Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Really Cheaping Out

At the height of the Seventies' craze for carpeting, I enjoyed an illuminating chat with a wise older friend. Daisie was frank: she said her hand-knotted oriental carpet had been less expensive over time than the wall to wall her friends had installed, and replaced, and installed, and replaced. A true friend of the hand-knotted rug will buy a small one to set in the center of a room rather than subjecting a larger one to the assaults of furniture legs. Spare the sport shoes and spike heels as well. Removing footgear at the entrance reduces maintenance in all areas.

A long life filled with hand-me-downs, thrift follies, and expedient imports has taught me that biting the linen bullet to pay for first quality dinner-sized shamrock napkins is still a smart move, especially if I factor in the time and travel cost of acquisition. Get white. It's the most serviceable and can be bleached. I'm still using my grandmother's collection from 1948. 

A large linen napkin makes guests feel safe. It doesn't have to be ironed, although ironing from the back to raise the grain of the fabric is an elegant move. Never iron a crease: linen's tubular fibers will crack before long -30-

More after the jump.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Two Minutes

For a couple of months, I groused about dusting an elaborate 1895 knick-knack shelf every time I walked past it. The English National Trust housekeeping manual recommends delaying dusting until one is rested and motivated. When I finally emptied the shelves and set out a vacuum cleaner and a photographer's equipment dusting brush, that resembles a shaving brush on steroids, dusting the what-not took two minutes.

The piece is a twentieth century housekeeping nightmare, but a nineteenth century small space whiz at storing necessities. Aping a carpenter, I get the vacuum going to collect dust with one hand while I raise it with the other -30- More after the jump.

Monday, November 20, 2017

The (Relatively) Slow Lane

When I buy stamps, I buy first-class "forever" stamps. Now and then a new design is issued before I use up the ones I have. It has been interesting to observe new graphic style as it emerges. These stamps are turning into the correspondence equivalent of classic wardrobe design. A slowly accumulating collection allows me judicious choice of style when composing a written message.

I had been planning to commission writing paper embellished with a snail. A retired letter carrier told me how offensive he finds the rhyming term, so I'll save some money and revert to USPS -30- More after the jump.

Friday, November 17, 2017

As If

Live to evacuate. Long hours listening to friends and acquaintances puzzle out how to manage their inventories, acquired or inherited, has taught the wisdom of conscious ownership. Recent experience of first-hand accounts of FEMA sites taught the obvious wisdom of preparedness.

Last week's triple whammy of e-room visit (false alarm), windstorm, and power outage taught the value of a key chain flashlight, even a featherweight zipper light, and possibly that of a tactical flashlight. Keep a week's meds in the sidebag -30- More after the jump.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Cheap Pens Sabotage Critical Detail

It's easier to remember to carry pen and notebook if you value the pen. With note-taking materials always at hand, one can record every flash and memo, protecting the here and now from anxious preoccupation -30-
More after the jump.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

A Simple Advantage

At a Pike Place cutlery, I learned to understand trying to cut ingredients with a dull blade as "fighting with one's knife". A keen edge is as great a labor-saving asset as any I can describe -30-
More after the jump.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Punch List

I learned this term from a housepainter whose work is going strong eleven years later. The list is one of tasks to be completed to bring the job up to the expected standard.

Another meaning is a list of urgent matters to attend to. The recent massive data breach of personal information has put the punch in my security to do list -30- More after the jump.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Poetry By The Yard

San Francisco's Union Square legacy fabric store is the go-to home sewing, quilting, and costume design resource. Their web site offers an illuminating collection of yard goods and ribbon, not to mention what to me is a novel approach to historic preservation.

Since I began to use woven ribbon and entertaining cloth (surf furoshiki), I frequently spend more on the wrap than the gift. No one has complained so far. Wide grosgrain makes a good hatband -30-
More after the jump.

Friday, November 10, 2017


Fast food by another name. The Geek's Favorite grocery chain offers unsalted pretzels filled with peanut butter. Unsalted nuts, tiny carrots milled from big ones, grape-sized tomatoes plus grapes themselves, chocolate with a sugar shell, dried fruit, little crackers, all come easily to hand to support the current thinking that six small meals a day are better than three squares-if you're doing knowledge work. Check out the Corporate Athlete training initiative. Chow down at the desk.

