Friday, May 27, 2011

Red Beer

Photo courtesy Flickr

Seattle’s just wrapping up a week’s celebration of local breweries. As one anchor-guy said, “Beer, it’s not just for breakfast anymore.”

Mix it with tomato juice and pepper sauce if you want people to think you studied at Wazzu.

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

House Got Back

Photo courtesy Flickr

The more I lighten up, consolidate, and miniaturize, the bigger the house gets. Years ago, a wise older friend years ago looked around my first, six-hundred square foot cottage and remarked, “Be sure to leave room for people.” It was a struggle at first, but a few decades later, I can do that.

The key people to accommodate, it turns out, are the residents. No two households run off the same script, and our original one wrote in shop and studio space. It’s been a long haul first filling and then emptying the nest, but at last we are using the space as we meant to in the beginning.

The hospitality industry classifies space as the front of the house, social and reception areas, and the back of the house, support space like kitchens, laundry, and janitorial facilities. The trajectory of twentieth-century housing has been to outsource support and alter the proportion of interior space in favor of the front of the house.

I find that the more space I’m able to use for support and production, the more I enjoy the building, my time, and the people who visit. The key to rearranging the place has been to avoid toxic processes and supplies. As in the garden, I can mix the practical and the decorative at will if I don’t have to segregate certain functions. Consequently, every precious cubic inch of space does double or triple duty.

The house looks Victorian, but it functions like a traditional Japanese farmhouse, where every space was a workspace and people simply slept in convenient spots as projects demanded.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Just So: Why the Space Shuttle's Tank Is Red

Photo courtesy Flickr

A while ago, someone at NASA looked at the shuttle and realized that every launch was lifting hundreds, maybe thousands, of pounds of unnecessary paint. They stripped the fuel tank, that huge central element of the lift assembly, of its purty white surface and saved the enormous effort it takes to get even a few pounds of payload out of earth’s gravity well. Willy Ley’s Rockets, Missiles, and Space Travel lays out the details.

Futurist Buckminster Fuller considered the weight of a thing before he considered anything else. That bit of wisdom, added to the thirty-pound limit for airline luggage early on and the inescapable realities of the hiker’s backpack have formed my sensibility. Over the decades, when faced with a range of choices in a store, I have leaned toward the smallest, lightest, most high-tech versions of whatever I was hunting.

Last week, I unpacked my three by twelve by ten inch side bag after a morning at the gym and a brief stop downtown, and realized that it held a full change of clothing in addition to a working art studio and the usual camera/phone/music assembly. The side bag functions like a climber’s day pack and allows me to make myself at home anywhere. I’m no longer rooted to a sleeping place, office, or vehicle, so I can make the most of any given circumstance.

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Monday, May 23, 2011

Duct Tape Is Vulgar

Photo courtesy Flickr

Thanks probably to the magazine Ready Made, duct tape is creeping into the mainstream
as an all-purpose construction amenity. There’s a whole culture of duct tape artifacts now. The first one I recall was a wallet.

For slap-it-on assembly that shows, I prefer the more flexible matte black gaffer’s tape, my all-purpose pressure sensitive binder, that leaves no residue. The convenience of storing only one tape makes up for the extra expense of using a standard film industry supply.

That said, vulgar ain’t half bad, and the local university book vendor offers vulgar squared: duct tape printed with Kar Kulchur flames. I’ll be keeping an eye out for it on the street, and I’d bet that the first place I see it is across the worn tennis shoe of a graduate student.

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More after the jump.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Carriage Trade


Photo courtesy Flickr

Before the automobile carved new channels into the face of the city, retailers offered particular services to busy women who were raising families. I’m talking 1952, when females wore white gloves in public (carrying an extra, clean pair for back-up, not such a bad idea now with MRSA). There was a riding stable close to the Arboretum, and, if memory serves me correctly, one prominent matron still used a horse and carriage to get around town.

On the days a woman visited the Medical Dental building, she could slip in to the best department store in town through a connecting back door. Frederick and Nelson offered child care and a fleet of forest green delivery trucks. Seeing one come down the street was always cause for rejoicing, or at least mild curiosity. It was ordinary for a shopper to bus downtown, make selections, and have them sent to the house. Frederick’s sold cases of toilet paper long before the Big Box bundles became a standard unit of volume. Many of our older houses have a cupboard close to the bath that is the same size as those cases of tissue. Frederick’s deli offered early versions of frozen, prepared dinners.

