Friday, February 17, 2012

Living Seattle


Photo courtesy Flickr

Writer Calvin Trillin used the term “rubophobia” to describe people who are uncomfortable with simple origins and simple customs. Rubophobia distorts judgement in very entertaining ways, as countless seasons of Frazier have documented.

Seattle choked on its own rubophobia until the 1961 Worlds’ Fair brought it to public attention. That was the only Worlds’ Fair to make a profit, thanks to a heavy dose of popular culture on the fairgrounds. Having Elvis sing about it didn’t hurt, either.

Like the 1968 exhortation to “have pride in yourself” posted on 101 near East Palo Alto, Seattle has slowly come to realize its contributions to the modern world. Composing yesterday’s blog, I realized that the systems that make it convenient to live in town without a car were invented locally: I can hop an airliner to go visiting, I can use software to shop, and the delivery service that started a mile to the south will bring my goods fueled by the gas stations that are also local in origin.

It’s a little different from living in a logging town, now, but perhaps Seattle has lived out Port Angeles’s entertainment manifesto: make your own fun.
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More after the jump.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Little Kids Love Little Doors



Every twelve years or so I visit the RV show, a reliable source of inspiring ideas for small spaces. Visiting at long intervals makes it easy to spot evolutionary change in the basic form of the vehicles. The liveliest displays yesterday were animated by children. One sizable model had a miniature bunk room at the back with an equally child-sized door. A couple of kids were hopping in the frame, clearly delighted with quarters that are scaled to their height. The door’s a good fire safety feature, too.

Another even huge-er RV had a full-width ramp at the rear, a feature I find irresistible for reasons I can’t fathom. It’s just a neat idea. This particular model was set up with its ramp horizontal and bordered with a straightforward steel mesh fence about three feet high. A couple of kids were literally jumping for joy on that deck- a brilliant idea for child care on the road. Even in the harsh industrial environment of the exhibition hall, the kids were romping free of worry either about the road or incoming from mom.

I think an ordinary one-story tract house could easily be adapted to offer the same freedom to a children’s bedroom. I have in mind something from the Fifties that’s built on a concrete slab. Hundreds of houses like this were built in Seattle’s early bedroom suburb.

Every house I’ve known has had one bedroom that was the least desirable, small, on the darkest side, and/or close to a utilitarian feature of the neighbor’s property. Code permitting, it wouldn’t take much cash to install a door proportioned to child height, perhaps as a door within a door. On a solid concrete footing, build a three-sided wall of cinder blocks or fencing outside the door to create an outdoor room with the security and privacy that are suitable to the location.The ground could be covered with gravel for easy maintenance.

An outdoor area with free access at the child’s initiative would be a liberating amenity, both for child and parents. When the nest is empty or the space outgrown, the outdoor room would make a good walled garden, space for sunbathing, or offer simple egress to the family pet. It could easily be modified into an aviary.

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More after the jump.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Energy-Inefficient Home

Photo courtesy Flickr

Last week the big ball of fire appeared in the sky after months of drear. For one considered reason and another, just one room of this 1890 house is insulated, a second floor chamber on the south side. The Day the Sun Came Out I got home around four and did my usual tour through the rooms setting up for darkness. The insulated room was dire chilly. The rooms to either side were balmy.

State of the art when it was built, the house has abundant and sophisticated daylighting and effective passive solar gain. I very much enjoy making the most of 1890 in 2012 terms. Consistently, the Great Big Hiking Co-op, which was founded locally in the Thirties, carries high-tech solutions to perennial low-tech problems like staying warm and cooking.

Current thinking about urban design values living close to the center of the city in efficient quarters. Our unique situation allows us to find ways to make the most of existing infrastructure until economics say it’s time to sink capital into something new. We’re whittling at the carbon footprint from many directions.

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Monday, February 13, 2012

Deft Tummy


Photo courtesy Flickr

Michael Pollan says, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

That’s easy to remember, and I’d add “five or six times a day”, advice, as I recall, from Groppel and Andelman’s Corporate Athlete.

A thrift shop title about storing food gave me “buy what you eat, eat what you buy”. The Berkeley Food Co-op of blessed memory taught me the value of buying basic organic ingredients. Shopping this way renders coupons irrelevant, which makes procurement simple.

The Ayurvedic medical tradition says to pay attention to the paste that passes through the gut, because it’s valuable feedback. Eat flax seed.

As far as I know, that’s all it takes to steer one’s metabolism in a healthy direction.

2015 Update: define an eight to twelve hour window in which to consume food.

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