The butcher shop at the main intersection of the Pike Place Market offers an entertaining version of trail mix for carnivores. The concept is simple: cut cheese, sausage, and jerky into bite-sized cubes or the irregular pieces of a rolling cut. A millennial dinner guest was delighted by the mix, and I discovered that a handful tossed onto a salad the next day made an instant meal.

Green is a little harder to get right. Sanitizing lettuce with successive sprays or dips of hydrogen peroxide and white vinegar not only protects one from antibiotic-resistant field bacteria, it extends the life of fresh produce. Rinse in fresh water and roll in a damp napkin. It's easy just to grab a leaf and eat it. Carefully trimmed broccoli boiled fast and blanched in cold water mixes well with the trail mix above and various nuts and seeds. 

Cuisine this ain't, but nutrition it is -30- More after the jump.

Thursday, November 9, 2017


One of the rooms in Martha and George Washington's Mt. Vernon home has been restored. It's now called the Chintz Room, and it would be trivial to recreate it. The classic brown wood furniture with which it's furnished is grievously undervalued in today's market. Fine reproductions dominated American production in the Fifties. A recent search for a freestanding cabinet for hand sewing produced page after page of treasures going for pennies.

Wood is a precious resource, and the brown furniture that is so out of fashion was made with cheap energy from the harvest of the planet. As late as the Seventies, the US enjoyed a hugely disproportionate amount of global wealth. To have furniture at all is a relatively recent privilege for most of humanity. We are so rich in our legacy that we can't recognize it. Norma Skurka's "New York Times Book of Interior Design and Decoration" is introduced by a compact illustrated reference of historic styles of American furniture. Once you've gazed on the pictures, it's easy to spot a bargain. Look for dovetails on the sides of drawers. An ink stain inside a desk drawer is a good sign. A classic piece of furniture is a low-tech appliance designed to support a household of privilege at a time when people made their livings working out of their domicile.

Educating one's eye takes time, but the effort pays off. The Old Family Dining Room in the White House was recently, and judiciously, redecorated. The result demonstrates how contemporary art can pop old furniture to life. Much of the original brown wood furniture valued as American antique was Afro-African in manufacture. Israel and Albert Sack's evaluations of American furniture are illuminating ones that integrate colonial and native American values -30- More after the jump.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017


It's crunch time in the recycling game. Receiving sites for urban ore are under pressure, and it's time to reconsider every scrap that leaves one's hands-and enters them as well. I won't try to rehash the early rhetoric of recycling-too many generations of school children have been indoctrinated in the wisdom of sustainable systems, and I'm not up to speed on the issues anymore. 

But it's crunch time -30- More after the jump.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Angelo Pellegrini

Influenced by his  "Lean Years, Happy Years", I fried a good steak, sliced it, and saved the pan drippings. The next day I enriched a pot of greens with the drippings and the bone. This trick works with any cut of meat.

Now I grill a piece of meat and hold it in a warm oven while I saute' a vegetable in what remains in the pan. Cover and steam for a minute, and there are two fast courses in half the cooking time with tastier results -30-

More after the jump.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Constantly Childproof

When my baby learned to crawl, I engaged in a life or death race against his new powers of exploration. It took a couple of months before I could comfortably turn my back on him in certain rooms, or catch my breath, for that matter. In the ensuing years I have tried to keep the house child-proof, but an empty nest and creeping tech change have added layers of complexity. It's time to resolve the thickets of electrical vines I have happily added to the inventory.

 One ofNeal Stephenson's sci-fi novels has an inspiring scene set in a Peninsula farmhouse. The living room is festooned with extension cords that support the geeks who live there. I took courage from the sheer expedience of the arrangement to release  most of what remained of my matronly death grip on housekeeping systems.

Geeks, however, appear never to have been subjected to the dire training in electrical safety that was the lot of twentieth-century girls. No doubt that training was necessary: I suspect that discovering safe ways to apply electricity to domestic life was as hazardous in the beginning as was the introduction of suffocating gossamer polyethylene bags into the stream of packaging amenities in the Seventies.

Wallingford's lighting boutique offers just about anything I could ask for to resolve cord clutter short of rewiring the house. With the holidays approaching and foul weather offering respite from garden duty, I'll be free to explore the world of good cord-keeping -30- More after the jump.

