Friday, June 22, 2018


I looked down at the inherited spoon I was using to eat oatmeal this morning and realized that the form of the thing is a silent memorial to my grandmother's sensibility. In her benchmark Woman's Day Book of American Needlework, Rose Wilder Lane says,"Our lives are short. Our work lives after us." Ms. Lane herself mentions the spoon her family inherited from Walt Whitman.

Like the eloquent expression of a sea shell or the more ephemeral skeleton of a weathered leaf, a cherished artifact embodies the culture of the family. The most vivid example that comes to mind is a pottery oil vessel that sat on the mantel of a three-hundred-year-old French farmhouse. The World of Interiors covered the story of the last member of the family who had willed it to the nation as a museum. The jar was handmade, funky, sensible, far from elegant, and clearly just right for its intended purpose, since no one had gotten around to discarding it in favor of something higher tech. Longevity was its principal message-30-
More after the jump.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Canny Travel

I enjoy chatting with the owner of the boutique where I buy most of my clothing. Recently she attended a child's college graduation ceremony on the East Coast, and she said she froze in unexpectedly chilly weather. I couldn't resist asking what she wore in response. Anna said she had brought two cashmere wraps and wore both of them.

Raising a skater taught me the value of layering, a concept borrowed from the outdoor community. I can layer any garment in my small collection with any other garment. Around 1988, a young designer won a national award with a collection she called Fragments. It was a series of cotton knits cut from the same cloth, ordinary business now but revolutionary in the beginning-30-

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Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Killy Clerical

Skier Jean-Claude Killy's way of charging recklessly downhill is the best way I know to manage paper details. I wade into the stuff as it comes across the desk, letting nothing linger. Months of picking at critical details have left me with no patience.

Working standing at a waist-high locking tool chest on wheels has greatly accelerated my rate of production, as has setting a large drawing pad on top of the thing. The pad becomes an old-school desk memo surface -30-
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Tuesday, June 19, 2018

In Spades

A recent newspaper article about florists reminded me of a pleasant way to send flowers to a friend. Order specific blooms delivered with the stems set into water tubes. That way, the recipient can use a favorite container and enjoy the relaxed effect of amateur arranging. English designer David Hicks recommended cutting flowers and arranging them in one's hand as one goes, then setting the bouquet into a jar as is.

During the Eighties and Nineties, I read furiously in glossy shelter magazines and books about interior design. The floral arrangements of the New York firm Pure Madderlake never failed to enchant, but I did not expect ever to enjoy one first hand. Around 2003, a local gardening organization solicited nominees for a contest. I contacted the unknown gardener who had transformed a long-vacant lot into an indescribably beautiful haven.

The fellow declined the nomination but offered me a tour of his guerrilla garden. He had organized it as a memorial to his brother, a fireman, lost on 9-11. The garden was designed for reflection and relief. My guide picked up clippers and a small, very good piece of northern European glass. We made our way through narrow paths, and I chose from appealing and subtle varieties. As I was leaving, my host mentioned that he had worked at Pure Madderlake and had sunk $20,000 into the plant material on his vacant lot -30-

More after the jump.

Monday, June 18, 2018


Growing roses for competition in Portland, Oregon, is like racing at Daytona. An acquaintance said she shifted to organic culture because a neighbor developed cancer, and she couldn't bear the thought of having contributed to the illness.

We chatted about the joys of growing roses, even at my level of skill, and I learned a couple of tips. One is that on the morning of a competition, my informant goes out into the garden at dawn and asks, "Who wants to go to the show?" She shares my policy about aphids: if she can't see them from five feet away, she ignores them. I spray aphids with cold water when I have the hose out of a morning, and I plant cigarette butts near the roots. Neem oil, that I have not used, apparently takes care of other pests. 

My roses have been wild and wooly and full of fleas, since for years I concentrated on growing Nootkana. The Portland gardener did not know Nootkana, and I explained that it is like bamboo with fangs. I am no longer in the Nootkana business, but I miss the wild canaries that came with it,  and I miss its leaves, that smell of apples and honey after a rain. 

My informant was pleased to inform me later in the day that her volunteers had won in their division of Portland's rose Olympics -30-
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Friday, June 15, 2018

Good Yardkeeping

More smokers in the neighborhood and escalating demands for water conservation have posed an interesting problem in managing this small landscape. Last year I began to water after ignoring irrigation for twenty years. We also planned and have half executed a three-foot wide firebreak around the house.

I keep the hoses ready to go, and today is the day my calendar reminds me to bring fire tools out of storage and set them up in the front hall. The in-house field science guy came home from a dig raving about the McLeod rake/hoe/stomper he had been using, so our version will be front and center, too. The tool is ideal for grooming the front bank, and I see from checking the spelling on-line that the trail bike community likes McLeod as well as I do. It stands on its own and makes a good coat rack.

A simple flat broom and a couple of shovels complete the batterie de brush fire -30-
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Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Missing Mansion

Losing a fine old house to demolition is not news in Seattle. A recent project on the crest of Capitol Hill resulted in an unusual, and probably temporary, outcome. I walked past the site of a huge early lumber baron style house every week on my way home from a particular store. I saw the writing on the cyclone fence, so to speak, and then missed a week or two's errands. The next time I passed the property, the triple lot was level, had two inches of sprouted grass, and a small greenhouse in place. The fence remains.

I find this a charming and heartening way to manage a vacant lot pending further developments -30-
More after the jump.