Friday, November 2, 2012

Native Form

Photo courtesy Flickr

The summer’s record drought wrought welcome changes in the garden. 

When I decided to steer the landscape toward native plants, I realized that the culture recommended for rhododendrons-fertilize, water, remove dead blossoms, prune for compact form-is just the opposite of what produces the leggy violet beauty of rhodies’ spring roadside apparitions. The brief flowers hover in the shade of vine maple and madrone, and usually I see them sparkling in or after a rain.

I like to mark the passing of the year by the blooming times of various plants. Next spring, I will be able to enjoy the leggy future of a drought-hammered domestic rhododendron as it regains its natural shape in the light shade of an elderberry. The evolution of this particular plant is especially entertaining because it is a dead ringer for the fake rhododendrons that used to screen one part of Frederick and Nelson’s tea room from another.

-30- More after the jump.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Critic

Photo courtesy Flickr

An elder of an Eastern Washington tribe told this story on himself. His aunt died, and the funeral was held in a tiny church out in the middle of nowhere. The woman had been notoriously vain and had spent money her children needed on her wardrobe.

Rick said he approached the funeral in his pick-up truck, screeched to a halt in the gravel parking lot, stomped up to the open coffin, reached in with both hands, rolled the corpse out of its white mink coat, and shouted, “You won’t need this where you’re going!”. He stomped back out of the church, threw the coat into the back of the truck, and peeled out of the parking lot.

-30- More after the jump.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Nightmare Housekeeping

Photo courtesy Flickr

Special regards to the East Coast. A local bookkeeper who tracks money for a national cab company said yesterday that New York cabbies behaved with unprecedented courtesy during the storm, even wading through waist-deep water to rescue a woman in labor. I suppose the news is that this is news. I wrote the following days before it became obvious that Hurricane Sandy would be difficult.

I studied art history with a man who reminded us that back in the day, Hallowe’en was a truly frightening occasion, because many a family did not know whether it would make it through the winter.

For several years, I have had the privilege of meeting weekly with a support group for people who have a serious illness. I’m healthy, fortunately, and my original reason for joining the group has faded into the past, but the exercise has proved so rewarding, that I anticipate showing up as long as I’m ambulatory.

As a lifelong casual student of experimental housekeeping, the group has given me access to a few stories that are infinitely more tragic and painful for taking place in a squalid setting. In fairly wide and deep reading of the history and good practice of housekeeping, I have run into no comments about how important it is to manage a set-up to support misfortune.

A properly designed set-up will fend off misfortune. Conventional advice about home safety and sanitation are the foundation. Between that foundation and the crowning layer of decoration lies efficiency, all too often a neglected consideration.

Several members of the group have shared stories of falling ill right in the middle of a major remodeling project. That’s hardly preventable, but the physical and financial burdens are dire. As a veteran of decades of home restoration, I’d advise against mission creep when planning work on the house. Avoid the “as long as” syndrome and keep a tight focus on the job at hand.

The saddest stories come from artists and craftspersons who work out of their homes and need varied and bulky inventory to be productive. Managing inventory is a tough job. That things get out of hand is an inarguable indicator that they need more attention. I’ve had the benefit of living with someone who has designed a couple of small rural museums, and the solution to keeping track of things is simple: adjustable high-tech coated wire shelving systems stocked with standard sized plastic bins with lids. Ideally, the shelves are mounted on heavy castors so they can be stored chock-a-block in a dedicated space. Any hardware chain or big-box storage specialist sells this gear, and it’s worth every penny. There’s resale value, too, it recycles, and it’s easy to label the bins with a wipe-able marker. A nervous conservator will use permanent marker and erase it with alcohol. 

Competent storage saves space, saves sanity by allowing one to clean up allergens (in far less time than ordinary), and generates income by saving time. The fundamental organizing idea is simple: if you have it and you don’t know where it is, you don’t have it. 

Define your inventory closely. Keep it tight and portable. Besides protecting the future of a career, doing so protects the domestic partnership that might support one in a crisis.

A plaster molder once told me he tools up for each job, using confectioner’s tips to form elaborate decorations. My life has been far simpler since I adopted the “keep no leftovers” approach to projects. In town, just in time procurement saves precious cubic inches of real estate. The petty economies of keeping supplies are quickly eroded by the labor involved in maintaining them, or the even greater amounts of labor involved in not maintaining them. Recycling makes it easy to decide to send surplus on to the next level.

-30- More after the jump.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Let A Thousand Rooftops Bloom

Photo courtesy Flickr

The ash trees dropped their leaves, revealing the block’s new roof decks in all their contemporary starkness. They could just as well be in Tel Aviv as in Seattle. 

I can’t really complain, though, because going up is such an elegant way to take advantage of urban outdoor space. Come spring, I anticipate the return of the new residents’ outdoor furniture and entertaining chit-chat. A few pots of scarlet runner beans would grow their way down to ground level and relieve those high-tech facades.

The block holds the history of the Euro-American occupation of this area. The old places are the first wave: any Seattle house older than 1970 is most likely the first European structure on the site. I can sit here in my 1890 place and adapt portable state of the art domestic and field amenities to the limitations of a low-tech development property. At the same time, I can watch the comings and goings of new residents who seem relatively free of DIY and can put their energies into funding house payments and formal week-end recreation.

Always in the back of my mind is the knowledge forged over six generations that the climate and environment of Western Washington are essentially benign. Even a crude lean-to is enough to ensure comfort, health, and safety, as long as the firewood holds out.

-30- More after the jump.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Point of View

Photo courtesy Flickr

When morning glory made its way to Japan, tea master Rikkyu invited a friend to see his specimen. The guest found that Rikkyu had removed all but one blossom from his vine and that the single flower that remained was perfectly placed to observe from the tea house.

Novelist Ken Kesey said something to the effect of “Stop. Just move a little back or forth or side to side” to improve one’s outlook. In arranging furniture, I often find that an inch or less makes the difference between simple, elegant luxury and mean-spirited awkwardness.

Over the week-end, I fiddled with a daybed and raised the seat level by several inches. Doing so destroyed a lovely view west over a sophisticated domestic roof scape. What had been a modest vista of treetops and distant high-rises became a blank wall of expedient metal siding and leafless street trees.

The good news is that a few more minutes’ fiddling will bring natural space right back into play.

-30- More after the jump.