Friday, December 13, 2013

Clearing The Decks


Whipple house photo courtesy Flickr

The phrase is familiar; the details not so much. The in-house archaeologist, who knows his way around a life support system or twelve, developed an appetite for salty terminology while reading Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin novels about the British navy during the Napoleonic era.

On a wooden ship of war, the upper tier or tiers of lower decks served as dormitories where sailors kept their sea bags and hammocks. When battle loomed, all personal and mess gear and the odd piece of furniture were removed and stowed in lockers to allow maximum freedom of movement and action for the gun crews. After a battle, the area was set up for surgery and as a hospital. Presumably, all involved were grateful still to be breathing.

Arranging living quarters to facilitate clearing the decks is the foundation of efficient housekeeping. Christmas is a good time to test one’s management skills, as is a birthday sleep-over for kids. The ever-present personal computer side bag is a civilian high-tech variant of a sea bag. A bedroom can retain the spare elegance of eighteenth-century Massachusetts, especially if a separate dressing area is defined. 

Over the last year, I’ve been tweaking my interior to see if the “absolute, simple elegance” that a friend observed on a visit to a new interior of high privilege will be relevant to daily life as I wish to live it. A recent slack week allowed me time to finish countless small tasks that I’d set out against the odd moment free for side work. All counters were clear, and there was nothing on the floors except working furniture feet.

A death in the family generated frequent, unplanned social demands, and I discovered that there is no price on preparedness. I’m my own servant, and the pre-emptive maintenance of the previous weeks carried me and the extended family over some rocky hours. Jobs’ instructor in the art and history of the book used to remind his classes of the importance of margins to the legibility of a page. Margins constitute half of the area of a classic sheet. Besides isolating the text from the chaos of surrounding visuals, they guarantee its future by establishing a generous sacrificial boundary area for wear and tear.

The maintenance boundaries I had inadvertently banked allowed me the peace of mind to concentrate on the family’s rites of passage and contribute my best to the occasion rather than the desperately scattered energies of the usual harried timetable.

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More after the jump.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Life In The Soft Lane


Housewares Central photo courtesy Flickr

As a frisky young hiker, I shared my trail-mates’ disdain for the bulky luxuries of the campground. A noisy sheet of bubble-wrap was the Co-op’s state of the art alternative to a rubberized air mattress. 

As a relatively frisky housekeeper, I discovered not long ago that the Co-op’s six-foot rectangular slab of self-inflating foam topped with a thin memory layer is a perfectly good substitute for A.dorky cushions on a sofa that are hard to sleep on and B.an equally dorky conventional mattress. Topped with an additional memory foam module, the self-inflating six by two foot super luxury pad is a versatile featherweight substitute for the received wisdom of a conventional furniture store. I use a pair of pads on an old bed frame fitted with two lengths of commercial grid wall in lieu of a box spring. The self-inflating pads are modular with standard mattress sizes and can be redistributed if the house becomes a crash pad. The sofa unit is camouflaged with an Oregon Roundup blanket.

What looks excessive from trailside is elegant viewed from the parking lot. It’s even more elegant when the time comes to rearrange the bedroom.

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More after the jump.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Christmas Fundamentals


Photo courtesy Flickr

Christmas was originally a festival to support the poor. The real luxury of my life is having time and attention to spare for this blog.

There’s a fine line between gift and glut. Thank-you notes are a vital sign.

An archetypal Christmas tree is brought living into the house and decorated with fruits and candles that are lit on Christmas Eve. The tree is returned alive to the garden. Electric lighting allows the family to return alive to whatever they were doing before the holiday but generates escalating glitz that challenges the essential peace of the occasion.

The Christmas season is another matter. The month before Christmas Eve is a miniature version of Lent, a period of fasting and counting the days. Christmas itself opens a carnival that lasts until Ash Wednesday as good a cure for seasonal affective disorder as I can imagine.

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More after the jump.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Wake

"Graceland" photo courtesy Flickr

Charlie Rose presented a beautifully edited collection of Nelson Mandela stories on yesterday's re-broadcast of Friday's show. It makes me wish I were a fly on the right walls in South Africa. If the topic interests you, I recommend the show for its utter humanity.

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Monday, December 9, 2013

Getting It Right


!Kung archer gear. Photo courtesy Flickr

Most Deft posts are composed early on Sunday morning with one eye on the previous week and another on the week to come. Yesterday’s Meet The Press coverage of the death of Nelson Mandela is as concise and elegant a version of the meaningful history of my housekeeping years as I can possibly imagine.

Other, more knowledgable, students of history will no doubt have better informed comments on the period, but NBC’s segment contains phrase after phrase of the living language of decent citizenship. Jesse Jackson’s pithy comment about Mandela turning vicious at one point and Maya Angelou’s narrative response to the news of his death stand and will stand as beacons of human values.

South African novelist Laurens van der Post wrote A Story Like The Wind about the brutality of an African liberation struggle. There’s a scene in the book that captures the very essence of housekeeping. Two young couples, one white and one !Kung seek refuge in a cave. The !Kung girl demonstrates good cave-keeping, meticulously grooming the floor of the space to make sure no one injures a foot on a sharp object. I can’t do justice to van der Post’s language and insight, but his description touches the essence of the hearth, or heart, or haeort.

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More after the jump.