Friday, May 7, 2010

The Garden Next Winter


Photo courtesy Flickr
Now is the time to plan the Thanksgiving landscape. Visualize evergreen bones, carefully pruned bare branches, and consciously groomed beds and paths. Summer’s abundance will be a graceful arabesque on a decorous structure.

After many years of driving myself nuts with ill-considered complexity, I can now maintain the garden with three tools: sharp pruners, a power mower, and benign herbicide. The tools themselves determine the fine points of layout. Thorough grooming of the property takes half an hour.

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More after the jump.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Ketchup is a Vegetable

Photo courtesy Flickr
Salsa lives in the boundary layer between condiment and side dish. A visit to an old twentieth century cookbook will uncover sauce recipes for the ketchup that most of us know only from Heinz.

Heinz dominates the commercial market for ketchup because it is absolutely consistent from one batch to another. Susan Strasser lays out its history in her Satisfaction Guaranteed.

Improvising homemade ketchup is a simple way to enhance a sandwich that’s promising to begin with. Drain a can of no-salt chopped tomatoes. Save the liquid and use it to mix an especially refreshing Virgin Mary or red beer at another meal. Reduce the tomato pulp over fast heat-it will only take a few minutes. Fiddle with the seasonings to suit the rest of the sandwich. Heat a good roll while the pulp is reducing, press the center gently toward the crust, and build yourself a meal-on-a-bun masterpiece starting with leftover salad.

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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Nylon Furniture



Photos courtesy Flickr
Nylon pack cloth displaces furniture. Nylon is stronger than steel of the same diameter, although is vulnerable to abrasion and sunlight.

Hanging nylon shoe and sweater bags are more efficient than a dresser.

A small zippered nylon packing pouch is so light, stable, and efficient that its contents can hang off bicycle handlebars rather than having to perch on a table.

My office lives in a side bag. I need a desk only a few hours a week.

Nylon “suiters” replace armoires.

The big hiking co-op sells a soft nylon chest of drawers to use in a tent.

Collapsible nylon garden bins replace garbage cans.

Rolling nylon travel cases replace trunks.

Nylon displaces a world of rigid cubes with soft, portable, featherweight amenities.

It’s great stuff. When DuPont put nylon on the market, stockings were so durable they never snagged or ran. One of my relatives bought an early pair of nylon socks and wore them for twenty years. Last time I saw them, they looked almost new. The Fuller company put a nylon nail brush on the market around 1948. I’m still using it, and it looks fresh.

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Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Rocking the Reading Room

Photo courtesy Flickr
In 1963, I heard the librarian of Congress lecture on the origin of the Gothic arch. He had spent twenty years gazing up at the elegant dome over the library’s reading room and realized suddenly that the Gothic arch was a segment of a dome.

The simplest way to draw a circle is to draw a square and then draw diagonals at forty-five degrees across each corner. The eye will read that structure as a circle. The librarian realized that the sphere of the dome had originated as a square and been refined with several more rotations from the center.

He went on to discuss the significance of rock music, then a new medium. He said the community bonding, or catharsis, that is the essence of classical Greek drama is present at a concert, too.

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Monday, May 3, 2010

The Urban Jungle


Photo courtesy Flickr
The morning of April 20, crows woke me up before dawn. In thirty years in this house, I had never heard them call out when it was dark. The racket was so unusual, I noted the time and date.

Later that morning, local news mentioned that the space shuttle’s last flight had passed overhead in an unusual reentry pattern. I think the crows were responding to unprecedented sounds in the atmosphere. They function as “jungle fowl” on the block, announcing arrivals that are out of the ordinary. Usually, the arrivals are pedestrian.

I mentioned the crows yesterday to a neighbor who observed that when the tsunami hit Indonesia, birds and animals had already been fleeing inland for half an hour.

Ella Clark's Indian Legends of the Pacific Northwest lays out the tribes' way of relating to animals. During my babysitting years, I carried this book to every household. It never failed to captivate the children as it had captivated me.

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More after the jump.