Thursday, November 2, 2017


When the season shifts, which in Seattle means every couple of months, I do a wardrobe thrash, laying everything out in plain sight and editing without mercy. It's a joy to toss things that are getting in the way into a pile close to the exit. I don't care how much they cost: if they're not working, they're not worth house room.

I co-ordinate everything that's left so that any garment will work with any other garment. The inspiration for this was a comment from a hairdresser who said he liked to grab things out of a milk crate first thing in the morning. Works for me. It's not unlike the skater technique of dressing from a pile on the floor, adding layers as the weather suggests.

Sometimes the process amounts to a virtual mudslide in my wardrobe as minor changes in lifestyle, body form, and ambitions reach a tipping point. The process is not wasteful, since it protects time, energy, and attention from distracting complexity. The best part of a thrash is taking a look at the discards and discovering entertaining new ways to combine them. The rules of thumb that work for me are to dress for the weather, for who I am, and for what I will be doing -30-

More after the jump.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

How To Cut Paper

Make the short cut first.
Cut all the way across a piece of stock -30-

More after the jump.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

A Question Of Elegance

I am considering how to set the table for Sunday pot roast and two millennial guests. They went into stemware shock on our first holiday meal. I've been meditating about the contest between grandmother's practice and the expedient necessities of 2017 ever since. A brief late Seventies chat with a friend who was pouring me a cup of coffee brought the comment that her mother would never countenance a commercial container on the table. It's an interesting point: households of historic privilege took pride in their home-grown provender. Commercial packaging won't stop talking.

Genevieve Dariaux, who ran Nina Ricci's fashion showroom in its heyday, published a little book entitled "Elegance" that shares gems of design wisdom based on sheer practicality. Design pillar Ettore Sottsass asks if practicality is not a valid factor in the choices one makes, and he observes that even the best castles are fundamentally disposable. 

Setting a table is an exercise in design. Another Italian, Bruno Munari, twits preparing a feast "as if the duchess were coming to dinner". I enjoy presenting a series of courses in the traditional way as a gift of service to hard-working guests, but it's unsettling to find I have discomforted them in the process. Judith Martin, aka Miss Manners, asks what it means if one finds oneself confronted by ranks of forks and stemmed glasses at a formal dinner table and answers her own question with the assurance that what it means is that you are not going to go home hungry, that's what it means.

That's enough to keep in mind. Dariaux's notion of elegance differs little from the mathematical one. An elegant solution is simple, effective, consistent, and with luck a little surprising. My partner's impatience with handling stemware was enough to send my collection of expedient glasses from the Great Big Northern European Home Furnishings Chain to a nearby thrift store.

I'll tackle the day with my best dishes and cutlery, classic bistro glasses from 1906 France, generous cloth napkins, and foolish ornament that isn't much more than four inches high. The table will be round and small enough to be slightly crowded, which is festive. I'll be able to reach the sideboard to pass dishes without getting up, and I'll be able to clear a course with one pass of a large tray. I like to bar guests from the kitchen. Everybody needs a break once in a while -30-
More after the jump.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Hallowe'en Supreme

Washington archaeologist Grover Krantz left his bones to science because he wanted to continue teaching after he was dead. In the deal, he included his beloved wolfhound Clyde. The Smithsonian displays the two of them in its display "Written in Bone: Forensic Files of the Seventeenth Century Chesapeake". Surf Grover Krantz and Clyde rampant for exhilarating images -30-
More after the jump.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Kitchen Improv

A foodie friend with a decade of commercial experience recently moved into much smaller quarters. She inherited a small, decently remodeled space with little more than six or seven feet of counter and good quality cupboards. I was delighted to find that she and her partner had cobbled together a slick collection of serviceable accessory units out of heavy duty chromed wire shelving and butcher block tops.

Sharp knives, good pots, and running water are the essentials -30- More after the jump.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Dedicated Time

The closer I model my calendar on the comforting repetitions of primary school, the lower my level of stress. The secret is to leave generous margins, about half the available time.

Weekdays are structured around a workout schedule, as good an armature as any. Each week of the month is focussed on one topic in the domestic support system. One is for making and keeping appointments, two is for administration, three is finance, and four is procurement. I try to get tasks out of the way by nine.

