Friday, July 13, 2012

Keeping Electric House

Photo courtesy Flickr

Ten years ago a power surge cost me a thousand dollars worth of intelligent appliances. Now everything that’s likely to lose its mind in an overload gets juice through a specialized extension cord with a built-in breaker.
I detest electrical cords and anticipate the day when there are none in the house. Bit by bit, they’re disappearing. Small solar-powered task lights from the Great Big Northern European Home Furnishings Chain have displaced several, amplifying space because they add fast, convenient options for locating a project.
As appliances shrink in size, they’re more likely to run on rechargeable batteries. The fan I need three days a year is a tenth the size and weight of its predecessor and can be set anywhere, even in a tent. A white noise generator for urban summer nights is a sleek, small package that has run for five years on one set of batteries. 
As high-tech arrives, historic restoration is providing authentic early cord covered in thread, so I can restore the dinosaurs that still solve certain problems best. It is said that an obsolete technology becomes an art form: the $25 historically accurate incandescent light bulb is now a consumer reality and a worthwhile example of the electric fire that replaced primitive combustion.
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More after the jump.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Button Yoga

Photo courtesy Flickr

On-line how to posts seem to have sewing on a button and threading a needle covered, but here are a couple of tips that surround those basic functions: first, when you notice a button getting loose, remove it deliberately so it doesn’t get lost. Second, and rarely necessary these days, inspect a garment when you bring it home for the first time. If it seems as if the buttons are sewn on carelessly, take the time to secure them, so you’ll never have the hassle of a lost fastener.
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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

You've Got to Be Kidding

Photo courtesy Flickr

It was my privilege to live for several years with a very bright Yorkie-poo, the only dog I’ve known who would quibble with an order. Now and then she would assume a certain stance and give me The Look.
In giving the garden back to native plant species, I seem to have filled my life with green things that talk back. The dialogue is very entertaining. Native plants don’t need water or fertilizer. They don’t get sick, and bugs don’t bother them. Maintenance takes minutes where it used to take days. The landscape is filled with vigorous green athletes instead of floppy, high-maintenance drama queens.
Until recently, it’s been rainy, and I’ve had a valid excuse not to mow. As I looked over the front garden from a second story window, I realized that the clover, a third of the old-fashioned lawn mixture, had grown into a sea of modest stars that caught the subtle mixture of dawn and streetlight to glow like low-tech clusters of small holiday bulbs. It would take an hour to groom a conventional perennial border after such a display. I mowed mine in two minutes.
Convenient mowing patterns have transformed the front lawn into a blooming sward of leggy herbs with a meandering grass path. The landscape is different every week as hardy volunteers rise and fall with changes in patterns of sun and shade. I could not possibly have premeditated the subtle and entertaining variety of the native plants.
A yellow iris produced stunningly beautiful bronze seed heads last fall. They were far more beautiful than the blossoms and lasted for months rather than days. I do not groom the iris, a deliberate experiment to learn from the plant’s behavior and foster authentic wild growth patterns. Little iris pups have appeared in the crash area where the seed stalk fell sometime over the winter, and they are every bit as welcome as my quibbling best friend.
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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Vital Signs

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Medical people know that excretions don’t lie about what is going on inside. The East Indian ayurvedic tradition teaches one to observe the product of the gut as a valuable feedback mechanism. That said, just be sure to eat one or two tablespoons of flax seed each day. I doubt you’ll regret it. I take mine on oatmeal. It’s good on salad, too, and baked into bread.
This is a very old-fashioned way to monitor health. My great-aunt, a nurse, used to check the state of the kids’ bowels in the morning, and she cooked out of an early twentieth-century manual that had a chapter on the medical value of various foods. I know this because my aunt, a progressive and enlightened daughter of twentieth century science, used to snicker at Bodie’s approach as she lit her third or fourth cigarette of the morning.
“Wellness” was not a viable term in the twentieth century.
Thirty years ago, we bought this 1890 house and found a platform by the back gate that was designed to hold three big galvanized steel garbage cans. For several years after we moved in, we had no solid waste service. Everything we discarded was composted or recycled, except for, literally, two featherweight garbage bags a year of dead light bulbs and cooking spray cans. The city closed the zero garbage option, and we’ve done just fine with one micro-can the size of a large plastic tub. Most weeks, it’s only a third full, and that’s with sloppy management.
I’ve spent several mornings in a row working in the garden, and my nose is up to natural speed. Yesterday I got a whiff of the kitchen compost and realized that good-smelling garbage is an unfailing indication of the good life.
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More after the jump.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Sugar, Salt, and Shopping