The culture that supported Frederick’s evolved from upper and middle-class nineteenth century households run by women who had people in service. They  used the time the help afforded them to educate their children, and were traditionally responsible for the spiritual welfare of all members of the household. When the staff split for industry after the first world war, electric appliances took up much of the slack. Delivery service protected the energies of the woman running the show. After World War Two, the automobile replaced delivery, promising lower competitive grocery prices and greater self-determination.

Between appliances, the automobile, and mass public education, the matron morphed into teamster, chamber maid, and nanny. The cultural environment did not respect physical labor, and the sports environment did not train women to use and protect their bodies during the hard labor of lifting toddlers and humping supplies from garage to pantry.


Fifteen years ago, I realized I was spending twenty hours a week behind the wheel in second gear on crowded city streets. A couple of weeks of casual phone research encouraged me to throw away the car. I haven’t regretted that decision for a moment. Last week I enjoyed lunch with a childless friend who finds herself overwhelmed with elder care. I had accepted a ride home because the house was between Lily and her next destination, a routine stop at a rug cleaning place. I couldn’t resist remarking that perhaps the trip was not necessary.

My friend grew up in a very comfortable early suburb of Seattle. Her family did Fifties culture to the hilt. Lily is now managing two households, hers and her parents’, that are built and engineered around cheap oil, personal transportation, and unpaid domestic labor that isn’t even counted as work.

When I was herding a Volvo station wagon full of junior high school kids around town, I thought of myself as Mrs. Wheels. I was only too happy to retire and substitute professional drivers and warehouse staff. The digital revolution has slipped in to displace Mrs. Wheels as surely as the grocery boy who set cartons of chow on my grandmother’s kitchen table. Replace the green van with one of another color, and you’ll shave days off the month’s responsibilities. Avoiding that steering wheel reduces stress: face it, driving is a real time life and death contest, and the time is not always right for Mary Poppins to become Danica Patrick.

I routinely ship small parcels short distances. I should have been doing so long before I got rid of the car. Any shipper has packaging on the shelf, and it’s well worth a few dollars to be able to bring freight, that’s what it is, to the counter and have it disappear into competent hands. An account with a shipper who offers pick-up service might make sense for Lily. As a security measure, I subscribe to the concierge function at my shipper. They hold parcels shipped to me at their address, and I take an extra five minutes on the way home to pick things up.

I shop on foot one Friday afternoon a month for routine sundries (using my rolling suitcase), and pick up fresh food three or four times a week when I get off the bus. Once or twice a year my partner visits the Big Box to stock up and comes home in a cab. I think the same outfit delivers, as do several vendors of organic produce and the dairy that also brings coffee and cookie dough. One of the big grocery chains delivers, and I think there’s an on-line giant that provides groceries, too, as well as everything else a heart might desire.

A Navy supply trick prevents emergency runs to the store: keep two of each staple in reserve, and replace the replacement for the replacement when you use something up. Lily could shave pounds and hours off her work load simply by buying three of everything for a while instead of one. Little efficiencies will add up to a much simpler system. Even running errands in a car can be eased by stowing freight in dairy crates and moving it with a folding hand truck. There’s no reason stock could not be stored directly in the garage on adjustable coated wire racks, ideally ones set on heavy wheels. The manufacturer offers a security model surrounded by a not unattractive lockable cage.

My notion of supply was formed on a Northern California cattle ranch in 1952. The summer range house, twenty mountainous dirt road miles from the nearest town, had a six by eight pantry off the kitchen. My hostess kept cases of food to feed the hands. Each morning she offered me my choice of a candy bar from one of several cases. Doling out food is a powerful gesture, and Bett’s was the ancient one of a chateleine.

A 3G wireless connection and a laptop are the twenty-first century version of the ivory tablet a medieval housekeeper hung from her belt to keep notes about what to do. Protecting one’s wit and judgement is the key to the mint. Doing so requires healthy selfishness.

9/11 was a spectacular example of what the military call a force multiplier. The perps leveraged four planes and a few hundred thousand dollars into a strike with lasting worldwide effects. Dairy crates, adjustable coated wire shelving, a folding hand truck, a laptop computer with fast wireless connection, taxi cabs, and a shipping service are the force multipliers that enable a housekeeper to leverage herself back into the land of the conscious.

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More after the jump.