I designated this month for a larger focus on finance, and the schedule is working out so well that Big Topics are taking over other months, too. December, predictably, is for family. So is August, because the northwest beckons those who swelter. Visitors share the time with home improvement, but they don't overlap.

I doubt that it will be long before I begin to designate dedicated years -30-
More after the jump.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Bang For The Buck

Recent casual reading on line brought the news that the market for silver, quilts, and what they called "brown wood" is nil. Sounds like new lamps for old to me, but I would never quarrel with the market preferences of any age group.

The last time I looked around, there was very little visual information about the brown wood vintage. Presumably, the term refers to the eighteenth century. I inherited my beloved grandmother's period reproductions and unwittingly scrounged quite a few pieces on my own. The style has served me well in this eighteenth century architectural design I call home.

My furniture is made of good, solid wood. Its judicious proportions make the most of the delicate spaces in the house. An eighteenth century domicile was used as was convenient for the inhabitants. Single purpose rooms did not appear until the staggering excesses of the nineteenth century.

The most I've paid for brown wood is $19, although I did break the bank on upholstery thirty years ago. The pieces that look so formal to a late twentieth century eye are low-tech appliances designed to serve the working needs of a household that usually made its living under its own roof. All I have to do is clear the paperwork away to look ready for a feast.

It would not be surprising if young persons who grew up with a hovering housekeeper shooing them out of the parlor should choose less vulnerable furniture finishes, but I believe in using the good stuff. It's nearly always the most durable in the long run. I've inherited my share of dings and scrapes and added a few of my own, fortunately to a small item. I can finesse my way out of trouble with shoe polish, markers, and "bright wax". In a perfect world, I would have my own workshop just for French polish, but so far my reality is perfectly comfortable.

Northern Europe came a little late to the brown wood party, and its climate created a hunger for light. King Gustav painted the stuff white, and that's still a viable option. Consult your friendly local used furniture appraiser to make sure you don't vandalize a prize. As to silver and quilts, well, use the silver if you have it. Stow the day's cutlery at the bottom of the stack so you never have to polish it. A quilt is a quilt is a quilt, sometimes an albatross, sometimes a graceful gesture of welcome to a special houseguest. Do right by storing it in a special purpose box from Higher Academe Products and by washing it in no-rinse detergent from the same outfit. As with brown wood, a knowledgeable appraisal is a good idea -30-
More after the jump.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Harmony, Contrast, Balance, Order, and Unity

The title sums up gestalt values for a successful visual design. Applied to house cleaning, those points save a lot of trouble.

Several years ago when developers were reconstructing this comfortable block of turn of the twentieth century houses, the kitchen floor became, as it were, terminal. We were not sure of the future here, but the Thirties linoleum was moldering in heavily used areas and was beyond tolerance. I realized that there wasn't much difference between painting linoleum and painting the canvas recommended for making an old school floor cloth. 

Linoleum is a layer of pigment mixed with ground cork and linseed oil steamrolled over burlap. I reasoned that maintaining a layer of floor paint might not be any more bother than applying and removing successive layers of wax, so I painted the lino the same color as the other painted floors in the house.

Three years has been enough time for ordinary wear and tear to generate some noticeably shabby areas. Added to the marks of time on the original varnished fir wainscoting and the fading polish on a couple of senior pieces of furniture in the room, it became apparent that it was time to do something. The kitchen comes first. 

My partner volunteered to paint carefully delineated patches on the floor, as I had planned when the paint was new. I reasoned that a genteel accumulation of patches on areas of heavy wear would grow increasingly interesting to look at and prevent heaping gobs of excess paint from piling up along the margins of the room.

So far, so good, although a little more patching is in order. Nothing says progress like the faint odor of fresh paint. The wainscoting still has to be refreshed with "bright wax" and/or teak oil. I spent a coffee break anointing a tiny brown wood table with a Down East furniture polish from the woodworkers' specialty supply in the southeast. The effect is delightful, as is the scent of the product. With a vintage brass tray protecting the top, the ca. 1870 table has become a much-needed accent in an otherwise practical space -30-
More after the jump.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Housekeeping Tight And Loose

Moving into new quarters sometimes demands finesse. If the place is not in perfect repair, there may be makeshift arrangements that look like the devil. Keep things literally squared away to reassure the neighbors.

