Friday, July 20, 2012

Man vs. Shredder

Photo courtesy Flickr

I’m on my third shredder. The first one died, I thought, and didn’t discover until I unpacked its replacement that there was a reset button. Both had been too small, so I bought a larger model that’s still too small.
It may be that the shredder bin has replaced the ironing basket as maintenance most likely to be ignored. Emptying the thing (it took months to find the release pip on the bottom) covers the floor with excelsior that hollers for the vacuum, and I have to finesse the shreddings into a bag to keep the city happy.
I daydreamed about hacking the shredder onto a large hollow base, but circumventing the safety devices wasn’t worth the hassle. Now I line a wastebasket with plastic and dump the chaff in as it accumulates. In a perfect world, the shredder could be lined with a fireproof bag that would be filled with home-grown insulation. 
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Thursday, July 19, 2012

The All-Purpose Pillow

Photo courtesy Flickr

Choose a pillow cover that will please on a sofa or on the bed. Cover every pillow with it. You’ll need half as many, or even fewer. The bed will be easier to make. You’ll live more freely and have money left over for the bank of your choice.
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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Enjoy the Necessities and the Stuff in the Middle Won't Matter

Ethiopian coffee pot courtesy Flickr

I’ve been experiencing a harmonic convergence of key items wearing out, a fast Internet connection that lets me shop anywhere in the world, and a brief and tiny loosening of the budget stays. I upgraded a couple of basics to state-of-the art design: one is the metal card case that holds plastic and ID and fends off scanners. The other is one very fine cashmere turtleneck that works harder than canvas jeans.
Now and then a new purchase is so well-designed that, like a healthy puppy, it displaces the old dogs in the inventory. The recent acquisitions pushed junk out the door, freed many cubic inches of expensive space, and have already paid for themselves in convenience and aesthetic satisfaction. I'm guessing that the principle at work is to choose the lowest-tech solution to a given need and then find the state of the art for that level of sophistication.
A recent cartoon about home organizing showed a cruddy overflowing bin in the middle of a room. Chair legs peeked over the top. All that remained in the space were a laptop and a music system. Presumably there was some real estate in the equation.
I’m gettin’ there.
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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Wild Plants Speak to Wild Animals

Photo courtesy Flickr

I grew up listening to occasional mournful recitations of the ghosts of environment past, unique and precious tiny ecosystems wiped out with one pass of logging equipment. My grandmother was born in a homestead cabin on the Peninsula and lived there until she was seven, eating wild food, seeing only family, a few neighbors and tribespeople, and hearing nothing but the sounds of the woods and waves. 
To the end of her life, she held the open attitude of someone who breathes clean air, drinks pure water,  and knows she has to watch her step. In a recent interview in a local giveaway arts magazine, musician Quincy Jones nails the local mind-set: [the frontier]…"is visionary, imaginative, personable, familiar”.
As Seattle expanded, the woods contracted and the waves were fouled. The process could have been heartbreaking, but I had met a math genius hippie who lived off the land in the middle of town. He weeded people’s gardens for free, because he ate the weeds.
I would not imitate Jack’s choices, but he made me aware of the wild strata of life in town. The fern that grows on the facade of an old brick office building, the starlings that are meant to be baked four and twenty in pies, the very wind and rain, and the problems that vex-they’re all wilderness.
The garden of native plants that so satisfies me evolved to speak to other species. It is deadly boring to be surrounded by nothing but human artifacts physical and biological.
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Monday, July 16, 2012

People Can Live Anywhere

Photo courtesy Flickr

The chief housekeeper for Seattle’s public housing introduced me to the big three of housing. It should be  decent, safe, and sanitary. Mentally ticking down the list is a good shortcut when I’m contemplating a particularly adventursome domestic improvisation or when a situation grosses me out.
Rem Koolhaas, architect of the mind-blowing local library headquarters, made the title comment about human habitation recently. He sums up just about everything prospective tenants and new homeowners have had to consider when choosing living quarters. The Whole Earth Catalogue and Norma Skurka’s Underground Interiors are good orientations to alternative housing.
Koolhaas’ architectural practice takes him around the globe, and he said he only sleeps at home a few days a year. Presumably he observes conventional housing with a fresh eye. Emergency management and personal preparedness keep alternative housing on the desktop: integrating ordinary daily life and emergency evacuation displaces stress and gets the most value out of top-quality field gear.
I once knew a family of “displaced persons” who had fled both right and left totalitarian regimes during World War Two. Several removes landed them in Seattle in the early Fifties. Over the course of several years, successive elders and a granddaughter kept house and looked after my brother and me. Just a couple of years older than I, the granddaughter mentioned during a  Mickey Mouse Club commercial that she had been born in a house of two hundred rooms. She was a member of the royal family of a small central European country.
Later, during a summer visit to relatives in Puerto Rico, I met their housemaid, who was fifteen, earned ten dollars a month (twice the going rate-the other matrons were unhappy with my aunt for escalating), and lived, I was told, in a cardboard lean-to.  My childhood home must have seemed closer to a cardboard shack than the quarters of her early girlhood, but my young Seattle caregiver was a simple North End rock and rolling chick with good manners, feet on the ground, and a running feud with an older sister to keep her entertained.
Housekeeping guru Don Aslett claims that a house should look as if the people who live there are having a good time. That cuts through aspirations that have morphed into pretense. All the rest is property values and family custom.
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More after the jump.