Friday, February 8, 2013

Point Source Comfort

Photo courtesy Flickr

The environmental community talks about “point source pollution control”, or cleaning up close to the point of origin. Visualize a toddler with a chocolate ice cream cone. Experiments with conserving heating oil have taught me something obvious: keeping body heat close to the body keeps one warm.

Going into December is a daunting experience. When the kitchen thermometer hits fifty and the sun never rises over the roof to the south, I feel apprehensive, but a couple of layers of cashmere T-shirts, wool long handles, and state of the art field gear from The Great Big Hiking Co-op topped with a hat keep me functioning. 

The body learns how to stay warm. December conditions that challenge a complacent summer metabolism morph into January’s relief and delight in the same circumstances.

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Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Reluctant Shopper

Photo courtesy Flickr

I begrudge the time it takes to do routine procurement. My partner has been doing the weekly grocery run, and we compared notes recently when he was down with a virus. Two shoppers may be like too many cooks. I think we need a shopping czar.

Back in the day, I herded a blue Volvo station wagon around town buying synthetic breakfast cereal for demanding skate-puppies. I hit the Great Big Discount Warehouse Palace every couple on months to fill the purpose-built low-tech cold closet off my nineteenth-century kitchen. That strategy had been influenced by a childhood visit to an off-grid ranch house on forest service summer range. In 1952, a visit to that property was like living on the set of a television western. Our hostess shopped twice a year for the family and a couple of resident hands. Six or seven adults were working the round-up, a cook was laid on, and my mother was turning out a dozen wood-fired pies each morning before she saddled up and went off to pester cows herself.

You think you know a parent. Anyway, the storage pantry off that kitchen was heaven. Each morning after breakfast, my brother and I were invited to choose a candy bar from several open cases, and I imprinted on boxes of canned goods and gallons of this and that as a back-up system to fresh eggs and milk and the beef that mysteriously appeared on the table now and then. The closest town was twenty miles away over a dusty one-lane mountain road.

Years later I lived in a similar situation on salt waterfront and found it convenient to stock pantry staples and shop in town once a week for things that required refrigeration. My recent shopping conference revealed that it still makes sense to separate buying staples from buying fresh food. We’ll go back to procuring for primitive conditions, even though we’re as high-tech as can be. A low-tech pantry is good preparedness. The Discount Behemoth appeared to protect budgets from fourteen percent inflation, but the resilience and time savings it affords are just as valuable as that level of return on an inventory investment. I’ll keep separate shopping lists for each store that offers the best value in a given category, and the two of us will split up the daily routine.

Last week I realized that simply reversing the sequence of stops for the monthly drug and hardware runs saves me tedious minutes of sidling down crowded aisles. Rearranging the itinerary also gives me a chance to enjoy a brief morning chat with clerks who aren’t fried from customer service. Shopping on foot, I hit the drug and hardware store on the way to the gym rather than the way from it. It doesn’t hurt to shop with a fresh brain, and the time, energy, and money saved will free me to plant a casual salad or five. 

-30-  More after the jump.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Deliberate Inefficiency

Photo courtesy Flickr

Super-janitor Don Aslett’s classic Is There Life After Housework? inspired me to carpet the most-used entry, the back porch. Taking several steps across synthetic carpet cleans most of the dirt off footgear. Aslett says it’s the vector for 97% of the dust and grit in a house.

Installing carpet on the porch slashed floor cleaning to a quarter of what it had been, even with the same number of children running in and out. The kitchen floor is Thirties linoleum that so disguises debris that even the in-house archaeologist has trouble finding something that has fallen off a counter. Casual reading in interior design had turned up the comment that dark floors show every speck of dirt. In a spirit of productive contrariness, I chose dark forest green nylon matting for the entry. Every fleck of everything shows on the matting, an easy way to catch my attention and remind me to do the sixty-second vacuuming that saves long, gritty hours of otherwise maintenance.

With street shoes removed when we get home, and with HEPA filters cleaning the air, heavy floor maintenance is just an unpleasant memory.

-30-  More after the jump.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Easy Living, Part Two

Photo courtesy Flickr

When the shift from Victorian to twentieth century housekeeping was taking place, suburban houses were the growing edge. That whole facet of the culture was marketed as “easy living”, and the promotion was true. Taken as a whole, open floor plans, uncrowded highways, plastic and stainless steel tableware, low-maintenance fabrics, and modern furniture shaved many a minute off demanding domestic processes.

Naturally enough, the time and resources that were saved were often directed into elaborating other facets of domestic life. A typical contemporary interior hardly resembles the sleekly efficient spaces that were the Fifties ideal.

In a spirit of pure contrariness, I bought a late nineteenth-century house thinking that late twentieth century fabrics and wood finishes might make living in an antique interior as simple as in a contemporary suburban one. The experiment has paid handsomely. Thirty-three years of tweaks have left me with a facility that works harder for me than I for it.

The first time I vacuumed the house, I used the clunky upright and canister machines that came with the place. I spent three hours working attic to sump. Afterwards, I sat on the staircase whimpering, “I can’t do this every week.” Active griping to the right people taught me the value of bare floors simply furnished, of teflon sliding castors under wooden feet, of HEPA filters freestanding and in machines, and of leaving possessions where they will be used next. With dust-gobbling nylon mats at each entry, and with a “getabako”, or Japanese shoe bench, at the entry, I can now vacuum the whole house in under half an hour. I can vacuum and dry mop the most-used areas in seven minutes.

Housekeeping guru Don Aslett, former chief janitor for the Bell System, points out that even the subtlest dust on a floor accelerates depreciation. I have learned from decades of experimentation wise and foolish that light and simple routine maintenance is the most efficient way to keep a place, and its atmosphere, together. Stalling is harder than doing the right thing.

-30-  More after the jump.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Easy Living, Part One

Photo courtesy Flickr

Over decades of maintenance decisions, I have stumbled across a general principle: green choices are more than simply shopping for a politically correct version of the same old thing. Green is very good economy, protecting cash, working time, and infrastructure.

Recently, I hired a skilled arborist to minimize a shrub that had grown too large for me to manage on my own. I’m now on the outfit’s mailing list and couldn’t be more grateful. I learned about Seattle Tree Protection from a local horticultural anti-cruelty group called Plant Amnesty. That non-profit is dedicated to promoting competent pruning and has a no-kill shelter for unwanted shrubbery. They also protect and honor heritage trees.

When I took on responsibility for this garden, I was dimly aware of the value of recycling its biomass on the site. I was also chronically homesick for the woods and eager to recreate the sense of the native landscape a stone’s throw from downtown. After a few seasons of dutifully, and less and less enthusiastically, raking every square inch of the property several times a year, I began to leave autumn’s litter under each tree and shrub, fruit trees excepted.

That decision generated a long process of recreating the deeply comforting scent and sense of the local woods. Sea Tree’s recent newsletter, I am pleased to read, encourages just that kind of practice. The boss says, “Model the forest floor.”

-30- More after the jump.