The example that comes to mind is a tall, geriatric fence whose front gate is held closed by a bungee cord threaded through the pickets. Hardly ideal, but when the bungee cord is set on a true horizontal, a welcome message comes across. The same holds true for the length of plywood that enables a hand truck to access the wood shed when the ground is muddy: square it off. The wood can be managed a little more loosely, but not the footing. Once the place is truly in order, one can relax a little.

My experience of rural living has mostly been off the grid. All life support systems must be managed with careful rectitude, but the microscopic margins of error used in high-tech areas of the city are irrelevant. Check the Boy Scout handbook for basic sanitation. Before electricity, any competent housekeeper used the same skills to keep the family healthy. In "Home Comforts" , Cheryl Mendelson describes the sheer poetry of the manual skill of hanging laundry. 

Tackle non-biodegradable debris in the garden as soon as energies permit. Stow toys and tools when they are not being used. Install geraniums by the front door and keep them watered and trimmed. Swap for evergreens over the winter. Things will look responsibly managed no matter what the pressures on time and budget.

Certain aspects of living in the woods can legitimately be more relaxed than SOP in town. Shoes and coats at the entry can be haphazard. A splinter or two on the hearth rug need not be vacuumed right away. Aim for an air of comfortable relaxation. In the boonies, a quarter mile outdoors might be a reasonable margin of error. Indoors, perhaps an inch or six -30-
More after the jump.

Friday, October 20, 2017


My favorite literary critique was uttered by a dame whose opinion of a bucolic effort was "I do not believe that this young man has ever smelled a sheep." I recall gleaning this quotation from John Ciardi's high school English text.

The culture of young urbanites has grown precious and rightly wary of micro-organisms, but it's possible to take caution too far. Rot is one of the glories of life in Western Washington. Gardening is brewing, essentially, a process of growing soil with produce as a by-product. Now is the beginning of the agricultural year. Be brave: a whiff of the compost bucket never hurt anyone. 

A three-bucket emergency latrine, one for liquids, one for layers of soil and solids, and the last full of covering soil will be your best friend should The Big One hit. You'll be astonished by the clean, earthy odor. Jenkins "Humanure Handbook" is available free on line. One person/one privy for the squeamish. Add snap-on plastic seats for luxury -30-
More after the jump.

Thursday, October 19, 2017


I mentioned to my friendly local archaeologist that I had spent a couple of days in the boondocks marinating in the infrared emissions of a wood fire. I was barely able to get off the couch to tend to life support.

Straight away, he said that is how homo sapiens is designed to live. "Just keep the spears close to the entrance to the cave." -30- More after the jump.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Holiday Social Reserve

Keep the week before the big day free. Design breathing room into your schedule through New Year's day so that you have a holiday, too -30-
More after the jump.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

A Word For It

I was gratified to learn that Sweden has a tradition of what is called "death cleaning", rigorous editing of inventory with an eye to what will happen when one is not around. Since the date of one's demise is, presumably, not known, death cleaning is a constant minor process.

I learned a wrinkle in the technique while house-sitting recently. The hand-me-downs my student offspring had been happy to accept years ago still irritated me in the minor ways that had led me to offer them in the first place. My new policy will be to offer only things I can't quite bear to give up.

There are small piles of death cleaning inventory accumulating here and there in the house. I'm going to slap a decision deadline sticker on each one to accelerate what the museum folks call de-acquisition -30-
More after the jump.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Good Deals

Over the week-end, I noticed startlingly good prices in an e-mail from the Tabletop Matching Service in the southeast. Startling as in sterling being competitive with stainless and as in the fifty-dollar deal page offering high-quality mid-century modern serving ware for (relatively) peanuts.

This morning an on-line newspaper ran an article about the reluctance of millennials to commit to the kind of resource-intensive tabletop inventory for which my generation of females was willing to make nearly any sacrifice. Actually, it was our mothers who funded the equipment, thanks to marriage before cohabitation.

I mumbled something to my breakfast companion about the market crashing, and he reminded me that in twenty years, the next crop of young adults will be ravenous for the heirloom quilts and mahogany furniture that this lot can't wait to escape.

That said, the art and etiquette of the table may never rightly be compromised, because sharing food is bedrock social training. Details may vary, but healthy community is absolute -30-
More after the jump.

