by other demands on the desktop, and that I can safely leave the archive out overnight -30- More after the jump.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017


My experience with landscape maintenance is in salvage. I've done three quite old gardens, and it's very gratifying. An aged yard offers woody plants with sculptural qualities that rival those of a traditional Japanese landscape.

I haven't checked lately, but I believe landscaping expense is a capital investment that the tax man will factor into the profit on a house, so it's worth budgeting for. I would have saved quite a bit of time and effort had I found a trained landscaper to design a master plan for the property and hired a trained arborist to do salvage pruning. Hire anyone with a license to remove unwanted trees.

I would talk to the landscape designer about the following: edibles, native plants, and my dream meadow. Now that this lot is forty years familiar, I can see how rewarding it would have been to seed it with native everything I could think of and edit as things sprouted and grew.

Garden writer Vita Sackville-West recommended respecting plants that volunteer in surprising and interesting places. She also said that visitors can jolly well walk around a plant that strays over a path. There are risk management aspects of that advice to consider, but the approach keeps a place from looking like the boot camp haircuts so many maintenance crews leave in their wake-30- More after the jump.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Move It!

One of my childhood playmates was the daughter of a World War Two flight nurse. My friend used military jargon that was presumably the fruit of the urgent necessities of medivac. As domestic circumstances evolve, I am finding the jargon useful for accelerating the ordinary routines of life support.

The author of the management manual Getting Things Done, David Allen, recommends instantly completing a task that can be finished in under two minutes. Doing so keeps the algae off the hull of my little vessel, so to speak.

Keep a thrift shop donation bag by the main exit. Use something disposable that has handles that stand ready to grab. 

I am experimenting with delivery of ordinary life support supplies. Preparing an order is a little time-consuming because I'm unfamiliar with the system, but the strategy looks promising.

Laying out bulky extra bundles of waste for the city to haul away is cheaper than thrashing with a dump run.

When I discover a garment that is so apt for my uses that it is always in the clothes hamper, I get three of them.

Little changes add up to big savings. Sometimes the savings come in non-obvious ways. The time I save by having things delivered and hauled away can be spent on preparing meals at home. That saves hugely on commercial food, and that in turn improves health and reduces medical expense -30- More after the jump.

Friday, May 19, 2017


A song on the local independent rock station reminded me of the woes of trying to eat right when time, resources, and skills are in short supply. I can't presume to know the limitations of living in a food desert, but I can offer brief comments about how my contemporaries dealt with life support in the mid-Sixties, before food stamps and government student loans.

I managed my own East Bay household on a grocery budget of nine dollars a week for two. Fortunately, the Berkeley Food Co-op was a short walk away. The informational price labels on its limited inventory noted the cost per pound of usable protein. This was back in the day when animal protein was a big issue.

Analyzed in those terms, bacon costs more than steak. At the time, the cardboard packaging of a box of dry cereal was said to be as nutritious as the contents, so the Co-op recommended oatmeal. Berkeley was a center of nutrition research, and Frances Moore Lappe' had just published her priceless Diet for a Small Planet. The traditional ethnic food combinations she defined, wheat, soy, and sesame and rice, beans, and corn, contained all the essential amino acids of animal protein in forms that are less expensive and easier to store in the absence of electricity or a nearby supermarket. Put simply, those foods are greener. Add flax seed to that oatmeal.

Everyone I knew had their grandmother's recipe file of vegetarian dishes, and LDS students had the advantage of their tradition of food management.

Long experience with the pantry suggests that buying staples in bulk is an effective way to cushion the vicissitudes of daily life. Getting a leg up can be hard. At first, bulk might mean a half a pound of dry beans rather than a can. Storage might mean a glass jar scavenged from a recycling bin. Store in bug-proof containers that no one can gnaw through. You will thank yourself. Add powdered milk to the collection for the most accessible animal protein. Tropical island families of privilege used powdered milk in my day, because shipping fresh was prohibitive.  For the same reason, cabbage replaced lettuce.

Traditional dry stores come to life with an herb or two, some olive oil, and some cheese. Coming up with the scratch for those amenities is an achievement, but a fast food meal is so counter-productive that it might be worth a day on peanut butter to fund the oil. Cook in a thrift shop rice cooker or, ideally, heavy cast iron pot and lid that are coated with enamel. Sharpen the knife on the porous bottom of a mug.

Back in the day, young adults started housekeeping with a full kit. Give yourself a kitchen shower if you're not prepared. The pay-off is immediate -30- More after the jump.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Feeding Habits

The current recommended meal schedule for knowledge workers, six small ones a day, parallels what the son of Charles Lindbergh observed about the feeding habits of a group of captive monkeys. The animals preferred to take one bite out of the perfectly ripe section of a piece of fruit and then move on to the next resource. In the Smithsonian magazine story that covered his research, Lindbergh said the grocery bills were breaking him.

I'm more than OK with eating like that. Doing so keeps me as sharp as I am able to be over the longest stretch of daytime productivity. Control costs by shopping carefully for good ingredients (not necessarily the most expensive ones) and cooking in conscious quantity. Experience with keeping house without electricity taught me to keep food headed toward the innards in a timely way. Fresh is best, dried a second choice -30- More after the jump.