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The other day I spent the afternoon with a group of people who were concerned about healthy eating. Many were cursing their habits but felt unable to change. I couldn’t contribute much to the discussion except a couple of remarks about changing gradually and how grass-fed beef tastes different at different times of the year.
My personal eating preferences have evolved from the meat three times a day three squares of the Fifties to a roughly vegetarian cuisine that is less and less happy with commercial food. With lots of backsliding, though, and with the understanding of a longtime vegan friend that some bodies need meat. 
Two decisions were the armature of change: the first was the choice many years ago to eat only unsalted butter and organic oils. Unsalted butter is first quality, kind to the palate, and gives it a chance to recover from the insults of aggressive commercial seasoning. Choosing organic vegetable oils displaces cheap commercial fats that concentrate pesticides. 
One summer a friend and I split a share of the produce of the first local direct organic farm marketing operation. Over that growing season I experienced the fabled natural high of the Sixties, presumably a period with an intense awareness of biochemistry.
Early on, after I had stocked the larder with unsalted butter, I began to avoid sugar because every penny counted and I simply couldn’t afford sweets. After nine months of brown rice, lean protein, fresh fruit, and large salads, Christmas rolled around, and I committed all the traditional family baking. It took just a couple of bites of fruitcake and ginger cookies to realize that they made me feel like hell. Custom prevailed, though, and I learned that the table is inseparably linked to the larger society and to the economy. I still felt like hell, though, and on some deep level Knew that I’d betrayed something important.
As a fresh graduate, I worked briefly as a traffic engineer for Ma Bell. In 1966, the people responsible for keeping phones ringing in San Jose were going crazy, literally tearing at their hair in the face of a growth rate of 110% a year and the conflicting demands of human and computer communications. From them I learned the value of gradual change.
Assuming that every dollar spent is a vote, I began to support the fragile shoots of innovation that furthered what I had learned about food living in Berkeley, where the Co-op posted illuminating paragraphs under each item on the shelves. (Bacon, for example, costs more per pound of usable protein than steak.) I shopped at the local co-op that stocked organic brown rice. From volunteering with heart patients, I had learned very young to avoid prepared foods loaded with sodium, so the co-op’s hand-labeled bins of bulk ingredients looked like service rather than privation. From Port Angeles, Washington’s glorious West Dependable Grocery, that fed loggers, I learned to appreciate the huge economies of buying in bulk and the importance of stocking staples that keep without electricity. From mountain climbers, I learned the value of staying hydrated and of nibbling on nuts, chocolate, and dried fruit.
The other pillar of healthy eating habits has been to avoid salt. Interestingly, a hippie neighbor in Haight Ashbury told me during the Summer of Love that salt was bad news. Staying away from heavily salted food is the foundation of a decent, elegant, moderate, and very simple cuisine. Different households will present different menus, but patient and gradual change toward whole grains, organic produce, and unprocessed staples will assure you that you’re eating as well as circumstances permit.
It was the traffic patterns of voice calls that were making telephone engineers crazy in San Jose in ’66, tearing them between the legal service requirements of the state utility tariff and the irresistible freedom of digital telecommunications. It is helpful to understand that choosing to eat a certain food starts with the choice of where to get it. In a good week, one’s personal journeys, aka traffic, flow like water. Convenience is everything, and constructing convenient systems of procurement frees time to prepare simple, healthy dishes from basic ingredients. I find that replicating the local pioneer food pantry cushions last-minute demands for chow. An electronic pressure cooker and a sack of beans are the key to the mint.

Start with just one change. Use life-affirming choices to displace expensive, destructive alternatives. Changes in mood and behavior accompany change in diet, so it takes time to assimilate new ways. It also takes time for cravings to be replaced by new cravings, so indulge yourself in health.
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More after the jump.