Friday, October 13, 2017


It's time to suggest to a Northwest native that he moved home to have an excuse to buy the tweed suit he's been eyeing -30-
More after the jump.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Floor

Japanese architectural tradition distinguishes between "people of the floor" and those without one. The floor is a piece of furniture.Tending to the floor is housekeeping bedrock. Laurence Van Der Post's "A Story Like The Wind" has an enchanting and, to one who kept house during the fulminating days of Seventies feminism, deeply heartening scene in which a young !Kung woman details the floor of a cave that is sheltering her and three companions. My archaeological source tells me that keeping sharp things off the floor is the oldest, most fundamental principle of good shelter-keeping.

I've been experimenting with sleeping on the floor, using a luxury self-inflating air mattress to cushion the process. A Pilates instructor advised her class that one's ability to get up off the floor is a reliable indicator of prospective life span. I reasoned that getting up off the floor at least once in an ordinary day would be a good way to keep track of my fitness.

This particular floor is very clean, because we take our street shoes off in the front hall. The floor is also quite comfortable, because the wool rug covers an electric heat mat, ideal for basking in chilly Seattle weather. It's ideal for unwinding kinks from the back, and just hard enough without the mattress to effect an auto-massage. After a few mid-day minutes on the floor, my bod begins to do Pilates on its own.

On a block where eighty square feet cost more than the monthly mortgage of a well-designed new house in Burien several years ago, I have grown to appreciate every bit of space at my disposal. Shifting to the high-tech version of a futon has transformed the sleeping room into a daytime all-purpose resource. Because I separate sleep and dressing functions, the minuscule 1890 closet is nearly empty, and it's trivial to stow bedding after I get going in the morning.

The simple volume of the place is calming. My core strength is improving, flexibility is automatic, and the change has done wonders for my posture -30-

More after the jump.

The SimpleLife

Wear t-shirts that carry no message.
Keep two of every staple in reserve.
Choose white linens.
Let high-maintenance plants die.
Design a personal uniform and reconsider it every couple of years.
Steer your life support system toward zero waste.
Let charity be anonymous -30-
More after the jump.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Very Simple Decoration

Last winter a neighbor outlined her living room window with a string of pinpoint white incandescent holiday lights. They were a straightforward, elegant, welcoming, and stunningly simple accent that turned her simple bungalow entry into a gracious transition from this lively urban streetscape into her old family home. The lights stayed on until the long days of June rendered them irrelevant.

A new tenant next door has done much the same thing with her second story balcony, outlining the railing, wall, post, and overhang with a string of slightly larger warm, small globes. It, too, is breathtakingly simple, effective, and socially heartening. 

I doubt that it will be long before the practice spreads. It's important to conserve electricity, so when I noodle around looking for light strings of my own, I'll factor in LED and solar variants -30-
More after the jump.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The Detailing Kit

I should not be surprised that a nail artist's featherweight lockable rolling tabouret is as efficient and convenient a housekeeping amenity as any I have found, but I am. The one I picked up on sale at a beauty supply last spring finds a new use for itself nearly every week  -30-

More after the jump.

Friday, October 6, 2017

The Keeping Room

Early American architecture structured a domicile with what was called a keeping room, that centered on a hearth. The space was furnished not unlike a coffee shop. 

I find that life is most comfortable and productive when I manage the back parlor of This Old Architecture as if it were a keeping room. Sedentary work is most easily accomplished in a space that forestalls shivering. The kitchen is close by, and I can easily manage basic life support functions by getting off my seat every twenty minutes or so. Chair expert Galen Kranz's recommends that maximum period of arsch arbeit.

An open hearth was furnished with a pot hook for stewing. A slow cooker on the back porch does the same thing and is equally well ventilated -30-
More after the jump.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Stocking Stuffers

I like to include little necessities with the chocolate and cheap toys I put into the Christmas stocking of an adult. This year's collection will include the usual new toothbrush plus a lead test kit for tableware, a sheet of flag stamps, and a tiny leatherette notebook from the Academic Bookstore -30-
More after the jump.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Pecking Away

Last year's thoroughgoing cruise through the house generated a daunting pile of fragile paper artifacts. I had been accumulating posters and minor works of art for decades. Next to textiles and baskets, work on paper is the most demanding to conserve.

