Friday, December 23, 2011

Houseguest Check List


Photo courtesy Flickr

I have found it convenient to set up a personal dressing area separate from my sleeping room so that it’s trivial to move over for incoming visitors. I keep a large-type printout of this list with the kit of small amenities.

Fresh bedding, even if they’re bringing a sleeping bag
Extra pillows and blankets
Full set of towels for each person
Hangers, sweater bag, bathrobe
At bedside, a water tray, flowers, ear plugs, and white noise machine
Radio with frequencies listed
Internet connection
Night and reading lights
Table and chair, outlet
Fruit and snacks
List of services and interesting things within walking distance
Maps and bus and tourist guides, cab contacts
Table for suitcase
Magazines, books
Writing paper and pen
Fresh soap, cotton balls, paper tissues, comb, razor, emery board, toothbrush, paste, and floss, shoe wipe, shampoo, lotion, tampons, condoms, first aid and sewing kits, personal rubber duck
Disposable rain poncho
Leave a key in the door if you use a deadbolt system for security.

Setting up is not as much trouble as it might seem: most of the things on the list support daily life as well.
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More after the jump.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Worn and Perfect


Photo courtesy Flickr

I love being around artifacts that improve with age. When I wore jeans, there was a span between being broken in and broken down that felt just right. An acquaintance once served me a meal with a silver fork almost as malleable as an aluminum pie plate: the flatware had been in her family for generations. Eating with that fork left me grateful for what small command I have of fine motor skills.

For forty-five dollars at a yard sale, I picked up two hundred square feet of hand-knotted tribal camel hair rug woven in a traditional Afghani pattern. The central part of the rug was beginning to show the warp. It’s not uncommon even now to find fine brass reading lamps from the early twentieth century in thrift shops.

Uncle Landon bought an old chair. The grain on the parts that show has raised slightly with two hundred years’ changes in temperature and humidity. After he seated me on the chair, Uncle Landon said he’d looked at it for several years before realizing it was Hepplewhite. My back and bootie just love that chair.

Another uncle mushed out from Port Angeles to visit the ancestral homestead, now in other hands. He brought me two shingles from the smokehouse, which had collapsed. They’re a yard long, split from six-hundred year old cedar from virgin rain forest. They are patterned on one side with smoke and on the other with the subtle erosion of a hundred fifty years of clean rain. I think they’re the most interesting things to look at in the house, because nothing of them is predictable or man-made.

One of the homesteaders who settled in the area that became Olympic National Park left his hatchet to my grandfather. I had a chance to handle the tool as a child when I ran across it and the man’s will in my grandparents’ attic. The lifetime inventory of a Yale graduate who guided Teddy Roosevelt through clear cuts and virgin timber and convinced him to establish the park was listed on one typed page. A possession is valued differently when it stands between one and hypothermia, and back-up is a fifteen mile hike away. The hatchet looked like a champion show dog of advanced years. The handle was built up of patterned layers of different kinds of wood. The head was razor sharp, modified by years of honing into a subtle variant of the original casting. It was made by a company whose name is still familiar, but it came from another world.

Shiny and perfect is just right for medical gear and laptops. Life is richer when you learn to appreciate the effects of time and respectful use.

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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Winter Light

Photo courtesy Flickr

My grandmother, who was born in a homestead log cabin, insisted that windows be especially clean in the winter. It makes a big difference: a friend from New Orleans declared Seattle winter survivable after she got to the glazing.

Another housekeeping tutor was a woman of high privilege from one of the smaller countries in Central Europe. Ms. W was careful to keep the incandescent light bulbs and lampshades clean, and she often lit a small fire in the afternoon. Keeping shiny surfaces shiny makes the most of ambient light and, to me, explains the low-tech eighteenth century preference for silver, mirrors, varnish, and satin.

Light's a nutrient, they say, and my portable LED “light box” has leavened many a dismal winter morning. I used to hang out with a fellow who painted in oil, and I just loved the 500w flood light he used to illuminate the canvas he was working on. There's a flood in the corner of the room as I type. We don't have a fireplace any more, and the flood is a close second to the glowing focal point a hearth provides.

Another trick is to find and polish a brass tray. Set glass snowballs, very clean small fruit jars or other clear glass tea light holders on it, light the candles, and call it a portable hearth. The snowballs are the safest candle holders I know, and variants often turn up in thrift stores.

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Monday, December 19, 2011

Seven Simple Ways to Refresh the House for the Holidays

Photo courtesy Flickr

1. Wash the glasses that you wear.
2. Sweep the hardscape three or four times with a corn broom. The silica in the broom straw will polish the pebbles in the cement.
3. Add a new bed pillow or two.
4. Vacuum the very edges of each room.
5. Shorten turnaround time for leftovers in the refrigerator.
6. Empty and wash trash containers and wastebaskets. Keep them close to empty.
7. Keep each room gnat’s eyelash orderly, so holiday incoming won’t pile up on unresolved tasks.

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More after the jump.