From time to time over the last ten years or so, I had sent things along to permanent homes. What remained in the house was the stubborn core of a collection: too bulky to manage willingly, and too precious simply to discard. It's like managing a litter of puppies, I should think.

When I opened up the main physical storage folder, I was pleasantly surprised to find only four or five unresolved items. All but one went immediately to new homes that were eager to have them, and the last is in the stack that's headed to the framer -30-
More after the jump.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Coffee On A Log

An old family custom of repairing to the beach for a coffee break-in any kind of weather-took a new turn the other day. My host brought out a thermos and a welcome innovation in drinking ware: from his side bag he unfolded food grade silicone stemless wine cups. All I had to do was kick a depression in the sand to hold the thing. It didn't burn my fingers, and one member of the party observed that one could bake or freeze in it as well-30-
More after the jump.

Monday, October 2, 2017

The Wrap

A recently published photo showed a young person, tired from a trail ride, wrapped up in an Oregon Round-up blanket asleep in the ground. That's a technique I had learned as a child,  but forgotten.

Spread a blanket on the ground, lie down, and roll up in it. Build wiggle room using knees and elbows. It ain't hundreds of dollars worth of down and ripstop, but sometimes a blanket is just right. The limiting factor is the willingness to set wool onto soil, but those blankets are intended to function as bedding, architecture, furniture, clothing, upholstery, and yardage for garments. Hand wash in a bathtub in July -30-
More after the jump.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Close Enough

The longer I live in town, the more I appreciate native plants. The Great Big Hiking Co-op's urban forest is an island of tranquility in the middle of the South Lake Union boomtown. The Burke Museum on the UW campus has a teaching garden of native varieties.

A few imported plants resemble natives closely enough to suit my purposes on this small lot. Rhubarb, the species Japanese anemone, Shasta daisy "Alaska", carrots gone to seed, leggy boxwood in deep shade all suggest local woods without requiring feats of acquisition -30-
More after the jump.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Edible Hand Warmer

The Geeks's Favorite grocery chain sells bags of unusually small organic baking potatoes that have become a favorite convenience food. I bake half a dozen at a time. One is just the right size to accompany a piece of grilled meat, and the leftovers have many uses.

Refrigerated, a small just-barely baked potato is easy to cut up and turn into potato salad. Cut up and fried in a generous slosh of olive oil, the potato makes a delicious junk-food quality addition to breakfast or left-overs. The rare remainder is even tastier used as a crouton on green salad.

Preliminary baking amplifies the flavor of the tuber. Sprouters go to live in the compost heap -30-
More after the jump.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017


A tussie mussie is a small bouquet of flowers. I learned to compose one as a gift from the garden when going to visit a friend or for a guest who is leaving. A tussie mussie has the stems trimmed evenly and is bound with a long stem of grass or a ribbon for special occasions.

English designer David Hicks, who wrote the book on Sixties interior design, recommended gathering flowers in one hand, cutting and adding at will, composing as one goes, and then simply setting it into a container. He cites a jam jar as a suitable vessel. Hicks is master of the casual. 

A dear friend stopped by recently for a cup of tea and a brief discussion of her sudden bereavement. I asked my partner to make up some flowers before he left on an errand, and I found a disposable coffee cup sitting on the table with a spectacular zucchini blossom and auxiliary greenery anchored in crisscross holes in the plastic lid. The tussie mussie was intended to fit into the cup holder of my friend's car. With irresistible wit and charm, Anna called yesterday to ask if she could come by for a refill -30-

More after the jump.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

A Rational Wedding

An acquaintance mentioned that her daughter simply ordered two promising short lace dresses by mail, returned one, and boarded a plane to the distant state where her fiancee's elders lived, too frail to travel. The rest of the details were equally straightforward. I applaud her priorities -30-
More after the jump.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Write On

A friend who is rigorously educated in the mysteries of commercial food production sharpened my focus on food safety. She pointed out that commercial packaging has medical-quality sanitation embedded in it.

I love freshly prepared food and chose a small refrigerator to reduce waste. A few years ago I ran across easy-peel date and content labels at a local food wholesaler. I bought a few but couldn't rationalize their price. The other day I realized I can label the rim of the plastic lid of a stacking glass storage tray using a dry-erase marker. A label slashes browsing time spent with the door of the refrigerator wide open -30-
More after the jump.

Friday, September 22, 2017


A young friend used this term to describe what happened to the fourteen dollars she failed to note as the price of a bunch of salad greens when she checked out at an unfamiliar grocery store -30-
More after the jump.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Grooming The Garden For Winter

Cosmetic yard maintenance now pays hugely over the holidays. It's a special joy to contemplate a well-managed landscape from a Thanksgiving table. This weather is just right for comfortable labor.

From English garden writers Vita Sackville-West and Gertrude Jekyl I learned not to over-groom my plants. Seattle's climate is like that of England, so that skilled and elegant advice makes the most of my efforts. Mass-market garden books are aimed at the interior and eastern continental US climate, that has four seasons and looks like a Dick and Jane primer. Seattle does not. 

Seattle has one season: it's forty-five degrees and raining. Anything else is a minor variation. Ignore broadcast weather reports: they take all the fun out of living here with their self-indulgent definition of a good day. My good day is overcast, kind to the eyes and skin, and supportive of the vegetation.

The English approach to perennials is to let them have their head, straying at will during the growing season. As cold weather approaches, tidy the stalks but leave them in place. The bare stems harbor welcome predatory insects over the winter and act as windbreaks for new growth that peeps out in the spring. Groom those stems when the new growth seems safe from frost.

I leave seed pods and withered foliage in place on the native iris, so it looks as if it is growing wild. The seeds are more beautiful than the ephemeral blossoms. I weed diligently and sheet compost what I gather. Ratty, chaotic foliage from the food garden is sheet composted as well, along with deadheaded roses. Aside from that, little needs tending except for the odd conifer branch. A local arborist goes after mature shrubs now and then, and I harvest a juvenile conifer as a home-grown Christmas tree nearly every year.

Like child-rearing, timely action yields an appealing result. The year's minor grooming pays off at the end of the season with comely groups of withered plants. Anything that is overgrown is simply mowed in place or cut and sheet-composted on the lawn. In Seattle, one prunes anytime the tool is sharp and the weather is dry.

I don't grow anything that requires a stake or special handling to look its best. I increase perennials by cutting their seed heads and shaking the pods around the garden. No doubt I am recreating an archaic planting ritual in doing so. All plants want to do is grow. All I have to do is figure out how to work with them -30-

More after the jump.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017


The only practical use for leather clothing in Seattle is to prevent road rash while riding a bike. Otherwise, leather holds rain, weighs even more when wet, and layers poorly.

Shop The Great Big Hiking Co-op to learn what really works in this unusual climate: only Japan and Great Britain have similar ones (at the moment). Scout high-end English rain gear at other venues for well-engineered outerwear that goes from trail head to high rise without a hiccup -30-
More after the jump.

Monday, September 18, 2017

A Hem

Smooth with fingers for long life. Fabric wears along creases. A garment or piece of flatwork may not be ironed, but include this step to communicate careful management as the piece ages. Line dry for longest life -30-
More after the jump.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Loud Shoes

Early one sunny August morning light conditions were just right to highlight the neon green plastic sandals worn by a neighbor walking past me on my way to the bus. Ordinarily I do not emphasize the foot when getting dressed, but pedestrian safety makes it easy to rationalize putting on a pair of play shoes for daytime.

I have grown to appreciate the white edges on the soles of skate shoes and may actively shop for lighted footgear for the dark and rainy days ahead -30-
More after the jump.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Fashion Note

A senior gentleman boarded the bus wearing a definitively original Pacific Northwest garment. It was a worn but skillfully cut blazer fashioned from the red and black buffalo check wool plaid that is the hallmark of the woods. The fabric is interesting. As I understand it, the weave is the oldest known to humankind. 

The first "Whole Earth Catalogue" included how tos for fashioning a traditional mountain, uh, person's long jacket out of a worn blanket. That cut can be spectacular when it is tailored by someone who knows what they're doing. The close fit brings to mind the tweed suit George Mallory wore on his unsuccessful attempt to summit Mt. Everest. Climbers copied the outfit and were surprised at how efficient it was to wear in extreme conditions. They said fitting is the key to conserving body heat.

The catalogue describes garments cut from the broad-striped beaver pelt trade blankets produced in England. Local Indians still make jackets and vests out of worn Oregon Round-up blankets -30-

More after the jump.